Sunday, October 15, 2017

New York Film Festival Reviews (NYFF)



After seeing over a dozen movies at TIFF last month, I attended four more at the New York Film Festival (NYFF) in its 55th year run by the Film Society at Lincoln Center.  Although it is a few days longer than TIFF, NYFF is much less hectic because all films are held on the Lincoln Center campus and seats are reserved at the main venue, Alice Tully Hall.

I also tend to see films that I missed at TIFF here, since there is always some overlap. This year is no exception as I saw two films I was not able to schedule at TIFF.  Those were the documentary Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed directorial debut, Lady Bird.  The two others were Todd Hayne’s Wonderstruck and Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel. (Counting Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which I saw at TIFF, that makes three festival movies with “wonder” in the title!)

Here are my thoughts as well as award season possibilities.



Wonderstruck (Release Date October 20):  Having already played at Cannes, Venice and Telluride, Wonderstruck came to NYFF with some mixed reviews.  Director Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) adapts Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel about two 12-year-old deaf kids (Rose was born deaf and Ben loses his hearing when he’s struck by lightning), born 50 years apart and their adventures in Manhattan, winding up at the Museum of Natural History, which plays a pivotal role in both stories.

Having not read the novel, I still saw the connection between Rose and Ben coming from a mile away but the pleasure gotten from the film are the parallel narratives, one told as a 1920s silent film and the other a gritty tale of the 1970s. Julianne Moore is arguably the star here, and she shines in two supporting roles in both narratives but the kids take front and center.  Deaf actress Millicent Simmons plays young Rose with an adorable haircut, expressive face and her emotions always authentic.  Oakes Fegley as Ben (who speaks throughout since he just lost his hearing) is also sympathetic in his quest to find where he belongs.  He has a nice chemistry with Jaden Michael, who plays his new hearing friend, Jamie. (Michelle Williams is also briefly in the film in flashbacks as Ben’s late mother)

Overall, I enjoyed Wonderstruck and Haynes brings the story to the screen with a lot sensitivity and creative vision.  It’s a very sweet and sentimental story of two children who don’t let their deafness stop them from seeking adventure or a place to belong.  Haynes seems to want the film to be seen by a deaf audience, with close captions used throughout.  He even used a sign language interpreter during the on-stage introduction to the film! (4/5)



Wonder Wheel (Release date December 1st):  Written and directed by Woody Allen, Wonder Wheel features a tour-de-force performance by Kate Winslet, who plays a neurotic 40ish waitress in 1950s Coney Island.  (Viewers might recall Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, with her character wistful for the past as she descends into a state of semi-madness – harkening back to Blanche Dubois).

Justin Timberlake channels a younger, handsomer Woody as a 30ish playwrighting student who works as a lifeguard and serves as our slightly unreliable narrator.  He has an affair with the unhappily married Ginny while desiring her twenty-something stepdaughter, Carolina (a luminous Juno Temple) who is on the run from her abusive mobster ex-husband and the mob. Rounding out the cast are a very good Jim Belushi as Ginny’s blustery husband and Jack Gore as her pyromaniac-in- training son from a previous marriage.

Although there are some humorous moments in the script, it is not a typical Woody Allen comedy and plays out as a tragedy.  Timberlake’s character loves Eugene O’Neill and characters with tragic flaws and the film is written and directed almost like an O’Neill play.

As for Oscar chances, I think Winslet may snag a nod for Best Actress as she captures Ginny’s neuroses, passion and roughness into a vividly memorable role.  Allen may get direction and screenplay as well. (4/5)


Lady Bird (Release Date November 3rd): Greta Gerwig’s hilarious and touching directorial debut is not about the former First Lady, but a coming of age story of a Sacramento teen at a Catholic high school. Saiorse Ronan plays Christine aka “Lady Bird” who is navigating her senior year of high school in the early aughts.  Ronan perfectly channels a younger Gerwig in the role and Laurie Metcalf is excellent as her prickly mother.

The supporting cast is excellent with Tracy Letts as her loving, recently laid off dad, Lois Smith as one of the school’s nuns, Beanie Feldstein as her BFF, and Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges as her love interests.  The central tension is Lady Bird’s wish to go to college in NYC and the financial strain this desire puts on her parents.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lady Bird and I hope it gets showered with nominations.  It would be nice to see Gerwig get a directing and screenplay nod along with Ronan and Metcalf for their acting. (4.5/5)




Boom For Real, the Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Release date TBD):  Brooklyn born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has been the subject of multiple films and documentaries since his death from a heroin overdose in 1988 at the young age of 27.  Sara Driver’s Boom For Real covers his formative years of 1979-1981 as a teenage artist making his mark on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Many of his peers and friends were interviewed such as Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, Alexis Adler, Patricia Field and many more.

Basquiat hovers over the film in a ghost like manner, which was intentional, according to Driver in the post screening Q&A.  We barely hear him speak (mostly b/c he rarely did any video interviews) but instead see films of him creating graffiti or photographs of him creating art or poetry.  Driver also spends time setting the stage of what life was like for young artists in the late 70s/early 80s NYC, which was going through an economic transformation.  NYC is just as much as a star in this documentary as Basquiat, both relentlessly creating art and eventually commerce. (4/5) 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Saturday Night Live turns 42 today - Happy birthday to SNL


"Talk about a live show! It's nice to see you, welcome, and thanks for joining us -- live. I’m kinda glad that we’re on at night so that we’re not competing with all the football and baseball games. So many man … Football represents something we are. We are Europe Junior....What was the Europe Game?.... Let's take their land away from them...Football is a ground acquisition game... " ~~ George Carlin, (5/12/37 – 6/22/08) Comedy Icon, activist, actor, and author. Quote from opening line of George Carlin where he hosted the first “Saturday Night Live,” broadcast 10/11/1975. Photo SNL information courtesy of Wikipedia.org; Video below embedded from hulu; SNL 1st Season, 1st Episode; Video George Carlin opening skit, http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/george-carlin-monologue-1/n8596; SNL monologue script at http://snltranscripts.jt.org/75/75a.phtml
First SNL broadcast, 10/11/75, featuring first host, George Carlin video

Happy 42nd  SNL! Saturday Night Live may be over the hill  but this skit-driven variety show is still going strong 42 years later making live audiences and TV viewers laugh hard as ever. American late-night live TV sketch comedy/variety, SNL, premiered 42 years ago (10/11/75) on NBC.

