The first opinions are in on Tom Cruise’s Christmas Day release about the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.
The movie in question is "Valkyrie," a project now exceeding $100 million and maybe the cause of the end of this chapter in the life of United Artists.
Not since UA gave birth to "Heaven’s Gate" in 1980 and capsized as a result has a studio’s future been so tied to one title.
It doesn’t help that since UA went into business with Cruise and Paula Wagner, the longtime business partners broke up and Wagner left. To make matters worse, Merrill Lynch, which organized the $500 million credit line for Cruise/Wagner, has now also vanished. They were bought by Bank of America two weeks ago.
Luckily, Merrill didn’t hand the full amount over so fast.
Now, several industry insiders have been to a couple of screenings of "Valkyrie." What do they say? They agree that it’s a well-made movie, and even an absorbing thriller. But what matters more is that they’re telling me "it’s not an Oscar movie, there’s nothing Oscar about it."
Even awards aren’t the total problem, however. "You sit there and say, 'Who am I selling this movie to? Who’s the audience? And the answer is, No one.'"
Indeed, the marketing problems for "Valkyrie" are huge. Dec. 26 is already pretty crowded with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in "Revolutionary Road," the wide release of Ron Howard’s "Frost/Nixon" and John Cusack in the highly anticipated "Shanghai". That would cover the intellectual upscale audience.
That leaves family drama — Forest Whitaker in "Hurricane Season," Jennifer Aniston in "Marley and Me" — plus Adam Sandler in "Bedtime Stories."
And it’s not like there won’t be big box office stars in theaters that week. Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Jim Carrey all have releases out one week earlier.
That, compounded with the obvious: watching Hitler kill off his would-be assassins isn’t exactly holiday fare. The movie ends with the most evil person who ever lived murdering the "good guys." There’s no happy ending, that’s for sure.
"You just don’t know which set of bad Germans to root for," one source told me. "There are no heroes, that’s for sure."
There’s also, apparently, no mention of the atrocities for which we now blame Hitler. No Holocaust, for example.
"It’s just discussed that Hitler is ruining Germany’s legacy and that the war is not good for history. All the other stuff, you’re just supposed to know that’s going on in the background."
On the upside, my sources say that Tom Cruise’s American "Jerry Maguire" accent didn’t bother them that much. Even though he stars as Hitler’s primary would-be killer, I’m told "it’s an ensemble piece. There’s no star, really."
Kate Winslet is going to be nominated for an Oscar this season — not for acting in a movie, but for how she’s going to handle two big releases this December.
It’s just been announced that Kate’s film with Ralph Fiennes, "The Reader," will arrive on Dec. 12 from The Weinstein Company. Directed by Stephen Daldry ("The Hours"), "The Reader" looks like a surefire Oscar nominee from here.
But two weeks later comes "Revolutionary Road," with Leonardo DiCaprio, based on Richard Yates’ amazing novel and directed by Kate’s hubby, Sam Mendes. It’s coming from Miramax, which used to be the Weinsteins but now belongs to Disney.
Add into the mix this factoid: Each of the films is executive produced by Scott Rudin.
Get out the Alleve, too, because the Oscar campaign for "Rev Road" will come from publicists who used to work for the Weinsteins at Miramax. The "Reader" campaign will be coming from Harvey W. himself. Yikes!
In the end, it could be good for everyone. In a scenario devised here on the spot, Kate gets her Best Actress nod for "The Reader," Leo and Ralph get their respective Best Actor nods, the directors each get noticed and so do the films. It seems so easy that way.
But who knows? Much as I love the novel "Revolutionary Road," it remains to be seen how such an unhappy story will translate to the screen. Again, a holiday release is tricky for this one. On the other hand, "The Reader" has a kind of a "English Patient"-"Sophie’s Choice" theme that could sway Oscar voters and audiences big time.
Either way the awards scenarios break, these will still be two must-see films at the end of the year!
Oscar-winning actor Paul Newman, who passed away Friday at age 83 after a long and hard battle with cancer, left quite a legacy.
"What can I tell you?" said his business partner and friend A.E. Hotchner when we spoke Saturday morning. "He was my co-adventurer for 52 years."
The two men met in 1956 when Hotchner, who was Ernest Hemingway’s biographer, adapted his short story, "The Battler," for television.
"James Dean was supposed to be the lead, but he died in the car crash," Hotchner said. "So Arthur Penn, the director, moved Paul up to that part."
Newman and Hotchner became fast friends, especially after making a movie of "The Battler" together in 1958. Eventually, they each moved from New York up to Westport, Conn., with their families.
