Sunday, May 29, 2016

Try a Taste of TANGERINE

I first heard about this indie film on NPR's weekday show, Fresh Air.  What hooked me into interview with the filmmaker was hearing that TANGERINE was shot with three smartphones.  My interest increased when I heard that it was shot in the non-red carpet Hollywood area of my hometown, Los Angeles.  The streets in this movie are streets I recognized as a native, working class Los Angeleno who took the bus.  I watched TANGERINE on Netflix Saturday night.  Lord!  It is one lively, vibrant film.  Funny, sad, vulgar, touching and very well-acted.  TANGERINE takes you to some Hollywood streets you don't usually see in movies for a raw slice of life.  The movie may be low-budget but it's big on vitality and talent in this tale of two transgender friends, both hookers, trying not to have a hard candy Christmas.
It's Christmas Eve in L.A.  That means sunshine and folks wearing shorts.  The two friends, Alexandra and Sin-Dee, are catching up when we meet them.  Sin-Dee, a fascinating hot mess who just did 28 days behind bars, is out and positive that her pimp/boyfriend has cheated on her.  Sin-Dee is determined to track that other woman down and get her revenge.  Alexandra, the sensible friend who got herself booked to sing in a club that evening, wants to concentrate on getting folks in the audience for her show.  But Sin-Dee's drama will throw a major tinsel-wrapped monkey wrench into Alexandra's day and finances.
Sin-Dee is a motor-mouthed hooker who will break you up laughing when her temper flares up.  Think of Barbra Streisand as Doris in the 1970 film version of Broadway's The Owl and the Pussycat.  Kitana Kiki Rodriguez plays the volatile and blonde-ish Sin-Dee.  Mya Taylor plays the more self-controlled Alexandra.  You really feel as though you're watching two longtime girlfriends try to help each other through a less-than-holly jolly Christmas Eve.  Add to the mix an Armenian cab driver (played by Karren Karagulian) who's hip to the Hollywood streets and knows what blocks the transgender girls usually work.
This is a comedy/drama.  The two actresses have chemistry together and fabulous comic timing, especially in scenes that will make you laugh and gasp "Oh, no she didn't!"  We also see that these two friends are misfits within a group of misfits.  They could be the objects of abuse on the streets simply because they are transgender and not "straight" hookers.  We connect to Sin-Dee and Alexandra because, after you shake it all out, they just want love and validation and the ability to earn a living -- like most of us do.  There are sexual encounters in TANGERINE but the sex scenes are not graphic.  The frustrating time that Alexandra has with a trick in the front seat of his car when she's really low on funds made me do a DTST (Danny Thomas Spit Take) with my beverage.  It was just so wrong...and oh, so funny.
The quieter moments in the film, and there are a few, are quite tender and underline the talent of the two unknown, lead actresses.  Reportedly Sean Baker, who is the film's director and screenwriter, discovered the two unknown actresses at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.  It would be a shame if Hollywood had no future work for these two talented performers simply because they're transgender. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor each earned several acting nominations in the independent film awards circuit.  Here's a TANGERINE trailer -- for mature ears only.

Here's something for classic film and TV show fans.  Razmik, the Armenian cab driver, has several characters in his backseat during a typical work day.  One customer is a boozed up senior citizen yammering on about his Cherokee name.  That actor is -- Clu Gulager.  When we baby boomers were kids, Clu Gulager was a popular face seen regularly on network TV westerns like The Virginian in addition to modern day drama and cop shows.  He has an extensive list of TV credits and is a definite Hollywood veteran.

On the big screen, Clu Gulager was one of Lee Marvin's sunglasses-wearing henchmen in 1964's The Killers -- a crime story starring Ronald Reagan as a bad guy who slaps Angie Dickinson -- and Gulager played the lover to Ellen Burstyn's character in 1971's The Last Picture Show.

TANGERINE was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and had a limited national release last summer.  I saw it on Netflix.  I recommend taking a walk on the wild side with Sin-Dee and Alexandra on Christmas Eve.  See what happens when Sin-Dee tracks down Chester, the pimp who broke her heart.  Make it a double feature night and follow it with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the highly entertaining 2005 crime thriller from Shane Black that has an openly gay detective on the case of a Christmastime murder in Hollywood.  That one stars Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.

