Macaulay Culkin. Just his name conjures up memories of that child's hands slapping on aftershave and keeping crooks on the run in the Home Alone movies. Or worse still: the public spectacle of fighting with his parents over the millions of bucks he made as a child star. And then of course, there was that marriage at age 18.
But I am happy to report that despite tabloid offerings, Culkin — who turns 22 in a few days — is doing OK, as is his next-youngest brother Kieran, 19. The latter is about to open in the first movie he's ever "carried." It's called Igby Goes Down, and if there's any luck, this second Culkin in show biz will be involved in an Oscar-level feature.
MGM/United Artists unveiled Igby Saturday night in Southampton at a sort of pre-opening premiere with a beach party catered by the great David Bouley. I can't remember a more perfect night — a great movie by a new filmmaker (Burr Steers) with wonderful performances and a cool, laid-back party that followed.
Of course, a big part of Saturday's excitement was the appearance of Macaulay. He became something of a celebrity's celebrity a few years back when it turned out there was domestic disaster among his six siblings and two actor/manager parents. Mac had earned $17 million from the Home Alone movies and a couple of others, but there were all kinds of accusations against the parents. The child star dropped out of films and became an overnight teenage Greta Garbo. He married a high school sweetheart and set tongues wagging.
At the Igby premiere Macaulay, Kieran, their brothers Chris and Rory (you saw the latter in Signs) and their mom Patricia appeared to be just about as dysfunctional as any other family. When they arrived on Southampton beach, Mac and Kieran opted to go relieve themselves in the darkness by the pounding surf while Patricia chose the Port-O-Sans. That was the extent of their eccentric behavior.
Instead, Mac — with as much aplomb as possible — praised Kieran's performance over and over. "It's the best thing he's ever done," Macaulay said, "and I'm very proud of him." Macaulay will be seen in his first "adult" role next winter, when Party Monster — a controversial film about New York disco killer Michael Alig — debuts at the Sundance Film Festival. (That's the plan, at any rate.) He follows that with another indie feature called Saved, co-starring Jena Malone and Eva Amurri, the daughter of Susan Sarandon. Both of these movies are by first-time directors.
"Now I hold their hand instead of the other way around," he said.
"Did John Hughes [the Home Alone director/producer] have to hold your hand?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "He didn't have to," he said, "I was pretty much playing myself."
Macaulay has had a girlfriend for three months now — Mila Kunis, from That 70s Show — even though he is not divorced yet from his teenage wife, actress Rachel Miner. "The papers have been drawn up and are waiting to be signed," a friend of his told me. "They were really in love and everyone was against it, especially the parents. But it was a crazy time, and they just did it."
The crazy time involved getting Mac legally divorced from his father, Kit, whom none of the seven Culkin kids see or hear from. "It's not like he's barred from contacting them," said the friend. "He just doesn't. Of course, Kit stole all of Mac's memorabilia when he left and that's still a sore point."
The friend is quick to point out that Kit Culkin did not steal any money from his kids, and that he only took a 15 percent manager's fee from them when he worked for them. Still, his absence seems to have lifted a dark cloud from the family. Macaulay now has his business affairs running smoothly. He pays for the all of his siblings' education and shelter, but everything is kept very close to the vest.
So it's a happy ending for the Culkins? "Happy, yes," Kieran says sitting on Southampton beach. "But don't say ending!"
"I mean, we're only 20 or so," Macaulay chimes in, "we're not done! It's a happy point, how's that?"
So what about Igby Goes Down? Financed with German money and made by ever-fragile United Artists, this first-time feature is written and directed with dexterity by famed writer Gore Vidal's nephew Burr Steers (named for one of Vidal's favorite subjects, Aaron Burr).
Of course, that also makes Steers a cousin to Al Gore.
But more importantly, Steers — who was raised in patrician Washington, D.C. — has made an exquisite Salinger-esque coming of age story set among rich kids. In many ways, Igby feels like the movie Wes Anderson should have made with The Royal Tenenbaums but didn't.
