At the end of last Thursday night’s one and only screening in New York of Mel Gibson’s excruciatingly violent "Apocalypto," a woman in the audience exclaimed, "It’s just like Tintin, you know!"
I didn’t know, but since then I’ve looked into her idea. Yes, "Apocalypto" appears to have a big scene in it that is also integral to other pieces of work in fiction: Mark Twain’s "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court" and the Belgian illustrated books by George Remi (aka "Herge") called "The Adventures of Tintin" about a young man (the title character) and his dog.
In "Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun," a book that is still wildly popular all over the world, and has been for several decades, a scene depicts a solar eclipse that takes place in Mexico over the Mayan ruins.
An almost identical scene is pivotal to the story in "Apocalypto," in which a sudden eclipse darkens a maddening crowd scene and helps those who’ve been taken prisoner during continual warring to escape.
The eclipse is so important to the movie and such a visual hook that Disney has used it as a key part of the film’s promotion. It’s part of the film’s animated logo in trailers and ads.
Now it’s not like Twain (in his book an eclipse is also used to hide an escape) or Herge were first to think of this device. The Mayans were obsessed with eclipses and studied them, so Gibson and his screenwriter assistant Farhad Safinia were right to be thinking about them. Some people call this "being influenced." Others call it "stealing."
At the same time, though, the Tintin business is a little surprising. In "Prisoners of the Sun," it’s as if "Apocalypto" is actually story-boarded.
Not only that, but the woman in the audience was thinking not just of the book but of a 1969 animated film called "Tintin and the Temple of the Sun" in which that scene, from the same perspective as it’s seen in "Apocalypto," takes place.
Conveniently, none of the Tintin movies are available on video in the United States.
A little more about Friday night’s dinner for "The Good German": My erstwhile tablemates report that after Sean Penn arrived at the Plaza Athenee dining room and commandeered a back table at the party with his friends, it was George Clooney who graciously came over and greeted him (Penn had simply buzzed by the star of the movie being celebrated without acknowledgement).
Clooney crouched between Penn and a female guest in his party who were sitting at the table and chatted up Penn for several minutes. He was not invited to sit down and he wouldn’t have presumed to do so without entreaty. ...
Wednesday night, I stood with Leonardo DiCaprio outside the new spectacular Le Cirque so he could have a cigarette. Le Cirque is the courtyard of the new Bloomberg skyscrapers, and the dinner was upstairs in a private room.
Suddenly a well-to-do looking woman in her 50s appeared dressed in a fur coat. She must have been eating in the main room. She approached Leo quickly, and said, in a nasal Long Island accent reminiscent of Fran Drescher, "I know a girl who’s ob-sessed with you! I’m going to fix you up."
Leo’s eyes each registered question marks, but he took it in stride and blew some smoke to the skies. The woman then pressed her case, offering this confidential inducement: "She’s the top trader at Lehman Brothers!"
The value of this escaped the movie star, but just then, Radio Man, our semi-homeless friend and autograph hound upon whom "The Fisher King" was based, appeared with several 8-by-10s of Leo for him to sign. DiCaprio of course acceded.
Fur coat woman, unfazed, persisted: "Can I have my picture taken with you? I have a famous photographer with me." There was no sign of Annie Leibovitz or Irving Penn, however, just a guy with a camera. That’s when security moved in.
Radio Man got his signatures quickly. "I’ve signed hundreds of these for you, Radio Man. What do you do with them?" Leo asked.
I never heard the exact answer.
Last night, Will Smith was toasted by the American Museum of the Moving Image. You’ll see the show on Bravo, but during the breaks the guests got in some good asides.
The main joker was Jamie Foxx, who started the show with comments you won’t hear on Bravo. "Will, I was in talking about you with Oprah, in bed," he said, "then I rolled over and said to Gayle. …"
That of course got loads of laughter from the audience, which included Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, their kids, plus Queen Latifah, Derek Luke, Bill Pullman, Eva Mendes, Terrence Howard and his 11-year-old son, Thandie Newton, Tamara Tunie, Cedric the Entertainer, Bridget Moynahan, Alfonso Ribeiro, Chevy Chase, Michael Mann, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Guare and Stockard Channing.
A small part of the evening was devoted to plugging Will’s wonderful new movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness," based on the real-life story of Chicago millionaire Chris Gardner.
Gardner was there, too, sporting a black-velvet suit and looking like a million bucks. What a great story Gardner tells. Just wait 'til that movie opens, and everyone hears it. You can see him and Smith on their "Oprah" rerun on Dec. 15.
"Happyness" co-stars the Smiths’ 8-year-old son, Jaden, who is so smooth and professional it’s a little scary. When I asked him if he’d take care of his mom when he was a big movie star, so she wouldn’t have to work, Jaden replied: "Oh, she’ll have to work!"
Jada told me it’s been fun but not exactly easy to be a stage mom this year.
"It’s tough work," she said. "But hopefully I’m going back to work this spring in a comedy."
She’s also got Mike Binder’s new movie, "Reign Over Me," set for release in April. "There aren’t that many good roles out there," she told me.
The Smiths are a cool family and nice people. You want to cross your fingers that it’s all real and that it will last, but it sure looks like it will. Jada’s toast to Will brought tears to her eyes, and Will’s speech, with no TelePrompTer or cue cards, was all about doing 100 percent for his wife and kids. Nice, nice, nice.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures starts voting this morning for their annual awards. This fee-based fan group ($500 fee for membership), which requires nothing but a checkbook for membership, has some odd qualifications.
Last year, the NBRMP left a lot of films and directors off its ballot and had to start all over again when we pointed it out.
So this year, you’d think they had it right. But they’ve decided to skip the much-praised German Oscar entry, "The Lives of Others," which won seven awards in that country and will likely be nominated for an Academy Award.
Sony Pictures Classics might be upset, but the NBR’s defense is that the film doesn’t open in the U.S. until Feb. 7.
On the ballot they all received over the weekend, the NBR members show a sense of humor. They listed MTV’s "Jackass: Part 2," as a documentary. The NBR also had time to see Ivan Reitman’s "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," but none for Jessica Simpson in "Employee of the Month," failed cult comedy "Snakes on a Plane" or Kevin Smith’s "Clerks II." Hey, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Somehow, all the members of the group are supposed to see "The Good Shepherd" and "Factory Girl" today, and reasonably make up their minds in less than 24 hours about those films — as well as "Rocky Balboa," which they saw yesterday.
They saw both "The Good German" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" on Friday. Luckily, they did screen "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (it looked like a competitor for Best Picture back on Aug. 1), "John Tucker Must Die" (Jesse Metcalfe, the teen cad from "Desperate Housewives," was a cinch for Best Actor on July 20) and "Basic Instinct 2" (March 27 seems so long ago now). They’re all eligible for an NBRMP award.
The NBRMP gives a bunch of awards from its 11-member screening committee, and most of those are favors, as I have described here in years past.
This year, unlike last, there is no modifying faction to countermand the much-disliked controversial president Annie Schulhof, since she forced out the group’s executive director, Eileen Newman, after less than a year of service.
What will happen? The main awards will go to safe choices like Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker, "Dreamgirls" and Martin Scorsese, spreading the wealth. The screening committee will make sure every studio is covered so they will all buy tables at the Bulgari-sponsored January gala.