Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The year in reviews

Dave Kehr's blog is percolating with some nice end-of-year listage, to take you into 2009. There's the 25 movies selected for the National Film Registry (The Terminator, sure--but Flower Drum Song? Really?) and his own Top 10 (Gran Torino was inevitable from this Eastwood fan, but what happened to Changeling?), followed by his excitable commenters weighing in with their own favorites.

(The Village Voice also has its annual film poll up, and some other listage. But I'm mad at them for dismissing 83-year-old Nat Hentoff, after a half-century of principled journalism and distinguished service. How long will J. Hoberman last at the film desk?)

Me? Usually by this date, I'm making my lists, and checking them twice--but fatherhood took precedence over filmgoing beginning Aug. 25, and I've had to accommodate since then. (Not for nothing is this blog called "Between Productions.") Popdose (judged "one of the few pop-culture sites not populated by jaded jagoffs, and supremely literate to boot") may prevail on me to contribute, but my list would pretty much have to end in late summer. If I see what I feel I need to see on DVD, maybe I'll put up an official one--by summer, when everything has pretty much hit DVD. Do I miss being "the guy who saw everything"? Nah: Movies recur, in one way or another, while the little moments I've witnessed with Larissa come but once a lifetime.

Final RIP 2008

Looking back on 2008, it was the year of obituaries. As I figured, death took no holiday in my absence, claiming four notables more fully memorialized elsewhere, but worthy of mention here: Eartha Kitt (I saw her on Broadway in The Wild Party in 2000), Harold Pinter (all late-in-life sins noted--the bad poetry, the knee-jerk anti-Americanism, the contemptuous Sleuth remake--but largely forgiven, and how fortunate we were to have seen Lindsay Duncan give a master class in Pinter playing in Ashes to Ashes Off Broadway), Ann Savage (so good to see one last time in My Winnipeg, 63 years after she burrowed under Tom Neal's skin in Detour, pictured) and Dale Wasserman--Man of La Mancha and the stage One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, yes, but also the co-author of an epic I adore, The Vikings, whose male stars, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Ernest Borgnine, are still with us 50 years later. Here's to fruitful longevity in 2009.

Ciao Kim's Video

Today is the final day of rentals at Kim's Video. But fear not: The saga of the store has taken a weird but welcome Italian turn, with its inventory being moved lock, stock, and barrel to a Sicilian town and showcased in an "eternal tribute" of some sort. (Presumably, its adults-only holdings will be screened past bedtime.) Talk about Cinema Paradiso. Only in Salemi, folks, only in Salemi.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's greetings

I'm not exactly Robert Capa on the cellphone camera, but it's the thought that counts and Manhattan this time of the year is like armed combat. No one's depressed or recessed here. Here's the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as I go on a semi-hiatus over the holidays.

Happy frickin' holidays

The Film Society of Lincoln Center throws the tree into the garbage and sets it on fire the day after Christmas with "Classic Scorsese," which is just the fuck what it sounds like. Raging Bull, appropriately, is one of the Boxing Day attractions. So is Taxi Driver. "All the animals come out at Christmas Eve--whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the sled." The seasonal cheer continues on New Year's Day with a salute to that goodtime guy David Fincher, whose Se7en, Zodiac, and Fight Club warm the cockles of everybody's heart. The director is juxtaposing a screening of Se7en with one for Mary Poppins, one of his favorites, making for an eggnog-and-brimstone kind of afternoon for sick twist screwhead cinephiles. "I am Santa's raging bile duct..."

Live Design: Year-end Broadway

Seen and Heard wraps another year with Matthew Risch and Stockard Channing (pictured) in Pal Joey, the Piven-less Speed-the-Plow, and a White Christmas that comes in just under the wire.

Fear factor

A New York Times article on the horripilating past and very near-future of 3D horror movies pays only lip service to the boon of comin'-at-ya chillers from 1982-1983, which began with a revival of 1953's House of Wax and continued with the likes of Parasite, the third Friday the 13th movie, Amityville 3-D, and Jaws 3-D.

