Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Grown-Up FAIRYTALE

It's a twisted Italian import. There are scandalous sexual situations, attempted murder and fabulous daytime housedresses. The movie has a generous sprinkling of influence from Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s such as ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and WRITTEN ON THE WIND. The nifty set decoration has the colorful palette of a movie homage to Douglas Sirk such as FAR FROM HEAVEN starring Julianne Moore. Just like Moore's character in that film, this lead character is a housewife in a suburban American dream home of the 1950s. This subtitled film is FAIRYTALE and the lead female character is -- Mrs. Fairytale.
She's married. But is she totally happy? She chats with her fluffy little stuffed poodle she calls "Lady." Like Julianne Moore in the Sirk-like FAR FROM HEAVEN, she throws a party. Unlike Moore in FAR FROM HEAVEN, she invites Black people to her party and she has a festive time as hostess.
Mrs. Fairytale has a friend who drops over constantly -- like Agnes Moorehead in ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and Patricia Clarkson in FAR FROM HEAVEN. Emerald is her friend.

If Mrs. Fairytale looks a bit sturdy, somewhat on the big-boned side to you, you're right. Italian actor and playwright Filippo Timi. FAIRYTALE is based on a play he wrote and performed. The film was directed and co-written by Sebastiano Mauri. The director is Mr. Timi's husband. This comedy is about freedom, the freedom to live and love freely. The freedom to be one's authentic self.
If you liked the 1978 hit film, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, it's 1996 hit American remake, THE BIRDCAGE starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, and the 2003 hilarious indie comedy, GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS, I think you'll enjoy this 90-minute feature. Script-wise, it's not as smooth as those three movies but Filippo Timi's truly funny and inspired performance as the housewife carries it. Filippo Timi is terrific. He's comedy gold having high drama in high heels. He's not a drag queen lampooning a 1950s white American housewife in the suburbs. He is that complicated housewife. At times, he looks like an Italian TOOTSIE. When Mrs. Fairytale holds up her stuffed poodle for Emerald to admire, Emerald remarks "She looks alive -- like you." There's an umbrella stand by the front door of her house. But, instead of umbrellas, it holds shotguns -- because upscale suburban folks in the 1950s America cherish their second amendment rights to bear arms. Outside one window, we see a huge American flag waving in the front yard. There's a Christmas tree -- a fake silver one -- ready to welcome the holidays. We learn that Mrs. Fairytale considers Doris Day to be "the greatest actress of all time." From Emerald we learn that Mrs. Fairytale is occasionally struck by her brute husband. We learn that a UFO presence has altered something in Mrs. Fairytale's sexuality. We see Mrs. Fairytale's desire when she's with a younger man and mambos like Dorothy Malone in WRITTEN ON THE WIND.  We get more dramatic domestic revelations when a distressed Emerald comes over -- and she happens to be dressed exactly like Kim Novak as Madeleine in Hitchcock's VERTIGO. The story gets a tad too surreal for its own good in the last act, nevertheless Timi is worth watching. Here's a trailer.

FAIRYTALE has a DVD and VOD release date of May 12th. The storyline gets bumpy but the acting is good. There needed to be some color in the subtitles to make them stand out. They're low on the screen and so white that they're occasionally hard to read. I'll be watching it again because Filippo Timi made me laugh -- and I really needed to laugh. Thank you, Mr. Timi.

