Friday, August 18, 2017

THE IMPOSTORS by Stanley Tucci

Are you a fan of classic Hollywood films from the 1930s and 40s?  Do you like those madcap movies by Preston Sturges?  Screwball comedies by directors such as Howard Hawks (BRINGING UP BABY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) and William Wellman (NOTHING SACRED, ROXIE HART)?  Then you may dig this shipboard comedy written and directed by Stanley Tucci.  The public didn't flock to see it in 1998.  On network TV, I enthusiastically recommended its DVD release.  When I saw this comedy, I laughed a lot.  I was really in need of laughs and this delivered.  It's a handsome package, a screwball comedy that takes place mostly on a luxury liner in the 1930s.  It has the spirit of those old Hollywood favorites.  But this was a screwball comedy with sophistication that came out when frat boy comedies starring Adam Sandler like HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY were popular at the box office.  I watched THE IMPOSTORS on Netflix this week and laughed even more.  Once again, I needed those laughs.  It won my heart from the very beginning with an opening sequence done like a silent film.  Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt showed that they had the gift for physical comedy in THE IMPOSTORS.
Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt play down-on-their luck New York City actors.  Tucci and Platt work so well together you'd think they were an established screen comedy team like Bing Crosby & Bob Hope or Laurel & Hardy.  The two unemployed actors are on the run from a mean, liquor-soaked ham of a Shakespearean Broadway star and the cops.  They hide out in a big basket totally clueless that the basket will be cargo on a luxury liner soon to set sail.
On board there's mistaken identity, a man with a bomb, international ladies of intrigue, lonely people, lovers, a champion athlete....and the big, physically abusive Broadway star they insulted in public.  The stowaway actors must think quickly and pretend to be ship stewards in order to keep from being arrested and to keep the man with the bomb from blowing up the ship.
One of the coolest things about this sweetly silly comedy is that it's packed with the familiar faces of actors you know from TV and indie dramas.  There's Dana Ivey.  There's Richard Jenkins who played the dead father on HBO's SIX FEET UNDER and went on to get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his terrific work in the very relevant 2007 indie film, THE VISITOR, about a university professor who befriends an illegal immigrant.  There Allison Janney, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina and Michael Emerson.  A few years later, Emerson would hit big on the ABC TV series, LOST.
It is obvious that the whole cast had fun making this movie.  The scene in which Oliver Platt looks like a big blonde Rosie O'Donnell made me do a loud snort laugh.

If you appreciate the style of screwball comedies, try THE IMPOSTORS written and directed by Stanley Tucci.  It's fun, light weekend entertainment.  We've seen Stanley Tucci's dramatic and comedy talents in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and JULIE & JULIA (both with Meryl Streep),  THE LOVELY BONES (2009 Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), EASY A and THE HUNGER GAMES. This was the second film Stanley Tucci directed after his critically acclaimed BIG NIGHT (1996).

Remember back in the 1980s, before we knew his name, when he was the sexy undershirt guy in the Levi 501s commercial?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Overlooked by Oscars, Alfred Molina

He's currently an Emmy nominee.  Hallelujah!  He deserves that nomination for his excellent performance as an unappreciated film director in Hollywood.  In the TV mini-series, FEUD:  BETTE AND JOAN, versatile Alfred Molina played Robert Aldrich.  He was man who directed WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?  In this TV mini-series, we see that Aldrich really had his hands full on that movie project.  He was working with two Oscar-winning veteran movie queens who were no longer young and no longer getting good scripts.  If a juicy script did come along, they were on it like a junkyard dog that found some uneaten T-bone steak.  Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were two heavy pieces of furniture to deal with, but they realized that they needed this low-budget psychological horror tale of two rival sisters to resuscitate their careers.  Aldrich, serious about his craft, was treated badly.  Jack L. Warner, head of Warner Brothers, gave Aldrich the WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? duties but bluntly told him that he was not a director of note like John Huston, William Wyler or George Cukor.  He was more bargain basement than main floor.  A lot of us could relate to the humiliation and determination in Molina's portrayal of Aldrich.  The low-budget movie became a huge box office smash and brought Bette Davis an Oscar nomination.  Aldrich would go on to make other big hits such as HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE also with Bette Davis, THE DIRTY DOZEN and 1974's THE LONGEST YARD starring Burt Reynolds.
I am so glad Molina got that Emmy nomination as the director who, like the two aging stars, was desperate for a success.  He was marvelous and so truthful in FEUD. He did a great job.
I've been an Alfred Molina for years and you probably have been too.  But when the heck will Hollywood wake up and give him an Oscar nomination?  He's never been nominated.  Let me give you a few of his film performances that I feel were Oscar nomination worthy:

Molina is flat-out fabulous as Kenneth Halliwell, the reserved and not-as-handsome half of a gay male couple.  Halliwell is treated as beige while his celebrated, handsome partner is the colorful and charismatic celebrity, Joe Orton.  PRICK UP YOUR EARS is a true tale.  This was a gay relationship in the 1960s when being gay was pretty much illegal.  Both lusty Joe Orton, very well played by Gary Oldman, and jealous Kenneth Halliwell dream of becoming writers.  Orton, we see, gets popular in public restrooms and as a playwright.  Orton's play, ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE, was a sensation.  It was made into a 1970 British film.  Halliwell was not such a sensation.  He almost becomes like a servant to his successful boyfriend.  Orton's prolific career was brief -- due to the fact that he was bludgeoned to death.  Click here to see a trailer:

FRIDA (2002).
Salma Hayek got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in this film directed by Julie Taymor.  It's a screen biopic on the life of artist Frida Kahlo.  A severe physical injury and a rocky marriage were the pressures that formed her original art and made it stand out like a diamond.  Alfred Molina stands out as Frida's husband, Diego Rivera, also a larger-than-life artist.
Another film directed by a woman, Lone Scherfig, and another film in which a woman director guided her lead performer to a Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  Carey Mulligan is radiant in this coming-of-age story about a teen girl in suburban London.  Her home life is sweetly bland but she has bright plans for her life, plans that include Oxford University.  A charming but older man drives into her life.  We'll see how she handles this new arrival.
Alfred Molina was absolutely delightful as her loving dad who is serious about her education.  That performance just popped onscreen, as did Carey Mulligan's.

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow starred in one of my picks for the Top 10 Films of 2014.  First of all, the fact that this film received an R-rating is absurd and shows how outdated and conservative the ratings board is.  A gay senior citizen says a 4-letter word in a bar.  LOVE IS STRANGE, a touching drama, deserved nothing more severe than a PG-13 rating.  Molina is wonderful as George, the music teacher.  George and Ben, a New York City couple, have been together for decades.  Laws  have changed and now they can be married.  It's a most happy family occasion.

However, the Great Recession hits and affects them.  There's job loss and they lose their home.  They are forced to separate for individual lodging with friends or relatives.  Social attitudes, family attitudes, the economy and age affect their long commitment to each other and test their love.  Their love always passes the test.
This is definitely another performance that should have brought Alfred Molina an Oscar nomination.  He's remarkable.  If you know classic films, LOVE IS STRANGE has poignant echoes of the 1937 tearjerker, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW directed by Leo McCarey.  You fully believe that Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are a very dear, old married couple in a changing New York City.
There you have it.  Watch just those four film performances and, I bet, you'll agree with me that Alfred Molina is long overdue an Oscar nomination.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meeting Julie Newmar

Some years ago, a good buddy of mine from my Milwaukee years was coming to New York City for a short holiday.  He contacted me ahead of time and invited me to be his guest at the Saturday matinee of a Broadway show.  After the show, we wanted a quick cocktail and dropped into a nearby deluxe hotel.  I suggested the hotel because I'd been to its bar/restaurant.  We were laughing, chatting, sipping cocktails and having a bite to eat when I noticed a long and lovely pair of lady legs stretched out from under a nearby table.  The legs seemed to stretch from out theater district location in New York City all the way to Chicago.  I followed the legs up to the face of the owner.  Sitting alone, with a Playbill to a Broadway show, and having a beverage was....Julie Newmar.  Yes, Catwoman herself.  That feline and fabulous dancer/actress seen in a couple of MGM's crown jewel musicals.
Greg, my buddy, knew something was up because my eyes got the size of teacup saucers.  Our waitress had come to the our table with our food order.

"You see that lady seated alone at that table?"

"Yes," the waitress replied.  "She's very nice.  She just ordered some appetizers too."

"Great.  We know her.  Please put her order, drink included, on my tab.  Seriously."  I was treating Greg.  I was going to treat Julie Newmar too.  The waitress smiled broadly and took care of it.  I think she loved delivering the message.

"Greg," I leaned in and said in low voice, "it's Julie Newmar.  Catwoman.  Look over.  Don't stare.  Be subtle."

He gave a nonchalant glance over my shoulder and then did an Ethel Mertz-like gasp.  "Oh my god! It is her!" he said a hushed voice.  Catwoman from the 1960s BATMAN series on ABC starring Adam West.

