Archive | March, 2015

Missing In Memoriam: Oscar Nominee Lesley Gore (1946 – 2015)

8 Mar

The harrumphing began before the ceremony even concluded. Where, fans demanded, was Joan Rivers in the Oscar telecast’s “In Memoriam” segment? Sure, Joan was quite the beloved entertainer, but her contribution to motion pictures was barely more than a footnote. She wrote and directed the allegedly groundbreaking Rabbit Test (1978), starring a youngish Billy Crystal (then at the height of newfound stardom thanks to his role on Soap as one of TV’s first openly gay characters). Alas, the movie was critically drubbed, and tanked with audiences. Rivers also voiced the character Dot Matrix, a CP30ish droid in Mel Brooks’ Star Wars parody, Spaceballs (1987), a moderate hit in its day though now a cult favorite. Finally, Rivers’ next most significant contribution to the wonderful world of film was the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Say what you will about Rivers’ brashness or vulgarity, this film masterfully deconstructs that bravado and shows what makes the woman behind the comic mask tick, and what I really mean is that it bares for the all the world the incredible work ethic and energy of a tiny, tiny little woman already well into her 70s. Sadly, the Academy took a pass when it came time to nominate films for that year’s Best Documentary Oscar. No surprise there, as the Academy rarely favors documentaries starring millionaires, no matter how fascinating. With that in mind, Rivers was more like a movie outsider who reported–with an often appalling lack of taste–from the sidelines and made just as many enemies in the process as fans. Don’t get me wrong, Joan Rivers kept me in stitches from the time I was a kid watching the likes of Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffith, Johnny Carson, and all the rest, but in spite of her infamous red carpet interviews, her fame sprang more from TV than movies, so I was not surprised that she was not part of the “In Memoriam” clip.

Then, somebody cried “foul” that Elaine Stritch was also ignored. No doubt, Ms. Stritch was a formidable presence with a career approaching legendary status though her biggest triumphs were onstage–including Tony nominated performances in the original productions of Bus Stop and Company along with a revival of A Delicate Balance, not to mention her award winning one woman show and standby/replacement cast status for both Call Me Madam and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Did she make movies? Sure, including Woody Allen’s labored September, clearly inspired by the infamous Lana Turner-Johnny Stompanato murder case–Cocoon 2, Out to Sea (a somewhat guilty pleasure), and Monster-in-Law, with Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. I think a case for Stritch is easier to make than one for Rivers, but I still don’t see her omission as scandalous by any means.

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^ Lizabeth Scott (Photo: Girl Friday Films-blog)

On the other hand, one of my best friends was livid that Lizabeth Scott, who only passed away this January, was left out of the tribute. Scott, often compared to 1940s fan favorites Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, and Veronica Lake, had a brief Hollywood career. Per the IMDb, she notched a mere 31 acting credits in a career that stretched from the 1940s through the early 1970s though she scored high profile roles in The Strange Lovers of Martha Ivers, Dead Reckoning, and Loving You, opposite Elvis Presley. Her career was thrown a curve during the height of the Hollywood Confidential era when she was rumoured to be a lesbian. Those allegations, by the way, were never substantiated. Scott sued, but the case ended in a mistrial. The scandal might not have definitively derailed the actress’s career, but it cast a pall. The Academy would have done well to include her in its tribute to the deceased.

Like so many stars of the 1960s, Gore guest-starred on the campy Batman TV series, playing  one of Julie Newmar's Catwoman minions. albeit with a musical twist as Ms. Gore performed one of  her own ditties, "California Nights."

Like so many stars of the 1960s, Gore appeared on the campy Batman TV series, playing one of Julie Newmar’s Catwoman minions. albeit with a musical twist as Ms. Gore performed one of her own ditties, “California Nights.” Purrrrrrrrrfect!

For me, the most egregious slight was dealt to none other than 60s era singer-songwriter, Lesley Gore (nee Goldstein) who passed away February 16, only days prior to the awards ceremony. There is every reason to be disappointed that Gore was left out of the tribute since, unlike Rivers, Stritch, and Scott, Gore was a former Oscar nominee. Years after her heyday as a pop music princess with such radio smash hits as “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” and “You Don’t Own Me,” Gore co-wrote “Out Here on My Own” with her brother Michael for the movie Fame. Chronicling four years in the lives of a diverse group of students at Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts (also known as PA), Fame featured a lively cast of newcomers along with rising star Irene Cara (already a vet with such credits as  feature film Sparkle and TV’s The Electric Company), an actual PA graduate. Ms. Gore’s lovely, plaintive ballad, exquisitely performed by Cara, while indeed Oscar worthy, stalled in a race dominated by the same film’s pulsating title tune, written by MIchael Gore and Dean Pitchord (also performed by Cara) and Dolly Parton’s rousing “9 to 5.”

