Review of the First National Tour of “Pippin”

November 8th, 2014

[Caution: SPOILERS!]

If you’re a theater person anywhere near my age, there’s a good chance that you have strong feelings about Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s famous Bob Fosse musical Pippin. I’m one of the folks who love it, but for many, the mere mention of the fey, pop-tune-driven faux medicine show prompts violent eye rolling.

Why is this? I think it’s because the show became both a victim of its time and a victim of its own popularity. It was, after all, the first Broadway musical to employ television advertising, and it ran on Broadway for six years. But the warm, catchy tunes developed arthritis after too many bad high school and college and community theater pippin posterproductions. After too many young j
uveniles auditioned with “Corner of the Sky” or “Extraordinary” (guilty!). As one of the shows boosters, this has always made me sad.

Perhaps one of the reasons the show hasn’t aged all that well is that so many of the numbers depend on irony. Very few of the songs in Pippin are about what they are actually about. If you know what I mean. Fastrada’s “Spread a Little Sunshine” is about spreading chaos, not love. “Glory” is about how awful war is not how glorious it is. “Extraordinary” is really commenting on a clueless young man’s inflated sense of his own importance. And “With You,” a beautiful love ballad that I actually sang in my big sister’s wedding, is about an orgy. Good irony isn’t that easy to pull off, and when it gets tired it can devolve into a deadly coyness.

That’s why the current tour version of the Broadway revival version of the American Repertory Theater’s reimagining of Pippin is such great news.

On paper, I don’t like the high concept ART used: Basically, a Cirque du Soleil Pippin. I cringed at the thought. I remember how much I dislike that concept when I’ve seen used in various disappointing productions of Bernstein’s Candide.

But somehow, it works.

First, I give credit to director Diane Marie Paulus, who must be some kind of mad genius. She was the director of the recent Broadway revival of another of my favorite musicals, Hair… which was the best production of that show I’ve ever seen. She and her team are not afraid to reexamine, to tinker, to re-think.

This time around, the story of Charlemagne’s feckless oldest son is told by a circus troupe, and the Lead Player (originally played by Ben Vereen) is now played by a woman. Why not?

The ensemble is an amazing troupe with a blend of acrobatic (including many actual Cirque veterans) and theatrical backgrounds. At no point do they seem like a “chorus” – they are all shapes and sizes, and all costumed very distinctly from one another. This is a very good thing.

It’s not just the ensemble members who get into the acrobatic act, either. The Lead Player sings some of the very first song while dangling from a high trapeze, Matthew James Thomas as Pippin makes his first entrance by vaulting through a paper ring, and Andrea Martin as Berthe… well, more on her in a minute.

What makes the circus idea really work is the realization that it’s the circus inside Pippin’s head. He’s a young man, full of ambition and energy and hope and restlessness – and the aerialists, tumblers, jugglers and acrobats are really the chaos inside his own soul.

The casting is terrific. Thomas brings earnestness, humor, and a nice voice to Pippin, Sabrina Harper nails it as Fastrada, his scheming stepmother; Callan Bergman is unctuous and slimy as her son Lewis, and Kristine Reese makes the most of what’s a pretty challenging love interest role.

It’s a special treat to see John Rubinstein as Charles. He created the original role of Pippin on Broadway forty-two years ago, and he’s delightfully sharp as Pippin’s father.

Understudy Lisa Karlin gave a spectacular performance as the Lead Player at Saturday’s evening performance. I didn’t realize she was the understudy until the couple sitting next to me told me at intermission. I didn’t believe them. But they were correct.26JPPIPPEN2-popup-v2

But it’s Andrea Martin as Berthe that gives the most memorable performance in the production. Berthe has the big crowd-pleasing show if the evening, “No Time At All.” Martin, a Broadway veteran and legendary comic performer from SCTV in the 1980s, brings great warmth and humor to her big scene. But what puts it over the top is that, before the final chorus, she drops her old lady robes, revealing a svelte, buff physique, and proceeds to perform… a trapeze act. Yeah, a trapeze act. Did I mention she’s sixty-seven years old? Needless to say, she quite literally stops the show.

It’s really lucky for us Angelenos that two of the original members of this production – Andrea Martin as Berthe and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin —

But despite all the good performances, the great costumes (by Dominique Lemieux), the stunning lighting (by Kenneth Posner), the real star of the show is director Diane Paulus.

Along with her collaborators Chet Walker (choreography, aided by the ghost of Bob Fosse), and Gypsy Snide (Circus Creator), Paulus has worked a miracle: She’s blown the dust off of this ripe old chestnut and made it come alive again.

The sharpness of her direction reminds me of the work of the great Susan Schulman. There’s such specificity, such sharpness, such energy poured into every moment of the show. Schwartz’s beloved, familiar, but overdone and tired songs snap back to life under Paulus’s care. The thought and care that obviously went into every single song – What are we trying to communicate? How can we approach this in a fresh way How can we make the audience hear this song for the first time – is simply dazzling.

By the end of the evening I’d fallen in love with Pippin all over again. I think you will, too. It closes at the Pantages November 9.

 


pippin dad

Why we Libtards Are So Loud and Angry!!!!!

November 8th, 2014

Hi, Friend or Relative who thinks my liberal friends and I are just too mean in our political discourse:

Sorry you feel that way.

If you are upset by the fact that people are disagreeing with you strongly, well, that’s political discourse for you.

