Saturday, January 18, 2020

JUDY

I'm trying to catch up with the movies that have won awards and been nominated for Oscars in various categories. The latest I watched is JUDY. I can see why Renee Zellweger is getting critical acclaim and awards attention. She seems to be in every scene of the film and it's hers to win or lose. She commits to the role and pulls off an approximation of Judy Garland's look and mannerisms toward the end of her life. And Zellwegr does a decent job of singing.

But she misses the charismatic neediness of Garland I think, that red hot gleam of please love me in Judy's eyes (Zellweger instead does a lot of squinting). She comes close in one or two phrases in her singing to Garland's unique combination of rock-solid mature tone with a child's vulnerability. I think I would have preferred Garland's recorded voice with Zellweger lip synching, but that's just me.

The story has some fictional aspects, one of which actually works: a made-up older male gay couple, used to represent Garland's connection to her many fans among gay men at the time. The scenes with them are the most moving and engaging in the film, again, for me.

I can see Zellweger winning the Oscar for taking on such a challenging role in a movie that the actress basically carries from start to finish, at times captivatingly, if that's a word. I found it worth watching despite its flaws.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

NOT THAT FAR A THROW(BACK)

my friend the opera singer Amber Daniel and me
in my apartment with my book:
ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

WHAT MY TWO OLDEST KIDS HAVE BEEN UP TO

my oldest, Caitlin, in the hat and big smile at a demonstration in Massachusetts 
my second oldest, Miles, playing bass behind Greg Farley, with Michael Lesko on drums at an outdoor gig in Massachusetts in warmer weather

Monday, January 13, 2020

JOKER

JOKER got the most Oscar nominations of any film of 2019. I find that depressing. I have friends who loved it, but I found it excruciatingly painful to watch. Some scenes were well shot and acted, but some looked like they were copied from a badly contrived and executed Charles Bronson vigilante movie from the era the JOKER's set in.

The underlying message seemed to be that brutal and deadly violence is justified if it's done in the spirit of revenge for harm's done or imagined, and that uprisings against economic inequality and political corruption and moral bankruptcy are fueled by the thrill of violence (THE DARK KNIGHT also had an underlying message of justified violence very much in the using-fascist-methods-to-defeat-fascism vein).

I can see why Joaquin Phoenix's performance is being feted by critics and award givers, but to me it was self-indulgent to the extreme. And I understand, I think, the arguments for how the film shines a light on the need for society to address the problems and consequences of untreated mental illness, but to me the film seems more directed toward blaming mental illness for a lot of society's problems and violence.

We all have our own taste and you may love JOKER, or at least be impressed by it. Not me.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

JUST A REMINDER

On next Sunday, January 19th, at 11AM I will be reading some poems and riffing on the history of racial prejudice in my part of Jersey and elsewhere in my lifetime (from the 1940s on). There'll be a Q&A after (followed by a reception with refreshments), at The Ethical Culture Society, 516 Prospect Street (Parker Avenue is the cross street), Maplewood NJ. Free to the public.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

FLASHBACK(S)

Yvonne de la Vega's daughter was kind enough to post on Facebook these excerpts from her mother's diary from 1989 and '90 that mention me in a way that brings back the early days of our deep friendship and connection.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

EDD BYRNES R.I.P.

I heard about Edd's passing yesterday but wanted to make sure it was confirmed. I first encountered him in the 1950s, like most people alive then did. I was a teenager watching him play a teenager on TV in the show 77 SUNSET STRIP. I can still remember the theme song and the solo hit Edd had about his character Kookie's famous pompadour pampering with Connie Stevens singing: "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb."

It's the only reason I ever watched the show the few times I did. He played a young guy who parked cars at the titular address, an incidental almost glorified extra role. But he made such an impact in it, at a time when teenagers were becoming influential consumers, that they built the role up and it made him a star.

I later met him when I moved to Santa Monica in 1982 to work in film and on TV. By then he had crashed and burned, going from a penthouse in NYC and a mansion in the hills above Hollywood with a swimming pool and tennis court, to living off the freeway in a crime ridden neighborhood of LA with bars on his windows and an old worn-out car in the driveway.

