Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Night with TARZAN

This post is about a former movie Tarzan who's now in the new Coen Brothers comedy, HAIL, CAESAR!  This post could also be called "Six Degrees of Diane Lane."  Let me take you back to the mid 1980s in New York City.  I was the new guy on WPIX TV/Channel 11.  The New York City station had discovered me and blessedly invited me to leave the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee to work in Manhattan.  I did celebrity interviews on WPIX's weekday half-hour magazine show.  One of my favorite guests was actor Christopher Lambert.  He's the French gentleman who starred in 1984's Greystoke:  The Legend of Tarzan.                        
                                                                 
He came on to promote a new film, I think it may have been 1986's Highlander, and he totally charmed the entire crew on the studio floor.  He was so much fun and I had so much fun interviewing him.  After the taping, he invited me to be his guest at a party he was attending that night.  "You can bring a guest too," he said.  One of the women on our staff practically begged me let her tag along.  Janice and I met Christopher Lambert at his hotel and then went to a party.  He, with a major twinkle in his eye, said to me, "There will be a lot of models this party."  We got into his limo and off we went to the Manhattan party. 

And there were lots of models.  It was like a deluxe magazine fashion shoot.  Lambert was talking to me at the party when he glanced past me and did somewhat of a double take.  Then he got an expression on his face that I once saw in a movie.  Not of one of his.  Jennifer Jones had that same, exact expression on her face that first time she saw The Immaculate Conception in The Song of Bernadette.  He was transfixed by the beauty of a young woman standing on a staircase.  But she was not a model.  The young woman -- actress Diane Lane.  Lambert excused himself saying, "I must go talk to her."  And he did.

The next thing I know, we're all in the limo.  Christopher Lambert, Diane, me, my co-worker friend Janice -- and somehow actor Mickey Rourke was in the limo too.  We went to a place called The China Club and had drinks.  Chris, Diane, Janice, me...and Mickey.  Janice had to leave because she had a 7:00 edit session in the morning.  Chris later said to me, "Diane and I are going back to the hotel.  Will you be alright?  Do you need a ride?"  I could get home on my own and I thanked him so much for his graciousness.  He left with Diane.  But he left me with Mickey Rourke.  To this day, I have no idea what Rourke was saying to because because he sounded like Blacktooth and White Fang on the old Soupy Sales TV show.

Christopher Lambert eventually married Diane Lane.

Lambert plays the director of a bright musical comedy in Hail, Caesar! and Channing Tatum plays the star of the musical.  He's a Gene Kelly-like sailor.  After Tatum's knock-out nautical tap dance number, there's a scene with the director and Eddie Mannix.  Eddie Mannix was a real life powerful Hollywood studio executive in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was known as a "fixer" at MGM, an A-list studio.  He protected the stars.  He kept scandals quiet and kept the stars' names out of the papers.  But Hail, Caesar! is not a biopic.  It takes the real-life Mannix character and puts him in a Hollywood satire with some loopy situations.  Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix in Hail, Caesar! and he's terrific.
Brolin is in a scene with Christopher Lambert.  They have this scene right after the big dance number with all the sailors.

Christopher Lambert and Diane Lane were married for a few years and then divorced.

Her second husband for almost ten years was...Josh Brolin.  They're now divorced.

There was a good 2006 movie called HOLLYWOODLAND.  This TV/movie star mystery was also somewhat of a biopic.  Ben Affleck played the late actor George Reeves.  Reeves had been a longtime capable movie actor since the 1930s (he played one of the Tarleton Twin's in 1939's Gone With The Wind) through the early 1950s (he has a key scene with Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity). But movie stardom eluded him.  He became a huge star on TV playing Superman in the series, The Adventures of Superman.  His untimely death was reported as a self-inflicted gunshot.  But there was speculation that the actor was murdered.  That speculation as at the heart of Hollywoodland.  The late Bob Hoskins played Eddie Mannix in this 2006 movie.
In Hollywoodland, Eddie Mannix's wife who is having an affair with Superman is played by Diane Lane.  She gives one of her best screen performances in it.

Josh Brolin and Christopher Lambert are in fine form in their Hail, Caesar! scene.  I don't know if many other moviegoers recognized Lambert, but I did.  After all, I'd gone out clubbing with him one night just a couple of years after he was Tarzan.

