Monthly Archives

November 2008

Review of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD with DiCaprio and Winslet

Remember those scenes in Airplane! when Robert Hays’s character tries to tell fellow passengers his life story but it’s so intolerable, one lady hangs herself while another man commits seppuku? When the lights went up in the theater after the screening of Revolutionary Road I attended, I half expected to see people hanging from the rafters or setting themselves on fire. This is easily the most depressing movie of the year and I’ve seen Defiance.

But let me be clear: Road is very good; it’s well-acted, -written, -directed, -photographed, -costumed, -scored, etc. It’s definitely smart, adult fare. But its themes are so disturbing, the film is more terrifying than anything featuring people with saws or wearing hockey masks.

The obvious draw will be the reunion of Titanic lovebirds Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, playing another period couple—this time in the 1950s—but engaged in a very different kind of relationship. Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) meets April (Winslet) at a party when they’re both young and certain they’d set the world on fire. She’s studying to be an actress while he’s just back from the service, still figuring out his future. Fast forward to two kids and seven years later, her acting career has fizzled and he’s stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job which he describes by saying, “There’s nothing interesting about it at all.” Desperate to infuse some passion and excitement back into their lives, April sells Frank on the idea of ditching everything and moving to Paris with their children. But complications ensue and the dream ends up far from a happy ending.

2008_revolutionary_road_008DiCaprio and Winslet do wrenching work, taking Frank and April from a hopeful existence to a “hopeless emptiness.” The acting isn’t always natural, sometimes overly demonstrative and other times very fifties-style Stepford-ish. But the two stars manage to cut open Frank and April’s inner selves as if performing metaphorical open-heart surgery on each other and the result is just as bloody and raw.

The supporting cast is first-rate, especially Michael Shannon as John Givings, the supposedly insane son of Kathy Bates’s realtor character. Shannon gives an electrifying performance as an outsider who comes into the placid neighborhood on Revolutionary Road (ironically named because there’s no revolution happening in any of these people’s lives) and rips right through the Wheelers’ facade of domestic perfection. But while the performance is a standout, the employment of his character is a bit cliche and too convenient—having the crazy guy be the only person who speaks the truth no one else will.

2008_revolutionary_road_011Besides the name of the road, other monikers also seem to mock what they represent. Wheelers are supposed to denote people on the move but this couple is paralyzed by inertia. Frank is not so much—he has moments of eruption but most of the time he puts on a smile and keeps his innermost thoughts to himself. And April, a word which usually symbolizes spring and a time of renewal, can’t seem to escape a lonely, unending winter.

The devastating thing about this movie, based on Richard Yates’s novel of the same name (which I haven’t read), is that it posits Frank and April’s situation could happen to anyone. (Heck, it could’ve happened to Jack and Rose from Titanic had Jack lived.) We all start out thinking we’re headed for great things but some wake up one day realizing “we’re not that special,” as April says. Even if you watch this movie feeling all superior and thinking, “I’m not a housewife stuck in a rut” or “I’m not some guy in a dead-end job,” who knows where you’ll be ten years from now? The deterioration of lives and dreams could happen so slowly that you don’t notice until one day you look around and wonder how you got to where you are, an unfulfilled place you swore you’d never end up in. I’m not trying to depress you; this is what Road depicts. It puts these issues under a magnifying glass and no matter how much the characters squirm, director Sam Mendes keeps the glass on them until the heat makes them burst into flames.

Revolutionary RoadMendes has plumbed this territory before—Road is like American Beauty (it even has a similarly stark, piano score by Thomas Newman) with a younger couple and less black humor. He’s a brave man to embark on such a bleak exploration of marriage with his wife in the lead; the film’s even dedicated to their children. (I wouldn’t know WHAT to think if my parents dedicated a movie like this to me.) Road deserves to be seen and I’d recommend it, but be forewarned it will not add to your holiday cheer.

And leave all weapons at home, just in case.

(Limited release, December 26)

Rating: Good


Backstage at the American Music Awards


David Cook, reigning American Idol champ, gives me a shout out from the American Music Awards!

One of my sources was backstage at the show, held this past Sunday, November 23. She took these photos and sent in the following report:


The American Music Awards (AMAs) were held for the second year in a row in the newly constructed Nokia Theatre, which is part of the L.A Live venue downtown. As an AMA insider, I made the following observations backstage:


1:07 p.m.  Rihanna gets in line in the parking garage, taking part in the crew meals.  Wearing Karl Lagerfeld sunglasses, she patiently waits her turn and is the only celebrity seen in the eating area.

4:11 p.m.  On screen, monitors say High School Musical star Corbin Bleu is hosting the red carpet, LIVE. Bleu is actually in his trailer at that time.

4:21 p.m.  Joe McIntyre (along with the other New Kids on the Block) walks out of their dressing room, commenting on other Nokia Theatre performers’ portraits along the walls. Pointing to the photos, McIntyre exclaims, “There’s us. And that one’s us, and that’s us….”

t-howard4:30 p.m. Terrence Howard arrives at the red carpet without his tickets and is escorted by production personnel to get his tickets reissued.

4:39 p.m.  Leona Lewis is walking barefoot in a couture gown across the street to her trailer.

5:02 p.m.  Outside the green room, a production assistant misidentifies Chris Daughtry as Dave Cook. Luckily, this happens out of Daughtry’s earshot.

5:26 p.m.  The New Kids on the Block finish performing and take a smoking break.

enrique15:49 p.m.  Enrique Iglesias arrives, obliges to a photo op with a wheelchair-bound individual, and proceeds to rehearse his lines.

6:04 p.m.  Terrence Howard rehearses his script, sitting on the steps by the production celebrity handlers, saying he much prefers hanging out with them to sitting in the green room.

6:15 p.m.  Alicia Keys is being escorted off stage after winning an award when a stage manager requests the walkway be cleared for Mariah Carey’s entrance. Keys teases Carey, “Listen, Mariah, I am sick of this shit!”  They laugh and hug.

6:25 p.m.  Backstage, people are dodging everything from Coldplay’s set pieces to Annie Lennox’s grand piano to Miley Cyrus’s three-tier birthday cake (for her 16th d-archuletabirthday that night).

6:37 p.m.  Beyonce walks by with a seven-foot-tall bodyguard, handlers, assistants and a camera crew.

