Thursday, September 30, 2021

About Angie Dickinson

 I hope she's surrounded by friends, friends who present her with a lovely, festive cake. Today, September 30th, is the birthday of Angie Dickinson. She's 90 today. As an actress, maybe she didn't have the range of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Cicely Tyson, Jane Fonda or Meryl Streep -- but I sure did love watching her on the TV and movie screen. She was a babe and there was no pretense about her acting. It was straight-forward, smart and her characters had an unforced sexiness. She was the  down-to-earth gal who was a match for the guys. She could play the game as well as they could. Often, even better.  


 That's why she's so perfect opposite John Wayne in RIO BRAVO and with Frank Sinatra in the original OCEAN'S 11. She held her own in scenes with Marlon Brando in THE CHASE. I liked so much when I was a kid that I got mad at Ronald Reagan when he, as a bad guy, slapped her in THE KILLERS. (That was not the only time in my life that I'd be mad at Ronald Reagan.)

In the 70s, when Angie Dickinson played undercover cop "Pepper" Anderson on POLICE WOMAN, that NBC series immediately became Must-See TV for me.


I started my professional TV career at Milwaukee's ABC affiliate, WISN, in September 1979. I worked part-time on the city's edition of a syndicated show called PM MAGAZINE. I was the movie reviewer on the Friday shows. My executive producer liked my work. She gave me the opportunity to do entertainment interviews which, for me, was a dream come true. For my first trip to New York City for a weekend -- a working weekend -- I had the chance to interview Angie Dickinson in the Plaza Hotel when she was promoting her 1980 film, DRESSED TO KILL.

The movie was pretty good but, honestly, I loved meeting her more than I loved the film. She was that engaging down-to-earth babe in real life. Vivacious, warm, sharp and sexy. She gave me a great interview. At one point, I wanted to confirm something, so I asked "Are you still married to Burt Bacharach?"

She looked at with a quizzical expression on her face. Then looked at the camera crew and, in a somewhat baffled tone, replied, "I'm not...sure."

And then we all broke up laughing. That's when this photo was snapped.


What a fabulous trip to New York City that was. Back in 2016, I was in Los Angeles and on my way to meet friends for dinner. I spotted her in the lobby of the hotel. She was in conservation with a couple of people. I glanced over and, when I caught her eye, I smiled. She gave me a charming smile in return. Angie Dickinson.. What a cool dame.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Denzel Does Shakespeare

The New York Film Festival is underway at Lincoln Center in New York City. This is like free tickets to and free rides in Disneyland for film critics who've been shut in and shut out of movie theaters due to the pandemic. On Friday morning, I read some of their Twitter post comments on THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, a fresh take on the Shakespeare drama, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles. My first thought was "Wow! These reviews are going to generate major Oscar buzz." The black and white film adaptation was written and directed by Joel Coen, the husband of Oscar winner Frances McDormand.


 I first looked for reviews from the critics of color who saw the film based on the famous Shakespeare tragedy: Kevin L. Lee of Film Inquiry tweeted "THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is a soaring epic...elevated by excellent performances. Absolutely see it on the big screen." Robert Daniels of the African American Film Critics Association tweeted "THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is definitely the bleakest adaptation of it. And I loved it. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand gave me everything I wanted and more." Trey Mangum of Shadow and Act online wrote "Thrilling cinema that understands its purpose & accomplishes it ever so swiftly." Peter Bradshaw, an excellent Caucasian reviewer for Britain's The Guardian, gave THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH five out of five stars. Another White critic, David Ehrlich of IndieWire, wrote "Denzel Washington delivers one of the best performances of his career in Joel Coen's THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, a film that points back to the glory days of film noir."  The wonderful Joanna Langfield of the Critics Choice Association tweeted "...McDormand, Denzel. A knockout."


 See what I mean? Here's a trailer for the film.

