Stephen Schaefer’s Hollywood & Mine – Boston Herald


The Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh was the producer of Sunday’s 93rd Academy Awards. He had promised a new, more intimate show, one that mimicked being in a movie, one that would not be business as usual.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  ‘Badly miscalculated’ opined one of many critics to lambast a show that seemed endless and with its social conscience heard nearly continuously on every mic.  ‘If a recent verdict hadn’t gone right I might have replaced my heels with marching shoes,’ Regina King said in effect as virtually her opening sentence ‘welcoming’ viewers to a 93rd Oscars that would reflect our country and world issues: the horrific daily deaths of Black men, gun violence and its innocent victims, ecological threats to the world seas.  History was made with diversity wins.  But there were no clips of the 8 nominated movies (movies that according to polls were spectacularly unfamiliar to the public).

The 5 nominated Songs were performed in the incredibly bland 90-minute Pre-Show where the Oscar troops were outclassed by the rooftop’s imaginative outdoor setting.  Those song performances were wildly uneven.  The Husavik Song, performed from the Finnish village with a cute-as-can-be children’s choir and the singer whose voice was used for the Will Ferrell comedy, never quite connected the way the film version did!  Similarly, the Italian-sung ‘Io Si (Seen)’ lost something in the transition to the rooftop of the Academy’s fantastic-looking new Hollywood Museum.  But Celeste and Daniel Pemberton with ‘Hear My Voice’ and H.E.R. with ‘Fight for You,’ knocked it out of the proverbial park.

I realized there was something seriously wrong when the best moment was the 2-mninute trailer for Steven Spielberg’s remake of ‘West Side Story,’ now set to open in December.  This ‘Story’ shines with a new look to the original’s most iconic moments, musically and visually. That ad also suggested – for the very first time for me – why this might actually work and not be another ‘A Chorus Line’ in the tradition of disastrous film adaptations of Broadway hits. Here was youthful energy, a sense of electricity and a hint of sexual passion – even if we didn’t see how this ‘West Side Story’ would handle the transition from characters speaking normally to suddenly dance and sing.

As for the winners, it would seem to echo a memorable voters’ split way back when since it was Frances McDormand who benefited from the fierce competition.  Among the 1950 Oscar nominations, the Best Actress race was seen as between silent screen diva Gloria Swanson’s fantastic ‘Sunset Boulevard’ comeback as mad Norma Desmond versus Bette Davis’ equally heralded comeback with her career-summing ‘All About Eve’ turn as aging Broadway diva Margo Channing.  The two knocked each other out! That left the surprise winner Judy Holliday with ‘Born Yesterday’ to take the Golden Guy home.  Similarly this year’s closely contested Best Actress Oscar race was viewed as between Carey Mulligan for the take-no-prisoners sexual revenge of ‘Promising Young Woman’ and Viola Davis’ deglamorizing commitment to the iconic lesbian blues pioneer in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ Suddenly, McDormand enters the history books with 3 Best Actress Academy Awards (Meryl Streep has 2. Katharine Hepburn has 4).

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Frances McDormand in a scene from the film “Nomadland.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

As for McDormand’s intriguing statements on the winner’s podium, when she first accepted the Best Picture Oscar she said ‘We give this one to our wolf’ – and then she stunned the audience by uttering a long howl that would make any wolf proud.  Backstage she revealed that was in tribute to the ‘Nomadland’ sound mixer who died at 35 just weeks ago.  As for her ‘Macbeth’ quote when she accepted Best Actress, her character in ‘Nomadland’ is a teacher and clearly knows her Shakespeare.






HISTORIC OSCAR WINNER                     Not only did ‘Nomadland’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Searchlight, R) nab the Best Picture Oscar and a third Best Actress Academy Award for Frances McDormand, this low-key look at American ‘nomads,’ people who have lost their jobs and their homes and have hit the road, won the Chinese-born, raised in Great Britain Chloe Zhao another Oscar as Best Director. She is only the 2nd woman to win the directing prize and the 1st woman of color to do so.  Bonus Extras: Deleted scenes, a featurette ‘The Forgotten America,’ and the Telluride/Venice Film Festival simultaneous premiere with a rare Q&A with Zhao and Frances McDormand.

Director/Producer Chloe Zhao, winner of the award for best picture for “Nomadland,” poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)




STILL BEAMING                             William Shatner looks to be having a ball in the Palm Springs retiree comedy ‘Senior Moment’ (DVD, Screen Media, Not Rated) which is more than a genial geezer comedy.  While it ponders how various people cope with retirement, ‘Senior Moment’ offers examples that no matter the age, people don’t-won’t-can’t change.  For Shatner’s retired NASA test pilot that means speeding around in his vintage white Porsche convertible until a judge takes the car and his license away and new scenarios – like a possible romance with Jean Smart and an introduction to public transportation – beckon. It’s Shatner’s show and he is truly a delight. Bonus: a Music video, behind the scenes and audio commentary by director Giorgio Serafini and producer Gina G. Goff.

William Shatner, left, in ‘Senior Moments.’




A MIGHTY ROAR                                        Among the angry AIDS activists of the ‘80s, protesters fighting for their lives amid governmental prejudice and ignorance, David Wojnarowicz stands among the mightiest.  Director Chris McKim tells this mostly unsung hero’s journey as artist and activist in the remarkable ‘Wojnarowicz’ (DVD, Kino Lorber, Nor Rated). David died of AIDS in 1992. He was 37. McKim uses rediscovered answering machine tape recordings alongside intimate recollections from writer-humorist Fran Lebowitz and photographer Peter Hujar.  Bonus: New material not in the doc, a Q&A with the filmmaker.




RIDING NOT SO HIGH                                   In 1981 Oscar-winning (‘Midnight Cowboy’,‘Darling’) director John Schlesinger helmed the big-budget ensemble comedy ‘Honky Tonk Freeway’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG).  Now in a 4K restoration ‘Honky Tonk’ was in its initial release a notorious, major bomb.  While led by luminous veterans like Geraldine Page, Jessica Tandy, both Best Actress Oscar winners, Hume Cronyn, Beau Bridges and Teri Garr, the large cast hardly rated as box-office magnets.  The premise was elemental:  All roads for our offbeat travelers lead to the tiny town of Ticlaw, Florida, which desperately needs a highway ramp if they are to continue to exist.  So somehow they have to create their own hugely expensive ramp.  Along the road, traveling to Ticlaw are nuns, a cocaine drug-dealing hitchhiker, 2 bank robbers, a daughter clutching her mother’s ashes and, in transport, a rhino meant to join Ticlaw’s signature  water-skiing elephant.  The audio commentary by producer Don Boyd, who took the hit for the $33 million loss, finds him partnered with 2 film historians.




SIGNORET SOARS                         Simone Signoret (say ‘Cig-nor-A’) was a titan of world cinema, a star from the early 1950s until her death at 64 in 1985.  An enduring and accomplished presence, from her prematurely wise, sexually knowing youth to her final years when stout and absent vanity she liked to say, ‘I got old the way whores do,’ Signoret won the 1959 Best Actress Oscar playing the older married lover of young hotshot Laurence Harvey who dumps her for the boss’s daughter in the bittersweet ‘Room at the Top.’  Among her must-sees: The French ‘Casque d’Or,’ the classic French thriller ‘Diabolique,’ the all-star ‘Ship of Fools’ and Jean-Pierre Meville’s magnificent 1969 WWII Resistance drama ‘Army of Shadows.’  ‘Madame Rosa’ (Blue-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) with Signoret in the title role won the 1977 Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.  It’s virtually disappeared in the decades since and is now wondrously restored.  This is the character that recently won Sophia Loren acclaim in a newly revised adaptation.

French actress Simone Signoret and American actor Charlton Heston pose with their Oscars, at the annual Academy Awards show in Hollywood, Calif., on April 4, 1960. Signoret won for her role in the picture “Room at the Top,” Heston was awarded best actor for “Ben-Hur.” (AP Photo )

‘Madame Rosa’ is based on a bestselling Romain Gary novel which he published under a pseudonym.  He wasn’t revealed as the author until after his death.  He committed suicide in 1980, not long after his wife Jean Seberg’s 1979 suicide.  The book, like this film, has virtually disappeared from view.  Madame Rosa, an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, left whoring at 50 to care for the children of prostitutes in her 6th floor walkup in Paris’ Pigalle neighborhood. She can no longer do this, her legs are giving out, her breathing strained (yes, of course, she smokes).  Her most beloved charge is Momo (Samy Ben Youbi), an Arab Muslim she’s raised for 11 years, since he was 3.  She is now dying and ‘Madame Rosa’ without sentimentality follows this odd couple – and their concerned neighbors and doctor – as Rosa’s health worsens and as Momo tries to honor her dying wish.  It’s exquisitely done, a virtual master class in the art of offering an ‘invisible’ performance. Moshe Mizrahi, an Egyptian-born Paris-based Jewish filmmaker, also adapted the novel.  Film critic Kat Ellinger offers a most informative audio commentary.  English subtitles.




