Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Edward Norton and Foul-Mouthed Food

One big wiener likes to get all up in your face.  Another wiener is not as long as his meat buddies, but he's got girth.  There's a genius wad of gum in a wheelchair.  The gum sounds like Stephen Hawking.  And there's a lesbian taco shell.  They're all in an animated feature I watched over the weekend on Netflix.  If you watched SAUSAGE PARTY on the job, you'd have the keep the audio very low because the language is extremely NSFW (Not Safe For Work).  It's offensive.  And funny.  The Seth Rogen comedy posse is involved in this -- Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson -- so that should prepare you for what your ears are about to experience.  You've got potty-mouthed produce and sexually frustrated supermarket items running for their lives.
All the food items think that we human shoppers are gods who take them to a wonderful, magical place like The Emerald City in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Then some of the food items see the shocking truth when they are purchased and wind up in a torture chamber called "a kitchen."  Baby carrots are eaten.  The eyes and skin on a potato are peeled off.  Chips and cheese are placed in a microwave oven. The horror...the horror.

They must flee, return to the supermarket and warn the others.  They must fight back.  In the meantime, the lesbian taco warrior has a crush on the lovely lady buns that one wiener wants as his girlfriend.  A Middle Eastern food item must learn to get along with a New York bagel.
Yes, there's salty language coming from salted foods and there's some freaky same-aisle sex among the products that will make you think the supermarket should've been called Glory Whole Foods, but this silly and verbally offensive feature did make me laugh.  As a performer who has done a lot of voiceover work on television, I loved the voiceover work actors did in SAUSAGE PARTY.

I did not click off when the closing credits started to roll because I wanted to see work did the perfect Woody Allen imitation vocal work for the bagel.

How talented can one actor be?!?!?  It was....EDWARD NORTON!

The bagel was voiced by the same man who played the talented but egotistical and annoying Broadway actor (think of young William Hurt) in BIRDMAN...
...played Inspector Henckels in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL...
 ...the racist skinhead convict in AMERICAN HISTORY X...
 ...the charismatic but delusional Southern California cowboy in DEEP IN THE VALLEY...
 ...and the British doctor working to cure cholera in 1920s China while dealing with the virus of infidelity that has infected his marriage.  Edward Norton and Naomi Watts were remarkable in 2006's THE PAINTED VEIL.
Top critics loved THE PAINTED VEIL and picked it as one of the year's Ten Best films.  I agreed with them.  But it didn't seem to get much promotion and movie audiences let it pass by.  I paid to see it and the audience loved it.  One woman in a row behind me said "That was a movie like in the good ol' days."  I agreed with her.  It was like a classic Fred Zinnemann or William Wyler film.  It should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Norton and Watts were Oscar-nomination worthy.  So was veteran actress Diana Rigg as a very worldly nun.  THE PAINTED VEIL is a mature, quality film that did not get a single Oscar nomination. Stars Edward Norton and Naomi Watts produced it.

Edward Norton showed all that versatility and range in previous performances -- and then proved to be a great bagel in SAUSAGE PARTY.  I love me some Edward Norton.





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A DETECTIVE STORY Question

In the canon of films directed by William Wyler, DETECTIVE STORY isn't one that gets a lot of mention.  Not like Wyler's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE HEIRESS, ROMAN HOLIDAY, BEN-HUR or the three Bette Davis classics he directed -- JEZEBEL, THE LETTER and THE LITTLE FOXES.  Just like Wyler's 1937 film, DEAD END, DETECTIVE STORY was based on a dramatic play by Sidney Kingsley.  1951's DETECTIVE STORY starred Kirk Douglas as a New York City police detective who can only see the worst in people.  One of my favorite Kirk Douglas performances is in this film.  Det. McLeod's anger comes out in harmful police brutality which he's been warned about by his precinct captain.
His once-happy marriage starts to suffer because, as his disappointed wife says, he's grown "cruel and vengeful."  Det. McLeod has become the very things that he hated in his father.  This cop is a case of the emotionally abused one now being the abuser.  Eleanor Parker racked up the second of her three Best Actress Oscar nominations as the good, loving and loyal wife who was not a virgin when she married him.  He didn't know that.  He hits his wife with verbal abuse and starts to treat her like she's just another cheap criminal.
Lee Grant got the first of her four Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for her performance as the awkward shoplifter in DETECTIVE STORY.
There's an opening exterior scene in which a cop abuses his law enforcement power as he parallel parks.  The cop's irresponsibility and carelessness loudly damages someone else's car.  He doesn't apologize.  This sets up the tone of the story and the serious flaw we'll see revealed in the main character who's played by Kirk Douglas.

