Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Remembering words of wisdom from Van Cliburn

I met the late, great Van Cliburn only once, decades ago, during my days at The Shreveport Times, when the famed pianist returned to his hometown to perform with the local symphony. (Sorry, Time Magazine: He really was a Louisiana native.) But he told me something during our brief interview that has always stuck in my mind: "If I have talent," he said, "it's a gift from God. But if I have a career, it's a gift from the audience. Because they don't have to come see me, or buy my records." I wonder how many less talented contemporary showbiz celebs would do well to heed his words of wisdom.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jennifer Lawrence is Best Actress, bitches!

And just think: Last month, some people were accusing Jennifer Lawrence of unseemly hubris. Looks like she got the last laugh Sunday night, eh? (Insert joke about pride going before a fall here.)

Today's burning question: Seth MacFarlane, threat or menace?

But seriously, folks: The ratings for last night's Oscarcast reportedly are up a whopping 19 percent over last year's show. Was it because the top races were so competitive? Or could the reason be -- dare I say it? -- Seth MacFarlane? In any event, here's my instant analysis of the extravaganza.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar and Argo and Jimmy Carter

Could a Best Picture win for Argo be the latest step in the "rehabilitation" of President Jimmy Carter. Douglas Brinkley of The Daily Beast makes a persuasive case that our 39th POTUS could benefit just as much as Ben Affleck at tonight's Oscarcast. Even though Carter himself has noted that the movie takes a few, ahem, liberties with historical facts.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Harlem Shake" -- Steampunk Edition

I have to admit: The merman in the lower left-hand corner is what really sells it. I'm just sorry Ernest Borgnine didn't live long enough to see this. (Hat-tip to the folks at The League of S.T.E.A.M.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Djesus Uncrossed -- "No more Mr. Nice Jesus!"

Father, forgive me: This made me laugh until I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. If the nuns back at St. Vincent de Paul or the brothers back at St. Aloysius had ever caught me looking at something like this, I'd still have the ruler marks on my knuckles.

R.I.P. Sidney Berger (1936-2013)

Sidney Berger earned for himself at least a footnote in film history for his iconic portrayal of the haunted heroine's obnoxious neighbor -- a performance memorably described by Roger Ebert as "the definitive study of a nerd in lust" -- in Carnival of Souls, Herk Harvey's stripped-to-essentials 1962 cult-fave ghost story. But I'm fairly certain that his friends and colleagues -- and the thousands of students (including Jim Parsons, Dennis Quaid, Brent Spiner and Robert Wuhl) he mentored during his decades as director of the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance -- would prefer to remember him for his far more respectable and inspiring achievements.

And those achievements were many. As Houston Chronicle theater critic Everett Evans noted Saturday in an obituary tribute, "Berger attracted national and international attention to the [UH School of Theatre and Dance] by importing celebrated theatrical talents as professors, including playwrights Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, Ntozake Shange and Mark Medoff; directors Jose Quintero and Peter Hall; and veteran Broadway producer Stuart Ostrow. He also brought award-winning writers, including Fiddler on the Roof composer Jerry Bock and Barnum librettist Mark Bramble, to create new musicals for the university's Children's Theatre Festival."

Berger also was founder and longtime director of the Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre, where he directed at least one  production each summer between 1975 and 2010.

And while I never had the privilege of being one of his students, I can claim the honor of having him as one of my thesis advisers when, after years of gentle prodding by him and two other respected UH colleagues, I finally got around to completing the requirements for my long-delayed Masters Degree in Communications Studies in 2007.

To answer the inevitable question: Yes, Sidney Berger was richly amused by the notoriety he gained through his association with Carnival of Souls. And he was more than willing to chat (or joke) about the movie's enduring status a cult fave-rave. But I must admit: While he was my adviser, we spent more time talking about classic and contemporary theater -- and Robert Evans, whose tenure as production chief at Paramount Pictures was the subject of my thesis.

Berger was always gracious and encouraging throughout our sporadic meetings during this period. And I couldn't help noticing how available and accessible he always seemed to be for his students. Indeed,  on more than one occasion, I would show up for a confab and find his office empty -- but the entryway would be unbarred, and everything but a literal welcome map appeared to bid any visitor to enter and wait for his speedy return.

Occasionally, I would would kid him: "You know, Sidney, 'My door is always open' is just a figure of speech..." And he would laugh.

But, truth to tell, I never did find that door locked.

And just in case you might actually want to see Carnival of Souls... here is your chance. (Sidney Berger pops up around the 0:25:30 mark.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Congrats to Mumford & Sons

Glad to see Mumford & Sons -- the group I discovered while viewing and reviewing the excellent Big Easy Express -- won Album of the Year at the Grammys tonight. Just as glad to see Big Easy Express itself picked up the Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video. But I must admit: At my age, I'm even gladder to see someone else still using the term "Album" when it comes to recorded-music formats.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Just in time for Valentine's Day viewing: Romantic movies from An Affair to Remember to Weekend

If you're looking for a movie to see with your sweetie on Valentine's Day, I offer some suggestions at CultureMap -- Houston's daily digital magazine -- and on Great Day Houston (above) with the lovely and talented Deborah Duncan.

Saturday at MFAH: Do the Right Thing -- still a hot topic

Believe it or not, there actually were intelligent people -- well, OK, reasonably intelligent people -- who feared back in the day that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing was so incendiary, it might spark riots during its theatrical release in the summer of 1989.

But wait, there's more: As early as May that year, when Do the Right Thing had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, some journalists actually were questioning whether Lee had acted irresponsibly by making a movie with such a such a "hopeless" view of then-contemporary race relations in America.

Not surprisingly, Lee begged to differ with that characterization of his masterwork.

''I don't think this is a pessimistic film,'' Lee said during a Cannes press conference. ''I think that, at the end, there is hope.

''But, look, I wouldn't go to any movie expecting it to have an answer to AIDS, to cancer -- or to racism. What makes you think that filmmakers are gods, or Jesus Christ? What makes you think I'm a savior, that I'm gonna have an answer to racism?

 ''What I feel I have to do as a filmmaker is present a problem, so that discussion can start. Because you still have a lot of people in America who say that racism ended when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and black people have the vote . . . So black people have arrived, and everything is all right.

 ''But it's not. The black underclass in America now is larger than it's ever been. So you can't be lulled to sleep, into thinking that just because Eddie Murphy is huge, and Arsenio Hall has a great TV show, that we're living in a world where everything is right, and righteous and humane.''

Twenty-three years later, Do the Right Thing remains a powerful and provocative film. And part of the reason for that is, 23 years later, even after the re-election of our first African-American vice-president, we're still having heated discussions about the things that divide us -- and the things that unite us. I'll be introducing a retrospective screening of this remarkable "Spike Lee Joint" at 7 pm Saturday at the Museum of Fie Arts, Houston. Like Lee, I don't claim to have all the answers. But I do have one or two stories to tell about this movie and the man who made it.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Bowl ad preview 2: Blast back to the future with Buzz Aldrin

I actually would like to sign up for a chance of winning a space on the rocket. Especially if Buzz Aldrin himself was on board. But, alas, I don't think I would meet the weight specs.

Super Bowl ad preview: Willem Dafoe is Satan (and Kate Upton is hot)

Look closely, and you'll see Kate Upton and Usher also went along for the ride. And speaking of Kate Upton: She gets behind the wheel here, too.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Coolest Super Bowl commercial ever... still

The only possible way they could have improved this: If Eminem would have said, "And by the way -- if you don't buy a Chrysler, you're a bitch-ass punk." And here's the runner-up. (Yeah, pretty much the one you'd expect.)