Saturday, November 30, 2019

EYEWITNESS (1956) Directed by Muriel Box

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the under-discussed and groundbreaking female screenwriter/film director overseas, Britain's Muriel Box. During her first marriage, she and her husband, Sydney Box, wrote screenplays. Their screenplay for the British drama, THE SEVENTH VEIL, starring James Mason and Ann Todd, brought them Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in 1947. In 1949, Oscar winner Muriel Box directed her first feature film. In my previous post, I wrote about the fifth feature film she directed, an energetic and entertaining film called CASH ON DELIVERY. It gave its star Shelley Winters, one of her too-rare leading roles in a comedy early in her film career after her first Oscar nomination. Winters, a 2-time Oscar winner, received the first of her four nominations for the 1951 George Stevens drama, A PLACE IN THE SUN. I've not read a lot about Muriel Box. However, what research I have done gave me that feeling that the British films she directed in the 1950s were mostly dismissed by critics because she was a woman. I did not get the feeling that she was praised and appreciated for being a trailblazer in the field of film directors the way actress/director Ida Lupino was when she started directing Hollywood films in the 1950s. I fully enjoyed two comedies from Muriel Box that I've seen -- 1954's CASH AND DELIVERY and her 1955 comedy about a broke and bickering pair of married actors. The two pose as a happily married couple on a live reality TV show just because they need the money. That Christmas season comedy poking fun at the early days of BBC TV is SIMON AND LAURA starring Peter Finch and Kay Kendall. The Muriel Box contributions to 1940s/1950s Women In Film history should not be overlooked.
I saw a drama directed by Muriel Box. It gave more muscle to my belief that she was an under-appreciated, trailblazing director in Great Britain, one who should've been invited to come over here to the U.S and direct a Hollywood film. 1956's EYEWITNESS is a worthwhile thriller. It's a good B-movie, suspenseful and well-acted, directed by Muriel Box from an original story and screenplay by Janet Green. Just like in SIMON AND LAURA, television causes friction in a marriage. Young, charming Lucy comes home to find her husband surprising her with 21 inches of new entertainment. He purchased a television set on the installment plan. "We can't afford it," Lucy states. They have enough in their modest home being paid for in monthly payments. She wants them to be smarter about money. "I want us to pay our way," she says. Jay, her husband, is not quite taking her seriously. Frustrated, she storms out of the house for a walk in the night air to cool off and eventually goes to a local theater to see a movie. When Lucy is finished watching the film, she needs to make a phone call in the theater. On her way down a hallway to the phone, she sees an assault and robbery in action. The theater manager is being beaten and the two villains are taking the money from the safe in his office. Lucy sees the two criminals, they see her, and she flees. This scene was one of my favorites. I thought "Damn! This dame can run." Lucy, in pumps and carrying a purse, top speeds it down the hallway, down stairs and out of the theater with one of the hoods in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, she runs into the street and gets hit by a bus.
In Box's loopy comedy, CASH ON DELIVERY, we see Shelley Winters as the unmarried working woman who clashes with a sexist attitude towards women and money. Her uncle left her $2 million in his will but felt that a husband had to handle a woman's money. In EYEWITNESS, it's the wife who keeps the married couple's finances in check more so than the husband does. Muriel Box loved to focus on the female experience in her screenwriting and directing. Lucy is a loving, responsible and independent wife. She's not "the little woman." She's a voice of reason to her husband. She's a threat to two male criminals.

She's taken to a local medical center to recover from her concussion. She had no I.D. in her purse. The theater manager was shot and killed by the leader of the two robbers, so there's major police activity on the case now. The killer robber tells his nervous partner that they're safe "...unless the girl talks. If she dies, we're in the clear." The partner regrets the shooting. He just wanted enough money to move to New Zealand. When he realizes his crime boss plans to find the medical center, find the recuperating witness and kill her, he gets even more nervous.
Jay, the husband, seems a bit ineffectual without Lucy. He's worried that she hasn't returned. At a police station, it dawns on him that the young lady in the street accident could be Lucy. Cops give him the address of the medical center. Just in time too. She's regaining consciousness. The killer made his way into the facility. He knows where she is.

Just like CASH ON DELIVERY, this is another Muriel Box feature that runs only about 80-minutes.  The fine cast doesn't have any British actors who were big stars to American audiences. If this EYEWITNESS screenplay had been at 20th Century Fox in the 1950s, the movie would've been a thriller starring Jean Peters or Jeanne Crain as Lucy. And the Hollywood studio would've assigned the project a male director. Spirited, smart Lucy Church was played by Muriel Pavlow. The actress passed away early this year at age 97. Michael Craig played Jay Church. He was seen opposite Julie Andrews as love interest in 1968's STAR!

Suspense, action, a little romance and a bit of humor to break up the tension. 1956's EYEWITNESS is another entertaining film from Britain's groundbreaking screenwriter and director, Muriel Box.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Shelley Winters in CASH ON DELIVERY

Here in the U.S., the discussion of groundbreaking female filmmakers needs to start including Oscar winner Muriel Box. I discovered her work about five years ago when I saw a brisk 1955 British comedy set during the Christmas holidays. SIMON AND LAURA, starred Kay Kendall and Peter Finch as two married actors, a constantly bickering pair, who are so in need of money that they agree to do a live BBC TV reality show posing as a happily married couple. Seeing the name "Muriel Box" onscreen as the director grabbed my attention. I did some quick research on Muriel Box. Before her film starring Kay Kendall and Peter Finch, she directed a British film starring Shelley Winters in fabulous comedy form.
As actress Ida Lupino strode into the Hollywood boys' club of directors and shattered the glass ceiling in the 1950s, it appears Ms. Box did the same thing in Great Britain in the 1950s. It also appears she did not get a warm reception for her films simply because of her sex. Lupino proved to be one of Hollywood's finest actresses of the 1930s and 40s. A screen beauty with solid dramatic skills, she did stand-out work in HIGH SIERRA (1941), THE SEA WOLF (1941), THE HARD WAY (1943), DEVOTION (1946), THE MAN I LOVE (1946) and DEEP VALLEY (1947) to name a few. All those films were Warner Bros. releases. Ida Lupino should've been a bigger star at Warner Bros. in the 1940s, but Bette Davis was queen of the lot then and all the A-list scripts went to her first. Still, Lupino kept delivering good screen performances from one decade into another. In 1949/1950, she went behind the camera as director of some gritty, black and white dramas. Her low-budget tough features did good business at the box office. Ida Lupino was Hollywood's trailblazing actress/director. Before her impressively extensive list of credits as a television director, Lupino's credits as a film director included OUTRAGE (1950), HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951), THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) and THE BIGAMIST (1953).