Director/writer Sean Baker deserves big applause for taking two unknown actresses and guiding them through solid performances that pop impressively on the big screen.  Rated R and running only 90 minutes, I enjoyed TANGERINE very much. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016


When I was a kid, our mother rarely watched old movies on daytime TV.  So, if she put chores aside and watched one and suggested that I watch too, I knew that movie was significant.  That's exactly what happened late one afternoon when the local CBS station aired ALL ABOUT EVE.  Mom's face lit up and she said, "Ooooh, that's a good one!"  Need I tell you that Mom was right?  The movie got 14 Oscar nominations.  Two in the Best Actress category (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter) and two in the Best Supporting Actress category (Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter).  George Sanders won for Best Supporting Actor.  Joseph Mankiewicz took home Oscars for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  His 20th Century Fox film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1950.
ALL ABOUT EVE airs on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) at 8p ET/5p PT for your Saturday, May 7th, entertainment.  The screenplay and the performances are so rich, so sophisticated that you may want to give this classic your full attention if you're seeing it for the first time when you catch tonight's TCM presentation.  Don't check Twitter for live tweeting, don't keep checking Facebook for messages, save the Wikipedia and IMDb trivia for when the film ends.  You can find out later who Sarah Siddons and Poodles Hanneford were.  Lose yourself in this marvelous movie -- for it's rare that we get such writing, such wit and such wonderful roles in a female-driven story from Hollywood today.  Think about it -- four actresses nominated for Oscars for performances in the same film.
Margo Channing (superbly played by Bette Davis) is a Broadway legend.  Duplicitous Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) eases herself into Margo's life.  Margo's kindness opens the door for Eve to move in on Margo's career and Margo's man.

For decades I've read that Claudette Colbert was originally slated to play Margo Channing.  That's pretty much common knowledge now among classic film fans of all ages.  Colbert sprained her back and, heartbroken, had to withdraw from the project.  Bette Davis was contacted by Mankiewicz as a last-minute replacement.  Her career was in a lull at the time.  The 2-time veteran Oscar winner had completed years of service under contract at Warner Bros.  Bette Davis would say that ALL ABOUT EVE was her career "resurrection."  With that in mind, notice something:  In the script, Margo's maid and loyal friend Birdie (perfectly played by Thelma Ritter), warns Margo that Eve studies how she "walks, talks, thinks, acts" -- like Margo is "a set o' blueprints."  Eve is out to replicate Margo.  For a character who's trying to copy her stage idol, actress Anne Baxter is styled more like Claudette Colbert instead of Colbert's replacement, Bette Davis.  Here's a pic of Colbert in 20th Century Fox's 1951 comedy, LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL.
Compare her hair styling to the styling of Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in the photos above that photo.  Baxter looks like she's copying Colbert more than she's copying Davis.  If Colbert had played Margo, Eve and Margo and Phoebe at the end would've had a similar short-coiffure look.  But we do love the larger than life, occasionally bitchy but diva-with-a-heart of gold quality that Davis gives Margo Channing.  The hair, the walk, the talk...perfect.  Bette Davis was born to play Margo.  She made terrific acting choices in her characterization and she was smart in the costuming note she gave to famed designer Edith Head.  Head also won an Oscar for this film.
Bette Davis reportedly suggested to Edith Head that the now-famous party dress be off the shoulder.  She felt that Margo, from descriptions in the screenplay, was an off-the-shoulder dame.  There's Margo's party dress in the above photo of Bette Davis and Thelma Ritter.  Another bit of business in ALL ABOUT EVE fascinates me.  And it's a statement on how one never knows what The Fates may have in store for a Hollywood career.  Look at the top photo and you see screen newcomer Marilyn Monroe in a bit part as Miss Casswell, Addison DeWitt's showgirl date who's not exactly the brightest bulb on the chandelier.  As he says during a conversation, "You have a point.  An idiotic one, but a point."  You also see Monroe in the photo from LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL with Claudette Colbert.  In that comedy, Monroe had a bigger part.

By 1955, Marilyn Monroe would no longer be a bit player.  She'd be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, an international sex symbol, and -- like Bette Davis -- she would become a Hollywood legend.  Marilyn Monroe and Thelma Ritter are seen together in a shot during the staircase conversation at Margo's party.  Guests are seated on the staircase chatting about the highs and lows of seeking a career in the theater.
In 1961, Marilyn Monroe would be the star of THE MISFITS.  Her leading man was Clark Gable.  Think of the line that Max Fabian says on the staircase at Margo's party:  "Did she say sable or Gable?"  John Huston directed the drama.  The original screenplay was written by famed Broadway playwright and Marilyn Monroe's husband at the time, Arthur Miller.  By the way, Miller is mentioned a couple of times in ALL ABOUT EVE when Margo blows up at her director/boyfriend and her playwright when she learns that Eve Harrington has become her understudy.  In the supporting cast of THE MISFITS and doing scenes with Monroe, was Thelma Ritter.
Thelma Ritter was an Oscar nominee for ALL ABOUT EVE in which Marilyn Monroe was a bit player.  She acted opposite top Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe in what would be Monroe's last completed film before her untimely death.
Wow. What a Hollywood story.  Enjoy ALL ABOUT EVE.  I wish Hollywood was making movies that bright and dialogue-driven today.  I bet a lot of middle-aged actresses do too.