8:11 p.m. The show is finished and David Archuleta makes his way through the crowd. He goes backstage and spies David Cook. They hug.

add to :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: add to ma.gnolia :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: TailRank :: post to facebook


Review of Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA

My friend Eric and I attended a Variety screening of Australia on November 20 (it opens Nov. 26), where Hugh Jackman, director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann and co-producer Catherine Martin did Q & A afterwards. Jackman looked very much like the Sexiest Man Alive in his black leather jacket and all-black ensemble but that’s beside the point.

The film is a big, ambitious epic that deals with everything from Australia’s Stolen Generation (how half-white, half-Aboriginal children were taken away from their families to be trained as white people) to battling cattle ranchers competing to provide beef to the Army and the Japanese bombing of Darwin during World War 2008_australia_030II. In the midst of all this, Nicole Kidman’s aristocratic character, Lady Sarah Ashley, and Hugh Jackman’s no-name ranch hand (he’s simply called Drover, which means a person who drives cattle herds) fall in love.

Eric and I had wildly different reactions to the film so I thought we’d do a Siskel-and-Ebert-style review instead of just me writing a straight one.

Our conversation went something like this:

Pop Culture Nerd: It was obvious Luhrmann was trying to make an overly stylized, old-fashioned epic so I just went with it and enjoyed it, although, admittedly, some things were pretty ham-fisted.

Eric: Some things? Other than the relationship between King George and Nullah [an Aboriginal elder and his grandson, who narrates the movie], I don’t believe there was a single organic moment in the whole film.

PCN: You did not just say “organic.” That’s an overly used and vague word. What do you mean exactly?

Eric: Organic, to me, in terms of acting, means real, unaffected and having a ring of truth. For me, Kidman is huffing and puffing her way through the entire film and Jackman is busy mugging for the camera. I find it hard to believe they ever did a scene together. It looks like they said their lines separately and were spliced together later during post-production. They weren’t listening to each other, which makes it all the more jarring when you see the stillness and focus during the scenes between King George and Nullah.

2008_australia_0141PCN: Granted, the acting is not naturalistic. It’s very much about making an ENTRANCE and holding the smoldering looks. It’s that old-movie style of acting. Kidman is a little cartoonish in the beginning but I felt it was to give her a place to go during the course of the movie. She has to start out as a somewhat silly woman so her eyes could be opened along her journey. Once she settles down, she’s much more grounded. And Jackman said during the Q & A he was directed to be over-the-top, at least during the slo-mo shower scene, which was hilarious. Drover is Indiana Jones and Rick hugh-jackmanBlaine. Luhrmann said he wasn’t going for naturalism. He wanted to make something like Gone With The Wind and Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia. This movie is nowhere near that stratosphere but it’s still enjoyable.

Eric: Yes, he invoked those movies over and over again. I think it’s unfair to compare Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman to the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, but Bogart and Bergman at least knew when to throw away a line and when to give it intensity. So his comparison rings hollow for me, which is disappointing because I’m a fan of Baz Luhrmann.

PCN: I’m neither a fan nor a hater. I think he’s hit or miss. I liked Strictly Ballroom, not so much William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. I thought Moulin Rouge was visually bold but just okay overall. This movie is 2008_australia_006flawed, it’s too long, it tries to include too many stories and elements—comedy, romance, mysticism, action, Western, the Stolen Generation, World War II—but it was never boring.

Eric: At least with Ballroom, R + J, and Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann had a clear vision. With this movie, he seems to have had a number of stories he wanted to tell but there’s no clear focus. There’s nothing wrong with juggling a number of plot lines as long as they become cohesive by the end of the movie. What I saw on screen was a story about Australia’s Stolen Generation derailed by the addition of two high-wattage movie stars.

2008_australia_023PCN: I do agree that the Stolen Generation plot got sidetracked by the rivalry between the ranchers and the romance. But the battling-ranchers storyline introduced a lot of conflict and the cow stampede was heart-stopping. It reminded me of the stampede in The Lion King that killed Mufasa, but in live action.

Eric: The stampede was incredible. When Nullah (Brandon Walters) stands at the edge of the cliff and stares down the cattle heading for him, it’s so powerful. And even though you know the kid was never actually in danger on set, he seemed to have really experienced it.

2008_australia_wallpaper_006PCN: That kid is great. I can’t believe he’d never done any acting or even seen a large city before doing this movie. He’s a natural. He anchors the whole film for me.

Eric: He’s just as intense in all his scenes with King George (David Gulpilil). Sadly, Bryan Brown (who plays King Carney, the rival rancher) and David Wenham (as his lackey, Fletcher) are reduced to playing stock bad guys drinking from oversized beer bottles and doing everything they can not to twirl their mustaches and laugh maniacally.

PCN: Yeah, those guys are pretty one-note. They’re just stereotypically greedy and evil.

Eric: For me, this movie’s a mess and only barely redeemable by its cinematography. It’s an over-the-top romance novel with too much money behind it and not enough vision.

PCN: I think Luhrmann had too much vision for one movie and that’s why he ultimately failed to make a great one. But some of that money was put to good use. The cinematography is spectacular; some of those vistas are breathtaking. It makes me want to call my Australian friends to see if I can come visit.

2008_australia_018Eric: No argument there. The vistas are beautiful. But some of them looked too spectacular. Luhrmann mentioned that he digitized some scenes.

PCN: So? Name one recent movie that hasn’t been digitized in some way.

Eric: That’s not the point. From what I’ve heard, Australia’s so beautiful you don’t need to digitize it, especially the Outback.

PCN: The CGI is so subtle that it didn’t bother me. I don’t think you would’ve noticed it, either, if you hadn’t heard Luhrmann say he used it.

Eric: True.

PCN: So, in conclusion, are you telling people not to see it or wait for the DVD or what?

Eric: Wait for the DVD. Maybe the extras will make it worth their time.

PCN: I think if people have 2 hours and 45 minutes to kill and they like those old-fashioned epics that studios rarely make any more, they should check this out on the big screen. The acting is cheesy at times but once you accept that’s the broad style they’re going for, the film can be entertaining. It’s not great but it’s worth a look.

Rating—PCN: Good, My Friend Eric: Sucks Dirt


DOUBT Q & A with Streep, Hoffman, Adams, Davis and Shanley

After a screening of Doubt I attended at the TV Academy on November 19 (read my review here), Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis and writer/director John Patrick Shanley came out to do Q & A. The session was highly entertaining, with Streep leading the hilarity, but the panelists also shared their insight and insecurities about the process of making movies.


