Friday, November 30, 2012

Gone but not forgotten - Iconic film figures from days gone by are back

Liz and Dick and Alfred and Alma and Alfred and Tippi and Marilyn and Colin (and Laurence) and Frank and Dean…and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice: Okay, the last four don’t really fit in this list.

The first names are those of iconic figures from the movies of the last half of the 20th Century. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, however, is a 1969 film starring Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon about wife swapping/open marriage – it is not nearly as risqué as it sounds.

Those iconic figures listed above are again, everywhere on the big screen and the little.

Last Sunday, Lifetime Movie Channel aired the disastrous and universally panned Liz and Dick about “the great love story of the 20th Century” between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Hitchcock, about the relationship between the great director and his wife/collaborator, Alma during the making of Psycho is currently in theatres.

The Girl, again about Alfred Hitchcock, this time about his relationship with Tippi Hedren and the making of The Birds, is airing on HBO.

Last year’s My Week with Marilyn about Monroe’s time in England making The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier and the week’s friendship she had with a production assistant on the film, Colin Clark.

But there is more to come.

Paramount has optioned Furious Love, the 2010 Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger book about Elizabeth Taylor's affair and two marriages to actor Richard Burton. It is intended as a directing project for Martin Scorsese. There is no word of exactly when this might actually happen. Scorsese has a number of projects on which he is working including The Wolf of Wall Street, finishing production and scheduled for release in 2013. He may then begin work on Sinatra, a biopic about the singer, though with Scorsese this will not be an ordinary biopic – nothing with him is ever ordinary. Intriguingly, he has said he would like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to play the older Sinatra and Dean Martin, respectively. An initial script has been written, so maybe….

The BBC has two projects, one of which is a documentary, Burton’s Diaries, which has already aired. It is in part based on the newly published private diaries of Burton, aptly titled The Richard Burton Diaries.

The other project is a film titled Taylor and Burton, about the ill-fated production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, that Taylor and Burton did in 1983. Rehearsals started in March of that year and did not go well. Burton complains in his diaries that Taylor was always late and often too drunk to really rehearse, much less remember her lines. After opening out of town (Boston) the production moved to Broadway. It received poor reviews and closed after 63 performances. The BBC film is set to air sometime next year, starring Rachel Weisz and Dominic West.

This project has stirred some controversy. Sally Burton, Richard’s widow has loudly proclaimed that the BBC has written her out of the film and is keeping her in the dark about it. She says she only inadvertently learned of the film and has threatened to sue, if anything from the published diaries is used as original source material. It was Sally Burton, who controls the rights to the diaries, who allowed them to be published. She had also provided the originals to the BBC for the documentary.

I saw Richard Burton in his last performance as King Arthur in the revival tour of Camelot. It was in March 1981, at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I had gotten tickets and was very excited to see him and indeed, he was terrific. I knew that he had been ill (and I was to learn later in terrible pain all the time) but the presence and the voice were still there. He could command a stage like few other actors I have seen. He was amazing.

Actually given the state of his life and health, the reprise of Camelot at the end of the show had even greater import. Of course I had no idea that he would never again return to the stage in that run and only briefly on stage ever again – the aforementioned and ill-fated Private Lives.

It was after that particular performance that he collapsed and was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. The show went on at the next performance with his understudy and then eventually his friend Richard Harris took over for the rest of the run in LA.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Swift Run - review

Ditzy and the Detective are back. Gigi Goldman and Charlie Swift are opposites but partners. Charlie is the no nonsense, experienced investigator and namesake of Swift Investigations. Gigi is her inexperienced and klutzy partner who often dithers about what to do and worries about her wardrobe and makeup as much as the investigation on which they are working.

Laura DiSilverio’s breezy mystery, “Swift Run” – the third in the series about the Colorado Springs PI firm - has the two back at it, this time looking for Gigi’s ex-husband Les.

High-roller Les Goldman, who had invested in Swift Investigations, thus making Gigi a silent, then active, partner, took off for a new life in Costa Rica with a blond bimbo named Heather-Anne. This left Gigi with two kids, an expensive house and lifestyle but little money. He also left behind a lot of unhappy people he had swindled.

Charlie is still recuperating from a bullet wound suffered during their previous investigation, so Gigi is running the office. In walks Heather-Anne. Gigi is dumbfounded, then even more so when Heather-Anne says she wants to hire the team to find Les, who has disappeared. The thousand dollars Heather-Anne offers as retainer tempts GiGi, despite her misgivings and dislike for Les and Heather-Anne, to take the job. Swiftly, we are off and running.

DiSilverio’s light-hearted style, make this an entertaining read - it is not hard-boiled crime fiction. The mystery is good and the plot works, though some willing suspension of disbelief for some elements is required.

Gigi tracks Les to Aspen, succumbs to his charms – she never seems to learn - but then he disappears again and Gigi ends up in jail. Misfortune just seems to follow this woman.

Finally freed from the ‘misunderstanding’, Gigi returns to Colorado Springs only to be confronted with another misfortune: Heather-Anne is found dead in her hotel room and Gigi is suspect number one.

Charlie, now back at work after recovering from her wound is determined that the team must find Les and the murderer (they may be one and the same), if only to try to clear Gigi.

Gigi (Georgia Goldman, thus the two Gs) is the partner who constantly ends up in zany situations. Before she can do anything she has to decide on and then make certain she is wearing the correct attire, after all your look is important and so is your clothing. She even has to have an ‘intervention’ when she is tempted to spend hundreds of dollars she doesn’t have on clothes and jewelry to calm her nerves after her incarceration. Good-hearted – she sees people and things through rose colored glasses - it is that and her klutziness and naïveté that often get her in trouble, some of which is hilarious.

Charlie spent eight years in Air Force Intelligence before starting Swift Investigations in the private sector. She knows what she is doing and usually gets it done. She was not crazy about taking on a partner, but circumstances dictated and now she is growing to like Gigi. She even has begun to see that Gigi does have some talent.

Charlie lives alone but there is that Police Detective Connor Montgomery and her next door neighbor, Episcopal Priest Dan Allgood.

Why did Les leave Heather-Anne and disappear? Who killed Heather-Anne? Was it Les? Or was it someone trying to get to Les?

How will Gigi and Charlie get to the bottom of all this? It will be a delightful swift run.

“Swift Run” from Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books went on sale November 27th.

Laura DiSilverio will appear tonight (Thursday, November 29) at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Denver Film Festival Through An Actor's eyes

200+ films over 11 days is a concentrated opportunity for an actor to see a wide variety of performances. It is also an opportunity to see films and performances that otherwise might not be available; films that likely would not play commercially, locally; films one might not even be aware of.

Moreover, seeing a film with a communal audience is a different (and better) experiences than sitting alone on your couch in front of a TV and your DVD player.

And while some of the films screened at the Starz Denver Film Festival are non-narrative films (documentaries, etc.) there is still much to see and from which to learn.

Actors learn by doing but also by watching: what choices are being made by the actor; what chances is the actor taking by making certain choices; is that a choice I would have made in the same role? This is not about judging the ‘rightness’ or efficacy of a choice, it is about pondering and learning.

This year’s Festival had a wealth of interesting acting performances, many from foreign-language and low-budget features. In fact, they were some of the best.

However, there was also a documentary that every actor should have seen. Because for actors, this is also a business; it is our job; it is what we try to do for a living.

Casting By is a documentary by Tom Donohue. It focuses on casting directors, particularly Marion Dougherty and the process (and how it has changed) of casting motion pictures and television.

The great director, John Huston, famously said that 90% of directing is casting. However, many actors, in fact many film professionals really have no idea about the process of how a film is cast. And what you don’t know can hurt you; the more you know about the process the better off you are. For an actor casting is everything – if you don’t get cast, you are not working.

Dougherty, who started in live television in New York in the fifties, really changed the way movies were cast. In the old Studio System, contract players were assigned roles in motion pictures based on their type. Dougherty, working primarily with New York stage actors changed that. Her success in casting such successful television series as Naked City and Route 66 eventually brought her to motion pictures and eventually Hollywood.

