Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Double CINDERELLA MAN

If you're up for a double feature movie rental with a bit of a theme to it, I've got an idea for you.  The first one comes from director Frank Capra, the man who gave us IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  It's from the 1930s, during the Great Depression here in the U.S., and that financial hardship is reflected in this comedy/drama.  It stars Gary Cooper and the marvelous actress who was the muse to James L. Brooks when he wrote the role Holly Hunter played in BROADCAST NEWS.  Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur star in 1936's MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN.
The film opens with a lone car speeding on a highway.  It speeds out of control over a bridge and the person in it is killed. The person was a multi-millionaire and his fortune goes to a tall, young, handsome, tuba-playing relative in a small town called Mandrake Falls.  From Mandrake Falls, Longfellow Deeds has to relocate to Manhattan where a bunch of shady executives think he's just a simple-minded hick.  They think they can easily weasel the fortune away from him.  Wrong.  He's like a big kid in the Big Apple but he's no chump.  He is, however, a huge story for some newspaper to scoop.  Meet Babe Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaperwoman who's the smartest guy in the newsroom.  She'll assume a fake identity to meet the millionaire, get the exclusive story on him and scoop all the other papers in town.  You guessed it.  He'll fall in love with her -- not knowing she's a reporter -- and she'll fall in love with him -- knowing she'll have to reveal herself and deal with the romantic consequences.
Jean Arthur was one of the best and brightest female stars of the 1930s and 40s.  One whose popularity continued for decades.  She was also one of the shyest stars.  In the early 1950s, she was such a dramatic hit as the gun-hating frontier mother in SHANE, that Paramount Pictures wanted her to do three more films.  But she decided to make 1953's SHANE her last film.  In 1966, she starred in THE JEAN ARTHUR SHOW, a CBS sitcom.  It lasted only one season, but heck...not bad for someone who started her career in the silent film era of the 1920s.  In the early 1970s, she was still getting film offers.  Jean Arthur stayed retired from films and taught at Vassar.

In the 1956 drama, GIANT, actor James Dean did a piece of business looping a small rope while a rich rival tries to screw him out of some ranch property he owns.  Property that's way more valuable than the lowly ranch hand realizes.  A number of film critics wrote about young Dean's acting brilliance doing that casual rope bit in that office scene.  Well, those critics -- all men -- missed that Jean Arthur went there before James Dean did.  Notice her first scene in the movie as she listens to her newspaper boss give orders.
In another scene, Babe and her boss are discussing how to get the exclusive on the young millionaire.  Babe is doing a trick with a 50 cent piece.  Notice that, during the trick, she drops the coin.  That drop doesn't seem like a rehearsed, scripted move but Jean Arthur looks under the seat cushion for the coin and goes on with the dialogue in the most natural way.  She was terrific.
Mr. Deeds came into a $20 million fortune and a palatial Manhattan residence.  The newspaper proclaims him "The Cinderella Man."  Deeds has no idea how his innocent escapades with his sweetheart Mary (reporter Babe Bennett) wind up in the paper with photos, but he continues his carefree new life as a millionaire.  Then, a man hit hard by the Great Depression makes his way into his palatial home with a gun.  Poverty has infected him like a disease and made him a desperate madman.  He can't find work.  His wife and kids go to bed hungry.  And he's read that this Deeds had fun by feeding donuts to a horse.  Those horses are eating and that poor intruder's family isn't.  The man is hysterical but he comes to his senses before he hurts anyone.  He's sorry for what he's done.
It's a strong, critical scene.  Deeds will be moved by the man's pain and desperation.  Deeds will feed him and employ him.  The experience has such a profound effect on "The Cinderella Man" that he uses his wealth to help other men knocked down and out by the Depression. His compassion and his helping hand to his fellow American threatens the fat cat execs who greedily wanted his money.  The wealthy "Cinderella Man" who selflessly helps the poor will have to go to court to prove his sanity.  This is a definite Capra classic.  To me, Capra was like the Charles Dickens of Old Hollywood.