Across the pond, Muriel Box was a British film screenwriter. She and her then-husband, Sydney Box, won Oscars in the Best Original Screenplay category for THE SEVENTH VEIL starring Ann Todd as a young, gifted pianist who must regain her sense of self after being dominated and controlled by her guardian played by James Mason. Like Ida Lupino in Hollywood, Muriel Box made a name for herself in one area of the filmmaking business and then sought to express herself in another.  She loved to write about and direct films about the female experience. Muriel Box directed her first feature film in 1949. The film I saw, SIMON AND LAURA, was her her sixth. Her fifth was also a comedy, one that starred a vivacious Shelley Winters.
Shelley Winters plays kooky New York City nightclub singer Myrtle La Mar in 1954's CASH ON DELIVERY directed by Muriel Box. Myrtle can sell a song. As she'll tell you, she was known as "The Jersey City Canary." If your overriding image of Shelley Winters is that of her dramatic supporting characters who went out emotionally wrecked and wet in A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), LOLITA (1962) and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), I'd urge you to see her lively leading role in this entertaining comedy. Winters is like Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS with a touch of Lucy Ricardo from I LOVE LUCY.

CASH ON DELIVERY reminds you that Shelley Winters had terrific comedy chops. If Paramount had this script in 1950, it would've become a Betty Hutton vehicle with new songs written for her to sing. And the studio would've assigned a male director.

After shapely Myrtle La Mar belts out an upbeat jazz tune called "Give Me A Man" in rehearsal (Shelley did her own vocal), she has a meeting about a legal matter. An uncle died and left the Manhattan nightclub singer $2 million in his will. But, there was a sexist clause that the money could not go directly to her. It had to go to her husband who would then give the money to her. The hitch -- he's in England, he and Myrtle got a friendly divorce a few years earlier in Bolivia (where she had a gig) and he's now remarried with a very pregnant wife. He's still financially struggling and still a musician. He lives in a humble cottage and writes music scores for documentaries. Myrtle goes to England to find him and to try to get her money as legally as possible. The sexist clause in the uncle's will causes complications.
When you see how lively and relaxed Shelley Winters is in this film, when you see her comic timing, when you experience the overall warmth and good humor in the tone of this comedy, you may feel as I did -- that Muriel Box did not get a good reception from critics simply because of her gender. Peggy Cummins, probably best known for her gun-toting femme fatale character in the 1950 noir classic, GUN CRAZY, also had a talent for comedy as was seen in 1947's THE LATE GEORGE APLEY with Ronald Colman. Peggy Cummins was directed by Muriel Box more than once. She played the lovely and hungry pregnant wife in CASH ON DELIVERY.

The original title of this film for British audiences was TO DOROTHY, A SON. Peggy Cummins played the pregnant Dorothy. This is a fun 80-minute comedy with Shelley Winters in fine, funny form as a lovable babe. I repeat -- it's time to start including British screenwriter/director Muriel Box in the discussion of groundbreaking female filmmakers.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Be Thankful

It's Thanksgiving Day and I'm in the snowy Minneapolis area with my younger sister. I am extremely grateful to my sister. In 2011, she saved our mother's life. She saved Mom's life thanks to inspiration she got from one of Mom's favorite films -- and one of mine too.  NOW, VOYAGER starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains. It's a long story, but if my sister had not had a hunch to embark on a road trip that day after Christmas to go to Mom's house, where Mom lived alone, and contact firefighters to help with her wellness check, Mom would not have seen 2012. She would've died in the house. Her condition was critical. Mom told me that herself as she was recovering. A long undetected bladder infection had clouded her senses, making her reclusive and delusional. Thank Heaven for my sister -- and NOW, VOYAGER.
Mom passed away in 2017. From the day my sister saved her life the last week of 2011 to the month she passed, our often frayed relationship got stronger than ever. She made me feel very significant in her life. My sister does that. So does my terrific cousin. Here's a story about following one's heart: Ever since I was a youngster, I wanted to pursue a TV career and work in New York City. My mother had a different idea. She wanted me to be a novelist/schoolteacher in a nice heterosexual Catholic marriage that produced three children (that I'd probably name Liza, Lorna and Joey). When my cousin was a youngster, he wanted to be an airline flight attendant and travel the world. My parents divorced when I was in middle school. I'm the oldest of three kids. When Mom divorced Dad, she also divorced his side of the family -- even though Dad's side of the family was in L.A. not far from us. Having fun with my cousin when we were grade schoolers was a hoot. Divorce changed our family dynamic. I went away to study at a Milwaukee university and my sister followed. I graduated and had just started my professional broadcast career there when Mom had another idea that really altered the family dynamic. She would move to Milwaukee where my sister and I were. I told her a) I did not intend to make Milwaukee my permanent address and b) that she had not been in snow for decades. She'd moved to Southern California in 1950 before she and Dad married.

She sent our brother ahead of her by one year to live with me and complete his parochial high school years in a different part of the country. LAVERNE & SHIRLEY started in Milwaukee and then relocated to Los Angeles. Our single parent black family did just the opposite. Also, despite all her sophistication and education, Mom relocated without a plan. Without a job lined up and without a place to live. My sister had her own apartment. Mom said to her, "I can live with you." This caused my sweet sister to walk around with a facial expression that said "I wish I could smoke a joint the size of a kayak."

I got myself to New York City. Two years after I got there, I had my own celebrity talk show on VH1 and daily on-air segments as a veejay. I loved that job. What a great opportunity it was. A dream come true. I was interviewing the quality of notables you saw with Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin and David Frost.  Also, the money helped. Mom got a house in Milwaukee but she didn't have a job and didn't keep up the monthly payments. A few months after I arrived in New York City for my first job, I assumed the mortgage on her house. I always needed a side gig so I could play my rent and her housenote.  By the time I was on VH1, I had not seen my cousin in about 20 years.

One day, I told a funny childhood memory story about him on VH1. A few days later, I got a FedEx envelope containing family photos I'd never seen. They were from my cousin.