The implication is that next month's My Bloody Valentine 3-D, a remake of a 1981 slasher flick that was nothing special in 2D, and whose director has little besides straight-to-video sequels on his resume, will somehow transcend the genre, with 3D that will "enhance the story," blow our minds, etc. But horror has already been taken to the third dimension, twice, with little to show for it except quick-and-dirty profits and heaps of glasses discarded on theater floors. (The article says that there haven't been any 3D horror movies in more than 20 years, ignoring a 2006 Night of the Living Dead, which got a token release, and the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel Freddy's Dead, which closed with a 3D sequence and cleaned up in 1991.) I don't see this new wave as going any farther, or piercing the culture as deeply as "torture porn," unless filmmakers with more on their minds than warmed-over eyestrain throw out a few new ideas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Speed reading

I missed the mysteriously exited Jeremy Piven in the Broadway revival of Speed-the-Plow. But I did see his terrific understudy, Jordan Lage, an old hand at David Mamet, yesterday, and I would Photoshop his head into the picture if I could. And I did hear co-star Raul Esparza's heartfelt--and pointed--speech following the performance. I don't think it was ungracious at all, as the chatters (as in All That) are saying, and it would seem to quell the ridiculousness about the Entourage star's "mercury poisoning," which I doubt Mamet would have made light of had there been anything to it. (Piven jumped on a plane and got out of town the second he could, atypical behavior for someone at death's door.)

How embarrassing for Piven, scion of an influential theater clan in the Chicago area, to behave so poorly. However, opportunity has surely knocked for Lage, who has made the most of it. I think William H. Macy, who will assume the role of a conscience-wracked Hollywood producer later in the show's run, is kind of old for it, which is not to knock his abilities...but that Esparza and Norbert Leo Butz, actors of similar age and New York theater backgrounds, should be dynamite together when Butz steps in tomorrow.

RIP Robert Mulligan

And so, alas, it continues...Time's Richard Corliss has an affectionate remembrance of the Oscar-nominated director of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird, Hollywood humanism at its best. Reese Witherspoon debuted in his last, good picture, 1991's The Man in the Moon, evidence that his craft hadn't dimmed. Part of New York's live TV scene in the 50s (so few of them are left), Mulligan made a smooth transition to film with the engrossing Jimmy Piersall story Fear Strikes Out (1957), with Anthony Perkins getting a jump on psychosis. Though best noted for his country credits he never left the city far behind: 1960's The Rat Race, with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds slumming for showbiz work, 1963's Love with the Proper Stranger, with Steve McQueen trying to do the right thing by Natalie Wood as she considers an abortion, the frank teacher saga Up the Down Staircase (1967), and the lusty Bloodbrothers(1978), with Richard Gere in an early part and Marilu Henner as the self-admitted "town pump," all poke at the teeming underbelly of Big Apple life. Sex was also the subject of his other big hit, 1972's Summer of '42, which held up extremely well when I watched it recently.

The more I write, the more I realize that Mulligan was underrated, and perhaps taken for granted. The Nickel Ride (1974) is a compelling late noir. 1968's The Stalking Moon, a reunion with Mockingbird star Gregory Peck, is a tense Western with intimations of horror films. The Other (1972) is a horror film, suffused with the rurality, by turns folksy and menacing, of Mockingbird.

Dave Kehr also revisits Mulligan.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

DVD 2008

Two voluminous favorites lists, from DVD Savant and Tim Lucas and Co. at Video WatchBlog. I have some of these on my shelves, and may finally have time to watch them in the new year. But, as DVD Savant notes, the industry is clearly in retreat regarding the older catalog titles I'm more inclined to buy rather than rent, in favor of recycling the usual hits on Blu-Ray. With my Larissa-related expenses rising, I can live with that, though I think the market can't afford to lose too many strong and supportive customers like me with lazy, uninspired offerings in yet another new format I just can't work up that much interest in. This collector's mentality is shifting, and I'm not seeing much out there to keep me opening my wallet. I did spring for The Furies, a Savant fave, and showed it to my most appreciative movie group last week.

On TCM: Disney in the flesh

Everyone loves Disney's animated classics. Its live-action features, starting with 1954's magnificent 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, had their ups and downs, but there's a lot of nostalgia for them, which a new Turner Classic Movies documentary, Age of Believing: The Disney Live Action Classics, milks for all its worth. Angela Lansbury narrates, which gets the cozy vibe going, and check out the guest interviewee list: Kurt Russell, Hayley Mills, Dean Jones, Tommy Kirk, Dick Van Dyke, Glynis Johns, Kim Richards, etc., plus lots of footage of Uncle Walt in (live) action.