Pair that classic with a Ron Howard film from 2005.  Howard directed CINDERELLA MAN starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger.  Based on a true story, the action is set in the 1930s...just like Capra's tale about a "Cinderella Man" in MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN.  Russell Crowe, in one of best American screen performances, plays a working class family man hit very hard by the Great Depression.  He could be like the poor guy with the gun in Capra's film.
Crowe plays James Braddock, a former boxer getting any day laborer work he can to support his New Jersey family.  Before Braddock was forced to quit boxing due to an injury, he had a most loyal and trustworthy manager named Joe Gould.  Gould is played by Paul Giamatti.

Gould presents Braddock with one more chance to box.  Mrs. Braddock (Zellweger) doesn't want him to box and thinks Gould is just out to make a buck.  She's wrong.  Braddock could win money to feed his family again.  With Gould's help, he has a shot at the heavyweight championship.  His opponent is the formidable and cocky champ, Max Baer.  A top sportswriter dubs Braddock "The Cinderella Man."
Braddock comes to represent every guy who got knocked down by hard times and dared to get up and keep punching.  There is a lot of heart without sappy sentimentality in this movie.  Braddock takes the blow in the ring because he loves his family and do what he can to take care of his family.   Of all the films directed by Ron Howard, this is one of my favorites.  Click onto this link and see a trailer:
https://youtu.be/nyuri18gwdM.

I like Renee Zellweger.  But in CINDERELLA MAN, I think I would've gone with a Naomi Watts or Julianne Moore -- someone who could play the wife with a touch more kitchen sink gravity

Many critics had high praise for this Ron Howard movie.  But the public just wouldn't go see it.  The same thing happened with Ron Howard's 2013 film, RUSH.  In both cases,  moviegoers missed very good films with excellent performances.  Paul Giamatti got a very well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for CINDERELLA MAN.  Ron Howard previously directed Russell Crowe in A BEAUTIFUL MIND, a film that took home Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.

There you have it.  I hope you enjoy the CINDERELLA MAN double feature.







Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Brava, WONDER WOMAN!

On my recent trips to the cineplex, I bought tickets to see smaller films about real people.  The Hollywood major studio assembly line of overblown comic book superhero sequels had overwhelmed and exhausted me.  All those big budget movies with the extreme special effects and the impressively muscled men flying through the air and kicking villainous ass struck me as the same sausage being cranked out and served on different, more decorative plates.  It's still the same old sausage.  After a while, they all seemed the same.  That's why movies like MOONLIGHT, HELL OR HIGH WATER and HIDDEN FIGURES were like a balanced meal with wine after a steady diet of sugary snack treats.  Also, the big comic book superhero adventures were all lead by men with big biceps.  This season, the one superhero movie I am eager to see puts a female in charge.  WONDER WOMAN has finally made it to the big screen.
OK.  The fact that WONDER WOMAN finally got a movie deal is right up there with us finally seeing an African-American woman on ABC's THE BACHELORETTE who is being wooed by an interracial group of men.  I know history is being made on the TV show and the network is patting itself on the corporate back...but, please.  We're over fifteen years into the 21st Century.  We had President Barack Obama in the White House for two terms.  High time we got an African-American bachelorette or bachelor.  In fact, it should've already happened.
The same applies to Wonder Woman on the big screen.  Superman, Batman, The Incredible Hulk -- each had a popular TV series and each made it to the big screen.  Wonder Woman was played by Linda Carter in a popular 1970s TV series.  But the big boys who run Hollywood apparently didn't think she could carry a movie.  She was strong and, to them, a cute pretty little thing to keep on the small screen.  That's how it seemed.

I watched Wonder Woman on TV.  I loved Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman.  I loved Debra Winger as her younger sister, Wonder Girl.  (Yes. Debra Winger.)

I know jack-shit about The Green Lantern.  But Ryan Reynolds got a green light to play THE GREEN LANTERN in a 2011 movie.  No big screen close-ups for the popular Amazon warrior princess, though.  I feel there was Hollywood sexism in her lack of big screen exposure.

Well, WONDER WOMAN is here now and the movie was directed by a woman -- Patty Jenkins.  She directed Charlize Theron to a very well-deserved Best Actress Oscar win for 2003's MONSTER.  Jenkins also wrote the MONSTER screenplay.  In that, Jenkins looks at the dark side of female power and femininity in this story about real life serial killer, Aileen Wuornos.  Note:  Look up news footage of Aileen Wuornos and then watch Theron's uncanny recreation in MONSTER.

Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince also known as Wonder Woman.  Besides Patty Jenkins as director, another reason why I want to see WONDER WOMAN is that she cast Chris Pine as the leading man.  From what I've seen in clips, she embraced his keen comedy side.
I watched Chris Pine be serious in STAR TREK movies and UNSTOPPABLE and saw him as a drop dead handsome young dramatic actor.  Then came news that, due to scheduling conflicts, he replaced Jake Gyllenhaal as Cinderella's Prince Charming in Disney's film version of the Broadway musical INTO THE WOODS.  After the preview screenings for critics, our main buzz was "Wow!  Who knew that Chris Pine could sing?  And really well!"

Then, in 2015, I attended an "upfront" for a TV outlet.  "Upfronts" are held to promote a TV show's or a network's new season.  It's a publicity party.  This one for Crackle was held in Manhattan's City Center theater close to Carnegie Hall.  The presentation included clips for the upcoming product.  The upfront ended with outtakes from a new animated series.  Chris Pine was the voice for one of the characters.  The montage of Chris Pine clips was so hilarious that press people who were headed up the aisles to leave stopped and stayed to watch and laugh.  Chris Pine ad libbing was like early Robin Williams funny.  So now I'm thinking..."He's handsome, he can sing...AND he's funny."

After that came HELL OR HIGH WATER, one of the best movies of last year.  In fact, it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Chris Pine is excellent as the bank robber in that drama.  He's just so talented and handsome that I could easily hate him.  But I don't.  Here's a trailer for WOMAN WOMAN.
I am very ready to see this action/adventure.  I'm glad she's here.  I hope WONDER WOMAN has a wonderful time at the box office.  In the field of big screen comic book action hero adaptations, WONDER WOMAN and director Patty Jenkins have shattered a glass ceiling.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Women in War: SO PROUDLY WE HAIL

When I was a kid, this old Paramount movie aired frequently on KTLA/Channel 5 during my summer vacations from school.  I loved watching 1943's SO PROUDLY WE HAIL.  It's one of those old movies that made me ask my parents about history and, later, go to the library to get more information.  SO PROUDLY WE HAIL was one of Hollywood's many World War 2 movies made when America was in that war.  Those movies were mostly dramatic, they were patriotic and they were usually focused on men in war.  SO PROUDLY WE HAIL focused on women serving overseas.  They were military nurses.  Our mother was a registered nurse.  Dad served overseas.  Both confirmed to little Bobby that, yes, there were nurses who served in the war.  SO PROUDLY WE HAIL covers the Battle of Bataan. We see the heartbreak, humor and heroism of three nurses in the Philippines.  Have you seen Goddard Hall on the New York University campus?  Well, that building was named in honor of a SO PROUDLY WE HAIL star.  Paulette Goddard got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing one of the three military nurses who goes from hospital duty to Philippines jungle duty.
When TCM viewers see her in classics like Cukor's THE WOMEN, Chaplin's MODERN TIMES and his THE GREAT DICTATOR, I wonder if they know a building on the NYU campus is named in her honor.  In Goddard's will, she left about $20 million to the school.  Naming a building in her honor was a great "Thank You" card.  Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake star in SO PROUDLY WE HAIL.
We meet the nurses shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor and we follow them on their voyage to the Philippines.
With those three female stars in the leads, of course there had to be romances to go along with the war story.  That's what moviegoers in the 1940s wanted.
In the above pic, you see Paulette Goddard dealing with a shy G.I. who won't let the nurse give him a sponge bath.  That G.I. is played by actor George Reeves.  He had roles in GONE WITH THE WIND and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.  However, television in the 1950s would make him a bigger star than movies ever did.  He was TV's Superman in a weekly series for kids.  Ben Affleck played the late actor in a story about his career, TV stardom and mysterious death in a good 2006 movie called HOLLYWOODLAND.

