Sunday, December 26, 2021

Dear Harvey Evans

TCM viewers have seen him in the classic 1961 version of WEST SIDE STORY and in the 1962 thriller, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, as the San Francisco boyfriend to the Stefanie Powers character.  Veteran Broadway and film dancer/actor Harvey Evans, one of the sweetest gentlemen I ever had the good fortune to meet, died on Christmas Eve at age 80. Harvey was in the original Broadway cast and in the 1961 film adaptation of WEST SIDE STORY. He was one of the Jets. In the closing credits of the movie, he's listed as "Harvey Hohnecker" as "Mouthpiece." Harvey later changed the last name as he progressed to other stage and film assignments. His WEST SIDE STORY involvement came full circle. I have not seen the new Steve Spielberg version of WEST SIDE STORY, but I read that Harvey Evans is in it. He plays a security guard at Gimbels department store. Here's a photo of Harvey in 1961's WEST SIDE STORY. He's in the lower right corner wearing an olive green sweatshirt. It's a photo from the movie's opening number.

In the "Jet Song" number, we see Harvey stand to the immediate left of Russ Tamblyn as "Riff." Riff puts his his hand on Mouthpiece's shoulder.


It took Harvey about 45 years to get from the Lincoln Center location of WEST SIDE STORY scenes to Central Park. No, the Manhattan traffic is not that bad. I'm teasing you. Harvey danced in the 2007 musical fantasy, ENCHANTED, starring Amy Adams. Here's Harvey wearing a hat and holding a newspaper while sitting next to Amy Adams before he starts dancing in the "That's How You Know" number in Central Park.


 Here's the number.

I wish I'd been an entertainment reporter on live TV covering the Oscars in 2008. 1961's WEST SIDE STORY was a big Osccar winner. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno) and Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris). When "That's How You Know" was performed onstage at the 2008 Oscars as a nominee in the Best Song category, Harvey Evans was in the number. I definitely would have reported that one of the Jets from WEST SIDE STORY, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1961, was still dancing and entertained the 2008 Oscars audience.

A dear friend of mine, Broadway pianist and music conductor Mark Hummel, made it possible for me to have a great night in December 2005. Mark gave me a ticket to join some of his friends for the Broadway opening night of CHITA RIVERA; THE DANCER'S LIFE. One of the friends was Harvey Evans, a warm and engaging man who surely existed in the category of "lovable." Harvey was in the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY with Chita. He and I had a wonderful conversation at the party after the show. When I commented on Chita Rivera's fascinating descriptions of the styles of choreographers with whom she'd worked, I mentioned choreographer/dancer Jack Cole.

With that, Harvey said "There's someone you should meet." He introduced me to another WEST SIDE STORY stage graduate, dancer and director Alan Johnson. He said to the equally charming Mr. Johnson as he introduced me, "He knows about Jack Cole." Johnson looked at me with a slight smile and tested, "Name a movie Cole danced in."

I replied, "He's Rita Hayworth's dance partner in the first number of TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT. He's the dancing sailor. And he choreographed her "Put the Blame on Mame" number in GILDA." Johnson smiled broadly and then we had a fabulous chat. Alan Johnson choregraphed the famous "Springtime for Hitler" number in Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS. He also directed the musical numbers in BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. He directed Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in the 1983 remake of TO BE OR NOT TO BE.

What a marvelous night of theatre that was. And meeting Harvey Evans made it even more marvelous. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Zuzu in 2 Holiday Classics

 🎄 Merry Christmas! Today, Saturday, I watched the totally cool Dana Jacobson present a feature on the popularity of Frank Capra's 1946 film, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The now revered film turned 75 this month. It was a flop with critics and audiences when it was released. Because of that, certain copyrights were not renewed and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE fell into the category of public domain. I remember being a kid in Los Angeles and seeing it on local TV during my summer vacations from school. When I lived and worked in Milwaukee, after graduating from Marquette University there, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE got frequent screenings at Milwaukee's Oriental Theater on the East Side. It was a revival theater, a fabulous movie house that got equally fabulous audiences. I went to see Capra's classic when it aired there. We young baby boomers appreciated the movie. We connected to its emotional gravity. Many of us in the 1980s were hit with situations in our lives that made us wonder if you could do the right thing and help others without life pulling the rug right out from under you. We understood the turbulence in George Bailey's soul. And we loved Zuzu and her petals from the flower she got. I'm convinced that the national baby boomer appreciation of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE rescued it from public domain to being restored, remastered and now receiving annual holiday airings on network television. By the way, in her CBS MORNINGS feature, Dana Jacobson interviewed Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.


 I watched IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE last night after I watched another Christmastime story, THE BISHOP'S WIFE, starring Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent to earth to help the married bishop and his wife. She feels some spiritual separation in the marriage. The 1947 fantasy co-stars Loretta Young and David Niven -- and Karolyn Grimes as their little girl.


Both films hold a very special place in my heart. Last night, I noticed something I'd noticed in my many previous viewings. As soon as the troubled George Bailey and the troubled bishop call on God for help, magic occurs. And that magic is help that comes in the form of an angel. 

That really hit me last night on Christmas Eve. As soon as one asked God for help, it came. Answered prayers. What a glorious Christmas gift. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

A Judy Holliday Holiday Tune

 She was one of the most beloved Broadway and film stars of the 1950s. My mother introduced me to her movies when they aired on local TV in Los Angeles. Mom adored Judy Holliday. I came to join her in that adoration. Like Mom, my favorite Judy Holliday films were BORN YESTERDAY, in which she reprised her star-making hit Broadway role and brought her the Best Actress Oscar, and the poignant comedy/drama, THE MARRYING KIND. Those two films were directed by George Cukor. On Broadway, Holliday was celebrated for her performances in BORN YESTERDAY and the musical BELLS ARE RINGING. She got to reprise that musical role in the MGM movie version of BELLS ARE RINGING directed by Vincente Minnelli. 


Judy Holliday's musical talents were not just limited to singing show tunes on Broadway and in a movie.  Read the opening credits of 1965's A THOUSAND CLOWNS starring Jason Robards. You will see "A Thousand Clowns" theme written by Judy Holliday and Gerry Mulligan and sung by Rita Gardner.

In 1961, Holliday and her then-boyfriend, jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, cut an album that contained a few tunes they co-wrote. Here's a trio of those tunes with Holliday lyrics.

This is "It Must Be Christmas" sung by Judy Holliday.


Click onto the link below to hear Holliday sing "What's the Rush" 👇:


Click onto the link below to hear Holliday sing "Loving You." 👇:


Happy Holliday and Merry Christmas! 🎄🎅🎄





Thursday, December 23, 2021

On SUMMER OF SOUL

 I watched the Kennedy Center Honors telecast on CBS this week. It was terrific. One of the amazing artists being honored was Joni Mitchell. She did not appear at Woodstock in 1969 but she sang about it. Archive footage of the Woodstock music festival was shown. Near the end of the show, the audience erupted in joy when it learned that the last music performance would be done by Stevie Wonder. As usual, he thrilled the audience.

I was a kid in Los Angeles, but I heard a lot about Woodstock on the radio, on network TV news, and there was plenty of coverage in glossy, national magazines. Plus, there was the 1970 documentary called WOODSTOCK.

Woodstock was in upstate New York. That same summer, 100 miles away from Woodstock, there was a hell of a fabulous music festival in Harlem called the Harlem Cultural Festival. An estimated 300,000 peaceful people attended. Top talent appeared onstage. The opening act was Stevie Wonder.

Like Woodstock, the Harlem Cultural Festival show was visually recorded. But no one showed the interest in it equal to the mainstream national interest there was in Woodstock. The videotapes of the Harlem Cultural Festival went unseen for 50 years -- until musician/director Questlove, the bandleader on the TONIGHT Show starring Jimmy Fallon, took a major interest in that landmark 1969 event of soul music and Black history. His music documentary, SUMMER OF SOUL, should land Questlove an Oscar nomination. Besides Stevie Wonder, some of the other performers were Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The 5th Dimension, B.B. King, Herbie Mann, Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone. Also present was Rev. Jesse Jackson who told a heartbreaking account of the casual conversation he was having with Dr. Martin Luther King the minute King was shot.

