Thursday, April 30, 2009

Popdose: My Rod Lurie interview

Nothing But the Truth, the whole truth, from filmmaker Rod Lurie, as he talks about the two new films more-or-less premiering on DVD this week, his upcoming remake of Straw Dogs, and being called a "middlebrow hack" by yours truly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Drama Desk nominations announced

Looks as if this year's nominators were working 9 to 5 (pictured) this awards season--the soon-to-open musical garnered 15 nominations, the most of any show in the 2008-2009 season, and a record haul. (Having been on the committee, I can assure you that they were working 9 to 5, and then some, to place the best of Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway into contention.)

"Meet the Scholars"

LPA Cinema Series is pleased to present "Meet the Scholars," a series of programs (admission free) in which authors of books about film appear to discuss their work, show a few film clips, and take questions from the audience.

All programs are held at The New York Public Library’s Riverside Branch, 127 Amsterdam Avenue at 65th Street.

Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 6:00pm: Author Molly Haskell discusses her book Frankly My Dear: “Gone with the Wind” Revisited. Haskell presents a new slant on Scarlett O’Hara and her three most significant creators: writer Margaret Mitchell, movie producer David O. Selznick, and actress Vivien Leigh.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 6:00pm: Author Richard Koszarski discusses his book Hollywood on the Hudson. Koszarski surveys the surprisingly vibrant New York film production scene of the 1920s and 1930s, with appearances by everyone from D. W. Griffith to Oscar Micheaux and Gloria Swanson to Betty Boop.

Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 6:00pm: Author Imogen Sara Smith discusses her book Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy. Smith charts the rise, the fall, and the enduring genius of the silent clown.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

RIP Bea Arthur

Maude was one of those Norman Lear shows that revolutionized TV in 70s, and her 80s hit, The Golden Girls, continues to win new fans. I saw her on Broadway in 2002 in her one-woman show, Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends. To have seen her in Fiddler on the Roof or Mame, her legendary Tony winner, would have really been something. No question about it, though: she didn't need the help of canned laughter to land her best zingers on TV, and I liked her appearances in the occasional film (Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I) and TV show (her last role was as Larry David's mother on the hilarious fifth-season ender of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2005). And her immortality certainly got a boost from her appearance in 1978's infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Popdose: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Rockin' those spring movie blues away with a headbanging documentary that tugs a little at the heartstrings, too. Pictured is frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow, hard at work.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RIP Jack Cardiff

Some years ago the magazine I once edited, Lighting Dimensions, ran a terrific interview with the cinematographer and director, whose career behind the camera spanned generations of cinema. My friend and colleague John Calhoun did his customary outstanding job with the text; what's missing from this web version, besides cleaner copy, are pictures. And in Cardiff's case, images told us so much.

So many outstanding credits as DP; some of my favorites include the Oscar-winning Black Narcissus in 1947 (just awesome use of color), 1948's The Red Shoes (ditto), 1951's The African Queen, the 1956 War and Peace (Oscar nomination), 1958's The Vikings (splendid fun), and 1980's The Dogs of War. His lighting seemed to sparkle off every rain-soaked leaf in the jungle--and every speck of sweat on Stallone--for Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).

He received a fourth cinematography Oscar nod for 1961's luminous Fanny, a year after receiving a directing Oscar nomination for the superb adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, beautifully shot by his contemporary and kindred spirit Freddie Francis. Both had spotty histories behind the megaphone, but Cardiff's yielded a personal favorite, the cold-eyed, ruthless and thrilling mercenary adventure Dark of the Sun (1968), with his frequent star Rod Taylor. He also directed the "Smell-O-Vision" gimmick picture Scent of Mystery (1960), took over for an ailing John Ford on 1965's Young Cassidy, with Taylor, put Alain Delon and a nude Marianne Faithfull on wheels in 1968's The Girl on a Motorcycle, and called it quits as a helmer with 1974's fun schlocker The Mutations, with Donald Pleasence cross-pollinating man/plant hybrids. Typically, in his DVD commentary on The Mutations (available as The Freakmaker), Cardiff doesn't condescend to the assignment; equally typically, frustratingly so, neither Sons and Lovers (I think the best Lawrence on film) nor Dark of the Sun are available on R1 DVD. (Motorcycle is to be reissued next month.)

Cardiff received an honorary Oscar in 2001. He never really stopped working in some capacity, and advised Sony on its recent, gorgeous transfer of Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death (1946). There's an anecdote about him in my Popdose review of the DVD, which shows him to be warm and gently impish right up till the end.

(UPDATE: Director Ken Annakin, also 94, died the same day as Cardiff. Duly noted.)

