Monday, March 30, 2009

RIP Maurice Jarre

The composer and director David Lean combined for a perfect fusion of image and music on 1962's Lawrence of Arabia. Their second collaboration, on Doctor Zhivago (1965), won Jarre a second Oscar, and was advantage his; it's hard to recall much from that epic treacle save for Jarre's familiar score. He won a third Oscar for Lean's last, tougher picture, A Passage to India, and also scored the director's flop Ryan's Daughter (1970). Before, during and after his "Lean years," he worked in other genres, contributing shivery themes for Eyes With a Face (1959), Fatal Attraction, and Jacob's Ladder, the "Unchained Melody"-wrapped romanticism of 1990's Ghost, and an electronic melange for 1985's sci-fi adventure Enemy Mine. Witness that same year was another noteworthy score; other favorites include 1983's The Year of Living Dangerously and 1993's Fearless, all for director Peter Weir. For TV Jarre composed the music for 1977's Jesus of Nazareth, 1980's Shogun, and the theme for PBS' Great Performances.

A suite, from YouTube:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A modesty proposal

I took in a preview performance of Irena's Vow (pictured) yesterday at the Walter Kerr. A hit Off Broadway, it should be equally well-received when it opens tonight, judging by the tumultuous curtain call. Tovah Feldshuh, who plays the real-life Polish Catholic servant who sheltered 12 Jews in a Nazi commandant's home as the Holocaust raged outside her doorstep, then graciously ceded the stage to Irena's daughter, who spoke movingly of her mother and answered a few questions. (Be sure to ask her about the commandant's fate. It's a play in itself.)

Afterwards, I looked at the Playbill bios. Feldshuh's takes up most of a page, but I don't deny her the space. She's accomplished, and may very well add another Tony nomination (and perhaps a first-time win) and Drama Desk accolade to a string of awards. She's gone the distance in showbiz and it's OK for her to recount the miles.

Buy playwright Dan Gordon's entry gave me pause. It begins: "Dan Gordon (Playwright) is a master storyteller who creates indelible characters and relationships, which have afforded actors the opportunity to play some of their most unforgettable roles." It sticks in the craw. I'm sure that kind of self-salesmanship goes over well in Tinseltown, where arms are permanently out of joint from everyone's patting themselves on the back so much, but it's unseemly for Broadway. A simple record will suffice. And the bloviating is unearned. I'm pretty sure Denzel Washington puts The Hurricane, which Gordon wrote, fourth or fifth on his list of accomplishments--which is to say, far ahead of where the actors involved in The Assignment and Murder in the First probably list those forgettable credits. It's nice that he's keeping Josh Hartnett and Linda Gray employed but master storytelling doesn't necessarily factor in when remounting Rain Man and Terms of Endearment for the London stage. You've delivered the goods this time, so stick to the facts and get on with it.

I like Susan Sarandon's Playbill bio for Exit the King, another worthy show playing on the Main Stem in a good season for plays. This is it in its entirety: "Susan Sarandon (Queen Marguerite) is a mother, actor, and activist. She is very happy to be returning to Broadway for the first time since she appeared in the 1972 production of Gore Vidal's An Evening With Richard Nixon." Very classy. Learn from it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

RIP Steven Bach

Nothing about Heaven's Gate (1980) inspired the warm-and-fuzzy feelings that Isabelle Huppert and Kris Kristofferson express in the film. The title quickly entered the lexicon as synonymous with waste and egos run amuck and everything bad about Hollywood filmmaking. But out of the catastrophe sprang one of the best books ever written about the production of a movie, from the United Artists executive in the belly of the beast, 1985's Final Cut, in which Bach details the "dreams and disaster" that attended the production. The book led to a good documentary that has yet to find an official home (I saw it on cable) but can be viewed on YouTube.

The movie has improved with age--not great, but greatly interesting, with knockout visuals and powerful sequences once it finds its feet. It's one of the last 70s movies, released after the decade, and moment, had passed and the powers-that-be upset over the headlines it generated turned decisively against those crazy auteurs (Cruising and Cutter's Way are two others). The book, written when the wounds were still fresh, is terrific. I haven't read his subsequent bios of Marlene Dietrich, Moss Hart, and Leni Riefenstahl, but they are well-regarded. It's hard to imagine a studio executive today with his insight and erudition, a breed that was also shown the Gate.

