Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sean Connery in THE OFFENCE

"It's possible, see.  Just possible that I've killed a man tonight."  So rants an angry veteran police detective when he gets home to his emotionally beaten down wife.  If you're a Sean Connery fan, you must promise me that you will rent this movie.  Then you must tell me if you agree that his performance in it tops the one he gave in The Untouchables, the 1930s gangster drama that brought him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of 1987.  Connery had already skyrocketed to fame as Agent 007.  THE OFFENCE, directed by Sidney Lumet, is a 1973 psychological thriller.  In it, Sean Connery gives a blistering performance, one of the best and most complex of his screen career.                                                              
This is a Sidney Lumet cop-in-moral crisis story -- like Serpico and his under-appreciated Prince of the City.  Those two were stories set in New York City.  The Offence takes us to Great Britain, which explains the film title's spelling.  Thick-skinned, tough Detective Johnson starts to crack from the horrors of his job, the reality of seeing how inhuman humans can be to each other.  He never talks about the darkness he sees in his work, the darkness now corrupting his soul. He's currently on the case of a child molester.
Lumet opens the film with a slow-motion scene of an emergency inside a police station.  The setting is gray and sterile. Det. Johnson is seen at the center of the crisis.  Then we're in real time at a hillside school when classes are done for the day.  Parents wait for their kids at the fence.  There's no chatter, no laughter, nothing jovial about the moment.  The sky is overcast and it appears to be autumn.  All is somber.  Kids exit the school and parents quickly claim them.  Det. Johnson observes with other cops.  One girl, of about middle school age, walks home alone.  She wears a light-colored coat and long white socks.  The cops don't see anything suspicious.  But, from a distance, we see the girl take what may be a short cut and head towards a tunnel.  A male figure in a black coat approaches.  We can't see his face.
At night, in the woods, Det. Johnson finds the scared girl.  She's been molested but she's alive.  In the ambulance, she's covered with a dark red blanket and rests her head on a white pillow.  She wears the detective's coat. He speaks kindly to the traumatized girl.
These colors are important.  About 40 minutes into the story, we see all of what we got a slow-motion glimpse of at the beginning of the story.  The 20 years of wicked behavior he dealt with on the job have eaten away at his heart and soul.  The rapes and the murders.  Wicked behavior in him erupts when a suspect is taken into custody.  Johnson goes wild in the interrogation room.  The suspect is hit.  Johnson also hits another officer.  When other cops rush in to control him, we see rage, then remorse and then a void in Johnson's eyes.  A police lieutenant, played by Trevor Howard, calls Johnson on his police brutality.

On his way home, images of crimes flash through Det. Johnson's mind.  He arrives at his building and gets out of the car.  Lumet has the camera low and it follows Connery's character is if it's a molester, a predator.  In his apartment, one of the most intense and revealing scenes of The Offence unfolds.  The wife is in bed asleep.  Her husband enters in a brutish way.  He pretty much pushes the door opens as if charging into a suspects home.  He angrily opens cabinet doors.  He makes noise and makes a drink.  The wife enters the room.  Their marriage has been one long wooden experience. He's verbally abusive to her.  He calls her "a bloody mess."  She follows after him in the apartment trying to clean up after him and fix things.  He continues to harshly criticize her.
The protector has become the abuser.  We learn that the cop and his wife have a sex life that is quick and mechanical.  He's very frustrated but keeps everything bottled up. He never talks.  "Choose to talk to me," she pleads.  In one shot, he's got a drink going and she, in her robe, looks boxed in.  She's in the distance in the kitchen.  Her robe matches the color of the blanket the molested girl had in the ambulance and the background white in the kitchen matches the white of the pillow.  The brown of the shelves boxing her in resemble the brown of Johnson's coat that he put on the traumatized girl.  The wife is a victim of the cop's dark inner self.  Connery has a long monologue delivered while the wife is at his feet.  He holds her hand.  He reveals in detail the crimes he's seen.  The revelations are disturbing.  He grips the wife's hand too tightly and hurts her.  Connery is brilliant in this scene.  You feel sorry for the detective yet he's also frightening.  Matching Connery's brilliance is Vivien Merchant as the wife. Her other credits included Hitchcock's Frenzy and an Oscar nominated performance in Alfie starring Michael Caine.
The one person who readily recognizes the darkness in Johnson and can maybe help him is the molester in custody.  Their scenes together are equally tense.  Ian Bannen plays the taunting suspect who sees the cop's weak spot.  Here's a trailer for the film.
With director Sidney Lumet, Sean Connery and Ian Bannen also made The Hill, an exceptional movie set in a British army prison in North Africa during WW2.  There's a fine line between prison abuse and military objective.  Connery's character challenges the authorities and the abuse.  I highly recommend that 1965 drama too.  Connery also starred in Lumet's Manhattan crime caper story, 1971's The Anderson Tapes.

