Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Miss Patrick Swayze

ABC will give us a new DIRTY DANCING, not exactly a remake of the surprisingly popular 1987 movie.  Some of the storyline has been beefed up.  Baby's parents are having marital bumps and we find out what happened to the two young lead dancers after that special summer ended.  I think I'm pretty safe in saying that DIRTY DANCING was the film that made Patrick Swayze a movie star.  And he deserved stardom.  I had a few great experiences with him during my TV career.  I will always think of him with a smile.  He was a down-home, regular guy who was a real gent, absolutely playful, loved his wife and loved performing.
I met him when I was new to New York City and working on local WPIX TV/Channel 11.  During that time, we ran into each other at an event party in downtown Manhattan and we chatted.  I asked him if he had anything new on his schedule and he told me about the DIRTY DANCING script.
Here's why I called it a "surprisingly popular" movie.  Back in the 1980s, we got Bill Murray comedies.  One was a summer camp comedy called MEATBALLS.  Patrick let his hair down at the party and revealed to me that he wasn't too sure about wanting to do the dance movie because the first draft of the script read, in his words, "...like MEATBALLS with music."
Obviously changes were made and obviously those changes worked.  The next time I saw Patrick, he was a guest on my first VH1 talk show.  I was on national TV and he had a national box office hit.  Lord, was he a fun guest!  No pretense, all charm and humor. And talent.

VH1 helped get people in movie theater seats, I'm sure.  We veejays introduced the film's music video to "The Time of My Laugh" on an hourly basis.  We also played Patrick's DIRTY DANCING music video. He sang "She's Like the Wind."  The movie's popularity inspired a DIRTY DANCING traveling show featuring dancers and songs used in the film.  We VH1 veejays gave viewers DIRTY DANCING Tour Dates every day in special promotional segments.

One time, I had to go to L.A. to tape some interviews for my VH1 talk show.  I stayed in a West Hollywood hotel that had a corporate account with MTV/VH1 Networks.  While I was there, I ran into Patrick.  He was the first ever movie celebrity who said to me, "Let's grab a beer."  And we did.

We laughed. We gossiped a little. He was extremely grateful for his career success.  He confided in me about how emotionally and physically taxing a day with the Barbara Walters TV crew was.  (Remember when he cried in a Barbara Walters special when she asked a certain question?)

I always felt that he would have been perfect in a good film version of A CHORUS LINE.  Yes, I know there was a film version of that truly iconic, Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning Broadway musical.   But I said, "a good version."  And I also felt he would have been great in the tap dancing lawyer role Richard Gere did in the film version of the Broadway musical, CHICAGO.

When I was doing Whoopi Goldberg's national weekday radio show, which lasted from 2006 to 2008, we got word that Patrick would be in New York for stage readings of a musical that hoped to go to Broadway.  He'd take on the role Michael Landon did on TV for that stage musical version of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.  I told Whoopi and I wanted to get Patrick on our show.  I wanted to see him again.  It was then that Whoopi pulled me aside and told me the real story of how she got GHOST, the comedy that earned her an Oscar and put her in the Hollywood history books for 20 years as the only Black actress who had more than one Oscar nomination to her credit.  Whoopi's first nomination was in the Best Actress category for 1985's THE COLOR PURPLE.

Even with that Oscar nomination to her credit, she could not get an audition for 1990's GHOST. Her story is another example of how the playing field for us performers of color in the film/TV industry is rarely a level one.  The producers would not let her audition, they would not meet with her.  This rejection was extremely humiliating for her.  Keep in mind that Whoopi had had a humiliating experience a few years before GHOST when a film director, in front of others, caustically remarked that the did not find her pretty or sexually attractive enough for the female lead role she wanted.  That, too, was after she had a Best Actress Oscar nomination to her credit for THE COLOR PURPLE.

Patrick Swayne was already signed for GHOST.  When he heard that Whoopi Goldberg was being denied the opportunity to audition for it, he told the producers that if they didn't let her audition, he was pulling out of the project.
That's how Whoopi got to audition, that audition got her the part of Oda Mae, that performance got her an Oscar and she helped make GHOST a huge box office hit.  Patrick Swayze stepped up and helped a future friend in need.  He helped Whoopi get the respect she deserved.

