Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A New A RIVERS VIEW

The song I'll Be Home for Christmas tells us to "please have snow and mistletoe..."  To be honest, I've stood under mistletoe long enough for someone to do a sketch of me, but my lips got no action.  Mistletoe worked for Yogi Bear.
Even crazy, wealthy, former Hollywood star Norma Desmond got some New Year's Eve lovin' from a handsome young hunk of an unemployed Hollywood writer in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.
Not everybody who longs for it gets that romantically sparkling New Year's Eve moment like in When Harry Met Sally.
If you're a solo act watching happy couples be festive during the holiday season, my new A Rivers View is for you.  I know exactly how you feel.  To see my short video, just go to www.Facebook.com/BobbyRiversTV.  Happy New Year!



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Funny Support for SISTERS

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler get loopy, R-rated laughs as reunited SISTERS.  Kate (Fey) is the brassy, irresponsible loser sister.  Maura (Poehler) is the employed, polite and somewhat dorky sister.  Although it's not as hilarious and original as BRIDESMAIDS or SPY, both starring Melissa McCarthy, Sisters is an entertaining popcorn pastime with foul-mouthed female bonding and likable characters.  Kate Ellis, the recently fired hairstylist, and her nurse sister, Maura, throw a party. The party will be sort a high school reunion with former classmates from the late 1980s.  It will also be healing event because the party is tossed in their Orlando home.  The house they grew up in -- the house that their parents have now decided to sell.  That news broke the hearts of the Ellis girls.  As they shop for party stuff, we see that they really haven't grown all the way up.
Everything that could go wrong will go wrong at the party.  The irresponsible sister will become responsible and the nurse will cure herself of her instant dorkiness whenever she talks to a guy she likes.  You've seen this kind of story before, but it's still fun.
The humor is crude. Still, hearing Tina Fey say "I just wanna punch him in the dick" when she comments on the high school clown party guest who wasn't funny in high school and is still unfunny 20 years later made me laugh.  Why?  Because I've known guys like him and I had the same exact feeling.  The irritating former class clown is played by Saturday Night Live cast member, Bobby Moynihan.  He's excellent in the role.  Sisters is sort of an SNL reunion in itself.  There's Fey and Poehler, Moynihan, the terrific Maya Rudolph and a couple of other SNL faces in the film.  The film is from Universal -- as in NBC/Universal.  Unlike Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller comedies, Sisters puts a spotlight on supporting cast actors and lets others shine comically.  Maya Rudolph broke me up as the high school snob who's now a career woman who crashes the Ellis party because she was not invited.

There is one scene that had the movie audience howling.  The Ellis sisters go to get a pedicure.  Maura tries to make conversation with the Korean woman doing her feet.  It's a simple, silly scene of Maura trying to pronounce an Asian name and it is very funny.  Actress Greta Lee killed it with her comedy deadpan opposite Poehler.  Lee was a definite highlight.
OK...are you ready for the biggest comedy surprise in Sisters?  Muscleman and pro wrestling superstar John Cena.  His comedy homerun in the movie Trainwreck with Amy Schumer was not a one-hit wonder.  He's got the comedy gift.  He plays a huge wall of muscle drug dealer who shows up at the party with every hard drug known to man.  The Ellis girls, however, just want a joint.  I wrote about John Cena a couple of years ago when he was in his serious action movie star phase.  I wrote about him as a reference when writing about Forrest Gump.  If you read that novel, Forrest was built like John Cena.  Not Tom Hanks.  Now Cena has moved from action drama into another category and he's really good at it.
Casting Cena as Pazuzu was a smart move -- and one the audience loved it.  I hope Cena does more comedy.  The other supporting actor I loved is Ike Barinholtz as the neighborhood guy that Maura wants to date.  Barinholtz should get more attention than he does.  He's a solid comic actor. I totally dig him as Morgan on The Mindy Project sitcom that went from Fox to Hulu.  He has a scene with Amy Poehler that will....well, let's just say that it could introduce some moviegoers to the classic music of Beethoven as it comes from an unexpected part of his anatomy.