Unfortunately, The Offence didn't click at the American box office.  Maybe audiences still wanted Sean Connery as a James Bond type of guy and avoided this drama with its smart and unsettling screenplay by John Hopkins.  Hopkins, by the way, was a co-writer on the 1965 James Bond thriller for Connery, Thunderball.  Audiences missed this remarkable performance by Sean Connery in The Offence.  Months later in 1973, another cop-in-moral crisis movie from Sidney Lumet opened. Moviegoers and critics loved Al Pacino as Serpico.  The film earned Pacino an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

If you can, rent The Offence and let me know if you agree that this performance by Connery surpasses his Oscar-winning work in The Untouchables.  Sean Connery and Sidney Lumet were in fine form with this one, a film that is often overlooked.



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Compton, Viola and DWTS

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON took hip-hop to the top of the box office again.  The N.W.A. rap group biopic was number one at the box office for the third consecutive weekend.  Does NBC's TODAY Show know about this hit movie?  Here's why I ask.  Universal has had a good summer.  The Today Show is a product of NBCUniversal.  But the network morning news show seems to be treating this Universal release like its a casual acquaintance instead of a popular member of the Universal family.  
I didn't see Today Show features on Straight Outta Compton like I did on other Universal releases.  Check for yourself.  Google "Jurassic World The Today Show" and see how many Today segments pop up.  Then do "Minions The Today Show."  Google "Trainwreck The Today Show."

Universal's Jurassic World, Minions and Trainwreck got a generous amount of airtime and promotion on Today. There were celebrity appearances and interviews.  Now Google "Straight Outta Compton The Today Show."

See?  Just a couple of box office news mentions.  If I was an entertainment news columnist, I'd be curious about that exclusion.  Especially in a year such as this in which diversity has been such a hot topic. A hit Universal movie with black actors in the lead roles and a black director got nowhere near the attention as the yellow Minions did from that animated Universal hit.  What kind of message does that send out to African-American viewers from NBCUniversal's Today Show?  I'm just curious.

Great news a few days ago came from Broadwayworld.com and The New York Times.  Tony Award winner and 2-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis will star in a film adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play, FENCES.  The movie will be directed for 2-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
La Davis currently stars on the ABC hit drama series, How To Get Away With Murder.
Thank you, Lord!  It's about time we saw a film adaption of Fences.  The fact that we haven't highlights Hollywood's need to get it together and embrace diversity.  Acclaimed African-American playwright August Wilson won TWO Pulitzer Prizes.  Fences won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for drama and it won the Tony Award for Best Play of 1987.  August Wilson's play The Piano Lesson won the 1990 Pulizer Prize for drama.  Neither play ever got a big screen Hollywood treatment.  Compare that to August:  Osage County by Tracy Letts.  It won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.  In 2013, we saw the movie version starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Benedict Cumberbatch.

James Earl Jones won the Tony for Best Actor in the original production of Fences.  Broadway's hit 2010 revival starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington each won a Tony Award for the production and it won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play.

Yes.  It's about time that at least one of the Pulitzer Prize winning plays about African-American family life written by August Wilson made it to the big screen.  Fences and The Piano Lesson are vehicles with choice, intelligent roles for black actors.                                                                                    

Viola Davis and her husband started their own production company.  Reportedly, she will play Harriet Tubman in a project for HBO.  Tubman was the abolitionist and humanitarian who was born a slave.  She escaped slavery and was one of mighty forces of the Underground Railway.  Also, it's been reported that Tony Kushner -- Pulitzer Prize winner for the play Angels in America -- is writing a movie project for Davis that has already gotten a greenlight from Fox Searchlight.  She'd play Barbara Jordan, the first African-American congresswoman from the deep South and the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate.

I've written before the Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis have made Hollywood history as the only black actresses to have two Oscar nominations each to their credit.  In the entire history of the Oscars, no black actress has been nominated more than twice.  To me, that's a major statement on the lack of script opportunities for good black actresses as compared to white actresses.