Patrick Swayze didn't do the stage reading for LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, the musical.  He'd been stricken with cancer.  I miss him.  I'll be thinking of Patrick a lot when I watch the new DIRTY DANCING on ABC.  He was quite a guy.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Javier Bardem, So Brilliant

Oscar-winner Javier Bardem is one excruciatingly handsome character actor.  Someone with those looks could have just coasted on his looks in a film and TV career.  But this Spaniard didn't.  He challenges himself in his choice of roles and his commitment makes for great viewing.  He will put on weight, he will shave off his hair to play a character.  Javier Bardem is serious about his craft.
I've been a fan of his since the early 90s.  That's when I saw him in the 1992 Spanish film Jamón, Jamón. That's the Spanish word for "ham."  The film combines ham and sex and absurd comedy.  There's also a scene in which Bardem and a fellow actor sneak into a ring to do some nighttime bullfighting.  Naked.  It's a memorable scene with two gifted actors.  And a bull.  Bardem was a top Spanish film actor before a well-deserved Oscar nomination put him on Hollywood's radar.
Javier Bardem was marvelous in 2004's THE SEA INSIDE, based on the real-life story of a man who was left quadriplegic for nearly 30 years after a diving accident.

I love him in the 2002 Spanish film, MONDAYS IN THE SUN (Los Lunes al Sol) as a papa bear of a laborer.  This movie would've gotten attention here in the States six or seven years later -- when we were in the grips of the Great Recession.
MONDAYS IN THE SUN shows us the perseverance, humiliations and breakthroughs of a group of middle-aged friends laid off from dockyard work and all seeking new employment.

In 1999's SECOND SKIN (Segunda Piel), Bardem bares all with friend and fellow versatile actor, Jordi Mollá.  Mollá, not as known to American audiences as Bardem has become, is also a highly popular actor in Spain.
In SECOND SKIN, Bardem is very good as the openly gay and respected surgeon who is falling in love with another man.

However, the boyfriend has a secret.  He's married.  He has a wife and child.  You can find SECOND SKIN on Amazon Video.  The steamy man-on-man lovemaking scenes in 1999's SECOND SKIN make the ones in 2005's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN seem like a Hallmark Channel production.
Bardem won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the mysterious psychotic killer who's a plague on the land in the Coen Brothers 2007 film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.  Here's a clip.
 Bardem's performance in the 2010 Spanish film, BIUTIFUL, knocked me out.  He plays a street hustler with a psychic gift.  He's also the loving father of two kids and he's divorced from their bipolar, abusive mother. We watch to see if he can regain a spiritual balance in his life.  I said in a podcast and wrote on Twitter that his performance in this subtitled film could get him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.  ABC News entertainment contributor Chris Connelly said on GOOD MORNING AMERICA minutes before the nominations were announced that Bardem didn't have a chance -- mainly because his performance was totally in Spanish in a foreign film.  I was right.  Bardem did get a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
This weekend, he'll be seen as a eerie supernatural pirate villain opposite Johnny Depp in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 5.

Depp had a brief role in the biographical drama that brought Bardem his first Oscar nomination.  BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, released in 2000, is my favorite Bardem film performance. He played Cuban author and exile Reinaldo Arenas.  A gay man and a writer, he would be persecuted and imprisoned in Castro's Cuba.  Bardem and Johnny Depp worked together in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS.  Depp played a prison drag queen.
In its theatrical release, I paid to see thise film about three times.  Bardem moved me so.  This is a visually lyrical, politically strong and brilliantly acted film.  I highly recommend it.  Click onto this link to see a short trailer:  https://youtu.be/qXSw4QZqqyE.

By the way, that prison drag queen did more to advance the work of a new author than Oprah Winfrey ever dreamed of doing within her daytime TV book club.  Trust me on this.

