A roundtable chat with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, of “Barney’s Version”

If you’re going to be shallow about it, Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike might seem like a slightly odd pair of movie lovebirds. However, the love affair between their characters in “Barney’s Version” hasn’t aroused any of the complaints Seth Rogen regularly gets when his movie character gets lucky with a beautiful woman. No offense to Rogen, but maybe that’s because Giamatti gets a pass for being an extraordinarily brilliant actor — who, as it happens, just picked up a well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance in this very film — and Pike gets points for having the sense to work with him, not to mention for being rather extraordinary herself.

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In fact, the pair have some things in common. Pike’s parents are accomplished serious musicians and she is an Oxford Graduate. Paul Giamatti’s father was the noted Yale University President and Commissioner of Baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti. Naturally, the younger Giamatti is himself a graduate of Yale. Both have also been busy working actors for some time. After “American Splendor,” “Sideways,” and — on a more heroic level — the miniseries “John Adams,” not to mention innumerable outstanding supporting roles, Giamatti is a bonafide star. The sky is the limit for Ms. Pike, a vastly-above average “Bond girl” opposite Pierce Brosnan in 2002’s “Die Another Day,” who more recently has received a lot of notice for her very diverse roles as a less than brilliant conman’s girlfriend in “An Education” and, more under the radar but no less brilliant, as a highly educated but frustrated housewife and mother in “Made in Dagenham.”

When I and a bunch of other junket journos encountered Giamatti and Pike, they were promoting the new adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic final novel about the life and loves of a youthful hustler and bohemian turned aging Montreal television producer and crank. For us shallow types, Giamatti bats 1000 well out of his league with three wives in the course of “Barney’s Version,” played by the lovely Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, and Pike as Miriam Grant-Panofsky, whom he actually loves. If you read my review, you’ll see that I think the film is a very mixed bag, but the performances are first rate throughout. In addition to that Golden Globe, Giamatti’s performance was praised by his colleague Ron Perlman, and easily deserves whatever accolades it may find. Pike is, as the cliche goes, luminous in a role as a really good person that a lesser actress would have rendered merely saintly and dull.

Rosamund Pike arrived first, but in a moment Paul Giamatti entered, bantering with a female reporter. “She forced me to proclaim myself an ‘indie darling’ yesterday,” Giamatti said.

“Nobody forced you to do anything,” the reporter remonstrated.

“Yes, you did,” he argued. “You tricked me into saying it on camera. She said, ‘When you became an indie darling,’ and I went ‘Well, when I became an indie darling…'” and I thought, ‘I just said those words! Goddammit, that’s on film now, forever.'”

Giamatti, a born comedian as well as a master thesp, was already breaking up the room.

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Looking for a 7/4 movie suggestion?

Well, I always pretty much have the same one, and it’s showing today on TCM at 11:30/2:30.

Fans of the terrific HBO “John Adams” miniseries in particular might find this a refreshing alternative take on the founding fathers and just how the Declaration of Independence came to be written and signed. True, it’s a little stagy and far from the best Broadway-to-Hollywood transfer in movie history, at least on a strictly cinematic level. At the same time, it’s a cracking entertainment with first-rate wrting and indelible performances by William Daniels (“The Graduate,” “St. Elsewhere”) as Adams, Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”) as eventual president Thomas Jefferson, and the once-blacklisted veteran character actor Howard Da Silva (“The Lost Weekend,” “Sgt. York”), for me, the definitive Benjamin Franklin. There’s also a nice appearance by a crush-inducing Blythe Danner (she became Gwyneth Paltrow‘s mom the same year the 1972 film was released) as a slightly ahistoric Martha Jefferson.

Now, if this is the first time you’re hearing of “1776,” there is one major difference between this and other cinematic history lessons, but you’ll that figured out by about 2:47 or by reading the name of the video.

Yeah, it’s a musical. The songs are by the late Tin Pan Alley songwriter turned history teacher Sherman Edwards and the great, if necessarily theatrical, dialogue is written by Peter Stone (“Charade”). Live with it. Here’s another favorite number with great work by Daniels, Da Silva, and Howard based on real opinions the three great men held.

  

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2008: The Year in TV – Will Harris

Once the writer’s strike was over, the television industry got back to business with a vengeance, offering up quite a lot of high quality material…so much, in fact, that my TiVo is STILL loaded down with shows I just haven’t had the time to watch. Seriously, I’ve got three episodes of “My Boys” that I’ve been sitting on since July. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…and I’m a full-time TV critic, for God’s sake! But here’s at least some of the stuff that I dug and despised during the course of 2008…and sometime around 2012, maybe I can offer up a complete picture of 2009.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS

No other sophomore series came roaring out of the gate like this one. Fears that the show had already jumped the shark by getting Leonard and Penny together were dismissing before the end of the second-season premiere, the addition of Sara Gilbert to the cast was an added bonus, and the suggestion that Sheldon is a sex object to physics geeks is almost too funny for words. Mark my words: this is the year that Jim Parsons earns his first Emmy nomination.