The day that VH1 segment aired, he happened to be on vacation in Hawaii and had the TV on in the background in his room. He heard the story, it sounded familiar and he raced over to the screen to watch. Then he called his mother back in L.A. and asked her "What kind of work does Cousin Bobby do?" He realized it was me on TV, he got the VH1 address and sent me fabulous photos. That was in the late 1980s. We've not been out of touch since.

If he had not followed his heart's occupational desire, he would not have been in a fellow employee's condo in Hawaii on vacation. I'd followed my heart's occupational desire and was on national TV talking about the cousin I'd not seen in a long, long time. Think about it. Like my sister, he always makes me feel that I'm a significant part of his he is in mine.

I know. That's some wacky family history. My message? Follow your heart. Be kind. Let loved ones know that they're loved. That does not cost a thing. Happy Thanksgiving. Here's a holiday tune written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby. Save me some turkey.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On John Boyega in DETROIT

Can anyone doubt that STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is destined for a super reception when it opens? Variety reports it could pull in $200 million during its December 20th weekend opening. This means millions of us STAR WARS fans will once again see British actor John Boyega as Finn. With him in the newest adventure will be Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and, of course Mark Hamill plus the late, great Carrie Fisher. We know the handsome, young John Boyega from his high profile STAR WARS work and his PACIFIC RIM job. Both film characters thrust him into the action adventure arena.
As I learned from my greatly-appreciated Twitter pal, Andres Quiroga, Mr. Boyega's skills should not be limited to action adventures. Andres, who has increased my cinema history knowledge, urged me to see the 2017 drama, DETROIT, directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. Her film, inspired by national news reports about police shooting and killing unarmed black citizens, is based on the true-life incidents in the Detroit riots of 1967.
John Boyega has a key role as a black security officer in DETROIT. Boyega is amazing in DETROIT, delivering a performance that is not heavy on dialogue yet holds your attention as you watch his character think, react and deal with the racially hot situation. It's a performance of impressive internal force. John Boyega is so powerful in the dramatic role that you might find yourself wondering -- as I did -- if he was considered to play the young son opposite Denzel Washington's father/husband character in 2016's FENCES. Perhaps he was busy with STAR WARS production.
Bigelow deploys a classic horror film format to tell the story. There's a big house at night and we know that a monster is hiding in the house, endangering the people in it. In DETROIT, the monster is racism -- racism within the police force. Boyega's character is shocked to see what the monster is, yet he must carry out his duty to protect and serve.  The conflict -- he's not only of the color the monster hates, but he wears the same kind of uniform the monster does. Watch this trailer for DETROIT.

I remember when this film opened. I don't recall it getting much attention on entertainment news programs. Bigelow, with taking on the DETROIT story, gave attention and respect to the "Black Lives Matter" movement in national headlines. It's a strong film from a strong filmmaker.

Ms. Bigelow made history when she was the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. She won for THE HURT LOCKER and it also took the Oscar for Best Picture. Her win did not instantly level the gender playing field in that category in the same way the election of President Barack Obama did not make America instantly post-racial. Bigelow's 2012 drama, ZERO DARK THIRTY, got rave reviews. A few critics felt it was even better than 2009's THE HURT LOCKER. ZERO DARK THIRTY got Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress. Kathryn Bigelow did not get a second Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Actor Mel Gibson directed two films that got Oscar nominations for Best Picture -- 1995's BRAVEHEART and 2016's HACKSAW RIDGE. He got Best Director nominations for both and he won for BRAVEHEART.

Italy's Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to hook an Oscar nomination for Best Director. That was in 1977 for SEVEN BEAUTIES. Since then, a relatively small number of Oscar nominees for Best Picture have been directed by women. An even smaller subset of that category is the number of women who directed a Best Picture Oscar nominee and got an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Want examples?

1986's CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD. Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Marlee Matlin, winner), Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress. Nothing for Director Randa Haines.

1991's THE PRINCE OF TIDES. Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress. Nothing for Director Barbra Streisand.

2009's AN EDUCATION: Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress. Nothing for Director Lone Scherfig

2010's THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Lisa Cholodenko not nominated for Best Director.

2010's WINTER'S BONE: Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor. Debra Granik not nominated for Best Director.

2014's SELMA: Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Ava DuVernay not nominated for Best Director.

Along with Wertmüller and Bigelow, the other women to get Oscar nominations for Best Director are Jane Campion (1993's THE PIANO), Sofia Coppola (2003's LOST IN TRANSLATION) and Greta Gerwig (2017's LADY BIRD). No woman, so far, has ever received more than one Oscar nomination in the Best Director category.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Spend Time with HUSTLERS

I finally got around to seeing this hit film that was directed and written by Lorene Scafaria. First of all, when it ended, I thought "Bob Fosse would have loved this movie and he would've sent flowers and champagne with congratulations to the director." You probably know already that this is the film inspired by a post-Recession feature in a New York magazine about a group of group of strippers who scammed high income clients by beating them at their own game. The scam is not a whimsical plot hatched by greedy dames. A couple of them are down on their luck and trying to take care of a relative. They can't get by with just minimum wage jobs. About Bob Fosse. Did you see the firsr movie he directed, the film version of the Broadway musical SWEET CHARITY? The initial relationship between the two HUSTLERS played by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu....
…is pretty similar to that between veteran taxi dancer Nickie, played by Chita Rivera (below, right), and Charity, played by Shirley MacLaine (middle). JLo is Nickie. Constance is Charity.
Destiny (Constance Wu) loves the laughs, sisterhood and bonding in the dressing room before they all go out to dance onstage or in private rooms for the gentlemen. Destiny wants friend. Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) acts as a mentor and reminds Destiny that it's a business. The women are not really special to the men. They're just joy-toys. Destiny is the one Asian-American dancer. She'll get a taste of what Ramona means when one horny guy beckons her by calling out "Hey, Lucy Liu!" Ramona gets on the pole and shows Destiny how to work it. How to make ever movement mean something -- like Bob Fosse or Gwen Verdon teaching a dancer new choreography for a number. This is in 2007 when business is still good.
Destiny is being interviewed for the magazine feature. She's telling the reporter the story and takes us now to 2008 when the Recession hits. Business drops. The Wall Street high rollers aren't as frequent. Times may be rough for them, but they were rougher for the women in the club. Many of them had no more than a middle school or some high school education. They did not have credit cards with generous spending limits.
The Recession changes the club backstage in the next couple of years. Some of the dancers are gone, replaced by bitchy younger Russians who grant more sexual favors for less money. Destiny and Ramona are having hard times taking care of family member. Until smart Ramona comes up with an idea involving designer party drugs and clients' credit card privileges. Destiny is reluctant to go along with the idea but Ramona hits her with the reality that "The game is rigged. This country doesn't reward the ones who play by the rules."

