That 12.6 report about a ballistics test indicating that Harold Smith‘s suicide gun wasn’t the one that killed publicist Ronni Chasen has been debunked or erased or whatever. Now they’re saying it is the same gun, and that Smith acted alone in some kind of half-assed robbery attempt, and that Smith was riding a bicycle.
I was in London when John Lennon was shot exactly 30 years ago this evening. I was there to do a GQ interview with Peter O’Toole, for a piece about his performance in The Stunt Man. I was crashing on a couch in some guy’s apartment in Stockwell, adjacent to Brixton, and was woken up with the news on the morning of December 9th. I’d had a few pints hours earlier and was on the groggy side. “Holy shit,” I remember saying. “Really?”
I told Paprika Steen during a lunch earlier today that she seems to have moved beyond “acting” in Martin Pieter Zandvlier‘s Applause (12.3), about a brilliant but half-unhinged alcoholic actress. She performs the part, of course, but I didn’t fully believe that Steen (a Danish dogma star best known for Susanne Bier‘s Open Hearts and Thomas Vinterberg‘s The Celebration) was 100% acting. Deep down I was persuaded that she was mostly playing herself.
Applause star Paprika Steen outside Italian joint on West 4th and 10th Street — Wednesday, 12.8, 1:10 pm.
I’m not saying that she was, but that I believed as much. That, in my book, is acting of a very high and unusual order.
“Uh-oh,” she replied. “Maybe that’s not so good, people might think I’m a problem alcoholic.” No, no, I said — it’s a very good thing if people really understand, as I think I do now. For the record Steen, who’s on the tallish side, looks and seems un- addicted in most respects. She speaks perfectly fluid English without much of an accent. She has a exotic, vivacious smile and a magnificent mane of blonde hair and absolutely no trace of the somewhat puffy, boozy complexion she has in the film.
In short I thought she was okay and vice versa. We’re both Scorpios, etc. She seemed to enjoy my resemblance to Chris Walken. I taped our conversation, of course, and will run some of our conversation sometime tomorrow.
“Ms. Steen doesn’t just surpass herself in Applause — she gives one of the best screen performances of the year,” wrote Karen Durbin in the N.Y. Times on 10.29.
“[She] plays Thea, a famous theater actress fresh from a lengthy stint in alcohol rehab who is eager to regain at least partial custody of her two young sons. Applause intercuts the tense drama of her troubled present with pungent flashbacks to Thea triumphant as the drunken Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We see that she was not only great but, once offstage, viciously abusive to her young dresser.
“Playing an alcoholic has been known to bring out the scenery chomper in the best of actors, Ms. Steen never puts a foot wrong, even though she’s playing two alcoholics, wild Martha with the meat-cleaver mouth and the more alienated, calculating Thea.
“There are no melodramatics in the latter portrayal, just a silent, simmering rage at everyone but her children, a tormented sense of being forever on the outside looking in, and a self-destructiveness so willful that when her ex-husband lets her take the boys on an outing near a lake, it’s impossible not to think she’s going to drown them.
“To say that Ms. Steen commands this film is no exaggeration. She’s in every scene, with Thea’s drink-ravaged face often shot in unforgiving close-up. There is even a single eerie, fleeting moment when we can’t tell if she’s Martha or Thea: Ms. Steen is that good.
“Thea’s story is harrowing. Yet for all the pain she depicts, Ms. Steen is delving so deep and with such unerring precision into the human psyche, not even for a moment do we want to look away.”
Just before my 4 pm screening of How Do You Know, Deadline‘s Michael Fleming reported that the MPAA has overturned the NC-17 rating previously given to Derek Cianfrance‘s Blue Valentine and decided on an R. The problem was reportedly a man-on-woman, Ryan Gosling-on-Michelle Williams oral sex scene. Presumably the MPAA guys read the various posts asking why Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan had been given an R rating despite a girl-on-girl oral sex scene, etc.
Blue Valentine Michelle Williams at last night’s gathering at Manhattan’s Standard Hotel following a MOMA screening. An American Cinematheque tribute will happen on Saturday at L.A.’s Aero theatre at 7:30 pm. Timothy Blake will moderate a discussion with Williams as well as show include clips from her numerous films. A screening of Blue Valentine will follow.
