Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Katherine Heigl in JACKIE & RYAN

I saw the poster for JACKIE & RYAN and I expected this to be the kind of feature you'd see made for TV's Hallmark Channel.  That is, until Katherine Heigl as Jackie drops an F-bomb during a very intense legal scene.  And you cannot blame her character for dropping it one bit.  Heigl has not had the most consistent film career and, as of yet, she has been as popular on the big screen as she was on ABC TV's Grey's Anatomy.  I loved her in Knocked Up opposite Seth Rogen.  That was a fun movie.  But, as a film reviewer, I did not have fun enduring some of her films that followed.  I sat in movie theaters watching 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth.  I found myself feeling the arms of my cineplex movie theater seat, praying to Heaven that there was a fast forward button.  I liked her recent NBC political drama/action series, State of Affairs, co-starring Alfre Woodard as the President of the United States.  But the show was canceled during its first season.  Jackie & Ryan is a small indie film.  It takes place mostly in a rural, peaceful Utah.  It was written and directed by Ami Canaan Mann.  She gives us a new Katherine Heigl movie that I liked.  Ben Barnes hit just the right note, musically and dramatically, as Ryan.
He's a drifter musician.  He's a good musician who could be successful and be a guest on shows like National Public Radio's Fresh Air.  He has a country sound and style that NPR would love.  But Ryan chooses to hop trains and drift from one town to the next.  You like Ryan.  He's the kind of man who charges in to help someone in need.  When he plays the guitar, you almost think you're in for a love story like that sweet, imaginative musical from 2006, Once.  It's not musical love story but this film has that same sort of economy and pacing.  Ryan doesn't give much thought to his future. Jackie once had a hit record but she also had a marriage that went sour.  She took her child, left New York City and went back home to Utah.  Financially, things have been better for her.  But she doesn't give up.  A small accident brings Jackie and Ryan together.  They connect because they understand frustration and loss.  She's grateful he came to her aid when she was down.

I was positive that Ben Barnes was from America's Heartland.  I looked up the actor's information.  He's British.  From London.  He pulled off that role very well.
I really connected to Heigl's character.  She's the working class single mom, once a performer in New York City.  Today, like many of us, she lost her insurance and needs a job.  I've been doggedly pursuing work in order to climb back up over the poverty line.  Because I've worked on TV in the past, there are some people -- even today as I job hunt -- who assume that I am still working on television and make thousands of dollars a week.  They think my previous gigs were glamorous.  Their faces always crack when I tell them that one ABC network TV job I had paid only $500 a week -- and that was the same exact amount I made when I started work as a weekly regular with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show in 2006.

Jackie goes after a music teacher job only to get to the school and discover they really wanted an intern.    That means they want someone to work for free.  The chatty, plump woman doing the hiring recognizes Jackie.  She's giddy to know all about show biz limos and what they were like.  It's an honest scene.  Trust me, I've been where Heigl is in that scene when I've applied for "real people" jobs.

Jackie sings one night in town.  She sings for "good, smart, hard-working people" and about the "choices you make when you feel you don't have a lot to choose from."

Jackie and Ryan connect gradually, blend into each other's lives for a short time and things change.  Jackie & Ryan is a simple, tender-hearted film carried by a satisfying script and nice chemistry between the two leads. It opens in limited release on July 3rd and will also be available on Video On Demand.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marc Maron's Special WTF Show

Amazing.  An African American man is in his second term as President of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can be married legally all across the nation and Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for Best Actor. Did you ever think you'd live to see the day?  And President Obama is the focus in two broadcasts that you need to hear.  One is the podcast of smart comedian Marc Maron.  His WTF podcast is highly popular and a favorite with folks at National Public Radio such as Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air.  The President, during a recent California trip, sat with Maron in the comedian's Los Angeles garage for a very special episode  .
I shed tears of sadness, tears of joy and tears of pride over the last ten days.  This month proved, yet again, that we are not in a post-racial America simply because we elected Barack Obama to office.  I had a Facebook experience in which some of my liberal white buddies went clueless on me over the race issue.  It was June 25th, 2009.  In the morning, we got word that actress Farrah Fawcett, star of TV's Charlie's Angels, had succumbed to cancer.  On my Facebook feed, many people of all colors had written the same thing in condolence comments:  "Heaven has a new angel."  Late that afternoon came the shocking news that music superstar Michael Jackson died.  I posted my shock at hearing that news and added my deep sympathy.  I'd been a fan ever since The Jackson Five hit the music scene during my South Central L.A. youth.   Black friends had added comments under mine that he was a great black entertainer who will be deeply missed.  A few of my liberal white male friends wrote, "He was black?"  Heated comments from black and Latino friends on my Facebook went up in response to the "He was black?" wisecracks.  I'd left my apartment for about one hour before that disruption.  When I returned, I had to delete the thread.  It was that intense.   Some black and Latino friends thought I kept the wisecracks posted because I thought they were funny.  No.  I was offline and away from my apartment.  As for my white liberal buddies, I couldn't believe they wrote that within minutes after the man's death was announced.  Just to try to be funny.  It came off as racially offensive.

In bygone days, why did black people try to lighten their skin and perhaps pass for white?  So they could escape racial bigotry.  So they wouldn't be abused or beaten or even killed for being black.  When the news came out that actress Farrah Fawcett died, no one wrote "She was an actress?"