The moderator introduced Shanley first, then Davis, Adams, Hoffman and Streep, who received a standing ovation. After everyone was seated, the moderator directed his first question to Shanley. “Why did you write the play?”

Shanley said, “A few years ago, I noticed an atmosphere of uncertainty in this country. Doubt was being viewed as a weakness but I saw it as a great hallmark of strength.” He talked about how back in the ’60s, when he went to parochial school, he was taught certain rules about how things were even though he could feel that cultural shifts were coming. “Now, I’m in a time of great change; tectonic plates are moving again.”

The moderator asked the panelists in general, “What’s the most important theme for you [in this movie]?

Streep answered, “I’d seen the play and Cherry Jones do it. I was thunderstruck at her performance and wanted to steal it from her.” Huge audience laughter. “Just kidding.”

Shanley picked up the thread. “The theme that interested me was certainty, that tension that exists between people who felt things falling apart and trying to hold it together and people who wanted to let things fall where they fall.”

The moderator asked Streep, “Are you her? Are you that character?”

“Yes, I am, ” Streep deadpanned to big laughter. Then she told a story about being on location in Australia where everything is poisonous. Her children had a tendency to run everywhere, much to her chagrin (there were snakes around, among other things), while she noticed the Aborigine children never moved far from their mothers. “This is because the Aborigines have an uncle or family friend scare the shit out of the children, like, ‘Ahhhhhhh!’ [she screams] and they never leave their mothers’ side. Mother Superior is like that. It works.”

The moderator asked Streep and Hoffman about working together. Streep said, “I thought he didn’t like me the whole time.” (The person sitting next to me muttered under her breath, “Is she on crack? Why wouldn’t he?”)

“I adored working with her, just playing with her when we weren’t acting,” Hoffman said. “Acting with her is enjoyable and it’s not always enjoyable. The really good ones make it enjoyable.”

“What was your rehearsal process and prep time?” the moderator asked.

“Two weeks,” Shanley said.

“Three…?” Hoffman ventured.

“It seemed like two,” Shanley said.

“We did the room with the taped-off furniture,” Streep said.

Adams jumped in. “We had musical auditions next door. We had ‘Suddenly Seymour’ coming through the walls.” She continued, “The hard part [for me] was embracing a character who was so submissive and unsure of herself but having the confidence as an actor to be open to the challenges.” She then talked about the bonnet she wears in the movie as part of the nun’s habit. “It was fantastic; it was like having blinders on, literally [she cupped her hands on either side of her face to demonstrate having no peripheral vision]. I’d never been more focused in my life. I probably need it in my life!”

The moderator asked Shanley about the real Sister James, to whom he dedicated the movie.

“Sister James was my first-grade schoolteacher. When I wrote [the play], it was in full confidence that she was dead,” Shanley said, to huge laughter. On the play’s opening night, however, “to my horror, I found out she was coming. I hadn’t seen her in 48 years, since when I was 6. She was 70 [when I saw her again]. Together, we looked through this peculiar lens into the past. She loved the play, then brought many more nuns because nuns hang out with nuns. I wanted to dedicate the film to someone who had dedicated her life to service and never sought the limelight.”

“What was it like to have her on set?” the moderator asked.

“She said over and over again, ‘He was such a sweet boy,’ ” Streep answered.

The moderator asked Hoffman if he studied with a priest. Hoffman said he did do research with a priest with whom he had previously worked on a play called The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

The moderator then addressed Davis. “You heard the reaction you got when I introduced you.” (She had received very hearty applause.)

Tongue firmly in cheek, Davis said, “It wasn’t the same as Meryl got.”

“You only had one scene really but made such an impact,” the moderator said.

“Being private in public was the most difficult thing for me. The most difficult thing is her candidness. I had to feel free enough to tell this woman everything even though she’s yelling at a kid when I first got there,” Davis said.

She then told a story about how she was born in South Carolina on a plantation and her family was from the deep South, where people grew up in the church, with “women with their big titties hanging out, singing songs.” Then her family moved to Rhode Island, where it was mostly Catholic. She said she wanted so badly to be part of the Catholic church but was thrown out for not being “one of them.”

Davis turned to the other cast members and said, “I don’t want to make you all feel uncomfortable but I felt like an outsider [on set] so it really informed my performance of the character.”

The moderator asked Shanley why he didn’t use the actors from the play.

“I wanted to see what the most talented cast I could dream up would do,” Shanley said.

At this point, the Q & A was opened up to the audience. Someone asked the stars in general, “What is your greatest challenge?”

Streep said, “I’m always afraid, because people always expect a germ of wisdom [from me]. I go into the process like everyone else—I’m too old, too fat, too overexposed, everyone has seen everything…we’re actors here, we’re all insecure, right? But our strength is our vulnerability. If you don’t feel inadequate, something’s…” she trails off. Then, “Fortunately, I have a family who makes me feel that way a lot.” Huge laughter from the audience. “I’m not kidding.”

The moderator asked, “Do you still have fears?”

“I’m scared right now,” Hoffman deadpanned. “My hand shakes, I forget to breathe for thirty seconds. It happened on this film.” He told a story about filming a scene in Doubt when he’s drinking tea. The sound person requested something be put on the saucer to settle it because it was rattling so much due to Hoffman’s shaking hands. But Hoffman protested. “I said, ‘Don’t put anything on that saucer. I have to attack the fear.’ “

Adams said, “I didn’t start working this much until my 30s. I’m blessed to do it but it’s terrifying every day. My goal is to be flawless someday,” she said.

An audience member asked, “What do you wish you knew then that you know now?”

“I wish I knew more about girls,” Hoffman said immediately.

“That being completely terrified is an occupational hazard,” Davis replied. “I went to do looping [re-recording dialogue that wasn’t perfectly recorded on set] and saw all that snot on my face and thought, ‘Meryl saw all that and didn’t tell me to use a Kleenex?’ ” The audience laughed. Davis continued, “I wish I had confidence and courage. You have to have a certain amount of it in your choices, even if you take the ball and run in the completely wrong direction.”