Director Lorene Scafaria gives us a vibrant, funny, tense, raunchy and relevant story. When Ramona whips out some realism to Destiny about who gets rewarded, some of us will want to say "Amen on that, girl." I know I did. Just like Destiny, a top goal in my career was to make enough to take care of my mother. I have over 30 years of TV credits. Many of those years were on network TV. I've had my own prime time celebrity talk show on national TV. I've reviewed films on local and network TV before 2000. However, from 2000 to 2008, I booked three national jobs. I was the entertainment news reporter/editor on a weekly network show for ABC TV. I was a Food Network show host for two years and I was a regular on-air with Whoopi Goldberg for her weekday syndicated morning radio program from 2006 to 2008. Two of those three national broadcast jobs started me at $500 a week. Meanwhile, white folks like Billy Bush, Rosie O'Donnell and Tom Bergeron made millions. I always had to get a side gig to help take care of my mom and to afford my studio apartment in Manhattan. I felt the game was rigged too. Just like in the male-driven 2015 film, Adam McKay's THE BIG SHORT, Scafaria's female-driven HUSTLERS shows us a group of characters aware that greedy Wall Street robbed working class folks of the promised American Dream.

As for the acting. Is Jennifer Lopez worthy of an Oscar nomination? Absolutely! HUSTLERS delivers her best film role and best film performance since 1998's OUT OF SIGHT. Visually, Lopez and the director give viewers what they want. A sight of her gorgeous, generous posterior. While she displays it as Ramona, she's playing a pole dancer as business-minded as General Patton in World War II. She's proud of her soldiers and preparing them for battle in the field of gentlemen's entertainment. The stripper who sweetly revealed "I was a centerfold once" is now at war with toxic Wall Street masculinity and white privilege.
Lopez is another woman of color who went to TV because Hollywood had not good script opportunities for her. This happened with Rita Moreno after she won the Oscar for WEST SIDE STORY. And to the extraordinary Cicely Tyson after her one Oscar nomination. It's why Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg went to THE VIEW. It's probably why Oscar nominee Rosie Perez went to THE VIEW for a year. It's why Viola Davis went to ABC TV after he second Oscar nomination. JLo was a judge on AMERICAN IDOL.
High praise also goes to the talented, under-appreciated Constance Wu. Her performance in HUSTLERS convinces me that some top ABC executives are clueless. FRESH OFF THE BOAT, the ABC sitcom, was the first ABC sitcom in 20 years about an Asian-American family. I've watched for six seasons and have loved Constance Wu as the over-achiever, too-controlling yet totally lovable mother. From its premiere, Wu has been a stand-out as one of the best sitcom moms to grace TV in years. However, we rarely saw her in ABC network interviews on shows like GOOD MORNING AMERICA. Also, did ABC ever campaign to get her a well-deserved Emmy nomination for FRESH OFF THE BOAT? She was never nominated. Then, she lit up movie screens in that box office champ, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. Constance Wu was a fabulous romantic comedy lead in a big hit movie. Still, she got no special ABC star interview. HUSTLERS is further proof of her versatility. If only  ABC had given this good actress as much attention as it's given blonde graduates of THE BACHELORETTE.

The HUSTLERS cast includes LIZZO and CARDI B as fellow stripper/dancers, JULIA STILES, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner MERCEDES RUEHL (1991's THE FISHER KING) and USHER. The music score is marvelously original. Selections range from works by Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Usher and Bob Seger to a few etudes by Chopin.

Remember the classic Billy Wilder film, SUNSET BLVD? The rich, forgotten and delusional Hollywood star of yesteryear, Norma Desmond, is 50.

HUSTLERS came out this year and, in real life, Jennifer Lopez turned 50. If Norma Desmond had looked like JLo, she would not have been forgotten.

Monday, November 25, 2019


Shia LaBeouf. His name sounds like a beef tenderloin special on an L.A. restaurant dinner menu. You know that he's not an entree. He's an actor. A good actor who's been at it for quite some time. I remember seeing him in an episode of  THE X-FILES back in late 90s. I'm fond of his performance in 2005's THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED. Beautifully directed by the late Bill Paxton and terribly marketed by Disney, you could tell that he was a young actor with serious talent. He went on to landing top roles in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL starring Harrison Ford and 2010's WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS starring Michael Douglas. Back in 2014, he was acting afool and got busted for disorderly conduct and, later, for public drunkenness. He's 33 now and seems to have pulled himself back together. Hopefully. I like him. He's got talent and it would be a shame to waste it. He did not waste one bit of his talent in THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON. In fact, Shia LaBeouf delivers one of his most satisfying and sincere performances in it.
The indie film has an unusual title. There's a good reason for that title, as you'll learn when you see the movie. Basically, it's a road movie that puts two opposites together. In road movies, there will be a journey, self-discovery and a union of the two different types. The differences can be in race, class, personality types or physical/developmental abilities. Think of films such as RAIN MAN, SIDEWAYS, MIDNIGHT RUN, SCARECROW and GREEN BOOK. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON has two guys who are very different but wind up together travelling down a river and on land like they're the two main characters in Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN.
"Friends are the family you choose," says Carl. Carl is the senior gentleman who lives in the same residence with Zak. We can tell as soon as we see Zak in the opening scene that his unspoken motto must be "Y'all must be crazy if you think I'm crazy." He's in his early 20s and will readily profess in the story "I am a Down Syndrome person." He's a handful at the nursing residence. A couple of the older folks help him in his plan to escape. He escapes, gets caught and returned to the residence. In a room with Carl, he puts on his favorite VHS tape. It's a sports tape. Zak is fascinated with a pro wrestler called "The Salt Water Redneck." Zak wants to be a pro wrestler.
One more attempt, with some advice from Carl, proves successful. Zak flees the North Carolina nursing residence and hides out in a fishing boat. The boat is owned by Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a lonely hard-luck dude who's on the run for some trouble he sparked with local rival fishermen. There's a chase on the water. Tyler discovers he's got a stowaway. Thus begins an adventure and an unlikely friendship. Yes, you've seen road movies with two guys before, but this one has a fresh ingredient that breathes new life into the format. The actor playing the smart, spunky, charismatic character with Down Syndrome is really a person with Down Syndrome. The actor's name is Zach Gottsagen and he's wonderful to watch. Both young men thrown together are, in their ways, fleeing. They form a bond. Along the way, there will be danger, laughs, religion, romance and wrestling. The two lead actors connect quite well. Zach Gottsagen is a breakthrough winner. Shia LaBeouf is at his mature best. Here's a trailer for THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON.

