Monday, June 6, 2022

TV or Not TV?

 

When I meet someone who learns I was once in show business, they invariably ask what I am watching. For years I had a standard, often off-putting, response: “they pay me to make this stuff, not to watch it.”

There was a lot of truth to it then (the hours were so horrific that there really was little time to watch other people’s work… or, for that matter, to do much of anything at all but produce my own show). But now? Well, now they no longer pay me to make the stuff, so I watch it… a lot.

Here, then, are snapshot commentaries for shows, old and new, you might enjoy… or not.

Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix): David Kelley has enough TV pedigree for any number of shows. To top that off, he made his bones on this kind of stuff. Here is the problem: he turned the bulk of the work on this show over to other folks… and they let him down.

A perfectly solid premise, a flawed and interesting lead, and a caper that might provide twists and turns for an entire season. Kelley had me at fade in but let me off the hook by allowing (I presume someone else) to cast the show with the most mediocre ensemble I can ever remember seeing in any so-called class A production. It’s not just that the actors are not only not all that accomplished, they also seemed to have been cast at the 11th and a half hour from a Hollywood unemployment line with no thought as to how they might look on screen in the roles assigned.

Were I still working, I would scrutinize those credits to find the casting director’s name to ensure I never made the mistake of hiring that individual on one of my projects. Granted the buck does not stop with the casting department, but they did let this group of actors in the door in the first place and that should never have happened.

Good as the show started out (and I did appreciate the tip of the hat in an early episode to Cagney & Lacey), the writing started quickly to slip away from Mr. Kelley’s desktop to lesser talents, and the whole thing just got too cliché for me to stay tuned.

The Staircase: Executive produced by a guy about half David Kelley’s age, so you can bet he is not passing the tough work out to anyone. Antonio Campos has a nice list of interesting shows to his credit (one of my favorites being The Sinner) but I suspect that also of importance to this good-looking mini-series is the HBO crew that shepherds these things through development and onto your television screen. Oops, I almost forgot the lesson my friend Michael Fuchs always wanted me to learn: It’s Not TV. It’s HBO. (to be said with that same James Earl Jones sort of “THIS is CNN” sonorous resonance).

Just as with Lincoln Lawyer, I recognized few in this ensemble cast, led by the always believable and interesting Colin Firth and the very real Toni Collette. Here, however, it does not matter because the rest of the group of new-to-me folks were all uniformly good. A terrific bunch of players, they all looked as if the clothes they wore fit who it was they were being paid to play, and they related to one another just as their characters were meant to do in the scripts either written or supervised by Mr. Campos.

The story is riveting and the way it is presented, with flashback upon flashback and dramatized suppositions of what might have happened…all the while teasing us with flashforwards to a time more than a decade ahead of when the story takes place…convinced me that the whole series is clever, very stylish, and very HBO. Those are good things.

While watching HBO, let me point out that BARRY is back. It is Bill Hader’s third season as the titular head of this brilliantly dark HBO comedy, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A special shout out to old pal Henry Winkler who does the best work of his terrific career in this goofy and touching on-going tale. Season three was COVID delayed for more than a year, but these people have not only not lost a step, they obviously put their time to good use while in isolation.

Trust me, everything about this show is good. If it is new to you, see it from the beginning. If you have seen the first two seasons already, do not start season three without re-watching at least the last episode of season two. Producers Alec Berg, Hader, and Aida Rogers make few concessions to the casual viewer.

I came late to Orphan Black, it has been weeks since I finished streaming the fifty episodes that were made over five seasons and frankly, I cannot remember if I pointed this show out to readers of these notes in the past. Dunno, but let me do it now. If it is the second time you have read my words on this subject… and you still have not plopped yourself down in front of your Amazon Prime screen to do so…well, your loss.

Tatiana Maslany is the EMMY award winning (for this series, folks) female lead and she deserves that recognition and more. She is simply brilliant and does things as her character(s) that almost have to be seen to be believed. The show is a fun mystery/adventure/thriller with skillful writing, directing, solid production values and a fine ensemble cast in support of Ms. Maslany. It is, on occasion, a bit violent so put the kids to bed before tuning in.

Hacks: I have not yet savored season two of this HBO award winning comedy series, but Sharon has, and she tells me it is every bit as good as the premiere episodes. Hard to believe anyone could keep up that pace, but if anyone can, I would trust Jean Smart to be the one who does.