I believe that Viola Davis will make history as the first black actress to get a third Oscar nomination.

A new season of ABC's DANCING WITH THE STARS will be upon us.
 Us Weekly reported that Paula Deen, the former Food Network cook who got herself in hot water with some old school racial insensitivity matters, will join the cast for the 21st season.  If DWTS had a member of the controversial Duck Dynasty family on the dance floor, it's no surprise that Paula Deen will be on tap.  She will attract viewers, y'all.  She can use the dance floor to repair her image and prove that she embraces racial diversity.  How?  By dancing with a buffed, cute black man.

The DWTS casting format has been as follows:  Someone gay, someone with a physical disability, someone well into his or her senior years, a black pro athlete, a "sassy" black female celebrity, a celebrity hunk who will look good dancing shirtless and someone connected to a Disney-owned production because Disney is the parent company to ABC.  The dance show reportedly has already booked singer Chaka Khan to work you with her "sassiness."  Love me some Chaka Khan!
Other contestants booked so far are Bindi Irwin whose late father was Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter."  Nick Carter, formerly of The Backstreet Boys, will dance. Also in the cast this year is Victor Espinoza, the Mexican jockey who rode American Pharoah to Triple Crown history.

For the gay contestant, my guesses are:  Frankie Grande, a YouTube personality who's shown up on ABC's Good Morning America recently.  He's the brother of singer Ariana Grande.  If he dances, she'd be in the audience.                                                                                                                                        
Mario Cantone, comedian and frequent guest co-host on The View.  But I don't think he's been on The View lately.  Maybe he's been taking dance lessons?                                                                                                                                  
Olympics swimming champion Greg Louganis would be great.  I'm surprised DWTS hasn't contacted singer Randy Jones, the cowboy of The Village People disco music group.  Randy is fit, handsome and would be willing to dance.                                                                                                                
EJ Johnson, the son of Magic Johnson, has the festive vibe DWTS loves.  He lost weight and looks fabulous.  And, if he was a contestant, his proud papa would be in the audience.

Country singer Chely Wright is a possibility.  She came out and energetically promoted her coming out on Twitter by contacting other gay celebrities.  I think the DWTS producers probably would've loved Andy Cohen but he's attached to NBC/Universal right now and preparing the launch of his radio show on SiriusXM.  Their big "get" would've been Caitlyn Jenner -- but Caitlyn was not interested.

There you have it.  My guess for new season contestants on Dancing With The Stars.  All the new season contestants will be announced this coming Wednesday, Sept. 2nd, on ABC's Good Morning America.  One thing's for sure -- I will be totally unfamiliar with a few of those people trotted out as "stars."


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marvelous Ingrid Bergman

CASABLANCA is the first film mentioned by many when asked to name a movie starring Ingrid Bergman.  Can you blame them?  The word "iconic" is overused nowadays but that film truly is iconic in the history of Hollywood's golden age of movie studios.  When the camera rests on that face of hers with its natural beauty as Sam plays "As Time Goes By," we watch emotions drift across it.  We feel the melancholy in her heart.  We know how deeply Rick fell in love with her because -- in that moment -- we have fallen in love with her too.
Ingrid Bergman was an extraordinary actress and a passionate, intelligent woman.  I've seen her speak Swedish, German, French and -- of course -- English in her film performances, domestic and foreign.  Aspects of Ingrid Bergman's story came full circle.  She was introduced to American audiences as a piano teacher, a charming young lady who plays classical music and falls in love with a married man who's a famed violinist.  The hit film was 1939's Intermezzo:  A Love Story co-starring Leslie Howard. It was a Hollywood remake of a film Bergman made in Sweden in her native language.  Her final big screen film role brought her a final Best Actress Oscar nomination.  She played a concert pianist in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978).  She was born in Stockholm, Sweden on August 29th and she died on August 29th of breast cancer when she was only 67.  This weekend marked the centennial of her birth.  She earned a total of 7 Oscar nominations and took home the prize three times.  She was Best Actress for Gaslight (1944),  Anastasia (1956) and Best Supporting Actress for Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express (1974).  Personally, I think she should've gotten a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her brilliance in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946).  She's redeemed by love in this thriller in which her character is asked to sacrifice her sexuality for the sake of helping Uncle Sam in a secret mission.  This complicated character was, I bet, more of an acting challenge to play than Ilsa in Casablanca was.  Especially in those days of the Hollywood Production Code.  Movie heroines usually had to be virgins.  They weren't self-loathing women who drank and had numerous love affairs.  Yes.   In my opinion, this performance should've brought Ingrid Bergman another Oscar nomination.
If you've seen her in that Hitchcock classic, you know exactly what I mean.

