Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy & Desilu Diversity

He was a life-long liberal whose TV series catchphrase, "Live long and prosper," became part of our pop culture language.  Veteran actor/director Leonard Nimoy, famous for originating the super scientific Spock character on NBC's Star Trek, died Friday at age 83 in the affluent Bel Air section of Los Angeles.  The beloved actor definitely made his mark in American TV history as first officer onboard the Starship Enterprise.
When it comes to his portrayal of Spock, doesn't it seem like the role was seeking him more than an actor needing employment was seeking that role?  The show aired only a couple of years on NBC.  But  years of repeats on TV gave the series a huge, devoted following that made the original, short-lived series the beginning of a TV and film franchise.  In my South Central L.A. neighborhood, we minority kids loved Star Trek.  It was a fun sci-fi series, it had special effects, there was a black woman in the cast (gorgeous Nichelle Nichols), an Asian dude (George Takei) and we totally dug Spock.  That logical bi-racial crewmember was cool.  He was half-Vulcan, half-human.
I loved his vocal delivery, his economy of movement and the architecture of his face.  The haircut, the shape of the eyebrows and the pointed ears suited actor Leonard Nimoy.  His dramatic face has the plains to carry the line and angles of that look and make it hip.  That's what I mean about the role was seeking him.  He owned that character.  He was pretty much a veteran TV actor but the time he got around to being cast in that prime time sci-fi show.  Viewers had seen him on shows such as Twilight Zone...
...and NBC's ratings champion, Bonanza.
After his TV years as Spock, he'd do other projects and TV hosting.  He'd also direct.  Remember the big 1980s box office hit comedy, Three Men and a Baby?  Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson were directed by Leonard Nimoy.
He followed that 1987 comedy with a 1988 drama that's worth a look today.  Nimoy directed 1988's The Good Mother.  Diane Keaton starred as the divorced mother fighting to keep custody of her daughter to her ex-husband.  There were allegations of inappropriate behavior conducted by the mother's boyfriend.  The cast included Liam Neeson, Joe Morton (now Olivia's father on TV's Scandal) plus Hollywood classic film veterans Ralph Bellamy and Teresa Wright.  But it was that 1966 to 1969 sci-fi series on NBC that would, in time, have that little something extra to send Leonard Nimoy's popularity into orbit.  The same could be said for his fellow cast members.

Co-star William Shatner acted in key scenes opposite Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Best Actor Oscar winner Maxmilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.  The all-star, historical post-World War II courtroom drama also earned Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Montgomery Clift), Best Supporting Actress (Judy Garland), Best Director and Best Picture of 1961.  William Shatner would be one of those good big screen actors whose major stardom came from a small screen project.  Actors like Shatner, Buddy Ebsen, Raymond Burr and Andy Griffith found bigger stardom on TV than they had noteworthy films.  That also goes for the TV superstar couple whose gamble became the company that gave us Star Trek.  That company was Desilu Studios, the home of Desilu Productions.
Cuban-born musician and Broadway performer Desi Arnaz, went to Hollywood to repeat his Too Many Girls Broadway role in the 1940 movie version starring screen newcomer, Lucille Ball.  You know the story.  It was love at first sight.  Lucy and Desi married.  Their film careers continued though the 1940s.  Hers did better than his, although she wasn't a top 1940s star like her buddies Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable.  Desi had a band and did records plus music engagements.  In the early 1950s, they took a big chance.  They started their own production company and pitched their sitcom production to CBS.  The rest is TV history.  Not only did the gamble pay off, it made them internationally famous TV legends thanks to their original show with its lively Cuban flavor.

I Love Lucy was a groundbreaking sitcom on the small screen that made them bigger stars than they ever had been on the big screen.  Lucy reigned as the Queen of Comedy.  The sitcom success established Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball as a top Hollywood power couple with Desilu Productions.  Then came Desilu Studios.