Blue Valentine director-writer Derek Cianfrance (r.) at same gathering — Tuesday, 12.7, 10:45 pm. (Apologies for being unable within my usual tight time frame to find the name of Derek’s wife. I asked two publicists…zip.)
Weinstein Co. honcho Harvey Weinstein “personally argued his position in today’s hearing,” Fleming reports,” adding that he’s “been told the appeal board’s decision was unanimous.” This whole thing couldn’t have worked out better for the Weinstein Co. The NC-17 rating jacked up the film’s profile, and now it’ll benefit from all the attention without having to deal with the ad restrictions that would have hindered the films’ release if it hadn’t been overturned.
This morning I suggested to a columnist pal that he needs to focus “on the surging of The Fighter as a Best Picture contender. This is a really well-made, deeply populist, authentic blue-collar drama that’s much better and far less sappy than…I don’t even want to mention Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky because it just diminishes The Fighter‘s brand when I do that.
“I think you’re going to find that ticket buyers will start responding to it big-time…maybe. This could be the compromise Best Picture choice — the happy middle-ground contender that could/should satisfy the King’s Speech and Social Network camps.”
Strange as this may seem to some, the term “Best Picture” actually does mean that. It doesn’t mean “Best Liked” or “Most Comforting” or “Most Emotional” or “The Movie My Cleaning Lady Likes The Best.” THerefore The Social Network really and truly happens to be the best film of the year, but — I’m saying this carefully — if it were to lose to The Fighter, I would not collapse on the floor in spasms of grief and protest and outrage.
“Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, taking a radical step backward from his Oscar-winning debut The Lives of Others, The Tourist illustrates what happens when you cast two giant, self-orbiting stars and then are either too intimidated or too confused to actually direct them,” writes the Star-Telegram‘s Christopher Kelly. “It also illustrates what happens when you compound a bad idea with poorly telegraphed twists and no dramatic tension whatsoever.
“Von Donnersmarck has conjured up a movie in love with its own Hollywood artificiality; at one point, and for no discernible reason, Jolie is dressed up to look like Sophia Loren and attends a formal ball. But there’s nothing to care about here, and the action is all ineptly staged. Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton end up leading Keystone Kops routines that are funny for all the wrong reasons. The movie sputters to a conclusion so predictable you first feel embarrassed for all involved, until your embarrassment turns to indignation: How stupid does Hollywood believe audiences to be if they think they can put a turkey like The Tourist over on us?”
I’ve just about had it with listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” under any circumstance, and especially while sitting in Starbucks. “Bah-rumpa-pum-pum,” my ass. Wouldn’t the racket of a drum upset a just-born child? Maybe if the drummer boy had brushes, but of course they hadn’t been invented 2010 years ago. I’m down with Christmas Carols as far they go, but this is one of the all-time dumbest. It bothered me even when I was an eight year-old.
Popeater‘s Gary Susman, following the lead of a 12.2 L.A. Times piece by Stephen Zeitchick (among others), is asking why an oral sex scene in Derek Cianfrance‘s Blue Valentine resulted in an NC-17 rating while a lesbian/bisexual oral sex scene in Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan resulted in only an R rating. I think we all know why.
Cianfrance’s film is essentially being punished for being more honest and realistic in its depictions of sexuality than Aronofsky’s. Black Swan‘s oral-sex scene has been primarily interpreted as a nice hot fantasy that straight males in particular can watch without discomfort whereas Valentine‘s, driven by the emotional dynamics of a failing marriage, is a bit more unsettling and/or uncomfrtable.
Regardless of the MPAA’s historical record, straight-laced American milquetoast types (such as those on the MPAA’s ratings board) have always felt far less threatened by hot girl-on-girl action than heterosexual couplings. As Susman writes, “The ratings board may have muddled standards regarding female sexual pleasure, profanity and violence, but at least it’s no longer quite so fearful of lesbianism. So long as the lesbians are played by household-name actresses in MPAA-member films, and they’re not totally naked, and they’re not necessarily enjoying themselves, and they might just be fantasizing, that is.”
Tough but necessary words yesterday about the plutocracy-favoring tax-cut deal from MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. “It is not disloyalty to the Democratic party to tell a Democratic president he is goddamned wrong,” he notes, “[And] it is not disloyalty to remind the President that he was elected by people to whom he had given a clear outline of what he would do for them” and that me may “not only not be re-elected — he may not even be re-nominated.”
