a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for August, 2018

“Downtown Abbey” Movie to Begin Shooting


It’s official! Downton Abbey fans! Rejoice! For the movie version of the blockbuster Masterpiece TV series is beginning to shoot in England. At where else? HIghclere Castle!

As the original cast is returning, it will feel like visiting with old friends. Including Dame Maggie Smith, Michele Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Joanne Frogatt. Things have changed in that now the nefarious footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is now the head butler.

Mr. Carson is unwell, the character, not the great actor, James Carter, but his real life wife, Olivier-winning actress Imelda Staunton, the odious teacher Frances Umbrage of Harry Potter fame, will be joining the cast as Dame Maggie’s cousin.

Julian Fellowes wrote this at a brisk clip. It must have been like a walk in the country for him after writing EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of the six year series.

Others being added to the already starry cast are:-

Geraldine James (Anne with an E, Beast), Simon Jones (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Brideshead Revisited), David Haig (Killing Eve, Penny Dreadful), Tuppence Middleton (War and Peace, The Imitation Game), Kate Phillips (Peaky Blinders, The Crown) and Stephen Campbell Moore (History Boys, Lark Rise to Candleford), amongst others.

It’s a packed house already! And will undoubtedly be packing movie theaters all over the world upon its’ release next year. Once again, I can’t wait!

One little spoiler that Lily James revealed in her “Mama Mia 2” press interviews is that her character, the vivacious, flirtatious, former flapper Rose, won’t be featured as much, because she said “The focus is on the family.” And Rose, if you remember, married a rich Jewish young man, and they both moved to New York.

Domage!

 

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Lucas Hedges’ “Boy Erased” to Open at Telluride. Also to play TIFF


Lucas Hedges will no doubt start his Oscar journey again this year as his new highly anticipated film “Boy Erased” is premiering at Telluride this weekend.

The Telluride Film Festival is small, quick, and up in the mountains and is the bona fide beginning of the Oscar season. It has debuted almost every single film that has won best picture in the past decade. And I have no doubt that “Boy Erased” will continue in this noted trajectory.

It is about gay conversion therapy. Hedges, the boy of the title, is sent to a camp where this is abominable treatment is practiced.

“Boy Erased” stands out among all the other titles announced today. You can see them all at http://www.awardsdaily.com.

“Boy Erased” will also be shown at TIFF. As will “Beautiful Boy,” the Timothee Chalamet/Steve Carrell starrer about drug addiction, which is also heavily Oscar buzzed.

I myself will be covering the New York Film Festival come September…which actually is beginning REAL soon.

Exciting titles abound. I can’t wait!

Great American Playwright Neil Simon Passes at 91


Neil Simon Theater 2
Neil Simon, long considered America’s most successful and certainly most prolific playwright dies at 91. It’s fitting that the Neil Simon Theater still exists on Broadway.at 250 West 52nd Street.  I hope it always stays “The Neil Simon Theater.”

I did not know Neil Simon personally. But growing up in the theater in the decades where he dominated the Great White Way, his work was overwhelming to a young playwright, me. At one time, he seemed to have every play on Broadway.

The Christmas after my mother died, I was feeling particularly bereft and found myself observing a great Broadway tradition.I went to Chicago. By train. To see the out-of-town try-outs for a musical version, of a movie  he wrote “The Goodbye Girl.” Seeing that only half-successful work in the middle of the cold Chicago winter made me realize that yes, all your idols have feet of clay. IOW, everyone makes mistakes. The Goodbye Girl was a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by David Zippel, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, based on Simon’s original screenplay for the 1977 film of the same name.

I was also at a rehearsal of “The Goodbye Girl” when it limped to New York, and in the rehearsal room were the star Bernadette Peters and yes, Neil Simon himself.

He seemed so un-prepossessing in person. He was wearing a robin’s egg blue sweater and  kibitzed around with the various actors….But it was his eyes that got me. The intensity of his stare. Nothing was being missed. He saw it warts and all and I’m sure was thinking “How can I fix this? How can I help?” He reminded me of a very warm and friendly rabbi. His vast knowledge of the theater seemed to match those of a rabbinical scholar. He seemed immediately nice. But also intimidating. I mean, he was NEIL SIMON! But he didn’t carry himself like a star as Ms. Peters certainly did.

I guess I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t even have the chutzpah to talk to him. But what could I have said?  “I saw your play in Chicago and really liked it.” God! I hope didn’t say THAT! Which would have been a complete lie.  I don’t think I did.

I never saw him again. And, the show flopped. I thought nothing he wrote could ever flop, but some did.

He strangely isn’t revived much of late, but the Neil Simon Theater is still there. A permanent and fitting monument to a man that made Broadway history over and over again. He will be missed by all in the theater community. It was his great love.

