Sunday, September 3, 2023

There's a Bayard Rustin Biopic.

 July 19, 2020. That's the date of my blog piece titled "We Need a Bayard Rustin Biopic." I'm old enough to recall seeing Bayard Rustin speak at the historic March on Washington in 1963. My parents watched as it was a live network news telecast on CBS. I was a little boy and watched with them. Bayard Rustin was a gifted singer, a Quaker, an intellect and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was Dr. King's top advisor and was called "the Architect of the March on Washington." 

In my July 2020 post, I wrote: "He was a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. The late Bayard Rustin was also an openly gay man. This is why his monumental contributions to the Civil Rights movement were unjustly overlooked and downplayed. Tell Hollywood that we are in major need of a well-done Bayard Rustin biopic."

Well, finally....finally we're getting one. It was directed by George C. Wolfe. The executive producers are Barack and Michelle Obama. RUSTIN opens in theaters come November and it will air on Netflix. Colman Domingo stars as Rustin. He is no stranger to big screen biopics. He has a key scene as a soldier talking to President Abraham Lincoln in the first ten minutes of Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN (2012) and he played activist Ralph Abernathy in Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King biopic, SELMA (2014). 

I've read a few reviews of RUSTIN written by respected, professional film critics and I'm thrilled that there is Best Actor Oscar buzz for Mr. Domingo's performance. We've seen hetero actors such as the William Hurt, Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal get Oscar nominations or win Oscars for playing gay men. In RUSTIN, we are graced with an openly gay Black actor portraying an openly gay Black historical figure. That's history too. Here's a trailer.

Following RUSTIN, Colman Domingo will also be seen in the film adaptation of Broadway's hit musical version of THE COLOR PURPLE.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Coming Attractions

 I'm currently living with a sweet relative in the Twin Cities area.  I truly, madly, deeply miss New York City. We live in a downtown civic center with tall business business buildings and I'm a short walk away from a deluxe hotel and a gorgeous library. However -- this area has no Chinese restaurant hat delivers, no good Mexican or Italian restaurant, the coffee shops are closed on weekends and there is no nearby movie theater. Again -- I truly, madly, deeply miss New York City.

One thing I loved about going to the movies was seeing the trailers of coming attractions. Here are some I found online.

Woody Allen has received rave reviews for his new film which is subtitled and in French. It's a drama called COUP de CHANCE.

I've been a Randall Park fan ever since 2011 when I lived in San Francisco and noticed him in national TV commercials. He's just got the gift -- acting talent and charisma. I loved him as the dad on the ABC sitcom, FRESH OFF THE BOAT.  He's wonderful in the fabulous Netflix romantic comedy, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE.  Randall Park now makes his directorial debut with SHORTCOMINGS, a story set in the Bay Area.

In the 70s and 80s, the newest Woody Allen film was always on the A-list of movies for New Yorkers to see. In the 90s, critics began to tire of the lack of minority representation in his films -- films that we set in the ethnically-diverse city of New York. With that in mind, compare Park's SHORTCOMINGS to Woody Allen's 2013 Oscar winner, BLUE JASMINE.  Cate Blanchett won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the New York socialite who flees to San Francisco when her privileged life starts to fall apart. Many scenes were shot in San Francisco. Some were shot near where I lived. I interacted with and/or was around Asian-American people every single day in San Francisco. BUT -- in Woody Allen's BLUE JASMINE -- not one Asian-American actor is seen in a role that has at least 5 lines or more. Randall Park could've played the role done by Louis C.K. John Cho or Daniel Dae Kim would've been perfect for the role played by Peter Sarsgaard. Ken Jeong could've played Jasmine's San Francisco dentist.

Helen Mirren deservedly won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in THE QUEEN (2006). Mirren plays another strong woman of historical note who had the world's attention. She's Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir in GOLDA.

It's out now and making a lot of money.  In fact, director/writer Greta Gerwig is the first female filmmaker whose film has grossed $1 billion globally. BARBIE, the comedy movie in the pink, has the iconic doll becoming human and experiencing an existential crisis.  Margot Robbie is getting Oscar buzz for her performance as Barbie and so is Ryan Gosling as the rather clueless Ken. If I lived near a cineplex, I would've seen it by now.  But I don't. For you -- here's a taste of Ken.