Is SO PROUDLY WE HAIL an excellent World War 2 film in a league with FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, BATTLEGROUND and 12 O'CLOCK HIGH?  No.  But it moves, you care about characters and there's the originality of it being an action-packed war film that's a female-driven story.
 I can't remember ever seeing this film in the Turner Classic Movies line-up.  And I don't recall seeing it in a Memorial Day schedule.  But I wish it would be aired on a Memorial or Veterans Day to remind us that, back in World War 2, women also served.
Veronica Lake starts off as the angry nurse who doesn't make friends.  Then we learn why she's angry.  Lake lacked the acting chops of a Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor or Claudette Colbert, but this film has one of her best dramatic outings during her Paramount years.  The actress was famous for her "peek-a-boo" hairdo in films.  Here she is in 1941's SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS.
This hairstyle was such a pop culture phenomenon at that time that it was lampooned as a great visual gag in Billy Wilder's THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942), a wartime comedy, and even in classic Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears cartoon. (Mama Bear has the hairdo.)  In the 1997 drama L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, Kim Basinger played the upscale Hollywood hooker who is a Veronica Lake look-alike for her clients.

As a military nurse, Lake could not have worn her famous peek-a-boo hairdo while in uniform.  However, Paramount's screenwriters did come up with a clever, intense and memorable way to work it into the action.  Colbert is the top star, Goddard got the Oscar nomination, but it's the Veronica Lake act of valor scene that steals the picture.
SO PROUDLY WE HAIL.  Golden Age Hollywood studios didn't give us many films highlighting American women in war.  This feature was a pioneer in that field.  If you like classic films, it's worth a look at this one for its feminist power.  Mark Sandrich directed it.  Allan Scott earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay.
1943's SO PROUDLY WE HAIL was inspired by the memoir I SERVED ON BATAAN, written by Lieut. Col. Juanita Redmond Hipps, a World War 2 Army nurse who served in Bataan and Corregidor.  She escaped during the last few days before Corregidor surrendered.  Col. Hipps died in 1979 and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.











Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thanksgiving with MASTER OF NONE

You know Denise, Dev's lesbian friend, if you followed Season 1 of MASTER OF NONE.  That's the fresh and fabulous series created by and starring Aziz Ansari.  On this Netflix series, he plays Dev.  Dev is a young Indian dude, a Muslim, and an actor in New York City.
Season 2 kicked off with Dev in Italy on vacation and learning how to make pasta.  Dev returns to New York and we see that he has a job as host on a Food Network-type channel.  He hosts a pastry competition show.  Dev does a lot of eating in Season 2, but I don't recall him wanting to eat any of those cupcakes.  The Thanksgiving episode, to me, is an instant classic.  I loved it.  I've lived it.  It covers the friendship of Dev and Denise who've been friends for most of their lives.  They're like brother and sister.
In the Thanksgiving episode segments, Denise comes out to Dev -- and to her mother.  Her mother is played by Angela Bassett.
Before I get to that, let me tell you again why I love MASTER OF NONE -- especially its current second season.  I lived and worked in New York for over 20 years.  I did several years working on local morning news programs which started at 6:00.  Mass transit was my way of getting to work and my hours had me on subway trains between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning.  I wouldn't be the only one heading to work in the "before the chickens wake up" hours.  The seats would be filled with other commuters.  People of all colors, shapes, ages and smells.  We all had one thing in common -- our income level. That level was "barely getting by."  (Yes, I did work on local TV but, truthfully, I could have made more money annually as a dental hygienist or a postal employee.)  Those other folks are the doormen, janitors, cooks and other kitchen crew in the local diners, the cleaning women, delivery people and others who work hard and become invisible on a daily basis.  But they're the ones who are at work by the crack o' dawn to keep the city running so that upscale white folks like that female quartet on SEX AND THE CITY and the two couples on WILL & GRACE can have Manhattan as their playground.  If it's cold and snowy outside and they want to stay indoors where it's festive and warm, those upscale types send out for food.  Aziz focuses not on the people who sent out for food, but on the life of the person making the delivery.  I love that about this Netflix series.

