January 14, 2007
"United" at Luques

Director Paul Greengrass finally hit the town this week, including a modest but lively gathering at Luques in West Hollywood yesterday evening. The usual crowd of talent and journos milled about: Kim Masters, Anne Thompson, Sasha Stone (yes, she makes it out from time to time), Jeff Wells, Pete Hammond, the Peters, Bart and Guber, actor/director Peter Berg (excited for "The Kingdom," he is), the "United 93" on-screen team of Ben Sliney, Christian Clemenson and Trish Gates - so on and so forth.

Oh! And "The Bagger" himself, David Carr landed on the left coast for a week-long stint, and boy does he get "quote of the night" honors left and right. If you're gonna be at a party, there are worse places to be than in the vicinity of Mr. Carr.

The man himself, Mr. Greengrass, couldn't weather enough compliments aimed at his soft-hearted nature. It really is true. He's a physically imposing guy on one hand, but past those large, round eye-glasses you almost see a kid looking back at you.

I spoke at length to Mr. Clemenson at one point about the casting process of the film. I haven't read about this much elsewhere, but he said the audition consisted of improving a variety of flight scenarios: checking in, boarding and realizing the flight had been hijacked. A very interesting process, and really, the only process if you think about it.

Mr. Greengrass will be accepting the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's Best Director prize later this evening.

November 30, 2006
"Borat" Bash

The stars turned out in droves last night for a cocktail reception in honor of the success of "Borat" at Fox honcho Jim Gianopulos's abode. I remain the last guy on earth who hasn't seen the film, I might add, but I did catch quick glimpses of the DVD playing non-stop in the guest house.

"Entourage"'s Jeremy Piven, Geena Davis, "School of Rock"'s Mike White, David Arquette, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"'s Nia Vardalos (with husband Ian Gomez), "Mr. Show"'s Steven Odenkirk, Gary Shandling, "Lost"'s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, "Scrubs"'s Donald Faison, "South Park"'s Matt Stone (lots of comedians turned up) - you name it, they were probably lurking in the wings. And of course, the Pete Hammonds, Jeff Wellses, Sasha Stones and Anne Thompsons of the world were in various nooks and crannies, all in honor of the evening's guest, Sacha Baron Cohen, weathering the storm of a crowd of ogling admirers. Wife to be Isla Fisher was also there to support her man.

All in all a classy evening. Loved the band belting the festive "borat" tunes. I also loved the fact that John C. Reilly and Catherine Keener closed the joint down like true pros!

November 16, 2006
Thank You for Screening

You know, I didn't really give a lot of credence to a "Thank You for Smoking" adapted screenplay nomination prior to seeing it pop up on David Poland's charts a few weeks back, but the more I think about it (and take it in subsequent times), the more it seems a likelihood. And if writer/director Jason Reitman keeps charming the circuit like he did for an intimate WGA screening this evening, things should pan out nicely.

I moderated the Q&A that followed the screening, and it was one of my favorites so far this year. That has a lot to do with Jason being closer to my age than most of the folks I've had the opportunity to share the stage with this season, and our sensibilities and senses of humor being similar as well. But he's just got a lot of charisma and can have fun with things in a loose manner that really leaves a great, un-fussed-over impression.

And checking out the film on DVD recently brought back fond memories. It really is one of the best films of the year, certainly one of the best comedies. And Aaron Eckhart remains a golden god.

November 11, 2006
Party at The Geisha House

Following the premiere of his new film "Fast Food Nation," Wilmer Valderrama threw a hell of a party last night in the upstairs club of his Geisha House restaurant last night. Cary Elwes, Avril Lavigne, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Richard Linklater and a host of Searchlight troops were in attendance for a very nice change of affairs where the Oscar season event typicality is concerned.

Personally, my heart nearly lept out of its chest when I met Ms. Moreno, stunning as ALWAYS. This girl should be a movie star. Seriously.

