Thursday, December 31, 2015

R.I.P. 2015

This remembrance of some of those we lost in the art of filmmaking in 2015 leaves a lot out, as often happens, including those who died after they made it (like the great Haskell Wexler) but, it still includes a lot I'll miss, and this year even more of them I met, worked with or actually knew from my Hollywood years...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

KENNEDY CENTER HONOREES (ARETHA'S TRIBUTE TO CAROLE KING)

I watched the Kennedy Center Honors last night and like any awards show there were moments when folks were patting themselves and each other on the back, but as also in any shows to honor creative folks there were moments of brilliance and exhalation as amazingly talented people did what they do best, and this may be the peak moment that expresses that...and if you don't know why Carole King is freaking out at the start and our president is wiping away a tear it's because Aretha has not only survived her major health challenges but comes out and tops her younger self with spirit, skill, and musical genius that will not be denied...watch it to the end to see the true impact of King's and Aretha's unique talents...and I bet you're eyes will be wet too...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

THE BIG SHORT

THE BIG SHORT is so brilliantly directed, edited and acted that it feels like a seminal cinematic experience, like movies will change as a result of this one. The pacing is so heartbeat consistent and rhythmically compelling that I left the theater amped and it took a while for my own rhythms to calm down.

And it's all the more incredible since the story is one I know, and we all know the ending, and yet the narrative drive is so insistent I felt like I was watching a thriller that kept making me feel tense about the outcome, which I already knew!

And the movie manages to do this with repeated monologues to the audience breaking the fourth wall and even using celebrities to explain the complicated, deliberately, terminology of Wall Street and the banks. It's like the most entertaining history and economics (and politics, though more subtly at that level) lesson anyone will ever get.

Based on the real facts of the economic collapse of 2008 and what caused it and why, it's incredible how engaging it turned out to be. So much so that right now it is at the top of my favorite films of the year, a year which was great for revelatory stories made into artistic triumphs as films, like BROOKLYN, SPOTLIGHT and THE DANISH GIRL to name just a few.

THE BIG SHORT. I would advise seeing it in a big theater with others (the show I saw was packed) so you can get that great communal connection when everyone laughs or sighs or mutters under their breath at the same moment. Yeah, we all got screwed by Wall Street and the banks and it's still happening, but at least when your Fox-watching relatives want to know why you're so sure of that, you can tell them to watch this movie, or else.

[PS: The editor deserves an Oscar nomination at least, and the director Adam McKay—best known until this for Anchorman and Tallledega Nights—who also co-wrote the screenplay (with Charles Randolph from the book by Michael Lewis) deserves a nomination for both directing and screenplay adaptation, and though all the acting was superb—especially Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale—Steve Carell deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and Jeremy Strong for Best Supporting Actor.]

FOR WHICH I'M HUMBLY GRATEFUL

[the great poet and songwriter/musician (and my great friend) Terence Winch posted this photo I took and gave him back in the 1970s on Facebook yesterday with the following gracious remarks:]

A Christmas gift from a while back from the great poet (and my great friend) Michael Lally, featuring his book Rocky Dies Yellow, which, toasted or fried, is one fantastic book of poems. Anyone familiar with the 1938 Jimmy Cagney classic "Angels with Dirty Faces" will get the reference in the book's title. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nld4DcRHME0

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

LATE NIGHT MINI-MINI-RANT

Just went out to move my car, almost midnight here in Jersey, North Jersey, on the eve of Christmas Eve and it's already in the 60s.

When I get up tomorrow on the day before Xmas it's supposed to be in the 70s.

Where's that congressman who thought a snowball in DC in Winter proved there's no global warming when you need him?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

THE DANISH GIRL

If you plan on seeing THE DANISH GIRL, a film getting a lot of nominations and critical attention, and deservedly so, I would suggest you see it on the big screen. That way you'll get to experience not just an extraordinary work of film art, but a whole series of cinematic shots that made me feel like I'd not only just seen a great movie but had visited a great museum.

The wide shots are so breathtaking I could easily return to the theater to see the movie again just for them. But every shot, even the two shots and close-ups, is like an extraordinary painting. And the acting is at times breathtaking as well. Eddie Redmayne proves once again he may deserve to be near the top of the list of greatest film actors in the history of the medium, with Brando and Daniel Day Lewis et.al.