Desilu Productions gave TV viewers other shows that became huge hits -- like The Untouchables starring Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, The Danny Thomas Show, Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden,  The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian, Family Affair and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
During this year's Oscar season, racial diversity in Hollywood was a hot topic.  In the 1960s, Desilu Productions and Desilu Studios (which Lucille Ball headed after her divorce from Arnaz) gave a green light to shows that boldly embraced racial diversity in casting.  African Americans actors had work as regulars.  There was Star Trek, there was the detective series Mannix starring Mike Connors with Gail Fisher as his excellent secretary, and there was Mission: Impossible, another Desilu production that became a hit film franchise.  The original cast featured Steven Hill, Greg Morris (up top), ascot-wearing Martin Landau as the disguise artist and Landau's then-wife, Barbara Bain.
Years later when Landau and Bain left the cast and silver-haired Peter Graves had replaced Steven Hill, Greg Morris and muscleman Peter Lupus remained in 1969 to welcome Leonard Nimoy, on the left, as the new disguise artist.  I admit it.  I was more a devoted fan of Mission: Impossible than I was of Star Trek.
Here's something I discovered about the Desilu diversity on the Star Trek set.  The liberal Mr. Nimoy must have been so proud to be a part of this television team.

In this black and white photo, you see Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner with the late Charles C. Washburn.  From 1967-1969, definitely the decade of the Civil Rights movement, Washburn was an assistant director on Star Trek.  He was a Tennessee native who arrived in Hollywood with a scholarship for the Director's Guild of America trainee program.  Mr. Washburn made history as the first African-American DGA trainee graduate in Hollywood.

He moved up to work on such popular network shows as Batman and The Six Million Dollar Man.

Washburn was first assistant director on Sounder and Lady Sings The Blues, films that made Hollywood history in that the black women in the lead roles, Cicely Tyson (Sounder) and Diana Ross (Lady Sings The Blues), were both in the Oscar race for Best Actress of 1972.  That was the first time more than one African-American actress had been nominated for the Oscar in that category.  In the 1980s, he worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the popular TV spin-off starring Patrick Stewart and Levar Burton.

Reportedly, the grateful Charles C. Washburn said that back in 1967, there were only three black people on the Desilu lot.  He was there with Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek cast member, and the third person was the gentleman who operated a food truck.  Charles Washburn passed away 2012 at age 73.

 Mr. Washburn was seen in an Oscars "In Memoriam" segment.

"Icon" is an overused word nowadays.  But Leonard Nimoy truly was a pop culture icon with his intelligent work as Mr. Spock.  On Twitter, NASA wrote "So many of us at NASA were inspired by Star Trek.  President Obama said, "I loved Spock."  William Shatner said of the late actor, "I loved him like a brother."  Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Washburn left us with fine work to enjoy.  They contributed to significant work in the TV and film arts, work that embraced diversity.  And both benefitted from Desilu Productions, the company started by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.  May diversity also "Live long and prosper."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Salma Hayek Is EVERLY

Run! Run! Salma Hayek's got a gun!  If excessive gunfire and a non-stop bloodbath onscreen is your idea of entertainment, then EVERLY is the feature for you.  Salma Hayek is Everly, the raped and wounded single mother who thought she had police protection.  The protection is gone and she's defending herself against assassins sent by her ex-boyfriend, a mob boss.  She was soon to help police bust the mob boss.
Why doesn't she have the amount of police protection from the mobster that she should?  We don't really know why beyond Everly, like double-Noah Crossed Evelyn Mulwray in the last ten minutes of Chinatown, shouting "He owns the police!"  Everly grabs guns to protect herself as she's pretty much trapped in a huge, tastefully decorated loft apartment that will soon become a blood-soaked crime scene. A lot of mean hookers are in that building and they try to kill Everly too.  She must protect herself and somehow manage to protect her mother and little girl who will, undoubtedly, be hunted by bad guys.  Everly must get her mother and child to come to her location where she can guard them.
Can Salma Hayek handle the lead role in an action thriller?  Yes.  She most definitely can.  In her form-fitting outfits as she blows aways just about every bad man in sight, you look at Hayek's figure and wonder if the actress is really 48 or 28.
However, you wish that this talented actress had accepted an intelligent and classy female-driven action drama -- something like Alien and Aliens starring Sigourney Weaver or Gloria, the 1980 movie directed  by John Cassavetes and starring his wife, Gena Rowlands.  Gena played Gloria, the tough-as-nails New York City woman with a gun who's now guardian to a orphaned Puerto Rican boy hunted by the mob.  Gloria was a good neighbor and knew the kid's late parents.  She had a past that makes her a match for mobsters.  Aliens and Gloria focus on strong women with strong maternal instincts who can handle ammo while they protect a child.  Those scripts made sense.  The Everly script doesn't.  It's the kind of script where a bad guy could get six bullets pumped into his chest point blank, yet he can still get up and chase a woman down a hallway.

