Monday, February 29, 2016


Just when you thought it was safe to return to the blog—oh no! Oh yes! It's the Return of the Oscar Barbies!

Okay, one of these days, I'll decide I'm too cool to do this.

But this is not that day. The urge to dress up my collection of vintage Barbies as Academy Award nominees is proving to be a hard habit to break.

A lot depends of whether the nominees are visually interesting. Historical and fantasy costumes are the most fun to try to replicate, but you can't always depend on those actors scoring nominations. And while I used to try to confine myself to Best Actress nominees, sometimes I'll throw in a Supporting Actress nominee if she'll be extra fun to do.

Case in point: this year, I got to do both Alicia Vikander AND Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl! Who could resist?

Sadly, my Barbie wardrobe does not include any outfits from the 1920s, but I did have a kimono and a bohemian drape to swath them in. And it's all about the props anyway: a cigarette holder and a painter's palette. And with a Barbie-sized red wig I happened to have lying around, "Eddie" was good to go!

Carol was cause for happy-dance time in Barbie-land, since so many of my antique doll clothes are vintage 1950s. Both lead actresses scored nominations: Cate Blanchett for the extravagantly stylish Carol, and Rooney Mara, as the awed shopgirl and amateur shutterbug (notice her box camera) swept away by her.

(If you saw the movie, you'll understand the Santa hat.)

The only other nominees I decided to do were Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (also set in the '50s), and Brie Larson in Room. I knew Larson would win, so I thought it would be churlish not to include her—even though modern-day outfits aren't nearly as much fun to do.

(Also, for those of you keeping score at home, I was 12 for 13 in my fearless and/or clueless Oscar predictions this year.

The only one I missed was Sylvester Stallone NOT getting a make-up Oscar for playing the aging Rocky Balboa in Creed—40 years (!) after he first introduced the character in the original Rocky. No one was probably more surprised than the elegant Mark Rylance, who scored the upset win for Bridge of Spies.)

Btw, slaving over a hot doll table for a couple of hours yesterday really made me appreciate the care and quality that went into the Barbie phenomenon when the doll was first launched ca. 1960.

Those early clothes have teeny tiny buttons the size of pin heads, miniscule hooks-and-eyes, inch-long zippers. It's a skills test manipulating them for a person of a certain age (like me), let alone for kids.

But that quality era didn't last long. In later years, items of Barbie clothing were made to be stepped into or pulled on overhead; their closures were snaps, not buttons.

This probably coincided with the era when all Barbie packaging went bubble-gum pink, and all accessories became plastic—no more cork soles in the wedgies; no more straw hats or handbags.

These days, Barbie clothes come in in neon colors, attached by Velcro. Except here, in the exclusive sorority of Oscar Barbies, where my collection of little Miss Havershams still get to wear their antique clothes, ever ready for their next close-up.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Predicting Oscar gold in a 50-Shades-of-White year
You don't need to be psychic to predict that, come Sunday night, Oscar gold will be bestowed on a movie whose cast, filmmakers and subject matter are mostly—how can I put this?—white and male. Because what else is there to choose from?

(Btw, don't you love this year's poster? A savvy, yet obvious attempt to defuse the issue of color—or lack thereof.)

Over at Boys Town (aka: the Motion Picture Academy), white male ensemble casts were almost the only nomination-worthy movies of 2015. Still there's less consensus than usual about front-runners this year, which might lead to some surprises in the otherwise cookie-cutter sameness of the field overall.

BEST PICTURE Spotlight This is really a close call. But out of the eight contenders, we can eliminate the three films whose directors didn't get nominated (adios Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, and The Martian), and further weed out Room, which hasn't garnered any pre-season buzz in this category.

White men (and one token woman) to the rescue.
Which boils down to three buzz-worthy contestants: The Revenant, The Big Short, and Spotlight, each of which has earned some pre-season love. (As has Mad Max: Fury Road, although I don't think Academy voters will take it seriously in this category.)

On the strength of Leonardo DiCaprio's almost certain lock on the Best Actor prize, The Revenant looks like the one to beat—except that director Alejandro González Iñárritu already won for best film and director last year for Birdman.

But I'm betting that even if he does score a second consecutive Best Director award, Oscar gold will still go to Spotlight, the kind of smart, hard-hitting issue movie that Hollywood likes to applaud itself for making.

Iñárritu and Leo: Boys Club.

BEST DIRECTOR Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant. Okay, I wasn't that crazy about the movie, but it was a pretty amazing directorial achievement. Iñárritu has been cleaning up, pre-season, and my hunch is his winning streak will prevail over Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Adam McKay (The Big Short).

