Saturday, January 30, 2021

HOLLYWOOD WASN'T READY FOR CICELY TYSON

 There is a list of Black actresses who, unlike Caucasian actresses, received an Oscar nomination and then had to rely on television for good roles and steady employment. Why? Because Hollywood had no other good script offers for them after they'd achieved an Oscar nomination. That list includes Diahann Carroll, Beah Richards, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Margaret Avery of THE COLOR PURPLE, Marianne Jean-Baptiste of SECRETS & LIES, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige. With just two nominations, Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg was the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in Hollywood history for 20 years. However, she also had to turn to TV. Viola Davis tied Whoopi's record when she got her second Oscar nomination. Davis was in the Best Actress category for THE HELP. Davis was flummoxed when, after that second nomination, her mailbox was not exactly stuffed with script offers. Viola Davis turned to TV and starred on ABC's HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. One of her stellar guest co-stars was also on that roster of Black actresses who went to television after getting an Oscar nomination -- Cicely Tyson.


I remember the Saturday afternoon I went to the movies to see SOUNDER (1972). When her famous running scene, in which she's reunited with her husband, ended, the audience gasped in awe at her performance. White and Black people in the audience. People applauded. I had tears in my eyes. Cicely Tyson lit up my young soul as that character, Rebecca, and as a Black artist. For her magnificent performance, one that showed her bring out the inner majesty of a Depression era sharecropper's wife down South, she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. History was made. 


Three Black performances were up for the Oscar -- Cicely Tyson for SOUNDER, Paul Winfield was a Best Actor nominee for playing the jailed sharecropper husband in SOUNDER, and Diana Ross was in the Best Actress category for playing Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES. 

This was at a time when the edict from top Hollywood studios was "Black stories don't sell." Acclaimed director Norman Jewison (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, FIDDER ON THE ROOF, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, MOONSTRUCK) was slapped in the face with that reality when he could not get studio funding to film A SOLDIER'S STORY, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by a Black playwright. Like the play, the film would have a predominantly Black cast. Hollywood studios weren't interested unless he could add a White star in a heroic lead role. Jewison worked for less than his usual salary, got the film made his way and  A SOLDIER'S STORY was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1984.

We must thank network television for giving Cicely Tyson the quality of roles that Hollywood should have after her Best Actress nomination for 1972's SOUNDER. On TV, we saw her extraordinary range and excellence in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY IS MISS JANE PITTMAN (1974), ROOTS (1977), as Coretta Scott King in KING (1978) as Harriet Tubman in A WOMAN CALLED MOSES (1978) and as acclaimed 1970s Chicago educator Marva Collins in THE MARVA COLLINS STORY (1981).


 Watching Cicely Tyson in her network TV series work years before SOUNDER was a rule and religious experience in our South Central L.A. home.. We watched her with reverence and appreciation. In the recent network TV news tributes to Cicely Tyson, in which she was rightfully called "groundbreaking" and a "legend," we saw footage of her TV series work, we saw her holding Emmys for her TV work and we saw a clip of her on Broadway in a Tony-winning role. I noticed this especially in the ABC News tribute piece -- when it came to films, there were only two clips. One from 1972's SOUNDER and the other from 2011's THE HELP. 

Hollywood should have had several good script offers and opportunities for Cicely Tyson after SOUNDER. She should've had more than one Oscar nomination to her credits. But, she was a gifted Black actress at a time when Hollywood had yet to embrace diversity and inclusion. When the regal Cicely Tyson was bestowed an honorary Oscar in 2019, I feel it was not only for her artistry. It was also a mea culpa from Hollywood for not giving her the attention and opportunities it should have in the 70s and 80s. She was a great actress.


 If you get cable's TCM, the movie channel has a salute to the late, great Cicely Tyson on Sunday, January 31st. It starts at 8p ET/5p PT with an airing of SOUNDER.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

3 Oscar Winners in THE LITTLE THINGS

 This is a tense murder mystery set in 1990 Southern California when folks still used rotary phones. The cast is headed by three Oscar-winning stars. There's Denzel Washington (Best Supporting Actor for GLORY, Best Actor for TRAINING DAY), Rami Malek (Best Actor for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY) and Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB). From a publicity standpoint, that would give their new film a certain cachet. THE LITTLE THINGS is a good, not great, serial murder mystery that could provide some fine Saturday night at the movies entertainment. Most of its goodness comes from the performances of the three stars. Just like the title, it's the little things in Denzel Washington's creation of his character that are so expert. He plays Joe "Deke" Deacon. Now a sheriff in Bakersfield, he's called into duty in Los Angeles because a case he worked on could help solve a series of murders in L.A. Washington has a close-cropped haircut, he lets the gray show, he's thicker around the middle which is perfect for Deacon's character considering his marital and health history. He puts a lot of sugar in his coffee. He hasn't been working in a California location where folks are as much into physical fitness as in L.A.


 When he gets to L.A., he encounters cops on the force who know him. Apparently, he worked in L.A. years before he got booted down to Bakersfield. His LAPD replacement, with whom he has to work, is a young, assertive guy with a healthy ego named Jim Baxter, played by Rami Malek. It takes a while to relax into Malek playing this L.A. character because he seems oddly cast. This would've been a good role for Chris Meloni. But we've seen him as a cop for years on TV. I would've also considered Mark Ruffalo, Esai Morales and Lou Diamond Phillips for the role. However, with his large, expressive eyes that lean on you dramatically and his acting skills, Malek brings his best to the role. Jared Leto, as a scraggly-haired and creepily smart guy, seems to be a suspect. Leto nails the role.


 There's a color motif to Washington's character. In L.A., he's in a seedy green hotel and he's given green lighting one night as he lies on the bed gazing at police photos of the serial killer's young female victims. In a morgue scene, you see classic Washington acting as he talks to the corpse. There's regret at the unsolved crime and there's heartbreak behind his eyes. Personal heartbreak and self-anger. You get the feeling that solving this crime will be a redemption for him. He's talking to the corpse of Julie. He says "Life is too short, Julie." The green lighting in that cheap hotel room reminded me of a scene in Hitchcock's VERTIGO with Kim Novak and James Stewart.


 Deacon becomes obsessed with the scraggly-haired creepy guy (Leto) who drives a green car.

If you're familiar with the famed Hitchcock "MacGuffins," finding out who the killer is seems to be a MacGuffin in THE LITTLE THINGS. Early in the film, there's a flashback. We see Deke in a suit in L.A. as a detective on a murder scene. There are three dead women. But we met him in Bakersfield wearing a sheriff's outfit. What happened? As Jim Baxter says to him, "What is it your looking for in all of this?" Is he, indeed, seeking a redemption for something? One L.A. cop who welcomes him back later comments "Deke's got his own style." He does. He notices everything on a crime scene -- some things overlooked by others.

THE LITTLE THINGS is good but not great, as I wrote earlier. It's not a classic like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The ending is not as satisfying as that in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or as well-developed script-wise as ZODIAC or SE7EN or even VERTIGO. The director and screenwriter of THE LITTLE THINGS is John Lee Hancock who also gave us THE BLIND SIDE. Nonetheless, the acting in this thriller does not disappoint.


THE LITTLE THINGS opens January 29th.