STRANGE WAY OF LIFE from that fabulous director, Pedro Almodovar, runs only 30 minutes. His short feature has been called an answer to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal are the stars. It opens soon.

Have fun at the movies, 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Rita Hayworth Was More Than Just GILDA

 GILDA, the 1946 drama from Columbia Pictures, was surely the film that made Hollywood star, Rita Hayworth, an international screen legend. I have been in awe of Rita Hayworth's talent ever since I was a pre-teen growing up in Los Angeles. Acting-wise, Hayworth was never mentioned in the same category with Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck. But, like Stanwyck, she could effortlessly go from comedy roles (in her case, musical comedy roles) to being a femme fatale in film noir thrillers such as Orson Welles' THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).

Welles had Hayworth dye her hir blonde for that role.

When I was a kid watching her old movies on television, this was back in the day before VHS tapes, DVD rentals, streaming and cable. I saw her movies on local stations. The night I saw her dance with Fred Astaire in YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH (1941) with an original score by Cole Porter, I felt like I was experiencing a joyful out-of-body experience.

Their 1942 musical comedy, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER, also thrilled me. They introduced the Jerome Kern & Jonny Mercer song, "I'm Old-Fashioned." Nan Wynn sang for Rita.

With her famous red hair getting the Technicolor treatment in the 1944 musical, COVER GIRL, she was once again fabulous as she danced with Gene Kelly.

Then came the glove strip number to "Put the Blame on Mame" in GILDA, a noir love story. (Rita's singing voice was usually dubbed in her musicals. Anita Ellis did Rita's vocals in GILDA.)

In later years, Rita Hayworth showed her sensitive dramatic skills in MEET SADIE THOMPSON (1953), SEPARATE TABLES (1958) and the murder trial courtroom film, THE STORY ON PAGE ONE (1959). In that courtroom drama, she had scenes opposite famed acting teacher Sanford Meisner and was directed by Clifford Odets. I've long felt that Rita Hayworth deserves more appreciation for her acting. She was really quite good and versatile. 

I love Rita Hayworth's film work. I've mentioned it in my decades of entertainment reporter on radio and national TV -- work that started in the 1970s.  This week on Twitter, I tweeted that Hayworth may not have been in a league with Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn (acting-wise), but she was a good, sincere and talented actress -- as she displayed in GILDA. GILDA was airing on TCM at the time.

This post is for all those who are tweeting me the information that she was also a dancer.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Some Essential Sinatra.

One of the most thrilling moments of my life occurred in Chicago in the 70s. On Saturday mornings, when I had recently graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and living in a campus area apartment, I would listen to the Roy Leonard Show on WGN out of Chicago. One morning, Roy had a movie trivia contest. I called in -- and I won! I won two tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert in Chicago. That was fantastic but it got even better when my date and I arrived at the theater. We were smack dab in the front row, a few feet away from the stage.

Sinatra, radiating charisma, was in terrific voice with a full orchestra behind him. I was in Heaven. My date and I seemed to be the youngest couple in that sold out audience. As Sinatra was taking his bows to a standing ovation after one of his encores, he looked at me in the audience and motioned me over to shake his hand before he walked into the wings. I felt my soul leave my body. The experience was the awesome.

When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, a local radio station had.a weeknight program called "Sinatra at Seven." At 7pm, the host would play a half-hour of recordings by Frank Sinatra. I loved that show and was a regular listener -- yes, even though I was in high school. The singer/actor was a revered talent in our household.

I think it's time we were reminded of what a supreme singer he was. Here are four cuts of his from movies he did.  "All My Tomorrows" is a song he sang in his 1959 comedy, A HOLE IN THE HEAD. 

Frank Sinatra gave one of his strongest film performances in the 1920s era drama, THE JOKER IS WILD. He introduced the song, "All The Way," in that 1957 release and it was a big hit for him. "All The Way" won the Oscar for Best Song.

Cole Porter penned all the tunes heard in the 1956 MGM musical comedy, HIGH SOCIETY. It's a musical version of the 1940's THE PHILADELPHIA STORY with Frank Sinatra taking on the role originally done onscreen by James Stewart and Grace Kelly taking on the role first done by Katharine Hepburn. I love this Cole Porter tune, "Mind If I Make Love To You."

I close it out with Sinatra being ultimately cool as the bad boy nightclub crooner/ladies' man in 1957's PAL JOEY co-starring Rita Hayworth as a wealthy widow. Here he sings "The Lady Is A Tramp." 