There are other films of hers not usually mentioned when folks talk or write about her ten most essential film performances that you need to see.  I'd like to recommend five of my not-usually-mentioned Ingrid Bergman favorites that are now available on DVD.

A WOMAN'S FACE (1938):  This is one of the films she made in Sweden before David O. Selznick introduced her to American audiences in Intermezzo.  The Swedish title of this movie is En Kvinnas Ansikte.  George Cukor had the right stuff for directing remakes.  His Holiday (1938) starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant was a remake of a 1930 Holiday starring Mary Astor.  He directed Judy Garland and James Mason to Best Actress and Best Actor nominations in the 1954 remake of the 1937 classic, A Star Is Born.  He directed Ingrid Bergman to an Oscar victory in Gaslight, an MGM remake of a 1940 British film.  George Cukor directed Joan Crawford in MGM's 1941 Hollywood remake of this 1938 Swedish film.  Bergman is not at all like the lovely Ilsa of Casablanca.  She's a tough criminal whose facial scars have hardened her heart. Will a change of the outside change her inside? Only time will tell.  Here's a clip.
The original Swedish version of A Woman's Face is available on Kino.
The Ingrid Bergman in Sweden DVD set of three films also includes her 1936 original Swedish version of Intermezzo.  Check out the website:  KinoLorber.com.

Ingrid Bergman did not get as many comedy scripts as she should have.  Yes, she was a master at dramatic roles but she also had quite a playful side as we saw in films like the 1958 romantic comedy Indiscreet co-starring Cary Grant and 1969 romantic comedy Cactus Flower co-starring Walter Matthau.

ELENA AND HER MEN (1956):  Directed by Jean Renoir and set in the late 1800s, this gives us a saucy and spirited Bergman as a Polish princess having romances in Paris.  One may lead a wealthy suitor proposing marriage.  That's a good thing because the princess' family is broke.  Of course, romantic complications ensue.  Ingrid Bergman looks delicious in this French film.


Elena and Her Men co-stars Mel Ferrer and is now available on The Criterion Collection.

THE VISIT (1964):  This is based on an old play, one that served as the basis for a Broadway musical that starred Chita Rivera this year.  I saw The Visit on CBS when I was a youngster and I was glued to the TV set.  The plot fascinated me.  Bergman plays Karla, an outrageously wealthy woman who returns to the town she had to leave in her youth.  The guy she loved got her pregnant but refused to marry her.  She had to leave the town in shame.  The town is now pretty much a dump.  It's poor and she returns for a visit.  The townspeople think she will financially rejuvenate the town.  Her old lover is still there.  Well, she returns -- looking fabulous -- and will financially help the town...if they will execute the man who jilted her years ago.  This is a tale of greed, revenge and corruption.  You may be able to find it on 20th Century Fox DVD or it may air on the Fox Movie Channel.  Here's a trailer.

THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE (1964):  The imbalance of movies in which in which a younger man falls in love with older woman versus the number of times we've seen older actors opposite much younger leading ladies is still an issue in Hollywood.  Ingrid Bergman was nearly 50 when she made The Yellow Rolls-Royce -- and still lovely.  Her leading man, Omar Sharif, was a younger actor who was fresh off major success and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1962's epic, Lawrence of Arabia.

The Yellow Rolls-Royce is a series of vignettes.  We see what happens when the classic automobile wheels into the lives of three different owners.  The movie has an international cast of stars that includes Bergman, Rex Harrison, Jeanne Moreau, Shirley MacLaine, George C. Scott and Art Carney. In the Ingrid Bergman and Omar Sharif section, she plays a bossy and chatty American widow on holiday in Europe.  The year is 1941 and Nazis are gobbling up Europe.  Sharif plays Davich, a resistance fighter who takes her Roll-Royce to sneak into Yugoslavia and escape the Nazis.  At first, you think this woman with the fury little dog is just a rich American dame who's clueless as to what drama is seizing Europe.  But watch.  Davich is surprised at her strength and wit.  Gerda (Bergman) is not a woman who can be stereotyped and defined by her social class.

In those dangerous times and in dangerous situations, you see him gradually and quietly start to fall in love with her.  Just like in Casablanca, you see and understand why the man fell in love with this woman.  I totally dig her section of The Yellow Rolls-Royce.

