Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kim Cattrall Has SENSITIVE SKIN

I have been a Kim Cattrall fan since the 80s.  She is a good actress who has paid her dues and totally deserved the stardom she won on HBO's SEX AND THE CITY.  She was my favorite member of the Sex and the City quartet.  The talented Cattrall stars in a new series on Netflix called SENSITIVE SKIN.  This skin is smooth and appealing.
I watched the first three episodes of this hour-long show and intend to watch more.  Wow.  Cattrall is so good in this new role.  Not only is it different from her most famous TV role, it shows how she's matured as an actress and how gifted an actress she is.  This character, Davina Jackson is in her 50s.  When first we see her, she's in a drugstore and looks like a dwarf in a land of pharmaceuticals.  Davina wants something for her hormones.  She has a rather bookish husband ("I prefer John Updike to sex").  They're in Toronto and they've been married to for 30 years and they have a grown son.  The husband writes a popular humor column.  She's a former model who acted occasionally but was mostly a model.  Sensitive Skin shows Kim Cattrall in fantastic form.  She shines in this role of a woman find a new meaningful path in her life as she navigates through menopause.  The humor is smart, mature and insightful.  There's a touch of the James Thurber in the scripts.  In the first episode, Davina has a conversation with herself.  She's at a function and sees herself.  The two Davinas have a conversation that no one else can hear.  Or see.  This adaptation is based on a British series that starred Joanna Lumley, the actress who played tall, blonde Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.  This Sensitive Skin is a perfect fit for Kim Cattrall.  She makes a mid-life crisis look good.  Here's a trailer.

Kim Cattrall's Sensitive Skin deserves a better trailer and more publicity than it's getting.  I love the tone, writing and the freshness of this comedy/drama.  Davina's son is the kind of pretentious hipster that colonized and drove up rents in the once-afford sections of Brooklyn.  He asks his parents to watch his little dog while he's gone.  Of course, his upscale dog can't eat Alpo and Milk-Bone doggie treats.  He eats prey.  The son tells dad that the dog will need "guinea fowl or rabbit" to eat.  Dad is Al Jackson, played nimbly by Don McKellar.  McKellar and Cattrall are also executive producers of the show.  Al has a touch of hypochondria about him.  Don McKellar has the hairiest chest this side of Alec Baldwin.  You could comb McKellar's chest and probably find loose change.
At first sight,  these two married people seem to be an odd couple.  But as the episodes progress, we see how they do complement and love each other.  We see how they deal when approached by outside sexual temptation.
I love the occasional James Thurber-like delusional moments.  The theater scene at the Chekhov play is priceless.  I've seen some 2-hour movies that weren't as good as that female-driven theater scene.  I also love how the show honors women and women's self-images.  Notice the interaction when Davina runs into a woman who was a high school classmate and followed Davina's career as a supermodel.  Sensitive Skin is a blessing for middle-aged and senior age actresses because it gives them work and meaty material to play.  Notice the hospital scene where Davina visits her elderly and ailing mother.  There's a great scene with the mother's also elderly roommate.

My Sex and the City interest started to wane after a couple of seasons because I really knew nothing about the characters' background and I couldn't really believe Carrie as a writer  About the characters on Sex and the City...yes, they had boyfriends and lovers.  But did the have families?  Did they have parents and siblings? Grandparents, aunt and uncles?  They never talked about their families.  In that sense, they seemed so rootless.  As for Carrie Bradshaw -- I've had a number of women friends in New York City who were magazine columnists, newspaper reporter and published authors.  We'd make plans.  Inevitably, one of our dates would have to be canceled and rescheduled because they were on deadline, they had to do last-minutes or some critical research.  That was understandable.  Carrie would relax on her cute bed and knock out a column in one draft as easily as if she was writing a postcard to a friend while on vacation.  I've seen high schoolers put more toil and research into a writing a term paper than Carrie Bradshaw did her columns.  But that's just me.

Cattrall's character here has family, family members that she loves keeps in her life.  These family members have helped form her current life, a life that needs to expand, a life that needs to find new meaning.

