Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Justin Chang and MOONLIGHT

Reading his columns in VARIETY was one of my favorite habits.  I followed him over to my hometown newspaper, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, and any Friday becomes a Good Friday when I hear him as a guest film critic on KPCC radio's FilmWeek.  I recommend you read a column Justin Chang wrote this week in the L.A. newspaper about the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2016, MOONLIGHT.

I love this remarkable, lyrical coming-of-age film.  I did hope it would win the Best Picture Oscar over LA LA LAND.  I feel it's a more substantial film, more a product of a country and a Hollywood industry that has had to go grow up about matters of diversity and inclusion in this 21st Century.  I saw LA LA LAND because I love Emma Stone's acting.  I've been a fan of hers since SUPERBAD.  Damien Chazelle is now the youngest person to win the Oscar for Best Director.  He's 32.  Reportedly, he wrote the script to LA LA LAND when he was 25.  Frankly, it does play like a script written by a 25-year old, Ivy League-educated guy whose family had privileged friends as he grew up.  There's one element about LA LA LAND that reminded me of old romantic comedies starring Doris Day or Marsha Mason and episodes of the sitcom FRIENDS.  You saw unemployed or part-time employed Caucasian characters who can somehow live in a large apartment with a bedroom and a kitchen.  I was in New York City working on weekday television and I lived modestly in a studio apartment.  If I stood arms akimbo with my legs apart like Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I, I could be standing in my kitchen, living room and bedroom at the same time.

I knew very little about MOONLIGHT when I purchased my ticket.  I knew it was an indie film with a black cast and it was helmed by a black director who co-wrote with a friend and fellow black writer.  I did not expect to experience such a poetic, moving film that reflected a part of my soul that I had been forced to keep hidden when I was growing up. Director Barry Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney found the extraordinary humanity in ordinary people who were flawed characters, complicated and deeply human characters, people who were disenfranchised and did not have the blessings of privilege -- a privilege that can come from a certain race and income in America.
MOONLIGHT is also a plea to reach and connect to that humanity you see in someone else.  It's a plea to reach and help keep a broken-hearted soul from going under.
The shot of paternal Juan (the role that brought Mahershala Ali a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) holding young Chriron afloat is one of the most powerful images in a story about black life that I've ever seen.  MOONLIGHT is about black and black/Latino life and gay life.  I've seen MOONLIGHT more than once.  The dinner table scene is a film classic.  So much tenderness and unexpressed pain in that scene.  A young boy who's been bullied asks what "faggot" means.  I sat in that theater seat like I was in Catholic church on a Sunday during that scene.  It felt sacred to me.  Tears streamed down my face.
Justin Chang is a very important and vital film journalist to me.  Movies are my passion.  They have been ever since I was a kid growing up near 120th and Central Avenue in South Central L.A.  The friends and neighbors on our cul-de-sac block were black, Mexican, Filipino and there was one white person.  When neighbors would chat on our front lawn or front porch, over the phone or over the fence in the back yard, one topic that came up on a regular basis was the movies.  I always looked for a reflection of myself and my community in movies and on TV.  On the whole, I've never seen those reflections in the field of film critics on network TV news programs and syndicated TV film review show teams.  In this year's Oscar season, it was still predominantly white men telling me why I needed to see FENCES and HIDDEN FIGURES and MOONLIGHT while they overlooked the record-making history Viola Davis, Denzel Washington and the MOONLIGHT filmmakers made by just getting nominated.

Justin Chang reflects the world and people that I know.  He's a smart, excellent, enlightening writer.  On KPCC, the FilmWeek hour with its race/gender inclusive guest list of film critics can be heard at 11am Pacific Time on Fridays.

I recommend reading Justin Chang's "Movies Like MOONLIGHT Don't Win the Oscar for Best Picture -- Until They Do" column from February 27th of this week.  It's outstanding and accurate.  Look for it on latimes.com.

For more information on the FilmWeek show hosted by Larry Mantle during his AIRTALK on KPCC, go here:  scpr.org.