A WOMAN CALLED  GOLDA (1982):  In this TV mini-series, Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir, called "The Mother of Israel."  Meir was a Russian Jewish activist who lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and went on to make history and headlines as Israel's first female Prime Minister.  For this amazing performance, Bergman won an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  Leonard Nimoy, Ned Beatty and Judy Davis co-starred.  Bergman died for months after A Woman Called Golda premiered on American TV. Check Paramount Home Entertainment for the DVD.
Ingrid Bergman was a unique and gifted actress.  There was and never will be another like her.










Thursday, August 27, 2015

Woman Director Puts Surprise in ZIPPER

If this movie aired tonight on network TV, it should have an announcer say "Brought you to by...Ashley Madison."  A family man books an "appointment" with a woman from an escort agency he found online and, as you'd expect, his life becomes a mess afterwards.  The prostitutes at that agency are like cocktail lounge salted peanuts.  He can't stop after having just one.  But Sam Ellis is no ordinary married man.  He's a federal prosecutor.  A no-nonsense, respectable public servant who's expected to run for Attorney General.  The next thing you know, he's so strung out on expensive poontang that it makes him climb into a dumpster.  The plot of a family man having a risky affair is nothing new.  I probably would've skipped this indie film until I saw that it stars handsome actor/singer Patrick Wilson.  He's a pro at playing guys in surreptitious sexual situations.  Look at him in Angels in America, Hard Candy with Ellen Page and Little Children with Kate Winslet.  He continues that pro streak as the attorney with zipper problems.  Sam's known as a straight arrow who takes down the over-privileged and morally corrupt.
Sam is married to a charming brunette.  They have a lovely home and sweet little boy.
But Sam Ellis seems to have a blonde obsession.  A young blonde colleague comes onto him one night outside a bar and goes after his lips like they're a Big Mac.
                                                         
She tells him, "I can keep a secret."  He replies, "I can't be one of them."    

Then he goes home and masturbates to hot blondes he sees on porn sites.  He contacts an online escort agency called Executive Privilege and books one hour with a hot blonde he sees in a photo on the agency's website.  However, when he arrives for his appointment, he discovers that she's changed her hair color.  She's now brunette.  Just like his wife.  He burns through his bank account for secret sex with other blondes from that escort agency.  You get the tense feeling that this is not going to end well.  At some point, he'll be faced with how to get rid of a dead hooker's body.  He feels guilty and conflicted.  The acting is good.  The movie satisfies visually.  (For Wilson fans, you do get a shot of his bare butt.)  However, I didn't understand Sam's sudden need for the outside sex with blondes.  He went from "boy scout," as his boss calls him, to major horndog who lies to his wife.  

That escort agency has his hormones spinning like they're in those giant teacups at Disneyland.  In this movie, the wife isn't pleasantly bland like beige curtains.  She's a babe!  She's interesting, sophisticated, warm and quite willing to keep the sexual fires aflame in their marriage.  His wife is sexy.  They've been married 13 years and they married young.  With a hot wife, why did he need to rent blonde hookers?
Why jeopardize his chance to become Attorney General?  The man who sees issues in black and white learns the hard way that issues can also be as his boss sees them -- "gray, murky."  Here's a trailer.
I felt that if Sam was a closeted gay man fulfilling his long-denied true sexual desires with men from a gay male escort agency, that would make more sense.  It would've been a bolder script choice.  I knew a guy who was a family man and felt guilty for having a boyfriend on the side.  He'd married young and did so because he felt the pressures of family, society and religion to marry a woman and produce children.

My misgivings about Sam's female hooker hunger all quickly melted in the dramatic heat of the last 20 minutes.  I won't tell you what happens.  But I will tell you that if you're up for some weekend movie entertainment, something driven by characters and dialogue instead of fantasy special effects and action scenes, Zipper will not disappoint.

Mora Stephens has some juicy stuff in Zipper.  She directed and co-wrote the film.  Under her direction, roles you've seen before get a new life and a fresh approach here.  I absolutely loved Lena Headey as Sam's wife.  She's a best friend who will not tolerate being treated badly and her legal brain can match his.  She's not just a housewife and cheerleader for her husband's career.  The hookers don't come off as one-dimensional.  Notice Sam's first encounter.  She's like a well-dressed businesswoman successfully making a sale.  She pushes the product and when she meets with a little resistance, she locates a vulnerable spot in the client, pitches a new angle and closes the deal.  And she doesn't handle the cash.  The clients leave a "donation."  In her job, she's as focused as he is in his.  Patrick Wilson is solid as a man who is excited, humiliated and disgraced by his penis' walk on the wild side.  Sam gets a medical check-up that's revealing yet turns out to be unnecessary.  Director Mora Stephens could've ended that scene with a sad trombone sound:  "Wah-wah...waaah."

