Politico‘s Jeffrey Ressner has written a savvy and thorough examination of the bogus smear story about George Clooney advising Barack Obama, which began with London’s Daily Mail.
“Part of the reason the Daily Mail frequently gets away with this kind of journalism is that relatively few people in the UK media call them out on these kinds of stories,” HE reader Ambrose Heron wrote last night. “I would urge you to check out a recent book by Nick Davies called Flat Earth News as there is a very interesting chapter on how the Daily Mail operates entitled ‘Mail Aggression.'”
I can only repeat again what I’ve been told by a fellow who’s been very close to the development of Edwin A. Salt, to wit: Tom Cruise wasn’t bumped by Angelina Jolie for the lead role — he hadn’t committed to signing because he didn’t feel comfortable about playing a character who, he felt, was too close to his Ethan Hunt character from the Mission Impossible films. I’m not saying that other factors didn’t come into play as well, but this is what I’ve heard from a guy in a position to know.
Two British-produced films that were shot last fall and should by rights appear at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival are Gerald McMorrow‘s Franklyn, a kind of science-fiction fantasy piece costarring Sam Riley, Ryan Phillipe and Eva Green, and Beeban Kidron‘s Hippie Hippie Shake, an adaptation of Richard Neville‘s memoir about running Oz, the famed London counter-culture weekly, in the late ’60s. Cillian Murphy plays Neville; Sienna Miller plays significant other Louise Ferrier.
Sienna Miller in Hippie Hippie Shake.
Ryan Phillipe (reputedly) in Franklyn.
Both films are due to open in England later this year. and Hippie Hippie Shake, a Working Title production, is slated for release in the U.S. sometime in ’08 by Universal. Franklyn was mentioned in an Agence France Presse article as a possible Cannes 2008 selection, only it never happened.
The final Toronto Film Festival roster will be revealed on Tuesday, 8.19.
Hearty congratulations to voice actor Cedering Fox, a personal friend of this columnist whose Word Theatre shows have been mentioned on HE from time to time, for landing a great gig as the official announcer of the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver.
Before I get to the point of this item, let’s take a quick gander at Andrew Fleming‘s Hamlet 2 (Focus Features, 8.27), which I’ve seen. It’s about a somewhat immature, emotionally imbalanced, self-loathing ex-actor and high school teacher (Steve Coogan) who stages an irreverent musical sequel to William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet co-starring himself and his students. Hamlet 2 was a comic hit at Sundance ’08, which led to its acquisition by Focus Features.
It’s two movies in one — an irreverent, somewhat downish comedy of manners and ineptitude about preparing the show (and fighting small-town elements who don’t want it performed) and the show itself, which turns out to be much slicker and professionally performed than you’re led to expect, and is fairly entertaining. And one of the big musical numbers [see You Tube clip below] is called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” Coogan — dressed in a dark beard, dark hippie hair and a white gown — plays the Christ figure in the number.
Yesterday, to finally get to the point, I received a tiny bobbing Coogan doll to promote the film — a mildly cute little thing. But there’s a little detail about it that seems…well, funny. Or weird. Even given the satirical “goof around with Jesus” tone that’s already part of the musical number.
The problem is this: look at the hands of the Coogan Jesus doll, and you’ll see he’s making the devil hand sign with his fingers (i.e., the index finger and the pinkie finger raised) and not the “hang loose” hand sign, which is conveyed with the thumb and the pinkie.
If you’re a football fan from Texas you’d say, “No, no, that’s just’ the ‘hook ’em, Longhorns’ sign.” Or if you’re a rock musician you’d say “No, no, that’s just a hand sign that all the rockers use.” But in a Jesus context (and particularly given the fact that Hamlet 2 takes place in Arizona, not Texas), the doll’s finger sign is still a little bit odd…no?
For clarity’s sake here are two images of the hang-loose sign — image #1, image #2.
“Go to the nearest Wal-Mart, line up 100 people and ask them whether they can relate to a man who owns eight houses and whose wife is a gazillionaire, or if they can relate to a man who represents the American melting pot — a man who just recently paid off his student loans — a man who was raised by a single mother — a man who is (shock horror!) still happily married to his only wife. Then tell us that Barack Obama is the more exotic or elitist of the two candidates.
“Irrespective of what white, upper-class Republicans or Mark Penn or Mark Halperin or Pat Buchanan might think, Senator Obama quite literally looks like 21st Century America. Mixed-culture, mixed-heritage, middle class roots. Senator Obama, in terms of his racial composition and family history, has more in common with average Americans than just about any modern Republican presidential nominee.
“The only way he’s not is if somehow we’ve been transported into an episode of Leave It To Beaver — or if by ‘America’ the Republicans and the barbecue media mean to suggest ‘Kentucky.’ Even with that as a qualification, half of Senator Obama’s racial composition is rooted in rural Kansas. His parents were divorced. He barely knew his biological father.” — from Mike Cesca‘s 8.13 HuffPost piece titled “The Exotic Candidate Is The One With Eight Houses.”
So much for ex-United Artists marketing guy Dennis Rice‘s contention that it’s better to release Valkyrie on 2.13.09 than in late ’08 because it’ll make more money that way. A half hour ago it was announced, almost concurrent with the news about United Artists CEO Paula Wagner being in talks to leave the company, that Valkyrie has been given a 12.26.08 release date, instead of the Feb. 13 date that was previously announced.
This is the fourth release date that Valkyrie has now had. There’s no reason for me to think, having read the script and knowing Bryan Singer to be a very strong and focused director, that there’s anything seriously wrong with Valkyrie, but the release-date shuffling has been incessant and the fumes coming off this thing are malignant at this point. MGM has literally been putting out smoke signals since last summer saying “troubled! whoopsy daisy! uh-oh!”