James Brolin and Dianne Wiest star as the parents who can't wait for the Ellis girls to really grow up and get a life.  The two veteran actors also get their share of laughs.  All in all, Sisters is a feel-good comedy starring two comedy pros who get nice help from a funny supporting cast.  Here's a trailer.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Bobby Rivers Holiday Message

Christmas week has been a very animated one for me.  I've spent a few happy hours watching the animated holiday special I loved so much in my youth.  I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
I sang along with the characters on the Island of Misfit Toys after I had a very long day of job-hunting in New York City, the real life Island of Misfit Toys.
I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  A few years ago, some hipster entertainment columnist compiled a list of the Top 10 dogs we loved in movies and TV.  He left out Max.  How could you leave out the Grinch's Max, one of the coolest canines ever on TV?
Of course, I watched my favorite -- A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I watched that at least three times this week.  It touches my heart every time.  Probably even more so now that I'm an adult.  Come on.  Admit  it.  How many of us have been so battered around by the Recession, romantic disappointments and career frustrations in our grown-up years that we wind up feeling just like Charlie Brown's tree?
We long for the moment when someone, like Linus, will come along and realize that all we need "is just a little love."
Ya know....I may keep watching these classic animated holiday specials over the weekend.  They're fun, spiritually uplifting and they make me laugh.

I should have posted this short holiday message yesterday, December 25th.  But a dear friend of mine fixed me a festive cocktail and I got so busy giggling that I forgot to post it.  Well, here it is -- and the heartfelt message still applies.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Broadway's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

I am in awe of Danny Burstein, Broadway's new star of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF .  He's a triple threat talent.  He can act, sing and dance.  He's also got the comedy gift.  He's the quality of talent that, decades ago, would've been working on TV with Sid Caesar in Your Show of Shows, playing a character in a Peter Bogdanovich classic like What's Up, Doc? or Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein or he'd have been a stand-out featured player in episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show.  Danny Burstein can be hysterically funny, however he also does the actor's work and will delve into the dark side of character -- that side that may not be likable but it's human and  revealing.  It's the truth of the character and, in a way, of ourselves.  That's what I loved about his portrayal of Tevye, the poor Jewish milkman in Russia with five daughters and a proper wife of 25 years in Fiddler on the Roof.
Fiddler on the Roof premiered on Broadway 1964 and was a huge success.  Songs from the score were recorded by top vocalists of the day.  Zero Mostel was the star and he had a larger than life presence.  You can tell that about Mostel if you've seen him in the Mel Brooks comedy movie, The Producers.  I pretty much grew up hearing the Broadway soundtrack on radio.  I saw the fine 1971 Norman Jewison movie adaptation starring Topol.  I saw the previous Broadway revivals.  I saw Alfred Molina on Broadway on Tevye, I saw Harvey Fierstein as Tevye.  With Danny Burstein in this production, I felt as though I was seeing it for the first time.  What a remarkable performance.  He brings you into Tevye's life, heart and soul.  He connects you to his journey.
This show is about tradition (one of the hit songs from the score is called "Tradition"), culture and culture clashes.  The Jews in this story are outsiders in their homeland because of bigotry.

"Do You Love Me?" is one of the most famous songs from the Fiddler on the Roof score.  I've seen the movie more than once.  I saw the previous Broadway revival.  I never got tears in my eyes during that number until I experienced Danny Burstein doing it.

The "Tevye's Dream" scene is another highlight.  Tevye is sweetly manipulative here, conning his wife that a dead relative came to him in a dream with a message about their daughter's engagement.  I've seen Danny onstge in three Broadway musicals.  That number crystallizes one of the things that makes him a master as his craft.  There's high comedy in the number.  He's physically more limber than Mostel probably was in the original cast.  And he's more limber than Alfred Molina and Harvey Fierstein were.  Danny gives Tevye a touch of Groucho Marx in "Tevye's Dream" as he wears nightclothes in bed with Golde, his wife.  He reminded me of Groucho in 1933's Duck Soup.