The order was delivered.  We watched the waitress point over to us.  We waved and smiled at Julie Newmar.  She waved and smiled back at us. Mouthed a sincere "thank you" and then she ate.

After she finished eating....SHE CAME OVER TO OUR TABLE TO THANK US AGAIN!

We, of course, were giddy and invited her to sit down with us.  She did.  We could tell that she was honestly touched.  "How did you know it was me?"

Practically in unison, Greg and I gushed, "We loved you as Catwoman on BATMAN!"

She let out a sweet, throaty laugh.  I said, "And you did some great dancing at MGM.  I loved you in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and THE BAND WAGON in 'The Girl Hunt' number.  Did Sydney Guilaroff do your hair in those two movies?"

She went slack-jawed and answered, "Yes!  How did you know that Guilaroff did my hair?"

I replied, "I'm gay, middle-aged and I've got no life."

Julie Newmar laughed again.  She was a most charming guest at our table for a few wonderful minutes.  We chatted about her movies and her TV sitcom work.

I can't recall what Broadway show Greg and I had seen.  But I remember having laughs with him and we both remember the wonderful, unexpected company of Julie Newmar at our table late that Saturday afternoon.

And what a senior babe!  She looked sensational.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

History Lessons via Judy Garland

When I was a kid in South Central LA, one of the most eagerly-awaited days of the year was the annual Sunday when CBS had a special prime time broadcast of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Keep in mind that this was years before cable TV, DVDs and such.  The evening of the annual network airing of THE WIZARD OF OZ was like Christmas to me.  It was a magical night of family viewing.
Our local station KTTV/Channel 11 had access to a lot of films in the MGM library.  KTTV aired a lot of the Judy Garland MGM musicals, except for THE WIZARD OF OZ.  So, when I was a kid, I'd come home from school or come in from playing outside on the weekends and I'd see Judy Garland when she was a kid who made movies with Mickey Rooney.
Another local station was KHJ/Channel 9.  The call letters are now KCAL.  On Friday nights, KHJ aired movies that were mostly indie films for mature viewers.  Movies like DAVID AND LISA, GONE ARE THE DAYS with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, 1957's THE BACHELOR PARTY and ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO.  One feature had an all-star cast.  It was an Oscar winner and a longer film. The first half aired one night.  The second half aired the following Friday.  In the station's promos, I heard that Judy Garland was in the movie.  Of course, I wanted to stay up on Friday night to see it.
Mom and Dad told me that this was the older Judy Garland. Not like in her early MGM musicals with Mickey Rooney.  This was Judy Garland when she was a grown-up.  She wouldn't be singing and dancing.  This was a serious film.  A drama.  But they suggested that I see it and they would be watching it too.  They told me that some of what I would see would shock and scare me.  The scariest thing would be that it really happened.
My parents in South Central L.A. used the film JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and my love for Judy Garland to teach me a history lesson.  They wanted me to be aware of a crime that should never, ever happen again. Never again.  This was before I started middle school.  In the 1961 drama, Nazi offers are held accountable for the Holocaust, for the mass exterminations of Jews during the WW2 years.  In the film, we see actual news reel footage shot inside the concentration camps when the Allies arrived.
Judy Garland played Irene Hoffman, woman who had been accused of being a traitor to Germany because she had befriended an old Jewish man.  She was accused of that alleged crime when she was 16 -- about the same age Garland was in real life when we saw her as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Irene is now a married woman called upon to testify in the Nuremberg trials and recount that horrible time.  I attended a parochial high school in Watts.  There, teachers showed us a documentary that taught me more about the Holocaust and World War 2.

I am still grateful to my parents for using a classic film with a classic film star as a tool to make me aware of a very important history lesson.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Halle Berry

Blow out the candles and make a wish, Halle Berry.  Make a wish for good Hollywood scripts to come your way.  Today, the gorgeous Hollywood history maker turns 51.  I feel that one of her biggest breakthroughs after years on on-camera work came when she had the opportunity to play the late, great Dorothy Dandridge in a biopic for HBO.  Dorothy Dandridge broke through Hollywood's color barrier and became the first Black woman nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.  Her well-deserved nomination came for 1954's musical drama, CARMEN JONES co-starring Harry Belafonte.  The favorite to win was Judy Garland for her sensational screen comeback in the 1954 remake of A STAR IS BORN.  Judy and Dorothy lost to Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.  Despite her sizzling, charismatic, Oscar-nominated performance in 20th Century Fox's CARMEN JONES, the lovely and talented Dorothy Dandridge did not get another top Hollywood lead role opportunity until 1959's PORGY AND BESS.  Her lack of opportunities were because of her race.  PORGY AND BESS was her last film.  Halle Berry won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for 1999's INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE.  For her dramatic performance in 2001's MONSTER'S BALL, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress.
That was Halle Berry's first and, so far, only Oscar nomination.  She was the first and, so far, only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.
Viola Davis is now the most Oscar-nominated African American actress in Hollywood history.  She has three nominations to her credit.  This year, she won Best Supporting Actress for FENCES.