There's a casting connection to DETECTIVE STORY and Stanley Kubrick's anti-war film, PATHS OF GLORY.  That's another classic featuring Kirk Douglas at his best.  In Kubrick's World War 1 film, Douglas plays Col. Dax.  He's the commanding officer who tries to defend a few of his men in a court-martial.  He feels they were set up to fail in battle by an ambitious general.  The innocent soldiers in danger of being executed are scapegoats.  The ambitious, irresponsible general in Kubrick's 1957 classic was played by actor George Macready.
You saw Macready opposite Rita Hayworth as the jealous German who marries GILDA and as the tuxedo-wearing Manhattan gangster in Hayworth's Technicolor fantasy/musical, DOWN TO EARTH.  In DETECTIVE STORY, he plays a man accused of performing abortions.
The abortionist may have known the detective's wife before she and the detective met, fell in love and got married.

I have a question about a DETECTIVE STORY cast member.  And, yes, I raleady looked at Wikipedia and IMDb online sites.  The actor plays the black cop in the precinct.  The only black cop.  He has lines and he's seen in a good portion of the movie.  But he's not referred to by name which made it a bit tough to look him up. Does anyone know his name and background?  Was he in the original Broadway cast along with Lee Grant?
He was a handsome actor and bore a slight resemblance to James Edwards, the actor who played the African-American army veteran undergoing psychoanalysis in 1949's HOME OF THE BRAVE.  Edwards also played one of the Bay Area bohemian buddies to Elizabeth Taylor's character in THE SANDPIPER.  If you know who this black actor with Kirk Douglas is, please post a message and tell me.  I always notice him every time I watch DETECTIVE STORY.  I'd like to know if he did other acting roles.

Thanks for reading my blog post.




Monday, March 27, 2017

See SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

It's dark.  It's delicious.  It's a modern-day fairy tale in which a handsome coachman is really duplicitous.  He plots to have a life of privilege in the castle -- like a Prince Charming. SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE is an overlooked gem from 1970 starring a madly glamorous Angela Lansbury as a widowed countess and Michael York as the charming fraud.  It's wickedly good and very entertaining.  You will get a kick out of their corruption.
1966 was a magnificent year for Angela Lansbury.  She was known in Hollywood as a solid dramatic actress who scored Oscar nominations in the Best Supporting Actress category for GASLIGHT (1944), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962).  Broadway gave her the kind of radiant leading lady stardom that Hollywood had not.  She surprised the entertainment industry when she landed the plum role of MAME in the Broadway musical version of the classic Broadway and movie hit comedy, AUNTIE MAME.  Hollywood had never really utilized Angela Lansbury's singing, dancing and comedy skills.  MAME opened and she became the hottest ticket on Broadway.  Songs she introduced in MAME were covered by popular singers such as Eydie Gormé, Shirley Bassey and Robert Goulet.  They were big hits on Top 40 radio and the record charts.  Many years later, even the TV cast of GLEE recorded a classic she introduced in MAME.  Lansbury played the saloon owner, the vamp rival in the MGM musical western, THE HARVEY GIRLS, starring Judy Garland.  Lansbury's singing was dubbed because MGM didn't feel her voice was sultry enough for the 1946 feature.  In late 1960s, Angela Lansbury was a glamorous Broadway musical star.  Stardom finally arrived when she hit 40.  In SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, the multi-talented Lansbury was not the supporting actress.
1970's SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE is not a musical but it does show that Hollywood had really dropped the ball by not giving Lansbury sophisticated comedy roles.  If you know Angela Lansbury mostly from her long-running MURDER, SHE WROTE television series and her voice-over singing as Mrs. Potts in Disney's animated 1991 classic, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, you need to find and listen to her MAME original Broadway cast album vocals and you need to see SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE.
The widowed, elegant Countess notices how handsome and sexually attractive this poor young man in need of work is.  He notices that she notices.  She gives him a job.  He's the opportunist who wants privilege and must get rid of anyone who stands in his way of living the good life in the castle.  As Sally Bowles will say to Michael York's character in 1972's CABARET, that Austrian castle has an air of "divine decadence."
Play this SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE clip to get a whiff of that decadence:
I have seen this movie several times and loved it a little more each time.  I always rented the VHS or saw it at a revival movie theater because it was never on TV.  Well...it's now on Blu-ray thanks to KinoLorber.com. Look for it there and on Amazon.