In Milwaukee, I was the first Black person to be seen as a weekly movie critic on the city's TV. I did that work for four years on the ABC affiliate and I also did print reviews. When Siskel & Ebert left PBS/Chicago to do their landmark film review show for Disney syndication, Chicago PBS contacted me to audition to be half of the new duo. In 1993 and 1994, I did a few film reviews on WNBC's local weekend live show in New York City. In 2000, after I pushed to be considered, I landed the weekly film critic spot on a live ABC News weekday afternoon magazine show called LIFETIME LIVE. The ABC News production aired on Lifetime TV and lasted nearly a year before its cancellation. I wrote "pushed to be considered" because initially ABC news producers questioned whether or not I had any knowledge of film and film history. They said that before looking at my demo reel. I loved that job and loved showing that Black people do have knowledge of new and classic films.

I watch ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA when the Oscar nominations are announced live from Los Angeles. In early 2017, when ABC News entertainment anchor Chris Connolly and Jess Cagle, veteran entertainment journalist now a PEOPLE Magazine editor discussed the nominees, they raved over Meryl Streep's umpteenth nomination. Neither Caucasian gentleman mentioned the Hollywood history Denzel Washington had just made with Oscar nominations for 2016's FENCES. The 2-time Oscar winner had just become the most Oscar-nominated Black actor in Hollywood history. FENCES, which he also directed, brought him his 7th Oscar nomination. He was nominated in the producer category thanks to the Oscar nomination for Best Picture that FENCES received. On Academy Awards night, Denzel had directed co-star Viola Davis to an Oscar victory for Best Supporting Actress.

That is why I push for critics of color to be included in the field of film reviews and film journalism, especially on network television. When Oscar nominations are announced next year, it looks as though Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand will get invites to Hollywood Prom Night again.

This archive reel of mine has a moment of me with Mr. Washington. The actor played a quadriplegic former homicide detective in 1999's THE BONE COLLECTOR. (The phone number you'll see is no longer in service.)





Friday, September 24, 2021

Henry Golding in MONSOON

I saw handsome Henry Golding in a movie on Netflix and I liked it. I liked it so much that it left me a bit irritated with ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA. I shall explain. Henry Golding stars in MONSOON, a British drama that was released in the U.S. in late 2020 after he'd wowed moviegoers as the leading man in the smash hit romantic comedy, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. Golding's lead role in MONSOON is not as flashy as his one in CRAZY RICH ASIANS. It's more dramatic, one of frank sexuality and one that shows the actor is not "just a pretty face." He's an actor of depth, an actor who commits to his characters. In MONSOON, he plays an upscale young man who spent his formative years in London and travels from London to Saigon in search of his Vietnamese roots. Did you see Robin Williams in his 1987 war comedy triumph, GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM? The action took place in the Saigon of the 1960s. That was the Saigon the Asian Englishman fled, with his parents, when he was a little boy. They were "boat people" who made it to England. His name is Kit. Kit longs to reconnect to the early part of his life in the land of his birth. The land is different now. It's a seemingly overpopulated city with mass transit, lots of traffic and deluxe hotels. Kit is a gay male -- and that is a very important element in his emotional journey.


When first we see Kit, he is a solo traveler. He has checked into a deluxe hotel. He is very much a tourist and appears to be a polite stranger in a strange land. He is tall, lean and tattooed. The one time "boat refugee" is no longer familiar with Saigon and has "a vague remembrance" of the Vietnamese language. He visits a childhood friend who never made it out of Vietnam with his family. The visit is cordial but awkward. The friend is not jealous yet immediately sees that Kit was moved on from his Vietnamese roots in social class. The working class friend still speaks fluent Vietnamese. Kit sounds like a proper Englishman. He's now an outsider in his homeland. We see this in the shots and scenes of him alone. We see him framed in wide shots -- by himself -- unsmiling. Taking a trip to Hanoi is his goal.

In a way, Kit is like Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film version of the classic Broadway musical, MY FAIR LADY. Eliza is a poor girl who lives in the low-income part of London. She works in the flower district selling flowers to high-tone folks in the fancy part of London. She wants to reinvent herself, improve herself, stop wearing raggedy clothes and speak proper English. She wants to be "a lady in a flower shop." In six months, she accomplishes that with the help of a speech professor. The way she now walks, talks, dresses and behaves is so classy that she attends a gala and is the belle of the ball attended by royals. But when she visits her former work district, looking elegant, her former co-workers don't recognize her. They treat her like a lady. She now  speaks proper English and has become a tourist in what was her longtime turf, the place from where she came. She moved up in class and now feels cut off from her roots like bunches of flowers she used to sell in London. Eliza and Kit are alike.