After you see THE LITTLE THINGS, watch the sweet 2011 romance comedy/drama LARRY CROWNE. Tom Hanks starred as a middle-aged company man suddenly down-sized. He's unemployed and broke. He decides to enroll in community college classes to learn new things and reinvent himself for the job market. He's single. Julia Roberts plays one of his teachers. She's recently divorced. Romance will ensue. In a small role with those two Oscar winners as one of the fellow students in Larry Crowne's class is a then-unknown young actor named Rami Malek. That was 2011. In 2018, Rami would play the late rock music great, Freddie Mercury, and he too would become an Oscar winner.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Some Early Sophia Loren

 If you have Netflix, I've got a treat for your eyes. A 1955 Italian comedy starring a new actress named Sophia Loren. I'll tell you right now, she is absolutely luscious in this movie. In her stellar film career, she did some of her best work -- some of her most memorable work -- under the guidance of master director Vittorio De Sica. He directed her in the wartime drama, TWO WOMEN, which got her the Oscar for Best Actress of 1960. He also directed her in YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, which has her famous stockings striptease for Marcello Mastroianni, and MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE. Plus De Sica directed the classics BICYCLE THIEVES (1948), UMBERTO D. (1952) and THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS (1970). Hard to believe that Vittorio De Sica never received an Oscar nomination for Best Director with those classics to his credit. In addition to directing, Vittorio De Sica was a good actor. In fact, the one Oscar nomination he did get was in the Best Supporting Actor category for the remake of A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1957).

Vittorio De Sica acted opposite Sophia Loren. One of their pairings highlights the 1955 subtitled comedy, SCANDAL IN SORRENTO. After 30 years of military service, a man returns to his hometown to find that a young widow who sells fish in the village now lives in his house and doesn't want to leave. His brother is a Father. He's a priest who refers to the young woman as "that coquette." The priest arranges for his brother, the Marshall (De Sica), to stay in the home of a prim, proper, obsessively neat and extremely Catholic woman. The priest orders his brother not to flirt -- because he's too old.


 The young widow who sells seafood is, of course, played by Sophia Loren. The moment you see her for the first time as she calls out "Fresh fish!," you go "Wow." No one ever looked that gorgeous wearing a simple dress and holding a basket of fish. No one. This is Sophia five years into her film career. Her character, named Sofia, is beautiful, manipulative, street smart, independent, lively and lovable. When she meets the dashing and debonair Marshall, he falls for her immediately. She flirts with him to keep from being evicted. That causes a town scandal. She uses her beauty and smarts to stay in the house and get a local suitor a job. He's a young fellow who loves Sofia, but the lovely widow seafood seller is her own woman who says "No one can rule me." Because she plans to get what she wants from the Marshall, she hides her affection for the local suitor.


This is a merry little romp that runs about 90 minutes and shows that, early in her film career, Sophia Loren had a charisma and star quality that illuminated the screen. Stardom was inevitable. The camera loved her. And she could act. She and Vittorio De Sica have definite chemistry. He had the gift for playing screen comedy. A highlight of the movie is when the Marshall and Sofia go out on a date and do the Mambo. To get a glimpse of Loren's gorgeousness in this comedy, here's a short clip,

Sofia has a little buddy named Titino. He was played by the kid actor Gaetano Autiero.  If the little boy actor sounds familiar, he also played Mauro, the little Italian buddy to Katharine Hepburn's tourist character, in David Lean's SUMMERTIME (1955). Directed by Dino Risi, SCANDAL IN SORRENTO is subtitled in English and currently on Netflix.


Monday, January 25, 2021

On ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU

 I discovered this documentary series about a year and a half ago on TPT, the Twin Cities PBS station. It immediately became weekend viewing for me because it's so entertaining, pleasant and soothing. It's called ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU and gives you something fresh and new in the field of home renovation show. The show focuses on Dick Strawbridge and his wife, Angel. These two make marriage look fun -- just like the Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep characters did in JULIE & JULIA, the Nora Ephron comedy biopic about PBS TV chef Julia Child. Dick, a former military man, looks like and has the sweet spirit of a Santa Claus. He loves to repair things, grow things in a garden, and cook. More than anything, he loves Angel who has a bit of a resemblance in look and style to Bette Midler in the 1970s before she made THE ROSE. Dick and Angel have two adorable little kids.


 The British couple purchased a worn-down 19th century French chateau with plans to restore and renovate its many rooms. They'll live in it and be able to rent it out for weddings and such. It's a big, big chore but Angel's decorating ideas are truly bright and whimsical. Dick's very handy around the place and appears to be a great cook and gardener. The warmth of this married couple really lights up this fun show.

ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU with Dick and Angel is like a good glass of wine on the weekend while your relaxing. Check for this British import on your local PBS station or HGTV. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

MORE FRAN LEBOWITZ

 Earlier this month in my VIVA FRAN LEBOWITZ post, I wrote how much I loved the first episode of her PRETEND IT'S a CITY documentary/interview production with interviewer Martin Scorsese currently on Netflix. This weekend, I went back for Episode 2 and Episode 3. I loved them too and laughed a lot.


 I've been a Fran Lebowitz since the late 70s when I read her METROPOLITAN LIFE followed by SOCIAL STUDIES. I've had dinner with her. She was a guest on my old VH1 talk show in the late 80s. One of the things I love about her is that she's whip-smart without being pompous. She makes sense and doesn't follow trends. She's a down-to-earth intellectual who has something to say. The second episode is "Cultural Affairs" and she has some razor sharp comments about art and artists. Do people today have the discipline and focus to become artists? In her youth, she wanted a cello. But she had to realize she didn't have the talent to be a cellist. She would not become an artist by playing the cello.

We see Fran, in clips, being interviewed by Alec Baldwin and Spike Lee. We see Fran interviewing one of the best friends, the late literary artist Toni Morrison. Fran uses author Edith Wharton to make further points about artist to Martin Scorsese. Scorsese directed an adaptation of Wharton's THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. This is probably the only documentary/interview episode that goes from talk about Edith Wharton to clips of Marvin Gaye. Fran Lebowitz is a Motown and jazz fan. Her story about her friendship with volatile jazz great Charlie Mingus is priceless. So is her comment on art versus profit after the auction of a Picasso painting.

In my VIVA FRAN LEBOWITZ post, I wrote that she was one a New York City cabdriver. She talks about that job experience in Episode 3, "Metropolitan Transit." In this episode, she accurately and with great humor skewers the NY subway system. There's footage of her in subway stations. One of my stop of 20 years -- the 23rd Street at 7th Avenue station. I lived on the corner of 21st Street at 7th Avenue. 

About her being a cabdriver, one interviewer who asked her about that is Toronto's late, great TV interviewer, Brian Linehan. Scorsese picks up the topic and Fran cites a wild cab ride Griffin Dunne takes in Scorsese's 1985 dark comedy, AFTER HOURS, as being on-the-money. I had a cab ride like that with married friends visiting NYC from Baltimore in the late 80s. I lied to our speeding cab driver, "Slow down! She's pregnant!" It worked. He slowed down.

About the subways: If, before the pandemic, I could've written for whatever travel guides go overseas, I would've advised foreigner "Do NOT visit New York City on the weekends. Some subway trains will be out of service, others will skip scheduled stops and the city has removed many token booths with employees who could give you directions." Instead of fixing all that and more, some stations were closed for...remodeling. Art work was installed on the walls. I kid you not. Fran has funny verbal fire for the subway system.

She is never at a loss for words. And we are lucky for that. Go to Netflix and enjoy.


 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

See MINARI

 I just saw an absolutely beautiful film and I enthusiastically suggest that you see it too. The film is called MINARI and much, but not all, of it is subtitled. It's not a foreign film. It's an American film about a Korean-American family that has relocated to a rural section of Arkansas. MINARI, written and directed by Korean-American Yale graduate Lee Isaac Chung, make me think of Vincente Minnelli's classic musical, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, starring Judy Garland.


 "Don't run, David!" is what he constantly hear Jacob and Monica Yi shout to their little boy. He has heart murmur and need occasional medical visits. Jacob has relocated his wife and two kids to the Ozarks where he plans to be a vegetable farmer and sell his produce to local markets. Monica is more of a city girl. They were in California, then Seattle and now rural Arkansas. She'd prefer a city with "a big mall and a good school" for the kids. The action takes place during the Ronald Reagan administration. Jacob has his farm and hires a guy to help. The guy is a polite and harmless, yet he's a serious Jesus freak. There are no nearby neighbors and the only contact with other Korean-American that Jacob and Monica have is at work. They work in a chick hatchery. Monica's Korean mother comes to live with them. At first, David does not like her because she's not like a real grandmother. She's not Americanized. David is an American boy who likes pasta and Mountain Dew. Grandma doesn't bake cookies or anything else. She makes an old Korean broth and says "It has everything. Even deer antlers." Her identity is fully and solely Korean.  It's Grandma who, during a walk in the woods. introduces to the minari plant. She tells him that it can grow anywhere.