On a weekend, I recommend you watch SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE as half of a double feature.  Watch it with the new documentary BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED which I saw and absolutely loved on Netflix.  It's a moving, heartwarming look at middle-age and the dreams of youth within the true backstage story of a Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim show that opened and unexpectedly flopped with a loud thud on Broadway in the 1980s.  Yes, the true story of a Broadway musical that got killed by the critics now provides the basis for a moving and heartwarming documentary.  Trust me on this. So, why should that 90-minute documentary on Netflix be on a double feature with a decadent modern-day fairy tale set in post-war Austria?  The famous, acclaimed producer of that Broadway flop is seen quite a bit in the documentary.  1970's SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE is one of the rare movies that he directed.
Yes.   Broadway producer/director Hal Prince directed his future SWEENEY TODD Broadway star, Angela Lansbury, in SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE.  It's the best of two films he directed.  The other one was a 1977 version of Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, a musical starring Elizabeth Taylor singing "Send In The Clowns."  Seriously.  Stick with SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Arts in My High School

My youth in South Central Los Angeles.  We'd get in the car and have a family night at the drive-in movies or we'd go to a walk-in theater and see LADY SINGS THE BLUES, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, BULLITT or FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

At Verbum Dei, the Catholic all-boys high school I graduated from in Watts, we didn't have a big budget for extracurricular activities like schools in the then-predominantly white and upscale neighborhoods did.  For us, the faculty got discounts on quality films showing exclusively in the Hollywood area.  A weekday field trip on the bus to go see a matinee of those films was part of our fine arts program.  Some of the dudes in my class would get off those buses sporting Afros the size of radar dishes.  Our student body was African-American and Mexican-American.  The movies we saw, the movies that inspired us to check out the source material in the school or local neighborhood library, did not match the TV news images you saw of young Black and Chicano males in Watts.  But we did see these films and later discussed them in our English Lit. classroom:

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD starring Julie Christie...
...co-starring Peter Finch and Terence Stamp as the men in the life of strong-willed Bathsheba Everdeen, the character created by novelist Thomas Hardy.
We saw Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More clash with the king in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.
We saw Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting as Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET in a beautiful hit film directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
That movie was such a hit with young moviegoers that its soundtrack was also a hit.  The theme was tops on the record charts.
Seeing that film in high school came to my mind instantly when, during my VH1 talk show host years, I was flown to London to do an exclusive one-hour interview of Paul McCartney.

The longest film I've seen is, to this day, one of my favorite foreign films.  I wish that it would be remastered and restored for DVD.  I saw this film more than once in my adult years long after my high school graduation.  We students got on the bus twice to go to the Hollywood area for WAR AND PEACE.


This Oscar-winning foreign film was like the GONE WITH THE WIND of Russia in that there was a 5 year search for the perfect actress to play the young and lovely Natasha.  Sergei Bondarchuk, the actor who portrayed Pierre in the film, directed this epic WAR AND PEACE.  He also co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of the Tolstoy classic.  Man, what a great film.
The film ran about 7 hours and there's not a dull minute in it, as far as I'm concerned.  It was so long that ticket buyers saw the first half one week and then returned to see the last week the following week.  Our English Lit. class was told by the principal that we had to attend the first half.  If we did not care to see the last half, we'd need a note from a parent or guardian and we'd be excused.

Every single guy except one returned to the see the second half.  The one who did not join us had a medical excuse.  He'd broken his ankle on campus during football practice.  Verbum Dei High School still stands in Watts.  The Watts Riots of the 1960s happened just a few years before we started high school.  This was our Watts community when that rebellion made national headlines.


Our family lived in the curfew area.  I started there and eventually went to London to meet one of The Beatles..."with a little help from my friends" and parents and teachers along the way.

Those were quality films that we African-American and Mexican-American high school students in South Central L.A. went to see on fine arts field trips.  I'm still proud to have been in that class.  And I'm grateful to the teachers who connected us to the arts in and out of the classroom.

I owe a great deal of the success I've had in my TV career to arts education in school.