Monday, April 27, 2020

BAD EDUCATION on HBO

It's absolutely absorbing. That's how I feel about this HBO drama starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. This is a tale of integrity, morality and America's regard for the educational system, specifically its treatment of teachers. As I watched BAD EDUCATION, there were moments of revelation in the story when I thought my slack jaw would drop down to my shoes with a clunk sound like I was a character in a 1940s Tex Avery cartoon. The revelations were that unexpectedly stunning. The most stunning thing about BAD EDUCATION is that it is based on a true story. A high school in Long Island, New York was the victim of a huge financial with a sum that seems to get bigger and bigger as the story progresses. The crime story was picked up by local TV news and print outlets. Just like the movie HUSTLERS, starring Jennifer Lopez, BAD EDUCATION is based on an article that appeared in New York magazine. Are you ready for another stunner? The original news story was broken by a student who wrote it up in the high school newspaper. Yes, the same high school that was bilked out of buckets of money. Only in America.
I won't give you many details about the movie because I don't want to rob you of the kind of surprises I experienced while watching it. I will tell you this up front -- if BAD EDUCATION was a theatrical release, Hugh Jackman would be getting Oscar buzz for his lead role performance. Jackman plays Frank Tassone, the school superintendent who is loved by students and staff alike. We learn that he's a widower. His wife died two years ago. Frank still wears his wedding ring. He's an attractive middle-aged man and we see that at least one middle-aged woman in his book club would rather hold him that the book by Charles Dickens that they're reading. He makes time for students and fellow staff members. He even makes time for aggravating, self-absorbed parents who overstep boundaries to get special treatment for their kids. This we see in the character of Mrs. Carol Schweitzer. She acts as though he's a designer she hired to make a special dress for her to wear at a red carpet Long Island function. He made the dress. She wanted a few changes and alterations done on the dress at the last minute. And then she wanted a major discount on her bill.
Allison Janney, in a pitch perfect performance, stars as the assistant superintendent, Pam Gluckin. Pam and Frank are friends. She knows that one of the women in the book club has a crush on him. We see Pam throwing a weekend summer party and we can't help but notice the pool and the cocktails. It's like a pop star's home. Then we notice that certain charges, purchases of items that are more personal than scholastic, are being charged to Pam's credit card intended for school purposes. Shady things are happening with the receipts. Funds are being embezzled. Pam is greedy. The greediness could result in a sticky situation for Frank, her boss. Scandal could soil the school's reputation. It's in the No. 4 school district in the country with more admissions to Ivy League colleges than ever. That fact makes ambitious parents drool. Imagine the bragging rights parents could have if their kid got admitted to a toney college.

Superintendent Frank makes time for a student from the school newspaper. She's doing a report on a school-related fixture. She puts a tape recorder on Mr. Tassone's desk and asked for a quick soundbite on the projected fixture. Her gives her one and she's satisfied. After she tells him that it's just a fluff piece, per the paper's editor, he motivates her to ask a follow-up question and basically says to do some homework and regard it as more than fluff.

She takes his advice and challenges her male high school newspaper editor. She goes into the school archives to check public record documents. When she notice that some healthy sums of money are going to other places and not to things like the repair of severely damaged and leaking ceilings in the school and administrative offices, she gets a fire inside to do more independent homework on this "fluff" story. Rachel, once a blank-eyed student, transforms into an eagle-eyed, steely journalist.
Pam's greediness is exposed. Frank has to ask his friend for her resignation. But wait, there's more. Mr. Tassone's motivation has made Rachel into a journalist whose investigations will lead to a bigger story. Geraldine Viswanathan is most impressive as Rachel.

I'm a Hugh Jackman fan. I've seen him on Broadway in a musical, on TV and in films. Jackman is a definite triple threat talent. Someone who can sing, dance and act. This role, as a man swept up in a twister of greed and corruption, is one of the juiciest roles he's had in year -- and he's excellent in it. If you get HBO, look for BAD EDUCATION.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Music from Martha Raye

