Wednesday, February 28, 2018

An Alien Moment for Judge Reinhold

The 1980s turned out to be very good for him.  Although he became known as the self-gratification guy, you have to hand it to him that he delivered the comedy goods in the popular teen comedy film, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH.  Actor Judge Reinhold proved to be a good straight man for Eddie Murphy in the hit BEVERLY HILLS COP buddy movies and RUTHLESS PEOPLE, starring Bette Midler and Danny DeVito also made folks laugh and did pretty well at the box office.
I interviewed Judge Reinhold during a movie junket promoting one of the BEVERLY HILLS COP sequels.  He told me about an audition he had in Hollywood early in his career.  This was before the FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH success.                                                                             

This particular audition session was taking a long time with each actor who went in to test for the casting people.  The session was running long, there were several actors waiting to audition and Judge Reinhold was at the end of the line.  He was the last actor seated to go in and audition.

The second to last actor -- the one before Judge --- went in for his audition.  Judge said that he kept hearing these shrieks of laughter coming from the other side of the closed door in the audition room.  And the session seemed to go on for a while considering that the audition copy did not have pages and pages of dialogue.

The door opened.  He could still hear laughter coming from the audition room.  Judge was the last person scheduled to audition.

And he had to follow an unknown comic actor named Robin Williams to audition for the role of an outer space visitor named Mork who would appear in an episode of the hit ABC sitcom, HAPPY DAYS.
That episode aired February 28, 1978.  The rest is sitcom history.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Heaven Bless Film Director Ryan Coogler

FRUITVAIL STATION.  Ryan Coogler directed that independent film, based on a true life story, and his production was hailed at the Cannes Film Festival.  I saw it at a movie theater in San Francisco.  The story takes place in the Bay Area and the title comes from the name of a mass transit stop where a young, unarmed black man was unjustly shot by police.  The killing of 22-year old Oscar Grant was major news in San Francisco.  Protests followed.  Actor Michael B. Jordan was powerful and touching as Oscar Grant.
In addition to the high praise and enthusiasm for the film, the cast and the director at the Cannes Film Festival, critics here in America also raved about the film.  I saw it at the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco.  A few minutes before the feature started, about five young and giggling young white women came in and sat two rows in front of me.  I thought, "Oh, Lord. This ain't a SEX AND THE CITY sequel. It's a serious film about a young black man's life and senseless death."  I should not have been so judgmental.  As the movie was ending, I had something in common with those young white ladies two rows in front of me -- we were all sniffling and crying.
I've mentioned this on my podcast and here in blog posts:  Octavia Spencer, who had won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for THE HELP, should have received her second Oscar nomination for playing Oscar Grant's mother in FRUITVALE STATION.  And another thing I've mentioned in my podcast with my friend Keith Price -- since the Academy has returned to allowing 10 films to be nominated for Best Picture, it should give us 10 films.  Ever since that rule went back into effect a few years ago (most of us grew up with the 5-Best Picture nominee rule), we have never gotten 10 films.  This year, we have 9 Best Picture nominees.  MUDBOUND by Dee Rees should be the 10th.  FRUITVALE STATION should have been a Best Picture nominee.  I felt that its exclusion, the fact that it was one of the best films of 2013 yet received not one single Oscar nomination, gave fuel to the "Oscars So White" hashtag.  And I don't feel that those two films I mentioned should've been Best Picture nominees simply because they were directed by African American filmmakers. Two smart horror thrillers, Ana Lily Amipour's A GIRL WALK HOMES ALONE AT NIGHT (2014) and Jennifer Kent's THE BABDOOK (2014), Cary Fukunaga's JANE EYRE (2011) and Fukunaga's BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) were also solid films that deserved to be in Best Picture nomination category, but weren't.  You should see FRUITVALE STATION.
Ryan Coogler's BLACK PANTHER starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett plus Oscar winners Lupita Nyong'o and Forest Whitaker opens soon.  I am so excited to see this action/adventure from the Marvel Comics universe.  A black director and a predominantly black cast in a big budget Hollywood studio release.  This is not typical for Hollywood.  Not typical abd extremely refreshing.  It's about damn time.  To put this in film history perspective, remember IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger?  Norman Jewison directed that race drama/murder mystery.  It won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1967.