I was actually cast by Daugherty and Wally Nicita in Escape From Alcatraz, so it had special meaning for me. As scenes in the Documentary featured Marion surrounded by hundreds of actor photos, I realized that at some point, my photo was among those.

Two outstanding fiction films from an actor’s perspective:

In Starlet, Dree Hemingway plays Jane, a 21 year old - flaky in a Legally Blonde kind of way - Porn Queen living on the edge in the 'beautiful' west San Fernando Valley. She and her Chihuahua named Starlet, share an apartment with a drugged-out fellow sex worker, Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Melissa's porn-promoter, wannabe boyfriend, Mikey (James Ransone).

Dree Hemingway, the daughter of Mariel, niece of Margaux and great granddaughter of Ernest, is wonderful in this low-budget ($250,000) SAG Indie film, as is Besedka Johnson in a debut performance. The 87 year-old Johnson was 'discovered' at a YWCA and thought the casting was a joke. Her performance is no joke.

The acting here throughout the cast is terrific. It is so natural; the film almost has the feel of a documentary. It is also a testament to the value of SAG Indie and what creative talent can do with an extremely limited budget.

Another film with astonishing performances is I, Anna. Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne captivate us. This is an acting-class in understated portrayal. Their maturity and maturity of talent make the film work wonderfully. Rampling is still breathtakingly beautiful and imbues Anna with an enigmatic, other-world quality.

Some other films and performances worthy of note:

Andrea Riseborough in Shadow Dancer (Ireland/UK)

Nina Hoss (with incredible eyes) in the German film Barbara

Francisca Gavilan in the Chilean film Violeta Went to Heaven (about Chilean singer Violeta Parra)

Marcin Dorocinski and Agata Kulesza in the Polish Film Rose (Roza)

There were more but these are some of the performances that most engaged me as an actor.

The Starz Denver Film Festival does not have the cachet or drawing power of Telluride or Sundance, but it does provide Denver audiences and Denver actors the opportunity to see great film. It is not always about the Red Carpet films, it is often about all those other films that make us love to watch and work in Motion Pictures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Author Laura DiSilverio

So what does a young woman, who wants to be a successful writer do after submitting her first novel for publication and having it rejected?

Join the Air Force, of course.

And that’s exactly what Laura DiSilverio did.

Now a successful writer of the Swift Investigations series of mysteries, she had written a romance novel while in college and it ended up at a major publishing house but was rejected. And even though the rejection came with some thoughtful suggestions, to Laura, it was rejection nonetheless. So she decided that maybe she would try the Air Force. Her father had been career Air Force, so the life was familiar and seemed like a good idea at the time.

But after a 20-year career, she decided that it was time to seriously try writing again. The result: Her third novel in the Swift Investigations series, Swift Run, is being released on November 27 by Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.

Swift Investigations is a Private Investigation firm of two women, Charlie Swift and Gigi Goldman. Rather than having a solo PI, DiSilverio has invented this partnership of opposites; sort of like the female counterparts of Felix and Oscar from Neal Simon’s The Odd Couple. She says she wanted the relationship to be the center piece of the novels and evolve into a real friendship. She also wanted it to be two women not a woman and a man with the male/female romantic complication thing.

“I didn’t want it to be Remington Steele or Moonlighting.” Will they or won’t they sleep together? How long can you draw that out?”

Charlie is the no nonsense, experienced investigator and namesake of Swift Investigations. Gigi is her inexperienced and klutzy partner who often dithers about what to do and worries about her wardrobe and makeup as much as the investigation on which they are working. At first Charlie was very resistive to having Gigi for a partner, but over the course of the three novels the friendship has evolved and Charlie has begun to see Gigi’s value: she is good on the computer (better than Charlie) better with people, more patient and also more caring (which sometimes gets her in trouble). DiSilverio says she wanted Gigi to be more than a running joke, to be a real three dimensional character and give Charlie something to play off of.

DiSilverio spent her twenty years in the Air Force as an Intelligence Officer, a Squadron Commander at the National Reconnaissance Office and a fighter wing in Korea. The discipline that work teaches is great training for a career as a writer. Inspiration is wonderful, but discipline is what puts words on the page.

“I write 2,000 words a day. I write every day; this is what I do full-time. This is a job and I treat it like a job. I get the kids off to school and sit my butt down at about 7:30 and I write until I get 2,000 words done which is usually around 11:00 A.M. “


Leaving the Air Force (with the full support of her husband, who was also in the service) in 2004, she set about writing full-time, getting an agent and getting published.

In the process of seeking publication for Swift Investigations, she was approached to write a mystery series set in a southern beauty shop. She agreed and under the pen name, Lila Dare, the Southern Beauty Shop Mysteries were born.

“I had lived in Georgia, knew the territory and I thought, why not?”

And then came a three-book deal for Swift Investigations. The first, Swift Justice was published in October of 2010.

DiSilverio is hopeful of producing a fourth in the series as are her fans. Among other things, everyone wants to know what will happen with either Father Dan or Detective Montgomery as Charlie’s possible love interest. And Gigi – what new craziness will she get herself into?

Laura DiSilverio will be at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch on Thursday evening, November 29.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hostess, not the first brand to go away.

With all the attention being paid to the demise of the Hostess brands, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Cup Cakes, I started thinking about other iconic brands that have disappeared since I became an adult.

There are lots of them: Airlines, Pan Am and TWA; Department store chains, Montgomery Ward; Five and Dimes, Woolworths and Kressge; Automobiles, DeSoto and Oldsmobile, the list goes on.

I have written before about the demise of major American airlines. Since deregulation, many airlines, regional and national have disappeared, but TWA and Pan Am may be the most iconic and memorable.

Pan American Airways was the largest international air carrier in the United States, from its founding in 1927 until its demise in 1991. During that time it was the unofficial “Flag Carrier” of the U.S. It was also one of the most recognizable airline, or frankly, travel brands in the world. It started in Key West, Florida but expanded throughout Latin America, then Europe and the Pacific. By using seaplanes, or flying boats, it pioneered routes from San Francisco, to Honolulu and on to Hong Kong, during the 1930s.

It also pioneered the use of jet aircraft in the 50s and 60s. After WWII, Pan Am began aggressively moving to land-based aircraft (this in response to TWA) even for trans-oceanic flights. In 1958 it inaugurated service from New York’s Idyllwild (now JFK) airport to Paris with the new Boeing 707.

Pan Am was not just recognizable in the skies; it was recognizable on Manhattan’s Skyline. Its headquarters building on Park Avenue at East 45th Street, above the Grand Central Terminal opened in 1963 with the words Pan Am emblazoned across the top. Today, the building is the Met Life building with the words Met Life having replace Pan Am.

It was a Pan Am flight that was downed over Lockerbie Scotland by a terrorist bomb. That in conjunction with the Oil Crisis and soaring oil prices of the 70s and the first Gulf War drove Pan Am to the point of bankruptcy. It sold off its most profitable routes between the US and London to United Airlines. In December of 1991 Pan Am shut down operations.

TWA for most of its existence was Pan Am’s major competitor. It began in 1925 as Transcontinental Air Transport and as with most airlines of the day; its primary income came from mail contracts. Eventually it became one of the largest air carriers in the US, but also had a significant presence around the world.

For years it flew another icon of the air, the legendary DC-3. It also flew Lockheed Constellations, favored by Howard Hughes who acquired control of TWA.

In 1958 TWA was the first airline to hire an African-American flight attendant, though it did so only after legal action. Flight attendants in those days were always women and were referred to as stewardesses.

Carl Icahn acquired TWA in 1985 and proceeded to sell off most of its profitable assets (that is why he is called a corporate raider), in turn providing him a profit but beginning to gut the airline.

Icahn left in 1993 but not before securing a sweetheart deal for a company that he formed, called Karabu, which was able to purchase airline tickets from TWA at a 45% discount. The ‘Karabu Deal’ allowed Karabu to purchase a significant portion of seats on most TWA flights at a heavy discount and then resell those tickets at a huge profit. TWA was basically hamstrung. It is estimated that TWA was losing $150 Million a year on this deal and went in and out of bankruptcy.

In April 2001, American Airlines acquired TWA. The last official TWA flight was on December 1, 2001.