If you like SIDEWAYS and THE STATION AGENT, I think you might like THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON. Also in the cast are Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, John Hawkes and Dakota Johnson. There's a nice warmth about this film written and directed by Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson. Carl was right -- "Friends are the family you choose."

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Love from Dolly Parton's HEARTSTRINGS

She's a dynamic figure in the field of American entertainment. A country music star, her work keeps true to its country roots yet it stretches far beyond that one field and can bloom wherever it lands. As a singer, she's a storyteller. Those stories are songs she wrote herself. The falsetto-ish, sweet voice of hers is always instantly recognizable. As for her compositions, Dolly Parton is one of America's most prolific songwriters. She has written for her albums, she has written for films and she has written for Broadway. She made her successful film debut in the 1980 hit office politics comedy, 9 to 5. She wrote and performed the title tune, it was a hit record and it brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Dolly got the leading lady role in the film version of Broadway's THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. The Miss Mona role was a fine fit for Dolly who did a nice job performing the show's songs which were written by Carol Hall. In the 1982 musical, Dolly also sang one of her compositions -- "I Will Always Love You." Dolly got some golden royalty checks when Whitney Houston covered her song and scored a huge hit on the record charts. I was praying for Dolly to win the Oscar when her "Travelin' Thru" for the 2006 film, TRANSAMERICA, brought her a second Best Song Oscar nomination. But she lost to "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" from HUSTLE & FLOW. As for 9 to 5, Dolly Parton wrote songs for the 2008 Broadway musical based on the movie.  Like George and Ira Gershwin and like Cole Porter, Dolly Parton has written popular songs, she's written Oscar-nominated songs for movies and she's written for Broadway.
Her popular songs and the stories in her songs are the basis for Dolly Parton's HEARTSTRINGS now on Netflix. It's an anthology series, similar to shows we got in TV's bygone era such as THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. A celebrity host presents the show, introduces the story and (as was the case in some TV anthologies) makes a guest appearance in the episodes. Dolly is the host, doing introductions from Dollywood, and she appears in the episodes. I watched the first two episodes. What an enjoyable way to pass the time on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

Dolly Parton's classic country song, "Jolene," is the first episode. In her introduction, Dolly tells what inspired the composition. Way back when, she saw her husband flirting with "some hussy." The episode goes into Dolly's song and finds a fresh presentation of it. Instead of being judgmental about Jolene, the story becomes the complicated but true friendship of two women -- one married, the other a veteran of affairs with married men -- and a look at two middle-aged married people who need to fall in love all over again. Dolly has a supporting role as Jolene's honky tonk bar owner boss.

Dolly's "Two Doors Down" is the basis for the second episode. In the introduction, Dolly tells how she's long had two families. There's her family at home. Then there's her family of musicians and crew people when she's on the road. Her road family is one of different colors and LGBTQ representation. In "Two Doors Down," we see family members all needing to come out with the truth about themselves. This happens close to New Year's Eve as a controlling mother is over-arranging her daughter's wedding. You will love Melissa Leo as the steel magnolia who's acting all high-tone so she can impress her society friends. Her sweet son has an equally sweet boyfriend. But the son has yet to come out to family because he knows the news will just cause high drama with mama. She expects him to marry a woman and produce grandchildren. The bride is a TV actress. She dislikes Mom's plans for her wedding. Dad is just a big good ol' boy who feels detached from his wife now that she's gone all high-tone. Melissa Leo, formerly of NBC's LAW & ORDER and Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for playing the tough Boston mother in THE FIGHTER, is a hoot as the controlling yet clueless Southern mother in "Two Doors Down." Her son and his boyfriend make a wonderful couple. We hope she realizes that.
This episode is funny and touching -- especially when the son comes out to his dad. I admit, I got rather misty-eyed during this episode. When I came out to my mom...well, she acted kind of like the mother Melissa Leo played.  Here's a trailer for HEARTSTRINGS.
Nobody promotes Dolly better than Dolly. She knows herself, her image and her talent. She's a terrific entertainer and a smart businesswoman. Inside the glitzy gowns and under the big wigs is something real, something with heart. As she produces, as she promotes herself, she's also using her art to promote tolerance and fairness. She's aware that, in today's world, courtesy is not so common anymore -- but it needs to be. There are lessons of love in those two episodes I saw. I'll be watching again for more love from Dolly Parton's HEARTSTRINGS.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Today in History, What We Miss

It was Friday. Friday, November 22nd in 1963. TV was simpler and innocent then. We had only three networks. There was no 24-hour-channel. You couldn't say words like "pregnant" and "toilet" in prime time entertainment television. Words we hear on network morning news programs today would've been forbidden then. We really had not been shocked by anything on television -- until that day. We were shocked and so horrified that we felt as though a sudden viruse had invaded our systems and robbed us of the ability to stand. Within minutes our lives had been cruelly changed when we got the news bulletin from Walter Cronkite on CBS TV that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. American's then-youngest and first Catholic president had been assassinated. First Lady Jackie Kennedy was now, suddenly, a young widowed mother as the country prepared for Thanksgiving followed by Christmas holidays.
President John F. Kennedy reflected and represented youth, vigor, change, strength and wit. He was a reader and a published writer. And a WWII veteran. President and Mrs. Kennedy embraced the fine arts and fine artists. They opened the White House doors to cultural diversity. He had a respect for freedom of the press.
Kennedy was a senator when he wrote PROFILES IN COURAGE. The 1955 book of short biographies, biographies revealing acts of heroism and integrity, won a Puliter Prize. Today, we have a president who insults people on Twitter.

