Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On NAZ & MAALIK

They're black, they're gay, they're Muslim.  This is why I love independent movies.  In 1 hour and 20 minutes, NAZ & MAALIK took me to Brooklyn and introduced me to characters that no mainstream Hollywood film I've seen had ever done.  I felt like I knew these two 18 year olds.  Mike Sargent, my buddy who is a film critic and also an African-American indie filmmaker himself,  introduced me to this movie.  A couple of weeks ago, I heard David Edelstein review it on NPR.  He's also the film critic for the network TV weekend news magazine program, CBS Sunday Morning.

Naz, with his sadsack eyes, is the naive one who can work Maalik's last good nerve if he gets himself in a bit of a mess.  Instead of admitting that he caused his own mess, he's the kind who'd say "If you don't help me then you don't love me!"  One of my parents used to be like that.  Naz has a more chill attitude.  They're both good kids and good students.  You care about them and you like them.  They sell lotto tickets and holy cards on Brooklyn streets to raise money for their college tuition.
They pray at their mosque, they have philosophical talks about how their religion applies to their modern lives, one brings up the controversial Kitty Genovese case from the 1960s and they also discuss the post-9/11 world they live in with wiretaps, profiling and airport security body scans.  One is the optimist and the other is the skeptic.  While Naz can be the excitable and occasionally clueless one who doesn't always think before acts or speaks, Maalik is cordial, charming and street smart.  They argue but these two young dudes balance each other out.  Without Maalik's savvy to help him out, Naz's mouth can cause him a little drama.
They've spent a night together but they're not out to their families about being boyfriends.  They're still on the down-low for family and religious reasons.
Naz and Maalik are profiled because of Naz's kofi -- the Muslim cap he wears.  An undercover agent posing as a street hood approaches them and asks them if they'd like to buy a gun.  He shows the gun he's got hidden on his short.  Maalik acts like a teen would.  They laugh and continue down the street.  By the way, seconds before they were approached to buy a gun, Naz and Maalik mentioned Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in their conversation.

The fact that they stopped and talked to the man was watched by his F.B.I. partner in a parked car.  She know has them under her surveillance to see if they have terrorist leanings.  They're just a couple of teen dudes in Brooklyn trying to keep their families from finding out that they're gay.  But that F.B.I. causes drama when she talks to the nervous and non-street smart Naz.  Basically, the two teens are guilty of having committed only one non-crime crime -- WWB.  Walking While Black.  It seems like these two young black males are constantly being watched. There are moments that make you angry.  There are moments that make you laugh.

I arrived in New York in 1985 and I lived in Brooklyn for years.  I loved it.  I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn over the summer doing some part-time work in my old neighborhood.  I knew streets that I saw in Naz & Maalik.  I knew the subway stations and the subway train lines.  I'd ridden them.  I saw my old neighborhood in Brooklyn and I saw areas I'd visited.  The movie felt familiar to me.  It reflected life I knew and ordinary working class black folks I'd seen just about everyday in my community.  The two main characters even refer to something that struck me over the summer about the Brooklyn of today -- more condos are going up to make it look like Manhattan.  Those elements were nice touches of authenticity from writer/director Jay Dockendorf.  He's not gay, not black and not Muslim. But he did live in the community where the two leads characters live.  His two best friends were gay.  Dockendorf writes about worlds he grew to know.  By the way, the subway restroom argument scene? Totally improvised.  Those two young lead actors are good.

When Naz & Maalik duck out of view on the street so they can grab a quick kiss, I thought "Been there, done that."  David Edelstein referred to that scene as the two guys "engaging in horseplay."  That sounded so 1950s.  He'd have better off saying "They tried to get a little sweet groove on for a quick minute."  They're black, they're gay, they're Muslim -- and someone gets seriously wounded because of a live chicken.  You have to see for yourself.

The performances by newcomer actors Curtiss Cook, Jr as Maalik and Kerwin Johnson, Jr as Naz are warm, natural and charismatic.  They hold your interest and the actors work well together.  There's an actor named James Roach who hits comedy home run in a bit part as a subway station bag man who rants about how much he hates the G train.
Naz & Maalik is available on Amazon Video.  To read more about this fresh indie film, check out its website:  NazAndMaalik.com.