Montgomery Ward and Company. I can still see the ‘Monkey Wards’ building on south Broadway, in Denver. The building was torn down in 1993. However, the Montgomery Ward building in Pueblo, Colorado is still there and is on the register of historic places. Among other things, the building is home to the Colorado Lottery.
Along with Sears, Roebuck and Company, Montgomery Ward was one of the major retailers in the U.S during the 20th century.

Starting out in 1872, in Chicago (also the home of Sears), Montgomery Ward pioneered the sale to rural America, ‘city goods’ through mail-order catalog. The Wish Book was everywhere in rural and small town America. Eventually that mail-order business was augmented by a chain of retail stores.

In 1985 Montgomery Ward went out of the catalog business and concentrated on its retail outlets. It also tried to rebrand itself as Wards. Unfortunately, those retail outlets had not kept up with the growth of the suburban shopping center concept by moving into those centers, and business was declining.
By May of 2001, Wards was gone.

Woolworth’s was another major retailer in the 20th century. It pioneered the concept of the Five and Dime store. The concept had merchandise out on display shelves for the public to be able to handle and examine, there was no need to ask a clerk to see an item. Also the merchandise was sold at a fixed unit price: either five cents or ten cents. This was revolutionary at the time.

There is a wonderful scene in the film version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard browse through a five and dime to steal a pair of Halloween masks. I don’t remember that it was a Woolworths.

F.W. Woolworth’s became very profitable and in 1913 built the Woolworth Building sky scraper in Manhattan.

Another success innovation was the inclusion of lunch counters in the stores. Shoppers could get a sandwich while they shopped. It was the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth store in Greenville, South Carolina that was the sight of a sit-in by four African-American students in 1960. An eight-foot section of that lunch counter is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

Having pioneered the concept of the five and dime, or ‘Dime store’, F.W. Woolworth pioneered the concept of the big-box discount store. Its Woolco was the first of these that eventually led to such stores as Wal-Mart, Kmart (originally the S.S. Kresge five and dime stores) and Target.

Woolco is now gone as is Woolworth’s. In 1997 Woolworth’s closed its remaining stores and changed its corporate name to Venator. Venator now operates the Footlocker chain.

I once had a 1954 DeSoto. It was a 4-door sedan, six-cylinder ‘Powermaster’ that I bought from Dale’s Camper Sales and used cars in Fountain, Colorado in about 1967. DeSoto was already a defunct brand when I bought my car. I don’t actually remember when I got rid of it.

DeSoto was part of the Chrysler family of cars, which included Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler. Plymouth was the low-priced vehicle; DeSoto and Dodge the mid-price; and Chrysler the top end. Walter P Chrysler (from Ellis, Kansas) founded the company in 1925. He created the DeSoto brand in 1928.

At about the same time, Chrysler acquired the Dodge Brother’s car company and over the years the Dodge and DeSoto models would actually compete with one another. Eventually Dodge won out and Chrysler discontinued the DeSoto in 1961.

I had another car brand that has now gone away. I had a 1965 (Nash) Rambler station wagon. It was the vehicle I used for a long time when I traveled on the road as a musician. I could load instruments and PA system in the back and four musicians could ride up front.

Nash was another iconic brand from the 20th century. It began life in 1916 and over time the company name would evolve (at one point, Nash-Kelvinator who also produced Kelvinator refrigerators). With the acquisition of the Hudson Motor Car company, it became American Motors (headed by George Romney). Eventually the company stopped using the Hudson nameplate, and dropped the Nash part of the Nash-Rambler name. It did however continue to produce the Nash Metropolitan (what a great little car).
Eventually it acquired Kaiser Jeep, the old Willys Overland company.

In 1987, Chrysler acquired the entire company as the Jeep Eagle division and only produced Jeeps. The Nash and its antecedents were gone.

There were others, the Packard and Studebaker and Studebaker’s final vehicle the Avanti (“Guaranteed to go 160 MPH”); the Oldsmobile, etc.

I won’t miss Hostess Twinkies or the like - I have not had or wanted one in at least 40 years - but many of the above brands, I do miss.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yes, Prime Minister

Fawlty Towers comes to Downing Street – or more properly, to Checquers, the official country residence of the British Prime Minister.

Yes, Prime Minister, by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn is an updated stage version of their hit television series from the 1980s, Yes, Minister and then Yes, Prime Minister. And while it is not great theatre – it is not Shakespeare or even Oscar Wilde – it is great fun, with lots of laughs.

In the television series, Jim Hacker a back-bench Member of Parliament ends up as a Minister in a new coalition government; in the second part of the television series, he is elected Prime Minister. The play has Hacker, the manic and comic Robert Daws, surrounded by the same cast of characters, trying to hang on by his fingernails to his political career as he is buffeted by one crisis revelation after another.

The satire of unscrupulous, self-serving, often buffoon-like politicians and obfuscating, supercilious self-serving civil servants is timeless and is so in Yes, Prime Minister. However, the real hilarity is rooted in the very topical jokes – jokes that come a mile a minute: an unfolding Euro Zone monetary crisis (does a Euro Job call for Eurologist?), references to sexual proclivities and Berlusconi and Dominique Stauss Kahn, and the Director-General of the BBC (which one), etc. provide much of the humor. The United States comes in for its fair share (much to the delight of British audiences) of pointed jokes as well.

As the play opens, the obsequious civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby (the wonderful Michael Simkins) is confiding in the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary, Bernard Wooley (Clive Hayward) that a deal is imminent to build a pipeline from ‘Kumranistan’ to the west that will not only deliver oil but billions of Euros to solve the European Union debt crisis. On learning this, Bernard points out that the deal likely means that England will have to adopt the Euro – something that is anathema to the Prime Minister and the British people. Sir Humphrey responds that the Prime Minister will never know until after the fact.

That is just the beginning of the complications that unfold over the course of the evening. The topper is that the Kumranistan Foreign Minister, who is spending the night at Checquers but whom we never see, wants to be provided with three call girls for an orgy. If they are not provided the oil deal is off.

On learning this, the Prime Minister is aghast, but asks how it might be accomplished - the Euro issue is off the table and he very much wants the pipeline. Sir Humphrey suggests that the Queen’s RAF Helicopter is in London and could be used to deliver the girls. The PM is even more aghast.

Much hand-wringing and discussion ensue with Hacker variously considering it (‘the girls could be considered patriots, giving it their all for their country’) and rolling on the floor in dismay.

The jokes and one-liners are very topical and as such limit that part of the scripts script's longevity, but it is that very topicality that makes the show so rollickingly funny.

The cast is quite good and the humor broad: not quite Benny Hill broad but definitely Monty Python or Beyond the Fringe.

The play was originally produced in 2010 and this the second time in the West
End. The great irony of this production is that it is at the Trafalgar Studio theatre just up the street from 10 Downing Street, home of the British PM.

The play has also prompted a revived and revised TV series with a new cast set to run in the UK in 2013.

Should we see that in the United States, as well? Yes, Prime Minister.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving in London

Once again we will spend Thanksgiving in London. We don't do this every year, but often enough that it has become a bit of a tradition. We will see some theatre, maybe even a movie and of course eat. As I have noted in the past, London and the UK are not the horrible food deserts many people suppose.

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday and is not celebrated in Europe. If you are there and it is Turkey day, you are on your own.

This got me thinking about what other Americans, who may be abroad on Thanksgiving, do for a meal on that day?

Do you seek out some place that may actually serve Turkey and the fixings? Do you find a way to join with other Ex Pats and cook for yourselves? Does some British family take pity on you and try to provide a traditional Turkey dinner for you?

My guess is, for the most part, the answer is no. And for me that answer is definitely no. If I wanted to do traditional Thanksgiving, I would have stayed in the US.

I never travel overseas with the idea of seeking out the nearest McDonald’s (I don't do that in this country). For me part of the joy of travel is experiencing the local culture and food.

So, it got me thinking about what kind of meals would an American Ex Pat seek out in a foreign country on Thanksgiving.

I am going to list some of my thoughts but am interested in yours, whether you have found yourself in this position or not; maybe just speculate what kind of meal you would seek out.

