One thing's for certain: young New Yorkers who are voting now have no nostalgia for the early days of Rudolph Giuliani 's run as mayor.
In Jonathan Levine's Sundance film, "The Wackness," one of three films here generating a lot of buzz so far, Giuliani's policies — particularly his crackdown on drugs — gets constant mention.
The main character in the film is a middle-class high school drug dealer whose clients are mostly on the Upper East Side. During the movie there are at least a half dozen cracks about Giuliani designed to show disdain for him.
It's quite a statement about young adults now in their late twenties and early thirties who have no affection for the former mayor as he attempts to run for president.
Even more so: at one point in "The Wackness," which is set specifically in the summer of 1994, the camera picks up a tableau of lower New York including the skyline that includes the World Trade Center. It's the first time the Twin Towers have made an appearance in a film since they were tragically felled, which may be the point, since Giuliani has built his career on the events of 9-11, trying to erase his earlier image.
The hot screening yesterday in Sundance was Barry Levinson's star-studded sly satire about Hollywood, "What Just Happened?" It's based on the novel by successful producer Art Linson ("Into the Wild," "The Untouchables") and basically there isn't a Tinseltown stereotype that doesn't come in for lampooning in what must be called 'a hilarious romp'.
Robert DeNiro's Ben essentially plays Linson's alter ego, a Hollywood producer reduced to living in a small apartment after two divorces leave his ex-wives with multi-million dollar homes.
And Ben has two major headaches: his British director of an action thriller starring Sean Penn won't change the end of a film called "Fiercely" to please studio head, played by Catherine Keener. And Bruce Willis, the star of Ben's new film, has shown up to the set overweight and sporting a large bushy beard he refuses to shave.
Meanwhile, Ben's on-going divorce from Kelly (Robin Wright Penn) requires a special therapist. And his teenage daughter from his first marriage (played by hot-as-a-pistol newcomer, 17-year-old Kristin Stewart ) has been having an affair with another agent who's committed suicide.
The suicide leads to my favorite scene in the film, the agent's funeral. (And one of the best lines. DeNiro, disbelieving the news of the death, says "I always thought agents killed other people, not themselves.") Levinson has so stuffed "What Just Happened" with beautifully textured moments that you have to listen carefully as the organist is playing "Every Breath You Take." It's sublime.
There are lots of other great characters roaming around in "What Just Happened," a film that sort of picks up where Robert Altman's "The Player" left off, but really is more of an ode to Blake Edwards' "S.O.B." Indeed, even though DeNiro is supposed to look like Linson he really reminded me of William Holden in that earlier forgotten masterpiece. Some of the other witty highlights: John Turturro as an agent with an unfortunate gastric ailment; Michael Wincott as that British director who might be Guy Ritchie but comes off more like Keith Richards; Peter Jacobson as that kind of long-suffering assistant producer who has to rationalize the craziness going on around him; and Stanley Tucci as a hilariously clueless screenwriter who thinks he's convinced Brad Pitt to play a florist.
Tucci gets off one of the film's funniest exchanges too when DeNiro complains that he's now dating his ex-wife. "And you're married!" DeNiro says. "Yes, but what does that have to do with it?" Tucci replies with comic deftness. "I'm unhappy."
No one knows Hollywood like Linson. He's been a lot like the prototypical studio producer Ray Stark in that he's churned out so many films that some have been great ("Heat," "Melvin and Howard") and some have been awkward missteps ("Fight Club," "Pushing Tin"). He's also worked a lot with Brian DePalma on a lot of bad films like "The Black Dahlia" and "Casualties of War," although "The Untouchables" was a major hit critically and financially. He also is credited for writing the story for Floyd Mutrux's classic "American Hot Wax," which I'm told is finally being released on DVD.
"What Just Happened" cost $20 million but was shot in 33 days, so it qualifies for Sundance even though it was expensive and has a lot of stars. Who will release it is the next question, followed by what is the audience for it besides Hollywood insiders? Here's one answer: it's a disarmingly smart, comically-rendered farce from the brilliant Barry Levinson in the style of his great "Wag the Dog." It will do just fine.
Amy Redford, Robert's daughter, the beautiful, smart red-head, brought her first film to Sundance this weekened. "The Guitar" is based on a short story by Amos Poe about a single woman whose doctor tells her she has weeks to live. The magnificent Saffron Burrows — who gives us a little full frontal and a lot of rear exposure — plays the character... a sad, uptight young woman who uses the news to engage in wild sex and unbridled home shopping. Redford has her father's eye for detail, and brings out a great performance in Burrows. "The Guitar" is a great movie for Lifetime, but also sets up Redford for a promising career. The word is that a Web site has been set up for the film so you can order all the expensive stuff in it, including a Vera Wang bed…
…British actor Colin Firth and his articulate, knockout of a wife Livia were honored at a dinner last night at Bon Appetit magazine's incredible oasis of a private dining salon on Main Street. The couple has produced "In Prison My Whole Life," a controversial documentary about former Black Panther member, Mumia Abu-Ja, who was sentenced to death in 1982 for killing a Philadelphia cop. The case has become a cause celebre as Mumia's supporters are demanding a new trial while the policeman's family would like the sentence to be carried out. (There's much to read on this subject on both sides.)
…Dennis Quaid and his wife Kim were among the guests who came to sample the scrumptious fare of New Orleans's latest hot chef, John Besh, whose August restaurant has become a watering hole for Brad Pitt. Yes, we mixed capital punishment debate with bread pudding, but that's Sundance, folks. More importantly: Quaid tells me his newborn twins are home and well after their medical scare at birth. A happy ending, and now, a humongous lawsuit…