Neil Simon R.I.P.

Poirot’s Back! Sophie Hannah Works Her Sly Magic Again in “Mystery of Three Quarters”


Well, “Mille Tonnerres!” As Hercule Poirot is wont to say, “Sacre Bleu!” but Madame Sophie Hannah has worked her sly magic once again in the continuation novel “The Mystery of Three Quarters,” out and at bookstores on August 28th.

Of course, reviewing mystery novels is always a problem for the reviewer because you can not give any of the plot away. “You CAN NOT!” I am again using Hercule Poirot’s unique voice and intonation here.

But I can say that is the literary legerdemain that Ms. Hannah practices so well. And the Christie Estate was so astute in choosing HER as the inheritor and author of now THREE delicious Christie continuation novels. “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket” and now “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The first quarter of “Three Quarters” is undiluted joy for Christie fans because it is all Poirot, all the time. He is front and center as his usually adept self in handling the perplexing question of who is sending these poison pen letters to various random people and signing his name, accusing them all of the murder of Barnabus Pandy. (LOVE that name!) Hannah is wicked good with her choice of her characters’ names.

The first character to accuse Poirot of this outrageous slander by snail mail (It is set in 1929. No emails here. Can you imagine Poirot sending an email? Or even going online! ) is the aptly named Sylvia Rule. And  a more vivid, angry introduct-ress to a murder mystery you cannot imagine. And Poirot cannot imagine it either!! He, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective of all time (he calls himself, modestly) accusing others of a crime and signing his name to letters he did not write.”It is an outrage!” he tells the implacable  Sylvia Rule, and the other characters who turn up, in rapid succession, with identical letters. In various stages of discomfiture with Poirot..

This all happens in front of and inside his historic flat in Whitehaven Mansions. Hannah has preserved that from the Christie originals. New is the favorite place of Poirot’s to retire to, and figure out what to do with this perplexing situation with his “little grey cells”(Yes, they are here, too.)And that place is a pleasant café called Pleasant Café and run by Euphemia Spring. Who everyone calls “Fee.” (Once again Hannah’s marvelous choice of character names.) And Fee Spring has a large part to play.

She has graduated from “the waitress with the fly-away hair” in “Monogram Murders” to a full-blown character, the proprietress of the Pleasant Café,now also returning as Poirot’s favorite Hannah-named haunt. George, his always perfect valet is on hand here, too. And of course, Poirot, the ultimate foodie, is always eating. And it is Fee Spring, who  first raises the title of “Three Quarters,” through one of her delectable dishes, a cake that is shaped like a stained glass church window. The church window pane cake plays a major, major role in solving the mystery and the fact that Poirot keeps devouring all of its quarters so quickly made me think of how sweet and delicious this tasty treat must be. Just like this book.

This novel will make you hungry, I’m telling you. That I can reveal. And not just Window Pane Cake.

The Mystery of Three Quarters 4

And I also can tell you that you will not be able to PUT IT DOWN! It will possess you like you’re on a runaway train, maybe The Orient Express. Or a cake you can’t stop eating late at night.   The train metaphors and the food metaphors continue to abound in Hannah’s delicious tale of malice and murder. She’s so expert at this, the seemingly impossible task of recreating Agatha Christie’s unique, rotund Belgian detective with the great moustaches. Poirot is the only fictional character to ever get an Obit on the front page of the New York Times when he passed away in “Curtain.”

I never realized how deeply in love with this character I was until he rose from the dead so brilliantly at Sophie Hannah’s command in “Monogram Murders.” It was like encountering a long-lost friend! And you’ll feel the same way and be able to continue your own rapturous re-union with Hercule Poirot in “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

 

 

 

Oscars Major Changes, 3 Hr. Running Time, New Category

AMPAS has just announced major changes. The ratings were abysmally low (to the people who make these decisions) “The Shape of Water” winning, a beautiful film that not a lot of people saw with the love interest a monster/fish may be what sunk all this. 

It will be cut down to three hours, which can only help. All those technical awards, Best Short, Best Short Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Doc Short, all will be relegated like the Sound, Hair and Make-Up, Best Cinematography and Best Costumes to a pre-show, like with the Tonys, or during commercial breaks.

Haven’t we ALLLL longed for a shorter show? Four hours plus was always excessive…But adding a new category “Most Popular Film” makes room for action movies, etc. the likes of which I really cringe about seeing these days. That’s an unfortunate dumb-ing down…And moving the date up TOO? To Feb.8???

