Wednesday, February 26, 2014

See Me on Oscar Weekend

Saturday evening and on Oscar® Sunday before the fabulous film awards are giving out on ABC, watch me online.  Watch me on television if you're in London.  I'll be joining On Screen host, Mike Sargent, in his special show looking at those going for the Hollywood gold.  We'll also give you some Black History blended into the March 2nd Academy Awards telecast.

Look how far the history and contributions of black filmmakers have come in the Academy's history.  From the first black performer nominated and the first to win an Oscar -- Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress for 1939's Gone With The Wind...
....to glamorous and talented Dorothy Dandridge -- the first black woman to be nominated for Best Actress, thanks to her fierce and unforgettable performance in the 1954 musical drama, Carmen Jones opposite Harry Belafonte...


...to our current nominees, that's some history. Britain's Chiwetel Ejiofor (left) is a contender for the Best Actor Oscar and Steve McQueen (right) is a nominee for Best Director.  They gave us the powerful 12 Years a Slave.


If Mr. McQueen wins, he'll be the first black person to take home the Oscar for Best Director.

In his true tale of America's age of slavery, the stunning Lupita Nyong'o follows Oscar winners Hattie McDaniel, Miyoshi Umeki, Rita Moreno, Whoopi Goldberg and Octavia Spencer as a black/Asian/Latina woman nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Ms. Nyong'o is a Yale graduate of Kenyan descent who was born in Mexico.
Our panel may get to discuss popular and well-reviewed films featuring black talent that did not make it to the list of Oscar nominees -- films like Lee Daniels' The Butler, the look at America's civil rights movementstarring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey....


...and the highly-acclaimed independent film, Fruitvale Station, produced by Forest Whitaker.

Check me out in the special edition of On Screen Saturday evening or on Oscar Sunday.  Remember, the show airs online here in the U.S.  On Screen airs on television in London.  Please go to Arise.TV and then click onto the Arise 360 section up top to take you to the entertainment page with On Screen.

If you're having an Oscar party and need a list of nominees to print out, go here:  oscar.go.com.  Click onto Nominees.

By the way, I'm also slated to be a guest on the March 8th edition of On Screen, Arise TV's film review/interview and entertainment news program.

And don't forget to lend an ear to my podcast.  For that, go here: BobbyRiversShow.com.  I'm scheduled to record an interview with Billy Hayes.  The story of his arrest and escape from a Turkish prison in the 1970s when he was a vacationing college student became the best-selling memoir and hit movie, Midnight Express.  The movie was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1978.  Billy is now telling the rest of his fascinating story onstage in New York City.  He'll soon take his one-man show to London.

Other than that...I'll be eager to see if the next cast announced for ABC's Dancing With The Stars continues with what seems to be the DWTS formula:  Someone from a Disney Channel show or movie (because Disney owns ABC), a professional athlete, a hunk who can dance with his shirt totally unbuttoned or with no shirt on at all, a "sassy" black woman with a full figure, a very senior citizen celebrity, a gay or gay-associated celebrity and someone with a physical disability.

Doesn't it seem like there's a formula with its line-up of contestants?

That's all for now.  Thanks so much for your attention.  Wish me luck.  The same to you.




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Detail in A PLACE IN THE SUN

This is for those of you who have seen the classic film, A Place in the Sun.

I've written in previous posts that I am fascinated with the literature of film -- all those details that add to the tone and motif from the director and give us clues to the outcome and to the characters in the story.  One simple prop or piece of set decoration can have great significance.  I wrote my observations of this in Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, Cukor's A Star Is Born, and two screwball comedies by Billy Wilder -- The Major and The Minor starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland and Some Like It Hot starring (as you know) Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

To illustrate my point with another of my longtime favorite classics, I'm going to highlight a scene from A Place in the Sun directed by George Stevens.  This film won Stevens an Academy Award for Best Director and it was also nominated for Best Picture of 1951.  This is one of Hollywood's most acclaimed and successful remakes.  Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor played the star-crossed lovers in Paramount's remake of its 1931 drama, An American Tragedy, based on the book of the same name.  Stevens' remake, much better than the original, is the production in which young Elizabeth Taylor graduated from gorgeous movie star to serious film actress.  After this film, she'd earn five Oscar nominations for Best Actress. She'd win twice.  Taylor plays Angela Vickers.  Angela's a rich girl but not a spoiled one.  There's a dear warmth about her.  She's young and not too worldly.  She's grown up in an exclusive social circle, privileged and naive.
When poor George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) sees her for the first time, it's love at first sight.  Stevens directs her entrance so that we fall in love with her at first sight too.  Later, when they actually meet and talk, she looks like a guy's dream of the perfect prom date.
I love how Taylor gives Angela Vickers an interesting texture that perhaps Angela's family members don't even notice.  There's a dissonance and a longing mixed in with her true charm, kindness and vitality.  She's lonely for something wealth can't buy.  She probably doesn't even know she's what's longing for -- until George dances with her.  And kisses her.  Angela Vickers is everything George Eastman has ever wanted.

