Monday, November 30, 2015

A Personal Story for World AIDS Day

I wish I could have talked about it on TV, shared my experiences and heartbreaks to give information the way Katie Couric did after her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998.  Following three years as a veejay and celebrity talk show host on VH1, I was approached to work on WNBC.  I'd round out the morning trio for a new program to make its debut in September 1992.  Insiders predicted that Weekend TODAY in New York would last only six months.  The live local weekend morning news program is still running.  Not only that, it was so successful that ABC and CBS followed suit with their own live local weekend morning news programs.  Not only was I new to WNBC, I was new to romance.  Our first date was on October 11th, a month after the Weekend TODAY in New York debut. I was on one of New York City's top stations, working with Matt Lauer, and I was half of a couple for the first and only time in my life so far.  A white Southern Baptist from a small town in Tennessee, a young gentlemen I met when he sold me a piece of luggage in Bloomingdale's, decided that I was the guy for him.  The feeling was mutual.  When he returned from Thanksgiving holidays with his family in Tennessee, he had a little cold that lingered.  In December 1992, I had to get him to a hospital.  The week going into New Year's Eve, he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.  He'd never been tested for HIV.  This was at a time when AIDS was still a plague that dominated national headlines and when activists demanded attention from our government.
We needed that activism.  I got to New York City in 1985.  From then through to the early 1990s, the environment for gay men was humiliating and bigoted because of the AIDS crisis.  Activists shouted down the intolerance.  ACT UP expressed our community's rage.
You didn't see an openly gay male on just about every TV show the way you do now.  Gay professional athletes stayed in the closet.  We didn't have openly gay network news anchors and contributors.  Gay men did not come out for fear of losing their jobs, not getting a job or being otherwise shunned.  Today, a straight actor playing a gay character could be a direct shot at an Oscar nomination.  Look at Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Colin Firth and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Before their Oscar nominations, the Tom Hanks Oscar victory for playing a gay man fighting for his civil rights after his AIDS diagnosis in 1993's Philadelphia was groundbreaking.  It was most significant to Richard and me to watch Hanks accept his first Best Actor Oscar for that brave performance.
I tend to make many references to movies when I describe situations. This piece will be no exception.  The AIDS crisis in the 1980s through the early 90s was like a sci-fi horror movie.  Like Alien.  Every time you turned around, another member of your crew was gone, killed by a monster.  Then there was the ignorance.  I remember the issue of New York Magazine that reported how AIDS affected the privileged in Manhattan.  They'd stopped eating at their posh restaurants because they assumed that every waiter was gay or bisexual and possibly had HIV.  The wealthy felt that they could catch the virus through a dinner plate that such a waiter had touched.  A healthy gay man could clear out a cocktail party by sneezing because people assumed that all gay men were HIV+ carriers.  Yes, there was stigma in images and in hiring.  This was long before openly gay actor Neil Patrick Harris could star on a hit sitcom as a hetero ladies' man and go on to host the Oscars.  This was long before hetero ladies' man actor Charlie Sheen could go on the network Today show -- with Matt Lauer -- to announce that he's HIV+.

WNBC News had different management in the early 1990s when I was there.  I was hired to do entertainment reports and film reviews in the studio.  Once the show premiered, management reassigned me basically to be the comic element of the show in live remote segments from various locations like shopping malls and street fairs.  I'd do occasional celebrity interviews.  From the time I got Richard to the hospital for the first time, to the week he was diagnosed with AIDS, until the day he died in June 1994, his illness changed both our lives.  He moved into my studio apartment.  He was no longer employed.  He was technically disabled.  I was irritated that WNBC local news management was deflecting me from doing what I'd initially been hired to do, but that part-time paycheck for the weekend show helped take care of Richard and me while I sought other freelance on-camera employment during the week.  There were so many sudden and severe changes in Richard's condition that dealing with it was often like riding a rollercoaster at night while wearing blindfolds.  You couldn't seen the next turn or drop coming.

