I’ve predicted two or three times that Steven Soderbergh‘s stated intention to quit directing films on favor of painting would not turn into a permanent retirement but a “Frank Sinatra retirement,” or a battery-recharging sabbatical of two or three or four years. I repeated that prediction, in fact, to Soderbergh himself at an LA Film Festival party last June.
Well, in Venice today Soderbergh confirmed this. A year or so from now he’ll be doing a temporary withdrawal from directing. Five years, maybe less, but mainly to re-orient his head. How did I know this earlier? Precognition, ether in the air, insect antennae, etc.
Descendants star George Clooney was holding court in the Sheridan bar last night with Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy, In Contention‘s Kris Tapley, myself and two or three others during a cool Fox Searchlight party. Most of the gab was about politics (Clooney does a good Rick Perry impression, in a manner of speaking), but he and I briefly discussed The Descendants and particularly The Ides of March, his directorial effort which opened in Venice and which will play again next weekend in Toronto.
Descendants star George Clooney, director-writer Alexander Payne at Telluride’s Sheridan bar last night.
Descendants costar Shailene Woodley at last night’s Fox Searchlight gathering. (Photo courtesy of Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone .)
Clooney said he’s “really proud” of the fim, and explained that the third act has a whole separate payoff than the play Farragut North, which March is adapted from. The play “had two acts…actually, not really quite two,” said Clooney. As the trailer makes clear he plays a vaguely Howard Dean-like governor running for president in the Ohio primary, but the tragic finale has echoes, apparently, of John Edwards.
I briefly jawed with Descendants director-writer Alexander Payne in the back room, and then I took a snap of Payne and Clooney as the former was leaving.
I also spoke to 20 year-old Shailene Woodley, whose razor-sharp performance as Clooney’s older teenage daughter has made her the breakout star of this year’s Telluride Film Festival. She’s not doing college now (being occupied with The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the TV series) but will go eventually. Born and raised in Simi Valley. Simply auditioned for Payne and got the part, etc.
Clooney was tributed last night at the Palm and again this morning (at 9:30 am) at the Sheridan Opera House. Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted this morning that he’s tired of reading about Clooney from Telluride-attending journalists, but you try it, Seitz! The Descendants has been the only power-hitting contender here so far (or at least prior to today’s Shame screenings) and Clooney is an absolute mensch and schmooze champ in every respect (Deadline‘s Pete Hammond wrote this morning that Clooney “may be the most accessible star of his magnitude I’ve ever run into…no entourage at all”) and has taken part in numerous events so whaddaya want from me?
Ms. Woodley again, this time taken by msyelf.
Presumably there are reactions to last night’s news (broken by Deadline, followed up by everyone else) about Eddie Murphy being producer Brett Ratner‘s first choice to host the 2012 Oscar telecast. It’s by no means a locked deal but please have at it.
I saw Murphy perform live gigs twice in the early ’80s, and as hilarious as he was back then his material was about 80% X-rated scatalogical (anal wonderland, trim, suck my dick, “Mr. T in a gay bar,” etc.) — that’s where his comic mind naturally went back then. So unless he’s turned into the new Mort Sahl I wonder where he could take his monologue within a straight-jacketed network TV broadcast. Plus Murphy has never been a social-cultural commentator type — he riffs about his own realm. Plus I don’t feel Murphy is really part of the 21st Century zeitgeist — he’s basically a rich ’80s and ’90s guy who’s hung in there.
My strongest Murphy-Oscar association is that of the sorehead who bolted out of the Kodak theatre after not winning Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls.
No, I haven’t seen Tower Heist (11.4) and for all I know Murphy may be great in it and will get a second wind, etc.
Hollywood Reporter awards-season correspondent Scott Feinberg has posted a good audio interview with Albert Nobbs star-producer-cowriter Glenn Close. He reminds that Close collected five Oscar nominations in seven years (’82 to ’89) — a nomination tally matched only by Greer Garson, Bette Davis and Meryl Streep.
For me Close’s two best nominated performances were the psychopathic rabbit-killing witch in Fatal Attraction and the ultra-perverse schemer in Dangeorus Liasons. Followed by Jennie Fields in The World According to Garp, Kevin Kline‘s soulful wife in The Big Chill, and “the blonde in the bleachers” in The Natural.
“Most of our discussion, of course, centered around Albert Nobbs,” Feinberg notes. “The memorable way in which she first encountered the source material 29 years ago; what about it appealed to her enough to pursue a cinematic adaptation of it ever since; how she manipulated her voice, posture (she says Charlie Chaplin was a key model), and face (she switched from downcast to wide-eyed mid-film) to the extent that she could pass as a man,” etc.
Complaint: The subhead of Feinberg’s piece says “The 5-time Oscar nominee grants THR the first interview since her film premiered [at Telluride].” This implies that Close and her publicist David Pollick chose Feinberg and THR above all to speak to first. That’s not how it went down. Feinberg, yes, was technically the first guy to speak to her yesterday morning inside the Chuck Jones theatre lobby, but we were all there at the same time — Feinberg, myself, Sasha Stone, Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson, etc. Stone and I spoke to Close after Feinberg finished, and then Tapley and Thompson. My short piece went up around 9 am LA time, Tapley’s a little bit before, and Feinberg’s posted at 2 pm.