In the 1930s and into the 1940s, Universal became famous as the Hollywood studio of excellent monster movies, movies that made actor Boris Karloff famous.  It gave us FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, THE INVISIBLE MAN and others. The studio has tapped into the classic franchise again.  Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe will be seen in THE MUMMY come June.  Reportedly, Javier Bardem will play the monster husband in a new BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Johnny Depp will play The Invisible Man.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

He Loved Bayard Rustin

A powerful figure. A peaceful activist.  College-educated.  He was Dr. Martin Luther King's top advisor.  Bayard Rustin was the architect of Dr. King's historic March on Washington in 1963.
Rustin introduced the Mahatma Gandhi's practices of non-violent resistance and political protest to Dr. King.  At the March on Washington, where Dr. King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, you can see Bayard Rustin behind him on the podium.  Bayard Rustin gave Dr. King's civil rights movement large mighty wings that enabled it to soar and make the whole world take notice of the cause.
Rustin was a talented intellect.  He was a musician and a singer who performed onstage with the legendary stage and film singer/actor and fellow activist, Paul Robeson.
Bayard Rustin also recorded albums.
Bayard Rustin's service to Civil Rights and other social issues was colossal.  He was a complicated Quaker -- and an openly gay African-American man at a time when one was supposed to keep that business way back in the closet.  If you're a young gay male American and you know more about Andy Cohen and some overly-made-up Real Housewives than you do about this great gay activist, then you need to spend the next 20 minutes or so with this blog post.  If you're African-American and you don't know about this man, you really need to watch what I've posted.

Here's a trailer for BROTHER OUTSIDER, a documentary about Bayard Rustin.
Bayard Rustin died in 1987 at age 75.  He did not live to see America elect its first Black president.  He did not live to see marriage equality become law in the United States.  In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Mr. Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  For years, the monumental contributions of Bayard Rustin to the Civil Rights movement were not highlighted and honored or discussed in mainstream media because he was gay. He should've been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during his lifetime.  There should be a big screen biopic on his life in production. This brilliant, vital man who organized the March on Washington had love in his life.  He was survived by a partner.  They lived together in the Chelsea section of New York City.

Take 16 minutes and meet him here in the short documentary feature called BAYARD & ME.



Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kerry Washington Dazzles Me

She hugged me in midtown Manhattan.  My heart took wing.  Kerry Washington gave me a hug on location in midtown Manhattan.  The director had just yelled "Cut!"  She was the leading lady, I was a background actor.  We were all shooting a street scene for the Chris Rock comedy, I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE.  I had a day off from my on-air morning job on Whoopi Goldberg's weekday radio show.  I got a call from casting office asking if I'd be interested in a few hours work as an extra.  Since the day of extra work fell on my day off, I decided to make a little extra money and take the gig.  I never expected that I would be recognized by gorgeous Kerry Washington, who went on to become the trailblazing star of SCANDAL.
Kerry became the first African-American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years.  In 1974, the late Teresa Graves was an undercover cop on the ABC crime drama series, GET CHRISTIE LOVE!  Kerry has earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her SCANDAL work on ABC TV.
                                                                          
If you want to spend some extra time with Kerry Washington, I have some movie tips for you.

When I saw  2006's THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, not only was I devastated by the brilliant performance Forest Whitaker gave as Idi Amin, I sat through the closing credits to catch the name of the gifted actress who played, Kay, one of the ruthless dictator's African wives.  I was positive she was an African actress who deserved to be known by Hollywood.  Watch this short clip:  https://youtu.be/ONdAwWqNaDs.

Kerry's a New Yorker.  From The Bronx.  Like Jennifer Lopez.  Also in that clip with Kerry were actors James McAvoy and David Oyelowo.

I had no idea during THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND that I was watching was the same actress who played Della Bea, the wife of legendary singer Ray Charles, in the 2004 biopic, RAY.  That's how good an actress Kerry is.  And she must also have magical powers on leading men.  Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Oscar for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and Jamie Foxx won the Best Actor Oscar for RAY.  She and Jamie reteamed for Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED, Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 2012.
Another film performance Kerry gave before her network TV fame is seen in the 2009 indie movie, MOTHER AND CHILD.  This was not a drama that many moviegoers saw, but it is so good.  Trust me on this.  Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Samuel L. Jackson are at their best in this film.  Mexican director Rodrigo Garcia gave us this film.  I don't want to reveal too much about this California story.  I will tell you that Bening plays a woman who was an unwed teen mother and gave her child up for adoption.  A world-wise nun, played by Cherry Jones, arranged the adoption.  The child is now grown.  Kerry Washington plays a married woman who can't have children and contacts the adoption agency.  The woman and her husband meet with a single pregnant woman who will give up her baby for adoption.
Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Cherry Jones and Jimmy Smits truly are worth your time in MOTHER AND CHILD.  Consider renting this drama.