The Last Tycoon: I came late to this somewhat vintage series on Amazon Prime based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished and posthumously published novel of the same name. It is, at the very least, a guilty pleasure. Well produced, beautifully shot, and nicely cast with Matt Bomer in the title role and a fine ensemble led by Kelsey Grammer. There are but nine episodes so, if you missed it when it first came out on Amazon, it is an easy catch-up. I commend you to it. Nothing ground-breaking or earth shattering here… but a solid soap about the early days of Hollywood.

More on “guilty pleasures:” Paramount+ has an offer I could not refuse. It is called The Offer and it is the (or to put it more accurately) it is a story about the making of The Godfather. Al Ruddy, the producer of the original movie, executive produced this series, based on his own book. Here, Ruddy has himself portrayed by Miles Teller, who would make a good candidate for an Elvis look alike. Wishful thinking on Ruddy’s part? It sort of makes one wonder about the general authenticity of this memoir about the making of what many…me included…believe to be the finest motion picture ever made.

I will try not to dwell on the flaws of the series, which had me wishing this were an HBO project (with that company’s attention to detail, creativity, and verisimilitude) since this Hollywood tale did work (for me at any rate) on several levels.

Beyond my reverence for the original film… this movie, and some of the people portrayed therein, were personally known to me. Their stories are all contemporaneous with my own time in Hollywood. One of those depicted, Peter Bart... right hand man to studio chief Bob Evans… was a good friend of mine dating back to his days at The New York Times.

A year or so before Mario Puzo authored his novel, Bart offered me a job at Paramount at a time I was happily…and successfully…producing my first series, Daniel Boone, for 20th Century Fox and NBC.

I turned my good friend down and---in retrospect---have always believed had I taken that job, Bart would have ultimately handed me the reins to The Godfather instead of to Al Ruddy. That’s my fantasy… I suspect The Offer is Al Ruddy’s.

That personal bias aside, on many levels, I am enjoying this series. Matthew Goode’s portrayal of Bob Evans is consistent with my memory of the flamboyant studio chief; I liked Giovanni Ribisi as Joe Colombo, Dan Fogler, as Francis Ford Coppola, and Patrick Gallo as Mario Puzo.

Overall, any reasonable critic would have to give high points to the entire ensemble, but above all others in the cast is Justin Chambers’ interpretation of Marlon Brando. The scene where the actor first meets The Godfather creative team makes the investment of one’s time in this series more than worthwhile.

I knew Brando and worked on two of his films (Mutiny on the Bounty and Morituri). He was more than his generation’s greatest actor. He was also one of the most powerful… and intimidating… personas I have ever encountered. For any actor to take on the role of this American icon… even to be asked to do such a thing… had to be intimidating. Hat’s off to Mr. Chambers. He nailed it.

The shots of the lot at Paramount (many of them right outside the office I  occupied years after the Bart offer… and which was only smaller by the tiniest of margins than that of Benito Mussolini’s) brought back waves of nostalgia for those brief, but good old days. And Al Ruddy’s story, no matter how self-serving, at least gives us a peek at some of the things that take movies so long to make.

It was at this same studio that Forrest Gump (another great movie of its time) took over eight years to get launched… even though then producer, Wendy Finerman, had the advantage of being married to Mark Canton, at the time one of the most powerful executives in all of Hollywood. The years it took to launch my own series are documented in my memoir, Cagney & Lacey… and Me.

Indefatigability is a big part of making it in Hollywood. Back in the day when my own The Trials of Rosie O’Neill was a short-lived hit, an advertising campaign sponsored by Eastman Kodak, featured a handful of Hollywood “success stories.” I was one of that “handful” expounding on what it took to be successful in show business.

I summed up my own story, saying something akin to, “if it were easy, there wouldn’t be an Akron, Ohio. I mean, who would live there when they could all come to California to be in show business.”

I picked Akron on the theory that names with a K are funnier than those without.  This off-handed reference precipitated so many letters from that Ohio town, including one from the Mayor advising I ought never set foot inside his city, that I now limp away with the only slightly less inflammatory suggestion that if making it in Hollywood were easy, everyone would do it.

 

Barney Rosenzweig

Friday, May 27, 2022

BACK ON BROADWAY

Back in the swing of things on ol’ Broadway for the first time since the advent of COVID. Not only is the theatre thing itself nostalgic, but our first group of shows were all revivals. Memory lane was very much a part of the first half of our two-week sojourn in the Big Apple.

The Music Man is not a show I would have picked. My wife has a large say in these things and her tastes not only lean very heavily toward the musical over the so-called “straight-play” but also to very middle- of-the-road material such as this Meredith Wilson offering from the past century.