There were a few other gay men that I knew in the WNBC local newsroom.  I took them into my confidence and told them my partner had been diagnosed.  They all urged me not to tell management for fear I'd be dropped from my contract.  I told them that my health was good.  I was his caregiver.  They still urged me not to tell management because of the stigma of being with someone who had AIDS.  Because Weekend Today in New York was an early morning show, we'd have to be at work in the pre-dawn hours.  When I got to work about ten minutes late, it was always because I'd gone directly to the office from having slept sitting upright in a chair at Richard's hospital bedside.  I wrote down the names of all his medications.  I met with his doctor and his nurses.  I went to organizations that helped me become a good caregiver.  At that time, AIDS patients were quarantined. I did not want him to be alone and scared through the night.  I'd sleep at his bedside -- and then go to WNBC where I had to be funny on a live news program.  When he did not have to be in the hospital and when he had the energy, what did Richard do besides enrich my life?  He did volunteer work to help AIDS patients who were less fortunate.  He urged people to get tested and know their HIV status.  That's some of the quality of the man I loved.

I knew I was not the only person in the New York TV viewing area who had a loved one battling AIDS.  I was not the only person thrust into a caregiver position.  Had management at that time embraced diversity, I would loved to have done segments on my personal journey as a caregiver to a person with AIDS.  I could've passed on what I'd learned.  I could've given useful information.  I'm sure it would've helped others.  I really wanted to do that.  But, what the gay men in the newsroom told me was probably true.  Management would not let me air a good interview I'd done of Harvey Fierstein when he was promoting his performance opposite Robin Williams in 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire.  The news exec who hired me refused to air my taped interview because, said he, "I have a problem with him being openly gay."  I told Harvey why it didn't air.  That same executive would not let me mention a SAGE fundraiser street fair in my community calendar segment.  SAGE is a non-profit organization of Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders.  I guess he felt threatened by 65-year old lesbians selling macrame plant holders and their old Joni Mitchell albums.  Denied the freedom to discuss my partner's health crisis the way straight people could freely discuss a spouse's health crisis made me feel like I was a muffled scream at work.  As I mentioned earlier, that disliked management team -- and that ignorance -- is long gone from WNBC.  On that same weekend morning show, WNBC viewers now get their weather from terrific Raphael Miranda.  Not only is he openly gay, he's got a husband.  We've seen photos of them on social media.  That's progress.

After Richard died, I stayed on the show long enough to help his sweet parents pay off his funeral expenses.  That took six months, and then I quit. Also, the news exec who hired me told me that, although my work was good and I was popular with viewers, I'd neither be promoted to full time status nor would I get network opportunities.  Richard's doctor and nurses at Manhattan's Mt. Sinai Hospital and the GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) strengthened me with support and knowledge for which I'm still grateful. Today, HIV is neither an immediate death sentence nor a shame.  I wish Richard had been able to benefit from the medical advances.  Twice, after the Great Recession of 2008 left me flat broke and unemployed, HIV+ friends gave me a place to stay while I sought work.  There was a college friend in San Francisco in 2011.  I'm currently in the New Jersey home of a friend who's been HIV+ for over 20 years.  Thos Shipley is an African-American singer/actor who played a G.I. in the original Broadway cast of Miss Saigon.  He still sings.  His Italian-American husband is the former mayor of this small New Jersey town.  Thos is openly gay, openly HIV+ and openly black.  He ran for city council over the summer.  And won.  He'll be sworn in come January.  Now there's a story for WNBC local news.

AIDS is not in the national headlines the way it once was.  However, we still need a cure.  And education.  And compassion.  We've lost some extraordinary people to AIDS.  I know I did.  I lost one who made me a better man.  Taking care of him brought me closer to the true meaning of Christianity than any sacrament I've received so far as a Catholic.  Let's remember the loved ones we lost and support the vital message of World AIDS Day.
Here's a film for your December 1st viewing.  Before Tom Hanks played a gay man dealing with AIDS, another actor also got an Oscar nomination for the same thing in a fine indie movie that accurately reflected the tone of those days during the epidemic.  Bruce Davison had starred in films that were popular with baby boomers when we were young.  There was the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated Last Summer (1969).   The Strawberry Statement (1970) looked at college student revolts during the politically turbulent 1960s.  Willard was a hit 1971 horror movie with rats as the horror. Then came Mame, the famous 1974 flop screen version of the hit Broadway musical.  He played the older Patrick Dennis opposite Lucille Ball as the singing Auntie Mame.
In 1990's Longtime Companion, Bruce Davison played a gay man in New York whose partner is dying of AIDS.  For his tender, heartfelt performance, he got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Dermot Mulroney, Campbell Scott, Mary-Louise Parker and Michael Schoeffling (Molly Ringwald's romantic interest in the 1984 teen comedy, Sixteen Candles) co-starred in this touching film.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to read this.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Week Movie Tips