Popdose: Sarah, Julia

It's ladies' week: Sarah Jessica Parker spins into butter, while Julia Roberts is duplicitous.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I pulled this off the IMDb newswire:

"Veteran actress Cloris Leachman has opened up about her brief romance with Gene Hackman--the pair enjoyed one night of passion in the 1970s.

The 82-year-old Oscar-winner reveals the brief affair in her forthcoming memoirs, Cloris, detailing how dinner with the actor lead to a steamy one-off encounter while they were both shooting movies in San Francisco, California.

She writes, "As we moved into the main course, it was as if a cosmic wind enveloped us. Some giant space magnet was pulling us together. We didn't finish the meal. We went upstairs, flew into bed and made love. It was epic. And the next morning, Gene went back to his film and I went back to mine. I haven't seen Gene since that night, but I remember well the feisty lad he was."

Leachman also admits coming close to having an affair with her childhood friend Andy Williams, claiming the musician harbored an "enduring passion" for her, according to New York Post gossip column PageSix, but a stash of photographs of his wife and daughter prevented them from taking their love any further.

Leachman has five children with Hollywood mogul George Englund, who she was married to from 1953 to 1979."

Popdose: Inside the Warner Archive

Once again at the forefront of the market, Warner Bros. is opening its library with an innovative DVD-on-demand initiative. I've placed my first order, including the rarity pictured. I can only hope other studios will follow suit; you're not going to grow the market with Blu-Rays of the same old hits and additional standard DVD editions of Revenge of the Nerds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Harvey hosting Drama Desk Awards

Multiple Drama Desk and Tony Award winning actor/writer Harvey Fierstein will host the 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony on Sunday, May 17, at 9 PM at the F.H. LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City, it was announced by Robert R. Blume, Executive Producer of the annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony, and William Wolf, President of the Drama Desk, an organization of theater critics, writers and editors that honors excellence in all areas of New York theatre, including Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and not-for-profit theater. This will be the fourth time in the past six years that Fierstein has hosted the Drama Desk Awards, having emceed the Awards in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

"We are delighted that Harvey Fierstein has accepted our invitation to host this year’s Awards ceremony," said Robert R. Blume. “He has a cutting edge sense of humor and a quick wit that are perfectly suited for this type of hosting assignment. He understands all aspects of theater and uses his knowledge to great advantage.”

“The Drama Desk organization takes great pride in our awards presentations and the selection of Harvey Fierstein as host this year is welcomed.” said William Wolf. “Harvey has done a magnificent job hosting in the past and we are confident his professionalism will add excitement to this year’s proceedings.”

Harvey Fierstein made his debut at the La Mama Experimental Theater Club in 1971 in Andy Warhol’s only play, Pork, and followed that with appearances in 60 Off Broadway plays, writing and performing in many of his own productions. His Torch Song Trilogy opened Off Off Broadway in 1980, transferred Off Broadway in 1981 and then went on to Broadway. Fierstein won two Drama Desk Awards, two Tony Awards, an Obie Award and a Dramatist Guild Award for his efforts, as well as an Olivier Award nomination. Fierstein won his third Tony Award for the book of La Cage aux Folles. His other plays include Safe Sex, Spookhouse and Forget Him.

For his performance as Edna Turnblad in the smash hit musical Hairspray, Fierstein received the 2003 Drama Desk Award (Outstanding Actor in a Musical), Drama League Award (Outstanding Performance of the Year) and New York Magazine Award. He also received the 2003 Tony Award (Best Actor in a Musical), making him only the second person in history to win Tonys in four different categories. Fierstein’s recent appearances on Broadway include Tevye in the record-breaking revival of Fiddler on the Roof and the musical, A Catered Affair, for which he wrote the book and also co-starred.