As if that's not enough, Kerry Washington can make you laugh!  On NBC, she proved to be one of my favorite guest hosts on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  Here she is in a sketch about the Miss Universe pageant.
About I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE.  There was a street scene.  I played a Manhattan businessman on his way to a meeting.  That was the motivation given to me by the crew person in charge of background actors.  I had to walk into a building lobby at the same time Chris Rock hit a certain mark on the pavement.  He'd stop and Kerry would enter the scene.  After one take, when the director yelled "Cut!," Chris Rock called out "Bobby Rivers! What the hell are you doing as an extra?"  He motioned me over and then Kerry came over and gave me a hug.  She'd watched me on Fox5 during my GOOD DAY NEW YORK morning news show years.  She was just as sweet as she could be.  It was a huge compliment to be recognized by them both.

That background actor work experience was great.  My part wound up on the cutting room floor...but, heck....I GOT A HUG FROM KERRY WASHINGTON!  And I got paid.




Friday, May 19, 2017

Basquiat, the Art of Millions

Black. Brilliant. Basquiat.  He started out as a street artist in New York City's East Village.  He was alive and working when I got to New York in the 80s.  He died at age 27.  One of his paintings made history this week.  Jean-Michel Basquiat's painting, called UNTITLED, sold for $110 million.  Today, Friday, on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA, news anchor Amy Robach reported the sale of 1982's UNTITLED and casually remarked at the end "...some might call it 'Overpriced'?" So, I wrote this short post about the late artist.
I know GMA's Amy Robach didn't mean that remark to be snarky.  However, I flinched when she said it because Basquiat is someone a school student could do a paper on for Black History Month.  Millions of Amy's viewers may not know that the artist was Black.  His work was significant.  So significant that one artist directed a biopic on the late artist.  The biopic starred David Bowie, Benecio Del Toro, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Courtney Love and Tatum O'Neal.  Basquiat was played by the remarkable Broadway, TV and film actor, Jeffrey Wright.
About the painting:  Jonathan Jones, columnist for Britain's THE GUARDIAN, feels that the work -- now the most expensive American painting ever sold -- is worth the money.  Jones writes "...his art of American violence is priceless."  Jones continued, "Basquiat's skull tells the same truth old blues songs do.  It's the skull of someone lynched.  The skull of a slave.  The skull of a death-row prisoner."
Julian Schnable is a celebrated artist who became a celebrated filmmaker.  Schnable directed Javier Bardem to a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the 2000 biopic, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS.  Years before that, Schnable directed BASQUIAT.  The 1996 film, available on Amazon Video, was about his fellow New York City artist.  Here's a trailer for BASQUIAT:
Actor Jeffrey Wright later played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in the TV movie, BOYCOTT.  He was in Jonathan Demme's remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, Mike Nichols' ANGELS IN AMERICA, CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE with Daniel Craig as James Bond and THE HUNGER GAMES.

Here is a short interview with the real life Jean-Michel Basquiat:
We have seen films about white painters, some who never lived to see their brilliant work make millions.  Artists like Vincent van Gogh and Modigliani, both of whom died broke.  Rarely is a movie bio about one such celebrated painter focused on a Black artist.

There you have it.  A little history today on a late artist whose painting made history this week.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