Obama, he said, “negotiates down from a position of strength better than any other politician in recent history.”
N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich offered a similar opinion two days ago when he noted that “a weak Barack Obama has been spiritually kidnapped by Republicans and is now suffering from Stockholm Syndrome which allows him to sympathize with his captors.”
Appearing recently on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Company,” former CBS newsman Dan Rather called this “a political nightmare for Barack Obama as president…politically, within his own party, if this goes through, Barack Obama will be in a position to have his shirttail on fire, his back to the wall, and the bill collector at the door. Which is metaphorically a way of saying he’s almost guaranteed — if this goes through — to have a serious challenge in a Democratic primary for president in 2012.”
“Rather went on to add that ‘the perception of [Obama] is that he won’t fight for anything.” He also noted: ‘Many of the heavy contributors to the Democratic Party are beyond shock about this happening, and are saying to themselves, ‘This guy…has about four to six months to turn the perception of him and the party around or we’ve got to start thinking about somebody else in 2012.'”
A portion of Matt Bai‘s 12.8 Times story about a possible liberal challenge to Obama in the 2012 primaries notes that “three liberal writers made the case for taking on Mr. Obama in 2012. Michael Lerner, longtime editor of Tikkun magazine, argued in The Washington Post that a primary represented a ‘real way to save the Obama presidency’ by forcing Mr. Obama to move leftward. Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect and one of the party’s most scathing populist voices, issued a similar call on The Huffington Post, suggesting Iowa as the ideal incubator.
“On the same site, Clarence B. Jones, a one-time confidant of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., suggested that liberals should break with Mr. Obama now, just as Dr. King and others did with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. ‘It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected president of the United States,’ Mr. Jones wrote. ‘But, regrettably, I believe the time has come to do this.'”
I see the names Hammond, Appelo & O’Neil and for some non-relative reason I think of Beck, Bogart & Appice — go figure. So I’m listening to these guys talk about the Best Actress race and asking myself, “Which one is Jeff Beck? Which one leads with his heart and soul and plays some of that crazy flash guitar?”
And I’d have to say it’s Gold Derby maestro Tom O’Neil in this instance because he’s the gabbiest and the jabbiest and the bluntest, and seems the most receptive to underground tremors while at the same time understanding the whole political equation. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tim Appelo is bassist Tim Bogert, I think, because he’s steady and solid and pays as much attention to politically feasible possibilities as the drummer, Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, who’s mainly about long-view wisdom and community sensitivity and putting out that steady conciliatory political beat.
Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Lesley Manville, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Tilda Swinton — which two won’t make the cut? My personal preferences at this stage are (in this order) Portman, Manville, Kidman, Williams and Lawrence.
Good as she is, I would honest put The Kids Are All Right‘s Bening in sixth place right now — no offense. I’m sorry but you have to choose and Bening, having gone with the advice of husband Warren Beatty, has been blowing off the press in favor of talking to the guilds. Will she get a Best Actress nomination from SAG and the Academy? Will she win with either voting body? If it happens, fine and good. I can only emphasize I’d much rather see Portman or Manville win. Portman gives by far the most committed and incendiary performance, and Manville the saddest and most touching.
A lot will depend, I think, on the Best Actress choices from The Los Angeles Film Critics Association this Sunday, and from the New York Film Critics Circle on the following day. Portman, Bening, Manville, Lawrence, Kidman, Williams, Swinton…which of these? I foresee Another Year‘s Lesley Manville winning with the NYFCC, and Black Swan‘s Natalie Portman perhaps being chosen by LAFCA…no?
Any way you slice it, it’ll be a shocker and a miracle if Bening wins with either group. Because I personally believe (as I’ve said before) that she’s somewhere fading and over. And if I’m proved wrong, okay. I’ll be on the floor but fine.
It’s the fair-minded Hammond, ironically, who passes along the most withering comment when he says that an industry person recently told him that Bening “peaked with The Grifters.” Whoa…not nice. And not true. She was close to perfect in Sam Mendes‘ American Beauty and searing and straight-on in Rodrigo Garcia‘s Mother and Child.