Angela loves him deeply, passionately.  The young woman wants to marry him.  She doesn't care if he's poor and from a lower class.  That's her parents' problem.  Not hers.  She will continue to love George after she learns dark truths, truths that lead to their last kiss shortly before his execution for murder.
On his way to his death, followed by a symbol of one of the main and most confining forces in his hard life -- religion -- the last earthly thought on his mind will be his first kiss from Angela. Stevens overlapped images in this film.  This closing shot is such a strong and inspired visual.
I first fell in love with this film when I was in high school and saw it on television.  At the time, I really couldn't connect to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in English Lit. class.  I grew up in South Central Los Angeles and attended high school in Watts, a few years after the Watts Riots of the 1960s.  Watts was a predominantly black and economically depressed community.  We were all working class folks trying to get by.  Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, I couldn't imagine people having that kind of immense wealth and those enormous, palatial homes.  I couldn't imagine Long Island mansions.  I knew Beverly Hills and Hollywood because of TV and movies.  Also, they were part of Southern California and I'd been to both places, usually to catch a movie.  Intellectually and emotionally, I could not connect to the upscale, tainted, rich and spoiled characters in The Great Gatsby when I was in my youth.  I didn't care about them.  I didn't care about the rich, white lawbreakers Jay and Daisy.  I didn't care about the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.  When I lived in New York City for my career, I re-read it with more of an understanding.  I grew to appreciate The Great Gatsby.  But it still doesn't have the impact on my heart and soul that A Place in the Sun did.

My high school buddies and I could connect to tragic George Eastman in Stevens' A Place in the Sun.  He was poor and had very little education.  He was determined to make something of himself.  In his pursuit of The American Dream, he would be blocked.  He was like members of our community and some of our relatives.  We young black males in Watts understood George Eastman's barriers of family, religion and social class.  Especially social class.  We knew those divisions.  George can't even have casual sex without having to price a high price for it.  For America's rich, life is velvet.  If a member of that class accepts you, your life can be velvet too.  We see that in an early party scene with George and Angela.  When he's invited to a party, although he's a distant relative to wealthy Eastmans, he's still an outsider because of his background and social class.  He's from a low branch of the family tree.  He's in a shabby suit.  Angela is a guest.  He's dazzled by her beauty.  Shy, unsophisticated George would like to mingle but he can't.  He stands in the room looking like an unpaid bill.  Stevens has all the party guests slowly leave that room and enter another room for the party entertainment.  George is left alone.  That party scene shows the class division.  At another function,  sweet Angela engages shy George in a slow dance.  They embrace pretty much alone in a big room.  With her, he glides smoothy and romantically into the other room for the big party.  He's with her.  All his hard work, various jobs and attempts to improve himself could not get him a big step up the corporate ladder of life like that simple dance with Angela Vickers could.  A step up in social status was literally as easy as dancing from one room into another -- when he was with the right person.

However, George had gotten some much-needed but unprotected sexual relief from a co-worker.

Shelley Winters starred as the dowdy, doomed and pregnant factory worker, Alice.  She is bitter and jealous of rich, pretty girls like Angela Vickers.  There's a bit of madness about her.  Her neediness towards George will bring out the shrew in her.  Alice boxes swimwear on a factory assembly line.  Ironically, she can't swim.
When Alice looks at George, she sees the possibility of financial security, social respect and romance.  When George looks at Alice, he has sex on his mind.  He wants a good time.  No drama.

They're co-workers, so they have to be discreet on the job.


But when Alice sees that his American dream is about to come true without her, that brings out the madness in them both.  Alice causes drama.