Black people in Harlem needed this musical celebration and emotional release in that Summer of '69. From 1963 to 1968, there had been the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential hopeful, Senator Robert F. Kennedy. There was the Vietnam War. SUMMER OF SOUL has observations from folks who were at the festival, performers who were at the festival, people involved with taping the show and there are observations from the extraordinary Greg Tate. The acclaimed and respected Black culture writer/critic died early this month. The gifted Lin-Manuel Miranda and his dad talk about the wonderful Puerto Rican/Latino presence and influence in Harlem. SUMMER OF SOUL is an exciting doc about music, about change, about Black history.


This is a joyous, tune-filled, highly informative and still relevant documentary. It also made me angry that so much Black history is and has been purposely overlooked in America. I highly recommend SUMMER OF SOUL. When you watch it, stay through the end credits to see a minute of a dude onstage trying to throw shade on Stevie Wonder.

Merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

On PARALLEL MOTHERS

 When I was new to New York City, I went to see a foreign film. The 1987 film was LAW OF DESIRE from director Pedro Almodóvar. I have been an ardent fan of Almodóvar films ever since. I just saw his new film, PARALLEL MOTHERS, starring Penélope Cruz. Wow. What an excellent, intelligent melodrama. It's like classic 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama good -- and the 2002 Sirk-inspired FAR FROM HEAVEN. As for Penélope Cruz, she is fantastic in this film. She serves up one of her best film performances as the top photographer. 

First of all, Hollywood could take some inspiration from Pedro Almodóvar who consistently has juicy roles for women. And not just "young" (20-something) women. PARALLEL MOTHERS has a main female character who is nearly 40, independent, an in-demand professional and still sexy. A good supporting role has a female character who is a lovely 47. There is also a young main female character. So many emotional twists and turns happen in PARALLEL MOTHERS that I do not want to give it all away. I'll just give you the basics. 

"So we're both single mothers," says Janis. She's a photographer and a feminist. She's nearly 40, unmarried, and just had her first child. She's overjoyed about that. She meets Ana, a young woman, also unmarried, who is not thrilled about just having had a baby. Janis extends a hand of friendship, gives Ana her number and tells her to call so they can talk. They bond. They gave birth in the same hospital on the same day.

It's Madrid in 2016. While Janis is trying to uncover some hospital information about her baby's birth, she's connected to a forensic expert. She's found the site of some land that is an unmarked grave. She believes that her great-grandfather is in that grave. He and others she has old photographs of were victims of the Franco fascist regime in the 1940s.

Both Janis and Ana must come to the truth about motherhood and about the history of their country. Here's a trailer.


Here's a clip with Penélope Cruz.


Milena Smit stars as the miserable yet strong Ana. I continue to be ardent Almodóvar fan. PARALLEL MOTHERS is a fascinating film, one of the best I've seen this year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Sophisticated Samuel L. Jackson

 He is definitely one of the most internationally famous movie stars working today. In his films and his TV commercials, he's always a presence who gets your attention. In fact, there are roles that are so in-your-face, often with some foul language due to the intense drama of the moment, that they become Samuel L. Jackson roles. They could be like his bad guy, Oscar-nominated performance in 1994's PULP FICTION or his stressed-out hero performance in the brilliantly bad 2006 release, SNAKES ON A PLANE.

Rare is the Samuel L. Jackson film role that one can describe as "subtle," but he is a skilled actor who can deliver a subtle and sophisticated performance when needed. Proof of that is in the 2010 movie written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. It's a story set in Southern California called MOTHER AND CHILD. This was not a widely seen independent film when it was released even though it boasted a cast of truly fine actors. Nevertheless, it is a dramatic film folks should see it they want to witness the versatility of Samuel L. Jackson. Here's a trailer for the film.

Listen to this short podcast review I did of MOTHER AND CHILD. Actress Annette Bening co-starred in the film. I taped this review soon after Bening received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, released in the U.S. the same year as MOTHER AND CHILD. Click on the link below to play my short podcast review. 👇

bobbyrivers.podomatic.com/entry/2011-02-07T08_44_14-08_00.

Here's a MOTHER AND CHILD clip with the sophisticated Samuel L. Jackson.

A drama about three women and a child given up for adoption. If a revival theater was booking MOTHER AND CHILD for a few days and wanted a classic film for a double bill, I would recommend the 1950 Warner Bros. melodrama, THREE SECRETS. The top local news story is a little boy who survived a plane crash in the California mountains. Three women gather at the site awaiting the boy's rescue. Each women thinks he could be the boy she gave up for adoption. His foster parents didn't survive the crash. News reported that the boy was adopted. The acting of the three women really carries this movie. The stars are Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal and Ruth Roman. Here's a montage clip.


THREE SECRETS was directed by Robert Wise. Yes, the same man who directed THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the original WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.




Saturday, December 18, 2021

Bing & Judy Yuletide Music Break

 Bing Crosby was a famous crooner who became, not only one of Paramount's top movie stars for over a decade, he was a Best Actor Oscar winner, a national radio star and a major recording star. He had a history-making, colossal hit with one of the original songs he introduced in Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN, Paramount's 1942 musical comedy that teamed Bing Crosby with Fred Astaire for the first time. Crosby's colossal hit record was his vocal of the HOLIDAY INN tune that brought Irving Berlin the Oscar for Best Song of 1942. It's a record I need to hear every year at this time. Here is Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."


On Bing Crosby's radio show, one of his favorite guests was Judy Garland. Here they are teaming up for a popular tune from Irving Berlin's 1950 Broadway musical comedy, CALL ME MADAM.


Bing and Judy teamed up again to sing about a famous yuletide character -- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."


\\\
Another holiday song that I need to hear along with Crosby's rendition of "White Christmas" is the song Judy Garland tenderly introduced in the classic Vincente Minnelli musical, 1945's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Here is Judy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."



With all my heart, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. May those who love you remind you that you are loved and cherished.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Monty Woolley as a Bad Santa

 The 1942 comedy/drama from 20th Century Fox, LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY, stars Monty Woolley. It's not a full-through Christmas story like his 1942 Warner Bros comedy, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, and his 1947 Christmas fantasy film, THE BISHOP'S WIFE, starring Cary Grant as a visiting angel. Nevertheless, LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY begins with "Jingle Bells" playing underneath a wide shot of the Manhattan skyline followed by a medium close-up of a sidewalk Santa ringing a bell outside of Marcy Herald Square department store. Monty Woolley, also dressed as a Santa approaches the other one and bellows, "I can't remember when I've seen anything more revolting." 


 Woolley is Madden Thomas, a once-famous stage actor now working as a department store Santa inside Marcy's Department Store. On his Santa chair, he's attracted a crowd of shoppers who are laughing as he holds court. Why? Because he hit a local bar before duty, he's fairly well smashed and he's spouting off un-Santa-like wisecracks. It's Christmas Eve and, of course, he gets fired. Madden returns to his boarding house apartment on 49th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. That's in the theatre district. He lives in that humble apartment with his long-suffering, extremely tolerant, 20-something daughter played by Ida Lupino.


The daughter, Kathi, has basically become the parent to her widower dad who drinks too much and acts like an unruly child when he's drunk. Kathi has a leg impairment. In a non-pitiful way, she feels the impairment may keep her from finding love. She still believes in her father's acting gifts -- if only he could discipline himself. Kathi is a lovely young woman of "intelligence, understanding and sympathy," but so much of her life has gone into taking care of him after his loopy drunken shenanigans.

Also in the boarding house lives a handsome young composer played by Cornel Wilde. He likes Kathi and he's fully aware of her father's reputation onstage and off. Madden Thomas didn't retire. He drank himself out of steady theatrical employment. On New Year's Day, the composer tells Kathi he's got a job opportunity for her dad. However, he asks "How much does your father drink these days?"

We go through September. The composer falls in love with Kathi and she has the chance to live her own life. But she's impaired by her father's neediness. She yearns for him to return to the stage and feel the thrill of "that magic hour" again. That magic hour, in the theatre, is 8:30 at night when the curtain goes up.


When Kathi is offered the chance to get married, Madden is offered the chance to make a comeback on Broadway as the lead in a production of KING LEAR. Involved in the production is a semi-retired, financially comfortable actress who loved Madden and put up with all his nonsense. She still loves him and gives that news to Kathi. The middle-aged former actress is the aunt of the composer, the man who wants to marry Kathi. Will Madden Thomas pull it together and thrill audiences as King Lear? Will he free loyal Kathi to move on with her life?