The impressive thing for me, as someone who has acted in films and watched the work of others up close, is that Redmayne doesn't so much transform himself physically—his Dutch girl has the same brilliant smile as his Steven Hawkings did—but you could almost say spiritually. He captures the spirit of the character in ways that at times may be physical but more often transcend the physical.

Credit has to go to the director Tom Hooper, and his excellent casting, especially Alicia Vikander who is a revelation and a total match for Redmayne's courageous performance. She plays the artist wife of his character (both based on real people, though the movie takes liberties with some aspects of their story).

Both actors have enough screen charisma to match anyone in film. But go see for yourself, and let me know if you agree. Gotta be on the big screen though to get all the intricacies of the filmmaking and acting artistry.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE-A SUNDAY SORT OF RANT

Watched the debate last night. It bugs me that the DNC has limited the number of debates among the Democratic contenders and scheduled them for network time like the Saturday evening before Christmas. It seems like an obvious attempt by the Clinton folks to keep Bernie Sanders from scoring points against Hillary.

I like Bernie and what he mainly stands for, i.e. making the super rich pay more of their share to create benefits for the rest of us that have been lost over the last several decades of rightwing Republican influence on policy and framing the debate. I intend to vote for him in my primary in Jersey, but I recognize that he has limited appeal and that he too is human and therefor imperfect and has taken positions and actions that I disagree with (e.g. his anti-gun-regulation history etc.).

I don't see him defeating Hilary for the nomination for various reasons, including her campaign tactics, which may include influencing the DNC to have a debate on a Saturday evening before the holidays, etc. But, and this will bug a lot of my friends who support Bernie, it was evident last night, to me at least, that Hilary is still the smartest and most experienced person of any of the candidates of any party and would be the best choice after Bernie and maybe, in terms of actually accomplishing any of the things I (and Bernie) care about, a more practical choice.

My worry is that too many of those I know who support Bernie are sharing and spreading negative memes and attacks on Hilary that make her out to be evil incarnate in ways that can only help the Republican nominee. The best way to understand how wrong that tactic is, is to imagine what would best serve the Republican right and then look at the negative attacks on Hilary (which, by the way, Bernie isn't doing, just his supporters) and you can see that the attacks could easily have been created by rightwing Republican operatives.

Just as I and others learned from a lifetime of protesting for Civil Rights or against the war (pick one other than WWII) those who wanted (and still want) to stop the success of any activism on the left, or even just liberal, side often use agent provocateurs, i.e. undercover cops or operatives who foment illegal actions that will ultimately discredit, plus possibly jail for quite a while, those protesting. If I was a rightwing Republican operative and wanted to stop Hilary's chances, I would attack her as a controlled-by-the-banks, trigger-happy, angry and power-hungry woman.

Some Bernie supporters among my friends will say, well she is all that. But even if there's some truth to some of those accusations (as she pointed out last night hedge fund billionaires have been running ads against her in the Northeast so obviously some "bankers" don't want her nominated) there are other counterbalancing truths, which include Hilary's being an activist for many liberal and leftist causes for many decades, in and out of various official offices, especially for women's rights and the rights and welfare of children. But decades of experience has also taught her how to use her brain power to accomplish the possible, rather than constantly fighting losing battles for lost causes (i.e. her first attempt at reforming healthcare etc.).

She is way imperfect, as we all are, but the ideals her words and actions have often expressed are way closer to mine than any Republican candidate's, and to see her win the Democratic nomination and then lose to any Republican because those who should know better supported the negative impressions created by rightwing Republican framing of her life and experience and actions which contributes to the media then framing her image that way (remember Gore being portrayed as wooden and unfeeling and ridiculous for claiming a part in establishing the Internet—yes he was and is a bit wooden and can come across as emotionless at times and also yes he is one of those responsible for the Internet as we know it—?) are paving the way for another Bush/Cheney disaster we absolutely cannot afford.

Friday, December 18, 2015

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

The poster above for IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, the new movie from Ron Howard, says it was due out in March. As far as I know it just began appearing in theaters. That may be just one indication there were problems with the film and/or its release. I haven't researched it, but it would make sense after seeing it.