Monday, February 8, 2016

This Time, I Was Interviewed

Diversity in the arts and equal opportunities for employment are extremely important to me.  I was asked to comment on the "Oscars So White" controversy that sparked again when there was an obvious lack of racial diversity in some top categories of the Oscar nominations.  You can read the interview online.  Ed Sikov is a noted and published film historianEd is also a solid journalist who remembers when I was a veejay and prime time talk show host on VH1.  I'm very proud that the New York Times, People magazine and TV Guide wrote excellent things about my talk show host work.  Oscar and Tony winner Liza Minnelli was a guest.
I'm also very proud to have been the first black talent to be given a prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.  Watch Bobby Rivers still ranks as a high point in my TV career.  It was a great opportunity that allowed me to write, research and perform for a national audience.
Despite the fine reviews I got for my talk show and the CableACE nomination I got for Best Interviewer (I lost to Larry King), I was never offered another national talk show host opportunity.  My former VH1 co-worker and buddy, Rosie O'Donnell, had more than one national talk show host opportunity.
But then Rosie probably never had TV executives fret over whether or not TV viewers would accept her because she's Caucasian.  Right after my VH1 years, I got the host spot in a very classy game show pilot for possible syndication.  I loved it.  Unfortunately it didn't get picked up.  One staffer told me that, although the whole crew loved me (and the feeling was mutual), TV execs would come in when I was gone and ask the producer if TV viewers would accept a black game show host.  This was 1991.  And Rosie, I'm sure, had a much easier time getting representation.  The VH1 job in the late 80s, that game show pilot shot in Hollywood, work on WNBC's and WNYW/Ch. 5's local morning New York City news programs in the 90s, a movie critic job for ABC News on Lifetime TV, a Food Network show host spot on a show that aired from 2002 to 2008 and a regular movie reviewer job on Whoopi Goldberg's national weekday morning radio show from 2006 to 2008 were all jobs I got on my own because broadcast agents turned me down for representation.

I was usually told that they wouldn't know what to do with me.  But I feel the real rejection was race for reasons I mention in Ed Sikov's article.  To get work like Tom Bergeron has on Dancing With The Stars or like Mo Rocca has on CBS Sunday Morning was difficult. I didn't have representation to get me into those auditions or get me meetings with producers of those shows.  I'm still not signed with agent and I still pursue my own jobs.

If it was that way for me, imagine the frustration that actors of color have after they been in a big box office hit movies or got an Oscar nomination and then don't get any more Hollywood offers.  Imagine when filmmakers of color can't get a green light for their project or, if they do, can't get their project marketed and promoted.  In 2008, a veteran agent with the NYC branch of Abrams Artists Agency contacted me to come in the following week for a meeting.  I was doing Whoopi's early morning radio show and the Food Network show I hosted aired in repeats Monday through Friday in the late morning.  The agent, bless her heart, opened our afternoon meeting by asking if I'd ever done any on-camera TV host work.  She'd never looked at my headshot/resumé or demo reel.  She knew nothing about my career.

Who knows more about my career than she did?  This woman.  Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy.
I talked about in my interview.  She's definitely making history with her moves to make Hollywood realize its critical need to embrace diversity.
To read the Ed Sikov interview of me, please go here and look for my pic on the upper left hand side:  gaycitynews.nyc.






Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Tight End in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

Like Sally Field, Tom Hanks and the late Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx went from TV stardom on a sitcom to win an Oscar for a dramatic performance.  After Foxx's years on the popular In Living Color sketch comedy show in the1990s, he played Jamie King on a sitcom called The Jamie Foxx Show (1996-2001).  After In Living Color, he did a couple of goofy movie comedies like Booty Call and The Great White Hype.  He also did a very nice sophisticated comedy called The Truth About Cats and Dogs.  He did two other movies that really made me take notice of his versatility.  In one, he put on a jockstrap and played an NFL superstar.