We know that Alice will not live to tell friends about her holiday canoe ride with George on Loon Lake.  By this time, she has threatened to storm into Angela's wealthy world to reveal that George has a double life.  She is pregnant with his baby and does not intend to be an unwed mother.  She yells at George.  She demands that her marry her.  Alice represents everything George has tried to get away from in his life.  This boat ride will not end well for her -- especially when she won't shut the hell up.
For all the times through the years that I've seen A Place in the Sun, I discovered something new about it recently.  I watched it this month on Turner Classic Movies.  George has het Angela Vickers and has danced with her.  He held her.  He can't get her out of his mind.  This happened after he seduced needy Alice.  For him, Alice was just sex.  He doesn't love her.  But Alice is a problem.  She's another barrier.  Family, religion, social class...and sex.

Stevens shows us that Angela is still on George's mind and in his heart as he's alone in his modest rented room.  Through his window, we see a building beaming the wealthy family name in a white neon sign: "Vickers."  But Angela Vickers and her kind of life seem too high above him.  That neon sign is another of my favorite inspired visuals in the film.  Director George Stevens also gives us a very creative use of audio details.
All of this is in Scene Selection #4 on the Place in the Sun DVD.  After the ecstasy of his first dance with Angela Vickers, he goes to Alice's.  She'd planned a pitiful little birthday celebration for him in her pitiful little place.  The party would be just the two of them and a birthday cake.  George sits at her small table and lies about his previous whereabouts and activities.  Notice how director George Stevens positions Montgomery Clift's character in this scene.  Right above his head is a framed item on Alice's wall.  It's a collection of butterflies with their wings pinned down.  This is exactly what Alice would do to George's life.

In his room, with Angela on his mind, he calls Alice to see how she is.  While he's talking to her, we hear the long wail of a siren in the background.  That's audio foreshadowing.  He hangs up from Alice. The phone rings.  It's Angela calling him for a Friday night date.  He's been on her mind too.  We hear what will become their love theme play in the background.  George now has emotional conflict.  He wants that date with Angela more than anything.  That formal party date will mark their first kiss and his first taste of a better life.  But he will have to lie to Alice again.  He sits back down at his table.  Notice another item above George's head.  This is the item I'd never noticed until just this month.  It's a painting of Ophelia, Shakespeare's mad character who drowns in Hamlet.

The painting of Ophelia, the lady in the lake, is by artist John Everett Millais.


Again, subtle and brilliant foreshadowing from director George Stevens.  With classic literature -- whether it's Hamlet, The Great Gatsby or Theodore Dreiser's novel, An American Tragedy -- you can discover more about a work when you read it again later.  The same goes for watching classic films again.  George Stevens' look at the divides of social class in America, the haves and the have-nots, is a true classic.  If I could teach classes that introduce people to classic films, I'd definitely show them A Place in the Sun and bring up observations that I made in this piece.

Montgomery Clift was nominated for Best Actor.  Shelley Winters was nominated for Best Actress.  Besides Best Director, A Place in the Sun won Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

And the love scenes with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift ...wow.  Just...wow.  They are the stuff that dreams are made of.




Monday, February 24, 2014

On Harold Ramis

I have a great affection for Chicago and for Chicago actors.  I had a great affection for Harold Ramis.  My babyboomer generation, in its younger days, loved him as big-haired Spengler, one of the original Ghostbusters.  Remember what a huge box office success that 1984 sci-fi action/comedy was?  The characters, their dialogue, their costumes, even the Oscar nominated title tune became big parts of our pop culture.

My favorite Harold Ramis performance is in another comedy co-starring Bill Murray.  Ramis always breaks me up as the best friend/sidekick in the army comedy, Stripes.
Harold Ramis made being the guy with more brains than brawn kooky and fun and great to have in your company.  His looks may not have been sexy, but, behind the eyeglasses, he was sweetly appealing and very hip without trying to be.  His characters showed that you can't judge a bookworm by its cover.  He was a terrific sidekick.

Saturday night, I once again watched the Oscar-winning 1997 film, As Good As It Gets.  Another one of my favorite Ramis performances is in that film.  It's not a large role but it's very important and he's perfect in it.  He plays the doctor who makes life easier for the overwhelmed and devoted single working mother with an asthmatic little boy in Brooklyn.
Helen Hunt's waitress character just wants to hug him for helping her in a way no HMOs ever had.  We know the feeling.  We just wanted to hug him too.  It was so wonderful and heartwarming to see Harold Ramis in that James L. Brooks movie on Saturday night.

It's Monday morning.  It was so heartbreaking to read online today that Mr. Ramis passed away at age 69.

Absolute joy was what he gave me as a guest on my first VH1 talk show in the late 1980s.  There's a moment with Harold in this network promo reel for my Celebrity Hour show.