One time Hollywood mogul Barry Diller, and still fairly current mogul guy David Geffen, have teamed up as producers to put forward about as glossy a product as you will find these days in New York City. Sutton Foster as the Librarian (Marian) is as close to perfect casting for this role as anyone could ask, and Hugh Jackman…. A Hollywood semi-super star…assays the title role. That said, it is Benjamin Pajak who pretty much steals the show (as nine-year-old child stars are wont to do).

Me? I have a few complaints. It is not near the top of my list of Broadway shows… even when it was brand new. That said, the whole affair was well produced, nicely directed, and well performed. There is, however, one thing I am compelled to add:

Hugh Jackman is a very versatile leading man of stage and screen. He was fabulous as Curley in a terrific revival of Oklahoma I saw in London a few years back, and he was brilliant on stage in The Boy From Oz. His movie star credentials are substantive, and he can sing and dance about as well as anyone could ask for from a leading man. Why this buildup? He ain’t Robert Preston… which means, The Music Man he really ain’t either.

The part calls for a super charismatic figure. A traveling salesman who can convince a bunch of Iowans to lay out a small fortune for uniforms, band instruments, and instruction manuals for the entire town’s population of pre and post adolescents. The role requires more than “just” acting, singing, and dancing. It requires a star quality that mesmerizes not only the citizens of River City, Iowa but everyone in the theatre as well.

Hugh Jackman has it all…but somehow he failed to bring that one critical thing to this particular stage. That kind of a super star he is not, and, in my view, the show suffers for it.

FUNNY GIRL

A natural segue from the minimal charisma exhibited by the title character in The Music Man to this revival is not only easy but all too obvious. This is Barbra Streisand’s signature piece and the proof of it (beyond the vivid memories of some of us, the awards, the history books, and the movie) is that no one has seriously tried to bring this musical back for the past six decades.

My late pal Ed Feldman was then working with Funny Girl producer, Ray Stark. It was years before Ed would put up the “seed money” for a project of mine called Cagney & Lacey. My well-connected pal got me an aisle seat in the fourth row opening week on Broadway. Barbra was 21 when this very decent show premiered. I was then 24 and was pretty much standing on that aisle seat from the time Ms. Streisand was mid-way through “I’m the greatest star (but no one knows it)” until the very end of the show.

What a night that was. Arguably the best night I have ever spent in the theatre, barely challenged by Hamilton, Mary Martin doing South Pacific, or Lena Horne’s one woman show. On arriving home to Los Angeles all those years ago, I composed the only fan letter I believe I have ever written. Ever since that evening, I have had more than a life-time crush on Ms. Streisand.

Enter Ms. Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice.

Fuhgeddaboudit.

I am not going to write about it. It isn’t fair and I have no appetite for nasty. There is an urban myth that Ms. Feldstein’s understudy is terrific. I don’t believe that either.

Funny Girl is a good show. But it is a show about a star and, like any show about someone like that (Music Man, Hello, Dolly!) casting is key. I don’t believe Barbra Streisand is the only super star in the universe who can play this role… but you do need someone who is just naturally lit from within: a Barbra, a Bette, a Mary Martin. They do exist, but they are not “just casting.”

When she is at her best, Ms. Feldstein is close to credible as the stupendous Ms. Brice. I give her an A+ for effort. The rest of the company is decent… Ramin Karimloo is even a lot better than the original Sydney Chaplin (a low bar, by the way).

Beanie aside, my biggest disappointment was the pit band. These days it seems if you want to hear a Broadway score played anything like a Broadway score was meant to be played you either have to go to Lincoln Center, or to Phantom of the Opera (more on that later). The new union rules allow producers to get by with something like a dozen musicians in the pit, instead of a number at least double that amount, which many of these scores deserve…. “People” needs more than people. It needs violins.

The movie was never as good as the Broadway show, but the movie does have Barbra Streisand. ‘Nuff said.

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Unlike The Music Man and Funny Girl, Phantom of the Opera is not a revival because, outside of COVID, Phantom never went away… not for over three decades. That fact, alone, makes the show remarkable, but that is only the beginning of the story.

I was a married man, falling in love with the star of my TV series, when I sat next to Ms. Gless in Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, England only a week or so after the premiere of Phantom of the Opera. (You can read all about this in my book, Cagney & Lacey… and Me or in Sharon’s, Apparently There Were Complaints. I think mine is the sexier version, but I have been known to have some biases, and this could well be one of them.)

But I digress. Since that night in London, Sharon and I have seen this piece by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, directed by the great Hal Prince, at least three other times: once in LA, and now (for the second time) in New York City.