         
Burstein moves comically.  But he never takes the comedy so far that it eclipses the character.  He doesn't overdo it.  He gets the laughs and remains truthful to the character.

Maybe because I'm older now, but I never realized how much separation there is in Fiddler on the Roof.  Children separate from parents.  People separate from the strict confines of religious and cultural tradition.   Jews are forced to separate from their homes and from their land.  The play opens with the lively and mirthful "Tradition" number.  Traditions and customs are celebrated.  Later, we see the dark side of the bright number.  One daughter has fallen in love with man not of her roots.  He's not a Jew.  This causes a heartbreaking and angry rift in her family.  Keep in mind this action takes place in 1905.  When I got to New York City in 1985, I worked at a local TV station.  Three of us on a morning show staff were chatting about relationships during our lunch break.  Two us gentiles and one Jewish guy who worked on the technical crew.  He was in his 30s and one of the funniest people on the crew.  However, it wasn't so funny when he bluntly said that if his daughter married outside the faith, she'd no longer be his daughter.  He loved her but to wed a non-Jew was forbidden.  1905.  1985.  Tradition.

Danny Burstein is just so right for the lead role.  And that part is not easy.  Tevye is onstage a lot with a range of emotions that goes from funny and bewildered to caustic and intolerant.  You relate to him.  The themes of Fiddler on the Roof are universal and still relevant.  There's rising anti-Semitism in the Russian town and the Jews are evicted from Anatevka.  Some will seek a new life in America.  Look at this year's news headlines.  Syrian refugees.  Anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S.A.  This is a relevant musical.  I saw Danny Burstein last year in the revival of Cabaret.  He played the Jewish shopkeeper who has a romance with a German woman who's not Jewish.  They're in the Berlin of the early 1930s with Nazism on the rise.  There's anti-Semitism in the city and Jews are being evicted.  Before that, I saw him as Luther Billis in the excellent first revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific.  He redefined that role with his brilliant performance, bringing out a previously untapped depth, toughness and complexity in the character.  Danny is quite a performer.
As for the dancing in Fiddler on the Roof...Lord, have mercy!  I'm surprised the preview audience I was in didn't give the famed "Bottle Dance" a standing ovation.  Those chorus actors danced throughout the show as if they were in a state of heightened ecstasy that was nearly orgasmic.  Maybe the audience was having a surreal moment.  The dancing was so extraordinary that maybe the folks in the audience thought they were watching a movie with special effects.  Wrong.  Real actors were the special effects.

If you're in New York City and you want to take in a play, please consider Fiddler on the Roof.  Here's a short ad for it.
Here's a number from Fiddler on the Roof that Danny and castmates performed on NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade telecast last month.
I'm a black, Catholic guy who grew up in South L.A. when it was still called South Central L.A.  This new Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof thrilled me, touched me and put tears in my eyes.  I gave it a standing ovation.  And I want to see it again.  Bravo, Danny Burstein!  Happy Holidays.

Fiddler on the Roof opened December 20th at the Broadway Theatre, located on Broadway at 53rd Street in New York City.










Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For Producers and Publicists



Around this time of year, some TV producers and publicists ask if I have any reels that I can show them.  I am always grateful when any industry person wants to see me in action.  So, I'll use this post to promote myself, if you don't mind.   Hey, a guy's got to work, right?   The above video is my recent interview of an underground star.
Lou Diamond Phillips hit big with moviegoers when he played the late rock music legend, Ritchie Valens, in 1987's LA BAMBA.  He followed that with fine work in STAND AND DELIVER, YOUNG GUNS and COURAGE UNDER FIRE.  TV viewers now follow him on the popular cable series, LONGMIRE.  Last month, fans saw him on big screen in a movie based on a real-life news story that made headlines all over the world.  He played one of the miners trapped way below the surface after a disaster in a Chilean mine.  All hope seemed lost.  But the 33 men were rescued 69 days later.  The ordeal inspired the movie, THE 33.  Lou and I talked about the CNN live coverage of this miraculous story.
During my interview for We Got This Covered, I mentioned a special moment Lou and I had at VH1 when he was promoting his Ritchie Valens biopic.
I've done other national host gigs, such as my spot on Food Network's Top 5, and I still totally dig covering entertainment in addition to doing real people segments.

