a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for October, 2017

French Oscar Contender “BPM”Blistering, Powerful AIDS Drama About Act-UP

French Oscar Contender Blistering, Magnificent AIDS Drama”BPM” Scorches the Screen @NYFF
The blistering, magnificent “BPM” or Beats Per Minute is like enduring a two and half hour atomic blast. It’s a movie that blew my head off and shook me to my core, and evidently had the same impact at Cannes where it was given the prestigious Grand Prix and was officially named as the French Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Film.  An angry, militant look at the early 1990s ACT-UP in France, it was shocking to me on so many levels. That it is almost a documentary, but it’s not. It’s a scripted firebrand of a drama. And it’s almost an exact replica of what we were all going through in the United States. Except for the language, French, its’ the same frightening story.

Of government and corporate indifference to the plight of people who were sick and dying of this disease that nearly wiped out my entire generation of gay men. Almost everyone I knew is gone. I wrote the first full-length play about AIDS in Sept.1984, when people didn’t believe that this sickness even existed.  People thought it was some temporary illness that the gays were blowing out of proportion.It was difficult at the time to get actors to play the roles of people with AIDS. It was called “Fever of Unknown Origin” and nobody wanted to hear about it. I was one of the first “Buddies” who were trained to help the sick and dying. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis consisted then of folding chairs in an empty room. My friends were dying all around me, as in a war.BPM 2

“BPM” brought all the anger and revolutionary fervor back to me with a shock. In 1990s Paris ten years later, when the fiery, superb “BPM” is set, the world knows by then that it was a world wide epidemic, but it was still falling to the militant homosexuals, in this case the members Parisian ACT-UP to keep fighting and picketing and yes, dying, to get the word out, and change things. The indifference of the French drug companies were equivalent to the lack of interest of the Koch administration in NYC. They throw false blood into board rooms and disrupt in any and every way they can. Pamphlets, fog horns, picketing, parading and screaming at the top of the lungs that “Silence=Death.”

In Robin Campillo’s “BPM,” the scene keeps shifting between the turbulent ACT-UP meetings, held in a college class room, and the tender love affair that develops between the angriest little queen you’ve ever seen Argentinean actor  Nanuel  Perez Biscayart and a newcomer to the movement handsome, studly, sensitive Arnaud Valois. Their relationship is between someone who is dying of AIDS right before our eyes(Biscayart) and a HIV-Negative political innocent Valois, who comes to love and care for the diminutive Biscayart, no matter what stage of the disease is ravaging his tiny body.

There are multiple and plenty of gay sex scenes, even as Biscayart lies dying in the hospital. Valois inserts his hand into his lovers pajama pants and brings him to orgasm in a scene that you’ll never forget.

BPM 3

Campillo shies away from nothing in “BPM.” When Biscayart’s character inevitably passes, he wishes his ashes to be thrown into the faces of the suits of the drug company that has neglected getting him the proper medication. “BPM” is shattering as that is exactly what his angry ACT-UP compatriots do as they disrupt a swanky banquet in the last scene of the movie.

“BPM” reminds us that AIDS is still very much with us. It has not gone away. While there is better medication, there is still no cure. You must see “BPM.” It’s a tribute to those who fought and died and those still fighting.

 

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G&S Fans Packed the Y for Seldom Seen “Sorcerer”

How much do I love Gilbert and Sullivan? Let me count the ways! Every time I see that GASP or the Gilbert and Sullivan Players are putting on their EXTREMELY limited performances, I immediately run to get tickets no matter where in the City they may be.  And they move around from location to location.This September they ended up at the YMCA! I’m not kidding! And inside NYC’s oldest and most legendary facility ( James Dean stayed there when he first got to NY. ) is The Marjorie S. Dean Little Theater. It was a perfect little jewel box surprise, an Art Deco boite.

And so was the recent NYGASP production of the rarely seen “The Sorcerer.” A cut version sped by and the Little Theater seemed built to show off this particularly charming and mostly forgotten G&S tuner.

GASP, to its everlasting credit, regularly unearths these little-seen treasures, and their September, late summer “Sorcerer” has to be my favorite one to date.

Paired down to fit the usually thirty-something cast, this “Sorcerer” of only ten terrific singers, with no mikes, made the Marjorie S. Dean shake and shiver with delight. It was the perfect summer divertissement. I’ve saved this review til now because with Hallowe’en upon us, and holiday season just around the corner,  I’m giving you plenty o’time to get it together to see their “H.M.S Pinafore,” which is coming up next. Quickly, go to their website http://www.nygasp.com for full details. Haste! I’m giving you plenty of warning! Don’t miss this one!

Before I leave you with sweet memories of the summer “Sorcerer,” I must mention it’s outstanding cast and James Mills who as John Wellington Wells did a pixie-ish turn in the title role. He did indeed cast a spell, not just over the villagers, but also the audience.