Adams said, “I wish I knew I’d work so much so I wouldn’t panic and spend my 20s in a tailspin. I wish I knew I looked better with red hair than as a blonde. It would’ve saved me a lot of highlights.” The audience laughed.

Another audience member asked, “How does it feel to know everything you do gets dissected on the blogosphere? Do you pay attention to it?”

Everyone shook their head. Then Streep said, “I was reading a lot of political blogs up until the the election but I don’t know how to get to those [other] blogs. Dateline Hollywood’s the only one I know.”

“My dad informs me of everything ever written about me,” Adams said.

Streep then said she wanted to go back and address the what-I-wish-I-knew-then question. “I wish I hadn’t worried about my weight so much all through my twenties. I think women worry so much about their weight while men just sit down.”

Hoffman protested. “I was one of those little kids in school who’d be sitting in the bleachers, looking at his thighs and touching them and thinking, ‘You’ve got fat thighs.’ I’ve been worrying about my tummy since I was 10.”

Streep continued, “I just think for young actresses, a lot of the time, they think they can’t get parts” if they don’t weigh within a certain range.

Next question from an audience member. “Do you still study?”

Streep answered, “No, I don’t study anymore except in working. I learned from everyone on this stage except you [she looked at the moderator]. I don’t write down notes or anything in my scripts, which makes them worthless on eBay. I just dream and think about it.”

The next audience member mentioned a scene in which Streep used a long pole to change a light bulb overhead, then walked with the pole vertically at her side to answer a knock at the door. The audience member thought it made Mother Aloysius “look like Death,” with her black cloak and pole, and wondered if that was Streep’s or Shanley’s idea.

“My choice,” Streep said immediately, to much laughter. “No, the director put a stick in my hand, but I was aware in the rehearsal that I looked like an old witch.”

An audience member wanted Shanley to discuss what nature represented in the film, with all the winds blowing in many scenes.

“This is the hardest script I ever wrote and I’ve written a few,” Shanley said. “I wanted to bring in the children, the parishioners, show the convent vs. the directory. I wanted to feed something to dramatize the forces of change this woman couldn’t keep at bay. Wind seemed like the obvious thing to exploit, the light bulb going out…she’s at war with the physical world.”

Another audience member directed her question to Adams. “How did you prepare?”

“It was very much on the page. I’d never rehearsed anything like this. Something spoke to me about her, her devotion to her vows and calling. In meeting Sister Peggy [aka Sister James, Shanley’s former teacher], she’s plucky, there’s an impishness and I stole that.” The audience laughed. Adams continued, “It was a lot of science. I listened more than I talked…”

“You were incredibly well-prepared,” Shanley said.

An audience member asked about the financial challenges Shanley encountered in getting the movie made.

“One day we spent some big bucks. People showed up the next day when we were shooting in the hallway, which was complicated, there was lots going on. The money people said, ‘You better get it in one shot.’ I got it in one take. But then Phil said, ‘I’m feeling a little rushed.'” The audience laughed. Shanley then concluded by saying the money people don’t show up when you spend the money, they show up the next day and try to get you to speed things up.

It was the final question of the evening, the moderator wrapped things up and the stars filed out to a final round of applause.


Review of DOUBT Plus Q & A with the Cast and Writer/Director

Having seen Doubt (opening December 12), I have none whatsoever that Meryl Streep will be nominated for Best Actress in January. You’re probably thinking, “Blah blah, whatever, she gets nominated every year.” Well, the woman can’t help it if she’s genius at what she does.

The first time we see her character, Sister Aloysius, in the movie, we only see the back of her head but she’s already intimidating. Garbed in the traditional black nun’s habit as she walks up the aisle of a church during mass, she’s only seen from the waist down as she shushes one kid and thwacks another upside the head for talking. It’s a great introduction to her character, someone who terrifies people even when she can’t be seen.

Set in 1964, Doubt is based on John Patrick Shanley’s play of the same name (Shanley also directed this movie) which starred Cherry Jones in a Tony-winning Broadway turn. Sister Aloysius leads a solo crusade against Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whom she believes has taken an unnatural interest in the sole black student at the Catholic school they run. Caught in the middle is the young nun Sister James (Amy Adams), who’s convinced Father Flynn is innocent but also admires Sister Aloysius’s conviction.

The cast does exceptional work. The trick in Streep’s performance is she avoids making Sister Aloysius an all-out, one-dimensional villain (she’s actually very funny at times). She’s maddening in her ad hominem attack on Father Flynn, possessing no evidence other than that he has long fingernails and likes three lumps of sugar in his tea; ergo, he must be evil. But watching Streep work, I didn’t hate Sister Aloysius. I felt she was a woman desperately hanging on to the familiar tenets of her faith so she can avoid facing the winds of change (literally—strong winds blow a lot in this movie but more on that in the Q & A). I didn’t condone her actions but felt sorry for her because change will come no matter what she does.

2008_doubt_002Adams also turns in a strong performance as the young Sister James. She has got to have the most innocent face on any actress in Hollywood over 15. Her untainted quality shines right through that dark habit she wears. Her work might be subtle but it’s complex; it’s not easy to play such a guileless adult without becoming annoying. Viola Davis, as the black student’s mother, has only about two scenes in the whole film but makes a searing impact as a woman faced with impossible choices.

Hoffman does his usual exemplary work, keeping us guessing as to the priest’s guilt. In one scene, though, he might’ve forgotten he was in a movie and thought he was doing the play instead. The scene is a confrontation in Sister Aloysius’s office and Hoffman shouted quite a bit. It would’ve been fine if I were watching him from the back row of a big theater but on film, it was the only time I thought Hoffman was over the top.

Shanley with Streep on set

Shanley with Streep on set

It’s not hard to mistake this movie for a play, though, because it comes across very much like one. There are long scenes of just two people talking in interior settings with no cutaways. The acting and writing are compelling enough to keep my interest but I imagine the play wasn’t opened up very much during the adaptation process. Most of the actors have only one costume in the movie, the visuals and score are subdued. The minimalism might have been intended to keep the focus on the ideas Shanley presents, themes which are particularly timely in this election year when some people seem to embrace change while others have nothing but doubt.

Rating: Good

The cast and Shanley did a really entertaining Q & A after the screening I attended. Check back this weekend for my report on that, in which they discussed the film, working with each other and their insecurities as filmmakers.

Also coming up this weekend—my review of Australia and Q & A with Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann.