The other was a most entertaining and sophisticated crime thriller that I reviewed on Lifetime TV.  Bait was a 2000 bust at the box office.  It deserved a better fate.  Foxx plays a petty thief, jailed for stealing shrimp.  In jail, he hears about a bigger crime.  His cellmate was busted for stealing $40 million in gold and he double-crossed partner.  The feds eventually release the petty thief and use him as bait to catch the double-crossed partner.  This was basically the kind of script that would go to Robert Downey Jr.  It was so cool to see Jamie Foxx do it opposite  Kimberly Elise as the love interest.  There's humor in the movie and a touch of Hitchcock.  It's a fun movie.  Before Bait, Jamie Foxx got cheeky in a 1999 movie for Oliver Stone.  The football drama was Any Given Sunday.  Foxx also got to give his dramatic acting muscles a serious workout in a good role opposite Al Pacino.
 It's the Old School vs the New School way of playing the game.  Foxx's showboat character is definitely of the New School.  Pacino plays the coach whose job is on the line.  Foxx shines as quarterback Willie Beamen.  Movies directed and written by Oliver Stone tend to have a touch of homo-eroticism about them, if you will.  And they don't shy away from violence.  The opening 20 minutes are a Sunday game that presents the players as modern-day gladiators practically fighting to the death.  It's violent and runs too long.  But running too long is also a Stone trademark.  He gets excessive.  He celebrates the male form and masculine image with plenty of blunt nudity in the locker room scenes.  Full backside shots.  Full frontal shots.
 Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, LL Cool J, James Woods, Matthew Modine and a sorely underused Ann-Margret co-star in Any Given Sunday.  Diaz plays the corporate threat to Pacino's Coach D'Amato.
 Any Given Sunday may run a bit too long and it may be excessive, but that doesn't mean it's dull.  This movie's got some juice and, as I wrote, you will really be impressed Jamie Foxx's performance.  Pacino is excellent.  Of course he is.
One more thing.  I saw this movie on the big screen.  I wanted to check for a name in the closing credits.  A lot of folks left the theater as soon as those credits started rolling.  A bunch of us stayed.

Those of us who stayed...saw how the movie really ended!  Halfway through the credits, there was one more key scene that made us say "Whoa!"  Keep that in mind if you rent the DVD.  Don't stop it when the end credits start rolling. 

After Oliver Stone's gridiron drama, Jamie Foxx excelled even further playing the late, great Ray Charles.  The 2004 biopic, Ray, earned him the Oscar for Best Actor.
 Happy Super Bowl Sunday. 


Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Night with TARZAN

This post is about a former movie Tarzan who's now in the new Coen Brothers comedy, HAIL, CAESAR!  This post could also be called "Six Degrees of Diane Lane."  Let me take you back to the mid 1980s in New York City.  I was the new guy on WPIX TV/Channel 11.  The New York City station had discovered me and blessedly invited me to leave the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee to work in Manhattan.  I did celebrity interviews on WPIX's weekday half-hour magazine show.  One of my favorite guests was actor Christopher Lambert.  He's the French gentleman who starred in 1984's Greystoke:  The Legend of Tarzan.                        
                                                                 
He came on to promote a new film, I think it may have been 1986's Highlander, and he totally charmed the entire crew on the studio floor.  He was so much fun and I had so much fun interviewing him.  After the taping, he invited me to be his guest at a party he was attending that night.  "You can bring a guest too," he said.  One of the women on our staff practically begged me let her tag along.  Janice and I met Christopher Lambert at his hotel and then went to a party.  He, with a major twinkle in his eye, said to me, "There will be a lot of models this party."  We got into his limo and off we went to the Manhattan party. 

And there were lots of models.  It was like a deluxe magazine fashion shoot.  Lambert was talking to me at the party when he glanced past me and did somewhat of a double take.  Then he got an expression on his face that I once saw in a movie.  Not of one of his.  Jennifer Jones had that same, exact expression on her face that first time she saw The Immaculate Conception in The Song of Bernadette.  He was transfixed by the beauty of a young woman standing on a staircase.  But she was not a model.  The young woman -- actress Diane Lane.  Lambert excused himself saying, "I must go talk to her."  And he did.

