Forget all these stories that Mark Geragos was hired to represent Michael Jackson just yesterday. Or the day before. Were we all born yesterday? Geragos has been on the case since last March.
That’s right. Jackson has known for most of the year, even if he didn’t want to acknowledge it, that trouble was brewing at Neverland. The child who is now the subject of this molestation allegation began to raise questions about their relationship late last winter. Jackson -- who is not completely out of touch with reality -- responded by bringing in an expert defender.
Jackson’s camp, I am told, is more than ready to do battle with his accuser and his family. I am told that the mother of the child involved will be held up to severe scrutiny. In fact, Jackson’s side will likely argue that when he tried to break off his involvement with helping the boy and his family financially, the mother became, and I am quoting a Jackson insider, “a scorned woman.”
“She’s very screwed up,” said one source. “There’s videotape of her acting weird, too. And Michael was very kind to her, even getting an apartment for her boyfriend.”
But the argument will be that when this woman, who is financially so dependent that she claimed to have lived in a barn, was told by Jackson’s people that the party was over, she ran to a lawyer to see what she could get out of it.
Remember, everyone in this country is guaranteed a defense, even if you don’t agree with it.
But as I wrote in this space yesterday, a lot of the evidence in the Jackson case will come down to videotape. There is lots of it, too, some of which may show the boy and his family singing the praises of Jackson, defending and explaining his odd lifestyle. If so, they will be hard-pressed to explain their own behavior now. For example: In one interview last winter, the mother of the boy told a reporter: "Michael has pet names for all of my children, and [one of them] even calls him Daddy. He is the father they never had." She said all her children were “hoping to spend a lot more time with him in the future."
The sudden change in Jackson’s schedule, by the way, throws a monkey wrench into his promotional plans for his new greatest hits album. Michael and his entourage were three days away from leaving for Paris and Berlin, where enthusiastic fans would have greeted him. Here in the U.S., the album has so far not made any of the early top 10 of the week lists at major retailers like Tower, Virgin or HMV.
And here’s one big P.S. for all you Jackson watchers: Steer clear of on-camera commentators who are hustling their own gig on Jacko’s back. I am talking about folks like Shmuley Boteach, Uri Geller and Brian Oxman, all of whom are quick to quip when the red light goes on, but know nothing about the case, Jackson or his alleged victim.
I’m a little surprised to read some Oscar prognostications about “The House of Sand and Fog,” Vadim Perelman’s directing debut. Critics are praising, and rightly so, Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly’s textured work in the film as a displaced Iranian colonel and a California girl trying to kick cigarettes and liquor.
But critics are one thing. It won’t be so easy convincing audiences to see “The House of Sand and Fog,” a movie that careens inexorably toward one of the most depressing finishes I’ve ever seen.
“House of Sand and Fog” is based on a novel written by Andre Dubus III, son of the late esteemed writer Andre Dubus. It was nominated for the National Book Award and Oprah picked it for her book club, which made it a best seller. All that provenance would suggest to a filmmaker this was ripe material for translation to the screen. Certainly that was the case when Todd Field made “In the Bedroom” from Dubus’ father’s short story, “The Killings.”
In fact, “House” and “Bedroom” are quite similar in tone, texture and theme. You could almost call this story “In the Bathroom” since a pivotal sequence takes place in the family john. I guess genetics really can’t be discounted. The difference was that the film version of “Bedroom” had a cohesive sensibility so that even when the story became bleak, the characters, their motivations and the central drama were incredibly compelling.
That is not the case with “House of Sand and Fog.” Although, like “Bedroom,” it has to do with the American dream and sudden violence channeled through Greek tragedy, Perelman’s movie has a big problem. The story springs from something not particularly interesting: a dispute over home ownership. I’m sure the novel, which I haven’t read, is an exploration of cultural dislocation. The movie, though, doesn’t translate that. It’s all about, and I’m not kidding, the fear that we’re heading to housing court.
Dreamworks was courageous even to make this film, but I think waiting for a March release might have been a better plan. This is not a Christmas movie. Luckily, the studio will come back strong Oscar-wise in 2004 with Steven Spielberg’s “Terminal” and “Shrek 2,” among others.
Don’t read any further if you’re going to go see “House,” although I can’t imagine why you would want to. The movie ends with a gruesome, graphic murder-suicide of two of the main characters. (One of them wraps his head in dry cleaning bag with masking tape.) In order to get there, we are treated to two hours of kvetching resulting from a mistaken real estate transaction in the San Francisco Bay area.
Connelly’s Kathy, trying to kick booze and cigarettes, loses her dead father’s unexceptional house when she misses a $500 tax payment. Kingsley, a former Iranian army colonel under the Shah, picks the place up for a song at auction and quickly moves his wife and teenage son in. But Connelly won’t let go, so she stalks the Iranians and threatens them. She even drags into it her new boyfriend, a crazy (natch) cop played by Ron Eldard.
In short order Connelly tries to commit suicide a couple of times, which isn’t that much fun to watch, and Eldard abuses his abandoned wife and kids. There’s a lot of whining about the house (which I guess is surrounded by fog and built on sand, no one says). But Perelman doesn’t make the house particularly riveting except that it’s got a good view. Is this the point? That the average American home is worth fighting for? If it is, there must be a better way to show it.
In “Bedroom,” the murder is so sudden and unexpected that what follows it is compelling. But in “House” we know one of two characters will die pretty early on because it’s signaled with white flags and flying mallets. When it happens it’s anticlimactic. The events that follow — the murder-suicide — are intended to be the surprise. Dubus III, you feel, has simply rearranged the father’s story. To be fair, when the sequence begins, some people in the audience I was in were moved. But all I could think was, where are the doors to the damn theater? In retrospect, I was glad I saved my tears for “Big Fish.” As for Kingsley and Connelly, they may have the distinction of giving the best performances in a movie few will want to see.