Sixteen years later, Gore experienced a renaissance of sorts when her music figured prominently in two 1996 releases, The First Wives Club, a female buddy comedy headlined by Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler, and Allison Anders’ underrated Grace of My Heart, a fictionalized account of Brill Building era singer-songwriters like Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, and Cynthia Weill. Among its many subplots, including Everly Brothers soundalikes played by Andrew and David Williams (nephews of the late Andy Williams), Anders’ film featured Gore’s rapturous “My Secret Love,” a shimmering pop tune co-written by lead Denise Waverly (Illeana Douglas) to accommodate a prominent TV ingenue, reminiscent of say, Shelley Fabares, Patty Duke, or even Gore herself, played by Bridget Fonda. The twist–and no reflection on Fabares or Duke–is that Fonda’s lovely Kelly Porter is about to crack under the pressure of maintaining a closeted same-sex relationship. Secret love, indeed. Of course, Gore more or less wrote from experience, coming out of the closet about her decades long relationship around the same time (now, go back and listen to Cara singing “Out Here on My Own.” Plays a little differently, huh?)  The Kelly Porter sequence in Grace of My Heart works splendidly not only because of Gore’s talents but also the contributions of Combustible Edison’s Miss Lily Banquette, who supplies Porter’s voice in a style very much Gore-worthy

Unfortunately, despite a passel of wonderful tunes composed by the likes of Gore, Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, and even Joni Mitchell, the Academy bypassed the entirety of the Grace of My Heart soundtrack. Perhaps the movie was overshadowed by the somewhat thematically similar That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks’s splashy directorial debut also set in the early-to-mid-sixties pop music world. The two films were released less than a month apart during the fall of 1996, but only one had the full support of a major studio. If you have not yet caught up with Grace of My Heart, by all means, please, add it to your queue.

On the other hand, during the same period Paramount released phenomenally popular The First Wives Club, in which a trio of spurned women–of a certain age–extract justice from the schmucks who unceremoniously dump them for pipsqueak playthings. The highlight of the film spotlights stars Hawn, Keaton, and Midler mustering their girl group prowess in a snazzy rendition of Gore’s classic anthem to sweet female independence, “You Don’t Own Me.” The First Wives Club is hotter than ever thanks to a Broadway-bound musical adaptation, one, hopefully, that will feature Gore’s tune as part of the finale. In the meantime, a friend has suggested that going as the white-clad first wives should be on our agenda for next Halloween. Ha!

I still can’t fathom how or why the Academy overlooked an actual Oscar nominee in this year’s “In Memoriam,” but I’m glad I can pay tribute to Ms. Gore now, albeit later rather than sooner.

Thanks, Lesley….

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Oscars 2014/2015: Fashion Gallery

3 Mar

Well, by all accounts, this year’s Oscarcast took a tumble in the ratings. Oh sure, it still ranks as the highest rated entertainment–as opposed to sports related–program over the past 12 months, but the numbers were lowest in six years, definitely a dip from last year’s Ellen Degeneres hosted ceremony, which boasted the highest ratings in about 10 years. Of course, viewers are more likely to tune in the Academy Awards show when they have a rooting interest in the nominated movies, hence the whoppingly fantastic numbers for the 1998 do, the one in which blockbuster Titanic claimed 11 out of 14 awards. Right? In Ellen’s case, she presided over an evening in which such movies as 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, and The Wolf of Wall Street were well positioned. Not to mention a little flick called Frozen, a Disney computer animated extravaganza that seemingly captured the hearts and imaginations of young people in staggering numbers–and some not so young as well–with its anthemic Best Song sure-thing, “Let It Go.” Plus, Ellen is just so dang nice, a comedian who well understands how to put people at ease and make them laugh through her incredible good nature and implicit sense of boundaries. Her predecessor Seth McFarlane, and her successor, the ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris, are much less fortunate in that regard. More on that to follow.

Also, consider the overwhelming, well, whiteness of this year’s race. No actors of color among the nominees though the winning director was born in Mexico, as was last year’s winner. Still, maybe not all potential viewers felt equally comfortable. Then, again, keep in mind that most of the major nominees were films with limited appeal, the exception being Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which has earned over 300 million dollars domestically. All but shut out on Oscar night, in spite of six nominations (including  Best Actor, Bradley Cooper), the controversial featured might have fared better had it not so riled high profile media hacks.