Well, I guess we can say Oscar season is upon us now that it’s AUGUST. It’s not too early to start prognosticating anymore, Oscar fans, now is it? And what I would like to know is what happened to the two films that are probably going to dominate the awards this year ANY way? Well, in my book…

“Boy Erased” starring Lucas Hedges as a young gay teen forced into conversion therapy by his parents Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. It hasn’t even been announced yet as being in a major festival. Although, yes, it is opening in November. From Focus Features.

And it will be competing with, and being confused with the other “Boy” movie, “Beautiful Boy” starring Timothy Chalamet about a drug addicted teen. 

Both Hedges and Chalamet previous Oscar nominees are bound to be heading back to the Dolby Pavilion again this year. Both films are opening within weeks of each other in the now more-vital-than-ever-month of November. Now that the Awards date has been moved up to early February. Confused?

Imagine how the Academy Members are feeling right now….

The NEW Oscars is not going to be like any Oscars we’ve known before…

And “Black Panther” with its billion dollar box-office is going to be going up against “Mama Mia 2” I am making this prediction already.

Devastated to hear that “Carousel” is closing!

Devastated to hear that my beloved “Carousel” is closing in Sept.! The curt press release didn’t give reasons, but the primary reason for something like this happening, and so suddenly, is money.. The box-office is always the culprit. Ticket sales will now, of course, go through the roof.

Lindsey Mendez, who all you dear readers know, was not in it the performance I saw. She won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and was not widely known heretofore. She can be seen on You Tube in a series of backstage-at-Carousel videos she made.

Justin Peck also won Best Choreography for his incredible, soaring, balletic  dance numbers.

This is all so sad. And the press release made it sound quite final, like there was no wiggle room on this blunt decision.If you haven’t seen it, you must rush to see it as soon as possible. Opera Legend Renee Fleming, Tony winner for “Beautiful” Jessie Mueller, and the incredible Joshua Henry  also star.  Jessie Mueller also won Best Actress in a Musical from the Drama Desk. And it has the largest orchestra of a Broadway show in recent memory. And a harp! The superb orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

It’s at the Imperial Theater 249 West 45th Street, the same theater where my favorite show of last year “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” was.*sigh*

Will Brittain’s Buff Butt Stars in Gayest Play Ever (at the Roundabout)

Young Texas actor Will Brittain is pretty much entirely nude for the lengthy part he has to play in Joshua Harmon’s “Skintight” at the Roundabout. Well, he does wear a tight black jockstrap that beautifully frames his bounteous buff bubble butt. And boy does Brittain make the most of that astounding ass of his! He struts. He sways. He sashays this way and that waving his naked rear end in the face of audience, the cast and the face of Broadway. If you consider the Laura Pels Theater of the Roundabout to be Broadway. Some say it’s Off Broadway. But whatever you want off it’s Will Brittain’s clothes. We never want to see him dressed again.

Not that he will be. Much. I see A LOT of nudity in his future.And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing! Has Broadway ever been this nude? Well, there was “Oh! Calcutta!” once upon a time. Has there ever been a play THIS gay? Well, we just had a magnificent, award-winning revival of “Angels in America.” But somehow “Skintight” seems gay-er. And Brittain’s butt just overwhelms the Pels.

And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. Will Brittain is having the time of his life upstaging Idina Menzel, no less, and sitting butt-ass naked on her father’s Greenwich Village sofa. The other characters objected to Brittain naked end being strategically placed at one very funny point in this very funny play on their high-end sofa. They all gasped in horror. I gasped in delight. As I’m sure the packed audience did, too.

You see, “Skintight” is very sexy in a way that “Angels” never was. Or could be. It was about the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. “Skintight” is just about, well, skin. And the fun you could potentially have with it, if you were as un-hung about nudity and the casual display of it as Brittain’s character Trei is. He’s done porn. And he sees it as a legit career choice. Gay porn, of course.

He’s the most philosophically well-adjusted character in Harmon’s charmin’ play. Jack Wetherall, of “Queer as Folk”, has the role of his career as Trei’s 70-year-old lover. “Skintight” is his birthday, which he wants to forget, and get back into bed with Trei, and well, Brittain is so helplessly irresistible, you can’t blame Wetherall’s world-weary fashion designer one bit. Wetherall’s grand-son is gay, too, and he wants to get it on with Trei. In fact, the only straight character is the intrepid Menzel whos gets high marks for making her non-singing debut in THIS extremely gay play.

And she does very well holding her own against, well, Will Brittain’s beautiful butt and playwright Harmon’s beautiful attitude towards being gay. It’s so free. So fun. Go! It’s only on for three more weeks before Will Brittain has to put his clothes back on. Perhaps forever. But being such a perfect physical specimen, I doubt that the Show Biz Godz will have their way with him and he’ll never be able to be clothed again. And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing!

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