Sam feels blocked in by society's expectations of its public servants.  Ray Winstone plays a tough national journalist curious about Sam's political ambitions.  Richard Dreyfuss appears as the Washington insider who shows that there's occasionally a very fine line between prostitution and politics.  Zipper is rated R for sexual content and language.  It runs about 1 hour 40 minutes.  For some good and sexy weekend entertainment, check to see if Patrick Wilson's Zipper opened near you on Aug. 28th.


Lifetime's Biopic on FULL HOUSE

The dairy section of your local supermarket doesn't have this much cheese in it.  I saw THE UNAUTHORIZED FULL HOUSE STORY.  It aired recently on Lifetime TV.  What a wheel o' cheese!  This production is so lame that it's actually somewhat entertaining to keep on in the background as you're folding laundry or just relaxing.  Was the FULL HOUSE sitcom so culturally significant that it deserved its own behind the scenes biopic?  In the programming world of Lifetime, Full House must be right up there with I Love Lucy, Bewitched, That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Who knew?  That means there were actually casting calls in Hollywood for the right actor to play comedian Bob Saget.  And Dave Coulier.  And John Stamos.  And the Olsen Twins.  At times, this resembles an extended TV comedy sketch take-off.
The story starts in 1987 when the first episodes of Full House are being taped.  Justin Mader as Dave Coulier holds one of the Olsen Twins.  He tapes a scene with John Stamos who's played by Justin Gaston.  The camera crew likes the scene and laughs.  We flashback to 1985 to see Garrett Brawith as Bob Saget doing a set at a comedy club in L.A.  His material is way naughtier than his image as the wholesome dad on Full House.  In the club, he's doing Tampon gags.  He loves doing edgy material and he loves his wife.  Coulier, a dear friend, calls him a serial monogamist.  But Saget's career isn't where he wants it to be and seeking work or having work takes him out of the house a lot while the wife wants to raise a family.  Stamos isn't content to be just a handsome Greek who's a babe magnet thanks to his looks.  He's out of work and wants to be a serious actor.  As for Coulier, he was tapped to be a new Saturday Night Live cast member but the deal falls apart.  This was in the 80s when it seemed that every other stand-up comedian got either a sitcom pilot deal or a movie deal.
We see how Full House was created and cast.  Will it be a hit?  Will the three male lead actors bond so they actually seem like best friends on the sitcom?  We see that too.
The network wanted a lovable dad like Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show.  Keep in mind, this was years ago.  Will Saget stop being grumpy about playing a mainstream dad character?  Will his marriage survive sitcom success?  Will he stop with the big titty jokes on the set when he thinks all the producers and the kids are gone?  We'll see that too.  I had no idea Saget liked doing R-rated material.  One of the cheesiest and strangest bits of business in this script involves Dave Coulier.  The big, funny and somewhat lonely guy was apparently really proud of his flatulence.  Was that true?  The weird part comes when he lets it go.  It's not when he's just with other guys -- like the cowboys eating beans in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.  There's a sweet moment with the cast and other production teammates that leads to a group hug.  And then...Dave sounds like a set of bagpipes that somebody sat on.  He clears the room and seems pleased with himself.  The same thing happens near the end of the story.  He's in the middle of a group of Full House veterans at a wedding reception when he breaks wind.  A wedding reception!  It's just so wrong.  "Art for art's sake" used to be MGM's Hollywood studio production motto in the 1920s and 30s.  Coulier's bodily production motto must have been "Fart for fart's sake."