Review of Gus Van Sant’s MILK

After seeing Milk (opens Nov. 26, one day before the 30th anniversary of his murder), I predict that one of the five slots on the Academy-Award Best Actor wheel has been claimed by Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone who has followed Penn’s work. Some actors, when they try to stretch by putting on weight, ugly makeup, accent, physical handicap, mental illness, etc., just look like themselves playing dress-up. But Penn, like Daniel Day-Lewis, can completely metamorphose into someone else right before our eyes. His embodiment of Milk is so accomplished, when a video clip of the real Milk appears at the end of the movie, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ve been watching Sean Penn, not the real man.”

The real Moscone (L) and Milk (R) - Rink Photo

The real George Moscone (L) and Milk (R) - Rink Photo

This effect is aided by the film’s documentary style and ’70s feel. It begins with black and white footage, interspersed with newspaper clippings, of police raiding gay bars, loading men by the dozens into police vans. Then we see Penn as Milk in 1970 New York, boldly propositioning Scott Smith (James Franco) in a subway station. The men became lovers then moved to San Francisco two years later. Milk opened a photography shop called Castro Camera on Castro Street and became active in local politics after being initially shunned by other merchants for public displays of affection with Smith. He was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1977 and became the first openly gay elected official in the U.S.

from the Scott Smith Collection

from the Scott Smith Collection

In his short term before he was shot along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1978, Milk successfully fought Proposition 6, which sought to remove all gay teachers from their jobs. The scenes of Milk campaigning against this measure echo the recent California fight against Prop 8, which bans gay marriage. These scenes made me wonder if the election results for Prop 8 would have been different if Milk were still alive.

Over the years, actors such as Robin Williams and Jim Carrey have been attached to a Milk project. I’m glad it eventually came to Penn because I can’t imagine the others doing it. Penn displays qualities in Milk we’ve rarely seen in his past work. First off, he smiles a lot. When he’s excited about something or someone, his whole face sparkles like a child who’s been given a puppy. He’s vulnerable but determined, humble but proud, speaks softly but carries a bullhorn. Thankfully, Penn makes Milk full-blooded and doesn’t employ stereotypical gay mannerisms.

2008_milk_004The cast consists of many talented actors but the standouts for me are Franco, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch. Franco, as Milk’s long-time partner “Scotty,” has developed quite an interesting career for himself, mostly staying clear of bland pretty-boy trappings. His chemistry with Penn is palpable and his gravitas grounds Penn as Milk’s political dreams take flight in the film.

brolinBrolin plays Milk’s assassin Dan White as a man seemingly more in conflict with himself than with Milk. He has a smooth veneer that doesn’t quite cover the anger simmering just below the surface. Brolin deftly handles White’s slow unraveling and this is the most mature, interesting work I’ve seen him do (and he’s done some good work in recent years). Startlingly, in a medium shot, Brolin looks almost exactly like the real Dan White (check out the YouTube video below), down to the parted hair and tan blazer. The hair, makeup and wardrobe people were spot on.

Hirsch, unrecognizable as Cleve Jones in a ‘fro and oversize glasses, is just loose and having fun. It’s hard to imagine this is the same guy who played the tortured Christopher McCandless in last year’s Into the Wild.

I like Van San’s choice of documentary style for the film, as if he knew he had a good story (captured in a script by Dustin Lance Black) and great actors and just rolled camera and got out of the way. The events were incendiary enough; Van Sant didn’t need to take a heavy-handed approach. He didn’t have to feed us the outrage; he let us see for ourselves. His decision to incorporate real news footage of Anita Bryant as one s-anita-bryant-pie-homosexualof Milk’s antagonists is inspired because no one could have played that role and uttered those anti-gay proclamations quite like Bryant herself.

Rating: Good

The clip below is from NBC Nightly News, with David Brinkley reporting the news of Moscone and Milk’s assassinations. It includes footage (used in the movie) of then-Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein confirming the shootings at a press conference.


Winners of BENJAMIN BUTTON Movie Program

Congratulations to Chandan of Manchester, England; Greg of St. Charles, Missouri; and Ji of Frisco, Texas for winning a program from an L.A. preview screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Their names were randomly selected from the subscribers list.

I have other cool things to give away in the future to subscribers—scripts of The Soloist, Defiance, Changeling and Frost/Nixon. Don’t worry about spamming—I hate it more than leaf blowers right outside my window at 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning. So get on the list and check back often for further details.

Also, look for a review of Milk later today.


Comparison Between BENJAMIN BUTTON the Story and the Movie

After seeing the movie last week, I sought out the short story to see how they compare. I was surprised to find that, except for the title, lead character’s name and general concept of a man aging backwards, they are almost entirely different stories. If you’ve read it, don’t expect to see many of its plot points on screen. If you haven’t, you don’t need to. The movie has very little to do with Fitzgerald’s work. I’d go further to say that Eric Roth may have borrowed the aging concept but the movie can almost be labeled an original creation of his.

The short story is gorgeous—profound, sad, witty—and Benjamin is a much more complex character. Before I go into a point-by-point comparison, though, I must warn THERE WILL BE MAJOR PLOT POINTS REVEALED. This is not like the review, where the almost-three-hour plot was broadly summarized; I will be going into great detail here. DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW! I MEAN IT!!

(Boy, you guys must be really curious to cross the yellow line. For the comparison, I’ll call them Literary Benjamin and Movie Benjamin.)

The very first thing that surprised me was Literary Benjamin beginning life as an actual old man, not a child trapped in an old man’s body like Movie Benjamin. Literary Benjamin is born five feet eight and can walk and talk straight out of the womb. He even sports a beard. In the film, he’s birthed as an old infant, a baby with wrinkled skin and ossified bones but only the face of an old man. He’s small enough to be swaddled in a baby blanket and cries and behaves like a newborn, whereas baby Literary Benjamin acts like an old man, smoking cigars and having no interest in baby food or toys. Young Movie Benjamin has children’s books read to him, while baby Literary Benjamin reads the Encyclopedia Britannica.