BEST ACTOR Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant. I don't get it either, how 2 1/2 hours of grunting through the wilderness counts as acting; DiCaprio has given far better performances, where he actually spoke dialogue. But, hey, it's his turn.

Plus, the Academy won't be able to resist putting Leo up on the podium with Kate Winslet (just in case she wins Supporting Actress for Steve Jobs—as she deserves to), 20 years after Titanic. I'd vote for Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), or Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs); Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) and Matt Damon (The Martian) round out the category.
Larson: buzz-worthy

BEST ACTRESS Brie Larson, Room. The no-brainer of the year. She's already won every other award in this category, over Cate Blanchett (Carol), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Sylvester Stallone, Creed. For the same reason as above; plus, this is the award they never gave him for Rocky when he was in his prime. Sorry, Christian Bale (The Big Short), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight). Possible (but unlikely) upset: Tom Hardy, The Revenant, (although it would only be a backhanded nod to Mad Max: Fury Road.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl. Odd, that she was nominated in the supporting category, since her bewildered, yet fiercely loyal artist wife of a transgender pioneer was the heart of the movie.

But with four high-profile films this year, Vikander deserves to win something. I'd give her the Best Actress prize and give this Oscar to Kate Winslet, for her pithy, Polish gal-Friday in Steve Jobs, over Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Rooney Mara (Carol), and Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight).

SHORT TAKES: Look for Spotlight and The Big Short to win their respective Original and Adapted Screenplay awards. (MIA: Aaron Sorkin, unnominated for his smart, literate script for Steve Jobs.)

My guess is Inside Out will trump Anomalisa for Best Animated Film, and the Hungarian drama Son of Saul will crush the Foreign Language competition.

Expect the vast snowscapes of The Revenant to earn Cinematography gold, while Mad Max: Fury Road speeds off with the Costume and Production Design awards that I would give to The Danish Girl—if only they had asked me!

Danish Grrls: it won't win, but how gorgeous is this production design?

Monday, February 22, 2016


Time, longing infuse nuanced marital drama '45 Years'

Less is definitely more in the haunting marital drama 45 Years. Small in size, subtle in effects, and short on action, Andrew Haigh's quietly realized tale nevertheless broadens in scope, frame by frame, as its story of a married couple on the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary plays out. The film covers less than one week in its characters' lives, yet it's so infused with feeling, it manages to convey a lifetime of unspoken longing, mystery, compromise, and regret.

Writer-director Haigh adapted the material from a short story by David Constantine, and the film retains the sense of spareness and close observation of that fiction format. At its center are Kate and Geoff, a somewhat tweedy English couple living in quiet retirement in the Norfolk countryside. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is a retired schoolteacher. Geoff (Tom Courtenay) was a foreman at a factory in a nearby town.

Theirs is a comfortable life, puttering around their home and grounds out in the country, walking the dog, and shopping or meeting their friends down in the village. They are tidying up the last few details for their 45th anniversary party, to be held in town on the upcoming Saturday, when Geoff receives a mysterious letter. It pertains to an accident that befell a woman Geoff was traveling with in Europe fifty years earlier, as a very young man, long before his marriage to Kate.

Courtenay and Rampling: nuanced.
 This is not a murder mystery, or a hothouse melodrama. But, as things play out, it becomes very much a story about the effects of age and time. The spot-on music used throughout—"Happy Together," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Go Now"—locates the couple's youth in the 1960s, and it's a shock to realize that properly middle-class Kate and Geoff are products of that radical era. (Read more)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Centurion Clooney: epic.
Coens salute vintage Hollywood in sly comedy Hail, Caesar!

The more you know about Hollywood in the so-called Golden Age (roughly late 1930s-early '50s), the bigger kick you're likely to get out of Hail, Caesar! This latest comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen is a fond and funny Hollywood farce about a day in the life of a studio troubleshooter trying to ward off scandal, and keep the stars out of trouble.

The story unfolds ca.1950, the heyday of the studio system. And what really sells the movie is the Coens' elaborate recreation of snippets of popular movie genres of the era—a stunt-filled chase scene from a cowboy movie, an elegant drawing-room comedy, a musical production number, a Biblical epic, and even an Esther Williams-style aquatic ballet.

Johansson: aquatic.

Not to mention the fun of playing spot-that-star with George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, and Tilda Swinton, among others, popping up as the stars, starlets, and studio bigwigs of the Coens' fictional Capitol Pictures.

Front and center is Eddie Mannix (a solid turn by Josh Brolin), the studio's hired gun. With his own office on the backlot, his mission is to keep Capitol personnel from embarrassing the studio, making daily phone reports to an unseen mogul whose name sounds a lot like "Mr. Skank."

