Director Joel Schumacher passed away yesterday at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer. He started out as a costume designer (The Last of Sheila) in the 70s before transitioning to screenwriting (Sparkle, The Wiz). In 1981, he made his directorial debut with the comedy The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Looking at his IMBD page, you can see how eclectic his directing career was. There were big blockbusters (BatmanForever), dramas adapted from books (A Time to Kill, The Client), thrillers (Flatliners), and even a musical (The Phantom of the Opera). He didn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed as one type of director, but instead made the movies he enjoyed.
I’ll remember Schumacher best for The Lost Boys. It’s one that I have to stop and watch whenever I come across it on TV, which is often. He was able to put together the perfect mix of horror and comedy. It’s a very fun film.
I’m looking forward to re-watching my favorites from Schumacher and discovering his other films that I haven’t gotten around to seeing.
Activist and writer Larry Kramer passed away yesterday at 84. Over the years, his writing was critically acclaimed and won many awards. But he’ll be remembered most for his unbridled activism. Kramer was on the frontlines when the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. He helped to form the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later the more militant ACT UP. His approach was usually abrasive and confrontational. However, that anger was necessary in order to get people in power to implement changes. I enjoyed Kramer’s book Faggots and was moved by his play TheNormalHeart. I’m also very thankful for the battle he fought and the lives that it saved.
Today would have been activist & politician Harvey Milk’s 90th birthday. In his short life, he changed the world for the better. The 1970s saw him leading the charge for LGBT rights and equality in San Francisco, earning him the title “Mayor of Castro Street”. After being defeated in two previous elections, Harvey finally won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country. While in office he helped to defeat the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have banned gay teachers in schools.
Sadly, Harvey was assassinated in 1978, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. But his mission continued on with other gay activists and politicians that followed him. There was also the Oscar winning documentary about his life, The Times of Harvey Milk. Then in 2008, the biopic Milk introduced him to another generation. Harvey and his legacy will not be forgotten. “Hope will never be silent.”
I enjoy celebrating Easter Sunday by watching Godspell, which is as close as I wanna get to church. The film, based on the stage play of the same name, came out in 1973. That same year another musical about Jesus Christ, of the Superstar variety, was also released. I prefer Godspell, mainly because it’s so wacky. The gist of it is that Jesus (Victor Garber), John the Baptist/Judas (David Haskell), and a bunch of hippie disciples are traipsing around an empty New York City reenacting parables, singing, and dancing. It’s like a Sunday school lesson on acid. The cast, led by a baby-faced Garber, is very talented. You also have beautiful shots of early 70s NYC, including the recently built World Trade Center. The music is my favorite part, though. These are my top three songs.
Day by Day
When the hippie troupe first comes together, they sing this number while building their home base in an old junk yard. It’s a fun one to sing and clap along to, if the spirit moves you.
By My Side
A beautiful ballad with perfect overlapping harmonies. I like how stripped down it is.
Turn Back, O Man
This sultry number contains the line, “Come here Jesus, I got something to show you”. WTF?? But, I’m here for it. They filmed this at the historic Andrew Carnegie mansion. Great setting.
In 1978, Rose Royce came out with “Wishing on a Star”, the third single off their album Full Bloom. The ballad wasn’t a big hit for them, but the r&b group had many other memorable singles, like “Car Wash”. Flash forward to 1992, when the appropriately named The Cover Girls released their cover of “Star”. It went to #9 on the Billboard 100 and was the 49th biggest single of the year.
Each version of the song is a product of its time. Rose Royce’s original is a soulful 70s ballad with lead singer Gwen Dickey’s rich vocals and the live band accompanying her. The Cover Girls’ rendition is very produced, which was common in the 90s. It also has more sass.
I actually heard TCG’s “Star” first when I was growing up. I distinctly remember it playing in the background of an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, so it feels closer to my nostalgic heart. But if I have to pick the best version of the song, I’ll go with Rose Royce. Gwen’s voice is better and I like RR’s subtly.
Fifty years ago this month, The Boys in the Band debuted in theaters. The movie was groundbreaking in depicting gay men and their lives at a time when it was taboo to do so. Other films alluded to homosexuality or danced around the subject. Boys put everything out in the open with three dimensional characters and plot lines. Warts and all. That’s what makes it so memorable.
Stage to screen
In 1968, Mart Crowley was struggling to establish his career as a writer. His friends encouraged him to develop a play, which ultimately became The Boys in the Band. The story focuses on nine gay men who have gathered together for a birthday celebration. At first the tone is fun and not-so-serious, but halfway through things take a turn. You wouldn’t want to be invited to this party. Boys debuted Off-Broadway and instantly became a hit, running for 1,001 performances. This led to a film adaptation written by Crowley and starring the original actors from the show. Robert Moore, the play’s director, was dropped because he had never directed for the screen. The production company instead hired a young pre-Exorcist William Friedkin and shooting began. The majority of filming took place on one stage in a NYC studio, maintaining the static feel of the play. That beautifully 1970s apartment set is one of my favorites from any movie.