MINARI is a tale of assimilation. The Yi family has to assimilate into predominantly Caucasian Arkansas territory. They're the only minority family at the local church. Grandma has to assimilate into her Korean-American family. While Jacob is driven to pursue his American Dream, Monica is unhappy in the country and guilty that she hadn't paid more attention to her mother. David wants to make a friend. His big sister seems a bit weary at always being the dependable, helpful older child. However, after all their setbacks, disappointments and heartbreaks, they all come to realize that the most important thing is not relocating to purse the American Dream, it's being together as a family that really counts -- just like the Smith Family in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. More importantly, the Yi family will prove to be like the qualities of the minari plant.

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 MINARI is blessed excellent performances. There's Steven Yeun from the WALKING DEAD television series as Jacob, Han Ye-ri as Monica, Noel Kate Cho as Anne, the oldest child, and Alan Kim as David. He is the most adorable child actor to hit the big screen in some time. Youn Yuh-jung is Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee material for her performance as the grandmother.. Will Patton, whom I remember opposite Kevin Costner in the 1987 mystery thriller NO WAY OUT, plays the Jesus-loving farm aid. Here's a trailer.

It's a simply told yet powerful American story with layers of depth and relevance. This semi-autobiographical film from director/writer Lee Isaac Chung is wonderful and worth your time.  Brad Pitt is executive producer. MINARI opens theatrically on February 12. It's available on video-on-demand February 26. The film has received great reviews from ENTERTAINT WEEKLY, VANITY FAIR, ASSOCIATED PRESS, ROGEREBERT.COM and INDIE WIRE. The Black Film Critics Circle picked it as one of the Top 10 Films of 2020.



Friday, January 22, 2021

Movies You May Have Missed 2

 I'm back again with film suggestions for you viewing pleasure. These are movies you may have missed during their theatrical releases. This first one is a must-see for Michael Keaton fans. He gives one of his strongest performances as the man who made Big Macs popular. 


 Michael Keaton is at his dramatic best in THE FOUNDER (2016). He plays Ray Kroc, the struggling Southern California salesman who became one of America's most successful businessmen as head of the McDonald's corporation. Back in the 70s and 80s, Kroc was in the spotlight a lot as an American success story, a man who gave us an All-American product -- the hamburger with fries. But the story of how a guy with the last name "Kroc" gave us a franchise called "McDonald's" was always vague if not ignored completely. Why weren't we eating a "Big Kroc" instead of "Big Mac"?  Well, the business started in Southern California with a burger stand owned by two men -- the McDonald Brothers. Ray is in his early 50s and not having much on the road selling milk shake machines. When Ray hits the burger stand, he notices all the teens hanging out having burgers and shakes. Ray may not be a success as a milk shake machine salesman, but he's persistent. He's quick to seize upon any opportunity that can make his dreams bigger/ The McDonald Brothers are polite, conservative men. Ray tells them to franchise. He has a vision. It's a vision they don't share. Ray is ambitious and has ideas that we like. We start to see the dark side of persistence in pursuing the American Dream. He will make his vision, his dream come true. Even if he has to be ruthless. This look inside burgers and buns is also a cautionary tale. 


Directed by John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE and SAVING MR. BANKS) with an intelligent screenplay by Robert Siegel, THE FOUNDER boasts several good performance. The cast includes Laura Dern, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. Here's a trailer.

THE FOUNDER can be seen on Netflix.

Full frontal nudity and show tunes. As Gershwin wrote, "Who could ask for anything more?" Olivia Colman won the Best Actress Oscar for her fierce dramatic performance as sickly, 18th Century Queen Anne in THE FAVOURITE (2018). She followed that by playing another queen, Queen Elizabeth II, in the dramatic series, THE CROWN. Did you know that before those dramatic royal roles, she got a lot of laughs on British TV sitcoms? She coupled with one of her fellow sitcom actors, Robert Webb of PEEP SHOW, in the Fox Searchlight mockumentary comedy, CONFETTI (2006). This is not a highbrow comedy but it is entertaining. CONFETTI was directed and conceived by Debbie Isitt. 

The mockumentary follows three couple in a contest to win the high-profile "Most Original Wedding of the Year" competition. Martin Freeman, also a British sitcom veteran, is half of the couple that loves show tunes. Olivia Colman and Robert Webb play the nudist couple. I saw this comedy at a cineplex. On the big screen, Webb's testicles looked to be the size of Texas watermelons. Click onto the link below to see a CONFETTI trailer:


CONFETTI can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

CLEMENCY is one of the many fine, recent films from a woman director. Alfre Woodard is the star of this indie feature. Woodard is in the group of several good Black actresses who received an Oscar nomination and then had to turn to TV for steady employment. Hollywood did not stuff her mailbox with other good script opportunities after her Oscar nomination. Her Best Supporting Actress nomination came for 1983's CROSS CREEK. CLEMENCY did not receive nearly the amount of press attention it deserved when it opened in 2019. Alfre Woodard should have been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for her performance in CLEMENCY. She plays a woman dealing with the bruises sustained on an emotional rollercoaster ride. She's a prison warden dealing with another upcoming execution. The job, with its executions, begin to scar her psychologically and emotionally. The job affects her marriage. Wendell Pierce stars as the warden's husband. There's a strong supporting performance from Vernee Watson, currently a regular on the CBS sitcom BOB 💓 ABISHOLA. Aldis Hodge, who delivers a touchdown performance as NFL star Jim Brown in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI from director Regina King, plays the convict whose execution the warden must oversee. Here's a trailer.

CLEMENCY was written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu. You can stream it on Amazon Prime.

To me, the word "iconic" is overused today. It's attached to some things that are popular but not really iconic. The classic sitcom, I LOVE LUCY and Lucille Ball's performance as Lucy Ricardo truly were iconic. After 15 years in Hollywood movies, TV made her a bigger and richer star than movies had. In recent entertainment news, there was the reported item that Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are under consideration to play Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a dramatic feature about their marriage from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

In her post-1940s lifetime, Lucille Ball was called "The Queen of Comedy." When I was a baby boomer kid, it was noted that I LOVE LUCY reruns aired every hour of the day somewhere in the world. For as much as she made me laugh -- and she made me laugh a lot -- my favorite Lucille Ball movie is a drama. It's a 1942 drama called THE BIG STREET. Lucy stars opposite Henry Fonda in a movie based on a short story by Damon Runyon. There's at least one character in this feature who reappears in the Broadway musical, GUYS AND DOLLS, also based on the writings of Damon Runyon.

In THE BIG STREET, Lucille Ball plays a lovely but bitter and hard-boiled Manhattan nightclub singer. She really becomes a bitch on wheels. Life's not been easy for her and she's the kind of dame who plans to marry for money instead of love. She's seen how love can be disappointing. She winds up crippled and broke and friendless. The only one who comes to her aid is a nightclub busboy (Fonda). Like Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, she's broken physically and emotionally and wants to get to Florida from New York City. THE BIG STREET proved that Lucille Ball could lock into a serious character, get raw and real. Her bitterness and vulnerability are believable. Her last scene puts tears in my eyes every time. Here's a trailer.

THE BIG STREET can be streamed on YouTube and Amazon Prime. I hope you enjoy the movies.