MGM needs to stop the hemmorhaging on this thing. HE is hereby repeating its suggestion to new MGM marketing guy Mike Vohlman to screen this sucker for a few choice columnists and long-leaders (including myself, of course) and let them spread the word.
Variety wrote that “sources close to events said the move was made for purely commercial reasons, after a screening of the film went well. The studio sees it as a holiday pic and award consideration was not a factor, they say.”
Variety is reporting that Tom Cruise‘s longtime partner Paula Wagner is in talks to abandon her CEO berth at United Artists, which she’s held since 11.2.06 when she and Cruise took hold of the UA reins, and despite her being a co-owner of UA with Cruise and MGM. Obviously there’s been friction and rancor and she’s leaving under some sort of duress, but what are the particulars?
I have calls out to a few people, but until some real answers come in I have to presume that the factors behind the sudden upheaval are (a) the general Titanic-like vibe at MGM/UA, (b) adverse relations between Wagner and MGM worldwide motion picture group chairperson Mary Parent, (c) the MGM suits allegedly not liking Wagner either, (d) Valkyrie, (e) the de facto actor’s strike slowing everything down and to some extent getting in the way of Cruise-Wagner greenlighting anything. This, at least, is how an agent friend summarized it a few minutes ago.
A rival studio chief didn’t have any fresh or hard information, but observed/speculated that “they’re imploding over there…they lost Jeff Kleeman, they lost Dennis Rice….there’s a lot of tension between [Wagner] and Harry Sloan and Tom and the whole thing….everybody’s second-guessing them in the press…there’s been a lot of in-fighting …it’s certainly not like Paramount, where they were treated like royality…and Paula’s got plenty of money and probably just threw up her hands and said, the hell with this, I don’t need it.”
Nikki Finke‘s report seems to have a good handle on the situation. Sample graph: “The behind-the-scenes rupture of any reasonable relationship between UA and MGM really became evident this week. That’s because no one outside of those two companies knew that Wagner’s inability to pull the trigger on projects is now threatening to kill part of the $500 million financing from Merrill Lynch. I’m told specified start dates and release dates haven’t been met, so UA could lose a goodly portion of that credit line. The only solution is now for MGM to step in and immediately greenlight two UA motion pictures by the trigger dates. But Wagner’s camp is trying to spin this as MGM usurping UA’s independent authority so that MGM boss Harry Sloan can finally get his hands on UA’s money since he hasn’t been able to score financing of his own.”
Wagner and Cruise have been producing partners since ’93 and now, unless I’m misreading or misunderstanding, they’re technically parting company as well.
Wagner “will produce projects under her independent shingle,” the Variety story says, and also with UA, working with Cruise and MGM on various films she has already developed, including Guillermo del Toro‘s film version of the British TV adventure series Champions, among others.
Cruise and Wagner formed Cruise/Wagner Productions in 1993. They made Vanilla Sky, The Last Samurai, War of the Worlds, the Mission: Impossible series, Without Limits, The Others, Narc, Ask the Dust and Elizabethtown.
A New York-based publicist wrote with the usual questions about my planned activities at the Toronto Film Festival. I said I’ll seeing and doing everything I can for 18 hours daily for nine or ten days, Wednesday, 9.3 to Friday, 9.12. “Big essential screenings aside, I tend to improvise and shuffle around as the mood directs,” I said. “I absorb every film, every event and every person I meet. I take pictures, I record interviews, I shoot video, I review films, I report reactions, I eat free food at parties and sip the free white wine,” blah, blah. As ever.
The subject turned the other day to movies that were barely seen when initially released, and will almost certainly never be seen by anyone on DVD and therefore never remembered by anyone, ever. Dead, buried, finito. And I came up with one — Saul Swimmer‘s The Black Pearl (1978), which you can’t find on VHS and never was issued on DVD.
It starred Gilbert Roland, Carl Anderson and Mario Custodio , and was basically about a hunt for a large black pearl located off the Baja California coast. The money scene was about the young hero having to grapple with a giant manta ray that guards the treasure.
The reason I remember The Black Pearl is not because I liked it all that much. It’s because I was close with a lady who lived on West 13th Street named Elaine who told me something about a certain producer of The Black Pearl — he was young so maybe he was just an associate producer — that has always stayed in my mind. And only now, nearly 30 years after the fact, can the story finally be told.
Elaine and I were boyfriend-girlfriend for as little less than a year, sometime between mid ’78 and early to mid ’79. We remained semi-friendly after we broke up, and she told me one night that she was going out with a guy named something Harris, who’d produced or co-produced The Black Pearl. I’d seen her having a drink with him at the Village Bistro — nice looking, dark hair, nice sweater — and asked her a day or two later if he was a nice guy and she said yes, etc.
And then somehow I managed to get her to tell me how their first night of amour had gone, and she told me that they’d hardly slept at all due to his having made love to her eight times from midnight to the crack of dawn. Wow, I said, and let it go at that. And yet deep down I was impressed. A night of typical grand passion might include three or four go-rounds, but eight? Harris was either very athletic or very full of feeling, or a combination of the two.
The take-away thing is that Elaine got a little bit angry with me the next time we spoke because — I was actually being respectful in a roundabout way — I referred to the Black Pearl producer as “Eight Times Harris.” She was actually more like half-pissed and half-laughing. But that “Eight Times Harris” remark is the reason I still remember The Black Pearl.
And now there are a few more in the world who will forever remember this film. Right? If I hadn’t written this The Black Pearl would be the same dead movie it’s been for the last 28 or 29 years, but now there’s something to remember it by. Am I right or wrong?