And there you have it. I hope you liked my picks for some Essential Sinatra.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

About 80 FOR BRADY

 "It would be a shame to retire when you feel like you still got it."  A line from 80 FOR BRADY.

This fluffy comedy stars four heavyweight female talents now in their senior years -- Oscar winners Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and the remarkable Oscar nominee Lily Tomlin. Inspired by a true story, it's about four friends determined to go to the Super Bowl and to meet Tom Brady. This is the kind of feature that, back in the day, would have been a made-for-network TV movie. It's the kind of inoffensive feature that makes for a good airplane movie. I happened to see it this weekend -- and I enjoyed it! Some of it's predictable. Personally, I could've done with less scenes that included Guy Fieri of Food Network. However, the four female stars still have it. They know how to make this unchallenging material work. And they look great. Jane Fonda seems to be wearing a 1970s Connie Stevens wig collection, but she's still cool.

I really lit up to see Tony winner Billy Porter have a fun scene with the ladies as a Super Bowl show choreographer. Yes, he gets all four to dance. I've been a fan of Billy's for over 20 years-- going back to his stage work and his scene-stealing role in the 2000 movie, THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB: A ROMANTIC COMEDY. It's a comedy about a group of gay male friends, members of a weekend baseball team, as they try to find love in West Hollywood. One of the things I love about the movie as that the group of friends is race and age inclusive. I met Billy in 2008 at a SAG-AFTRA job networking event in New York City, attended by many of us who were in need of employment. I stunned to see Billy standing next to me at one booth, also taking pamphlets and other information. With his set of skills and talents, I couldn't believe he was unemployed. But he was. He could not have been more gracious and supportive speaking with me. After that, if I saw him on the street, he'd stop and chat with me. Then things turned around for him. Came a Broadway musical version of the British comedy film, KINKY BOOTS. Billy got a top role in it. And he won a Tony. He is a walking lesson in perseverance. 

Here's a bit of the movie.

Lily Tomlin has a dramatic scene in a locker room with Tom Brady -- and he's very good in it. I had a most enjoyable pastime watching five people I've had the privilege to meet in my career -- Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin and Billy Porter.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

TCM Host Eddie Muller on Comedy Gold

 On Monday night, July 10th, Shari Belafonte was a terrific Guest Programmer on TCM. The actress, writer, producer and daughter of the late, great Harry Belafonte has a keen knowledge of classic film. She selected films to air and her first choice was the strong 1959 crime drama, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW starring her father and Robert Ryan. Her next selection was a comedy starring James Stewart and based on a hit Broadway play. The movie was 1950's HARVEY with James Stewart as the lovable Elwood P. Dowd, a man whose best friend is an imaginary giant rabbit. Elwood is a gentle soul who likes to drink. His great gift is his kindness. His fluttery, critical sister wants him committed to a sanitarium. Josephine Hull played the sister and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

Shari Belafonte did her segments with film noir expert/author Eddie Muller. Eddie said to Shari that Hull's win was noteworthy because the Academy doesn't give Oscars for comedy performances. I tweeted to Eddie's attention that Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert won Oscars for the classic screwball comedy IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Judy Holliday won Best Actress for BORN YESTERDAY and Whoopi Goldberg won for GHOST. That was all the space I had a single tweet on Twitter. He tweeted back, "Out of how many nominations? I'll stand by this statement, but thanks for pointing out the rare exceptions."

I replied that there have been Oscar nominations for comedy performances -- Carole Lombard in MY MAN GODFREY, Rosalind Russell and Peggy Cass for AUNTIE MAME, Jack Lemmon for SOME LIKE IT HOT, Dustin Hoffman in TOOTSIE and Melissa McCarthy for BRIDESMAIDS. But it's oddly rare for actors to win for the hard work of screen comedy. Again, all the room I had for one single tweet.

THEN...a tweeter messaged me that Marisa Tomei won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for MY COUSIN VINNY. Another tweeter reminded me that Sir John Gielgud won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his wisecracking but loving butler role in ARTHUR -- a comedy that brought Dudley Moore a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his starring role. Another chimed in with the Best Actress Oscar Cher won for MOONSTRUCK. Olympia Dukakis won for Best Supporting Actress.

Those tweets juiced up my movie memory and I added these Oscar winners for comedy performances: Diane Keaton ... Best Actress for Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL...