Fast forward from June 2009 to June 2015.  One morning, Rachel Dolezal is being interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show.  Ms. Dolezal lost her job as president of Spokane, Washington's NAACP when it was discovered that she lied about being black.  She was born of white parents.  In the interview, she claimed to "identify" with being black. So, on the Today Show, you basically had two white people on a network morning news show talking about how hard it is to be black in America.  Rachel Dolezal was the big news story of the morning.  That night -- we were hit with the horrible reality of what it can mean to really be black in America.  A young white racist shot and killed 8 black people sitting in a church.  He killed them because they were black.  Yes, they were black.  Yes, Michael Jackson was black.  Do you get it now?

When I heard the news of the racist terrorist attack in a Charleston, South Carolina church, I gasped.  Then I felt so, so tired.  Drained of all physical and spiritual energy, as if someone had reached in and yanked the soul right out me.  I cried and thought to myself, "They still hate us."  Racism.  And another multiple shooting because someone mentally unhinged had easy access to a gun.

President Barack Obama talked about that, about his anger with a disappointing Congress when he sought stricter gun laws, he talked about growing up with a father figure and he talked about being a father.  You may have heard reports that President Obama said "the N-word" during the interview.  Yes, he did.  He used it in telling how we must root out that word and racist in America.  He used it the way Atticus Finch uses it in To Kill a Mockingbird as he explains to his little girl that racism is bad.  He didn't use it as a slur in a street slang way.

You need to hear the interview.  Maron...how I dig him.  He now has a TV show on IFC plus his hit podcast.  Marc Maron interviews President Obama in Episode 613 of WTF.  It aired June 22nd.  To play it, go here:  WTFpod.com.
I agree with Maron's description of our president after they'd wrapped the broadcast.  He was "comfortable...casual...charming."
Friday morning came the historic decision from the Supreme Court.  Same-sex couples can marry legally in all the United States.  I heard the news and said, "Wow."  I couldn't believe it happened.  Then I cried with happiness and wished that my late partner had lived to share the moment with me.  He'd have been a great husband.  Friday afternoon, I cried tears of pride.  President Obama was elected in 2008.  But he came home with that eulogy he delivered for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a man he knew and a man of peace who was killed by the racist shooter.  Trust of me on this...that eulogy will be one of the golden, shining moments of his legacy.  He called it all out and wrapped it up by singing "Amazing Grace."
What a moving speech.  What a month.  And June isn't over yet.  Happy Pride Weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hot Dudes Screw Up in 7 MINUTES

Three of my favorite films are tales about bank robbers.  Two are based on real life characters in desperate situations.  There was 1967's Bonnie and Clyde starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as two criminals in the America ravished by the Great Depression of the 1930s.  It was a time when poor folks lost their homes to the banks.  There's 1975's Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino as a robber desperate for money to pay for his boyfriend's sex reassignment surgery.  And there's the under-appreciated clever 1990 comedy, Quick Change, in which Bill Murray and Geena Davis are hapless New York City bank robbers.  He dresses up as a circus clown to commit the crime.

One of the best things I can write about 7 MINUTES is that it only robs you of 85 minutes of your time.  Jason Ritter stars as one of three criminals.  They were small town high school buddies.  They didn't amount to much after graduation.  One says, "The American dream?  That ship has sailed."
The ex-high school football hero lives with the team's gorgeous ex-cheerleader who loves him.  Their place is an absolute dump in the beat-down outskirts of Seattle.  The three buddies come up with the big idea to rob a small local bank in seven minutes flat starting one day at exactly 8:30 in the morning.  Of course, something goes horribly wrong.
They do this because money is owed to a drug lord.  This is another crime flick with a gun-toting drug lord who wears a kimono-like robe as he threatens murder.  When the poverty-stricken ex-high school football hero embraces his former cheerleader girlfriend, I thought to myself "I bet she's a waitress."  Yep.  She's a waitress.  And a very pregnant one who has no idea her boyfriend's planning a bank heist.  Also, we have a security guard and a local cop who look like they dropped out of Weight Watchers® meetings.  Especially the local cop.  Seriously?  We got that in Jurassic World.  A dangerous dinosaur gets loose and the security guard is built like Peter Griffin on Family Guy.  The guard runs outside to protect folks but he basically becomes a dinosaur snack within minutes.  The local cop in 7 Minutes has the same kind of Peter Griffin build.  He has a crush on the shapely town slut.  During the bank job, he becomes a hostage.  We get a backstory to each robber as the crime occurs.  Here's a trailer.
For me, the highlight was seeing hot senior papa bear Kris Kristofferson.  The actor and singer/songwriter is only in the film for a few minutes.  He's related to one of the bank robbers, a guy who did time before the bank job.  The older man's advice is, "Don't get caught."  Kristofferson turned 79 this week and looks great.  Why is he in this mediocre movie?  Hey...maybe he's got COBRA payments to keep up.  A gig's a gig.

The three young robbers and the waitress girlfriend are four very attractive young adults.  And the four actors have an intelligence that breaks through their low-income characters.  They seem like people who could've gone on to college, perhaps even with some financial aid.  Couple that with the fact that they're all very attractive and that makes for a story that doesn't jell.  With their looks alone, those four young characters could've been doing local TV commercials and print ads in Seattle.  They could've had jobs in a top Seattle hotel.

These three bank robbers must not have had any ambition whatsoever after high school graduation.  You really can't have any sympathy for them.  And she seemed too smart to be just a diner waitress.  She could've been pregnant and working at a nice upscale office job. Leven Rambin, a good actress, played the waitress.