But...despite that Oscar win...Jewison could not find a studio to back him financially when he wanted to make 1984's A SOLDIER'S STORY.  Why?  Because it had a predominantly black cast and a script by a black writer.  Charles Fuller wrote the screenplay based on his stage play.
The play won Fuller a Pulitzer Prize.  But Hollywood studios didn't feel that stories about black life with a predominantly black cast were marketable.  Jewison offered to work for way less money than he usually did.  Jewison followed IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT with THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.  He believed in A SOLDIER'S STORY and eventually he got it made.  The film version brought Fuller an Oscar nomination for his screenplay and the film itself was a nominee for Best Picture of 1984.  Howard Rollins, Adolph Caesar, David Alan Grier, Robert Townsend and screen newcomer Denzel Washington starred in Jewison's film.
As far as marketability, ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA stepped up to the plate for BLACK PANTHER.  Marvel Comics is under the Disney umbrella and Disney is ABC's parent company.  Every day this week, Robin Roberts and the GMA team welcome members of the BLACK PANTHER cast during the second hour of the show.  You may say, "Heck, that's the way it should be.  They should promote a production from the same parent company studio."  Things aren't always the way they should be in film and TV equality.

The critically acclaimed STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, a film many critics felt should've been a Best Picture Oscar nominee, was #1 at the box office for three consecutive weekends.  That was surely a first for an African American director.  The director was F. Gary Gray and the hit biopic was a Universal Studios release.  TODAY, the network morning show on NBC/Universal, gave no promotion to STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON even though Matt Lauer (with the show back then) is seen several times in the movie.  TODAY gave attention to Universal's other 2015 releases -- TRAINWRECK, JURASSIC WORLD and MINIONS.  TODAY pretty much ignored STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.  I am so full of gratitude to see each BLACK PANTHER guest segment this week on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  Representation matters.
Hollywood responds to money.  Let's see how Ryan Coogler's action/adventure starring a predominantly black cast in a film that shows a culturally rich and advanced Africa does at the box office.  Wow.  Positive images of black people and positive images of a continent that Trump, just a few weeks ago, reportedly referred to as a "shit-hole country."  Ryan Coogler's BLACK PANTHER could not be more perfectly timed. We are so proud of him.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Happy Birthday, Franco Zeffirelli

A suave Italian filmmaker.  A rich visual style seems to have been a trademark of his work.  That an often unconventional casting.  For all her years of stardom, Hollywood never paired Elizabeth Taylor with The Bard.  But, under Franco Zeffirelli's direction, Elizabeth Taylor tackled some Shakespeare with her then-husband, Richard Burton.  He was a pro at playing Shakespeare onstage.  During their internationally famous marriage, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had a go at Shakespeare in Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 film, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Mel Gibson put down his LETHAL WEAPON to put on medieval attire and play HAMLET for Zeffirelli in a 1990 film co-starring Glenn Close.
The filmmaker also gave us the 1979 remake of the MGM classic, THE CHAMP.  His version starred Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and a very young Ricky Schroeder taking on a kid role made famous by Jackie Cooper.
That was followed by the very popular tale of teen romance, 1981's ENDLESS LOVE starring former child model-turned-very good actress Brooke Shields.
Franco Zeffirelli really hit the box office jackpot with his 1968 adaptation of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET.  These were the caped characters that young moviegoers were paying to see back then.  Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey played the star-crossed teen lovers.  Zeffirelli's film was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1968.

Even the film's soundtrack was a hit.
Music legend Paul McCartney told me about another idea for unconventional casting that director Franco Zeffirelli had.
And there you have it.  Some Beatles trivia blended into birthday greetings for Franco Zeffirelli.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Frances McDormand is Mildred Fierce

