a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Chicago’

Emily Blunt Becomes Legend in “Mary Poppins Returns”! Give That Girl an Oscar!


I have long admired the acting force that is British Actress Emily Blunt. She’s been on my TV show twice, once for “The Jane Austen Book Club.”where I interview her by satellite. She was in London where she said, “It was pissing down with rain.” Now that’s not something Mary Poppins would never EVER say. This is without a doubt the iconic role that is going to make her very, very famous and will define her career for the rest of her days. And maybe even win her a Best Actress Oscar.

She was just nominated for her”practically perfect in every way” British nanny that descends from the lovely, fog-covered London skies  to save the Banks children once again. But this time they are all grown up and played remarkably sympathetically by the brilliant Ben Whishaw and the divinely demure Emily Mortimer. It is 1930 and they still live in the charming house on Cherry Tree Lane, but here’s where director Rob Marshall had a master stoke of genius. They are on the verge of being evicted.

So beneath the flaming Technicolor flim-flammery, there is a great core of sadness underlying “Mary Poppins Returns.” Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins senses that there is  real trouble brewing here and that only she can fix it. This gives the always startlingly original actress a role that she can really sink her teeth into, and probably will play for ever. If she wanted to. There is a real sense of pain and a core of sadness that is motivating her Poppins to do what she does best – Cheer every one up. She’s like a supernatural social worker.

Blunt plays her with a tinge of something akin to regret. She knows in her heart of hearts that she really CAN’T help the Banks’ in any practical way. Her magic only goes so far. Or does it? And Nannys DO have to leave, eventually. That’s where her sadness comes from. As much as she loves the Banks’, she inevitably knows there will be a moment to go to say “It’s time.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda is on hand, too, in the Dick Van Dyke role, as  twere,  as Mary’s comical side-kick. Here transmorgrofied in into a lamplighter. He seems wildly miscast here, but his British accent is better than Van Dyke’s (who is in THIS movie, too!)so I’ll give him a pass for bounce-ability.


Also on hand is a new character, Mary’s Blatvian cousin Topsy who tells them all she is “Turning Turtle” a show-stopper number that allows Streep to out-camp her Florence Foster Jenkins role .That’s camp for you. The greatest of all addictions. Once you touch even your little left toe into it, you can never get out of it.

If you can imagine such a thing. She does more bumps and grinds per minute than any one in film history. And if it was anyone but Meryl Streep doing it you would say “STOP!” “Too much!” With Meryl you say, “You just keep twerking it, girl..”

The charming composer/lyricists are straight from Broadway. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are so endlessly tuneful and prolific, it’s simply amazing. My favorite has to be “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “There’s No Where to Go But Up!” sung by Angela Lansbury. Yes, she’s in it, too. Even the background music is quite enchanting. And every now and then they slip a little touch of the original Sherman brothers classic score. Just a few notes, mind you, but it is enough to send one flying up and down memory lane, in the best possible way.

It’s a delight. It’s an epic and I think it’s going to be nominated for Best Picture and many, many below the line categories. Sandy Duncan’s costumes are heaven-on-earth, right down to Mary’s red shoe laces. And of course, the extraordinary Emily Blunt will be nominated for Best Actress. And she could win, too! This is a film that will melt the hearts of every hardened cynic in Hollywood. And you’ll end concluding that we all need a Mary Poppins in our lives.

“Mary Poppins” is not just a sequel. It’s a classic.

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.

I See “Llewyn Davis” for the Second Time & LOVED it!!!

I don’t think I have been more wrong or had such a wildly different reaction to a film, than I did seeing “Inside Llewyn Davis” for the second time. The first time I wrote “I was bitterly disappointed.” But this time I laughed my way through it and was enchanted! I couldn’t believe it! I had a blast! I found it uplifting! I had a marvelous time this second time, because almost unlike any film I’ve ever seen I couldn’t stop thinking about it and went back to see it AGAIN! And I loved it!

The first time I saw it was at a jam-packed critics’ screening in a too-small Soho screening room. And no one laughed. Except at John Goodman. Critics don’t react. But this second, paying audience(including myself) roared with approval. It was a very transformative experience.

This time I just LOVED it, and I got what the Coen Bros. were trying to do with it, which is to depict grief in show business. with a small “b”.

It didn’t really register that Llewyn played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, is still reeling from the death of his beloved singing partner, a guy, who threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge. John Goodman’s character reacts the most violently to that statement of fact. His drugged out jazz musician says “He jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge? Who does that? You jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.” And the audience roared.

And Llewyn cringed. He’s just full of unexpressed pain in the tragedy that has enveloped his life and him left so lonely. You get the impression this time that he depended on his late partner for everything. He brought harmony, more than just vocally into his life.

So Llewyn’s violent reaction when a friend, a woman(played perfectly by Robin Bartlett) starts harmonizing with him and he explodes at her and ruins a perfectly nice dinner party, we now see that it’s because it’s his late partners’ lines and harmonies that she’s filling in. Now wonder he exploded at her!

And this time, my heart just went out from the get-go to Llewyn. Oscar Isaac’s quiet power, the charisma of his pained dark eyes and his sad, sad solo singing…well, it’s heart-breaking.

The Coens have decided to explore failure and also grief in all its’ aspects, as it pertains to the Greenwich Village Folk scene of the early ’60s. And besides by blowing up at nearly every one he meets(he’s got a mean streak and a temper), his sadness is expressed in his singing. Like in the opening number “Hang Me, O Hang Me”. It really was about his lost partner’s death. And it immediately involved me. Now that I knew that that’s what this film is about.