One of the highlights of this film is the delicate, mature performance Ida Lupino delivers as Kathi. She doesn't try to tug at your heartstrings because she's called "crippled." She's straight-forward and strong. The other highlight is Sara Allgood as the former actress who can volley back some choice funny insults to Madden Thomas after he whacks some at her.

Sara Allgood played the mother in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, the longtime serious maid in the Lubitsch comedy, CLUNY BROWN, and Mrs. Morton, the jailhouse matron in ROXIE HART. Her role as Aunt Alma in LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY is probably the most glamorous one of her film career at that time. She is dolled up in sophisticated high fashion clothing in every scene she has. It's fabulous to see Sara Allgood look so ritzy.

You may be able to find LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY on YouTube. Watch the chemistry between Monty Woolley and Ida Lupino in this movie. As we know, Bette Davis was Queen of the Warner Bros lot in the late 1930s/early 40s. Monty Woolley was a hit in the Broadway production of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. Warner Bros, as it did a lot in those days, scooped up the hit comedy play's rights and gave the lead role of the faithful personal secretary to Woolley's famous yet overbearing character to Bette. After doing a string of dramas, she and the studio felt it was time for her to do a lighter role.

If Bette Davis had been unable to play Maggie in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, I think Ida Lupino would've been just fine in the role.

LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY was based on a play by Emlyn Williams. He also wrote NIGHT MUST FALL and THE CORN IS GREEN, two dramatic plays later made into movies.


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

About FLEE, a Documentary

 If you read a short description of this new documentary, you might say to yourself "This sounds too gimmicky. A true story told in animation." I saw this 90-minute feature. It is the true story of an immigrant. It is done in animation to protect his identity. It is also one of the most gripping, powerful and moving documentaries I have seen this year. Amin is a brawny, bearded, handsome animated man. His grueling physical and emotional journey took him from his pleasant home life in Afghanistan to Russia to Denmark and to work with Princeton University. As he had to tell people when he, as a teen, was fleeing his homeland for freedom elsewhere, his educator father, his mother and his brother were killed and his sister was kidnapped when politics in Afghanistan took a dark, deadly turn. We go back to 1984 when Amil was a happy little boy listening to the same music we heard on MTV, a boy who loved to get attention by dressing up for laughs in his sister's clothes. In his teen years, he went to a Junior Prom. Also in his teen years, he had a crush on action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, Amir is gay. That alone made him an outsider in homeland before the political horror started. We learn that there is not even a word for "homosexual" in Afghanistan because to be gay in that culture is a source of shame.

As the animated interview with the adult Amin begins, he is asked "What does the word 'home' mean to you?" This is a story about home, identity, family, fleeing for freedom and daring to find a sense of belonging.

Amin stops the interview temporarily and speaks honestly, giving answers he was not forced to give during his long, hazardous journey for freedom. We see the animated Kasper. Kasper is the man Amin loves. Oscar nominated actor Riz Ahmed, of 2019's SOUND OF METAL, is an executive producer of FLEE. 


The documented is seasoned with news footage clips of those horrible years when the Taliban was taking control. The animated recreations of what teen Amir and some relatives endured in Moscow and as stowaways on ships made me gasp. They are that strong.

There is also hope, truth and true love in this documentary. This is a look at the immigrant experience that I urge you to consider seeing. It won a top prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Thank you for FLEE, Riz Ahmed.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Peter Dinklage is CYRANO

 Are you a fan of classic films -- films from the 1930a and 40s? Are you aware of the old Hollywood studios and what kinds of films were their specialties? Well, dig this. The new film starring the gifted Peter Dinklage is an MGM musical. And a good one. The story has its roots in Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 play written in verse by Edmond Rostand. Cyrano is the brash, intelligent, outspoken man with the large nose who is as clever with a sword as he is with words. For a handsome friend, he is the ghostwriter of intoxicating love letters to Roxane, the object of the handsome but inarticulate friend's affection. The irony is that Cyrano is also in love with Roxane but feels she could never love him because he's not handsome. Roxane really falls in love with the writer of the passionate love letters -- not knowing that Cyrano is the true author.

The enormously talented stage and film actor/director from Puerto Rico, Jose Ferrer, won the Best Actor Oscar for 1950's CYRANO de BERGERAC. The story was given a modern-day spin in 1987's ROXANNE written by and starring Steve Martin. This film is based on a 2018 stage musical written by Erica Schmidt. She also did the screenplay. She didn't write the songs. 

In this film adaptation, CYRANO does not have a large, long nose like Jose Ferrer and Steve Martin. Dinklage's height becomes the nose -- the thing that some folks in society tease him about and the thing that keeps him from feeling handsome. This angle works perfectly.

As the story opens, Roxanne (delightfully played by strawberry blonde Haley Bennett) is being told by her no-nonsense maid that she's "a rapidly aging orphan" and should marry the Duke she does not love. She's only going on a date with him to the theatre because she wants to see the play and can't afford the ticket. Marie the maid tells Roxanne "Children need love. Adults need money" and adds that "Spinsterhood is bleak."

At the theatre, watching a hammy actor onstage, Roxanne is fascinated by the critic who shouts to the actor, "I sent you a letter -- urging you to retire." The critic is Cyrano.

There is conflict, a swordfight, and Christian. He's Cyrano's unpoetic friend who fell for Roxanne at first glance and she swooned over his handsome face. Cyrano honestly tells Christian that "my sole purpose on this earth is to love Roxanne." Cyrano agrees to ghostwrite the love letters.

I mentioned that this is a new MGM musical feature. What sets it apart from classic MGM musicals of, say, the 1940s is that one of the lead actors is considerably shorter than Mickey Rooney and the other lead actor is Black. Peter Dinklage is in peak performance. He is marvelous and CYRANO is a definite must-see for Peter Dinklage fans. Here's a trailer. Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as the handsome Christian.


So far, this musical film is not getting the press attention of TICK, TICK...BOOM! or Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY. I hope that changes. People should treat themselves to Peter Dinklage's amazing work as an unforgettable, larger than life, but lonely man who can go from mean to moving. Behind his toughness is a tender heart. Many of us can relate to his character. In a society that constantly tells you that looks count, many people feel they're unworthy of love simply because they do not fit society's image of attractive. CYRANO, directed by Joe Wright, runs 2 hours.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Nancy Wilson Music Break

 In 1984, the year before I landed my first New York TV job, I was co-host of a live weekday hour-long show on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate. For a local show, we booked some pretty good guests to be live in our studio -- Colleen Dewhurst, Robert Guillaume, Mary Hart of ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, openly gay NFL player Dave Kopay, Miss America Vanessa Williams and jazz singer Nancy Wilson. I grew up loving Nancy Wilson. The love started thanks to Mom and Dad. They purchased a couple of her early albums. On one, she sang songs introduced in Hollywood movies. On the other, she sang songs from Broadway shows. Nancy Wilson was a great guest and a fantastic singer.

For your entertainment, I am posting vocals that made me fall in love with the artistry of Nancy Wilson. From her Hollywood album, here's a song introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1942 musical he did with Rita Hayworth entitled YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER. It got Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Here is "Dearly Beloved."


With Cannonball Adderley, Nancy sang "Never Will I Marry." This song was introduced by Anthony Perkins in the 1960 Frank Loesser Broadway musical, GREENWILLOW. Yes, the same Anthony Perkins who played Norman Bates in PSYCHO. He starred in a Broadway musical.


Jere's one more. ABC's THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE was a Saturday night music variety show my family loved. Here's Nancy Wilson making a guest appearance to sing, "The Very Thought of You."


Fancy Miss Nancy. She was marvelous.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Rita Moreno Sings Sondheim

 The unsinkable Rita Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her sensational musical/dramatic performance in the multi-Oscar winning 1961 film adaptation of the Broadway hit, WEST SIDE STORY. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Moreno was unforgettable as the resilient Anita. 