But when Kit meets Lewis, the scenes and shots are different. In the wide shots, colors are bright. Not muted like when he's in his hotel room. Lewis is also tall, lean and smart. He's a Black American in the clothing business, clothing that is sold in Saigon. They two met online. With Lewis, Kit is more relaxed. And he smiles. He's not alone in the shot. We see them together. Lewis is warm and honest. There is a trace of sadness behind the eyes. To the childhood friend, the slightly nervous Kit gave gifts he later regrets. He feels they were patronizing. In the company of Lewis, the at ease Kit sweetly says, "This is nice." Kit tells Lewis about his life and his journey to Saigon. Will Kit find some sense of belonging? Will he feel like a stranger in a strange land for his entire homecoming trip -- especially after he visits Hanoi? Can we balance the differences of our past and present? Here's a trailer for MONSOON, a fresh look at the immigrant experience.

Let me tell you right that the kissing scenes Kit has with Lewis are absolutely delicious. There are excellent, subtle, moving performances from Parker Sawyers as Lewis and David Tran as Kit's childhood friend, Lee.

Here's why GOOD MORNING AMERICA irritated me. Full disclosure: I worked for ABC New in 2000 as the weekly entertainment editor and film reviewer on a live weekday ABC News magazine show that aired on Lifetime TV. Henry Golding was a live guest on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, booked to talk about, among other things, his new 2020 release called MONSOON. He was a lively, likeable guest and was given a generous amount of time. Never, when describing MONSOON, did the anchor conducting the interview or any other anchor mention that Golding's character was a gay British male seeing his Asian roots during a trip to Vietnam. Before 2017's CALL ME BY YOUR NAME got top Oscar nominations, actor Armie Hammer was a live in-studio guest on GOOD MORNING AMERICA. A clip of him dancing in a nightlife scene from the movie was shown and the anchors lightly teased him about his dancing. No anchor ever mentioned that the movie was centered on the tender, complicated 1980s summer romance in Italy between two visiting American males. The gayness was omitted from the interview. Just last month, ABC News aired a one-hour 20/20 special devoted to the late John Ritter. Entertainment anchor Chris Connolly talked about and showed a clip from the 1996 classic, SLING BLADE. I'm sure I am not the only person who feels John Ritter should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for that touching, memorable performance. Ritter played a schoolteacher in a conservative Southern town. He's a gentle, paternal, protective gay man who will save a young boy from certain physical abuse. His being gay was a key element to the story. At no time did Chris Connolly mention that the character way gay.

ABC News boasts openly gay anchors/reporters Robin Roberts and Gio Benitez. GMA gleefully books openly gay celebrities. Then why the sheepishness from news reporters in telling the public that those three movie characters were gay? With it happening three times, the omission to me -- as a regular viewer and a gay man -- felt deliberate. I hope I'm wrong.

If ABC News had kept me as an entertainment contributor after its Lifetime TV show was cancelled, and if I had been added to GOOD MORNING AMERICA, I would've mentioned the those movie characters were gay and worth seeing by LGBTQ moviegoers.

MONSOON, with a fine performance by Henry Golding, runs 1 hour and 25 minutes. Written and directed by Vietnam refugee Hong Khaou, MONSOON is currently on Netflix.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Starring Tom Skerritt

It opens on September 24th. The new film, EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS, stars Tom Skerritt in the lead role. The veteran actor is now in his 80s and he can still bring it. He was quite properly annoying as the overbearing, bigoted father to Tom Hanks character in 2016's A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING. He was lively and thoughtful in a strong scene with Harry Dean Stanton in 2017's LUCKY. The two actors were crewmates on the starship Nostromo in 1979's ALIEN. I'm a longtime Tom Skerritt fan. My appreciation of him goes back to 1977's THE TURNING POINT in which he and Shirley MacLaine played a married pair of former ballet dancers. That film did very well come Oscar nomination time. It also did very well at the box office. Skerritt and MacLaine reunited as cast members in 1989's STEEL MAGNOLIAS.


 EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS has Tom Skerritt in peak form. I hope his performance ignites buzz for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. The story is based on a novel of the same name. Skerritt plays Ben Givens. As the film opens, we see him having breakfast alone. Tea and toast. He's casually well-dressed. His home is immaculate. Nothing out of place. No clutter. However, the colors of the scene and his dwelling are gray and off-white. No bright colors. This visual gives his home the sterility of a hospital room. That's fitting as Ben was a cardiac surgeon for a long time in Seattle. He lives alone in the Pacific Northwest. In the pan around the room the camera gives us, we see a framed photo of a young bride and groom. If we assume that Ben is a widower, we are correct.

After breakfast, he pets his dog, goes upstairs to a bedroom, sits on the bed and puts  rifle to his mouth. After a few intense seconds, he decides against committing suicide. Instead, he has dinner with his loving daughter at a nice restaurant -- and hurts her feelings -- and then goes on a road trip to the mountains. Just his senior citizen self, the dog and the rifle. Ben plans to do some bird-hunting and visit a site or two from his youth. Something dangerous happens at night. It's a good thing he has his rifle. However, his vehicle is disabled and he's forced to accept the kindness of strangers.

Road movies are not about sightseeing. They're about the things learned along the way. Ben, the heart surgeon, needs to work on his own heart. He pushes loved ones away. He doesn't respond to those who try to keep in touch. Then he blames them for why the relationships are frayed. One of the people he meets along the way is a veterinarian. She, like he, is a military vet. Ben has a great economy with words but her kindness draws him out. He continues his journey. There will be more intense situations with guns. Here's a trailer.


Skerritt's character is not frail but he is ailing. He's guarded with his words -- not saying too much, probably to keep an emotional distance. The themes of EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS are life, death and love. We will come to see the power of such simple statements as "I'm so glad to see you" and "I'm so sorry." Mira Sorvino plays Ben's daughter. Annie Gonzalez hits just the right note as the Iraq/Afghanistan vet veterinarian. This compact, moving drama was directed by SJ Chiro. She did a mighty fine job. The film runs about 90 minutes. Tom Skerritt is excellent as the retired heart surgeon who must learn to open his broken heart.

Tom Skerritt was in Robert Altman's 1970 hit military comedy, M*A*S*H*. He played one of the GIs in the Korean War. In EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS, he's a veteran Marine who served in the Korean War.

In 1985, I had the supreme joy of interviewing Tom Skerritt when I was new to New York and working on WPIX TV/Channel 11. In our studio interview, he laughed when I mentioned that I'd heard he'd been offered points -- a certain percentage of the box office profits -- in two movies he'd made: THE TURNING POINT and ALIENS. I'd also heard he decided to take a flat fee and did not have points in those two box office winners. I didn't ask him to confirm this as I didn't want to put him on the spot. So I said, "If you were offered points in the movie you just wrapped, I hope you took them. What's the name of the movie?"

He giggled and replied, "TOP GUN."

At the end of the interview, he gave me a big, warm, wonderful bear hug. 

In EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS, one character looks at Ben and says "You're one ugly old man."

Hardly. What I would not give for another Tom Skerritt bear hug.


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Coming Attractions -- Remakes

 "What's a geek?" That question gave me more insight into my dad's knowledge and embrace of the arts. Dad didn't talk much about his youth. Not nearly as much as Mom did.  Dad had to be questioned, drawn out. Not Mom. She freely talked about herself. A lot. He was a brawny man, reserved but not unapproachable. Attractive, but not what most folks would call handsome. He was far more knowledgeable than society gave him credit for being. Keep in mind this was when the Civil Rights movement was a new, young, unified voice. Dad was a veteran who'd purchased the house I grew up in with the benefit of a G.I. Loan after having served in the segregated Army of World War II. He was a working class man in South Central Los Angeles, a diverse yet predominantly Black section of L.A. Dad was a postal clerk at what was the city's main post office located in the downtown area. 