And I still have no idea what the hell Mickey Rourke was saying to me when we were alone at a table in The China Club after I bought him another beer.  When I left, he was still at the table.

Here's a trailer for Hail, Caesar!
 

Friday, February 5, 2016

I Dig Channing Tatum

Back in 2008, I worked on a national weekday morning radio show with Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi rarely plugged the show when she did TV appearances during those years but she did indeed have a radio.  Wake Up with Whoopi aired from 2006 to 2008.  We did the show from hear the Broadway theater district in New York City.  She the show was unfortunately canceled, she'd already started her stint on ABC's The View.  On the radio show, I sat next to her and did film reviews plus other entertainment news reports.  One movie I saw was not a big box office hit, but I liked it a lot.  It was directed by Kimberly Peirce, the woman who directed Hilary Swank to a Best Actress Oscar victory for Boys Don't Cry.  The director's 2008 release focused on Iraq war veterans and the toll that war took on their lives.  The movie was STOP-LOSS and one of its cast members was Channing Tatum.
The title refers to a clause in military contracts, one so controversial that it became the focus of a CBS 60 Minutes piece.  In the movie, young veterans return home having served their tour of duty in the Iraq war.  But the stop-loss clause in their military contract (explained in the film) is activated and their ordered back to Iraq to serve again.
This clause had never been mentioned or explained to them when they enlisted.  When I told co-workers in the studio about the movie, one responded that he had a relative who was going through the exact same thing.  He served, he came home, and then he got hit with the stop-loss clause.  Channing Tatum was not a big movie star that time.  He was getting attention and was a very popular screen "hottie."  His looks were a major selling point so it was pretty much standard issue to see him shirtless or in his drawers -- or even less -- for at least one scene to carbonate the hormones of his fans.

In that regard, this military drama was no different.  That's the movies.  In Stop-Loss, I really took notice of Channing Tatum.  The star of the film was Ryan Phillippe.  Tatum played one of the lead character's best friends.  OK, let's face it.  Tatum may not have the acting range of Daniel Day-Lewis or Johnny Depp. But Stop-Loss proved that he was more than just hot young beefcake.  You saw a young man pushing his talents as far as he could to play the character.  He committed to the role.  He took his craft seriously and that was exciting to watch.  I knew he'd become a movie star -- proven with the box office receipts and attention he got in Magic Mike -- and he'd evolve from movie star into actor -- which he did quite well in Foxcatcher.  When I saw his exceptional work in Foxcatcher, I was not surprised.  I knew he'd deliver those dramatic goods one day.

Tatum can do drama.  I totally dig when he does comedy.  I didn't see his 21 Jump Street but he has a part spoofing himself in 2013's This Is The End, a West Coast apocalypse comedy, that just broke me the heck up.  You just have to see it.  Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson are some of the lead actors, so that let's you know what you're in for.

A couple of year's ago, he was presenter on the Oscars® telecast.  He did a brief and elegant dance number with Charlize Theron.  This weekend, moviegoers can see him dance again.  The new Coen Brothers movie has gotten very good reviews.  A couple of critics have written that this Old Hollywood comedy is one of their best.  See Channing Tatum's in military uniform again -- this time with his dancing shoes on.  Here's a trailer for HAIL, CAESAR!

Yesterday, one entertainment news site printed the report that director Steven Soderbergh may come out of retirement to direct a new movie.  If so, that new movie may star Matt Damon and Channing Tatum.  Very cool.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Spike Lee (1997)

Director, screenwriter and actor Spike Lee received one of the honorary Oscars from the Academy for this year's Oscars.  For decades, the Academy Awards were given out in April.  Now they've been pushed up to February.  It's so ironic that today, when the Academy's critical and frustrating need for racial diversity in its branches is a hot entertainment news headline, the Oscars will be given out on the last Sunday of February, which is Black History Month.  Spike Lee is one of the several black performers who has spoken out on the diversity issue.
 The list of films directed by Spike Lee includes She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington (Best Actor Oscar nomination), Inside Man also starring Denzel Washington, Miracle at St. Anna and Chi-Raq.