Whoopi Goldberg and Octavia Spencer are now tied with two Oscar nominations to their credit.  Whoopi won Best Supporting Actress for GHOST and Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for THE HELP.

No African American actress in Hollywood history has more than three Oscar nominations.  No African American woman other than Halle Berry has taken home the prize for Best Actress.

As I've written before, talented white actresses are lucky because they've had more opportunities from Hollywood. 26-year old Jennifer Lawrence has one Best Actress Oscar and four Oscar nominations to her credit.  Amy Adams has five Oscar nominations.  Julia Roberts has four nominations and one Best Actress Oscar win -- like Jennifer Lawrence.  Yep.  Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence had more opportunities and Oscar-nomination luck than Black actresses who got one Oscar nomination and then turned to TV for work because Hollywood offered no script opportunities  -- Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Diahann Carroll and Taraji P. Henson are some of those actresses.

Halle Berry worked with a woman director to make what I feel is her best film after her historic Oscar win.  She plays a middle-class suburban widow with children.  David Duchovny played the charitable, loving husband who meets an untimely death early in the film.  Benicio Del Toro plays the husband's best friend, a recovering junkie who tries to help the widow.  She's pretty much paralyzed with grief.  She had her prejudices towards the friend.  Susanne Bier directed 2007's THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE.
If you're a Benecio Del Toro fan -- like I am -- this is a must-see movie.  He's excellent in it. Ironically, the weekend THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE opened, the West Coast was devastated by a huge, destructive fire that topped the national headlines.  In that long portion of Southern California, folks were more concerned with protecting their homes than heading to the cineplex to see a movie.  THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE sort of got lost in the fire itself.

Susanne Bier's film is worth a look.  Halle Berry does a fine job as the troubled suburban mother.  And she was the perfect choice to play Dorothy Dandridge.  She deserved those awards.  It's a crime that the extremely talented Dorothy Dandridge had such a limited film career because of Hollywood's lame racial attitudes.

Let's wish Halle Berry a very Happy Birthday -- and let's wish her good Hollywood scripts and steady employment.  She deserves both.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Comedies You'd See Again

Are you familiar with the weekday NPR interview show, FRESH AIR, hosted by Terry Gross?  It seems you can always get booked as a guest on her show if your product includes one or more of the following three items: 1)  Non-mainstream sex 2)  Some history of Nazi Germany and 3) Anything or anyone connected to Judd Apatow.  If you had a relative who was a WWII vet and fought Nazis, got married and had a son who became a bachelor high school principal who loved to dress up in drag when going out on gay dates out of town and if Judd Apatow based a movie character on that vet's drag queen son, you'd be Terry Gross' special guest for one whole entire hour.
In my Twitter feed, I noticed a post from UPROXX called "Judd Apatow explains why great comedies like AIRPLANE! aren't honorable to critics."  I am one of those people who just about split his sides laughing at AIRPLANE!

Apatow produced THE BIG SICK, one of my favorite films of this year.  I wrote a recent blog post about that touching, smart romantic comedy.  Honestly, I laughed, I cried, I loved it.  And, during it, I realized how much I missed good romantic comedies -- good comedies in general.  Apatow is one talented man.  However, a few of his productions have element sof maybe why critics are so ho-hum about comedies.  They drag on like the drunken buddy who keeps repeating the same story.  FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, KNOCKED UP and THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT made me laugh yet I did feel each had a good 15 minutes that could've been cut out to make the comedy tighter.  Those 15 minutes just repeated business about the lead male character we already new.  I was a background actor for THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT.  It shot in San Francisco.  I had a great time.  I watched one scene be improvised on the spot to highlight a star's comedy buddy.  The scene is the movie but it's not at all necessary.  THE BIG SICK is much better.