Thursday, January 21, 2021

About Talented Kim Cattrall

 Actress Kim Cattrall became more popular than ever in her extensive career when she played lusty Samantha on HBO's hit series, SEX AND THECITY. Whether we baby boomers realize or not, we've been Kim Cattrall fans for a long time. It's not mentioned much today, but remember what a big hit the raunchy teen comedy, PORKY'S, was back in 1981? She was in that as Coach Honeywell, the lady who made sounds like Lassie when she was making love. She also starred in 1987's MANNEQUIN as the store mannequin come to life. We played the music video for MANNEQUIN on VH1. After a lot of film and TV work, the role of Samantha Jones in SEX AND THE CITY came her way -- and she made the role her own when the series premiered in 1998. Two feature films were spun off from the series which ended in 2004. Recently, entertainment news reported that Sarah Jessica Parker will return as Carrie in a reboot with her two co-stars. Not three. Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis have signed on to reprise their roles in the reboot that will focus on the characters now in their 50s. Kim Cattrall is not in the reboot.. Of course, there was online speculation as to whether of not she got along with her former cast members. Well, my opinion is that Kim Cattrall outgrew the role of Samantha Jones.

 In 2014, Kim Cattrall starred on a series for HBO Canada. It should've aired here in the U.S. too for it showed Cattrall slamming across some of the best acting of her career. She played a more dimensional character in a witty, wise and mature series. It was called SENSITIVE SKIN.   


 
Cattrall played Davina, a 50 year old former model who is a wife and mother. She and her husband have a grown son. Davina is dealing with the changes, humiliations and revelations of middle-age. She deals with her bodily changes, her fractured relationship with her sister (played terrifically by Joanna Gleason) her husband's writing career and his being the recent victim of a street crime, and her hospital-bound mother. There's humor in the episodes but it never eclipses the dramatic situations. I'm a gay man and it seemed that, for my community, watching SEX AND THE CITY every week was the law. And I lived in the Chelsea section of New York City which was like West Hollywood on the Hudson. But I didn't watch every week. For one thing, I constantly wondered if the four female friends had relatives. We never saw siblings, aunts or uncles, mothers or fathers. And did they have friends of color in the extremely racially diverse New York City? SENSITIVE SKIN is pleasantly different. By the time you get to the third episode, called THE THREE SISTERS, you see that it's more complex and, for an actress, more of a challenge that SEX AND THE CITY. Cattrall met that challenge with flying colors. She gave an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination worthy performance. Here's a trailer for the show that you can now stream on Acorn TV with Amazon Prime video channels.

SENSITIVE SKIN concluded in 2016. Since then, Kim Cattrall has moved on to play America's first female President of the United States in the dramatic TV series, MODUS, seen on PBS stations.

With the acting depth and intelligence Kim Cattrall displayed in SENSITIVE SKIN and MODUS, going back to play oversexed Samantha Jones on SEX AND THE CITY would be like asking Sally Field to consider starring in a reboot of GIDGET after her performance in Spielberg's LINCOLN brought her a third Oscar nomination. That's my opinion.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

About HERSELF

 This is a new foreign film that, at the end, made me say "Wow." It's foreign, but not subtitled. The story takes place in modern-day Dublin, Ireland. Considering the homes and city locations you see in the film, Dublin resembles Los Angeles or San Francisco. Dublin is sophisticated and contemporary. There are Black people in Dublin. The film is called HERSELF and it was directed by Phyllida Lloyd. She directed the musical MAMMA MIA! starring Meryl Streep. That was a huge international money-maker. Then Lloyd directed Streep to a Best Actress Oscar victory for THE IRON LADY in which the star played Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I liked both movies. However, of the three, HERSELF is now my favorite. The production is from Amazon Studios and the actors are not known here in the States. But you'll remember some names after you see it -- especially the name of the stunning lead actress. 


 Clare Dunne plays Sandra. Sandra lives in a nice suburban home. She's a playful, devoted mother with two smart, dependable, lovable little girls. But Sandra has an abusive husband who beats her and leaves her with an injured hand. It was injured when she was on the floor and he forcefully stepped on it. She takes the girls and gets out of that marriage. It's on court records that the husband beat her. Sandra now works as a cleaner to provide for the girls. She cleans the home of a female doctor who had a hip injury that caused mobility issues. Sandra also cleans a pub. When she takes the girls to see their dad on weekends, he pulls Sandra aside one day and says "I'm seeing a counselor." Nevertheless, he's still verbally abusive. Sandra misses him -- not the abusive man, but the man he was before he went dark. She's still determined to raise the girls on her own but society doesn't exactly help the physically abused woman who is now a responsible yet financially struggling single mother. She cannot find decent housing. The social system works against her. The abusive ex-husband still has a comfortable home.

Then Sandra sees an online ad for a certain architectural opportunity that grabs her interest. Sandra declares, "I want to build a house."

She does. With the help of the doctor whose home she cleans. As Sandra builds the little house and goes up against a social system that constantly tells her "No," she is rebuilding herself. The powerful, passionate Claire Dunne performance got the "Wow" from me at the end. She's outstanding as the resilient Sandra. I also loved the performance from Harriet Walter as the supportive doctor. Here's a trailer.



HERSELF is a very good film, 
Phyllida Lloyd's best film to date. Check it out on Amazon Prime.


 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

About WHAT WOULD SOPHIA LOREN DO?

 This documentary is a little 30-minute gem on Netflix. Basically, it's a longtime, ardent Sophia Loren fan in New Jersey talking about her love for the work of actress Sophia Loren. But it's a surprisingly touching half-hour. As she describes scenes we see from classic Sophia Loren foreign films, this lady in New Jersey, the daughter of Italian immigrants, she illuminates in plain words why we love movies and certain movie stars. Loren's work and life reflected joys and sorrows in the New Jersey fan's own life. Her explanation of scenes my not sound sophisticated like the reviews of film critics on national TV, but you know exactly what she means and you connect to her words. You understand why she loves the legendary star. There were times in the lady's life when she was faced with having to make a decision in a certain situation. She would think to herself something that became the title of this documentary -- WHAT WOULD SOPHIA LOREN DO?


 
I've written before that loving Sophia Loren in our household was practically a law. I was born on September 20th, the same day as Loren. Mom blissfully reminded me of that on every birthday. We saw her movies at the drive-in. I have the sweet memory of sitting in the backseat of the family Plymouth and hearing my parents in the front seat guffaw at the Italian star doing a personal striptease for Marcello Mastroianni in YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW. Before that, we went to the drive-in movies one night to see her in EL CID, a historical epic co-starring Charlton Heston. Yes, I acquired the love for Loren from my parents in South Central Los Angeles. Sophia Loren took to bed for 8 months because she'd had trouble maintaining a pregnancy and she was determined to be a mother. Before we went to Sunday mass at Mother of Sorrows one morning, our Black Catholic mother said, "When we get to church, we're lighting a novena candle and praying that Sophia Loren can have a baby." I am not kidding. Our novena prayers must have worked because Sophia Loren and her great love, producer Carlo Ponti, became the parents of two children.


Nowadays when I read newspaper and magazine film reviews -- especially on Twitter -- I wonder if the critics are writing to bring people into the art of film or if the predominantly Caucasian critics are writing for other Caucasian critics. The writing is so dry and high-tone, it seems as though some are writing to show off their film intellectualism to impress other members in their film critics circle. New Jersey wife and grandmother Nancy Kulik speaks in everyday language, simple and direct, that we can understand. It's earthy -- like characters Sophia Loren played. It's refreshing. Ordinary language can have extraordinary depth.

We learn about Nancy Kulik's immigrant Italian parents, her occupational life, her marriage and her children. Her comments on motherhood in clips from De Sica's TWO WOMEN (1961), the war drama that brought Loren the Oscar for Best Actress, are simple yet wise.  The documentary has clips of classic Loren films and footage of her first screen test. Loren was from a poor post-war family. She had a devoted mother and an irresponsible father. Loren won a beauty contest that led to her screen test. For her, beauty was a Heaven-given gift she utilized to gain employment. At age 15, as you'll see in her screen test, she had the gorgeousness and poise of a 21-year old woman. There's also behind-the-scenes footage of her being directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, in her new film currently on Netflix. The film is THE LIFE AHEAD -- a film I highly recommend. There's also current interview footage of Sophia Loren, archive clips of her on the Dick Cavett show, and a clip of her being interviewed by her son, Edoardo. Sophia Loren still emits that strong, golden force field of star quality. There's juicy stuff in those clips. The final scene of this half-hour documentary will give your heart wings. I loved it. Here's a trailer for WHAT WOULD SOPHIA LOREN DO?




