Published December 15, 2008
This column has been banned from seeing a preview screening of Tom Cruise in Valkyrie. The publicists for the film at 42West and United Artists sent me an email on Saturday to that effect. So what shall we do?
Valkyrie gets a New York premiere tonight in the private screening room at the Time Warner Center. Not the Ziegfield or Loews Lincoln Square, where most premieres are held in public. But inside the Time Warner corporate offices, so that paparazzi and gatecrashers can be vanquished.
I must rely therefore on outside reviewers whom I respect to give us an idea about Valkyrie, a movie about the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944 by his high ranking army officers. Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of this group. Von Stauffenberg, as documented historically, failed to kill Hitler when a bomb he and his associates rigged blew up but was shielded by a table. Within 24 hours, Hitler had von Stauffenberg and his friends murdered.
Emanuel Levy, perhaps the only actual film critic on the Hollywood Foreign Press, has filed a very well written review of Valkyrie. You can read all of it on his web site but here's the paragraph of most interest, the final one:
"Which brings me back to Tom Cruise, a uniquely American star, with a limited acting range, that might not have been the best choice for the role. Even by standards of his own career, his performance in "Valkyrie" would have to be considered feeble, and it may not be entirely his fault. As scripted and directed, Cruise's Stauffenberg goes through the motions of a thick plot (in both senses of the term), but seldom conveys the particular kind of man he was, what were his motivations, what was his family life like, what plans did he hold were the assassination to succeed."
Levy has a long history writing for major publications including Variety. His word is respected, even at the Golden Globes, a group that panders to movie stars to get them on their TV show. Nevertheless, the Globes ignored Valkyrie. In his review, Levy takes a hard stand on this: "This is a Hollywood star vehicle, designed for Cruise (who’s also a producer) as a comeback of sorts, since his career as a major player seems to be over. (Cruise's nomination this week for a Supporting Actor Golden Globe Award, by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for his eccentric turn in the rude comedy "Tropic Thunder" might signal a transition to secondary roles.)"
Levy has more to say: "Arguably miscast, Cruise is stiff and unconvincing as the courageously heroic German officer. He speaks with a distinctly American accent, though early on, he utters a few sentences in German."
As for Valkyrie itself, Levy writes: "The whole production takes a wrong, overly stylized (neo-noir), approach to a theme that should have been treated with more respect to facts, events, and especially characters as they form and change coalitions within the army." He notes that director Bryan Singer, famous for "The Usual Suspects," "X Men," and "Superman Returns," also made the "misguided" film "Apt Pupil" with the late Brad Renfroe. Levy writes: "At this juncture of his career, he seems be able to work in only one mode, which is applied to all of his films, regardless of their particular narrative and historical settings."
It’s not this writer’s opinion. I won’t be able to give mine until Christmas morning. Until then, we will have to rely on Emanuel Levy and other reviewers whom we respect to let us know about "Valkyrie."
It’s hard to say what was better last night, "Shrek: The Musical" or "Shrek: The Musical’s After Party."
Suffice to say that "Shrek: The Musical" is going to be a big hit. With a built in audience and a marketing machine behind, this show is going to play for a while like an Eveready battery.
The children especially in last night’s premiere audience loved it. They shrieked and laughed, almost on cue. Of course they did. Even when jokes sailed over their heads, they knew the characters’ backstories well enough by now. The kids didn’t mind that the score is completely pedestrian, and that the evening’s best song, "I Got You Beat," ends in a series of — yes — gaseous emissions from the singers. In fact, they loved it.
Who you can’t help but like are the three main players: Sutton Foster as Fiona, Brian D’Arcy James as Shrek, and Daniel Speaker as the Donkey. Sutton Foster at this point needs to hire a publicist like PMK and get herself a public persona. She’s a star, but she has to tell someone.
Yes, "Shrek" could have been shorter, and the first act closing number could be a lot sharper. But Foster saves the whole enterprise with the Act II opener, in which she’s allowed to break free of Fiona and just be a musical star. She’s wonderful.
Who was there: Cameron Diaz, Fiona from the movie, told me she loved Foster’s interpretation. Could she have done the Broadway version? "No!" laughed Cameron, self effacing as ever. "I can’t sing!"
Ben Stiller, Bobby Canavale, Rosie Perez, George C. Wolfe, Joan Rivers, Cindy Adams, Phylicia Rashad, Katie Ford, Judith Light and Robert Desiderio, Melody Hobson, songwriter Amanda Green and husband Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan, attorney to the stars Ira Schrek — not related to the title character — were just some of the bold faced names who went along with about a thousand people — literally — to the after party at the Plaza Hotel.
Is there a recession? Not for Dreamworks Theatrical. This was some swell throwback party, the kind we thought we might not see again. And Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg — who made "Shrek The Musical" into this hit — even got a shout during the show — when Christopher Sieber, who plays the loony Lord Farquaad, called his fake horse "Katzenberg." It got a big, appreciative laugh.
There was at least one warning sign everyone missed in the Bernard Madoff story. Madoff, a former Nasdaq chairman who reportedly created the largest swindle in Wall Street history, liked to spread around the money he allegedly stole to make himself look good.