Fierstein has appeared in 30 films, including Independence Day, Mrs. Doubtfire and Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. His TV appearances included stints on Ellen, Common Ground (which he also co-wrote) and Cheers, for which he received an Emmy nomination. Fierstein also provided the voice of Homer Simpson’s executive secretary on The Simpsons and he is a regular commentator on PBS’ In The Life. His children’s book, The Sissy Duckling (Simon & Schuster) garnered an Ace Award.

Hillary at the movies

I've never liked Hillary Clinton. Not her politics, just her. She's like a fourth grade teacher I had who yelled at me for being too "creative." But that schoolmarmish, vaguely disapproving tone she struck as first lady has softened, or at least modulated, over the years, and she ran a pretty good presidential campaign that went the distance, which I admire. So I'm mostly over my disdain, and never had any qualms about her as senator or Secretary of State. (Someday, Hope Davis will have the role of a lifetime playing her.)

Her blood enemies, though, continue to make noise, and they've reached the Supreme Court with one of their outrages, a movie (or "movie") called--Hillary: The Movie. The mud-slinging therein begins with the trailer, which, cleverly, opens with Barack Obama taking the offensive, so you don't think it's a partisan effort. The whole thing, which was disseminated last January on DVD, seems to be on YouTube, but I don't have to a shovel big enough to dig through it. The Supremes seem to be leaning toward the free speech side of the problem, which is good and not-so-good. I don't like the idea of corporations that put money into shows like this having free-speech rights, but maybe a few trees might be saved by regulating the political "memoirs" that clutter up bookstores in election years. To paraphrase Oliver Hardy, it's another fine mess Hillary has gotten us into to.

In any event, here's the trailer. It's like the 90s all over again. Try and guess the year via Hillary's hairstyle...and our young president looked so much younger at the start of the campaign.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New York Theater News: God of Carnage

Jeff Daniels enjoys a relatively quiet moment on the phone, away from the hectoring Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and james Gandolfini, in Yasmina Reza's slashing farce God of Carnage, now on Broadway.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Goodbye Galactica

The series finale of Battlestar Galactica has come and gone, and it's all over except for the synopsizing and commenting. As more an admirer than a fan--the stilted acting in the supporting ranks, the at times suffocatingly morose atmosphere, and irritating use of flashbacks when the show needed to be moving forward, always bugged me--I was mostly pleased with the way things concluded. Having some of the characters turn out to be angels was a cheat; the show has always been an interesting (if vexing) mix of sci-fi (or, ugh, "syfy," as the Sci-Fi Channel is soon to rechristen itself) and theology, but that was a blind alley we were being led through on our way to an easy, unsatisfying out.

But that's my only real grievance. (Well, that, and the notion that characters so closely confined and intertwined would so swiftly abandon one another, and that they would someday get down to the business of mating with primitives. Oh, and that the starships would just be sacrificed, even if did give the new show a chance to salute the old one. Three or four things.) Otherwise, the climax played to the show's strengths: The mother of all space battles more than compensated for the relative lack of action this past half-season, the guiding hand of the creators and writers was as always strongly felt (I may not like where they took us, but they were true to the spirit of the show and got us there in a reasonably coherent fashion, unlike so many shows in this genre, like The X-Files) and the climax to the Adama/Roslin romance was sensitively played by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell and beautifully handled. Their late spring relationship was the single best element of the show, far outshining similar storylines in non-genre programs; in a Wall Street Journal interview, Olmos was said to have been in favor of killing off everyone, but then he would have missed out on one of his finest moments as an actor. (As it was, just about everyone in this photo made it through on one plane or another.)

I have no real interest in Caprica or The Plan or the other spin-offs SyFy (ugh!) has up its sleeve in its post-BSG scheduling. This was a lot more than anyone might have hoped for, or expected, from a reboot of its predecessor--who knew, for example, that the old show's co-star Richard Hatch could act, and act well, in the leathery mode of Tommy Lee Jones? But if I hear that they, too, are guided by the same higher intelligence that moved Galactica, I may have to check them out.

UPDATE: Mr. President, I know the feeling.