I mentioned that Kim Cattrall has paid her dues.  Remember the bawdy 1982 loss-of-virginity comedy called Porky's?  It was cheesy fun and a big box office hit.  Cattrall played the babe who howled like a collie during sex.  She was also in 1987's romantic comedy Mannequin.  She played the mannequin.  Ah....the 80s.

There was a excellent series on NBC in the late 1980s called The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.  If you remember and liked that show, I think you'll dig Kim Cattrall in Sensitive Skin.  Elliott Gould plays Al's doctor and Joanna Gleason is her usual fabulous self as Davina's older sister.  The sister is married and has a financially comfortable life.  However, she's been disappointed by life.  She's angry because she's heartbroken.  Season One has six episodes.  The depth and wit of Cattrall's performance hooked me right away.  Check out Sensitive Skin on Netflix.





Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sidney Poitier, Screen Legend.

TO SIR, WITH LOVE.  That title of his 1967 box office hit applies to the feelings millions of us have today as we wish Sidney Poitier a very happy 89th birthday.  How often I've dreamed of having the opportunity to interview him.  If I got only the privilege to meet him and shake his hand, I would do so with tears of joy streaming down my face.  That's how significant his work has been and continues to be to me.  I was born and raised in South Los Angeles when it was still called South Central.  Some of my favorite memories of family time involve Sidney Poitier.  I guess it's no surprise that whenever one of his new movies was out, we'd get into the Plymouth on a Friday night and head for the nearest drive-in movie theater so we could see movie star actor Sidney Poitier on the big screen.  How proud we all felt to see him up there.
My little sister and I would be in the back seat with our pajamas on underneath our clothes while our parents, of course, sat in the front seat.  I also remember how we all sat anxiously looking at the big box of lights and wires called a "television" in our living room and how Mom and Dad whooped with glee and pride when Anne Bancroft read that Sidney Poitier was the winner of the Best Actor Academy Award for 1963's LILIES OF THE FIELD.
Bancroft was so thrilled that she gave him a congratulatory kiss right then and there on live network television!  That was big deal back then, a time in which TV execs were neurotic and nervous about interracial moments of physical affection for fear of losing sponsors.  Seriously.
Sidney Poitier had already made Hollywood history as the first black man to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar thanks to his performance as the tough escaped convict handcuffed to a racist white convict in 1958's THE DEFIANT ONES.  Our family also gathered at that same TV to watch a special network news telecast one day.  It was Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington -- and Sidney Poitier was there with his dear friend, Harry Belafonte.
Here's Dr. King, Harry Belafonte, civil rights activist Asa Philip Randolph and Sidney Poiter.
By the time the 1966 western DUEL AT DIABLO rolled in, our family had grown.  My sister and I had a little brother.  When Mom and Dad felt he was old enough to handle a walk-in movie theater instead of being in the backseat of our Plymouth, we went to see Sidney Poitier and James Garner in Duel at Diablo on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  What a fun experience, the five of us seated in a movie theater row and enjoying that action-packed western.

Sidney Poitier didn't just act.  He became a film director.  He directed two friends who were with him at Dr. King's March on Washington -- Harry Belafonte and actress Ruby Dee.  She was Poitier's leading lady in the original 1959 Broadway cast of the landmark play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN.  They recreated their roles in the 1961 film adaptation.  Ruby Dee got her one Oscar nomination for a film released in 2007.  It was American Gangster starring Denzel Washington.   She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Poitier directed the 1972 western, BUCK AND THE PREACHER.  Poitier played a wagon master and Belafonte co-starred as a con man Bible thumper with some funky teeth.  You need to see Ruby Dee in this movie.  She's the wagon master's wife who wants to just leave and ride to Canada where black folks can live in peace.  She should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Poitier's Buck and the Preacher.