The documentary, which premiered last weekend, caps a day of Disney programming tomorrow, as TCM showcases some of the A- (and B-, and C-list) live actioners on Sundays this month. The show ends with 1982's Tron, and pretty much skips over the flailing studio's bid for Star Wars coin with 1979's The Black Hole, which kicks off a day of sci-fi and supernatural-themed outings. Included are the two Witch Mountain pictures (the second had no less than Christopher Lee and Bette Davis as the bad guys), Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Jodie Foster (pictured) and Barbara Harris terrific in Freaky Friday. Foster really was something: From the start you can see the formidable actress she would become, and she harmonizes with David Niven and Helen Hayes in Candleshoe, which is also being broadcast. (1984's Splash, from the Eisner era, got the live-action market back on its feet, as Disney sprouted different branches and moved into PG, PG-13, and R-rated movies, big boxoffice achieved at the price of homogenization.)

It all takes me back to the K-Cinema in Randolph, NJ, which had Disney double features in the mid-70s. 1965's That Darn Cat!!, with Mills and Jones supported by a typically delightful supporting cast including Dorothy Provine, Elsa Lanchester, Roddy McDowall, Neville Brand, William Demarest, Grayson Hall, Frank Gorshin, and the inevitable Richard Deacon, was a favorite. I hate how Disney has looted its heritage by remaking these pictures, with better special effects but duller actors and charmless scripts. (If your kids prefer Robin Williams in Flubber over Fred MacMurray in The Absent-Minded Professor, show them the door.) But nothing lasts forever. The K-Cinema switched from Cat to pussy after the Disney run ended, and became a porn theater.

IFC on the Hudson

Word is that David Hudson, the indefatigable compiler of all things cinephile-related on the web, is departing GreenCine Daily for a new gig at The IFC Daily opens for business on Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Aaron Hillis, formerly of Premiere, takes over Hudson's duties at GreenCine. Both GreenCine and are said to be 'branching off in new and exciting directions." Cool, but don't forget the little people who helped you on your rise to the top, ya hear...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Popdose: Spies like us

Espionage is the ticket this week, torn from the headlines (Nothing But the Truth) and from the dossier of Universal Exports (Quantum of Silence, finally). Truth tellers Vera Farmiga and Kate Beckinsale are pictured.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG surprises

The increasingly prominent Screen Actors Guild award nominations have been announced, and while there's no Doubt about it, it's not looking good for Kristin Scott Thomas, a presumptive front-runner for Oscar consideration whose excellent performance in I've Loved You So Long was shut out. The blah movie surrounding it was a likely factor. If it's any consolation, come what may Academy Awards time, she's already received three Bob nominations, for that role, her supporting turn in Tell No One, and her Broadway appearance in The Seagull, which ends its run this weekend. Speculation aside,it doesn't get much better than that.

RIP Sam Bottoms

Arbogast on Film offers a fine send-off for the actor, died too young (age 53) from brain tumor complications. His contributions to The Last Picture Show and Apocalypse Now are indelible. "Disneyland, fuck, this is better than Disneyland..."

BAM gets Right

The excellent Let the Right One In begins a six-day run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tomorrow. If you see just one Swedish vampire movie this year, do the Right thing, before the proposed US remake spoils it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You won't remember this

As usual, you're unlikely to be singing these in the shower anytime soon as Oscar's Best Song hopefuls are announced. The big-screen High School Musical sequel (pictured, as you might have guessed) has 11 (!) entrants--original, screen-written musicals take note--but thank our lucky stars the Academy is only letting two songs from the same film be eligible anymore, killing off chances for a medley (which, admittedly, could be campy fun). The rest ain't exactly ringing bells: "Another Way to Die" (Quantum of Solace) is like coitus interruptus, "Gran Torino" doesn't recover till Jamie Cullum takes over from Clint Eastwood (but to see Eastwood perform it live!), and who remembers the new Beyonce song amidst all those Cadillac Records covers? Slumdog Millionaire's Bollywood-inflected tunes are favored for the multi-culti hipness factor. However that plays out, I think Beyonce and the Grammys guard (Peter Gabriel for Wall-E, Springsteen for The Wrestler) have more of a shot than the toe-tappers from Pride and Glory and Repo! The Genetic Opera.

NY Public Library: "Yaddo Authors on Film"

Sent to me by the estimable John Calhoun's. If John's involved, quality is assured, and there are some great titles and filmmakers in the mix. Pictured is the opener, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, from Patricia Highsmith's novel.

All programs held in the Bruno Walter Auditorium
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
111 Amsterdam Avenue (between 64th and 65th Streets) • (212) 870-1700

• On Tuesday afternoons from January 6th through February 10th, the LPA Cinema Series presents "Yaddo Authors on Film," a series of films based on the works of literary alumni of the famed Yaddo artists’ community in upstate New York. This series is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Yaddo: Making American Culture, on view through February 15, 2009 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.

