Forget whatever you might have read elsewhere last week about Nicole Kidman in “The Golden Compass.”
This column told you a few weeks ago that Kidman was in a slump after the terrible performance of “The Invasion” co-starring Daniel Craig. But never in my wildest imagination did I think that would be interpreted into a story elsewhere that Kidman was finito. Ridiculous! My point was that the Oscar-winning actress, who’s not yet 40, has only made very interesting choices with a series of indie films.
Now comes Kidman in “The Golden Compass,” the first part of a trilogy based on very popular novels by Phil Pullman called “His Dark Materials.” New Line Cinema, the folks who brought you “The Lord of the Rings” is behind this one, too, with Mark Ordesky again taking up the reins. I’ve now seen about a half hour of it, and without a doubt, “The Golden Compass” will be the big holiday smash hit for which Hollywood is so desperate.
Kidman is not the heroine. Rather, she gets to be deliciously sinister as an evil pot-stirrer who has a big plot point secret. She is also sensationally beautiful, wearing clingy full length gold lame dresses to slink around in, sort of Cruella de Vil at a swanky cocktail party.
And her co-star again is Daniel Craig, only this time their chemistry clicks. Since no one saw “The Invasion,” it should be easy to forget. Once this trilogy is a smash, that earlier film will make a good trivia question.
But above and beyond Kidman, Craig and winning preteen star Dakota Blue Richards as main character Lyra, “The Golden Compass” will be wildly popular for its special effects. It’s full of fantastic animals, all busy shape shifting, talking and clawing their way to the front of the screen. Yes, the gray tabby cat who follows Dakota around talks, and that’s not all!
From what I’ve seen, not only kids but adults too will want to go back and see “The Golden Compass” a second time for the menagerie alone.
Meantime, message boards on the Internet seem to be panicking that somehow “The Golden Compass” is being re-edited or changed in some way by the studio. But what I’ve seen indicates that director Chris Weitz — who still has two more episodes to go — is in charge, and that what’s coming is his vision. Nothing can change Ian McKellen as the voice of a wise (but dangerous) polar bear. I think when we see the finished product — scheduled to open in London on Nov. 27 — fans will be more than pleasantly surprised.
By the way, Golden Globe-winner Alexandre Desplat is responsible for the film’s lovely score. But I’m told that some popular music may make it into the final soundtrack, including Coldplay. After seeing the footage, I can tell you they’d fit right in.
The three boys who star in "The Kite Runner," a new film with Oscar potential, will be moved from their homes in Afghanistan to new ones in Dubai thanks to Paramount Vantage, the studio releasing the movie.
The boys, two aged 11 and one 12, plus their parents, are going to be relocated in early December, right after their school sessions let out and before the film opens in the U.S. on Dec. 14. Once they’ve been moved to Dubai, Paramount Vantage hopes to bring them to the U.S. to do publicity for "The Kite Runner."
"The Kite Runner," directed by Marc Forster and based on the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini, has caused a lot of concern in Afghanistan because it concerns the forced rape of one of the boys and how it changes their lives.
I saw the film last night (Saturday) at a special screening and can tell you the scene is handled with great restraint and conveyed without any graphic revelations. Yet, in Afghanistan, and most of the Arab world, such a story could cause problems for the families involved.
Once the moves are made, "The Kite Runner" will open here and be considered a contender for Oscar and other award nominations.
There’s no question that it will be a hard sell with or without the publicity surrounding the boys. "The Kite Runner" is told mainly in Pashtun and Dari, Afghan dialects, with English subtitles. There are no movie stars on the screen, not even a cameo by anyone recognizable. The actors are all Afghan, Iranian or some mixture thereof. Almost no English is spoken in the two-hour film and there are no Western actors.
But all of the actors give outstanding performances, including Homayon Ershadi, as the young Amir’s father in the 1978 section. He is a possible Best Supporting Actor nominee. The other principals — Khalid Abdalla as the adult Amir, Atossa Leoni as Soraya, his wife, and Shaun Toub — are all excellent, just unknown.
"The Kite Runner," if you don’t know, is pure fiction, based on nothing but the novelist’s imagination. It takes place in two times — 1978, before Afghanistan is overrun by the Russians — and 2000, when the Amir, the main character, must face the childhood he left behind.
The book has something of a soap opera-ish twist that feels unnecessary in the film. But Forster and screenwriter David Benioff have stayed true to the material, for better or worse. Mostly it’s for the former.
Forster deserves kudos simply for making a film in two complex dialects of a foreign and — to Americans — obscure language. The overall effort of making "The Kite Runner" seems impossible while you’re watching it. Somehow, Forster and his team make life in 1978 Afghanistan seem frighteningly real and true. None of it feels forced, either, another remarkable achievement for the director of "Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball" and "Stranger than Fiction."
The title of the film, by the way, comes from the novelist’s metaphor used through the book and depicted by Forster in the film with great beauty. The children’s favorite hobby in 1978 is flying beautiful kites high in the air competitively. It’s a recurring theme that could have been heavy handed, but Forster — who made the children in “Finding Neverland” so appealing — keeps aloft with a subtle touch.