Mills was aided and abetted in his hypnotic musical magic by full–throated GASP veterans  Carter Lynch, Caitlin Burke and Matthew Wages as Sir Marmaduke Poindexter. Direction, as usual, by the redoubtable Allen Bergeret, who is also the artistic director of GASP.

If you happen to have access to the wonderful Mike Leigh movie of “Topsy Turvy, “The Sorcerer” plays a large role in the beginning of the picture. The fact that once again Lyricist and Librettist Gilbert has chosen to plot his new musical around a magic love potion sends composer Sir Arthur Sullivan to nearly break up with his collaborator of many years.

Topsy Turvy film

And did I mention that there was only ONE piano playing instead of the full orchestra GASP so gainfully employs? The one, brave woman attempting (and succeeding) playing this epic score was Andrea Stryker- Rodda, The full title of this little known gem is “The Sorcecer:or the Vicar’s Reduction of Tea.”

 

Luminous, Lucent, Transcendant Kate Winslet Could Win Her 2nd Oscar for “Wonder Wheel”

Wonder Wheel 3

Lustrous, luminous, transcendent Kate Winslet is the wonder of Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
Is there any American filmmaker alive today who writes  such great roles for women? No. There simply isn’t. And as photographed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Kate Winslet seems to be a cinematic miracle of color and light, majesty and emotion,

You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Storaro and Allen have combined to give her a cinematic beauty that makes you gasp, in a multi-faceted role that makes you applaud. She is playing Ginny, a Brooklyn waitress, who works in a Coney Island Clam House. I have known SOOOO many Ginnys in my lifetime, and British though she is, Winslet absolutely nails her Ginny to the Coney Island boardwalk. And it’s  stirring performance in the grand tradition. She’s every woman. And every woman I’ve known, from Brooklyn, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. And trying to find love at the same time, having given up her dreams of being an actress earlier in her life.

Winslet’s Ginny seems the simplest of creatures.. But Allen’s writing and her bravura performance proves that every woman is as complex as a whirlwind. Or a rollercoaster. Or a Wonder Wheel at  Coney Island, to use this film’s great metaphor. Winslet has never seemed so bedeviled and so bewitching at the same time. She’s a housewife in waitress’ outfit that she wears like a queen, as she goes about her frantic daily work of cooking and cleaning for the whole of Brooklyn it seems.

Allen and Storaro capture the ordinary woman’s extraordinariness. She is married to a lout (James Belushi) and having a torrid affair with Justin Timberlake, the local lifeguard. Timberlake’s string-bean-ness seems out of place as a life guard, but he, too, has movie star charisma in buckets instead of muscles, that make all the women in the film falling for him make sense.Justin Timberlake Wonder Wheel He and Belushi have both never been better.Kate Winslet 1

She is playing Ginny, a common-as-they-come Brooklyn waitress, who is as uncommon, as she is earth-bound. Winslet’s a fiery red-head this time. And in Storaro’s use of orange and amber light, she seems so on fire, she is burning up the screen. It is no surprise then that her red-headed son is an arsonist, setting  a fire every time he’s left alone. The fires remind him of his mother.

And Juno Temple is Belushi’s neglected daughter, who turns up as a “Marked” woman, being chased by the mob, because she married a gansta, and became a “canary” who sang on her husband, making her a woman on the run for her life. She hides  out in Winslet’s and Belushi’s  humble household underneath the ever-present Wonder Wheel. Young, blonde Temple has the role of her career here, too, and is doomed from the first seconds we see her taking her first tentative steps under the Wonder Wheel.

In a simple car ride in a romantic rain storm with Timberlake, she becomes, as he says “as beautiful as the rain light.”Storaro has lit her in golds and blues to emphasize her beauty as well as her melancholy. She, too, is magnificent in this film.

Storaro  and set designer Santo Loquasto make more magic by making Coney Island in the ’50s look like the Riviera.

Winslet’s performance is so heart-breaking and towering it immediately recalls the great screen performances of screen queens past. Joan Crawford in particular. The shop girl who was not a shop girl.  The waitress who was not a waitress. And reminds you that not since the ’40s have actresses consistently seen parts like this. Winslet’s Ginny is the  working class version of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Allen’s recent Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine.” “Wonder Wheel” is his best film since “Midnight in Paris” and is now one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It’s right up there with the best. It reminds me why I love Brooklyn. And New York City.

“Wonder Wheel” is a movie movie about romance and melodrama and great actresses playing great roles. And it ends this year’s superlative NYFF with a BANG!

“This One’s…”Not For Everyone

If this picture above looks chopped off, that’s because that’s the way I saw Off-Broadway’s “This One’s For the Girls.” I was sat behind a pillar. So only saw half the show, and often half the cast. It’s Off Broadway so you have to take what you can get. That shouldn’t be the case. Off Broadway’s standards should be as high as any one else’s. But there I was, sitting behind a pillar.