In the turbulent 1960s, Mr. Poitier was a major box office star.  The first black film performer to crack that color wall with lead roles.  People of all colors went to see movies that starred Sidney Poitier.  He starred in two of the five movies that were Oscar nominees for the Best Picture of 1967 -- GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  Both were big hits with critics and moviegoers alike.  The other nominees were BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE and DOCTOR DOOLITTLEGuess Who's Coming To Dinner earned 10 Oscar nominations.  Katharine Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in it.  In The Heat Of The Night won the Oscar for Best Picture and Rod Steiger, Poitier's co-star, won the Oscar for Best Actor.  Beah Richards, with a sophisticated role in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, became one of the first black women to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for a role in which she did not play a maid. She and Poitier had scenes together in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and in the racially-charged Southern murder mystery, In The Heat Of The Night.


I've long felt that In The Heat Of The Night should've brought Mr. Poitier his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  He is absolutely outstanding as Detective Virgil Tibbs.  Here's some other Oscar history:  The night those Oscars were given out, the ceremony had been postponed for the first time ever.  The ceremony and telecast were postponed two days because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.


1949 was a good year for Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  He won Oscars for directing and writing 1949's A Letter to Three Wives.  1950 was also a good year for him.  Mankiewicz won two more Oscars -- this time for directing and writing All About Eve.  His All About Eve also took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1950.  Mankiewicz got another Oscar nomination for that year.  He was nominated for writing 1950's NO WAY OUT, a groundbreaking racial drama starring Sidney Poitier as a hospital doctor.  The doctor is conflicted because the job demands that he care for a racist wounded criminal (played by Richard Widmark).  Movie audience of the 1930s and 40s had not been used to seeing a black actor as an doctor in an urban hospital with white fellow doctors.  According to an interview Sidney Poitier gave to the Los Angeles Times last year, some Southern areas refused to show the film.  Some. Not all.
Although they did not get screen credit, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis also appear in No Way Out as two of the doctor's relatives.

It's February 20th, 2016.  No Way Out airs at 8p Eastern tonight on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  See the screen legend early in his film career.  Before he made Hollywood history with his Oscar win.  Before he got a special lifetime achievement Oscar in 2002 -- the same year Denzel Washington and Halle Berry took home Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Again...Happy Birthday to actor, director and social activist Sidney Poitier.  Thank you, sir, for reflecting the best of us.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Bear with Astaire Flair in TED 2

Fred Astaire would so dig Ted's number.  There's one thing we can say about actor, singer, writer and producer Seth MacFarlane:  He loves Broadway showtunes and classic  MGM musicals.  You can tell that when you watch his animated TV series, The Family Guy.  There's a visual nod to the Broadway classic, A Chorus Line, in the credits.  In one episode, Baby Stewie recreates the Jerry the Mouse and Gene Kelly song and dance from MGM's 1945 musical, Anchors Aweigh.

2015 saw the release of TED 2, MacFarlane's sequel to his fantasy comedy movie, TED, in which we follows the misadventures of a potty-mouthed by adorable talking teddy bear.
Mark Wahlberg plays Ted's owner and best friend.  In Ted 2, the bear settles down and marries his hot blonde girlfriend (a human).  But Ted's best buddy is blue because he's been lonely for the six months following his divorce.  Then Ted has a civil rights issue regarding his marriage in Boston.  OK, that's enough of the plot.  But, if you've seen the totally inappropriate but often hysterically funny animated stuff on The Family Guy and American Dad!, you know not to be shocked by the bear and his buddy accidentally wrecking a sperm bank storage room.  Ted and John stick, not just to the floor, but through thick and thin.