And I hope you are not saying that the people on my page are being unusually or uniquely shrill in their political tone. Because if you are, you need to understand the ridiculous, relentless onslaught of lies, fabrications and downright seditious comments we see posted about the President EVERY DAY. He’s a Muslim, he hates America, he is working for the Muslim Brotherhood, he’s bisexual, he’s a Nazi, he’s a communist, he’s a socialist, he’s a Kenyan. Whatever. We NEVER DID THAT TO BUSH. We complained about his ACTUAL failings, not made-up ones.

We see government officials calling for Obama to be assassinated. REGULARLY.

And let’s review. This is a man Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman just called one of the most successful Presidents in American history: http://www.npr.org/2014/10/13/355904014/krugman-obama-more-transformative-than-clinton-reagan.

And this is the man Forbes Magazine (a magazine for the 1% if there ever was one) called the best economic President in American history: http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamhartung/2013/05/16/economically-could-obama-be-americas-best-president/

This is the man who saved our automobile industry, killed Osama Bin Laden, helped this country take a giant leap forward in gay rights, achieved the first significant health care reform since Medicare was instituted, and helped end Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell. Here’s a quick list of other things he’s accomplished:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_2012/features/obamas_top_50_accomplishments035755.php?page=all

And yet yFrustrated-Personou continue to post anti-Obama posts. He’s such a bad leader, etc. That’s fine, that’s your privilege. You’re entitled to your opinion.

But to help you understand why some of my friends and I are so polarized, consider what we see from the Republican party. Here’s what we see:

1. A party which STILL maintains a national policy to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

2. Anti-gay governors like Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin who don’t understand the basics of how the judiciary works in this country and its place in the process: http://www.okcfox.com/story/26054343/governor-mary-fallins-statement-on-same-sex-marriage-ruling

MANY other republican officials and political figures have echoed her statement that it’s somehow “unconstitutional” for the courts to overrule a law. When, of course, that’s their exact function. When liberals are unhappy with court decisions, we criticize the decision, but we don’t make up new rules for how the courts are supposed to operate.

3. We see a party of science deniers, over and over. Remember how many hands went up during the Republican Presidential primary debates when asked who believed in evolution? The Republican party is also full of science deniers on global climate change. Global climate change is not up for scientific debate. The science is in. Same thing on evolution by natural selection. And yet the Republican party is full of representatives who use their power to pursue very harmful public policies based on their denial of basic science, mostly fueled by their own ignorant ancient superstitions.

4. We see a party that has waged a brutal war on women. From rape-defenders to contraception-bashers to abortion-banners, these are ALL REPUBLICANS.

5. More war on women: The Republican-controlled House consistently blocks laws that will provide income parity for women.

6. Same with raising the minimum wage.

7. We see a party full of powerful people who insist on rewriting American history (not to mention the Constitution) by attempting to enforce the idea that Christianity deserves special privileges, even though the Constitution makes it clear that it doesn’t. It’s NEVER Democratic forces that attempt to sneak creationism back into school curricula, or demand that Christian symbols be put on public land. It’s always Republicans.

8. Finally, we look up and see a party that has waged an astonishing campaign to restrict voter access, all in the name of the utterly phony issue of “voter fraud.” Without exception, these laws were enacted to minimize likely Democratic votes in the jurisdictions. Not a SINGLE ONE of these laws came from Democrats. ALL REPUBLICANS. And the courts are throwing these spurious laws out.

So, yeah, we see a party that hates gays, women, the poor, and the non-Christian, the non-white, the immigrant. We see a party whose strategy to win elections is to keep the other side from voting.

So, yeah, we’re polarized.

And for the record, Scott Walker IS a creep. He’s a union-busting creep. But notice that when he did something I thought was righteous I posted it on my Facebook page. When’s the last time you did that for Obama?

Another complaint I’ve heard you make repeatedly is that under Obama “we are losing our rights.” I’ve never gotten a good answer from you on which rights those are. Would you give me a list of, say, ten? Because there must be at least that many, considering how often this is said (not just by you, I hear it from the Right all the time).

You’re always welcome on my page. I hope you’ll stay. I don’t think I know everything. I don’t think my political positions are unshakeable. Convince me! And I promise, the minute someone is insulting to you, I’ll deal with it. ( I had to do that this week.) But if you don’t like our opinions, try to understand where they are coming from.

I will remain baffled that an intelligent, strong, moral person like you can hitch his or her wagon to a political party like The Republicans. But I’ll always listen if you try to explain it to me.

Ray’s 2013 Movie Awards

January 21st, 2014

The Best Films of the Year

  1. Gravity:  Alfonso Cuarón’s startling vision of a very bad day in outer space knocked my socks off.
  2. The Past:  Asghar Farhadi’s emotionally devastating look at the power of secrets and the painful struggle to overcome our own questionable decisions.
  3. Captain Phillips:  Paul Greengrass created a thrilling and harrowing sea adventure.
  4. Mud:  This unusually involving coming of age story features stunning writing and an tremendous supporting performance by Matthew McConaughey.
  5. The Way, Way Back:  This oddly nostalgic story of painful youth had tons of zip and freshness, with a knockout career highlight performance by Sam Rockwell.
  6. Blue Jasmine:  Woody Allen’s best film in years delves painfully and irresistibly into Streetcar Named Desire territory, with spectacular results.
  7. Her:  Spike Jonze film manages to be authentically weird, accessible, and romantic.
  8. Stories We Tell.  Not sure if this is a documentary or what, but it’s a weird and marvelous film about family secrets from the talented Sarah Polley
  9. Prisoners:  A story that at first seems familiar but gets stranger and stranger.  Plus Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography.
  10. Short Term 12:  Simple and sincere film about second chances.

