Monday, November 16, 2009

Paul Wendkos

I just heard that Paul Wendkos died. He had a long career in features and was the director of "Gidget". I did a made-for-TV picture with him, "The Execution". It was an interesting picture (but typical made-for-TV)about a group of women Holocaust survivors who discover that the Nazi doctor (played by Rip Torn) who had done 'experiments' on them also survived the war and is living in Los Angeles. The women decide to kill him. The women are played by Loretta Swit, Sandy Dennis, Barbara Barrie and Jessica Walter.

Wendkos was 84.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 4

So much to write about from Day 4. William Kunstler (terrific documentary by two of his daughters); a fun Italian film, "The Friends at the Margherita Cafe" - "My Favorite Year" comes to Italy; but I can't stop thinking about "Touching Home".


A remarkable first film by twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, featuring Ed Harris, Brad Dourif and Robert Forster. But what may be more remarkable is the story of how this film was made. I'm still shaking my head. It is an improbable story. It should never have happened, but it did.

It speaks to the truism in the picture business, that you can be good and you can be lucky but the great common denominator of success is usually always grit, determination and perseverance. Oh, yeah and luck does help, but as Michael Landon once told me, "you make your own breaks". The Miller Brothers fit all of the above criteria.

I know I haven't said much about the movie except to say that it is terrific and to date one of the two best films I have seen at the festival.

This film WILL get released and when it does, don't miss it.

Oh, and the improbable story? These guys have written a book about the process of how this got done. I am not even going to begin to explain, get the book, I am going to.

The book is "Either You're in or your in the Way".

Their website:

You'll be shaking your head as well.

Denver Film Festival Day 3

Hal Holbrook. What a wonderful actor. He received the 2009 Excellence in Acting Award for a lifetime of wonderful performances. This accompanied the screening of his newest film, "That Evening Sun". I was interested to hear him talk about acting (as I always am when actors talk about acting). I was intrigued to hear him say (at the age of 84) that his director taught him something about acting; a director who cannot be even half Holbrook's age. He said that the director, Scott Teems, taught him 'not to protect the character.' Think about that, particularly if you are an actor, it is great advice.

It is clear that Mr. Holbrook has great reverence for acting (he talked about making certain that you have respect for the audience) and a great love of his wife, Dixie Carter. She is in the film but was not in attendance at the screening.

Seeing him and then her on screen reminded me of when I met her. It was in the middle 80s sometime, in Los Angeles. We had lunch, I think, but then I was also shooting pictures of a play she was in. My friend Steve and I were shooting publicity and production stills for a play titled "Fathers and Sons" with Richard Chamberlain as Wild Bill Hickock and Dixie Carter as Calamity Jane. It was at the Solari Playhouse in Beverly Hills and the lunch and discussion with her at some place around the corner from the Solari was one of those great get-togethers I remember. I was quite taken with her (as is easy to be) - and she was terrific as Calamity Jane.

Terry and I also saw an interesting documentary (we always try to see a lot of documentaries) titled "So Right, So Smart". It is the best 'sales job' for business and industry to implement green practices I have ever seen - a capitalist case for instituting sustainable practices.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Starz Denver Film Festival - Day 2

Ed Harris received the Mayor's Lifetime Achievement Award Friday night. Both the Mayor and Ed Harris were in good form.

The Mayor loves the movies. We were chatting backstage before he gave the award about his turn in his cousin George Hickenlooper's new film, "Casino Jack" (a rough-cut of Casino Jack will receive a 'mystery' screening later in the festival). John obviously really enjoyed the experience of playing a small role in the film - he has talked to me about it a couple of times. He is also proud of his SAG card and we are proud to count him as a member of the Colorado Branch of SAG. Hick also is featured in the Documentary "Hick Town" screening next weekend at the Festival.

The Ed Harris award program featured clips from some of his films. Ron Henderson put the clips program together and noted that the problem with putting a clips reel together for an actor of Ed Harris' range of roles is not only deciding which films to select from but which scenes from those films to select.

I would add that the other problem with a clips reel, is watching the clips and thinking how much one would like to see the entire film again- its like only being able to eat a tiny bit of the piece of cake.

Harris, during the question and answer session after the clips was funny, quirky, and at times serious. I particularly enjoyed hearing him talk about the craft of acting. He truly loves what he does.

And finally the last film of the night for me was Werner Herzog's "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans". Nicholas Cage gives a wonderful and quirky performance as the Lieutenant. As the New Orleans homicide detective, I couldn't help but think at times that in his physicality he was channeling the late Jerry Orbach as Lt. Lenny Briscoe.

Herzog's films are always interesting and this one doesn't disappoint.

Saturday, another wonderful actor is honored. Hal Holbrook will be in attendance and his new film "That Evening Sun" will be screened.

Friday, November 13, 2009

More thoughts on Precious

There is a lot of buzz about the acting in director Lee Daniels' film "Precious" and truly there are exceptional performances - some unexpectedly so. But you can't separate the performances from the context in which they are given.

The style of the film, the choices Daniels made, the camera work, the editing have to be taken as a whole and that whole includes the acting: Everything fits, everything works. Frankly, there are no stand-out performances because the performances are so uniformly terrific. This is really an ensemble piece (although the astonishing performance by Gabourey Sidibe as Precious is the fulcrum for this ensemble, and without which it would be a different film altogether). All great performances are the result of the give and take among the actors working together and in concert with a director. That is what this is about.

But it is also about the style.

Again: the style, the camera work, the editing: the gritty reality of Harlem, the feel of a documentary, the edgy heightened color, the total in-the-moment reality of the performances consistent with the use of dream sequences and flash-back.

There is an old saw in the theatre and film that 'we deal in truth, not facts.'

Daniels has made a film that draws us in; that has the sense of documentary-reality but which goes far beyond any 'facts' and gets at the greater truth.

1 down - 33 to go

The Denver Film Festival is on again. Terry and I attended opening night last to see the much-talked about "Precious". The talk is warranted. The film is at once moving and funny but also angering, saddening and discomforting. Then finally, at the end, at the darkest moment of the film (after many dark moments) it becomes uplifting; not uplifting in a cheering sort of way but uplifting in a quiet but gratifying way; not uplifting with some sort of saccharine sweetness but with a reality that is the hallmark of the film itself.

The subject matter is off-putting, but don't let that put you off - go see the film. The hype may discourage you because all too often, over-hyped films can be disappointing - go see the film, you won't be disappointed.

This was a terrific beginning to the 32nd Starz Denver Film Festival.

Terry and I will see 34 films before the Festival ends a week from Sunday. 1 down, 33 to go.