I did like Justin Gaston as heartthrob John Stamos.  And there were scenes I liked, such as the casting process, the renegotiation with the lawyer representing the little Olsen Twins and the moment when the three male leads discover that the twins are the most popular characters on the show.  Here's a short trailer.
The Unauthorized Full House Story premiered last weekend on Lifetime.  It follows that sitcom from its beginning in 1987 to its end in 1995.  Don't expect a surprising, riveting, dramatic story.  There's more cheese than meat in this dish.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

His Work Inspired CABARET

Writer Christopher Isherwood was born in England on August 26, 1904.  His collection of tales called The Berlin Stories inspired the play I Am A Camera, made into a film of the same name.  That play was turned into a hit Broadway musical called Cabaret, also made into a film of the same name.  A top Oscar-winning, innovative, big hit 1970s film.
I've got a DVD for you to rent.  Watch it and you learn more about Christopher Isherwood.            
You'll also see the power of love, the power of art and why there was a national cry for equality -- a cry that turned to cheers this summer when same-sex marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court.  On the DVD is a fascinating documentary called CHRIS & DON:  A LOVE STORY.  This 90-minute feature made a few film critics' "Best of 2007" lists.  David Edelstein was so passionate in his praise of it on CBS Sunday Morning that I was compelled to rent it.  That's when the work of film reviewers thrills me -- when they connect you to a work that you might not otherwise have considered watching.  This documentary introduces us to a relationship that lasted through three decades.
Famous novelist Christopher Isherwood and future portrait artist Don Bachardy met when same-sex marriage would've been a punchline in a play or movie.  Not a legal reality in America.  Theirs was a relationship against a backdrop of art and celebrities.  You'll see Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Tennessee Williams, Anna Magnani, Leslie Caron and Liza Minnelli in this documentary.  Minnelli won her Best Actress Oscar for playing Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's 1972 film adaptation of Cabaret.  But this feature is not all about star sightings.  Chris and Don had a relationship that endured and changed with the changing times.  And with their changing selves.
That's what holds your interest.  Their journey together as a couple.  In the 1950s, they were open about their relationship to Hollywood's creative community at a time when actors like Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter couldn't be open about their sexual orientation for fear of losing their careers.  This documentary gently pulls you in as if for a first kiss -- a kiss you've been told you shouldn't desire but one that makes me feel full of light, one that you'll always remember.  Chris and Don remained together "until death do us part."
Christopher Isherwood died in 1986 at age 81.  Here's a trailer for the documentary.
Love. Freedom. Identity. Art. Those themes add true colors to this feature.  If you get the DVD, make sure to watch the extras.  Watch the deleted scenes.  They're also quite substantial and revealing.  You may be disappointed in one late movie star, an actor who had a nice number of 1940s classics to his credit.  Chris & Don:  A Love Story can be seen on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
David Edelstein was right.  This was one of the best of 2007.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Diahann Carroll on TCM

I love singer/actress Diahann Carroll.  She's a gorgeous groundbreaker in American showbiz history.  There was JULIA, the sitcom on NBC from 1968 to 1971.  Diahann Carroll played a single working mother, a widow named Julia Baker.  After my parents divorced, I was the son of a single working mother.  Julia and my mother wore similar outfits to work because they were both registered nurses.  Carroll cut through Hollywood margins. She starred in a prime time network TV series and she was not in a stereotypical role for a black actress.  She was not a domestic.  She was a registered nurse.  This professional image was a first for TV and opened a door for other black actresses such as Kerry Washington on ABC's Scandal.  Hell, it opened a door for us all.                                   
I read that Diahann Carroll with be the Guest Programmer with host Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies come September.  Let's make a point to watch.
I have been hardcore TCM fan since 1999.  If you're a person of color -- a minority, if you will -- you look for images of yourself on TV and film.  When I was a youngster, my parents were immediately attentive whenever a black performer appeared on TV.  Not only would they be attentive and alert when they saw black performers on shows that usually had predominantly white talent, my mother would get on phone and call the neighbors with the news bulletin:  "Black girls on TV!  Turn on Channel 2!"  Even though I rolled my eyes when I was kid every time my mother did that, I proved to be my mother's child and did the same exact thing decades later whenever I saw black actors in episodes of Seinfeld.  Diversity is important to us people of color.  Diversity topped national entertainment news early this year when the Oscar nominations were announced and the field of nominees in the acting categories was whiter than a board meeting at Fox News. 

So, as a guy who deeply loves TCM, it's disappointed me a bit that we haven't seen more color in its line-up of guest hosts.  Black guest hosts and guest programmers are rare.  Remember TCM's "Friday Night Spotlight on Africa" last October?  Who hosted that?  Alex Trebek.  Caucasian Canadian Alex Trebek.  He's a terrific TV talent and he's delighted me for years as host of Jeopardy.  But...maybe TCM could've have considered LeVar Burton, Lou Gossett Jr., Leslie Uggams, John Amos or Richard Roundtree (star of Shaft and the sequel Shaft in Africa).  Those actors were in Roots, the classic epic TV mini-series that traced the history of African-Americans.  Actor Delroy Lindo (The Cider House Rules) would've been another good choice.  He was in one of the films that Trebek presented.  If I was on the TCM production team, I would've pitched those black talents as possible hosts for last October's Spotlight on Africa.