Monday, January 18, 2021

THE GREAT OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

Watching this new feature was like spending 1 hour and 40 minutes with a fabulous longtime friend who talked openly about everything -- work, art, love, sex, marriage, family, fears and Faye Dunaway.


  "Your life is going down the toilet." That is one of the memorable lines Olympia Dukakis says to Cher in the 1987 romantic comedy, MOONSTRUCK, directed by Norman Jewison. Cher won the Oscar for Best Actress. Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Not long after Olympia won her Oscar, I had the first of two wonderful on-camera experiences with her. She was an earthy, funny, generous guest on my old VH1 talk show. Earthy because she was the first celebrity guest to say the word "shit" in an answer to an interview question, funny in telling us how much a Grateful Dead fan she was, and generous in that she treated me like I was Dick Cavett on his celebrated ABC talk show. Our young studio crew loved her. She loved talking about her Montclair, New Jersey theater company and she was one of the first celebrities to send me a thank-you note after our interview. The next experience I had with her was about 2005 at New York City's LGBTQ Center on W. 13th Street. She was onstage for one of its guest speaker nights and I, fortunately, was asked to be the interviewer. She hadn't changed. She was just as honest and charismatic and lovable as when I'd interviewed her on VH1. In our second interview, the audience learned that she was a background actor in several scenes of LILITH, a 1964 psychological drama starring Warren Beatty. The audience also learned that like Beah Richards opposite Sidney Poitier in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967), Angela Lansbury opposite Laurence Harvey in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), and Beulah Bondi opposite Thomas Mitchell in MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937), she's one of those actresses who played the mother opposite an actor even though they were in the same age category. She played the mother to Dustin Hoffman's character in 1969's JOHN AND MARY. She was only six years older than Hoffman. The crowd also learned that she got her Oscar-winning mother role in MOONSTRUCK after director Norman Jewison noticed her in a Broadway comedy called SOCIAL SECURITY that starred Marlo Thomas.


 The info about Jewison's discovery of her -- and footage of Jewison with Olympia -- are in a new production that each and every Olympia Dukakis fan should see. The gifted actress, fierce feminist and proud Greek is the focus of a wonderful documentary called OLYMPIA, smoothly directed and produced by Harry Mavromichalis. Every quality I loved about her in person and onscreen is in this entertaining, revealing and educational documentary. We get the real Olympia Dukakis, in all her glorious honesty, in a fascinating feature that takes us from California to New York to Greece. The actress has millions of fans who cherish her movie performances in MOONSTRUCK and 1989's STEEL MAGNOLIAS.   


 There's also her groundbreaking lead role as the transgender Anna Madrigal in the 1993 TV series adaptation of Armistead Maupin's TALES OF THE CITY novels. She was amazing in the 2019 closing chapter that I saw on Netflix.

The documentary shows us that the candid and totally cool Olympia Dukakis had a more extensive career that we realized. Onstage, she wowed audiences and fellow actors with her performances in great plays such as THREE SISTERS, LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, THE SEAGULL, THE CHERRY ORCHARD, THE ROSE TATTOO, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and MOTHER COURAGE. The documentary is rich with archive photos, home movies, amateur footage and clips from her films. We hear from fellow actors Laura Linney, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Ladd and Lainie Kazan. (For you young gay readers, Lainie Kazan was Barbra Streisand's understudy on Broadway in FUNNY GIRL). We see and hear from her actor husband, Lou Zorich, her children, and her cousin Michael Dukakis, the former Democratic presidential candidate.

We see Olympia Dukakis at age 80 in this feature. She seems hipper and wiser than folks half that age. As the doc opens, she's on the phone talking about an offer to do an East Coast stage play. When she hears what the pay is, she tickles you with her droll response "You wonder why actors flee to Hollywood." Her childhood fueled her "rebellious, independent" spirit. She broke through the limiting margins of 1950s social expectations placed on women. She defied her Greek mother -- and ultimately made her proud. Olympia Dukakis was her own woman occupationally, intellectually and sexually. Before she dated and fell in love with Lou Zorich, she described herself as "...the queen of one-night stands" and goes on to explain her reasons for her sexual independence.

Seeing Olympia Dukakis interact with fellow actors, family, friends and even strangers in Greece is pure gold. She is wise and also very witty. There's footage of her in a hotel room getting ready for the Oscars the night she won. Her banter about Faye Dunaway and cosmetic tape broke me up. I also howled with laughter at her trying to get an answer from Siri on her cellphone to a geographical question. Siri worked Olympia's last good nerve. Another sweet highlight is footage of her as the celebrity grand marshal one year at the San Francisco Gay Pride parade. While there in San Francisco, she gets a surprise visit from TALES OF THE CITY author, Armistead Maupin. 

Dukakis' marriage to Lou Zorich looks like it was absolute fun. They were married from 1962 to his passing in 2018. If you see OLYMPIA and keep thinking he looks familiar as you watch, he played the dad to Paul Reiser's character on the NBC sitcom, MAD ABOUT YOU.

There's not one dull, dishonest moment in OLYMPIA. Thank you, director Harry Mavromichalis. You made me fall in love with the unique, authentic Olympia Dukakis all over again. And I agree with what Ed Asner says in your captivating documentary. She's a "magnificent actress."

One more thing -- that "You're life is going down the toilet"  line from MOONSTRUCK? Olympia improvised it. OLYMPIA will be available on demand come March 23rd. I'll definitely be watching it again. To see a trailer and read other info about it, click onto this website:

www.OlympiaTheFilm.com.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Mexico's I CARRY YOU WITH ME

 I lived in New York for 25 years. I hope to return one day. Something occurred to me while I was watching I CARRY YOU WITH ME, the tale of two gay men in Mexico who fall in love and, with great difficulty, eventually wind up in New York City. I had probably eaten many excellent restaurant meals prepared by a chef who has a life story similar to one of the men we follow in the film. This subtitled, Spanish-speaking drama is the first narrative film from director and co-writer Heidi Ewing. She's mostly done documentaries.

In flashbacks, we go to Puebla, Mexico in 1994. We're going back in the memory of Ivan, a Mexican chef on a Manhattan subway train. In Mexico, he's single and closeted. He has a little boy to whom he's devoted. He gives the mother money from his job as a restaurant dishwasher and janitor. Ivan would rather be cooking as he's a graduate of a culinary institute. We see him cook. He doesn't make mainstream Mexican food like we'd get in a franchise food joint here in the U.S. He uses cilantro instead of the overused parsley and adds pomegranate seeds in some dishes for extra flavor. Sandra, his longtime friend who knows the truth of him, takes him to a gay bar where he meets Gerardo. Gerardo is a teacher. He's more outgoing and confident than the shy Ivan. They engage in small talk that leads to their first kiss. The attraction is not just physical. 


 But they're in Mexico which has the stifling, humid air of machismo. Growing up to be a macho, heterosexual male there seems to be a law. Gay men cannot walk down the streets of Mexico and hold hands without the possibility of being bashed by straight men. If Ivan comes out to the mother of his son, she'll keep him from seeing his son. Gerardo's family isn't accepting of gay freedom either. How will the two young men have a relationship under all that oppression? One wants to cross over illegally into America where he feels that will be acceptance and the opportunity for him to get a better job enabling him to send more money to his son. To Ivan, New York is like the destination you reach after you've booked passage on the Underground Railroad. But there's a "You Can't Go Home Again" element to this touching story. We follow Ivan and Gerardo for 20 years. Ivan says "The American dream happens in slow motion." It's even slower if you're an immigrant. Soulful-eyed Armando Espitia plays Ivan. Christian Vazquez plays the handsome, sophisticated Gerardo. Both performances are very good.