Honorable Mention:  Fruitvale Station, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street; The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 42, Blancanieves, The Company You Keep, Dallas Buyers Club, The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug

 

Screenplay

Jeff Nichols, Mud

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Way Way Back

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

*Asghar Farhadi, The Past

Spike Jonze, Her

 

Director

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips

*Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

Asghar Farhadi, The Past

Spike Jonze, Her

 

Actress

*Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Bérénice Bejo, The Past

Judi Dench, Philomena

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Honorable Mention:  Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Amy Adams in American Hustle

 

Actor

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Robert Redford, All is Lost

*Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Honorable Mention:  Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street; Hugh Jackman in Prisoners; Chadwick Boseman in 42, Alan Rickman in CBGB; Christian Bale in American Hustle

 

Supporting Actor

Matthew McConaughey, Mud

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

*Sam Rockwell, The Way Way Back

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Honorable Mention:  Bradley Cooper in American Hustle;  Alan Tudyk in 42; Bobby Cannavale in Blue Jasmine, Nathon Fillion in Much Ado About Nothing, Frank Grillo in Disconnect; Kyle Chandler in The Spectacular Now

 

Supporting Actress

Octavia Spenser, Fruitvale Station

Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon

*June Squibb, Nebraska

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Honorable Mention:  Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine; Allison Janney in The Way Way Back

 

Score

Mark Orton, Nebraska

*Stephen Price, Gravity

Arcade Fire, Her

 

Art Direction

Inside Llewyn Davis

*Gravity

Blancanieves

Oblivion

Her

 

Film Editing

*Thelma Schoonmaker, The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Cinematography

Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska

*Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity

Barry Ackroyd, Captain Phillips

Roger Deakins, Prisoners

Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her

 

Foreign Language Film

Prey (La Proie) [France]

*The Past [France]

Wadjda [Saudi Arabia]

 

Let’s Save Time:  Every Technical Category

*****Gravity

 

Puzzlingly Overrated

12 Years a Slave.  There, I’ve said it.  To paraphrase friends of mine who have had the courage to note the emperor’s nakedness:  It’s like getting punched in the face for three hours.  And just because slavery is an important and legitimate issue doesn’t mean I have to pretend this movie is important.  Newsflash: I know slavery was bad.  It was horrible and shameful and it’s an ugly, ugly blight on our history.  But that’s a lesson I didn’t need to learn, and this movie showed me nothing else but that.  Feel guilty, feel guilty, feel guilty, it’s saying.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I do not like Steve McQueen as a director.  Sure, the cast was excellent, and they’ll get some nominations.  But I don’t have to like the movie.  And Brad Pitt’s cameo was stupid.

The Spectacular Now.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Drunks are not interesting.

The Great Beauty:  Snorefest from Italy which somehow had all the critics gushing.

 

Underrated!

Side Effects – Even the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn’t ruin Steve Soderberg’s sly psychopharmaceutical thriller.

Disconnect – featuring yet another terrific performance by Most Improved Actor Frank Grillo.

Oblivion – Seriously.  I liked it.

White House Down.  Shut up, it was very fun.

 

Will Cause You No Bodily Harm to Netflix

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Sapphires, The East, Trance, This is the End, Kon-Tiki, The Heat, About Time, Kill Your Darlings

 

Special Musical Mention

While I had mixed about the film in general, the music in Inside Llewyn Davis was phenomenal.  The fact that all of the music was recorded live makes this even more impressive.

 

Guilty Pleasures

Identity Thief

Mama

A Good Day to Die Hard

The Call

 

Best Comeback From Oblivion

Andrew Dice Clay in Blue Jasmine

 

Best Neener Neener Movie

The Armstrong Lie.  I’ve been saying that Lance Armstrong was a lying sack of excrement for a decade.  It’s nice to see the world catch up.

 

Three Movies I Just Couldn’t Get Myself To, No Matter How Great I Heard They Were.  I’m a Terrible Person.

Blue is the Warmest Color

The Invisible Woman

The Act of Killing

 

Best Hair

Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Jeremy Renner’s game show host ice cream sundae in American Hustle

 

Documentary

Room 237:  I loved this ridiculous movie about five movie lovers who just get a whole lot more out of Kubrick’s The Shining than I do.

*20 Feet From Stardom:  Delightful film profiling the most prominent of the Motown and rock backup singers.

Inequality For All : Robert Riech tells it like it is.

 

Production Design

Blancanieves

Her

*Gravity

 

The Year in Dreamboats

Jai Courtney in A Good Day to Die Hard

Riz Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Tahar Rahim in The Past

Max Martini in Pacific Rim and Captain Phillips

Aiden Turner (Fili) in The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug

 

Funniest Movies of the Year

In a World…  Big props to writer/director/star Lake Bell for this devastating take on the world of voiceover artists.

Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues:  A love song to a shark and apologetic Canadian broadcast journalist assassins!

 

Person Who Needs to Get His S%&t Together So He Can Get Back to the Business of Being a Movie Star

Shia LeBoeuf

 

Best Name for Movie Character

Anita Kravos plays “Talia Concept,” a performance artist who only refers to herself in the third person in the otherwise tedious The Great Beauty

 

Please Can We See More Of…

About Time’s Domhnall Gleeson

The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s Riz Ahmed

Nebraska’s June Squibb

In A World’s Lake Bell

 

Best Movie Performance in History by a Cabbie From Minneapolis

Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

 

Best Nose

José María Yazpik in I’m So Excited!