There’s also the circumstances surrounding his birth. Literary Benjamin was born in 1860, before the Civil War, while Movie Benjamin was born in 1918, the night World War I ended. This allows Movie Benjamin to grow into more contemporary times, dancing the Twist and listening to the Beatles. Movie Benjamin’s mom died giving birth to him while Literary Benjamin’s mom does not, though I don’t know how she survived squeezing out a 5’8″ baby. Movie Benjamin’s father, Thomas, who owns a button factory, abandons him at first. Literary Benjamin’s father, Roger, who owns a hardware company, brings him home. Though ashamed of him at first, Roger grows to accept his son as normal, even encouraging him to play with other kids and go to college.

I so wish Literary Benjamin’s college experience had been put on film. After he’s thrown off campus and Yale students yell rude comments at him when he tries enrolling there at eighteen, he becomes star football player for Harvard when he’s fifty and decimates the Yale team. He carries his grudge against Yale for thirty-two years, which I find hilarious. The fact that he plays “with cold, remorseless anger” makes him unrecognizable from Movie Benjamin, who’s almost saintlike in his acceptance of his fate. Movie Benjamin might get wistful or disappointed but never angry.

When Movie Benjamin falls in love with Daisy, it’s forever (though circumstances separate them and they do have other lovers). Literary Benjamin is more selfish; as soon as his wife Hildegarde gets her first gray hairs, he’s repulsed by her and goes out dancing without her. Daisy accepts Movie Benjamin from first meeting whereas Hildegarde resents her husband getting younger as she gets older. This is another great source of conflict that doesn’t exist in the movie. As we age, we already fear the deterioration of our bodies and how our partners may cease to find us attractive. In the story, poor Hildegarde must not only deal with her own aging, she has to witness her husband getting more vital and handsome every day. Her bitterness is understandable and affecting. Daisy bears no such animosity towards Movie Benjamin. She’s just sad they can’t be together as they continue to age in opposite directions.

Another great scene that’s only in the story is when Literary Benjamin gets commissioned as a brigadier general in World War I due to his earlier heroism in the Spanish-American War. He reports for duty, proud in his uniform and general’s insignia but looking sixteen. He is promptly ridiculed, stripped of these items and sent home weeping. Though Fitzgerald used unsentimental language, the scene is heart-rending. Overall, Literary Benjamin is layered and complicated. Movie Benjamin is nice. Literary Benjamin is spirited and sometimes defiant (repeating three times to the Yale registrar, “I am eighteen”); Movie Benjamin is compliant. Literary Benjamin is a doer; Movie Benjamin is more an observer.

Literary Benjamin has a son, who gives him a grandson. When they both attend kindergarten together but Literary Benjamin is left behind as his own grandson moves on to first grade, it’s incredibly poignant. Movie Benjamin has a daughter he barely knows, whose only purpose is to narrate the film.

I mean no disrespect to Eric Roth with this comparison; I just wanted to say the movie is not an expansion or adaptation of the story and the shared title is misleading. Roth used the aging-backwards concept only as a springboard and practically started from scratch. His creation bears little resemblance to Fitzgerald’s in tone and plot. I know some things only work on paper and must be changed for film but that’s not the case here. Many scenes in Fitzgerald’s story are perfectly cinematic but it seems Roth wanted to explore themes of life and death in his own way (he said in the movie’s program that his mom was dying at the time he wrote the script). Hopefully, a faithful film version of the story might still be made someday and I’ll look forward to that.

Subscribe to Pop Culture Nerd by Email


BENJAMIN BUTTON Q & A with Brad Pitt and David Fincher

On Monday, November 10, Brad Pitt and David Fincher came to the Mann Bruin theater in Westwood to discuss The Curious Case of Benjamin Button after a preview screening (click here for my review). Pitt, sporting brown hair and a mustache for his current role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds [sic], and Fincher are obviously old chums, poking fun, interjecting constantly and finishing each other’s sentences. The camaraderie is probably due to their having previously worked together on Se7en and Fight Club but on Monday, the focus remained on Button.


The moderator began by asking how each got involved with the project. “I first read it in ’82 and didn’t know it was a Fitzgerald story,” Fincher said. He liked the script but went on to direct other films. Over the years, he kept revisiting it, eventually finding a version he felt he could make. He liked it so much he didn’t feel it necessary to read the short story. Fincher then approached Pitt directly about playing the lead.

“He doesn’t want to talk to agents,” Pitt joked.

Pitt, who also hasn’t read the source story, had his reservations about getting involved. “I really didn’t want to do it. I’ve had my foray into romance and it didn’t go well for me. The script was beautiful but I didn’t think I was right for it.” What changed his mind? Fincher told him it wasn’t going to be a “ballad of co-dependency and that defined it for me,” Pitt said.

“It’s a love story but look at the body count!” Fincher said.

He continued to say that at first, he intended to have Benjamin be “a series of hand-offs, from actor to actor,” with several people playing the character at different stages, “but [Pitt] told me, ‘I’m not gonna do that.'”

Pitt added, “I originally wanted to play both guys in Fight Club.”

“He’s not kidding,” Fincher said.

The moderator next asked Fincher about the groundbreaking special effects used in the movie. “It’s an amalgam of lots of different processes that’s been used in video games and [the movie] Beowulf.”

Pitt interjected, “It was only finished a couple of weeks ago.”

Fincher went on to explain that they “mapped [Pitt’s] facial expressions onto actors at different ages.”

“It was amazing,” Pitt said.

Fincher added, “Amazing, but silly.”

Pitt continued, “It was all shot on digital, where you have a large monitor and you get to see right then and there how much is coming across. It’s much easier to control your decibel level.”

The moderator asked about Pitt’s time in the makeup chair and he said it usually took five hours. “When I first moved out here and read about Jeff Goldblum [and his makeup experience] on The Fly, I said, ‘That’s never gonna happen to me,'” Pitt said, smiling.

“You never cut your fee on prosthetic jobs,” Fincher advised.

Pitt continued, “There were two people on set to keep track of the math. [Benjamin] would be 17 but in 64-year-old makeup. I’d do this [he mimes getting up from a chair] and they’d say, ‘No, you’re older than that.'” Pitt then would pretend he knew it all along and say, “I was getting there. I was just warming up.”

The moderator asked about their favorite scenes. “The around-the-world trip,” Pitt said. Fincher talked about the scene where Caroline went through Benjamin’s postcards and discovered they were written to her. He praised screenwriter Eric Roth for condensing a whole life into those brief notes on the cards.

The moderator asked, “What would you like people to take away from this movie?” Fincher stammered while Pitt said, “Yes.”

