Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Want to know what's going on in arts and entertainment in Santa Cruz County?

Time to consult The Muse.

No, not the fabulous British rock band, or some unsung Greek demi-goddess of Information. I'm talking about The Muse, the new website devoted to our very own simmering cultural scene. Operating under the aegis of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, it's sort of an upscale online version of that paper's weekly Guide, except that news, stories, interviews and images are posted a lot more often.

The Sentinel's crackerjack arts team is also the braintrust behind The Muse. Entertainment Editor, man about town, and Mr. First Nighter Wallace Baine certainly needs no introduction from me. Entertainment columnist and popular fashionista Christa Martin, and maverick visual arts champion Kirby Scudder round out the masthead.

If you want to catch up with a column of Wallace's, Christa's or Kirby's that you missed, they're all online at The Muse. If you want to know about art in local galleries, dance, music, and theater productions, great places to eat, or cool new books to read, this is a good place to look. New posts are going up daily, if not more often, so there's always something new on the site.

The get everyone in the mood for The Muse, the perpetrators are hosting a community launch party this Thursday, February 28, 6-9 pm at SCICA Gallery in the Tannery Arts Center. Scores of local arty types will be there, including Pipa Pinon and Rhan Wilson, Tammi Brown, Ukulele Dick and Jayme Kelly Curtis, Richard Stockton, Lori Rivera, Sven Davis, and, oh, just scads of others. All ready, willing and able to hang out with you, the arts-going public! Check it out!

(Above The Muse of Poetry, from the Beethoven Frieze, by Gustav Klimt.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Academy Awards weekend can only mean one thing around my house: the Return of the (dreaded) Oscar Barbies! It's the time when I raid my eclectic collection of Barbie Dolls, vintage outfits, and scrap fabric to concoct my take on the Best Actress nominees.

But I can't say I'm much impressed by this year's nominees, Barbie-wise. None of them are in fantasy films or historical costumes dramas, so where's the fun in dressing them up? Jennifer Lawrence runs around in sweats most of the time in Silver Linings Playbook, Naomi Watts stumbles through the tropics in shorts and a bloody bandage in The Impossible, and Jessica Chastain searches the desert for Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty in a black fatigue jacket and black jeans. Bo-ring!

Of course, there are special challenges this year. Like 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva in Amour. It's tough to de-glamorize a Barbie, since one of my rules is to never actually repaint a vintage doll, so this one's eye makeup remains intact. (Well, the character IS French.)

But she also has a molded head made for wearing wigs, so I borrowed some steel wool from Art Boy to give her sort of a grey pageboy, then I dressed her in a robe with a tea pot and cup to reference a key scene in the film at the breakfast table. (It's all about the props in Oscar Barbie World.)

But at least Ms. Riva is a full-size adult. What about vivacious little Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild? (She was just 6 years old when the film was shot.)

Obviously, a regulation Barbie just wouldn't do. But the doll bin at the Thrift Center downtown yielded up this tiny little beauty—a steal at 31 cents!

Okay, she was originally white, but the no-painting rule doesn't apply to non-vintage dolls. She also has a gigantic mop of reddish hair that's sort of the correct color for the little girl in the film—I just had to lop off most of the length and tease up the rest.

Jennifer Lawrence/Barbie runs off with the gold

I crafted her tank top and cut-offs from fabric scraps and Scotch tape, but she came with her own sneakers!

Too bad there were no Best Actress nominees this year from Les Mis, or Lincoln, or Anna Karenina—or even The Hobbit! Those were costumes!

Oscar Barbie Heaven occurred for me back in 1999 when actresses from both Shakespeare In Love AND Elizabeth were nominated. For me it was a blessed orgy of Elizabethiana—puffed sleeves, hoop skirts and neck ruffs!

Oh, well, maybe next year...in the meantime, here's a flashback to some of my Oscar Barbies Past. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013


I've already predicted Argo to win Best Picture, a film which (as Billy Crystal said about Driving Miss Daisy back in 1990), "apparently directed itself"—meaning director Ben Affleck wasn't nominated. (See my last Oscar post.)

So, who else is going to the Winner's Circle? Read on...