And then you realize that there is so much going on here — that Igby is several more layers deep. Its triumphs are able to mask its few errors. Mostly, the casting is perfect: Susan Sarandon is a revelation as Igby's seemingly distant mother; Bill Pullman is heartbreaking as the breaking-down dad; Jeff Goldblum gives the performance of his career as Igby's godfather and romantic rival. And then there are all the subsidiary parts, played by Claire Danes, Amanda Peet, Jared Harris, Ryan Phillippe, Eric Bogosian and Cynthia Nixon. No one and nothing is wasted.
Steers says he read Culkin four times for the role of Jason Igby Slocumb Jr. Even when he finally gave in and handed him the role, Steers screened a bunch of movies for the 18-year-old, including Five Easy Pieces and Harold and Maude" It shows. Igby is a direct descendent of those films as well as the more recent Rushmore and Tadpole." "He wanted me to watch films that had conversations," Culkin told me. Which makes sense since Igby — not unlike a Robert Altman film — is all about characters interacting.
Sarandon, whom Steers got partially through her lifelong friendship with Uncle Gore — didn't make Saturday's premiere, but she is likely to turn up as the movie heads toward its premiere. Gambling with their lives, UA is opening the film on Friday, September 13 — unlucky in the best of years and maybe worse than ever because of its proximity to the September 11 anniversary.
But Sarandon is almost guaranteed awards and nominations when the fall kicks in, as is Culkin. The big question will be where exactly to place him in the Oscar/Golden Globe competition. Easier to pigeonhole will be Steers's screenplay, which is a cinch for lots of commendations.
More on Igby in a couple of weeks, when you'll be able to enjoy this darkest of black comedies yourself.
I don't mind telling you that Sam Moore's "lost album," called Plenty Good Lovin' has finally been released in the USA by 2K Sounds.
Moore, of course, was once half of the most famous R&B duo, Sam & Dave, with hits like "Soul Man," "Hold On I'm Coming" and "I Thank You."
Dave — Dave Prater, that is — died in a car accident in the late 1980s, but he and Sam hadn't been a team since 1981. Moore recorded Plenty Good Lovin' in 1972, but his life was a mess and the record was shelved. Thirty years later, Moore has licensed the record from Atlantic. He released it in France last spring, where it was a hit. Now Americans can finally hear this missing piece of Soul Music History.
If the tiny but enthusiastic 2K had a marketing budget, Sam's "lost album" would be as big a deal as Tina Turner's 1984 return. Alas, it's going to take a grass roots movement to show Moore the love he's been missing. Check out this album, with an incredible guest appearance by Aretha Franklin and production by King Curtis. Incredible!
Now listen: Sam Moore is a solo act. Sam & Dave have not been act for three decades. He's been performing all over the world by himself and making audiences cheer for 30 years. He just played in the Queen's Jubilee in the U.K., at the annual AmFAR event at the Cannes Film Festival and with the Blues Brothers at Dan Aykroyd's 50th birthday party — featuring Wilson Pickett and former President Bill Clinton. Moore is 67 years old and leading the fight, with his wife Joyce, who's an activist, in getting pension and royalties for classic rock artists. If ever there should be a Kennedy Center honoree, it's Sam Moore. In the meantime, let's just kick back and enjoy the lost album as a gift from the heavens.
You'll read the New York Post account of Neal Travis's funeral, with all the bold-faced names who showed up at Holy Cross Church yesterday afternoon. What an event! Old political foes Mario Cuomo and Al D'Amato sat side by side in a church pew without killing each other! (They didn't speak to each other, but still...)
Neal was well-represented by the different factions of his life: the Elaine's crowd, the Hamptons gang, the New York Post-ies who loved and worked with him. Sony chief Sir Howard Stringer sat in a side pew. Liz Smith was not far away, looking grim and mournful despite the occasional laughs from the eulogists. Society types were everywhere. Journalists, publicists, directors, business types, politicians. It was an impressive gathering.
Afterwards, at Elaine's, the great Ms. Kaufman served drinks and sandwiches to an equally eclectic and loyal crowd including Neal's pal and colleague Steve Dunleavy, novelist Rona Jaffe, writer Steven Gaines, producer Marty Richards, singer Leslie Gore (who performed beautifully at the service), and Live with Regis and Kelly correspondent Claudia Cohen, who was Neal's protégé at the Post many years ago. Many toasts were made, and drink glasses clanked together for a couple of hours before the dinner crowd wandered in. Neal would have loved it — and his friends loved him.