2. “30 Rock,” NBC
There’s no truth to the rumor that you can’t be a member of the Television Critics Association if you don’t like “30 Rock,” but, really, what’s not to like? Tina Fey is both gorgeous and hilarious, Alec Baldwin can’t open his mouth without getting a laugh, and, come to think of it, there’s really no-one in this ensemble who isn’t funny. So why do they keep bringing on all of these guest stars? Beats me. But since they incorporate them so well into the episodes, it’s hard to complain.

3. “Life on Mars,” ABC
When I did my 2008 Fall TV Preview, I hadn’t yet seen the pilot for this series, but if I had, it would’ve beaten out “Fringe” for the top spot on my list of new shows I was most excited about. Rising above its “based on a British series” origins, “Life on Mars” has one of the strongest casts on television (Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, and Jonathan Murphy), a great premise (a police detective gets knocked unconscious in 2008 and wakes up in 1973), and – perhaps most impressively – managed to survive its network’s recent purge of quality dramas. For God’s sake, don’t let it go the way of “Pushing Daisies.” If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s not too late.

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Ten comments about the 2008 Emmy Awards

1. Call him a dick for saying it, but Jeremy Piven’s dismissal of the opening of this year’s ceremony during his acceptance speech was right on the money. After that brief montage of stars quoting classic TV catchphrases, Oprah killed the show stone dead with her opening remarks, and the never-ending sequence by the reality-show hosts was downright painful. It was the worst beginning to an Emmy broadcast that I can remember.

2. I liked “Recount” as much as the next guy, but Tom Hooper was robbed. He totally deserved to win the award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special for his work on “John Adams.” That said, Jay Roach defused my anger somewhat when he thanked “my rock ‘n’ roll sweetheart, Susanna Hoffs,” in his acceptance speech.

3. Don Rickles can be funnier with one motion of his eyebrow than Kathy Griffin is likely to be in her entire career…and, indeed, he proved this tonight.

4. Bryan Cranston, God love him, only won his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series because of the split-vote phenomenon.

5. I’m not saying Josh Groban’s TV-themes medley was great, but hearing him screech Cartman’s lines in the “South Park” theme was worth the price of admission.

6. Ricky Gervais’s bit where he demanded that Steve Carrel return his Emmy was brilliant…but with that said, I went to see “Get Smart” at the local discount theater this weekend instead of paying full price to see “Ghost Town.” I’m just saying.

7. As happy as I was to see “Mad Men” win Outstanding Drama Series, I think I was just as psyched that “Damages” got the love it did in the acting categories. I might’ve picked Ted Danson to win over Zeljko Ivanek, I admit, but I’m sure as hell not complaining. Season 2 of that series can’t get here soon enough.

8. It was totally an industry joke, but when Tom Hanks thanked Chris Albrecht during his acceptance speech for “John Adams,” then cupped his ear to see if anyone would applaud, I laughed out loud.

9. Although way too much was made of the whole Outstanding Reality-Show Host award (and giving the Outstanding Reality-Show Competition award to “The Amazing Race” for the sixth consecutive year was abso-fricking-lutely ridiculous), Jimmy Kimmel’s waiting until after the commercial break to announce the winner was truly inspired.

10. Tommy Smothers is my hero.

  

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Review: “John Adams” – Episodes 1 & 2

Historical dramas are a dodgy proposition to pitch to the mainstream. True, Showtime has been doing all right with “The Tudors,” but let’s face it: the success of that series has ultimately been as much to do with audiences eating up the soap-opera aspects of the storyline as it is to do with the actual historical events contained within. Since HBO’s new 7-part miniseries, “John Adams,” can’t possibly compete on the same level (nor would its producers have any interest in attempting to do so), it’s evident why the network has felt obliged to promote the work everywhere possible, up to and including every single Netflix envelope that’s gone out in the past few weeks. The good news, however, is that if people actually take a chance and tune in, what they’ll find is an enthralling program which will, fingers crossed, inspire Americans to sit up and take proper notice of their history.

Paul Giamatti and David McCullough
at the Virginia premiere of “John Adams”

Based on David McCullough’s 2002 biography, “John Adams” provides a detailed examination of the life of America’s second President, with the title character played by…Paul Giamatti? Giamatti might seem on the surface to be an odd choice for the role of John Adams, since he’s known more for the comedic rather than the dramatic and hasn’t done all that many period pieces; the only ones that leap immediately to mind are “The Illusionist” and “Cinderella Man,” and both of those take place in the 20th century, so they’re not really stepping that far back in time. You’d never know of his lack of his experience from his performance here, however. The phrase “acting tour de force” doesn’t begin to describe how substantially Giamatti owns the role of John Adams; it’s a measured performance, showing a man who loves his wife and family but struggles to find a way to keep them close while building a new nation.

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