Valderrama was warm and accompanying as he was surrounded much of the night by star-hungry female persuasion, and Mr. Linklater seemed laid back and into the groove of a dance-heavy Friday night. The usualy meet-and-greats were drowned out by loud music, so shouting at the top of one's lungs when speaking to these individuals was the norm. Luckily, it didn't seem like business so much as simply hanging with these folks on a weekend in Hollywood. Very cool.

I must say, though, having your name on "the list" of a Valderrama party and seeing the look on numerous girls' faces who are dressed-to-the-nines and hoping to slide in on your coat tails is hilarious indeed. I slipped past the curtain along with my guest and heard a few of them trying the "I'm with him" schtick, but to no avail.


November 02, 2006
"Pursuit of Happyness" at the Egyptian

EDIT (1:19PM): In today's Hot Button column, David Poland does a very nice job of conveying the same atmosphere of the Q&A I described last night.

EARLIER: Gabriele Muccino's "The Pursuit of Happyness" played to a SAG crowd tonight at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I'm not able to give my personal opinion of the film as of yet, but the crowd ate it up - can I say that at least? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Anyway, Will Smith charmed the pants off those in attendance (as always) in the follow-up Q&A. This guy answers questions like no one else I've ever seen. He's always had the spark, but seriously, no hesitation, no pulled punches and no lack of preparation is to be found.

Smith told wonderful stories about how son Jaden, who co-stars in the film, taught him things he had forgotten as an actor. He also commented that working with Muccino joins the experience of working with Michael Mann as a significant turning point in his career. He now feels that he will never allow himself to dip below a certain artistry, and that kind of obvious awakening is really something special to witness.

Smith really is a dream for any PR team pushing a film during the Oscar season. He works extremely hard for his films, even when it isn't necessary, and without saying anything about the actual performance, a few more appearances like this will certainly keep him in the place I've considered him to be for some time: Peter O'Toole's true competition for the Best Actor victor this year.

"Breaking and Entering" for the SAG and WGA

Another Pacific Design Center event, and it was a peculiar one in some ways. Moderating the Q&A with Anthony Minghella and Robin Wright Penn after the screening (no, I don't sleep much these days), I noticed a strange divide in the audience.

Some really and truly loved the film, the atmosphere it creates and the view of relationships it presents. Most of these people were older and had more life experience (said the 24-year-old blogger). The other half of the crowd seemed a little more affected by skepticism and an unwillingness to accept what Anthony was attempting to present. Curious.

I didn't get a lot of time to chat with Anthony and Robin (stunning as always) because they had to scoot to another Q&A in Sherman Oaks. But Anthony is such a hypnotic speaker, I have to say. As he would answer question with that measured quality of his, I would at times catch Robin looking on with that certain sense of warm wonder that is impossible to avoid. I could personally listen to him talk about love, heartbreak, emotional scar tissue and hope all day long.

I really hope this film finds a comfortable place int he awards season. Or at least in the hearts of those who understand everything it has to say.

October 29, 2006
"Fiction" Makes Waves with SAG

Another SAG screening tonight, this time for Marc Forster's "Stranger Than Fiction" at the Pacific Design Center.

I again moderated the Q&A afterward, a panel including WilL Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman which received a lengthy standing ovation to kick things off. The back and forth was marvelous, with lots of laughs and yours truly getting to play the casual butt of jokes from Hoffman and Thompson (I guess you just don't get that opportunity too often). But all in good fun and the audience was a lively bunch. The auditorium was also packed with no walkouts prior to or during the Q&A, which is always a good sign for a film, obviously.

Producer Lindsay Doran joined the fray spontaneously half-way through, which made for a nice peripheral commentary. I understand last week's PGA screening of the film went very well, with Lindsay answering questions from another loaded auditorium.

All in all, a great showing for the film - and really, an honor to just share the stage with those individuals.