Friday, March 20, 2009

RIP Natasha Richardson

Thoughts on the passing of the actress for Popdose.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"American Auteurs" salutes Mulligan

The Film Society of Lincoln Center today inaugurates a new program, "American Auteurs," with a week-long salute to the late Robert Mulligan. Some of his credits, notably the 70s features The Nickel Ride and Bloodbrothers (which shocked me with its frankness when I was an HBO-obsessed youngster), are hard to see in any format, so avail yourself to them on the Walter Reade screen.

Popdose: Punisher: War Zone

I wanted a DVD to review, and for my sins, Popdose gave me one. A review of a sequel no on asked for, but that came (and went) at Christmas anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Plays: Fonda, Nixon, Zombie

Jane Fonda returns to the stage in 33 Variations (pictured, with Susan Kellermann). (When I saw it, there was equal commotion over her frequent film co-star, Robert Redford, being in the audience.) Plus: Lynn Nottage's powerful Ruined, and a creepy solo show, Zombie, for the Live Design website. And Cynthia Nixon tries to stay calm, cool, and collected in the Roundabout production of Lisa Loomer's Distracted, for the New York Theater News site.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chance encounter, plus Ferrell-Bush

The HBO film Taking Chance, which first aired last month, is its most-watched original production in five years, and I finally caught up with it. A taciturn Kevin Bacon plays the real-life Michael Strobl, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and Desert Storm veteran, who in 2004 escorted the remains of slain Iraq War soldier Chance Phelps to his home in Wyoming for burial. Phelps, a private first class, was 19 (he has posthumously promoted to lance corporal). Strobl's experiences on the road form a mosaic of grief for the young man and, by extension, his fallen comrades, which the movie presents to us in a movingly edited montage of reflective moments culled from the film (which runs a brief, and stately, 78 minutes). Upping the emotional ante, pictures and video footage of Phelps are shown as the movie ends. You won't come away unmoved.

But I question a recent Wall Street Journal editorial on the production, which suggested that this is the sort of Iraq War picture Hollywood should be making, not hand-wringing, hopeless flops like Stop-Loss and Lions for Lambs. I'd agree that those movies could be better, and I can't blame audiences for tuning out their gloom and doom. But there are some things they get right about the toll the war has taken on its combatants and its country, raising questions that fall outside the consciously apolitical scope of Taking Chance. It may be, too, that for most Americans this war is a TV war, and treatments of it are more suited for TV.

Or--and this is something conservative outlets are unlikely to consider, or support--it may that the war's absence from television, and specifically coverage of escorts and processions like the one depicted in the film, is the exact reason for its success. The Bush administration vetoed such news from the homefront, and to its credit the Obama administration is reversing those polices. As Taking Chance shows, it is neither tasteless nor exploitative for the media to take stock of our lost soldiers. The film, which Strobl co-wrote, opens the door on this "taboo" area, and as a nation we will be all the better for being able to see what this war is costing us every day.

For New York theater watchers, Taking Chance is notable for the many decorated actors in its supporting cast, including Julie White, Danny Hoch, Tom Wopat, Matthew Morrison, and, in a vivid scene, Tom Aldredge. Coincidentally this weekend, HBO telecast live the penultimate performance of Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush, the record-smashing show that single-handedly salvaged the Cort's reputation as a flop house. I relished the prospect of Bush being taken down, but outside of a few inspired moments the show fell flat, and not just because filmed live performances tend to waver into static outside of the room.

As Ferrell's movies tend to do the production too often confused coarseness with humor, and the Bush onstage bore scant resemblance to the one we were stuck with for the better (or worse) part of this decade. On paper, and on Saturday Night Live, the affable frat boy dunce personae of Ferrell and Bush were evenly matched, but the show missed the scary part of Bush, which Oliver Stone's more considered (and funnier) W. got: He believed in everything he did, even when he delivered the latest bad news initiative with that nervous, unnerving smirk of his.