My VH1 years were terrific.  I loved that job and the crew.  I'm very proud that I was the first black person to get his own prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.

To see me interview other stars of The 33 and actors from TV's Ash vs Evil Dead, please visit my Facebook page:  Facebook.com/BobbyRiversTV.  Next month for We Got This Covered, I interview cast members, the creator and the producer of a gritty new WGN America series called Outsiders.  David Morse of The Green Mile, Contact, Disturbia and Concussion starring Will Smith, plays the tough and smart head of an Appalachian clan that fights authorities to protect its old ways and customs.

To see my other reels, please visit my YouTube page:  YouTube.com/BobbyRiversTV.









Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thor vs. Moby Dick for Ron Howard

Chris Hemsworth is the star of IN THE HEART OF THE SEA.  He's big, he's butch, he's blond.  He battles a colossal fish during a dangerous voyage for whale oil that inspires a young man to write a thick famous novel called Moby Dick.  
I'm really glad that I saw this movie by myself.  If I had taken a date, I would've been sitting in my seat thinking "Aw, man, I should've taken him to see Daniel Craig in Spectre instead.  This is kinda flat."  Hemsworth has worked with Ron Howard before in a much better movie.  Rush, a 2013 release based on real life characters in the world of sportscar racing, was a fine and exciting film that critics loved but moviegoers overlooked.  Rush is very good.  In The Heart Of The Sea needed more of a pulse.  It's pretty lifeless in some  spots.  Hemsworth is basically beefcake hero eye candy in this film.  You're not really sure what point the screenplay wants to make.  Hemsworth plays Chase, a working class man with a pretty wife and a cute, little child.  It's 1850 in Nantucket.
He's takes a job on a voyage to bring back whale oil.  That means the seamen will catch a whale, cut it open and extract the valuable whale oil.  The voyage will be dangerous but we know Chase will return.  His wife says "Come back to me."  She's lovely, he's handsome and they're both white.  So you just know they'll be together again.  When he gets his orders before boarding ship, there's conflict between Chase and some corporate types greenlighting this voyage.  In those scenes, you wonder if director Ron Howard is making a statement on September 11th America and the Bush Administration with its members like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.  Within two weeks after those attacks here in New York City, there were candlelight marches.  I remember hearing New Yorkers who carried candles to pray for peace say "This was all about oil."  Many of them remarked that the attacks were all about oil.

Chase feels his corporate board needs to consider the lives of the men -- and one boy -- and consider the consequences of such a hunger for oil for profit.  As it is, the men on the ship are sent out in search of whale oil, something goes horribly wrong, and they're attacked by a monstrous entity.  They survive a disaster of epic proportions.

So you've got that angle which struck me as allegory for modern political times in America.  But, before that, a young man seeks an older married man.  The sad, somewhat boozy middle-aged man was on The Essex in his younger days.  That was the ship sunk by a giant white whale.  He's never really told all about the voyage.  His wife wants him to open up to the young man.  The young man is Herman Melville and he pretty much describes himself as a mediocre writer.  We get the story told in flashback, the story that inspires young Melville to write a work of fiction called Moby Dick.  He seems as obsessed with writing that book as Ahab was with killing the enormous fish.

Then we're back on the ship after the boozy middle-aged man says "This is the story of two men."  The two men are the veteran whaler, Chase, and the ship's unpopular captain, Pollard.  Rush was also the story of two men, rivals in the glamorous 1970s field of Formula One racing.  But that movie had a better, more focused script.  There's the sea voyage, Chase and Captain Pollard disagree, standard-size whales are caught and cut open for their oil.  Dreamy-eyed Cillian Murphy (at far left in the photo) plays a shipmate who looks dreamy-eyed.  Benjamin Walker (middle) plays the captain.
We know the monster whale will appear -- and not a moment to soon.  This movie needs action and it felt like that Moby Dick-sized fish doesn't really show up until the second hour.  That's when the film picks up a bit.  And another thing -- I like Chris Hemsworth.  He's proven his movie star appeal as Thor in the Marvel Comics-fueled action movies.
                                                                                  