BEST DIRECTOR  Steven Spielberg, Lincoln. But anything goes in the biggest smackdown of the night, with DGA winner Affleck not even nominated. The only other DGA nominees in the race are Spielberg and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Spielberg's Americana epic seems likely to trump a tale of a boy and a tiger, however gorgeous. But it wouldn't be the first time Lee has snagged a directing Oscar for a film that didn't win Best Picture. (Remember the debacle of 2006, when Lee won for Brokeback Mountain, but the film lost to Crash?) Don't discount, Michael Haneke, whose Amour is nominated for both Best Foreign Film and Best Picture. But the strongest upset candidate may be David O. Russell, whose bipolar romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook, has also earned nominations in all four acting categories. Only Benh Zeitlin for his poetic and visionary Beasts of the Southern Wild lacks momentum.

BEST ACTOR Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. The only sure thing this year is another win for Day-Lewis for his extraordinary alchemical transformation into Honest Abe. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Denzel Washington (Flight) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) should all bask in the glory, but they shouldn't bother to write a speech.

BEST ACTRESS Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook. If Zero Dark Thirty had racked up more pre-season awards, or won Kathryn Bigelow a directing nomination, then it's star, Jessica Chastain, would be the favorite.

Chastain won a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Actress, but the Globes are handed out in both comedy and drama categories, and the Globe winner for comedy, Lawrence, went on to snag the SAG award.

This category also includes the oldest and youngest acting nominees ever, 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (heartbreaking in Amour, and my favorite dark horse for an upset victory) and six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), along with the excellent Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln. He has strong competition from Golden Globe-winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), the beloved Alan Arkin (Argo), and even Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook). (Not so much Philip Seymour Hoffman in the overrated The Master.) But who doesn't love Jones as cantankerous anti-slavery advocate Thaddeus Stevens? He deserves an Oscar just for wearing that wig.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables. This one is virtually in the bag for Hathaway, who's cleaned up at the pre-Oscar awards, and is the only player in Les Miz who benefitted from the tricky device of shooting all the songs live, in one take. Sally Field (Lincoln), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Amy Adams (The Master) round out the category.

BEST of the REST Zero Dark Thirty may snag a Best Original Screenplay award for Mark Boal as it's biggest win of the night. Tony Kushner's script for Lincoln should edge out Chris Terrio (Argo) and Russell (Silver Linings) for Best Adapted Screenplay. I like Amour for Best Foreign Language Film (possible upset: Denmark's A Royal Affair), and Brave for Best Animated Feature. And expect the visually stunning Life of Pi to take home awards for Cinematography, Visual Effects and Production Design, while Anna Karenina sneaks off with the Costume prize.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Mood-altering pills power nifty Soderbergh thriller 'Side Effects'

Obfuscation is the name of the game in Steven Soderbergh's intricate new thriller Side Effects. The kind of tense drama for which the words "taut" and "twisty" are usually strung together in a sentence, this dark tale of sex, lies, and pharmaceutical skullduggery is a masterpiece of misdirection, artfully calibrated so that the viewer—like the film's overly medicated characters—often has no idea what may or may not be going on.

In retrospect, even the preview trailer (which has been playing around town for weeks) fools around with our expectations, so that the film itself is still full of nifty surprises.

Scripted by Scott Z. Burns (who also wrote Soderbergh's Contagion), the story revolves around Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a young woman battling depression. She was accustomed to living large back in Connecticut—parties, boat, mansion—until her yuppie stockbroker husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), went to prison for insider trading. Emily has gotten a job and moved to an apartment in New York City, but now that Martin is getting out again, she doesn't know how to cope.

Complaining that the anti-anxiety drugs she's been taking interfere with her work, her sleep, and her sex drive, she lands in a downtown hospital for observation when the car she's driving has a close encounter with a brick wall. Soderbergh is smart to use a supple actor like Jude Law in the pivotal role of Dr. Banks, the psychiatrist who happens to be making the rounds that day—who soon finds himself drawn into a sensational murder scandal that threatens his practice, his family, his career, and possibly even his own sanity. (Read more)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Taking another look at those Oscar nominees

Some years, predicting the Academy Awards winners is a sure thing; there's a clear front-runner that you just know is going to clean up, like The Artist last year, or The King's Speech the year before that.

But 2013 is not one of those years. Expect drama, when the stately odds-on favorite a month ago squares off against a plucky little upstart that's been raking in the pre-Oscar accolades. When an actress in a quirky comedy has a chance to edge out the female lead in a serious drama. In a directors' free-for-all where the winner of the prestigious Directors Guild of America award—who usually becomes the Oscar front-runner—wasn't even nominated by the Academy.