The Bush show did not end as Ferrell's Bush show did, with the president giving us the finger (a gesture partially obscured by a departing audience member); history be damned, he thought he had done well by his country. But Ferrell wants to drop the facade to let us to know what he thinks, or, more to the point, what he thinks his presumably liberal audience thinks of the departed president. (It's hard to see Ferrell getting exercised about anything.) In the show's weirdest and most uncomfortable moment, Ferrell-as-Bush stopped with the sophomoric jokes for a moment of silence for the victims of the Iraq War, a messianic gesture that was wrong-headed on numerous levels. If the right's sanctimony over coffins and funerals is finally at an end, I think the left should have to give up its smug superiority. As our new president counsels, we're all in this together.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

RIP Ron Silver

The actor-activist's transformation from a thorn in the side to Republicans to a post-9/11 GOP stalwart was vexing; not for nothing is the New York Post mourning someone who "saw the light" (but took exception to some of the Bush administrations excesses). I prefer to remember his energetic if careless career: I never saw him onstage, where he won Tony and Drama Desk awards for the original production of Speed the Plow, but his film roles were highlighted by a good part as a rationalist confronting Barbara Hershey's demons in The Entity (1982), a terrific performance in Paul Mazursky's great Enemies: A Love Story (1989), a city psycho fatally attracted to Jamie Lee Curtis' policewoman in Blue Steel (1990), and his Mutt and Jeff routine with Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune (1990). He seemed to lose focus after that heyday, slumming careerwise as he raised his punditry profile, but he tweaked his alliance switch with a self-reflexive "turncoat" stint on The West Wing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Recession hits home, stomach

Sooner or later, some shop or restaurant I like was going to close, and now one did. Last night, after enjoying Cynthia Nixon and Lisa Emery in Distracted at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, I figured I'd walk over to Times Square and the Popcorn, Indiana shop for a bag on the way home. No such luck; the place has been gutted, right down to the copper wiring from the looks of it. Distracted, indeed. It looks as if the chain is alive and well somewhere in the country but it just couldn't hack here it in hard times. There's a Garrett's on Fifth Avenue and one near Penn Station but they wouldn't have been open when I had my popcorn jones last night, if in fact they're still standing.

(The best popcorn in New York is at Zaro's. It's popped fresh at their Penn Station store and can also be found at Grand Central Terminal. Which reminds me that I need to swing by Film Forum, not necessarily to see a movie but to buy a big bag of its fresh and tasty popped goodness. And I still miss the most excellent popcorn vendor that operated on East 86th Street when I lived near there. But Popcorn, Indiana, held a special place in my post-theatergoing routine.)

Also gone is the City Lights Diner, around the corner from us on Atlantic and Third. It had closed last summer for renovations (I noticed it was lights out the morning I wanted blueberry pancakes, natch) and had reopened in fall, but the windows are all taped up with paper again. There was a sign in the window saying it was under new ownership and would reopen as the Ocean View Restaurant (what ocean view?); I noticed, however, that that was gone when I last walked past. I hope it just fell off. There's nowhere as close where I can get a deluxe turkey burger with cheese. Oh, the horror of it all, the savagery of this new and penniless era...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Planet of the Vampires: The Opera

With vampire musicals having been staked on Broadway (that is, still someone decides to set Twilight to song and ignite the next would-be Wicked craze for squealing girls), bloodsuckers have joined the raanks of the avant-garde. The Wooster Group's latest concoction, La Didone (pictured), mixes Francesco Cavalli's baroque opera with a design inspired by Mario Bava's cult classic Planet of the Vampires (1965)--gotta love those metallic spacesuits. I have a feeling the clip online at the St. Ann's Warehouse site is sufficient to sate my appetite, but if the spooky giant skeletons that are part of the movie's mise-en-scene (which influenced Alien) are included in the mix I'll hop a train and go Bava-esque in Brooklyn.

