Published December 22, 2008
Michael Jackson is not suffering from any life threatening diseases. Everyone can relax. Reports of his ailing health have been extremely exaggerated.
Reports over the weekend that Jackson has some newly revealed sickness requiring a lung transplant are totally hokum, I can assure you.
Yesterday I spoke to one of Jackson's regular insiders who reported that the kooky former King of Pop is just fine, playing with his kids, and living large in a house he can't afford in Beverly Hills.
On top of that, it was just a few days ago that this columnist spoke with Darren Julien, the man arranging the big Jackson memorabilia auction in Los Angeles next April. Our conversation occurred just before the "news" of Jackson's illness broke. Julien told me that his dealings with Jackson and Jackson's manager, the enigmatic Dr. Tohme Tohme, and they were proceeding without incident. Jackson wasn't ill, and, Julien said, "seemed really organized" about the sale.
Over the years, Jackson illnesses have been identified as vitiligo, Lupus, addiction to prescription pain killers, and laziness. He's also a publicity hound who thinks that news of illness will make him sympathetic to the public. He learned this from Elizabeth Taylor, his one-time best friend.
More importantly, Jackson remains in financial peril thanks to his recent settlement of a $7 million lawsuit with Prince Adbulla of Bahrain. Additionally, Jackson just refinanced his Neverland ranch with Colony Capital LLC and Thomas Barrack because of his never ending need for cash. Apparently, he's used the money to squander it on a new expensive home rental rather than just return to Neverland or live in his parent's home in Encino, California, where he holds the mortgage.
But dying or in need of emergency surgery? Not Michael Jackson. It was just recently that he ventured outside his house wearing a Zorro mask to get attention. An easier way might be just to make an album or perform a concert.
Actor Jeremy Piven apparently wasn’t so popular with his Broadway cast mates in the revival of David Mamet’s “Speed the Plow.”
After yesterday’s matinee, the remaining actors — Raul Esparza and Elizabeth Moss — bashed Piven to their audience after their curtain call.
Piven left the show last week, claiming he had mercury poisoning. He’d been playing opposite Esparza and Moss in the three character play for just a couple of months.
Sources say that when the matinee was finished yesterday, Esparza suddenly addressed the audience. (Actor Jordan Lage, Piven’s understudy, played the role of Bobby Gould.)
According to those who saw this, Esparza — famous for being outspoken — reamed Piven while Moss, my sources say, “sobbed.”
“’He said, I’m sure you’ve read the headlines about the silliness in our show.’ Then he said, Today was the first time I really enjoyed playing this show.’ I hope you weren’t expecting a big TV star.” It was pretty emotional.”
Esparza has a reputation for being lively — and much of a diva himself. A couple of years ago, I watched him walk out of the dress rehearsal for the musical “Taboo,” when he didn’t like something producer Rosie O’Donnell said to him from the orchestra. Esparza stormed off the stage, went home and took a bath. That’s Broadway, kids!
“Speed the Plow” will continue its run through February, with Oscar nominee William H. Macy, who’s performed the David Mamet play in the past, taking over for the duration of the run. First, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, who was so good in the Broadway musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” gets a crack at fast talking Bobby Gould for a couple of weeks.
1. Slumdog Millionaire — Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy’s beautiful Bollywood tale stole my heart and so many others at the Toronto Film Festival. The mix of gritty and grim with ebullient proves to be an irresistible recipe. It’s also possible that Mira Nair’s “The Namesake,” which was wonderful, paved the way. This is the Best Picture of 2008, and deservedly so.
2. Doubt — You can put Meryl Streep in a black bonnet, tie her hands behind her back, and twirl her around and she still can win any long distance competition. Put her in John Patrick Shanley’s dialogue, surround her with pros like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, and the rest is magic.
3. The Reader — Who cares about post World War II Germany? And yet, after so many Holocaust movies, this is the next, mostly unexplored chapter. The key is that there is no sympathy for Kate Winslet’s Hanna, just understanding. Stephen Daldry is unsparing as he peels back the layers of her story through the eyes of Michael (David Kross, then Ralph Fiennes). Plus, it’s Lena Olin in two different roles.
4. Frost/Nixon — Ron Howard and Peter Morgan opened up Morgan’s Broadway play and only strengthened it. Frank Langella is somehow even better on screen, and Michael Sheen is nothing short of remarkable. He makes David Frost likeable! Great supporting cast including Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and Sam Rockwell. Langella rocks!