This time, as maybe once before, it was done to coordinate with the anniversary of our getting married, but this review is not meant to be simply sloppy sentimentality. Still, what else need be said? At this point…a good 36 years since it made its debut… Phantom should need no review or commentary from me (or anyone else for that matter)…except to say this:

It is phenomenal that after all these years, the attention to detail is as exact as it ever was. The props, the costumes, the scenery, the casting, the staging, the timing… all the same as it was when originally produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber’s company on that fabulous London stage in the mid-1980s. And then there is the orchestra in the pit. No squeezing that extra buck by these producers. There are more than two dozen musicians there, playing beautifully. Nothing on Broadway, of which I’m aware, is even trying to rival that.

This is old fashioned showmanship at its best. Hooray for Misters Mackintosh and Webber. They are truly giving the public value for money, and they haven’t lost a step in all those years since their premiere in London in 1986. Phantom of the Opera is now the longest running show in Broadway history, and it has yet to show a wrinkle. Long may it wave.

FOUR STRAIGHT PLAYS, TWO NEW MUSICALS

Two of these “straight plays” are revivals: David Mamet’s American Buffalo, and Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. Both are beautifully acted, and both are as distant from one another as Mamet and Simon could possibly make them.

The third in this quartet is Hangmen. “A rollicking comedy” according to the reviewer at the NYTimes. Wow. I sure missed that. I was in the middle of row H. Close enough to hear every line yet didn’t even smile once. Honest, I am not that tough a nut to crack. I concede the thick dialects of the all-British cast could well have thrown my sense of funny off track, but still…. Not even a smile? In a “rollicking comedy” where two men get hanged to death on stage? What’s not funny about that?

Back to Neil Simon. He was never a hit in London. Maybe, having now seen Hangmen, I have a little more insight as to why that is. No one gets strangled to death…on stage…in a Neil Simon comedy. Besides all that, Mr., and Mrs. Matthew Broderick (Sarah Jessica Parker to you) are delightful in this comedy in three acts. Probably no one has more experience playing Simon’s stuff on Broadway than Matthew Broderick and it shows to good advantage here. His Mrs. does a nice job of keeping up.

On the subject of acting, you will have to go some distance to find better performances than those of Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell, or Darren Criss in American Buffalo. They are simply superb, and they serve Mr. Mamet very well, indeed. That is really all I have to say about this show…Mamet often leaves me cold or feeling as if I have just seen either a work in progress, or an exercise for actors rather than a real play.

The Minutes is the last of these plays, and frankly, the one I looked forward to the most. Not only is it a political play, from the venerable Chicago company Steppenwolf, it has been the recipient of generally excellent reviews.

True enough, the actors were all top drawer in this 90-minute presentation sans intermission, and the dialogue had a Mamet quality to it, only a bit funnier (thank you, author/actor Tracy Letts for that). The politics served my left-wing sensibilities well enough, but to be frank, I have been more stunned by reveals on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show than by anything that was said this night at The Roundabout’s Studio 54 in Manhattan.

Wherever you live there is bound to be a theatre company, and this is the kind of ensemble piece that community theatre thrives on. See this then/there. I’m not saying you won’t be disappointed then, but you will sure save a bundle on New York theatre ticket prices and a follow-up dinner at Gallagher’s.

 Harmony is a new musical by Barry Manilow and his long-time writing partner, Bruce Sussman. It stars a fine ensemble of actors and singers led by Chip Zien who (if there is justice in the world and this show makes it to Broadway) will surely be a front runner for the Tony Award for a lead in a musical. My understanding is that the authors of this piece (dealing with a German singing group coming together and achieving great success just before, during, and after the advent of Adolph Hitler) have been working on this show, off and on, for over thirty years. It is based on a true story and was most age appropriate for this 84-year-old Jewish musical aficionado. The parallels between the latter days of the Weimar Republic in Germany and today’s political climate in America are chilling.

It didn’t work the same way for me with A Strange Loop. This is a modern-day piece about an overweight, black homosexual who is struggling to write his first musical. As a member of the audience, I was struggling too… but not for very long. Loop is not just strange… it is powerful, and witty. It is not really my thing, but Michael R. Jackson, who authored the book, music, and lyrics, doesn’t need a lot of straight, Jewish 84-year-old white guys in his corner. He has an important show and message for the folks for whom he is writing, and I suspect you are going to hear a lot more from him at this year’s Tony Awards.

MR. SATURDAY NIGHT

All right!!!!!  This is what I’m talking about: a true star, doing what he/she likes doing best. Whether it is Tyne Daly in Gypsy, Robert Preston in The Music Man, Mary Martin in Peter Pan (or South Pacific), Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, the all too obvious choice of Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, or Reba McEntire in Annie, Get Your Gun.

 and now…add to that, Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night.

