Posted by Danielle Berrin
Every year, Sir Elton John hosts an Oscar party/AIDS benefit that along with the Vanity Fair party and The Governors Ball is one of the most coveted tickets in town. The $3,500-per-plate price tag supports The Rocket Man in raising millions of dollars for AIDS research: In 2008, his gala raised $5 million and early figures from last night’s festivities are estimated at $4 million.
On the same day Sir Elton entertained a star-studded guest list of wealthy donors, the Harvard and Oxford educated economist, Dambisa Moyo told the NY Times philanthropic and government aid to Africa should stop. The Zambian native said that financial aid is more harmful than helpful—it inhibits entrepreneurship and creates unhealthy dependency on foreign nations.
What would she say to Elton John and other celebrities like Bono who make the continent of Africa their cause celebre?
I’ll make a general comment about this whole dependence on “celebrities.” I object to this situation as it is right now where they have inadvertently or manipulatively become the spokespeople for the African continent.
Jews would not agree with Moyo. While they typically do not support AIDS causes, the Jewish community is a huge advocate of distributing foreign aid because of Israel’s need.
Last summer, while working on a story about “Hollywood Heart,” an AIDS camp for affected youth created by MTV New Media veep David Gale, I asked why he had not tried to solicit funding from the Jewish community. “I wasn’t thinking this was a Jewish cause,” he replied. “Jews aren’t necessarily going to have a particular place in their heart for children affected by HIV/AIDS—not that they’re not compassionate, but their giving is usually specific to Israel or something the community is affected by, whereas HIV/AIDS hasn’t affected the Jewish community very much.”
For a community in which the concept of “Tzedakah” is so deeply inculcated, in which giving is equated with an act of justice, the idea of denying a people in need is unthinkable. But consider how Moyo’s no-aid prescription for an independent nation might affect Israel’s standing in the world: How might Israel be perceived if not as a Middle-Eastern appendage of the U.S.? If not the beloved prize of wealthy American Jews?
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February 23, 2009 | 1:43 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I was just thinking about something Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch said to me
over lunch at Greenblatt’s Deli a few weeks ago.
“Events like the Oscars get so much attention because they’re one off the few national experiences that are left,” he said.
It’s a simple statement but a rather powerful idea, especially if you consider how few cultural experiences are shared in the United States. Television, after all, constitutes most of America’s access to culture (especially in recessionary times when it’s harder to afford opera or theater tickets). And as with any other event, the critics are weighing in with their obsessive and dull ‘no surprises’ motif of this year’s show—a summation of Oscar night more boring than any telecast.
If I may say so, it was pretty freakin’ awesome that in one night, the Jewish-American creation known as Hollywood honored the global culture of filmmaking: a best picture shot in India, starring Indian actors, with Indian subtitles; a Spanish supporting actress; an Australian supporting actor; a British leading actress and an American leading actor. What this means is that while Vilanch had the right idea, he wasn’t thinking big enough—The Oscars is an international moment of community.
What I’ll remember of Oscars 2009 is that I went to a friend’s party, ate gobs of Indian food in honor of “Slumdog,” and that we spent four hours adding our own snarky commentary to a telecast so full of camp, I wondered if John Waters was secretly producing. Shame on anyone for ridiculing Hugh Jackman’s song-and-dance routine—I think it’s an honor just to look at him.
February 20, 2009 | 8:04 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The Carpetbagger, who is today’s preeminent Oscar guru (since he is both funny, a good writer and employed by the New York Times) posted his choices for top honors and I can’t say I’m surprised. Below see my comments on some of his best bets.
“Slumdog Millionaire”—Yes, a sweet, happy ending film, which we all like. It’s the safe choice in a depressing economy although hearing it referred to as “poverty porn” filled me with strange glee.
Danny Boyle—I’ve always been a fan of Danny Boyle so this would not upset. But Ron Howard deserves kudos for turning “Frost/Nixon” into a momentous event on film that it never was in history.
Mickey Rourke—Rock on Mickey! I’m 100% rooting for him (and not just because I’m trying to get his agent to return my phone calls). His performance in “The Wrestler” was raw, riveting and possessed an honesty rarely seen on screen. The obvious parallels to Rourke’s own life motivated not only his deftness in the role, but the unbelievable humility and candor he’s shown throughout the awards season. He deserves an Oscar for being a great actor and a great movie star.
Kate Winslet—I’m all about the ‘year of Kate Winslet’ but let’s be honest—her role as a desperate housewife in “Revolutionary Road” triumphed over her Nazi war criminal in “The Reader.” Maybe that’s a good thing.