The Season 2 episode "New York, I Love You" is like a valentine to the New York City I know.  Dev, Denise and Arnold are on their way to a movie.  Arnold mentions that he's heard it has a great surprise twist at the end.  Dev and Denise are irritated.  Arnold didn't tell them the ending but they'll be expecting a surprise twist because he mentioned it.  THAT broke me up laughing.  I will not mention a surprise twist when I'm reviewing a movie for that very reason.  In fact, I have blocked people on Twitter who have revealed the surprise ending of movies simply because the films are over 20 years old and the blocked Twitterers felt those old endings were fair game.  From the trio's movie talk, we meet an apartment building doorman and a privileged resident who obviously thinks all Latino, doormen on the staff look alike.  We go on to meet an interracial couple having problems with its sex life.  She's black. He's white.  She's a shop clerk, deaf, and they both sign.  We meet an African cabdriver who lives with other African guys and they all want to go out for some nightlife.  A little wackiness ensues.  But they wind up in Chelsea, get some late night fast food and meet some friendly young black women.  They meet them in a fast food joint.  A roommate of the African men works there in the kitchen.  What gets mentioned in conversation?  The movie Dev, Denise and Arnold were talking about at the top of the episode.

This is the real New York.  It's the multi-cultural, multi-racial New York City that Woody Allen still refuses to reflect in his movies after all these years.

The "Thanksgiving" episode.  That one deserves Golden Globe and Emmy nomination attention.  Inspired by the real life story of Lena Waithe, the MASTER OF NONE actress who plays Denise, we go back to the early years of the little Denise and little Dev friendship to see where the bond began and what holds it together.  Through of number of Thanksgiving dinners over the years, we see them grow up and we see her mother grow into dealing with the fact that her daughter is gay.  In this episode, Aziz Ansari and his team accurately show that, as Denise tells Dev, coming out is different for black people.  That is so true.

I came out to my mother in 1992.  It was not pretty.  At Christmastime in 2005, she asked "Are you still gay?"
Angela Bassett is at her best as the single, feminine mother.  So is Kym Whitley (left) as Aunt Joyce.  The mother is not one who would ban her child from the house due to her sexual orientation.  She would wonder if it's her "fault" that her daughter is a lesbian.  I felt like I knew that family.  The tone and some of the statements were so familiar, so real to me.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Aziz Ansari, for the "Thanksgiving" episode.  I saw some of my life in that one.

The mother would like to meet a good man.  Over the years, she meets a couple of different women that Denise is dating.  One is absolutely clueless. If she saw a lobby sign that read "Wet Floor," she probably would.  Even frustrated Denise didn't realize how intellectually-challenged her date was.  Her date cannot stay on topic during Thanksgiving dinner conversation and the way Dev highlights her cluelessness via an Instragram name is very funny.  It's then that the heterosexual mother probably realizes something I said to a straight friend of mine years ago:  "When it comes to love, we may be batting in different leagues. But we're all playing the same game."