The name of the revenge and guilt drama is THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  Frances McDormand, who's been one of my favorite actors since the 1980s, had the lead role/  She gets it in her teeth like a hungry terrier who just dashed onto a piece of roast beef that you dropped off the dinner table.Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, one of the toughest mothers we've seen onscreen in quite some time.  She will cuss you out or kick you in the crotch in a heartbeat.  Her anger is understandable.  Her daughter was raped and murdered.  Seven months later, there's been no progress in the investigation to catch the criminal.  She buys ad space on three billboards in a row on a town highway and her messages blame the ineffectual police department.  It seems to be an open secret within the local police force that Officer Jason Dixon, played terrifically by Sam Rockwell, is a racist.  He may seem like he's reforming because he's saying terms like "African Americans" instead of using the N-word, but the townsfolk and fellow cops know what the real deal is.  Mildred gets harassed by men in town when her billboards make local headlines, but Mildred fights back.  She's in vigilante mode.
This movie was in limited release at the same allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Harvey Weinstein plus noted network broadcasters started to explode across the news landscape.  Personally, I wondered if any of the women speaking up had ever given Weinstein a swift kneecap to the balls the way Frances would have.  She had a forceful, effective way of making a man realize that "No means No."
Did you see THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI?  I know they are two different kids of stories but in the arena of a woman challenging a male force that's breaking the law and there's been a death, I feel that Spielberg's THE POST has a smoother screenplay.  Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, publisher of THE WASHINGTON POST newspaper at a time when President Nixon is violating the Constitution and his harassing the free press while young American men die in the Vietnam War, a war the U.S. can't win.  Spielberg's THE POST is based on a true story.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI has the look, feel and tone of Coen Brothers movie -- and it stars an actress who is married to one of the Coen Brothers.  But it's not a Coen Brothers movie. It was written and directed by British Martin McDonagh.
I won't tell you anything more about the movie.  I saw it first and foremost because it stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.  They deserved the Oscar nominations that they got for it.  However, I did wonder if the story would have had a more sharpness and sting had the Mildred been played by a black actress such as Alfre Woodward, Angela Bassett or Taraji P. Henson.  Also, some moviegoers have had a problem with the racist police offer played by Sam Rockwell.  I can see why.  He seemed to be redeemed and likeable halfway through the story.  But is he really?  Think about that end of the movie, if you've seen it.  Here's a trailer. Be prepared for adult, blunt language.
I loved the performances, yet I was kind of cold on the movie.  I kept thinking of the Coen Brothers, whose work may have heavily influenced the director, and something a neighbor said to me years ago when we were in our local video store looking for DVDs to rent.  The store had a Preston Sturges classic playing on the in-store TV.  My neighbor, who is not in the entertainment business, and I started chatting about the old movie -- SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS.  I casually remarked how you can see the Preston Sturges influence on the Coen Brothers in their films THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and especially in O BROTHER, WHERE ARE THOU?, a film that takes its title from something important in 1941's SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS.

My neighbor replied, "Yeah, the only difference is...the Coen Brothers don't like people."  He added that Preston Sturges loved people and that comes through in his classics.  I've come to agree with that neighbor of mine.  The Coen Brothers make good movies but there's a chilliness to them.  I felt that kind of chilliness in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  Chilliness and plot holes.  The ferocious, brass ovaries performance of Frances McDormand is the fire that holds our attention.  Rockwell, one of the best actors on the indie film scene, has been long overdue an Oscar nomination.  He's delivered some solid, versatile performances for years.  Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson and Peter Dinklage co-star.

Let me know what you thought of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Our Oscar History, Black History and THE POST podcast

The countdown to the Oscars® telecast and Black History Month co-exist in the month of February.  Comedian/actor and Broadway devotee, Keith Price, and I have been talking about Oscar history and Black History on our podcast.  We would love for you to hear the current episode.  We give you Hollywood Oscar history from Hattie McDaniel's groundbreaking Best Supporting Actress Academy Award win for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND to current nominations for MUDBOUND, a terrific film directed and by co-written by Dee Rees.
Singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige is a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her memorable performance as the Mississippi Delta wife and mother who deals with racism in her community while her son fights for democracy overseas in World War II.  Rees (right) directed a film that should be in the Best Picture nominee category.
Another famous singer, a recording and Broadway star whose artistry gets a major chapter in Ken Burns' highly acclaimed JAZZ documentary, made Oscar history. She was Ethel Waters.  I tell Keith how she made that history.
I also tell Keith about some Hollywood history involving British actress Flora Robson.  She played Queen Elizabeth in 1940's THE SEA HAWK.
 She played one of the five convent nuns in 1947's classic, BLACK NARCISSUS.
In between those two films, Warner Bros. felt she'd be the perfect choice to play a black Haitian maid to Ingrid Bergman's lead character in the romantic drama, SARATOGA TRUNK.  I kid you not.
Ingrid Bergman had a special moment with African American actor James Baskett.  He's in the middle.  She's on the right of the photo.
Mr. Baskett played Uncle Remus in Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946) and introduced the Best Song Oscar winner, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

The score to that Disney film contained another song.  "Sooner or Later" was introduced by Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel who played the plantation cook friend to Uncle Remus.  Hattie sang it first.  Popular recording stars of the day followed.  Here's the song covered by Doris Day.

