a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘death’

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.

Roger Rees, a Great Actor & a Great, Out Gay Man Passes

Roger Rees 1I’m shocked and saddened to report the passing of the great British actor, Roger Rees. He was also a great out gay man. MAY 5, 1944 – JULY 10, 2015

I just saw him only recently on Broadway in “The Visit” and he was playing the man Chita Rivera’s Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world had come back to their hometown in the German/Swiss Alps to kill. The plot is she buys the townspeople’s co-operation to kill him, because he rejected her years ago when they were both young and in love.

Rees made that role believable and you felt for his plight. Grizzled and worn, he was nowhere near the young, handsome Nicholas Nickleby, which is where I first saw him on Broadway)see above^). You worried about his frail character’s health in “The Visit” He seemed like a ghost already. So I was not surprised when I heard that he had left the show even before its’ precipitous closing right after the Tonys. And now, he’s suddenly gone.

He was dazzling as the young Nickleby, the absolute paragon of a Dickens hero.

I remember so well, Ian McKellen, now Sir Ian, telling me in the cafe of  the Circle, a Fringe Theater stronghold in  London’s South bank area, in the ’70s. He said, “I’ve just seen one of the most wonderful plays I’ve ever seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company!” I asked him what it was. And he said “Nicholas Nickleby!” and I could hardly believe him. An unwieldy, secondary Dickens novel turned successfully into a stage play? I didn’t see it, although the critics and the crowds were raving.I didn’t see it until it came to Broadway and I myself has also moved back to America, but yes, it was true.

“Nicholas Nickleby” with a bare stage and only the costumed actors playing everything, including a stage-coach, was absolutely what McKellen said it was. And Roger was its’ handsome star. Rees had a very rich, varied career ever since that memorable launch.

I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. And was very proud of him when he came out as a gay man.

My sincere condolences to his surviving partner, friends and family.

 

Image

Oscar ~ “Fault” Shailene Woodley’s triumph or Schadenfreude?

Julianne Moore 2

22 year old star Shailene Woodley’s Oscar chances are on the rise because her new film “The Fault In Our Stars, “is breaking box-office records, and changing the face of the Best Actress Oscar race even this early in the pre predicting season.

Woodley’s searing portrayal of a teen dying of cancer shocked me at the range of pain and power this young woman exhibited in a sad love story of her star-crossed affection for a another dying teen, also a cancer patient, played effectively by Ansel Elgort..

It was the surprise #1 hit at the box-office this week, upending all kinds of expectations and predictions. This micro-budgeted tale of two seriously ill teens has made an incredible impact with movie goers, most of them young females or YA as the industry likes to call ’em, Young Adults.

And Oscar NEVER ignores this kind of vote. The public’s. They vote with their ticket-buying dollars. And they are buying tickets en masse to see this five handkerchief weepie that is leaving audiences in tears around the country and around the globe.

And they are liking the sadness of the doomed duo. They are LIKING crying their way home. This movie about death, death, and more death, as unlikely a topic as that seems, is making them FEEL. Something, one wonders, if they’ve ever thought about before. The Germans have a word for it Schadenfreude.

I sometimes think all great love stories have to have one or two of the young lovers dying. See “Romeo and Juliet.” Who can forget the surprising B.O. success “A Love Story” had in its’ day?

It was a best-seller, and propelled non-actress/model Ali McGraw on to the cover of Time Magazine. And to an Oscar Nomination. “Love is never having to say you’re sorry” was the trademark catch phrase that was plastered everywhere that year. The public went in droves to see Ali McGraw die. “Fault” is like that. It’s a neglected genre. But “Fault in Our Stars” has put all this weepiness front and center once again.

And Shailene Woodley’s amazing, dynamic turn as the dying teen is powering this film into the stratosphere of Oscar consideratioiin. By that I mean, a serious film, about death, no less, and cancer, moreover, with a young, a very young actress who confounds expectations, is just the kind of performance the Academy loves to honor. Jennifer Lawrence anyone?

David Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” won acclaim at Cannes for the performance of Julianne Moore as an aging Hollywood actress trying to hang on to her youth.I thought it was being rushed out in June, but no.  It’s now opening in the fall, when the season REALLY gets under way. Which is good, meaning the producers behind it, think it has Awards chances.

