a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"


The 55th New York Film Festival is coming soon! The press screenings have started and the movies I’ve seen already are just grand!

I will be covering the NYFF for http://www.awardsdaily.com so keep your eyes peeled at the wonderful Oscar website. I of course will link from here, but the articles, reviews, etc. will be there.

So exciting, always!

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Would you buy this above pictured actor as a Supermodel or the tortured author J.D. Salinger? Nicholas Hoult as handsome and photogenic as can be, really mostly fails as “The Rebel in the Rye,” author Salinger of “Catcher in the Rye.” I mean, he’s a super-hero, not a writer. And it’s a shame. I mean, I left this well-meaning, but superficial movie, never wanting to read anything Salinger wrote ever again. And that’s just sad.

It was like drinking too much Pepsi. And I hate Pepsi. The neo-phyte director, Danny Strong, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is so obsessed with Salinger that he casts someone (Hoult), who is BRITISH, and from the Mutant movies as SALINGER? Sacrilege! Salinger was an Upper West Side, rich, Jew punk and Hoult is about as Jewish as the Duchess of Cornwall!!

And it a shame, because Strong has assembled a first-rate cast of great New York actors around the hopelessly good-looking  and inert, inept Hoult, and they all do the best to cover his limitations and the cliché-ridden script.

Zoey Deutsch does POP effectively as the teenage Oona O’Neill who, yes, Salinger was really involved with. Hoult comes alive in their boy/girl scenes, and it looks like “Rebel in the Rye” might really go somewhere. But alas, the whip-smart Oona dumps him for Charlie Chaplin ( yes, that really happened ) early in the film, and never really recovers, when she departs his life and hence the picture.

Strong IS strong on atmosphere, and the post-war II New York is captured quite convincingly by his cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, and production designer Dina Goldman.

He’s also lucky he has one of America’s greatest actresses, Emmy-Winner Sarah Paulson on hand as Salinger’s devoted, long-suffering agent. Paulson, like Deutsch makes her scenes believable. Also onboard are Kevin Spacey as Salinger’s writing teacher at Columbia U. And Jefferson Mayes and Bryan D’arcy-James as the publishers, Salinger must confront and overcome. They all make the boilerplate they’re handed in the last half of the movie, palatable.

But this is a profoundly JEWISH story, and what does the director do? Casts two goyim as Salinger and his Jewish father. Victor Garber is Canadian, for cripe’s sake! He’s playing the supposedly stern conservative, against-his-son’s career father! More mis-casting! Non-Jews playing Jews! I thought we had moved WAAAAAY past this point, but I guess not.

And Nicholas Hoult will have a big career and be cast as he should be, a super-model or super-hero, where he doesn’t have to actually act. And he’ll be fine.

What a shame! But this film has turned me off reading Salinger forever. Justabout.

Happy to announce I’ll be covering the New York Film Festival again this year for the powerful Awards site, http://www.awardsdaily.com and my dear friend and inspiration the great Sasha Stone! Ecstatic at this news!

Especially looking forward to Woody Allen’s latest “Wonder Wheel” starring Kate Winslet in another Oscar savvy performance in one of Woody’s great female roles! Think what he did for Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine.” Or Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Fingers crossed for Kate the Great!

More soon!

I wonder what’s going to happen to Louise Penny’s latest novel, hot off the presses, “Glass Houses”? It’s her 13th in a row Inspector Gamache novel. And USUALLY she hits it out of the ball park every time, but this time…Well, she’s a crime/mystery writer the world has fallen in love with, even though she’s an Anglo-Canadian writing about our beloved Montreal and the province of Quebec, where she lives.

“Glass Houses” was written very fast. It seems like the last one “A Great Reckoning” only came out last week, but actually it was last year. But still, a new book, EVERY year! I mean, that’s an incredible achievement by any definition and she’s been called “the new Agatha Christie”, which is also an incredible accolade. (She’s won Agatha Award six times!) And she sells! She tends to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s really difficult to write about her Chief Inspector Gamache books, because you don’t want to spoil anything. But I will say this. This is my least favorite novel of hers, so far. And I’ve read them all!