Howard got a good dramatic performance out of him as the playboy competitive sportscar driver in Rush.  But in this movie, there's something very Southern California about the way he plays a man out of 1850's Nantucket.  You keep expecting him to shout a line like "Dude!  That was a big mother-phukkin' fish!  Did you see that?!?!"  Here's a trailer for Ron Howard's In The Heart Of The Sea.
That greedy corporate board does not want Chase to reveal the horrors the crew of The Essex experienced at sea.  The board wants no mention of the great white whale because it could lessen earnings.  Chase responds, "You want me to whitewash what happened for profit?"  That was another line that made me think Howard was making a statement on our government at the time of the September 11th attacks and the wars that followed.  Or is this the tale of a young writer who finally finds his real voice? Or is this mainly a big, soggy Chris Hemsworth action movie?  In The Heart Of The Sea needed something else to heat up all that water.  Maybe if Hemsworth had been shirtless or given us a full rear view while naked in a shower, that would've helped.  Maybe if that gigantic whale had come in earlier with the action.  The movie isn't bad, just surprisingly average.  That's because of the not fully realized script.  You never know what the heart of In The Heart Of The Sea really is. And you wind up disappointed.  That huge Dick and so little action.  Howard and Hemsworth gave us much better results in Rush. Rent that one.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fine Films You May Have Missed

This year, I had the great opportunity to do reviews in a few episodes of Arise On Screen, the weekend film review and interview show that aired on Arise TV.  Some of the films I loved did not get major attention when they opened.  Attention from film reviewers or moviegoers.  But these releases are well worth a look during your holiday free time.  Let me begin with a little gem from Great Britain starring Eddie Marsan.                                                      
If you watch Ray Donovan, the Showtime TV drama, you know Marsan as the ex-boxer stricken with Parkinson's Disease.  I first noticed his brilliance when I saw him as the hot-tempered driving instructor who reaches a boiling point in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.  Poppy, played terrifically by Sally Hawkins, has an optimism and good humor that cannot be dented or derailed.  This drives him nuts when they're on the road.  He's red-faced and shouting at the sweet optimist.  He's quite the opposite in STILL LIFE.
Three of us black critics on Arise On Screen saw this movie and gave it high marks.  Marsan plays John May, a case worker who works for the deceased.  He seeks relatives or other loved ones of people who died alone.  He's often the only person at some of their funerals.  He's determined to give dignity to the dead.  His life is simple, conservative and a bit sad without being maudlin.  He wears the same somber-colored business clothes, lives alone, eats alone and doesn't seem to have anyone who loves him.  In short, he needs a life.  He's rather like the Alec Guinness character in 1950's Last Holiday.  Then, one day, a lovely young lady brings some color into John May's life.  Marsan is marvelous in this poignant film.  John May is a character you care about and you're eager to see where this new color in his life will take him.  Here's a trailer for Still Life.


It is a gigantic, shameful oversight that actor Celyn Jones is not a Golden Globe nominee or got Oscar buzz for his performance in 2014's SET FIRE TO THE STARS.  What a knock-out he is as poet Dylan Thomas.  He's completely compelling.
This black and white drama is a based on a true story.  Elijah Wood, doing some of the best work I've seen him do in a non-fantasy film, plays John Brinnen.  Brinnen basically has to be wrangler, escort and confidante to the hard-drinking Welsh poet during a New York City engagement in the 1950s.  Celyn Jones makes you feel the heartache that gives the poet his hunger for drink.  His Thomas is a wise, scared, talented, tormented, passionate man.  Brinnen needs some passion, some messiness in his too tidy life.
The story takes place in New York and Connecticut.  However, the movie was shot within a month overseas in Wales.  This movie really deserved more attention than it got here in the States.  Here's a trailer for Set Fire To The Stars.
It's well-written, well-directed and gorgeously photographed.  The black and white cinematography adds to the emotional depth of the story.  And, as I mentioned earlier, Celyn Jones is blazingly good as Dylan Thomas.  Jones co-wrote the script with director Andy Goddard.  Elijah Wood co-produced the film.