After she won the Oscar, she did not have film work for 8 years. Hollywood had no good script opportunities for the talented, versatile Puerto Rican actress. As my mother used to say, "That is just a sin and a shame." Rita Moreno worked on TV and on stage. The revered playwright, Terrence McNally, wrote a comedy for Rita Moreno to star in on Broadway. She did and won a Tony for her performance. She played singer Googie Gomez, a Puerto Rican Broadway hopeful, a no-nonsense entertainer who has enormous confidence and no talent whatsoever. She's a headliner in a deluxe gay men's bathhouse. The 1975 play was THE RITZ. Rita Moreno reprised her role in the 1976 film version directed by Richard Lester. Lester directed The Beatles in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and HELP! He also directed A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966) and THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973). Here is Rita Moreno as Googie performing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from GYPSY. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.


Rita Moreno can now be seen in Steven Spielberg's new version of WEST SIDE STORY. She plays Valentina, the shopkeeper. She's like Doc in the 1961 version. Here is Moreno singing a rendition of a Sondheim classic from the famed WEST SIDE STORY score.


I want to remind you that the excellent documentary about her, RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT, is currently on Netflix. Here's a trailer.


In closing, I repeat:  My wish is that Rita Moreno's role in the Spielberg's new version of WEST SIDE STORY is so significant and so good that she makes Hollywood history by getting a second Oscar nomination for acting in WEST SIDE STORY. I can't wait to see it. Viva, Rita Moreno!



Friday, December 10, 2021

Dolores del Rio is LA OTRA

 In a film full of quotable lines, one of the strongest is "Merry Christmas, Roberto." It's a line from the 1946 Mexican drama called LA OTRA also known as THE OTHER ONE. Did you ever see Bette Davis play twin sisters -- one good, one bad -- in the 1964 movie DEAD RINGER, directed by actor Paul Henreid? Karl Malden co-starred as the detective in love with the good sister who assumes the identity of her late bad sister. Well, that Warner Bros. movie was a remake of LA OTRA starring the beautiful Dolores del Rio. 


Reportedly, Warner Bros purchased the property as a possible project for Bette Davis in the late 40s. However, Davis had just played twin sisters in 1946's A STOLEN LIFE with Glenn Ford. The studio wanted to let some time pass before giving the remake a green light. A whole bunch of time passed. It was the early 1960s when Bette got around to shooting her version of the 1946 foreign film. The LA OTRA story by Rian James had two essentials for a standard Bette Davis film -- a good plot and a staircase. 

I've seen and enjoyed DEAD RINGER quite a few times. I'm a serious Bette Davis fan. Yet, I must say that I love LA OTRA more. In the story, the bad sister is beautiful, glamorous and sexy. Bette Davis did the best she could. The role fits Dolores del Rio like a velvet glove with a diamond bracelet on it.


 The story opens on a well-attended funeral scene. We see condolence floral arrangements from companies. The person being buried must have been an important businessman or industrialist. We cannot see the widow's face for it is covered by a black veil. A female mourner turns to the woman next to her and comments, "A rich widow in the prime of her life. She won't suffer long." Then we see a woman wearing eyeglasses and a simple, plain coat rush into the service. A man mentions that she works, unlike her widow sister. She's a manicurist. This is Maria, played by Dolores del Rio. Maria takes her place next to her widow sister, Magdalena. Magdalena criticizes Maria on her working-class attire. Right there, we know there is tension between the sisters.

Maria accompanies Magdalena back to her palatial home. Her living room looks like the lobby of a deluxe hotel. Magdalena quickly gets out of "these awful black rags." She's not exactly grief-stricken. About her late husband, humble Maria says, "I've felt his death much more than you." Magdalena is wrapped in luxury, gazing at her extensive wardrobe and furs in her posh bedroom. She will inherit $5 million in her late husband's will. Maria will take a bus home to her one-room apartment. She says that Magdalena has always stolen things from Maria -- starting with their parents' love.

Magdalena leaves the bedroom. When she's gone, Maria removes her librarian-like spectacles and tries on one of her sister's fur coats. A butler enters the room and mistakes Maria for Magdalena. A dark idea takes bloom in her mind.

It's Christmas week and the low-paid manicurist wants to buy a present for her sweet detective boyfriend. All she can afford is a cigarette lighter. She can't even afford a ticket to play the National Lottery. Ironically, the prize is $5 million.

Roberto, the detective, believes in "hopes and joys" and "the joy of living." Maria is a pessimist. She's late with the rent. He urges her to see things his way. Maria says, "I''ll face things coldly. I'll even act coldly."


 She does. Full of jealousy and bitterness, she kills her sister and assumes her identity, switching their clothes so that it will seem as though Maria committed suicide. This scene is played with more simplicity and depth than in DEAD RINGER.


 Maria makes her debut to society with her newborn identity on Christmas Day. She will realize that jealousy and bitterness really get you nowhere. While living an assumed life of luxury, she learns that there was a surprise in the late husband's will. She also learns how decadent her rich, gorgeous sister was.


Maria and Roberto will be reunited on another Christmas Eve. As one character said, "Fate is always loaded with a great dose of irony."

Dolores del Rio is fabulous in the dual role. Augustin Irusta will touch your heart with his tenderness as Roberto, the detective boyfriend. LA OTRA was directed by Roberto Gavaldon. This Mexican film, which is subtitled, runs about 95 minutes. LA OTRA is juicier than its 1964 Hollywood remake, DEAD RINGER. This black and white foreign film classic is worth watching.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

On SINGLE ALL THE WAY

 This new holiday movie has something I never thought I'd see in a holiday movie. Two openly gay actors play openly gay men on a ski date and they kiss. THAT was a major moment for me. Netflix has this romantic comedy. It's called SINGLE ALL THE WAY. This feature is like a pot of warm fondue at a holiday party. It's tasty holiday cheese. 

Peter lives in West Hollywood and works in a marketing branch of the entertainment industry. His best friend and roommate, Nick, has a side gig as a handyman. He's an author who made a good amount of money on a best-selling children's book. It's the Christmas season and Peter thinks he's in a wonderful relationship with an eye-candy cardiologist. Wrong. That relationship winds up being the equivalent of getting coal in your Christmas stocking. Peter is anxious to be with his family in New Hampshire for the holidays. He doesn't want to go alone. If he's alone, his big overly caffeinated and LGBTQ-loving family will try to fix him up with a possible boyfriend. He asks his roommate, Nick, to join him. Nick does. Nick used to spend Christmas with his mother, but she passed away. 

Peter and Nick go to New Hampshire. Peter's family is a big bunch of matchmakers. His mom sets him up on a blind date with a drop-dead gorgeous gym instructor who's also a ski instructor. However, some relatives sense that Peter is really in love with Nick and doesn't realize it. This is a romantic comedy, so those relatives are, of course, correct.

A lot of gay male romance stories seem to imply that love is for the young, slim and muscular. In real gay life, that's wrong. I knew a guy in my apartment building who was handsome and built like a super-hero. When it came to romance, he always went for guys built like Kevin James on the sitcom, THE KING OF QUEENS. In the first half-hour of SINGLE ALL THE WAY, I admit that I did get that "Oh, great. Another gay story with single handsome men looking for love and finding it in other equally handsome single gay men" feeling. But SINGLE ALL THE WAY has a charm and warmth that kept me interested even though I knew where the story was going. Michael Urie is very good as Peter. He perfectly gives off that upscale, too-fabulous West Hollywood vibe that masks a desire to just do ordinary things like go see a movie with your dad. Nick, the roommate/best friend/handyman is played by the absolutely adorable Philemon Chambers. Peter's entire family loves Nick. The little ones loved the children's book he wrote. Script-wise, I wish we learned more about Nick's family. Also, I felt that it would've been novel to flip things around -- have the big Black, LGBTQ-loving family trying to hook a gay member up with a boyfriend for the holidays and have the white guy as the welcomed, visiting roommate. Kathy Najimy stars as Peter's matchmaking mother. Barry Bostwick, who secured a place in pop culture history as Brad onscreen in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), stars as Peter's lovable and handsome silver bear of a dad. (What about a gay rom-com with a hot older single guy, someone who looks like Bostwick, finding love at Christmastime?) Luke Macfarlane is mighty fine as the blind date gym instructor/skier who also sees that Peter is in love with Nick but doesn't realize it.