A friend rented the DVD this week and urged me to watch with him because he felt I needed the laughs.  I was not prepared for the absolutely fabulous musical number for the opening credits that comes about five minutes into the movie during the wedding reception.
 I took the DVD the next day and watched that number about a half dozen times and, man! It slayed me!  The whole deluxe production number with showgirls and men in Fred Astaire-like tuxedos with top hats is like something out of a Freed Unit A-list MGM musical of the 1940s.  If you loved those musicals as much as I do, you will gasp at the class, wit, choreography and execution.  Rob Ashford choreographed it and a magnificent job he did.  Ted is in the number.  A dancing bear with all those terrific couples.  If the music sounds familiar that's because it's from a Freed Unit A-list MGM musical of the 1940s.  It's the "Steppin' Out With My Baby" number from Irving Berlin's Easter Parade starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.  If you have the CD soundtrack, you've heard that complete orchestra instrumental arrangement for the jazz dance performed by Fred Astaire.  The arrangement onscreen in Easter Parade is a bit shorter for Astaire's number.  Ted dances to the complete version heard on the CD soundtrack.  And the number is shot the way Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly numbers were shot in MGM musicals directed by Vincente Minnelli and Charles Walters.  We see the dancers full frame and the camera stays on them.  There's no manic cutting every three seconds, a style that goes back to MTV music videos.

For as lewd, crude and juvenile as the Seth MacFarlane comedy can get, he can give us something as swingin' and sophisticated as that opening number to an Irving Berlin tune.  MacFarlane directed Ted 2.

MacFarlane, by the way, has a rich singing voice and he cut a CD of vocals.  On Music Is Better Than Words, it is no surprise that he sings a couple of tunes from MGM musicals.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Check Out HAP AND LEONARD

This is a new original series, based on popular books, that premieres Wednesday night, March 2nd, on SundanceTV.  The story takes places in 1980s Texas.  The idealism of the 1960s is being mowed by the growing corporate mentality of the 1980s.  Press materials describe HAP AND LEONARD as being "swamp noir" and that's accurate.  There's an innocent guy who's described as "always the noble one, ready to make a stand."  There's a femme fatale working as a waitress in a diner.  There's a case with a whole lot of cash money in a swamp.  It's been there for years and some folks are hungry to get their hands on it. By the way, Christina Hendricks, the actress who played Joan on Mad Men, stars as Trudy, the femme fatale waitress.

Not only is Ms. Hendricks the Big Ben of the hourglass figures (as someone once wrote a long time ago about curvaceous Hollywood sex symbol/writer Mae West), she is one mighty fine actress.

I saw the first three episodes and here's one thing I really dig about it.  We focus on the two best friends, Hap and Leonard.  Hap, the idealist, was against the war in Vietnam when he got drafted.  He didn't serve.  Leonard is a Vietnam veteran.  Hap is white.  Leonard is black.  Hap is straight.  Leonard is gay.
Leonard is not closeted.  And he's not a victim.  Mess with him or someone close to him and he can open up a whup-ass on you in a heartbeat.  He's got more a temper than Hap.  Hap and Leonard -- and Trudy -- have known each other for a long time.
In fact, Trudy and Hap were a romantic item way back when he got drafted.  Yep, they've known each other a long time.  And, even though she went on to other men, she still knows how to get to Hap.
The main thing that hooked me into the episodes right away as the central friendship.  TV rarely gives us a show with a look at a straight/gay male friendship.  We've seen it in sitcoms like Happy Endings, the sitcom on ABC that was pretty bright and fresh but, unfortunately, yanked by the network.  I loved the Chicago friendship between gay Max, the bear who was no slave to fashion, and straight Dave, his best buddy.  Happy Endings had a cast of characters.  As said in its promos, "Like Friends -- only with black people."  I liked that sitcom.  I can think of other TV shows that had gay characters -- a barrel full nowadays -- but I can think of one that focused on a straight/gay male friendship.  Especially one that showed that the two characters really need this friendship and take care of each other.  They accept each other as they are.  I'm personally interested in this because I had a couple of straight roommates back in the 80s who continue to be two of the most special people in my life.