The opening to this film is as inscrutably garbled and badly directed and produced (the CGI on the landscapes are almost like paintings, an intentional nod to the period perhaps, but nonetheless unrealistic for a film that intends its impact to be a result of the realism of its "true" story) as you might expect from the title and the poster, the initial impact of which is wait, what, oh, huh?

The film does pick up after the first few scenes, and has many scenes worth watching, as well as actors (it's a delight to see Cillian Murphy again). Though for me, Chris Hemsworth in the lead may look right for the part and certainly seems committed to the role, it could have been better cast (if you see it, you can come up with your own casting that would have made for a much more engaging movie).

The reason I put "true" in quotes for the story is because though IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is indeed based on some actual facts about the voyage and loss of the Essex, a whaling ship destroyed by a giant whale, that probably inspired or influenced Herman Melville's MOBY DICK, the filmmakers take a lot of liberties with the framing of the plot and its actual details.

All in all, some of the scenes are worth seeing on the big screen for their mastery of lifelike underwater whale activity, and some for the acting (especially Tom Holland, from WOLF HALL), but in the end, it's the first real disappointment I've experienced with a Ron Howard movie, which until now no matter how contrived or even cheesy have always managed to be entertaining and at least in that way, if not many more, satisfying to that movie escape impulse. Not this time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

ARTIST WALTER HOYT (BEST ROLE I EVER HAD)

Not my favorite shot from the show, but "Walter Hoyt"—the downtown Manhattan artist I played on two episodes of NYPD BLUE ("UnAmerican Graffiti" 1995 and "My Wild Irish Nose" 1997) was the best role I ever had (great writing in the creation of the character by Leonard Gardner and David Milch and Stephen Bochco, and great director in the creating of the role on "UnAmerican Graffiti"  Joe Ann Fogle—first day on the set she hugged me, which no other director had ever done or ever would, and when I mentioned that to my best friend in L.A., Hubert Selby Jr., he said "Isn't that wonderful Michael, she's not afraid," and I knew he was right). I loved playing that guy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MUSCLE SHOALS

Friends told me about this documentary when it first came out two years ago but only got to finally see it tonight and it was worth the wait. The story of the people who made Muscle Shoals synonymous with soul music and hit records in the 1960s and '70s and beyond as told in this film is not only inspiring and moving as one of those miracles of a time and place that somehow produces genius and masterpieces, but equally touching and uplifting because it defies all racial expectations and generalities to uncover an unlikely center of racial harmony in a time of disruptive and contentious racial strife.

Almost made me nostalgic for sweet home Alabama, and that's saying a lot for someone who experienced the total segregation of 1962 South Carolina in the service and swore to never spend time in the South again. Thanks to this film for dispelling some of my own stereotypes about Alabama. Or at least the music that came out of Muscle Shoals

Saturday, December 12, 2015

HAPPY 100TH FRANK

This is the sound I was born into, the music on the radio when I was bought home from the hospital, or not long before. A time when big band singers were all about tone and resonance, and here was the young man who would become known as "The Voice" on this very early recording with the Tommy Dorsey big band—where Sinatra was known as "the boy singer."

Listening to this record, all the way through, will hopefully allow skeptics and fans both to appreciate how Sinatra changed music, not only with his incredible phrasing and melodic control but with the vulnerability he wasn't afraid to put into his vocal interpretations of lyrics that otherwise, in this case, would be almost a goof or novelty tune narrative.

You can see why he became the first true teen idol, to girls mostly, called at the time bobby soxers for the short white socks they mostly wore, like my two older sisters. They all wanted to mother this skinny, little, Jersey original.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

MICKIE LALLY QUEENAN R.I.P.

I grew up on a street locally known as "Lally's Alley" because there were so many of us on our block-and-a-half long street. I had cousins next door and cousins down the street who lived with their parents and all of our Irish immigrant grandparents.

Our ages stretched over a few decades and we were closest to the ones closest to our own age within three or four years, and that included my cousin Mickie.  She was the great beauty of the clan, winning a beauty contest when she was thirteen (at least that's the age I remember but she may have been a bit older).