The MVP (Most Valuable Player) of SINGLE ALL THE WAY is Jennifer Coolidge as Peter's over-the-top Aunt Sandy. She's an actress/playwright/director who has written the town's Christmas pageant play. Her nativity play is called JESUS H. CHRIST! As Aunt Sandy says, "All the world's a stage -- and most of us are desperately under-rehearsed." Here's a trailer for SINGLE ALL THE WAY.


I must admit that the final scenes made me very sentimental. This sweet, little pastime on Netflix runs 1 hour and 35 minutes. And another thing -- seeing Jennifer Coolidge in SINGLE ALL THE WAY made me wonder why we haven't seen her as Miss Hannigan in a production of ANNIE.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

On THE POWER OF THE DOG

 I clicked onto Netflix and started watching this film about ten minutes after midnight. Honestly, I thought I'd get sleepy and stop watching 30 minutes later. Wrong. I was rivetted to it right up to the stunning final scene. Jane Campion directed THE POWER OF THE DOG. It will be a crime if she does not get an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The New Zealand filmmaker was previously nominated in that category for 1993's THE PIANO. That film brought Holly Hunter the Oscar for Best Actress, Anna Paquin the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and earned Campion an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. 

THE POWER OF THE DOG is based on a novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. Campion wrote the screenplay. Her extraordinary film is a classic western. But not the kind of western like classics such as RED RIVER, HIGH NOON, SHANE or even BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. It has the ethos of a classic western with an electric psychological current that runs through it and provides some shocks with new looks at Old West type characters.       

This is a tale of family dynamics, family cruelty, love, images of manhood and toxic masculinity. We go to Montana in the 1920s. Think of Elizabeth Taylor as the young bride in George Stevens' 1956 film, GIANT. It was the 1920s. Taylor's character has married, left the verdant surroundings of her wealthy Maryland home to live in the huge home of her wealthier cattle rancher husband in an isolated, arid part of Texas. 

Kirsten Dunst is outstanding as Rose, the widow mother with a grown son. She remarries and is swallowed up by anxiety. She is shaken by the expectations she feels to be a perfect 1920s wife in the West. She has married a shy, sweet, lonely man whose brother is an intelligent brute of a cowboy. He's verbally abusive. We see this during a dinner scene before Rose remarries. She cooks and cleans in an establishment. Her son, Peter, acts as waiter. The son seems to be a delicate character. His goal is to study medicine and surgery in college. He has an artistic side. He makes beautiful paper flowers that his mother proudly displays as table decorations. Phil, the brutal brother, loudly ridicules the flowers and Peter, the waiter, as he and other ranch hands sit down to eat.

There's a dinner party scene where Phil verbally embarrasses his sister-in-law. We know that she feels like she's a paper flower. Not the real thing. An imitation forced to pose as the real thing.

I won't go into much more detail about the plot and action. I want you to experience it and feel those jolts of surprise that I did. Also, this excellent film is very subtle. It demands your attention. This is not a feature that one can live-tweet as it airs. To do so would take your attention away from very important visual moments. This could be the film that finally brings Kirsten Dunst an Oscar nomination. She's been delivering terrific performances ever since she was a little girl in 1994's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. She's due -- and she's at her peak in Campion's film as the widow who remarries and falls into alcoholism. Her real-life partner, actor Jesse Plemons, plays the shy brother she marries. Benedict Cumberbatch seems a sure-thing for a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the brutal brother, Phil. Kodi Smit-McPhee is fascinating as the whip-smart, ridiculed son who endure hearing the word "faggot."  I predict a Best Picture Oscar nomination.  Here's a trailer.


I love how Jane Campion made great use of wide-open spaces in her visuals, visuals in which brown and earth tones dominate. The wide-open space accentuates the loneliness and alienation of characters. It reminded me a bit of scenes in George Stevens' GIANT and how director Fred Zinnemann shot some scenes in his 1955 adaptation of the Broadway musical OKLAHOMA! In that story, there's rivalry between the farmers and the cowhands. Yet, with all the wide-open space of Oklahoma, the rivalry seems silly because there's obviously room for everybody.

To me, the idea of Jane Campion directing a new version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! is pretty cool.

THE POWER OF THE DOG is currently on Netflix.  It runs about 2 hours and 5 minutes.


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

On HOUSE OF GUCCI

 You have to give it to Lady Gaga. Look at her evolution as a performer from her pop/rock music days when she wore outlandish costumes to her recent CBS music special in which looked absolutely chic singing standards from the great American songbook with the amazing Tony Bennett. In between, came a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in the 2018 remake of A STAR IS BORN. She took home an Oscar for co-writing "Shallow," the number in that remake voted Best Song from a 2018 film.

Last week, the New York Film Critics Circle voted Lady Gaga Best Actress for her dramatic performance in director Ridley Scott's HOUSE OF GUCCI. This is a tale of relentless ambition, wealth, family loyalty, family betrayal and death. It's the kind of movie that would've been ripe for director Douglas Sirk to make in the 1950s. In the 50s, Sirk gave us ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND and a remake of IMITATION OF LIFE. And Sirk could've done it in 2 hours or less. HOUSE OF GUCCI runs 2 hours and 38 minutes.

The film is well-produced and visually appealing. The soundtrack includes cuts by Donna Summer, George Michael, Eurythmics and Andy Williams. A trucking business office scene with Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani and Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci has the most memorable use of the "Libiamo" music from Verdi's LA TRAVIATA since Billy Wilder's THE LOST WEEKEND (1945). Other classical music selections in HOUSE OF GUCCI may get a slight giggle from baby boomer viewers because they're selections we first heard in some classic Bugs Bunny cartoons.

If you saw a recent edition of DATELINE NBC, you know that HOUSE OF GUCCI is about a Gucci knock-off. Maurizio Gucci was shot to death by a hired killer. NBC's prime time show had an edition this month called "Murder in the House of Gucci." Overall, this movie is like that DATELINE NBC show blended with LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS.

Lady Gaga is excellent in her role as the darkly ambitious outsider who marries into the famed Gucci family. She meets shy, unassuming Maurizio at a disco in the 1970s. He compliments her, telling her she looks like Elizabeth Taylor. She replies that she's more fun than Taylor. She's from a working-class family that runs a trucking business. When she realizes who Maurizio is, she's determined to date him. Eventually, they marry in a posh ceremony. No one from the Gucci family attends the wedding.

Maurizio seems to be content with the way things are. However, Patrizia wants more and more and more. She is still the outsider -- and she sees rivalries within the Gucci family. In order to assure herself that she will have wealth and power, she consults with a TV psychic named Pina. Pina is played by Salma Hayek

Patrizia seems to be playing a mental game of chess in her Gucci family relationships. One clunky chess piece is the whining, passive-aggressive, balding Paolo, terrifically played by Jared Leto. Paolo is a hot mess. Leto could be on his way to getting another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for this performance. Also in the film are Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino and Jack Huston. Like director Ridley Scott's ALIEN, THELMA & LOUISE and G.I. JANE, we follow a woman who -- good or bad -- has taken fierce control of her life and journey. Ridley Scott draws a powerful performance out of Lady Gage. Here's a trailer.


As much as I love Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, both in top form in this feature, I do feel the film is stolen by Jared Leto. HOUSE OF GUCCI is about 20 minutes too long, but Leto delivering some totally trash-with-flash dialogue helps to make you not mind the long running time. Here's the barely recognizable Leto as Paolo.


Paolo having lines such as "My bladder may be full but my dreams are even fuller," "Don't even look at me, you lying sack of potatoes," and "I've got to wash, If you could smell between my groins, you'd understand," gave me an urge to send two dozen roses to screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna.

Leto and Salma Hayek didn't have scenes together in HOUSE OF GUCCI, nevertheless this isn't the first time they appeared in a film together. There was an acclaimed 1970 indie film crime drama called THE HONEYMOONER KILLERS about a real-life pair of murderers who preyed up lonely single women. Salma Hayek and Jared Leto played the same two killers in the little-seen 2006 detective story, LONELY HEARTS. I recommend seeing it. Leto is very good as the guy who considers himself a smart stud but is controlled by the ultra-sexy and batshit crazy murderess he meets. Salma Hayek sizzles in LONELY HEARTS also starring John Travolta and James Gandolfini as the detectives.


