To please Columbia Records, Barbra Streisand will soon release a duets album on which she'll sing with people she doesn't give a damn about (or has never heard of). The only singer she truly reveres is Johnny Mathis, who organized the 1992 AIDS Project Los Angeles Committment To Life Award night for Barbra and David Geffen at Universal Amphitheatre. My friend Shelley and I were there, and its the first time we ever saw Barbra sing live. (But not the last!) We trembled, and the heavens thundered. All the performances that night were drawn from "West Side Story," a show Mathis adores. (He sings the definititive "Maria". Look it up.) This is the recorded version of the medley they sang that night, from her "Back To Broadway" album (1993). I'm cleary biased, but this seems to me the most astonishing pop duet ever. Vocally, he's the only one who was ever her equal, as she was for him, and if you listen, its not only clear that they know that, but they're exulting in it. Here, I think, is a fusion of genius and joy.
Very Good Girls is a film one wants to like but can't. It just doesn't work. Lifelong friends Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerri (Elizabeth Olsen) have just graduated from their Brooklyn high school. Lilly is headed to Yale, Gerri is a budding songwriter, and both are virgins. Gerri develops a crush on David (Boyd Holbrook), a photographer-waiter who seduces Lilly, leading to a summertime romance she's afraid to reveal.
Very Good Girls is the directorial debut of Naomi Foner, whose Oscar-nominated script for Running on Empty (1988), starring the late River Phoenix, is a thing of beauty. At age 68, Foner has stepped behind the camera, which is great, but she's written herself a script that's painfully trite. Lilly's mother (Ellen Barkin) is a shrewish psychiatrist, and her father (Clark Gregg) a womanizing doctor, while Gerri's folks (Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore) are old-school hippies. Pairing Dreyfuss with Moore and Barkin with Gregg is indicative of a film that feels as if it had been cast with available friends instead of actors who fit the roles. Fanning and Olsen work hard, but there's not much they can do with Lilly and Gerri, who mostly stand around, waiting for the handsome man to look their way. (Chuck Wilson)
The 2015 version of the Disney calendar I've been writing these past 5 years comes out on July 22, along with a gorgeous box of Disney postcards called "The Art of Disney". Each postcard features concept art by Disney animators, most of it never before published. I had the great pleasure of choosing the art at the Disney Animation Archives in Glendale. Those were fun afternoons!
I have too many books and not enough shelfing space and so lately have been thinking of having a party at which each guest would be allowed to choose 2 or 3 books to take home. To make room for the books yet to come. Good idea/scary idea. I imagine having to leave the room as people chose because I'd be unable to stop myself from muttering, "No, no. You can't take that one!" and grabbing the book back, like a mad hoarder (and a very bad host). I actually did a similar thing when I was in my 20s and to this day, mourn the fact that I gave away hardcover copies of Stephen R. Donaldson's first six "Thomas Covenant" novels. So I probably won't have my give-away party. I should have a party though. I haven't had a party in 12 years, and that's just sad. But none of this is what I meant to say. All I meant to say is that I love my books, though I've read too few of them. But...they're there when I need them (which is usually at 2:00 in the morning). Tonight, I came across the movie "The Natural." with Robert Redford, on cable, and though I turned it off, I then had to get out of bed to go into the living room to prove to myself that No, I do not have a copy of the 1962 Bernard Malamud novel on which the film is based. I don't have it but that's okay. I read it, loved it, remember it. But I did find a copy of Malamud's collected stories, some of which I've read, and a paperback of his 1979 novel "Dubins Lives," which I've never read. So I brought it to bed, and read a dozen pages, and felt a great sense of both discovery and satisfaction. Then I remembered (and wanted to tell you) what the great (but cranky) sci-fi/fantasy writer Harlan Ellison reportedly says when people ask him if he's read all the books in his house: "No. I haven't. What good is a library full of books you've already read?"
Six years after his debut feature, The New Twenty, writer-director Chris Mason Johnson returns with a film that's less polished but braver.
San Francisco, 1985: AIDS terror has everyone on edge, including Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a gay modern dancer who walks around with his Walkman at full blast — his attempt to drown out the fearful whispers he's hearing all around him (and inside his own head). Can you get it from sweat? Are those freckles or lesions on my back? Should I take the new blood test?
Some viewers may find him too quiet a character to carry an entire film, but when Frankie, an understudy in a small dance company, is given his chance to perform, he, and Test itself, come to life.
The dance sequences (mostly all-male) are riveting, and go a long way toward articulating Frankie's issues. Can a self-described "fairy" call himself a "man"? Is monogamy unnatural for gay men? What if I have "It"?
By movie's end, Frankie is a lot less fearful, although I didn't fully understand that until I saw the film a second time. The final sequence, featuring Matthew Risch as Frankie's acerbic fellow dancer, is terrific. That's where Johnson's next film should start. (Chuck Wilson)
In writer-director Kit Candler's debut feature, the actors do powerful work despite a screenplay whose plotting often feels forced and schematic.
Thirteen-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) has been put on juvenile probation in his small Texas town for vandalizing a truck, an act of fury fueled by grief over the recent death of his mother. His father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), barely notices, and instead keeps running off to Galveston to work on the dream house he never finished for his late wife.
That leaves Jacob to look after the little brother (Deke Garner) who worships him. The boys are angry at Hollis for having briefly abandoned them after their mother died, but like so much of Candler's plot turns, including the inevitable appearance of a gun, Hollis's failings aren't entirely believable.