Harold Ramis was a fine actor, director and writer.  He was a true gentleman offscreen too, as I learned when I ran into outside a Manhattan restaurant weeks after our interview.  He will be missed.  What a gift that the veteran of Chicago's Second City comedy troupe leaves us with so much laughter -- from co-writing 1978's Animal House screenplay, to acting in Ghostbusters, Stripes, Baby Boom with Diane Keaton and Knocked Up with Seth Rogen to directing/writing Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Analyze This and Analyze That.  Thanks for the laughs, Harold Ramis.  We needed them.

There's a new episode of my podcast posted this week.  I pay tribute to someone else who left us with great work -- the late Roger Ebert.  I'll also continue the Oscars talk as we countdown to the Academy Awards show which is this coming Sunday on ABC.

If you have time, give us a listen at BobbyRiversShow.com.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Oscar Talk on The Bobby Rivers Show

Please allow me some brief and shameless self-promotion for my podcast, The Bobby Rivers Show.  A new episode was posted.  Jesse and I engage in some Oscar talk.  The Oscars will be handed out Sunday, March 2nd.  We talk about who's in the running for some Hollywood Gold and we also talk about Black History in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  (After all -- it is still Black History Month.)

We saw Cheryl Boone Isaacs on network TV announce the Oscar nominations.

She made Hollywood history.  She's a "first" for the Academy -- and I am so proud of her.

Cheryl's late brother also made Hollywood history as the first African American to become a top marketing executive for studios such as Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox.  Ashley Boone was the marketing whiz behind an action/fantasy film that became box office blockbuster globally and started a new chapter in our pop culture.

He helped make the original Star Wars trilogy a success.  His talent made other films big hits at the box office and hits with the Academy come Oscar nomination time.  I'll tell you about this revered man's brilliance at top a Hollywood studio.  His story is a greatly overlooked chapter in the film industry's Black History.

Over the weekend, the BAFTA Awards were given out in London.  They're the British equivalent to our Oscars.  Chiwetel Ejiofor won Best Actor for his excellence in 12 Years a Slave.

He's new to American moviegoers -- moviegoers like my podcast partner, Jesse.  So I gave Jesse some DVD rental tips.  Before Chiwetel Ejiofor was a slave in America....

...he was a drag queen in Great Britain.  I'll talk about that performance and the one he gave in a very entertaining biopic starring Don Cheadle.

A few years ago, I had to sit through the alleged comedy, Fool's Gold, so I could review it.  Matthew McConaughey was the star.  The minutes flew by like hours.  That was when he was in his "Sexiest Man of the Year" phase and seemed to be doing most of his acting by showing off his abs.  He's now alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor in the Oscar race for Best Actor and I talk about how McConaughey got his  serious actor mojo back.  He's an Oscar nominee for playing a man seriously ill with the AIDS virus in Dallas Buyers Club.

I have tips for entertainment reporters.  Those tips come in my story William Hurt. He won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman.  Hurt became the first actor to win an Academy Award for playing an openly gay character.

He told me why Kiss of the Spider Woman producers of the film were so grateful to Hollywood legend, Burt Lancaster.  Lancaster starred in such classics as From Here To Eternity, Sweet Smell of Success, Elmer Gantry and Birdman of Alcatraz




We are celebrating diversity, giving you history and giving you DVD tips on good movies you may have missed.

So, please give us a listen as we start our podcast Oscar talk on this week's edition of The Bobby Rivers Show.  We're right here:  BobbyRiversShow.com.  Thank you ever so.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

After Disney, GIMME SHELTER

Former Disney TV star, Vanessa Hudgens, made a gritty transition to more mature and challenging fare as Apple in Gimme Shelter.  Hudgens was popular on Disney's High School Musical.  Apple is the name the movie character has chosen for herself.  She's had a miserable young life and seems to have known mean streets growing up.  This is loosely based on real people.  We've seen this kind of story before in films.  Apple has a tough exterior because she's an unwed pregnant teen.  We, as moviegoers, wait for someone to break through that tough front and reach her wounded teen heart.  Vanessa Hudgens gave a good performance in this indie movie.
She wasn't the only one who did good work.  But racial images in this film were as stereotyped as a 1930s movie from a major Hollywood studio.  That bothered me.  And, as a guy who had years of parochial school education and was once an altar boy, I saw this as a very traditional, conservative Catholic film posing as an edgy independent movie.

I talked about this movie on Arise TV, a channel worth noting because of its racial and sexual diversity in the discussion of fine arts.