In our music cabinet were some of Dad's records. Jazz records by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. A theme album by Paul Robeson. An album of spoken word excerpts from Laurence Olivier's 1948 film adaptation of Shakespeare's HAMLET. The love theme to the film FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLLS. An album of Brazilian dance music. A hit record by Betty Hutton. I asked "What's a geek?" because the word came up in the opening scenes of an old movie Dad was watching on local TV one afternoon. The movie was a favorite of his. He'd seen it in a theater when it opened. It was the dark 1947 thriller, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, starring Tyrone Power. Dad answered my question, told me the name of the old movie and, about Tyrone Power in the movie, he said "It's the best thing he ever did." This was way back in the early 1960s when I was well under the age of 13. Dad watched the movie. I went outside to play in the backyard.

Zoom ahead to my adult years doing entertainment reports on TV in New York City. I learned that the enormously popular Tyrone Power pleaded with his 20th Century Fox studio boss to let him star in the gritty, unsettling NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Power wanted to challenge himself and prove that he was not just a very handsome movie star whom audiences loved seeing in action adventures and love stories. Power made NIGHTMARE ALLEY, a tale of greed that starts with a carnival act. It flopped at the box office and was pretty much eased out of theaters a month after its release. It was replaced by Power in big, colorful, audience-pleasing action adventures. I would learn too that, despite the box office and critical failure of the film, NIGHTMARE ALLEY was Power's favorite of all the movies he made in his long movie career. Today, the 1947 thriller is considered to be a film noir classic that was unjustly unappreciated in its initial release.

When I learned all that, I always thought "My Black dad back in South Central L.A. was way ahead of the curve before Caucasian critics reappraised it." By the way, when I was a young man and saw 1947's NIGHTMARE ALLEY on television, I loved it just as much as Dad did.

Here's a trailer for the Tyrone Power film.


NIGHTMARE ALLEY has been remade by Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker who gave us PAN'S LABYRINTH and THE SHAPE OF WATER. The remake opens in December. Take a look at the trailer. Bradley Cooper steps into the role Tyrone Power played.


The highly anticipated Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY also opens this December. The original won several Oscars including Best Picture of 1961. Rita Moreno won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. George Chakiris won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. To me, the original is a work of film art. It's rarely mentioned, but the original came out during those early, strong days of the Civil Rights movement. Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington (which Rita Moreno attended) was in August 1963. With the musical's storyline of bigotry towards immigrants and racism towards Latinos, it felt socially relevant then and, with our country's previous administration, in our current decade. Rita Moreno has a supporting role in the remake. Here's a trailer.


Wouldn't it be amazing if Rita Moreno got another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for WEST SIDE STORY? That would be some stunning Hollywood history.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Liza Sang It First

 A whole generation is singing this movie theme -- and getting the lyrics wrong. The song is from a 1977 Martin Scorsese film that starred Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli.  The musical drama is NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Liza's character, a 1940s band singer who became a 1950s movie star, introduces the title tune, the theme to NEW YORK, NEW YORK, in the last 20 minutes of the film. It's one of the original songs written for Scorsese's film. The original songs were written by Broadway tunesmiths John Kander and Fred Ebb. One of their Broadway hits was CABARET. Liza Minnelli starred in the 1972 movie adaptation and won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Here she is introducing the world to Kander and Ebb's theme to Scorsese's 1977 film.

 

For decades, at the stroke of midnight when the ball drops in Times Square to welcome in a Happy New Year, ABC blasts Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York" during its live festivities telecast. We see shots of revelers in the crowd singing along with Sinatra. I'm the son of Sinatra fans. I'm a Sinatra fan. One of the most thrilling experiences of my life happened in Chicago one night when Frank Sinatra motioned me over to shake his hand after he gave a sensational concert. I loved and still love Frank Sinatra.

However, he muffs the lyrics in his vocal. He gets a couple of lines wrong. Because of the popularity of his recording, thousands and thousands of other people are singing the wrong lyrics too. There was a soundtrack to NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Why doesn't any network blast Liza's rendition, the one with the correct lyrics?

Last night was a great night in my beloved New York City. Broadway opened again. Plays were onstage again after theaters had been dark for months and months due to the pandemic. HAMILTON was one of the shows back in action.

About 7:30 last night, New York Times culture reporter, Julia Jacobs, wrote this in an article that was posted online:

"Get a mask, get vaccinated and come see live theater!" Lin-Manuel Miranda said as he lead a group of Broadway performers in a rendition of Frank Sinatra's "Theme from 'New York, New York'" outside the Richard Rodgers Theater."