I have been in isolation with my sweet sister in the Midwest for weeks. My heart breaks every time I see news footage of the deserted streets in New York City, the makeshift morgues and the overworked health care professionals who push beyond their exhaustion to be of service to the sick. I love New York. I miss New York. I lived there for over 20 years. However, I'm glad to be here where, if she needs me, I can help my sister. She has a couple of physical challenges. This morning, my spirit sought relief. I've been watching hours and hours of live MSNBC coverage of this pandemic crisis. My spirit craved entertainment, something upbeat that would have restorative powers. Something with a swing beat from the classic Hollywood era. My spirit needed to recharge with a few minutes featuring Martha Raye.
 When I was a little boy in Los Angeles, I was watching cartoons one morning. Cartoons of the 1930s and 40s would occasionally do send-ups of movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, the Marx Brothers and Mae West. I saw one animated female character whose big mouth was over-emphasized.  I didn't know who she was. Our mother was practically a walking library of pop culture from that era. Mom was in the living room with me as I watched TV. She said, "That's Martha Raye." With bright eyes and a smile, Mom added, "She was known for ... truckin'!" Not only did Mom tell me that "Truckin'" was a popular dance step in the 1930s, when she was girl, she got up and did her imitation of Martha Raye doing that dance step. This was a magic moment in the living room because my mom was just as entertaining as the cartoon on TV. She ended her dance demonstration by saying "Martha Raye could truck like us black folks." Fortunately for me, it would not be the only time I'd experience such a moment thanks to Mom. She was a fabulous mimic of famous entertainers.

Mom loved Martha Raye. I learned more about Martha a few years later on a Sunday afternoon. Jazz artist and jazz journalist, Leonard Feature, hosted a Sunday afternoon live jazz music/interview show on local L.A. radio. Mom and Dad listened to his show every Sunday afternoon they could. On one broadcast, Feather's guests were Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. He asked the two terrific vocalists and friends to name some of their favorite vocalists. Sarah said, "I'm going say a name and folks may laugh but Carmen will know I'm serious -- Martha Raye." Carmen agreed. I giggled. By then, I knew Martha Raye mainly as the funny lady on network TV shows.
Mom sweetly commented, "Don't laugh. Martha Raye was a good singer. I wore out my record of her singing "That Old Black Magic" and had to by a new one when I was girl." I would come to fully understand why Mom wore out that record when I heard Martha Raye's 1930s recording of "Stairway to the Stars."  Oooh, baby. Give it a listen.



Although I grew up in Los Angeles with parents who were avid moviegoers who took us to the drive-in to see Hollywood and foreign films, even though I made my first TV appearance on a syndicated classic film trivia game show shot in Hollywood when I was in high school, I had more up close and personal contacts with stars during my Milwaukee years after I graduated from Marquette University. That's where I started my professional broadcast career. Initially, I was "Bob Rivers," the new part-time reporter and news reader on WQFM rock radio. This was in the 1970s. One of my early assignments was to attend the press conference preceding the week-long engagement of the "4 GIRLS 4" revue. Rosemary Clooney, Rose Marie, Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting were the four veteran singers. My cool boss had me attend the press conference and get soundbites from Rose Marie because our audience would love her from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.

That press conference (with a buffet) marked a turning point in my early career. Rose Marie took an interest in me and became a mentor. Her advice took my radio career to a higher level. The "4 GIRLS 4" show was such a hit in Milwaukee that it made a return engagement the following year. I got a letter from Rose Marie saying that she'd moved on and would not be in the tour for the return engagement. But, she wanted me to get in touch with Rosemary Clooney while she was back in town. I did. I was with a buddy. Gino Salomone has since gone on to become a most popular Milwaukee TV & radio talent. He was present for a dinner full of good ribs and lots of laughs with Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting -- and Martha Raye. Raye had us in stitches with her stories about her years under contract to Paramount Pictures. Especially memorable were her stories about actor Fredric March who, according to her, was well-endowed with more than just acting talent. And he had a healthy set of hormones that motivated him to flirt a lot.

Martha remarked, "Honey, if Fred saw a crack in the wall, he'd go after it."