The year before Joseph L. Mankiewicz won his Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for his 1950 Bette Davis classic, he won the Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for 1949's A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, also a sparkling and sophisticated script with juicy roles for women. It starred Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Thelma Ritter, the voice of Celeste Holm and Kirk Douglas.

You don't get TCM on your TV?  Both must-see classics are available on DVD.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Date with SABRINA

One of the Best Actress Oscar nominations that the late, great Audrey Hepburn earned was for her luminous, intelligent, sophisticated work in Billy Wilder's SABRINA.  The movie opens like a modern day fairy tale with the words "Once upon a time."  Wilder's 1954 classic, a lemon peel twist on the Cinderella tale with a look at social class mobility and divisions in American, put Hepburn in a tough and highly exciting Oscar race.  The top two contenders were Judy Garland for her spectacular film comeback in the dramatic musical A STAR IS BORN and Grace Kelly for ditching glamour and dressing down in THE COUNTRY GIRL, a movie in which she played the drab, serious wife of a co-dependent alcoholic singer on the skids.  Garland was the favorite.  Kelly won the Oscar.  As for SABRINA, the role of the chauffeur's daughter who sees the playboy son of her father's boss as her Prince Charming, fit Audrey like a long velvet glove.
Sabrina's father knows that she pines for David, the handsome playboy son who lives leisurely in the Larrabee mansion, but the wise father realizes that David does not see Sabrina.  To him, she's invisible because she's the daughter of a member of the wealthy family's domestic staff.  As her chauffeur father tells her, "There's a front seat and a back seat -- and a window in between."
Sabrina will undergo an elegant emotional and fashion makeover when she leaves Long Island and studies in Paris.  She left home a caterpillar, she'll return as a butterfly.
Now the charming, carefree David will notice Sabrina.  Make that the charming, carefree and engaged David.
He will invite Sabrina to a party.  It happens to be on the Larrabee grounds.  The butterfly will be the belle of the ball.  David's fiancee will also be at the ball.  But David will make Sabrina's dream come true when he takes her in his arms and dances with her.  When he asks "Where have you been all my life?, she responds "Just over the garage."
Sent to deal with all this and keep David from, yet again, breaking up with another woman...a woman's whose heartbreak will be mended with a sizable check...his older and more business-like brother Linus will enter Sabrina's scene.  Sabrina is not like David's other girls.  She could care less about his money.  William Holden played David.  Humphrey Bogart played Linus.  Sabrina will be a breath of fresh air in Linus' life -- and she will discover that a man does not have to be young and handsome to be a Prince Charming.
Linus' bachelor life is all about work.  But responsible, wealthy Linus embraces the working  class.  When he's in the limo on the phone making Wall Street investments that will increase the Larrabee fortune, notice that he keeps the window rolled down so that the family's longtime chauffeur, Sabrina's father, can overhear and get some stock tips.  Listen to Linus in the office.  He cares about who'll benefit from his deals.  He wants to know that he's done something that will help a poor kid in Puerto Rico.  Sabrina sees Linus' heart.  He noticed Sabrina before and after her Paris transformation.  She urges him to vacation in Paris and let it transform him too.
Years ago, I saw SABRINA at a revival theater in New York City.  A young woman sitting behind me snarked, "That would never happen."  She meant that a young, lovely lady like Sabrina Fairchild would never choose the older, average looking man over the handsome, hotter one.  Well, it happens more often than we think.  Here's an example that I love:  Actress Sophia Loren, a famous screen beauty, fell in love with Carlo Ponti.
He was balding and not exactly a man one would call "a hunk."  But they married, they had two kids, and the marriage lasted until his death 40 years later.
The late Carlo Ponti continues to be the great love of Sophia Loren's life.
She turned down the chance to marry her two-time movie co-star Cary Grant and married Carlo Ponti instead.

Not that one needs to remake a Billy Wilder classic, as Sydney Pollack admitted on TCM when he was a guest host.  He remade SABRINA, a 1995 release starring Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear and Julia Ormond.  But if there was another remake of the sparkling Billy Wilder classic, here's my idea for the lead actress to play the chauffeur's daughter:  Lupita Nyong'o.

 The Oscar winner and current Tony nominee could be fabulous in that romantic comedy role.

Billy Wilder's SABRINA airs today on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 4:00 pm Eastern time.  BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S follows at 6:00 pm Eastern.

Audrey Hepburn was born this day in history, May 4th.

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...