Needless to say, I've had to reconsider since I last popped off about this year's Oscar nominees.

So who do I think is the top contender for Best Picture? Argo. Serious.

A month ago, I'd have bet money on Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, a well-crafted drama about one of the most iconic figures in American history at the moment of his greatest triumph. But that was before Argo star-producer-director Ben Affleck and his fleet, witty real-life suspense caper started winning every other film award there is—Golden Globe, DGA, Producer's Guild, Screen Actor's Guild, even the British BAFTA.

Not once has Lincoln (or any other movie) wrested away the prize, and I see no reason to believe it will be any different at the Oscars. Indeed, since the Academy unaccountably failed to nominate DGA-winner Affleck in the Best Director category, Argo is liable to pull in even more of a sympathy vote. (As a co-producer, Affleck can still earn a statuette.)

To win without a directing nomination would be an epic upset in terms of Oscar history, but certainly not unprecedented. (Driving Miss Daisy managed this feat in 1989.) And don't forget, once upon a time, Affleck starred in Gigli, and there's nothing Hollywood loves more than a successfully rehabilitated image.

Meanwhile, since Affleck isn't nominated, any ideas on who WILL win Best Director???

Anyway, fasten your seatbelts for the Oscars, Sunday, February 24. It's going to be a bumpy night.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Maybe it's because I'm working on a novel about traveling theatrical players in post-Regency England, but I find myself struggling against the urge to stage-manage every move my characters make.

Of course, I'm writing all their dialogue; I'm the author, that's my job. (Although, as any writer will tell you, fictional characters often have their own ideas about what they'll say in any given situation. And they almost always know best!) But I'm getting very dictatorial about how those words should be delivered.

Most writing gurus will caution that adverbs are the work of Satan. But I spend a lot of time on these bon mots, and I want to make sure the reader hears the correct inflection for maximum impact. So I find my dialogue riddled with stage direction: my characters say things "wryly," "slyly," "stoically," "innocently," "eagerly," "miserably"...well, you get the idea.

Once in a while, an adverb hits the spot exactly right, but if I use them in every other sentence, it starts to look like a ping-pong match on the page. I don't advocate giving up adverbs altogether, but less is more; in the editing process, they are first up on the chopping block.

But even after I cut back on the dreaded adverbs, I find I still have a hard time letting my characters just, you know, speak. In early drafts, they rarely just "say" something. Instead, they "observe," "suggest," "echo," "falter," or—my personal favorite—"riposte."

I like to think I'm getting better, sifting through the chaff of these over-eager (over-anxious?) verbs to select those few that actually work. It's an uphill battle, but, luckily for me, cooler heads prevail. Most of the time, my characters let me know when they'll accept my micro-management, and when it's time for me to back off and trust the reader to get the point.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Due to a perfect storm of participant inattention and scheduling conflicts at the venue, our annual pre-Oscar film critics' smackdown at the Nickelodeon will not go on this year.

This is the event in which, in days of yore, our fearless leader, Morton Marcus, used to lead guest critics Bruce Bratton, Wallace Baine, and myself in a roundhouse brawl—oops, I mean civil, intellectual discourse about the year's best movies, along with our views on the Academy Award nominees. Even after Mort moved on the the Great Screening Room in the sky, the three of us kept the event going in his honor.

This year, the show will still go on, but in a different format. Although we won't be making a personal appearance at the Nick, we'll be talking movies on Bruce Bratton's radio show, Universal Grapevine, on KZSC, Tuesday, February 12, at 7:30 pm.

Wallace has had to leave our merry band, since he's so busy covering the rest of the entertainment scene in Santa Cruz, he rarely has time to see movies any more.  But longtime local filmie Christina Waters, of the SC Weekly, has graciously agreed to step into the breach.

We'll be discussing our favorite films of 2012, likely Oscar winners (and losers), and anything else that pops into our brains on the subject. Tune into KZSC, 88.1 on your FM dial, and check it out!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Veteran stars worth the ride in entertaining 'Stand Up Guys'

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and why should you, when the old tricks work as well as they do in Stand Up Guys? The pleasure of watching three veteran actors do what they do best is its own reward in this wistful crime comedy from director Fisher Stevens.

Plotwise, it may look like nothing special, but the combined one-two-three punch of co-stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin turn it into an entertaining, funny, and surprisingly moving morality play on aging, friendship, and what it means to do the right thing.