• On Friday afternoons from January 9th through February 13th, the LPA Cinema Series puts Yaddo Filmmakers in focus. This series presents works by cinematic artists who have completed residencies at Yaddo.

• On Wednesday, February 11th at 6:00 P.M., LPA Cinema Series will present a special screening of The City. This famed 1939 documentary, which boasts an original score by Yaddo alumnus Aaron Copland, will be presented in the South Court Auditorium of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. The screening will be followed by a conversation between music historian Joseph Horowitz and documentary filmmaker/scholar George Stoney.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Strangers on a Train, b&w, 101 minutes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1951
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith
With Farley Granger and Robert Walker

Friday, January 9, 2009
Operation Filmmaker, color, 95 minutes
Directed by Nina Davenport, 2007

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Member of the Wedding, b&w, 91 minutes
Directed by Fred Zinnemann, 1953
Based on the book and play by Carson McCullers
With Julie Harris and Ethel Waters

Friday, January 16, 2009
Touched, color, 65 minutes
Directed by Lauren Chiten, 2003
The Amateurist, color and b&w, 14 minutes
Directed by Miranda July, 1998
Lady, b&w, 28 minutes
Directed by Ira Sachs, 1993

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
3 by Cheever:
The Sorrows of Gin, color, 60 minutes
Directed by Jack Hofsiss, 1979
With Edward Herrmann and Sigourney Weaver
The Five Forty Eight, color, 60 minutes
Directed by James Ivory, 1979
With Laurence Luckinbill and Mary Beth Hurt
O Youth and Beauty!, color, 60 minutes
Directed by Jeff Bleckner, 1979
With Michael Murphy and Kathryn Walker

Friday, January 23, 2009
Men of Reenaction, color, 56 minutes
Directed by Jessica Yu, 1995
Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street, color with b&w sequences, 58 minutes
Directed by Leah Mahan & Mark Lipman, 1996

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Wise Blood, color, 106 minutes
Directed by John Huston, 1980
Based on the novel by Flannery O’Connor
With Brad Dourif and Ned Beatty

Friday, January 30, 2009
Optic Nerve, color, 16 minutes
Directed by Barbara Hammer, 1985
The Ties That Bind, b&w, 55 minutes
Directed by Su Friedrich, 1984

Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Devil in a Blue Dress, color, 101 minutes
Directed by Carl Franklin, 1995
Based on the book by Walter Mosley
With Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals

Friday, February 6, 2009
Meet the People, color, 17 minutes
Directed by Shelly Silver, 1986
This Is a History of New York (The Golden Dark Age of Reason), b&w, 23 minutes
Directed by Jem Cohen, 1987
Game, b&w, 40 minutes
Directed by Jon and Abigail Child, 1972

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Short Cuts, color, 183 minutes
Directed by Robert Altman, 1993
Based on short stories written by Raymond Carver
With Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison

Friday, February 13, 2009
The City, b&w, 43 minutes
Directed by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, 1939
Newly recorded soundtrack by Aaron Copland


Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The City, b&w, 43 minutes
Directed by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, 1939
Newly recorded soundtrack by Aaron Copland

Screening will be followed by a conversation between music historian Joseph Horowitz and documentary filmmaker/scholar George Stoney. This program is made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nice Nazis

Hollywood Elsewhere has one of Jeffrey Wells' stream-of-consciousness semi-reviews of Valkyrie up today. While not exactly relevant to the here-and-now (which could be said of most any period piece), it's OK, he writes. To which I responded, "The whole idea of idealistic Nazi/Nazi-affiliated soldiers sticks in the craw. Like these guys, once they had taken down Hitler, would have stopped the war, dismantled the concentration camps, and preached peace and harmony. What was their gameplan?" What indeed? Thugs with ideals are still thugs, period, end of story. Where is the rooting interest in watching "good" Nazis get the upper hand on "bad" ones?

Monday, December 15, 2008

"TCM Remembers"

A lot of my too-many RIP dispatches for the year, in plaintive video form. The song is Joe Henry's "God Only Knows." Alas, there will be more to come, I suspect; there always seem to be notable deaths around Christmastime (which, according to fact or legend or some mixture of both, is when most people who are gravely ill take their leave, as they struggle to hang on for one last holiday season):

Better living through cinema

Lift your spirits, gird your loins: the Muppets and Braveheart, among many others, would like to have a word with you:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grounding Billy Elliot

I liked Billy Elliot, now playing at Broadway's Imperial Theatre. I can't say I was enraptured with it, however. And this morning I read two articles that shared my dissatisfaction: One, by Roger Kimball, in The Wall Street Journal, and the other, by Charles Isherwood, in The New York Times.