I cannot quote any of Trump's inaugural speech. I do remember that it was bleak. It did not leave one's spirit feeling sun-filled and hopeful. Take a few minutes to hear from the man who was American's new president in 1961. I was still a little boy at the time. But this is what America was... and this is what many of us miss.

President Kennedy had an affection for the CAMELOT original Broadway cast album. Richard Burton's reprise of the title song and the end of the show became associated with the JFK years. It was used in the 2016 film, JACKIE.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Highlights in HAIL, CAESAR!

There were definitely two black men in the preview audience laughing. I was one of those black men laughing. The other was my friend, film critic Mike Sargent. The movie onscreen for the critics preview was HAIL, CAESAR!, a spoof on 1950s Hollywood studio politics from the Coen Brothers. Mike and I are both film geeks and we got some of the classic Hollywood references in the comedy. For instance, the main character was Eddie Mannix, an important studio figure, played by Josh Brolin. There really was an Eddie Mannix. He was what Hollywood called "a fixer." If a big star got pulled over for drunk driving, Eddie took care of keeping it out the papers. If a star's daughter killed mom's physically abusive hoodlum boyfriend, the star called Eddie before she called the cops. You get the idea. In HAIL, CAESAR!, Mike and I knew that the Carmen Miranda-like character, Carlotta Valdez, has the same name as a character in Hitchcock's VERTIGO. We also knew that Scarlett Johansson's movie star character was loosely inspired by the famous MGM swimming star, Esther Williams. George Clooney, dressed as a Roman centurion, tells a story that once happened to him on location. I really broke up laughing at Clooney's delivery and the story because it involved Judy Canova and Danny Kaye. When I was a kid in South Central L.A., I was the only kid on the block aware Judy Canova and Danny Kaye's credits.
Clooney plays the Robert Taylor-ish movie star who's kidnapped by two background actors while he's shooting a Biblical epic.  As I wrote, Mike and I laughed a lot watching the movie. However, as we left the theater, we did say "Who's gonna go see that film?" Most average moviegoers, the kind of folks who filled a theater to see DEADPOOL or X-MEN APOCALYPSE are not going to know Eddie Mannix or get a punchline that involves Danny Kaye. The movie had a jazzy pace, good performances and very funny scenes. But, overall, mainstream audiences wouldn't get the point of the movie. Once again, the Coen Brothers showed how greatly influenced they were by the 1940s classics from director/writer Preston Sturges. But Sturges -- the man who gave us THE LADY EVE, THE PALM BEACH STORY, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK and SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS -- loved his audiences and loved entertaining them. The Coen Brothers often seem to make movies mostly for the Caucasian group of predominantly male film critics in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
HAIL, CAESAR! airs on HBO frequently. When I can, I'll watch the first hour because three actors in it get belly laughs from me with their performances. They are Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson. I remember the original STAR WARS when it opened. A fun movie that was rooted in a new mythology. We eagerly waited for the next adventure that would further the mythology. Now the STAR WARS adventures have been overtaken by marketing. The new movies are being whipped out like Big Macs. Alden Ehrenreich was cast as Han Solo in the 2018 prequel SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. It flopped. That's a shame because Ehrenreich is a good actor. In the 1940s, he would've been added to the Preston Sturges company of actors -- like an Eddie Bracken. Alden Ehrenreich is a comedy stand-out in HAIL, CAESAR! as the polite singing cowboy who stars in popular low-budget movies. He winds up being cast in a sophisticated romantic drama that required him to wear a tuxedo instead of chaps and boots. The perplexed, tweedy director, fabulously played by Ralph Fiennes, must give his assigned star tips on elocution. I love this scene from 2016's HAIL, CAESAR!

Alden Ehrenreich is not an outer space action movie hero. He's a talented actor with screwball comedy chops. He shows that in HAIL, CAESAR! and with his performance in Warren Beatty's 2016 film, RULES DON'T APPLY. Ehrenreich plays the overwhelmed assistant to the mysterious and eccentric billionaire, Howard Hughes, in Beatty's film.

As for Scarlet Johansson in HAIL, CAESAR!, she marvelously resurrected the kind of fast-talking, wise-cracking, gum-chewing, brassy blonde that gave 1930s and 40s Hollywood movies life. Watch this clip of her in HAIL, CAESAR!

Those three actors, Clooney, Brolin and Tilda Swinton as twin sisters who are rival Hollywood news columnist -- they all hit home runs in this comedy that not many folks paid to see. I just had to give them some love here.

One more note: After Channing Tatum's jaunty, gay-friendly movie musical number with sailors, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) walks onto the set for a chat with the musical's director. The director is played by Christopher Lambert. Mannix and the director have a short discussion. In real-life, both actors are the ex-husbands of actress Diane Lane. And that's Hollywood.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


If you appreciate classic films and you're up for an energetic, suspenseful drama, I've got a recommendation. THE TALL TARGET does not get much talk in the classic film discussion, but that's no reflection on its quality. The film runs only about 1 hour and 15 minutes and it's not a big budget studio film. It is, however, full of good actors and it's the work of a good director, Anthony Mann. He gave audiences tough, tight westerns such as 1950's THE FURIES starring Barbara Stanwyck, BEND OF THE RIVER and THE NAKED SPUR, both starring James Stewart in the 1950s and the 1961 historical epic, EL CID, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. THE TALL TARGET uses a historical figure in its story. We go back to 1861. A New York City detective is on a train from New York to Baltimore. He's moving fast to ruin an on-board plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln before he reaches Baltimore to deliver a pre-Inauguration speech. Multi-talented Dick Powell stars as the detective.
This Anthony Mann drama is a lean cut of good meat. It rates a look today because of our political climate. Besides the race to foil a deadly plot, there's a theme of race running through THE TALL TARGET. Actor Jon Voight, a man who has posted videos on social media proclaiming his support for Trump, will be awarded a National Medal of the Arts. Voight has called Trump "the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln." In THE TALL TARGET, passengers are blunt with their feelings about Lincoln. One man says "If somebody puts a bullet into Lincoln, I'll be the first to shake his hand."
In one of those performances that makes you wonder why it took Hollywood a little over 50 years to give her an Oscar nomination, Ruby Dee delivers in a supporting role as a well-dressed slave maid. She's travelling with the pretty belle who's the first to tell anyone that she and Rachel, her maid, grew up together. That may very well be, but Rachel is still not free like the white lady is. Says Rachel, "Freedom isn't a thing you should be able to give me, Miss Ginny. Freedom is something I should have been born with."  A pro-abolition reporter asks Rachel, "If you slaves were free, would you go back to Africa to live?" In that scene, featuring actress Florence Bates as the journalist, once senses the pro-abolitionist feels America instantly will become "post-racial" once Lincoln is sworn into office.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated and, tragically, was assassinated in 1865 while in office. One gigantic irony in the script is the Dick Powell character. The detective's name is John Kennedy. America would be paralyzed with grief on November 22, 1963 upon getting the horrible news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed that day in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was the one U.S. President since Lincoln to be assassinated.