Scripted by rookie Noah Haidle, Stand Up Guys begins at the end of a 28-year prison term for small-time crook Valentine (Pacino). Val went up the river for his part in a robbery organized by a mob boss called Claphands, whose son was killed in the resulting shootout. Val is proud of the fact that throughout his incarceration, he never ratted on the organization he was working for.

On the day he's released, Val is met by his oldest (and only) friend, Doc (Walken), who takes him home to his small, cluttered apartment in a shabby part of town. Doc claims he's retired; he gets up early to paint sunrises (his little canvases cover the walls), and watches cable TV at night. But we soon discover there's one more job Doc has to do—he's been ordered by Claphands to kill Val by 10 o'clock the next morning. And it doesn't take long for Val to figure it out too.

What follows is a picaresque, all-night odyssey. (Read the complete review in this week's Good Times.)

Monday, February 4, 2013


As any writer will tell you, there is nothing like seeing the words you've written bound in book form for the first time!

This advance copy of my novel, Alias Hook, arrived last week from my publisher, Snowbooks, in the UK. It's only an uncorrected proof, which means it does not reflect the two weeks last November that my editor and I spent painstakingly fixing typos, restoring scene breaks and cleaning up the language.

But who cares? It's a book!

I'm told this moment is analogous to holding your newborn child in your arms for the very first time. Except, in my case, the labor took close to nine years, not months. And I do mean labor, not gestation: the minute your brain becomes pregnant with that one, fertile Idea, that's when the work begins!

For midwives, I had a couple of New York agents who subsequently fell by the wayside, and two terrific women, my editor and publisher at Snowbooks, who "fell in love with" my little book.

Of course, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman in his great commencement address last May, I am hourly expecting the Fraud Police to show up and tell me it's all been a terrible mistake, and that it's time to go quietly and get a real job.

But until that happens—it's a book!

To read more about it, check out my Alias Hook Facebook page, or my recent post "The Next Big Thing," about the inspiration for the story. To get in the mood, don't miss my illustrated History of Captain Hook on stage, page, and screen.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Remember Hearts for the Arts? (Here's a brief recap for those of you who came in late.)

An annual fundraiser for the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, it was a combined silent and live art auction formerly held at the SC Civic on Valentine's Day weekend. With hundreds of local artists participating, along with hundreds more of their collectors madly bidding away, it was also the single biggest social event of the year for artists.

Sadly, the event finally became too massive to stage. But its spirit lives on at the Artisan's Gallery downtown, which hosts an annual mini Hearts for the Arts exhibit and art auction every year around this time.

 The show opens to the public today, with an artist's reception tonight, 6 to 8 pm, as part of the First Friday Art Tour for February.

To accommodate the smaller space, Artisan's owner Linnea Holgers James invited  artists to contribute a 10" x 10" square piece of original "love-inspired" art, which she displays like a giant quilt on the back wall of the shop.

From now through February 14, a silent auction will be in progress; if you can't make the reception tonight, drop in any time to bid on your favorites!

Among the 30+ local artists participating this year are printmaker Liz Lyons Friedman (that's her "Crazy Hearts," up top), painter Isobel George ("Heart & Soul,"  above right), and mixed media artist James Aschbacher, aka Art Boy ("Love Song," left).

On Valentine's Day, the auction closes and the artworks go home with some lucky bidders. All proceeds go the the CCSCC's Art Education programs for children and youth, including the  SPECTRA and Mariposa's Art programs.

And while you're out on the First Friday tour tonight, plan a stop at The Tannery. The new show at the new Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art (SCICA) gallery is called "Alter Eco: Exploring the Landscape of Change," in which participating artists are invited to reconsider the idea of landscape in a changing natural world.

The slate of local and regional artists includes  multi-media artist Stan Welsh, book artist Jody Alexander, photographer Steve Laufer, and installation artist Ryan Jones, among others.

 Fanne Fernow is showing a selection of her way cool 3D encaustic sculpture series, "Enchanted Broccoli Forest." There's nothing like seeing these playful yet mysterious pieces in person!
And before you leave The Tannery, stop by Stephanie Schriver's clay sculpture studio (#122).

In addition to Schriver's own whimsical clay pieces, take a fortifying look at the nutrageous watercolor animal paintings of John McKinley.

Check out  his "7 Shades of  Grey," and tell me you're not smiling already!