Happy Thanksgiving.  The holiday is Thursday and some folks may be taking off more than just that day.  If hitting the cineplex the see a movie is on your list of leisure time activity, here are my notes on five current releases that I've seen.
SPOTLIGHT:  I saw this movie in September and wrote a post about its excellence.  When it opened early this month, I did another piece about it.  In an age in which journalism has drastically changed and when a new generation seems to gets its news in short blurbs on Twitter instead of reading an entire column in a newspaper -- if anyone still purchases a newspaper -- Spotlight praises the hard, grueling work of investigative reporters back in the day when the job included lots of footwork, lots of doors slammed in your face, taking notes in longhand and doing countless hours of research and fact-checking in a library versus using Google and treating Wikipedia as if it's a worthy successor to the history books written by Will and Ariel Durant.  Like All The President's Men, a classic film from 1976, Spotlight focuses on a real-life investigative journalism team that breaks a major story that has national and international significance.  The Boston newspaper team that writes for the Spotlight section uncovered a story of sexual misconduct amongst Catholic priests when men who were victims of the sexual abuse as boys spoke out.  Spotlight is one of the best journalism movies to come out since All The President's Men.  It's also a tale of redemption, making things right.  Attention is paid when it should've been paid long ago.  If this intelligent and compelling film doesn't get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the Academy has lost its collective mind.  Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup star in an outstanding film that features some excellent ensemble acting.

SICARIO:  No one is talking about this movie but, man, what a crime thriller!  There were times that I gasped at what happened.  And I wasn't the only moviegoer in the cineplex audience to do so.  I saw Sicario recently when I had a few hours to kill before heading back to where I'm staying.  I knew that it had to do with the drug war in Mexico and that Emily Blunt -- who gave such rich comic performances in The Devil Wears Prada and the musical Into The Woods -- was cast a top-notch FBI agent.  I read a couple of snarky review comments about the slim, pretty actress being cast in the role.  The snarky comments, written by guys, struck me as sexist.  Emily Blunt rocked that role.
Like Jodie Foster's character in The Silence of the Lambs, Blunt's idealistic Kate Macer is a highly regarded and the lone female in a male-dominated agency and job.  She is enlisted to go to Mexico to help fight the blood bath of a drug war between Mexico and the U.S.  But who are the bad guys and who are the good guys?  Benecio Del Toro stars as the mysterious man on her team.  And is there a price to pay for playing by the rules as Kate Macer does?  In Blunt's portrayal, you see a mind that's constantly, actively alert in a woman who is always true to her moral compass.  Sicario is violent, tense and action-packed.  Emily Blunt and Benecio Del Toro deliver powerful performances.  Trust me.  You will gasp too at a couple of scenes in this beautifully shot and edited feature.
BURNT:  If Food Network started producing made-for-TV movies, this is the kind of feature we'd get.  Unfortunately, Food Network would've probably put Guy Fieri in the lead instead of Bradley Cooper.
Cooper stars as the handsome top chef who was just too popular in Paris until drugs and alcohol stalled his career.  Now he's cleaned up and gets another shot at stardom in the kitchen -- this time in London.  But he must learn humility, how to be a team player, how to control his temper and how to let people care about him as much as he cares about food.  The surroundings are posh.  Fabulous Emma Thompson has an all-too-brief role as the wise therapist checking the top chef's 12 Step recovery and cracking though his emotional crust.  British actress Sienna Miller, still trying to click with American moviegoers the way Emma Thompson, Emily Blunt and Keira Knightley have, plays the top chef's potential love interest, a fellow cook in his restaurant kitchen.
Have you ever had dinner at one of those fancy restaurants where the place is deluxe, the folks are well-dressed and you're paying top dollar for little bitty gourmet portions on a big-ass plate?  I have.  I always stopped at a pizza joint on the way home to get a couple o' slices.  This movie is like that.  A little bitty story in a big-ass fancy film.  There's eye-candy in Cooper and all the food looks terrific, but you don't leave feeling full.