Another foreign import shot in black and white is a vampire story.  OK, you may be tired of vampires but this one is highly original.  It's a feminist vampire story, a definite thriller, with wit and political overtones.  A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT introduces us to a female vampire who likes skateboarding and music by the Bee Gees.  Yes, she's cute to look at but do not forget that she is a ruthless vampire.  The story takes place in Bad City, a rundown Iranian town on the ragged end of nowhere.  She goes out at night to feed on men who disrespect women.  She's in a place where women are treated like second class citizens.  She wears the attire men want women to wear in that city.
Mean men are her prey.
Then one night, she goes out in search of a victim.  She sees a guy who partied a bit too much.  But he's a gentleman.  He treats her with respect.  And he was at a costume party.  He happens to be dressed as...an old Hollywood movie vampire.  A very unlikely romance begins.  But where will it go?  He's a mortal and kind of a sweet doofus.
Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed one of the freshest, low budget fright movies I've seen in years.  Just like with Set Fire To The Stars, her choice to shoot it in black and white was not only economical, it's the right choice for this movie.  It's outstanding.

To experience another fierce female force, you need to see a documentary that streamed on Netflix this year.  WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? is one of the best features I saw this year.  Revealing, relevant, surprising and memorable.  We learn what made Nina Simone the great Nina Simone.  What forces of family, society and politics shaped her into the brilliant, outspoken singer/musician and activist that she was.  Nina was black power.  She was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin.  My mother used to say that Nina Simone was the only artist who held concerts and she didn't hope the audience liked her, the audience members nervously entered hoping she would like them.  Nina was that formidable a presence.  Her daughter is interviewed and describes her mother as "brilliant," yet someone who could be "a monster."  That's what I like about this documentary.  We get the real story and we do learn what happened to this larger than life American artist.  Here's a trailer.
Director Liz Garbus did a mighty fine job with this project, still streaming on Netflix.

Here's another film we reviewed on Arise On Screen.  We hoped it would bring Imelda Staunton a second Oscar nomination.  I still feel she should've been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for PRIDE.  This movie is based on a true story that happened in the U.K. during the days of gay liberation and the beginning AIDS crisis.  It was a total surprise because I didn't hear about this story here in America when it happened.  Pride is the uplifting story about opposites that join forces for a common cause of equality.

Staunton was a Best Actress Oscar nomine for 2004's Vera Drake.  Millions of kids know her as mean Professor Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies.  This year, she racked up some absolutely sensational reviews for her performance as Rose in a London revival of the classic Broadway musical, Gypsy.  It was such a hot ticket that some Americans flew to London just to see her.  In 2014's Pride, gays and straight coal miners on strike during the Margaret Thatcher days join forces.  They gays and lesbians unite to help the striking coal miners.  Initially, some miners don't want help merely because it comes from gay people.  That changes.  The striking, financially struggling miners in Wales need help.
Staunton is one of the pro-diversity ladies.  This film has great heart and it's one of those rare films that shows the beginning of strong friendships between straights and gays.  This story took place in 1984.  There's a scene with Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy.  On the face of it, they're just two longtime friends in a kitchen making sandwiches, but there's so much more going on in that scene and those two pros play it beautifully.
Yes, this true story that made British headlines gets a bit of a feel-good treatment, but what's wrong with being entertained?  The cast is quite likable.  There's Staunton and Nighy -- one of my favorite actors -- and Dominic West (from TV's The Affair) and Paddy Considine as the hetero miner who realizes the bravery and importance of the gay/lesbian alliance.  He's the alliance's first friend.
There's conflict and tenderness and a few tears in Pride.  Trust me on this, you'll love Imelda Staunton. I'm glad this chapter in gay and lesbian history inspired a film.  I knew nothing this strike and this union of outsiders marching together for a common cause.  Pride is quite enjoyable.