Don’t worry die-hard Gamache fans he’s very much front and center here, and Penny has created a great character in him, her lead detective. He’s retired now and living in Three Pines, the wonderful, mythical Quebec township town she’s created. It’s not real, but it’s setting is continuously beguiling and I really want to eat at the Bistro of Gabri and Olivier, right now!

Food is mentioned often, but not as much in “Glass Houses” but the Bistro Gamache fans NEED to know is where most of the action, and the eating, mais oui, happens. And Kudos to Penny for putting two very original gay Bistro/B&B owners front and center in her books. Gamache has a gaggle of sorts. What’s the French word for “Posse”? Maybe it’s posse, too, and they are all on hand, and there’s so many of them now that the ensemble tends to push the new characters almost out of the book completely.

It must sound divine to Penny fans, but — this time…
“Glass Houses” I found confusing. There. I said it. You need to know that it switches back and forth in time and seasons and locales. It’s hard to follow, until you realize that the trial that takes up half the book, is set in Montreal in the summer. Just WHAT and WHO is on trial for WHAT is also confusing. It’s made clear at the end but by then my patience with Gamache & co. was more than a little frazzled.

Then her masterpiece Ruth Zardo the crazy, foul-mouthed Octogenarian poet whose pet duck Rosa comes on. And then Gamache’s PERFECT wife Reine-Marie starts exerting her charm, and they all dine at the beautiful, homey bistro and you realize that Louise Penny is really above criticism at this point.

Especially, considering she wrote this big 400 page tome as her beloved husband, Michael, in real life, was dying.

Which kind of exemplifies the dark, threatening figure that keeps appearing on the Village Green one cold, rainy November day…Wait! How did we get to be in November? I thought it was July! Well, “Glass Houses” keeps switching back and forth, yes, confusingly.

Penny really returns to form(she really is an exquisite writer) in of all places the Author’s Note, which is at the end of the entire book. She writes feelingly about her husband’s death and ends with the lovely thought “The final thanks is to you, my friend. For your company.The world is brighter for your presence.
All shall be well.”

A luscious, real treat for fans of Alfred Hitchock and for those of you who adore the Silent Film star Ivor Novello! “The Lodger” and “Downhill” are both out and in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual the Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job of putting together a 2 DVD Special Features Edition.

Ivor Novello was the British/Welsh Rudolph Valentino of his day. A heart-throb, a matinee idol and a silent film star, he was right up there as a composer, too. He wrote most famously “Keep the Home Fires Burning” as a World War I anthem and many, many more songs as well as  full-length musicals. He is even portrayed in Julian Fellowes’ “Gosford Park” by Jeremy Northam. Fellowes has also written a biography of him. He was gay but, of course, closeted, for those times didn’t allow him to say what he was, but he had a male lover Bobbie Andrews, who he lived with for all his life. And he had notorious liasons with Noel Coward, and even Winston Churchhill.

When asked what it was like Churchill supposedly replied, “Musical.”

None of this information of course, is included in the Criterion Collection, but I thought you all dear readers, dear cineastes, would like to know what all the fuss was about in the 1920s.

“The Lodger” was Hitchcock’s break-out movie in 1927 and Novello was its’ star. In audio interviews on the “Supplements” with Francois Truffaut(1962) and Peter Bogdonvich(1963 and ’72), Hitchcock makes no bones about how he felt working with Novello. As the biggest star of the day, Hitchcock, who was unknown at the time, HAD to use him, and use him he did.

Novello gives an uber-creepy portrayal of the lodger, who just might be Jack the Ripper. Because of Novello’s immense popularity at the time, he could not be a villain. So Hitchcock played it right on the knife-edge, where he was so often going to keep his audience for the rest of his career. Was he guilty or was he innocent? You don’t know til the end of the film.