 


Monday, December 6, 2021

Netflix Christmas Fun for Kids

 I love the classic animated Christmastime TV features. I love the simple, gleeful poignancy and poetry of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, the colorful wackiness of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! narrated by Boris Karloff and the Rankin/Bass characters in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. They bring back warm, wonderful childhood memories and they continue to make me smile in my adult years.

If you get Netflix and you have kids under the age of 12, I have some animated holiday features to recommend. You may dig them too.

If you liked the animation and loopy fun of CHICKEN RUN (2000), you -- and the kids -- will enjoy SHAUN THE SHEEP: THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Shaun wants a bigger stocking for Christmas. The one he has is about the size of a Munchkin's sock. His misadventures take him to the town square for a tree lighting and then into a high-tech suburban home where a little girl mistakes the sheep for new Christmas toys.

This merriment is like a silent film from the 1920s. There's audio and characters make sounds, but there's no spoken word. However, the action is very easy to follow. Here's a trailer.


Come on, now. How often do you get to see sheep in sleigh at Christmastime? You will in this 2021 feature that runs only 30 minutes.

Next is another Netflix presentation, this one spun from the popular ELF ON THE SHELF book. This one is called AN ELF'S STORY: THE ELF ON THE SHELF. Elf scouts want a promotion. They want to be embraced by family so theycan help Santa at Christmastime. One elf named Chippy has a tough task. He's found a 9-year old boy who doesn't believe in the magic of Christmas like his little twin sisters do. Chippy is on that family's shelf and he's determined to fill the boy with the spirit of Christmas. Here's a clip.

This 2011 feature is pretty traditional and has about 4 songs in its 24-minute running time.

Next is a 2020 Netflix production called ALIEN XMAS. This is a kooky, hip animated feature with characters that seemed designed to resemble the kind of animated characters we saw in the classic Rankin/Bass holiday features. You wouldn't think the story would work. But it does. 

Santa finishes reading a Christmas story to his appreciative elves. Then he has another one that he describes as "a crazy Christmas story." It's about a race of space aliens on a faraway planet. These aliens were greedy. As Santa says, "All they ever felt was greed. The more they had, the more they wanted." The greedier the aliens became, the more they lost their skin color. Finally, they were so greedy that they all became white.

They looted and stole from other planets. Then they set their sights on Earth. The plan is to install a weapon on earth that would destroy the planet's gravity. Once destroyed, the aliens would take everything. The weapon would be installed on the North Pole two days before Christmas. One of the greediest aliens is assigned to set it up. However, when he gets to Christmas Town, he accidentally falls onto the conveyor belt of a toy machine. He winds up with toys....and a puppy. The puppy starts to lick away his greediness. Color returns to the alien's white skin. He sees the kindness, generosity and great holiday food of the elves. 

But what about the anti-gravity weapon and the little girl who thinks the alien is a new Christmas toy? Here's a trailer.

ALIEN XMAS is a lot of fun with a running time of 42 minutes. And it was really great to see elves of color in leading roles. Merry Christmas.


 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

About COMING OUT COLTON

 Back in the early 90s, there was a cheesy yet popular late night syndicated TV game show called STUDS. It was taped in Los Angeles. Basically, it was THE DATING GAME with saltier questions and answers. A trio of bachelors vied for the attention of a young lady asking questions. STUDS spawned another cheesy yet popular late night relationship TV game show called BEDROOM BUDDIES. That one focused on couples answering salty questions. I was the host. Some of the STUDS crew members worked on my show. One fellow told me that it was amazing how many gay guys from in and around the West Hollywood area applied to be bachelors on STUDS. They weren't straight and they really weren't interested in dating a woman. But they were extremely interested in how the national TV exposure could juice up their careers.

I think of that nowadays when I watch THE BACHELOR and THE BACHELORETTE on ABC. 

Remember Colton Underwood? He got lots of attention as a bachelor in a season of the franchise. He dated a woman for while and displayed some rather erratic behavior that made big buzz on social media. He and the young lady broke up. Then he publicly came out as gay. His admission made entertainment news headlines. He made his big announcement on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

I do not mean this to be snarky, but when I saw Colton as the bachelor during the run of the reality series, I got a blip on my personal gaydar (gay radar). When he came out, I really wasn't shocked and surprised. Now he has a series on Netflix. The title is -- COMING OUT COLTON. I watched the first two episodes.

I must honestly write this up front: I feel that if Colton Underwood looked like actor Jack Black in BERNIE, a 2011 film in which Black played a shy gay man, he would not have that series. Colton is tall, muscular, boyishly handsome and white. That's how it is. Looks count.

As for the first episode, one thing baffled me. He comes out to his mother, his father, his brother and his high school football coach. (Colton plays football.) How could those folks be surprised at his admission if he was in national entertainment news after his revelation on network TV's GOOD MORNING AMERICA? Did they toss out their TVs and quit social media after he left THE BACHELOR? In my mind, in between the time the left the ABC reality series and came out with the news of the Netflix deal, there had to have been some sort of marketing or production deal. I'm sure he did not do THE BACHELOR for free. Like those guys on STUDS, he wasn't really interested in dating a woman. But there was something he wanted from the TV exposure.

The first episode takes us to Denver, Colorado. He says that he "lived a lie for 29 years" by keeping mum about his sexual reality. The episode kind of overdoes it with the "he's gay AND a jock" aspect. We get it. He played football. We met openly gay Olympic medalist, skier GUS KENWORTHY. Kenworthy was apparently one of the first folks Underwood could talk to about being gay. Kenworthy asks Colton what's his type, dating-wise. He sheepishly replies, "Daddies." Keep that in mind when, in Episode 2, he makes it a point of visiting his high school football coach. I think Colton wants a papa bear -- like Chris Meloni on NBC's LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME.

He also talks about THE BACHELOR and mistakes he made after leaving the series. As far as being discriminated against for being gay, it doesn't seem that Colton Underwood experienced any intense drama. He was never beaten up, kicked out of his home, disowned by his parents or fired from a job. He's still a handsome, lucky gay white dude who hooked a second TV deal. You really cannot feel sorry for him as you watch the first episode. Here's a trailer.


The second episode is better. Colton has more of an air of maturity in it. The episode focuses on Colton coming out to his dad and on football. It's arranged for Colton to have lunch with three gay pro football players -- Michael Sam, Esera Tualolo and the absolutely fabulous and trailblazing Dave Kopay. The highlight of the Episode 2 is Dave Kopay. He's wonderful, now an LGBTQ senior who still has plenty to offer. Dave Kopay played for the San Francisco 49ers, for Washington and, in 1972, for the Green Bay Packers. He came out in 1975 and wrote his autobiography that was published in 1977.


 

I took Dave Kopay to dinner in 1984. It was the night before he was an in-studio guest on the live afternoon show I co-hosted for Milwaukee's ABC TV affiliate. Kopay is a big, brotherly, amiable man who went out of his way to help me when he learned that I'm also a member of the LGBTQ community. The studio audience, by the way, loved Kopay and many in the audience stayed after the show to get his autograph or just shake his hand. On my show, Kopay mentioned that he passionately wanted a network TV sports commentator job during football season. He'd have been perfect for such a job. He was never hired because he's openly gay.

Netflix should give us a half-hour with Dave KopayCOMING OUT COLTON is now available on Netflix. For a grade, I'd give what I've seen so far a C+. And that + is thanks to Dave Kopay.


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sondheim in REDS

 1981. I saw this epic historical drama/love story, written and directed by and starring Warren Beatty, at a preview in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a film reviewer and entertainment contributor on the city's ABC affiliate, WISN TV. I was able to take a guest to the preview and invited a buddy to join me. At the film's intermission, we both gasped "Wow." REDS, also starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, had that great an impact on us. It was one of the best films I'd seen that year. In fact, I paid to see it again more than once during its theatrical release.

Diane Keaton won her Best Actress Oscar for her lead role in Woody Allen's classic screwball romantic comedy, ANNIE HALL (1977). But don't forget she also showed her impressive dramatic talent in films such as LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, Woody Allen's INTERIORS, SHOOT THE MOON and REDS which brought her another Best Actress Oscar nomination.

My dear Twitter friend and film historian, Andres Quiroga, recently posted my favorite scene from REDS. It's a train reunion scene. There's much gravity to the scene. Keaton has little dialogue but I am always devastated by all the emotions that wash over her face in it. The lilting and melancholy music in the background was composed by Stephen Sondheim. Here's the scene Andres posted. Keaton's character has endured a grueling journey from America to Russia in the early 1900s. She fears the American journalist she loves may have been killed in a revolt while trying to document the politics.