THE 33:  In my previous blog posts this month, you can see me interview cast members Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips and Rodrigo Santoro.  This film is based on the miraculous news story of 2010.  On live TV news, we witnessed the rescue of 33 men, victims of a mining disaster in Chile.  They were trapped far below ground for 69 days.  With modern technology, we were able to see video of them underground before they were individually brought up to reunite with family and other loved ones.  OK, I'll admit it:  When I followed this story on CNN and saw video of 33 shirtless Latin men with hardhats and huddled together in a dimly lit space, I thought "If each one of those guys was holding a cocktail and if there was house music playing in the background, that would be just like a sexy club I visited one night in the East Village of New York City.  Woof!"
There was a moment when the 33 semi-clad men gather together for a group hug. My heart skipped a beat.  Not to worry.  This film is fine for family viewing.  It was surely tough to write because 33 men were involved, plus rescuers and relatives.  You can't tell each miner's story in the screenplay, so it has to focus on a couple, crystallize the situation and find the main theme.  In this story, the theme is faith.  Keeping the faith.  There's not much drama beyond them hoping to be rescued, but it's big on faith via the leader played by Antonio Banderas.  And the final scene with the miners is quite touching. The film was directed by Mexican-born, New York City-trained Patricia Riggen.  There is very little food for the 33 miners.  The food fantasy sequence is delicious and a most amusing break from the seriousness of the situation. I love what the director did there.

THE MARTIAN:  Actor Matt Damon is lost in space.  Think about The Martian as you eat the mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving dinner plate.  This is a smart thrill ride of a movie that blends science, the Happy Days TV sitcom and classic disco music into one of the most entertaining pictures Matt Damon has starred in recently.  Just like The 33, you have a man on an exploratory mission.  Disaster strikes. He's unreachable and must be rescued.  Keeping the faith is key.  But this story has way more drama and action going on than The 33 does.  Also, we're able to focus on one main character.  The movie opens with a manned mission on Mars.  Astronauts are walking on the planet.  When a colossal, dangerous storm approaches, they must abort the exploratory mission, race back into the ship and blast off.
Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead, a victim of the killer storm.  He's not dead.  He regains consciousness to find himself alone on Mars.  His astonished space crew far out in the galaxy is determined to rescue him.
Watney must "science the hell" out of his situation.  He figures out how to grow food for himself.  It's his philosophy that when things "go South," when all goes wrong, there's only one choice:  "You just begin."  You figure out one problem, and then another, and then another.  We see him, there's his team in space and there's the NASA team on earth.  The Martian is a pro-racial and pro-gender diversity cheer for what can be accomplished all over the world when we work together.  Damon is excellent in a largely solo performance.  Co-starring in The Martian are Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig.  Clever script and great special effects.
Some critics accurately noted that his character in The Martian has challenges like the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away.  In Cast Away, the man was lost and separated from the woman he loves.  Notice that Mark Watney never mentions a girlfriend or wife and kids waiting for him back on Earth.  The miners in The 33 had wives or girlfriends waiting for them to be rescued.  In one case, a miner had both.  The stranded astronaut has his NASA crew and his parents.  Interesting.  Also, The Martian is an exciting movie that'll give you a greater appreciation for duct tape and potatoes.  You'll see what I mean.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lively Duo on ASH VS EVIL DEAD