The other two ladies decided to call it a night after dinner and head back to their hotel. Martha turned to me said, "Hey, kid. Let's get a nightcap." Martha, Gino and I went to the new Hyatt Hotel in Milwaukee and had a nightcap. Make that "nightcaps." That little woman could knock back some vodka. She was flattered when I told her my mother bought her records and loved her work.
Come the end of the 1930s, Paramount dropped Martha Raye after featuring her in several musical comedies opposite such leading men as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. For the 1940s, the kind of brassy and bouncy musical comedy roles that Raye did throughout the 1930s now went to newcomer Betty Hutton. When the acclaimed Ken Burns JAZZ documentary film premiered on PBS, I had the privilege of cohosting it on New York City's PBS station. Jazz columnist Stanley Crouch was one of our guests. He and I noticed a clip from a Martha Raye Paramount number in the documentary. Raye, as Crouch noted, as one of those white entertainers who enthusiastically embraced and respected black jazz and jazz artists. Paramount teamed Martha Raye with jazz great Louis Armstrong for a number in its ARTISTS AND MODELS (1937). The "Public Melody No. 1" number was staged by Vincente Minnelli and it features Martha Raye doing the exact kind of truckin' my mother imitated decades later for me in our living room.

I went to New Orleans for Jazz Fest in 1990. While there, a friend and I met up with Harry Connick, Jr. Harry, one of the coolest gents you could ever hope to meet, showed us around and we chatted about music. Harry and I were chatting about the classic jazz vocalists. I mentioned Martha Raye and he, just as I had done when I was an adolescent, giggled. I did what Mom did. I told him she was a solid jazz vocalist who was held in high regard by Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Here's another example of Martha Raye swingin' during her Paramount years. She's in a jam session with Bing Crosby and singer/pianist Frances Faye. The song is "After You" from 1937's DOUBLE OR NOTHING.

Martha Raye. What an entertainer she was. She gave me one of the most memorable nights I ever had in Milwaukee. She was wonderful company.  I hope her music lifted your spirits for a few minutes.





Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Farewell, John Prine

We lost John Prine. We lost the singer/songwriter to the coronavirus. He was 73 -- and a great artist. It seems that most of the jobs I've loved in my life, whether they were full-time or part-time, had some connection to the fine arts. During my college years at Marquette University in Milwaukee, I was an usher at the beautiful and exciting new Performing Arts Center. It's now called the Marcus Center. The main hall, where I usually ushered, was an attractive 2500-seat theater that presented major and varied talent. Ella Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price, Lily Tomlin, Carol Channing in her revival tour of HELLO, DOLLY!, Bette Midler and The Grateful Dead all played the main hall in the Performing Arts Center in the 1970s. One singer, a folk/rock singer, played the Performing Arts Center. I was unfamiliar with his work. But as an usher, I had the opportunity to stay and watch his show. I am glad I did. He was John Prine. He was handsome, young and a bit drunk. The last detail was something he told his audience between songs. The young audience laughed and applauded his honesty. He was alone on that big stage -- just a man and his guitar. Without effort, he commanded the stage. His work had a golden magnetic pull. It brought you into his heart and soul. You connected to it. His songs reflected feelings you told only to one extremely close friend while sitting on a front porch or at a kitchen table. His songs reflected feelings you tried to hide, feelings you kept tucked way way back in your heart. He gave voice to those heartbreaks you had, the ones you wished somebody would notice and heal.
I was familiar with showbiz newcomer Bette Midler when she played the Performing Arts Center for one outrageous and highly entertaining show. Today, many may know only of the post-BEACHES and FIRST WIVES CLUB Bette Midler. The lady who sang "Wind Beneath My Wings." I saw the early Bette. The tiny redhead with the generous bust who hit the stage like a firecracker to give you a couple of hours of, as she said, "tit and wit." This was Bette Midler when she had a hit record with her sultry rendition of "Do You Wanna Dance?" on her debut LP. She was a born entertainer. And a smart one. Her concert shows had music from the 30's and 40's smoothly blended in with pop and rock songs of the day. Her comedy banter was bawdy and hip. This was a few years before she'd hit the big screen -- and get a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination -- for playing the turbulent, troubled rock star in 1979's THE ROSE. Onstage, Midler could do a set of riotously runny R-and-X-rated jokes and then touch your heart with a ballad. For me, Bette Midler was the best interpreter of songs by John Prine.  One in particular. It became a popular addition to her concert show.  Here she is, in her 1976 Cleveland concert, telling a story and then singing the classic tune by John Prine, "Hello In There."


