Jack Valenti, the consummate Hollywood politician and chief of the Motion Picture Assn. of America for 38 years, died this afternoon. The news broke right while I was flying from Burbank to Oakalnd, hence the late posting. The head of the Motion Picture Association of American for 38 years, Valenti was a brilliant operator, a wise wordsmith and an elegant man. Oh, and a great raconteur.
I first met Valenti at some kind of industry gathering at the Sportmen’s Lodge on Ventura Blvd. in 1983, and I can remember to this day his sharp eagle eyes sizing me up as he smiled and shook my hand. All world-class smart guys all over the world have eagle eyes. Eyes that whir and click as they assess your vibe, your appearance, your manner. Valenti was one tough hombre. I thought he lacked flexibility as far as trying to address the wrongs of the CARA ratting system, but that was then and this is now.
Radar‘s Jessica Grose asked me and two other big-mouths — Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel and Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune — to comment on three new TV ads directed by big-name directors. (Note: Radar told me to view and assess three ads, and if they’ve chosen to only post reactions to one or two of them, that’s their doing.)
The late Dan Cracchiolo, the hot shot get-around who worked as Joel Silver‘s top guy in the mid to late ’90s and a little beyond, once told me about a conversation he and Silver had about the size of the craniums of big movie stars. He said that Silver told him, “Dan, all big stars have really big heads.” Physically, he meant.
I’ve spoken to a fair number of big-name actors and can testify that this is frequently the case. Mel Gibson has a big head; ditto Kirk Douglas and Kevin Costner. (I once wrote that Costner “has a head the size of a bison’s.”) Warren Beatty has a fairly sizable head. So does Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I don’t recall Tom Cruise‘s head being all large, however.
I would say that Clive Owen, to judge by the above photo from Shoot ‘Em Up, certainly qualifies.
There’s obviously something about having a big head that gives a person presence, power…a sense of dominance. Full disclosure: I have a big head myself.
Big movie-star heads are a very consistent visual factor in day-to-day Hollywood life, and yet people who don’t mix it up with talent would never, ever learn of this from mainstream interviewers and columnists. I’m just saying…
Israeli critics and their editors are being bullied and strong-armed by the two biggest Israeli film distributors, Matalon and Forum Film, and Deadline Hollywood Daily‘s Nikki Finke is trying to get others riled up about it. In response to this, Tel Aviv Time Out‘s senior critic and film editor Yael Shuv has written to lend his voice to the protest.
Why don’t these stories tell us what we want to know, and let us see what we want to see? Britain’s Daily Snack reported last night that Hugh Grant has been arrested for assault “after allegedly hurling a container of baked beans” at photographer Ian Whittaker yesterday morning (i.e., Tuesday) somewhere in west London.
What I want to know is, did Grant hit Whittaker with the beans in the head or the chest or where? Did the take-away container splatter all over the place and cover Whittaker’s face in brownish-red sauce and gooey-drippy beans?
And where’s the photograph? Can you imagine being a photographer and covered with baked beans that were thrown by a big-name actor and not taking a photo of yourself? Not to have done so argues with the primal instinct that drives all photographers. If I’d been Whittaker I would have persuaded a passerby to take the shot. And yet it happened a day and a half ago and no photo. This suggests to me that there wasn’t much to see.
Whittaker seems to be a well-respected photographer, by the way.
Ten minutes into watching Stephanie Daley, I was experiencing that “okay, don’t worry, this is going to be very good” realization. But I was also feeling slightly on-edge because I wanted this moody, expertly realized drama to stay on-track and build and dig in and deepen and so on. And it did that. And the performances were killer. And then came the ending, which, to me, felt a little too ambiguous and a touch sudden, as in “wait…that’s it?”
Endings are very, very important — you could argue that they’re almost the whole ball game — but Stephanie Daley is still one of the best solemn-and-sober women’s films I’ve seen in a long, long while. It is absolutely worth seeing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or on a weeknight. It will not make you groan or slump in your seat, and the notion of checking messages on your Blackberry in the second act will most likely not come up.