ASH vs EVIL DEAD serves up gore and gags Saturday nights on the Starz channel.  Ash, gleefully played by Bruce Campbell, is a big, boneheaded teen-ager trapped in the one-handed, paunchy body of a new AARP cardholder.  Ash is a hot mess of a monster hunter in Michigan.  He kills zombies with a chainsaw where his hand used to be.  He has two young sidekicks who work with him in a hardware store.  Ray Santiago is Pablo.  Dana DeLorenzo is Kelly.  Ray is a handsome, charismatic Puerto Rican New Yorker with no shortage of acting skills.  And his hair seems to have a life of its own.
Pablo sees Ash as heroic and inspirational.  DeLorenzo as Kelly doesn't.  The actress gives you life with her deadpan expressions and wisecracks. Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo deserve to be breakout stars on this series.  They're a lively couple battling the evil dead with Ash.
I absolutely loved meeting them both shortly before the series premiered on Starz.
Ray has spent about ten years in Hollywood determined to make it as an actor.  Sam Raimi, director of the hit Spider-Man movies, directed the series premiere episode that aired on Halloween night.  Here he is with Ray and Dana.                                                                                                                                
I wonder if any agent ever submitted Ray to audition for the Peter Parker role in Spider-Man.  He's got a boyish, all-American look to me.  But, like yours truly, he heard a constant chorus of "No" from agents.  Then, one day, he was riding through Hollywood, looked up and saw his face on a billboard promoting the TV show. Bravo, Ray!

When I met the two young actors for the above TV interview, I congratulated them for being employed actors.  I could congratulate them again.  Ash vs Evil Dead has been picked up for a second season.  Enjoy my few minutes with Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo -- and enjoy the creepy characters and wisecracks of Ash vs Evil Dead Saturday nights at 9:00 on Starz.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reunited with Lou Diamond Phillips

He kissed me at VH1 in the late 80s!  This versatile actor went underground in THE 33, a new Warner Bros. movie, and gives a solid performance.  It was great to see Lou Diamond Phillips again.                                                                                                                                    
One of the most memorable news stories of 2010 was the plight of the 33 miners buried alive by a collapse in an old, unsafe Chilean mine.  After 69 days of being trapped far underground, their story had a happy ending.  Viewers watched all over the world.  In the movie based on the harrowing event, Lou co-stars with Antonio Banderas.
During my years as a VH1 veejay and talk show host,  Lou Diamond Phillips was one of my favorite guests.  He was promoting his fine work as the late rock and roll star, Ritchie Valens.  The biopic, La Bamba, was a hit and put him in a well-deserved star spotlight.                                                              
He followed La Bamba with 1988's Stand and Deliver, also a based on a true story, Young Guns and Courage Under Fire.  In the 1990s, I saw him make his regal Broadway debut in a revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, The King and I.         

Currently on TV, viewers are loving Lou in the Longmire drama series on A&E.
One of the coolest and most inspirational things about Lou Diamond Phillips is that he's worked consistently since La Bamba, booking roles that display his range.

In The 33, Lou plays Don Lucho, the shift supervisor of the crew.  Early in the film, Lucho tells a superior that safety precautions are not in place for the crew.  An accident is possible.  He calls out for attention but he's up against a rock-hard wall of management resistance.

For We Got This Covered, Lou and I discuss his underground role.  And, I wondered if he recalls this Polaroid moment taken at VH1 after our first encounter on camera.
The 33 was directed by Patrician Riggen and produced by Mike Medavoy.                                        

To see my second interview of Lou Diamond Phillips, just click onto this link:

The 33 is now playing nationwide.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rodrigo Santoro: 300 to THE 33

Tall, lean Rodrigo Santoro plays a very important character in THE 33, the new movie based on the miraculous global news story from 2010.  In Chile, 33 miners were trapped way below ground after disaster struck in the mine.  Santoro plays Laurence, the well-dressed government employee who must deal with angry family members and other loved ones who know their poor men worked in unsafe conditions. THE 33 was directed by Patricia Riggen.
In a way, his character is the heart of the movie.  He shows what can be accomplished when one is brave enough to be unselfish and do the right thing for someone else.  At first, he is above the miners physically and occupationally.  He must spiritually connect to the unfortunate men underground. Santoro is a talented actor who can disappear into a character.  He's been acting for quite a while. He's in the very popular Christmastime movie, 2003's LOVE ACTUALLY.  He really took focus here in America with his work as the evil King Xerxes in a big box office hit, the ancient history war movie called 300.
If you didn't know his name, you wouldn't know this is the same actor who played the fierce Persian nemesis to the heroic Greek warriors in 300...
...and also played the sweet guy in Florida who was the first boyfriend to the divorced dad and newly-out ex-cop that Jim Carrey played in I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS.
Rodrigo Santoro's Laurence undergoes changes throughout the course of the rescue drama in THE 33.  As he steps out of his corporate identity and contributes to the efforts to bring the miners up, he brings up the best within himself.
Santoro has played the wicked King Xerxes in two 300 features.  He'll be seen playing the the ultimate good guy in a new adaptation of an Oscar winning Hollywood classic from the 1950s.  Rodrigo Santoro and I talk about that role after we talk about his excellence in THE 33.  Here's my interview conducted for We Got This Covered.  Just click onto this link:

THE 33 also stars Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche and James Brolin.  Rodrigo Santoro is terrific in it.  He's a fine, soulful actor.  THE 33 opens this November 13th weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Antonio Banderas, 1 of THE 33

We all watched a miracle on live TV.  Antonio Banderas stars in THE 33, a new movie based on a real life news story that gripped the attention of people all over the world.  33 men were trapped far underground in a mine in Chile.  Those miners were down there for 69 days and, one by one, they were rescued.  I watched that miraculous rescue live on CNN.  Riveted, I could not leave my television and, I admit, the happy ending to this life-threatening disaster news story put tears in my eyes back in 2010 when it happened.
The bearded Antonio Banderas plays Mario Sepulveda, a man who loves his life and his family.  Family is all this man of meager income has.  His job proves to be dangerous and he works without government safety precautions because, like his fellow miners, he needs the money and he has no power to improve working conditions.
Underground, when disaster strikes, he becomes the group leader and the man in charge of the minimal food the miners have.  Mario has a big personality and a big belief that they will survive against all odds.  He is the message that we must keep hope alive.
The 33 was directed by Patricia Riggen, a Latina filmmaker.  She's originally from Mexico and learned her filmmaking craft at Columbia University in New York City.
If such an action-packed tale of men in crisis had been picked up by top Hollywood studios in the past, the job of director would have automatically gone to a white male.  Before we hear from the star of the film, let's see a trailer for The 33.
Antonio Banderas plays a real-life character whom he could meet for inspiration before shooting the film. Mario was tempted by all sorts of big money offers to tell his story.  That caused conflict that we see erupt underground in the movie.  For We Got This Covered, I asked Banderas about meeting Mario.  I also asked him about the experience of working with Patricia Riggen -- not the first female director who has guided him through a film.
The 33 opens Friday, November 13th.  You can get more entertainment news on  By the way...the food fantasy scene with the 33 hungry miners was a sheer delight in this drama.  Bravo to the writers and director for that inspired break from the story's tension.

Friday, November 6, 2015

They All Shine in SPOTLIGHT

I saw SPOTLIGHT for free at a special screening.  I will pay to see it again at a cineplex.  The movie is that good.  As I wrote in September, do not be surprised to hear that Spotlight gets an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. I would give Rachel McAdams an Oscar nomination right now for Best Supporting Actress.  I've seen her in several movies but I have never seen her as alive, as real and as committed to a character as she is in Spotlight.  She becomes that sharp, tireless, working class reporter who doggedly pursues the truth and spends many often dreary hours on foot doing the hard work of an investigative journalist for a Boston newspaper.  She plays a member of the investigative news team for The Boston Globe that broke the major and startling story of sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests and the church cover-ups that followed.  Boston is a very Catholic city and this scandal shocked those of the Catholic faith.
The head of this team for the "Spotlight" section of the paper is played by Michael Keaton.  Is he good enough for another Oscar nomination, one to follow the nomination he got for Birdman? Yes.
Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2014.  In it, Keaton played a middle-aged actor in a career lull.  Twenty years earlier, he was a top Hollywood action movie star.  Now he's turned to the serious Broadway stage for reinvention and career revival.  There is opposition.  There's prejudice against him because he was a Hollywood star.  He's in the cast of a company in troubled rehearsals for a Broadway drama slated to open.  The company has individual egos. The talented but neurotic actors never seem to come together as a team to put on the show.  That's just the opposite in Spotlight.  This company works together as a team.  A hard-working, no frills team at a time when journalism itself is on the brink of major changes due to social media and the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.  Here's a preview.
Spotlight is an outstanding newspaper journalism drama in a league with Alan Pakula's 1976 classic, All the President's Men.  Just like in that movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, a film also based on a true story, we see the essentials of journalism as it once was.  Reporters take notes by hand, they ask questions, they ask follow-up questions, they go to libraries and do research, they pound the pavement doing footwork in pursuit of the truth.  They work the phones.  They write and write and write.  Let's face it.  We're now in an age in which newspapers are disappearing.  In this digital age of social media, people rewrite press releases or retweet items on Twitter and consider themselves journalists for doing so.  They google Wikipedia instead of checking sources in a library.  In that regard, Spotlight praises a sadly disappearing era in the art of journalism.
Spotlight also works as a tale of redemption.  After America was attacked, we've read that there were signs of possible danger, signs that some officials in Washington didn't fully regard.  Were there signs in Boston that priests had been sexually inappropriate?  Were there adult males who, in youth, had been sexually molested by priests but their stories seemed to fall on deaf journalistic ears?  Something had to be done.

