People are still wondering why Mick Jagger turned up at a trendy downtown loft party one week ago in Soho.
Jagger made quite a grand entrance at this annual Christmas event. He was accompanied by the enigmatic Italian photographer Jean Pigozzi, the final owner of Spy magazine and heir to an Italian automotive fortune. Jagger stayed exactly one hour, seemed to know just about no one including the host, and then exited.
What made this all the stranger was that he was busy rehearsing for last weekend's Saturday Night Live, on which he was the musical guest. SNL hosts and guests are usually precluded from leaving the studio area during rehearsals.
Other guests at the party included Martha Stewart, Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, and ABC News's Elizabeth Vargas.
Jagger was very obliging during his appearance, allowing strangers to take his picture and pose with him. When I asked him about Keith Richards' comments that he'd never heard any of Mick's solo albums, Jagger responded, tongue-in-cheek: "Well, I've never heard his either!"
Robin Williams is sticking with stand-up comedy these days.
Williams — an undisputed comic genius, told me recently that he has no plans for more movies beyond the two he has in the can — Danny DeVito's Death to Smoochy and Christopher Nolan's Insomnia. Instead, he plans to focus on refining his comic skills by doing more stand-up in his hometown of San Francisco. Williams is often an unannounced regular at clubs in S.F. and New York. He likes to pop in and try out new material to unprepared audiences.
Williams's movie career has been spotty at best, although he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1997's Good Will Hunting. His more recent films include the less successful Jakob the Liar and Bicentennial Man.
I've waited about three months to tell you about Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums. This was mostly because it didn't seem right to skewer an ambitious movie so far in advance of its release date.
But now the hour is upon us: The Tenenbaums, with all their little idiosynchrasies and shtick, are heading to a theatre near you tomorrow. And they are a royal mess.
Anderson, who directed the excellent smaller films Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, has done something here that many filmmakers have wanted to do for years. He's made stories by J.D. Salinger into a movie. Salinger has steadfastly refused to sell the rights to his books for the last half century. Anderson evidently didn't care.
He's quite loosely made his own Glass family from Salinger's Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour and his collection Nine Stories. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the depressed Franny Glass, only here named Margot. Her character, as well as brothers Chas and Richie, were child geniuses — like Franny and her siblings. They are eccentric kids living in a New York world with no parents.
But Anderson doesn't stop at filching just from Salinger. He takes a dip in the pool of John Irving, too. From The World According to Garp we get Chas (played by Ben Stiller) deathly afraid of random violence — known in Garp as "the undertoad" — but unable to avoid it. From The Hotel New Hampshire we have brother Richie who pines for his sister (albeit adopted, not biological here) Margot.
At the film's start, there is some promising stuff. For 20 minutes everything points to success as Anderson shows off each child's room in the Tenenbaum house as if it were a Joseph Cornell diorama. But then, because it's been borrowed, lifted and readjusted from so many other sources, Tenebaums comes to a screeching halt. The grown kids' characters are dead ends. Anjelica Huston is wasted as their mother, Etheline. Danny Glover, as Etheline's suitor, is a non sequitur. Bill Murray, who used Rushmore to revive his career, is an afterthought as Paltrow's husband.
But all is not lost in Tenenbaums and that's the weird thing about it. Gene Hackman, as the family patriarch Royal Tenenbaum, simply jumps off the screen with originality. He is in his own movie, separate from this Salinger/Irving fest, kind of doing a version of Geoffrey Wolff's dad from The Duke of Deception.
Royal Tenenbaum is a compulsive liar and inveterate con man. He is charming to a fault, full of outward bravado, and an ultimate loser. He has an Indian sidekick with a Japanese name — Pagoda — and no command of the English language, played by Anderson regular Kumar Pallana. These two are absolutely hilarious together. You just know that Pagoda is completely devoted to Royal even though he's got his boss's number. Their story would have made a far more interesting movie.
I don't know if Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson did this intentionally or if Hackman just made this up from the script at hand, but watching him grift and con his own kids and ex-wife as he goes from living in a hotel suite to running the elevator in a uniform, is one of the great pleasures of this Christmas movie season. He deserves an Oscar nomination.
As for Anderson, when I asked him several months ago about the Salinger connection he replied: "I never really read those books. They didn't have much of an impact on me." I'll take him at face value, but do re-read these short, resonant stories and see what I mean.