Out of the Cannes gate, Moore was a clear front-runner. She’s had four nominations and never won. Ditto Amy Adams, who is coming up this fall with FIVE nominations and no win, but she has Harvey Weinstein and his mega-hype-machine in “Big Eyes.” I thought the Best Actress Oscar was definitely Adams’ to lose.

But now with “The Fault in Our Stars” powering to #1 and Shailene Woodley on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this week, looking almost unrecognizably glamourous, I think she’s here in the Oscar conversation to stay. And the movie, based on a popular YA novel, may have equally surprising “legs”as they say, and stick around to really harass Julienne Moore and Amy Adams come the fall.

I mean, it’s only June and already the Best Actress race is red-hot. If Shailene did manage to win this one, I think she supplants Jennifer Lawrence as the youngest winner of Best Actress in Oscar history.

Or is it just too early to think like this? No. It’s never too early to think about Oscar. Or why are you reading this article?

Paul Walker Dead at 40 & Terrible Train Wreck in the Bronx

This is a morning full of death. I see on the Internet that the handsome actor Paul Walker is dead in Hollywood in a fiery crash, not unlike the one that killed James Dean. Walker was a very young-looking 40. And surprisingly had a teen-aged daughter.

And then I turn on the TV and get all the broadcast channels going on endlessly about a Metro North commuter  train derailment in the Spuyten Duvill section of the Bronx, the borough that I grew up in. Four people died and many more injured. I often have taken that train. Life is so fragile.

Death seems everywhere now that the holiday of Thanksgiving is over. New York is particularly a city that goes haywire on a long holiday weekend. Nothing gets done.

Like for instance Fedex was supposed to deliver a package to me, but it has not yet gotten there. And although they are open in some location sites 24 hours 7 days a week, nothing can get done till tomorrow Monday. No drop offs on Sundays, holidays especially. I found this out the hard way.

Show business and entertainment news, which I purport to cover, is a twenty-four/seven situation. It just never stops. Ask Jeffrey Wells at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com He’s complaining that “Don’t I get a day off!?!” Because Paul Walker’s death happened right in the middle of his holiday weekend. You can check out Jeff’s blog, if you want more info on Paul Walker’s horrifying demise.

I never got to interview him in my LONG(three decades) career of interviewing celebrities. So I don’t have a personal memory or anecdote to share. Except that my perception of him was some one attractive and blond enough to work a lot in Hollywood. He was once on the cover of one of Vanity Fair’s Young Hollywood issues, back in the early ’00’s.

I knew he’d work at lot in action films, and he did.

Like for instance the “Fast and Furious” franchise which brought him major stardom, as it were. I never have seen any of the seven immensely successful movies. I don’t even drive, so films about cars usually don’t interest me.

I always see them as weapons of death. And the violent, sudden end of Paul Walker’s life bears that thought out.

I did for some reason unknown to myself now, and lost in memory, I DID see a very good mystery thriller with him in the lead in or around 2001 called “Joy Ride.” And I remember him vividly from that. I thought he was someone who was pretty, but probably couldn’t act, but in “Joy Ride” he showed me that there was much more to him than that. As he and Steve Zahn were a couple of college kids driving(again the car theme) and picking up a psycho killer named Rusty Nail by accident on the CB radio.

Walker pretended to be a sexy female stripper/prostitute named “Candy Cane” and Rusty Nail began stalking their car. Walker had to switch in and out of this hilarious female role vocally. And got in a great deal of trouble for doing so in “Joy Ride” which was anything but. This little known, little-remembered film was also as I looked it up co-written by a young J.J.Abrams! And directed with great suspense by the great John Dahl. It was probably because of Dahl’s directing it that I went. And I was really surprised and glad that I did.

It was truly harrowing, and Paul Walker was just terrific in it. He showed he had potential to grow beyond the teen stuff he was being given at that time. And he did. I always liked him better than his better known contemporary Matthew McConaghey, who I never cared for much, until I saw this year’s stupendous “Dallas Buyer’s Club” which I will be writing more fully about soon.

R.I.P. Paul Walker. You didn’t deserve this tragic, early death.

“Downton Abbey” Ep.4 ~ A Masterpiece of Shock and Awe

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t seen Ep.4 of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey”, the season that is blowing minds right now, don’t read any further.

