The Shipping News | Robert De Niro and Whoopi Goldberg  | Courtney Love   

All the News About The Shipping News 

The version you will see of Lasse Hallström's new Oscar-buzzy film, The Shipping News, is not the one seen by the folks at the Los Angeles premiere, or by many film critics in New York. The version you will see is the same one the audience saw last night at the movie's New York premiere.

In the last two weeks, I am told, Hallström has tweaked and polished the movie, adding narrations at the beginning and end and cutting from six to eight minutes by trimming scenes that went on too long. 

Hallström, who directed The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, which both got Best Picture nominations, told me last night this version is the right one. 

"We had a crazy schedule in post-production," Hallström said, looking clearly tired after these last changes were made. "We then lost a week or more to the September 11 tragedy."

In addition, a minor but chronic health problem waylaid Hallström himself in October as he tried to finish the film's edit. Meanwhile, the entertainment press kept asking to see the movie, which Hallström said was not quite ready. But it was shown anyway, and the response was tepid at first.

But now David Ansen — seeing the original version — has given it three stars in the new issue of Newsweek. Here's what he said, in brief: "The Shipping News has a quiet sense of community, a wry, unsentimental sweetness that grows on you. It's a patient movie for impatient times." 

The good news is that The Shipping News has benefited tremendously from the changes made in the last two weeks. What was once a slow-ish effort, albeit beautiful to look at, was not framed well. It had no context.

E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is no easy read, and not easy to translate to the screen. It's full of nuances, internal rhythms, and its own poetry. In version one, Hallström captured that perfectly. Yet that was the problem. 

In version two, the changes are such that now some implicit things in the story of three people who've come to Newfoundland to heal personal wounds are now spelled out.

In turn, Kevin Spacey — as Quoyle — comes there to get over a life of defeat and the recent death of his wife (played magnificently by Cate Blanchett). Judi Dench is Quoyle's aunt, who comes with her own secrets about the Quoyle family homeland. And Julianne Moore is a single mother of a complex little boy. 

In the book, each has a chance to heal and blossom. In version one of the movie, nothing connected the characters' individual journeys. In version two, the version which Oscar voters and all audiences will see come Christmas Day, Hallström has added much needed voice-overs that tie the film's various events into something cohesive. 

Hallström told me he's not worried about the critics having seen version one.

"I hope they will come back. In any case, they will be sent tapes to see how it's changed," he said. "But I'm very pleased now with the results. Working on these three movies at Miramax has been like my original days in film, on My Life as a Dog. There is total artistic freedom. For a while, I was working on things by committee before I came here." 

The director turned down the chance to direct Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can so he can make Cinderella Man for Miramax with Russell Crowe. Shooting begins in July.

Until then, Hallström will do nothing but rest, reflect, and review. He said he wants to look at films made "by someone other than myself."

"A couple of weeks ago I watched Raging Bull again and it was just fantastic. You forget what great movie making has been," he commented. "Scorsese did it there with De Niro and Pesci. Wonderful." 

And does he pine for a third Best Picture nomination? Not exactly, although he wouldn't mind it either.

"A hat trick would be nice," Hallström said. "But you don't make the films for that reason. You make them because you're happy with them." 

De Niro and Whoopi: Dinner Tonight 

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal are at it again. They're inviting people to join them for dinner tonight in Chinatown in their continuing efforts to bring business back to Lower Manhattan. 

This time, Whoopi Goldberg will join them for a family night that starts at 5 p.m. and features a parade down Mott Street. Members of various fire and police units will join them, including the night's guest host group, One Hundred Heroes. 

If you want to join the group, they're meeting at the Chinese Benevolence Association at 62 Mott Street. You can register on line at info@dinnerdowntown.com. Last time, 600 people showed up, and I think De Niro shook every one of their hands. 

Courtney Love's Meltdown, Part Two 

Yesterday, for about an hour, Courtney Love took control of the velvetrope.com message board. It was like a three-alarm blaze, with posters chiming in almost instantly in response to Courtney's latest public meltdown. 

The gist of the thing: female rockers are given short shrift by their record companies. Also, that a lot of people — whom she named — are doing drugs. And that her fight for the rights to the Nirvana music left behind by her late husband Kurt Cobain is at a high pitch. Basically, it's Courtney vs. Dave Grohl and Krist Noveselic, the surviving members of Nirvana. 

One thing Courtney specified was her concern that Gwen Stefani's new No Doubt CD, called Rock Steady, wasn't selling because her record company wasn't doing its job. But early numbers indicate a Top 5 first week finish for the album, which ain't bad. It should clear 200,000 copies. I hope that calms Ms. Love down. 

Courtney Love comes off these days as being a little nuts, and I do not know — nor care to know in detail — her entire legal arguments on various subjects. Granted, she can be a pain in the behind. But she also asks a lot of interesting questions, similar to ones posed right here in this column over the last two years.

These are all tied to artists' rights, publishing and mechanical royalties, and other matters where record companies have taken advantage of performers and writers. She doesn't care what anyone thinks of her, which is kind of refreshing. 

She concludes: "[sic] i dont care who gets suckered into the "bitch" thing- no judge in the world- from the armpits of small southern towns to the highest court in the land cares if im a "bitch" or not. "prima donna" is not a word wich works within courthouse walls."

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