On DOWNWARD DOG

I was hooked by the sitcom's TV commercial.  The ABC ad showed raves from critics.  So I watched Wednesday night's premiere episode of DOWNWARD DOG.  My feeling was "Are you kidding me?  Critics raved about this?"  First ABC gave us IMAGINARY MARY.  A grown, white, single female had an imaginary friend.  Now ABC gives us DOWNWARD DOG.  A grown, white, single female has a talking dog.  But the dog only talks to us, the viewers.  He doesn't talk to her.
He narrates their history and her life.  The owner is an under-confident millennial who has an office job in Pittsburgh, a snarky millennial boss and a frustrating love life.  The show plays as if a couple of NPR segment producers who both own dogs got together and decided to write a sitcom.  The dog is neurotic, talks like he's a Judd Apatow character and he talks way too much.  After I while, I wished he would just bark, eat a Milkbone and lick his own genitals.  I didn't need all that hipster pooch rambling.  I would not be surprised it, in a future episode, this dog would say something like "I wish she'd mix some kale in with my canned dogged food."  That's the tone of this canine character.
The novelty of a dog "breaking the fourth wall" is not new.  It was done in 1955 on a sitcom starring actor Jackie Cooper.  When I was a kid, this show was in syndication.  Local TV station in Los Angeles aired it as Saturday morning kid fare along with cartoons and such.  The show was called THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE.  The less chatty and funnier dog was named Cleo.
If you want to see a movie about a single woman who loves dogs, a woman played by someone known for comedy, I've got a really good recommendation for you.  Molly Shannon, formerly of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, has done a couple of films in which she hit dramatic homeruns.  One of those movies is 2007's YEAR OF THE DOG.  Molly Shannon plays a lonely, middle-aged office worker whose life changes when her dog unexpectedly dies.  She reaches out to people to fill the void in her life after her dog's death.  She endures disappointment after disappointment.  Shannon is excellent and a bit heartbreaking in this film.  Her dramatic work was a revelation.  Here's a trailer.
The other film in which Molly Shannon breaks your heart is 2016's OTHER PEOPLE, also an indie film.  She plays the Sacramento mother of a TV comedy writer.  He's gay and he's just broken up with his boyfriend in a big, cosmopolitan city.  He moves back to conservative suburban Sacramento to take care of his loving mother because she's terminally ill with cancer.  In OTHER PEOPLE, Molly Shannon hits another dramatic homerun.

As for DOWNWARD DOG...let's see if the TV audience takes to a neurotic housepet that talks too much.  Who knows?  I thought it was so-so, but the public might dig it.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Billy Crudup Always Brings It

This week, I saw actor Billy Crudup appear live on GOOD MORNING AMERICA to promote a new film.  I interviewed him in 1997 when he was promoting his movie INVENTING THE ABBOTTS.  Not only is he one terrifically talented actor, he's just as slim and handsome now as he was in 1997.  I hate Billy Crudup.  Just kidding.  I'm in awe of his talent and I'm a big fan.  In fact, he's one of those performers on my "Overlooked By The Oscars" list.  Billy Crudup should have at least one Oscar nomination on his resumé by now.  My favorite of his film roles is Russell, the self-absorbed 1970s rock guitarist in a band on the brink of stardom in ALMOST FAMOUS.  He should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Also, director Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS should have been up for Best Picture of 2000.
This wonderful coming-of-age story is both a valentine to the innocence of rock music before it became a corporate money-maker and it's also a valentine to the work of Cameron Crowe's mentor, Billy Wilder.  THE APARTMENT is the Billy Wilder classic Crowe used for major inspiration when writing this excellent screenplay.  As in THE APARTMENT, two guys are unknowingly involved with the same lovable young woman.  She overdoses. One of the two guys must learn to "be a mensch." As Russell the sexy rock guitarist, Billy hit just the right note.  He could be someone you wanted to slap one minute and take care of the next.
He's manipulative, vain, vulnerable, charismatic and still young enough to be intimidated by the formidable widowed schoolteacher mother of a high school journalist.  ALMOST FAMOUS made my Top 5 of 2000 list.  Cameron Crowe won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Frances McDormand, for her feisty work as the loving schoolteacher mother, and Kate Hudson ,for her radiant performance as band groupie Penny Lane, were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a stand-out in ALMOST FAMOUS before his Best Actor Oscar win for CAPOTE.  There were two biopics about Truman Capote made around the same time.  CAPOTE got all the attention and the awards.  INFAMOUS, a very fine film starring Toby Jones as Truman Capote with a marvelous Sandra Bullock performance as Harper Lee, was grossly overlooked and under-promoted.  Jared Leto starred in a 1997 biopic.  He played the celebrated Olympic hopeful, the late long distance runner Steve Prefontaine.  Leto played him in 1997's PREFONTAINE.  I prefer the biopic about the late 1970s athlete that starred Billy Crudup.  It's 1998's WITHOUT LIMITS.