5. Gran Torino — Somehow, Warner Bros. just didn't translated the simple elegance of this film to the public. Yet. This is Clint Eastwood’s sparest, most indie film, which is saying something for a 78-year-old who needn’t prove anything to anyone. Clint is Best Actor of the year, or any year, Sean Penn notwithstanding.
6. Vicki Cristina Barcelona — Woody Allen’s just about perfect comedy with many outstanding performances. A much more sophisticated film than he’s made in recent years shows that Woody is still plumbing depths. The old Woody is still in there, though, naming one unseen character “Tabatchnik” after Kosher brand soups.
7. Rachel Getting Married — The most purely and fully realized and executed drama of the last couple of years. Jonathan Demme combines his flair for documentary with narrative fiction and brings to life the family created by Jenny Lumet. Anne Hathaway gives Streep a run for her money. And don’t forget Debra Winger and Bill Irwin.
8. The Visitor — The sleeper hit of the year, directed by Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”). Multi-culturally matter of fact, with that hand dog lead presence of the long awaiting Richard Jenkins. A gem.
9. Wall E — The story makes your heart soar. Plus, how did they do it? The perfect marriage of Pixar and Disney, commerce and art. And just lots of charm.
10. Milk — I’m usually lactose intolerant. But there’s no denying the importance of Gus van Sant’s chronicle of the life of Harvey Milk. Sean Penn is just immersed in the lead, and everyone else — from Josh Brolin to James Franco, et al — is spot on. Not a great screenplay (sorry) but this time the story carries us anyway.
Tomorrow: The Worst Movies of 2008…
Christmas Day presents a dilemma: so many big films with big stars, all hyped up and down.
On the serious side, there’s Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Revolutionary Road.” On the fun side, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are in “Marley and Me.” Adam Sandler is in “Bedtime Stories.” And then, in a third category, there’s “Valkyrie.”
Of them all, “Button” is where all the money and attention has gone. For months there’s been chatter about it, especially on the internet where the trailer for the David Fincher epic has been very popular.
“Button” is based on an obscure short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story itself it very unlike vintage Fitzgerald; it’s sort of a science fiction fairy tale.
The story is very short, and would make an even shorter film. So Fincher and Eric Roth, whose most famous credit is “Forrest Gump,” have invented a three hour movie to envelop the original premise.
I rewatched “Button” this weekend. It made as little sense as when I first reviewed it in this space. It’s a lavish production, and you see it all on screen. But I guarantee you there will be a lot of napping in darkened theaters this Thursday, especially a long middle section with Tilda Swinton (no fault of hers).
The story of “Benjamin Button” is preposterous at best. He’s born an ugly, deformed old baby. The next time we see him, Benjamin is an 80-year-old man aging backwards. He looks old, but he’s getting younger, slowly. Somehow Fincher has superimposed Pitt’s head—made up old—on a CGI small man. I wrote before that he looks like Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” in this part of the movie. But he’s also very ingratiating. If this were the only part of the film, no one would mind.
But Benjamin keeps getting younger, and better looking, like … Brad Pitt. Roth has invented a “Forrest Gump” like saga for him, too. The similarities are more than superficial, and raise a lot of questions: is “Benjamin Button” an adapted or an original one inspired by Fitzgerald and informed by “Gump”?
Blanchett plays a character named “Daisy,” invented by Roth and named for Fitzgerald’s most famous heroine, Daisy Buchanan, from “The Great Gatsby.” She only comes into the movie as a young person at the halfway point, and then only to deal with Pitt in Benjamin’s prime. It’s around 1960 and before long, the couple will conceive a child who identity is supposed to the big plot “twist.” Before that, she’s part of the film’s framing device, recalling Benjamin’s life.
There’s a lot to admire in the Fincher film; well, there’s a lot period. Taraji P. Henson is wonderful as Queenie, the woman who raises Benjamin when his father abandons him. Pitt is a trouper as he takes Benjamin through Roth’s many episodes. But what do all these little adventures add up to is uncertain. Where “Gump” was one of piece and vision, “Button” splinters, often feels repetitive, and doesn’t completely add up.
There will be plenty of “Button” fans, many of whom will cry at its conclusion about life, you know, and missed opportunities and connections. But there will be just as many who, after three hours, will wonder why in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Benjamin was never really curious about his case, or what happened to him, or how F. Scott’s Fitzgerald little notion got blown up into this big, inexplicable deal.