Originally called "Saturday Night, the opening sketch roughly 5 minutes begins with a special celebrity guest host performing and ends with the signature catchphrase, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!

Wolverines segment with John Belushi, aired 10/11/1975 
 

Created by Lorne Michaels and developed by Dick Eberson, SNL is one of the longest-running network television programs in the United States. The show is broadcast from Studio 8H at NBC's headquarters in the Comcast Building.


In 1977 the show changed its name to Saturday Night Live (apparently there was a name conflict "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell" which debuted on ABC 9/20/75, was cancelled two months later).

Performed live in front of a studio audience, SNL immediately established a reputation for being cutting-edge and unpredictable. It became a vehicle for launching the careers of some of the most successful comedians in the United States.

Throughout four decades on air, Saturday Night Live has received a number of awards, including 36 Primetime Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and three Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2000, it was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

It was ranked tenth in TV Guide‍‍ '​‍s "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list, and in 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". As of 2012, it has received 156 Emmy nominations, the most received by any TV show. The live aspect of the show has resulted in several controversies and acts of censorship, with mistakes and intentional acts of sabotage by performers as well as guests.


RESOURCES 
▲   First season of SNL, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Night_Live_(season_1)
▲   Tickets to see SNL, http://www.nbc.com/tickets-and-nbc-studio-tour
▲   SNL Season 1, Episode 1, http://www.tv.com/shows/saturday-night-live/george-carlin-janis-ian-and-billy-preston-98658/
▲   SNL on Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Night_Live
▲   SCHILLER'S REEL, "Don't Look Back In Anger" skit with John Belushi, https://screen.yahoo.com/dont-look-back-anger-000000945.html
▲   28 'SNL' catchphrases that have kept us laughing for 40 years, Mashable, http://mashable.com/2015/02/13/snl-catchphrases/#1y.mCQ_Id5qC
▲   The 35 best SNL Skits of All Time, HuffPost, http://www.aoltv.com/2010/10/14/best-saturday-night-live-skits/
▲   The Killer Bees: Home Invasion, NBC, http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/the-killer-bees/n8622
▲   SNL 1st Season, 1st Episode, George Carlin Monologue on NBC video link at http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/george-carlin-monologue-1/n8596;



Please visit this blog frequently and share this with your social media and professional network. Thanks.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Happy 67th BDay Peanuts: Did you know that Americas most beloved, pop culture comic strip turns 67 today? October 2, 1950

“My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?” ~~   Charles M. Schulz,   “Sparky, most influential “American cartoonist, “Peanuts” creator, Charlie Brown protagonist, based on his life as a child, 10/2/1950.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.org
Sixty-seven years ago today, "Peanuts," known by many as the most influential popular culture comic strip, premiered on October 2, 1950 in nine newspapers: 

The Washington Post,
The Chicago Tribune,
The Minneapolis Tribune,
The Allentown Call-Chronicle,
The Bethlehem Globe-Times,
The Denver Post,
The Seattle Times,
The New York World-Telegram & Sun,
and The Boston Globe.

Trials, tribulations and life lessons of 8-year-old Charlie Brown with subtle racial and gender equality issues, and dashes of politics were celebrated throughout this cherished, American comic series which appeared in print for over five decades, and quickly finding the way to TV, Theater, Film and later on, Digital.

Originally a daily comic strip -- the first strip was only four panels long.

Charlie Brown is shown walking by two other friends, Shermy and Patty. Shermy greets Charlie Brown as he walks by, but then tells Patty how he “hates him.”
Photo of first comic strip above, courtesy of Wikimedia.org



This marked the ultimate precedent -- the first time ever (1950s) where comic strips depicted a child expressing hatred for others.

Another early famous character in the strip, Snoopy, Charlie Brown's pet dog with uncanny mind abilities, first appeared in the third strip, which ran on October 4.

The first Peanut Sunday strip appeared January 6, 1952, in the half-page format.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia.org

The final daily original Peanuts comic strip was published on January 3, 2000.


The last Peanuts strip to run in papers was on February 13, 2000, the day following Schulz's passing.

The strip began with Charlie Brown answering the phone with someone on the end presumably asking for Snoopy.

Charlie Brown was the only character to appear in both the first strip in 1950 and the last in 2000.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy.
Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special debuted on CBS in 1965, and has been aired in the USA during the Christmas season every year since -- on CBS through 2000, and on ABC since 2001.

The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas (the birth of Jesus Christ).

Today the animated Christmas special is shown at least twice during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. 

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia.org 
RESOURCES 
▲   Peanuts Official Web Site http://www.peanuts.com/
▲   Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz Museum, History of Peanuts, http://www.peanuts.com/museum/
▲   Charlie Brown on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Brown 



This is an updated repost of previous Charlie Brown celebratory posts. Please visit this blog frequently and share this with your social media and professional network. Thanks.