 

Best Film This Year About a Drug-Induced Orgy During a Commercial Flight

I’m So Excited!

 

Biggest Turnaround

Congrats to the beautiful and talented Scarlett Johansson, who has graduated from being the consistent butt of my jokes to being an actual unironic nominee this year.  Well done, girlfriend.

 

Best Action Sequences

The Jerusalem / Airplane section of World War Z

The Amazing first 17 minutes of Gravity

Best Single Scene

The final scene of Captain Phillips

 

Great Dialog

“We’ve invited ourselves along.  Accept it and move on.” Allison Janney brings The Pushy in The Way Way Back.

 

“Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”  Really inappropriate babysitter talk from the divine Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.

 

Not as Bad As Everyone Said it Was

Jobs

 

Disappointing Sequel

Despicable Me 2

 

Movie So Unpleasant and Amateurish I’m Not Even Going to Mention It in These Awards

Escape from Tomorrow

 

The Jodie Foster Award for Worst Actress of the Year

Once again, the winner is the unstoppable Jodie Foster herself, for turning in yet another Seventh-Grade-Class-Play-Worthy performance in the hideous Elysium.  Really, she should produce a new film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Starring herself, Radha Mitchell, Christian Bale and John Leguizamo, and the results could actually prompt the Heat Death of the Universe.

 

The Very Worst Films of the Year

Stoker. No.  Just no.

The Place Beyond the Pines:  I also hated Blue Valentine.  Let’s face it, I just don’t like the work of director Derek Cianfrance.

*TIE:  Elysium and Upstream Color, two SHOCKINGLY disappointing second films from oh-so-promising directors.  Elysium gets points for taking an intriguing premise and doing absolutely nothing interesting with it.  Upstream Color scores big because it’s one of the most pretentiously opaque and obtuse films ever made.  It made me wish I was watching Tree of Life again.

Pacific Rim:  Why on earth did Guillermo del Toro feel a need to make a Transformers movie?  Even Charlie Hunnam’s stunning physique, Idris Elba’s stern charisma, and Max Martini’s steamy smolder couldn’t keep me awake.

Man of Steel – What a borefest.  Even Henry Cavill’s ridiculous pulchritude couldn’t save this boring, overlong piece of dreck.

 

In Memoriam

Roger Ebert.  I never met him, but he was my teacher and my hero.  Even more than the fabled Mr. O’Toole, he’s the one I’ll miss the most.

Peter O’Toole

Julie Harris

James Gandolfini

Jean Stapleton

Dennis Farina

Conrad Bain

Lou Reed

Paul Walker

Joan Fontaine

Annette Funicello

Jonathan Winters

Bonnie Franklin

Deanna Durbin

Richard Griffiths

Elmore Leonard

Esther Williams

Ray Harryhausen

Hal Needham

Marcia Wallace

Fay Kanin

Eileen Brennan

Karen Black

Ray Dolby

Ray Manzarek

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Richie Havens

Tom Laughlin

Van Cliburn

Jeanne Cooper

George Jones

Ray Price

 

Comments?  Accusations?  Accolades?  Please leave a comment below!

 

You Gotta Talk To Them!

August 31st, 2013

It's just a bonus!

When I passed a certain milestone birthday a few years ago, I made a few resolutions.  One of them was, talk to strangers more.  This has generally worked out very well.  It’s particularly good advice when speaking to working people.

By that I mean, people you encounter during your normal day-to-day routine who are busy doing their jobs.  In particular, the people who are serving you.  Sales clerks.  Waitresses.  Toll booth and parking lot folks.  Fluffers.  Parole agents.

Talk to them  Look them in the eye.   Speak to them as your peers (because they are).  Talk to the tired host at the restaurant like you’d be inviting him to join your table if his shift was about to end.

I’m serious.  It’ll make you happier and it’ll make them happier.

There’s an added benefit.  Several times lately, I’ve been given freebies by salespersons I’ve been chatting up.  Let me emphasize that this isn’t generally my goal, but it can be a surprise fringe benefit.

Please allow Henry and me our privacy.

I was at one of my favorite health food establishments in Santa Rosa, California recently, and the girl behind the counter was enjoying chatting with me so much that she deliberately served me a treat that was a size larger than the one that she charged me for.  And just today, after I lavished praise on the clerk at a steakhouse in Midtown Sacramento for the business’s practice of including Diet Dr. Pepper among their soda selections, she gave me two drinks and charged me for one.

Of course, it’s not life-changing when you get these freebies, but they are a) nice surprises and b) handy reinforcements that you’re doing something right.

Also, let’s not forget the lesson we learned from Scott Prouty, the bartender who basically lost the election for Mitt Romney last year by filming and going public with the Governor’s “47%” remarks.  One of the reasons he was loaded for bear against Romney was because of an earlier incident in which Romney was rude to him when he served him a Diet Coke.  It simply didn’t occur to Romney to treat a bartender like a human being.  Perhaps if Romney had followed my advice, he’d be President now.

So trust me on this.  Talk to the people who are doing jobs for you every day.  It’s an easy way to improve your day.

And what of my other resolutions?  Well, out of respect for his privacy, I choose not to discuss the key “Start Returning Henry Cavill’s phone calls” resolution at this time.

Ray’s 2012 Movie Awards!