I visited him there often, as he did me in my then nicer digs in Santa Monica. It wasn't long before he was on the mend financially and was able to move to a safer place and a buy a better car and he never stopped moving forward. He gave me a lot of good advice about my own roller coaster finances with my up-and-down career(s), and teased me constantly.

I'm happy I got to see him after I moved back East twenty years ago, pretty much every time I visited LA. He was a good person and a good friend, may he rest in the power of his positive example on me and so many others. Condolences to all his friends and family and fans.

BUCK HENRY R.I.P.

I met him a few times in my "Hollywood years" (the 1980s and '90s) and even got to hang out with him and a couple of mutual friends for an evening here and there. As you can imagine he was a pretty funny guy, and in my experience a sweet man. I have friends who were close to him and loved him, and my condolences go out to them, and to all his family and friends and fans.

MARRIAGE STORY and HUSTLERS

I'm in the process of catching up with the movies I missed from 2019. MARRIAGE STORY has already gotten some nominations as well as critical acclaim. And though Laura Dern won the Golden Globe for Actress in a Supporting Role, Adam Driver has gotten the most attention. And he's good in it, but everyone is good in it. Especially Scarlett Johansson, who transcends the sometimes precious story and the other great performances to turn in an award worthy display of movie acting chops.
A lot of good acting in HUSTLERS too, though the story-telling isn't on the level of MARRIAGE STORY (despite Noah Baumbach's occasional indulgence, or more than occasional). But Constance Wu, despite her obvious commitment to the role, sometimes had me doubting her character's authenticity (not good in a movie based on real people), while Jennifer Lopez's performance had me totally forgetting the star and buying the character.

Neither of these films are award winners for my taste, but of the two MARRIAGE STORY is considered the most worth watching. Though in my experience almost any movie is worth watching for something.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

PS

Another highlight of The Golden Globes was Awkwafina, who is the highlight in anything she's a part of. But the fact that they had to keep saying she's the first Asian-American actor to win a Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture —Musical or Comedy (we won't even get into what/how movies get into this category) just compounded my deep disappointment that in 2020 we're still dealing with "firsts" in any category (in the GGs "first solo woman" to win for best score, in this season's The Nutcracker ballet "first African-American" in the lead girl role etc.)!

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN GLOBES (FOR ME)

I recorded the Golden Globes to watch later and the highlights for me were:

when Kate Blanchett walked onto the stage with that dress, like an art deco peacock had just landed;

Salma Hayek's word play mispronunciation gag was so funny I had to rewind and watch it again a few times as I laughed myself into tears;

some of Ellen DeGeneres's jokes, especially about calling her husband Mark etc.;

all the beauty on display from Brad Pitt and Jason Momoa to his wife Lisa Bonet and her daughter Zoe Kravitz to Kerry Washington and too many others to name but pleasant to watch.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

PS

I don't think this is Linda Rondstat's performance of this Mariachi song from the documentary, but either way it'll give you a taste of her chops in yet another branch of traditional music:

LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE

Like the quote on the poster says, this CNN documentary about Linda Ronstadt made me "fall in love with her all over again." It's not the best documentary film I've seen, but there are moments in it when that voice and the songs she picks to showcase it, hit the heights of artistic expression.

I've been digging her voice since her Stone Pony days, and got to see her perform in The Pirates Of Penzance with Kevin Kline on Broadway before the film was made (and go backstage, I knew Kevin then and he introduced me to her). She could, as this film shows, sing any kind of music from blues and rock and country, to operettas and jazz and Mexican traditional.

The high point for me comes in the footage of her with a Mexican mariachi band. My head just about exploded from the power of her sound and the joy it overwhelmed me with. I watched it on demand and couldn't fast forward past the ads so didn't get the full impact I would had I'd seen it in a theater, but even so, happy I got to see it any way.

Friday, January 3, 2020

ANOTHER FAVORITE WHITMAN QUOTE

"—and then I felt down in my soul the clear and unmistakable conviction to disobey all, and pursue my own way."  —Walt Whitman (from Specimen Days)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

FYI

On Sunday, January 19th, at 11AM I will be reading some poems and riffing on the history of racial prejudice in my part of Jersey in my lifetime (from the 1940s on). There'll be a Q&A after (followed by a reception with refreshments), at The Ethical Culture Society, 516 Prospect Street (Parker Avenue is the cross street), Maplewood NJ. Free to the public.