Saturday, May 27, 2017

Goldie Hawn Beats Ferris Bueller

Man, how I would love to meet and interview Goldie Hawn.  Meet, interview and thank her, that is.  On Friday afternoon, heading into Memorial Day weekend, I was channel-surfing and found an old Goldie Hawn comedy just beginning on one of the HBO channels.  WILDCATS was a 1986 release starring Goldie Hawn as a divorced Chicago mother in need of employment who becomes the coach of a football team at an urban Chicago high school.  You all know what "urban" means.  Lots o' black folks.  I remember seeing this movie when it came out.  I had a date.  The audience loved WILDCATS.  It's not a highbrow film and didn't intend to be.  It's a light comedy that made the audience happy.  My date and I laughed and laughed some more over dinner afterwards.  He howled with laughter at the cheerleaders in WILDCATS.  So did I.  He brought the cheerleader scenes up over dinner.  Those memories came rushing been as I watched the movie Friday on HBO. I laughed again at the cheerleaders.  Goldie was cute and funny as the coach.  Cute, funny -- committed and strong.  WILDCATS deserves a second look today.  Look at how it differs from the widely popular Chicago-based teen comedies from John Hughes.  There's wisdom in WILDCATS.
In a teen football comedy, she gave us a story about leveling the playing field in areas of race, gender and even body image.  I wrote "she gave us" because Goldie Hawn was not just the star, she was also the executive producer of the movie.  Hawn plays Molly McGrath.  She's divorced.  She's got daughters.  Her ex-husband is quite the yuppie.  (Remember that 80s term?)  He's someone who represents and takes comfort in "white privilege."  He wants his daughters to transfer and enroll in an upscale, exclusive school.  Molly does not want her kids leading an "over-privileged" life.  As coach, she has to prove himself.  Watching it today, I noticed that a big deal was not made of her being white and the majority of the Wildcats football team is black.  The friction is from the team is gender-based.  Sexist.  And that friction is matched by the macho shithead coach of the rival team.  He says to Molly, "You're a laughingstock.  You're the joke of Chicago and you don't even know it."  However, in his case, he's not just referring to her.  He means her predominantly black team too.
The polite concern from her ex-husband is yuppie racism.  He's concerned because she's works in the "inner city" and his daughters may be exposed to that environment.  Molly may not have noticed the subtle racism during the marriage but she sees it now.  She works hard, digs in and challenges the tough-talking teen dudes on their sports sexism.  They come to respect her as their coach.
The guys on the team are a cast of characters.  Of course.  That's to be expected in a comedy like this.  Molly is not exactly street smart.  However, she shows no fear about driving alone to a predominantly black neighborhood to find a student.  The team finally wins a game.  She throws a victory party at her house.  There are the black, Hispanic and white football players...and their dates...in her house interacting with her kids.  Also, you didn't just see that racial diversity on the school's football field.  You see it in the classrooms.  The smart, respected and open-minded principal of the high school is played by a black performer -- comedian/actor Nipsey Russell.
Compare that to the John Hughes high school teen comedies of the 1980s also set in the Chicago area.  Can you think of African-American lead or top supporting characters in a John Hughes teen comedy set in high school?  Think about 1984's SIXTEEN CANDLES with Molly Ringwald.  In a way, director/writer John Hughes was to Molly Ringwald what Vincente Minnelli was to Judy Garland.  He seemed to distill the young lady's onscreen essence and got the best out of her.  He elevated her stardom.

The only ethnic student in that movie is the Asian kid with the cringe-inducing name "Long Duk Dong." Gedde Watanabe, a good actor, had a role that was basically an ethnic joke.

1985's box office success, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, gave us high school teen angst. But no black kids in that cast of Illinois teen characters.
Then there's the 1986 hit, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.  Reportedly, Hughes wanted this teen comedy to be his love letter to Chicago.  Again, no lead or supporting roles for young African-American actors.
I spent a lot of time in Chicago, especially during the 1980s.  I was there for work, auditions and leisure activities.  The John Hughes teen comedies were entertaining, but they sure didn't reflect the Chicago area that I knew -- or the Chicago we saw in the weekday audiences of Oprah Winfrey's daytime show with studios in Chicago.

Even in today's age of "Oscars So White" and Hollywood's obvious need to step up its diversity and inclusion game, WILDCATS feel fresh in its details.  There's one big, portly African-American student who's a bookworm.  He loves science yet he's also hip.  His name is Finch.  Compare Finch to Long Duk Dong in SIXTEEN CANDLES.  Finch is smart and hefty.  Before the film ends, he'll suit up for football action.  Finch likes to make money.  Here is a black Chicago high school student who has photos of three famous people in his locker -- Marvin Gaye,  Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca and Albert Einstein.  That visual gave my heart wings when I saw it.  An inner city black kid with those three photos in his locker.  And his character is not presented as a "dork" or a "geek."  He does well in the classroom.  The players see him not as "the fat guy," but as a possible asset to the team.

There's a full-figure African-American female student.  In a mean girls teen comedy made 20 years later, a girl built like that would've been ridiculed by bitchy slim girls.  But in WILDCATS, she's the cute girl.  She's the romantic interest of one of the Wildcats.

There's a nice soul to WILDCATS.  The diversity is not all spelled out.  You're given credit for having the brains to see it for yourself.  I loved how, as the seasons progresses, the bleachers go from a having a handful of fans to being filled with spectators both black and white.

And the cheerleaders are an absolute hoot!  It's a small cheerleader squad, but those girls can git down!

There were new actors playing Wildcats.  Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Mykelti Williamson (later of FORREST GUMP and FENCES) were on Coach Molly's team.
Coach Molly stands up for her team and for  her motherhood.  She goes to court to keep custody of her kids.  She's determined to be a strong example for her daughters.  And there's no romantic interest for her as a single mother in this film.  She's independent and never whines about being lonely.