October 26, 2006
Wednesday in La La Land

The Variety Screening Series unloaded Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" tonight at the Arclight, a film I'm tempted to call something of a masterwork, but I'd like to take it in again. It's unabasedly creative, and to hear del Toro talk about it and his convictions in creating the film is a definite treat. The Q&A with Variety senior editor Steven Gaydos was both enlightening and humorous. Del Toro's one of a kind.

The Arclight was also booming with the likes of Don Cheadle, Sinbad (where ya been?), and the cast and crew of "Catch a Fire," launching a red carpet premiere and making for one packed freakin' parking garage. I ducked out of the "Pan's" Q&A and headed across the street to The Cabana Club for the "Catch a Fire" after party.

Typical conversations with Jeff Wells and Pete Hammond amongst others, giggling at Tim Robbins cheesily dancing to the DJ's incarnations with Mr. Cheadle in tow and laughing at his expense. The usual Hollywood crowd (Ron Yerxa is quickly becoming the most recognizeable guy in town to me). Phillip Noyce, Derek Luke, et al. A great party really, but after last night's booze-a-thon at Morton's, I couldn't take too much so I got out of dodge soon enough.

Next event, I promise to have a better story. I'm exhausted...

October 18, 2006
"Scissors" plays fantastically for the SAG

"Running with Scissors" screened for the Screen Actors Guild a second time last night at the DGA, and it played wonderfully. A crowded theater of thespians responded better than Sony could have expected, following some tepid critical responses that have ranged from dislike to disgust.

I moderated the Q & A with director Ryan Murphy following the screening, and charming as always he provided the best responses. The crowd ate it right up, and I'm starting to feel foolish for bumping Annette Bening from my predictions earlier in the week. In all honesty, if anyone should be on the cusp of being perceived as "weak" in the Best Actress category as of late, it might be Kate Winslet. "Little Children" will be much more off-putting to the Academy at large than a fun excursion like "Scissors," which really seems to find acceptance amongst filmmakers and talent - you know, people who actually MAKE movies - given the two SAG screenings and last week's premiere at the Academy.

Anyway, Jill Clayburgh got a great ovation when the credits rolled at the end, which boads well for her comeback story this year. And, of course, shining star Bening was praised to no end, from viewers with experiences with mental illness praising the accuracy of portrayal, to delight over Murphy's recognition of his own mother in the erratic character that is Deirdre Burroughs.

"Running with Scissors" releases October 27.

October 17, 2006
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" at the El Capitan

A great turn-out tonight for the premiere of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D" at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. It was hard to miss Marilyn Manson (second time I've bumped into the guy in a week) gabbing to the press, and John Heder made his way up the red carpet as well. Had a few choice words with John Lassetter about the direction of the 3-D platform for some of Disney's past excursions, etc. Really chill all around, frankly.

The movie was fine, if not really made for a 3-D experience to begin with. Not a lot of effects and such popping out at you, but fun nonetheless. The festivities across the street afterward were a blast, as entertainers on stilts criss-crossed a Highlands restaurant full of a jazzed crowd swaying to the sounds of "Ghostsbusters," "Thriller" and Danny Elfman's "Batman" score. The whole place was decorated accordingly, pumpkins galore, a delicious Wolfgang Puck catered buffet of Thanksgiving yummies.

Mr. Burton was cornered most of the night by adoring fans, past acquaintances and business partners. The poor guy had a difficult time slipping out of his booth at one point to finally make his exit, hounded by folks looking for autographs and photo ops. But ever gracious and friendly, he humored all comers.

All in all a pleasant evening. It certainly puts me in the mood for the fall season. I want some more of that turkey!

October 11, 2006
"Scissors" Gets a Premiere

"Running with Scissors" played well to a premiere crowd last night at the Academy. A few severely negative critical assessments have hit publication in recent weeks, which is strange to me. This is a hard film to hate, I feel, and that's saying a lot coming from a guy who can't stand the bulk of Wes Anderson cinema (to which "Scissors" has been compared in style). But it seemed like smooth sailing in the Goldwyn Theater last night.