Friday, December 11, 2015

My Frank Sinatra Moment

Singer and Oscar winner, Frank Sinatra.  A true American legend.  Saturday, December 12th, marks the centennial of his birth.  I grew up listening to and falling in love with his music and his performances.  Mom and Dad were major fans.  Sinatra on a network TV musical variety special was obligatory viewing on our household.  There was and will never be another like this superstar of song.
Mom explained to me, when I was kid, what bobbysoxers were and how they screamed for band singer Frank Sinatra the way teens did for The Beatles in the 1960s.  And he was very skinny when he cut hit records in the early 1940s with vocals that made the teen girls swoon.
So when I saw the Sinatra phenomenon lampooned in 1940s cartoons on Saturday morning TV, I could really get the visual jokes.


Like Bing Crosby before him and ahead of Peggy Lee and Doris Day, Frank Sinatra was a band singer whose popularity got him tapped by Hollywood to be a movie star.  Like the other three band singers mentioned, his film acting talents were so strong that he got an Oscar nomination.  Sinatra came out of a severe career slump when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance the tortured soldier in From Here To Eternity, the World War II drama that also took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1953.
His other nomination was a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing a junkie.  The film was 1955's The Man With The Golden Arm.
In the 1940s, most of his movies were MGM musical comedies in which he had a tender-hearted, boy next door image in films such as Anchors Aweigh, Take Me Out To The Ball Game and On The Town, three Technicolor musicals that co-starred Gene Kelly.  Sinatra's two Oscar nominations came for performances in gritty black and white dramas of the 1950s.

In the late 1970s, Sinatra was in concert performances.  One night, he played Chicago's Arie Crown Theater.  I'd graduated recently from Marquette University and was living in an apartment building in the campus area.  My Saturday morning ritual included listening to the Roy Leonard morning show on WGN, a station we picked up very clearly there in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Leonard regularly had trivia contests for call-ins.  One morning, Sophia Loren was his in-studio guest.  He asked a trivia question relative to one of her films.  Not only was I surprised that I got through after I dialed with the answer, I won!  Sophia Loren said "Hello" to me over the phone.  I was totally giddy, gushed how much I love her film work and added, "We were both born on September 20th!"  That would've been enough of a prize for me.  However, I got another one.  I'd won two tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert at The Arie Crown Theater.

A fellow M.U. grad and a groovy friend also lived in the same apartment building.  I knew she dug Sinatra and I asked her to be my date.  She had a car and we drove to Chicago for the show.

The story gets even better.

We were in the absolute first row.  Any closer, we'd have been on stage with him.  And, in that sold out audience, we were surely two of the youngest fans in the house.

Sinatra not only looked great, he was in peak form.  And in a fabulous mood.  His vocal interpretations, his song stylings were so extraordinary that the orchestra members behind him applauded.  He was in such a swingin' mood that he told a few minutes of jokes and he killed.  You knew he was killin' it when you saw that the orchestra was laughing.

There were standing ovations and encores.  When Sinatra was taking one of his final bows, he looked at me in the front row, standing and clapping wildly.  He motioned me over to shake his hand.  I shook Sinatra's hand!  And my date was a witness!

There I was, a black guy in his 20s who, inside, wanted to scream with glee like one of those female bobbysoxers in the 1940s.  That is a moment I will always, always treasure.

In the 1990s, I worked on "Good Day New York," a local weekday morning show on WNYW/Fox5 TV.  One day, I had Christina Crawford as a live in-studio guest.  She was in town for an appearance relative to the 20th anniversary of her controversial memoir/Joan Crawford biography, "Mommie Dearest," being published.  In the green room after the interview, Christina and I talked more about Joan Crawford and about other Hollywood stars who had adopted children.  Christina said that, within the community of Hollywood kids, it was well known that if you were having problems with abuse, if you wanted to run away and felt you had nowhere else to turn, you could always go to Frank Sinatra's house.  His home was your safe haven.  He protected kids.