Fincher explained that throughout the test screening process, there were scenes that people said he absolutely should cut and others that they thought should absolutely NEVER be cut. “If I had cut everything that people said should be cut, the movie would be an hour and a half. If I kept everything that people said I shouldn’t cut, the movie would be four and a half hours. The strength of Eric’s writing is that he finds things people relate to in an intimate way.”

The moderator concluded the evening by asking what was next for them.

“I’m filming in Berlin right now,” Pitt said.

“Sleeping,” Fincher said.


In the next couple weeks, I’ll be attending screenings and Q & A’s with Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann (for Australia); Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis and John Patrick Shanley (for Doubt), and Ron Howard (for Frost/Nixon) so check back regularly for those reports.


Scoop! Review of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON Plus Q & A with Brad Pitt, David Fincher

Last night, I attended the first L.A. audience screening (meaning not a test screening) of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (out Dec. 25), where Brad Pitt and director David Fincher did Q & A afterwards. I haven’t seen a review anywhere else because the movie was only recently finished (Fincher said there are still 3 shots he’d like to fix) so this might be the first.

Before I get to the movie’s review and fun facts learned from Pitt and Fincher in person (who practically put on a comedy routine), I want to mention that in the next couple weeks, I’ll be going to screenings of some hotly anticipated Oscar bait like Australia, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road and Doubt, so make sure you bookmark this page for all the scoop.

I also have 3 beautiful, glossy Benjamin Button programs that were handed out at the screening. They’re 6 pages long and not available anywhere else. They contain color photographs plus Q & A and testimonials from Pitt, Fincher, Cate Blanchett, screenwriter Eric Roth and producer Kathleen Marshall. On Nov. 16, I’ll randomly select 3 people from my subscribers list to receive one so if you’d like a program, subscribe now!

OK, on to the movie review. It’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story but it’s been expanded quite a bit because the epic film runs about 2:45 long. It opens in New Orleans in a hospital as Katrina is approaching. Fincher uses the framing device of Blanchett’s character, Daisy, on her death bed to tell Benjamin’s story. Julia Ormond (wasted in a thankless role) plays her daughter Caroline, who reads from her mother’s diary, taking us into flashbacks about a baby born in New Orleans in 1918 looking like an 80-year-old man (an older woman takes one look at the baby and says, “He looks just like my ex-husband!”). We soon find out this baby is not near death, as a doctor suspects, but will in fact get younger as he ages. This might have something to do with a newly installed clock in the local train station that tells time backwards. The clock was created by the mysterious Monsieur Gateau (Elias Koteas), who wanted time to go backwards so that his son, killed in World War I, might come back to him.

The baby’s father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), who actually owns a button factory, is so horrified by his son’s wrinkled visage, he first intends to throw him in a river but then changes his mind and leaves him on the doorstep of a nursing home, where caretaker Queenie (the spirited Taraji P. Henson) finds him and takes him in. Queenie, who’d been told she couldn’t have children, isn’t fazed by the baby’s condition (ossified bones, cataract-filled eyes), calling him “a miracle, just not the kind one hopes to see.”


Queenie raises the boy in the nursing home, where Benjamin has no idea at first that he’s not old like everyone else. Here, he meets red-headed Daisy for the first time as a 5-year-old (visiting her grandmother) and is instantly infatuated. They embark on a friendship that evolves into a love that lasts for the rest of their lives despite their impossible circumstances. Before they can meet again as lovers in mid-life, Benjamin finds work on a tugboat and heads off to see the world, while Daisy becomes a star ballet dancer, performing in Paris and with the Bolshoi in Russia.


When they finally come together as lovers, it’s with the knowledge it can’t last. “Will you still love me when my skin is old and sagging?” she asks. “Will you still love me when I have acne?” he retorts. Complications and separations ensue until they come together again one last time at the end of their lives in drastically different forms.

Pitt, buried in old-man makeup for most of the movie (we only get to see him as golden boy for about 15 minutes), gives a nice, subtle performance full of wonder and longing. When the 7-year-old Benjamin crawls into a makeshift tent with 5-year-old Daisy to share secrets, the scene could’ve been creepy because after all, it’s a grown man under some sheets with a little girl. It’s a testament to Pitt’s skill, then, that we’re able to overlook his old-man exterior to see the innocence in Benjamin’s eyes and realize it’s really just two kids playing.

Having said that, I wasn’t as moved by this film as I wanted to be. This was number one on my list of must-see holiday movies and I so wanted to be blown away but it just didn’t happen. This movie is a very ambitious effort—it looks gorgeous, there are some groundbreaking special effects and the rest of the cast also do excellent work but it’s the kind of movie you respect more than love. It’s like a piece of art that you look at and say, “It’s pretty,” but don’t necessarily want to bring home.

I think the problem for me was the stakes weren’t high enough for Benjamin and there was no sense of urgency throughout most of his life. Except for his father’s initial reaction, everyone pretty much accepts Benjamin upon first meeting. He doesn’t go to school where other kids beat up on him, he gets a demanding job as crew member on a tugboat while looking like a fragile old man and the captain barely questions it, and Daisy knows right away he’s not as old as he looks when she first meets him. In order for the film to be more compelling, Benjamin needs more obstacles to overcome. Even when he sees some action in World War II, we don’t fear for his safety because we already know the film will probably take us to the end of his life to fully explore his extraordinary condition. (I haven’t read the short story so if any of you have, please leave a comment and tell me how this differs from Fitzgerald’s version.)

I’m surprised there aren’t more riveting moments in this movie, considering it’s directed by Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en). I was attracted to it after hearing that Fincher would take the unsentimental route. Well, it’s unsentimental almost to the point of passivity. This isn’t to say it’s boring—it isn’t. Many times, it’s even laugh-out-loud funny (watch for an old man repeatedly telling people he’s been hit by lightning seven times). There are visually interesting aspects—the film looks like old stock at times, where you can see the pops and scratches like on an old newsreel. The color is sometimes muted, sometimes overly saturated, like the unnatural tones of a black and white movie that’s been colorized. The crash of the tugboat against a German submarine is breathtaking, Titanic-like but on a much smaller scale. The score by Alexandre Desplat (Oscar-nominated for The Queen but I thought his score for The Painted Veil was more enchanting) is lovely as usual.