John Prine. What a marvelous songwriter he was.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

He Sang and Went PSYCHO

Need a little musical break? Let's take one now -- with actor Anthony Perkins. In his film career, he did romantic comedy, such as 1958's THE MATCHMAKER with Shirley Booth and Shirley MacLaine (the story that was musicalized into HELLO, DOLLY! on Broadway.)
He played the college athlete love interest in 1960's TALL STORY with Jane Fonda.

He starred in a biopic. Perkins played the emotionally troubled baseball star, Jimmy Piersall, in 1957's FEAR STRIKES OUT. He was a Quaker teen forced to fight in the Civil War in 1956's FRIENDLY PERSUASION, the drama that brought him his only Oscar nomination. He was in uniform with Martin Balsam for the 1970 World War II satire CATCH-22, directed by Mike Nichols. He was on board with Martin Balsam in 1974 for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, directed by Sidney Lumet. But the movie role that made him internationally famous was that mama's boy cut-up Norman Bates in the 1960 masterpiece thriller, PSYCHO, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and co-starring Martin Balsam.
Before he took over the Bates Motel and in that Hitchcock classic, Anthony Perkins acted on Broadway. And he sang on Broadway. He starred in the 1959 musical, GREENWILLOW, with a score by Frank Loesser. Loesser gave us GUYS AND DOLLS. In GREENWILLOW, Anthony Perkins introduced "Never Will I Marry," a Loesser song that found popularity and was covered by top vocalists and jazz artists. Here's Perkins doing the song he introduced.


Perkins recorded albums featuring him singing standards with jazz arrangements. Here's his recording of "I Remember You," a gem of a song Johnny Mercer wrote for Dorothy Lamour to sing in Paramount's 1942 comedy, THE FLEET'S IN. (Backstory: Johnny Mercer had a brief romance with Judy Garland. He was married at the time. Judy inspired his lyrics for "I Remember You.")


Friday, April 3, 2020

I Liked ALMOST LOVE

To a degree, you could call this new romantic comedy GAYS OF OUR LIVES. Why? Because the gay male couple in ALMOST LOVE is played by two gay male actors. That may not seem like big news nowadays. But, believe me, it does show a tidal wave change in the entertainment industry. Attached to that is the casting of comedian/actress Michelle Buteau in a lead role. We're looking at 30-something couples trying to keep romance alive in their New York City lives. The main question seems to be "Is this really love in our relationship or is it sorta kinda like love?" I've followed Michelle Buteau's work ever since I met her after watching her comedy set one night in New York City about ten years. She's not just a good comedian, she's a good actress too. She's been steadily proving to be an MVP (Most Valuable Player) in such quality projects as the delicious Netflix rom-com, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, and in the 2019 wrap-up episodes for TALES OF THE CITY.
As Cammy in ALMOST LOVE, we see more of her impressive acting skills. Yes, she gets funny lines to say. However, director Mike Doyle wisely lets us see her react to the other actors and the situation of the moment be it funny or serious. Notice the emotions that wash over her face. I wish director/writer Nora Ephron was still alive to give Michelle Buteau a juicy, bigger role in one of her golden, polished rom-coms. Cammy in ALMOST LOVE is dating a man who's lived in a homeless shelter. Proof of his extensive homeless shelter residency comes in the no-nonsense way he eats. If they are dining in a restaurant with friends of hers, he is not too proud to ask for the leftovers to go -- even if the leftovers aren't his. He's smart, he doesn't really embarrass Cammy in public, he respects her belongings in her apartment and they seem to have a frisky sex life. But she's dissatisfied. Does dating him mean she lacks self-esteem or is she being a class snob because he's unemployed?
There's also dissatisfaction within the seemingly perfect relationship of Adam and Macklin. Macklin, very well-played by Augustus Prew, is a high-profile social influencer in the world of men's fashions on the internet. He's the kind of guy who would be a men's fashion contributor on GOOD MORNING AMERICA. His equally sweet partner of five years, Adam, is not as high-profile and not as well-paid. Remember Kathy Selden, the Debbie Reynolds character in the classic musical, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN? She dubbed the speaking and singing voice for that self-centered, irritating and squeaky-voiced star, Lina Lamont, when the new 1920s technology of sound suddenly made silent films a thing of the past. Adam works in the art world. He's a talented painter. But he's the Kathy Selden of the New York City art scene. He paints and puts the name of a sophisticated phony (played by Patricia Clarkson) on the paintings. She gets all the praise and publicity.
Macklin would love to get a bigger house and marry Adam. Adam is resistant. There's some dissonance. Is there infidelity on the side? No. Each one may look at another man and think "He's hot!," but that is as far as it goes. So what is Adam's problem? Is he a class snob because Macklin is upper class? This becomes the central relationship of ALMOST LOVE. On the whole, the script is pleasant but underwritten. In these times, it is fine for a breezy 90-minute pastime. Another element that holds you to it is the warm, heartfelt performance by Augustus Prew as Macklin. He is so charming and lovable that you just want to reach through the screen and hug him. He and Scott Evans (Adam) make a great and believable New York City couple. Evans gives Adam a working class, regular guy warmth that keeps him from coming off as whiny, thus causing the relationship to hit some speed bumps. Scott Evans is the brother of Chris Evans from CAPTAIN AMERICA and KNIVES OUT.  There's also a heterosexual married couple and a tutor whose college-bound student has a crush on her. Click on the link to see a trailer:

https://youtu.be/2KN-CzYyCyo.

Michelle Buteau in ALMOST LOVE reminded me of the feelings I frequently had while watching SEX AND THE CITY on HBO.  The feeling was -- "There should be a woman of color in the quartet." It should've had an actress like Michelle Buteau. As for the two male actors who are gay playing a gay couple -- that is history.

Back in, say, the 1970's and early 80's, actors -- whether they were straight or gay -- were reluctant to play gay lead characters in films for fear that it would cripple their careers. That may seem hard to believe to today's millennials who grew up watching WILL & GRACE, QUEER EYE and the Ellen DeGeneres daytime talk show. Nevertheless it is true. In 1982, straight actor Harry Hamlin played an openly gay Los Angeles novelist who had a brief romance with a closeted married doctor in MAKING LOVE. The handsome Hamlin was very good in it.  The film offers dried up quickly after MAKING LOVE. Hamlin, fortunately, got work on successful TV shows such as L.A. LAW.

The fear started to ease somewhat when straight actor William Hurt won the Best Actor Oscar for playing an imprisoned drag queen in 1985's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. The story was set in the politically repressive Latin America. Hurt took over the role when beloved Hollywood veteran, Burt Lancaster, was forced to withdraw for health reasons.  I got that information from William Hurt directly when I interviewed him on my 1988-89 VH1 talk show. Think of what a double feature at a revival movie theater that could have been one day -- Burt Lancaster in BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.

When hetero Tom Hanks for his first Oscar for playing a gay man with AIDS in 1993's PHILADELPHIA, that was a game-changer. In the following years, straight actors Sean Penn (MILK), Philip Seymour Hoffman (CAPOTE) and Jared Leto (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) each won an Oscar for playing an openly gay character. How many openly gay male actors won Oscars for playing openly gay characters?

To see Adam and Macklin hug and kiss, knowing that gay men were playing the characters, was so significant to me. By the way, Rosie O'Donnell and I were co-workers at VH1 in the late 80's. When she booked her role in 1992's A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, she gave me this advice for my post-VH1 years: "Don't tell 'em you're gay or you'll never get work."

That's the way it was back then. Times have changed. Thank Heaven.