WILDCATS made me laugh again all these years later.  I appreciated the race/gender diversity and inclusion more now than I did back in 1986.  It's still relevant.  I'll take the Wildcats over Ferris Bueller any day.












Friday, May 26, 2017

Robert Mitchum, Remarkable Actor

A virginal woman.  A man who's had a hard knock life.  Both are surrounded by a enormous mass of water.  In that water approaches an evil World War enemy.  The man and woman will bond.  Director John Huston gave us those elements in 1951's THE AFRICAN QUEEN starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.  Both stars were nominated for Oscars.  Bogart won for Best Actor, the second of his three career Oscar nominations.  Huston also gave us those elements in a film that doesn't get any mention when folks discuss the John Huston film canon, but one I recommend.  Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr star in John Huston's 1957 action drama called HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON.
Just like THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, this is a film that shows how remarkable an actor Robert Mitchum was and leaves you stunned that he received only one Oscar nomination in his long, impressive film career.  That was Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination early in his movie career for 1945's STORY OF G.I. JOE.  Like that film, HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON is a story set during World War 2. Mitchum plays a Marine survivor at sea who lands on an island in the Pacific.  Deborah Kerr plays a nun, the lone survivor on that island when he arrives.
I'd seen this movie before on TV but I had not seen it in a few years.  I saw this it's one Netflix and I watched the CinemaScope, DeLuxe color, 20th Century Fox production over the weekend.  Wow.  Mitchum was a very popular movie star but, man, was he one under-rated actor!  He and Deborah Kerr as so good together, so natural in their fully committed performances that there are moments when it seems the scenes were spontaneous, like they're not acting at all.  He's at his movie star peak in this film.  He's great to look at.  That man is one prime hunk o' beefcake in HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON.  And Mitchum was cool without trying to be cool.  It was just part of his being.  Like breathing.  I think that we moviegoers were often so caught up in his coolness that we didn't really see his expert acting.  His skills were so fine that they were almost subliminal.
When the Marine is marooned on that Pacific island, the first thing he sees is a crucifix.  One is at the head of a grave.  Another is at the top of a small chapel.  A third is worn by Sister Angela.  He's not a religious man but he respects hers.   Keep in mind the story takes place at a time when Irish Catholics had been treated like second-class citizens in America.  They must keep in hiding because the Japanese will invade the island.  Sister Angela has not yet taken her final vows.  As they survive on the island, she will learn from him and see for herself that war is hell.  From her, he will learn about virtue and faith.  Even though he's survived and will again be surrounded by the evil enemy in wartime, with Sister Angela he will find a peace in his heart that he's rarely known.  She will learn that she could have love and happiness and still be devoted to her Catholic faith if she chooses not to take her final vows.  The slight but noticeable breeze of mature sexuality in HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON is very subtle and very well-played.
 Did you see Audrey Hepburn in ROMAN HOLIDAY?  Remember the press conference that the young princess holds near the end of the story?  A journalists asks a question and she sincerely answers, "I have every faith in it...as I have faith in relations between people."  Well, HEAVENS KNOWS, MR. ALLISON is about that very kind of faith.

Huston's film brought Deborah Kerr one of her several Oscar nominations for Best Actress.  He and co-writer John Lee Mahin (RED DUST, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, BOOM TOWN, QUO VADIS) were Oscar nominees for the screenplay.

Mitchum's character calls himself "a big, dumb guy" who is "Marine through and through."  Listen to him.  He sounds different than he did in the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST, in HIS KIND OF WOMAN with Jane Russell, as the psychotic killer preacher in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, as the Australian sheepherder family in THE SUNDOWNERS with Deborah Kerr or as the billionaire playboy in the satirical comedy WHAT A WAY TO GO! with Shirley MacLaine.

After I graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, I stayed there instead of going back home to L.A. to find broadcast work.  I find it there soon after graduation.  I lived and worked in Milwaukee for ten years.  The Marine is a man who grew up in Milwaukee.  As a baby, he was left at a Milwaukee orphanage.
As soon as his character revealed that, I went "Wow.  Mitchum was great."  Robert Mitchum does an accent I heard for years especially from Southside Milwaukeeans when I lived in that city.  It's an actor's detail I never saw or heard mentioned in reviews, but it's there.