All this amounts to a lot of value for your money, an especially attractive quality this holiday season. I just wish I could’ve been more moved by this character’s life story instead of being left feeling like a casual observer.

Call me only mildly Curious.

Rating: Good

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this post, where I’ll report what Pitt and Fincher shared during the Q & A.

Subscribe to Pop Culture Nerd by Email


Exclusive Backstage Look at the BAFTA/LA Awards–Conclusion

This is Part Two of an exclusive report from inside the BAFTA/LA Awards. Click here for Part One. All pictures are also exclusive.


The next award was The Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film. This was presented to Sean Penn with introductions by Patricia Clarkson and then by director Paul Thomas Anderson. In a moving tribute, Clarkson read a self-written ode.

“He has raised American acting to a whole new level by not acting at all. There is beauty to his raw truth. Watching him, one may encounter everything from beauty, darkness, light, unpredictablity. He’s like the weather!” exclaimed Clarkson.

She added, “He looks into your eyes and feels what you’re feeling.” It was at this point that I remembered Penn’s greeting to me earlier in the evening. I was genuinely happy to see him. Evidently, he knew it and acknowledged it. It was a circular moment for me.

After Clarkson’s speech, many clips from Penn’s career were shown. The obvious clips from Carlito’s Way, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dead Man Walking, I am Sam and Mystic River were strewn in with appearances from television shows like Friends and Ellen. One of the loudest rounds of applause was for a clip from the Penn-directed/written film Into the Wild.

After the clips, director Paul Thomas Anderson approached the stage, stating he was shocked that a clip from Shanghai Surprise was omitted. Penn laughed from his seat. Then Anderson continued by describing Penn’s humanity. “Yesterday, he was in Venezuela, today he was in New Orleans, and tomorrow he will be in Cuba,” Anderson informed us.

As Penn approached the stage, he received the only standing ovation of the evening. True to form, he was humble and in complete gratitude, making remarks about the positive outlook of the presidential election.

After his speech, he exited the stage. Host Harry Shearer made closing comments, the lights came up, and the ceremony came to a close.

I was fortunate to be part of an evening that honored individuals for their body of work vs. a singular performance. It was refreshing to attend an event in which the awards recipients were free from competition and nominees didn’t go home as “losers.”



Exclusive Backstage Look at the BAFTA/LA Awards–Part One

Here I go again with another exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a star-studded event that wasn’t televised. I did some Googling and am confident that this detailed write-up isn’t published anywhere else. Other media outlets may have been present and spoken with the stars on the red carpet but no one has a backstage report like this one (there’s even a description of the dinner menu!) from one of my sources. The writer also took all the photos so they’re exclusive as well. Since the account is rather comprehensive, I’ll publish this in two parts. Read on for fun anecdotes about Hugh Laurie, Don Cheadle, Sean Penn and Tilda Swinton!


Although all of the ingredients for a glamorous Hollywood awards show were present (celebrities, the “Academy”, awards and such), Thursday night’s British Academy of Film & Television’s Los Angeles annual awards show was everything but typical. Held at the Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel on November 6, 2008, the annual awards show had only three awards and was not televised.

Beginning with a modest red carpet, pre-reception and a VIP after-party, the star-studded event honored director Stephen Frears and actors Don Cheadle, Tilda Swinton and Sean Penn. Each award was preceded by back-to-back presenters (including Annette Bening, Jack Black, and Patricia Clarkson) and tributes.

As guests arrived on the secondary ballroom level, they were segregated into two groups: celebrities and non-celebrities. The non-celebrities were to attend a silent auction and pre-reception while the celebrities were escorted to the red carpet. If there was a theme to the event, it would be “arriving sans partner.” Bening came sans Warren Beatty, performer Gavin Rossdale arrived without Gwen Stefani, Sean Penn was without on-again, off-again spouse Robin Wright Penn, and presenter Ben Affleck arrived without wife Jennifer Garner.

bening-swintonCelebrities were escorted off the carpet into a small room where candid photos were taken. This was where celebrities caught up with each other. Swinton chatted with Bening, and Penn greeted me saying, “It is SO good to see you again.” (I had just seen Penn a couple of weeks before at another event.) Here was also an opportunity for a quick drink prior to entering the show.

hugh-bafta-croppedSeveral exchanges were observed. A fan requested a photo with presenter Hugh Laurie. Ever the gentleman, Laurie agreed, holding a bottle of beer. After the photo was snapped, Laurie said, “Great, this is my beer-lushing endorsement photo.”

Penn’s assistant for the evening offered Penn another drink.

“I need another drink, but I don’t think the BAFT/LA people would want me to have another one,” replied Penn, pronouncing the organization’s name “Baftalah.”

As honorees Penn, Swinton, and Frears were escorted to the main ballroom, guests started pouring in. About twenty minutes later, Affleck, Cheadle and presenter Eddie Izzard were seen being wrangled as a group to exit the press area and go directly to the show.

At 8 p.m., a salad was served, followed by an entree of Chicken Wellington wrapped in puff pastry and ending with lemon white chocolate sponge cake. Plenty of wine and spirits were provided.

The first award was presented to Frears. There were protesters outside who were upset over the passing of Proposition 8 (they were probably drawn to the event because Penn plays Harvey Milk in the upcoming movie) so I was distracted and stepped out to see what was going on. Unfortunately, when I came back in, Cheadle’s award had been presented and I’d missed most of his acceptance speech. What I did hear was characteristically humble. (Later, a fan followed himbafta2-1 into the restroom, requesting a photo, and Cheadle obliged.) After Cheadle’s award, the audience was treated to a special acoustic performance by Rossdale singing two songs: “Love Remains the Same” and “Forever May You Run.”

The third award of the night went to Tilda Swinton, who was honored with the Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year. The presenters were Angelica Huston and Hugh Laurie, who shared anecdotes.

bafta6“I haven’t seen any of Swinton’s films,” joked Laurie. “Actually, when I was twenty, I requested her to work on a student performance project with me. I was enraptured by her luminous and alabaster beauty.”

Overwhelmed, Swinton accepted the award and shared that it has only been recently that she has basked in the awards spotlight.

“The only thing I’ve won prior to these types of acting awards was a raffle at the age of twelve. I won Pagan Man aftershave that I re-gifted,” said Swinton.


Check back tomorrow for Part Two, which includes a gushing tribute to Sean Penn.