As for the story with the high school jock living with the pretty cheerleader and then being broke with a baby on the way -- it's like a John Mellencamp music video I would've presented during my VH1 days in the late 1980s.  The director of this film, by the way, used to direct music videos.

7 Minutes opens June 26th and will be available on VOD.  This tale of three golden boys gone bad is just average.  There's a major shoot out with fatalities first thing in the morning at a local small town bank.  And not one single TV news crew shows up to cover it.  And no pedestrian tries to get a photo with a cellphone.  For a better bank robber story, try one of the three older films I mention at the top of this review.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Feelings Are INSIDE OUT

Colorful.  Original.  Imaginative.  Touching.  Those are my words for Disney Pixar's INSIDE OUT.  I did not expect to get a few tears in my eyes during this animated feature, but I did.  We go into the mind of a young girl.  Riley is 11.  The family moved from her beloved Minnesota to San Francisco.  She's a sweet kid and the move brings up several different feelings.  We see the feelings in the control room of her mind.
The move doesn't go as smoothly as her dear, disappointed Dad and Mom hoped it would.  The family belongings didn't arrive as scheduled from Minnesota.
The little voices in her head watch her new life unfold.  They see the adults in Riley's life and know exactly what her feelings are even if the adults don't.  We're also taken into the minds of Riley's parents to see the little voices that give them personality.  I'll just say that if Riley's mom was a television network, she'd be Lifetime TV and Riley's dad would be ESPN.  He looks a bit like the "Soup Nazi" in that popular Seinfeld sitcom episode.
What Riley -- and we -- will learn is that feelings are important.  They're significant.  In fact, they lean on each just like passengers in the same seat on a rollercoaster ride as it makes a wild turn.  This is especially true of Joy and Sadness.  Sadness is a little blue.
Joy, with her pixie haircut, reminded me of Tinkerbelle from Disney's animated classic, Peter Pan.
As Riley's inner voices touch on core memories and venture through other parts of her mind, I felt it was a brilliant move to make the character 11.  When you're 40, there will be a life-changing event that makes a big impact on your adult life.  It may be marriage or divorce, relocating for a new job or the loss of a longtime job you had.  It could be a new true love.  Something memorable.  That same thing can apply when you're 11 and teetering on the brink of puberty.  Emotionally, adults seem to pass through a Valley of Forgetfulness when they become parents.  They forget what it was like to be an adolescent.  Riley's feelings are complicated and serious to her.  She's moved from a place she loved in the Midwest.  She's the new kid at a new school in a new city.  That's major stress.  She just wants to be liked.  She experiences little heartbreaks and humiliations that her parents don't know about it.  But her inner voices see them.
When I was 11, I was the new kid at a new school.  A Catholic school.  I knew exactly how Riley felt.  I was a chubby, shy bookworm.  One day at recess, three classmates (whose names I still recall) had a mean contest.  The loser of the three would have to touch Robert Rivers, the new kid.  I don't know if they realized I could hear them, but I could.  Linda, a popular girl who never talked to me, walked over and pretended that she needed to ask me something.  As soon as she touched me on the shoulder, her two male buddies started laughing loudly.  She said to me, "Never mind."  I vowed that I'd be popular one day and people would want to shake my head, give me a hug or otherwise touch me.  That's a core memory that I kicked to the back of my mind.  So I thought.  I'm sure it leaned on and intensified my ambition to became a national TV talent.

Fast forward a few decades.  Call it juvenile, but one of my dreams during the 20-something years I lived in New York was to have friends who'd throw me a birthday party.  Nothing extravagant.  I never had big birthday plans even though my friends assumed I would because I've worked on TV.  When they had birthday parties, I showed up with a gift.  I sang "Happy Birthday" along with the other festive guests and watched the friend being celebrated blow out the candles on the birthday cake.  That's what I really wanted.  A cake with candles.  That's a sweet, illuminated symbol that says "You're special to us.  We want you to make a wish and we want it to come true."

In months counting down to my 50th birthday, I casually mentioned to friends that I had no plans for my 50th.  Some of them were tossed really swell parties for their 50th year.  Well, I was certainly available to be taken out and sung to before I blew out the candles on a cake.  One friend who lived a few blocks away called me on my birthday morning and asked if i had any plans.  I didn't.  She wanted to take me to dinner when she returned from a freelance job she had that afternoon in Connecticut.  She was getting a ride with two other folks in Manhattan who booked the same job.

Unfortunately, returning from the job, their car broke down on a Connecticut highway.  She called constantly to tell me they were still waiting for assistance.  It was not her fault and she just wasn't able to get back to Manhattan to take me out.  Around 9:00 that night, I took myself out to a favorite diner down the block.  I told the manager it was my birthday, knowing that he'd probably give me a free dessert.  He did.  While I sat there, eating alone on my 50th birthday, I thought of those three mean kids in junior high and said to myself, "Well, I guess they won after all."  See?  That core memory came back as a comment on a new adult memory that hurt even more.

That's a painful birthday memory.  It stings my heart.  But what do I do with it?  Whenever I have an actor audition for a serious scene, one with heartbreak, I pull that memory out and use it positively.  Instead of letting it make me bitter, I use it to give truth to an audition so I'll get some work.  When the audition is over, I kick it right to back of my mind.