To be in the theatre with these folks while they are performing, in just the right vehicle, is something special. It transcends what most of us think of as “acting.”  Their performance is not an “act,” it is the very essence of who they are, and while they are sharing with us their moments of elation at being able to do just what it is they were born to do, you… as a member of that audience…can sit back, smile, relax and enjoy the very fact of being somewhere very special, and in the very capable hands of a super star.

It has nothing to do with professionalism. It is all about having fun. And believe me, as much as you might be enjoying yourself in that theatre, that super luminary up there on stage that is Billy Crystal is having an even better time than you. In fact, Billy Crystal has such a good time in this role that when the play is over, he hangs around to answer questions from the audience from upon the very stage that he has been treading for well over two hours.

The ”play” is a new musical, based on the dramatic film Mr. Crystal made over thirty years ago. It was one of his few commercial failures. Believe me, this version will not share that fate. Personally, I loved the original movie. It is one of my favorites, and one that I often drag out of my video library for visiting guests who, invariably, reject the suggestion of this screening, selecting instead one of the more popular classic DVDs I have on hand.

Admittedly, the film version is much darker than the happy musical comedy that now brightens the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway’s 41st street… but there is still plenty of substance there, and… well, the fact is, none of it matters very much when compared to Mr. Billy Crystal, doing his “thing,” and having a great time in the process. That is what does matter, and what this night is all about.

POST SCRIPT

I always get a small degree of pleasure thumbing through my PLAYBILL as I sit in the theatre awaiting the curtain going up. Most times there is an article titled AT THIS THEATRE… it is always the thing I read first, producing on its one page a “who’s who” and a “which was” of nearly everything that had gone down in that theatrical house over its often over 100-year history. Mostly I enjoy reminiscing over the shows I had seen at that theatre---from my first trip to Manhattan in the 1950s to the shows that played  in the 1920s and 30s, starring the icons of my youth, in plays that became the classic movies I had come to love.   

My next PLAYBILL move is usually to the so-called alphabet list of Broadway and Off-Broadway presentations under the general heading HOW MANY HAVE YOU SEEN? It is a sorry year when I have not personally witnessed most of the offerings.

I check out the long list of producers to see if there are any former associates. There are less and less of those these days, and even fewer actors who list having worked on one of my shows in the minimal space allotted their biographies. Sometimes there is a moment of melancholy as I fondly recall the days when there was scarcely ever a PLAYBILL that didn’t reference Cagney & Lacey several times among its actors’ credits.

All the above brings me to following historical note:

Harmony stars Chip Zion and Mr. Saturday Night features David Paymer, playing Billy Crystal’s long-suffering brother, just as he did in the original motion picture of the same name. Both guys had prominent recurring roles in Cagney & Lacey. Their PLAYBILL bios reflected more recent credits, excluding our association together, and bringing an end to this trip down memory lane with a wan smile as ah, yes... I remember them well.

 

Barney Rosenzweig

Thursday, April 21, 2022

MY WIFE…and other oddities

 

Sharon is away. She has gone to Los Angeles to the LA Times Bookfair for things involving her very excellent memoir, Apparently There Were Complaints. At this juncture, Simon & Schuster is about the only one that will benefit from this financially and yet their contribution to airfare, hotel, per-diem, and the like is… as usual…nothing.

The publishing house produced a beautiful book. Their editorial staff was excellent, but their ability to promote or “sell” a book is all but non-existent. The response to a call to upper management where I complained about the placement (or the lack of same) of the memoir in prominent positions in bookstores, as well as the fact that none of the book kiosks in airports have her book at all was:

“Barney, Simon & Schuster does not own the book stores. We have no control over where… or if… the book store owners place our books.”

My retort was swift: “Y’know… The Campbell Soup Company doesn’t own Safeway, or any other super market, but they don’t seem to have any problem getting their soup cans on shelves… and at eye level! It is called ‘sales.’”

It was all to no avail. All that great publicity (done by my wife’s publicists and paid for by her), all the good will she has built over the years, and her personal appearances for a book with excellent reviews… and the Simon & Schuster folks could not even take out an ad. Not one.

Blood under the bridge. From the LA Times Bookfair, Sharon is off to New Orleans and a small, but very juicy part in a new movie starring Pierce Brosnan and James Caan. Good for her.

I, of course, remain on our Island paradise.

My best friend’s oldest daughter is getting married next week. She is also the extremely helpful proof reader of these tomes, so if you see typos or other mistakes, where none were visible in the past, now you know the reason.