The first time I was in London for Thanksgiving two other couples from Colorado were to join us and we had agreed that we would all meet on Thanksgiving at the Fuller's Pub next to the Tate Modern. We were there but since this was in the day when cell phones were not ubiquitous, we had no way of knowing that both other couples had serious travel difficulties: canceled flights.

So we waited. Eventually we decided that there had been a problem and, being hungry, we ordered. I had Bangers and Mash, with Mushy Peas and a pint (okay a few pints) of Fuller's London Pride.

Over the years, I have had that same dish as well as a wonderful steak, mushroom and Guinness pie at Brown's in Mayfair during thanksgiving.

In the UK, a roast of beef is always great. You can usually find this in a Pub, but usually only on Sunday. I suppose I could do one of my favorites which is the Polish-Mexican place in Shepherds Market. I will undoubtedly eat there, but choosing a local favorite would seem to preclude this. Actually, maybe a trip to the Borough market is in order. British sausages, and local cheeses – Stilton, English Cheddar – and some bread back at the room.


What of one of the great food cities in the world? I am going to opt for Bistro food. Boeuf bourguignon? French Onion Soup with a wonderful baguette? Mussels? Steak Frites? Any of that will work for me. Of course anything I choose will need to have a country pate to start. I'm thinking a Cotes Du Rhone for wine.
We spend a lot of time in southeast Asia. We particularly like Singapore. It has a very diverse population, including significant numbers of Chinese, Malays and Indians. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. This diversity is reflected in the food selections as well. However, my number one choice will be Chilli Crab. The crabs are stir fried in a tomato and chilli sauce and can be very spicy – read HOT. They are great.

Mexico City. People often talk about 'Mexican food' as if it were a homogeneous cuisine – tacos anyone? The reality is that Mexico has a wide variety of regional cuisines. The food of southern Mexico is different from that of the north which is different from the food of the two coasts. The good news is that you can find those various foods served in Mexico City, so take your choice. Chicken Mole is good (it is a bird after all), but I am fond of Pibil. In this dish from the Yucatan, pork is marinated in citrus, then slowly roasted wrapped in a banana leaf. I'm ready now.

So, if you are away from the U.S. For Thanksgiving, try something local.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hawaii Airports

Going to Hawaii? I am in December and can’t wait.

I will fly into Honolulu (HNL) and land on the Reef Runway, which last month celebrated its 35th birthday. It was built in 1977 at a cost of $81 Million and was the first major airport runway to be built just off shore on underwater coral. The runway is 12,000 feet long which made it capable of being an alternative landing site for the Space Shuttle. It was never used for that and now, never will be.

Factoids, you might like to know? The runway consists of nearly 20 million cubic yards of material brought in via hydraulic pumping from offshore. There is an additional 16 million pounds of stone used to protect the runway from the Pacific Ocean.

I love landing and taking off from this runway. I also like the one at Lihue (LIH)on Kauai and the black lava runway at Kona (KOA)on the Big Island. They all three say to me: ‘You’re Here!’

Lihue was not the first airport on Kauai, that was Burns Field near Hanapepe. Hawaiian Airlines started commercial flights there in 1929. You know flying was a real adventure in those days.

Kona is the only airport that does not use a jetway. You climb up and down a stairway like in the old days. I do love that black lava. I have never flown in to the other airport on the Big Island, Hilo (ITO), but some day I must.

Speaking of HNL, big changes are coming starting next June. That is when a $600 Million renovation is to start. The changes:

A new eleven-gate L-shaped “Mauka concourse” which will support larger planes located next to the inter-island terminal.

Demolition and relocation of the commuter terminal (used primarily by Go!Mokelele and Island Air) to the opposite site of the airport (adjacent to UAL). The current HNL commuter terminal is not directly connected with the other terminals and is only accessible via a long walk and escalator/stairs from the adjacent Hawaiian Air terminal.

A new multi-story car rental facility. The five-level 2,250 stall operation will replace the current single level car rental area and will increase car rental space by more than double.

HNL opened in 1927 and was originally named John Rodgers Airport.

Last year HNL handled nearly 20 Million passengers. By comparison DIA routinely handles 50 Million.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arts education in Denver and low-income students.

Arts education and minority and lower-income students. In Denver it is a tale of two cities: one affluent and one not.

A study, the report of which was released in October, of the state of arts education in Denver Public Schools deals in part with the minimal participation and lack of opportunities for lower-income students in arts education and/or the ability to pursue a career in the arts. The study took a broader view of the state of arts education and much of what it found was not surprising – the state of arts education is not what it could be or should be. What I found particularly troubling however was the part of the report dealing with the availability to arts education for minority and low-income students.

The notes that the Denver School for the Arts (DSA) has a good program (it is considered the ‘gold standard’ for arts education), however participation from minority and low-income students is very limited.

“DSA currently serves a student population of 13% low-income students in contrast to Denver Public Schools overall low-income population of 73%” – from the report.

The reason in part is an inequality of access. DSA admissions are based on blind auditions. The problem is that students who want to attend are handicapped because they have not had enough training, much less quality training. Zip codes tell the tale. Admissions from schools west of I-25 are almost non-existent. The reality is that while arts education throughout DPS is not what it should be, particularly at the elementary- and middle-school level, more affluent parents can provide their children with private instruction and that can make the difference.

This is particularly acute with regard to music, orchestra and band.

This inequality not only hurts these students it hurts us as a community and may deprive the society at large of the next Pablo Picasso, or YoYo Ma, or Maya Angelou or even Madonna. Moreover the report also cites from James Catteral's study Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, that low-income students at arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A as low-income students at arts-poor high schools

We know and the report also notes, that the arts have a significant impact on the economy. The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, in its latest survey of the economic impact of the arts for instance stated that the economic impact of the arts in the Denver Metro region was $1.76 Billion 2011.

So not only do the arts have intrinsic value, they have tremendous economic value. For both those reasons and others, access to arts education should be universal and comprehensive and no socio-economic groups should be excluded.

The report has a quote that I love from the actor and former Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander: “The young man who picks up a clarinet or even a paintbrush or a pen is not as likely to pick up a needle or a gun: he has better things to do.”

The study was done by A+ Denver, an independent, non-partisan 501 (c)(3) organization working to assist in improving student achievement in Denver Public Schools. The study was initiated by a task force of that organization, the Denver Quality Arts Task Force.

The report notes that some years ago, a commitment was made nationally to improve student performance in Math and Science and that is occurring. No such commitment currently exists with regard to arts education. It needs to. And that commitment must be implemented in every neighborhood regardless of zip code.

The full report is available here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Denver Film Festival, Final Thoughts.

On the whole, the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival was a success. The first year away from the screens at the Tivoli could have proved problematic but wasn’t. The use of screens at the UA Theatres at the Pavilions worked fairly well. Certainly the seats were more comfortable.

The newly named Sie Film Center (and permanent home of the Film Society) continues to be a terrific venue not only during the Film Festival but year-round. The use of L2, across the street however is not a good venue to screen films. One thing about not being at the Tivoli anymore is the inability to use the King Center. I don’t know that there is an alternative to L2 but going forward, the Film Society needs to take a serious look at the viability of this venue. If an alternative cannot be found make certain the schedule does not require its use.

Another positive is the expansion of the schedule to include weekday matinees. The ones I attended had reasonably good sized audiences. Final tallies by the Society will show how well they were actually attended and indicate whether continuing with weekday matinees makes sense. From my personal standpoint, I hope it is possible to keep them. Among other things it eliminates some viewing dilemmas: do I see this film or that?

Volunteers. The Festival has always relied on a good core of volunteers – producing an 11-day festival is just not possible without them. I saw a lot of newer and younger faces in the volunteer core this year and that is a good thing, however it seemed to me that volunteers were in shorter supply than in past years (I have been attending the festival since 1990). Not sure if that is really the case or my perception.

The focus on Argentinean Film had one real high point for me: Family Law. This film was the 2004 Argentine submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. It was great fun and poignant with a terrific performance by Daniel Hendler as the University law professor struggling with family life and a relationship with his lawyer father.