Big lights in little China

Jon Turtletaub is directing his National Treasure star, Nicolas Cage, in an upcoming Disney picture based on The Sorceror's Apprentice segment of Fantasia. That combination of talent means it won't be high on my viewing list when it opens; Turtletaub is one of the most insipid directors working, and Cage...perplexing, to say the least. But after a shoot in Park Slope I am enjoying the spectacle they're conjuring across the East River in Chinatown, in the vicinity of Grand Street--a gorgeous tableau of Chinese lanterns that have been shining brightly each night for a week now. There are Flickr pictures up of the day look, but it's not the same thing. You can enjoy the night shoot from a lovely overhead vantage point by taking any of the Manhattan Bridge trains and keeping your eyes peeled as they approach or depart from Grand Street--fares are going up, but this is still a $9.50 cost savings over actually seeing the movie, which will likely edit it down to a few measly shots anyway.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ford wrangler

He's not Susan Boyle--yet. But my buddy Brad Nelson is on his way to web stardom, courtesy of the Ford Motor Company, which turned down federal bailout money but couldn't say no to Brad's plans to get its Fiesta off and running. Follow the "Follow the Fiesta" campaign that Brad and the lovely Emma are a part of; rumor has it that Julia and not Ryan Stiles is eager to lay hands on Brad, but a woman of the West doesn't give up so easily. (I can feel Brad, the stoic cowboy type with a touch of The Office about him, blushing as he reads this, but that's the cost of celebrity.) To think that when I met Brad at the Lighting Dimensions International trade show in 1997, he was a lowly intern, hand-pressing my suits, preparing my morning omelets, and separating my M&Ms by color (no yellows!) as I strode the show floors like the editorial colossus I once was. Now I'm reduced to figuring out how to get my cats to jump through flaming hoops or some other wacky YouTube stunt so I can compete on his level.

RIP Tharon Musser

There are theatrical lighting designers, and then there is Musser, who truly revolutionized the form. I met her in 2000, when she was part of a Lighting Dimensions International panel on the ground-breaking design of A Chorus Line (pictured) 25 years earlier. (It was the first to use a computerized lighting console, which was faithfully adapted by Natasha Katz for its recent revival.) She won a Tony for that achievement, plus two others, for Follies and Dreamgirls, and received an additional seven nominations. Her debut show was Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1956; the last of her many credits was Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West in 1999. I regret not seeing any of her work first-hand; then again, her inspiration is felt throughout the profession, and touches every show in some way.

Susan Boyle

I have nothing to say about her, really; she broke as a global village phenomenon while I was off duty (a blogger should never admit to be being off duty, but I was off duty) and has somehow lingered for a week or two more, generating reams of bits and bytes and analysis and overanalysis. What will her fans think, though, if the Sidney Falcos combing through her trash discover that maybe she doesn't like cats? Or has been kissed? (The Victorianism of it all!) And you can see the trajectory, as sure as a chalk outline around a murder victim: The second thoughts ("Is she really that good?"), the little touches to make her just a little more attractive, like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, the sudden, unanticipated displays of diva behavior, the wearing away of the "authenticity" as she buys in, wraps herself in ermine and emeralds, and marries Colin Farrell. (Well, my crystal ball may be a little fuzzy there.) For now, at least, she's as pure as a Manhattan snowfall before it turns to slush, before we realize we can't protect the virtue and innocence we feel she represents and that we covet. It won't be pretty to watch us tear down what we have built up. In the meantime, I don't mind putting my cards on the table and admitting that I want some of that hit action, too, so if titling a post "Susan Boyle" somehow raises my numbers, hey, I'm in the Susan Boyle business, too. Aren't we all in the Susan Boyle business?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

RIP J.G. Ballard

Spring fever has struck and I've been away from my post, and active with the baby, these past few days. I hate to resume on a down note but I regret to note the passing of the British novelist, best known for the disturbing Crash and the autobiographical Empire of the Sun--two very different works united by a watchful and intensely engaged prose style that encompassed the modes he worked in with seeming ease. (A Scottish friend loaned me a copy of Ballard's cheeky Hello America, hoping to get a rise out of me, but what I got, besides the satire, was the usual lift I experienced whenever I explored "Ballardian" dystopias). He also contributed the story to the 1970 Hammer picture When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth--not a credit high on his resume, but the kind of thing a fan remembers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RIP Judith Krug

The librarian was not a famous person, but her tireless efforts against book banning (including titles that personally offended her) made her a true American, in the finest sense of the word. These are the real, unsung heroes. Let's continue her legacy and make this country a smarter, saner place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Byrne this

You have to take these dubiously sourced items (scroll down) with a grain of salt, but if there's any truth to it and Gabriel Byrne really thinks theater is dead I may have to pull him aside for a talking-to the next time I see him in my neighborhood. Good as he was in A Touch of the Poet some seasons back he must have known that odd play wasn't going to draw a younger crowd, so why diminish the accomplishment? He was aces in that and in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten and with luck we'll see him someday in Long Day's Journey into Night; he could be a definitive Tyrone. Before that, maybe he could satisfy his appetite for youth by going into Mamma Mia! or Shrek the Musical or something family-friendly; hey, if he's good, maybe the audience will grow up to follow him as he works his way through the O'Neill canon. Or maybe she should just sit down with his new In Treatment co-stars Hope Davis and Alison Pill, who have thriving theater careers, and get a good dose of the talking cure to chase away those Broadway blues.