That's what I mean about how feelings lean on each other and how they all serve a purpose if we handle them well.  Is Inside Out an animated masterpiece like Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio?  Is it as magical as The Wizard of Oz with young Judy Garland as a wistful Dorothy singing "Over the Rainbow"? This new feature is very fresh and very good but not quite a masterpiece in my book.  There's so much pop psychology that it needed a splash or two more of whimsy for buoyancy.

Still, Inside Out is a winner. Pixar does calculated sentimentality with finesse.  The little voices in my head recommend Inside Out for wonderful family entertainment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Knockout Work in GLASS CHIN

The ex-boxer says, "I'm gonna be held in high regard again."  You'll hold a few actors in high regard after you see their performances in GLASS CHIN.  It's a good movie.
Corey Stoll is fantastic as an ex-fighter in New Jersey having a crisis of the soul at Christmastime.  When the movie opens, he's jogging up a street alone with his dog during a light snowfall.  The 1960s hit, "It's Gonna Take a Miracle." plays in the background.  The song fits as we learn the story of Bud Gordon, played by Stoll.  If you watched him as the booze and drugs-plagued politician on House of Cards and the doctor hunting The Strain in that sci-fi horror series, check him out in Glass Chin.  His physical carriage and mannerisms are totally different here. When he eats in a fancy restaurant, he even holds his utensils like a palooka.  It's not a showy role.  We don't see fight scenes like in Scorcese's Raging Bull or in Ron Howard's Cinderella Man.  And that's ok.  We don't need to see them. What we do see is an indie film that has such a unique tone, rhythm and visual style that it holds you as Bud makes the mistake of choosing ambition over friendship.  We catch hints of his spiritual restlessness and inner conflict in everyday talk.  With his Jersey girlfriend, he whines about missing the old place they had when he was a boxing star.  He says it was "party-worthy."  She likes the place they have now.
Not frilly.  The hot water is inconsistent.  But she finds it cozy.  At the boxing gym, he can't understand why the janitor always mops the floor so diligently.  As if a TV crew will show up.  The janitor takes pride in his job.  He gets irked by a comment a non-threatening homeless guy makes about a boxing match he lost.  He's rude to the poor man.  The man remarks, "Jesus got hit hard, but He stayed the course."  Bud's Jersey restaurant folded.  J.J., a handsome shark in a shiny suit, wants Bud to concentrate on Manhattan and be an entrepreneur.  J.J. dabbles in restaurants, art galleries and cocaine.  "Ordinary is the enemy," he says.  He hooks Bud into accompanying Roberto on errands.  When we see Roberto, we know Bud is wanted to be the muscle as Roberto picks up tainted money.  Instead of training a new boxer in Jersey, work that Bud does very well, he chases the spotlight down the wrong street.  He'll have serious personal choices to make.

Don't let the editing of that trailer misguide you.  One element of Glass Chin that thrilled me enough to sit through the movie twice is the director's choice of long shots...shots that stay on two characters as dialogue unfolds.  Occasionally there's a very slow push in to a medium shot.  We don't get quick, fast, jazzy editing in this movie.  It's shot in a way that make us feel as if we're eavesdroppers or voyeurs who happen to be in the room watching these intimate conversations.  Some actors are photographed in single close-ups as if they're talking to the camera.  I loved it.  The morally conflicted boxer is a theme you may have seen before but it looks fresh here.  Also, it takes talented and strong actors to do long takes with a lot of dialogue.  This is a talented and strong cast.                                                                                            
I became a Billy Crudup fan back in 2000 with his wonderful performance as Russell, the vain non-famous 1970s rock guitarist in Cameron Crowe's delightful Almost Famous.  He's one versatile actor.  You know what I mean if you've seen him in Almost Famous, as the redeemed drug addict in Jesus' Son (1999) and as the gay cross-dressing actor doing Shakespeare in 17th Century London in Stage Beauty (2004).  Crudup is on his A-game here.  One of the best scenes in the movie is the scene in which slick and sophisticated J.J. tells the hard luck boxer that he'll be framed for murder if he doesn't follow J.J.'s orders.  It mostly a long shot, one long take, in a dimly lit kitchen and the camera slowly pushes in to J.J.'s face with his shark-like dark eyes.  Excellent.
Noah Bushel, the director and writer, gave us more by doing less in the area of camera shots and energetic editing.  The revelation of raw emotions in scenes was the energy needed.  Not MTV-like quick cuts.  And he knows how to fill a frame in a very natural way.
Bud's girlfriend is content to be non-famous.  She tries to make Bud rid himself of his fever to get "back to the top o' the heap."  Roberto, a war vet evicted from his home, now happily works for corrupt J.J.  Always in a black leather jacket, he's unsophisticated, aggressive, dangerous and seems to want the boxer as his occasional sex buddy.
When Roberto talks to Bud about the nature of dogs, Roberto's talking about himself too.  Marin Ireland plays Bud's honorable girlfriend, Ellen.  Yul Vazquez plays Roberto who tells Bud, "People like us, we're made to go to war as entertainment for the rich."
Ireland and Vazquez also do truly fine work in their performances.  Vazquez was in the classic "Soup Nazi" episode of the Seinfeld sitcom.  Glass Chin runs only 87 minutes and it's worth your time.  David Johansen, formerly rocker Buster Poindexter ("Hot, Hot, Hot"), has a small supporting role.  It's good to see him again.  A special nod goes to cinematographer Ryan Samul.   To repeat, the lead performances by Corey Stoll and Billy Crudup are a knockout.  Glass Chin opens June 26th.