Crudup is very good in this film, a biopic directed and co-written by Robert Towne. Towne wrote screenplay for the classic CHINATOWN. Steve Prefontaine was destined for Olympics greatness but he was killed in a car crash. Like INFAMOUS, WITHOUT LIMITS was a very good biopic that received poor promotion from its studio.

You must see Billy Crudup in 2004's STAGE BEAUTY.  You'll gasp at his remarkable acting range and commitment to character.  Based on a real life story, Crudup plays leading 17th century actor.  Ned Kynaston was celebrated for his portrayals of female characters on the British stage.  In this age of diversity and gender inclusion, STAGE BEAUTY is one to look at again.  Claire Danes plays the dresser to the acclaimed actor.  She'd like to perform on stage too, but a law bans women from such artistic freedom. Meanwhile, the actor is in love with another man, but they must keep their relationship a secret.  Crudup is amazing in this film.  Click onto this link to see a trailer for STAGE BEAUTY:  https://youtu.be/wkxo0oqGMwU.

In Manhattan, I attended a critics' screening for the 2014 indie drama, GLASS CHIN.  I don't think this film opened wide but I sure did dig its pulp fiction rhythm and good performances. Corey Stoll plays Bud, an ex-boxer who trains new boxing talent. Bud leads a low-rent life and, because of this, he's in cahoots with a slick shark of a Manhattan entrepreneur.  Bud gets framed for murder.  In this thriller, the hard luck boxer will have a shot at redemption.  If he wants it.  I loved the silky, seductive, understated menace of Billy Crudup as the entrepreneur.  Click onto this link to see a trailer for GLASS CHIN:  https://youtu.be/T6czkjsMbfY.

This weekend, the ALIEN franchise continues.  Billy Crudup plays a member of the crew.  Wow. It was in 1979 when we saw a poster showing a large, unusual, cracked egg emitting a strange light with the caption: "In space, no one can hear you scream." ALIEN raised the stakes on the sci-fi horror genre.  ALIEN: COVENANT is the new adventure. Please, Lord, let it be better than PROMETHEUS.  Take a look at this featurette.
I definitely want to see ALIEN: COVENANT.

When I interviewed Billy Crudup, I was a regular on "Good Day New York," the Fox5 weekday morning news program in New York City.  I introduced myself to him before the camera started rolling.  He smiled and said that he already knew who I was.  He said he used to watch me on VH1 in the late 80s and enjoyed my work.  How cool is that?  Go enjoy my movie rental tips for some exceptional Billy Crudup acting.  If you see ALIEN: COVENANT over the weekend, let me know how it is.






Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New ONE DAY AT A TIME

Yes, Norman Lear has rebooted his hit CBS sitcom that was so popular with viewers during its 1975 to 1984 run.  The late Bonnie Franklin starred as Ann Romano, the divorced mother of two daughters.  The Romanos lived in the Midwest.  The reboot takes place in Florida.  Starting with a cover of "This Is It, the old sitcom's theme song, the music now has a Latin flavor. It's sung by Gloria Estefan.  The Netflix reboot kicks off this way because the single-parent family we is Cuban-American. Today's Ann Romano is Penelope Alvarez, a nurse.  She's a nurse who can assemble a rifle in 13 seconds.  Penelope Alvarez is a veteran who served in Afghanistan.
This reboot based on the 1970s Norman Lear sitcom is bright entertainment that, like the best of Lear's 1970s hits, embraces diversity and touches on social issues with no shortage of laughs.  I felt like I knew the Alvarez family, especially when the mother gets home, unloads a bag of groceries and says that she bought some meat that was super-discounted so she's got to cook it before it turns.  Not only did I hear my mother say a line like that when I was growing up in South Central L.A, I've said it in my own apartment when I lived in Brooklyn.