Mira Sorvino -- Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Woody Allen's MIGHTY APHRODITE...

...and Dianne Wiest got one of her two Best Supporting Actress Oscars for Woody Allen's BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.

After years of dramatic work, what did Lee Marvin win a Best Actor Oscar for? The 1965 comedy western, CAT BALLOU.

And there you have it. I'd like to take Eddie Muller out for a drink and tell him about all this. I'd also add the Barbra Streisand Best Actress Oscar victory for FUNNY GIRL -- especially the first half of the film.

I hope Shari Belafonte is invited back to be a special TCM Guest Programmer again. She was wonderful.

Sunday, July 9, 2023


 Seeing this classic sci-fi horror thriller again brought back some warm childhood memories. 1953's INVADERS FROM MARS was a Saturday afternoon movie I watched numerous times on KTTV/Channel 11 in Los Angeles when I was a child of the 60s. The modestly-budgeted movie came out during America's new atomic age, and that also contained paranoia as an offshoot of Senator Joe McCarthy's blacklisting. Like THE WIZARD OF OZ and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, INVADERS FROM MARS is a story related from a child's viewpoint. 

Young David McLean is a smart, polite, loving little boy in Small Town America. He loves his parents -- his blonde and lovely mother and his brawny, devoted, scientist dad. David also loves science and has a telescope in his bedroom. He's up at 4:30 in the morning, gazing at the skies. His parents wake up and gently tell him to go back to bed. They fall asleep. The minutes later, a storm erupts. We notice that the trees outside are barren and the grass is not green.No flowers are growing. A sign that a crisis is about to happen. David sees a spaceship hovering in the sky and then it lands, disappearing into the sand behind the hill. "There's something out there," David says.

He has to tell his parents, but this taps into a fear many of us had as kids. Not being believed by our parents. But David's kind-hearted dad is different. He knows that David is not a kid who would fabricate tall tales. He goes to investigate.

He returns, but he's not the same. His face is frozen with a cold blank stare coming from his eyes. He's verbally brutish to David and his mother. He strikes David. The boy knows immediately that something changed his father -- something behind the hill. This taps into another childhood fear -- losing our parents in some way,.

David's mother goes behind the hill to look for her husband. She returns cold and changed. Soon other protective figures besides his parents are changed by an alien force -- local cops, members of the military.

David must contact scientists in town and get the story out. He must be believed. There are evil Martians under the sand and in the earth. The Martians leave a mark on the back of the necks of those humans they've changed.

Originally, a 20th Century Fox release, 1953's INVADERS FEOM MARS has received a mighty fine restoration and is now available thanks to Ignite Films.

This film is so modestly-budgeted that it looks as though it might have been made for TV. But it's art direction, the slightly expressionistic look of it, is something I vividly recall from my childhood viewings. Some of the evil Martian slaves to their leader did look like big middle-aged guys in some ill-fitting costumes, but I was still thrilled. And the Martian leader, a head in a large globe, really creeped me out. 

Jimmy Hunt had a perfect All-American 1950s look for his role as David. He's excellent in the role. I felt his anxiety and fears and determination.  His determination to be believed by policemen who say, "Flying saucers, disappearing scientists. What next?" Jimmy Hunt carries you into and through the horror of the movie. In a bit part, you'll see Barbara Billingsley four years before she won fame as a TV sitcom mom on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

When I was a kid, TV sets came in either black and white (picture-wise) or color. We had a black and white set. INVADERS FROM MARS is in color and seeing this restoration was a thrill. I had not seen the movie in quite a few years, but I was amazing at how much I remembered about the visuals of the set design and the way the actors were photographed. INVADERS FROM MARS was directed by William Cameron Menzies. He also designed the production. That explains the creative visuals. Menzies received a special Oscar for his use of color in 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND. His other credits as an art director include Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA, Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE 

His direction, production design, tone and simplicity give an immediacy and depth to the horror of INVADERS FROM MARS. It truly is one of the top entries in the 1950's sci-fi horror genre. I can't remember much about the big-budgeted 1986 Tobe Hooper remake. But I remember a lot about the original. 1953's INVADERS FROM MARS still sends chills.

There's a Bayard Rustin Biopic.

 July 19, 2020. That's the date of my blog piece titled "We Need a Bayard Rustin Biopic." I'm old enough to recall seeing ...