Madoff was arrested on one charge of securities fraud Thursday and released on $10 million bail. He faces up to 20 years in jail in what authorities say was "a giant Ponzi scheme." Such a scheme can involve taking investments from clients, spending the money on yourself and repay the clients out of other clients' accounts. Readers of this column may recall such a case with Hollywood money manager Dana Giacchetto back in 2001.
Madoff kept his story secret for years, and got away with it. "Everyone wanted him to manage their money. They would say, If only I get with Bernie Madoff," a very rich media person told me Thursday night.
There were some indications that Madoff might have been in trouble. The signs were there. Last year, his own Madoff Family Foundation gave only $95,000 to other charity groups.
This was a significant drop from 2006, and from every year since 2000. In 2006, Madoff (which is pronounced "made-off," as in, made off with all our money) gave away a total $1,277,600. It's surprising no one noticed the difference in 2007 since it affected a number of hospitals and other health organizations.
The Madoff family established its charity in 1998 and since then have given multimillion-dollar donations to New York's big-league charities.
These donations afforded the Madoff family — Bernard, his wife, Ruth, their two sons and the sons' wives — the chance to play with the rich and powerful in various New York society circles.
The charity started out slowly with the Madoffs putting in around $4 million for each of the first two years. But in 2000, they parked an astounding $25 million in their tax-free Madoff Family Foundation. It was then that they turned into big-time givers.
Madoff's knack for largesse also spread to members of his family. One son, Andrew, has a tax-free foundation that lists $5 million in assets. Another son, Mark, has one with $2 million in assets.
But it's Bernard and Ruth Madoff's foundation that might be interesting for investigators to look at. In 2007, though they claimed on their federal tax Form 990 total assets in the fund of $19.1 million, the Madoffs also noted a "gross sales price for all assets" — meaning stocks, bonds, and securities — of $182 million. However, the couple's annual charitable contributions have never exceeded $7 million and have dipped as low as $90,000.
Cancer, lymphoma especially, became a cause close to the Madoffs when son Andrew was diagnosed with it a few years ago. Ironically, according to reports, it was Andrew and his brother, Mark, who discovered their father's alleged pyramid scheme and may have alerted authorities.
In fact, the Madoffs have poured millions upon millions into lymphoma research — just under $6 million in just 2003, their peak year of total giving to charities.
In 2004, a year when their total donations came to almost $6 million, the Madoffs sent $2.5 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital and $1.7 million to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Some non-cancer charities made out pretty well in 2005. Girls Inc – a sort of "Big Sisters" group — got $25,000; Lincoln Center put $50,000 in its till; the Special Olympics had a gift of $25,000 and Robin Hood Foundation, $30,000.
Madoff wasn't stupid, either. In 2005, he donated $100,000 to the famous Manhattan private school for rich kids, Dalton; and $25,000 to Prep for Prep, which takes poor kids who are smart and sends them to boarding school on an Ivy League track.
In 2006, that huge total sum included one big winner: the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, which received $1 million. The contribution earned the couple the right to be chairmen of the charity's annual gala dinner. And son Andrew became chairman of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Meanwhile, New York's Lincoln Center — currently in a huge rebuilding phase — got a healthy additional $77,500; Jessica Seinfeld's Baby Buggy charity received $12,500; Madoff sent the Robin Hood Foundation another $30,000; and Girls Inc. $25,000 more. The latter two groups have received money from the Madoffs in most years.
Last year, things changed quite dramatically. Gone were the many millions for cancer research and other groups. Despite the $19.1 million in assets, the Madoffs gave away their least amount so far, divided among New York's Public Theater ($50,000), $25,000 to a Girls, Inc., $15,000 to a children's welfare group and $5,000 to The Door.
The significant drop from 2006 to 2007 should have been a signal to the Madoff's regular recipients that something bad was about to happen. And it did.
Everyone who’s anyone goes to Fred’s at Barneys on Saturday for lunch. It’s where the Upper East Side crowd meets even when it doesn’t want to. This weekend: Patricia Duff was celebrating daughter Caleigh’s 14th birthday with her nephew and a schoolfriend of Caleigh’s. The birthday girl was in fine fettle, sporting rabbit ears. Mom Patricia brought the birthday cake, and everyone had a grand time…so grand that they didn’t notice sports announcer Ahmad Rashad sail by with girlfriend socialite Sale Johnson, the ex wife of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. The couple took a booth by the side windows, across from the only other empty booth in the room. Well, talk about small worlds. That empty booth was soon occupied, by none other than Woody Johnson, girlfriend Suzanne Ircha, and their two and a half year old son. A little uncomfortable? Woody and Sale have three grown children. Anyway, small talk had to be made. Woody to Ahmad, as the Jets owner was putting on his coat: "Are we going to win this weekend?" As you may know, the Jets squeaked out a last minute win over the Buffalo Bills, 31-27. Whew, all the way around!...
…The "Valkyrie" gang dined at the Oak Room at the Plaza last night. Tom Cruise didn’t show. They took a long table. No idea if anyone ordered the weiner schnitzel…
…Saturday at the Plaza: F/X feted Glenn Close for the second season of "Damages." Episode 1 was screened first at the Directors Guild, and was spellbinding…More tomorrow on the premiere…