ALMOST LOVE is now available on Prime Video. I give the pleasant rom-com a C+. I give its casting an A.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

We Love Chris Meloni

When I lived in New York City while I worked on local and network TV, I saw actor Chris Meloni frequently at the gym. I won't divulge the name of the gym. I will reveal that he was always one of the most pleasant customers on the gym floor. New Yorkers are excellent at respecting the personal space of celebrities in public -- mainly because the sight of them was pretty much a daily occurrence in our everyday lives. Meloni would enter with a rather boyishly innocent smile, nod back if you nodded at him, and go about his business. A couple of us other gym members loved to notice the way he walked into the gym. If he walked in with a macho swagger and a bit of a swivel in his hips, we figured he was shooting OZ for HBO that week. If he walked in with excellent posture and in a business-like manner, such as you'd see in a lawyer approaching the judge's bench in a courtroom, we figured he was shooting a LAW & ORDER show for NBC that week. Another thing -- if you were a chubby middle-aged guy resembling a Jack Black character and you were struggling with a barbell, Chris Meloni would spot you. I saw him do that more than once. The actor is not only a hunk. He's a mensch.
That does not surprise me. My side gig, during my post-VH1 years, was working behind the counter as a clerk in an independent video store. This was in the late 80s to early 90s in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The store was called Video Blitz and it was directly under the Chelsea Gym on 17th & 8th Avenue. I absolutely loved that part-time job, the fellow staff members and many of our customers. This was back in the days of VHS tapes. A few of our regular customers became regulars on OZ. We were located in an area that had several casting offices and talent agencies at the time. Those actors who played killer convicts on OZ were some of the nicest Video Blitz customers we ever had. They were polite and friendly. They always returned their videos on time and rewound. I think Meloni may have worked at the reception desk upstairs at the gym in those days. If so, we both had the same boss.
This week, it was announced that Chris Meloni will star in a new network TV project. His Elliott Stabler character from LAW & ORDER:SVU is getting a spin-off series. On Twitter and Facebook, this news made the heart of every gay man take wing and it made every gay man's hormones start spinning like they were in those giant teacups at Disneyland.
The actor definitely has millions of fans of all ages, color, shapes, sizes and sexual preferences who have followed his work on TV for quite a few years. Mr. Meloni is a remarkable actor, one whose versatility can often escape people. I want to recommend you see one of the best Chris Meloni performances that you probably never saw. It's in the 2014 drama, WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD directed by Gregg Araki who also wrote the screenplay. Chris Meloni is absolutely terrific as the passive husband and father who has been dulled by a lifeless marriage. Shailene Woodley stars as his 17 year old daughter. Eva Green plays the unsatisfied wife and mother in the 1980s suburbs. If you saw the classic Joan Crawford film, MILDRED PIERCE, there's a bit a Pierce vibe when mother and daughter seem to be romantically interested in the same man. The lives of the daughter and her mustached dad fracture when mom disappears.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD has supporting role performances from two Black women who were once -- and only once -- Best Actress Oscar nominees. They are the wonderful Angela Bassett and the equally wonderful Gabourey Sidibe, star of 2009's PRECIOUS. If you saw Sidibe's Oscar-nominated performance as the abused high schooler with severely limited reading and writing skills in PRECIOUS, you'll be stunned seeing her in this drama. Here, she plays a rather sophisticated, smart, popular high school student who's pretty much a 1980s Valley Girl. She's the exact opposite of PRECIOUS in WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD and you will wonder why Hollywood isn't sending good movie scripts her way.
But, then, we know why. She and Bassett should have more than one Oscar nomination to their credits.  I won't tell you more about WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD, based on a novel of the same name. I don't want to spoil its impact. The mystery drama is 90 minutes long. Here's a trailer.

Is this is great film, a classic movie about teen obsession and coming of age? Was it highly praised by many top critics? No. But it's not bad. There are good things to experience about this film. One of those things is watching Chris Meloni stretch himself as an actor and take on a different kind of role -- one that challenges the brawny, assertive, formidable men he's played on TV. He's quite good.

We love Chris Meloni.

Burt Lancaster and Acting Lessons in ELMER GANTRY

He had the most enormous head I'd ever seen. In a close-up, it filled the entire screen of the Vermont Drive-In that night in Los Angele...