I am a fan of eastern European film (in which I often include Germany). I saw another fine example in the 2011 Polish film Rose (or Roza). It is one of the films from this year’s festival that haunts me. I cannot get it out of my mind. Rose is a Masurian woman at the end of WWII. Masuria was a region of East Prussia that became part of Poland as a result of the Potsdam Agreements forged at the end of the war. There is tremendous animosity and outright hatred by the ethnic Poles and the invading Russians for the Masurians. This hatred takes the form of cruelty and the worst kind brutality to the Masurians. The worst kind of brutality takes the form of rape as a weapon of war. It was practiced by the Germans on the Poles and now is practiced by the Poles and the Russians on the Masurians.

This is a harrowing story of Rose’s attempts at survival. Her husband is dead, killed in the war and she is left on their farm trying to endure. A refugee, Tadeuz, a Pole from the Warsaw Uprising, arrives at the farm. He had been with her husband when he was killed and had brought pictures and other mementos to her. Wounded at the time, he had also watched as a German officer raped and then murdered his wife.

The two find common bond. The invading Russians are out to arrest and torture members of the Polish Home Army (part of the underground) instigators of the Warsaw Uprising. Stalin feared any nationalist movement (of which the Home Army was a part of) and wanted to destroy any elements in order to establish a satellite state in Poland. Thus Tadeuz is hunted and tries to hide his past.

Another film that is staying with me is the 2011 Chilean film Violeta Went To Heaven about the singer and artist Violeta Parra who died in 1967. It was Chile’s submission for the 84th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film. It was not nominated. It did, however win the World Cinema Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It is a terrific film with a terrific performance by Francisca Gavilan as Violetta.

So the 35th has come and gone. Here’s to next year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Foreign Language Oscar Possibilities screened at Denver Film Festival

Four films that screened at the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival are also submissions for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. They are: Barbara from Germany, Sister from Switzerland, Headshot from Thailand and Caesar Must Die from Italy.

Sister, which was named the Kryzstof Kieslowski Best Feature Film at the Festival, has a shot at making the actual nomination list. 71 countries have submitted films to the Academy for consideration. Those films will be pared down to the final five nominations. More about Sister.

There is no guarantee that Sister, or any of these other films, might actually make the short list but it has a real chance. It is a very compelling and troubling film about a complicated relationship between a 12-year old boy and his 'sister'. It takes you places you may not want to go and with which you are not very comfortable but it does it in a way that is powerful and involving. You won't soon forget this film and the two principal characters.

Barbara is also a terrific film, though it is probably a longer shot to make the final five. It takes place in East Germany in 1980. Barbara is a woman doctor, recently released from prison, though we don't know why exactly, we are left to suspect that she may have been political prisoner – she was trying to obtain a permit to leave the country and is now under constant surveillance. She is clearly a very well trained and competent physician but ends up in the 'provinces' at a hospital where she meets another doctor who seems to be out of place in this backwater.

This is a tightly crafted drama, whose 'slice of life' almost leisurely pace belies the tension underneath. Nina Hoss, of the incredible eyes, plays Barbara. Ronald Zehrfeld, in an engaging performance plays the other doctor, Andre.

It is interesting that Sister could be considered a French film except for the fact that Academy rules stipulate that the creative talent (writer, director, producer) have to hail from the submitting nation – in that case this is Switzerland. France already has a submissions that is not only very likely to make the final five, but has a good shot at picking up the Oscar: The Intouchables.

The documentary, Caesar Must Die, is also a long shot despite being an excellent film and winning the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival. It's makers, brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani received the Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet Author Darynda Jones

New York Times best-selling author, Darynda Jones’ previous Charley Davidson books combine mystery with the paranormal; demons and ghosts paired with murder, robbery and even more heinous crimes. Her latest, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, published by St. Martin's Press October 30 – appropriately the day before Halloween - is no exception.

Charley (Charlotte) Davidson is a private investigator in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She often works as a consultant for the Police Department and also just happens to be a Grim Reaper – a portal for the departed to pass through to the other side. She is conversant with the dead and may be in love with Reyes who may be the Son of Satan.

Charley is not your average PI.

Ms Jones has an engaging, friendly laugh – not at all what you would expect from someone writing about mayhem, murder and maniacal demons. I spoke with her recently.

I asked if she set about to write crime fiction with a paranormal twist, or was her interest the paranormal, and crime fiction seemed a good vehicle. She told me she was interested in both and that originally she didn’t want the novels to be ‘super paranormal’, just a ‘little bit’ paranormal but now she thinks her writing is about 50-50 straight crime fiction and the paranormal. Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet has plenty of each.

She told me her attraction to the paranormal goes back to her childhood.

“One Halloween I was scared to death by this guy dressed up like a vampire and I have loved it ever since – just always been fascinated.”

The stories are set in Albuquerque, New Mexico and that is perhaps appropriate since New Mexico is The Land of Enchantment and there is a long strain of Native American and other mysticism in New Mexico.

Beginning in High School, Jones had always wanted to write and did, but without any real success. Then in 2002 she decided to start writing seriously with the goal of being published.

She wrote a historical romance, which she says will stay forever hidden underneath her bed, she wrote a piece of young adult fiction, Death and the Girl Next Door (which would also, eventually be published), then First Grave on the Right her third completed manuscript and the one that began the Charley Davidson series. It is interesting that First Grave began life as a ‘Romance’ not necessarily as a crime novel.

Darynda joined The Romance Writers of America (RWA) in a quest to learn the business of writing and publishing. She says she learned so much about what to do and what not to do and that she was able to take the rejections that came before her success because of what she learned: that the rejections were not personal, that it was just business.

“It wasn’t just learning the craft of writing I was also learning about the business. Once you come at it from the angle, that this is a business and that if you want an agent you need to understand that if they want you it is because they believe frankly that they can make money off you because it is a business, then you don’t take the rejections so hard.”

In 2009, she submitted the manuscript for First Grave on the Right for a Golden Heart Award as a paranormal romance. Golden Hearts are awards given annually by the RWA.
She was selected as a finalist and garnered so much attention as a finalist that she was able to acquire an agent. Then, she actually won a Golden Heart and shortly thereafter had a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. First Grave on the Right was published in early 2011.

Three other books featuring Charley followed in fairly rapid succession, about every six months. One of the books, For I Have Sinned, is actually a short story or novella. She said she didn’t realize St Martin’s was going to publish it in book form. It is the only book without Grave in the title.

Darynda also has a Young Adult series published by St. Martin's.

Fourth Grave has Charley still recuperating physically and emotionally from the torture and near-murder she suffered at the end of Third Grave Dead Ahead. She can’t bring herself to leave her apartment and spends her time buying stuff (that she can’t afford) on a home shopping network. But circumstances change that. A new client comes to Charley for help: someone is trying to kill her. Soon Charley is back at it again, not only with this new case, but others that come her way as well, in what seems like a flood of cases to solve.

Ms Jones is working on the next in the series, Fifth Grave Past the Light, due for publication next year. I asked if there was any chance that Charley could show up in a movie or on television. She told me that CBS had bought the rights to First Grave, even before publication as a possible series on The CW channel. CBS has renewed the option, so perhaps.

Darynda Jones will be at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, Highlands Ranch on November 12 to read from Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet and sign books.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"I, Anna"

There have been two spellbinding thrillers at this year’s Starz Denver Film Festival: Shadow Dancer" and "I, Anna" starring Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne.

Rampling is Anna, a lonely divorced woman taken to attending speed dating sessions. At one she meets George Stone (Ralph Brown) and goes home with him to his sumptuous apartment. Later, George is found murdered, bludgeoned to death.

Gabriel Byrne is Detective Chief Inspector Bernie Reid. DCI Reid is separated from his wife, lonely and an insomniac taken to roaming around London late at night. While out on one of his nocturnal wanderings he hears a call about a dead body. Realizing he is close by the address he responds.

By chance, he encounters Anna, innocently retrieving her umbrella from the elevator of the building. Something about her intrigues him, not because he connects her to the crime he is about to investigate but because there is something captivating. Watching her leave, he makes a mental note of her license plate – perhaps he will seek her out.

This psychological thriller is very ‘film noirish’ and is set in a seedy London, not the London of Mayfair and the West End.