I'd never heard that Frank Sinatra story.  But I love it.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Jennifer Jiles Is MOTHER OF THE WEEK

I grew up in Los Angeles.  If you love movies and the whole movie-going experience as much as I do, L.A. was a great place for childhood and teen years.  One of the best things about going to the movies, especially the exclusive engagement ones in Hollywood, was that they'd often be preceded by what we used to call a "short subject."  A short subject could be live action or animated, domestic or foreign, serious or funny.  And many of them were memorable.  These short features were so good that there's still a category in the Oscars to award ones of special merit.  Nowadays, you don't see those short features so much.  The cineplex presentations gives us trailers and commercials.  I wish they'd add short features to some of the film presentations.  Short features like -- MOTHER OF THE WEEK starring Jennifer Jiles as an overworked, undersexed, middle-aged working mom in the suburbs.  This 20-minute short film was funnier that some new sitcoms I saw debut this year on network TV and way funnier than some big screen dud comedies we've gotten from Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson.  I loved Mother of the Week.  This poor woman's suburban angst gave me big laughs.
Where did I see it?  I saw the first Saturday of November on an overcast, drizzly afternoon in a cineplex near NYU.  The Village East Cinema cineplex was the weekend site of the Big Apple Film Festival.  Adrienne Paxton, a friend and former co-worker from my "Good Day New York" years on Fox5 TV in New York City, is one of the feature's producers.  She also made and supplied some absolutely gorgeous jewelry worn in Mother of the Week.  Adrienne has been a huge help to me during my current job-hunt journey.  I was proud to go and support her production.
I was not prepared for how funny and fine her feature would be.  Honestly.  If I didn't know anyone in it or involved with it and had paid to see it on the bill with a major new Hollywood release, I'd have been a happy moviegoer.  It's that good.  There's also the asset of Jennifer Jiles in the lead role.  She's comedy gold -- a veteran comedian, actress and writer who's full of talent and screen charisma.  You immediately want her as your best friend or you've been in her situation or she reminds you of a dear friend or relative.
I'm of that generation that was taught "Women can have it all -- career, marriage, kids."  That's true.  They can.  But they hit middle-age and realized they needed help because having it all meant picking up kids at school, fixing various meals according to likes and dislikes, remembering to defrost chickens and coming up with fabulous new ideas in the workplace that will defrost the boss.  All this while trying to keep a husband looking as gleefully at you as he does at televised sports.

This 41-year old career woman needed help when she had it all plus a foot injury.  She hired a pretty, young blonde nanny who was the most lovable and winsome helper this side of Maria in The Sound of Music.  Now the wife and mother has to win back the attention of a family unit that's been enchanted by the nanny.   Here's a trailer.
Jennifer Jiles is not the only stand-out in this short film.  The whole feature was perfectly cast with likable actors, kids and grown-ups, who know their characters so well that they really don't even need dialogue to get a laugh.  One look will do.  Director Lee Davis also has a keen sense of comedy.  That's evident in the tone, pace and editing of this film.

When I saw it, the theater was packed and the audience loved it.  Mother of the Week has made the film festival circuit, apparently.  I really wish short films like this were on the bill in cineplexes across the country and in the arthouse movie theaters.  Film reviewers should pay more attention to these short productions.  There's some great talent in these smaller features, talent that deserves a big spotlight.  Mother of the Week is one such feature.  Jennifer Jiles co-wrote this comedy.
I was a bit jealous watching it, I had to admit.  I've done about 10 years on various local morning news programs on New York City TV such as "Good Day New York" and "Weekend TODAY in New York on WNBC.  I really wanted to do comedy roles like in this Jennifer Jiles feature.  I didn't want to be Lester Holt.  I wanted to be the roommate that Bill Murray played in Tootsie.  It must've been fun to be an actor in Mother of the Week.

Thank you Jennifer Jiles and Adrienne Paxton.  I hope you two re-team for another project.                

Do me a favor.  Go to their website, read about the crew and see more clips.  Here's the link:  MotherOfTheWeek.com.





Year-End Notes on TCM Diversity

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