February 15th, 2013

Best Films of the Year

  1.  Lincoln – Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner took a big, complicated story from history and crafted a riveting political procedural out of it.
  2. Argo – Ben Affleck successfully transported us to the late 1970s in this fictionalized but thrilling retelling of a long-classified true story.
  3. Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell reboots the movie romance with this tale of damaged people trying to work through their baggage and make a connection.
  4. Django Unchained – In his best movie since Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino fearlessly takes on slavery, using the tropes of the spaghetti western and blaxploitation films.
  5. Cloud Atlas – This dizzyingly ambitious film adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel sweeps us along through six interconnected stories about freedom, slavery, justice and human progress.
  6. Life of Pi —  Ang Lee took a tricky book and made an absolutely beautiful movie of it.  Go see it.
  7. Moonrise Kingdom – It’s been a long time since I’ve even liked a Wes Anderson movie, and I LOVED this one.  It’s quirky, dear and features production design to die for.
  8. Compliance – One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, particularly because it’s based on actual incidents.  Watch the movie, then go to the internet and read about it.
  9. Safety Not Guaranteed – Perhaps the first film inspired by a Craig’s List ad, and for a time traveler, yet.
  10. Sound of My Voice – An eerie, ultra-low-budget psychological time-travel thriller starring and written by the beautiful and talented Brit Marling.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:  Robot and Frank, Chronicle, The Impossible, End of Watch, Arbitrage, Not Fade Away, Les Miserables, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, Stand Up Guys, 21 Jump Street

 

Lead Actress

*Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Emanuelle Riva, Amour

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

 

Lead Actor

*Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Jack Black, Bernie

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour

 

HONORABLE MENTION:  Denzel Washington, Flight;  Frank Langella in Robot and Frank; Richard Gere in Arbitrage; Tom Holland, The Impossible

 

Compliance's Ann Dowd

Supporting Actress

Susan Sarandon, Jeff Who Lives At Home

*Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Melissa McCarthy, This is 40

 

Supporting Actor

Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Robert DeNiro, Silver Lining’s Playbook

The glorious Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Christoph Walz, Django Unchained

*Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained

 

Honorable Mention:  Jake Johnson, Safety Not Guaranteed; Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Francois Cluzet, Little White Lies; Domhnall Gleeson, Anna Karenina

 

Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

*Ben Affleck, Argo

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, Cloud Atlas

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

 

Adapted Screenplay – it’s a TIE

*Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

*Lincoln (Tony Kushner)

 

Original Screenplay

*Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

Safety Not Guaranteed (Derek Connolly)

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola)

Moonrise Kingdom

 

Foreign Language Film

The Intouchables  (France)

*Amour (Austria)

Snabba Cash (Sweden)

Generation P (Russia)

 

Documentary Feature

The Queen of Versailles

The Imposter

*How to Survive a Plague

The Central Park Five

 

Production Design

Moonrise Kingdom

*Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Cloud Atlas

 

Underrated!

Haywire

Hysteria (the vibrator movie!)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Ruby Sparks

Liberal Arts

 

Best Action Thriller

Premium Rush

 

Funniest Movie of the Year

21 Jump Street21 Jump Street

 

Okay This Has to the VERY LAST Documentary about the West Memphis Three

West of Memphis

 

I Know It Wasn’t Exactly GOOD, But That Director Tarsem Singh Can Sure Bring the Pretty

Mirror, Mirror

 

Most Misnamed Movie

Bully:  A documentary about bullying in which almost no bullies appear.

 

What a Great Career He’s Having

Mark Duplass, who’s directing films (Jeff Who Lives At Home) and acting in them (Zero Dark Thirty, Safety Not Guaranteed).  Go Mr. D.!

 

What a Great Career SHE’S Having

Not only does Jennifer Lawrence have a huge big-budget franchise going, but she’s got TWO Best Actress Academy Award nominations.  At age twenty-two.

 

Show Me Something, Spurlock

While Morgan Spurlock is still appealing and handsome, his film Mansome was shallow and inconsequential.  He still hasn’t put out a feature that fulfills the promise of his superb debut Super Size Me.

 

Ray And Tayler “Get In Shape For Your Movie” Award

Colin Farrell, Total Recall

 

Please Can We See More Of

Snabba Cash’s Joel Kinnamon

Safety Not Guaranteed’s Aubrey Plaza

Compliance’s Ann Dowd

Stand Up Guys’ Lucy Punch

Generation P’s Vladimir Epifantsev

Vladimir Epifantsev

Anna Karenina’s Domhnall Gleeson

The Impossible’s Tom Holland

 

Not Totally Sure He Can Actually Act, But He Can Sure Heat Up the Screen

Garrett Hedlund

 

Everyone Loved It But Me

The Avengers.  I’m so tired of comic book superhero movies.  They simply devolve into CGI showcases.  Yawn.

 

Special “Three Strikes, You’re Out” Award

To the hilariously named Taylor Kitsch, who brought his great looks and charisma-free presence to THREE expensive bombs in one year:  John Carter, Battleship, and Savages.  Hope you have a Plan B, handsome!

 

Further Proof that Pixar’s Best Days are Behind Them

Brave

 

Worst Theatrical Trailer for a Good Movie

Amour.  The trailer gave you no inkling of what the damn movie was about.  Except that it was about old people.

 

By a Large Margin, The Most OVERRATED Film of the Year

Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

Worst Movies I Saw This Year

 

John Carter

Seven Psychopaths

Keep the Light On

Rise of the Guardians

 

Absolutely Positively the Worst Film of the Year

Prometheus.  It was shockingly, swinishly bad.  It was stupid and virtually incoherent.  I did not enjoy it.

Boo

 

Trends That Need to Be Over

No title card at the beginning of a movie (it’s pretentious)

Unnecessarily jerky handheld camera work (also pretentious)

Too much frantic energy on the screen (I’m looking at you, Hobbit and Rise of the Guardians)

 

In Memoriam!