She had the most perfect fair Irish porcelain skin and dark hair and eyes that lit up any room she was in. As you can see, I adored her. She was four years older or so, and quiet and gentle and modest. Unlike me. So it wasn't like we hung out or anything other than at family stuff. But in our large clan there was a lot of family stuff, and we were in and out of each other's houses all the time.

She married an equally modest and kind person, John Queenan, and they had four children and eventually, so far, eight grandchildren. She was a writer too and a good one, but hardly as brash and "transgressive" as her younger cousin up the street. But I admired her all my life and was happy to get to spend some time with her at the last family reunion.

Now she has passed on after a tough time of illness so she is free from that and at peace. But her spirit lives on in the hearts of all who knew her.

[PS: One of my first books was a slim little chapbook called THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS in which I wrote about the old neighborhood and created a collage from old photos for the back of the book that I never got back from the printer who shortly after publication went out of business. And since I don't know how to crop it or zoom in on Mickie, she's at the top in the middle, posing, back when she was thirteen.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

JOHN TRUDELL R.I.P.

Rest in poetry and power, John. (If you don't know this seminal figure in our human culture, this obit records some of the highlights in his life.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

MAY I SUGGEST...

That's my good friend John Restivo reading my latest book on a plane ride to somewhere. Which made me think about the holidays and gift giving. May I humbly suggest SWING THEORY might make a great gift for someone? You can order if from the publisher, Hanging Loose Press, by clicking on the picture of the book to the right on my blog...or at Amazon (where I just discovered three terrific customer reviews) by clicking here.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

HOLLY WOODLAWN R.I.P.

This the way I like to remember her. I only met her a few times but loved her sense of humor and sometimes pained but exuberant joie de vivre, a phrase I've never before typed but it seems most appropriate.

Not only was she a Warhol superstar (see TRASH for her first starring role, if I remember correctly), and immortalized in the first lines of Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" (I lived in a lesbian feminist commune in DC when that record came out and it was an endlessly played favorite (I had also experimented with drag on a dare, had some confrontations with bigots and wished I had Holly's sharp tongue and quick wit (instead of my fallback murder mouth macho defensiveness))), she was a transgender pioneer.

Condolences to all her friends and fans, her spirit lives on.

[PS: Here's a fair obit]

Saturday, December 5, 2015

TRUMBO

Movies about writers are pretty difficult to pull off, cause there ain't much about typing that's dramatic. And I read at least one review that said TRUMBO didn't have any character arc for the lead to make the film dramatic since he starts and ends as the same man.

But, for my taste, TRUMBO does make writing vital and dramatic and full of movement and even suspense that makes for a terrific ride. Bryan Cranston is excellent in the lead role as is Diane Lane as his wife and Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper the original Hollywood gossip columnist. A big surprise for me was Louis C.K. in a role he owns and makes worth watching, as does John Goodman as always.

The story is known, and it certainly was to me, but it still moved me to tears of gratitude and relief at the end that the terrible period of the McCarthy with hunts and Hollywood blacklists and phony super patriotism that discredits as traitorous any point of view that questioned, at least in those times, everyone's level of anti-communist fervor.

Then I remembered that we're in another period of some of us being labeled unpatriotic or traitorous if we believe in tougher gun laws or welcoming refugees from the horrible Syrian conflict etc. I think everyone should see this film (and yes, it did take me a few scenes to accept contemporary actors playing Hollywood's golden age icons, especially since some of the footage is actual historic news film of some of those icons, but eventually I surrendered to the conceit and even began to dig it).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

LATE NIGHT MINI MINI-RANT

The more the NRA, and the gun manufacturing corporations it pimps for, control politicians the more damage that's done by guns.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SPOTLIGHT

Hollywood friends have been touting SPOTLIGHT as an Oscar contender, I can see why. Certainly Mark Ruffalo, whose acting skills I often admire but sometimes find mannered, creates an indelibly and uniquely realistic character and deserves a nomination for it. As may Michael Keaton. And everyone else in the cast, except maybe John Slatterly, kicks major acting ass too.

The directing and editing give the film an accelerating dramatic drive that turns a fairly straightforward investigative journalism story into a tense and emotionally rewarding ride. The writing could have been better here and there but overall works to make the film and the story engaging.

I recommend it.