And for those cinephiles who remember the famous opening close-up of Grace Kelly coming in to plant a big, wet, sloppy one on James Stewart in “Rear Window”, we see Novello in the same, intense, swoon-worthy pan into a frame (see above, top) where Novello seems to be about to kiss the audience. That zooming shot made me question if Hitchcock was not gay after all. Well, he certainly never acted it out. But in that shot, and how lovingly he treats Novello, though he was “stuck with him” in order to advance his career, it’s clear that he also had great affection for Novello’s helping making him (Hitchcock) a star-director with “The Lodger.”

And “Downhill,” the other included film, also from 1927, shows that Novello felt strongly enough about what Hitch was doing for HIM, that he let Hitch direct, this second film, which Novello also wrote, about a college boy, who is wrongly accused of a flirtation (or more) with a shop girl, and is expelled from his Eton-like school, and his life goes downhill from there. Included in “Downhill” which is not a thriller or a mystery, there’s a great shot of Novello descending an escalator on the London underground, going down, down, down.

The 2K digital restoration has a marvelous, eerie score by Neil Brand, performed by the Orchestra of St. Paul’s. And an informative interview of the challenges he faced creating the scores for both these silent films, which I’m so grateful to Criterion was presenting us with in this sparkling manner.

#Alfred Hitchcock, #Ivor Novello, #The Lodger, #Downhill, #Silent Film

The great, legendary chanteuse Barbara Cook has just passed at 89. The news also came yesterday that “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell passed away the same day. And I am equally saddened to report that none of the New York Television News Programs reported on her death, while they sure reported on his. But we, her fans, and they are legion, will never forget Barbara Cook, and her lilting, great coloratura soprano. She brightened many lives…

Coming back in mid-life to a monumental career as a solo singer, Barbara Cook was a symbol of her surviving her
own demons, even her constant battles with the bottle and her weight. In mid-life, she began to live.

Originally known as the Broadway ingénue to end all ingenues in the 1950s, I did not realize for quite a while that she was that same, slim person, who  immortalized Marian in the Librarian in 1957 and won a Tony too.

The Music Man” had a huge impact on my life because it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. And I can remember every single minute of it to this day. It was branded into my mind. It was unforgettable. And Marian’s solos “Til There Was You,” “My White Knight,” “Being in Love” were just the sine qua non of romance. That’s what I thought life was going to be like.

Of course, the great lie of “The Music Man” was that love was nothing like that, but the fantasy of this romance has stayed with me forever.Barbara Cook 2

Barbara Cook’s triumphant return career symbolizes all that. She sang those signature songs in later life, and showed that her heart was broken by them too.

I saw her concertize more times than I can recall, but each performance was a jewel, and very, very touching. Coming back as she did right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic and coming to symbolize to so many who survived it, all their loved ones who were gone, was something I think she was very proud of.She became an icon to the AIDS-ravaged GLBT community.

Barbara Cook and her great beautiful all-encompassing voice and soul will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Barbara.

#Barbara Cook, #The Music Man

I hate to be typing this, but my beloved “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” just put up its’ closing notice for Sunday, after the matinee on Sept.3. The casting controversy, which I’ve chronicled elsewhere on this blog, recently, is being sited as the cause.

But I’ll just say I saw this magnificent, original piece of musical theater FOUR times, twice with Josh Groban, who finished his run July 2, as per his contract, and seeing him sing this difficult, challenging score was one of the greatest theatrical experience I’ve ever had in all my years of theater-going, as a critic, as a playright, as an actor, as a director, to me, “Natasha, Pierre…” was excellent on all counts.

And I’m so glad I got to see it four times, once with composer David Malloy, and once with the understudy who is now going to be taking over in this last upcoming stage of its’ run, Scott Stangland, both of whom are white. And both of whom were perfectly fine in the role.

But neither of them is the charismatic Grogan and his incredible voice. And his surprisingly strong chops as an actor. Who sold tickets to the tune of $1,200,000 a week.

And while it’s beyond wonderful that this incredible piece of theater actually happened at all and all involved are exemplary and I’m going to miss seeing it again.

But DO get the masterful CD of the original cast, including the superlative Groban, then you’ll have “Natasha, Pierre…” to play all day. Which I admit I do. And it always delights and surprises me.

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