Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Boxing, Ballet, and Booze

By Victoria Looseleaf

Okay, I’m a ballet junkie! And Miami City Ballet gave me a great fix the other night. It was also heartbreaking for me to meet the “Cuban Nijinsky,” Rolando Sarabia and his brother, Daniel, at the cocktail party after MCB’s awesome performance. The brothers defected from Cuba and the tiny island’s phenomenal ballet troupe, Nacional Ballet de Cuba, several years ago, and are not allowed back in the country under the current regime. As I’m going to Havana to cover the 21st International Ballet Festival and 60-year anniversary of BNC – as well a chill out with muchos mojitos - I promised them I would visit their father, and tell him they are well and thriving in their new life in the States.

On a cheerier note, check out what Miami City Ballet’s founder and artistic director, the fabulous Edward Villella, has to say about boxing, ballet and choreographer extraordinaire Twyla Tharp in a series of interviews I did for KUSC-FM radio. Included are two Spotlight on the Arts (Boxing and Ballet and An Unlikely Collaboration), as well as my Arts Alive feature, a longer portrait of Villella, one of ballet’s true superstars under George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. So lace up your toe shoes, tug up your tights and enjoy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

We Have a Winner

By Robert Rosen

It’s hard to believe that it’s been only six weeks since we ran “Hypocrisy Now: 16 Questions for Every Voter Who’s Been Paying Attention,” and already the quiz seems veiled in a mist of nostalgia from that quaint time when one could still believe that nude pix of Sarah Palin could swing an erection.

Excuse me, I mean election.

Now, with that distinct whiff of 1932 in the air, I think it’s safe to conclude that if Jesus Christ himself hand-delivered to Larry Flynt a certified authentic 1980 loop of an underage Palin doing interracial DP with John Holmes and Johnny Keyes, of Behind the Green Door fame, America, at best, might pause for a moment to collectively raise a quizzical eyebrow. Then everybody would collectively howl: “But what about my fucking 401(k)Y Jelly—the preferred lubricant of Wall Street titans?”

Excuse me, I mean fucking 401(k)—the retirement scam Wall Street titans foisted on American workers.

The land of the free (market) has indeed come crashing back to reality under the inimitable guidance of The Great Uniter who, unable to escape the White House without bringing down the entire Global Fucking Economy (GFE), has at last succeeded in uniting the country, the Republican Fucking Party (RFP), and the world—against him.

Excuse me, I mean, Heck of a job, Bushie.

Yet, in this moment of profound darkness we can still thank our Christian Lord for small favors: The quiz has produced a winner—Richard Reynolds, a seditious malcontent who, from his lonely outpost in suburban Seattle, has been paying close attention, and overcame the competition with a combination of acid-tinged words and a delightful drawing of Our Ms. Palin as “Pro-Life Alaska Barbie.”

For his efforts above and beyond the call of duty, we will send Richard his prize: an autographed copy of Mary Lyn Maiscott’s debut CD, Blue Lights. And he’ll have it well before the holiday season, giving him plenty of time to groove on the title song, now recognized in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri (as well as in certain New York City neighborhoods) as an instant Christmas classic.

So, without further ado, we at The Looseleaf Report proudly bring you Richard Reynolds’s answers, and a few editor’s notes commenting on the seismic changes that have taken place since they were submitted BC (Before the Crash).

1. Is there any chance that this election won’t be ugly, close, and marred by legal challenges?

No. It will probably end up in the GOP-controlled Supreme Court...again. I'll let you guess who they give it to.

2. How can anybody have any faith in the wisdom of an American public that twice elected George Bush, when even a corpse would have done less damage and should have beaten Dubya in a landslide?

Television is a horrible, debilitating drug. Far worse than heroin or crack...and far more pervasive.

3. Will Bush, like Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, be hounded like a war criminal for the rest of his unnatural life?

No, he’s going to retire to a compound in South America and do lines off the bellies of rent boys and drink himself to death.

4. Can the broadcast media raise the level of their political discourse from sub-moronic to moronic?

Barely, and then with only the greatest effort.

5. Does Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! know how often she disintegrates into self-parody, or that her ace correspondent, the ever-indignant Jeremy Scahill, acts like a graduate of the Samantha Bee School of Journalism?

Fame, like television, is a debilitating drug.

6. Has John McCain ever heard the Phil Ochs classic “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” which The Jefferson Starship recently covered (with our friend Cathy Richardson singing lead)?

I think he just listens to Barry Sadler and the sound of the little man who lives in his head.

7. Does the lyric “It’s always the old who lead us to the war” (see above) remind McCain of anybody?


8. What will it take for people to understand that McCain’s a corrupt warmonger whose bad judgment dates back 25 years, to his first term in Congress, when he tried to influence bank regulators on behalf of his biggest campaign contributor, convicted racketeer Charles Keating, after the failure of Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan cost taxpayers $3.4 billion?

An invasion and occupation by Canada and UN peacekeepers?

Editor’s note: You’ve got to give the Obama campaign credit: They had the Keating Five video ready, waiting to unleash it at the right moment, like a secret weapon.

9. Why didn’t McCain apply to Keating—a Nixon ally, founder of Citizens for Decency, and producer of the anti-porn film Perversion for Profit—the most reliable litmus test for integrity? That is: The biggest crooks cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.

He’s too busy looking at Sarah Palin’s ass.

Editor’s note: Good answer, but he didn’t know Palin at the time.

10. Why does the media constantly bring up Obama’s mentor and fund-raiser, convicted felon Tony Rezko, but virtually never mention Keating?

The board of directors are the Dungeon Masters...and they all own the GOP.

11. What’s worse: Helping a man buy a house or defrauding taxpayers of $3.4 billion?

Depends on if the man who’s buying the house is your “good ol’ boy” from the country club or some poor schmuck who has the colossal bad taste to be born in an inferior tax bracket.

12. Why can’t the media admit that Barack Obama hasn’t lived long enough to learn to be as corrupt as John McCain?

That would require homework and—gasp!—an opinion.

13. What, exactly, is the problem with a presidential candidate who speaks good English and inspires rather than demoralizes every time he opens his mouth?

S&M...America is run on S&M.

14. When Sarah Palin’s nudie pix finally surface—nobody becomes a beauty queen without flashing her tits for at least one photographer—will they help or hurt the Republican ticket?

I SWEAR I saw her in some lesbian “teacher porn.” No kidding. According to the Universal Law of Unequal Political Media Coverage, it will help Palin if her tits are bared. O’Reilly will state, “Who hasn’t shown their tits? I have here a picture of a SHIRTLESS Joe Biden, aged 17 at Brighton Beach. SO, who’s the slut NOW?”

Editor’s Note: See intro.

15. Wait a minute. Wasn’t it the Republican Party that excoriated the fictional Murphy Brown for getting knocked up?

It’s okay when a “real” person does it. (“Real” = GOP)

16. Why hasn’t the Democratic attack machine branded the Republican candidate “Malignant McCain” (as opposed to “Benign Barack”)?