I paid to see Steven Spielberg's THE POST and I would pay to see it again in a heartbeat.  Wow.  What a fine film starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.  President Nixon was disrespecting the Constitution while young American men were dying in the Vietnam War, a war we couldn't win but that information was being covered up until The Washington Post really went to work and got its hands on The Pentagon Papers.  This is an important movie -- especially nowadays -- and I explain why in the podcast.  Here's a trailer.
I also disagree with a comment filmmaker Oliver Stone made about THE POST.

Please give us a listen.  Our Oscar History, Black History and appreciation for Meryl & Tom podcast is currently up at www.MOCHAA.podomatic.com.


Friday, February 9, 2018

Five Inches of Matt Damon

At the local movie theaters, this Matt Damon movie seem to come and go pretty quickly.  And for good reason.  DOWNSIZING is the name of the sci-fi social satire.  We baby boomers grew up watching cool 1950s sci-fi movies about humans who were shrunk.  Movies like ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE with a mad scientist shrinking people to miniature size and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN about a guy who gets really small because he was exposed to radiation in that Atomic Age.  Those movies ran close to 90 minutes.  The same should've applied to DOWNSIZING.  It runs 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Sometimes, it feels longer.  In DOWNSIZING, people volunteer to be shrunk in order to help the world with its overpopulation crisis.  A scientific team in Norway has figured out how to downsize people to five inches in height.  Smaller people produce less waste and take up less space.  After they're reduced, they're relocated to attractive, clean and somewhat bland suburban communities with all the amenities.  The new communities have been built to accommodate newly-downsized people.  Damon plays the rather dorky middle-aged guy who really wants to contribute to society.  He and the wife apply to be downsized.  But, after he's shrunk, he realizes how self-absorbed and materialistic his wife truly is.  At the last minute, and without telling him, she changed her mind about going through the procedure.  So now we've got five inches of a Matt Damon character moping his way through a new life as an estranged husband.
The movie starts out with a message that less is more in order to cure a stressed out life.  Then it switches over to "be kind."  In the 1950s movies, we got to the shrinkage pretty quickly.  In DOWNSIZING, we're a half hour into the movie and still seeing Damon undergo shrinkage and relocation.  The movie really wakes up and comes to life with the appearance of actress Hong Chau as a downsized Vietnamese dissident.
The dissident/activist is an amputee and has only one leg.  Nevertheless, she is focused and forthcoming in her mission to help others.  That's the passion of the fast-talking, fast-thinking woman who shakes up the small life of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon).
Hong Chau got a nomination for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award.  She didn't get an Oscar nomination in January for Best Supporting Actress  -- and she was good enough to be.  Her performance is the highlight of the film.  She is the opposite of his wife.  With her, his broken small heart grows again.
The film was written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.  They've given us fine screenplays such as 1999's ELECTION with Reese Witherspoon, ABOUT SCHMIDT starring Jack Nicholson and SIDEWAYS with Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen.  Those were better, more streamlined screenplays.

In this, the Vietnamese activist has a benevolent fire that you just can't ignore. She has experienced the horrors of war.  I won't give away the ending.  However, in a peak moment of love realized, a scene that called for a tender and memorable romantic monologue, we got a monologue that was peppered with the F-word.  To me, that robbed a romantic scene of a more impact. All those F-bombs weren't necessary.  Here's a trailer.
With her one-leg and and her intense mission to be kind, Hong Chau's character is like a modern-day High Lama from Frank Capra's 1937 film, LOST HORIZON.  Now, I am eager to see what Hollywood does with the talent of Asian American actress, Hong Chau. Her parents are Vietnamese.  Reportedly, she grew up in New Orleans and attended Boston University.  She was on the HBO series, TREME.

The only East Asian-American actress I can think of who won an Oscar was Miyoshi Umeki.  She won Best Supporting Actress for 1957's drama SAYONARA starring Marlon Brando and James Garner.  Umeki starred on Broadway in the original cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical comedy, FLOWER DRUM SONG.  She repeated her musical starring role in the film version.  Hollywood didn't seem to offer the Japanese-American actress many challenging, varied roles after she won her Oscar.  Like Black and Latina Oscar nominees/winners, she went to TV and found a big audience.  Miyoshi Umeki co-starred on the hit ABC sitcom, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER from 1969 to 1972.