Justin Chang is occasionally on FilmWeek.  He makes me jealous when I hear him speak.  If I had his pipes, I'd be getting voiceover auditions left and right.   And booking the gigs. Dig it!


Monday, February 27, 2017

That Oscar Moment

Fans of the festive, colorful, empty piñata of a musical called LA LA LAND were in ecstasy.  I say "empty piñata" because that movie was amusing and fun to look at, but there was absolutely nothing inside.  That hollow screenplay was lifted by colorful art direction, energetic cinematography and talented actors who made you think a mediocre script had way more substance than it did.  There's Mia, a part-time barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot in Hollywood.  She'll have a meltdown because she's been auditioning for six years, she's in her 20s and she still hasn't became a star actress yet.  And there's Seb, the 20-something unemployed jazz pianist who explains the roots of jazz to her in a club without ever mentioning black people.  That was like a young guy in a movie telling us the history of aviation without ever mentioning the Wright Brothers.  One works part-time.  The other's out of work.  Both live in large apartments.
Then...the most mysterious and memorable  mistake in Oscar history.  The LA LA LAND folks were onstage and audience members were cheering.  Then....the realization that the real winner was MOONLIGHT -- a film of substance about poor, marginalized, gay and black people in Florida.  Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope and announced the wrong name as Best Picture winner.

In an instant, LA LA LAND fans went from dancing gleefully on the hoods of their cars in colorful attire on their way to auditions in sunny Los Angeles...
.....to this.  Click on the link:

The LA LA LAND  and MOONLIGHT producers handled the messy situation most graciously.  Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are in the entertainment news headlines again.  The PriceWaterhouseCoopers people are sending out their resumes for new employment.

Congratulations, MOONLIGHT.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Today, celebrities are dressing up for Hollywood Prom Night.  Tonight, the Oscars® will be handed out in Hollywood.  This year, because of the new person in the White House, acceptance speeches may be politically charged.  Also this year, history could be made because of the racial inclusion in several categories.  This inclusion is cool water on a desert oasis after two hot consecutive years of "Oscars So White."  The favorite to win Best Supporting Actress is Viola Davis for FENCES.  She made Oscar history by just getting nominated again.  Did CBS Sunday Morning producers and writers remember that?
Personally, I feel Viola should've been nominated in the Best Actress category as she was the lead female character in the film.  Just like years ago when little Tatum O'Neal won Best Supporting Actress for 1973's PAPER MOON.  That wonderful comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich was based on a novel called ADDIE PRAY.  Tatum played Addie Pray.  So who was she supporting if the story was about her?  But...that's Hollywood.  Also, Hollywood seems to have a tendency to award more black women for supporting rather than leading.  Halle Berry is still the only black woman who won an Oscar for Best Actress.  That was for the 2001 drama, MONSTER'S BALL.  Look at the black women who've won Best Supporting Actress:  Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo'Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong'o.  Maybe campaigning for Viola to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination was a shrew political move to give her an edge to be victorious for FENCES.
ABC/Disney now has a lock on the Oscars when it comes to airing the nominations live and broadcasting the Oscars telecast.  With all due respect to ABC entertainment reporters Chris Connelly and Jcss Cagle, who will both be on the red carpet for ABC's pre-show at 4p PT/7p ET, I was really surprised when big Oscar history eluded them live on GOOD MORNING AMERICA moments after the nominations were announced.  They mentioned Meryl Streep's 20th nomination.  Connelly mentioned "Oscars So White."  No one pointed out that Viola Davis is now the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Oscar history.  And she's the star of a hit series on....ABC.  No one mentioned that 2-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington is now the most Oscar-nominated black actor.  And how many black actors have won two Oscars for acting and also directed a film that's a nominee for Best Picture?  How many black actors have directed a black actress to a Best Actress Oscar nomination?  Yes, Denzel and Viola made big history with FENCES.  Also, for the first time in Oscar history, black talent is nominated for an Oscar in each acting category.  Three films about black life in America are up for Best Picture -- FENCES, MOONLIGHT and HIDDEN FIGURES.  MOONLIGHT, a lyrical film about the challenges of growing up black and gay, and HIDDEN FIGURES, an inspiring true story about three intellectual black women who worked at NASA in the early 1960s and helped launch John Glenn into space.