In Everly, the female is raped, shot, attacked with swords, threatened with explosives, placed in painful bondage...

...restrained and assaulted with acid.  Everly was directed by this young man -- Joe Lynch.  He and Yale Hannon came up with the story.
I didn't read this but I'm positive Lynch was heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino in the blood and graphic violence area.  But, here, the blood and violence were pointless.  This is a one-note screenplay that a quartet of male high school seniors could've written after they were inspired by video games.  Another thing -- I believe that Joe Lynch is a married man.  After the movie, I was so bothered that I wished I could interview him and ask "If a crazy man stood behind your wife, mother, sister or daughter holding a meat cleaver that he was about to use on her, would you call that entertainment?"  We see such a thing in his movie.  Plus, with a recurring line like "That sure is a lot o' dead whores," you wonder about the filmmaker's attitudes are towards females on film.

Even Everly's sweet Latina mother is forced to grab a gun.
There are some pretty irritating images, or hackneyed movie stereotypes, in this film.  We hear Everly being gang-raped in the opening scene.  Everly plays into a certain male movie fantasy of the "hot Latin woman" not worthy of respect but useful for sexual pleasure.  Then we see a black woman as a violent hooker...

...and the Asian men are really creepy, well-dressed villains who have a certain fetish.

Another thing that put me off was the director putting a child in the middle of all this carnage and graphic violence.  In addition to that,  I had a problem with the look given the child actress given the part.  Latinas don't all look alike. I know that from my youth in Los Angeles seeing dark and light Mexicans.  Then came the years I lived in New York and knew all tones of Latinos. But here you have the dark-haired Everly and her dark-haired mother...and then Everly's little girl is given obvious visual clues to make you care about her.  She wears precious and very feminine little girl clothing.  She clutches a big, pink, cuddly, stuffed toy and....unlike her mother and grandmother...she's appears to be somewhat of a blonde.  Was the intention to make her look more Anglo so we'd have more sympathy for her when she's in danger?
The mob boss who sent his evil henchmen after Everly is played by Hiroyuki Watanabe.  This role is a real waste of talent.  Watanabe is a handsome, sophisticated actor.  He's got screen presence.

How I would love to see Hiroyuki Watanable and Salma Hayek as the leads in a sophisticated romantic comedy or drama -- something of quality with a smart script.

Everly opens Feb. 27th.  It's visually stylized and has some good editing.  A good actress has the lead role.  But it's basically a senseless splatter film with the soul of a video game.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Stars Hit Different Notes

It was worth sitting through the too-long (as usual) Oscars telecast.  Lady Gaga was truly terrific as she proved her true artistry performing a medley of songs from The Sound of Music.  She was in amazing voice, revealing a new power we'd not heard before, she was sweetly poised and confident. What a great surprise on last weekend's Academy Awards.                                                                                                
The best part -- she committed to the truth of each song and sang each song with reverence.  She was not being ironic or mocking the material.  There was no snark. There were no unnecessary, show-off vocal gymnastics as if she was a finalist on American Idol.  She sang to promote the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein work.  Lady Gaga was luminous and wowed the crowd with her heartfelt renditions.  Her gorgeously orchestrated The Sound of Music medley was an Oscars telecast highlight.
And then there was there moment that made us go "OhMyGosh!"  Lady Gaga introduced the former Best Actress Oscar winner who earned her second consecutive Oscar nomination for starring in the famous box office blockbuster version of the Broadway hit.  20th Century Fox's  The Sound of Music starred singer/dancer/actress Julie Andrews.  Dame Julie was a beautiful picture of class, grace, wit and elegance Sunday night.  Julie Andrews makes 79 look great.
Julie Andrews, having become a Broadway star in the original productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot, won the Best Actress Oscar for her first feature film, Disney's Mary Poppins (1964).
The Sound of Music made her an international movie star.  The 1965 classic is still quite popular.