Like for instance, “Where the Boys Are” was played at extreme audience left, so I didn’t see it at all. There were many, many slides upstage illustrating what the all female quartet were singing about, but I could barely see them at all.

I can say that that the female friend I went with enjoyed it immensely. SHE was the audience for this show. Not me. This show made me glad I was gay. And I’m sure that wasn’t the intension of the author Dorothy Marcic.

It was kind of lovely, sometimes, to hear those old songs sung again. The nearly all female audience was going wild, I will say. And that, as the title says, is who the show is for.

There was a distinct lack of charisma on stage. Though some of the songs were sung well. They were sloppily and repetitively chosen by Marcic to show the progress of women through popular songs. A neat idea perhaps, but  less than well executed.Aneesa FoldsNone of them could dance.

The saving grace of the presentation was for me Aneesa Folds, a powerhouse African American singer of ample proportions, vocally and physically. She tore the roof off the St. Luke’s Church/Theatre with her climatic “I Will Survive.” And I was so glad she did! The audience loved her and there was a partial standing ovation. The other three cast members were so lackluster, that I won’t even mention them. And haven’t they ever heard of the Bechdale principle(S?)

There was absolutely NOTHING in this show for a male to relate to. At the end an audience member asked me, “What did you think of this?” And I said, “It made me glad to be gay.”

 

T

 

 

Oscar Supporting Actress Possibilties Are Piling Up!

It’s mid-October and although New York has been enjoying an unseasonably mild fall, Mother Nature is trying to deceive us that Oscar season is not fully upon us BUT IT IS! And even the said-to-be-sparse Supporting Actress category is beginning to be piled up with potential nominees. All of them brilliant I’m happy to say.

I know one thing for sure. There are three actresses whose shots are better than others. First I’m going to start off with the least known of them. The beauteous British actress Juno Temple, who is playing full-tilt Brooklyn bombshell, Carolina, in Woody Allen’s new wonderful “Wonder Wheel” which I just saw as the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival.

Always one of honor his actresses of choice with great roles that become them, I say Temple gets in, because of the same thing happened to another little known Britisher Sally Hawkins. When she co-starred in “Blue Jasmine” with the soon-to-be Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, every Academy member WATCHED THAT SCREENER and saw how marvelous Hawkins was as Jasmine’s working class, comforting sister. The same thing will happen to Juno Temple, too.

Whatever they think of the film, Temple is getting Oscar-buzzed praise.

So is recent Tony winner for Best Actress Laurie Metcalf. Super superb as Saoirse Ronan’s put upon Mom in Great Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Metcalf is having a banner year with the Tony win for “Doll’s House, Part Two” on Broadway and now actually having a juicy sympathetic screen role as the frantic nurse practitioner mother of wayward teenage, Lady Bird.

Because Metcalf is such a beloved industry figure, having won multiple Emmys as Roseanne’s sister on “Roseanne,” she really has the edge here. And her role as Lady Bird’s Mom has got Oscar written all over it. The kind of part that Metcalf has never really had before on film. AND she’s never even been nominated before! Believe it or not.

I would say she has the edge. And it’s definitely

Oscar-bound & Brilliant! Melissa Leo in “Novitiate”!

I was hesitant, I admit, to see “The Novitiate.’ I was named for a nun, Sister Mary Stephen, who was my aunt. But I was totally blown away and moved by “The Novitiate.” My childhood was surrounded by nuns. My aunt was a Sister of Mercy and I was taught by Sisters of Charity in Catholic school. However, “The Novitiate” is done with a great deal of respect. And it is, in its own way, devout. It’s such a closed world and this film gives a glance, albeit a partial one, into what goes on beyond those mysterious, eternally closed convent walls.

I should now take the time to point out that previous Oscar winner Melissa Leo gives one of the performances of the year(And her career) in “The Novitiate.” She’s mean Mother Superior here, and this role challenges her on every level imaginable and she meets every one with a ferocity and power that is staggering.

She is in a nun’s habit for the whole film. Her wimple is similar to my late aunt’s, but my aunt had a severely starched head band and collar and bib, plus the black trailing veil that Melissa Leo wears in the film. However, Leo’s collar is not starched. It moves when she moves her face and neck, and therefore allows much greater freedom of expression in close-up. And for most of the film, we see all is the faces of the actresses in tight close-ups.

“Novitiate” is profound and enthralling because it takes its holy subject, women and their relationship with God, so seriously. I was not surprised to find out that “Novitiate” was directed AND written by a young first-time director, Maggie Betts, who must’ve been a former nun. Right? Wrong! She was a socialiate. Her family a close one to the Bushs, and my god does this make “Novitiate” an even more powerful debut.