What does feel true is the deep vein of male rage Candler has tapped, in Hollis and his sons, and in Jacob's troubled friends. Hellion offers Paul his most adult screen role so far, and he's very fine, but the movie belongs to Wiggins, a newcomer whose innate gifts are a perfect echo of Paul's.
Jacob's anger is a wonder to behold, and so potent that his father is struck dumb by feelings most every parent eventually knows: fear and awe. (Chuck Wilson)
A B-movie that not only knows its a B-movie, but exults in it (unlike GODZILLA, and nearly every comic book movie on the market). Good CGI...see it for the scene where the oceans rise and the Roman ship goes whipping down the city street, crushing all. GLADIATOR meets THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Fun.
In her pitch-perfect feature film debut, writer-director Eliza Hittman explores the terrible uncertainties of adolescence, and in the process reclaims the word "girls" for its rightful owners. Fourteen-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti) is way too young to lose her virginity, and smart enough to know it, but she can think of little else. Her best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), on the verge of 16, has "been with" three boys and is getting hot and heavy with a fourth, and the shy, deeply interior Lila is determined to catch up. The camera of gifted cinematographer Sean Porter hovers behind and beside Lila as she leaves her south Brooklyn house each morning to trail like a stray puppy behind Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), who nuzzle and whisper and coo as they walk down a crowded street.
Lila is the very definition of a third wheel, but Chiara clearly wouldn't dream of leaving her behind. Hittman isn't big on providing backstory (Lila lives with her father; where is her mother?), but these two girls have surely known each other forever. You can tell by the way Chiara rinses hair dye through Lila's hair (Chiara thinks the color is a mistake), or the way Chiara wraps her friend's braid around her fingers as Lila, drunk at a party, pukes in the bathroom. Girl stuff.
Lila is sitting on the beach with her face slathered in thick white sunscreen when she first sees Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), who goes to college and works in a pool hall, and whose glance back at Lila as he walks past seems to flick a switch in her brain. The next day, Lila's at the pool hall, wearing a sexy blouse and shorts, looking older, leggier, more knowing (she hopes). Sammy isn't the least bit fooled, but he's charmed (and bored), and soon they're hanging out. He hasn't made a move, and isn't planning to, maybe, but Lila keeps planting herself in his path, so something, surely, is going to happen. Lila's father (Kevin Anthony Ryan) isn't terribly concerned about his little girl, out there wandering who knows where, but moviegoers will most definitely worry. A lot.
It Felt Like Love is brilliantly, brutally tactile. On her first visit to the pool hall, Lila is distracted by the pop-pop-pop of a muscled, tatted young man in a sleeveless T-shirt smacking a ping-pong paddle against his hand. (Sammy and his buddies all wear wifebeaters; they're would-be Brandos, though they don't know enough to know it.) Much later, at a three-man drinking party Lila has crashed, that same guy will spin a ping-pong paddle in his hand, startling Lila, who seems to sense in the gesture something both sensual and threatening. It's hard to tell how scared Lila is, but we're plenty scared for her. This beautiful, soulful girl appears to believe that having sex will reveal an essential truth, but the kind of knowledge she's likely to gain in that room, with those three young men, isn't worth having. Not at age 14, or ever. (Chuck Wilson)
from the story, "Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, a Traded Car":
"There was a time when I wondered why more people did not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean for use one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not to listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts, hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of long use; to pay, for all this, no more than we are moved to give---surely in all democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most available democratic experience. We vote less than once a year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its arithmetic of equality: one equals one equals one.
. . . I ushered with my father at the Wednesday-night service. We would arrive in our old car---I think it was the '38 Chevrolet then---on those raw March nights and it pleasantly surprised me to find the building warm, the stoked furnace already humming its devotions in the basement. The nave was dimly lit, the congregation small, the sermon short, and the wind howled a nihilistic counterpoint beyond the black windows blotted with garbled apostles; the empty pews, making the minister seem remote and small and emblematic, intensified our sensation of huddling. There was a strong sepia flavor of Christianity: a minority flock furtively gathered within a dying, sobbing empire. From the rear, the broad back and baked neck of the occasional dutiful son loomed bullishly above the black straw hats of the mischievous-looking old ladies, gnarled by farmwork, who sat in their rows like withered apples on the shelves of a sweet-smelling cellar. My father would cross and uncross and recross his legs and stare at his thoughts, which seemed distant. It was pleasant to sit beside him in the rear pew. He was not much of a man for sitting still. When my parents and I went to the movies, he insisted on having the aisle seat, supposedly to give his legs room. After about twenty minutes he would leap up and spend the rest of the show walking around in the back of the theatre, drinking water and talking to the manager while my mother and I, abandoned, consoled ourselves with the flickering giants of make-believe. He had nothing of the passive in him; a church always became for him, something he helped run. It was pleasant, and even exciting, when the moment for action came, to walk by his side up the aisle, the thump of our feet the only sound in the church, and to take the wooden, felt-floored plates from a shy blur of white robes and to administer the submission of alms. Coins and envelopes sought to cover the felt. I condescended, stooping gallantly into each pew. The congregation seemed like the Others, reaching, with quarters glittering in their fingers, toward mysteries in which I was smugly involved. Even to usher at a church mixes us with the angels, and is a dangerous thing." (John Updike, 1961)