It’s a masterpiece, I feel, of dramatic series television. I’m in shock at what happened and in awe of the stupendous, brilliant performances of the entire cast, in this, what had to be their most challenging episode. Fresh off their SAG award win on Sunday for Best Drama Series, Downton Abbey in this horrifying episode more than lived up to its’ accolades.

What happens in Episode 4 that is so shattering, so shocking, I feel like I can only talk about it in a whisper as if I were one of Downton Abbey’s loyal but distraught servants…

Lady Sybil Crawley dies in childbirth.

Yes. They’ve killed off one of the hit series major characters, the youngest and most beautiful of the three Crawley sisters, who are at the center of Downton’s great story.

SUCH a shock. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it happen, but it was.

Lady Sybil was giving birth at home, Downton, of course, even though she’s the one who had run off with the studly chauffeur, Irish rebel Tom Branson(the excellent Allen Leech)and there are TWO doctors attending her. One the local doc,Played by David Robb, who’s been on the show since the beginning, and one, a knight, played by Tim Piggott who Lord Grantham has brought in from London.

They fight, as Sybil is struggling in birth bangs and their heated dialogue is a summation of sorts of the thoughts about birth-ing in the days before modern medicine. The family doctor diagnoses eclampsia(sp?) and possibly fatal situation that requires Sybil to be taken immediately to a hospital and a Caesarian section be performed and Sir Whatever is saying “It’s all right. It’s perfectly normal.”

And unfortunately the family doctor is right. And the beautiful 24-year-old comely heroine passes away in scene after horrifying scene where the actress Jessica Brown Findlay gives the best performance she’s ever given thus far.

I kept thinking of my red-headed Scottish great-grandmother, whom I never knew, of course, who also died in childbirth, leaving her surviving daughter, my beloved grandmother traumatized forever.Women often died in childbirth in those days and writer Fellowes obviously wanted to depict this tragic situation, and he did so in a profoundly compelling way. The horror of Sybil’s death seems worse than the horrors we saw in Season 2 of World War I.

In Downton’s stellar cast of twenty+plus leads, I always felt she was the weakest link, acting-wise. She was merely pretty and not up to the nuance of “Downton”s complex, brilliant script by Jullian Fellowes, just barely skating through on her sensational dark good looks and voluptuous figure.

I hope they didn’t kill her off for bad acting. But possibly they did. In any case, she, young, beautiful, rebellious, is dead, and looking realistically like hell in the process. Poor thing.Death did not become her.

But this really shocked me. To kill off a leading character in a sensationally successful hit series is just never done. And one didn’t expect this to happen to arguably the most beautiful young woman on the show. One didn’t see this coming. And the impact on the remaining two Crawley sisters, the superb Lady Mary(Michelle Dockery) and the marvelous Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael), their parents Lord and Lady Grantham(Hugh Bonneville and Maureen McGovern) is shattering. And of course, affords Dame Maggie Smith as the grieving grandmother a chance to show off her legendary dramatic chops as her heart breaks with the rest of her family’s at the grim injustice of this tragedy. As we see her walk away from the strong-arm of the butler, leaning on her cane for strength, she seems barely able to make it to the doorway.

And of course the emotion and drama run high throughout this entire episode the most powerful of the entire series. So far. Most moving of all I found was the surviving husband’s, Irish Tom Branson’s, helpless grief. His baby girl survives, but he has lost his beautiful, young wife, whom he desperately loved.

I was devastated. Truly. As if someone I had known had died. I feel like I’ve been mourning poor Lady Sybil
all week. I’ve watched Ep.4 three times already as it kept coming up on different PBS stations.

For those of you who MUST know, after its initial airing on Sunday night at 9pm EST on Ch.13 here in New York and rebroadcast on WLIW at 8pm on Monday night and then again at 1AM Monday night.

It’s probably coming on again right now somewhere, and of course, you can watch it IMMEDIATELY online at pbs.org.

The last image is of the sobbing father, Tom, holding his new-born baby daughter in his arms, staring out an upstairs window of the vast estate, almost as if he and his little child are prisoners there now.