Bless her heart. It's not really Frank Sinatra's theme. It's more Kander & Ebb's theme -- written for Liza Minnelli. Here's another original song from the Martin Scorsese movie. Liza played a band singer. De Niro played a jazz musician. They meet, fall in love, marry and then break up when he becomes verbally and physically abusive. After the divorce, singer Francine Evans (Minnelli) records this song.


 I still say the theme to Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK should've been an Oscar nominee for Best Song. It wasn't. The Oscar went to "You Light Up My Life."

Sinatra never covered that one.

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

EMA from Chile

Wow. Wow. Wow. What an incendiary performance in this South American film. Newly released here in the U.S., the film is called EMA and Ema is played by Mariana Di Girólamo. To give you an idea of this actress' skill and intensity, I'll put it like this: If EMA had been a popular film in America in 2018 and if Carey Mulligan had been unavailable for the lead role in 2020's PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, Mariana Di Girólamo would've been a perfect candidate for the part.


The opening image is a stop sign at night that has been set ablaze. Then, in daytime, we see Blonde Ema walking down a city street with an older woman. They're having a strong disagreement. We shall see Ema disagree and argue with others in this story. Notice that others will apologize or take responsibility for some action that caused friction. But Ema never does. She's a dancer. We see her in a couple of troupes. One is professional and was headed by her husband. The next one, not as professional and one she joins now that she's taken steps to get a divorce , is more reggaeton. Like hip-hop. In neither troupes does she partner. She dances with others but individually -- not like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did, not like couples on DANCING THE THE STARS do. Ema is independent, tough, manipulative, caustic and she can occasionally be cruel to the point of seeming unhinged. But there is a pain in her heart, a pain the husband knows. When she's zinging out caustic comments, he can immediately halt that bad behavior with a sentence reminding her of that hidden pain. We see, in her eyes, that his aim was true. She's wounded. We see the flash of hurt and vulnerability in her eyes.

We see their detachment in the way scenes are shot. When they talk, when they argue, we do not see them together in a two-shot.  Each is shot individually in a close-up talking to the camera. Then it cuts to the other character for a response. This underscores Ema's emotional separation in the same way she never dances with a partner. These scenes call to mind Ingmar Bergman films of the 1960s and early 70s.

Ema and Gastón were married but could not have a child. It turned out that he was sterile. She calls him an "infertile pig" and later verbally cuts him with "You are a human condom." The married couple decided to adopt a little boy. The boy acted out with some disturbing behavior. He seemed to be a pyromaniac. That would've made him a perfect child for Ema who seems to go through life setting fire to her relationships. The boy loves her very much but she can't deal with his drama and returns him to the agency. Someone says "Perhaps you're not cut out to be a mother." She's guilt-ridden that she abandoned the boy and was irresponsible. Gastón is also guilty and admits the mistake. She never really does. She says things that dance around an apology or an admission of guilt.

Her hip-hop dancing moves seems to reflect her sex life. Assertive, aggressive, not coming from true warm emotions. She manipulates herself into an affair with a married man, she has an affair with her female divorce lawyer and she goes horizontal with just about every woman in her hip-hop troupe. If she doesn't see the emptiness in all this, Gastón does. He's mostly unsmiling. Not deadpan, mind you. It's just that life has not presented him reasons to smile. A handsome man, he speaks in a low, polite voice. He's rather reserved -- until he blows up in a fabulous rant to Ema and few members of her female posse.  Gastón is terrifically played by the gifted, intelligent Gael Garcia Bernal, one of my favorite actors. This film is from Chile and it's subtitled. It was directed by Pablo Larrain.

Larrain, a Chilean filmmaker, directed Natalie Portman as famed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in JACKIE (2016). This year, Kristin Stewart got raves and Oscar buzz at the Venice Film Festival for her performance as Britain's late Princess Diana in SPENCER, directed by Larrain.