Popdose: Gomorrah

Writer-director Matteo Garrone's adaptation of a controversial Italian bestseller about the inner workings of the Naples-based Camorra syndicate is a different kind of mob hit.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A few words on Cripple

The Cripple of Inishmaan is hobbling out of the Atlantic Theater Company’s main stage on March 15, but Martin McDonagh’s gentlest play (unless you’re an egg) is worthy of mention. First seen at the Public in 1998, the show has returned in a Druid Theatre Company staging that gives full vent to its Irishness. Filmmaker Robert Flaherty’s visit to the Aran Islands in 1934 to film his documentary Man of Aran rouses the locals, notably the wheezy, woebegone Cripple Billy (Aaron Monaghan, terrific), who sees a chance at a ticket to Hollywood and a more fulfilling life than in his narrow-minded, gossipy town. McDonagh, known and/or notorious for The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, goes easy on the shock effects to present a portrait of the eccentric townspeople, who stifle, but also nourish, Cripple Billy. These include his aunties, Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Marie Mullen), who run the bedraggled shop where much of the show takes place, the exasperating town busybody JohnnyPateenMike (David Pearse), two-faced boat owner Babby Bobby (Andrew Connolly, pictured, at right, with Monaghan), and the town flirt Slippy Helen (Kerry Condon). She’s the one with the egg problem, who, when Flaherty’s film is finally screened, is disappointed to see that it’s about “a feckin’ fish.” I never thought of it that way.

Garry Hynes has directed an impeccable ensemble as if it we were watching them in Dublin. (I’ve never seen an uncommitted performance in her work.) Everything is purposeful, particularly Francis O’Connor’s breakaway set, which splits apart to reveal other environments, most trenchantly a neon-splashed Hollywood. As there is no makeup credit I assume O’Connor, as costume designer, deserves some of the praise for Cripple Billy’s wrenchingly detailed infirmity. LD Davy Cunningham and sound designer John Leonard also do exceptional work that is seamlessly bound up with the world the playwright has created.

Senator to retire?

The Senator movie theater, that is, in Baltimore. It doesn't look good for the venerable establishment, which became a part of my itinerary when visiting my in-laws. I do hope its "Baltimore Walk of Fame," with the imprints of John Waters, Barry Levinson, and Edward Norton among others, is retained if it is to go under after a protracted bout of fiscal poor health. Good luck, Senator, keeping the Nosferatu of creditors from your door; you've served your constituency well for many years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A "grizzly" occurrence

One of my pet peeves turned up in the Times on Sunday. I found it un"bear"able, and turned to William Safire for aid and comfort. Here's what went down:

Dear Mr. Safire,

I was reading a poignant “Lives” reminiscence in the March 8 issue of the magazine, when I stumbled and fell over the following sentence, which began: “How can I be expected to follow, say, the grizzly recreation of an unsolved murder or close-ups...” This is not the first time I have seen grizzly, as in the bear, used as if it was synonymous with grisly, as in the remnants of a grizzly bear attack on campers, but I attributed this to a grisly lack of copyeditors at the publications I was reading. Yet there it was, in the Times. Is grizzly now accepted as on par with grisly? Am I grizzled and behind the times in the matter of this grisly/grizzly development?

With concern,

Robert Cashill

I've seen it in headlines, I've seen it sprinkled throughout stories written by people who should know better...drives me nuts.

So here's Safire...

Dear Lexicographic Irregular,

You were good to respond to my invitation for comments and suggestions. A great many other readers have pitched in, too. Although I can’t answer mail individually, I read every letter and am most grateful for yours.


William Safire

Well, OK, maybe not Safire himself, but the auto-Safire was at least pleasant in what would appear to be giving me the brush. If he's not going to take up the cause, I will.

Let's review:



Drama Desk Awards on May 17

The 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards will take place on Sunday, May 17, at 9pm at the F.H. LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City, it was announced by Robert R. Blume, Executive Producer of the annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony and telecast, and William Wolf, President of the Drama Desk, an organization of theater critics, writers and editors that honors excellence in all areas of New York theatre, including Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and not-for-profit theater.

The nominations will be announced at a news conference on Monday, April 27, at 9am at the New York Friars Club, 57 East 55th Street. The annual Nominees Cocktail Reception will take place on Tuesday, May 5, at 4pm at a location to be announced. The Drama Desk, organized in 1949, presented its first awards in 1955. The Drama Desk Awards are unique in that Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows and creative personal compete in the same categories.

The 2008/2009 Nominating Committee for the Drama Desk Awards is composed of: Barbara Siegel (Chairperson),; Dan Bacalzo,; Christopher Byrne, Gay City News; Patrick Christiano,, Dan’s Papers; Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly,; Gerard Raymond, Back Stage, The Advocate; and Richard Ridge, Broadway Beat TV.