Anna lives with her daughter Emily (Hayley Atwell) and Emily’s toddler. There is a serene, almost vague quality to Anna and while we think she must know something about the murder, she doesn’t seem to; she seems not to remember anything about that night.

"I, Anna" is directed by Barnaby Southcombe, who also happens to be Rampling’s son from her marriage to Bryan Southcombe. Barnaby Southcombe also wrote the screenplay which is based on the novel of the same name by Elsa Lewin.

Southcombe keeps us guessing about what happened – feeding us flashes and tidbits of information: who may have murdered George Stone, and what exactly Anna’s part in all of this is?

DCI Reid's investigation focuses on George Stone’s troubled and out of control son, Stevie (Max Deacon), who is known to be in the apartment the night of the murder. In all this he continues to be attracted to the woman he only met in passing, Anna.

He tracks her down, learning that she attends speed dating sessions. He attends a session as well and the two meet at the bar. They talk, there is a rapport, but she has no memory of meeting him before. They agree to see each other again. They do, but as they do some of Anna’s memories begin to resurface.

Rampling and Byrne's maturity and talent make the film work wonderfully. Rampling, at 66 years of age is still breathtakingly beautiful with that enigmatic, other-world quality it is very believable that the ruggedly handsome Byrne would fall for her.

His attraction to her complicates his investigation though and maybe even his ethics. As more secrets are revealed, the ending starts to bear down on us and Anna and Reid like an on rushing train.

The film screens again Saturday. No US commercial release has been announced.

The Sapphires - There is the music, There is Chris O'Dowd, There are the four incredible women

In Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires, three of the young women, they are sisters and cousins, go to a local club in a rural part of Australia, to perform in a talent contest. This is a ‘whites’ only process and the Aboriginal women are rudely treated but they perform nonetheless. The MC, Dave (Chris O’Dowd), a down on his luck, boozy musician, scuffling to get by, is very taken with their singing. He persuades them that if they will only give up the Country and Western songs they want to sing and take on American Soul music they can be successful – but probably not in Australia because they are Aborigines and this is the sixties. Vietnam is where they need to go to get their big break.

Dave says they need to be a quartet – there is another sister. She is now living in Sydney, one of the ‘light-skinned’ ones taken at an early age and being raised by a white family.

The history of racism in our own country is matched by that of Australia in its treatment over the years of its indigenous population, the Aborigines. While it wasn't quite the Apartheid of South Africa it was brutalizing to the Aborigine nonetheless. One aspect was the taking of young Aborigine children who were light skinned and could pass for white. They would be raised 'white' would marry white and in theory diminish the indigenous population by selective breeding

There is not total agreement among the other three sisters about the need for the fourth to join them – this tension, among others, runs through most of film – but in the end they are indeed a quartet and are off to Vietnam.

This comedy/drama has so much going for it: the script is delightful, O’Dowd (in a tour de force turn) is wonderful, and there is the music and the women – wow.

The four Sapphires are played by Deborah Malman, Jessica Mauboy Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens. They are the real deal. Close your eyes and you will swear you are listening to the Supremes at their best. In fact, you won’t want the music to stop (there is a soundtrack available).

The film is based on a stage play/musical written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the real Sapphires and who also co-wrote the screenplay with Keith Thompson.

And while the music is wonderful and this is in essence a comedy, the script deals with the underlying racism, cruelty and bitterness the women face in their real lives.

And as we learn in the credits, the real woman have gone on, not to musical careers but making a difference in the lives of their community.

This film got a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival (a remarkable achievement) earlier this year. It screened over this past weekend at the Starz Denver Film Festival and was a huge hit. It has three more screening this coming Sunday night, the last night of the Festival.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Starlet - Another Hemingway Woman stands out

Update: Starlet opens today, Friday December 7, at the Chez Artiste.

There must be something in the genes, at least for the women, descended from Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest's great granddaughter, Dree Hemingway is the latest to display wonderful acting talent.

In Sean Baker's Starlet, which screened this week at the Starz Denver Film Festival, Hemingway plays Jane, a 21 year old - flaky in a Legally Blonde kind of way - Porn Queen living on the edge in the 'beautiful' west San Fernando Valley. She and her chihuahua named Starlet, share an apartment with a drugged-out fellow sex worker, Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Melissa's porn-promoter, wannabe boyfriend, Mikey (James Ransone).

Wanting to fix up her room (she needs to make it feel more like a home?) she stops at a yard sale, where she buys a beautifully decorated thermos that she thinks is a vase. When she gets back to her room she discovers several tightly wrapped rolls of hundred dollar bills inside.

Ambivalent about what exactly to do about the money but curious, she returns to the site of the yard sale. She asks the elderly woman, Sadie (Besedka Johnson) from whom she bought the thermos about it. Sadie, caustic and suspicious, says that there is no refund. Jane, trying to not be too forthcoming, says she doesn't want a refund she is just curious. She finds excuses to linger around the house - “Can I have a glass of water? -exasperating the old woman.

As time goes on, Jane finds ways to run into Sadie, at the grocery store, at Saturday bingo sessions, etc.

An unlikely friendship develops between the lonely, widowed Sadie and Jane who is craving family - after finding the money she calls her mother in Florida telling her she will pay to fly her to California so the can see each other, her mother refuses.

Dree Hemingway, the daughter of Mariel and niece of Margaux is wonderful in this low-budget ($250,000) SAG Indie film, as is Besedka Johnson in a debut performance. The 87 year-old Johnson was 'discovered' at a YWCA and thought the casting was a joke. Her performance is no joke.

While there is a very explicit sex scene - Jane, shooting a porn-video - the characters' involvement in the Adult film industry is incidental to the story. It is a very sweet, naturalistic film about human wants and needs. It is about the secrets we all harbor, which often enhance and strengthen the sometimes odd friendships that can sustain us.

Sean Baker's direction and the performances of Hemingway and Johnson draw us in and make us care about these people and what happens to them. The supporting cast is terrific as well.

Starlet, from Music Box Films is scheduled to open in Denver December 7 at a Landmark Theatre.

SAG Indie is an organization devoted to facitlitating the use by low-budget film makers, of SAG (now SAG-AFTRA) professional actors It is supported by the Screen Actor's Guild-Producers Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Liv & Ingmar

Liv & Ingmar, the documentary, is really, as Ron Henderson says, a love letter from actor Liv Ullman to the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It screened for the last time Monday night during the Starz Denver Film Festival.

Ullman and Bergman met in 1964 when he cast her in his film Personna – She would go on to act in ten films for him – and during the next five years they would live together in a relationship which was intimate, passionate, emotional, loving, creative and ultimately heartbreaking and anguished. The secondary title of the film reads: Painfully Connected. That describes it.

In Dheeraj Akolkar’s 75 minute documentary, Ullman returns to the house and the island where they lived during that five years and where Personna was shot, to reflect on their 42-year relationship (Bergman died in 2007). Though Ullman eventually left Bergman the bond between them was still there. They became, if anything, even better friends.

Beautifully shot in rich color by Hallvard Braein it also features archival footage and stills as well as footage from some of their films. It is poignant and insightful. The film is told from Ullman’s point of view. She is frank and open in talking about her feelings and their relationship. We only hear Bergman's words from his love letters to her.

Ullman had a daughter, Linn, by Bergman during this time but eventually it was not enough to keep them together.
They were both married to other people in that summer of 1964 (Ullman would divorce her husband) but their passion for each other drew them together.

Bergman built a house for her on the island but soon it became almost a prison. Bergman was prone to turbulent rages and psychological violence. He wanted solitude while he was writing but extended that solitude to isolating her; he built a wall around the house to keep others out and her in; he demanded that she be home at certain times and dictated which days she could leave the house. This all became too much for her to bear and, now with a child, she left.

Though the romantic relationship ended, the creative collaboration continued.
Ullman would go on to be a major Hollywood star and Bergman continued making films, some with her.

While Ullman does not speak much in the film about her daughter Linn’s relationship with her father, the relationship did exist. Bergman was very proud of her. Linn in the last years of his life spent time with him on the island.

Linn Ullman is a very successful writer and novelist. She also is co founder and former Artistic Director of the International Artist Residency Foundation at The Bergman Estate on the island.

