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Archive for March, 2014

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Michael Grinfeld R.I.P.

I am deeply saddened to report the sudden passing of a very talented young man who did camera and editing work for me just this past year. Michael Grinfeld died last week, and I didn’t get word of it, via Facebook, until it was too late to attend the wake or the funeral which took place on Monday and Tuesday of this week. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I would never have known this happened.

His death has sent me reeling. I’m writing about his because I feel he would want me to. He would want to be remembered. He wanted to conquer the world. He wanted to be a filmmaker. He loved movies and studied that at New Paltz where he went to college.

He was so young. Only 24, maybe 25. I don’t know the circumstances of his passing, but I know he’s gone and I can’t believe it. We worked together for several months just this past summer and autumn.

And he was sooo excited to be shooting(and editing his own footage) from the Toronto Film Festival. I could tell it was a highpoint of his life. As it is for most people who are privileged enough to experience the magic, the electricity of Toronto.

I’m including the Ciaran Hinds interview, which Michael shot and edited, which is above, which Michael I think felt was his best work there.

I never dreamed that his work on “The Stephen Holt Show” would be his entre and exit from Show Business.

Michael loved the movies. In particular, the Coen Brothers, and he was bummed that they had decided to skip Toronto this year and open their new film “Inside Llewyn Davis” at the New York Film Festival this year in October instead of TIFF (as the Toronto International Film Festival is abbreviated.) Everything seemed to remind him of a Coen Bros. movie.

I remember him commenting on the corridors of the hotel where we stayed, the Royal York, looking like “Barton Fink” to him. Everything was a movie reference. He was passionate about his work.

And as all who knew him knew he was very, very, VERY smart.

There was a tragic bus accident in New Paltz three years ago, in which Michael suffered severe head trauma.

I don’t know how or why he died, but I think now that his health was more fragile than he let on to me, clearly.

I don’t even have a picture of him. So this video of his best work will have to suffice for the time being.

I looked online for an Obituary, but couldn’t find anything. If there is one and some one sends it to me with a picture that I can use to go with it I’ll post it on this blog.

Michael was very supportive of “The Stephen Holt Show” and we remained friends. I sent him an email asking him how we was getting on in his hometown of Owego, New York, just a little over ten days ago. He was, as far as I knew, awaiting his results from his graduate school entrance test. He had plans to go to Bernard Baruch here in New York. I didn’t get a reply, which was unusual for him. Now I know why.

The tragedy of a young person’s dying before their time is enormous. My condolences, heart and thoughts are with his family and his friends. He was so talented.

Who knows what wonderful things he could have done?

Now we’ll never know.

R.I.P. Michael

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“Aladdin” Worst Disney Cartoon-to-Stage Transfer Ever!

I thought I’d never live to see a bus-and-truck (lowest denomination road company) musical production on Broadway, but I just saw “Aladdin” and yes, ladies and gentle-persons, it ALREADY looks like it’s touring the sticks. Ugh.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s Disney who has set its’own bar very, very high. You can’t just put a dud like “Aladdin” on Broadway and put the word Disney on it and expect the multitudes to throng in. Or maybe you can.

I kept thinking “Oh No! They’re NOT going to do that??” and then by gum they did it.

And I LOVED the movie. It was one of Disney’s sweetest cartoons, and Robin Williams’ voicing the genie, is sorely missed. It was the most original of creations. The magic carpet was a character. Jafar the Evil Brassiere, I mean, Vizer, had a monkey not a retard for a pet. And the monkey was voiced by the annoying Gilbert Gottfried. I even missed him! This is so bad and no, you just CAN NOT replicate the magic on stage, easily.

Easy, or rather cheesy, is the word for this production. The sets, the over-bedangled costumes. The over-choreographed choreography, if there is such a thing.

Director Casey Nicholaw, who wowed us with “Book of Mormon,” seems here to have lost all his talent, or left it with the Mormons. He’s done serious damage to his reputation with “Aladdin”, and no, you can’t make a wish and take all this back, and do it over. But he should. He’s let the genie out of the lamp and you can’t put him back in.