Saturday, March 25, 2017

We Loved Lola Albright

She was one talented and under-utilized Hollywood actress.  If Anne Bancroft had not been available, Lola Albright would have made a great Mrs. Robinson in THE GRADUATE.  That's my opinion.   The entertainment news came that Lola Alright passed away peacefully in upscale Toluca Lake, California this week.  She was 92.
I picked up so much of love for classic films from Mom and Dad.  Not just Hollywood films but foreign ones too.  Mom worked as a registered nurse.  Dad worked at the main post office in downtown L.A.  On the rare times Mom had a weekday off from work, she was never one to watch daytime television unless to see a newscast or a special news presentation.  During a Christmas or summer vacation from school, I'd be the one watching a classic film on daytime TV.  Back then, long before cable and VHS tapes and DVDs and home entertainment hook-ups, independent local TV stations and the network affiliates went into their libraries and played old movies to fill up programming time.  If I was ever watching an old movie in the daytime and Mom stopped what she was doing to watch it with me or stopped and, said the name of the star and smiled, I knew the movie and/or the star was significant.  If NOW, VOYAGER was on, Mom would stand and look at the TV like she was under a hypnotic spell.  I loved those moments.  If I was watching an old movie and if Mom walked into the living room, saw the TV, paused and said "Oooh, Stanwyck" or "Oooh, Ingrid Bergman," "Brando" or "Mmmm, William Holden," I knew I should pay attention to the work of those actors.

I was especially fascinated at how much a fan Mom was of actresses who were not big stars in the Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn Hollywood sense, but they were women whose talent and work excited her.  Actresses like Simone Signoret, Lilli Palmer and Patricia Neal.  One such actress was Lola Albright.

Mom always said, "Hollywood should have given Lola Albright the kind of good scripts that usually went to Barbara Stanwyck."  As I got older and my passion for classic films deepened, I came to agree totally with my mother on that.  Look at Lola Albright as Kirk Douglas' leading lady in the boxing drama, CHAMPION (1949).
She's the long, cool, classy blonde we see cuddling and smooching Frank Sinatra in the opening scene of THE TENDER TRAP, a romantic comedy that always acts on me like a tasty tonic.  That is one of my favorite go-to feel-good films from the 1950s.
Mom loved watching her on the hit TV private detective series, PETER GUNN.  Blake Edwards created the series, Henry Mancini supplied the jazzy and very popular theme music that opened each episode.  Lola Albright played the private eye's girlfriend, a jazz club singer.
    
On TV, Lola Albright got to do what Hollywood films should have let her do -- she sang.  Here she is in a clip from PETER GUNN.  Craig Stevens played Peter Gunn.

Albright was such a good vocalist that she got a contract and cut record albums in the 1950s.
MGM let her sing for a few seconds.  In the open of EASTER PARADE (1948), she's one of the hat models who sings "Happy Easter" to Fred Astaire.

Watch the 1961 drama, A COLD WIND IN AUGUST, and you will see more of what a terrific actress she was.  She played the hip middle-aged stripper who falls for a guy who's almost 18.
For her performance in the 1966 satire of American teen culture, LORD LOVE A DUCK, Lola Albright won the Berlin International Film Festival for Best Actress.

She was married three times.  Her second husband was veteran film actor Jack Carson during his A STAR IS BORN (1954) and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958) period.

Mom and I loved Lola Albright.

Friday, March 24, 2017

On Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher

I loved her work, her humor and her spirit.  When she went after the lead role in MGM's first-rate adaptation of the hit Broadway musical comedy THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, the casting of Debbie Reynolds turned out to be the perfect marriage of performer and material.  She was "unsinkable."  Debbie Reynolds was a walking lesson in perseverance.
I still give thanks for being hired by VH1 in the late 80s.  I loved every single work day during my three years.  That's where a dream came true for me.  I got to host an entertainment talk show.  And a pretty good one, if I say so myself.  I have so many great memories of that time.   Two days at the top of those memories are the days Carrie Fisher came to be a guest and the day her mother, Debbie Reynolds, came to be a guest.  I loved them.  The crew loved them.  Both Carrie and Debbie stuck around afterwards, posed for photos and gave autographs.  They were genuine and generous with their time.  And extremely funny.
By the early 1990s, I began to feel that, although they were very famous movie actresses, Hollywood never quite showed its appreciation for their hard work and their multi-talents.  Carrie could've just coasted on STARS WARS fame.  The original trilogy of STAR WARS adventures made her a pop culture icon and internationally famous.  But she proved to be a terrific writer, sort of the Oscar Levant of Baby Boomers.  She wrote best-selling novels and hysterically funny memoirs. She adapted her first book, the novel POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, into a screenplay that Mike Nichols directed.  Carrie's screenplay brought Meryl Streep another Best Actress Oscar nomination.  Her wise, witty and highly quotable screenplay was practically an original story.  Read the novel.  The movie star mother is in less than ten pages of the book.  She's a minor character in the novel.  However, the screenplay is all about the relationship between the fresh out-of-rehab actress daughter and her former queen of Hollywood musicals mother.  Carrie should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay.  She wrote a great script for Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.
The celebrated staircase argument scene between Suzanne Vale and her mother, Doris Mann in which Doris bellows "It twirled up!" isn't in the book at all.  Carrie gave us fresh material in her screenplay.
And did Carrie Fisher ever get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in her lifetime?
As for Debbie, I wish Hollywood had given her the same regard for her acting skills that it gave Oscar winner and 5-time Oscar nominee, Shirley MacLaine.  Debbie was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1964's THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN.  She should have been in that category again for 1996's MOTHER, the sharp and insightful comedy written by, directed by and co-starring Albert Brooks.  Debbie was on top of her game in this character comedy role.
For decades, Debbie Reynolds was a tireless entertainer who loved Hollywood and worked hard to help preserve its history.  But Hollywood didn't seem to care about giving her a financial hand to help preserve that history.  And Hollywood seemed to think of her mainly as that cute star from a couple of A-list movie musicals. It overlooked the solid non-musical work she did in films like THE CATERED AFFAIR, THE RAT RACE, DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE and WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?  When The Academy finally did get a clue and bestow her with an honorary Oscar in 2015, the SINGIN' IN THE RAIN star was ill and unable to attend to ceremony.
The mother-daughter bond that Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher had was the stuff of a classic tearjerker movie like TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

Think about this:  If someone made a movie about a sometimes fractured, mostly loving mother-daughter relationship  -- both actressess -- that was so deep and so devoted that when the daughter unexpectedly dies in the last act, the mother unexpectedly dies the next day, critics would have roasted it.  They would have written that it was totally implausible and unbelievably sentimental.  But it happened in real life.  In real Hollywood life.  The Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds love and deaths are now the stuff of Hollywood legend.
The joint memorial for Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher will be held at 1pm Pacific Time on Saturday, March 25th, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.  According to The Los Angeles Times, the memorial will be live-streamed on DebbieReynolds.com.






Thursday, March 23, 2017

Give Michael Peña More Lead Roles

I totally dig actor Michael Peña.  He reminds me of every cool Mexican-American dude who was my classmate during my Catholic high school years in Watts back in South Central L.A.  Actor Michael Peña can go from serious dramatic work to giving you a solid comedy performance as easily as the snap of your fingers.  He is that talented, that versatile.  I've been a fan of his for over ten years.  He's not the leading man or the star of most the films in which I've seen him, but he always delivered.  He always stood out.  Each performance was good.  Each was different.  It's Thursday and he was a guest in the last hour of today's GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  He was promoting his new film, a big screen comedy version of the popular old TV cop series, CHIPS.  You can probably guess he took on the role that made Erik Estrada a TV star in the late 1970s.
Let's face it.  We can tell this movie is not exactly highbrow.  It's another very loose Hollywood update adaptation of a hit TV series from decades ago.  Critics haven't been keen on it.
BUT...Michael Peña has a lead role.  He plays the sexy, street smart half of the cop duo.  He deserves lead roles.  If CHIPS does well at the box office this weekend, Hollywood will notice and, I hope, send him more scripts with lead role offers.  Good script offers. Here's a CHIPS trailer.

I first really noticed Peña on the big screen in a small role.  He was in the Clint Eastwood film, MILLION DOLLAR BABY.  Eastwood's 2004 film won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Peña had a bigger role and played a key figure in the movie CRASH.  That crime story about racial images in Los Angeles won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2005.

Michael Peña has acted in five films that were Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  He did MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, BABEL, AMERICAN HUSTLE in which he stole scenes as the guy masquerading as the wealthy Sheik Abdullah, and he played a space crew member in THE MARTIAN.

In this age of diversity and inclusion matters, a minority actor being able to boast of having worked in five Best Picture Oscar nominees -- and two of them won -- that's pretty significant.  I would've mentioned that on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

Michael Peña starred in a biopic that didn't seem to get much promotion and, unfortunately, didn't get much attention at the box office.  But it's a credit he can still be proud to have on his resumé.  He played a character who was extremely important to all of us in high school -- students and teachers alike.  The Mexican-American actor played CESAR CHAVEZ in 2014.  Actor Diego Luna (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, MILK and ROGUE ONE) directed the biopic about the California civil rights activist and labor organizer.  America Ferrara co-starred.

I would've mentioned that in the actor's GOOD MORNING AMERICA introduction too.

For comic book movie fans, Michael Peña announced that there will be a sequel to ANT-MAN.  The big news is that he has completed the highly-anticipated film adaptation of the classic sci-fi fantasy novel, A WRINKLE IN TIME.  Ava DuVernay directed the film.  Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine also headline the cast.

I'd love to buy a ticket to that one right now.  Bravo, Michael Peña!  You are way overdue for movie stardom.  You've earned it.