Friday, June 19, 2015

New from Director of WHAT'S UP, DOC?

Director Peter Bogdanovich made a new comedy called SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY.  I sat through it so that you don't have to.  If you're a classic film fan and do choose to see it, the sound you'll hear will be that of Charles Boyer, Jennifer Jones and film director Ernst Lubitsch spinning in their graves.  Younger viewers will recognize Peter Bogdanovich as the therapist to Tony's therapist on The Sopranos.  We older filmgoers recognize Bogdanovich as one of the hottest young directors of the 1970s.  Scorcese, Spielberg, Bogdanovich and Woody Allen.  Those four had critics and audiences overjoyed.  Bogdanovich directed three great films -- the drama  The Last Picture Show (1971) followed by two bright comedies -- What's Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973).  In those comedies, he displayed an obvious reverence for Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges in his directing style.  He interviewed renowned directors from Hollywood's Golden Age, he wrote magazine articles about acclaimed directors such as Preston Sturges.  Then something sad happened.  He sputtered through the 1980s while those other three directors went on to more hit films. In the 1990s, his movie director mojo seemed to disappear. It has not reappeared with She's Funny That Way, a comedy that seems more like a retread of a tiresome Woody Allen feature from the 1990s.  Imogen Poots and Owen Wilson star in this Bogdanovich movie.
The comedy opens with Fred Astaire's original recording of "Cheek to Cheek" from his 1935 classic movie musical, Top Hat.  A new Hollywood star is talking.  She's got a Brooklyn accent.  She seems sweet and a bit shy.  She's being interviewed by a cynical reporter played by the always-dependable and under-appreciated Illeana Douglas.  We find out that Isabella loves classic films and the romance of them.  She loves "magic" and "happy endings."  She mentions Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando and James Dean.  She talks about the Hollywood legend of how Lana Turner was discovered.  We also find out that Isabella was a call girl who became a Broadway actress.  Instead of a "call girl," she prefers to say that she was "a muse."

Poots plays Isabella "Izzy" Finkelstein.  She uses the last name Patterson instead.  Derek is a director in from L.A.  His wife is an actress.  He's casting/directing a new play in which the Mrs. will star when she flies into town.  He checks into his A-list Manhattan hotel room.  As he's ordering an escort on the hotel phone, his little boy and wife call on his cell phone.  Izzy lives at home in Brooklyn with her loud parents, played by Cybill Shepard and Richard Lewis, when she gets a call from the escort agency.  She gets into Manhattan to meet her john.  She likes Derek.  He finds her sweet.  In bed after sex, they chat about being told where your place in life is.  He gives his opinion about people telling you where your place is.  If you're a classic film fan and think his short monologue about "squirrels to the nuts" sounds familiar, you're correct.  It's word-for-word what Charles Boyer says to the gorgeous lady plumber played by Jennifer Jones under the kitchen sink in the first 15 minutes of Cluny Brown.  That 1946 feature from 20th Century Fox is one of my favorite comedies directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The "squirrels to the nuts" line from Cluny Brown pops up throughout the rest of She's Funny That Way.  