I am a fan of both Bergman and Ullman and the films they did together. Woody Allen, also one of my favorite filmmakers, and he a fan of Bergman as well, has called him, "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera," Allen was introduced to Bergman by Ullman.

I remember when Allen’s Bergman inspired film Interiors was released in 1978, there was a hue and cry from Woody’s fans – “it isn’t funny” they complained (not unlike the reaction from Bob Dylan fans when he showed up at Newport with an electric guitar). Woody would go on to make more films in the spirit of Bergman and other European directors so that now, people speak of making ‘Woody Allenesque’ films.

It may be easy for many to focus so thoroughly on Bergman’s artistic genius and lose sight of the artistic genius of Ullman herself. Bergman called Ullman ‘his Stradivarius’ – the music from a musician on a lesser instrument would not be the same. As she has so thoroughly demonstrated, she is an actor and film artist (she directed two films which Bergman wrote, the only woman to have directed a Bergman film script).

In addition to screenings at the Starz Denver Film Festival, the film has played other film festivals, this year. It has been officially released in Norway, but to date, no US release or distribution has been announced.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three other highlights from Denver Film Festival opening weekend: Quartet, Sister, and Casting By

Quartet was the Big Night film on Saturday. Like the opening night film, The Last Quartet it deals with serious music (I prefer the term ‘serious’ to the term ‘classical’ music).

Beecham House is a very opulent ‘retirement’ home for musicians and other performers. Each year, the residents put on a gala: it is a bit like the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals – ‘let’s get a barn and put on a show!’ In this case the barn looks a bit like the manor house in Downton Abbey and ‘kids’ are replaced by superannuated performers. But just as I found those old Rooney/Garland movies entertaining so too did I enjoy Quartet. Tom Courtney, Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins play retired opera singers who in their professional past had performed Verdi’s Quartet together. Maggie Smith, just before the gala, herself retires to Beecham House. It is proposed that they reunite to again perform Quartet at the gala.

Of course, nothing is that simple: there are numerous complications, not the least of which is a long unsettled love relationship between the Smith and Courtney character.

This film is enjoyable for the performances, not just of these four actors but everyone else in the film. The residents are portrayed by performers actually playing themselves. A wonderful device in the end credits is to identify the performer with ‘then’ and ‘now’ photos.

As I have noted in the past, there is a real film audience in an older demographic and this film, like Stand Up Guys, will appeal to that.

Sister is a compelling film by Ursula Meier. It is the Swiss submission for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) is a twelve year-old boy living in poverty in a valley below a wealthy ski resort in the Alps. He shares a tiny apartment in a rundown building with his sister, Louise (Lea Seydoux), who is clearly much older – perhaps in her mid- to late-twenties. She is also rarely there, given to quitting jobs, taking off with men for days at a time or on drunken binges. It is Simon who seems to be holding things together, keeping the rent paid and buying food. He does this by stealing what he can (and he is very good) at the ski resort and selling it.

This is a sad but unsentimental film and both Klein and Seydoux are remarkable with performances that are unsettling. Watch the trailer.

Casting By is a documentary by Tom Donohue. It focuses on casting directors, particularly Marion Dougherty and the process (and how it has changed) of casting motion pictures.

Dougherty, who started in live television in New York in the fifties, really changed the way movies were cast. In the old Studio System, contract players were assigned roles in motion pictures based on their type. Dougherty, working primarily with New York stage actors changed that. Her success in casting such successful television series as Naked City and Route 66 eventually brought her to motion pictures and eventually Hollywood.

The documentary features directors who talk about the serious collaborative role that casting directors, like Daugherty, but also many that she mentored including Juliet Taylor and Wally Nicita, play in successfully finding exactly the right actor for the role.

The documentary also notes that the vast majority of casting directors are women; Dougherty said that the reason so many women ended up doing casting is because it didn’t pay very well – men wouldn’t do it.

I was actually cast by Daugherty and Wally Nicita in Escape From Alcatraz, so it had special meaning for me. As scenes in the Doc featured Marion surrounded by hundreds of actor photos, I realized that at some point, my photo was among those.

This is an HBO documentary, so it should show up on HBO at some time in the future. Also, perhaps the Film Society will bring it back at some point for a regular screening at the newly named Sie Film Center on Colfax. Under any circumstance, I particularly encourage my actor friends to see this film.

Stand Up Guys

Stand Up Guys, from Lionsgate, screened at the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival Sunday and is pure entertainment. There are under lying themes of family, friendship, love, loyalty and living by a code - whatever that code may be - but in the end this is laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining.

The film stars Al Pacino (can Pacino get any scruffier looking) as Val, Christopher Walken as Doc and Alan Arkin as Hirsch, three aging ‘bad guys’ who through a series of circumstances are reunited for a night of shoot-outs, robberies, car-theft, car-chases, debauchery (Pacino’s character consumes an entire bottle of Viagra, which a brothel madam calls ‘boner pills’) and Galahad-like chivalry.

These are three terrific actors - though I am happy to see Walken play a bit understated instead of his often over the top performances, which he demonstrated in the opening night film, The Last Quartet - and they are what make this film so enjoyable. It received a very enthusiastic response from the audience when I saw it Sunday night.

Val has just been released from prison, after 28 years, for a crime he likely did not commit, but, as he says, he served his time and kept his mouth shut.

He is picked up outside the prison gate by his long-time friend, Doc, who it turns out is being pressured to kill Val. Doc has until 10 AM the following morning to accomplish this or suffer some very dire consequences. Will he? Won’t he? You have to get to the end of the picture to find out.

Val says he wants to party (he has been in prison for 28 years after all) and so they do, though Doc, somewhat reluctantly.

There is a wonderful scene in a disco (do they still call those kind of clubs discos?) in which Pacino pays the DJ to play a slow song (“oh, one of those old time songs”) and persuades an attractive young woman to dance with him. It is so reminiscent of the tango scene in Scent of a Woman as Pacino (Val) gracefully swings the young woman out onto the dance floor.

The film evolves over the next few cinematic hours as Val and Doc hook up with Hirsch (rescuing him from a nursing home), make a return trip to a brothel, the car-theft and car chase, etc.

I had been excited when I learned that film was to play at this year’s Film Festival, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it. There is a necessary willing suspension of disbelief with this film but don’t worry about making sense of any seeming unrealities, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Stand Up Guys is not scheduled for another screening at the Film Festival however it will open nationwide in January of 2013. It had its premiere at the Chicago Film Festival a couple of weeks ago and is slated for an Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles and Manhattan in December.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Film Festival Day 2

Friday for me was mixed. I saw one terrific film (Shadow Dancer), one so-so film, and had one film I really wanted to see cancelled.

Last night at L2 the screening of The Sapphires was cancelled due to a projector failure. This was not a great way to start the festival and I know Britta Erickson, the Festival Director, was very frustrated, though it was not her fault or the fault of any one at the Film Society. The projector had been tested in the afternoon and worked fine, but when it came time to screen Sapphires at 6:30 PM it was kaput. The crew worked for nearly an hour to fix the problem but it was beyond repair.

Though disappointed, the crowd in the Theatre was pretty good-natured and endured the delay and then cancellation with equanimity. The Good news is that a new screening of the film has been arranged for closing Sunday night.

I will say, that L2 is not a great venue for film particularly when compared to the wonderful Film Center facility and the Pavilions, where other Festival films are screening. Let me also say that while I miss the hominess and am a bit nostalgic for the Tivoli facility, I don't miss those terrible seats. It really had become careworn. Pavilions so far is working out quite well and is much more comfortable than Tivoli.

My first screening yesterday afternoon was Argentinian Lesson. It is actually a Polish documentary, and while visually quite good, I found it only so-so.

Of course the big news from the Film Society is the $2.5 Million donation from the Anna and John Sie foundation to allow the purchase of the Film Society's home on Colfax. John and Anna have been strong supporters of the Festival and the Society. I was particularly pleased to hear John say, in acknowledging the current and earlier support, that he really would like to see Denver become a center of film making not just film screening.

Kudos John and Anna.