Lee has never been nominated for Best Director.  His critically and internationally acclaimed 1989 hit, DO THE RIGHT THING, brought him the first of his two Oscar nominations.  For Do the Right Thing, he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  I bet folks would be surprised to learn that Spike Lee has never been an Oscar nominee for Best Director.  I also bet they just assume that he was nominated for directing Do the Right Thing (Danny Aiello was nominated for Best Supporting Actor).  His next Oscar nomination came for Best Documentary.  That 1997 documentary was 4 LITTLE GIRLS. Lee received his honorary Oscar during an Academy gala a few months ago before the current and controversial Oscar nominations were announced.
Here he is with another recipient of a special achievement Oscar, actress Gene Rowlands.
When I was member of the GOOD DAY NEW YORK local weekday morning news show talent team, I did entertainment interviews on a regular basis.  One of my favorites is the interview I did of Spike Lee when he was promoting the documentary that brought him his second Oscar nomination.  It's a blistering, important documentary that stands as one of his best and most powerful works.  It focuses on a racist murder that made international headlines. It's referenced in the first 20 minutes of the 2014 movie, Selma.  Four little girls, black girls, were killed when a racist bombed a Baptist church in Alabama.  They were killed a month after Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington.
It was my honor to interview Spike Lee about his documentary, 4 Little Girls.
This is part of our black history.  I talked to Spike Lee and to the father of one of the girls.  Here is my 1997 segment from Ch. 5's Good Day New York.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where Is This Disney Princess?

This was big news from Disney back in 2009.  A lovely new princess would make her debut in Disney's animated full-length feature fantasy musical, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG.
This princess made Disney history.  But she's gotten nowhere near the attention and promotion that a certain frigid blonde got when her Disney feature came out in 2013.  I know.  I should just...."Let It Go," but Tiana is very special in Hollywood's animated film history.
Here are a few questions I have about the whereabouts of Disney's Princess Tiana.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cate the Great in CAROL

To me, Cate Blanchett is a goddess of all that is good about the craft of screen acting.  I was in the mood to see something rich and romantic, something that had a deluxe touch of Old Hollywood production values about it.  CAROL, directed by Todd Haynes, delivered all that.  It's gorgeously photographed, designed and costumed.  Cate Blanchett as Carol has "the Joan Crawford mouth," as we heard during Hollywood makeover moments in the first two versions of A Star Is Born, and Rooney Mara as the object of Carol's affection eventually winds up with the early Audrey Hepburn eyebrows.  Blanchett is such an elegant knock-out in this movie, so magnetic, that she'd made me wish I was a lesbian.
Cate the Great has two Oscars.  She won the Best Supporting Actress prize for playing actress Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.  That starred Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious millionaire and hot Hollywood bachelor Howard Hughes.  She won Best Actress for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.  She's up for the Best Actress gold again thanks to this performance.  Rooney Mara is a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her smart, inspired work.  The film didn't make the cut for the Best Picture Oscar race but it sure should have.  The screenplay is by Phyllis Nagy and it's based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
Carol has a rich life, financially speaking.  It shows in her outfits.  Carol could also be called That Touch of Mink.  But that huge house this wife and mother live in could also feel like a jail to her at times.  Yes, Carol has a husband and a child.  And she having a romance with Therese, the clerk she meets at an upscale Manhattan department store while Christmas shopping.  A young man is interested in Therese.  Carol's getting a divorce from her handsome, privileged husband and it's complicated.  He's ignored the truth of her.  Director Todd Haynes calls this film "a one-of-a-kind lesbian love story."  Here's a trailer for Carol.
My fabulous friend Beege and I sent messages to each other about Carol.  We both love the film. Beege wrote "It's about women.  NOT lesbians."  Have you seen Carol?  Beege has a point.  In the screenplay, the husband and his folks pretty much expect Carol to act as if she's on display like one of the decorated dolls we see on sale in the department store where Therese works.  She has to conform to their upper class expectations and fall in line.  There is a lesbian romance in the film but the film is not about lesbians in the same way director John Sayle's Lianna (1983) or director Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts (1985) were.  If Carol became romantically infatuated with a man, her husband and his folks would still expect her to live and conduct herself within their social margins.  The fact that it's a same-sex romance in the movie, to me, raises the stakes on the drama for a story set in that period.  Will Carol speak out, liberate herself and not become a 1950s doll of a woman -- a toy, a decorative object?  Carol can be a lesbian and also be a good mother.  The husband knows the truth of her.  He's known for some time.  He wants to get legally ugly with her sexuality in the divorce proceedings.