Polo, the little orphan boy, will reappear. Will Ema take him back into her life? Will she stop setting fire to her relationships? We hope that she does. A couple of aspects in the film might be a bit far-fetched, but just give yourself over to the performances. The truth the actors give their characters carries you over those moments in this good movie. The film runs 1:47. It has sex and nudity. More than that, it has two excellent performances thanks to Mariana Di Girólamo and Gael Garcia Bernal. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Johnny Mathis Music Break

This week on Twitter, my dear Nancy Giles, a longtime friend who's a contributor on CBS SUNDAY, tweeted me her joy at hearing Johnny Mathis on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). In LIZZIE, a 1957 drama starring Eleanor Parker, Mathis sings "It's Not For Me To Say," which became one of his many hit records. I once heard a radio host joke, years ago, that many of us baby boomers existed because our parents were listening to love songs sung by Johnny Mathis when they were alone together. Nancy's tweet to me was *liked* by several people who love Mr. Mathis. I happen to be one of those people. Here's the song he introduced in LIZZIE. "It's Not For Me To Say" by Robert Allen and Al Stillman.


Writing a title tune for a film seems to be a bygone art today. In the 1950s and into the 60s, however, it was a Hollywood tradition. On local New York City TV in the mid 1980s, I interviewed novelist Rona Jaffe. Besides seeing her best-seller adapted into a glossy 20th Century Fox film release in Cinemascope and DeLuxe color, she said that one of the greatest thrills was hearing Johnny Mathis sing the title tune over the opening credits. The movie was the 1959 romantic drama, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. The Alfred Newman and Sammy Cahn tune was an Oscar nominee for Best Song. Here it is.


WILD IS THE WIND is a 1957 drama directed by George Cukor. It starred Anna Magnani and Anthony Quinn. Johnny Mathis sang the Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington composition over the opening credits. It got an Oscar nomination for Best Song. "Wild Is The Wind" was covered later by Nina Simone and David Bowie. Here it is by Johnny Mathis.

Johnny Mathis celebrates a birthday this month. On September 30th. Millions of us will be sending him our love as he enjoys his birthday cake.




Monday, September 6, 2021

The Loss of Michael K. Williams

You really couldn't turn away from his performance. It was like witnessing a miracle, the visitation of a heavenly force. That's how I felt when I first noticed actor Michael K. Williams. He was playing Omar Little, the Baltimore robber on the highly acclaimed HBO crime series, THE WIRE. During the series, we learn that Omar is queer and has a man he loves. Wow. In my teen and young adult years, you rarely saw Black actors play openly queer characters in main dramatic roles on film or TV. White and Black actors, in the 70s and 80s, were afraid to take on such roles for fear of homophobia rearing its ugly head and causing them to be unjustly labeled and not considered for future employment. But White actors started to get bold and got Oscar nominations for their bravery. Veteran actor Robert Preston of THE MUSIC MAN fame was an Oscar nominee for his gay male mentor/friend in VICTOR/VICTORIA. William Hurt and Tom Hanks won Best Actor Oscars for playing gay male characters. I once asked a friend, also Black, if he thought Denzel Washington would've played the gay man with AIDS opposite Tom Hanks as his lawyer if  the PHILADELPHIA roles offered had been reversed. It took him about 15 seconds before he began his answer. I cannot think of another Black actor who, in my lifetime, played more gay characters in key roles than the gifted Michael K. Williams did.


There was Omar on THE WIRE. There was the tough, pro-Reagan, Vietnam veteran Leonard Pine in HAP AND LEONARD, based on the Joe Lansdale books with stories set in the 1980s. The love and respect Leonard didn't get from some relatives, he got from his White pacifist best friend, Hap, during their adventures. In the 2017 ABC TV docudrama miniseries, WHEN WE RISE, he played a real-life character. Ken Jones was a San Francisco community organizer and AIDS activist in the series that followed several real-life characters from the Stonewall uprising in New York City in 1969 to the AIDS epidemic in the Bay Area of the 1980s. And then there was Montrose Freeman, the queer dad to Atticus on HBO's LOVECRAFT COUNTRY. Michael K. Williams' LOVECRAFT COUNTRY performance made him a current Emmy nominee. If he wins, it will be a posthumous win.

Word came today, Labor Day, that the actor was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. He was 54.

