a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for January, 2014

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Terrific J.D.Salinger Doc on PBS

Terrific J.D.Salinger Doc on PBS

One of the most gripping docs I’ve ever seen on TV or anywhere is the new documentary on J.D.Salinger now airing on PBS stations across the country. Check your local listings and don’t miss it!

Filmmaker Shane Salerno has dug deep and spent 10 years and $2 million to bring the shadowy reclusive figure front and center revealing mountains of info we never knew, until now.

Surprisingly, Salinger came from a Park Avenue Jewish family, and was thrown out of many prep schools. Early on he wanted to be an actor! Ending up in a military school, he fell in love with the teenage deb of the year Oona O’Neill, who eventually broke his heart by marrying Charlie Chaplin.

Salinger found this out by reading about it in the news reports that were available to Allied troops in Europe. By that time he had enlisted in the army, and landed during D-Day! He took six chapters of his uncompleted masterpiece “Catcher in the Rye” with him when he went ashore and survived D-Day with nary a wound physically, but psychologically the damage would last a lifetime. He had a nervous breakdown after the war.

And he never wrote about this experience. Or did he?

He was also part of the first troops to “liberate” the Germans concentration camps which the doc narrates was like “walking into a graveyard.”

He, a Jew, must’ve been profoundly affected by this but he never wrote about it. Or did he?

After the war he married a German woman who was a member of the Nazi party. The marriage lasted a month.

And he never wrote about this. Or did he?

He was also recruited as a kind of spy a “counter-intelligence agent”. He also never wrote about this. Or did he? This documentary claims that he did. Or that he might have.

Secluding himself in Cornish, New Hampshire after the explosive success of his first and only novel “Catcher in the Rye”made him world-famous, he seemingly withdrew from the world, but claimed that he continued to write every day.

And the doc ends with the claims that he had squirreled away four or maybe even five completed manuscripts about all of these tumultuous topics that we never knew he participated in, much less wrote about, to be published at regular intervals posthumously starting next year in 2015. Well, we’ll see about that.

In the meantime, “Salinger” stands as an incredible, revelatory, towering documentary achievement that haunts and disturbs as it grips and provokes. It’s like watching a mystery-thriller.

PBS American Masters is to be congratulated. They’ve attached a Charlie Rose interview with the documentarian Shane Salerno, who got EVERYone to talk to him. Charming, intelligent and voluble, he, too, holds the viewer’s interest as he tries to unravel the mystery of why one of the most popular American novelists of all time withdrew from the world, after his greatest success, but still held the world’s attention Garbo-like as he continued to write, but not publish.

We hope all these unpublished, much-speculated-upon books finally see the light of day. His concentration,his focus, his isolation, his dedication are awe-inspiring in this Internet Age when everyone’s attention span has been whittled down to the length of an info-mercial. This, “Salinger” is saying, is what it takes to be a writer.

But in the meantime, we have this superb documentary “Salinger.”Don’t miss it! You won’t be able to forget it!

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Going to the library in the Snow

Going to the library in the Snow

I went out today to return something overdue to the NY Public Library and wham! Got hit in the face immediately with ANOTHER snow flurry, coming down fast and furiously out of nowhere. A simple trip suddenly gotten more complicated by this unexpected(by me) blast of whipping snow flakes.

It didn’t SEEM like it was snowy when I left my place and went downstairs, but by then, everything had changed, and it was a full smack of wet frost in the face!

The snow was swirling around suddenly furiously in a way that reminded me of when I experienced snow flakes IN JUNE when I was in Iceland a number of years back. Even in Summer, Iceland was what we might call wintry. Suddenly nostalgic for Reykjavik, I plunged onward my tracks leading me inevitably once again to the cross-town bus.

These flurries weren’t a full-on storm like I had experienced on Tuesday, which was really intense. These snow crystals were more charming, decorative even. Changing the harsh midtown landscape into something absorbing to contemplate as every twist of the wind amongst the skyscrapers blew flakes this way and that. Random. Willy nilly. Dancing white confetti.

And then there were the LIONS. Standing or rather perched majestically in front of the main library building. Unchanging always, but now snow covered and delightful to contemplate in their suddenly changed whiteness. Those two lionine scupltures are the symbol of New York City to many, and I’ve seen them there since childhood.

I couldn’t remember when the first time I’d seen them was. Probably on one of my mother’s early jaunts into Manhattan to educate and edify us in the ’50s. Was it to see the original run of Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”? Which must have been my first introduction to Times Square.