He pours his heart out in a singing audition in an empty nightclub in Chicago that he has hitchhiked to in a snowstorm(with a cat). He sings an English ballad a very sad song indeed about “Queen Jane” to a stone-faced, cadaverous night club owner (F.Murray Abraham) who reacts by saying “There’s not much money in this.” And he advises him to “get back with your partner.” Llewyn looks like he’s about to tell him that his partner just committed suicide, but chooses not to and just says, “Yeah, right.”

And he has no winter coat, and his falling-apart shoes are soaked through to the socks. And it continues to snow in Chicago. Everything in Llewyn’s life is winter and snow. Bleak, bleak, bleak. The Coens are keeping it really real.

But I saw it this time as a joyous tribute to survival even if  EVERYthing isn’t going your way. NObody has it as bad as Llewyn does in this movie. It’s Schadenfreude for the audience in spades. I thought of the book of Job. And yes, the Coens are torturing him, their main character, as they often torture their protagonists.

In a normal movie about a singer, he would succeed through his music at the end. But that moment never comes.

Prepared for that, I braced myself for the unnerving ending, and this time it didn’t shock with its’ brevity or annoy me, it left me singing “Inside Llewyn Davis” praises for being startlingly original and as unique a piece of American film-making as I’ve ever seen

Bravos to all involved! It just is a film that you HAVE to see TWICE! At least! And I’m running out to get the sound track album! And all the singing and playing was done live by Oscar Isaac and co. under the expert tutelage of T-Bone Burnett. I bet T-Bone wins a Golden Globe in a couple of weeks for Best Music.

I wish the Best Actor race wasn’t so cruelly crowded with vets and heavyweights giving the performances of their careers. Oscar Isaac should be nominated for Best Actor for his indelible, unforgettable performance. I can’t wait til I see it again!

Meryl Streep in SUPPORTING for “August”??? I don’t think so…

One of the wackiest things I’ve heard in ages is Meryl Streep being announced as going Supporting for “August:Osage County.” Her character Violet Westin is an award-magnet bravura tour-de-force kind of role.It’s clearly the lead. It won Deanna Dunagan, a Chicago actress who debuted the part on Broadway a Tony Award.

Her co-star Amy Morton was nominated for the role of Violet’s confrontational daughter, but lost to Dunagan at the Tonys. Julia Roberts is playing this difficult part in the movie version, and we all wish her well. And hope she outdoes and confounds expectations, as I think she will.

Putting Meryl in Supporting leaves Julia as a Best Actress likely nominee, as we’re talking about her chances, too, at this moment. And then Julia on her own could get all the “August:Osage” votes, the thinking most be. She and Meryl could split the vote were they BOTH put in this category, both in Best Actress.

Putting Meryl in Supporting then pits her AGAINST Oprah Winfrey for “Lee Daniels’The Butler”. Both are Weinstein films? WHAT is Harvey Weinstein thinking? He’s also got a pretty good shot with Octavia Spencer for “Fruitvale Station.” Sharon Stone is also a likely nominee as Linda Lovelace’s straight-laced mother in “Lovelace.” Those are ALLLLLL Harvey’s films!

Now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences allows its’ members to nominate actors and actresses in whichever category it chooses to put them into. So like the year Kate Winslet won Best Actress for “The Reader” even though Harvey campaigned her in Supporting for that movie.

If you may remember, that year Kate W. won BOTH Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, who do follow the studios dictates.

So I think this is all just publicity palaver to get people to talk about “August:Osage” and ALLLL the wonderful performances by women I’m sure it contains. I can’t wait to see it at the Toronto Film Festival in a few weeks.

I think the Academy will put Meryl in the lead, and Julia, too, if they both deserve to be their.

And WHY is this all happening? Fear of Cate Blanchett’s great “Blue Jasmine.”

“August: Osage” after Toronto is going underground and will not be seen again or screened until Thanksgiving. Harvey’s release plan EXACTLY for “The King’s Speech.” But this ploy is so outlandish, it may lead Academy voters to vote for none of the “Osage” actresses and is just handing the win over to Cate Blanchett. Or is it?

Stay tuned. Drama ensues.

When two SUPPORTING Actresses are Nominated for the same movie….

Following on yesterday’s thoughts, even though Yes, Shirley MacLaine DID trounce Debra Winger, both nominated for “Terms of Endearment” as BEST ACTRESS.

While this was an anomaly in the Best Actress category, this never to my knowledge, has NEVER happened in the Best Supporting Actress category.The two Supporting Actresses from “Babel” one in the Japanese sequence Rinko Kikuchi and one in the Mexican sequence both lost. And I was rooting and tooting heavily for La Senora, but no dice.

 So Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are now that they are so surely in play, each others worst Oscar enemies. So the title of their film “The Fighter” really applies.

And somebody else will win. Mila Kunis, no. That Haillee Blingatude creature. NO. And that leaves…Helena Bonham-Carter. For the regal royal, the beloved Queen Mother of the present Queen in “The King’s Speech.”

We shall see if these ladies all make it in to the final round, starting this weekend. OMG, the Broadcast Film Critics are two days away!

Update: I was corrected by Brian Scott Mednick on Facebook. Yes, an old friend who I had on my show back in the ’80s or early ’90s when he was an NYU Film Student and was the creater of the short film “Confessions of a Male Prostitute.”

Brian pointed out that as recently as “Chicago” TWO Supporting Actresses were nominated against each other. Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones and of course Catherine Zeta won.

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