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger—In all the time that a post-mortem Heath Ledger garnered a clean sweep of nearly every award for which he was nominated, you never once heard the term, “sympathy vote.” That’s because Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight” was as profound, dark and encompassing as any role that’s ever been on screen. It could be said that for such a young actor, he made cinematic history when has a comic book adaptation ever produced so legendary a performance?
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis—Umm, not so much. Gonna have to go with Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler” or Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that, Penelope Cruz, like Winslet, also had a marvelous year on screen. Her performance in “Elegy” (based on a Philip Roth novella) was heart-wrenching. Viewing the two films back-to-back reveals that Cruz is not only the most beautiful actress of her generation, but as versatile as a chameleon.
Anthony Dod Mantle for “Slumdog Millionaire”—The fast-paced, rhythmic sequencing and mixed chronology is a foremost reason why people loved the film—and why Danny Boyle is nominated for his direction.
Best Original Screenplay
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, “Wall-E”—Saw this on a plane, headphones broken, judgment impaired. Abstaining from vote.
Best Foreign-Language Film
“Waltz With Bashir”—Even though Ari Folman was mean to me, his film is undeniably good, technologically sophisticated and politically important. But just in case, look out for “The Class” to upset (and if you’re interested, see it playing at The Landmark this weekend).
February 19, 2009 | 4:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I came out of the film “Two Lovers” the other night and didn’t know what to feel. My confusion was only partly related to the film; after two straight weeks of being on deadline (and a frenzied weekend at LimmudLA) I was feeling I might lose my mind and the movie gave me relief. Perhaps I related to the idea of being torn between two worlds, as was the protagonist, played by Joaquin Phoenix. And maybe it was no coincidence that one world was Jewish, filled with family expectations and tribal pressures—and the other was ‘another’ world, free and open and full of risk (made all the more enticing by the luring presence of Gwyneth Paltrow).
The film follows a protagonist that is being compared to the boy-men that lined the pages of Philip Roth novels. Indeed, it is a coming-of-age story (if a belated one) that focuses on the polarizing tension between family expectations and freedom. A.O. Scott writes in the NY Times that, “Like a Roth hero — and just about every other American Jewish male protagonist from Augie March to Jerry Seinfeld — he struggles with the conflicting demands of filial duty and the longing to strike out on his own. He wants to be a good son, but he also wants to live a life of danger, freedom and impulse. Does he stick with his own kind and risk suffocation, or does he risk rootlessness in pursuit of liberation?”
But while the picture’s basic conflict is, as Scott puts it, “the tension between the individual spirit and the ways of the tribe,” it fails to account for another great theme present in the film—mental illness—that at once heightens the tension or was perhaps even caused by it. The characters that are inexplicably drawn to each other—though the nature of their need is different—both suffer from inner turmoil. Phoenix’s character is labeled bipolar and Paltrow is driven to drug addiction for reasons that never become clear. There is something wild, destructive and chemical about their dependency on one another. They are, for each other, like a drug that fuels their illness instead of tempering it or curing it. And the whole time—although the idea of liberation implies choice—you know their road together leads to madness. On the other hand, all the real possibilities of life are at home; where your family arranges your marriage and your job and you are tied to a community.
But illness can destroy that, too. Or make it impossible. I must have walked away confused because the movie tells you that no matter what you choose, you’re never really safe from wanting more.
February 17, 2009 | 8:12 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Leading a religious life may be the toughest job in Hollywood. Almost everything about the business – from the power lunches to the endless work schedule to the idolatry of ratings and box office – seem antithetical to traditional Judaism. Leave it to LimmudLA to find two observant Jews with the chutzpah to satisfy both their ambitions in Hollywood and their religious commitment.
Jeff Astrof, a sitcom writer, and David N. Weiss, a screenwriter, both became Orthodox after they had started their careers. In both cases, the transformation was met with resistance – “What do you mean you can’t work Friday nights or Saturday? Do you have to have kosher food on the craft services table?” If it sounds trivial, these guys will tell you it’s not. Finding God, in fact, provided a spiritual outlet for feelings of envy, greed and insecurity, despite the sacrifices it required. In order to get Shabbat off, Astrof promised a producer he’d work harder than anybody else every other day of the week—though that didn’t stop his writing partner of 14 years from leaving him.
“Just when you get comfortable, you get thrown a curveball,” Astrof said. Just then, an Orthodox woman in the audience gave him a jolt.
“How do I discourage my daughter who has caught the acting bug from pursuing the life of an actress?” she pleaded.
Astrof wished her luck.
February 6, 2009 | 3:31 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
A week ago, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer ignored the predominant mood in Hollywood and chose to boost industry morale with optimism.