I’m forecasting these reactions because Amber Tamblyn‘s performance as the title character — a 17 year-old high-school junior who may have murdered her baby — is awfully damn good. I’m not using the word “astonishing” because Tamblyn looks and behaves like any young girl with issues pressing on her heart and mind, but “exceptional” definitely applies. It’s almost all in her eyes — a haunted, gloom- ridden, terrified emotional state — and yet she’s immensely watchable, attractively so, every second she’s on-screen. I could call her performance ravishing, but I wouldn’t mean erotically. Talk about a face trying to hide surging currents…
15 months ago I wrote that Tamblyn “is now on the Big Map because of this film.” I added that “it’s too bad after giving such a finely textured dig-deep performance in Daley that she’s agreed to star in the lowballing Grudge 2, but I don’t think this matters. Millions have seen Grudge 2 in theatres and on the screen — a much smaller group will wind up seeing Stephanie Daley, but those who do will not feel in the least bit burned or toyed or fiddled with. It’s all in the mind of the beholder, and it’s a free country.
Stephanie Daley is basically saying that the acts of procreation and giving birth weigh heavily on the soul, and are not to be even considered by kids who are way too young and unable to handle the burdens. The right-to-lifers are going to get hold of this film when it comes out on DVD and show it to high-school kids. It plays right into their view of things, and honestly? I found myself acknowledging as I watched it that the right-to-lifers have a point.
As the film begins the infant death has been discovered and Daley has been saying it was unintentional — that the infant was still-born. The newspapers have been calling her the “ski mom” because she gave birth to — unloaded — a 26 week-old fetus in a bathroom during a school ski trip, and the baby was later found dead in a garbage can.
Enter Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton), a psychologist assigned to interview Steph- anie and advise the authorities whether or not she should be prosecuted. Crane herself is five months pregnant with a shaky marriage to a guy played by Tim Hutton giving her pause and some grief. (Except for anomalies like The Last Mimzy, it is axiomatic that all relationships with all characters played by Tim Hutton, rumored to be a Charlie Sheen-type hound in real life, are shaky — he has a face that says “alcoholic” and “likely to tomcat around given half a chance.”) Plus she gave birth to a stillborn child a year or so earlier.
This sounds like one of those only-in-the-movies set-ups, but it didn’t feel like a speed bump to me. Such is the level of craft and assurance that Brougher brings to Stephanie Daley. There’s also the beautiful photography by David Rush Morrison, and a kind of smooth painterly quality that seems to transform the innate gloominess of the material into something much more.
The plot isn’t stunningly original, but then again what is? Norman Jewison‘s Agnes of God (1985) was fairly similar, with Jane Fonda playing the older psychologist-investigator and Meg Tilley as a young nun who’d given birth and possibly killed the child. There’s also a 2004 novel by Jodie Picoult called Plain Truth, which is about a young Amish girl accused of killing her baby, and is also about a female lawyer with issues of her own who is assigned to look into the case.
Distributors were naturally scared by the baby-killing aspect, but First Look’s Ruth Vitale stepped up and entered into negotiations with the Stephanie Daley team out of Sundance ’06. But then “the deal got worse and worse” (or so says a person involved in the negotiations), apparently due to someone at First Look not liking the film as much as Vitale, and it all fell apart. Then Regent Releasing, lowballers who open films mainly to promote DVD traffic, stepped in.
Stephanie Daley has an 84% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, a heavyweight critic, has called it “a major American film, announcing the arrival of an independent director who deserves all the hype.” Tamblyn won the Best Actress award at last summer’s Locarno Film Festival. Brougher won the Best Director award at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. It’s a woman’s film, sure, but the way-above-average pedigree should snag the attention of any half-serious filmgoer.
It’s now playing at Manhattan’s Angelika (subway sounds rumbling up from the floorboards!), and will open on 4.27 in Los Angeles at the Regent theatre — the stand-alone on La Brea, just south of Melrose. Daley will open on 5.11 in Boston, 5.25 in San Francisco, 6.1 in Chicago, 6.29 in Denver and yaddah-yaddah.