I've watched the Oscars on TV ever since I was a kid.  I love the Oscars.  I get as excited about Oscar night as I do about Christmas.  Over the years, surely in recent years, the show seems to have lost a sense of warmth and regard for the history of film and its artists.  Case in point:  The special lifetime achievement Oscars are now given in a separate ceremony.  This year, we saw brief soundbite clips of the acceptance speeches from recipients Maureen O'Hara and Harry Belafonte.  I would've loved to hear more of Belafonte's speech.  He was a close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King.  He marched with Dr. King.  He was with him for the March on Washington.  He booked and interviewed Dr. King on NBC's The Tonight Show when Belafonte sat in for Johnny Carson one week in early 1968.  He sat next to Mrs. Coretta Scott King that same year during the funeral for her slain civil rights leader husband.  This year, SELMA was a nominee for Best Picture.  I would loved more from Harry Belafonte and less lame comedy bits from Neil Patrick Harris about a locked briefcase.  And I like Harris.  But that illustrates the show's hunger to be hip while starving the viewers of true humanity.

The moment between Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews was the kind of tender and memorable moment we used to expect every year on the Oscars.  It was rich in respect and affection.  Two different generations showed a lovely and true regard for each other's contributions.  Brava, Gaga.

Days before the Oscars on ABC, we saw the Grammys on CBS.  Madonna dressed as a toreador and surrounded herself with shirtless, musclebound bull dancers.  She sang to promote herself and her new album.  Her number was calculated to be edgy.

Two modern-day music stars hit different notes in their performances, in more ways than one.  Here's Lady Gaga, who wore some outlandish and attention-grabbing pop music star outfits in the past, on the Oscars telecast Sunday night.  She's 20-something.
Here's Madonna on the red carpet before the Grammys telecast.  She's 50-something.

Two different looks from pop stars of two different generations.  Thanks again, Lady Gaga.  Loved your performance.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne

Personally, I was hoping for Michael Keaton to win the Best Actor Academy Award.  His vivid, brave performance as Birdman thrilled me.  Just like Mary Tyler Moore, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Best Director Oscar winner Ron Howard, Michael Keaton is one of those actor who started in lead work on a network TV sitcom and then grew artistically to get an Oscar nomination for a work of drama.

The Best Actor Academy Award winner on Sunday night was Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of My Left Foot, Lou Gehrig's Disease and Physics.  I mean...THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
Like the truly amazing 3-time Best Actor Oscar winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Eddie Redmayne won his Oscar for playing a severely disabled real-life person.  Redmayne played the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking.  The movie focuses on Hawking falling in love while also falling victim to ALS.
The British couple will marry and endure his disability together.  But it's not easy.
Here's the thing:  I watched this heartwarming film and got really depressed.  Why?  Because that was Stephen Hawking's first romance.  His...FIRST.  The couple got a friendly divorce.  Later, he met someone new and got married again.  Here's the famed physicist in between The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. She played the first Mrs. Hawking.
Here's Stephen Hawking with his second wife.
Stephen Hawking found romance......twice.

Do you know how many years I have had absolutely no luck on or any other online dating site?  I've been sitting up here a solo act for 20 years.  But Stephen Hawking got a second hook-up.  Meanwhile, in New York City and San Francisco, I couldn't get a booty call if I was in prison and had a fist full of $50 dollar bills plus a carton o' Camels.  Professor Stephen Hawking is a lucky man.
Look at him.  I know he's severely disabled.  But he's got romance in his life.  He's got someone who will kiss him good-night, someone who wants to make him smile on Christmas Day, someone to wheel him around on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  If you want to get ahold of me when I'm free and got no plans?  Just call me on my birthday or on New Year's Eve night.  I'm always free.  Seriously.  And I've had a career working on national television!  Stephen Hawking, more power to you.  You da man!

What I did love about seeing Eddie Redmayne win his Oscar on Sunday night was the visual proof that he is the Taylor Swift of Young Male Actors.

Here's Taylor Swift when she's heard her name read as the winner of music awards:

Here's Eddie Redmayne when he won the Screen Actors Guild Award:

When he heard his name read as Best Actor on Oscar night, he went into full Taylor Swift mode:

Good for him!  He slammed across an excellent performance.
There are two things I would like to have:  Stephen Hawking's luck in love the second time around -- and...where can I buy an Eddie Redmayne Hair Disheveler?  I want one.

Oscar Buzz for TILL

 I'm on Twitter and, in the last three weeks, there's been Oscar buzz from a few established movie critics. The buzz was that Cate B...