The Journal piece, "A Clumsy Mix of Art and Politics," tells you exactly where it stands, and pretty much continues WSJ critic Terry Teachout's pan, a blot on a landscape of otherwise good-to-ecstatic reviews of the show, which has been doing brisk business. Right-wingers at the Journal and the New Criterion, where Kimball hails from, were never going to approve of a Thatcher-bashing show. Nor did I--not because of the politics, but because of the obvious, crowd-pleasing, West End way in which the politics are presented. The movie, which Kimball likes, is more subtle, and makes the same points without resorting to inflatables, dress-ups, unmemorable music, and all that stage jazz. On film, the director, Stephen Daldry, and the screenwriter/book writeer/lyricist, Lee Hall, work in a naturalist vein; on stage, the two have been infected by razzle-dazzle, changing, with a thud, Billy Elliot to Billy Elliot: The Musical. (As so often happens when modest movies become immodest musicals, they pretty much run out of movie story by the close of Act I, and vamp for Act II to bring the show up to a butt-tugging three hours.)

Kimball has one beef in particular: "Billy soars to the ceiling courtesy of a line tethered to his belt. It's a pointless episode, rendered all the more pointless by the quantities of colored dry-ice fog that is wafted across the stage. It was the release not of the human spirit but of stage pyrotechnics." Isherwood's piece is about nothing but the climax of that dream ballet staging, which is one of the high points of the show. A desire to fly, to soar, to transcend is an important part of the piece, but the literalization of the act is clumsily achieved; in our dreams, we don't have someone attach ourselves to a hoist, even our imagined older self, and if the stage technicians couldn't figure out a way to get him into harness less clunkily I would have cut it. Moreover, it's the spectacle of the flying itself, a tacky button to an otherwise inspiring sequence. Even in the cheap seats at the back of the mezzanine, we get it, well before we're obliged to see it: Billy wants to fly. "It epitomizes the aesthetic conflict running through the production that keeps this very good musical from becoming a wholly great one, at least in my view," Isherwood writes.

With questions of art and politics emerging in the same weekend, in two important papers (two of the few important papers left), the Billy backlash is on. I liked the show, within reason, and have no need to pile it. "My" Billy, Trent Kowalik, was terrific. (One of the other two who share the role, David Alvarez, is pictured.) But I agree with Isherwood's conclusion: "Billy Elliot is a small, heartfelt and keenly observed musical that intermittently feels the need to act like a loud, splashy, sock-it-to-’em crowd pleaser." It forgets the simple lesson of the 2000 movie, which held up well when I caught it on cable recently: Less is more.

On TCM: Van Heflin

Few actors played underappreciated better than Heflin, which may be why the actor himself is slighted these days. Turner Classic Movies shows a little love for the star tonight with a showcase of his roles, beginning at 8pm EST with the original 3:10 to Yuma (pictured, with Glenn Ford), his Oscar-winning turn as a clinging gangster in 1942's Johnny Eager, the Barbara Stanwyck noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), and the excellent, Rod Serling-penned office drama Patterns (1956).

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Van Johnson

The actor was the soul of amiability in the golden age of MGM musicals, and he held it together when he made World War II pictures, too. (A car crash at the very beginning of his career kept him from active duty, though he made up for it on the celluloid front.) His hidden depths he was careful not to share with audiences, which may be why his career hasn't aged as well as that of his contemporaries (that, and a tendency toward ham and overstatement in more serious roles when the music stopped). Then again, there is little use anymore for a trained journeyman, who traveled between genres with relative ease, and a lightness of spirit frolicking with the leading lady likes of Judy Garland, June Allyson, and Esther Williams, something Hollywood just isn't very good at today, or does only with ironic quotes placed around the frame. Johnson, whose last film and TV roles were in the early 90s, was extinct long before his departure. But here's to the good times: The Human Comedy, A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Till the Clouds Roll By, In the Good Old Summertime, Battleground, holding his own in The Caine Mutiny, sardonic in Brigadoon, playing the lute as "The Minstrel" on TV's Batman, receiving an Emmy nomination for Rich Man, Poor Man, and fitting the elegant movie-within-the-movie in The Purple Rose of Cairo to a T.

The Day the Earth sent junk

This is a cute little stunt to send the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still up, up, up and away, but what if it backfires? The environmental-themed makeover is getting universally awful reviews, and if the Alpha Centurians are anything like the critics they may declare interstellar war when it reaches them. Is it too late to substitute Wall-E? How about the timelessly engrossing original, now available as a two-disc special edition DVD? We really should put our best foot forward with other lifeforms; Keanu Reeves pictures are a little low on the evolutionary scale.

RIP Bettie Page

As GM and Chrysler go down for the count, another durable American icon has departed. The pinup queen gained in interest with the passing of the years, as she retreated into seclusion. (The Rocketeer gave her a boost, and Gretchen Mol was game as Page in the praiseworthy 2006 feature The Notorious Bettie Page.) Sex has always sold, but few sold it as mischievously, enigmatically, or attractively as Page, whose bondage photos in particular are the stuff of notoriety, and legend.

Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Mark Mori, whose documentary Bettie Page Reveals All will be released next year, wrote, "I am profoundly saddened by the passing of Bettie Page this evening.  Millions of her fans worldwide have felt truly inspired by her.  But, what I regret is the loss of a friend, who was, most of all a warm, joyous and disarmingly honest woman.  Whether in photographs or in real life, it was Bettie's joie de vivre,  which animated me and her fans over the last 58 years.  There's never been anyone like her, nor will there ever be.  She'll be remembered with love and affection always."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Henry Hewes Design Awards wins announced

Here are some awards I can get behind. Congratulations to the winners, all of whom did outstanding work.

"Five theater artists will be honored by the Henry Hewes Design Awards Committee during the presentation of its 44th Annual Awards at a Sardi's luncheon on Friday, December 12. Ninety-five theater artists were nominated for outstanding artistry in 62 productions presented during the 2007-2008 New York theater season.

The HHDA Committee named top honorees in four categories: Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design and Notable Effects. The Awards will be presented by Scott Pask, Clint Ramos, Natasha Katz and Kevin Cunningham, all of whom were 2007 honorees.

The Henry Hewes Design Awards celebrate work in venues on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. All nominated designs must have originated in United States productions. The Hewes Design Awards Committee considered more than 200 productions when making its nominations. Those feted receive honoraria and citations at the luncheon. Originally known as the Maharam Awards at their inception in 1965, the Hewes Awards were later called the American Theatre Wing Design Awards in honor of the Wing’s support of the committee. They were renamed in 1999 for noted theater critic and advocate Henry Hewes, who created the awards and served as a board member of the American Theatre Wing until his death in 2006 at age 89.

Lincoln Center Theater's South Pacific and Atlantic Theater Company's Trumpery each received four nominations; six productions gained three nominations each and 15 others earned a pair. Past Hewes Design Award recipients David Korins and Howell Binkley led all nominees with four nominations each for their design work during the 2007-2008 season. Designers Mark Wendland and Donald Holder each received three nominations. A total of 11 artists received more than one nomination.

The Henry Hewes Design Awards Committee includes theater critics Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, chair; Dan Bacalzo; David Barbour; David Cote; Tish Dace; Glenda Frank; Mario Fratti; and Joan Ungaro.

The winners are:

Scenic Design

Mark Wendland: Next to Normal (Second Stage Theatre), Richard III (Classic Stage Company), Unconditional (Labyrinth Theater Company)

Costume Design

Katrina Lindsay: Les Liaisons Dangerueses (Roundabout Theatre Company)

Lighting Design

Donald Holder: Cyrano de Bergerac, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Roundabout Theatre Company), South Pacific (Lincoln Center Theater)

Notable Effects:

Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg (projection design): The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (Vineyard Theatre, pictured)

Golden Globes announced

For the record, just passing it on...The Reader, which seems unendurably middlebrow, gets a little ugly duckling love, as does Kristin Scott Thomas, terrific in the otherwise undistinguished I've Loved You So Long. She can relax a little about her chances for an Oscar nomination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NY critics get Milk

The New York Film Critics Circle has chosen Milk as its best picture of the year, and co-stars Sean Penn and Josh Brolin (pictured) its best actors. Which came as a relief: I know it's irrational, but every time Brolin gets a nod it always seems like some sort of acknowledgment of the nutcase he's playing, Dan White. Prognosticating the Oscars via these East Coast selections, Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz looks ever more likely to claim the Woody Allen Supporting Actress Oscar (following in the footsteps of Dianne Wiest and Mira Sorvino), and WALL-E will be collecting a statuette for his dumpster. Meanwhile, best actress Sally Hawkins and best director Mike Leigh get a little traction for the show, but I have a feeling that Happy-Go-Lucky is more of a New York state of mind.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

RIP Robert Prosky

An unrelenting torrent of departures this year now includes the veteran character actor, who died just shy of his 78th birthday. A fixture on the Capitol's theater scene, Prosky was affiliated with Arena Stage from the start of his career, 50 years ago. (He was a two-time Tony nominee on Broadway; I saw him in Michael Frayn's Democracy, and heard him as the voice of the judge in the 12 Angry Men revival, both in the 2004-2005 season.) He made an impressive film debut in Michael Mann's Thief, putting a vise-like squeeze on James Caan after gentle kid gloves early in the picture, then appeared in Mann's The Keep, The Natural, Broadcast News, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Dead Man Walking, among others. (I remember him most fondly as a sozzled horror movie host, done up as Dracula, in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.) And he was a fixture on the tube, on Hill Street Blues, episodes of Cheers and Veronica's Closet (as Kirstie Alley's dad in both), The Practice, and more. No stone unturned for his wide-ranging talent.

Popdose: Chills, thrills on DVD

Break out the fear flasher and the horror horn: Chamber of Horrors, which used those gimmicks, and The Brides of Fu Manchu are available beyond Best Buy today, as a single-disc double feature.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Slap Shot at BAM

George Roy Hill's Slap Shot gets the Brooklyn Academy of Music's tribute to Paul Newman on ice tonight. It's a brash, terrifically funny picture, and Newman's profane, not-so-bright portrayal as a coach caught up in hockey's commercialism is one of his best and most underappreciated. A great sports film. Tonight's program also turns the spotlight on Newman's considerably more understated directing career, with a rare showing of his 1972 adaptation of Paul Zindel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, featuring spouse Joanne Woodward. (As for Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, showing later this week, one or two good scenes does not a good film make, but it's an intriguingly counter-intuitive choice for a tribute, which includes the expected, and welcome, The Hustler, pictured).

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"A terrible resolve"

In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, the trailer for 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora!, still the best movie made on the subject. To watch the dire 2001 super-spectacle instead is to shame your country.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Let it snow

Had I not had to pick up dinner tonight I might have missed experiencing the first snowfall of the season here in New York. I'm sure my parents, in the Alaska-like hinterlands of New Jersey, are cursing it, but if I don't have to shovel it, or drive in it, I say, let it snow. The chilly little flakes were pleasantly bracing on my hat-less head.

RIP Beverly Garland

A picture is worth a thousand words, and this still of Garland from The Alligator People (1959) would seem to say it all. But Garland, a familiar (and attractive) face from Famous Monsters of Filmland, was rarely so accommodating to her beastly co-stars. Introduced to the squat Venusian menace in Roger Corman's It Conquered the World (1956), Garland reportedly said, "You're going to conquer the world? Take that!" and gave it a good solid kick. I don't recall her being funny in those pictures (which also included Not of This Earth and Swamp Women) but she exhibited that no-nonsense, can-do attitude decades before Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

Decades before Angie Dickinson joined the force in TV's Police Woman, she played a lady law enforcer in Decoy. It's too bad most people remember her more demure characterization on My Three Sons, and a procession of TV moms afterwards, but it took a while for people to realize how her 50s roles helped open the doors to more progressive female characters. (She was also good in The Joker is Wild, with Frank Sinatra, and as Tuesday Weld's disapproving mother--and target--in Pretty Poison.) How sad she and Ackerman should pass away in the same span, but, also, how fitting--a matched set, in their own way.

"Sunny loved Christmas..."

...And I love Reversal of Fortune, the 1990 film about the Claus von Bulow trial. Sunny von Bulow, 76, died today, after nearly 28 years in a coma. Here's the wrap-up to the movie, as von Bulow attempts to explain himself to lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) and Jeremy Irons wins an Oscar with four words...

Friday, December 05, 2008

RIP Forrest J. Ackerman

Facebook has allowed old friends to dig me up all these decades after grade school. The first thing one asked was, "Still collecting monster magazines?"

I suppose if one stretches the definition of "monster magazine" to include Tim Lucas' essential-for-other-reasons Video Watchdog, the answer is yes. (And I've written for them, too.) But my golden age of poring over copies of The Monster Times and others like it was when I was a kid, and my collection fascinated friends whose parents weren't quite so indulgent about their children's reading material.

(Digression: I have a mean collection of 70s-era Mad magazines, too, and Marvel's monster comics like Tomb of Dracula and Man-Thing, which were the ones I liked best. Superheroes were for losers. And I grew up relatively normal, a rebuke to hand-wringing over bad influences.)

The one that really stoked my imagination, though, was "Uncle Forry's" Famous Monsters of Filmland, founded 50 years ago, with its gorgeous Basil Gogol covers and irresistible, photo-packed articles, which made me a genre fan for life. The jaunty, pun- and wordplay-filled writing style I carried over into my own a little bit. It just sort of seeped in, like the Blob.

I never met Ackerman who died at age 92. There's little disputing that he was the ultimate fan, credited with coining the term "sci-fi," and he shared his incredible collection of memorabilia with his young readers and visitors to the treasure-laden "Ackermansion" in L.A. Through the magazine I felt I knew him, and he turned up in small roles in movies like Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). My parents took me to the first Famous Monsters convention in New York, where he is said to have signed 10,000 autographs. Sadly, not mine. I was too shy to ask. Nor did I meet guest Peter Cushing. But to be in their proximity was thrilling, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a mom and dad who supported my offbeat obsession. So did my grandmother and grandfather, who escorted me to Rosemart's in Harrison, NJ, down the street from where they lived, to pick up the latest copy of the magazine when I visited. What a cool family.

My parents were cleaning out the basement this summer, and asked me to help with the removal. Sad to say some of my magazines and comic books, as old as the 37-year-old house itself, had pretty much yellowed into illegibility and tattered in my hands. But the Famous Monsters of Filmlands, while showing their age (I was good at collecting them but, alas, not preserving them), were in not-bad shape, and I got a kick out of revisiting them. They stayed. What I wonder will Larissa think of daddy's hobby when she learns of it? I suspect the Ackerman influence is in her genes, too.

Arbogast on Film has a few words to say about Ackerman, and the veteran actress Nina Foch, who also passed away this week. I remember reading about Return of the Vampire and Cry of the Werewolf, early credits for her, in Famous Monsters.

Popdose: History lessons

This week: A return to the past as Milk, Cadillac Records (pictured), and Australia take stock of gay rights, advancement and exploitation in the music industry, and Aboriginal oppression. It's issues season again.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

RIP Paul Benedict

The New Mexico native played the British Mr. Bentley on The Jeffersons for most of its 10 seasons, then dined out on small parts on TV and film that drew on that association. Before he was "movin' on up" with Weezy and the gang, he played The Mad Painter on Sesame Street, leered through Mandingo, and appeared in Jeremiah Johnson, Up the Sandbox, and Smile. His most memorable film roles were as the eccentric director of the gay Hamlet in The Goodbye Girl and as Matthew Broderick's difficult film school professor in The Freshman. He worked with some frequency as an actor and director on the New York stage, where I saw him as the mayor in the 2000-2001 Music Man revival. As soon as he appeared, audience members around me urgently whispered, "Mr. Bentley...Mr. Bentley!" Benedict was amused by his immortality.

Awards season, again

Let the end-of-year exercise in congratulation and flagellation begin. The National Board of Review has made its listand checked it twice, and voted Danny Boyle's Mumbai-set Slumdog Millionaire the best picture of the year. In two eyebrow-raisers, Clint Eastwood's said-to-be-swan song performance in his typically self-directed Gran Torino won for best actor, with its screenplay claiming top honor in that category; early reviews suggest that the first is a gold-watch sentimental choice, and the second simply daft. (The trailer, and Eastwood's rusty bucket vocals on the title track, co-written and it would seem co-performed by the far more capable Jamie Cullum, don't hold much promise--as a crooner, Eastwood hasn't improved much since Paint Your Wagon--but I dig the circa-1983 poster.) Josh Brolin's win for Milk is a little curdling (as if Dan White were somehow being honored; would I have felt the same cway if he had won for W.?) and the blood-and-thunder Mongol a left-field foreign film winner (though it was an Oscar nominee) but it's good to see the excellent Let the Right One In and the "breakthrough" Viola Davis (for Doubt) getting a little NBR love. I imagine she, Eastwood, the slumdogs, and supporting actress winner Penelope Cruz should start going in for fittings now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Proposition 8: The Musical

From the ever-witty pen of Marc Shaiman, a pointed star-studded sendup that among other things reminds us that Jack Black can still bring the funny:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Winter Cineaste online and on sale

Let's do the time warp again, as Cineaste looks into the life, after-life, and rebirth of cult movies, a topic the magazine has never tackled in quite the same immersive way before. The new issue is online and on sale now.