Popdose: Doubt on DVD

In which I express a few doubts about the Oscar-nominated film of the award-winning play. Liked John Patrick Shanley's commentary, though.

Monday, April 13, 2009

RIP Marilyn Chambers

The Ivory Snow girl-turned-porn performer gave a reasonable account for herself as a mainstream actress playing attractive ambulatory contagion in David Cronenberg's Rabid (1977). But I'd be lying to you if I said she didn't she made a bigger impression on me in the artsy Behind the Green Door (1973) and especially 1980's Insatiable, where the fulfillment of her desires more than lived up to the title. (It's available as a special edition DVD, but I wouldn't look for it at Blockbuster.) You have a talent, you go with it--and she said she felt more exploited in her non-X ventures.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Live Design: A package of plays

High season on and Off Broadway continues with plays galore, led by Yasmina Reza's smash God of Carnage (pictured), with Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels at war with each other. And much more still to come before the Broadway season wraps up on April 30.

Happy Easter

Sent from one of my "Peeps," Roger Winslow:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Numbers crunching

I always thought that the change in title of the play The Madness of George III, to The Madness of King George when it became a film--because of marketing fears that U.S. audiences wouldn't know what to make of the "George III"--was a movie urban legend. Now I'm not so sure. Across the bottom of the front page of today's New York Times is a banner ad for the third season of Showtime's The Tudors, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as "King Henry 8." I think a reasonably educated adult, even one who watches Showtime, would recognize King Henry VIII, or King Henry the Eighth--and if you don't, chances are The Tudors isn't your cup of mead anyway. (We love every salacious minute.) I resent being played down to--King Henry ate what?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Film Society to me: Drop dead

At least, that's how I read this section from a New York Times piece today about how the Film Society of Lincoln Center's new executive director, Mara Manus, is shaking things up there.

"Traditionally, a film society membership, which ranges from a $75 minimum to $1,000-and-up patron status, guarantees the right to buy tickets for the festival. The review process is not complete, but Ms. Manus said low-end donors were likely to lose that assurance.

“We’re moving to change that structure, just to allow more people to have access to the New York Film Festival,” she said. “People who have been giving $75 have been taking up a chunk of the tickets when in fact this is the biggest thing we do and we want it to be available to more people.”

It's by no means clear what's going on here, but the implication is that my $75, which I've been paying as a member for 15 years now (and sometimes upping, to a dual membership) will suddenly be valueless, as I go through the annual ritual/ordeal of trying to obtain tickets. By "more people," is Manus (as much scourge as savior, and maybe much more the former, as various blogs opine) saying she plans to democratize the process by opening it to more non-member buyers? Perhaps--but in low-ebb economic times I suspect she means "more people" as in "more people with fat-cat memberships," making the festival more elitist than ever as she runs the place "more like a business."

We'll see. But I don't like the sound of it. It's the little guys like me who buttress the Film Society. Screw us, and we'll just take that $75 and reinvest it in places like Film Forum and BAM Cinematek, where I just saw Hunger for $7--a lot less than what I would have paid to see it at last year's festival.

The Light that failed

I can't say I ever watched it, being more of a Young and the Restless hipster for a spell, but I'll miss having The Guiding Light on the dial on CBS. Seventy-two years as a fixture on radio and TV is nothing to sneeze at, and the final broadcast on Sept. 18 will be something to watch, even if you're as ignorant of its history as I am. There's talk of it moving to cable or the web; the latter would be an interesting transition. But another piece of old media, redolent of history, will go out with the Light.

Cereal killers

Another casualty of the internet is April Fool's Day. You can't post something prankish, or read someone else's goof, without ten commenters spoiling the fun within seconds. I miss it--but hats off to the BBC for running some very deadpan bits on this morning's NPR broadcast that got me going ("Melbourne is planning to host the annual running of the bulls, as Pamplona gives up the contract it has held since the 13th century...").

In the spitit of goofiness, I present this "Tribute to Discontinued Breakfast Cereals," which I happened across (on The House Next Door site) as I was consuming a bowl of the allegedly healthful oat bran concoction that my wife favors. Me, I was always a Count Chocula kind of kid, right up to about age 36. I honestly cannot believe some of the ADD-causing stuff that slipped past the FDA--and that's no joke.