a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘director’

Jayne Houdyshell Triumphs in Bways’ “The Humans”!

The Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell, an actress I’ve always found astonishing, reaches the peak of her long career in Broadway’s newest and most unlikely hit, “The Humans.” Houdyshell had a two decades long career in regional theater and was “discovered” in mid-life as the mother that couldn’t stop criticizing her lesbian daughter in Lisa Kron’s break-through play “Well” that started at the Public Theater and moved uptown to Broadway. And Broadway has pretty much been her home ever since.

Houdyshell is the kind of actress playwrights dream of and though she has won tons of awards( the Drama Desk gave her a career achievement award a few years back), I can’t remember her having a leading part like the one she has now, and in a hit play to boot. “The Humans” is powered by her powerhouse performance as Deidre Blake, again a mother, but this time an Irish Catholic mother to end all mothers. Deidre is caught between a rock and a hard place as she tries to hold her unwieldy family together as they embark on a tumultuous Thanksgiving gathering in her daughter’s duplex in Chinatown.

It’s one of the best plays of the year. Playwright Stephen Karam has written what all of the American theater has been longing for. A great new American play. Set today, it’s totally current and absolutely vital, and unflinching in its’ detail of the lives we New Yorkers, we humans, live .

With horror film and Internet references galore, Karam and the titanically talented director Joe Mantello ingratiate “The Humans” into your soul and invite you to be a member of this troubled family. They hook you into sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the at-first-glance very bland Blakes, and there you are experiencing something that you’d never thought you’d be experiencing, a top-level, quality evening in the theater, by some one who’s now going to be considered one of America’s important young playwrights.

What a joy this is to discover so much talent in one place, at one time, doing the thing it should be doing, bringing us the best in theater! Which is what Broadway is supposed to be doing. After all, shouldn’t that be going on all the time on the Great White Way? And so seldom is.”The Humans” is so good, it’s shocking.

And to have the majestic Jayne Houdyshell at the top of the bill, guiding this ship into port, as it were, with a superb ensemble who are all excellently cast and doing what sounds easy, but is really almost impossible, make you believe that they are the Blake family and you’re a friend, who they’ve also invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. But little did you know what you’re in for! Folding chairs, card tables and paper plates and cups. And not a turkey in sight! Only health foods!

Reed Birney is perfect matched as Deidre’s troubled husband Blake. Lauren Klein, is simply amazing and amazingly simple, as Deidre’s wheel-chair bound, dementia-ridden mother “Momo”, Cassie Beck & Sarah Steele as their struggling daughters, one gay and one straight, and Arian Moayed as the genial, still not married, but living together sort-of son-in-law.

Cassie Beck The Humans

Cassie Beck, in particular, (above) as the frazzled lesbian lawyer daughter,Aimee, who is going through a difficult break-up with her lover. And  it is to “The Humans” great credit that the Blake family treat this as something to be compassionate about and otherwise her sexuality is totally accepted in a refreshingly matter of fact way.

And the set! Once again I’ve seen astounding theater set design in one week! First “Hughie”s haunting green-lit majestic, ruined hotel and now David Zinn’s Chinatown duplex that is not as grand as it sounds, and as is just as knock-about and seems about to fall down as the Times Square hotel of the 1920’s in “Hughie.”

You just can FEEL this place shake,as it quavers under the  supersonic,crashing thuds that periodically drop on it from the (un-seen) floor above (sound design by Fitz Patton.) It’s a ground-floor apartment attached to the basement by a spiral stair-case that’s in, as Reed Birney’s father describes it, “A flood zone.”

At one point Birney’s character quips, noting his daughters’ obsession with health foods, “If you’re so miserable, why do you want to live forever?” “The Humans” is so good it will restore your faith in the American theater and make you want to live forever, too, so you can see it over and over and over again. What a joyful surprise this play, Jayne Houdyshell and this production are!

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Oscar Blogger Articles Hits (Home)

Oscar Blogger Articles Hits

A controversial(perhaps) but more likely simply a must-read article on Oscar Bloggers, of which I am supposedly one, just hit the stands in the new bi-weekly New York Magazine. Jeff Wells is majorly featured in it and goes into great detail over at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere

I consider myself an Oscar blogger. It is just one of the many things I do, like run a weekly television on cable in NYC for over 26 years now. With NO budget whatsoever. I’ve been doing this blog for four years and started “The Stephen Holt Show” as a web-series on You Tube in Oct.2007. AS WELL AS the continuing TV show, and contributing to Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone’s http://www.awardsdaily.com.

But it’s an LA centric article and even though the magazine is called “New York” New York City figures in to it not at all. Anne Thompson is completely left out. And the article focuses mainly on Jeff, Tom O’Neil, Sasha and Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter. Pete Hammond of Deadline is held up as the gold standard.

Tom and Sasha are considered the parents or grandparents of Oscar blogging, which amuses me because though they’ve been doing this for 15 years, my TV show has been for ten years longer.

http://www.goldderby.com is considered a “commerical enterprise” and that they all make in the low six figures. I make in the NO six figures. They all have many ads and I have none. So I guess that makes me unworthy to be included in this supposedly important piece.