I'm Catholic and come from a Catholic family.  Most of my education was in parochial schools.  The first time I ever heard about a priest being sexually inappropriate was when I was a young adult, new in my broadcast career and working in Milwaukee.  I was at a neighborhood bar with friends and struck up a conversation with a friendly guy about Catholic school.  We traded stories about being altar boys.  Then we talked about altar boy retreats.  I never went on one but he used to attend them.  He stopped when a priest came into his room one night.  "The next thing I know, he's on top of me," he said seriously.  I was stunned and speechless for a moment because I'd never heard of such a thing.  I said, "Did you tell your parents?"  He replied that his parents would've killed him had he ever said something like that about the beloved priest.  There was nothing he could do.  And then I got it.  It wasn't just sex.  It was power.  The abuse of power.
That reality is in Spotlight.  That newspaper team is the David going up against the powerful corporate Goliath of the Catholic Archdiocese. This is an excellent movie with fine actors in top form.  Besides Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, the cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup.  It was written and directed by Tom McCarthy.  He also directed and wrote The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win.  Those three I'd highly recommend for weekend DVD rentals. I'll not be surprised if Tom McCarthy gets Oscar nominations for writing and directing Spotlight.

Put it on your cineplex movie list.  Spotlight is one of the best films of this year.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


I hope MISS YOU ALREADY director Catherine Hardwicke reads this.  The way critic Ben Kenigsberg in Variety reduced her new film to being just an "overwrought cancer weepie" irritated me.  What he wrote also stuck me as sexist.  I bet if I took my mother to see Miss You Already, we'd have a lively, revealing conversation about it later. My mother has been a breast cancer survivor since 1972.  I thought about her while watching the movie and I thought about her longtime bond with her late best friend, the hysterically funny woman I lovingly called "Auntie Jean."  Actress/film director Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette totally click as longtime best friends in Miss You Already.  The gal pals have known each since they were little schoolgirls and now they're in relationships.  Collette, the rock 'n' roll free spirit, married a mate who complements that spirit.
Marriage agrees with her.  She becomes a mom.  He's a devoted dad and husband.  The other friend and her fellow keep trying to have a kid.  In time, they'll be successful.  We know that because the film opens with Barrymore's Jess so pregnant that she looks like she swallowed a small planet.  She's in labor and shouting to the nurse that she needs drugs. A flashback shows us the history of this colorful and laugh-filled friendship.
About ten minutes after that funny opening scene, things get serious when Collette's Milly gets word from her doctor that she has a malignant lump in her breast.  For the rest of the film, we see how the threat of death and the news of a long-desired pregnancy that'll bring new life into the world affect the durable friendship and the relationships the women have with the men in their lives.
Yes, the screenplay is crafted to make you cry.  Some moments are really over the top, yet even the Variety critic had to admit that Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette deliver very fine performances.  In Miss You Already, director Catherine Hardwicke shines a light on the durability and longevity of female friendships.  Think about it.  When it comes to male bonding, we really don't see a lot of films which there's a durability and longevity and intimacy in a male friendship through the decades.  Maybe that's because male Hollywood executives think that intimacy in a male friendship always equals a sexual in Brokeback Mountain.  We've seen women be close friends through decades -- look at the Bette Davis movie Old Acquaintance (1943), Mame and Vera in Auntie Mame (1958), The Turning Point starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft (1977) and Beaches (1988) starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.  The 1960s Catholic school comedy, The Trouble with Angels, has a tender look at female bonding in youth, middle age and old age.  The 1966 film was directed by actress Ida Lupino.  (You want to be impressed?  Go to and search Ida Lupino.  Click on her list of credits as Actress and then click onto her list of credits as Director.)

