Quality over quantity…right? Longer usually ain’t better and less is usually more. Except when it comes to performances.
The only exception I can think of was Beatrice Straight taking a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a single deeply-felt scene in Sidney Lumet’s Network. But if Straight had given that killer performance in an anthology film, she’d have been passed over.

Jason Isaacs, Robin Wright Penn in Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

The rule seems to be that a performance isn’t award-worthy unless it takes the viewer on at least a 70 or 80-minute journey.
But rules are made to be broken, and Robin Wright Penn’s performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives (Magnolia) — nine short films about women in some kind of emotional transition or meltdown — is enough to make anyone step back and go “wait a minute.”
Penn’s performance comes in the second segment, called “Diana.” She plays the title character — a very pregnant married woman who runs into an old flame named Damian (Isaacs) in a Bel Air market…a man she deeply loved and had the major hots for, and who obviously hurt her very badly.
They spot each other and start talking, and things rekindle in a matter of minutes …or is it seconds? By the time this 11-minute sequence ends, Penn is a mess…crying, anxious…looking for her ex-lover in a darkened parking lot to no avail. And you’re right with her, feeling it.
All the sequences in Nine Lives are shot in a single unbroken take, and the camera is right on top of Penn for every second of “Diana.” And she shows a fuller, more flickery sense of pushed-down hurt and passion than anything I’ve felt from any other female performance, leading or supporting, this year.

Robin Wright Penn prior to Sundance ’05 premiere for Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

The fact that she gets to the places she gets to with such delicacy and depth of feeling, and in such a short time…
As good as Isaacs is also (he supplies exactly the right portions of confidence, charm and implied unruliness), you can’t help but study Penn for every facial spasm, every crack of a half-smile, every surge of hesitant feeling.
She’s so good I went back last weekend and paid to see Nine Lives, and nobody freeloads like me when it comes to movies and DVDs.
Most of the major critics have singled out this segment and/or Penn’s performance as the best in the film.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum called “Diana” “my favorite among the nonet of 10-minute scenes of women in crisis that make up [this] deeply satisfying feminine maypole dance.
“The air between [Diana and Damian] is electric with unresolved feelings, and the woman truly doesn’t know which way to turn: She tries this aisle and that to find her emotional way, while the camera follows her agitated indecision in one unbroken take.”

Nine Lives director Rodrigo Garcia

“Erotic sparks fly [in this sequence],” said N.Y. Times critic Stephen Holden, “as [Diana’ is gripped by the familiar, scary feeling of disappearing in [Damian’s] presence.”
Variety‘s Scott Foundas has called “Diana” “the pic’s most haunting sequence,” and the L.A. Daily News critic Glenn Whipp called it “the best of the lot.”
“The mundane conversation mingling with obvious chemistry, bitter confrontation and, finally, abject sadness (we get the feeling Damian has really hurt her) is so beautifully handled by Wright-Penn that even the sound of her shopping cart speeding and slowing down matches her staggered feelings,” wrote Reel.com’s Kim Morgan.
L.A. Times critic Kevin Thomas called “Diana” “an especially fine example of Garcia’s masterly control in developing a scene to its fullest,” adding that Wright Penn “beautifully reveals Diana’s increasing inner turmoil along with her determination not to lose her self-control.”
It was Damian’s “inability to commit [that] ended their relationship a decade earlier,” he observed. “Even though Damian has married, as has Diana, he instantly realizes he has never stopped loving her, and in his regret, selfishly resolves to force her to acknowledge that she feels the same way about him.

Jason Isaacs at Sundance ’05 premiere

“He starts out in a low enough key that Diana, though thrown by running into him, is finding the chance meeting pleasant enough until he starts bearing down on her,” Thomas explained. “Diana therefore finds herself in a very public place having to confront an unexpected and painful truth and then rise above it, holding on to her dignity and determination all the same.”
Wait a minute….Damian doesn’t really bear down on Diana. He comes over and says he “can’t stop thinking about her,” etc., which I guess is kind of over- bearing, but she’s obviously torn up about seeing him without any prompting (searching for him as she walks down the aisles with her basket, etc.) that he hardly seems like an invader.
Will anything happen for Penn with the critics groups or the Academy? Doesn’t matter on one level because great work is its own reward, but she’s less than a year from being 40 and we all know what that means for actresses. She could do with a pat on the back and some extra attention for being as good as she is.

Arclight Double

Fierce People director Griffin Dunne, costars Anton Yelchin (center) and Donald Sutherland (r.) at Arclight theatre prior to Hollywood Film Festival showing — Wednesday, 10.18, 7:55 pm. Lions Gate will release Fierce People in April ’06.

Movie City News editor David Poland chatting with North Country director Niki Caro, star Charlize Theron following screening at Arclight — Wednesday, 10.18, 10:10 pm. Nice interview, but the sound system was all screwed up. The Fierce People q & a could be heard on speakers in the North Country venue, and vice versa. And the cordless mikes kept cutting out.


Having just seen Mrs. Henderson Presents (Weinstein Co., 12.9) a second time, I’m still 90% convinced Dame Judi Dench will snag a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
She plays the title character, a 70ish widow who buys a London theatre in the late 1930s and, with the help of a feisty 50ish theatre manager (Bob Hoskins), even- tually puts on a nude revue…and does so with her usual aplomb.
Dench may not be quite the slam-dunk that Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the Best Actor category, but she’s probably “in”…assuming there are no surprises in the wings (which an Oscar-handicapper should never do) and depending, obviously, on the breaks.