 

Davy Jones (66)

Marvin Hamlisch (68)

Hal David (91)

Andy Williams (84)

Dave Brubeck (91)

Ben Gazarra (81)

Kathryn Joosten (72)

Richard Dawson (79)

Ann Rutherford (94)

Ernest Borgnine (95)

Celeste Holm (95)

Sherman Hemsley (74)

Tony Martin (98)

Phyllis Diller (95)

Michael Clarke Duncan (54)

Herbert Lom (95)

Larry Hagman (81)

Jack Klugman (90)

Charles Durning (89)

Robert B. Sherman (86)

Nora Ephron (71)

Richard Zanuck (77)

Whitney Houston (48)

Tony Scott (68)

Dick Clark (582)

 

 

Comments?  Complaints?  Fawning compliments?  Leave a comment!!

Benghazi: There is no There there

November 16th, 2012
I know we’re supposed to be easing up on political posts, but I am really disgusted by the desperate attempts by the some to turn Benghazi into a scandal. Or to turn Susan Rice into a villain. Things happen, intelligence changes as you learn more. At every point, Rice emphasized that what she was saying was the best information available at that moment.

The inevitable and shockingly obvious comparison to Condi Rice shows what a sham this whole thing is. Rice repeated her “Mushroom Cloud” talking point OVER AND OVER. Didn’t keep the Republic party from confirming her as Secretary of State.

Even better, McCain is calling her “unqualified.” This from the man who picked, as his running mate… do I have to actually say it?

Go home, Lindsay Graham. Go home, John McCain. Strap on a Depends and yell at those pesky kids to keep off of your lawn.

A Knife to a Gunfight

November 7th, 2012

Ray Gently Debriefs the Republican Party

Morning, Republican Party.  Thanks for coming.  Have a seat.  Can I get you some coffee?  Tea?  How about a joint?  Sorry, a little joke lol.

 I won’t keep you long.  I just want to make sure you understand what happened yesterday.  Yes, I know it was a very upsetting day for you all around.  Yes, we can wait a moment.  No problem.  Do you need a tissue?

 Okay.  So here goes.

 I want to help you, Republican Party.  I don’t want you to make the same mistakes in 2016 that you made yesterday.

 It’s important that you understand that your Angry White Man Anti-Gay Anti-Woman Anti-Immigrant Anti-Anything-That’s-Not-Your-Brand-of-Christian Anti-Science Anti-Fact campaign, which came very close to winning yesterday, will never come this close to winning ever again in a National Election

 I’ll explain.

 Let’s take those stances in reverse order. 

 THE ANTI-FACT THING. 

 Let’s look to history for a little perspective.  When Bill Clinton was President, you HATED him.  But the things you went after him for were actual things.  Whitewater was an actual situation.  Travelgate was actually based on a real incident.  Clinton’s roving genitals were a REAL problem.  Next, during the Bush years, our people hated Bush, but we went after his REAL failings:  A trumped up phony war, the treasonous outing of an acting CIA operative, clueless economic policies.

 All that changed when it appeared during the Democratic primary process that The Magic Negro was overtaking lefty favorite Hillary Clinton.  From that moment, until the present day, you have engaged in a shameless campaign of fabrication about Barack Obama.  You’ve branded him a Kenyan, a Muslim, a Nazi, a Socialist, a Communist.  You have claimed he’s after your guns.  You’ve claimed that he’s after your religious freedom.  It was all lies, and despite the best efforts of Fox News, yesterday you were shown that…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-SCIENCE THING/THE ANTI-ANY BRAND OF CHRISTIANITY BUT YOUR OWN THING

 Global warming is real.  Women’s bodies don’t have magic Rape Sperm Detectors.  It’s not curtailing your religious freedom when the law prevents you from discriminating against other people or trying to impose your religious ideas on other people. 

 Perhaps the biggest mistake you made in this area was your cynical and transparently hypocritical embrace of Mitt Romney as a “good Christian.”  He’s not a Christian.  He’s a Mormon, and if you’d turned Fox News off for five minutes and done just a tiny bit of reading about the Mormon church, you would know that this man believes stuff even YOU would consider wacky.  And yet you branded Obama, who’s an ACTUAL Christian, a Muslim.  Again, if you knew four atoms worth of facts about Islam, you’d know there’s no such thing as a “stealth Muslim.”  No President would be able to hide the fact that he prays towards Mecca five times a day and keeps a halal kitchen in the White House (look it up).

 Scariest of all, guess what the fastest-growing religious demographic in our country is?  Yep, it’s us non-religious folks.  We’re gaining ground at a dizzying pace, as young people reject the Bronze Age superstitions of their parents.  In every election going forward, the “Christian” base you think you can play to is going to be a smaller and smaller slice of the electoral pie.

But you tried to sell all this nonsense to the American People and ….

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT. 

 THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT THING.

 Bush got 40% of the Hispanic vote!  McCain got 30%.  Guess how much Romney got last night?  20%.  Yeah.  It turns out all those Hispanic voters were listening when you spewed all that anti-immigrant hate, and as a consequence…

 AMERICA DIDN’T’ FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-WOMEN THING

Romney was TROUNCED by women voters last night.  And two of the most notorious Republican lawmakers who made stupid and hateful remarks about rape were defeated as well.  It turns out, women DO vote in this country.  And they’re not going to vote for you if you don’t think they know when they’ve been raped, and you don’t think they own their own bodies.