Getting 3 to 2,000 hits a day on You Tube during Oscar high season, which is now, obviously, doesn’t count even though it’s on the Internet but it’s another medium, a by-product of television. But I get no ads, so I guess I don’t count. I don’t live or go to LA, so I guess I don’t count. I don’t drive or own a car OR a cellphone. So I guess I don’t count.

But YOU’RE reading me, so I guess I do count. TO YOU. So thank you, my dear readers, dear cineastes…

And I am a Voting Member of the Drama Desk, and also a playwright and a director. But none of this counts in “For Their Consideration.” And Anne Thompson is left out, too. David Poland is mentioned but not much. He was my former boss at http:www.moviecitynews.com
which I once wrote for quite a bit, because Sasha introduced us. And I was a Guru O’Gold for a couple of years, post “Brokeback”. But I’m not now, so I don’t count.

“Liv Og Ingmar” Moving New Doc at Festival Des Film Du Monde in Montreal! And soon to be at NYFF, too!

“LIV  & INGMAR” Moving, New Doc Dominates Montreal!

Being at the wonderful Festival des Films du Monde, now for my 14th consecutive year, is like being encased in a delightful, glamorous bubble of film, where all the languages of the world are swirling around you, but mainly French, mais oui, bien sur! Montreal always had that certain je sais quoi, and still does, I’m happy to report. It’s intoxicating atmosphere is something that you never want to end.
This year found the 36th Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped last night, more multi-cultural than ever, if that’s possible.Over 400 films from over 80 countries!
So many films from all over the world, and so many of them that you won’t ever get to see in America,it’s staggering. And it’s sad that we have such a limited, narrow view of world cinema, with foreign film distribution, being what it is in the States. But wonderful films from all over are all here and all being celebrated, which continues to be a miraculous thing for cineastes in Montreal and cinephiles everywhere.
I thought nothing would top seeing “The Artist” here for the first time last year, with a packed Montrealais audience, who had fought to get tickets to the sold-out screenings. But this year something unexpectedly did!
It was a doc, no less, from Norway, named “Liv Og Ingmar,” about the tumultous love life and relationship of Ingmar Bergman, the late legendary Swedish filmmaker, and Liv Ullman, his great Norwegian actress, who  he starred in a dozen of his films and who had a child by him. They were together for five years,mostly on his isolated island of Faro, and were friends and working partners and collaborators for most of their lives, a 42 year relationship of star-crossed lovers and artists, which is heart-breaking in the extreme. It’s unexpected force and poignancy reduced me to tears.
Dheeraj Akolar, a 20-something Indian director, is making his feature film debut in spectacular fashion with “Liv Og Ingmar.” He was allowed unprecedented access to not only Bergman’s and Ullman’s great films, but also excerpts from his private love letters to her, which are heard here for the first time. The film also quotes extensively from Ullman’s moving memoir “Changing,” which Ullman reads herself.  Ullman more or less narrates the film. It is entirely from her point of view, which is enlightening and refreshing, and not only that, she was here in Montreal to talk about it herself!
According to Akolar, she had no editorial say in the film final, but its utterly unique and persuasive perspective is undeniably hers. In person, Liv Ullman is the loveliest of women, now in her 70s but still absolutely lovely and vital, always verging on the poetic in every question she was asked at the press conference.
Down to earth, practical, a woman of infinite good Norwegian horse sense, she still finds it astonishing that she was involved with and the beloved of the genius Swedish auteur, who seems the direct polar opposite to her in every way imaginable. Nothing about this relationship was easy or politically correct. It was painful in the extreme as the film amply shows. But it was love. And that is what makes the film so universal and so incredibly moving.
When asked if Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephsson knew that they were playing stand-ins for Bergman himself, Ullman exclaimed, “The person who was always playing Ingmar was ME!” and she thumped her chest.
Ulmman also kept emphasizing that she continues to act and direct plays and films herself in Norway and Sweden, and that she has had and continues to have a very healthy and productive creative life away from the late Bergman, including a career in Hollywood that landed her on the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek and garnered her two Oscar nominations.
Though she’s never won one herself, “Liv Og Ingmar” is such an astouding, moving experience for a doc, that it could very well be nominated, and even win in that category, as the forgetful Academy might well wish to finally honor her in this way, while she is still very much with us. And we all now how the Academy likes movies that make them cry, and this film  sure will.
Another film that I found exciting was “B.A.Pass” ANOTHER debut feature by ANOTHER Indian filmmaker making his feature film debut, Ajay Bahl. Before this gripping film, Bahl was a full-time working director of photography in India, where they make over 2,000 films a year, Bahl estimated. He read a short story named “The Railway Auntie” by Mohan Sikka in “The Delhi Noir” collection and decided to make this film himself, also financing it completely.
“B.A. Pass’ is about Mukesh, a 19-year-old boy who loses both his parents in a car crash at the beginning of the film. He has two young sisters that he has to take care of, and is sent to Delhi to live with relatives. “B.A. Pass” is the lowest form of degree one can get in an Indian college, like a liberal arts degree and it qualifies him for nothing, leaving Mukesh to drift aimlessly into the arms of a genuine femme fatale, Sarika. As played by the Bollywood star Shilpa Shukla, she dazzles him, and us, as she seduces him into a life of male prostitution, sharing him with all her rich, female friends.
All the taboos one usually associates with Indian filmmaking are blown out of the water here by director Bahl, as the lovers do more than just look at each other intensely, as is usual in Bollywood. There is no dancing or musical numbers here to lift Mukesh out of the desperate circumstances he begins to slide into. “B.A.Pass” reminded me a lot of “Midnight Cowboy’ as he becomes a gigolo, eventually going with men, as well as women. Newcomer Rajesh Sharma plays Mukesh marvelously in his first leading screen role.
Another film that stunned and surprised me was the Finnish World War II film “Hiljaisuus” or “The Silence.” Masterfully directed by veteran filmmaker Sakari Kirjavainen, it depicts the heroic, heartbreaking Finnish custom of retrieving its’ dead soldiers’ bodies from the battlefields and preparing their remains by thawing, tidying and dressing them for return to their families. A poetic, grim ritual,unique to Finland, that is a morbid and well as a dangerous custom, as soldiers have to retrieve dead bodies that have been sometimes lying in a no-man’s land between Finland and Russia for weeks if not months, most frozen solid by the harsh Finnish winter.
Set in an evacuation camp, “The Silence” compels as it repels, and Joonas Saartamo is riveting and yes, even sometimes funny, as the young soldier Eino, who has to do these difficult heart-renching rescues, even at his own peril.
“Buzhashi Boys”, a cours metrage, or short film, from Afghanistan, also was shockingly indelible. Made by one of the few Americans to actually call Kabul home, director Sam French compellingly told the tale of two very young street kids, one a blacksmith’s son, one a beggar, who are friends and hope one day to become the titular Buzkashi horsemen of title, which is a sport that I will skip describing, except to say that it is played with great gusto and ferocity on horseback. The Kabul that we see is so abjectly poor, with bullet-holes in every ruined building that the two boys innocently play in, that “Buzhashi Boys”  in its’ brevity and toughness, lets us see a glimpse of another ghastly, but human world that we would probably never get to see except at a film festival like Montreal.
Post-script “Liv Og Ingmar” is going to be screening soon in the upcoming New York Film Festival, with Liv Ullman herself in attendance! Not to be missed!