That hug. That scene. It puts tears in my eyes every single time. And I have seen this film several times thanks to cable TV. As for the Sondheim music, the song is called "Goodbye For Now." Here's a rendition of it with lyrics sung by Liz Callaway.


There will never, ever be another Stephen Sondheim. He was an American genius.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A New Santa in Norway

December 1st, was World AIDS Day. I lost my partner of 18 months to AIDS in June of 1994. He was one of the kindest and funniest people I've ever known. I always giggled when he said, "You're snoring" when I awoke from a good nap. That was my first relationship -- and a surprise it was. We'd met six months before our first date. He was a very nice young man, introduced to me by a mutual friend, but I really didn't pay much attention to him. Not that I was looking for a romance at that time, We met in a business situation, so my mind was on business. When our mutual friend called me and said, "Remember Richard, the guy I introduced you to six months ago? He wants to ask you out." I had just started work as one of the original trio hosting a new local weekend morning news program. We were in our second month and word on the street predicted we'd be cancelled three months later. This was 1992. The show, by the way, became a hit. 

I did not want to go out with Richard because I was convinced I had to start taking meetings for possible new work on the West Coast. But, I had been stood up or otherwise rejected on several dates. I did not want to treat someone like that. I told him to have Richard call me and I'd politely explain why we should not go out. He called me. His absolute charm on the phone made me say "Yes." We had our first date, a brunch date on Sunday, October 11th, 1992. I was prepared to end our brunch around 2pm with "Well, I must go home and start working on our next show. It was nice to meet you" and leave. However, something happened. I stood on the corner in front of the cafe where we met for brunch. When he spotted me from across the street and happily waved, I had a strange and oddly radiant feeling when I looked at him. I'll put it in movie terms -- it was like that moment when Tony first sees Maria at the dance in 1961's WEST SIDE STORY. I said to myself, "He's going to change my life." And, indeed, he did.

We had brunch -- and I stayed with him until the day he died. To love, live with and take care of Richard made me a better man. In the following years, I was determined to put those qualities into a second relationship. I was romantically interested in a few fellows after I felt emotionally strong enough to date after Richard passed, However, the romantic interest was never mutual. I'll use another movie example -- I didn't have the luck Tom Hanks' widower character had in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.

I tell you all that to let you know why this foreign TV commercial for Norway's postal system put tears in my eyes:


 Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

More SEX AND THE CITY

 The highly-publicized SEX AND THE CITY reboot premieres on December 9th on HBO Max. By now, the ladies who lunched are older. One or more may have received a birthday greeting from AARP. The reboot is called AND JUST LIKE THAT... When, months ago, I first read that a reboot was in the works, my immediate thought was "I bet Carrie Bradshaw finally discovers that there are sophisticated Black and Latino people in Manhattan who are also worthy of a fancy lunch."

I watched SEX AND THE CITY when it was new on HBO. By the third season, my weekly devotion to it started to wane. First of all, in the 25 years I lived in New York, I had female friends who were newspaper or magazine columnists. There were several times when I got a call from one -- or more -- of them and heard "I need to reschedule our dinner for tonight, I'm on deadline and working on a story." I totally understood and we rescheduled. Did Carrie ever have that kind of typical New York City journalist occupational drama? Did she ever do more than one draft of an article she was writing?

I knew that my NYC gay membership card stood a good chance of being revoked but, when gay White buddies were raving about the most recent fabulous episode, I found myself asking "Do those ladies have parents? Siblings? Other relatives? If they do, why don't we hear about or see them?" 

Then came the big question I'd started to ask about WILL & GRACE, a sitcom set in a downtown New York City apartment. Will lived just a few blocks from my apartment. The question: "Do they have any Black or Brown friends? They're in New York City!" I encountered Black, Brown, Asian and White people every week of my Manhattan life just leaving my apartment building to go around the corner and grab a bite at the diner. Sitting in the diner, I saw more Black, Brown, Asian and White people.

Did you see the WILL & GRACE reboot? It was as racially diverse as the audience at a Janet Jackson concert.

We didn't see lots of Black and Brown New Yorkers as Carrie's buddies and upscale party guest dates on SEX AND THE CITY.  Here's a trailer for AND JUST LIKE THAT... starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis


A new -- and apparently colorful -- chapter begins December 9th on HBO MAX.

One last thing. Kim Cattrall, who played sexy and sex-loving Samantha in the original quartet of lead ladies, is not in the reboot. Cattrall went on to do some of the best acting of her career in a 2014 to 2016 HBO Canada series called SENSITIVE SKIN. Cattrall was fantastic showing her dramatic depth as the sophisticated, wry former model who is now dealing with being 50, a middle-aged wife and the mother of a grown son, Cattrall was such a revelation and so stunning in SENSITIVE SKIN that I felt for her to return to playing Samantha would be like asking Sally Field to appear in a reboot of GIDGET. She'd outgrown the role.

If you can find episodes of the mature, smart, well-written and racially inclusive SENSITIVE SKIN on Acorn TV (with Prime Video Channels) or on Amazon Prime Video, I enthusiastically urge you to watch Kim Cattrall at her best. Here's a trailer. Broadway Tony winner Joanna Gleason is terrific as the conservative sister to Cattrall's character.


SENSITIVE SKIN should have aired on HBO here in the U.S. What a shame it didn't.




Tuesday, November 30, 2021

See tick, tick...BOOM!

 I'm old and I've watched a lot of old movies. A little over a year ago when I read that a film version of tick, tick...BOOM! was in the works, I mistakenly thought it would be a remake of a 1970 movie that starred Jim Brown, George Kennedy and Fredric March. But that racial drama was called TICK, TICK, TICK.

tick, tick...BOOM! is something else. Something wonderful.

The extremely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut with tick, tick...BOOM! and I pray he directs more movies. He directed this true musical story with a Bob Fosse-like energy and wit. To his credit, he's not copying Fosse like Rob Marshall did with the film version of CHICAGO. He's got those qualities we saw in Fosse films such as ALL THAT JAZZ and LENNY displayed via his own fresh, individual style.

New York city diner waiter-turned-Broadway great Jonathan Larson gave us the long-running Broadway musical, RENT. He was turning 30 and freaking out that, despite all his hard work, he'd not done anything noticeable and substantial in the theater world. tick, tick...BOOM! is the title of one of the shows he wrote before RENT. He's proud of but not haughty about his talent. At a party, he says to a jock fellow guest, "I'm the future of musical theater, Scott."

At a period of confusion and despair, he's been slapped down with rejections, he gets a message of encouragement from Broadway legend, Stephen Sondheim. The Sondheim sections of the film are like a sweet, unplanned memorial to him. 

Stephen Sondheim passed away last week at age 91. Over the weekend, I was touched by the number of non-famous people who'd received letters of encouragement from Sondheim. Those folks took photos of their letters and posted them on Twitter. To see Sondheim's generosity made me love him even more.

We see the trials and tribulations of Jonathan Larson as he struggles to make art and be more than just a diner waiter. We see his relationship with his girlfriend, his tender friendship with his gay Latino roommate, his previews of music he's written, the horror he feels when faced with the reality that he's losing friends to the AIDS crisis.

This musical bio is rich with passion and heart. And humor. The fantasy number in the Moondance Diner, inspired by a Sondheim number from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, is a classic. Andrew Garfield wins your heart with his performance. You feel his heartbreak, his disappointments, his joys and his New York spirit. In one tiff with his girlfriend, he blurts out "Everyone's unhappy in New York! That's what New York is." I laughed and I totally understood. I lived there for 25 years. I even ate at the Moondance Diner.

The engaging, touching performance from Andrew Garfield should bring him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It's that good. And I'd give Lin-Manuel Miranda's film an Oscar nomination for Best Picture with him getting a nod for Best Director. Here's a trailer.


Bradley Whitford is totally cool as Stephen Sondheim. Theater fans will dig seeing cameo appearances of several Broadway stars -- Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, Andre De Shields, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Chita Rivera. 

