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My Week in New York: Hugo, War Horse, Turin Horse, Parties, Marilyn, Book of Mormon

by Anne Thompson
October 11, 2011 4:22 AM
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Monday night's mystery screening of Martin Scorsese's work-in-progress 3-D Hugo (featurette below) marks my last screening at this year's New York Film Festival. The reason that the movie was shown without completed effects or a final score (by Howard Shore) is that it's a cinephile's dream, and the NYFF audience couldn't have been a more receptive crowd. While the movie should work with families over the Thanksgiving holiday, and producer Graham King (nervously pacing in the rear of the theater as ushers passed out 3-D glasses) assured me that they wouldn't have shown the film if the movie wasn't going to finish on time, Paramount wanted to build buzz for the film via the festival and this was the only way to do it.

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You can see why. It's a $120-million borderline art film aimed at families who may or may not buy into this elaborately 30s period Brit-accented movie set in Paris with two tweens (Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz) on an adventure. (This 3-D live action/VFX picture brooks comparison to Steven Spielberg's youthful The Adventures of Tintin). But while Spielberg stays in the realm of comic book action fantasy, Hugo's fantastical mystery leads us to the birth of cinema--which is where Scorsese's heart lies, and the film takes off. John Logan's adaptation of Brian Selznick's novel takes a while to get there, though. The Paris sets and the interiors of the giant clocks inside a Paris train station are wondrous 3-D environments. While Butterfield and the first half of the film are awkward and stiff--with occasional comic pratfalls from Sacha Baron Cohen--the film shifts into gear by the finale. (I doubt that the movie will head into Oscar territory outside the technical realm--but cinematography, production design, costumes, sound, and VFX are in the running.)

I flew into NY Thursday after launching the fall UCLA Sneak Preview screening series with Margin Call (October 21) on Wednesday, with producer/star Zachary Quinto, and return Tuesday to be back in time for our showing of Roland Emmerich's Anonymous (October 28) with screenwriter John Orloff.

Friday morning I met at the Tick Tock Diner with Strategy PR's Cynthia Swartz and Michael Kupferberg, who are energized by their new PR firm and client roster for 2011/2012. They are pushing several candidates for award season, including among others, three Scott Rudin films: Bennett Miller's Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, adapted by Oscar-winner Eric Roth and starring Tom Hanks, Tom Horn and Sandra Bullock; and David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which should have a shot at screenplay (Zaillian), director, actress Rooney Mara and many technical categories.

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Friday night I grabbed a last minute (expensive) ticket to the play War Horse, to see what the fuss was about. The stage craft of the love story of a boy who chases his horse to World War I France is stunning: black-and-white charcoal scene-setter animatics run on a scrim above the stage and precise, emotive horse puppetry (with sound) make the horses live. Some say the Vivian Beaumont version is better than the one in London. I was in tears several times, and I was not the only one. It's easy to see how Steven Spielberg found this play potentially cinematic; if anyone can turn this stage magic into filmic reality it's him.

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It was strange to see Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's three-hour black-and-white film--his last, it turns out--The Turin Horse just a few days later, which starts with (the first of many very long takes) an old horse doggedly pulling a man and a heavy cart along a rough road in a howling gale. Powerful stuff, although I was the only one who was laughing at certain points (in a good way). Tarr made his first appearance at the NYFF in 17 years, and was charming and funny before the screening, telling the crowd that he hoped that they wouldn't be sad, that he loves the people in the film. But now he says he’s done, he's “no longer a filmmaker.” When asked why, he said the film was his last statement, he had no more to say.

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Friday night I wound up at Fox Searchlight's Shame after-party off 14th Street in what used to be the meatpacking district and is now quite posh; I taxied past the big corner Apple Store with Steve Jobs farewell sticky notes pasted on the huge plate glass windows. Le Bain at the Standard is a high-end hangout with a stunning view of the river and lower Manhattan from the bar or the rooftop, especially in the moonlight. Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Renner, Tom Hooper, Peggy Siegal, the Fox Searchlight folks, the Film Society's Rose Kuo, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan and John Cameron Mitchell were on hand.

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Saturday I walked out of Alice Tully Hall in a state of bliss after a rare big screen showing of the great Japanese animation director Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, which suggests that Avatar's Jim Cameron was inspired by its flying island imagery. The Film Society's Rose Kuo brought her son Julian, and we repaired over to the Film Center with Film Society board president, hotel magnate Daniel Stern, who paid dearly for the last giant polaroid cameras in an auction when the company was going out of business; he is now undertaking to shoot giant portraits of filmmakers and talent. He has terrific photos (some taken by the likes of Chuck Close) of Oliver Stone, Steve McQueen, Noah Baumbach, Lena Dunham and many others.

After that I finally saw the raucous scabrous joyous Book of Mormon, which unlike the somber War Horse, surrounds you with laughter. No matter what you caught on the Tonys, or on 60 Minutes, or heard from friends, this thing is fucking funny. Nasty, accurate, human, wicked, sensational funny. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours kicked in for Comedy Central's South Park stars Trey Parker and Matt Stone--they know how to make people laugh. Here's my interview with them.

Saturday I spent the evening with friends in the west village, where we wandered through Washington Square Park and saw the remnants of an Occupy Wall Street demonstration--shades of my 70s youth.

Sunday brought cocktails in the courtyard at the Hudson Hotel on West 58th Street before the NYFF My Week with Marilyn gala, with Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern and director Simon Curtis (who was delighted that an actor's studio rep complimented Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe at the press conference), Harvey Weinstein, the Film Society's Rose Kuo, Richard Pena and Dennis Lim, producer Laura Bickford (who might finish Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, in time to sell it at Sundance), Michelle Williams in a white sheath with co-star Eddie Redmayne, Mandy Patinkin, and Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, who wrote the script He Loves Me that returned Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton to the screen. Photographer Brigitte Lacombe shot the final Marilyn poster art, which will debut soon, in London in Marilyn Monroe's old dressing room. Here's my brief review with a round-up of other reactions.

A packed week. And there's more! I will share my Monday at Popular Mechanics with Jim Cameron tomorrow.

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