Robert R. Blume is Executive Producer of the 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards and Blume Media Group Ltd is the producing company. Lauren Class Schneider is Producer and Jeff Kalpak is Director of the Awards ceremony. For the production, the Associate Producers (alphabetically) are Margot Astrachan, Jacki Barlia Florin, Joseph Callari, and Les Schecter, who is also Director of Publicity and Promotions. Felicia M. Lopes is the General Manager; Ellis Nassour is Press Liaison, and Corine Dana Cohen is Director of Program Ad Sales. Randie Levine-Miller is Special Events Director for the Drama Desk organization.

The Board of Directors of the Drama Desk is composed of: William Wolf, President; Leslie (Hoban) Blake, Vice President; Charles Wright, Treasurer and 2nd Vice President; Richard Ridge, Secretary; Michael Bracken; Robert Cashill; David Kaufman; Ellis Nassour; Sam Norkin; and Barbara Siegel.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Watchmen, by the clock

The first R-rated superhero extravaganza, Watchmen, debuted at No. 1 at the boxoffice, with the biggest number of the year to date, but in relation to the cost of the picture and the expectations that every movie with Spandex outfits, masks and capes create, the performance was somewhat less than brawny. The Wall Street Journal wonders why.

"Like 300, Watchmen features no major movie stars, but its unusually long running time of two hours and 40 minutes also may have contributed to its slightly weaker-than-expected box-office performance, says Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. "I think it's entirely due to the running time of the movie," he says. "We just didn't have the turnover we needed at the theaters with just one main show a day."

Even with fewer show times during prime evening hours, Watchmen sold out nearly every IMAX showing, bringing in $5.5 million at those 124 theaters -- just below Dark Knight's record-setting $6.3 million. "If we didn't have such a long running time, we probably could have caught Dark Knight, Mr. Fellman adds."

Is that so? Checking the IMDb, The Dark Knight runs 152 minutes; Watchmen, 163--a difference of 11 minutes. Negligible, in other words, where scheduling is concerned. Perhaps some other factor is to blame, like, the R rating? Overhype? Or, Superhero fatigue (which would surely worry the studios, given the sheer tonnage of stuff on the drawing boards)? Boredom with graphic novel adaptations (the Alan Moore-derived V for Vendetta didn't overexert the turnstiles, either)? Spring awakening as sections of the country emerge from hibernation and indoor amusements?

Could be a lot of things, but it's not the minutes. If only The Dark Knight had been, say, 122 minutes, I might have liked it more. One hundred and sixty-three seems an awful long time to spend watching the Watchmen.

(Left out of all this simplest-answer-will-do boxoffice dissection is how lame the movies are, or I should say, seem to be; I have neither the time nor the inclination to keep up. Depression-era audiences got King Kong and My Man Godfrey; we get Watchmen and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The scripts need a stimulus package.)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Popdose: The Class (and the panel)

In which I lament the looming death of wage-earning film criticism, defend The Fury at yesterday's Rider University panel, and cheer up with a visit to the Oscar-nominated French film The Class.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Spring issue of Cineaste, online and on sale

The new issue of Cineaste, including an invaluable supplement on film editing exclusive to the print edition, is available now. There's lots to read online as well.

Speaking of Cineaste, editor Cindy Lucia asked me over to Rider University in New Jersey, where she teaches, to participate in a panel on film criticism this afternoon. Joining me will be Cineaste editor Richard Porton, Film Journal editor Kevin Lally, and critic Amy Taubin. I'm representing the blogging side of the profession. There's a lot of us now, so the pressure's wrong word and my name is mud on this Internet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

RIP Horton Foote

A two-time Oscar winner (for his classic adaptation of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird and his screenplay for 1983's beautiful Tender Mercies), a Tony nominee and a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Young Man from Atlanta (1996), winner of a Drama Desk career achievement award in 2006...and a true gentleman of the theater, most recently on and Off Broadway with the prescient inheritance comedy-drama Dividing the Estate. Ninety-two years honorably spent.