Today's edition of CBS SUNDAY MORNING gave attention to movies and the Oscar nominations.  There was a segment on movie quotes, movie graphics, movie stars and David Edelstein gave his Oscar predictions and mentioned the "Oscars So White" controversy.  But there was not one single black contributor to add to the movie talk.

There was a segment on the late Best Actress Oscar winner, Princess Grace Kelly.  If I worked for CBS SUNDAY, I would've given Jane Pauley the information that Grace Kelly won in one of Hollywood's hottest and most legendary Best Actress Oscar competitions.  The two front runners were Judy Garland for A STAR IS BORN and Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.  Hollywood expected that Garland would win.  That was also a groundbreaking year because Dorothy Dandridge was also up for Best Actress of 1954 thanks to her work in the musical drama, CARMEN JONES.  Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award.  Dandridge was terrific in that film. However, because of race, she didn't get another good Hollywood script offer for five years.
Meryl Streep made Oscar history with her 20th Oscar nomination. Viola Davis made Oscar history with her 3rd Oscar nomination.

Yes.  I could've added some good info to today's show if I worked for CBS SUNDAY MORNING.  Full disclosure:  For years after my VH1 and CBS Late Night years, I tried to work there -- but I never got a response.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I'm In for GET OUT

Jordan Peele should be quite proud of his directorial debut with the thriller comedy, GET OUT.  I was a huge fan of the Key & Peele sketch comedy show on Comedy Central.  Jordan Peele's work with partner and friend Keegan-Michael Key earned them a prestigious Peabody Award.  On the show, the delivered some of the funniest, most razor-sharp and provocative pieces on race and class in America since the Dave Chappelle show.  They had the artistic ability and wit to tap into what many of us were feeling.  Remember Luther, President Obama's anger translator?  Perfect.  Luther acted the way we wished President Obama could have -- acted the way President Obama probably wanted to act -- but he couldn't without seeming like "an angry black man," an image the opposition would use to expand fear within its base.  Key & Peele's writing and performance could seamlessly blend a kind of goofiness like on "The Carol Burnett Show" with the kind of stinging social commentary we got from black comedians like Dick Gregory down to Chris Rock.  Is it a surprise that Jordan Peele has proven himself to be a fine, generous film director with his first project?  No.  Based on those Key & Peele sketches we saw, it's more like a promise fulfilled. Bravo, Jordan!
 GET OUT taps into how scary it is to be a black person in white America.
There are no monsters or sci-fi characters in the movie.  But there is definitely horror.  Writer/director Jordan Peele gives you the chills and tension of THE STEPFORD WIVES and SCREAM inside a wrapping of GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER.
A young black man and his white girlfriend drive to her parent's estate to spend the weekend.  Her liberal parents will be meeting him for the first time.  The boyfriend senses something odd about the other black people he meets there.  It's like....like they've become...black Republicans.
Click here to see a clip from GET OUT:

Chris then finds himself hypnotized by his girlfriend's mother.  It cured his smoking habit, but something seems strange.  He notices it.  The girlfriend doesn't.  We will see it too and we will wait for brother man to spill the tea and get out.  Here's a trailer:

I'd love to know what classic films are Jordan Peele's favorites.  He moves his camera well.  He knows the power of a close-up with a good actors whose thoughts in a crucial scene can hold that close-up.  Peele is a good enough actor to have taken on the lead male role himself.  But he didn't.  He gives the spotlight to others.  He gets exceptional performances from his cast which includes newcomers like British-born Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, the boyfriend, and Allison Williams from the HBO series GIRLS as Rose, the girlfriend.  Peele skillfully guides veterans such as Stephen Root, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener.  There's a standout performance from Betty Gabriel as the family's mysteriously detached maid.  The comedy highlight is LilRel Howery as Chris' best friend, a TSA agent. Director Peele has a keen sense of pacing, which is important in horror and comedy.  This is a very entertaining horror satire with social substance and an unmistakable, fun touch of 'hood vulgarity to keep it real and give you a few laughs.

Besides tapping into the fear of being a black man in America, there's the frightening aspect of cultural appropriation.  White folks taking from black culture and making money off it.  This just doesn't apply to the 1950s when white pop/rock stars successfully covered tunes first recorded by black artists.  This applies to fashion, sports, even language.  "Bling," "baby daddy" and "booty" were terms black folks started and were saying first.  I remember when only black folks -- especially black gay  folks -- used the term "throw shade."  Now there's a new show on TV Land called THROWING SHADE -- hosted by two white people.

And then there's the fight to keep your black history from being erased or overlooked while you push against the proliferation of certain racial stereotypes.

Here's what I would suggest:  Go see the blistering and bold documentary, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO.  That focuses on the brilliant novelist/playwright and black civil rights activist James Baldwin.  In that documentary we see Baldwin in news footage, speaking engagements and lengthy talk show clips.  He seriously points out some of the same tough, uncomfortable but necessary aspects about race in America that Peele addresses in his horror comedy.  Both features are most relevant today.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What Ever Happened To...THE ARTIST?

I know it may not have appealed to the tastes of mainstream moviegoers, but I just loved THE ARTIST.  It was innovative, smart, entertaining, surprising and bold filmmaking.  Bold because it was a Hollywood-on-Hollywood story that took place in the 1920s, it was shot beautifully in black and white and it was mostly a silent film.  When its French filmmaker won the Oscar for Best Director, he thanked the late Billy Wilder.  THE ARTIST took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 2011.  That's just a few years ago really.  The handsome and talented French male star of THE ARTIST, Jean Dujardin, won the Oscar for Best Actor.
Wednesday on this week on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, there was a dance segment.  Why?  The anchors reported that, because of the Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone park bench tap dance scene in LA LA LAND, dance schools nationwide have noticed a major increase in students enrolling for tap classes.  Well...no offense to those two actors whose work I totally dig...but did those tap class students just not see THE ARTIST?  Compared to Jean Dujardin in THE ARTIST, Ryan Gosling tap danced like he was in a high school talent showcase.  Dujardin's tap dance in THE ARTIST was the stuff of classic MGM musicals.
Like American actor Jon Hamm, Jean Dujardin is a strong dramatic actor who can easily flip the coin and be a knockout doing goofy comedy.
Did he sign with some clueless agents in Hollywood after he won the Oscar?  With all that talent and with those looks, he should have had a few lead roles that brought him as much attention as THE ARTIST did.  Here in the U.S., that didn't seem to happen.  He's worked, but not in anything that immediately comes to mind.  Did he go back to France because Hollywood had no good script offers for him?  He was the first Frenchman to win the Oscar for Best Actor.

If you've never seen THE ARTIST, I recommend it.  There's a touch of the SINGIN' IN THE RAIN in the storyline and Jean Dujardin is excellent as the vain movie star whose fortune and fame could fade in the wake of a new technology called "sound" that takes over Hollywood and triggers an abrupt end to the silent film era.  He has to learn humility.
What ever happened to THE ARTIST Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin?  I'd love to see him get some good Hollywood scripts that showcase his leading man skills like THE ARTIST did.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oscar Talk with Kirk Douglas & Me

Always believe in yourself -- even when a boss tells you that you lack talent.  My first professional TV job was on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate.  One day in January, after four years of on-camera work as an entertainment contributor, film reviewer and the co-host of a live weekday show that was unexpectedly, suddenly canceled the week before Christmas, my boss called me into his office and told me that I didn't have the talent to work in New York City.  That was January 1985.  In September 1988, I was in New York City working on VH1 and taping the premiere edition of my prime time celebrity talk show.  My solo guest for the first show -- Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas.
For 30 minutes on national TV, there I was -- a guy from South Central L.A. with SPARTACUS.
When I was a kid, we didn't have the advantage of cable TV with Turner Classic Movies, VHS tapes, DVDs and such.  We went to the drive-in movies and walk-in theaters.  We watched old movies on TV.  I went to revival movie theaters in Hollywood and saw classics thanks to special programming when I was in college.  And, if that wasn't enough, I could go see Kirk Douglas on the big screen because he was still making movies.  SPARTACUS, PATHS OF GLORY, LUST FOR LIFE, CHAMPION, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY....those were Kirk Douglas classics I could discuss with my parents because we'd all seen them.

Kirk Douglas was nominated for Best Actor Oscars but never won.  Hollywood awarded him a lifetime achievement Oscar.  His son, Michael, did win Oscars.  Michael produced the Best Picture of 1975, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, and he won Best Actor for WALL STREET (1987).  Michael also had a big box office hit with FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) co-starring Glenn Close.
He did not have such a big box office success as the director/choreographer in the lame film version of the classic Broadway musical, A CHORUS LINE.

Kirk Douglas and I talked about Michael's Oscar wins and about his FATAL ATTRACTION co-star.  Glenn Close got an Oscar nomination for playing the psychologically twisted Manhattan executive who threatened "I'm not gonna be ignored..."

Today, Close is enjoying rave reviews for playing another woman who refuses to be ignored.  She's again playing silent film star Norma Desmond in the hit revival of SUNSET BOULEVARD, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film classic of the same name.
In this countdown to Oscar Sunday week, here's a clip of my talk show interview of Kirk Douglas.  We start off talking about Michael.  Enjoy.

Just like Paul McCartney did for my interview of him, Kirk Douglas arrived early and alone.  No entourage.  And he was an absolute gentlemen to everyone on the set.  A Hollywood legend and a class act.  Gracious and grateful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oscar Winner Shirley MacLaine & Me

I worked on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate at the time as a entertainment reporter and a weekly film critic.  I remember going to Chicago for a press screening of a new film.  James L. Brooks, the man behind TV's brilliant sitcom, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and its spin-off, RHODA, had made TERMS OF ENDEARMENT into a big feature for Paramount Pictures.  Based on a best-selling novel by Larry McMurtry, Brooks wrote the screenplay, produced the film and directed the film.  This is truly a movie classic about the hilarious friction and deeply heart-felt love in a mother-daughter relationship.  It's a memorable, touching tale of female bonding.  TERMS OF ENDEARMENT starred Broadway musicals and Hollywood movie veteran Shirley MacLaine.
None of us in that screening room was prepared for the movie's twists and turns that had us going from howls of laughter to weeping out loud at the end.  Those unexpected twists and turns were so like life itself.
Shirley MacLaine seemed born to play the candid, critical and intimidating Aurora Greenway, the devoted mother to the rebellious and loving Emma played by Debra Winger.  MacLaine had Best Actress Oscar nominations for SOME CAME RUNNING (1958), Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT (1960), Billy Wilder's IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) and THE TURNING POINT (1977).
For 1983's TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, she would win the Best Actress Oscar.  Jack Nicholson would win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  James L. Brooks won Oscars for Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Director and for producing the Best Picture of 1983.

Shirley MacLaine was one of my favorite guests on my VH1 talk show.  At that time, in 1989, she had just started rehearsals on POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and her immediate comments on that were about how brilliant Meryl Streep was.  MacLaine was in awe of her.  Here, I asked Shirley MacLaine about a bit of vocal detail I noticed in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

She took the accent she had planned for Aurora in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and gave it to Ouiser in STEEL MAGNOLIAS.  Being a woman without a man was good luck for Shirley MacLaine onscreen.  She won her Oscar for playing a widow in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.  She made her film debut playing a young widow in Hitchcock's THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955).  Off-camera, she told me that making the 1955 comedy, ARTISTS AND MODELS, was like being in a war zone.  The stars, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, were very close to the break-up of their successful comedy movie partnership.  She said that they were yelling at each other a lot on the set.
On-camera in the same interview, she told a sweet story of how Debbie Reynolds honestly explained why she should do THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN instead of Shirley.  Shirley was slated to star in the film version of that Broadway hit musical comedy, but there was a contractual snag in her doing the MGM production.  Debbie, an MGM musical star since 1952's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN,  wanted the 1964 role.  Debbie told Shirley that Shirley would definitely go on to other really good film roles.  But Debbie felt that her days as an MGM musicals leading lady were coming to a quick end and this would be her last shot at starring role in a major MGM musical.  Debbie got her one and only Oscar nomination for THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN.  And a well-deserved nomination it was.  (She should have been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1996's MOTHER, a wise and witty comedy/drama by Albert Brooks, but Hollywood never seemed to take her as seriously as it took Shirley. MOTHER displayed her under-appreciated acting depth.)  Debbie was right.  Her deluxe MGM musical days did end and Shirley did go on to other Oscar nominations plus an Oscar victory. 

Actress Lee Remick reportedly was who director Mike Nichols wanted to play the Hollywood movie star mom in POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE with its screenplay by Carrie Fisher, adapted from her novel of the same name.  Sadly, Lee Remick was suffering from cancer and couldn't do it.  The part was available and Carrie's mom, Debbie Reynolds, wanted it.  But Shirley MacLaine got the part and played the movie star mom character based on Debbie Reynolds.  When I mentioned that irony in our VH1 interview, Shirley chuckled and replied, "Karma."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Notes on NETWORK

I'm sure I'm not the only person who wishes that screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was alive today to witness our White House situation.  A millionaire of the WALL STREET "Greed is good" 1980s era becomes a 21st Century network reality TV game show host, runs for the presidency with no previous political office experience...and wins.  He is now President of the United States.  What would Paddy Chayefsky, the man who wrote 1976's NETWORK, have to say about this turns of events?  I had not started my professional TV career when NETWORK came out.  But I do vividly recall being absorbed and fascinated by this surreal satire of network television.  It was so stunning and provocative that I saw it more than once.  And each time I saw it, the movie audience was packed.  And shocked.  Remember, this came out when TV was quite different -- and quite innocent compared to how it is today.  The first thing that shocked and fascinated us in NETWORK was that TV news anchor Howard Beale announced on his show that he'd commit suicide and co-workers in the control room really weren't paying that much attention to this poor soul having a nervous breakdown.
NETWORK tapped into how corporations were gobbling up America.  Look at the senior three networks today.  They're now attached to film companies.  The parent company of ABC is Disney, NBC is tied to Universal, and CBS is attached to Paramount.  The network morning news shows used to have film critics every Friday review new domestic and foreign film releases.  They don't have film critics anymore.  They publicize corporate film releases whether they're good or bland.  We see the network morning shows heavily promote whatever product the attached film company has released or has in production.
If you look at NETWORK today -- and you should -- it's as if the soulless and powerful network executive, Diana Christensen, won.  The Best Actress Oscar went to Faye Dunaway for that performance.  She manipulates Howard Beale's madness into big ratings for the low-rated newscast which means increased revenue for the corporation.  She gets the green light to pitch new shows.  At that time, America still got comfort in variety shows and sitcoms like spin-offs from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  Diana wants "angry shows."  She wants "a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group" and "a homosexual soap opera."  This was well before the days of TV  shows like COPS and other reality TV shows, before Rodney King footage, before people starting TV careers and becoming celebrities because they were in the O.J. Simpson trial aired on live TV and before we got Donald Trump as host of NBC's THE APPRENTICE.  Faye Dunaway deserved that Oscar.  NETWORK's Diana Christensen opened the door for the likes of TV star Donald Trump.
Today, it seems like millions of Americans can identify with and feel the same way as Howard Beale:  "I'm as mad as hell...and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Every time I saw NETWORK in a movie theater, the audience howled with laughter that his revamped network news show now had a studio audience that applauded.  Have you seen the 8:00 hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA on ABC?  There's a studio audience that now applauds and cheers when it's time for Lara Spencer to read pop culture news.

I watched the Oscars the night that the late Peter Finch was announced as Best Actor for NETWORK.  I watched with some Caucasian co-workers in Milwaukee.  A couple were stunned and looked each other in amazement.  Why?  Because Peter Finch's widow accepted the Oscar and gave a lovely acceptance speech for her late love.

She was a gorgeous and gracious black woman.  A couple of voices in the room said, "Who is that accepting the Oscar for him?"  When she announced that she was Mrs. Finch, their jaws dropped.

NETWORK.  A classic.  And it's still painfully relevant.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


It's a weekend morning.  While answering emails, reading a few articles and doing some light cleaning in the apartment, I had Turner Classic Movies on in the background.  Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster took their macho to the wild west for GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL.  But the guy with the biggest gun seems to be actor John Ireland.  Even when he's not wearing a holster.  I think Madeline Kahn said it best in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN:  "Woof!"  What a gifted actor that John Ireland.  And what a good western.

Now on to another gun-totin' movie character.  A couple of years ago, a young lady friend urged me to see Keanu Reeves as JOHN WICK.  I really had no desire to sit through a movie with possibly a mostly monosyllabic performance from the star of POINT BREAK and SPEED.  She kept urging me to see it.  So, I gave in and I saw it.  I was totally and pleasantly surprised.  It was such a hip, fresh and original action movie with Keanu in fine form as a tender-hearted yet tough-as-nails guy named John Wick.  John's marriage was a sweet New York love story.  His wife gives him a puppy.  He's a hitman shooting it out with Russian thugs.  And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot.
However, I will add that the puppy love angle was an inspired touch in the screenplay.  JOHN WICK is worth renting.
Keanu has just turned 50 when that action thriller was released.  This weekend, Keanu as back in action as the hitman in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2.  I want to see it.  I saw this eye-catching poster for the movie.
I bet you anything that its art director is a fan of and was inspired by classic films.  That poster for JOHN WICK may remind classic film fans of this shot from a Harold Lloyd silent film comedy from the 1920s.  I saw that Harold Lloyd photo in movie books I owned many years ago.
Pardon me for not knowing that name of that Harold Lloyd comedy.  If you do, please let me know.  I love how knowledge of classic film history can help one in a current job situation.  That's been my experience for a good portion of my TV career.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Rich Work in THE CROWN

The warm and wonderful John Lithgow won a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance in THE CROWN.  I watched the first season of that Netflix series on a Saturday before I voted.  I binge-watched the entire first season again the following day.  I was hooked from the first scene in the first episode of THE CROWN. This is all based on palace facts and world history.
And one of the most superb performances in that show rich with remarkable acting was given by John Lithgow.  Yes, I voted for him.  I highly recommend you give THE CROWN a try if you have time over the weekend.  If you had to cast an actor to play the legendary Sir Winston Churchill, John Lithgow might not be the first actor you'd think of casting.  After you see him as Churchill in THE CROWN, you'll be hard pressed to think of someone who could have played the role better.
He's absolutely extraordinary.  His physical carriage, his vocal work, his internal work as a man aware of his own legend and fights to keep it alive and relevant is marvelous.  If John Lithgow had delivered this performance in a film, he'd have received an Oscar nomination for sure.  He probably would've won the Oscar.  The episode in which Churchill sits while having his portrait painted --- wow!  What an episode and what great work from Lithgow.  Churchill defeated the Nazis.  But he could not defeat the humiliating advances of old age waging a war, bit by bit, on his body.