I remember my mother pointing out the Camel’s cigarette sign that blew O-shaped smoke, and wondered why she was suddenly admiring something that she always said was bad, which was smoking…

Or were we any nearer when she took us to see the Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas show with the Rockettes? The movie being another Disney one “Babes in Toyland” with Annette Funicello, the former Mouseketeer. I was just enchanted. Seeing it recently I was appauled, but that day it was all glorious, as was my introduction to the Radio City Music Hall, which overwhelmed and enchanted me.

Another unchanging symbol of New York. As are those steadfast Library Lions, now draped royally in white. May they always reign over their Broadway domain.

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“Gravity”s Cuaron wins DGA

I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did.Alphonso Cuaron, the director of “Gravity,” won the very important DGA award last night in Hollywood. Over Steve McQueen’s greater achievement IMHO “12 Years a Slave.” Usually that means a lot but in this split, competitive Year of Years, it may mean that the effects-laden Sci Fi thriller MAY win best director at the Oscars, more than a month away in March. But still not win Best Picture, which would go to “12 Years a Slave.” I have to note that these two titans of filmdom have been duking it out since Toronto, which I find ironic. It’s like if you don’t open at TIFF, fawgedabawdit. And that’s also where I first saw the both of them, in unforgettable screenings at TIFF’13.

Those are five VERY long weeks from now, and the ballots don’t go out to the AMPAS voters for quite a while yet, in Oscar terms, that’s dog years away. And it gives the Academy time to THINK. No. It really does. There’s no impulse, knee-jerk voting going to happen this year, with the Sochi Olympics taking up more TV time than ever. Between this last big gasp from the Industry’s usually all-important guilds, and the receiving of their ballots in the mail and now online, too around President’s Day Weekend. That’s a long, cold Oscar March until March when the Awards are actually handed out.

Now granted “Gravity” is an astounding technical feat, and will probably win all the technical awards, maybe even as many as seven from the below-the-line categories. But maybe it won’t. And instead of rewarding the one woman in this astounding visual tour-de-force, Sandra Bullock, award after award has been going to the amiable Mexican director Cuaron. And now this.

That’s a lot of Oscars right there. But not one for Sandra it seems. Best Actress is going to Cate Blanchett who is the lock of locks in that category for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

So even if Cuaron DOES win Best Director, voters may feel that “Gravity” has had enough already and give the top prize to “12 Years a Slave.” So there’s that SPLIT again. Which certainly looks like it could happen.

It happened at the Golden Globes where “12 YAS” won Best Picture and “Gravity” got Best Director. Ditto the Broadcast Film Critics awards. Then the TIE vote from the usually authoritative PGA, the Producer’s Guild, between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.”

But “Gravity” for all it’s technical wonders is an actors nightmare. If this is the future, “Gravity” shows them that there is only ONE actor in it.

Huge epic blockbusters may get close, but they don’t usually win. See “E.T.” v “Gandhi” back in the day. I was always plunking for “Gandhi” even then.(Yes, I’ve been doing Oscar prognosticating THAT long!) or more recently the tiny “Hurt Locker” defeating the huge mega-millions jackpot that was “Avatar” although “THL” won Best Director AND Best Film, for the first time ever woman director winner Kathryn Bigelow over her big bully of an ex, who nobody liked anyway, James Cameron.

This year, I’m still betting that this proLONGed break between now and the voting gives people time to think “Which is REALLY the more important film?” which is in their parlance “An Academy film?” And you’ve got to admit, “Gravity has NO gravitas.

But “12 Years a Slave” does, in spades. Serious social history writ large, taking on the most challenging issue in American history, race, in terms of the worst atrocity Americans have ever perpetuated on other Americans = slavery. And doing it brilliantly on every level.

And oh yes, BAFTA happens in the middle of this prolonged Month of Oscar Silence, where, I predict “12 Years” will win EVERYTHING it’s nominated for, including Best Director, Steve McQueen, whom we must not forget is British.

And a respected fine artist there in the U.K. before he turned into a master film-maker.

Also, nominated there are Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor and Michael Fassbender for Best Supporting Actor, and last but not least, Lupita Nyong’O who is now the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress.

So basically my take is the “Gravity”s Big Win is not going to change things much at all. In the end.

Out in the Blizzard~ Neon Doesn’t Change in the Snow

more snowsnow

Well, the snow is over. But it’s sooo cold….I don’t know which is worse…Snow can be fun. The single digit cold isn’t.