Hollywood needs to give Hong Chau more good characters to play. The "Oscars So White" hashtag is not just for us black performers, it's to get more opportunities to other people of color too. DOWNSIZING, a half-hour too long but held up by the magnetic performance of Hong Chau.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

BLACK PANTHER with Robin Roberts, Get TIME

Actors from the critically praised upcoming Marvel Comics action/adventure feature, BLACK PANTHER, will be guests on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA anchored by Robin Roberts.  The Marvel Comics characters, like the STAR WARS franchise, are under the Disney corporate umbrella. Disney is ABC's parent company.  I will be watching.  This will be significant and not just because the film is poised to be a box office blockbuster.  Not long after the President reportedly called Africa a "s**thole" country, we're getting a big budgeted film that celebrates the culture of Africa and its people.  In an industry in which Hollywood has pulled the rug right out from under people of color with its attitude that African American stories and talent aren't marketable so why promote them or sign them on as agency clients, we get a Hollywood movie with a predominantly black cast that was helmed by Ryan Coogler, a black director.  How I wish there were black film critics on TV to talk about this thrilling achievement but...let's face it...for decades the film critics we've seen regularly on network morning shows, syndicated entertainment news show and in syndicated film review show duos has been a predominant white boys club.  On TV, as I've written before, the field of film critics has lacked in race and gender diversity.  Films are my passion.  For two consecutive years when Oscar nominations were announced live on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, I felt irked that major African American achievements were overlooked by the white entertainment reporters in place to talk about the Oscar nominees.  Recently, on the internet, veteran film critic Rex Reed irritated Latino readers with sort of a "they all look alike" vibe in his review of THE SHAPE OF WATER.  He got Mexican director Guillermo del Toro confused with Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro.  He described the cleaning woman with a Latino surname as being "retarded."  She was not mentally handicapped.  She was mute.  And he hated the movie, a sci-fi horror thriller that's an allegory on racism.  Reed didn't care that the black people in GET OUT were really robots, as he said recently when profiled on CBS SUNDAY.  Well, they weren't. And he hated the movie, a psychological horror thriller about racism in liberal America.  This week, he got major things wrong in his review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  However, he still has a job and a generous income whereas black film critics can't even get TV face time -- unless segment producers want to be politically correct and invite them on to discuss films worth seeing for Black History Month.  With that in mind, you must read the current issue of TIME. The cover story, "A Hero Rises," is about BLACK PANTHER.  Buy it, borrow it, look it up online.  The first four paragraphs alone are required reading.  Thank you for this writing, Jamil Smith!
Here's an excerpt:  "Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other areas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted.  Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us...."
In the late 1980s, when cable was in its infancy, I was the first black person to get his own primetime weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1.  My bosses were ecstatic at the rave review I got in a Sunday edition of THE NEW YORK TIMES, a review that included my photo on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section.  I'm proud to report that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Diane Sawyer complimented me on my talk show work.  So did Lucille Ball.  She not only complimented me over the phone while I was on location in L.A., she invited me to her home for cocktails.  Yes.  I went!

