Clooney Bets House on New Film

George Clooney | Jennifer Jason Leigh | 'Wallace & Gromit'

Clooney Bets House on Film

I learned a lot about George Clooney on Friday night when his film, "Good Night, and Good Luck," premiered at the New York Film Festival.

For one thing, he mortgaged his Los Angeles house to pay for the film.

Don't worry, he didn't imperil his famous home in Lake Como, Italy. He's not an idiot.

Second, he readily admitted to "stealing" a lot of the feel and look of "Good Night" from famed documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. Clooney made sure Pennebaker and his wife, filmmaker Chris Hegedus, were his guests Friday night and he welcomed them warmly.

Indeed, "Good Night" shows it was influenced heavily by Pennebaker's cinéma vérité style in the early '60s documentaries "Primary" and "Crisis", both directed by Robert Drew, that he and Ricky Leacock worked on, as well as Pennebaker and Hegedus' 1993 hit "The War Room."

There's also a nod to Sidney Lumet, whose 1964 film "Fail Safe" Clooney liked so much he had it remade it for TV in 2000.

The premiere Friday night drew a lot of interesting types, including Teri Hatcher, who was in town to promote the new season of "Desperate Housewives."

She stopped and had a nice chat with Ron Silver, who's shooting episodes of "The West Wing."

Hatcher gets all kinds of Crazy Diva press in the tabloids, but I have to tell you, she is very nice. There is no sign of the monster we're being trained to expect. I'm just sayin'...

"Good Night" is the true story of how, in 1954, CBS News legend Edward R. Murrow helped bring down Sen. Joseph McCarthy, diminished the power of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and unmasked the senator as the fraud and bully that he was.

David Strathairn is remarkable as Murrow, and there are lots of good supporting players, including Frank Langella as CBS head William Paley, Jeff Daniels as Sid Mickelson and Ray Wise as Don Hollenbeck, the CBS anchor who committed suicide under pressure.

Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. play Shirley and Joe Wershba, real-life CBS producers from the time who married and went on to have lifelong careers with the news division.

The Wershbas were at the party, as were many newscasters who'd been with CBS for decades.

It was kind of sad, in a way, that the CBS legacy has been recently tarnished by "Memogate," since Murrow — unlike recent CBS News staff — had made sure 50 years ago to have all his facts straight before taking on the powers that be.

As for Clooney, he told me outright that no studio wanted to make this movie, not even Warner Bros., where Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's Section 8 Productions has a deal.

So Clooney financed the project ($8 million or so) himself, made it quickly and then shopped it back to Warner Bros.

Mark Gill, the head of Warner Independent, and Jeff Rubinov picked it up.

Clooney's home is safe from being foreclosed. Now watch as the nominations and awards pour in.

Jennifer Jason Leigh: Hitched

Forget about Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

A more, shall we say, realistic wedding took place the other day in Los Angeles, that of acclaimed actress Jennifer Jason Leigh to director Noah Baumbach.

Jennifer, the daughter of screenwriter Barbara Turner and the late TV star Vic Morrow, is well known from movies like "Mrs. Parker" and "Single White Female," and co-directed herself in "The Anniversary Party."

Baumbach's new movie, "The Squid and the Whale," opens Oct. 5 after being a favorite at Sundance this year.

As a fan of one of Baumbach's previous films, "Mr. Jealousy," I am happy to say that "Squid," his semi-autobiographical take on divorce, is the most unnervingly real such film I can remember since Bo Goldman's "Shoot the Moon."

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are excellent as the parting couple. Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) are also very good.

Billy Baldwin, who's floundered in films for years, made a good choice to take a comic supporting role. He's surprisingly good.

The title of the movie refers to a diorama in the Museum of Natural History. Wisely, the producers — including Andrew Lauren, son of Ralph Lauren — decided to have their post-New York Film Festival screening party there.

The whole cast came, as well as Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. His song, "Hey You," figures prominently in the film.

So of course I asked him: After Live 8 in London. will we ever see Pink Floyd perform together again?

Here's the answer: "If there's another charity, or a reason to bring us together, I could see it happening," Waters said. "Otherwise, no. And we've had lots of offers. But we're just not going to do the $250 million tour."

That's it. Sorry.

'Wallace & Gromit': Clay Feet?

It's hard to imagine placing the fate of a publicly traded company in the hands of "Wallace & Gromit."

For one thing, they are made of clay, which is not say they have clay feet. But you get the idea.

Wallace, who's probably in his late '50s, is no spring chicken. He's a curmudgeon and not particularly successful, though very inventive: his home contraptions are the sort of futuristic gizmos every kid dreams of.

Gromit is a dog. Granted, he's a bit of a cynic and very sarcastic, but he's still a dog.

But with the various financial issues at DreamWorks Animation, suddenly a whole company's immediate future has been placed on their rounded, one-dimensional shoulders.

It doesn't seem fair, since the pair's only previous cinematic work is three beloved short films that have a cult audience.

To compound the pressure, on Sunday afternoon, only Gromit showed up for the movie's premiere at the Chelsea West Cinemas.

As he walked the red carpet and posed with children — notably the daughters of Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Allen — Gromit refused to answer questions about Wallace.

He'd clearly been expected. But as one publicist quipped: "If you're not putting on the costume, he's not coming."

Nick Park, the genius who invented "Wallace & Gromit" and its predecessor, "Chicken Run," was there with his friends and associates from Aardman Pictures UK.

Park was a little taken aback to see so many very small children in the audience.

"We usually don't have this young an audience."

But in America, as opposed to Great Britain, animated films don't sustain an adult audience for long. Maybe it's the Disney effect. But if there's so serious sex or violence, cartoons are for kids.

That may be a tricky deal for "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The 85-minute feature is incredibly clever and funny, but it can also be a little scary. On some levels it's a horror film, something that parents of under-5s figured out right away.

That's because in order to get the Were-Rabbit — a rabbit werewolf — there has to be a hairy-palms transformation. It's never a pretty sight, no matter how many puns you crack while it's happening.

"W&G" is otherwise a kind of video hit in the making. Park makes it work on many levels, actually aiming for the adult audience first and children second.

How this will fare in theaters is anyone's guess, although one DreamWorks insider I spoke to said the company would be happy if it made $70 million.

That number sounds reachable, but I wouldn't think it would go much higher unless adults really came pouring out in support of it.

Like the short films, the feature is something you sort of ease into. I'd be surprised if kids demanded to see it over and over in the theater.

But that's not to say that "Wallace & Gromit" does anything less than live up to its hype or predecessors.

In this adventure, their pest control company, called Anti-Pesto, must keep rabbits from eating all the farm vegetables in town.

They devise a sucking machine that whisks the hares out of the ground and safely into the grasp of a clear tubed cage.

But when Wallace tries to brainwash the rabbits into not liking "veges," two of his inventions criss-cross, changing the rabbits' personalities and his own (that's where it gets scary).

There are enough references to the three short films so that children who've seen them will feel mostly at home with the new film. This was smart.

Ralph Fiennes is a hoot as the voice of Victor Quartermaine, a local fop, and Helena Bonham Carter is sparkling as his rich paramour, Lady Tottington.

Peter Sallis, 84, repeats his role as grumpy Wallace; he's a gem.

Let's just hope audiences come to "Were-Rabbit" straight out from opening day and don't wait around. I think they're going to love it.