Justina Machado, formerly of HBO's SIX FEET UNDER, plays the mother who's separated but not bitter. To her fashion-conscious son and bookworm activist daughter, she speaks well of their non-present veteran father.  A nice touch.  Her military service adds a grit to the story.  Penelope has been prescribed anti-depressants by her doctor to deal with her PTSD.  She struggles with that because she doesn't like the idea of taking pills.  She struggles with ethnic family tradition in a changing America.  This comes out in funny business regarding a festive and frilly ceremony, called a quinceañera, that mother and grandmother want to plan for the bookworm daughter.  The daughter resembles Anne Hathaway's character in the first hour of THE PRINCESS DIARIES.  The repairman, Schneider, is now a sweet and cute hipster landlord who's very fond of the Alvarez family.
This ONE DAY AT A TIME is pretty much stolen by the Oscar-winning actress who plays the colorful Cuban grandmother.  The actress is ....Rita Moreno. She is flat-out fabulous in this role and delivers a lot of laughs.  Rita Moreno, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in the musical drama classic WEST SIDE STORY, the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1961, has still got it.  And this diva knows how to work it.  Love me some Rita Moreno.
There's been much talk about the need for diversity and inclusion on today's film and TV offerings.  Norman Lear sitcoms in the 70s gave us race/gender diversity and inclusion.  He's still doing it today and he really didn't to create a new vehicle.  One of his classic sitcoms could be updated with a blend of racial diversity and gender inclusion.  What an enjoyable, lively premiere episode.  I'll be watching more episodes.  This is perfect for light weekend entertainment.  By the way, Netflix's ONE DAY AT A TIME got renewed for a Season 2.  Thank you, Norman Lear and Viva Rita Moreno!


Monday, May 15, 2017

Love Me Some MASTER OF NONE

I would love to sit and eat pasta with Aziz Ansari.  I am a major fan of his going back to his "Treat yo' self" days on the NBC sitcom PARKS AND RECREATION and his cameo in the sci-fi, end of the world apocalypse comedy THIS IS THE END.  Aside from being a fan, I am so proud of him and grateful for the trailblazing he's done with MASTER OF NONE.  His shows reflect the diverse, multi-cultural world that I know as a person who was a kid in South Central L.A. and a man who lived in New York for twenty years. Aziz acts, directs and writes for MASTER OF NONE. He gives me a reflection of my world and my sensibilities that I didn't often see on mainstream network TV and movie screens. I love Aziz Ansari as Dev, a New York actor, on Netflix's MASTER OF NONE.
Lord knows I'm old enough to play Dev's father or an uncle on the Netflix series, but I can totally identify with this young Indian dude pursuing a career in the entertainment industry.  If you saw Season 1, remember the audition when the white casting person wanted him to sound "more Indian," like Ben Kingsley in GANDHI?  That was so like actor auditions I've had in New York City when folks wanted me to sound "more urban" and when TV executives as white as Casper the Friendly Ghost felt I wasn't "black enough" for a show.  That always meant I was "too articulate."  Career, family and romance.  Watching Dev deal with the social and emotional curveballs thrown at him in those three fields is great entertainment.  Pencil-thin Dev gets through it all with advice from friends like Denise the Black lesbian and his big huggybear of a buddy, Arnold (played by Eric Wareheim).
Alan Yang is Aziz Ansari's co-creator and co-writer.  Ansari's real life parents played Dev's parents in Season 1.

If you love Vittorio De Sica's classic, THE BICYCLE THIEF, you will love the Season 2 opener of MASTER OF NONE.  If you've seen that 1948 Italian film, you will appreciate this episode even more.
Dev goes to Italy.  He speaks a lot of Italian in this opener, so much of the episode is subtitled.  He makes pasta, talks to the locals and something of his is stolen while he's with a little friend. Dev needs a bicycle.
It's a wonderful episode.  It's obvious that Aziz Ansari has seen De Sica's THE BICYCLE THIEF.  The first episode is in black and white and color, English and Italian.  We're still in Italy for the next episode and it's obvious the Aziz is familiar with the 1961 Antonioni classic film, LA NOTTE.  It's referenced in LE NOZZE, an episode that brings Arnold to Italy for a wedding.  Before the ceremony, Dev and Arnold must eat and talk.
I loved this episode too.  Arnold's ex-girlfriend, a woman he was with romantically for about 10 years, is getting married.  She's marrying a man who resembles Arnold.  Like an Antonioni film, architecture is very important.  Here, it's the human architecture -- two men who look like they should be brothers.