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON was good Saturday night entertainment.  If you're a Robert Mitchum fan and you've never seen this one, check it out on Netflix.  His talent deserves re-appreciation.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hey, TCM, Bring In Some Black Folks

As I did when I wrote about same thing months ago, I must tell you that I've been a devoted TCM viewer since 1999 in New York City.  Robert Osborne lived in New York City.  One of my favorite memories is when he talked to me for a few minutes about the 1954 remake of A STAR IS BORN, the film in which Judy Garland made a spectacular screen comeback.  I miss him.  Ben Mankiewicz has done a smooth job growing into the role of TCM's main host.
I'm thrilled to see Tiffany Vazquez host on weekends.  It was great seeing actress/author/historian Illeana Douglas do red carpets interviews for the TCM Film Festival.  I loved Ben's festival question about the racial relevance that 1967's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT still has.
When IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was released, there were no African-American film critics working for top newspapers.  There were no Black film critics on local or network news programs.  All these years later, there's still no Black film critic on a network news program.  When cable's AMC was American Movie Classics, it never hired an African-American host.  But it always saluted Black History Month.  You can probably tell where I'm going with this.  Let me use Judy Garland's screen comeback to make my point:  There were more Black people in the legendary Oscar race for Best Actress of 1954 than we see as guest hosts on TCM.  And we're just about halfway through 2017.  Judy Garland was the Oscar favorite for A STAR IS BORN.  In an upset that folks still talk about, the Best Actress Oscar went to Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.  Dorothy Dandridge made history as the first African-American woman to be nominated in the Best Actress Oscar category.
The other nominees were Audrey Hepburn for SABRINA and Jane Wyman for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION.  Dorothy Dandridge made Hollywood headlines with her nomination for 1954's CARMEN JONES. What a fine actress she was.  But race discrimination severely limited her Hollywood career after that groundbreaking, historic and well-deserved Oscar nomination.

Now...let's look at TCM.  This year's TCM Film Festival promo didn't have a shot of or a soundbite from a Black TCM fan attending the festival.  There was no Black correspondent on the TCM Film Festival red carpet in Hollywood for the special IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT anniversary screening, a screening which Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones attended.  There's no African-American tour guide in the TCM Location bus tour spots.  There's hasn't been a Black person sipping wine with Eddie Muller for the TCM Wine Club. Alec Baldwin is the new host for Saturday's TCM  The Essentials.  His first three guest co-hosts are David Letterman, Tina Fey and director William Friedkin.  Author Eddie Muller is a totally cool host for the new Noir Alley on Sunday mornings.  African-American actors were never the stars of film noir classic Hollywood films, so we're not seen in that promo.  February was completely devoted to Oscar-nominated films leading into the Oscars telecast on February 26th.  That replaced possible Black History Month programming.  There hasn't been an African-American Guest Programmer in quite some time.  In the colorful video open for Guest Programmer night, you see a montage of previous celebrity programmers.  A few seen are Michael J. Fox, Cher, Bill Hader and Conan O'Brien.  We don't see any of the Black programmers.  We don't see Diahann Carroll, Lou Gossett, Whoopi Goldberg or Spike Lee.

There are many Black film critics/classic film fans in New York City.  I know.  I've seen them and talk to them at screenings.  We all share the same frustration.  We get tapped to be on TV and talk about films for Black History Month, but we never get called to be on set the morning the Oscar nominations are announced.  We're not called in for "mainstream" stuff like talks about films by William Wyler, Vincente Minnelli, Billy Wilder or George Cukor.  And, for some reason, news producers don't think African-Americans watch foreign classics by masters such as Fellini, De Sica, Kurosawa, Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman.  For us Black film reviewers, interviewers and film hosts, breaking through to be included in the general film discussion is always a long, hard continuous effort.

If would be great to see representations of myself blended into the TCM host segments and interstitial spots surrounding its great movie fare.

If you're new to this blog post, here's a bit of my previous work, by way of introduction.  Here's a clip of my entertainment editor work for ABC News...
.....a couple of minutes from my exclusive VH1 interview of Paul McCartney in London....
....and a short reel of some of my other film-related interviews.





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.