Especially the large-and-in-charge James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie, who huffs and puffs his way through his big number(And I mean, BIG) “A Friend Like Me” to such an extent I feared for his health. He looked like he was in cardiac arrest. He was having to a heart attack to get a standing ovation in the middle of the first act. Which he got, by about six or seven scattered people, who seem to have THOUGHT they should do it, because they’ve read that it happened before. I wanted to call an ambulance. if not for him, then for me. Yes, I said it was a painful experience to sit through. As in chest pain.

I mean, girls were squealing. Little kids were, too. Just like they did at “Newsies” a show which “Aladdin” resembles in tone and format. OLD FASHIONED. But “Newsies” had a better choreographer, so the dances were always innovative and snappy. NOT SAPPY, like they are here.

A LOT of dancing, isn’t necessarily GOOD dancing. It aspired to Bollywood. But Bollywood does this way better every time.

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin is almost the only saving grace of this painful experience. And they HAVE kept the original voice of the Evil Jafar, Jonathan Freeman, thank goodness! He’s reveling in his misdoings so much, I thought it was the great Peter Bartlett. But no, fear. It’s Disney, so this show is guaranteed to run at least long enough for Bartlett to replace him, when HE has a cardiac. Freeman, I mean, not Bartlett.I feared for his health too. It’s THAT kind of musical. It’s so over-done the cast seems literally to be killing themselves, because they have to work double over-time to hide the fact that THERE’S NOTHING THERE!

This show was so bad, so lacking in imagination I felt for the late lyricist Howard Ashman, who created the magical, moving movie cartoon “Aladdin” in the first place, and wrote the lyrics to the songs that have wisely been retained for this cartoon of a stage version. I felt like he was turning over in his grave.

And I felt sorry to for Alan Menken,too, the composer, who is still very much in the land of the living. Although “Aladdin” is just D.O.A. Dead. Dead. Dead.

Disney better be tuning up “Frozen”, and I’m sure they are.

I say Bring On Adele Dazeem!

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“Rocky: The Musical” A Knock-Out!

I ended up really liking the musicalized version of “Rocky” even though for three-fourths of it I was scratching my head, thinking “Why are these people singing?”

But then its’ climatic boxing finale is a startling smasheroo if ever there was one, which really knocked my socks off and just about everything else off, too. “Rocky” will rock your world.

In a very pallid, uneven act and a half, I really wondered how in the world “Rocky: The Musical” could have displaced “Mamma Mia” out of the gigantic Winter Garden theater, one of Broadway’s biggest musical houses that has been held captive, by captivating its’ boomer audience for lo these many moons.

“Mamma Mia” fans, don’t worry. It’s been re-located to the smaller Broadhurst Theater on W.44th St. But “Rocky: The Musical” is gonna to settle in for another substantial VERY long run at the Winter Garden, and is going to make oodles of money and please sportsfans and boxing devotees for years.

Whether it pleases the critics or wins any awards is besides the point with “Rocky” which garnered a surprise Best Picture Oscar back in the day. This time it’s not going to need those awards, like the Tonys,etc. to keep running.

I liked the 1970’s grainy John Alvidson-directed indie movie that made Sylvester Stallone a star. And put the phrase “Yo Adrian” into the pop culture vernacular. Philadelphia’s mean streets then became a legitimate cinematic background, competing with the New York of Sidney Lumet & Martin Scorsese, etc. as a gritty urban backdrop.

And Stallone’s final victory lap up and down the massive staircase of the Philadelphia Art Museum was against all reason, truly inspiring.

“Rocky:The Musical” tries to stay as faithful to the film as it possibly can. But it has as its’ director the current wunderkind Alex Timbers, who has always surprised with his cutting edge innovative stagings of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, “Peter and the Starcatcher” and many, many more theatrical delights of recent years. And he was disappointing me mightily this time, until the last twenty minutes and then he, as they say, brought the ship home.