The 1990s were a steady stream of rejection from broadcast agents who said, "I wouldn't know what to do with you" and network producers asking if I even knew anything about films when I sought auditions for film reviewer/entertainment contributor spots.  This was, I always learned, because they never, ever took time to watch my demo reel or read my resume before I showed up.  I could never get an audition for CBS Sunday.  An ABC News producer thought I was just "a funny man-on-the-street local news guy."  I pushed for an audition and booked a weekly film critic spot on Lifetime TV for ABC News in 2000.
I had to prove again in 2006 that I had film knowledge when I was contacted to be the film reviewer/entertainment contributor on Whoopi Goldberg's syndicated weekday morning radio show. (Whoopi had been a guest on my VH1 talk show and pushed for executive to see me.)  I grew up in South Central L.A. and graduated from a high school in Watts.  A predominantly black and Mexican-American high school.  We took field trips to Hollywood for fine arts education.  We black and brown Catholic high school guys got on buses to movies such as A MAN FOR ALL SEASON, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD and ROMEO AND JULIET.  That served me well in the workplace -- especially when VH1 flew me to London to interview Paul McCartney.
For me, pushing to integrate the TV field of film critics was not just to review movies but to show that people of color also care about the art of films -- new and classic.  I wanted to bring our voice into that arts conversation and help keep our history vibrant and accurate.  Here's a short piece I posted in the fall of 2016.
 In January 2017,  when the Oscar nominations were announced on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, entertainment reporters Jess Cagle and Chris Connelly mentioned Meryl Streep's 20th Oscar nomination and totally missed the fact that Viola Davis had just made Hollywood history.  Her nomination for FENCES, her 3rd Oscar nomination, made her the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history.  Viola is also a TV star -- on a hit prime time series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, that airs on ABC.  Just like GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  For 20 years, Whoopi Goldberg had been the most Oscar-nominated black woman in Hollywood history with 2 nominations.  She's also on ABC.  In daytime on THE VIEW.  Cagle and Connelly missed those African America milestones while there was an "Oscars So White" controversy in entertainment headlines.  A black entertainment reporter voice in that segment would've been nice.  Viola won the Oscar for FENCES.

This year when the Oscar nominations were announced, Cagle and Connelly totally missed that Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis's co-star from THE HELP, tied with Viola in Oscar nominations.  They have three each.  They also missed that, with Mary J. Blige being a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her rich dramatic performance in Dee Rees' remarkable MUDBOUND, that makes Dee Rees the first African American woman to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination.

I ain't lyin'.  I've been seeking steady work for six years now. I'd have given anything to be in those Oscar segments on GMA.

The point is the playing field has not been level.  And, in the arts -- whether making them or talking about them -- it should be.  Look for stars of BLACK PANTHER next week on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

On Wednesday in Hollywood, Rob Reiner received the Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice from...the African American Film Critics Association.  Acting awards went to Frances McDormand for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, Daniel Kaluuya for GET OUT, Tiffany Haddish for GIRLS TRIP and Laurence Fishburne for LAST FLAG FLYING.  Did you hear about that on the news?  Did you know there was an African American Film Critics Association?  There you have it.  Thanks for your attention.  And check out that cover story in TIME Magazine about the revolutionary power of BLACK PANTHER.  Representation matters.  www.TIME.com.





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On PHANTOM THREAD

London. The 1950s. Any upper class women could surely make some of her society girlfriends green with envy by revealing, "I'm being fitted for a Woodcock."  Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer/director who gave us the generously endowed Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS now gives us Reynolds Woodcock.  Reynolds Woodcock is an artist, an exclusive dress designer.  He's devoted to and obsessed with his work in the House of Reynolds.  Daniel Day-Lewis, owner of three Oscars for Best Actor, received another Best Actor Oscar nomination thanks to his rich performance as the suave designer who is in demand yet can emotionally exhaust people in his immediate realm with his meticulous nature.  Daniel Day-Lewis has said that he's retiring.  If so, he leaves on a high point.
His performance is brilliant. The wise bird look in Reynolds' eyes.  The cultured tone of his voice. The way he carries occasional tension in his shoulders. The elegant way his tasteful clothes fall on him when he fully relaxes and lets his frame be fluid.  This is the same actor who played the most abusive, coarse and morally bankrupt tycoon Southern California fathers since Noah Cross in CHINATOWN.  That was in Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD, a film that brought Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar.  This new one could have had the alternate title THERE WILL BE BLOOD SAUSAGES.  When Reynolds in a romantic and breezy mood, he has a hearty appetite.  I loved watching the relaxed Reynolds order a big breakfast.
The movie hooked me from the opening scene.  We are presented with a rich visual elegance that was commonplace in Old Hollywood films.  It was not unusual to see someone like Cary Grant dress with the kind of elan that Reynolds does in movies of yore.  But, in these modern times, we see a lot of capes and tights for superheroes and casual attire for everyone else.  Reynolds is a magnetic figure.  We see him in his element, holding court.  Our ears are gifted with a sweet jazz rendition of "My Foolish Heart."  Lyrics from that 1940s standard:

"There's a line between love and fascination
That's hard to see, on an evening such as this,
For they both give the very same sensation,
When you're lost in the magic of a kiss..."