As a gay/queer man, I loved seeing Michael K. Williams play those complicated, different, dimensional, same-gender loving men. Those performances made me feel significant. Williams always played the human condition with a certain heartache or need revealed, making his characters relatable as people you knew or people you've been. He did not just play queer characters, as you know if you saw him on HBO's BOARDWALK EMPIRE, BESSIE (the biopic about blues singer Bessie Smith), Spike Lee's MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, Ava DuVernay's WHEN THEY SEE US on Netflix or his comedy turn in the all-female GHOSTBUSTERS (2016).  Here's a clip from one of the HAP AND LEONARD swamp noir adventures.



I do feel that he should have been acknowledged and honored by GLAAD.  The organization prides itself on "accelerating acceptance for LGBTQ people." It honors LGBTQ people and straight celebrities who have either played queer characters, appeared on gay-friendly shows or have large gay followings. Such celebs range from Madonna to Chris Meloni and Lee Tergesen who played prison lovers on HBO's OZ, to the WILL & GRACE sitcom stars to Beyonce. GLAAD should've shown the groundbreaking Mr. Williams some similar love and appreciation.

He was loved and appreciated by many in our Black/Latino community. Michael K. Williams will be deeply, greatly missed.


Saturday, September 4, 2021

About Q-FORCE

 I watched the first three episode of this LGBTQ-flavored animated series now on Netflix.. I have to agree with Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter. If this series, Q-FORCE, had launched in 1997, when MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING was on movie screens and the year before WILL & GRACE made its bow on NBC, it would've been hot stuff. But what I saw was more like tepid bathwater. The music may call to mind THE INCREDIBLES, the animation is groovy and we see naked animated people -- mostly men - but it feels oddly dated. Like we've already seen these characters. It also feels like it's trying too hard to be fabulously gay. Why the mention of MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING? When the movie came out and folks loved Rupert Everett as the gay best friend to Julia Roberts' character, there was talk of a "gay James Bond" and, perhaps, Everett could play him. Q-FORCE is an animated gay spy comedy. Handsome, muscular Steve Maryweather is an aspiring intelligence operative who graduates at the top of his class from the American Intelligence Agency. He dreams of international assignments. But those dreams are dashed when he comes out while making his valedictorian speech. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" had just been repealed. Instead of being assigned overseas, Steve's homophobic boss assigns him to -- West Hollywood, an epicenter of gay life in Southern California. That's where we find the frustrated Maryweather ten years later.


He decides to put together his own ragtag group of spies -- gay spies -- and get some assignments. There's proudly full-bodied Deb, voiced by Wanda Sykes, there's a slim lesbian computer whiz and an equally slim master of disguises called Twink, because that's what he is. The majority of flaming comments about cosmetics, skin care, overnight tricks and fashion statements come from Twink. He's like an extension of Jack on WILL & GRACE. Incidentally, Sean Hayes, who played Jack, is the voice of Steve Maryweather.  Hayes is also one of the show's executive producers. The crew does the best it can in its assignments. It's joined by the brawny, thick-browed, annoying straight employee Rick Buck. Instead of a cool car like James Bond always drove,  Steve has to get around in a Subaru that lesbian mechanic Deb customized. Here's a trailer.

The first two episodes were so-so and can't match classic episodes of ARCHER. That animated secret agent series on TV has a definite gay vibe with Archer's team members gay Ray and Dr. Krieger. Couple that with the delicious "hint of mint" that frequently comes from macho Archer. Things picked up a bit with the third episode, one that does a bit of a riff on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The crew is assigned a mission in Heartland America. Steve has to deal with a taciturn, cowboy-like character named Ennis (just like Heath Ledger in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN). Ennis claims he's straight but he has a collection of SEX AND THE CITY episodes on DVD. This episodes shows dudes completely naked and engaged in steamy sex. What tickled me the most is that clueless Rick Buck, one of the dudes we see completely naked in this chapter, is voiced by David Harbour of STRANGER THINGS fame. Harbour is in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. He played the married guy Jack Twist started seeing when Ennis wouldn't commit.

I'm not going to give up on Q-FORCE yet. I'll give what I've seen a C+. I'll watch further episodes to see if it picks up even more. 

Before Astaire Danced on the Ceiling

 In the late 1980s, I was a veejay and talk show host seen daily on the VH1 music channel. Those were three of the happiest, most fulfilling...