Breaking down the boys
Even though it’s not his birthday, Michael (Kenneth Nelson) manages to take center stage. He’s deeply troubled about his life and that comes pouring out as the play goes on. The main reason for his drama is his sexuality. He drinks excessively and attacks others rather than deal with his issues. Nelson expertly plays Michael’s highs and lows, going from jovial to lethal in a second.
Harold (Leonard Frey), the birthday boy, is Michael’s best friend and sometimes his worst enemy. They love to trade barbs and tear each other down. They’re very similar except Harold does a better job of distracting from his insecurities and faults. His acidic wit hides a lot of pain.
Donald (Frederick Combs) is Michael’s ex-boyfriend, but they still care for each other. Like Michael, he’s not too happy with himself. Do you see a pattern? But he’s seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his problems. Ironically, he ends up being Michael’s shrink in a sense, but fails to save him from himself.
Alan (Peter White) crashes the party and changes the entire mood. Before arriving, he calls Michael, telling him that he desperately needs to talk in person. Michael believes his straight married friend is actually gay and on the verge of coming out. If Alan’s not willing to do so on his own, Michael will drag him out of the closet.
Flamboyant Emory (Cliff Gorman) is a textbook sissy, swishing and mincing through every scene. Some might argue that a character like this shouldn’t have been included in the play. But Crowley and Gorman give Emory depth beyond the superficial stereotype. I also think he’s the strongest one at the party. He’s unabashedly himself, refusing to change for anyone.
Bernard (Reuben Greene) acts as the one black friend in the group. It’s a little surprising that Crowley included a person of color when it could have easily been an all-white affair, reflecting the era. He’s not a token either. Bernard’s race does become a focal point, but he’s also a fully-formed character.
Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) and Larry (Keith Prentice) are a couple, but they’re not in sync. Hank was once married to a woman and he’s eager to have that same sort of relationship. Larry is allergic to commitment and would rather play the field. Their differing points of view make for an interesting conversation about monogamy in the gay world.
Cowboy (Robert La Tourneaux), a hustler that Emory finds on the street, is Harold’s birthday present. We never learn much about him, including his real name. He’s mainly there to say stupid things for comic effect. But to La Tourneaux’s credit, it takes a good actor to play dumb so well.
In between the stage play and the release of the movie came a major event: Stonewall. The riots at a gay bar in NYC where members of the LGBT community fought back against injustice, kicked off the gay liberation movement. Gays felt empowered to break out of the closet and feel proud. So just like that, Boys became obsolete. A story about a bunch of self-hating gay men felt out of touch with what was going on in the world. Yes, it was great to have a film that focused primarily on gays, but the way they were portrayed was repellent to most in the community. When you’re seeking representation onscreen, something so seemingly negative can be disheartening. Nobody wants to be a miserable gay.
Over the years, the film has gained more good will, though. I think this is because new, younger audiences are seeing it. These are people who didn’t live through that time period and are somewhat detached from it. They can only imagine what pre-Stonewall life was like, so the film doesn’t feel as personal or hurtful. It’s just a movie now, whereas for gay men in 1970 it was a reality from which they wanted to escape. But I think it’s actually good to look back at a film like Boys and appreciate how far we’ve come. Also, artistically, it’s captivating and well-conceived.
In 2018, the play finally made it to Broadway. Ryan Murphy produced the revival that proudly featured a cast made up entirely of openly gay actors. The show was extremely successful and won Best Revival at the Tony Awards. Crowley accepted the honor and gave a tearful speech honoring the original cast of Boys. It was an incredible full circle moment. Unfortunately, Crowley died earlier this year. I’m glad he got the chance to receive that acclaim after so much criticism was leveled against his work in the past. He didn’t need the justification, but he deserved it. Later in 2020, another film adaptation, starring the same cast from the revival, will be coming to Netflix. I’m anxious to see this new chapter of Boys and revisit a great story.
The late screen legend Elizabeth Taylor would have turned 88 this month. She left behind an incredible legacy as an actress, businesswoman, humanitarian, and activist. She was also a stunningly beautiful woman. It’s no surprise that she had eight husbands. In fact, the world was fascinated by her personal life and all the men she captured. I’m more into her movies, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof being a particular favorite, but that’s another post for another day. Let’s focus on the shallow stuff and rank her husbands.