Shadow Dancer

A young girl sits at a table stringing beads. Her dad had given her some money to 'buy herself some sweets', but she sent her younger brother off for 'the sweets' instead so she could remain with her beads. It alls feels very normal, quiet, unhurried.

As we watch the girl, we catch a momentary glimpse in the background of her brother out on the street as he goes for the candy, then of a man who might be following him – it is just a flash; we are not even sure what we might have seen.

The unhurried pace and sense of normalcy are actually quite disturbing; the lack of a frantic pace or overt foreboding create an air of even more intense disquiet. We sense that something bad is going to happen, we just don't know what or when .- we are literally waiting for the shoe to drop.

Shadow Dancer which screened last night at the Starz Denver Film Festival is a riveting thriller, that is permeated with a sense of disquiet: a sense created by long unbroken takes, often with little or no dialogue; the story unfolding in silence createing a tension that is unsettling.

After a prologue, the film opens with with a woman in riding on the London Underground. It is 1993. The woman, whose eyes constantly dart to those around her and her surroundings, grips the large purse she carries on her shoulder. She changes trains a few times.

There it is again, the sense that something bad is about to happen. Is there a bomb in her purse? Is she a terrorist? The tension builds without anything being said. Tight closeups of her expressionless face actually intensify the tension.

Andrea Riseborough, in a remarkable performance, plays the woman, Collette. She is the now grown adult of the child we had seen in the prologue. She is from a Catholic family in Belfast. Her two brothers are IRA terrorists. She lives with her mother and her young son. We don't know anything about the father of her son.

Collette finally drops her purse in a stairwell as she flees the Underground. We are now certain she is a terrorist and we wait for the bomb to explode, but it doesn't. Instead, Collette is arrested and taken to a secret location. There, though she resists for a long time, she is finally recruited to be a 'spy' on the activities of her brothers and others in the IRA in Belfast. The safety and well-being of her son, some unresolved feelings of guilt and anger all combine to persuade her. Her recruitment is done by Mac, played by Clive Owen. He will be her secret contact.

As the story unfolds there is also a sense that not all is as it appears to be; relationships are complicated and not always straightforward; is there anyone who can be trusted? This is certainly true among the IRA, but it also my be true of the police.

This film takes us back the time of 'The Troubles' where for the most part there don't seem to be any good guys. The bloody extremes of the IRA; the heavy-handed equally extreme measures of the British in Northern Ireland; the foolhardy bravado of 'Up the Rebels' create an environment in which violence and death are everyday occurances; where an eye for and eye, a kill for a killing rule.

The film is based on the novel (1998) of the same name by Tom Bradby, who also wrote the screenplay. Bradby has written five other novels and is the Political Editor for ITN news in the UK.

James Marsh, who heretofore was a documentarian (Man on a Wire, which screened at last years Festival) directs and is responsible for the intensity and edge of the film.

I can't say enough about Riseborough's performance. Understated seems almost an understatement. She does more with less than almost any other actor I can think of. Actually all the performances are good. Brid Brennan as the mother gives an equally understated performance. She is imbued with a sadness that is just there, understated, but there; she has lived a lifetime of the misery associated with 'The Troubles'. Aiden Gillen as Gerry and Domnhall Gleeson as Connor, Collette's two brothers are quite good.

This is great storytelling, with wonderful ensemble work and in particular a standout performance by Riseborough.

The film is not scheduled to screen again at the Festival, but may turn up in the future. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Star Wars - the future with Disney?

By now you undoubtedly know that Lucasfilm has been sold to Disney – Luke Skywalker and Mickey Mouse together under the same roof, or maybe Donald Duck and Yoda, Darth Vader and Maleficent, how about Minnie Mouse and Princess Leia – okay, I will stop now.

The Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets reporting on the $4.05 Billion sale indicate that Disney plans future Star Wars films with the first coming in 2015. The also report that Kathleen Kennedy, the current co-chair of Lucasfilm will be President of Lucas under Disney. That suggests continuity, but of course that remains to be seen. The real question: Is Star Wars, Star Wars without George Lucas?

Reportedly, Kennedy and Lucas have already been working on the new (Episode VII) Star Wars but what does that mean now and as the project further develops? Exactly how much involvement will Lucas have?

There are some who will hope that it means less involvement. There are fans of Star Wars, who see all the movies but complain about what Lucas has done since the original films. There is even a documentary about these disgruntled fans titled The People vs George Lucas. The documentary suggests that Lucas has betrayed his original masterwork; that The Phantom Menace should carry a health warning.

EOnline reports that other than having written the treatment his involvement will be minimal.

They further suggest that the film and subsequent ones will be much more of an original and may be based on stories from a series of books, The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.
Future Star Wars films are not the only thing of interest in this sale. The previous six films were distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, which has announced plans to release 3D versions of at least some of those films. Will this deal complicate that?

Of course, Star Wars is not the only franchise Lucasfilm owns, there is that other very lucrative Indiana Jones. Future versions, if any are even contemplated, of that are likely to be complicated because a sequel rights/distribution deal with Paramount.

One other possibility, I suppose we could have American Graffiti, the Final Days in which we catch up with all the characters as they get shipped off to the nursing home.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Denver Arts Week

Tomorrow marks the official start of Denver Arts Week, November 2 - 10, a celebration of Denver’s vibrant arts and culture scene sponsored by Visit Denver and Arts and Venues Denver. And there is plenty to see and do: theatre, music, film opera, museums and visual arts, dance, the list goes on. The week is really more than a week - eight days unless you count the opening and closing of the Starz Denver Film Festival which begins tonight and goes through November 11.

- Important to note, that the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts released a study, Wednesday, of the significant economic impact of the Arts and Culture. See a related blog post.

A highlight of the week is the opening of the McNichols Civic Center Building. Saturday, November 3 from 11 AM to 6 PM will feature free live performances throughout the day with everything from Flamenco Dance to a roots music performance to Dawson Wallace Dance. Also, Tom Noel, Dr. Colorado, will give two hour-long historical tours of the building: one at 11:30 and another at 1:45 PM.

Visiting McNichols will also allow you to view the art installations on the first, second and third floors.

The Colorado Symphony will have two specialty performances:

FAURÉ REQUIEM, Friday November 3 – Sunday November 4. The program will include Jack in the Box by Erik Satie, the Violin Concerto No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saëns, and two pieces by Gbriel Fauré: Requiem and Pavane.

THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND WITH HILARY KOLE, Saturday, November 10. Vocalist Hilary Kole plays Bond Girl as the orchestra performs the iconic music of James Bond, including “Live and Let Die” and “For Your Eyes Only”.

Music related, The American Guild of Organists & Historic Denver, Inc conduct a Saturday Stroll on November 10, to see the organs housed in Denver’s Historic Buildings. is a fun and informative tour of organs housed in

“Becoming Van Gogh” continues at the Denver Art Museum.

The Clyfford Still Museum is offering free admission all day Saturday, November 3 and extended hours - open until 10 PM - all Denver Arts Week. The free admission on Saturday includes access to the special exhibition, Vincent/Clyfford - as well as screenings of the documentary STILL and free tours at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 p.m.

There is lots more, so take advantage of this time to see something you haven’t, hear something you haven’t, do something you haven’t. There are galleries and museums and theatre productions that I can’t even begin to mention. We have a wonderful arts and cultural environment in Denver – experience it this next week. Oh, but don’t stop then. This is a year-round Arts environment.

For more information

or Arts and Venues Denver.

The Economic impact of the Arts

The arts generated $1.76 Billion in economic activity in 2011 according to the 2012 Economic Activity Study of Metro Denver conducted by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA). That figure is up 18.4% from 2009. It would appear that arts economic activity is rebounding from the recession that began in 2008.

The arts and culture are a signifcant economic engine. The study notes that the $1.76 Billion includes $527 Million in 'new' money. 'New' money are dollars that otherwise would not have been spent in the Denver area.

The Arts also create jobs. Arts jobs increased by 7% over 2009 to a total of 9,354.

This activity ripples throughout the metro area economy. As our overall economy improves, hug an artist.

With Denver Arts Week beginning tomorrow, it is important to reflect on the fact that not only do the arts feed our souls, they feed our economy as well.

More information on the study and the CBCA.