I’ve never been to a boxing match and hope never to go to one in what’s left of my lifetime. I am NOT a sports fan. But “Rocky” (and I should’ve expected this) brought the Boxing Rink to me and deposited it (almost) right into my lap. And it was sensationally staged, catching every single moment of that sports’ gory excitement and thrill, whether I wanted it to see it THAT up-close and personal or not.

One can’t help but admire the sheer vocal and physical stamina of star Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa himself. The Italian Stallion lives! In Karl’s adept, buffed to the max performance that requires him to sing his heart out for two acts, down a glass of three raw eggs, and then pull off one of the most astounding coup de theatre’s I’ve ever seen in that climatic boxing number, which you’ll never forget. And sends you out of the theater humming. Well, if not the music, the boxing.But Kudos to Karl, for performing what seems on-paper, impossible! Maxima Kudos!

Of course, such a rough. tough, no-holes barred, physical fight that pits Rocky against the world champeen Apollo Creed (Terence Archee) has to be staged and choreographed within an inch of its’ life. And Kudos to fight director/choreographer Steven Hoggett. Now HE’ll win the Tony for his frighteningly life-like recreation of that most violent of sports.

I’ve never seen anything like it on a stage. On screen, yes. There have been great boxing movies like “Raging Bull”, “Requiem for a Heavyweight”, and “Rocky” itself and its’ many, many sequels. The list goes on and on. But never onstage.

And this is what director Alex Timbers has done to beat the band. You might forget the rest of “Rocky:The Musical”. I’ve already forgotten the music by the usually dependable Broadway veterans Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Only one tune “My Nose Ain’t Broken Yet” stands out.

That comes at the beginning of the show and is reprised endlessly. Ingenue Margo Siebert makes a minimally impressive Broadway debut as Adrian, the plain pet-shop worker who is Rocky’s bizarre love interest. (She sold him his pet turtles, which he loves. Go figure.)

Played memorably by Talia Shire in all the movies and its’ sequels, in the greatest performance of her career, she grounded the borderline obnoxious character of Rocky, an aging, hard-luck amateur boxer and small-time thug.

Adrian is a famous character, as is the Italian Stallion himself, and Andy Karl, a theatrical vet, and she are a credible couple. Though their chemistry is passable. Nothing like the fireworks Shire and Stallone illicted onscreen.

Karl is NOT 29, as his character states, but he makes time stand still when he takes off his shirt and starts to box. TO THE DEATH.

Dakin Matthews has some nice moments and a nice song, too,”In The Ring”, as Rocky’s aged manager Mickey.

I can guarantee you’re gonna LOVE “Rocky:The Musical” but you won’t remember the hour and a half that precedes that unforgettable ending. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And “Rocky” finishes BIG!

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Anne Thompson “11 Billion Dollar Year” Part 2!

Anne Thompson talks further about her sensational new book “The 11 Billion Collar Year” about the year 2012 in movies and discusses Steven Spielberg and “Lincoln”, Ang Lee and “Life of Pi”, Ben Affleck & “Argo” the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture and many other fascinating movie movie topics related to her book.

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Anne Thompson’s “The 11 Billion Dollar Year” Great New Must-Read for Movie-lovers!

The legendary author/filmcritic/Oscarblogger Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood & Indiewire has written her first book, a page-turner, an absolutely delightful, you-can’t-put-it-down-til-you’re-finished book on the year 2012 in movies.

She starts it at Sundance and follows the movie year all the way up to the Oscars of that year, last year, when “Argo” won the Oscars. Accessible, readable, full of facts, it’s a moviemovie bookbook!

I catch up with Anne when she is in town for the start of her book tour at the offices of her publisher Harper Collins. Go out and buy a copy NOW! Dear Cineaster, dear readers, YOU are the target audience Anne has written this exciting book for! Make it a Best Seller!

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Three Hours of a Great Actor in a Bad Play Is Too Much Even for Bryan Cranston!

Three Hours of a Great Actor in a Bad Play Is Too Much Even for Bryan Cranston!