In terms of delivering solid, exciting creme de la creme fall releases the Telluride Film Festival, for all its soothing aromas and enjoyments, has felt thin to me. The Descendants thus far has been the only solid triple/home run. That could change with today’s dual showings of Steve McQueen‘s Shame, which the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks and other Venice Film Festival have mostly raved about.
Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s Shame, the Telluride Film Festival’s last best hope to at least match the Descendants buzz.
David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method will also screen twice in Telluride today, but that psycho-sexual period drama has already been relegated to some extent by Venice reviewers (along with George Clooney‘s The Ides of March) to the solid B or B-plus category…maybe. Telluride reactions will obviously add to the mix, as will those at Toronto starting next weekend.
“Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give dynamite performances in Shame, a terrific second feature from the British artist Steve McQueen,” writes Brooks.
“Fassbender is Brandon, a sex-addicted corporate drone, directing a radioactive stare at random women across the aisle on the New York subway. Mulligan plays Sissy, his sister, who sings for her supper, self-harms for kicks and is surely pointed towards disaster. ‘We’re not bad people,’ Sissy assures her sibling. ‘We just come from a bad place.’
“Specifically this place is Manhattan, which McQueen depicts as a hell of sterile offices, anonymous apartments and desperate pick-up joints, though it may conceivably refer to the world at large.
Shame feels less formal, less rooted in the language of the art installation than McQueen’s previous film, Hunger, and is all the more satisfying for that. This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie. There are glimmers of American Gigolo to its pristine sheen and echoes of Midnight Cowboy to the scratchy, mutual dependence of the damaged duo at the core.
“For her big showstopper at a downtown nightclub, Sissy takes the stage to croon her way through a haunting, little-girl-lost rendition of New York, New York, slowing the pace and milking the pathos. Brandon sits at the back, his jaw locked, his eyes welling. In the song’s melting, dying fall, he catches a glimpse of the lie behind the tinsel and smells the inevitable death of all her dreams, and maybe his dreams as well.”
Variety‘s Justin Chang says the following in his opening graph: “Few filmmakers have plumbed the soul-churning depths of sexual addiction as fearlessly as British director Steve McQueen has in Shame.
“A mesmerizing companion piece to Hunger, this more approachable but equally uncompromising drama likewise fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body, as Michael Fassbender again strips himself down, in every way an actor can, for McQueen’s rigorous but humane interrogation. Confrontational subject matter and matter-of-fact explicitness will position the film at the higher end of the specialty market, but it’s certain to arouse critical acclaim and smart-audience interest wherever it’s shown.”
Deadline‘s Pete Hammond wrote early this morning that Jim Field Smith‘s Butter “played like gangbusters at its first packed screening at [Telluride’s] Galaxy theatre” and that “there were big laughs for the small-town, butter-carving satire.”
Butter star-producer Jennifer Garner, director Jim Field Smith prior to last night’s screening.
I would politely dispute that account as I was in the same theatre. There were certainly laughs from time to time (even I guffawed five or six times) but my general impression was that audience energy levels eventually turned flat. Because after the first 25 or 30 minutes it was clear that the filmmakers weren’t interested in investing any real human truth or honest emotional underpinnings to any of the characters — with one or two exceptions they’re all playing exaggerated satirical types. And worked-out, semi-logical motivations are few and far between. And so the audience was going, I inferred, “Okay, this is ‘funny’ from time to time but it’s not really delivering.”
I would love to have fun with a smart comedy that skewers Middle America and Jennifer Garner‘s Michelle Bachmann-like character, but Butter is sloppily written and poorly motivated and simply not a class act.
Garner’s rightwing bitch is so shrill and constipated and borderline psychopathic that it’s impossible to laugh at or with her after the first half-hour or so. Yara Shahidi , a 10-year-old African-American girl who plays the instigating lead, is the one uncompromised bright note, and is obviously pretty and appealing. Ty Burrell, playing Garner’s hapless, low-key husband, is okay for the most part. But Olivia Wilde‘s stripper character and Hugh Jackman ‘s car-salesman doofus are written too crudely and illogically.
Comedies have to be funny, obviously, but they never work unless they’ve been written and constructed like drama. Once you say, “Oh, we’re just making a ‘comedy’ so we can goof off and make fun of this and that and throw reality out the window,” you’re finished.
Butter was being compared last night to Michael Ritchie‘s Smile (’75), an admired satire about a teenaged beauty competition in Santa Rosa. Forget it, nowhere near, not even close. Hammond mentioned Alexander Payne‘s Election as another similarity. No way in hell — Butter isn’t remotely in the same league. I tweeted last night that Butter “is not, repeat NOT, the new Little Miss Sunshine, as some have suggested. Michael Arndt‘s Oscar-winning Sunshine script is heads and shoulders above.”
My first tweet, posted 30 minutes after the screening broke: “Why did the Telluride Film Festival, a mecca for quality, screen a socio-political satire as thin, silly and haphazardly written as Butter?”
Hammond reports that the film “may get a year end release from the Weinstein Company to qualify for awards, especially Golden Globes.” That’s a code term, that last clause.