Before Isabella and Derek parts, he wants to inspire her to seek a new career.  He gives her a generous sum of money to go out and change her life.  She doesn't like being a prostitute.  She dreams of being an actress.  Time passes.  The wife comes to NYC.  Auditions for the play begin.  Izzy gets an audition to play the likable hooker in the Broadway play.  Derek is flustered to see her show up at the audition.  She's surprised to see him and to discover his real occupation.  And his real name.  It's Albert.  The clueless wife is present and thinks Izzy is perfect for the role.  She pushes for her to be cast.  The leading man recognizes Izzy because he was one of her johns.  Wackiness and complications ensue.  You get the impression that being a hooker is smart career move for a young woman.  Jennifer Aniston has a supporting role as an obnoxious therapist.  Everything that was annoying about her as the therapist in Horrible Bosses 2 is expanded here.  Izzy bcomes one of her patients.  Another of the shrink's patients is a married man who was one of Izzy's johns and he's still obsessed with her.
Here's what I meant about this comedy being tiresome like a Woody Allen  feature from the 1990s.  About that time, even white critics were wondering why Allen never or rarely had black actors in his films that were set and shot in Manhattan.  Sometimes you didn't even see many black people as extras in his Manhattan street scenes.  It was as if he thought all black folks lived only in Harlem, where scenes in his classic films never took place.  In this modern day Manhattan comedy, you'd think that no black people walk up Madison Avenue beyond 57th Street.  The background actors are predominantly white.  Notice this in the sidewalk scenes that introduce Aniston's abrasive character.
When Allen finally did have a black person in a key role, it was Hazelle Goodman as Cookie...the hooker...in 1997's Deconstructing Harry.  Think of that when you see She's Funny That Way.  A Broadway play is in rehearsals in She's Funny That Way but, like in Allen's comedies, you don't see black people as playwrights, directors, stage managers, producers, lead actors in the play or as theatrical agents.  Or as therapists.  In posh restaurants, you don't see black people as head waiters or managers.  Kathryn Hahn plays the actress wife working with the ex-hooker-turned-actress.
This is a film in which a hooker can live with her clueless parents, make you laugh, literally charm the pants off a guy and wind up making her acting debut in a Broadway play.                                            
If she'd been a black hooker from Brooklyn, she probably would've been shot and killed by the wife.  To me, this movie seemed to have that irritating Caucasian Hollywood Boys Club double standard.  I'll put it like this:  If you're 16, white and pregnant...you make good grades in high school, you're witty, you've got understanding parents to love and help you through your dilemma, and you live in a nice suburban home.  You have your own car.  You're in a sophisticated indie comedy and we call you Juno.
If you're 16, black and pregnant...you can barely read and you do poorly in high school,  you've got an abusive mother who throws a TV at your head, you have a miserable life with your mean single parent in the projects, and you steal a bucket of fried chicken.  You have to take the bus.  You're in a depressing indie drama and we call you Precious.
Bogdanovich's cast has some heavy lifting to do with this wooden screenplay but British actress Imogen Poots gives good Brooklyn.  I liked her more than I liked the script.
This movie was scheduled to open here in May but the release date was pushed back to late August.  There was one performer in a small role who really broke me up.  Lucy Punch plays a slim blonde Russian call girl whose got a cellphone and the I.Q. of a potato.  She works for the same agency Izzy did.  Punch's bit part made me laugh out loud.  She actually came off like a character from a Lubitsch comedy.
Otherwise, this new Peter Bogdanovich comedy limps along and disappoints.  Preston Sturges was a top Hollywood screenwriter at Paramount in the 1930s.  He got the power to direct his own original screenplays in the 1940s and whipped out an awesome winning streak of fabulous screwball comedies and satires loved by critics and moviegoers alike.  They were some of best Hollywood films of the 1940s, films that became true classics, classics that went on to influence future directors like Clint Eastwood and the Coen Brothers.  He opened the door for other writers to direct their own material.  Billy Wilder followed Sturges at Paramount to get that power.  Some of the Sturges gems are Christmas in July (1940), Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve (both 1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).  These movies were so fast, witty and wise that they almost left you breathless.  As for his influence, consider this:  In his original screenplay, Sullivan's Travels, a rich young Hollywood producer is tired of making comedies.  He wants to produce gripping dramas that reflect the grim reality of life.  He options a serious novel called "O Brother, Where Are Thou?"  The rich producer learns about the grim reality of life first-hand when, through a series of mishaps that could only come from the mind of Preston Sturges, he winds up down South, a hobo mistaken for a murderer, and sentenced to a prison chain gang.  Think of the Coen Brothers movie in 2000 with the same name as that book title created by Preston Sturges for a 1941 film.

By the end of the 1940s, the bright meteor of Sturges' writing/directing career oddly began a swift descent, crashed into Earth and burned out by the end of the decade.  In the 1950s, he wrote scripts for weak remakes of two of his top movies -- one remake starred Mitzi Gaynor (based on The Lady Eve) and the other was a Jerry Lewis vehicle (based on The Miracle of Morgan's Creek).

I often think that Peter Bogdanovich was the Preston Sturges of the 1970s.  I hope he gets his director/screenwriter mojo back.  Rent his comedies What's Up, Doc? and Paper Moon.  You'll see what I mean.  Also rent Cluny Brown by Ernst Lubitsch.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Me Who Loved SPY

Do you need some laughs this weekend?  Laughs with good actresses using bad language and giving you full entertainment?  I've got just the action-packed movie for you.
What a week.  While I've been reading the new Jackie Collins novel, I tried to keep up with tweets and other comments about this whole Rachel Dolezal mess.  She was president of the the NAACP office in  Spokane, Washington.  Then it was discovered that she's not really black.  She has Caucasian parents and she was claiming to be black.  She must be like Woody Allen in ZELIG.  There's got to be some chipped plate in the cupboard of her mind while she seemed committed to a cause.  Let's face it.  In this country, you do not pretend to be black so you can have less drama, easy access to things and make big money whether you're qualified for the job or not.  Mentally, she must have been prepared to work twice as hard for half the pay as a white dude at some time her life -- a life in which she identifies as black.  She gave her first exclusive interview to the TODAY Show.  Yes...TODAY.  A network morning news program  that had only two black people as on-air talents in its first 50 years.  Bryant Gumble and Al Roker.  In half a century.  Rachel Dolezal was interviewed by Matt Lauer.
Just a couple o' white folks sitting around talking about being black in America.  I wished Paddy Chayefsky, the screenwriter who gave us NETWORK, had lived to see that interview.

Then NBC reality show host, Donald Trump, threw his combover into the presidential ring.  He's the CELEBRITY APPRENTICE host who kept demanding that President Barack Obama prove he's an American and show us his birth certificate.  Then...Jeb Bush, who'd already thrown his hat into the presidential ring, made a guest appearance on NBC's TONIGHT Show with Jimmy Fallon to do some comedy and get some network face time.  NBC News hired two members of the rich Bush Family even though they had no previous TV journalism skills.  Billy Bush went from contributor spots on Today to becoming the new host of ACCESS HOLLYWOOD, another NBC show.  Jenna Bush Hager is now a contributor on the Today Show.

Whew!  That's a lot to think about.  I say make Brian Williams the new host of Celebrity Apprentice while Donald Trump campaigns and have Rachel Dolezal on as one of the celebrity apprentices.

Thank Heaven for Melissa McCarthy in SPY, her new movie that opened on June 5th.  I saw it yesterday and belly laughed several times.  Her action comedy was just the tonic I needed to calm down from the news of color issues and rich presidential candidates.

