The director of a new feel-good documentary called "America's Heart & Soul" that's been embraced by some right-wingers as the anti-"Fahrenheit 9/11" has a secret for his new supporters.
He's only made two contributions in the last decade to a politician, and that politician was none other than Sen. John Kerry.
Out of the blue this week came "America's Heart & Soul" from Disney directed by a guy named Louis Schwartzberg, who has done cinematography for movies like "Men in Black" and "Any Given Sunday," but who has never directed a movie until now.
This is the same Disney that rejected Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and usually never releases documentaries anyway. ("F9/11" would have been a Miramax movie.)
Never mind. Last year, just as Disney was busy telling Miramax it couldn't release "F9/11," the Mouse House signed up "Heart & Soul" so it could play the patriotism card in case Miramax wound up having to release the Moore film.
A Disney publicist said the Schwartzberg film has been on its release schedule for over a year, but it had not a bit of media attention until a few days ago. Unlike every other god-awful Disney release this year, "Heart & Soul" never had what's known as an "all-media screening" for the press. It just sort of popped out of nowhere so that almost no critics could see it.
In the meantime, a conservative group called Move America Forward embraced the film as the anti-"F/911." Disney had a special screening for Move America Forward, the chairman of which is Howard Kaloogian, a former Republican state assemblyman in California who takes credit for starting the successful effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
But here's the punch line. I guess no one at Move America Forward looked into Schwartzberg's background before adopting him.
It turns out that he's only made two political contributions in the last decade — and they were both to likely Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Schwartzberg, who lives in California, sent Kerry a check for $250 in 1997 and another one for $1,000 in 2002.
When I asked Schwartzberg by phone yesterday if he was a Kerry supporter, he replied, "I can't confirm or deny that."
On June 15, Move America Forward president Melanie Morgan wrote an article on the Web site called "Despite Hype, Movie Theaters Are Rejecting 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'" In the article, Morgan predicted the film, which opened eight days later and broke the box-office record for a documentary.
As for "America's Heart & Soul," The Hollywood Reporter called the glossy 88-minute film a "flag-waving, unanalytical celebration of patriotism" and added that "the film would make a better fit on television or at one of Disney's theme parks."
Reviewer Kirk Honeycutt concluded: "Had he [Schwartzberg] dug deeper into the individual stories and been willing to share in his interviewees' frustrations as well as their joys and triumphs, he would have presented a much more rounded portrait of what drives such eternal optimism."
One person who should be very happy about the phenomenal success of "Spider-Man 2" is screenwriter Alvin Sargent. He's never had a box-office success like this in his stellar career. The film took in $40 million on its opening day Wednesday.
But Sargent's had plenty of critical successes. He wrote the screenplays for two classics of the late 1970s: "Ordinary People" and "Julia." That's pretty much as it good as it gets.
In "Ordinary People," based on the Judith Guest novel, the scenes between Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland, as a married couple who lose their son, still crackle with tension.
They've also been copied in a hundred other movies by now, especially when Mary, as the brittle wife, breaks a plate in two and tries to put it back together. I think that one piece of business shows up in every other TV movie-of-the-week.
"Julia" was based on a chapter in Lillian Hellman's memoirs, but Sargent made it come alive. The conversations between Jane Fonda and Jason Robards almost prefigure the ones in "Ordinary People."
No one will ever forget the trading of the hats conducted by Fonda and the doomed Vanessa Redgrave, and Fonda's later inability to locate the Redgrave character's baby.
Sargent won Oscars for both movies, and an earlier one for Peter Bogdanovich's "Paper Moon." He also wrote screenplays for some good movies that are still eminently watchable. Among them: "Dominick and Eugene," "White Palace," "Nuts" and "The Sterile Cuckoo."
He has some clinkers, like anyone else. No one can explain "Bobby Deerfield" with Al Pacino, and "Other People's Money" is just shrill. However, Sargent is credited with the story for "What About Bob?" a minor classic starring Bill Murray.
If you want to see what a real movie looks like, rent "Ordinary People," "Julia" or "Paper Moon" this weekend, and throw in one of the others just for fun to see what real screenwriting is all about.
Then, explain to me again: Do the new "Stepford Wives" have implants, or are they robots? And how is it one of them is a cash-dispensing ATM?
And compare Sargent's movies to "White Chicks," "Dodgeball," "De-Lovely," "The Notebook" or even "Garfield: The Movie" and see how far we've fallen.
Sean Penn, still shooting "The Interpreter" with Nicole Kidman, is enjoying his time in New York. The 2003 Oscar winner has been at Bungalow 8 at least two nights in this short week, I'm told, making friends and keeping them. On Wednesday night, Tim Robbins was his companion for some of the time. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Penn was also spotted at the new Gansevoort Hotel rooftop before heading to Soho House late on a rainy night. ...
The New York Post's "Page Six" reported yesterday that Miramax is scrapping a recorded duet between Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony because it doesn't want, the company says, the hype surrounding the couple to divert attention from the movie. Huh? I'm sure the real story is much less tuneful. As an old movie title went: One sings, the other doesn't. ...
Is Britney Spears the dumbest example of a human being alive? She's 22, very rich and marrying a 26 year-old-guy who's already got one kid and another one about to be born. Maybe she should call Whitney Houston. When Whitney married Bobby Brown, he also had a kid on the way by another woman. The countdown to Britney's "Behind the Music" special begins now.
Finally: Rapper Ja Rule, whose career is in limbo at the moment, was arrested last night for possession of marijuana. The cops caught him, they said, because he didn't signal before switching lanes on Sixth Avenue right here in Greenwich Village. Excuse me? The whole city is switching lanes without signaling! In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find one driver who is using his signal device in this city. Swerving to avoid roadway craters in Manhattan these days causes more lane maneuvering than anything else. No, friends, a 2 a.m. pullover of an African-American in this neighborhood is going to merit more explanation than that if it ever comes to court. ...