"We owned couple a couple of boats together, and didn’t catch any fish," Hotchner told me.
In 1982, Newman and Hotchner started Newman’s Own, a salad dressing company that eventually became a multimillion-dollar business. I reported in June that Newman had quietly turned over the entire value of his ownership in Newman’s Own — the company that makes salad dressing and cookies — to charity.
Completed over a two-year period in 2005 and 2006, the amount of his donations to Newman’s Own Foundation Inc. comes to an astounding $120 million.
It was unprecedented for any movie star or anyone from what we call Hollywood. Of course, Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, have never been Hollywood types. They’ve lived their lives quietly in Connecticut for the last 50 years. (They were married in January 1958. And people said it wouldn’t last!)
This columnist learned about Newman's extraordinary gift to charity as news started coming out about his battle with cancer. Newman — who has five grown daughters — was seeing an oncologist and had been in and out of Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital. Like everything else, the Newmans tried to keep Paul’s illness a private matter.
But a tip-off that he was maybe not doing so well came in late May. Newman announced that he would not direct a production of "Of Mice and Men" later this summer at the Westport Country Playhouse, where Woodward is the artistic director.
News of his illness was exacerbated by none other than neighbor Martha Stewart. In early June, she published pictures of Paul on her Web site from a party she hosted. He looked gaunt but nevertheless flashing his trademark smile.
"He’s a fighter," Hotchner told me back then. "And he’s going to keep fighting."
Hotchner was right: Newman fought to the end.
I told you that in Botswana, the Newman name is known not for being a movie star. It’s known for his famous Hole in the Wall Gang camps. The camps go to Africa every summer to run programs for impoverished and ill children. It’s the same program they run in dozens of similar camps all over the United States.
The Hole in the Wall camps are just a few of the places to receive some of the hundreds of millions of dollars Newman had raised since he got the idea to bottle salad dressing for charity.
According to Newman’s Own's federal tax filing for 2006, the actor personally gave away $8,746,500 to a variety of groups that support children, hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, education and the arts.
Some of Newman’s recipients were well-known: He gave Rosie O’Donnell’s children's program $5,000 and even donated $25,000 to his pal Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. But most of the donations were for the kinds of programs that we never hear about, the kind that simply keep people alive.
But don’t think that Newman — who received his Kennedy Center honor in 1992 and deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom — did this because he suddenly thought he was dying. When he set up the new foundation, doctors had yet to diagnose his cancer. It was just in honor of his 80th birthday, and an acknowledgment that he wanted to make sure his charities would continue receiving his largesse.
Hotchner told me he visited with Newman a few times in recent weeks. The actor was quite frail.
"The cancer had taken a terrible toll on him," Hotchner said.
Mostly they discussed the Hole in the Wall camps.
The timing of Newman’s death is particularly hard, Hotchner said, because October is when he and Newman chose recipients for their charity.
"We did it every October. This year we’re giving away $26 million."
And that is Paul Newman’s amazing legacy.
OK, I don’t watch "Gossip Girl" because I am too old, but fans of it may be interested in this: the male lead, Penn Badgley, stood on line for 20 minutes in the drizzling rain this past Saturday at the Shake Shack on Madison Square. He got his food, met a (male) friend and hunkered down to the high-cholesterol meal on the outside patio like everyone else.
I talked to him, he seemed normal. There were no paparazzi and no one else approached him. Just so you know. ...
Extraordinary singer-songwriter Judith Owen was such hit on Saturday night at the Metropolitan Room that the venue has made her a unique proposal. Judith will do a two-week residency there in March. Saturday night’s show was really transcendent, a great mixture of Judith’s songs and her storytelling, not to mention an appearance by hubby Harry Shearer.
Is it wrong to say that if this were 1972, Judith would have a No. 1 hit in her song "Here" and a big career selling albums? If you’re from the Carly Simon-Carole King-Joni Mitchell school, check out Judith’s music. ...
The legendary Julia Fordham, who first introduced me to Judith Owen, is coming east for one week from Oct. 13-17. She’s playing Philly on Monday, Alexandria on Tuesday, Cambridge on Thursday and New York’s Hiro Ballroom on Friday. (What? No Wednesday show? What’s wrong with her?!)
Her current album is "China Blue," her first jazz CD. But really, Julia — who had her first top 40 hit in 1988 with "Happy Ever After" — is the single best female voice of her generation. This means she will not be on Rolling Stone’s forthcoming list of Best Voices. She’s too good for them.
More of her songs should be covered by the likes of Barbra, Celine, etc., including one called "Angels Without Wings." Check out her Web site.