Willie’s Out

You can bid a sad Oscar farewell to Sean Penn, Willie Stark, Patty Clarkson, Mike Medavoy and director-writer Steven Zallian…at least as far as the ’05 race is concerned.
All The King’s Men, a southern political melodrama about the corruption of a home-grown politician in the mode of Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, has been pulled from its 12.16 release date, which has been scheduled for several months now.

Sean Penn in Steven Zallian’s All The King’s Men

ATKM will probably open in late ’06, according to Medavoy, the film’s producer and head of the Sony-based Pheonix Pictures.
Medavoy told me Thursday afternoon that “we’re just not ready” to release All The King’s Men by 12.16.
“And although I’m personally not happy that we didn’t make it, I know enough about this business to say thank you to the studio for having the guts to [make this decision].”
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One obvious result is that the Best Picture Oscar race is suddenly a tad less challenging for contenders like Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Munich, Walk the Line, Jarhead, Good Night, and Good Luck and The New World.
The assumption was that ATKM might be an Oscar contender on several fronts, especially since the 1949 screen adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s novel, which was directed by Robert Rossen, won a Best Picture Oscar and two acting Oscars (for costars Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge).
The story’s about an idealistic southern politician who starts off as a sincere man-of-the-people type, but gradually becomes corrupted by the system as he becomes more and more powerful.

“The few people who’ve seen the movie are over the moon about it…there’s no question this film would have gotten several Oscar nominations,” said Medavoy. “But we have another four weeks to go with the editing, we haven’t even heard the music, we didn’t have the TV spots ready…we would have had to rush everything.”
In other words, said Medavoy, the version of the All The King’s Men that he, Zallian and Columbia would have had to put into theatres to meet the 12.16 release date might not be “the best movie that we know how to put out there, one that I’ll be proud and you’d be proud of… we’re just not ready.”
All The King’s Men finished shooting last April — five months ago — and has been editing ever since. Steven Spielberg’s Munich, another presumed Oscar contender, began filming early last July and will be in theatres by 12.25.
The average guy might compare the two and ask if Spielberg can finish a film in six months, start to finish, why can’t Zallian get his done satisfactorily in double that time, since principal photography on All The King’s Men started in early December of ’04?

Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo

Medavoy’s answer is that Warren’s novel “is a very complicated story. You’ve read the novel, you know what I mean. And we didn’t want to send out a wet print. Spielberg can send out a wet print. We can’t afford to do that.
“The current plan is to wait until the fall,” said Medavoy. “Maybe we’ll have a Cannes plan or a New York plan…we’ll see how it all develops.”
Zallian previously directed two pretty good films — A Civil Action and Searching for Bobby Fischer, and won a best Adapatred Screenplay Oscar for his work on Schindler’s List.
All The King’s Men also stars Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini and Kathy Baker.

Grab Ass

Looking south on 7th Avenue from 57th Street — Friday, 10.21.05, 1:10 pm.

Fierce People director Griffin Dunne in Almond room of Four Seasons hotel — Friday, 10.21.05, 12:15 pm. (Note to the gang at Michelle Robertson publicity: thanks, really, for calling and politely reminding me about Thursday’s interview — very thorough and much appreciated.)

Hany Abu-Assad, director and co-writer of Warner Independent’s Paradise Now, at Thursday’s press junket at Century City’s Hyatt-whatever hotel (i.e., the terra cotta-colored one).

57th Street and 7th Avenue, looking east — Friday, 10.21.05, 1:07 pm.

Buffet for journalists at Paradise Now junket, courtesy of Hyatt and Warner Independent.

Waiting for the fabled A train at Howard Beach station, Brooklyn, not far from JFK — Friday, 10.21.05, 6:05 am.

Brief Encounter

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.

Steal This Tune

“Jeff, you deserve all props from Ann Hornaday (& Poland!), but you’re wrong about Harrison’s heist of ‘She’s So Fine.’ In fact, he heisted a heist, as you’ll read in Marc Shapiro’s Harrison bio Behind Sad Eyes.
“The info’s from Delaney Bramlett, who says it all happened on the Delaney and Bonnie and Friends tour:
“‘George came over to me and said, ‘You write a lot of gospel songs. I’d like to know what inspires you to do that,” Bramlett begins. ‘I told him, ‘I get things from the Bible, from what a preacher may say, or just the feelings I felt toward God.’ He said, ‘Well, can you give me a for instance? How would you start?’

Allegedly snapped on George Harison’s birthday…which might explain why he seems to be the recipient of more-than-the-usual attention here.

“‘So I grabbed my guitar and started playing the Chiffon’s melody from ‘He’s So Fine’ and then sang the words, ‘My sweet Lord/ Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord/ I just wanna be with you….’ George said okay. Then I said, ‘Then you praise the Lord in your own way.’
“Rita [Coolidge] and Bonnie were there and so I told them when we got to this one part to sing, ‘Hallalujah.’ They did. George said okay.”
“[After it came out as the top hit on George’s All Things Must Pass album], ‘I called up George and told him that I didn’t mean for him to use the melody of ‘He’s So Fine.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s not exactly,’ and it really wasn’t. He did put some curves in there but he did get sued.”
“Delaney became even more upset when he went out and bought the record and discvoered that only George was credited with writing the song.
“‘When I saw I wasn’t credited, I called George and said, ‘George, I didn’t see my name on the song.’ He promised me it would be on the next printing of the record, but I was never given credit on that song…even though he did admit that the song, to a large extent, was mine, and I never saw any money from it.”

Delaney Bramlett

“Delaney was upset but refused to pursue his legitimate complaint in the courts. His feeling was that he would not give up his friendship with George for a song. Unfortunately, George did not feel the same way.”
“On the same tour, George also stole his pants. ‘One night George got really crazy drunk and tore off the green velvet pants I was wearing and I ended up running down the street naked, chasing after the tour bus.'” — Tim Appelo, esteemed film critic for Seattle Weekly
Wells to Appelo: I obviously stand corrected. Harrison may have been the most spiritually pure (or at least ardent) Beatle, but he wasn’t the most exacting guy in the world when it came to ethics.


“Having seen Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther about six months back, I do agree that it’s a lot more fun than it has any right being, but you totally blew one of the best gags in the film by mentioning the Clive Owen thing.
“Granted it’s now lost some of its foresight now that Daniel Craig’s been cast as Bond, but it’s such an awesome nod to film fans and it really comes out of nowhere. There’s a reason IMDB made a point of not mentioning it: it’s supposed to be a surprise. You really should do your readership a solid and take the mention down. They’ll thank you come February (or whenever the film finally gets released).” — Andrew Dignan, Sherman Oaks, CA.
Wells to Dignan: It’s meaningless and at most an asterisk thing now with Craig’s casting…an anecdotal drop in the bucket. Nobody cares, it’s all swirling down the toilet, and you and I and our friends and our pets will all be dead in 70 or 80 years, if not sooner.


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), eventually 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.

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

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? Karen Fried, who’s repping that trans-gender drama Transamerica (which I haven;t seen), swears that Felicity Huffman’s performance is good enough to contend, and says “many press people” feel the same way.
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. I just popped it in last night, not expecting anything special, and I had one of those “what the fuck is this?” reactions.
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 vageuly 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” (onwership of Universal by Vivendi, Seagrams, etc.) is hilarious.
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 with 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 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.
“Just like that Dukes of Hazzard abomination from this summer and the soon-to-be abomination that will be Michael Bay’s Transformers movie (which future existence still gives me nightmares like no scary movie could), 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 exploiation 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.