When don't hear the lyrics sung on PHANTOM THREAD but they apply to Reynolds.  He becomes enchanted with a young, rather awkward waitress.  He's grown bored with his current girlfriend, as she sadly detects during his fastidious mood during breakfast.  He writes down ideas during breakfast. Simply offering him the wrong kind of pastries can set off his monstrous temper.  This is the self-absorbed and unpredictable side of talents that can make them unbearable.  The one who can always bear with him is his glacially elegant sister.  She will handle the chore of informing the girlfriend that her services are no longer required -- and she will give her a Reynolds Woodcock original as a parting gift. Alma the waitress now fascinates Reynolds. She will move into his heart and his house.  She may seem awkward and unsophisticated. But she is spirited, independent and has a high regard for his art.  The final point is what draws him to her.  Alma becomes his design muse and an employee.  In time, Alma will be his assertive and well-dressed wife.  However, her breakfast table manners put her in the same league as Jeannie Berlin in Elaine May's 1972 comedy, THE HEARTBREAK KID.  She's a noisy eater. This cracks Reynolds' neurotic morning serenity ritual like a New York City jackhammer.  The honeymoon is over.
PHANTOM THREAD has Alfred Hitchcock like touches in its visuals.  One shot recalls the Norman Bates peephole scene in PSYCHO.  Some shots reminded me of DIAL M FOR MURDER.  Reynolds sister, fabulously played by Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Lesley Manville, is a bit like Judith Anderson as Danvers in REBECCA.  She can control the control freak.
PHANTOM THREAD also takes a Hitchcock-like turn.  Is Reynolds slowly being poisoned via breakfast and dinner items -- like Alicia Huberman with the coffee in NOTORIOUS?  The power of fashion designers to create and recreate -- the almost fetish-like behavior of creatures in the fashion world make for fascinating movies.  Look at FUNNY FACE with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire down to Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA with Meryl Streep and a popular reality TV show like PROJECT RUNWAY.  In that regard, PHANTOM THREAD is no exception.
The fashions are exquisite.  It's the food that brings Reynolds and Alma together, causes friction at the breakfast table and brings them together again later.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock is astonishing.  This is the same man who played an Irishman with severe cerebral palsy in MY LEFT FOOT (his first Oscar), starred as the deep-voiced and ruthless oil tycoon in THERE WILL BE BLOOD (his second Oscar) and then gave that extraordinary performance as a troubled president LINCOLN (his third Oscar). PHANTOM THREAD may get a little too fancy for average moviegoers, like the dress Reynolds makes for the plump and insecure Barbara Rose soon to enter into a loveless marriage, but stay with it for the top-rate performances. Especially the one from the master -- Daniel Day-Lewis.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Breakfast with Tiffany on TCM

On many Saturday mornings, I relaxed by having a late breakfast while watching Tiffany Vazquez bring in some welcomed Latinx representation as the new weekend host on Turner Classic Movies.  She was the first woman hired to host and the first Latina host. Man, how I loved seeing her represent!  As an African American, I grew up looking for images of myself and for images of people in my immediate community on TV and in films.  I still do.  Tiffany did such a smooth job as the weekend host.  I will miss her.
When Robert Osborne was host, I associated his presence with diversity.  When I first started watching TCM -- back in the late 90s -- the "coming up next" short bits in between movies in the morning featured a bit of Chet Baker singing "Look For The Silver Lining."  One of my favorite TCM station promos at that time showed a sweet-faced African American boy outside at night lying down and gazing up at the stars. As he looks up, we saw faces of famous Hollywood stars who were the stuff that dreams are made of.  Robert Osborne sat down with Charles Burnett for co-host duties.  The groundbreaking indie filmmaker received an honorary Oscar just a few months ago in Hollywood.  Robert Osborne had Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Guest Programmers.

But, when we started to see less of Mr. Osborne due to health issues, we also seemed to see less of an African American presence in TCM segments.  That was odd.  But noticeable. And I write this as a former network talk show host, film critic/entertainment reporter and freelance contributor to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY magazine.

Back in 2014, TCM devoted the month of October to Africa.  Films about and shot in Africa.  Films about African people.  The host?  Canadian Alex Trebek.  Don't get me wrong.  He's a terrific TV game show host.  But, honestly, I watched and thought to myself "Couldn't TCM get LeVar Burton, Don Cheadle, Lou Gossett, Leslie Uggams, Alfre Woodard or Delroy Lindo? You know...someone black?"