I wasn’t expecting this. There are three more episodes to go, and they’ve GOT to top this one. It was a killer. I can’t imagine how.But I can’t wait to tune in again.

Oscar Double Shocker! 2 Best Actress slots may open! “Beasts” not nominated for Best Picture at Gotham Awards!

Still reeling from Joaquim Phoenix’s “Oscar is utter bulls–t” remark, I think it’s gone unnoticed by all except the astute Anne Thompson on this week’s Oscar Talk podcast at www.indiewire.com and also on www.hitfix.com,where when partner Kris Tapley points out that the much-heralded “Beasts of the Southern Wild” did NOT get a Best Picture nomination from the upcoming Gotham Awards, she said “That’s not a sign of strength.”

“Beasts” did however get nominated for Best Breakthrough Performer for 8 Year-old Qu’venzhane Wallis and Best Director for 29-year-old Benh Zeitlin.

But not getting a Best Picture nomination from the Gothams, the East Coast’s answer to the Independent Spirit Awards, is a real and unexpected slap in the face to “Beasts,” and to Fox Searchlight. And may forecast what I am hearing about the way the Academy itself is responding to this beautiful, small Indie film. Which is not well.

Check out Pete Hammond on www.deadline.com, who has been saying this all along. Especially the Actor’s Branch, who take the SAG disqualification of performers Qu’venzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry of “Beasts” from consideration from THEIR awards, VERY seriously. SAG is the Screen Actors Guild, whose large membership hands out their own awards and whose membership overlaps the Academy. The Screen Actors Guild is also a Union. The film version of Actor’s Equity. And all voting members of the Actor’s Branch are all members of SAG.

Non-actors when they started “Beasts of the Southern Wild “& critically acclaimed though they are, I hear that the super-powerful Actor’s Branch especially is not liking the idea of nominating a non-actress,and a non-union member, who is an eight-year-old child.

“When there are so many PROFESSIONAL actresses who gave great performances this year.” So goes the current AMPAS Actor’s Branch thinking, I am told. And it’s that powerful branch, the largest in the Academy and they are the ones, the ONLY ones who nominate the Actors. And the Actresses. And most Oscarologists have little Miss Wallis in their top five. See Tom O’Neill’s http://www.goldderby.com charts, for one example.

Meanwhile, two of the  other main contenders for Best Actress that are on everyone’s lists of five potential nominees are French.

Marion Cotillard for “Rust and Bone,” who is being honored by the Gothams and AFI and just about every which way you turn for her stunning turn as the legless victim of a whale attack. She’s a whale trainer in a Sea World-like situation in the South of France and one of her Orcas attacks her. And even though Mlle.Marion is acting in her own language French, she’s IN with a capital “I” and a capital “L” for Lock.

But  the other Gallic contender, who very well may NOT make it, I’m hearing, is Octogenarian French actress Emmanuelle Riva. Riva plays the stroke victim in “Amour” The film won the Palme d’Or this year in Cannes. And the same-aged Academy is NOT digging this grim, unrelenting film about death. It’s too much and too close for Academy members. It should’ve been called “La Mort” which is French for death.

So Riva’s nomination is not a slam dunk, either though this difficult, gripping, unforgettable film may very well score a Best Foreign Film nomination.

So BOTH Qu’venzhane Wallis’ and Emmanuelle Riva’s slots may very well not be their slots at all come nomination day. But there are OTHERS, a few stellar Others who are waiting right in the wings right at their doorsteps,

Leaving two doors, or slots, in that suddenly contentious category, WIDE open for a pair of Dames. Always bet on the Brits. Dame Helen Mirren playing The Master of Suspene’s wife Alma in “Hitchcock”(which has not been seen yet) and also perhaps Dame Maggie Smith as a retiring but disliked opera diva in “Quartet.”

I saw”‘Quartet’ in Toronto and 77-year-old Maggie Smith could very well find herself Oscar bound. And then there’s of course the beauteous Brit, Keira Knightley, much more likely as the tortured heroine of “Anna Karenina”which I also saw in Toronto, and which is still my favorite film of the year so far. For the record, I thought both performances were divine and definitely Oscar-worthy.

And the leader of the pack at the moment, according to all and sundry is Jennifer Lawrence of “Silver Linings Playbook,”which I’m finally slated to see this week.