Oscar’s gonna LOVE “A Better Life.” No, not “Tree of Life” “A BETTER Life!!”

I can’t believe how deeply affected I was by the small Indie “A Better Life,” which I only recently watched on DVD. For an under-reviewed, under-appreciated mainly Mexican film that is half in Spanish, about the life and struggles of an illegal immigrant gardener, it really made all its’ points with a powerful punch-to-the-gut impact. I’m still reeeeling!

But I loved it, and appreciated the power, the intelligence and the artistry of filmmaker Chris Weitz and the Mexican star Demian Bichir, who’s now going to be just as big a star in Hollywood as he is in Mexico.

And it contains one great, probably classic film scene where its’ SAG nominee for Best Actor, Demian  Bichir, as Carlos Galindo, the gardener, has to climb up to the top of a  Hollywood palm tree to cut cocoanuts. And it’s a really heart-in-your-mouth scene that makes you gasp out loud, as he really, for real ,climbs that tall,dangerous palm tree in a rich white woman’s garden, and gazes out over the magnificent Los Angeles cityscape. He enjoys perhaps his happiest moment in the movie, looking for a brief second, at the stunning view.

Only to look down and see his truck, the truck that he’s sunk his whole family’s money and his life, into being stolen along with all his tools! By a compadre, another illegal Mexican, who he was trying to help out with an afternoon’s job.  And there he is stuck up the F***ing palm tree!

And we saw how slow and difficult it was for him to climb up, and then we see him struggling to get down, fast, without breaking his neck, and of course, he can’t. He has to go down as slowly as he went up that dangerous tree! Talk about in Academy-speak “Degree of Difficulty”!

And then he chases the stolen truck on foot! His desperate chase makes George Clooney’s similar race in “The Descendants” look ridiculous. But then that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But the Academy are going to watch that “A Better Life” screener, which they all had in their possession since LABOR DAY! It was the first to be sent out this year, and I’m oh so glad to give Kudos Summit Entertainment for taking a page from Sony Pictures Classics- typical Oscar campaign gambit by doing so.

And Bichir himself? Why, he was Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour “Che.” And he’s absolutely disarming in interview situations. He and director Chris (“New Moon”) Weitz have even been to Washington, D.C. with it.

And in this election year, when the phrase “illegals” is being thrown around all over the place, THIS is the film that addresses this topic in a way that’s never really been shown before. From the point of view of a Mexican illegal himself.

In an early scene of the film, Bichir’s son (Jose Julian), kids his father about not having a driver’s license. It’s done as sort of a throw-away moment, but then you realize that the Carlos Galindos of the world CAN’T get Drivers Licenses because they are “illegals,” this year’s new “N” word.

But I think Damien Bichir is going to be experiencing a big “O” word in his near future. O like in Oscar.

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