Yesterday traveling through mid-town Manhattan on a bus took ten times the time it usually takes to go from here to there….Of course, it WAS scenic…The Snow turning even the grittiest urban eyesore into something beautiful to look at…Piles of junked cars became artful sculpture in the white.

But I did notice one thing. Neon doesn’t change in the snow. As my bus went SLOOOOOWLY through the Times Square area, the bright Neon signs were as garish as they’ve ever been and just as visible, just as readable. A mad, blinding blizzard in New York doesn’t stop the advertising from being read quite clearly. Skyscrapers, too, looked the same, although the swirling snow was visibly engulfing them, making their tops disappear into the white. So they seemed surprisingly shorter,in the mad swirl, but the Neon signs, no. The Times Square area continued its’ blazing, blaring,non-stop Broadway ballyhoo-ing. 

When it’s snowing it isn’t THAT cold out.It was around 30 degrees, or a bit less. The snow changes everything in such a mechanical city as New York. It slows down into the slowest of motions and interferes with everything, except of course, the subways.

As we approached Second Avenue, I heard on the bus’ intercom that a Select Bus, one of the new, super-long buses they’ve been introducing with a huge, accordion bend (or two) in the middle had “jack-knifed on Second Avenue.” I asked the bus-driver if the other buses were running on Second Avenue and he said he didn’t know. And I wondered if I should get out where we were Third Avenue, which I thought also went downtown.(It doesn’t.) And he said “I can’t tell you what to do. It’s up to you. You can take the risk.” Which left me completely confused. Thanks a lot. 

But I could see the traffic running, racing even on Second Avenue, so I thought “Well, the traffic certainly hasn’t slowed down. So the buses must be running.” They weren’t. I waited and waited on Second Avenue with dozens and dozens of other people. Bundled up they all looked like Russian peasants. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shores, trying to get downtown.

I ducked into the warm, friendly lobby of the WPIX building. I must’ve been there for over a quarter of an hour, then I finally decided to walk back from whence I came. To Third Avenue, where the buses also went downtown. Or so I thought. No. The traffic was all going uptown. And at that point I was seriously considering giving up and going home. But no. As I trudged into the driving white mess, I saw a colorful subway sign.My heart leapt! Civilization! So that’s what I did. I went down into the subway. I had never seen this entrance before, AND it had an escalator going down, so that’s what I did. And I eventually got where I was going.

Moral of the story, when it’s a blizzard in New York City, take the subways. They NEVER stop.

I should’ve taken the subway in the first place.

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Oscar Nominees! Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Philomena”!

Here’s the uber-talented Steve Coogan, who I just spoke to not three weeks ago, nominated this morning for “Philomena” for Best Picture (he’s one of the producers) and also Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jeff Pope), bright and early Oscar morning via Satellite from Hollywood.

Editing ~ Kevin Teller

It’s Snowing in NYC

I love snow. I love to LOOK at snow. Going out it in is another thing entirely, but today I must. I could’ve cancelled everything as many in the city do on a day like this. But I’m going out in it. And tonight I’ve got “Machinal” on Broadway. I’m seeing it with one of my theater-going friends who also just confirmed, so I AM going. And the press agent just sent me an email, confirming my presence again. So I’m doubly committed.

I do have a new winter coat now, but the secret, I think, really, is layering. Which I am doing as we speak.

Subway or bus? I’m leaving super-early because the buses may be running slowly, of course. But the subway steps are treacherous in this weather. So I guess I’m opting for the bus.

Looking outside my window this morning was a total shock! Snow everywhere! Was this predicted? Too busy reading and writing my blog last night to notice the weather reports and catching up with Downton Abbey, natch.

More on that soon. HUGE event happened in Episode 2, but I’m STILL staying away from spoilers at the moment, but BOY is Mrs. Hughes having one challenging season!

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Jessie Mueller star of “Beautiful” at the Drama Desk Awards

Jessie Mueller, the beautiful star of “Beautiful”, the new hit Broadway musical about Carole King, earlier this year at the Drama Desk Awards on the Stephen Holt Show. Jessie is seated with Stephanie J. Block, who played the title role in the musical version of the unfinished Dickens novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Jessie played an Indian woman named Helena Landless, virtually unrecognizable in intense Indian make-up.

She was nominated for this striking performance for a Best Featured Actress in a Musical. And she’s on her way to a Tony Award for her bravura turn as Carole King in “Beautiful.”

Camera & Editing ~ Kevin Teller

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