He delivered an assured and upbeat address to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) who were assembled in Las Vegas for their annual conference. A strategic cheerlead for the lords of television, he outright refuted “the death of Broadcast” and said, on the contrary, things are better than ever. So what if the way we watch television is changing, that’s just fundamentals, the demand for content is still vital. As it were, if “High School Musical” could become a billion-dollar franchise, and “Slumdog Millionaire” an Oscar contender, Feltheimer said, that proves there’s still room for unexpected success in the unlikeliest of places.
Call him a renegade.
“Can things be so bad when a film like The Dark Knight captures the second highest box office gross on record and then helps usher in a brand new technology by selling four million BluRay discs in its first month?” Feltheimer asked. “Or can things be so bad when new shows like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Damages,’ ‘Dexter’ and ‘The Tudors’ are coming out of a cable television environment that has tripled in size in the past 10 years?”
(As much as I love “Mad Men,” things aren’t exactly peachy if its star accepts a Golden Globe award and thanks the “two dozen or so” people who tune in to watch it.)
But that’s beside the point. A week later, after his exuberantly positive pontificating, the NY Times reported that Lionsgate spent $5.5 million buying the most depressing film in all of Sundance. “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire” was a critical success, garnering three awards—the Audience Award, the Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize for Acting. It’s a sound choice for a company that appreciates quality independent moviemaking and prides itself on a marketing challenge. So why then, mere minutes after announcing its purchase, did Lionsgate begin backpedaling from the glory of their prize?
From the NY Times:
On Monday the company initially agreed to discuss the inherent marketing challenges. A few hours later it backtracked, rejecting any marketing talk but saying executives would be happy to speak broadly about their delight in nabbing the movie. Before long that offer was also rescinded.
I’ll give Lionsgate the benefit of the doubt, but mostly because I trust their backers. Oprah Winfrey agreed to promote the film. So did Tyler Perry. And yet, it’ll likely be Feltheimer’s strategy that will win the day. He’s not going to let a film about “an illiterate and obese African-American teenager in 1980s Harlem who is pregnant with her father’s child — for the second time — and is also abused by her mother” prevent him from making his company money. Who cares that it’s a hard sell, with dark subject matter, in a tough economy? Feltheimer’s answer is to do away with “big, soggy star vehicle[s] with no discernible story line” and target smaller, niche audiences.
“I’m making a point beyond the obvious one that commerce continues and the show will go on. Consumers are still spending but, like each of us, they’re rationing their dollars a little more carefully. Like each of us, they’re becoming a little more selective in their purchases. And, like each of us, they’re exercising the most awesome and dreaded weapon in their arsenal-the power of choice. They’re wielding it not like a club but like a laser, to target the best, the most familiar, the most recognizable and the most appropriate to their lifestyle, taste and peer group,” Feltheimer said.
“Now, think about that for a moment, because it has profound implications for what is produced for, delivered to and consumed by the world marketplace. The message is clear. A bad economy is the best critic on the planet.”
February 3, 2009 | 4:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Still suffering for his art, director Roman Polanski’s plea to have his 30-year old sexual misconduct case dropped was denied yesterday by Los Angeles Superior Court. Polanski’s appeal relied upon new evidence revealed in the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,“ which suggested that presiding Judge Lawrence Rittenband may have unlawfully discussed the case during legal proceedings. Polanski fled to Paris before sentencing in 1978 and has not been permitted to re-enter the U.S., even when he won a best director Oscar for “The Pianist.” It seems the Los Angeles legal system has little sympathy for a man who admitted guilt and then evaded punishment for three decades. On the other hand, come on Polanski! Paris ain’t so bad!
Roman Polanski’s attorneys have lost their bid to disqualify all Los Angeles Superior Court judges from considering their request to dismiss the 31-year-old sex case against the fugitive director.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal issued the decision Monday, and also lifted a stay on all proceedings.
Polanski’s attorney, Chad Hummel, claimed the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench is biased against the director. Prosecutors countered that the claim was frivolous.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1978 but fled to France before he could be sentenced.
February 3, 2009 | 3:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
All I want to know is: who’s buying the movie rights to the SAG drama?
The latest development in the SAG ordeal has president Alan Rosenberg filing a restraining order against fellow guild members. He’s trying to prevent the higher-ups who voted to oust national executive director Doug Allen last week from starting contract talks with the AMPTP.
SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg has filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to bar other guild leaders from restarting contract negotiations with the majors.
A lawyer representing Rosenberg filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday ayem seeking the restraining order, filed with Judge James Chalfant. Rosenberg is listed as the plaintiff, along with SAG first VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord.
Rosenberg and the others are taking the legal maneuver in protest of the decision made last week by a slim majority of SAG national board to fire national exec director Doug Allen and to relaunch contract talks with the AMPTP with a new task force of SAG negotiators. The SAG board members who voted for Allen’s ouster are listed on the motion as defendants.
It was not immediately clear when Chalfant would hear the motion.