Published November 21, 2007
It’s a confusing sign that Oprah Winfrey interviewed Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks this week for their Mike Nichols-directed movie, "Charlie Wilson’s War."
The movie still has not been shown to almost anyone in the press. We are only 10 days from the beginning of awards season, and "Charlie Wilson’s War" remains the final mystery of the 2007 Oscar race.
At least with "Sweeney Todd" and "The Golden Compass" — movies that are late to the starting gate — enough footage has been shown to get an idea of what’s coming.
On Tuesday, The Weinstein Co. finally started screening Denzel Washington’s "The Great Debaters," ending speculation about that release.
The verdict: It’s very good, extremely well-made and well-intentioned, with terrific performances from Washington and Forest Whitaker, not to mention younger actors Jurnee Smollett (a beautiful and talented young woman), Denzel Whitaker (who is not the secret love child of the two famous actors) and Nate Parker, who is sure to break out a la Derek Luke.
In fact, very quickly we’re about to get a flood of very good indie films with lots of Oscar-nomination potential. This week we have the limited release of Todd Haynes’ "I’m Not There," with its Best Supporting Actress nominee Cate Blanchett.
Next week we get my personal favorite film of the year, Tamara Jenkins’ "The Savages," with certain nominees Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney.
But the buzz on "Charlie Wilson" has turned sour in the last few days -- not a good omen for the Mike Nichols-directed thriller. Universal says it’s not screening the film next week, meaning Dec. 3 might be the earliest anyone to gets to see it. By that time, most top-10 lists and end-of-the-year press will be completed, and "Charlie Wilson" will have lost any war he might have fought.
Still, Roberts and Hanks have charm to spare, and their appearance on "Oprah" was a success. They showed clips from "Charlie Wilson" but explained little about the movie — which has to do with a covert war in Afghanistan.
That may be because audiences so far have shown no interest in war movies this year. The studios perhaps didn’t realize that a war being ignored in the news is one that people don’t want to acknowledge in movie theaters — the place they’ve gone to avoid it in the first place.
To wit: "Lions for Lambs," the Tom Cruise-produced, Robert Redford-directed snore-fest, is grinding to a finale in theaters. On Tuesday it made just $250,000 in 2,216 theaters. There were about 10 people at each show, give or take.
Ironically, "Lions" has done better overseas, where it has $20 million in the till — or twice as much as it’s made domestically. Go figure. The film has been popular in Australia, Germany, Brazil and Mexico. Nearly $5 million was made in Spain, of all places.
It’s a little like the movie "Awakenings." After more than 30 years of drug addiction and seclusion, Sylvester Stewart aka Sly Stone is back. He returned to the stage Tuesday night at BB King’s in New York wearing a white Sean John track suit over a red Sylvester the Cat T-shirt.
He sported sunglasses and a black Mohawk haircut. ("My grandchildren dressed me," he told us.) He was backed by a band led by his niece, Lisa, that was so tight you could have bounced a quarter off of it.
Sly Stone? There would be no Prince, and no George Clinton without him. He is the direct descendent of James Brown and Bobby Byrd. His last chart hit was in 1973, the brilliant classic "If You Want Me to Stay." Then he kind of faded away.
Previously, BB Kings had announced shows on Dec. 7. So the news that Stone would come in for two unscheduled shows Tuesday night was a bit of a surprise. The early performance was totally sold out, I was told.
The later show, which started an hour late at 11:30 p.m., was not as packed, which made it all the more fun. BB Kings is the only venue left in Manhattan for this kind of show. Without it there would be no place for real R&B in the city.
And so Sly took the stage once the band, including longtime Family Stone members Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini, was settled and in a groove. Missing for various reasons were sister Rose, brother Freddie and associate Larry Graham, who now works for and is contracted to Prince. Of course.
It was an odd show but an exhilarating one, including some rambling non sequitir Sly chat about pedophiles ("I hate ‘em," he said, essentially.) It wasn’t clear if this was some veiled reference to Michael Jackson, whose MiJac Music Publishing owns Stewart’s songs. Who knows?