How exactly "The Kite Runner" will stack up when it comes to Academy Awards and such is still very much of a question mark, and similar to the situation that attached itself to "Memoirs of a Geisha" a few years ago.
"Kite Runner" is not a foreign film, even though it’s in a foreign language. This year, we have a couple of movies like that, with Julian Schnabel’s mesmerizing "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" foremost in that category. Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” is in English, but large chunks of it take place in India.
“The Namesake” and “The Kite Runner” are similar in other ways, too. And if it comes down to some kind of choice, I think “The Namesake” is the more likely choice for a Best Picture nomination.
Other Best Picture titles in the mix right now, realistically, are Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages”; Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”; “Michael Clayton” directed by Tony Gilroy; Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”; Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men”; Schnabel’s “Diving Bell” and Shekar Kapur’s “Elizabeth The Golden Age.”
Still unseen: “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Sweeney Todd,” “There Will Be Blood” and “The Great Debaters.”
Neil Sedaka, not a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but one of the inventors of the music, got his wish Friday night: a 50th anniversary salute at Avery Fisher Hall with famed DJ Cousin Brucie, crack musicians, great guest stars and lots of love. Could it be any better?
Connie Francis, 68, who rarely sings for anyone, turned out to be the surprise hit of the evening, knocking out Sedaka’s “Where the Boys Are “ and “Stupid Cupid” as if she were still a bobby soxer. Her voice is supple as ever.
Sedaka wrote those two hits for her with Howard Greenfield, his late writing partner. As he said, from 1958 to 1963 they had a great run with Neil as the star. Then the Beatles came to town.
“It wasn’t good,” he said, ruefully.
Like Carole King, Neil Diamond and all the other Brill Building writers whom the Beatles claimed to admire, the gang was out of work. (Francis’s run of 34 top 40 hits also ended in 1964 with the Beatles’ arrival. She’s not in the Rock Hall, either.)
Until the early '70s, they all wrote for pop acts like the Monkees. Moptops were in; Brooklyn-born warblers were out.
Luckily, in 1975, Elton John rescued Sedaka from oblivion. He released the “Sedaka’s Back” album on his Rocket Records. It featured “Laughter in the Rain” and “Bad Blood,” two hits that were highlighted on Friday night.
The Captain and Tennille, a strange duo, had the biggest hit of 1975 with Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” During the outro, Toni Tennille blurts out, “Sedaka’s back!”
On Friday night, the pair — married 33 years — made it seem like nothing except maybe a nip and tuck had changed when they recreated Sedaka’s zenith.
The show had lots of other guests: mega-producer David Foster, who once worked for Sedaka, emceed part of the show with a lot of panache. He introduced a protégée, Renee Olmstead, who sang a lost Sedaka hit, “When You Walk into the Room” with style and substance.
Natalie Cole performed the gorgeous slow version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Lou Christie did himself proud and Dion — yes, Dion DiMucci, “The Wanderer” himself — serenaded Neil with “Calendar Girl” on acoustic guitar. Sedaka, sitting in the theater’s guest box, watched it all grinning from ear to ear.
Maybe the oddest part of the night, though, was an appearance by Clay Aiken. An acquired taste to say the least, Aiken enjoys a fan base that travels with him. They are called Claymates. At least 50 suburban housewife types screamed through his one song. They don’t care about the rumors, the stories, the scandals. Their scary devotion to him recalled Liberace’s huge following in the '50s and '60s, and Barry Manilow’s in the '70s and since then. Using this as a barometer, the Broadway producers of “Spamalot” are in for quite a culture shock soon.
In the end, though, it was Sedaka who stole his show. Sure, he’s schmaltzy. At 68, he’s three years older than his old pal, Carole King. Like King and Gerry Goffin, Diamond, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Sedaka and Greenfield — they all wrote for publisher Don Kirschner — came from traditions of Broadway, jazz, vaudeville, big bands. They were also all either trained musicians or prodigies, quite unlike the young people who make it big today.
Sedaka even brought one of his own pianos to Avery Fisher Hall, a Lucite and silver number that glistened under the spotlights. Melodies poured out of him, and it didn’t hurt that an enthusiastic Paul Shaffer joined him on stage for several numbers. Shaffer, also the real thing, gets it.
The songs of the Brill Building were sweet, catchy, clever and as it turns out, damn lasting. They are to the rock era what Cole Porter and Jerome Kern’s work was to the previous one.
Jann Wenner — we are still boycotting Rolling Stone — can only be embarrassed that Sedaka and most of the Brill Building participants are not in the Hall of Fame while Donna Summer and Afrika Bambaattaa are being considered for induction this year.
Of course, no one knows where Rolling Stone is, its address or if its building has any history. But Sedaka and co always have 1619 Broadway, sitting there in all its splendor between 49th and 50th Streets, a living landmark. It will be there long after the whole debacle of the Hall of Fame is a distant memory.
By the way, the money raised by Neil at Avery Fisher Hall was sent to Elton John’s AIDS Foundation. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, with $12 million in assets, gives no money to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland other than to maintain its own archives. It also donates around $150,000 a year to indigent musicians, but pays its own director upwards of $300,000 a year. Just in case you forgot.