Many films about male bonding and friendships are road trips or stories with men and an immediate crisis on a playing field or a battlefield. Think of war movies such as From Here To Eternity, Saving Private Ryan or even 300.  But, when it comes to emotional intimacy in a male friendship, I can't think of many modern films that can match the emotional depth of the central male friendship in Kings Row (1942) directed by Sam Wood.  From little boyhood to young manhood, we see a friendship that endures romantic disappointments, death of loved ones, poverty and physical disability.  That unapologetically intimate, strong male friendship puts a tear in my eye.  I wonder if Ben Kenigsberg of Variety would classify that as a "weepie." Did he imply that a tight friendship of over 20 years with emotional intimacy and a heartbreaking physical challenge is women's stuff?  I wish there were more films today like Kings Row or the 2006 French film, My Best Friend, directed by Patrice Leconte.

Dominic Cooper, so fabulous as the sexy and lovable Dakin in History Boys and seen as Howard Stark in the Agent Carter TV series on ABC, plays the devoted, loving Kit.
Kit is good friends with Jess' mate, Jago, played by Paddy Considine.
What if there roles were reversed?  What if those two men had been best friends since boyhood and one of them was a family man diagnosed with testicular cancer?  Would Mr. Kenigsberg still call it a "weepie"?  One of the boldest elements of Hardwicke's film -- and one of the most memorable -- shows how Milly's double mastectomy affects the sex life of her marriage.  She and Kit have kept the fun lust alive in their marriage.  Now things are different.  He must come to terms with the severe change in her physical appearance.  As for the love, the song remains the same.  But with the illness and how it's affected her body, the sex life is now a song that needs a different arrangement and new phrasing.  I did find myself thinking of how much emphasis we put on women's breasts as being key to their total value -- often more than character, spirit and intelligence.  The breasts make them desirable.  The stark reality in bed of Milly's illness halts Kit's lovemaking. It's a strong moment.  My parents divorced. Mom was single working mother raising three children in South Central L.A.  She did hope to meet another man and have a second marriage.  But, as a single working mother who underwent a mastectomy, she did wonder if she'd meet a man who could accept her the way she was.  Mom never remarried.

That's why I feel Mom and I would have one really deep discussion if we saw Miss You Already and talked about it over a bite to eat afterwards.  She took a few steps through the emotional turf of this movie back in the 1970s, long before there was a Breast Cancer Awareness month in America.

I like the fluidity Hardwicke gave to her film.  It's a slick package.  The camera moves, the editing is brisk yet not overdone.  There's not a MTV music video style of editing with cuts just for the sake of cuts every three to five seconds. However, we do hear a soundtrack that calls to mind the days when MTV did play music videos. Miss You Already is visually pleasing with a warm color palette. Hardwicke had similar camera fluidity in one of her earlier films that I totally dig -- and one showed the range of the late Heath Ledger.  Based on a true Southern California story, the film is 2005's Lords of Dogtown. It followed the hot skateboarding craze in 1970s Venice, California and some low-income teen dudes who gained celeb status for their skateboarding skills. I'm from Los Angeles.  Australian Ledger mastered a Southern California accent and attitude as Skip, the skateboard designer and surfer dude.

Collette did some excellent work and Barrymore is at her most appealing in this mature role.  There's also a funny, tasty turn by Jacqueline Bisset as Milly's blonde soap opera TV star mother, a celebrity who leans on Jess for emotional support and guidance.
Miss You Already may not go on to become a classic like 1939's Dark Victory, starring Bette Davis, or 1983's Terms of Endearment starring Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger.  Nonetheless, it does have some commendable things going for it.  Plus, it was good to see this kind of drama about a critically ill woman directed from a woman's viewpoint.  Brava, Ms. Hardwicke, for getting it done your way.

Miss You Already opens November 6th.

Oscar Buzz for TILL

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