We did get "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," "Stand," "Dance to the Music," "I Want to Take You Higher," "Sing a Simple Song," and — with Sly at his most coherent — "Family Affair."
Then Sly took a bathroom break. The band, with Lisa commanding lead vocals, sang one of her mother Rose’s old hits, "Whole New Thing." When Sly returned, he seemed a little less enthusiastic about the whole old thing and kind of hung out in the corner until the show was over.
During "Higher," with Sly off the stage, Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer was invited up out of the audience to play blistering keyboards. He conceded backstage that he felt rested for the first time in years with Letterman temporarily off the air, thanks to the strike. It showed.
Will Sly Stone keep this up? Can he really resume his career after three and more decades? Maybe. At least his Mohawk no longer is dyed blonde as it was at the Grammys last year. His pals and bandmates say playing for him is a little "weird," but that he’s basically clear of mind and very focused.
You never know. Phil Spector, you’re next.
All the bemoaning of not enough serious Best Actress nominations led us to watch Sarah Polley’s moving and emotional film called "Away From Her" this past weekend.
Julie Christie, once Warren Beatty’s best leading lady, be still my heart, is now "of an age." She plays a patrician Canadian woman who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and accepts the news with grace.
The couple in "Away From Her" agrees that as she worsens, Christie’s character should go live in a local, upscale nursing home. The change in their 44-year marriage, however, is unexpected and poignant, to say the least.
Christie, last nominated for an Oscar a decade ago for "Afterglow," makes her character’s terrifying plight resonate with irony. Apparently there are similarities, after the fact, to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s experiences with her ailing husband.
I know what you’re thinking: Who wants to see that? But this film is so finely made, and Christie and her costars Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis and Michael Murphy are so understated that to ignore it is really a disservice if you consider yourself a lover of good movies.
There are many reasons to recommend "Away From Her," and Christie’s performance is just one of them. That Polley, a 28-year-old Canadian actress who’s known mostly from Atom Egoyan’s films, is mature enough to bring senior citizens to the screen as three-dimensional people is maybe even a more important reason. Christie is 65. Pinsent is — gasp — 77. We simply do not see people of these ages in lead roles anymore. Their usefulness is over.
And we almost never see them without cosmetic surgery laminating their wrinkles away. The actors in "Away From Her" are so real and honest in their portrayals that maybe it’s a little disturbing to view them.
As in another amazingly well-done film this year, "The Savages," "Away From Her" owns up to the realities of our lives — the aging parent, the creeping illness, the notion that we will not live forever and that delayed adulthood is maybe a worse disease than Alzheimer’s.
Christie should be a lock for Best Actress if enough Academy and SAG members see this film. She joins the ranks of Blanchett for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," Linney from "The Savages" and Marion Cotillard from "La Vie En Rose."
A fifth slot possibly would go to either Ellen Page from "Juno," or Keira Knightley from "Atonement." I’d like to see the beautiful and talented Indian actress, Tabu, from "The Namesake," in that category, but I suppose she would go into Supporting at this point, where the aforementioned Blanchett is the all-out cinch to win for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in "I’m Not There." No one can overcome her.
As a postscript, it’s too bad about Pinsent. The Academy never is going to nominate an unknown 77-year-old Canadian actor along with Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma"), Casey Affleck ("Assassination of Jesse James"), Paul Dano ("There Will Be Blood") and Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men"), with Irfan Khan ("The Namesake") a dark horse.
It’s almost like the IQ test: Which of these is not like the other? (Actually, Tom Wilkinson from "Michael Clayton" should take that fifth slot and fulfill the elder role.) But Pinsent’s work here, too, is very fine. I’m sure he doesn’t care about awards, but here’s a nod to him, anyway.
Warner Music hit an all-time low Tuesday of $6.83. It finished the day slightly up at $7.14. The company is starting to disappear. Remember in "Back to the Future," when the family members slowly vanished from photographs? It’s like that.
Can we hit $5 before the end of the year? That earnings conference call on Nov. 29 should be a doozy if the analysts on the call show some cojones and ask tough questions like: Where are the releases? Where are the hits? Does the M in WMG still stand for Music? Or Mistake?