8. Conrad Hilton Jr.
Conrad Hilton Jr. was Elizabeth’s first husband. On paper, he seemed like the perfect catch. A young, handsome, hotel heir. He and Elizabeth got married in a huge ceremony that was covered extensively by the press. Unfortunately, the fairytale ended quickly. Elizabeth realized that her new husband was an abusive heavy drinker. She divorced him after only 8 months of marriage. Conrad was like the first pancake of her husbands. He didn’t turn out right, so she tossed him in the trash and tried again.
7. Michael Wilding
Michael Wilding may be the least know of her husbands. He was a mildly successful actor, twenty years her senior, and fairly bland. But I guess he was a step up from Conrad. The marriage went downhill as her career took off and his lagged behind. Similar to A Star is Born, but less entertaining. After five years they were done.
6. John Warner
I wonder if Elizabeth was imaging herself as the new Jackie Kennedy when she married politician, John Warner. Going on the campaign trail may have seemed like a novel concept to a movie star. In any event, this was no Camelot and he wasn’t as handsome as JFK. Liz was soon bored with her life as a senator’s wife in D.C. She passed the time boozing, taking pills, and eating. Luckily, she got a divorce and went back to Hollywood.
5. Larry Fortensky
The substance abuse that began during her marriage to Warner eventually led Elizabeth to check into the famed Betty Ford clinic where she met her next husband, Larry Fortensky. They fell in love and got sober together. What a sweet meet-cute story. The marriage didn’t last long though. Larry, a construction worker who came from simple means, didn’t enjoy being “Mr. Liz Taylor”. There are worse things. Like, his mullet.
4. Eddie Fisher
Eddie Fisher and his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, were best friends with Elizabeth and her third husband, Mike Todd. After Mike’s tragic death, Eddie “comforted” a grieving Elizabeth. They began an affair that led to Eddie leaving Debbie, America’s Sweetheart, and marrying Liz. Of course, Debbie got the last laugh when Elizabeth dumped Eddie for her Cleopatra co-star. Karma is a Burton.
3. Richard Burton
Elizabeth and Richard Burton were married twice. So, he counts as husband #5 and #6. The second marriage lasted less than a year and was uneventful, so I’m putting it at #3 on the list. Follow that? More to come below.
2. Mike Todd
Producer Mike Todd was Elizabeth’s 3rd husband and at the time she called him the love of her life. He was as big and over the top as his productions, which included Best Picture winner Around the World in 80 Days. He liked the spotlight and making a show of things, so he and Liz were a good match. Plus, he lavished her with jewelry, including an ornate ruby necklace and diamond tiara. Elizabeth once said that the best thing about him, though, was that he made her feel protected and loved. It’s sad that they didn’t get to spend more time together. He died a little more than a year after they married.
1. Richard Burton
Elizabeth’s love affair with Richard Burton began on a dramatic note. They left their spouses for each other causing the tabloid press to lose its mind. The Vatican was also playing close attention since they denounced the couple, charging them with “erotic vagrancy”. Should the Church really have been throwing stones from its glass house? After divorcing Eddie, Liz and Richard rushed to the altar. The next ten years of marriage were filled with elaborate vacations, tons of jewelry, kids, 11 movies together, and raucous partying. There were also many fights. The press didn’t call them the Battling Burtons for nothing. In the end, though, they had a deep love for one another that lasted long after their union ended.
I watch the 1974 version of Black Christmas every holiday season. It’s kind of like my own version of It’s a Wonderful Life and certainly more fun than that downer. IAWL is the This is Us of Christmas movies. But I digress. For its 45th anniversary, let’s get into why BC is one of the best holiday horror films.
They’ve got character
Just like the recent remake, the original is set in a sorority house where a small group of the women are staying over Christmas break. Unbeknowst to them, a psychotic killer has taken up residence in their attic. Creepy attics were made for murderers. Basements aren’t much better. But, back to the sisters. It’s rare in a horror movie to care about the characters. Typically, they’re one dimensional and underdeveloped. Plus, you know they’re going to die soon, so why put in the effort. But in BC, the main group is actually well written and worth giving a crap about. Jess (Olivia Hussey), our final girl, is intelligent, strong, and caring. She has her own mind. In the movie, we find out that she’s pregnant and intends to have an abortion. Even with her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) pressuring her to keep it, she won’t be swayed. It didn’t occur to me until after watching the 2019 BC, with its strong feminist story, that the original already explored that perspective. A young woman making decisions about her body despite a man’s interference is pretty advanced for 1974. Then there’s Barb (Margot Kidder), the clever sardonic sister. She uses her wit and bravado as armor, sometimes hurting others with her sharp tongue. We only see her break once, when she feels guilty because she thinks her harsh words drove Clare (Lynne Griffin) away. It’s only then that Barb’s vulnerability comes out. She’s an interesting flawed person. Finally, kind-hearted Phyl (Andrea Martin) rounds out the trio. She doesn’t get much of a storyline, but you’re still invested in her. She’s a genuine supportive friend to the others. There’s also a good cop in the movie, Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon). He’s actually smart (don’t see that often in scary movies) and takes the concerns of the girls seriously.