I'd love to see African-American, Latino and Asian-American guest hosts on Turner Classic Movies.  Believe me.  The huge fan base for classic films is not just one color.  That's why I'm thrilled to see Diahann Carroll booked for September 30th.

Here's how she made American showbiz history on film and on Broadway:  Diahann Carroll is a Broadway veteran.  She worked with Harold Arlen and Truman Capote for the 1954 Broadway musical, HOUSE OF FLOWERS.  She acted onscreen opposite Dorothy Dandridge in CARMEN JONES, the 1954 musical drama that made Dandridge the first black woman to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.  Diahann Carroll also worked in Dandridge's last Hollywood film, the deluxe 1959 film version of the Broadway musical, PORGY AND BESS.  Sidney Poiter starred as Porgy.  Otto Preminger directed both Dandridge musicals.  Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier co-starred in Martin Ritt's PARIS BLUES along with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  The two actresses played best friends on vacation in Paris who meet to jazz musicians who are also best friends.  In this 1961 movie, Paul Newman flirts with the sophisticated Diahann Carroll.  Top Hollywood stars, upscale interracial friendships and interracial flirting -- that was new turf for movies in those early days of the Civil Rights movement.  The biggest and most intense national issues in America at that time were racial desegregation, voting rights for black people and racial equality in the workplace.


In another 1961 romantic drama set in Europe, she had a lovely scene with Anthony Perkins.
The movie was GOODBYE AGAIN, also starring Ingrid Bergman and Yves Montand.

Diahann Carroll played a glamorous top fashion model, again an American in Paris, who falls in love with a white Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.  They have a fine romance in France but would they face racial drama if they took their relationship back home to America?  This early 1960s interracial love story was the Broadway musical NO STRINGS with music by Richard Rodgers.  Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley introduced the song "The Sweetest Sounds."  She made history as the first black woman to the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. What a shame that Hollywood didn't turn that socially progressive hit Broadway musical into a movie.

Diahann Carroll sang with showbiz and movie legend Judy Garland when she was a guest on Garland's Sunday night variety show on CBS.
One of Diahann Carroll's best friends was another groundbreaking black actress who went from Broadway to film and TV.  The extraordinary Diana Sands was in the original Broadway cast of A Raisin in the Sun.  She repeated her role with fellow stage cast members in the 1961 film version.  Sands originated the role of Doris on Broadway in The Owl and the Pussycat.  The part was not written for a black actress.  Sands was cast based on her talent and comedy skills.  Diana Sands and Alan Alda originated the roles on Broadway that were done on film by Barbra Streisand and George Segal in 1970.




Sands was absolutely luminous and Oscar-worthy (although never nominated) in Hal Ashby's under-appreciated social satire, The Landlord (1970).  Diana Sands was in the supporting cast of Julia.  Sands (on the left) and Diahann Carroll played relatives.
The late Diana Sands was to star in the 1974 movie CLAUDINE.  But she was stricken with cancer.  Reportedly, she asked Diahann Carroll to take over the role for her.  Carroll played the hard-working single mother in Harlem.  James Earl Jones starred as a new man in Claudine's life.  With this film, Diahann Carroll made Hollywood history.  She followed Dorothy Dandridge as one of the few black women to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.

Millions remember the glamorous Carroll as the beautifully bitchy Dominique Deveraux on the huge hit ABC TV series, Dynasty, in the 1980s.
I've been fortunate enough in my long TV career to have had two encounters with Ms. Carroll.  One was off-camera as we departed a flight and she held my hand.  The other was live on-camera when I was a regular on Fox5's Good Day New York.  Both experiences were sublime.

I'm sure she will be sublime on TCM with Robert Osborne on Sept. 30th.  Two of the film she's selected are Now, Voyager and Claudine.  For your listening pleasure, Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley sing "The Sweetest Sounds" from the NO STRINGS original Broadway cast recording.  Nominated for Best Musical,  this production enabled Ms. Carroll to win a groundbreaking Tony Award for 1962's Best Lead Actress in a Musical.