They have an attack machine?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rachel Getting Harried

Left to Right: Anne Hathaway as Kym, Debra Winger as Abby, Bill Irwin as Paul, and Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel. Photo by Declan Quinn © 2007 Sniscak Productions, INC. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Rachel Getting Married
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Screenplay by Jenny Lumet
Starring Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Debra Winger
113 minutes

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

Although he overdoes the vérité (Another wedding speech? I kept thinking) and jerky camera shots, Jonathan Demme has created a small marvel with Rachel Getting Married. Succeeding where Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding did not—the movies share a rambling-house setting and affectionate but resentful sisters, one of whom has a barbed presence that throws off the cozy proceedings—Rachel centers on an extended family with a terrible past event that leaks into their every encounter. From a script by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet, it profits greatly from actors such as Bill Irwin, whose gamin quality occasionally sneaks out in his performance as the worried dad, the much-missed Debra Winger as the aloof mom, Rosemarie DeWitt as the bride swinging wildly between ecstasy and bitterness, and Anne Hathaway—far from her princess days—as Rachel’s sister, Kym, a drug addict on leave from rehab.

Hathaway, with her huge deer eyes and remarkable pillowy lips (when I got bored during The Devil Wears Prada, I would simply stare at them as I might a painting), gives herself over to the complex emotions of her character, who is self-absorbed to the point of being obnoxious yet sincere in her efforts to shake her addiction and deal with her guilt. She goes to 12-step meetings, hooks up with a fellow addict/wedding guest, smokes incessantly, pisses off her sister’s best friend, insists on being the maid of honor, wrecks her dad’s car, and seems to always feel the pull of her mother, though she is the furthest star in Kym’s universe.

Kym’s struggle takes place amid the nearly constant music of the wedding band members (everyone seems to be staying at the house and many characters appear to be in the music business)—when Kym irritatedly says of a violinist, Does he have to play all the time?, she echoed my own thoughts—and the color and whimsy of other preparations; as Rachel and their dad attach guest names to tiny ceramic animals, Kym learns that she is not at the family table. This is the kind of detail that is true vérité (sorry for the redundancy)—just when your sympathy is about to go with the beleaguered Rachel, who had to sit through a scarily disjointed all-about-me speech from Kym at her rehearsal dinner, she reveals her own capacity for cruelty.

Which is to say there are no heroes or villains in this film. Or resolutions. There is just, in high definition, the fullness of life, which includes both glittery Brazilian dancers and bruised black eyes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saks and the City

Beleaguered mega-editor Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening) takes refuge in Saks Fifth Avenue in The Women.

The Women
Directed and Written by Diane English
With Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Candice Bergen, Eva Mendes, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, and Debi Mazar
114 minutes

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

There was a moment when I thought The Women, a remake of the famous 1939 George Cukor movie, was going to lose me, philosophically anyway. A high-powered female (everyone in the movie is female, as in the original) New York magazine editor, up against the wall, considers making revenge the theme of her upcoming issue, a sort of how-to-get-yours for readers (also, presumably, all female). It’s always bothered me that revenge is usually viewed in film and TV as something very satisfying, something we should all vicariously exult in, instead of the negative, shallow, hurtful response it really is.

And indeed Sylvie (Annette Bening), the editor, is hardly ready to send roses to Crystal (Eva Mendes), the Saks perfume-spritzer who’s fooling around with the husband of Mary (Meg Ryan), a sweet homebody who is Sylvie’s best friend. Sylvie even advises Mary, though rather gently, to “kick her ass” when they come upon the curvaceous Crystal in the dressing rooms of a lingerie boutique. That Mary fails abysmally at this—while trying on an ill-fitting white bustier, garters dangling over her dowdy long skirt—is part of her charm.

Again and again the movie seems about to lapse into movie-chick clichés but then rebounds, and often quite entertainingly. I wish that a scene in which Mary’s mother (Murphy Brown—I mean, Candice Bergen) is recovering from plastic surgery did not, despite her bruised face, seem like an endorsement of the procedure, which Mary takes as a given in her own future (a bit ironic, considering Meg Ryan’s obviously worked-on face—what’s with those lips?).

And Mary and Sylvie’s other friends—Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), a steely lesbian writer, and Edie (Debra Messing), a hippie-esque earth mother—lack dimension, though Edie’s Upper West Side apartment doesn’t; it sprawls unendingly, and she mentions that her husband has just acquired his own space in the building as well. The other home we see—Mary’s Connecticut mansion—is also huge. As in so many Woody Allen movies, money doesn’t seem to be an issue. Indeed, The Women follows in the Manolo Blahnik footsteps of Sex and the City in touting high-end consumption, here mainly in Saks Fifth Avenue, depicted as a wonderland of sorts (though also the locale of Mary’s rude awakening). I was also a little disappointed that Mary gets chic-ified once she finds herself (with a little help from the always-welcome Bette Midler, prancing around as a Sue Mengers–type superagent) at a spa, even if she is a designer.

Still, as she did with the TV show Murphy Brown years ago, writer/director/producer Diane English, with this 14-year labor of love, brings women to the foreground—or in this case, the foreground, ground, and background—and then gives them plenty of clever things to say as they reach beyond mere revenge. These particular women ultimately reject clawing as a way to the top, or a way to hold on to a man, though they keep the Jungle Red polish. I think Norma Shearer would be proud, though I’m not sure about Joan Crawford.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hypocrisy Now: 16 Questions for Every Voter Who’s Been Paying Attention

Barack Obama

John McCain

By Robert Rosen

1. Is there any chance that this election won’t be ugly, close, and marred by legal challenges?

2. How can anybody have any faith in the wisdom of an American public that twice elected George Bush, when even a corpse would have done less damage and should have beaten Dubya in a landslide?

3. Will Bush, like Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, be hounded like a war criminal for the rest of his unnatural life?

4. Can the broadcast media raise the level of their political discourse from sub-moronic to moronic?

5. Does Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! know how often she disintegrates into self-parody, or that her ace correspondent, the ever-indignant Jeremy Scahill, acts like a graduate of the Samantha Bee School of Journalism?

6. Has John McCain ever heard the Phil Ochs classic “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” which The Jefferson Starship recently covered with our friend Cathy Richardson singing lead?

7. Does the lyric “It’s always the old who lead us to the war” (see above) remind McCain of anybody?

8. What will it take for people to understand that McCain’s a corrupt warmonger whose bad judgment dates back 25 years, to his first term in Congress, when he tried to influence bank regulators on behalf of his biggest campaign contributor, convicted racketeer Charles Keating, after the failure of Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan cost taxpayers $3.4 billion?

9. Why didn’t McCain apply to Keating—a Nixon ally, founder of Citizens for Decency, and producer of the anti-porn film Perversion for Profit—the most reliable litmus test for integrity? That is: The biggest crooks cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.

10. Why does the media constantly bring up Obama’s mentor and fund-raiser, convicted felon Tony Rezko, but virtually never mention Keating?

11. What’s worse: Helping a man buy a house or defrauding taxpayers of $3.4 billion?

12. Why can’t the media admit that Barack Obama hasn’t lived long enough to learn to be as corrupt as John McCain?

13. What, exactly, is the problem with a presidential candidate who speaks good English and inspires rather than demoralizes every time he opens his mouth?

14. When Sarah Palin’s nudie pix finally surface—nobody becomes a beauty queen without flashing their tits for at least one photographer—will they help or hurt the Republican ticket?

15. Wait a minute. Wasn’t it the Republican Party that excoriated the fictional Murphy Brown for getting knocked up?

16. Why hasn’t the Democratic attack machine branded the Republican candidate “Malignant McCain” (as opposed to “Benign Barack”)?


The person who provides the best answers to the above questions will win an autographed copy of Mary Lyn Maiscott’s debut CD, Blue Lights, and have his or her answers published on The Looseleaf Report. Deadline is midnight October 7, 2008. Send your answers to Decision of the judges is final.


For the record: We at The Looseleaf Report would like to see Obama humiliate the honky motherfucker.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Found: Soul in the Hamptons

Aretha Franklin gets a little respect in East Hampton. Photo by Cesar Vera/Ross.

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

I am staring into Christie Brinkley’s baby-blue eyes. This does not look like someone who has just gone through an ugly divorce, someone whose exploding private life has been splattered all over the tabloids. Her face beams; her gleaming blonde hair falls, on one side, behind a small ear; her nose, too, is very small—indeed, there’s something rather touching about it. She has a childlike quality, and I suddenly remember her singing “The Good Ship Lollipop,” Shirley Temple-style, during a Barbara Walters interview years ago. I’ve asked her what song she hopes Aretha Franklin will do—that’s why we’re all in this auditorium on the Upper Campus of the Ross School, in East Hampton, on a gorgeous summer night; we’re waiting for the Queen of Soul to get down and dirty in a building called the Center for Well-Being.

Of course Christie (I feel I can now call her Christie, as you would too if she had flashed that dazzling smile at you—just forget Julia Roberts altogether) mentions “Respect,” but she then says something totally disarming: “And what’s that one that Candice Bergen sang?” Huh? “You know,” she continues, “after Murphy Brown has the baby?”

“‘Natural Woman’?” I ask, though I didn’t know I knew that.

“Yes!” she says, this Uptown Girl, this inspiration for Billy Joel’s “A Matter of Trust.” She will not, as it turns out, be disappointed. (I will; I wanted “Until You Come Back to Me,” a sly song that instantly slows your heartbeat down to a sexy, insinuating rhythm).

Emotional girl: Christie Brinkley just wants some peace. Photo by Robert Rosen © 2008.

Indeed, less than 15 minutes later, only two songs into her set, Aretha Franklin—super-singer to Christie’s supermodel—launches into “Natural Woman,” the pearls forming her pink gown’s halter strap bouncing away, the brass section swaying. At the end, Aretha holds back just a little before hitting the stratosphere with that final “wo-ma-an.” I can’t see Brinkley through the crowd but I’m guessing that she, in a low-cut but tasteful purple dress, is standing, jumping, and hollering with the rest of us.

Which includes actress Rosie Perez, View host Joy Behar, producer Darren Starr, and the writer Terry McMillan, whom Aretha introduces from the stage. McMillan, chic in a white sarong-type skirt, flounces and waves when Aretha praises her “magnificence and savoir faire”; the singer then adds, “The next book can be How Aretha Got Her Groove Back—she lost some weight!”

Of course, as she rips through such hits as “Higher,” “The House That Jack Built,” and “Think,” it’s clear that Aretha never lost her groove and never will. When she wraps her lungs around the glorious aria “Nessum Dorma”—which brought down the house at the 1998 Grammys, when Franklin took over at the last minute for Pavarotti—you feel she has joined spirituality with funkiness in a way to make even the angels moan.

Tonight, she is donating her formidable services as a benefit for the school—founded by Courtney Ross, the widow of Time Warner’s Steve Ross—which she’s also endowed with a scholarship for performing-arts study. Perhaps as a nod to the importance of education, this most instinctive of performers says while introducing her band (her son Teddy White is on guitar), “There is nothing a singer likes better than having her music played correctly.” All the better for bringing an audience to fever pitch with “Freeway of Love,” announcing that she too is “feelin’ pretty good right now,” and leaving us spent, fulfilled, and yet wanting more.

To wean us off the music, a Latin combo begins to play under a tent adjoining the building. I walk that way, red wine in hand, Franklin voice ringing in my ears, and spot Christie, still smiling and luminescing among the crowd. (Brinkley also funds a scholarship, centering on the environment, for the school, which her daughter Alexa attended and son, Jack, currently attends.)

Later, as I sit outside the center on a boulder (perfectly appointed, as everything seems to be at this tony school set in the woods) and wait for a cab, I watch the many band members carry their instruments to vans and limos. Finally, the Queen herself emerges, a tall gentleman at each elbow escorting her. She has changed into street clothes and looks smaller between the men, her pumps (too big because of her weight loss?) making me think of Minnie Mouse. Her entire lower face and neck are enwrapped in a white muffler—paparazzi-proofing perhaps, but more likely protection for that golden throat against the cool night air. My companion, on the boulder beside me, begins to clap when he sees her, and Aretha turns and gives us, yes, a regal nod.

Sock it to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rocking and Rolling with Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman in Randall Miller’s film, Bottle Shock.

By Victoria Looseleaf

Just a few hours after an earthquake hit the City of Angels, your faithful reporter sauntered into the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, adjacent to my abode, to shoot the breeze with British thespian Alan Rickman. Granted, the temblor was only a 5.4 and situated miles away in Chino Hills, near a huge prison, where I once played the harp in a former life. But Rickman had been on the 14th floor doing TV interviews for his latest film, Bottle Shock, when the building began swaying.

Trouper that he is, Rickman, who’d also been in our fair city in ’94, when the so-called big one hit and thus making him an old hand at quakes, was perfectly poised to promote the Randall Miller film about fine wines. Check out what he has to say in a series of three mini-interviews
(click on “Sausage, Cheese and Red Wine,” “Glass Half Full,” or Judged By Your Accent”) I did for Spotlight on the Arts on KUSC-FM radio, and have a drink of California pinot for both of us.

P.S. For those interested, I had been at my computer—naturally—when the quivering began, and almost welcomed the disturbance. Cruel as it may sound, I believe it’s time for a seismic cleansing: With Los Angeles’ population getting way out of hand, we don’t need any more actor/writer/director wannabes heading West, while those living here in fear of Mother Nature should pack their bags and, well, get out of Dodge.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jew on a Camel

By Victoria Looseleaf (we shortened it from ‘Looseleafkowitz’)

After much ballyhooing and back-and-forthing between a battery of New York publicists and this ink-stained wretch, it came to pass that I was able to both celebrate my father
s 84th birthday in West Palm Beach and then jet onward to Abu Dhabi, the richest city in the world. There I would be reporting on the Fifth Annual Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival for KUSC-FM radio, my debut for the station as an international arts journalist.

What is not covered in my Middle Eastern radio musings—but will be part of my book, Dance, Drink, Whatever…One Woman’s Pursuit of Art and Pleasure Around the Globe—I thought I’d give brief mention here.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi (taking planes to D.C., Doha—the capital of Qatar—followed by a puddle jumper to Abu), was a feat in itself, and at the stroke of midnight in a godforsaken Persian Gulf airport, I was met by a sweet driver who promptly took me to the wrong hotel.

After getting our bearings straight (and believe me, nothing is straight when it comes to the Emirates or the Emiratis, for that matter, save for the millions of dollars’ worth of oil gushing by the minute from beneath their sandy soils), I made it to the Millennium. In spite of my jet lag, I was immediately struck by the parade of high-end hookers and hooch available on the premises. As both prostitution and alcohol are forbidden in Islamic culture, I realized I’d arrived in the land of the apocalyptically hypocritical.

This is not meant to be a screed against the UAE, but merely an observation. Admittedly, the Arab society is a closed one, and certainly not one I was able to penetrate in a mere 10 days, this non-penetration thing rampant on other counts, as well, but nothing I'll, er, get into here.

What I did want, though, was a bottle of booze for my room. Having been told I could buy alcohol at a grocery store, early the next morning I proceeded through the late March, 90-degree heat and was led to a counter with alcohol.

Too bad it was rubbing alcohol.

The soukhs—marketplaces where rugs, gold, spices and other kinds of Middle Eastern exotica were sold in days of yore—also proved non-existent. It’s all malls now, all the time, the bigger the better—with the insane amounts of construction taking place ruining the environment (and the region allegedly running out of concrete).

But not running out of camels. Wanting to see the legendary camel races, including a 5 million Durham dromedary, I beseeched my Egyptian driver, Wa-El, to take me to the outskirts of town for a little Lawrence of Arabia action. But arriving at 11 a.m., we were privy only to the camels in cool-down mode.

Alas, the races were over, but, after some multi-culti confabbing, I was invited to ride one. With a lot of help from the help, I took to the hump, this Jew on a camel hanging on for dear life.

And loved it. As I loved much about the Middle East. In fact, I plan on returning for next year's festival—should there be one—as well as to explore the real desert, far from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the cigarette-smoking, cell-phone toting locals dressed in abayas and designer shades, driving Hummers and Mercedes on gridlocked highways, the a/c cranked up in the blazing mid-day sun, as they make their way to prayer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Debt in Venice

Gondolas at the Rialto Bridge. Photos © Victoria Looseleaf, 2008

By Victoria Looseleaf

It’s been a while since your devoted scribe has posted, but she has been on a series of—as always—remarkable journeys. My most recent excursion was to Venice, Italy, where I covered the Dance Biennale for Dance Magazine.

Yeah, I know. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

Here, then, are a few mentions that didn’t make it into my review: I stayed in the most wonderful place, the famed Fenice de les Artistes, which is next door to the even more famous Fenice Opera House and where I was fortunate enough to see Britten’s “Death in Venice;” I met some amazing people, Venetians included, as the city is quickly losing many of its 60,0000 residents; and do feel especially blessed just to have been able to travel there during these precarious times.

And while my trip should be dubbed, “Debt In Venice,” not just because I was stricken with the flu and had to have a doctor come to my hotel (an allergist, no less, in a pristine designer suit, who charged me 200 Euros to stick a thermometer under my arm and write a few scripts for antibiotics and painkillers in a Tennessee Williams-like scenario), but that the sinking dollar in this already water-logged burg made ordinary purchases (water, Prosecco and my newest addiciton, Orange Fanta), astronomical.

Igor Stravinsky’s grave, San Michele, Italy.

Still, there was beauty at every turn and even though I didn’t have an affair with a gondolier or some gigolo a la Katharine Hepburn in “Summertime” (nor did I fall into the Grand Canal like she did in the film), I did go to the graves of Russian impresario, Sergei Diaghilev and composer Igor Stravinsky; I happily attended some incredible dance performances which you’ll hopefully read about; and, finally, I rode around on the vaporetto (water bus) breathing in the glorious sea air of the Adriatic while being transported back in history to the times of Casanova, Mozart and Mariano Fortuny, a magnificent designer whose last name seems to say it all.

Would I return to this magical, mysterious, shell-shockingly expensive place? In an Italian heartbeat, which is a lot different—and much more magnificent, I might add—than a New York minute.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It Was a Very Wack Year

While Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) consults his psychiatrist (Ben Kingley), his psychiatrist consults his drug dealer.

The Wackness

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine

95 minutes

Even the great Ben Kingsley cannot make Dr. Jeffrey Squires, his bonghead, immature psychiatrist character in The Wackness, believable. Fortunately, Josh Peck, playing his patient/dope dealer/partner in crime, the 18-year-old Shapiro (as he’s generally called), does not have this problem. (It’s not Kingley’s fault; the deck is stacked.) Shapiro is a good-looking, resourceful, hip (he’s down with Biggie), nice guy, yet, mysteriously, he has no friends and is a virgin; he’s also burdened with bickering, ineffectual parents. With the sort-of help of the crazy Squires, who has plenty of issues himself, and the doctor’s knowing, pretty stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby), Shapiro begins to shift the balance in his life, so that the dopeness overtakes the wackness. This is true of the movie as well, especially if you’re young enough to feel nostalgic for 1994. —MLM

Thursday, May 22, 2008

John Cusack Goes “Down the Rabbit Hole” with Mary Lyn Maiscott on

John Cusack as Brand Hauser, CIA hitman, in War Inc.

In an interview with our own Mary Lyn Maiscott for Vanity Fair magazine’s Web site, John Cusack talks about his new film, War Inc.

Cusack, the star and co-writer of this scathing political satire, which has been compared to antiwar classics like Dr. Strangelove and Catch 22, explains that the movie is really only a slight exaggeration of the “down the rabbit hole” reality of the endless war on terror.

[Former Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was hosting a ski tournament for soldiers who had lost a limb and he was also sitting on the board of a company that was making the prosthetic limbs,” says Cusack in the interview, referring to a scene in the film in which a chorus line of amputees dance at a trade show to demonstrate the latest in prosthetic limb technology. “There’s nothing we could do in the movie that has a fraction of the real obscenities of the war profiteers and the mercenaries and these so-called free marketeers.”

So, if you want to know “what’s so funny ’bout prosthetic limbs, torture, and beheading” (as we asked in our own review of War Inc.), click here to check out Mary Lyn’s revealing interview.

War Inc.
opens Friday in New York and L.A. Click here for more information.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Million Little Parodies

Can we declare a moratorium on book reviewers’ mimicking the style of the book they’re reviewing? Although I seem to recall a scathing and amusing Valley Girl-esque critique by Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin’s piece in the Times this morning is a slog to get through, with its choppy prose, missing punctuation, missing words, and sentence fragments. Oddly, her review is pretty much a rave, ending with “That’s how James Frey saved himself.” Yes, that James Frey, of A Million Little Pieces and shamed-by-Oprah-Winfrey fame, currently profiled in Vanity Fair’s June issue. Everybody loves a story of redemption (except for, in this case, maybe Oprah?), but next time perhaps Maslin can tell it in her own voice instead of trying to imitate the writing, especially if it’s good writing. I don’t have strong feelings about Frey one way or the other, but I do believe Maslin should have let Bright Shiny Morning have its day in the sun, unshadowed by this confusing, counterproductive pseudo-Freyness. —MLM

Friday, May 2, 2008

(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Prosthetic Limbs, Torture, and Beheading?

Hauser (John Cusack) walks through the troubled land of Turaqistan.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008, April 23-May 4

War, Inc.
Directed by Joshua Seftel
Screenplay by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser, and John Cusack

With John Cusack, Hilary Duff, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and Lubomir Neikov

106 minutes
From USA

By Robert Rosen

I wouldn’t say that War, Inc. is the best political satire since Dr. Strangelove—it’s too ragged and meandering for that. But in the same way that the Kubrick classic was able to provoke laughter at the notion of nuclear annihilation in the grim aftermath of the Kennedy assassination (and with the Cuban missile crisis still fresh in everybody’s mind), War, Inc. performs a miracle of its own: It fires off a barrage of one-liners and sight gags about prosthetic limbs, torture devices, and beheading videos that demonstrate the much overlooked comic potential of the endless War on Terror and the cabal of criminals who’ve transformed the United States of America into an outlaw nation.

Set in the Green Zone of a country called Turaqistan, in the very near future, War, Inc. shows us what the world might be like if the entire US government and military were completely under the control of multinational corporations.

Hauser (John Cusack) is a charming CIA hit man who settles his troubled conscience with straight shots of hallucinogenic hot sauce as he goes about the business of trying to assassinate a Middle Eastern oil minister (Lubomir Neikov) in town for a Brand USA trade show. Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) is a lefty freelance journalist on assignment for The Atlantic, determined to write an honest appraisal of the situation in Turaqistan. Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack) is a foul-mouthed government operative who functions as Hauser’s office assistant. Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) is a Britney Spears-like pop singer slated to perform at the trade show and to marry one of the dancers in her posse. The former vice president (Dan Aykroyd) is a corporate CEO who likes to teleconference while moving his bowels. And Walken (Ben Kingsley) is Hauser’s Strangelovian CIA boss.

There’s a lot going on in this movie—often subtly, in the background. You’ve really got to pay attention. But is it entertaining? That all depends on how funny you find the notion of a chorus line of Turaqistani amputees dancing at a trade show to demonstrate the latest in prosthetic-limb technology.

I didn’t think I could laugh at such a thing. But I did.

***½ (3½ Stars)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Unspeakable

Above: Emmanuel Jal returns to Africa and the vestiges of civil war. Below: The rapper, in concert, transforms horror into art.
Tribeca Film Festival 2008, April 23-May 4
War Child

Directed by C. Karim Chrobog
With Emmanuel Jal
93 Minutes

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

These days, we are overloaded on the horrors of the world. If we hear “Sudan” or “Darfur” while thinking “Iraq,” we’re likely to tune it out. And that’s why we need people like Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier who has spoken the unspeakable, turning the depravity he has experienced, and even committed, into art. This film tells the story of Jal’s improbable, tortuous journey from birth in a rural Sudanese village in the early 1980s (he does not know his birth date) to his current life as an international up-and-coming rap singer residing in London. Weaving historical footage into Jal’s narrative—including film of Jal himself as a self-possessed, talkative child in a refugee camp—the director, C. Karim Chrobog, shows us the devastating effect of war on one family (just try not to cry when Jal’s sister, separated from him for many years, finally reveals her own story). The wonder is that Jal, who admits to having been at times suicidal, not only survived but found a way to transform his terrors to the benefit of us all.

The film, beginning with the opening scene of Jal rapping to kids in an African classroom, is gripping, and the music lifts it to another level. Though some of it is hard to take, Chrobog, the son of a diplomat, has created an important and necessary document.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Festival Quickies

Tribeca Film Festival 2008, April 23-May 4

In the anything-goes atmosphere of the club party Squeezebox, glam-punk performer Jayne County expresses herself.

By Mary Lyn Maiscott


Directed By Zach Shaffer and Steve Saporito

92 minutes

Sometimes in NYC you don’t know what’s happening in your own backyard (that is, if you had a backyard). I live within easy walking distance of Don Hill’s—and have even sung there, at the publication party in 2000 for my fellow blogger Robert Rosen’s book Nowhere Man—yet missed the phenomenon known as Squeezebox, a weekly gay night now lovingly immortalized in Zach Shaffer and Steve Saporito’s colorful, kinetic documentary. Running from 1994 to 2001, the glam/sleaze/drag rock ’n’ roll event provided a home for self-described misfits and propelled a few to fame, such as John Cameron Mitchell, who developed his character Hedwig (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch) on the Squeezebox stage (the house band’s Stephen Trask was Hedwig’s composer/lyricist). Aside from the amazingly raunchy actions that went down there (beer-bottle fucking on the bar, anyone?), the event shattered a music and lifestyle taboo: gays liking rock ’n’ roll. Instead of lip-synching Judy Garland numbers, drag queens would deliver kick-ass Led Zeppelin tunes and affecting weepers like “Love Hurts.” But more than that, this was a party that wouldn’t quit, despite Rudy Giuliani’s best efforts to crack down on the city’s nightlife (apparently a threat to our quality of life, which begs the question, what quality without nightlife?). Listening to Theo Kogan (the Lunachicks), Miss Guy (the Toilet Boys), Mistress Formika (the sylphlike MC with whom you would not want to mess), Lady Bunny (who, with her signature stratospheric wig, out-Partons Dolly Parton), and even the novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours), you can only wish that you too had been taken to the bosom, prosthetic though it may have been, of the crazy slutty mama called Squeezebox.

****½ (4½ stars)

Rym (Hafsia Herzi) confers with surrogate dad Slimane (Habib Boufares) in The Secret of the Grain.

The Secret of the Grain (La Graine et le Mullet)

Directed By Abdellatif Kechiche

151 minutes

A dour, conscientious Tunisian immigrant named Slimane, only semi-employed in the shipyard of a French port town. His raucous extended family. Their overextended dinner conversations and tearful hysteria. Your own urge to shout, as you might with your own family members, Stop talking with your mouth full! And, Shut up already!

Perhaps any impatience with this boisterous crowd only attests to the realism of scenes that include a quickie on a tour boat (the plot hinges on Slimane’s son’s philandering ways), young parents discussing their problems with diapers and potty training, expressions of wonder at the fish couscous cooked up by Slimane’s ex-wife (though no one says, “What’s your secret?”), a bank officer taking her time at nixing Slimane’s dream of owning a riverboat restaurant, and a gyrating sequence that puts the “belly” in “belly dance.”

With a breakout performance by the beautiful and beautifully down-to-earth
Hafsia Herzi, playing the daughter not of Slimane but of his girlfriend, yet perhaps the one most devoted to him. And with the memorable line: “Out of respect for you and the couscous…” Winner of Césars (French top honors) for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, and best female newcomer (for Herzi).

**** (4 stars)

Insecure in his own Cairo habitat, Youssef (Amr Waked) contemplates that of some tropical fish in The Aquarium.

The Aquarium (Genenet al Asmak)

Directed By Yousry Nasrallah

111 minutes

Voyeurism, secrecy, mortality, fear—there is much that the esteemed Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah wants to explore in this film. And there is so much good in it—mainly, the basic story—that you wish he had excised the bad. The latter includes the actors’ suddenly talking directly to the audience about their characters—I may be a purist, but once someone gets me into their created world, I’d like to stay there for the duration—as well as imposed visual references to political oppression and avian flu. Nasrallah seems to think we occasionally need reminding, as we watch his tale, that the world involves scary things (America being one of them, by the way, a disturbing but not surprising perspective). He should instead trust more in our interest in his two leading characters—Youssef, an anesthesiologist who likes to listen to what his patients say as they’re drifting off, and Laila (Hend Sabri), the host of a radio late-night call-in show in which people talk mostly about sex—and how their lives intersect. That said, interest might deepen if Youssef, who does appear to care for his dying father and his abortion-clinic patients, were less of an emotional mystery. Whereas we discover that the red-lipsticked Laila is one hot tamale under those staid suits she wears, Youssef remains too much like the inhabitants of the public aquarium with which he’s obsessed—a cold fish.

**½ (2½ stars)

A very watchful Isabella Rossellini, playing a spider, prepares for some Green Porno.

Green Porno

Written and Directed By Isabella Rossellini

15 minutes (all)

The other night I caught a couple of Isabella Rossellini’s eight very short shorts, collectively called Green Porno, in which she plays bugs and other “tiny critters” in the process of mating. It’s a hoot to see a world-renowned beauty wearing costumes such as a child might create (although probably better-fitting). As a firefly, her ass lights up, she gleefully tells us while demonstrating, and as a snail she has a giant foot, which she squashes into her shell along with the rest of her, anus on top (yucky things ensue). These witty pieces are showing in pairs before selected films and all together before My Winnipeg; they’ll also be available starting May 5 on Helio mobile devices and on the Sundance Channel website.
Rossellini will discuss the making of the series at the Apple Store in Soho on Tuesday, April 29, at 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

He Just Keeps Rollin’ Along

Nearing 90, the Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés is still recording and performing.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008, April 23-May 4

Old Man Bebo

111 minutes

Directed by Carlos Carcas

With Bebo Valdés, Chucho Valdés, Leonardo Acosta, Omara Portuondo, and Fernando Trueba

From Spain

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

I think I went to see this movie to commune with my dad, who died 11 years ago. My father’s true loves were my mother, flying, and music, but the country of Cuba—not the least because of its own intoxicating rhythms—held a special place in his heart. He would travel there, pre-revolution, to go deep-sea fishing and nightclub hopping, and it’s very likely that one of the performers he caught was Bebo Valdés: the pianist extraordinaire who helped define the Cuban sound in the 40s and 50s, playing in bands—and sometimes acting as arranger and bandleader—in various hotels and, most notably, the legendary Tropicana nightclub.

It’s hard to imagine, what with current US-Cuba relations, that there was once a special Tropicana flight between Miami and Havana, ferrying Americans to the club and then back, with entertainers on board for a constant party. But so we learn from Carlos Carcas’s new documentary on Bebo, as everyone calls him, and his many musical and personal connections. We also find out about “Rocolas,” jukeboxes in Cuban bars that played American songs (looked down on by some local musicians); a mambo-type song form called the batanga that Bebo developed after working in Haiti (sadly, his recordings of it have disappeared); and Nat King Cole’s association with Cuba—Cole was the first black man to sing “love songs” there on TV, apparently a shock at the time, and he not only jammed with Bebo et al. but recorded an album called Cole Español.

Around the time my father stopped going to Cuba, Bebo, out of sync with Castro’s regime, fled the country. Leaving a woman who still cries when speaking of him, along with two ex-partners and several children, he went to Mexico and eventually landed in Sweden, where he found new domestic happiness but lost his previous musical fame. How he emerged from obscurity—winning two Grammys in 2002, at the age of 83—is part of the story Carcas tells, and in the telling we hear from old associates and from family members (his son Chucho is today also a famous pianist), most still in Cuba, as well as from his wife in Sweden, a land whose “pure air” Bebo credits with keeping him young, and one of the people responsible for his comeback, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba (Calle 54).

These people share their memories of—and praise for—Bebo, called “Big Stallion” because he was “so tremendous,” in the words of a fellow musician. My favorite comment comes from one of his daughters, who in four decades has rarely seen her dad—he never returned to his native country—but understands what has always driven him: “I think my father breathes through his hands.” And I think my father, an amateur but spirited pianist himself, would understand that completely.

*** (3 Stars)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome to the Tribeca Film Festival ’08

Lou Reed sings sad songs. Courtesy of Waterboy Productions

By Robert Rosen

One year ago we launched this blog to cover the Tribeca Film Festival, and now we’re back to do it again. Last year, most of our reviews were long and in-depth, offering detailed analysis of offbeat movies, usually from foreign countries. Some of the films we covered were Lady Chatterley, from France, Playing the Victim, from Russia, Dos Abrazos, from Mexico, The Last Man, from Lebanon, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, from Brazil, The Road to St. Diego, from Argentina, and The Sugar Curtain, from Cuba. Into this exotic mix we also tossed an American drama or two, like The Air I Breathe, and the romantic comedies Suburban Girl and Purple Violets.

I don’t know exactly what we’ll be covering this year, except that Mary Lyn Maiscott (who will also be blogging about the TFF Music Lounge for Vanity Fair) and I plan to go to as many movies as we can and write about as many as we feel like. Also, to cover even more films, for some we’ll use a short—really short—format, and, God help us, rate all of them with 1 to 5 stars (asterisks, actually). Though we swore we’d never do that, there are so many films to choose from, we think that a rating system will help you figure out what to see in a fast and easy way.

How brief are these mini-reviews going to be? Here’s an example, just to get the ball rolling:

Tribeca Film Festival 2008, April 23-May 4

Lou Reed’s Berlin

Directed by Julian Schnabel

81 Minutes

Left me cold…and depressed. I like Lou Reed, but not this much. For hardcore fans only.


So, let us know what you think, ’cause we’re always happy to hear from you. And thanks to everybody from all over the world for reading us this past year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

BYOC (Bring Your Own Context)

Mark David Chapman (Jared Leto) holds a copy of Double Fantasy as he walks with Jude (Lindsay Lohan) near the Dakota.

Chapter 27
84 minutes

Written and Directed by
Jarrett Schaefer
Starring Jared Leto, Lindsay Lohan, Judah Friedlander, and Mark Lindsay Chapman

From U.S.

By Robert Rosen

The first thing you have to do if you want to understand Chapter 27, the film about the assassination of John Lennon, is read The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of disaffected youth, originally published in 1951. The book, narrated in the pitch-perfect adolescent voice of hypocrisy-hating Holden Caulfield, is what “inspired” Mark David Chapman to murder Lennon—because he believed that the reclusive, super-wealthy rock star who sang “Imagine no possessions” was, in the words of Holden, a “goddamn phony.”

Throughout the film, Chapman refers to the book, quotes from it, and imagines and acts out scenes from it. But unless Catcher’s fresh in your mind, you often won’t know that that’s what he’s doing. For example, the scene in the coffee shop where Chapman (Jared Leto) asks Jude (Lindsay Lohan) to run away with him is a direct steal from chapter 17 of The Catcher in the Rye—which I didn’t realize till I reread the book after I saw the movie.

also partially explains the film’s title, an essential bit of information that writer/director Jarrett Schaefer has neglected to share with his audience. Schaefer does give some indication that the title Chapter 27 is a reference to the Salinger novel. And he does show some pages from Catcher in the opening sequence, focusing on chapter numbers 9 and 26. But he doesn’t make explicitly clear that Catcher ends on chapter 26 and that Chapman, who saw himself as the reincarnation of Holden Caulfield, believed that if he shot Lennon five times in the back, then he’d write chapter 27 in the ex-Beatle’s blood. That, at least, is how I explain it in my own Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, which is the second book you have to read—because it’s the only book that explains how the number 27 karmically links Chapman to Lennon.

Anybody who’s been following my other blog
already knows that, according to Mojo magazine and the Spanish-language newsweekly Proceso, Schaefer expropriated his title from Nowhere Man’s “Chapter 27.” In that section I show how 27, “the triple 9,” was a number of profound importance to the ex-Beatle, who was obsessed with numerology, Cheiro’s Book of Numbers­, and especially number 9 and all its multiples. (Lennon was born on October 9.)

Perhaps if
Schaefer had made this numerological connection, it would have given his film a deeper and more chilling resonance. But choosing instead to completely ignore information that was essential to understanding both the title and the meaning of his story, he simply left it up to the audience to supply their own context, which might be asking a little too much of contemporary moviegoers.

This lack of context may partially explain the hundreds of vicious reviews that have appeared since Chapter 27 premiered last year at Sundance. And it may also explain why, despite the presence of two major stars, the film faced such epic difficulties finding a distributor.

But let there be no doubt that amidst this fundamental confusion one extraordinary performance emerges: Jared Leto as Chapman. He doesn’t just play the character, he inhabits him. Famously (and perhaps insanely), Leto packed on 60 pounds for the role—in one scene the camera sensuously caresses his rolls of fat. And he is riveting as the murderous nerd who speaks in an absurdly creepy southern-accented whisper and is onscreen for virtually every frame of the film. To watch him is a claustrophobic experience, like being trapped in a room for 84 minutes with a socially awkward psychopath.

It’s up to Lindsay Lohan, in her small but appealingly energetic role as Jude, a Lennon fan (based on a real person) who befriends Chapman before realizing there’s something wrong with him, to express the discomfort and repulsion you feel in the presence of the aspiring killer.

She has some help from Judah Friedlander as Paul, based on paparazzo Paul Goresh, who, with a well-timed jolt of energy, alleviates the often crushing sense of being a prisoner of Chapman’s consciousness. Best known for his comedic work on 30 Rock, Friedlander efficiently portrays the slightly sarcastic regular guy from Jersey who photographs Lennon (
Mark Lindsay Chapman) signing Mark David Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy hours before the murder.

But again Schaefer doesn’t give his audience enough background or context to fully understand who these people are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. You do learn that Chapman’s a Beatles fan from Hawaii, who appears to have a wife back home. (Chapman’s wife was Japanese, like Yoko Ono, but that’s not mentioned.) The movie’s confined to the three days—December 6-8, 1980—leading up to the murder, and in that time frame it’s almost impossible for Schaefer to show what drove an unemployed security guard to such delusional depths of insanity that he twice traveled 5,000 miles to assassinate a celebrity in the name of Holden Caulfield.

It would have been helpful, for example, to know about the “Little People,” the imaginary civilization that populated Chapman’s head and the walls of his room since he was a child, and whom he depended on to guide him in his decision-making; to know that when Chapman was a teenager, he played the guitar and dropped a lot of acid; to know that in Hawaii he attempted suicide and spent time in a mental institution; and to know that he was compelled by a desire to transcend his own insignificance and steal Lennon’s fame and identity. And it would have been especially illuminating to see Chapman, in his Honolulu apartment, listening to Beatles music in the middle of the night, begging Satan for the power to kill Lennon and chanting, “The phony must die, says the Catcher in the Rye.”

I wrote about all this in the seven final chapters of Nowhere Man, “The Coda,” where the concept of “Chapter 27” is at the forefront of the story and where I probed the meaning of what Chapman did.

Jack Jones also wrote about it in Let Me Take You Down, the book credited with “inspiring” Chapter 27. Though this worthwhile biography fails to explain the numerological implications of Chapter 27 or show how it played into the heart of Lennon’s obsession with the number 9, it does, indeed, plumb the ooze of Chapman’s mind, from his lunatic point of view, detailing everything you could possibly want to know about the killer’s voyage to the depths of the “bottomless pit” (see The Catcher in the Rye, chapter 24, or Nowhere Man’s “Chapter 27”).

And director Andrew Piddington covered some of this material in that other Chapman movie, The Killing of John Lennon, which delves into Chapman’s background and graphically depicts the actual murder in a way that Chapter 27 doesn’t approach.

All this contextual criticism is not to say that Chapter 27 is a “lousy”—if I may borrow a word from Holden—movie. It’s not. It’s just a dispiriting and mistitled one. And now that I’ve seen it, I think I finally understand what Jarrett Schaefer was thinking, at least as far as the title goes. He probably found artistically irresistible both the concept of Chapman writing chapter 27 in Lennon’s blood and the idea of Lennon and Chapman being linked by a mystical number. Because he’s an inexperienced filmmaker, he probably thought he could graft a cool title onto a movie that had little to do with that title, and just leave it at that. He probably thought most people would either get it or wouldn’t care. And he probably believed on some level that the author of Nowhere Man didn’t really exist. Well, he was wrong. And though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, I’d like to thank him for inspiring this blog.


I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention that I knew well two of the people depicted in Chapter 27: John Lennon’s assistant and my former writing partner, Fred Seaman (Matthew Humphreys), and Fred’s aunt and Sean Lennon’s governess, Helen Seaman (Le Clanche DuRand). I must commend Humphreys, in his brief scene with Chapman, for neatly capturing the contemptuousness that Seaman routinely displayed to anybody he found “beneath” him (like the fans who hung out at the Dakota). But I must also point out that in the very creepy scene where Chapman meets Sean, Helen, an earth mother from the Bronx, is portrayed as an impeccably dressed upper-crusty English lady.


This review with a different photo also appears on my other
blog, Chapter 27, a resource of information on John Lennon, the events surrounding his murder, his portrayal in the media, and the uncredited connection between the film, Chapter 27, and the section called “Chapter 27” in Nowhere Man.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Joan Rivers: A Face-Lift in Progress

By Victoria Looseleaf

Can we talk? With a face that’s been stretched, plumped and rearranged to the point of making a Picasso cubist portrait look like a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover, 74-year old Joan Rivers is at least still able to physically move her mouth. And what a gleefully wicked, obscenity-spewing mouth it is! Starring in the autobiographical, Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse—a bastion of rich Westsiders also on cozy terms with big-time plastic surgeons—the septuagenarian should redub the two-hour semi-snooze fest, Joan Rivers: A Face-Lift in Progress.

Only succeeding when riffing alone onstage like the needy, obsessive comic she was born to be (nee Joan Molinsky of Larchmont, NY, nice Jewish daughter of a doctor and homemaker), the mouth-off diva makes the fatal mistake of adding three dreadfully dull actors in service to a contrived “story,” directed (if one can actually direct a legend), by Bart DeLorenzo. Written by Rivers, Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell, the so-called action takes place in a ratty dressing room before the comic is about to do her Red Carpet celeb-schmoozathon with daughter Melissa (mercifully, only seen on video).

Adam Kulbersh as Joan Rivers’ assistant Kenny in A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress.

Already wearing more pancake than Aunt Jemima, Rivers is being made-up for the show by a faux Russian hottie/Christina Aguilera wannabe (Emily Kosloski). The stand-up’s patently gay, obnoxious assistant (Adam Kulbersh) gives homotown West Hollywood a bad name. And Rivers’ bitter recollections about her banishment from Johnny Carson’s late night kingdom and her husband’s suicide over her canceled talk show just don’t cut it.

For one thing, Rivers was having lipo the night hubbie Edgar Rosenberg died and for another—would someone really be so sorry a figure as to kill himself over that or was it over his wife’s frequent forays under the cosmetic cleaver? These tales come off, instead, as self-indulgent, begrudging pity-party prattle.

With so much Tinseltown dirt to cull from you’d think the nip/tuck goddess would get more down and dirty. Instead there are AARP sex jokes galore (sounds almost oxymoronic), which, admittedly are kinda funny…if you’re over 40. There are also obtuse vignettes about Mae West and Joan Crawford. But we just don’t care. She’s rich, she’s famous, she’s a happy bubbie (that’s Yiddish for grandma), so why is Joan Rivers so desperate to be on stage now, which also begs the questions: Where are Viagra and Sarah Silverman when you really need them?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If He Builds It Will They Come?

By Victoria Looseleaf

Well, the $5 million I wished I had to lend myself obviously never materialized (and JAG that I am—Jewish American Goddess—I refuse to buy lottery tickets), but I do manage to find solace in a quote from my hero, Tony Soprano: “Whaddya gonna do?”

For me, all I can do is continue eking out a living by the written word, in this case, analyzing Haydn’s Maria Theresa Mass. Barring that, I take joy in Obamarama-land and in other divertissements, namely trekking to Los Angeles’ newest jewel in her rather lopsided cultural crown.

I’m talking about the 60,000 square foot Broad Contemporary Art Museum. Known affectionately (?), as BCAM, it’s an addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with the whole kit and caboodle just down the street from that other sacrosanct destination point, the La Brea Tar Pits.

Eli Broad (foreground) with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In order to get a slice of that culture—and a free lunch (the braised short ribs were wonderful)—I, along with several hundred other select invitees, attended a press preview of the building that went up in a mere two years. Financed by billionaire megalomaniac Eli Broad (if he had his way, this town would be called Broad City, and should that day ever arrive, I decamp for Napa for good), the $56 million edifice was designed by Renzo Piano.

Who knew this 70-year old Italian/erstwhile starchitect (his greatest building, Paris’ Pompidou Center, was built in 1977), had an affinity for Target and K-Mart. Basically a three-story travertine-clad box, BCAM is accented with reddish-orange colored structural accents, including an exterior escalator (reminiscent of one of L.A.’s first great malls, The Beverly Center) and steel beams. Charles Ray’s life-size, flame red Firetruck also sits on the newly designed plaza, itself covered by a 15,000 square foot “canopy” held up by more of those orange-hued girders.

Beckoning (or not) from Wilshire Boulevard is Chris Burden’s Urban Light. An installation of 202 restored and fully operational vintage streetlights (cost unannounced but it’s gotta be high), the whole entrance thing is now a crowded, smooshed-together affair. The Burden piece, acquired by museum director Michael Govan, seems an afterthought, if only so Govan could assert his power in the face of the long rich reach of Broad.

In any case, landscape artist Robert Irwin is hoping for more magic with his palm garden (he did the lush foliage at the Getty Center, a decided notch up from most of the art, Van Gogh’s $53.9 million Irises notwithstanding), but who the hell doesn’t love a palm tree.

Also making use of the L.A. aesthetic (light, light, and more eternal light—God, we need rain), Piano has, to his credit, created rows of what can only be called fins, jutting diagonally on the roof as part of a system that brings natural illumination into two massive top-floor exhibition suites.

for that, Signor Piano, now what about the $64 million question: How’s the art? No surprise that there’s nary a surprise in sight, with Broad lending 220 works for the inaugural exhibition, not donating his collection, as originally planned. But, like most covetous billionaires, Broad decided to hang onto his goodies, thus retaining total control while simultaneously giving the new institution yet another patina—that of egg on its face.

There’s a huge room devoted to Jeff Koons, with plenty of gawkers surrounding Michael Jackson and Bubbles, (happy 25th anniversary, btw, to Jackson’s masterpiece, Thriller), as well as Koons’ Cracked Egg (Red), the museum’s de facto logo that has sprouted all over the city touting, “BCAM—Born.”

From John Baldessari (his twin, oversize banners—52 by 55 feet—adorn the Wilshire façade), and Damien Hirst (his dead shark in formaldehyde is not here, but a pill installation is, reminding me that if I want meds, I go to my pharmacist, not a museum), to Jean-Michel Basquiat (the Warhol-mentored dude who OD’d on heroin in 1988), the show is definitely the greatest hits of way pricey art.

There’s also the quintessential Californian, Edward Ruscha, and the late East coaster, Roy Lichtenstein (he was my father, Fenton West’s fraternity buddy at Ohio State University, about whom Daddy recalls, “He was always drawing, but I remember his piano playing…”).

As to the remaining usual suspects: Sure, I love the stellar works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, but 55, count ‘em, 55 pieces by Cindy Sherman? And all these works displayed in the same old, same old…way. As L.A. Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne writes, “…the whole enterprise seems stalled in the late 1980s.”

But there is a marvelous Richard Serra sculpture, the 193-ton Band from 2006. Created for MOMA (click here for a video tour)
, it is, when you walk through it, like a funhouse ride. Too bad, then, that it’s on the first floor, where midget-size ceilings and poor lighting not only induce claustrophobia, but give short shrift to the steel’s otherwise gloriously morphable colors. I mean: What large glass windows, natural light and a truly elevated ceiling could have done for the sculpture’s textures and sheens we can only guess.

An antithesis to Picasso’s quote, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary,” BCAM needs more than big bucks to prove itself. Nevertheless, come one, come all
the entrance fee is a measly $12 bucks for adults (compared to MOMA’s $20), with its opening weekend free and sponsored by—who else—Target.