The next episode is called RELIGION.  Another winner.  Dev's parents are in this one!  Fabulous.  I was hoping Dev's parents -- who are really Aziz's parents -- would be back for the second season.  This episode is very funny and gives you some Hindu realness.  It's about religion and its rules, rules that may not make a whole lot of sense when you really think about it.  I'm Catholic.  We were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays.  So, when I was a kid, I was basically taught that if I ate a cheeseburger on a Friday, crossed the street and got hit and killed by a truck while I was headed home from the burger joint, my soul would go straight below and I could be seated next to officers from Hitler's Third Reich.  Simply because I ate a cheeseburger on a Friday.

That episode not only made me laugh, it made me want to send out for some barbecue pork ribs.  That's all I'm sayin'.  I am so grateful to the crew for the wit and wisdom of these shows.
There's Alan Yang standing to the right of Aziz, wearing a blue suit.  I highly recommend this second season.  Sharp, clever, original and funny.  Check out MASTER OF NONE on Netflix.











 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Guest That Got Away

If you read my posts on a regular basis, you know that one of the most frustrating high-profile jobs of my New York City career was the one I quit at WNBC back in the 1990s.  Why was it frustrating?  I was contacted to be a regular on a new weekend local show slated to debut in September 1992 called WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK.  At the time I was contacted, I'd had three great years as a veejay and talk show host on VH1.  During that time, I also worked CBS Late Night programming.  (OK, I'll be more specific.  Pat Sajak had his own late night talk show for a while.  I was a monthly guest.)  When I had my first lunch with WNBC local news execs to talk about this new opportunity, I was in syndication as the host of a late night relationship game show.  This weeknight game show was a summer replacement program.  The initial WNBC offer was for me to do entertainment news segments including film reviews in the studio.  I'd be at the desk with the two anchors.  That appealed to me because, as you know, I've been extremely aware of the lack of racial diversity in TV's field of film critics. The summer replacement game show didn't get a green light to go into full time production, so I needed a gig.  The thought of covering entertainment for WNBC and, hopefully, working up to NBC network assignments made my mouth water.  I wanted to work in 30 Rock.
The day before our pre-dawn Saturday morning premiere in September, execs changed my duties.  I basically would read the community calendar of family events and do outdoor liveshots from shopping malls, street fairs and such.  Just two years prior, I'd had the same kind of A-lists guests on my talk show that you were seeing with David Letterman, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey.            



One day, I was flying to London for VH1 to do a one-hour exclusive TV interview of Paul McCartney.  Then I sign with WNBC local news, and they send me to petting zoos to tell folks about bake sales in Brooklyn.  Adam Sandler, then on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, asked me why I wasn't doing interviews like I'd done on VH1.  So did fellow SNL member Ellen Cleghorne.

I needed the weekend job and the non-star salary.  I kept with it to see if I could talk some light into my producer's head and get in-studio entertainment segments.  Her head was a brick wall.

I was cast on a local play that would be performed for one weekend in the East Village.  It would be a short, one-act play.  Our first meeting was a read-through and I totally like the company.  One cast member who also doubled as sort of our stage manager was a local actress I'd seen in local TV commercials.  The playwright of our one-act production was fascinating.  A very interesting guy.

The actress and the playwright were so talented and charismatic that I told my producer I'd like to interview them.  I'd like to do an individual interview of each and present a 3-minute "People You Should Know" feature on WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK.  The producer replied, "No one knows who they are."  I replied, "That's the point.  They're local talent that New York should keep its eye on."  She rejected my idea.

After the play was performed early in the summer of 1994, the totally sweet and gifted actress moved to L.A. to try her luck there.  The moved paid off.  That actress, Camryn Manheim, was cast on the hit ABC series THE PRACTICE.
The playwright also moved to L.A. to try his luck.  The moved paid off for him too.  Alan Ball now has an Oscar for his AMERICAN BEAUTY screenplay.  He also gave us the HBO programs SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD.
May 13th is Alan Ball's birthday.  I'm sorry my producer wouldn't let me interview Alan Ball and Camryn Manhein for the local news show.  She let one anchor book Pia Zadora as a live guest.  I pitched another guest.  A director.  I'd already taped the interview.  But the producer said, "No one knows who he is."

The following year,  Robert Zemeckis won the Best Director Oscar for FORREST GUMP, the film he and I talked about in my interview.  May 14th is his birthday.  And there you have it.   I quit WNBC local news a couple of months before he won his Oscar.