Oh, the horror
From the first shot of the sorority house, director Bob Clark gets you in the mood for what is to come. It’s a dark, cold, eerily quiet night. Then we see, from his POV, as the killer climbs up the side of the house into the attic. Shortly thereafter the phone rings. He’s calling the women, howling and screaming like a maniac. It’s disturbing. The rest of the movie carries on in the same vein. Little things, like the ominous score and sound effects (that duuuuuunnng noise), can be very jarring. There’s not a lot of blood and gore here because you don’t need it in order to scare the viewer (something the 2006 version didn’t comprehend). When Barb is killed, yes you do see blood, but nothing over the top. It’s more unnerving that Clark juxtaposes her death with a children’s choir caroling downstairs at the front door. And who needs gore when you have a ton of suspense? Watching Jess, alone in the living room, unaware that her friends have been killed, frightened by the incessant phone calls, and fearful for what might come next is pure terror. The biggest moment comes when the police, who have been trying to trace the phone calls, discover their origin. They warn Jess with the now classic, “the calls are coming from inside the house”. That should have been followed by a “run, girl!”, since she decides to stay put and look for her friends. Oh Jess. My favorite scare is when the killer chases her and grabs her hair through the bannister. Makes me jump every time.
To break up all these scary moments, Clark and screenwriter Roy Moore add some much-needed humor to the movie. Marian Waldman plays Mrs. Mac, the girls’ boozy house mother. The running joke is she’s always drinking from bottles of alcohol that are hidden around the house. Who knew you could chill your spirits in the toilet tank? There’s also desk sergeant Nash (Douglas McGrath) at the police station. He’s dumber than a box of hair and that’s being generous. The fellatio gag never gets old. “It’s something dirty, ain’t it?” And, of course, Barb brings the laughs with her extended zoo sex story. You’ll never look at turtles the same way again.
There are times when a movie doesn’t provide all the answers and you’re actually ok with it. BC falls into this category. There are a lot of plot points left up to the audience to decipher on their own. The biggest one being the identity of the killer. Or a reason for why he is doing this. Also, what was he babbling about on the phone? Similarly, the b-story of the movie focuses on the disappearance of a little girl who is eventually found dead in the park. Could the sorority house killer have been involved? Or maybe there are two murderers running around. And later in the movie, after the police have left unconscious Jess alone in the house with the killer still in the attic, you wonder if he’ll come after her again. But we’ll never know since the movie ends with a…
In Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman, Robert DeNiro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver turned mob hit man. Over the course of several years Frank becomes deeply involved with crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) as well as Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the infamous leader of the Brotherhood of Teamsters. These relationships shape Frank’s life in both promising and harmful ways.
Here’s the thing, I enjoyed this film. Visually and stylistically it’s fantastic. That’s no surprise when you consider the director. The talent on-camera is equally amazing. It’s a who’s who of iconic Oscar-winning actors. And surely this film will pick up a lot of awards. Now, do I ever need to watch it again? Nope. For one, there’s the excessive 3.5 hour runtime. Thankfully Netflix made this movie because I can’t imagine watching it in the theater. They could have stopped at 2.5, may 3 hours tops. It’s a lot of movie. That doesn’t make it the most exciting though. A bunch of things happen and plot points are explored, but I wasn’t riveted by all of it and a few times I was actually bored. There’s also the feeling that you’ve seen this all before. A mob story that takes place in the past, directed by Scorsese, and starring DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci. Sound familiar? It’s like a greatest hits album.
In any event, I’d recommend seeing The Irishman. It’s an impressive film. But be prepared for its bloated, déjà vu inducing qualities.
Donna Summer ruled the music charts in the 1970s, turning out hit after hit. She and her longtime producer, Giorgio Moroder, had perfected the formula for dance music of that era. In November 1979, they came out with “On the Radio”. The track was written for the Jodie Foster movie Foxes. It’s used throughout, sometimes with Donna’s vocals, other times with just the gorgeous melody providing the film’s score. In the song, her ex-boyfriend writes her a letter, but he loses it before it can be delivered. Luckily, someone finds it and reads it on the radio. Sure, why not. Donna instantly knows it’s from her ex. She’s been pining for him ever since they broke up and this opens up the door for a reconciliation. That’s the power of the radio. The lyrics aren’t really the important part here. It’s more about the feelings that Donna conveys. The song starts off slow like a ballad. Her voice is relaxed and subdued, pulling you in. Then the beat drops and you’re elated as her soaring vocals take you to the dance floor. It’s a fantastic mix of emotions. “Radio” went on to become Donna’s tenth top ten single on the Billboard 100, further cementing her status as the Queen of Disco. “Whoa, oh, oh…”