The reception afterwards was a star-studded event. A youthful Joseph Cross talked to me a little about his future schooling plans in Westchester County New York. He certainly had an air of humility to him considering he had just come off another major premiere the night before, for Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers."

Jill Clayburgh looked ravishing, especially after seeing her de-glammed performance in the film. Brian Cox worked the room finding numerous friends, while Joseph Fiennes (who kills in the film) had the girls in a tizzy.

Other attendees included Seymour Cassell and Dennis Haysbert (who I happened to catch at the last minute as I was leaving). But at the center of the room was Annette Bening, crowded and basking in the glory of a fantastic performance. Husband Warren Beatty (one of the few folks in this town, it seems, that can make me star-struck) hovered in the background, chatting here and there, but mostly enjoying some fine (as always) cuisine.

Anyway, all in all it was a swell evening. "Runing with Scissors" might have its head ripped off by critics, it might not. Regardless, I've thought it to be a fine film for some time and wish brand new feature director Ryan Murphy the best as he tackles more material in the future. Just wrap up those "thank yous" a little quicker at the next premiere, sport.

Oh, most unexpected moment: when Marilyn Manson sat down next to me and David Poland. Crikey!

October 03, 2006
Another Tuesday in La La Land

Lots going on around town tonight. "The Queen" had a premiere at the Academy, and the Arclight was jumping with the DVD release party for "Thank You for Smoking," fit with a screening and Q & A. Me? I was taking in "The Departed" for a second time, which was luckily at the Arclight, so I was able to hustle it upstairs for the Searchlight after-party.

I got a few words in with actor J.K. Simmons before he headed off to do his own thing. Refreshingly he says he steers clear of the business side of things. His agent calls him, tells him what he's got lined up, he goes there, does the work (which is always outstanding and singular). But basically, he'd rather be coaching baseball or soccer and hanging with his two kids. He's a really nice guy, with the iciest set of blue eyes you'll come across.

Anyway, "The Departed." Yeah. It still kicks ass. A lot of it. And the opening title card is so...awesome. You'll see. And this time around, a lead nod for Jack Nicholson really makes a LOT of sense. It didn't stick out to me before because I had supporting on the brain all year long like the rest of the pack, but a lead berth is coming more and more into focus. The case really is there to be made more than I initially thought, and, well, welcome to lucky 13 Jack.

Next week, more craziness. Finally seeing "Infamous" after, like, everyone else has seen the thing. "Running With Scissors" premieres at the Academy Tuesday, which should be fun. Oh, watch for a great "Tech Support" column from Gerard Thursday handicapping the cinematography race. Maybe a piece on screenwriter Jeremy Brock ("Driving Lessons," "The Last King of Scortland") will hit. Had lunch with him at the Beverly Wilshire last week and he's the coolest of the cool.

Just cruisin'...

September 22, 2006
"Last King" goes to the Academy

Beautiful spread at the Academy tonight for the premiere of "The Last King of Scotland." I got the chance to chat with James McAvoy afterward, a charming fellow to say the least. Also caught up with Kevin Macdonald again. I'll be moderating his Q&A at the DGA screening Sunday night, but it was good to get some face time following a brief interview for the NY Times back in March.

All in all, the film was well received. Chatting with Kevin and James (never made it over to Forest), they would conjure lines of people that wanted to tell them how powerful the film was, and how moving, how electric, etc. Fox Searchlight seems to also be getting the indication that, even with the passionate love for "Little Miss Sunshine," maybe "Last King" is the pic to throw their weight behind.

Oprah Winfrey had Whitaker on her show this afternoon also, and apparently she said she's seen the film three times, having only seen "The Color Purple" twice. Watch out when she slings her weight behind a film. Remember that full cast special on "Crash" last year?

Oh, and yes, "Last King" is still the best film of the year after a second helping. :)