The next thing I know, we're all in the limo.  Christopher Lambert, Diane, me, my co-worker friend Janice -- and somehow actor Mickey Rourke was in the limo too.  We went to a place called The China Club and had drinks.  Chris, Diane, Janice, me...and Mickey.  Janice had to leave because she had a 7:00 edit session in the morning.  Chris later said to me, "Diane and I are going back to the hotel.  Will you be alright?  Do you need a ride?"  I could get home on my own and I thanked him so much for his graciousness.  He left with Diane.  But he left me with Mickey Rourke.  To this day, I have no idea what Rourke was saying to because because he sounded like Blacktooth and White Fang on the old Soupy Sales TV show.

Christopher Lambert eventually married Diane Lane.

Lambert plays the director of a bright musical comedy in Hail, Caesar! and Channing Tatum plays the star of the musical.  He's a Gene Kelly-like sailor.  After Tatum's knock-out nautical tap dance number, there's a scene with the director and Eddie Mannix.  Eddie Mannix was a real life powerful Hollywood studio executive in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was known as a "fixer" at MGM, an A-list studio.  He protected the stars.  He kept scandals quiet and kept the stars' names out of the papers.  But Hail, Caesar! is not a biopic.  It takes the real-life Mannix character and puts him in a Hollywood satire with some loopy situations.  Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix in Hail, Caesar! and he's terrific.
Brolin is in a scene with Christopher Lambert.  They have this scene right after the big dance number with all the sailors.

Christopher Lambert and Diane Lane were married for a few years and then divorced.

Her second husband for almost ten years was...Josh Brolin.  They're now divorced.

There was a good 2006 movie called HOLLYWOODLAND.  This TV/movie star mystery was also somewhat of a biopic.  Ben Affleck played the late actor George Reeves.  Reeves had been a longtime capable movie actor since the 1930s (he played one of the Tarleton Twin's in 1939's Gone With The Wind) through the early 1950s (he has a key scene with Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity). But movie stardom eluded him.  He became a huge star on TV playing Superman in the series, The Adventures of Superman.  His untimely death was reported as a self-inflicted gunshot.  But there was speculation that the actor was murdered.  That speculation as at the heart of Hollywoodland.  The late Bob Hoskins played Eddie Mannix in this 2006 movie.
In Hollywoodland, Eddie Mannix's wife who is having an affair with Superman is played by Diane Lane.  She gives one of her best screen performances in it.

Josh Brolin and Christopher Lambert are in fine form in their Hail, Caesar! scene.  I don't know if many other moviegoers recognized Lambert, but I did.  After all, I'd gone out clubbing with him one night just a couple of years after he was Tarzan.

And I still have no idea what the hell Mickey Rourke was saying to me when we were alone at a table in The China Club after I bought him another beer.  When I left, he was still at the table.

Here's a trailer for Hail, Caesar!
 

Friday, February 5, 2016

I Dig Channing Tatum

Back in 2008, I worked on a national weekday morning radio show with Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi rarely plugged the show when she did TV appearances during those years but she did indeed have a radio.  Wake Up with Whoopi aired from 2006 to 2008.  We did the show from hear the Broadway theater district in New York City.  She the show was unfortunately canceled, she'd already started her stint on ABC's The View.  On the radio show, I sat next to her and did film reviews plus other entertainment news reports.  One movie I saw was not a big box office hit, but I liked it a lot.  It was directed by Kimberly Peirce, the woman who directed Hilary Swank to a Best Actress Oscar victory for Boys Don't Cry.  The director's 2008 release focused on Iraq war veterans and the toll that war took on their lives.  The movie was STOP-LOSS and one of its cast members was Channing Tatum.
The title refers to a clause in military contracts, one so controversial that it became the focus of a CBS 60 Minutes piece.  In the movie, young veterans return home having served their tour of duty in the Iraq war.  But the stop-loss clause in their military contract (explained in the film) is activated and their ordered back to Iraq to serve again.
This clause had never been mentioned or explained to them when they enlisted.  When I told co-workers in the studio about the movie, one responded that he had a relative who was going through the exact same thing.  He served, he came home, and then he got hit with the stop-loss clause.  Channing Tatum was not a big movie star that time.  He was getting attention and was a very popular screen "hottie."  His looks were a major selling point so it was pretty much standard issue to see him shirtless or in his drawers -- or even less -- for at least one scene to carbonate the hormones of his fans.