My kids are all in California, occupied with their mother’s illness, their stepfather’s transition to full retirement, and my grandson’s college tour. Without a wife in town, a best friend occupied, and the kid’s not visiting, I am alone on Fisher Island.

I love it.

Turns out, I am a lonely man, who revels in his loneliness. To do what I want when I want. To eat… or not… to eat. To sleep, perchance to… well, you get the idea.

Not that signs of Sharon are absent: phone calls from various doctors’ offices wanting to schedule appointments with my always travelling somewhere spouse permeate my day. Theatre tickets to be arranged for our upcoming May sojourn to New York City are COVID problematic and therefore ever changing.

There is the signage my wife left all over our golf cart. The tags say We Will NOT Go Back, forcing me to explain to the neighbors that, in fact, the cart really does have a reverse gear that works. And then there are the neighbors, stopping by from time to time, hoping to have their copy of Apparently There Were Complaints autographed.

Funny, I don’t recall them ever asking for an autographed copy of Cagney & Lacey… and Me.

 

Barney Rosenzweig

Monday, March 28, 2022

Academy 2022

 

It was not my intention to do a follow up article about the Academy Awards. After all, I had already devoted weeks to culling through what… at best…was a mediocre collection of eligible films, reviewing them, and writing commentary, over a period of weeks.

“‘Nuff said,” was how I felt about it. And I would not fall for the flattery of my friends who all seem to think I could do a better job of producing the Academy Award show for ABC then the actual guys and gals who do it. News flash: I could not… (although I do have notes on how it might be improved, which might well begin with having all potential producers being required to watch Ben Mankiewicz on TCM during that platform’s month-long run-up to Oscar night).

The fact is I just do not have any interest in writing a column about what my fellow Academy members have or have not done. Days go by, post the awards show, where I hunker down at home to avoid the incessant questioning of what it was I thought about some particular award, or the show itself.

I have almost never agreed with who the Academy honors in the major categories… although I can almost always guess to whom it is they will give the award. I have been a member since I was in my twenties and here it is, 60 years later, and I still cannot fathom the thinking that goes into the votes of the major categories.

Truth to tell, I am invariably in sync with the technical awards… see my review on DUNE which got 7 Oscars, and probably should have won an 8th… (for best picture).

If you are going to give best picture salutes to Crash (2006) instead of that year’s Brokeback Mountain, then, I guess, Coda makes sense. I mean, they were nice little movies… very nicely made for TV movies… but are you really going to compare Crash and Coda, or even Marty (1955), for that matter, to a picture worthy of an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Puhleeze.

I do not want to write about this. But, as long as I am here, let me tell you who I think really deserved an Academy Award this year:

Chris Rock. What a performance that was. What grace. What cool. And once again, the Academy did not notice.

Try to imagine how it might have gone differently:

What if Mr. Rock had decided to react, and punch back? What if the comedian had stood center stage and demanded that the hooligan actor who attacked him be removed from the theatre?

By behaving the way that he did, Chris Rock just may have prevented mayhem from occurring on the world’s television screens… He just maybe was responsible for saving an entire industry from embarrassment and reassessment.

It’s not that I am not concerned for Will Smith. He clearly needs help. But there are plenty of therapists in Hollywood who have experience with folks who have a God complex. He will be all right. He has a best-selling book, which now just might get a second printing. He has an Oscar, and even though he stepped all over Venus and Serena Williams’ moment… sullying their once in a lifetime event forever… trust me, Hollywood will be only too quick to forgive him.

There is a bright side to all of this: Be grateful it was not Amy Schumer who delivered that GI Jane joke. The world as we know it might have ended had Mr. Smith struck a white woman.

Denzel Washington had it right about when it is the Devil comes to visit. And I have it right about the Academy blowing it once again: they shoulda come up with an Oscar for Chris Rock.

 

Barney Rosenzweig


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

LESSONS LEARNED

 

The best blog I ever wrote is the one that will never be read. It has been lost, something only discovered moments after clicking “SAVE,” and confirming that command to my computer with an affirmative “YES” when “asked” if saving the document was truly my intention.

My “intention” was simple: memorialize what well might have been the Rosenzweig Rosetta Stone, the document of documents, illuminating what I like to think of as a lifetime of thought-provoking articles.

What in fact happened was a futile attempt at immortalizing a monumental amount of work. Somehow, inexplicably it seemed, “save” simply did not get the job done. I thought it was well within the bounds of rationality to believe that SAVE would stand for what it says it does, yet somehow… someway… my work, (No… more than “work”)… this “benchmark”… was not…

…saved.