This can be seen as a film about women venturing out to claim their own lives.  If you saw it, leave me some comments.  What did you think of Carol?






Monday, February 1, 2016

David Morse & Thomas M. Wright: OUTSIDERS

I hope you like my interview of two fine actors in the provocative new drama series, OUTSIDERS.  Veteran actor David Morse has very recognizable face from TV and film work.  A mighty fine actor, his film credits include Contact, The Green Mile, Disturbia, The Hurt Locker and Concussion.  Now Morse takes on the role of Big Foster, the fierce father figure eager for his mother to kick the bucket so he can assume power as leader of the Farrell Clan.
The Farrells live off-the-grid in the Appalachian hills.  This all-Caucasian clan has lived this rugged, independent life with its own customs, rules and language for about 200 years.  Now their way of life is threatened by corporate guys from the town who want to evict them in order to use that mountain area for profit.  Are those corporate guys any match for Big Foster?
A struggle for power, control and liberty.  Those elements are in Outsiders.  Within the Farrell clan, there are secrets and lies and in-fighting -- and a moonshine wine that can bring out the demon in people.  It's popular with upscale teens in the town looking for a buzz, unaware that Farrell wine can be dangerous.  Someone who knows about this moonshine and warns the corporate men that "You have no idea what you're dealing with" is the town's Sheriff Wade.
Sheriff Wade issues that same warning to fellow law enforcement officers.  This complicated Kentucky man is played by Australian actor Thomas M. Wright.  The sheriff is a widower with a little boy and a sad life.  There seems to be something heavy in his heart.  Wright makes him quite an interesting character.
 "Where does a guy get sucked off around here?"  A co-worker hits Sheriff Wade with that question in Episode 4.  We get the second episode on Feb. 2nd.  The show really starts cookin' with the fourth and fifth episodes.  You want edgy?  You want sexy?  Stay with the series.  That's all coming up.

Actor Paul Giamatti is not in Outsiders but he's one of the show's executive producers.  He received high praise for his astounding HBO performance as John Adams in the historical bio mini-series named after the American president.
David Morse co-starred in the mini-series as our first president, George Washington.
Those two historical figures also cared about liberty and power.  Before my interview with the two actors from Outsiders, here's a trailer.

Now, for We Got This Covered, here's my conversation with David Morse and Thomas M. Wright.

The one-hour TV series premiered January 26th.  Outsiders airs Tuesday nights at 9:00 on WGN America.  Check DISH TV and DIRECTV for WGN America.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Happy Birthday, Carol Channing

Broadway legend Carol Channing could've been knocked out during a knock-out performance of Hello, Dolly! on tour.  It was one of the most memorable nights of theater I've ever experienced.  It was also a memorable week because I got to interview her in her dressing room.
It was the 1970s.  I was new to Milwaukee's world of local media and had landed my first professional on-air broadcast job.  I was a part-time reporter for a weekday morning show on 93QFM.  That was a very popular FM rock radio station.  What's now called the Marcus Center was, in the 70s, called the P.A.C. -- the Performing Arts Center.  The main theater of about 2500 red seats was just as handsome and deluxe as any theater I'd seen in Los Angeles, my hometown.  When I was in college, I worked as an usher at the Performing Arts Center.  That job was more fun than work.  As a cub radio reporter fresh out of college, I returned the P.A.C. in a different capacity.  Hello, Dolly! came to our Performing Arts Center during its revival tour.  Starring Carol Channing in the role she made famous in the 1960s.
Press was invited to Channing's opening night performance of Hello, Dolly! and there was a press conference after the show.  I was local press, a radio guy with a tape recorder.  She was delightful and chatty and smart as a whip.  She could play a ditzy blonde onstage and on TV but, in real life, she was at ditzy as General Patton.

I saw the show three times.  The second time I saw it, a tragedy nearly occurred.