In that regard, this military drama was no different.  That's the movies.  In Stop-Loss, I really took notice of Channing Tatum.  The star of the film was Ryan Phillippe.  Tatum played one of the lead character's best friends.  OK, let's face it.  Tatum may not have the acting range of Daniel Day-Lewis or Johnny Depp. But Stop-Loss proved that he was more than just hot young beefcake.  You saw a young man pushing his talents as far as he could to play the character.  He committed to the role.  He took his craft seriously and that was exciting to watch.  I knew he'd become a movie star -- proven with the box office receipts and attention he got in Magic Mike -- and he'd evolve from movie star into actor -- which he did quite well in Foxcatcher.  When I saw his exceptional work in Foxcatcher, I was not surprised.  I knew he'd deliver those dramatic goods one day.

Tatum can do drama.  I totally dig when he does comedy.  I didn't see his 21 Jump Street but he has a part spoofing himself in 2013's This Is The End, a West Coast apocalypse comedy, that just broke me the heck up.  You just have to see it.  Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson are some of the lead actors, so that let's you know what you're in for.

A couple of year's ago, he was presenter on the Oscars® telecast.  He did a brief and elegant dance number with Charlize Theron.  This weekend, moviegoers can see him dance again.  The new Coen Brothers movie has gotten very good reviews.  A couple of critics have written that this Old Hollywood comedy is one of their best.  See Channing Tatum's in military uniform again -- this time with his dancing shoes on.  Here's a trailer for HAIL, CAESAR!

Yesterday, one entertainment news site printed the report that director Steven Soderbergh may come out of retirement to direct a new movie.  If so, that new movie may star Matt Damon and Channing Tatum.  Very cool.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Spike Lee (1997)

Director, screenwriter and actor Spike Lee received one of the honorary Oscars from the Academy for this year's Oscars.  For decades, the Academy Awards were given out in April.  Now they've been pushed up to February.  It's so ironic that today, when the Academy's critical and frustrating need for racial diversity in its branches is a hot entertainment news headline, the Oscars will be given out on the last Sunday of February, which is Black History Month.  Spike Lee is one of the several black performers who has spoken out on the diversity issue.
 The list of films directed by Spike Lee includes She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington (Best Actor Oscar nomination), Inside Man also starring Denzel Washington, Miracle at St. Anna and Chi-Raq.

Lee has never been nominated for Best Director.  His critically and internationally acclaimed 1989 hit, DO THE RIGHT THING, brought him the first of his two Oscar nominations.  For Do the Right Thing, he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  I bet folks would be surprised to learn that Spike Lee has never been an Oscar nominee for Best Director.  I also bet they just assume that he was nominated for directing Do the Right Thing (Danny Aiello was nominated for Best Supporting Actor).  His next Oscar nomination came for Best Documentary.  That 1997 documentary was 4 LITTLE GIRLS. Lee received his honorary Oscar during an Academy gala a few months ago before the current and controversial Oscar nominations were announced.
Here he is with another recipient of a special achievement Oscar, actress Gene Rowlands.
When I was member of the GOOD DAY NEW YORK local weekday morning news show talent team, I did entertainment interviews on a regular basis.  One of my favorites is the interview I did of Spike Lee when he was promoting the documentary that brought him his second Oscar nomination.  It's a blistering, important documentary that stands as one of his best and most powerful works.  It focuses on a racist murder that made international headlines. It's referenced in the first 20 minutes of the 2014 movie, Selma.  Four little girls, black girls, were killed when a racist bombed a Baptist church in Alabama.  They were killed a month after Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington.
It was my honor to interview Spike Lee about his documentary, 4 Little Girls.
This is part of our black history.  I talked to Spike Lee and to the father of one of the girls.  Here is my 1997 segment from Ch. 5's Good Day New York.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where Is This Disney Princess?

This was big news from Disney back in 2009.  A lovely new princess would make her debut in Disney's animated full-length feature fantasy musical, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG.
This princess made Disney history.  But she's gotten nowhere near the attention and promotion that a certain frigid blonde got when her Disney feature came out in 2013.  I know.  I should just...."Let It Go," but Tiana is very special in Hollywood's animated film history.
Here are a few questions I have about the whereabouts of Disney's Princess Tiana.