There's a lot of flashbacks in I CARRY YOU WITH ME. After an hour, they get a tad confusing. I didn't know immediately if I was watching the childhood Ivan or Gerardo. The last half-hour, with the mates living and working in New York, has a more documentary feel that makes you wonder if a documentary on this subject would be stronger than the narrative film. However, that does not detract from the quality. Heidi Ewing has given us a moving and tender film, one that takes us out of the U.S.A. to show us that being gay in the 90s was not fabulous like an episode of WILL & GRACE for people of color outside of America, people who later blended into America.

Today, Ivan definitely would be considered an essential worker. We see how he was just another food delivery person in New York before he really got to utilize his culinary institute skills. His physical and emotional journey through life with Gerardo wasn't easy and he's heartbroken that he can't visit his relatives back in Mexico. But, as a gay man, he did find something better. Ivan says "...life gives us all a surprise."

I said "Wow. The things we do for love." I CARRY YOU WITH ME, from Sony Pictures, opens in New York City and Los Angeles during Pride Month on Friday, June 25th.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Stanley Tucci in SUPERNOVA

 I'm sure a lot of us baby boomers have been Stanley Tucci ever since we saw him in a blue jeans commercial on TV back in the 80s. This was before he hit as a popular, talented TV series and film actor. You can always count on Tucci for a good, nuanced performance. Two of my favorite film performances of his show him as a loving spouse who makes marriage look fun. There was his role as the dad/husband in the delightful teen comedy, EASY A, a 2010 release that helped launch Emma Stone to stardom, and Nora Ephron's JULIE & JULIA with Tucci has the husband of famed chef Julia Child opposite Meryl Streep as Julia. He's a loving spouse whom you know has made his 20-year relationship fun in a new drama called SUPERNOVA.

Delroy Lindo of Spike Lee's DA 5 BLOODS and Riz Ahmed of SOUND OF METAL have been mentioned by critics as definite Oscar nominees for the Best Actor Oscar this year. To me, Stanley Tucci also deserves consideration for a Best Actors Oscar nomination for his performance in SUPERNOVA. 


 As the film opens, we see two middle-aged men in bed asleep. One is naked. One cuddles the other. Then we see them on the road in a motorhome. The two men, Tusker and Sam, have been together 20 years. Tusker, played by Tucci, is the American he fell for a Brit, played by Colin Firth. Sam is driving and, as the wheel is on the right side, we know they're motoring overseas. They're in England. Tusker, a writer, has a telescope and loves to look at the stars. Sam is a pianist. You can tell these two have a well-seasoned relationship. The squabble, they laugh, they get a little bored with each other, they embrace and love each other more than anything else in the world. As Sam says, "I want to be with you every moment."

On the road, while making small talk, Tusker is sweetly ignoring Sam and focused on a map. One puts on some music. It's an oldie. Tusker says to Sam, "Where were you in the 70s?" This seems like a warm, ordinary marriage. But it's changed. Tusker has shown signs of the onset of dementia. Tusker has been prescribed medication. He's aware of his condition. So is Sam. So is Sam's family they are motoring to visit. Sam's big, loving family loves Tusker too. Sam is lucky to have such a supportive, welcoming family. 

With that diagnosis, SUPERNOVA never gets maudlin. It doesn't focus on the illness as much as it does on the spouse/caregiver and how the couple will keep a balance for the rest of its time together.  Tusker and Sam have been together loving each other for so long, they're practically one unit. They go through the typical, ordinary things in daily life yet, while doing something ordinary like making dinner, we see the pool of pain in Sam's eyes. 

I lost my partner to AIDS in 1994. While making dinner in the motorhome and making small talk with Tusker, Sam goes into the bathroom. He cries at the fact that those sweetly mundane moments for them are limited because of an alien entity that has invaded his loved one's body. An alien entity that he cannot cast out. He can only deal with it. I had that same kind of moment in my relationship. I knew what Sam was feeling.


 I'm guessing that the two lead actors have been friends for a significant amount of time. They are quite comfortable in their intimacy and very believable as a longtime couple. They way they look at each other, they way the hold each and cuddle is so honest and natural. Stanley Tucci is at the top of his game in this performance. He's moving and memorable. SUPERNOVA opens January 29th and it feels perfectly timed for this pandemic age. More than being the story of a man with a disease, SUPERNOVA reminds us, as Tusker wrote, "...how lucky we are to have each other." This love story of two men reminds us what a blessing it is to have a loving group of family and friends in our lives. Family and friends who stay in touch and make you feel special in their lives. As heartbroken as Sam is, he is not alone in handling his crisis. SUPERNOVA is a tender road movie written and directed by Harry Macqueen.

The film runs 94 minutes. I recommend SUPERNOVA, a love story with beautiful performances from Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. By the way, here's the jeans TV commercial Tucci did back in the 80s.


Tucci is shirtless in SUPERNOVA for one scene. The man is 60 and he makes 60 look really good.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

More Billie Holiday

 The legendary Billie Holiday, also known as "Lady Day." She was one of the most original and moving voices in jazz.  For decades, when folks thought of Billie Holiday, they thought of her as a uniquely talented but doomed female artist. She was jailed for drugs. Her untimely death at age 44 came when she was drinking too much and in an abusive marriage.


 However, BILLIE, a documentary that I wrote about last year in November, gave us a different look at Billie Holiday. It presented her as a gifted, smart artist who was the master of her own fate. She liked to get high. She was sexually fluid. She was serious about her craft, one that took her from tours throughout the U.S. to tour dates in Europe. Most importantly, it showed us that she truly was a Civil Rights activist with her performance of "Strange Fruit," a late 1930s protest song that slapped White America hard because of its racist history. Black men were still being lynched in the South. In that documentary, you get the feeling that White men in the U.S. government were determined to make Billie Holiday do jail time, not really for drugs, but as punishment for her Black power with "Strange Fruit." Here's the trailer for BILLIE.

BILLIE can be streamed on Amazon Prime and YouTube.

Motown star Diana Ross left The Supremes after several hit records with the girl group and made her film acting debut as Billie Holiday in 1972's LADY SINGS THE BLUES. The biopic was a box office and critical hit -- especially for Diana Ross. It brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Now director Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS and Lee Daniels' THE BUTLER) brings Lady Day back to the big screen. His new film, opening in February, is THE UNITED STATES vs. BILLIE HOLIDAY. Singer Andra Day makes her on-camera film debut as Billie Holiday. To see a trailer with Andra Day as Lady Day, click onto the link:


I am very eager to see THE UNITED STATES vs. BILLIE HOLIDAY. It's a Hulu film and opens February 26th. The cast includes Trevante Rhodes, seen as the adult Chiron in MOONLIGHT, Evan Ross, son of singer/actress Diana Ross, and Natasha Lyonne. She plays Broadway star Tallulah Bankhead.




Monday, January 11, 2021

Movies You May Have Missed

For your entertainment, I'm going to recommend a few films that I saw and loved, films that may have flown in under the radar and were missed by you moviegoers when they opened. The first one I suggest you stream came out last year. My wish is that Academy members will notice and remember it come Oscar nomination time. DRIVEWAYS, directed by Andrew Ahn, holds the final film performance of the late Brian Dennehy. It's one of the best of his film career. This simple, graceful indie film focuses on three people. Each one really needs a friend. The single, working mother -- played by the excellent Hong Chau -- must hit the road with her lonesome little boy on a family matter. Her sister died. She and her sister drifted apart emotionally and now she must deal with her sister's house and personal effects. The sister lived next door to a big, burly widower who's played by Brian Dennehy. A mutual, unstated loneliness brings the sweet kid and the old widower together. 