I thought of other comedies that were just as good, if not better than AIRPLANE! as I read Apatow's comments:  ANNIE HALL, TOOTSIE, the under-appreciated QUICK CHANGE with Bill Murray and Geena Davis.
Apatow gives his reason why studios aren't green-lighting more character-driven comedies that appeal to adult women and men and not just frat boys.  The article reminded me of those many lists of Top 5 or Top 10 on Facebook and Twitter.  If you asked "What 10 classic films would you take with you to watch on a 2-week vacation?," a lot of critics (mostly men) and acquaintances of critics would list 10 deep dish movies.  Classics like Ingmar Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS and THE SEVENTH SEAL, Buñuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, Bresson's DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST or Schlöndorff's THE TIN DRUM.  I've seen those kinds of lists and read the responses.  Rarely, if ever, does anyone include mainstream, highly entertaining, well-regarded comedies.  I was guilty of that once.  I was going to include my list of Top 10 Favorite Films I'd Take to Watch on Vacation...and I was going to list Abel Gance's 1927 silent film NAPOLEON.  It is a historical masterpiece.  Every time I saw it, I was lucky enough to see it on a big screen during a special engagement.  However, I have seen that 1927 French masterpiece four times in my entire life.
I've seen NAPOLEON DYNAMITE four times in one month alone.  I have rented NAPOLEON DYNAMITE on DVD so many times that I have memorized large chucks of dialogue from that 2004 indie comedy.  How many times have I seen NAPOLEON DYNAMITE?  I don't know exactly but the number is surely in the double digits.
That's the honest truth.  It would've been dishonest of me to list 1927's NAPOLEON.  I would've put it a list to impress the critics and the critics' high falutin friends.  Critics should come out of the closet about comedies.  I belly laugh at W.C. Fields in IT'S A GIFT and Jerry Lewis as THE BELLBOY and THE LADIES MAN.  TOOTSIE still breaks me up.  And if Jessica Lange got an Oscar for Tootsie, Marilyn Monroe should've definitely received an Oscar nomination for SOME LIKE IT HOT or her musical comedy brilliance in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.

So, if you were spending next week on vacation in a nice tropic spot and took 5 comedies with you, what would they be?

P.S.  If you saw NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and you left the theater or clicked off the DVD as soon as the closing credits started, then you haven't seen how it really ends.  There's one more fabulous scene.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Wisdom of Rodgers & Hammerstein

I shared this about my South Central L.A. boyhood with a Broadway actress in her dressing room one night.  A friend, who represented her, had taken me to see a 1990s revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE KING AND I.  I grew up loving the movie version, watching it on TV every chance I got, and I loved listening to the movie soundtrack album.  Our house was like just about every other house on our block.  Our record collection had great jazz, Motown albums and at least one soundtrack to a classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.  Why?  Well, come on.  Their music was gorgeous.  In addition to that, they used their music and the stories to shout down bigotry and intolerance.  Our Black people were familiar with bigotry and intolerance.  After I told the Broadway star how moved I was by her show, she smiled and replied that she wasn't sure if she wanted to do revival at first because the libretto seemed dated. I emphatically told her how important works of art like THE KING AND I are.
America was in the midst of culture wars at that time.  I told her, "Anna is not a privileged white woman giving orders with a superior attitude.  She embraces cultural diversity and she has respect for different races. 'Getting To Know You' is very important.  'Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you.  Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.'"  People of color are not invisible, second class citizens to her.  They become a part of her special world.  Her young son learns from his widowed mother's embrace of another culture and her humility.
When NBC network TV host Donald Trump consistently disrespected President Barack Obama verbally by claiming Mr. Obama, our first Black president, was not a real American and demanded to see his birth certificate, I was offended.  When he got on Twitter and wrote disrespectful things about President Obama, I was offended.  I was also offended that Donald Trump had never apologized to The Central Park Five, Black and Latino teens sent to prison for years and -- as we learned -- wrongfully accused of assault and rape.  He'd called for their execution.  And I was offended by the insensitive things the NBC entertainment TV host said about Mexicans.

To me, those actions of his were all red flags.

The TV host was elected to the White House, supported by citizens who held up signs reading "Time To Take Our Country Back."

This weekend, white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.  One anti-nationalist reportedly was killed.  There's video of some marching and shouting "Heil, Trump!"  David Duke, a nationally known former KKK leader, attended the Charlottesville march and, on camera, said "We are determined to take our country back.  We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump..."

We saw Nazi flags in America.  Just like the one Baron von Trapp tears down and rips up in Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
When I saw news photos of the white nationalists carrying lit torches in the Friday night Charlottesville rally, one thing that hit me was how young the faces were. Young men who could be new in college. How did ones so young come to that?  I agree with the wisdom of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  From the 1958 film version of their Broadway hit, SOUTH PACIFIC, a World War 2 love story that deals with racial prejudice, here's their song "Carefully Taught."
Be like Rodgers & Hammerstein.  Shout down bigotry and intolerance.