Festival time

The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents its annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, from March 5-15. A couple of Fridays ago I spent all day rendez-vousing with the two-part Mesrine, the Che of French gangster pictures, at least in length. Unlike other films at the festival--I've seen several good ones that simply vanished afterwards--Mesrine, starring the excitable Vincent Cassel (pictured in a rare quiet moment), will get a release, in August. One part was enough for me, but it has drive.

BAM salutes, and not for the first time, distributor IFC Films on March 6-12, with a program that includes the Bobby Sands drama Hunger and an intriguing-sounding Korean film, The Chaser. The Italian crime picture Gomorrah , an IFC release, starts a run there on Friday. It's big of BAM to toast IFC when it has its own venue in Manhattan, but it's tough on indies and I guess it's best for everyone to stick together.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Film critics dropping like flies

I don't know what the high-water mark was for wage-earning film critics, but a chart posted on the Movie City News website reveals that there are 117 left who are fully employed across the media spectrum, down from 122 since Jan. 1. Without even having to slash a red "X" in the middle it's basically a hit list, as more of the print publications are likely to go under, taking chunks of the profession with it (and leaving whole swaths of the country without a critic to call their own, which is a loss that no mulltitude of web voices can make up for).

I can see this chart dipping below 100 before long, and there's no bailout or stimulus package coming to the rescue. I wonder how many theater critics are drawing a living wage from their labors? There are some things you do for love or money, and I'd say criticism, which as a profession was possible to make at least a modest living from, is one we'll be doing from the bottom of our hearts--and bank accounts--now. Dispiriting on many levels.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The last dinosaurs

Excitement on the web that Terrence Malick's upcoming film, The Tree of Life, will feature 45 minutes of IMAX-shot dinosaur footage--if you can call anything related to Malick "exciting." My bet is that they'll be the slowest, most ponderous dinosaurs imaginable, who, in the manner of The Thin Red Line, will have their parts reduced to cameos by the time editing is completed. (I appreciate Malick, but am by no means a devoted, Kool Aid-drinking Malickian.) Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are featured in a contemporary storyline, and apparently it all's about the interconnectedness of life or something. Sounds like a more literal-minded take on Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth to me, though apparently our spirit guide through the picture is some sort of...minotaur. Well, Malick taking on mythic creatures, thunder lizards, and Brad Pitt should at least be...odder...than the usual end-of-year fare.

Speaking of extinct species, the two boxes of VHS tapes I still have in our cubbyhole may be the end of the line, for pictures that have yet to make it onto DVD or other digital platforms. I don't think I have any Golden Age rarities on tape, just films I may never get to see in a current platform. I've had Fast Walking (1982), with James Woods, on tape since 1986, one that amazingly still works. I'd like to replace my letterboxed, taped-off-movie-channels copies of Robert Aldrich's Sodom and Gomorrah and Dark of the Sun, but I'm not holding my breath. The tapes are stuck in the hole, my 200-odd laserdiscs sit in boxes in my parents' house, and everything is static in a film culture that values the tried-and-saleable over the invaluable "fossil" record. Maybe a surge in rentals over sales will encourage the studios to open the gates a bit wider than just another reissue of To Catch a Thief.

Designing women

As Women's History Month begins, a reminder of a special exhibit, "Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance," showing through May 2 at the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center:

A collaboration with the League of Professional Theatre Women, this exhibition features works by 110 distinguished designers of scenery, costumes, lighting, props, and projections from various performing arts disciplines, including dance, theater, and opera, from the 1890s to the present. Including photographs, sketches, drawings, set models, costumes, performance videos, ground plans, and interviews with designers, augmented by public programs and educational workshops, it focuses on women designers as participants in the major artistic movements of the period, from experimental theater through the development of modern and, later, postmodern, dance. The exhibition also illuminates women’s roles in developing new technologies and materials for performance: for example, women took the lead in the new field of lighting design, from turn-of-the-19th-century experiments to the computerization of cues in the 20th century. The exhibition also investigates the connections among women designers and women-run businesses.

This exhibition is made possible in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.