I pressed on, inviting one techie to remotely access my PC…which he did for over 90 minutes with no success; then had another from the IT department of the Club on my Island paradise over to my home office to take yet another whack at undoing what had been done.

Too bad I had not recently threatened a treasonous act, I thought. There was no doubt in my mind that the FBI would have found that document in a matter of minutes. I all but audibly sighed at having missed my chance on January 6. Who knew? What I did know was that all but perfect blog was gone for good.

You might well ask, then, why not write it again while the idea of the whole thing is still fresh? Easier said than done. The lost forever blog was made up of notes, quotes, and other pieces of research I had been compiling for something more than a decade. All of this with an eye to someday combining it all into a homage to cinema that I would call “I Learned It At The Movies.”

The writing I might be able to re-create, even easily remember, but the loss of all that research over which I had toiled… lifting material from one document to the other, ultimately pasting it in just the right paragraph in my most perfect piece? Virtually impossible to recreate. Each “cut,” and “paste” diminished the source so that little, if anything remained of the original research material, save for the title “I Learned It At The Movies.” Didn’t matter, I thought. I had what I wanted encapsulated in this new document. That is, until I didn’t.

Sure, I could produce the list of movies that I referenced that had so influenced me over my lifetime, and I could (I suppose) share that grouping of titles here, but without that now-lost complete thesis of cross-referencing, what would be the point?

A reader of these notes might find it mildly interesting that on that list of motion pictures from which I learned so many lessons about life, love, style, the ingestion of tobacco, and the appreciation of alcohol, that less than one-third of those movies had been made after I graduated from college with the rest of the class of 1959. Also, that the list of films was heavily skewed to popular motion pictures of their time, and that many are by today’s standards politically insensitive…if not downright incorrect.

These few stats come to you not from my computer, but from notes I had scrawled on the back of the menu of one of our local take-out joints… at least those that were still readable through the stains of (you should excuse the expression) Russian dressing.

Of the movies that made the list there were only a few that were made outside the Hollywood system: one English, two French, and one Italian… (movies, not salad dressings). And, dear reader, please do not write back some scathing commentary about my excluding the work of Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, or the films Pyaasa, or Pather Panchali. I already know I lack more than a smidgen of intellectual gravitas.

For those of you who have the need to feel as if you have learned something from the time invested in pieces such as this, here goes: do not try to save a document with the same title as another document. That is the lesson I learned about the computer while trying to preserve what it was I learned at the movies.

I know it is not much, but that is all you may be fated to get when reading a blog from an octogenarian Luddite.

Barney Rosenzweig

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Left in a Cloud of Technological Dust

 

I am one of those who has missed whatever economic boom is attributable to the Internet. I had long ago bought into the Michael Eisner late 20th century theorem that “…the only people making money on the Internet, were those who sold coffee and donuts at seminars about making money on the Internet.”

The former head of Disney had it wrong, of course, but I didn’t know that then, and even now, any actual means of monetizing the Internet is something I have found to be elusive.

It is as if I had a fine buggy shop with access to the best teams of horses around… and then Henry Ford happened with his automobile, and I am frozen in time, unable to make the life adjustment that is necessary to be able to cope with it all.

I find I am no longer of this world. I belong to something that once occurred… in the long ago. It is all okay. I manage to get along. The good news: I was in the right place at the right time, I worked hard, got a little lucky, and all of that has  gotten me here to my warm Island just ahead of the explosion of the Internet and the debunking of Michael Eisner’s analysis of the future.

My father went through very little of this. Born in Los Angeles in 1917, there were electric lights illuminating the streets of LA outside of his mother’s hospital window. The City of Angels had an airport in 1917, and there were automobiles on the streets. When he died, 81 years later, the LA streets were still illuminated at night, the airport was still there… larger… and, like the cars in the streets, the planes were faster, but their fundamental design had not changed all that much. The world at my father’s demise still looked a lot like the world did when he was born.

That was not true for my grandfather. He had to go from an oxcart to an automobile, from candle light to the electric light, from a home without indoor plumbing to what would then be called modern living. Those changes, no matter how positive, had to make my grandparent’s life much more stressful than that of my parents… and it is beginning to dawn on me, that in terms of fundamental change, the impact of “modern living” on my life will be something closer to that felt by my grandfather than of my own father.

I try to avoid these every day stressors. To bask in my ignorance, to revel on my Island and to avoid the reality checks of the outside world. Still, I am not totally insulated even in paradise.