I wrote about Jurassic World in my previous blog post.  That's a big thrill ride sci-fi monster dinosaur movie for the family.  Basically, it's like a 1950s sci-fi movie with a handsome macho hero and an independent career woman in high heels who falls for him while she screams and runs away from monsters.  Spy is more feminist than Jurassic World and it has a better script.  The screenplay tweaks clich├ęs from the James Bond movies -- modern ones starring Daniel Craig, like Casino Royale, and classic ones starring Sean Connery.  The airplane fight scene will remind you of Goldfinger.
McCarthy, in fine form, stars as a desk-bound CIA analyst who guides a Bond-like super agent on a hidden earpiece as he tracks down terrorists who have a nuclear weapon.  Without her, he'd be dead.  She's a brilliant worker.  She's not the only good female worker in the office.  But Brad (snappily played by Jude Law) is a handsome, chauvinist male who barely notices her unique qualities, even when they're at dinner.  He just sees her as his chubby buddy.  She needs to leave the desk.
Something goes wrong with the operation and Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is kicked up to active undercover agent.  She's given disguises and new identities.  But she has to work with one real jerk -- the butch but occasionally bumbling Rick, played by Jason Statham.  Statham does a fine job lampooning the kind of action characters he's played.
Susan is a brilliant spy, brainy as all get-out, but seeing bad guys killed make her queasy.  It's no surprise Brad never really noticed her at work even though she guided him through deadly assignments.  She's a woman who was raised by her mother to blend in and be unassuming.  Now, she's 40 and lives alone.  But as she follows her keen hunches, she's no longer passive.  She becomes a rogue spy with a new look.  Entering one swanky casino nightclub, Melissa McCarthy gives you a bit of Mae West as she wears basic black and flirts with the doormen.  I loved that scene.
She hated the disguises her critical CIA boss (played by Allison Janney) gave her.  As Susan said, "I look like someone's homophobic aunt."  She changes things when she goes rogue spy.  I won't tell you much more about the movie.  But, trust me, all the funny parts are not in the trailer.  There are many more.
There's plenty of kick-ass action in this movie and the screenplay has some clever twists.  As for Melissa McCarthy, I've been a fan of hers since I saw her in a bit part in the 1999 Christmas crime comedy thriller, GO.  She had one small scene as a roommate but she lit it up. Melissa McCarthy is comedy gold and she looks fabulous in this new movie.  Spy is one of her best since her Oscar-nominated performance in Bridesmaids.  Both films were directed by Paul Feig.  This may not be highbrow art, but it gave me just what I wanted -- lots of laughs, action, a good story and characters I cared about.  Besides Susan Cooper...I really loved Aldo the horny Italian, played by Peter Serafinowicz, and Nancy, Susan's British office mate pal, played by Miranda Hart.  For laughs this weekend, go see Spy.  I hope there's a sequel to this very entertaining action/comedy.

Sex, drugs, money, murder, celebrity pets named after pop stars, racial diversity and an Elvis impersonator.  That's all in the new novel by Jackie Collins.  It's called THE SANTANGELOS.  Here's Jackie:
There's a lot or oral sex in this novel.  And, at one point, a characters recalls the time she drew a happy face with a felt tip pen on a guy's johnson.  Only in a Jackie Collins novel.  If you're in New York City around lunchtime on Thursday, June 18th, I'll interview her about the book and she'll sign copies.  That's in the Bryant Park Reading Room on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.

We'll be there from 12:30 to 1:45pm.  Click onto the Things To Do section and find Reading Room on the website for more info:  BryantPark.org.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


History has been made with this new science-fiction monster dinosaur sequel.  I don't mean the fact that JURASSIC WORLD set a new weekend record by raking in $208.8 million gross at the box office.  I mean the fact that the black man you see as a character in the first ten minutes is still alive in the last ten minutes.  If you're a black person of a certain generation who grew up watching countless horror movies on TV and the big screen, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Every time we saw a black character in a horror movie, we moaned to ourselves "Oh, Lawd!  Creature gonna jack yo' ass up.  Run!" We always knew that black person would be eaten or otherwise killed off before the end of the picture.  Remember Samuel L. Jackson in 1999's Deep Blue Sea?  That sci-fi underwater horror movie co-starring LL Cool J was pretty much "Ghetto Jaws."  That monster shark had a grill on its teeth.  In Jurassic World, all those dinosaurs on the loose gobbled up the other competition at the box office last weekend.  I've gotta tell ya -- Jurassic World really is one exciting thrill ride once the action kicks in.  Besides the super special effects with the new enormous killer beasts, the other thing that drew me to the picture was its lead actor.  I am a Chris Pratt fan.  I have been digging him since he made me laugh when he was so loopy on the NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation.  He's a charismatic, talented and versatile actor.  Also, Chris Pratt has movie star quality.  I didn't care about the Jurassic World plot, I just wanted to see him be totally cool and save folks from becoming a dino lunch.  He makes a good action hero.
Time flew by like scary pterodactyls did in this new movie.   Jurassic Park came out in 1993.  Seems like I was paying to see it just last summer.  The box office champ, based on a novel of the same name, started a movie franchise.  I feel about Jurassic World, the way I felt about Jurassic Park.  It may be too intense for youngsters.  Like the original, this new sequel has kids stranded in the Jurassic jungle and they are in major danger.  Dinosaurs go after them like they're appetizers.  The real action starts 35 minutes into the movie when it's discovered that one clever killer dinosaur has gotten out of containment.  After one portly Paul Blart: Mall Cop-type security guard becomes fast food, the thrills and gasps keep coming.  Before that, we meet the main characters and get some back story.  That means dialogue and set up.  Chris Pratt is the hero, Owen.  He cares for, trains and respects raptors.  Bryce Dallas Howard is Claire, the Jurassic World amusement park corporate yes-woman who is more devoted to her corporate family than she is to her real family.  Her sister, whom she could be closer to, is flying her two young sons to visit Aunt Claire at Jurassic World for some family time.  The oldest is a high school senior who's bored that he'll have to watch his little brother.  Aunt Claire hasn't seen them in seven years and still pretty much blows them off when she sees them now.  Instead of making them a top priority and bonding with them, she gives them special passes so they can have independent amusement.  She'll catch up with them later.  We know a crisis will occur.  Aunt Claire and the big brother both have a lesson to learn about relationships and showing family love.  Stop treating loved ones like they're junk mail.  Treat them like a special delivery.  There's no guarantee that they'll always be around.
Claire and Owen will bicker but they're attracted to each other. When you boil it down, this is just like a 1950s sci-fi movie.  He's the macho hero.  She's an umarried career woman who poses a scientific puzzle even bigger than the one of genetic modification that reboots pre-historic creatures.  That puzzle is this:  How the hell did she run through all that Jurassic World jungle in high heels and not get her ecru-colored outfit dirty?  How did that happen?  Claire is not exactly in the same league with my favorite sci-fi movie hero -- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien and Aliens.  Ripley could kick some evil creature ass, challenge the corporation, be the hero and be maternal to a little girl at the same time.

Chris Pratt talked about his Parks and Recreation chubbiness in interviews.  He talked about how he worked out, slimmed down and shaped up for his previous hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  He's still buffed here.  Vincent D'Onofrio co-stars as the bad guy.  Bearded Chris Pratt is the young handsome hero, a likable alpha male cub who opposes a burly and goateed D'Onofrio as the older corrupt corporate daddy bear.

Irrfan Khan plays the company guy who recently learned how to fly a chopper.  You may not be familiar with this performer from India, but he is one terrific actor.                                                  
He was the abusive police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire and heartbreaking as The Father in The Darjeeling Limited.  The other actor I was excited to see in Jurassic World was BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu.  Wong was in1993's Jurassic Park with Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Laura Dern and Sam Neill.    

There would not have been a Jurassic Park without him because he's the scientist who discovers the genetic modification or whatever you call it that basically can regrow dinosaurs.  Dr. Wu reminds you that his scientific genius and his genetic breakthrough are the reasons why Jurassic World exists.  And he's correct.
Here's the thing the struck me -- and it relates to today's issue of diversity in Hollywood.  BD Wong's scientist character is not seen anymore after his brief appearance in the first 20 minutes of Jurassic Park.  We see a black scientist played by Samuel L. Jackson.  But he's black so he becomes a dino meal before the last act.  I interviewed BD Wong live in studio when I was on WNBC/Channel 4's Weekend Today in New York.  BD and I are acquainted. We lived two blocks from each other in Manhattan.  The original film had just come out and it was destined to be a hit.  On WNBC, I asked BD if he'd be interested in doing a sequel -- because surely there would be one.  Yes, BD Wong wanted to be in the sequel.  But his important character -- an Asian-American scientist played by an Asian-American actor -- was never in any Jurassic Park sequel until now.  As a performer and as a black, that bothered me.  Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill were in sequels.  Why didn't film critics and entertainment journalists who report on the hiring of minority actors catch that back in the 1990s?  BD Wong is in the first ten minutes of Jurassic World and he appears later when all genetic modification hell has broken loose.
Corporate got involved and, in order to increase Jurassic World customers and build revenue, ordered the creation of more pre-historic beasts.  Corporate wanted "bigger, louder, more teeth" for audience thrills.  And then something went horribly wrong.  The creatures are bigger, louder and have more teeth.  They're also smarter and deadly.
We also see how corporate got involved behind the scenes.  Jurassic World is a Universal Pictures release.  Universal is now attached to NBC.  That means NBC television product got plugged into the filmmaker's script as a commercial.  When the two kids are riding in a Jurassic World bubble-like vehicle, they see a promotional video.  Who is the wacky science host in the video?  Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC's Tonight Show.  I like Fallon.  But there was really no reason for him to be in that video for about 30 seconds of screen time.  A non-famous actor who desperately needs work could've done the role and maybe gotten other work because of it.  Corporate NBC stuck a TV commercial into the Universal movie for the sake of advertising a network star.

There will be another Jurassic Park or Jurassic World sequel.  Chris Pratt will be in it.  BD Wong should be in it with an even bigger role than he's had before as Dr. Wu.

Father's Day is coming up.  If you want a DVD tip for dad, I've got an excellent recommendation.  It stars Irrfan Khan who has a key scene with BD Wong in Jurassic World.  Khan plays a devoted, quiet father in New York.  He was a poor immigrant from India who came to America to seek a new life.  He became a citizen and a family man.  His son is very American, a trendy and young New Yorker who distances himself from his parents' past and traditions.  He learns about his father's struggles to give him the good life he has in 2006's THE NAMESAKE.  Mira Nair directed it and what a beautiful job she did.  The son is played by Kal Penn, popular from the Harold & Kumar movie comedies.  He's dramatic here and quite impressive.  The Namesake shows what an outstanding actor Irrfan Khan is.  Even if it's not Father's Day, you should see it.

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...