You counted on women, and people who LIKE women (like me) to hate the Black Nazi more than they loved themselves, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-GAY THING

This one must REALLY chap your ass, because it’s been such a bountiful Golden Goose for soooooo long.  In days gone by, you could whip up your electorate by spreading lies about gay people for free.  No more.  When the President came out for equality for gay people, it HELPED him, it didn’t bury him.  Your candidate, on the other hand, maintained a position that no longer reflects a majority of the American public:  He supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would have made gay people second class citizens forever. 

 Even more dramatic, America elected its first openly gay senator last night.  And in an unprecedented series of victories, marriage equality was on the ballot in four states and WON IN ALL FOUR STATES. So there.  Gay people are here to stay, my homophobic Republican friend.  You tried to demonize us once again, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANGRY WHITE GUY THING

 This one is probably the hardest one for you to take.  But please understand the reality of the situation.  This was the LAST presidential election in our history in which white voters are the majority.  Which means the blaring voices of your Tea Party are going to grow dimmer and dimmer in the coming years.  You counted on xenophobic white guys to clinch the election for you, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 For four years, your entire focus has been on making sure Barack Obama was a one-term President.  Not on making the country better, not on creating jobs, not on expanding freedom.  You’ve been obsessed, like a stalker, at neutralizing The Magic Negro. 

 To defeat him, you nominated, by default, a Rich White Empty Suit.  A man so conviction-free that if he had won it would have been essentially having a lobbyist for President.  A man more comfortable with lying than I am with sitting through double features.  A man you KNEW wasn’t really a good man.  You just thought he might be an ELECTABLE man.  It was a cynical move on your part, and you’ve paid the price. 

 All of your lies, and all of your billions of Rich White Guy dollars, didn’t work yesterday. 

 Now that you’ve utterly failed, I hope you decide to find some wisdom in this failure.

 I hope you come back in 2016 with something better than the Klown Kar of crazy candidates you had this time.  I hope you start ignoring the crazier members of your party.  I hope you decide to grow up and embrace policies that actually benefit the middle class. 

 While you’re casting about for new techniques, I discourage you from studying the Democrats.  We really kind of suck at politics.  We did not do a very good job at selling the President’s many accomplishments during this campaign.  We only won because we had the better candidate.

 So, in closing, I’d like to thank you, Republican Party.  Thanks for the enormous stimulus package your rich sugar daddies just infused into the economy.  Thanks for being my fellow Americans.  I want America to be a great place for you just like I want it to be a great place for me.  We’re all in this together. 

 Now get out of my office.  I’ve got a conference call with Lady Gaga, Cris Kluwe and Elizabeth Warren in a minute.

CLOUD ATLAS Film Review

October 30th, 2012

 If you’re like me (and, really, who isn’t?), then you absolutely loved David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas.  It was a dazzling, kaleidoscopic treasure-box of a novel that lingers in your memory long after you finish it.

 It’s not a book that at once struck me as remotely filmable.  First of all, it’s six different stories, told in six completely different writing styles.  Next, there’s the book’s odd, nesting, Russian-Doll-like structure.  Finally, there’s the unavoidable fact that it’s a challenging book.  The novel’s riches require a bit of patience and focus from the reader.  It’s not exactly a beach novel.

 I can’t believe anyone would put up a pile of money to film such an odd book.  But I guess when you are the creative force behind the $1.6 billion Matrix franchise, you can get the suits to cough up some dough.

 This book feels about as unfilmable as Kurt Vonnegut’s legendary time-travel odyssey Slaughter-House Five.  And that makes sense, because that’s the film that Cloud Atlas most reminds me of.  I was shocked at what a beautiful and coherent film director George Roy Hill made of Vonneguts’s book, and I am happy to report I am quite happy to report that, despite all expectations, Cloud Atlas, the film, is a splendid and worthy work.

 To tackle the six stories, Lena and Andy Wachowski have joined forces with the uber-talented German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).  The Wachowskis directed three of the stories, and Tykwer the other three.

 The interconnected stories concern:  1) an ailing doctor trying to survive a long sea voyage back to San Francisco, 2) a disreputable young composer trying to advance his ambitions by assisting a retired legend, 3) a crusading reporter tries to uncover a scandal at a nuclear power plant, 4) a cynical publisher on the lam from thugs, 5) a Korean clone gets swept up in a violent revolution and 6) survivors of civilization’s collapse attempt to call for help from off-world colonies.

 To help reinforce what, in the novel, are subtle connections between the stories, the directors have cast familiar and not-so-familiar actors in a dizzying array of roles.  And before you raise your hand and refer to the idiotic “controversy’ regarding some Caucasian actors playing Asian roles, please note that in this ensemble piece men play women, women play men, white and  black play Asian, Asian plays white, etc.  It’s all over the map.

 The filmmakers also wisely ditched the shells-within-shells structure of the took to tell all six stories at the same time.  This, naturally, also helps you understand the resonance and connections between the stories.

 While this all may seem a bit too ambitious for their own good, the fact is, the three directors pull off something rather miraculous.  Just as when you read the book, you’re not quite sure what everything is about, but it’s never less than fascinating for a minute.  Its puzzle-like structure actually invites multiple viewings.  What is the story trying to tell us?  Is it about reincarnation?  Fate? Revolution?  Maybe it’s about all of those things.