This is a tender film about family ties and friendship and connecting. Hong Chau, who should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her stunning performance as the miniature Vietnamese dissident determined to help the needy in DOWNSIZING (2017), a fantasy drama, again shows her range as Kathy, the loving mother. Lucas Jaye is perfectly cast as her son, Cody. Dennehy's final monologue touched my soul and I feel it may touch yours too. If Brian Dennehy gets a posthumous Oscar nomination for DRIVEWAYS, it will be well-deserved. Here's a clip. DRIVEWAYS is available on Amazon Prime and YouTube. Also, it will be airing on Showtime, if you get that channel.

In 2018, singer Mary J. Blige made Hollywood history. She was the first Black woman to get more than one Oscar nomination in the same year. The movie was the 2017 drama, MUDBOUND, directed and co-written by Dee Rees. Blige's music composition skills got her nominated in the Best Song category. Blige co-wrote the song for MUDBOUND. She was also a nominee for Best Supporting Actress. This Depression era drama takes us from a Mississippi farm to France during World War 2. People must deal with the forces of poverty, racism and war. After you see Mary J. Blige's performance as the farm wife and mother, you may join me in saying "Why the hell isn't Hollywood stuffing Mary J. Blige's mailbox with other good script opportunities?" She's absolutely amazing in MUDBOUND. Her final scene alone made me gasp at its power.


 MUDBOUND is on Netflix. Here's a clip featuring Mary J. Blige. The cast includes Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke and Jason Mitchell.

Speaking of films that flew under the radar, this next one starred Elijah Wood who's famous for playing Frodo Baggins in the hugely successful THE LORD OF THE RINGS fantasy adventures. Wood was a guest on ABC's THE VIEW the week this film opened in 2015 -- but none of the hosts mentioned his new movie, which he co-produced. The movie is a black and white biopic called SET FIRE TO THE STARS. I'm an Elijah Wood fan and his work in this movie made me even more of a fan. The movie is set in the 1950s and was shot overseas in the U.K. SET FIRE TO THE STARS is based on the true story of when a Harvard graduate and aspiring poet named John Malcolm Brinnin has a week in which he tries to save his hell-raising, hard-drinking idol, poet Dylan Thomas. The movie was shot in Wales in 18 days. What hit me like a bolt of sweet lightning was the performance of Welsh actor Celyn Jones as Dylan Thomas. Not only is he terrific, the two actors have great chemistry together. SET FIRE TO THE STARS gives you Wood like you've never seen before. Here's a trailer.

You can find this Elijah Wood film on Amazon Prime.

New York City radio host Mike Sargent is an under-appreciated NYC talent. Besides his radio work, he's a filmmaker and a  warm, knowledgeable film critic who has been seen on PBS. He can be found on Twitter @ Mikeonscreen. Mike had a weekly show that aired on national cable TV. It was a groundbreaking show that TV columnists ignored -- and shame on them.  Mike's show was called ONSCREEN. It was a weekend film review and interview show. Why was it groundbreaking? Here was a big, brawny, heterosexual Black male film critic reviewing Hollywood and foreign films plus shining a frequent spotlight on LGBTQ filmmakers and women directors. On each edition of ONSCREEN, Mike had two guest critics. One was always a female -- especially a female of color. Women critics of color rarely get attention on TV. No network affiliate or even PBS ever had such a racially diverse, race/gender inclusive weekly film review/interview show. Yet TV columnists gave it no mention at all in newspapers or magazines.

I'm proud to have been a guest critic on a few editions of ONSCREEN. In one show, Mike Sargent, a guest Black female critic and I gave three enthusiastic thumbs up to a British film starring Eddie Marsan. Millions of American TV viewers will know Marsan from his role as the disabled ex-boxer Terry Donovan on the series, RAY DONOVAN. We three Black film critics loved Eddie Marsan's performance in STILL LIFE, a British film that opened in the U.S. in 2015.

STILL LIFE is a quiet indie film that may seem a bit slow at the beginning, but you have to stay with it. Marsan stars in an emotionally rich film. He plays John May, a man who lives a neat, orderly, rather bland existence. Other than his work, there seems to be no life in his lonely life. This is ironic because John works with the dead. In London, his duty is to find the next of kin of residents who died alone with no will and testament. We see his humanity and empathy when he attends funerals of some deceased so someone will be at their funeral services. Learning about the deceased from a few relatives slowly changes John's life. His loosens his personal rigidity. He meets a young woman who brings color into his life. Watching Eddie Marsan transform from a deadpan, lonely clerical worker to man who unexpectedly, joyfully finds romance is wonderful to watch. His performance is a worthy successor to the golden one given by Alec Guinness in the 1950 classic, LAST HOLIDAY. Here's a short look at STILL LIFE.

You can find STILL LIFE on Amazon Prime and YouTube. I hope you enjoy the movies. Leave me comments if you see any of them.





 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

VIVA FRAN LEBOWITZ

 I have chatted with her on the phone, interviewed her on national TV, dined with her and -- of course -- purchased and read her books. I can tell you from personal experience that Fran Lebowitz is genuine, candid, whip-smart, hysterically funny...and a former New York City cabdriver. There's a new documentary series on Netflix and a half-hour with Fran Lebowitz is currently airing. It's called PRETEND IT'S a CITY. Press releases will tell you it's a documentary written and directed by Martin Scorsese. I will tell you that it's mostly Fran Lebowitz talking and taking questions from Scorsese plus a few audience members. She talks about what she loves and doesn't love about New York City. The feature opens with a clip of the 20th Century Fox symphony orchestra, conducted by Alfred Newman, playing his "Street Scene" composition used as a prologue to the 1953 Fox comedy, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. This works perfectly for the first images we see of Fran. She's walking through the streets of Manhattan and giving us commentary in voiceover. 


 "No one can afford to live in New York. Yet, somehow, 8 million people do." When she said that, I howled with laughter at the truth of it. I lived in New York for 25 years and I miss it so much that I almost ache. The Great Recession left me flat broke and forced me to leave New York and live like a gypsy for a few years. I lived in different cities, with different friends and a relative, while I sought new employment. I've taken occasional trips back to NYC for a few short-term gigs. I've been living with my sister in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for a couple of years now. What I would not give for a busload of New York Puerto Ricans and a nearby Chinese restaurant. This city has the whitest people I've ever seen in my life. I do not mean that in a snarky sense. I'm talking about actual skin tone. Many Minnesotans have a complexion that matches your standard Kleenex tissue. Ice fishing is as popular here as Fashion Week is back in New York. So, when Fran talks about New York City, let's just say that I thoroughly loved PRETEND IT'S a CITY. Her riffs on subway behavior, Broadway shows, parts of Times Square now resembling a food court in a shopping mall with chairs and little tables... it's all accurate without being mean. She may seem sardonic. She may be critical, but there's always been an underlying warmth and humor about her. She may get irritated with tourists asking her for directions when she's alone on a city sidewalk, but she'll give them the directions. Fran Lebowitz represents the qualities about New York that I loved and still love. The qualities and the frustrations.

About living here in the Twin Cities: The zeal New Yorkers have for Broadway, Minnesotans have a similar zeal for their annual State Fair. Two years ago, one of the local network affiliates did its weekday evening newscasts live from State Fair all week. In one show, a young lady was crowned a queen of the fair. One of her prizes was to see her likeness carved into a 50-pound block of cheese. The sculptor would do the carving during the broadcast. Near the end of the newscast, the finished product was unveiled and the young lady broke into tears of happiness on live TV.

I thought to myself, "Dear Lord, please get me back to New York. Don't let me wind up one day openly weeping with joy because I've seen my likeness carved into a 50-pound block of Minnesota cheese."