With that in mind, consider one of the evening’s most talked about bits. So, after a commercial break, host Neil Patrick Harris was allegedly nowhere to be found, so the camera operator journeyed backstage only to find Harris in his tightie-whities, the whole thing an allegedly uproarious homage to Best Pictue frontrunner Birdman, as the seemingly dazed host took his place back onstage, still in his skivvies, similar to a sequence in which Birdman’s Michael Keaton takes to the street in his underpants as well, Okay, so here’s the problem. As of now, Birdman has earned about 38 million in this country, on an 18 million dollar budget, which means in this country at least more people HAVE NOT seen Birdman than those who have, so if you’re one of the have-nots, how are you supposed to take the sight of a 40 year old man, an openly gay man, let’s not forget for the sake of the haters, running around in his underwear for no discernible reason? See how that works? Harris over-estimates his appeal, and I imagine at that point lots of folks turned off their sets. That’s just a guess. The rest is ratings history.

Anyway, now on to the evening’s Best Dressed. That’s right, Best Dressed only. I don’t do Worst Dressed. That’s someone else’s job. That noted, I also don’t shill for designers the way some of these high profile celebrants do. Yes, free clothes for celebrities, in spite of their enormously enviable salaries, in exchange for shameless designer plugs during red-carpet interviews. Why? So, no.  Finally, aside from my number 1 pick, these do not appear in any special number. Here we go, led by….

Photo: Getty Images/Vogue

Cate Blanchett (Photo: Getty Images/Vogue)

Not the flashiest look of the evening, but oh so incredibly elegant, thanks to the high contrast between the tasteful, drop dead gorgeous black gown and the significant turquoise choker. Such a beautiful statement that nothing else is needed. I would have thought that Blanchett might have gone for a bold red lip. I know that’s always my first choice, but I guess she was wise to opt for a more neutral lip. Her simple, smoothed back updo is perfect as well. Oh, and what great arms. I’m envious.

Cate Blanchett-Jordan Murph-AMPAS-Shopping Blog

(Photo: Jordan Murph-AMPAS-Shopping Blog)

^ Viola Davis (Photo: Getty/the Fashion Spit)

^ Viola Davis (Photo: Getty/the Fashion Sp0t)

^ Anna Kendricks (Photo: Jordan Strauss-Invision-AP-Star)

^ Anna Kendricks (Photo: Jordan Strauss-Invision-AP-Star)

Picture 14

^ Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon

^ Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (Photo: Jason Merrit-Getty/Zimbio)

^ Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (Photo: Jason Merrit-Getty/Zimbio)

^ Best Supporting Actress nominee Meryl Streep (Photo: Getty Images/Vogue)

^ Best Supporting Actress nominee Meryl Streep (Photo: Getty Images/Vogue)

^ Zoe Saldana (Photo: Getty/Just Jared)

^ Zoe Saldana (Photo: Getty/Just Jared)

Picture 15

Best Supporting Actress nominee Kiera Knightley (Photo: Studded Hearts)

^ Jennifer Hudson (Photo: Getty Images/Vogue)

^ Jennifer Hudson (Photo: Getty Images/Vogue)

Model Bhiati Prinsloo who attended the ceremony with her husband, scheduled performer Adam Levine (Photo: Fashionisers/Zimbio)

^ Model Bhiati Prinsloo who attended the ceremony with her husband, scheduled performer Adam Levine (Photo: Fashionisers/Zimbio)

Picture 19

^ Margot Robbie (Photo: Gemplatinum.com)

^ Lupita Nyong'o (Photo: Reuters-Mario Anzuoni-Metro-Co-UK

^ Lupita Nyong’o (Photo: Reuters-Mario Anzuoni-Metro-Co-UK

Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne (Photo:  Sydney Morning Herald-Getty)

Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald-Getty)

^ Sophie Hunter (l) and hubby, Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (r) (Photo: Moviefone)

^ Sophie Hunter (l) and hubby, Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (r) (Photo: Moviefone)

Okay, thanks for your consideration….let’s do it again next year….

What Is This Charade?

1 Mar

The suburban megaplex a few miles from our home is showing Charade three times this week: once on Sunday and twice on Wednesday, and I know where I plan to be after a week of wintry weather. Enjoy!

Confessions of a Movie Queen

Charade Poster Per the IMDb, a clerical error regarding “copyright” status in the credits rendered Charade as part of the public domain immediately upon its 1963 release. Luckily, Criterion has a super-edition that features lively commentary by director Stanley Donen and scriptor Peter Stone. Admittedly, part of the fun is listening to these well-seasoned pros bicker–good naturedly–as they hash their sometimes hazy memories of a movie they filmed decades earlier.

So, there we were watching 1980’s Hopscotch, the non-sequel that reunited 1978’s House Calls stars Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson in the same way that 1979’s Lost and Found reunited George Segal and Jackson in a non A Touch of Class sequel. Interesting, isn’t it, that in such a brief period Jackson reteamed with high-profile co-stars in new projects.

Hopscotch, directed by legendary Ronald Neame, whose credits include everything from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to The Poseidon Adventure

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