Helen Mirren won a Best Actress Oscar for playing THE QUEEN.  The real life Queen Elizabeth II reached a major milestone this month.  She celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee.  It was 65 years to the day since the Queen acceded to the throne following the death of her father, George VI, in 1952.
THE CROWN opens with George VI.  He's dressed for a royal event.  He's got a hacking couch.  He coughs up a bit of spittle.  There's blood in it.  He continues to smoke like a chimney.  He's not the only royal who smokes like a chimney in this series.  We see the excellent Claire Foy as the young queen before she became the queen.  It's fascinating stuff.  Some of the most fascinating stuff is seeing how devotion and allegiance to The Crown mean continuing traditions -- even if those traditions now seem archaic in a modern world.  Honoring The Crown also demands some rather brutal, severe cutting of family ties.  You'll see how The Crown on her head affected her bed, her relationship with her lusty husband, Prince Philip (very well-played by the tall, lean Matt Smith) and her sister.  The big eye-opener is the amount of education she had before she was crowned.  You may say to yourself, "What?!?!  I had a better scholastic education at that age but I had a part time retail job as a clerk in a shopping mall.  She was about the begin her reign as Queen of England!"

It's really good.  What you'll love about it is that The Royals are shown as the flesh and blood mortals behind all that pomp and circumstance.  These are people who had insecurities, jealousies, sex lives and family squabbles.  Despite all the exterior signs of luxury and upper class life, behind closed doors some of them can definitely display an unmistakable touch of the gutter.  Here's a trailer.

"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."   ~Shakespeare's HENRY IV

You will see how true that line is when you watch this engrossing British import.  Enjoy John Lithgow's brilliance in THE CROWN on Netflix.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


It's a hit sitcom on ABC and it's one of my favorite TV shows.  It's BLACK-ISH.  Last night, there was a Dre and Rainbow moment of love for those of us who wave the rainbow flag.
Dre and Rainbow (Mr. and Mrs. Johnson) needed a specially-designed cake.  They found a bakery that could fill their request.  However, they left the store and did not give it their business when the clerk told them the shop makes any specialty cake -- except cakes for gay weddings.  Dre and Rainbow, an upscale African American husband and wife with four kids, left the store and refused to spend their hard-earned money at a homophobic shop.  Dig it! A short and understated yet strong moment.  Thank you, BLACK-ISH writers and cast.  The cast is headed by ANTHONY ANDERSON and TRACEE ELLIS ROSS as one of the most charismatic, interesting and funniest sitcom couples to hit network TV in years.
So, this got me thinking about a possible story line for a BLACK-ISH episode.  What if the oldest son, the lovable and often clueless geek, strikes up a tight and innocent friendship with a black male high school classmate who happens to be openly gay.  Maybe something at the school provokes a student protest in which they both plan to participate. Dre Jr and his friend bond because the friend brought the principles of non-violent protest to the group demanding a change.

But Papa Dre, who is gay-friendly, gets knotted up at a gay friendship now involving one of his kids.  He's has to -- and he will -- learn another lesson in acceptance.
With that story line, Dre could tell us in a voice-over about the vital, important black people who added to our culture, who added to our black history -- and happened to be gay.  People like Bayard Rustin.  He was called "The Architect of the March on Washington."  He was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's top advisor and introduced him to Gandhi's principles of non-violent protest.  Bayard Rustin spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington, he stood behind Dr. King as he spoke at the March on Washington, he organized the March on Washington.

Add to the mix other gay African Americans of major significance --  such writers Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and A RAISIN IN THE SUN playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

There was civil rights activist, feminist and writer Audre Lorde.  Jazz lyricist  and arranger Billy Strayhorn collaborated with Duke Ellington to compose some of the greatest music of Ellington's career.  One such composition was "Take the A Train."

You get the idea.

If you are a BLACK-ISH writer and you are reading this....THANK YOU FOR YOUR FUNNY, TOUCHING, RELEVANT WORK!  I know that writing is not easy -- especially writing for episodic television.  I've been a fan of BLACK-ISH since its premiere episode.  I grew up in South Central L.A. watching shows like ROOM 222, SANFORD AND SON, JULIA, GOOD TIMES, THE JEFFERSONS, THE FLIP WILSON SHOW.  To see a current show about a black family that touches on feelings and experiences I've had, a show that stars an actor who grew up where I did...wow.  I am extremely grateful and proud.

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...