The last African American host I recall seeing was director Julie Dash.  Her brilliant 1991 film, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST has aired on TCM.  Julie Dash was a fabulous TCM guest host for December.  December 2016.  Since then, I've watched TCM and I feel like the new sheriff when he rode into town in BLAZING SADDLES.  I keep wondering where all the black folks are.

Up to and including January of this year, black talent has rarely been seen as a monthly Guest Programmer in the last couple of years.  There isn't even a black former Guest Programmer seen in the short video montage that precedes the segments.  We see Michael J. Fox, Cher, Conan O'Brien and Bill Hader. But no Diahann Carroll, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg or Lou Gossett, Jr.

Saturday host Alec Baldwin has not had an African American co-host for "The Essentials."  Sunday host Eddie Muller hasn't had any black folks sipping wine with him in any of his several TCM Wine Club promos.  No black TCM fan speaks in a TCM Backlot spot. Host Ben Mankiewicz was appropriately on the red carpet last April for the TCM Film Festival.  One of the highlights was a special 50th anniversary screening of the Oscar-winning murder mystery/race drama IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  Director Norman Jewison, composer Quincy Jones and stars Sidney Poitier and Lee Grant attended.  So did the 1967 Best Picture Oscar winner's producer Walter Mirisch.  Ben Mankiewicz asked about the enduring relevance of the film's look at race in America.  It was a great question because, 50 years later, "Black Lives Matter" was a major headline in the national news.
However, there was no black contributor on the red carpet for TCM who could've added even more insight.  No black contributor on a Hollywood red carpet for a screening of a Sidney Poitier classic in a time of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White."  Last month, Ben was the sole host for the prime time salute to African American filmmakers on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

I know that Ben Mankiewicz is a baseball fan.  If he went to ball games last summer and never saw a black player on the field, wouldn't he ask "What the heck is going on here -- in the 21st Century -- with no black players in the games?"?

This is why I was thrilled at the racial diversity and inclusion that Tiffany Vazquez brought to TCM with her presence and knowledge.
On January 27th, Tiffany Vazquez sent out a message on Twitter that TCM had not renewed her contract for another year.  The segments that day would be her last.  Hers was a gracious message, thanking TCM for the opportunity with a note of pride that Robert Osborne liked her.
Many of us viewers liked her too.  I wish all the very best to Tiffany Vazquez. Her departure now leaves TCM with a trio of men doing host duties. Ben Mankiewicz, Alec Baldwin and Eddie Muller.  TCM could now also stand for "Three Caucasian Males."

It was wonderful to see you, Tiffany Vazquez.  Representation matters.



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Giving You Some LOVE, SIMON

As if being a chubby Catholic bookworm wasn't enough.  I was too young to realize why I got a certain tingle when I saw Ben Cartwright and his three grown sons ride out of the Ponderosa with positive cowboy duties on BONANZA.  I thought it was just because I was BONANZA fan.
By the time I was seated in my first apartment for weekly episodes of MAGNUM, P.I. starring Tom Selleck....
 ....I had that same tingle -- and I knew full well what it was.

When I was a teen and realized that I was different, there was not the array of openly gay talents on TV in news and entertainment that we have now.  I felt alone.  I felt that, even though I had good manners, I was destined to live a life like some days in middle school.  I'd be the last one thought of to receive a little card on Valentine's Day but I'd be a top choice to stand inside the circle and be a target for a game of dodgeball.

And telling a black parent that you're gay ... Lord, help us.  When I came out to my mother, she felt that every Catholic saint she'd ever prayed to had let her down.  She moaned. She wailed.  I was in my 30s and thought "Seriously?  I'm paying the mortgage on her house and now... this."

Her voice drenched in disappointment, Mom said "Why did you decide to become gay?"  I replied, "Oh, I don't know.  I guess I wasn't getting enough drama just being black in America."
 
That was followed by her saying, "Don't you get fresh with me, young man!"  What family doesn't have its ups and downs?  I did not plan to shoot down her dreams of me heterosexually procreating and providing her with grandchildren.  Honest.  I didn't.

I went to the movies recently and saw a trailer for an upcoming new movie called LOVE, SIMON.  This trailer made me laugh.  Enjoy:

She Directed TALK TO ME

You know may not know her name but I'm sure millions of moviegoers remember her face.  Did you see 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? ...