Nevermind, the still-unseen Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty.” We still don’t know if she’s a leading player or supporting, though.

But there are plenty of worthy, beautiful Oscar performances by actresses awaiting Oscar’s nod this year if BOTH Qu’venzhane Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva don’t make the cut.

So except for Lawrence’s presumed lead, this is now a very wide open category, with a small, but stellar group to pick from. Cotillard, Knightley, Mirren, Chastain, Smith. There’s enough. Or ALMOST enough. And all these ladies, I must point out are either Oscar nominees, and many of them winners! Cotillard and Mirren both have won. And Dame Maggie Smith has two wins out of SIX nominations! Knightley, Chastain and Lawrence are all previous nominees. They are all, as Anne Thompson likes to say, “In The Club.”

NYFF 2012 ~ Strong Films Feature Strong Actresses, “Amour”, “Beyond the Hills”

This year’s New York Film Festival is  just about at the half-way through point, for press. The press screenings started just about immediataely that I got back from Toronto. And begin two weeks or so before the public begins to see the films, which began Friday night with “The Life of Pi.”

The 50th annivarsary edition of the NYFF has cerainly been featuring strong films about strong women, with VERY strong actresses doing award-worthy work.

The strongest by far is “Amour” the Palme d’Or winner at this years’ Cannes film festival, and this almost unbearably-painful-to-watch film by Michael Haneke(pronounced like Hun-a-kuh, like the Festival of Lights) stars French luminaries from the past Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintigant.

Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as Anne, an 80-something former music teacher who lives with her octogenarian husband, the equally magnificent Trintigant, in a beautifully quaint Paris apartment. And the lovely, charming Anne begins to be the victim of a series of strokes that leave her, first paralyzed on the right side, then paralyzed even further.

The demands on M. Riva are gargantuan in terms of enacting all the dibiltating stages of her decline, and she magnificently meets  every one of them with bravery and great force. You really are appauled at the toll old age is taking on her as she is ravaged by one malady after the other after the other. And Trintignant has the less showy role of the caretaker, the devoted husband who is appauled and dismayed by the excruciating decline and pain of his wife’s deteriotating conditiion.

Haneke is one of my favorite filmmakers and his previous work “Cache”, “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon” are all extremely challenging and perplexing in different ways. “Amour” which should have been named “Le Mort” is tough, but “Amour” is the toughest, as it unflinchingly chronicles the end-of-life traumas that all human beings are going to have to face sooner or later. Some thing as grim as this material has never been shown onscreen. It’s disturbing, horrifying and unforgettable, all at the same time.

Austria has chosen it as their official entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film even though the actors speak French and it is set in France. Haneke, the director, is Austrian. France has chose the light-hearted comedy “The Intouchables” a Weinstein Co. production. So it will be comedy v. tragedy in this category at the Oscars in February. I’m sure both films may be nominated and Ms. Riva, too, may get a Best Actress nomination, her performance an the dying Anne is so awe-inspiring.

There’s also, like Haneke’s “Cache” and “The White Ribbon” especially, a kind of mystery that needs to be solved at the end. And I can only alert you to the fact that everything you need to know is in the OPENING scene of the movie. Just pay close attention.

Equally devastating, but somehow, lighter, if that’s even possible, is Roumanian director Christian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills.” This film was also awarded at Cannes, with a dual Best Actress prize, for the two young women,Cosima Strahaan and Cristina Flutur, who play the leads. Childhood best friends since the orphanage they grew up in, Stratan’s character joins an Orthodox nunnery that separates her from Flutur.

Alina(Flutur) is obsessively attached to Voichita(Strahan) and right off the bat, in the very first scene of the film, she crushingly hugs her friend, collapsing in tears in a train station, in such a way that Voichita, the nun, is dreadfully embarassed.

Alina, long story short, is revealed to have an overwhelming lesbian love for Voichita, and will stop at nothing in the convents’ attempts to separate the two, after Alina comes for an extended visit and then stays and stays. Her obsession becomes violent and the nuns and their priest attempt to exorcise the demons they believe Alina is possessed by. It’s horrifying. And it it not set in the past though the   convent and its’ inhabitants and rituals seem medieval.

And this is based on the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran, which in turn were based on a true story.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: