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 fa├žade), 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.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Big O’s

Cable Access Goddess Victoria Looseleaf and her father, Fenton West, enjoy a date with Oscar at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. Photo by Gary Leonard.

By Victoria Looseleaf

While we at The Looseleaf Report Blog are spewing our thoughts on Oscar season—be they rants, chants, whatthefuckever—I love the notion that the heat of an amazing election year seems to be surpassing all things Hollywood (and yeah, I’m thrilled to say, I’m on the Obamarama train; as to the botoxed Ms. Hillary, I only wish that I had $5 million to lend to myself). But from my perch in Tinseltown-adjacent, I feel that I, too, must weigh in, letting out a long, low Looseleaf howl on my picks and pans from the past year.

Daniel Day-Lewis, even though his five-year hiatus honing cobbler skills could have resulted in his surpassing stiletto king Manolo Blahnik, once again rules the thespian roost with his ridiculously brilliant portrayal of Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificent Let There Be Blood. I also bless him for dedicating his S.A.G. award to Heath Ledger (more on the Heathster in a bit).
Kudos, as well, to P.T. He’s the son of “Ghoulardi,” a late-night horror host from my hometown, Cleveland (who unfortunately moved from that unfairly maligned town to the Valley of Los Angeles, where he spawned P.T. and where he also died), for making a film so hot, so visionary, and so, well, surreally real that it is a fabulous testament to the art of filmmaking.

I also am insane for the following: those fucking genius Coen brothers and Tim Burton (even if Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd crooning is more like Rex Harrison’s vocalese in My Fair Lady). Those robbed of nods include Ridley Scott (Denzel’s spot-on portrait of Frank Lucas in American Gangster is enough to make needlephobes of everyone) and Sidney Lumet. The latter, still going strong at 83 (much like Daddy, my longtime Oscar date, as witnessed by the above photo), manages to bring freshness to a familiar genre in the decidedly downer flick Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Which brings me to the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was nominated for the entirely wrong picture, Charlie Wilson’s War—and don’t get me started on Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts—instead of Devil, where he cavorts in all of his rotund nakedness with Marisa Tomei, also fabulously nude, but not when I bumped into her at Whole Paycheck, er, Foods: There she was, in sunglasses and sweats, hair casually pinned up in Hepburn—Audrey—mode, munching on a croissant and filling her cart with overpriced juices, veggies, and all too often bland-tasting foodstuffs.

And speaking of full frontal nudity, Viggo, Mr. Mortensen (a fan of The Looseleaf Report), takes the babka for his menacing turn in Eastern Promises.
But as for Viggo snagging the golden statuette, let’s just paraphrase Brando’s glorious soliloquy in the cab ride scene in On The Waterfront and imagine the Vig bemoaning, “It ain't my night.”

As for Juno, hey—remind me to be a stripper for a year (the pole thing is my forte, fersure), change my name (huh, again?), then pen a pic too hip for the room. Yeah, Ellen Page is fine, but Allison Janney needs to remain on the small screen along with that Law and Order guy, J.K. Simmons. Phooey!

I love George Clooney but still feel a bit miffed he wouldn’t dine with me and shooter Gary Leonard when we had our food column, “Out of the Frying Pan.” It ran for two years in the local rag The Studio City Sun and was the reason we scarfed free meals and downed a bunch of booze in a myriad of Valley restaurants, all in which the hunk ostensibly wined and dined as well. But he won’t win, so harrumph.

And lest we forget, Cate Blanchett was one of only two reasons to pay any moolah to see the abysmal, poorly titled I’m Not There, the Dylan disaster helmed by Todd Haynes. (Once again, The Looseleaf Report was way ahead of the curve—being one of the first to broadcast Haynes’s short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, totally enacted by, er, Barbie dolls). Cate, however, was phenomenal, which, for me, cancels out her histrionic Kate (Hepburn) in The Aviator, a performance that was, in my opinion, overrated and un-Oscarworthy.

The only other reason to spend 135 minutes with Haynes’s misguided vision? Heath Ledger—gloriously bare-assed, brooding, and seriously mumbling—and who, we just learned, died of a polypharmaceutical overdose, like Elvis, Marilyn, and numerous others, specifically friends from my checkered past. Their deaths, while more predictable, were still senseless and will never stop hurting.

As for the tox report, while not exactly a laundry list of fabulous highs, it’s still an odd one. Why would our boy take an over-the-counter sleep aid, Unisom, when he’s got Restoril (which is nothing compared to oldies like Tuinal or Seconal). Xanax is on every Hollywood A-list and while it’s true it doesn’t go well with Woodford Reserve Bourbon shots, it shouldn’t kill ya. Valium, again, is way old-school. Then we come to Hydrocodone (aka the eternally popular Vicodin), Oxycodone (the hillbilly opiate of choice, OxyContin), and Percocet (not nearly as good as its predecessor Percodan).

In other words: Quel fucking waste. TMZ may have been a tad slow on the uptake of this, but hopefully we can find closure, especially since Heath was laid to rest in Aussie soil over the weekend.

A final note: For you culture vultures, please check out my Los Angeles Times feature on the high priestess of fouettes, Diana Vishneva, and my program notes on the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s latest concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall. For those wishing to make an armchair visit to the Netherlands, check out
my review of the Holland Dance Festival in Dance Magazine.

And remember: Yes. We. Can.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Oprah’s the One! Win With Winfrey!

By Adam Nadler

With the Oscar race growing as tight and unpredictable as the political one, has anyone noticed the brazenly one-sided nature of celebrity endorsements? Sure, Hollywood’s upper crust has long thrown its support behind a variety of candidates, but why don’t the candidates return the favor? Where are the candidates when it comes to the Oscars?

The silence is deafening. Barbra Streisand has come out strong for Hillary Clinton, but where was Hillary when the Academy snubbed Yentl? Oprah has put her eggs behind Barack Obama, but have you heard a peep from him about her voice-over work as Judge Bumbleton in Bee Movie? And while Chuck Norris has never been a serious Academy Award contender, wouldn’t you think Mike Huckabee would at least utter a prayer for a Lifetime Achievement Award? By the power of Grayskull, I would.

It’s high time Washington stop taking our celebrities for granted. Deft dodges like “I leave that up to the American people to decide” and “There are many issues I didn’t take a stand on as governor of Massachusetts” just don’t fly anymore. Come Oscar night, the voters have a right to know where the candidates stand. After all, if John McCain wants to hold onto that Florida vote, he’d be wise to say something nice about Old Men.

Adam Nadler is a writer-filmmaker living in New York City. His film
Shoot George, a satire about gun violence, is available at