Ms. Cruz wrote to me today. She wanted to know if I was still salivating over that custom Rolls-Royce Dawn she would be only too happy to have delivered to me. I wrote her back, capitulating to the world as I have come to know it. I am 84 years old. I own a beautiful, albeit 15-year-old, Bentley GTC. No doubt it is the last car I will ever own in my life. So, thank you, Ms. Cruz, but no thanks.

That is a big admission for a “kid” from the California of the 1940s and 50s. It was  California… and Los Angeles in particular… that came to be the major testing ground for all the promotional propaganda General Motors, Firestone Tire & Rubber, and Standard Oil could produce. Pre-pubescent boys may not have been their primary targets, but we fell under their spell.

While our adult parents and their representatives tore down a perfectly good public transportation system to build super highways…ironically called “freeways”…and granted all sorts of special tax privileges and land grants to the rubber, oil, and car manufacturers…their kids were content to worship the white wall tire, the chromium hubcap, the internal combustion engine, and the sleek metal sculpture work exemplified by the makers of something called a Buick.

Seventy some years later, I still have that rush in an automobile showroom. It is what Ms. Cruz detected that day as I roamed through the luxury car emporium in downtown Miami, killing time while waiting for my Bentley to be delivered from the service center. Not for one moment did I take the time to calculate that the technology that propelled this fabulous work of steel, rubber, and leather might well be outlawed by the EPA before the final payment would be made on its purchase.

Ms. Cruz is not so easily dissuaded. She knows her stuff and she can spot a potential customer when she sees one. But how could I even consider her “offer?” I no longer take those annual cross-country jaunts from Miami to LA, primarily sticking to the blue-lane highways while avoiding the more modern and efficient Interstate highway system. Those were leisurely, adventure filled trips. A drive that would take a professional trucker three days and nights would take me at least 22-24 days. It has been years since I have ventured out on one of those.

My kids have not yet threatened to take the car keys, though my wife denigrates my ever-diminishing driving skills. I speculate that if I could get a negative enough medical prognosis that the Dawn by Rolls-Royce might be a flamboyant way of compensating prior to “checking out.”

Assuming I would pay cash… or designate a way for the car to be paid off at my  demise… I could leave instructions that I be buried in the car. A stylish way out for a kid from the low rent side of LA. It would be necessary to also designate whether the burial would take place with the convertible top up or down. Something to think about.

 

Barney Rosenzweig

 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE

 

Okay, I lied. I saw some more movies and could not resist making comment… however brief. Here are three more. Honest, I promise. I am not going to do this again.

ANNETTE: May just be the best movie of which you have never heard. Director Leos Carax is a genius filmmaker who, for reasons I will leave to his biographer, has had too few opportunities to explore his art over a long international career.

Suffice to say, you will not find a more imaginative or innovative movie this year… or anytime soon. Adam Driver’s bravura performance should win him the Oscar for Lead Actor in a Motion Picture. Marion Cotillard is brilliant, beautiful, and sexy; Simon Helberg is simply terrific in support. There should be a special category for young Devyn McDowell who makes a spectacular entrance late in the film surpassing any of the impressive performances by a child seen this year. Can someone, please, produce an “Our Gang” series for Ms. McDowell and the two boys starring in Belfast and C’mon C’mon. I mean, c’mon.

Last note on this: The picture is not for everyone. If you hated La La Land, or even The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, then stick with the movies from Marvel and stay far away from this fanciful, very dark, very sexy… and incredibly special motion picture musical. If you decide to take the plunge, you may brave select motion picture theatres or get it on Amazon Prime.

MASS: A young friend of mine from England, who is building his career as a writer with BBC radio plays, recommended this movie and it makes perfect sense that he would do so. It is a radio play shot on film… the very antithesis of the Carax film, Annette. That should not negate your seeing it. The subject matter and the performances are powerful. Martha Plimpton should certainly get a nod and a nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the best actress category. Her co-stars, Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney are every bit as good, but Ms. Plimpton gets the better moments from screenwriter Fran Kranz. It is on Redbox, Apple TV, Vudu and Prime Video.

Titane: (Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu) Is two movies in one… and I did not like either of them very much. It begins with a devilish like child who has a thing for automobiles, even growing up to be an adult serial killer who gets impregnated by a Cadillac. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. I am fairly certain the filmmaker did not intend to make two separate films… apparently, writer Julia Ducournau (if you will excuse the expression) ran out of gas with the first idea, and so moved on to make a completely different (almost equally as weird) part two. Even more weird are the French. This film received the Palme d’Or at Cannes in a move all too typical for this group who, lest we forget, considered Jerry Lewis to be one of the great auteurs of cinema. Laisse-moi Tranquille.

Barney Rosenzweig