Here is a clip from THE TALL TARGET.

This 1951 thriller stars Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, Will Geer, Florence Bates and screen newcomer Ruby Dee. It's available on Amazon.

More notes: In the 1930s, Dick Powell sang in major Warner Bros. musicals and introduced tunes that became standards in our Great American Songbook. See him and hear his excellent voice in 42nd STREET, GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, HOLLYWOOD HOTEL and 20th Century Fox's ON THE AVENUE. In the 1940s, he reinvented himself as one of the best hardboiled private eyes in film noir. See him as Philip Marlowe in 1944's MURDER, MY SWEET.  In the 1950s, he acted in more film dramas, became a film director and a successful network TV producer. Ruby Dee, of film and Broadway, followed THE TALL TARGET with the Broadway and film version of A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961), GONE ARE THE DAYS!, BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972, directed by Sidney Poitier), DO THE RIGHT THING and JUNGLE FEVER, both directed by Spike Lee. She got her one Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


This new sitcom airs Thursday nights on CBS. I've watched every episode since it premiered and every single one has made me laugh. What hooked me into watching, first of all, was the title. I wanted to see why it's called THE UNICORN. Second, I'm a fan of its lead actor, Walton Goggins. If he'd been around in the 1950s and 60s, he would've been cast in just about every now-classic western from those decades. He would've been a gunslinger in SHANE, HIGH NOON, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and TRUE GRIT. He's got that kind of a face. It's a very cool character face with its teeth like extra large and super-white Chiclets.
You may have seen Walton Goggins on TV shows such as THE SHIELD, JUSTIFIED and SONS OF ANARCHY. Now he's a suburban widower dad raising girls and gingerly stepping into the area of dating again. He's doing this with the urging and help of married friends who do not want him to be lonely. THE UNICORN is a warm, smart and funny show. Wade, the widower, is a most huggable new sitcom dad. His daughters are refreshingly down-to-earth and not precocious. They're good kids. They loved their late mom a lot -- and so did their dad. That's evident. We never lose sight of the fact that all the action springs from a loneliness in the devoted dad. Wade is awkward. He's sincere. Wade's heart is still healing from grief while he works hard to be a responsible, attentive single dad. The wisdom of the show comes in the viewpoints we realize when Wade is brave when he starts conversation that could lead possibly to a date. This is another reason why I stayed with the show. Online dating is not easy. When I was emotionally ready, years after my partner passed away, I tried online dating. I tried on three different sites. I liken the experience to hitting myself in the head with a polo mallet -- it felt so good when I stopped. Yes, Wade is brave and he has a good support system.
The two married couples are fabulous friends and perfectly cast. I love the black couple played by Omar Miller and Maya Lynn Robinson. I wish they were my married friends -- and I wish I could date a sweet guy like Wade -- even though Michelle (Maya Lynn Robinson) revealed this honest observation to Wade: "I cringe when you dance."
By the way, Wade is called a "unicorn" because he's that rare creature roaming free that a woman would want. He's employed, atrractive and serious about commitment. It's a comfortable show that recognizes tender areas of the heart I've known. It's a show with characters that I feel I know, a show that makes me laugh. As usual, Goggins is good. What's wrong with a half-hour of gentle entertainment? THE UNICORN airs Thursday nights at 8:30 on CBS.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Let me tell you about a lunch experience I once had with a buddy in midtown Manhattan. He wanted to grab a bite and, because he was shopping that day, he suggested the cafe in a posh Manhattan department store. I just wanted a cheeseburger deluxe. Nothing fancy. I ordered what was advertised on the menu as a cheeseburger. It came on a fancy plate. The burger was not served on a bun. No. Instead, it was inside an English muffin. As for the fries, there were about six Julienne fries underneath a piece of Romaine lettuce. When I lifted up the lettuce with my fork, I felt like an American G.I. who'd just discovered a half dozen concentration camp survivors huddled together in a corner. That's how thin those fries were. Uptown where I lived for a while in Harlem, I could've gotten a cheeseburger the size of a back wheel on a kid's tricycle with fries cut on the thick side. Plus a bowl of cole slaw. And it would've been cheaper than that fancy alleged cheeseburger deluxe in the department store cafe. Which brings me to film critics and a review of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER.
I took film courses in college. I've done film reviews on local and network TV. My goal as a film critic, mainly, was to take a smart working class approach to the film in my reviews. I did not expect to win a Pulitzer or to be quoted in newspaper ads, but I did go after film critic work on TV enthusiastically because I never saw anyone who looked like me -- or our neighbors on the block in South Central Los Angeles -- do regular film reviews on local or network TV. Film critics on TV, be it Los Angeles or New York City, were mostly Caucasian males. Sometimes, the way they reviewed a film, made me think they were playing to an audience of follow Caucasians that would order a posh cheeseburger served on an English muffin.

HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is now on Netflix. It's an unsophisticated, fun comedy about an aging and clueless Mexican gigolo whose longtime sugar mama wife (older than he) downsizes him in favor of something younger. He leaves their Bel Air mansion and, out of economic desperation, winds up living with his wonderful estranged sister and her little boy, his nephew. Maximo's motto in his gigolo life has been "Once you lower your expectations, the sky's the limit." Maximo acts and occasionally dresses as if he's still a hot piece of man-candy in his 20s. Now in his 40s, he must learn how to act his age, how to be a better brother and how to be a good uncle. Eugenio Derbez plays Maximo. Derbez is a popular movie star in Mexico. The cast also includes Raquel Welch. Welch looks sensational and reminds moviegoers that she can do comedy. Linda Lavin, Renee Taylor and Kristin Bell are in the movie too with funny scenes. Salma Hayek stars as Maximo's sister, a single working mom.
When HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER opened theatrically, I heard a scholarly (and Caucasian) film critic review it on a Los Angeles NPR program. He was not mean in his short review. However, he did pretty much dismiss it as a goofy movie that probably would not do much at the box office. When I heard him say that, I thought to myself, "Dude. Are your sure about that? Do you realize how massively populated with Mexicans Southern California is? Mexicans who go to the movies?"