 Just as the novel provided author David Mitchell a great showcase to show off six very different writing styles, the film allows the directors to simply go crazy with film genres.  There’s 19th century seafaring adventure, melancholy period drama, crackling 1970s thriller, modern situation comedy, high-tech futuristic action, and post-apocalypse survival.  The remarkable thing is that every sequence is effective and vivid.  Rather than getting annoyed with all the jumping around between stories, it’s thrilling to watch each develop and approach their climax at the same time. 

 It’s also a gas to watch Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon (Oscar winners all), Hugh Grant, Keith David, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, Ben Wishaw, James D’Arcy, and many others showing up in a stupifyingly diverse range of roles. 

 It’s also fun to simply sit there and connect the dots.  Watch how many times the number 6 is woven into the story, for instance.  And the concept of falling.  And slavery.

 Does it add up to a masterpiece?  Only time will tell if we consider it that, but even if it isn’t, Cloud Atlas is a gloriously entertaining heap of a movie that no one should miss.

Movie Review: How to Survive a Plague

October 16th, 2012

Movie reviews should have some semblance of objectivity.  This one will not.  Sorry about that.

 I lived in New York from 1979 to 1990, which means I was at the epicenter of the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic.  When it began, in 1981, I was a deeply closeted student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  I had zero gay life at the time, and I don’t think the disease even began seeping into my consciousness until at least 1983, which is the first time I knew someone who was diagnosed.

 The stunning new documentary How to Survive a Plague begins four years after this, when there had already been several hundred thousand worldwide deaths to this horrifying illness. It’s the story of ACT UP, an activist organization which arose in response to the government’s slow reaction to the epidemic.

 The organization was famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for its aggressive civil disobedience tactics.  It launched nonviolent but highly disruptive assaults on City Hall, the National Institutes of Health, and perhaps most infamously, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The problem that ACT UP (which stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which makes it a sort of compound acronym) was trying to solve was the glacial pace of research and drug testing.  The amazing thing about their story is that they actually largely succeeded in their goals.

 This was a story that I knew pretty well, but I still found the film riveting, because it is so well made. 

Activist Peter Staley

One big challenge the filmmakers had was the fact that the footage they needed was mostly decades old, and many of the principal players were dead.  They surmounted this challenge admirably, and the film presents a lively cast of fiercely dedicated characters.  These were people whose lives had been utterly disrupted by this horribly, mysterious and deadly disease.  For them, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.

 I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that actually made me feel ashamed.  I sat there watching the ferocious dedication these men and women had to saving lives.  They put themselves, their very bodies, on the line, time and again.  What was I doing during those years?  Auditioning for acting parts, working as a word processor, and going to plays and movies.  Why didn’t I help?  Just because I, as a still-closeted person, was relatively unaffected by the plague?  Shame on me.

Larry Kramer, relentless and indispensible agitator

 I was inspired by these activists, many of which knew they themselves were doomed.  They knew that the answers they were demanding would most likely come too late to benefit them.  They were trying to stave off the holocaust for the future.  And as anyone who has benefitted from the protease inhibitors that have helped arrest the development of the virus can tell you, they largely managed to do just that.  Sure, there’s no cure yet, but an HIV+ diagnosis is not usually the impending death sentence that it was in 1988.

 One more great thing about the movie is that it pulls off a jaw-dropping reveal very late in the movie that I won’t spoil.  This gimmick gave the movie even more power than it already had.

If you can take revisiting such a painful time, I highly recommend you check out How to Survive a Plague.  Directed by David France.

Special Power: Recognizing Famous People

September 21st, 2012

My friend Rusty Cawley was amazed that I recognized author Michael Lewis on the street the other day.  He asked me how that was possible.  Here’s my reply:

Rusty, to properly answer this I have to mention my Theory of Special Powers.  Everyone you know who’s worth anything has Special Powers in some area.  My sister Donna has Special Organizing Powers, for example (she could have straightened out the mess in Iraq).  Your own mother has the Special I’m Always Sweet and Fabulous Power.  Remember James Boedecker?  He had the Special I Was Born With This Ridiculous Physique Power.

I have several Special Powers, and one of them is Remembering and Recognizing Show business People.  I have a casting director’s memory.  In fact, casting directors think I should BE a casting director.

Also, I’ve been a bookwork since second grade.  And I am a lifelong Lazy Writer.  So I have the Lazy Writer’s worship of people who can actually put down the donut/PS3 controller/Kindle long enough to actually write something and finish it and get it published.

Michael Lewis

I LOVE my writers.  I’ve written to many of them over the years, and they ALWAYS write back.  I have received letters from Garry Trudeau, Charles Schulz, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov – and all of those were before email.  I watch interviews with them.  I read about them.  I read their blogs.  I go meet them and hear them speak at Book Festivals.

So I remember writer’s faces.  Also, it doesn’t hurt if they are handsome, like Michael Lewis.

Of course, handsome isn’t a requirement.  I’d instantly recognize Joyce Carrol Oates, and we all know she looks like an “After” photo of a certain diminutive fisherman named Sméagol.

So this Special Power of mine acts like an antenna that’s always powered up.  So I notice things like, Hey, that’s Edward Albee I his running shorts on the elevator with me.  Or, hey, that’s Alex Rocco from The Godfather on the elevator with me.  Or I meet Gore Vidal in a porn shop in West Hollywood.  Or, Hi, aren’t you Octavia Butler perusing the stacks at the library next to me?  Or, look, I’m holding the door at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for Oscar Winner Linda Hunt.  It happens to me all the time.

I have no doubt that I would instantly recognize Terry Pratchett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, George R. R. Martin, John Scalzi, Michael Connelly, or John Irving.

I’m sure you have Special Powers, too, Rusty.  What are they?