Andrew Garfield has one Oscar nomination to his credit. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing a real-life World War 2 hero in Mel Gibson's battlefield biopic, HACKSAW RIDGE (2016). Earlier this year, we saw Garfield hit a homerun as disgraced and imprisoned TV evangelist Jim Bakker in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. I reviewed that in my previous blog post. 

Again, Garfield plays a  real-life character. Oscar loves biopics. Think of all the actors who have won Oscars for playing real life figures. From Spencer Tracy in BOYS TOWN and Luise Rainer in THE GREAT ZIEGELD in the 1930s to Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. To name a few. 

Oscar loves biopics. Let's see if he loves the loveable tick, tick...BOOM! It's available on Netflix.



Monday, November 29, 2021

On THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

 Yes, this is a biopic about disgraced TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The film was inspired by a documentary of the same name and actress Jessica Chastain is one of the producers. The movie opens with Chastain as the latter day Tammy Faye in tight close-up. She's wearing too much make-up. It gives her face a sad, cartoonish appearance. Few improvements can be made before her TV appearance -- because, for one, her lips are now permanently lined. Then we go back to the beginning to see how it all started for an Adam and Eve who grew their own Garden of Eden and then got kicked out of it. Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield are fascinating to watch as Jim and Tammy Faye. Chastain nails the Minnesota accent Tammy Faye never quite lost, the high-pitched voice and the cute little chuckle that morphed into a latter-day nervous laugh. Garfield is amazing as the once-boyish Jim who's open to Tammy Faye's manipulation. 

At the beginning of the movie, little girl Tammy plays with puppets and, at the dinner table with her large family, uses the word "harlot." Her emotionally distanced and non-smiling mother continues to not smile as she criticizes Tammy. Mother plays organ at church. Inside, the church is shown in beige, muted colors. Nothing bright and vibrant. The congregation is all white folks. People are gyrating as if spiritually in rapture and speaking in tongues. Tammy has peeked through windows to witness this. Then, one day, she enters the service, approaches the crucifix on the wall, throws up her hands and starts speaking in a non-sensical language. Is the girl acting? Well, never mind. The congregation buys it and believes she's a messenger from the Lord. 

As a young woman in Bible school, she's immediately attracted to the slim, conservatively dressed fellow student who preaches that God did not mean for us to be poor. He wants to preach abundance. She attaches herself to Jim Bakker and seems to woo him with the theory that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his penis.

They are both minor players on Christian television, a married couple, when they're invited to the palatial home of Pat Robertson, Christian broadcasting TV star. His house is huge. The pool is large. His wife is wearing a mink coat. The buffet tables have plates of hot dogs for the party guests. Ambitious Tammy Faye notices this right away, She makes it a point to be seen by Jerry Farwell who arrives to a rather majestic reception. He pompously talks about his mission to fight the liberal agenda, the feminist agenda and the homosexual agenda. Tammy counters by saying that homosexuals are "other human beings that I love."  She calls him "Jerry." He tells her to call him "Reverend Falwell."

Eventually Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker will become hugely popular Christian TV stars and live a fabulous lifestyle in a gigantic house. But they live beyond their means. She gets addicted to pills. He gets addicted to power. She can't fix her relationship with her stern, concerned mother. Jim and Tammy Faye will be betrayed by Jerry Falwell. Their marriage deteriorates.  All this drama in the name of the Lord. Here's a trailer.


I feel we needed to delve more into Tammy's early relationship with her mother and how it forged her personality. There's one telling scene where Tammy is at home in a big house while Jim is on TV that night. Tammy calls her mother and says she couldn't sleep. Mother snaps back with "You got me out of bed to tell me that you can't sleep." Tammy ends the phone conversation with "I love you," but there's no "I love you too" from her mother. They hang up. Mother, who was not asleep and is fully dressed, returns to her living room where' she's been watching Jim on TV.

Cherry Jones hits it out of the park as the mother. She's excellent. Also excellent is Vincent D'Onofrio as a pompous, backstabbing Jerry Falwell. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film has an abundant and clever use of real-life network news footage and interviews through the years of Jim and Tammy Faye scandals. From news coverage, you already know of lot of their story, but the performances by Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield really make this movie worth a look.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

By Stephen Sondheim

 I have pretty much grown up with his music. His glorious music. Stephen Sondheim died at age 91. He leaves a large and stunning body of work for us to enjoy. When I was a youngster in South Central L.A., thanks to FM radio in Los Angeles and record albums in my elementary school classrooms, I heard WEST SIDE STORY with its lyrics by Sondheim. I heard the original Broadway cast album and the 1961 movie soundtrack. My serious devotion to Sondheim music started when I heard the new original Broadway cast album of his new musical, COMPANY. That aired on an FM station in Los Angeles one Sunday afternoon. I listened to it in my room and said, "Wow. I've got to go to New York." That Broadway score was so modern, so original, so different from the traditional Broadway cast recordings I'd heard. I knew actor Dean Jones from TV sitcom work and Walt Disney moves. I didn't know he could sing. "Being Alive" had a beauty and a raw honesty that made me feel pleasantly disturbed. I did get to New York and I did see Stephen Sondheim musicals onstage.

For millions of us, Stephen Sondheim was not just a highly innovative, intelligent and imaginative lyricist and composer whose work revolutionized the Broadway musical, he was a religion. After I saw Angela Lansbury in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD, I walked out of the theater as if I was leaving a mass on Easter Sunday. My soul had been illuminated.

I'm going to post a couple of videos with Stephen Sondheim songs very dear to my heart. Here is one of my favorite renditions and arrangements of a classic song -- with Sondheim lyrics -- from WEST SIDE STORY. Here is Tom Waits with "Somewhere."


Barbara Cook was a Broadway musical veteran with a voice that truly was Heaven-sent. Here she is doing two songs with music and lyrics by Sondheim. One is "Not a Day Goes By" from his MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and the other is "Losing My Mind" from Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES.


Stephen Sondheim was an American genius who elevated Broadway musicals to a new level. I hope you enjoyed the music.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Nicolas Cage and a PIG

 "You want your supply, I need my pig."  That's a statement from the hermit Nicolas Cage plays in his new indie film. The film is titled PIG. It's about a truffle hunter who lives alone with his pig in the Oregon woods outside of Portland. The pig forages for truffles. A young man in casual business attire drives in to pick up some truffles. Then one night, there's a home invasion and the hermit's pet is pig-napped. The pig is stolen. The scraggly, long-haired, unshaven and shabbily dressed loner is forced to go into the city, Portland, with the young man who gets truffles from him. He's driven to find his pig and get her back. 

I know that sounds like a very weird story but, trust me on this, Nicolas Cage is excellent and moving in PIG. This may be an arthouse film that's too unusual for Academy members. However, they should see it. Nicolas Cage is worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for PIG.

On the surface, this is a movie about a homeless-looking man trying to find his pet pig. But there's something special under the surface. Like truffles. The pig-napping forces the mysterious loner to step out of his past. When the scraggly loner gets into Portland, trying to hunt down his pig, he winds up in sort of a restaurant version of FIGHT CLUB. He writes the name "Robin Feld" on a wall. There's an immediate, obvious respect for the name.

We'll see that the name opens doors for the hermit, regardless of how he looks. He's seated in upscale restaurants. This film is an unusual yet graceful meditation on love, loss and aging. As Cage's character sincerely says about his pet, "I love her." As he tells one Portland restaurant chef in a memorable scene, "We don't get a lot of things to really care about."


Cage has been at the acting game a long time. Remember the 1982 teen comedy, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH? Three actors who played high schoolers in it went on to win an Oscar for Best Actor -- Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage. Cage followed that with solid work in RUMBLE FISH (1983), RACING WITH THE MOON with Sean Penn (I1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987) and, the divine MOONSTRUCK (1987) with Cher. He did exceptional dramatic work in LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995) and ADAPTATION (2002). Then came a period of some rather loopy script choices and films that flew under the radar.

Nicolas Cage won the Best Actor Oscar for 1995's LEAVING LAS VEGAS. The Academy should be reminded of how good an actor he is by seeing his new film. This PIG brought out the best in actor Nicolas Cage.

The film also stars Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin. PIG is the directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski. He also wrote the screenplay.

On LICORICE PIZZA

 I grew in Los Angeles, specifically South Central L.A. which was way more racially diverse than portrayed in local media at the time. Our f...