Yes, even a great, much-lauded actor like Bryan Cranston can not stop the hands of time. The time being three hours EVERY NIGHT, EIGHT TIMES A WEEK. And if you think this sentence is too long, just try sitting through the interminable “All the Way”play about LBJ. On Broadway, yet.

It’s length defeats even the great Cranston. Which is a shame. But it won’t stop the Tony Voters and the Voters of other awards-giving groups from once again showering him with even more accolades come awards time. which is coming up fast.Fast. Something “All the Way” is definitely not.

The words “Degree of Difficulty” keep coming to mind. And Cranston, the great hammy actor that he is, has been tempted down this LOOOOONG road to glory by a seemingly great role that is perfect for him, that of the late Lyndon Baines Johnson, the controversial former president.

LBJ was a reviled figure of my youth. You just can’t disassociate him from the Viet-Nam war. But this play does. Playwright Robert Schenkkan has the colossal NERVE to make Viet-Nam merely a passing reference IN A THREE HOUR PLAY.

“All the Way” takes the difficult route of trying to white-wash LBJ’s much tarnished memory, which is a very hard road to hoe, for those of us who lived through Viet-Nam. (I was drafted, but was then classified 4F when I told the army recruiters that I was Gay.)

So for the entire length of the execrable first act, I really had to struggle with what point they were trying to make. LBJ was a sympathetic, even heroic figure? Oh, really? Well, why?

As “All the Way” GRINDS on and on with Cranston mugging like a Muppet and screaming to the point of shouting, I thought he was going to lose his famous gravely voice. Talk about chewing the scenery!I was surprised there was any left by the end of the first act. I wanted to leave at the intermission.

But some thing made me stay. I think it was Brandon J. Dirden as the soon-to-be assassinated Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King. I think BOTH these actors will win the Tony for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively, in spite of the play their stuck in.

And as Dirden’s part as King grew in importance in the play, “All the Way” became more watchable, and LBJ more sympathetic, because it FINALLY got to what was really on its mind all along, Civil Rights. And I had no idea that LBJ played such an important role in passing the laws that were to implement the Civil Right legislation that were to give legitimacy to the growing and growing Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. (I was in grammar school and high school when all this was happening.)

And then in Act Two much to my great surprise, Schnenkkan’s wobbly play came together, as so did Cranston’s performance, and from then on I liked it.

But oh what you had to suffer through to get to that point of enlightenment!

It’s like it’s trying to be a Lincoln 2.0 which is kinda of a dubious distinction to say the least. In face, in its’ legislative longeurs and dry-as-dust history lesson presentation, it is perhaps even duller than that (also three hour) Oscar-losing movie.

AH! But you say, “Daniel Day Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Lincoln!” And I would say that “All the Way” reveals that Bryan Cranston has a Daniel Day Lewis-complex. As in envy. Cranston wants to get an Oscar for this. You read it here first.

“All the Way” would work MUCH better and be MUCH shorter, too, as a feature film. And if it ever made that great sea change, Cranston, if he stayed with it, would be very likely an Oscar candidate. But it would need a much better director than the clumsy , crowded stagings of Bill Rauch.

I suppose miracles CAN happen. And Broadway is all about stars. And so while “All the Way” may make the ride all the way through the Tonys in June. I don’t see it lasting much after that. And if Cranston has film commitments and has to leave the show, well, it will close.

Ladies and gentle-persons, I rest my case. “All the Way” is like root canal for even the most devoted Bryan Cranston fans, of which I was one. Once. And now, since he subjected me to this excruciating experience. I wonder…

A visit to the dentist would be more pleasant… IOW, see your dentist before you see this play.

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My brand new “Rendez-vous” article just up on Awardsdaily.com

I’m sooo happy to report that my latest article on the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s “Rendez-vous Avec French Cinema” is now up at http://www.Awardsdaily.com, and here’s a link~

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/women-filmmakers-racial-politcs-dominate-2014-rendez-vous-avec-french-cinema/#more-72738

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