For a funny half-hour with Fran Lebowitz, go to Netflix and watch PRETENDS IT'S a CITY. It's the first of 7 episodes featuring Fran in this limited series.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Actress/Director Regina King

Regina King is a queen in the film industry. That is my opinion as a loyal follower. I first really noticed her in the John Singleton movies, starting with 1991's BOYZ N THE HOOD. Regina King was just like the women on my block in South Central Los Angeles and girls who were my classmates. She was that real in her performances. Then came the 1996 hit, JERRY MAGUIRE. She was a dramatic standout as one of Ray Charles' women in 2004 RAY starring Jamie Foxx. Her turn as the matchmaking best friend in 2007's comedy/drama YEAR OF THE DOG was a delight. Regina King was sensational in the under-promoted, under-appreciated NBC series, SOUTHLAND, about L.A.P.D. members. She played the whip-smart and respected Detective Lydia Adams in that 2009 series. If you can find episodes of that series online, I highly recommend you watch them. Det. Lydia works hard to balance her career with being a good, attentive daughter as she lives with her aging mother. Then came the rich role of Sharon Rivers in the Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwin's IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. I jumped for joy when her performance brought her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 2018.


 Regina King has made her directorial feature film debut with ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI. It's directed with such skill, style, intelligence and confidence that you'd never guess it marks her first time in the director's chair for a feature film. The story is the fictional tale of the night four formidable and famous Black men get together to discuss their roles and responsibilities in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.


 This is a dialogue-driven film that pops with energy, tension and relevance. You have to see the performances director Regina King drew from the four male lead actors. Leslie Odom Jr., a graduate of Broadway's original HAMILTON cast, is ripe for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work as the outspoken and reluctant singer Sam Cooke. Kingsley Ben-Adir plays Malcolm X. Malcolm will constantly challenge Cooke who seems reluctant to go vocal on the need for Civil Rights. The actor plays Malcolm X with a subtle steeliness and a sense that he knows he won't live to be an old man. Ironically, both Malcolm X and singer Sam Cooke were shot to death. Aldis Hodge is very strong as NFL star Jim Brown. The opening scene shows that even celebrated Black professional sports greats are not free from blunt racism. Eli Goree plays the young, loud and proud boxer Cassius Clay on the brink of transforming into Muhammad Ali. Here's a trailer.

Brava to Regina King. She did a wonderful job. Look for ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI to stream on Amazon Prime come January 15th.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

About SOUND OF METAL

Happy New Year. I hope you're well and I wish you the absolute best for 2021. Last year was like a grueling, extreme stress test. I was hit with an unexpected health crisis that put me in the hospital for a couple of days. I had major surgery in October. That experience, followed by my recuperation, gave me a greater appreciation for my wonderful sister and cousin. Their constant attention and love lifted my spirits in that soul-bruising year of a pandemic and dark politics from the White House. Now I'd like to recommend an Amazon Original Movie I saw in which the lead character was hit with a sudden physical crisis that forces him to consider undergoing major surgery. SOUND OF METAL is the name of the film and it boasts some very fine performances. It features two British actors who, I'd swear, had grown up in Southern California considering the performances they gave in this West Coast story. London-born Riz Ahmed is exceptional as the punk-rock drummer with a band who realizes that he's going deaf. The constant loudness of his profession may have accelerated his hearing impairment. 


Ruben the drummer has a North Hollywood blond hair style, a tattooed torso and he works shirtless. The singer with the band is his girlfriend. There's more to these two characters than we see in their punk-rock club performance. Ruben's RV is his home on wheels. The inside is neat, organized and tastefully decorated. His musical tastes runs from classic Bessie Smith blues to 70s soul. While Lou, his girlfriend and the band's singer, sleeps, Ruben exercises. Then he fixes them healthy shakes and a lovely breakfast. Lou is a loyal, honest, intelligent woman -- honest about herself and about Ruben. As musicians. they hit the road for gigs. There are scenes where we see Ruben's bus-like RV is the only vehicle in a parking lot or heading down  a long stretch of road. Ruben is like his RV in those scenes. He wants to go it alone on his road of life. Yet he has this physical disability. Lou knows that he cannot be loner with that physical crisis. He needs to connect to a new community for survival, education and emotional growth. He finds such a community -- a deaf community with a wise, compassionate counselor who's a Vietnam war veteran. Ruben has to learn how to be deaf. Also, he wants cochlear implant surgery to restore his hearing. That surgery is very expensive and not covered by insurance. Raising the money for such a procedure is a challenge. Another challenge, as he learns from the counselor, is to embrace and learn from the stillness the way he embraced the noise of the world. The noise has kept him from hearing the truths of his own wounded, angry soul.

In addition to Riz Ahmed's very fine work, there are the equally exceptional performances from Paul Raci as the Vietnam War vet and British-born Olivia Cooke as Lou. She's excellent opposite Ahmed.


Riz Ahmed has an acting talent that's magnetic. I felt its pull when I saw him as the hard-luck assistant to a mentally imbalanced local L.A. news stringer (one who provides freelance footage) in 2014's NIGHTCRAWLER starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Ahmed is again magnetic as the deaf drummer in SOUND OF METAL.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Sophia Loren on Netflix

This Oscar-winning international film great and I share a birthday. My late mom used to say to me every year, "You and Sophia Loren -- born on the same day, September 20th!" My parents, Mom especially, adored Sophia Loren.     


I vividly and happily recall being a little boy, sitting in the back seat of our Plymouth, hearing my parents hearty laughter as Sophia Loren did a striptease for Marcello Mastroianni in De Sica's YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, one of the many films we saw at the drive-in movies in Los Angeles.


During the actress' long marriage to film producer Carlo Ponti, the entertainment news reported that Loren had trouble holding a pregnancy. The couple had no children. One Sunday as we went to church, Mom said "We're going to light a candle and pray that Sophia Loren can have children." That's how much a fan my mother was. And, yes, I did say Hail Marys after we lit the candle at church. Loren won the Best Actress Oscar for her gripping performance as an Italian widow with a daughter surviving World War 2 in 1963's TWO WOMEN, also directed by Vittorio De Sica.

Sophia Loren, now in her 80s, has returned to the screen in a full-length feature now on Netflix. THE LIFE AHEAD was directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti. There's a spirit of De Sica's love for the working class and disenfranchised in Ponti's direction. 


Sophia Loren's strength and power and charisma as a movie star have not dimmed. The actress delivers the goods in this feature. She plays Madame Rosa, a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor who now acts as sort of a guardian to the children of young hookers. Madame Rosa is still street smart. She can be kind, manipulative and a fairly immovable object when it comes to wanting her way. Loren, at times, holds herself with a majesty that suggests someone who was fully aware how her looks and sexual appeal could mean financial survival. The eyes, lined but not overdone with make-up, are expressive and have a worldly-wise glamour. The lips are full and attractive. Loren with her fabulous face and figure was an arresting screen beauty. But, in Loren's career, she treated the face and figure as great assets to help her art. They were gifts from heaven that she used wisely and with heart. Her main focus was the art of acting. Because of that, she can and has aged gracefully. Her career was not just about her looks.


This is the story of two opposites thrown together who have more in common than they realize. Rosa becomes the guardian to a bitter street kid, a Senegalese immigrant, who stole from her and sells drugs. Both know the streets and both live partially in a dream state. He notices there are times when Madame Rosa wanders through the apartment like a ghost. He, at night, dreams of a lioness. The more the boy learns about Madame Rosa, the more he learns about himself. Eventually, he becomes her protector. His name of Momo and he is played terrifically by young Ibrahima Gueye. Director Ponti draws a natural, excellent performance from him. He and \Sophia Loren shine together. This feature runs about 90 minutes and is worth watching. I loved it. Edoardo Ponti presents his movie star mother in very fine form. The actress can still amaze you. Here's a clip from THE LIFE AHEAD now on Netflix with English subtitles.

Brava, Sophia Loren! This story was done previously Fellow Best Actress Oscar winner Simone Signoret, another actress my mother adored, starred in the 1978 film entitled MADAME ROSA. 


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