BUSEY BOUNTY                             The idea of a peace-loving guy who finds it impossible to remain peaceful and transforms into a raging killer has potent Hollywood history with Dustin Hoffman in ‘Straw Dogs’ and most Charles Bronson films beginning with ‘Death Wish.’  Gary Busey in the 1986 ‘Eye of the Tiger’ (Blu-ray, MGM, R) mined this sturdy formula.  As Buck Matthews, Busey returns to his rural small town after a stint in prison – note that he was behind bars for a crime he did not commit.  But as this new HD Master vibrantly shows, when a lawless biker gang begins to terrorize the town and makes the big mistake of attacking his family, someone has to stand up and make ‘em stop! Costarring the late Yaphet Kotto (‘Alien’) and featuring the Survivor hit ‘Eye of the Tiger.’




A SHINING BUDD               An ideal example of a classic Hollywood Western, Budd Boetticher’s 1952 ‘Horizons West’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) is, naturally, in vivid Technicolor and serves as a character study, asking what makes a man turn into a tyrant.  Is it the drive for power?  Money?  Robert Ryan carries ‘Horizons’ as a penniless Civil War veteran whose ruthless drive to rule his Texas territory means major criminality.  Ryan excelled at casual cruel dominance.  He’s blatantly bad – which is what makes him attractive to the wife (Julia Adams) of his rival.  Boetticher, the only Hollywood director who began as a bullfighting matador in Mexcio, would go on to be recognized as a true auteur with his series of 7 Westerns starring Randolph Scott, among them ‘The Tall T’ and ‘Seven Men from Now.’  Featured in ‘Horizons’ are Rock Hudson as Ryan’s younger brother, James Arness (who had just played ‘The Thing’ and would soon star in ‘Gunsmoke’ for 20 years) and, in his feature film debut, Dennis Weaver (‘Duel’).




NO MYSTERY HERE                                  There was the all-star Hollywood classic ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ and there is its semi-offspring, the no-stars 1987 ‘Million Dollar Mystery’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG).  Obviously inspired by Stanley Kramer’s comedic indictment of unabashed greed, ‘Mystery’ was produced by the mighty Italian Dino De Laurentiis, who launched the film with a series of amazing — in their scale — commercial tie-ins.  The director is the legendary Richard Fleischer (‘The Narrow Margin,’ ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’ ‘The Vikings,’ ‘The Boston Strangler,’ ‘Mandingo,’ ‘Conan the Destroyer’). ‘Million’ is his final film. There is an appreciative audio commentary by entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman.



SWEET INDEED!                                 Alan Alda, the star, screenwriter and director of the 1986 ‘Sweet Liberty’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG), has continued to shine on TV and in pictures (the Oscar-nominated 2019 ‘Marriage Story’). His leading man career was launched with the hit TV series ‘M*A*S*H’ (1972-1983). He morphed into the very model of the New Age New Man, a heterosexual feminist with a famously happy marriage and a major following among female fans.  He wrote-directed and starred in a series of well-received ensemble films: ‘The Four Seasons’ (’81), ‘A New Life’ (‘’88) and ‘Betsy’s Wedding’ (’90).  ‘Sweet Liberty’ boasts a starry cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Caine, the legendary silent screen icon Lillian Gish) in a comedy where Alda’s author sees the film version of his book transformed into a sexually trendy romp, complete with nudity.  He rebels!  Does it change anything? Will his marriage survive his affair with the leading lady?? Special Feature: An audio commentary.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Alan Alda at the opening of the film “Sweet Liberty” on April 23, 1986. (AP Photo)



RANKIN BASS ANDERSON                         A series of Hans Christian Anderson’s tales is given the Rankin/Bass Animagic treatment in ‘The Daydreamer’ (Blu-ray, Studio Canal, Not Rated) with an all-star cast that includes legends (Tallulah Bankhead, Boris Karloff, Sessu Hayakawa, Ed Wynn, Ray Bolger, Margaret Hamilton) alongside child stars Hayley Mills, Patty Duke.  The idea is that a young Anderson daydreams his way thru his most famous fairy tales including ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ ‘Thumbelina.’ ‘The Daydreamer’ mixes live action and ‘Animagic.’  Rankin/Bass are known for their TV classics ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’  Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt offers an audio commentary with film historian Lee Gambin.


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