I watched HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER last night on Netflix. It had me laughing in the first five minutes. It starts like a sentimental Lifetime TV or Disney movie about the simple, poor Mexican family with the loving papa who works long hours. We see papa, mama, the little boy and the little girl. Then we see how the little boy grew up to become the Mexican version of AMERICAN GIGOLO. Maximo has devolved from being a hot lover to being a hot mess as he pursues one more possible sugar mama.

Click onto this link to see a trailer for the 2017 release:

True, HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is lowbrow. But there's heart to it that the critic on the radio show never mentioned. Raphael Alejandro, the kid actor who played the bookworm nephew, is absolutely adorable. He's so natural. So perfectly awkward and charming. I loved watching how the relationship between the shy nephew and the errant uncle grew into a tender family bond.
After a day of impeachment-related news and battling polar temperatures outside, I was in the mood for some easy laughs, likeable characters and a beer. HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER sure was fun. As for the film critic's comment that it probably would not do much at the box office, here's some news: It cost about $13 million to make. It raked in $62 million at the box office.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Sweetness of FORREST GUMP

Last weekend on CBS SUNDAY MORNING, there was a fine feature to honor Veterans Day. In the feature, two actors were interviewed. First, there was Gary Sinise. He played Lieutenant Dan, the amputee and Vietnam War vet, in 1994's FORREST GUMP starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Sinise got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. The actor never served but many of his relatives did and, for years, he has tirelessly devoted himself to volunteer work on behalf of veterans. The other person interviewed is a veteran. He served in one of our 21st Century conflicts. He'd like to act again. He acted with Sally Field when he was a kid. He played little Forrest Gump, the boy with the Southern accent who was told to "Run, Forrest! Run!" Michael Conner Humphreys served in Iraq. He's now 34. Hanks studied Humphrey's accent to use in his performance as the grown Gump.
This post is about set decoration and art design in the movie.
I'm a longtime fan of Tom Hanks. I have been since his ABC TV days in drag on the sitcom, BOSOM BUDDIES back in the early 80s. I'd read the Winston Groom novel, FORREST GUMP, within a weekend. Politically incorrect? Yes, it is. A bit rude and racy? It's that too. And damn funny. FORREST GUMP, the 1986 novel, is like something Mark Twain would've written if he'd smoked pot instead of cigars. Before the movie opened, there was hot buzz on it. A publicist for a rival film company gave me this tip: "If you get invited to a screening of FORREST GUMP, go. It's really good."

Well, I did want to see it because of Tom Hanks. I especially wanted to see how Hanks would pull off being a big musclehunk idiot savant who was terrific on the football field and once said, "Bein' an idiot is no box o' chocolates." Could Hanks pull off playing a John Cena-type? Had he lifted weights to prepare for the role?
Forrest had a selfish and whiny mother and a girlfriend who did not limit her generous sexual favors to just him. His many misadventures in life ranged from the sports field to outer space to making a sci-fi movie with a cranky Raquel Welch. The characters played by Sally Field and Robin Wright -- and even Mr. Hanks himself -- in the Robert Zemeckis film had been sweetened from the original source material.

For the film version, screenwriter Eric Roth removed the book's apple vinegar tartness and replaced it with four cups of sugar. Forrest Gump on film was not the big beefcake idiot savant of the novel. His famous quote in the novel was changed for the screenplay to "Life is like a box chocolates...."

You know the rest.

Part of this clip was played in the CBS SUNDAY MORNING piece. I noticed something in the scene I'd never noticed before when I watched the movie.

Watch the clip again. Forrest says that now-famous movie line. Doesn't it look like he and the lady on the bench are seated on top of a giant Hershey bar? That whole "box of chocolates" philosophy is reflected in the set decoration. I had never noticed that until last weekend on CBS SUNDAY MORNING.

The CBS SUNDAY MORNING feature, "How two FORREST GUMP actors served their country," can be seen if you look for it here

Monday, November 11, 2019


His powerful, heartbreaking performance in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is the one that moved me the most. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is the 2006 film directed by Clint Eastwood that tells the story of the six men who raised the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. This battle was a turning point in World War 2. The Associated Press photo taken of the event shot to fame in our modern American history. Movie history was made in the casting and performance of actor Adam Beach as one of the flag-raising heroes. It's November 11th, Veterans Day, the perfect day to watch that fine film displaying Adam Beach's excellent work.
Adam Beach grew up on a reservation. He's a Native American. In FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, he plays Ira Hayes, the real-life Native American G.I. Hayes was a troubled soul who had a hard life after having been thrust into the national spotlight as a hero. His life and hard times were perfect material to inspire a script -- which it did. He was played onscreen twice. Both times by white actors. The most well-known portrayal of veteran Ira Hayes was done by Tony Curtis in the 1961 biopic, THE OUTSIDER. Before that, Hayes was played by Lee Marvin in a 1960 television production. I think you'll be moved by Beach's performance in the Eastwood film.
 Here's a trailer for FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS.

I first noticed Adam Beach in the totally entertaining 1998 indie road comedy/drama called SMOKE SIGNALS. A young Indian guy, a book nerd from the reservation, is a natural-born storyteller. But is anyone paying attention to his stories? He's on a road trip with friends, a trip that will teach him more about his history. Beach plays the macho and handsome Victor. When I was a regular on GOOD DAY NEW YORK on WNYW/Channel 5, I had the great privilege to interview Chris Eyre, the director of SMOKE SIGNALS, on our show. Telling him in person on live TV what a fan I am of his movie was a big thrill. The screenplay was by Sherman Alexie, based on his book. Dig it. It's a film about Native Americans, directed and written by Native Americans with Native American actors in the cast. I loved telling our morning show audience about SMOKE SIGNALS.

Adam Beach is a graduate of LAW& ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. He was a cast member for a couple of years. If he looked familiar, that could be it.

November 11th is Veterans Day -- and Adam Beach's birthday. Happy Birthday to him and heartfelt gratitude to all men and women who served.

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...