As Gimme Shelter opens, we see that the bitter Apple is in a facility and wants to leave.  We're not sure if it's a rehab facility or what.  But when she calls for a cab and wants out, there's trouble.  She's slapped, punched, kicked and screamed at by a dragon of an older woman.  Were they rival junkies?  We don't know.  The fuzzy script needed to be sharper.  We need to know what the relationships and backstories were.  Apple got a serious beat-down leaving that New Jersey facility and her female attacker followed her to the cab.

We later learn that the woman is her mother.
Apple doesn't have enough cash for her destination.  The cabdriver pulls over and drags her out of his cab and onto the highway.  (He should've had his license revoked.)

Apple doesn't have money for a meal so the broke teen eats food she finds in dumpsters.
But wait, there's more.  Later, she'll be forced on ground and handcuffed by cops, attacked with a sharp object and she'll give birth in a hospital.  And no time in this entire drama does that abused girl say a four-letter word.  Not one.  Nobody says a four-letter word in this movie.  Not even the monster mother who almost makes this indie film seem like Precious, Jr.  I've been known to say "Damn!  I look like shit" standing before a department store mirror while trying on cargo pants.  That's when I felt this film had some sort of Catholic agenda.  Also, there was the kindly religious character played by James Earl Jones.  It's a small role that Mr. Jones must've shot in just one day.
He works with the Catholic shelter for unwed teen mothers.  We can tell this is a good place because...well, look behind him.  A framed painting of Mother Teresa with a crucifix.

About the racial images, Apple and her mother look Latina.  The cabdriver who physically yanks the girl out of his cab had a hairy, swarthy look.  The aggressive dude in the SUV who pursues Apple for sexual purposes is a burly black man.  Most of the under-educated unwed mothers in the shelter are black and Latina.  The religious figure who runs the shelter -- the savior, if you will -- is a white woman.  A white woman who, as we're shown, is seen in framed photographs with...Mother Teresa and President Ronald Reagan.  In the literature of film, that reads as "Christian. Conservative."

The privileged, educated people who live in a New Jersey house the size of a hotel are white people.  They're the Wall Street executive father (played nicely by Brendan Fraser), his slim wife and their two little children.
There's enough room in his house for them and all the Von Trapps from The Sound of Music.  And the New Jersey couple has contractors adding on to their house.  The husband's irresponsibility and his wife's irresponsibility are covered up by their upscale exterior.  And their little kids are bratty at the dinner table.  Serving the dinner is --- the Latina maid.  Apple was headed for this big house before the physically abusive driver pulled her out of his cab.

Have you ever noticed how frequently American movies imply that blacks, Latinos and Asians do not work on Wall Street?  The New Jersey rich guy has a connection to poor Apple.
Apple looks like a skid row resident for most of the movie -- until she gives birth.  Soon after she has her baby, she finds Catholic spiritual contentment and starts dressing like Ann-Margret in the first hour of Bye Bye Birdie.  Even her hair and make-up are immediately different.  It's Disney's High School Musical with all drama and no music.

You'd never know she'd once eaten dumpster sandwiches.

The high point of this movie was the raw, blistering performance by Rosario Dawson as Apple's abusive mother.  Wow.  What a performance and what a character transformation.  Do not be surprised to hear that, one day, Rosario Dawson has received an Oscar nomination.  She is one excellent actress.


I liked the performances by Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson and Brendan Fraser.  I did not like the way racial images in this modern indie movie reminded me of ethnic stereotypes from the old Hollywood days.

I talked about Gimme Shelter and I, Frankenstein with Mike Sargent.  My buddy, Mike, is the host of a groundbreaking weekend show on Arise TV called On Screen.  Why is it groundbreaking?  This is a half-hour film review/interview and entertainment news program hosted by a black man who reviews movies.  We have not seen this on network television.  We still don't.  On Screen airs online here in America.  There's not a television distributor for the program yet.  It airs on TV overseas in London.  Also, Mike has guest male and female film critics of color on his show. Black female and Latina film critics have been totally absent from the weekly network and syndicated film review scene.  On Screen tapes in New York City.  TV journalists should be writing about this new show.  We've never seen a weekly program like this on CBS, NBC, ABC or PBS affiliates.

Here's the On Screen episode with me as a guest film reviewer.  I had a great time.

American television needs to embrace and make a place for racially groundbreaking and upscale product such as this.  TV columnists should pay attention to Arise.TV.  It's giving us much-needed diversity in the area of film talk and entertainment news.