The turnout last night for the movie "Anchorman," at the Museum of Television and Radio was full of "Saturday Night Live" cast and alumni. And the talk was all about Jimmy Fallon, SNL's ex-news anchorman, finally landing a big leading role in a major motion picture. Fallon, I am happy to tell you, has just signed to co-star with Drew Barrymore in Fox Searchlight's "Fever Pitch."
This is a film adaptation of a book by Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity"). It will be directed by none other than the Farrelly brothers. This is big time stuff.
As usual, Fox Searchlight knows what it's doing. Peter Rice leads this division of our sister (or cousin) company, and they keep making mostly the right moves — and movies. Signing Fallon (it's still a "rumor" officially) is a smart move. I've long held that Fallon was stuck on "SNL" when he could be doing bigger and better things. He just finished "Taxi," a film with Queen Latifah, and now he will get to show his stuff as a romantic comedy leading man with Drew. All the elements are there for a hit. Now they just need Hollywood's one most difficult ingredient: luck.
Fallon — who was mum on this subject last night — was indeed one of the guests at the "Anchorman" premiere, along with the film's stars: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate (Broadway's soon to be "Sweet Charity" came with husband Johnathon Schaech), SNL's Fred Armisen and Chris Parnell, Tim Robbins, Paul Rudd, and former CBS anchorman Bill Kurtis, who narrates the film and conducted a hilarious off-the-cuff interview with Ferrell — playing anchorman Ron Burgundy — after the screening.
Other SNL types Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon were also there, along with Gwyneth Paltrow (who sneaked in and out, without much luck), Reverend Al Sharpton, ABC's John Stossel, NBC's Brian Williams and Lester Holt (the latter on crutches), our own Fox 5 anchorwoman Rosanna Scotto, "Regis and Kelly" correspondent Claudia Cohen (with her beautiful 14-year-old daughter Samantha Perelman), and actress Susan Sarandon.
"Anchorman" is a very funny movie that should do pretty well at the box office. Written by Ferrell and partner Adam McKay (who also directed), the film is all about Ron Burgundy, an unctious 1970s local TV newscaster who resists having a female co-anchor join his "team." Although the idea recalls the famous real-life battles between Dan Rather and Connie Chung, and Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters, there's no denying that Burgundy is largely inspired by the late Ted Knight's Emmy-winning performance as Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." As a nod to this, Burgundy's dog in the movie — an important character — is named Baxter. McKay told me this was a coincidence, but, as someone once said, there are no coincidences in this life.
Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson all make cameo appearances in "Anchorman," and all to good effect in a hilarious send-up of "West Side Story" in which rival local news teams square off in a Zucker brothers style rumble. (This means Stiller has been in something like 73 movies this year alone.) Steve Carell is a constant scene stealer as a brain-dead weatherman.
But aside from all the aforementioned actors, the real kudos have to go to Fred Willard, who plays the station manager. Is it possible Willard has no awards or gold statues? From his days on "Fernwood Tonight" through Christopher Guest's "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind," Willard has displayed comic genius over and over. If he were a baseball player, he'd lead the league in hits every year but get no commercial endorsements. You know that every time he appears in a film, he will add to it enormously. It's worth seeing "Anchorman" just for him.
The amount of verisimilitude in "Anchorman" is astonishing and you can feel that someone did at least a little research about the giddy heyday of local news. If the film works — and I think it does — it's because so many little details are included. Burgundy, for example, reads whatever's on the TelePrompter without checking it first. The news team does everything it can to make Burgundy crack up while he's reading the news. Appearing to be in friendly chitchat, Burgundy and Applegate's Veronica Corningstone engage in vicious under-their-breath on-air name calling at the end of each broadcast when their mikes are off. Somewhere up there in broadcast heaven, Harry Reasoner is going to have a good laugh.
If it weren't for Donna Daniels, the much-loved independent film publicist, this might be a different story. That's because the party last night at the Gramercy Park Hotel roof area — held in 80-degree heat with 80 percent humidity — for a new documentary about Metallica called "Some Kind of Monster," was kind of a nightmare.
Security guards arbitrarily blocked guests from a VIP section while notorious party crashers nibbled on hors d'oeuvres. People who worked on the film or were friends of the guests of honor pushed in a throng against the doorway, while the marketing director of IFC Films, the distributor, stood just beyond the security guard and did little to help the situation. Photographers and journalists were being kept out, or in, for reasons that are still unclear.
Still, once inside I did get to meet the great Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason, of the rock group Traffic, as well as Metallica's co-manager, their shrink, and the director of the film. Two-time Oscar-nominee Sylvia Miles was also said to be on hand, as was famous porn star Tracy Lords, and Metallica fans Sean and Robin Wright Penn.
I think "Some Kind of Monster" is being released tomorrow, but really, that's just a hunch since instead of getting information or being offered interviews, I was nearly thrown out of the party for describing a publicist as "useless." Oh my. Luckily, that's when Donna Daniels stepped in.
IFC Films has two more releases of interest coming up: James Toback's "When Will I Be Loved?" with Neve Campbell, and "November" starring Courteney Cox and James LeGros. Each of these films have been discussed here in previous columns. The company wants to be the power player in New York for indie films like Focus Features or Sony Pictures Classics. The jury's still out, but with the right attitude, they might just make a claim for it after all.
In case you missed it in this column last Friday, you might like to know that the director of a new feel-good documentary called "America's Heart & Soul" — 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 last week came "America's Heart and 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 last Thursday 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.'" The film 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."