Her competitors are Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Maria Bello (A History of Violence), Toni Collette (no full-length performance has out-shone hers in In Her Shoes, but the flat box-office revenues for this 20th Century Fox release will probably lessen the attention), Charlize Theron (North Country), Sara Jessica Parker (The Family Stone), and — if you ask me — Robin Wright Penn.
Who am I missing?
It’s not just that Dench is spirited and funny-sad, but she has a pitch-perfect way of delivering zap lines with just the right tone of upper-class indifference. With a less-skilled actress at the helm this could seem offensive, depending on the direction…and yet the joke is always on Dench.
Plus she gradually starts to soften and sadden her Mrs. Henderson (a 70ish widow who buys a London theatre and eventually puts on a nude revue) at the halfway point, and generally makes her into a woman of considerable heart and soul.

Listen Up

Here’s a recording of a special introduction to the just-out “collector’s edition” DVD of Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski (’98). I just popped it in last night, not expecting anything special, and the intro piece kind of jerked me awake.
It’s billed on the package as an “Exclusive Introduction featuring Mortimer Young, a practitioner of ‘non-uptight’ film preservation.”

This dry and perverse intro is hilariously delivered by an actor who’s really good at sounding like a vaguely pompous know-it-all. His name escapes me, but he’s in his late 60s or early 70s and has been in, I think, a Coen brothers film or two.
The copy was obviously written by Joel and Ethan. The riff about “the catastophic period of synergy” (ownership of Universal by Vivendi, Seagrams, etc.) is hilarious. The narrator calls the film The Grand Lebowski (not bad) and mentions that the film was called Mr. Marijuana when it played in Spain.
Everybody knows producer’s rep Jeff Dowd was the quasi-inspiration for Jeff Bridges’ Jeff Lebowski character, but no one has ever said this: Jeff Dowd is nothing like Jeff Lebowski except for the girth. Dowd is quick, shrewd, on top of it. Was into White Russians in the ’70s or ’80s but not now. Not much of a bowler.

“Brown” Booty

“I imagine that the money hairs on the back of Ridley Scott’s neck may be going `Whoo, whoo, whoo’ about directing an Encyclopedia Brown movie, but I have to say ‘What the fuck?’
“Donald Sobol’s books were the shit in the `80s the same way R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps were the shit for kids in the 90s and Harry Potter is now and will soon be replaced by the next volume of books which strikes a chord with the upcoming generation of pre-pubescents with stories of kids as the main characters.
“But even back then, misguided third-grader that I was, I couldn’t imagine there being an `Encyclopedia Brown’ movie.
“Nothing about it is cinematic. Something happens — usually something that stumps little Leroy’s dad, the chief of police — and Encyclopedia snoops around a bit, and Sally follows him around and gets into fisticuffs with anyone who’ll start something. A little more investigating and a lightbulb goes off. Then you go to the back of the book and see the solution to the mystery. It has less of a story than a single episode of `Scooby Doo.’

“Who wants to watch an entire movie of vignettes like that? What’s Scott going to do with that? You can create kinetic shots by adjusting the shutter speed on gladiator fights before the emperors and the bloody battles in Somalia, but a pre-teen solving a mystery? And this is from one of the little tykes who blindly made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the highest-grossing movie in 1990.
“I even vaguely remember my third-grade teacher bringing in a videocassette of an episode of the show based on the books and my class didn’t even like it. I can smell `80s revivalism from the other side of the country on this one, trying to bring in the dollar of twenty-somethings with a title from their youth just to get a few quick bucks.
“Like that Dukes of Hazzard abomination from last summer, it seems like a way to milk empty nostalgia from the unsuspecting public.
“And with things the way they are in a overly-p.c. landscape, what kind of kid’s movie will have a guy named Bugs Meaney, who wants to beat of a girl?
“If you ask me, Sobol should be satisfied that his books made it into one of the greatest movies of the `90s, Pulp Fiction. A deleted scene, okay, but still better than the prospect of a Ridley “Brown” picture.” — Jay from the state of Georgia.
“That Encyclopedia Brown thing, if not nauseating, is annoying as hell. Okay, maybe it’s nauseating, too. Since when has Ridley Scott given a shit about kids’ movies? And isn’t Narnia enough of an exploitation of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings reps?

Ridley Scott

“We must count our blessings, regardless of these developments. Remember that if even if the worst comes to pass, at least Ridley’s brother Tony will not have directed this new film. The cruel taint on Scott Free Productions is Tony’s vile hand; he who committed such crimes as Spy Game and True Romance. All right, I guess The Fan was okay.
“But I’m a jerk for saying such things. I never directed a movie, so what right do I have to blast Tony Scott? Man. (And good Christ, I am STILL so disturbingly correct somehow… funny, that.)” — Steve Clark


Entrance to 20th Century Fox studios — Tuesday, 10.18, 4:25 pm.

Meandering around West Hollywood’s Farmer’s Market — Saturday, 10.15, 4:50 pm


West Hollywood = the quickening of the pulse.

Chicken Little promo package filled with a handful of chicken feathers that half-spill out and half float-out the minute you open it…sent late last week by Disney publicity.

Lobby of Laemmle’s Sunset 5 — Sunday, 10.16, 7:20 pm. As a result of taking this photo, I was (a) asked to produce my ticket stub by a suspicious usher, (b) interrogated by the manager and the assistant manager about why I was taking a photo of the lobby, (c) asked to show the camera so they could make sure it wasn’t a video camera.

What does the fruit section of Whole Foods on Third and Fairfax have to do with anything…?

Rear of vehicle parked on San Vicente Blvd. outside West Hollywood post office — Tuesday, 10.17, 3:25 pm.

I know…so what?

That photo of a South Pacific island that Jamie Foxx’s cab driver in Collateral kept on his sun visor so he could take a brief vacation when he needed to? Same difference. Atop a hillside in Tuscany, taken in June 2003.