I had a great seat up close in the orchestra section.  Broadway veteran Lee Roy Reams was in the cast.  The company had just started the "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" number when I saw stagehands that I knew from my usher days gather in the wings.  They looked seriously anxious and worried.  They were also looking up at the ceiling.  Above the actors was a long, thick brown roll of material.  It was long like a tree log you'd find in a sawmill.  And it was dangling precariously above Carol Channing.  It had become unhinged.
 Channing was downstage performing the number.  She took a choreographed step back and, is if on cue, that huge roll came crashing down onto the stage.  Wham!  I felt the wind from it in my seat.  The audience gasped.  You saw the wind from it ruffle the feathers on her hat.  Not a single actor was hit, thank Heaven.  But that long roll was still on the stage.  The two actors playing Barnaby and Cornelius, Mr. Reams was one of them, danced it off into the wings in time to the music.  One took one end, the other took the other end, they lifted it and strutted it over to the relieved stagehands.  I talked to a stagehand after the show.  He said they could see where it would fall and they were about to run onstage and pull Channing to safety when she took steps back as choreographed.  They were positive the star could've been critically injured if that object had fallen on her from that height.

She never missed a step or a lyric in the number during that mishap. She kept right on going and she stayed in character.  The audience loved every single thing she did even more from then on.  Folks cheered the title number as if Milwaukee had won the World Series.
The standing ovation at the end of the show was long and enthusiastic.  The audience rose immediately with cheers and applause.  Miss Channing addressed the audience -- and no one sat as she spoke to us.  With that distinctive voice, she sweetly said "Why...you're shtill shtanding."  She complimented Milwaukee for its politeness.

I'd seen the movie starring Barbra Streisand.  The screenplay, not surprisingly, changed the book of the Broadway show to suit the image and different vocal talents of Streisand.   The movie was a big budget, colossal 20th Century Fox musical in the late 60s helmed by production team veterans from the famed MGM Freed unit of the 1940s.  Director Gene Kelly, producer Rogers Edens and music director Lennie Hayton were on the movie's team.  The Broadway play was more intimate, more touching.  At the press conference, Channing detailed the essential dramatic heart and wisdom of Thornton Wilder's source material that served as the basis for the musical.  I saw it three times because  her performance was like a master class in musical comedy acting.  Eddie Bracken was her leading man.

How'd I get a one-on-one interview?  Well, I was the only black person at the press conference on opening night and I had introduced myself to her then-husband, Charles Lowe.  He was also her manager and publicist.  I thanked him for inviting me to the press conference.  He was impressed that I knew he'd once worked with Gracie Allen.  He saw me in the lobby about to purchase a ticket to see the show a third time (after the onstage accident) and he stopped me before I got to the window.  I told him I was seeing the show again.  He told me to come backstage after that show to see Carol.  I asked if I could do a short interview of Miss Channing for my radio show.  Not only did he say "Yes," he went to the box office window and told the clerk to give me a house seat.

Carol Channing is tall. Taller than I.  And a gracious pro.  She greeted me at her dressing room door with an energetic "Bobby Rivers!  Thank you for coming to see the show again."  She was wearing black pants and a sheer black blouse. Very sheer.  Let's just say see-through.  And she wasn't wearing a bra.

Hello, Dolly!

She gave me a lovely interview.  I was so lucky.  And she was extremely lucky onstage.  The Theater Gods definitely had her in a protective circle that day in Milwaukee.  Carol Channing turns 95 on January 31st.  Our interview was one of the things that helped me move up in the early days of my broadcast career.  Obviously, I've never forgotten her generosity -- and the greater respect she gave me for the theater.  She didn't just promote her show, by the way.  She promoted others shows that were running on Broadway and urged us to see them if we could.  She was passionate about people experiencing live theater.

I wish a most Happy Birthday to Tony winner, Golden Globes winner and Oscar nominee Carol Channing (Best Supporting Actress for Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews).      
Happy Birthday, Miss Channing...and thank you.  You're a true show biz legend and a wonderful advocate for the fine arts.
If you readers are ever in Milwaukee, there's some mighty fine theater at the Marcus Center.  Check out its website here:  www.MarcusCenter.org.