Leonard knows all about Hap's romantic past with Trudy.  Hap knows about Leonard's romantic past. I could see some of my friendships with straight men in the Hap and Leonard friendship.
I like it when I watch a show that gives me that zing of recognition and realness.  There are quirky characters and a couple of straight-up psycho killers on the loose while the two best friends and Trudy try to get their hands on the loot.  This series is based on books by Joe. R. Lansdale.
Leonard, the gay Vietnam vet, is played by Michael Kenneth Williams.  Cable TV viewers will recognize him as the actor who played Omar on HBO's The Wire.  He was later in the cast of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.  Hap is played by James Purefoy.  Once again, TV gives us a British actor who absolutely nails an American accent.  As for Hendricks, she's doing sort of a Barbara Stanwyck turn here.  In her classic films, Stanwyck was the ambitious woman who knew herself and could be a player in the boys' game.  Stanwyck could play that kind of woman for laughs in The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire, she could play her with a sense of righteousness as in Meet John Doe and she could play the dark side of the ambitious woman as she did brilliantly in Double Indemnity.  Christina Hendricks is again playing a woman who's ambitious, who knows herself and who's in a game with the boys.  But she's in the backwoods of Texas in the 1980s this time.  Not in the concrete jungle of 1950s/60s New York City.  Here's a trailer for SundanceTV's Hap And Leonard.
 I hope it's a hit.





Monday, February 15, 2016

Michael Fassbender as STEVE JOBS

The CEO of Apple, hailed as the pioneer of the personal computer revolution, died in 2011 at age 56 of cancer.  After that, he died twice at the box office.  The first time was when his 2013 biopic, JOBS starring Ashton Kutcher, flatlined at the box office.  The same thing happened with the 2015 biopic, STEVE JOBS, a film that some top critics loved.  Two performances in the flop biopic took it to this year's Oscars face. Michael Fassbender is a Best Actor nominee for his portrayal the late billionaire and Kate Winslet is in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar category for her work as Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman.  Fassbender is seen here in the white shirt standing next to Winslet in a shot from the film.
Fassbender and Winslet are extremely talented, versatile, strong actors.  Do they give Oscar nomination worthy performances in this film?  Yes.  Especially considering there vocal work.  Fassbender is a German-Irish guy who was raised in Ireland.  He does sound like a Northern Californian in this Bay Area-based drama.  Winslet is a Brit doing a Polish-American accent.  However, you must admit he's an odd choice for Jobs.  He doesn't resemble Jobs.
The biopic flashes back to computer giant's days as a young man working in a garage and takes us to the height of his fame before illness struck.
There's no obvious cosmetic attempt to make Fassbender resemble Steve Jobs.
They get the wardrobe right but not the physical characteristics.  The film opens with an actor who does not look like Steve Jobs playing Steve Jobs as he prepares for one of his major 1980s presentations.  Within the first five minutes, Jobs strikes you as being brilliant but a prick.  Twenty minutes later, you just want to slap him for his rudeness, selfish, arrogance, his lack of gratitude and his cheapness.  He's upset that he's not on the cover of TIME magazine.  He's in a legal dispute with his ex-girlfriend who is also the mother of his little girl.  Mother and child are on welfare.  The mother is begging him for money.  He's made $441 million.  The first 20 minutes needed a strong "Rosebud" moment...like in Citizen Kane.

I have the DVD of this film and took three attempts at watching it straight through to the end.  The third time worked.  I dozed off in the middle the first two times.  It's not bad movie.  It's just that this talky screenplay full of arguments didn't really make me care about Jobs.  What was the Aaron Sorkin screenplay trying to say?  What did he want to tell us?  Was this supposed to be a cautionary tale of how not to behave?  This glossy, quick-paced production reminded me of a line from 1939's The Wizard of Oz that's said by Tin Man:  "The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart." Steve Jobs, the movie, doesn't have a heart.
Fassbender is in fine form.  Winslet, as the voice of reason who sees the mess he's made of friendships and family relations ultimately orders him to "Fix it!,"  We like her.  Winslet bites into this role like it's a thick, juicy T-bone steak.  My favorite parts of the film are their scenes together.  It's like watching two tennis greats in a championship match.
There's a very impressive dramatic performance from Seth Rogen as the mistreated Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.  We usually see Seth in broad comedies but, wow, he's quite strong here in a serious role.  You care about him because -- like millions of us -- all he's asking for is acknowledgement of his hard work.  A thank you.  And Jobs refuses to give it.  You wait for Wozniak to call Jobs on his crappy behavior.
Because the screenplay portrait made Jobs such a wealthy and driven jerk, I loved the scene near the end where the now college-aged daughter tells him off backstage in front of people moments before he's scheduled to go onstage to a theater packed with cheering fans and devoted followers.  Jobs philosophy is "...as long as you have control."  He can control his brand and his image.  He needs to learn self-control when it comes to the cold way his treats the people closest to him.  The daughter's verbal roasting makes him realize he needs to, as Joanna ordered, "fix it."

I like Fassbender.  I thought of other 2015 performances by men in films with more satisfying screenplays that I would've put in the Best Actor Oscar race.  Men like Benecio Del Toro as the Mexican drug war federal agent in Sicario, Ian McKellan as the older and infirm Sherlock Holmes solving one last mystery in Mr. Holmes and the late Robin Williams as the closeted married man whose infatuation with a young street hustler shakes up his life in Boulevard.  Tom Hanks was in peak form for Bridge of Spies.  He's excellent in it.

Remember the over-caffeinated way the characters delivered dialogue on Sorkin's NBC series, The West Wing, coupled with those "walk and talk" scenes?  There's a lot of that in Steve Jobs.  But there's not much heart.  I felt it's a somewhat hollow movie.  Did you see it?  If so, what's your opinion? Steve Jobs was directed by Danny Boyle, the man who gave us Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.


 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Film Critics: The TV Field Lacks Color

His writing excites me.  He's so passionate about films.  Have you ever seen him on TV shows do film reviews?  Probably not.  He's Justin Chang and he writes film reviews for Variety.
Have you ever seen this gent reviewing movies weekly on a network morning news show?  Probably not. He's Wesley Morris.   He now writes for the New York Times.  When he wrote for The Boston Globe, he won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism.  He was the fifth film critic to win the prize and the first black journalist to do so.  One of the previous winners was the late Roger Ebert.
A New York City talent, Mike Sargent is a film critic, an indie filmmaker and he has a WBAI radio show.  On TV, he was the host of Arise On Screen on cable's Arise TV.  On this smart weekend film review & interview show, he invited two guest critics to come on with him to review Hollywood fare, indie movies and foreign films.  Here's a photo from one taping with Mike on the far left, film reviewer Raqiyah Mays in the middle and yours truly on the far right.
Arise On Screen presented black female film critics on a regular basis. It put a regular spotlight on women directors and gay & lesbian filmmakers.  The show went off the air in 2015 after a 2-year run. TV columnists in New York City's top newspaper never gave Mike's show a review or mention.

Have you ever heard of the African American Film Critics Association?
This organization has been around a few years and it hands out awards.
Now think of the movie critics you've seen on TV and play my short piece on diversity.




Thursday, February 11, 2016

Marion Dougherty in CASTING BY

 He's on a leave of absence now but one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning is listen to Scott Simon host the Saturday Weekend Edition on NPR.  Scott interviewed me on the January 16th show near the end of the program.  For the second year in a row, there's a controversy over the Academy's obvious lack of racial diversity in its top categories of Oscar nominees.  Scott and I addressed that topic.  As a veteran network celebrity talk show and entertainment news contributor, I've talked to minority actors about the diversity issue for decades.  I told Scott in our chat that Hollywood needed more pro-diversity champions like the late Marion Dougherty.  He said that he didn't know who she was.  Well, he may not had known her name but he definitely knows her work.  And so do you.
Marion Dougherty was the groundbreaking and remarkable casting director whose film credits included MIDNIGHT COWBOY, THE STING, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, REDS, BATMAN and LETHAL WEAPON.  She also did TV casting and launched careers of newcomers who became great stars.  Several people in the Hollywood community campaigned for Dougherty to receive a special Oscar for the career achievements.
 She deserved one, but she never got one.
As I told Scott on NPR, the director of Lethal Weapon had planned to cast Brian Dennehy opposite Mel Gibson.  She told the director that nothing in the script said that the older cop had to be played by a white actor.  Marion wanted him to see actor Danny Glover for an audition.  Glover got the part.  Glover and Gibson were a terrific team.  The movie did colossal business at the box office.  Also, her creative thinking and casting proved to Hollywood that black actors are marketable and should be considered for more roles than they are.
You really need to see the highly interesting and illuminating documentary that was done on her.  It's called CASTING BY.  The documentary not only introduces you to Marion Dougherty.   You get great insights into the film business.  You see how Hollywood was and how it changed.  You see the ways in which it didn't change.  You'll see how talent was found and remembered and nurtured.  Here's a trailer for Casting By.
I interviewed Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner in the late 1980s and he had extreme praise for the vision Marion Dougherty.  He credited her with helping to make the movie a hit.  You'll hear him tell more about her inspiration in the documentary.


This is a 2013 documentary that's quite relevant and timely today.  The current call for more diversity in the Academy and in the TV and movie industry is not solely for racial diversity.  It's for gender diversity too.  Watch this documentary, watch the enormous contributions Ms. Dougherty made to the art of filmmaking and notice how many other casting directors -- people who were influenced by her artistry -- are women.  According to newspaper reports, the Academy is 77% male and 94% white.

Watch Casting By and ask yourself this:  If Dougherty had been a man and had made all those breakthroughs and launched the careers of all that talent, would Dougherty then have been given a special career achievement Oscar?  Think about it.

Marion Dougherty was a pioneer, a visionary, an artist, a lover of films and actors -- and she was a champion of equal opportunities.  This 90 minute HBO documentary is available on Amazon Video.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No Seat for Wes Anderson Actor

THE DARJEELING LIMITED.  Three American brothers travel to India to repair their strained relationships after the death of their father.  That Wes Anderson film was one of my favorites of 2007.  Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman played the bickering brothers and Anjelica Huston delivered a fabulous turn as the mother.  Another actor who stood out was the tall, slim, elegant gent with the soulful eyes who played the Chief Steward aboard the train.  He was Waris Ahluwalia.  He looks like a GQ magazine cover.
This Brooklyn resident, an actor and a designer, had worked with director Wes Anderson in a previous film.  He's also in Spike Lee's Inside Man starring Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster.  I totally loved watching him get some love in The Darjeeling Limited.  He made such an impression that I checked my press materials after the screening to make note of his name.
When I saw Wes Anderson's THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, I said to myself "There's the actor from The Darjeeling Limited!"  Waris Ahluwalia is in that marvelous movie too.  The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of my picks for the Top Ten movies of 2014.  Here's Waris with fellow cast members Adrien Brody, F. Murray Abraham (red sweater) and Bill Murray.
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture of 2014.

Last night, I saw on Twitter that the actor hit a snag during a trip.  He was not allowed on his flight because of his turban.  This morning, I got up early, turned on the news and I checked Twitter for headlines and such.  A Twitter news update from TIME magazine via @TIME tweeted this today:

"Sikh man barred from Mexico flight sees 'small victory' as airline issues new guidelines"

"Sikh man"!?!?  Seriously, TIME?  Would Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Bill Murray have been reduced to "White guys" had they been wearing turbans?

Mr. Ahluwalia did not have bit parts in those Wes Anderson films.  He was an excellent supporting actor -- and a supporting actor in an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  I wish I had the film acting credits on my resumé that Waris Ahluwalia has on his.  I expected better from TIME.

By the way, if you've never seen The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Bupadest Hotel, keep then in mind as DVD rentals over the long upcoming holiday weekend.

To see the actor's design work, check out his website.  And make sure to look at the jewelry section.  Gorgeous goods.  Here's his website:  HouseOfWaris.com.




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 been 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.






Billy Wilder DVD Double Feature

Fred MacMurray.  Man, there was an actor who deserves more attention than he gets from classic film enthusiasts.  We baby boomers loved him ...