Not particularly religious herself, Betts claims that she found the truth of her subject matter through research. It is the 1960s and the Cathoic Church is be-set with all kinds of changes initiated by Pope John Paul XXIII and Vatican II.

Melissa Leo’s Mother Superior wants none of this and her (Fictional, I guess) religious order and the nuns in it are known for their strictness.

My cheerful, lovely Aunt Anna, was not subjected to the various forms of “punishment” that Leo’s Mother Superior “Just call me Mother” meets out. But the silence and the prayers and the discipline were similar if no the same. My Aunt felt she was married to Christ, and it was a happy marriage for her.

When Vatican II hit and all these restrictions on the female religious were lifted, 90,000 nuns, according to the devastating end credits of the movie. left their orders. My aunt did not. She was happy where she was. And you’ll be happy to if you see Melissa Leo’s incredible, unforgettable performance in “Novitiate.”

It’s a leading role, but she’ll be considered in Supporting, because Best Actress is so jammed this year. It’s just unbelievable. And that a woman director, directed and wrote this her first feature is truly impressive.

Oscar Nominees Begin to Arise at NYFF


Oscar Nominees, potential Oscar Nominees, Begin to Emerge as the New York Film Festival reaches its’ much touted half-way point.

Last Flaf Flying 1
The biggest winner so far seems to me to be Steve Carell, who has two strong possibilities in two films, one in the Festival, one outside it. The hilarious “Battle of the Sexes” and the somber “Last Flag Flying”.Steve Carell

I would say that his hysterical turn as blow-hard Tennis Pro Bobby Riggs is almost sure to be nominated in the Supporting category for Carell. I would’ve said that his MUCH more serious turn as the grieving father in “Last Flag Flying” was also a Supporting performance, but some are saying he’s lead.

It would be just like the mercurial Carell to end up in both categories. He’s well-liked and clearly at a career high, so it’s entirely possible.

I’m SURE they are going to nominate Emma Stone, last year’s winner for “Battle of the Sexes.” That would be in the Best Actress category for her portryal of closeted lesbian Tennis Pro Billy Jean King. Best Actress is now more jammed than ever with potential nominees clamoring to get in. Saoirse Ronan is pitch perfect at the rebellious teen in “Lady Bird.” She’s definitely an “In”. As is Laurie Metcalfe, also on a roll, after winning the Tony this year for “Doll’s House, Part 2.” Her put-upon hard-working mom to Ronan’s rambunctious teen daughter is as maddening as she is sympathetic. She’s “In” in Supporting, never having even been nominated for an Oscar before.

Another surefire “in” is Willem Dafoe in the magnificently original “Florida Project.” He could win in this category, Supporting Actor, but he’ll be up against Carell, or even Bryan Cranston AND Laurence Fishburne for “Last Flag Flying”. Though I would say Cranston and Fishburne are BOTH leading roles.”Florida Project” also has a secret weapon in six-year-old Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. Florida Project 1They nominated another six-year-old and quite recently, too. Quevezhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern WIld.” Hey, even in a crowded year for Best Actress , like this one, powerhouse charmer Brooklynn( that’s with two “n”s thank you very much.)could surprise.

A complete unknown still is Kate  Winslet’s performance  in the still unseen “Wonder Wheel” of Woody Allen. It closes the Festival and absolutely no one has seen it yet. But the buzz is deafening and the production photos look awesome.

Someone who is NOT getting in to the crowded Best Actress race is octogenarian Dame Judi Dench, who I’ve admired and loved all my life. But “Victoria and Abdul” is the worst thing she’s ever done. Sad to say. Long, slow, and although she’s her usual great self in the funny first half, in the second more serious half, she had sooooo many death scenes, I couldn’t WAIT for her to die. Which is an awful feeling for a potential Best Actress nominee. She’s been to the Queen Victoria well one too many times now. She’s been there, done that, and quite frankly her failure to carry this film through to the end, just sickened me. Yes, even Judi Dench is human. She just doesn’t know when to stop.

Can’t wait for “Wonder Wheel” this Friday and for “Wonder Struck” by Todd Haynes tonight at the NYFF. Their Opening Night film was “Last Flag Flying” and “Wonder Struck” is their Centerpiece and “Wonder Wheel” closes it.

A superb film that is none of those things but “Call Me By Your Name” is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece and a gay love story to end all gay love stories. Timothee Chalament, is the teen in THIS coming of age story. He’s also playing a bad boy rock musician in “Lady Bird. ”

Army Hammer is the other half of this lovely gay love duo, and BOTH performances are so powerful, they could BOTH get nominated. Chalamet in lead and Hammer in Supporting.

As bizarre as it sounds all these films could get nominated for Best Picture. That’s how good the New York Film Festival has been this year.Call Me By your Name 1

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