Tatum channels his inner Gene Kelly.
It's a 24/7 job, whether he's breaking up an ingénue's late-night photo shoot for a girlie magazine, or neutralizing damaging stories before they become fodder for waspish, rival twin sister gossip columnists named Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played with relish by Swinton).

But a problem arises that even Eddie might not be able to fix when one of the studio's biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (Clooney), disappears off the set of the epic Hail, Caesar.

As Eddie visits one soundstage after another, searching for clues, we see snippets of Capitol movies in production, replicated by the Coens with adroit authenticity, and tongue in cheek. (Read more)

Friday, February 5, 2016


Funny how time flies!

10 years ago, Art Boy and I were honored with a Gail Rich Award for our various attempts to muck about in the Santa Cruz arts community. (We were a twofer!)

We were thrilled to join an illustrious group of artists, writers, musicians, performers, movers and shakers recognized every year in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, to be profiled by Wallace Baine and photographed by Shmuel Thayer (two local legends in their own right).
Mucking about in the arts.

Flash forward to now. The "Gailies," as they're called, are celebrating their 20th anniversary! And here's something I've discovered as a Gailie recipient: It's not only an honor, it's a lifetime commitment!

Okay, once a year, we go to the Gailie Awards at the Rio to cheer on the new inductees, sip free champagne, and nibble on chocolates and cookies.

But this year's list of events keeps expanding. An exhibit of 20 years of Shmuel's splendid portraits of Gailie recipients opened last week at the Cabrillo Gallery, beautifully curated by Rose Sellery.

Also, in honor of the 20th anniversary, 2016 recipient Jana Marcus spearheaded the book, The Creatives Among Us, a coffee table-sized paperback devoted to all of Shmuel's fabulous photos and Wallace's witty words. As a time capsule of 20 years of the Santa Cruz arts scene, it's irresistible. Order yours today! 

But wait: there's more!

This Saturday night, there will be a special The Creatives Among Us performance at the Crocker Theatre, Cabrillo College, featuring an unheard-of treasure trove of Gailie-winning local legends in concert—singers, musicians, dancers, drummers—onstage together.

Everyone from Santa Cruz Ballet Theater to Watsonville Taiko; from Pipa Pinon, Ginny Mitchell, and Mary McCaslin to Tammi Brown, Eleazor Cortes, and The Great Morgani.

And so many more, some 30 acts in all.

One night only!

Cruise over here for the complete line-up, and ticket info. You don't want to have to tell your grandchildren you missed it!

Gailie class reunion and photo shoot from September, 2015, by Kevin Johnson.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Jewel Theatre Company stages fizzy '20s farce Fallen Angels

The latest production from Jewel Theatre Company is as light and bubbly as the champagne the characters quaff incessantly onstage. For the company's second offering at their new home, the Colligan Theater at the Tannery, Artistic Director Julie James has chosen Noel Coward's crowd-pleasing farce, Fallen Angels.

The play's subject matter—that women might be capable of having sexual lives outside of marriage—was considered quite racy in its day. Even though its day was 1925, smack in the middle of the postwar, anything-goes Jazz Age, when sexuality was obviously a fact of life, it was still not something usually discussed onstage.

But Coward got away with it with his trademark wit and grace by not depicting an affair, but its aftermath, providing wry commentary on what happens when the wild past of two proper, married English ladies comes back to haunt—and entice—them.
Doukas and Pizzo: waiting for Maurice

The production is directed by Art Manke, veteran of both Santa Cruz Shakespeare (last summer's hilarious The Liar), and JTC (the equally hilarious What The Butler Saw).

Manke has also directed nine productions of Coward's work, and it shows in the fleet pacing and style he brings to this vivacious show. His Fallen Angels combines elements of the cult TV hit, Absolutely Fabulous—with its two dizzy, champers-swilling girlfriends—with plenty of 1920s chic.

Julia (Nike Doukas) has been happily married to Fred (Kit Wilder) for five years. On the morning Fred is leaving on an overnight golfing trip, they congratulate themselves that they still love each other, but they are no longer subject to the rash throes of being in love.

Torres Koss: extra fizz
Fred heads off to the links, and Julia looks forward to a weekend of amusing herself—until her best friend, Jane (Marcia Pizzo), rushes in with shocking news: a Frenchman named Maurice, with whom both ladies dallied seven years earlier, before they had even met their current husbands, has come to town.

Desperate to keep their youthful indiscretions secret from their husbands, the ladies also fear that now that their marriages have become so settled, they won't be able to resist the Frenchman's charms.

Special kudos to longtime JTC diva Diana Torres Koss' scene-stealing turn as Julia's ferociously competent new maid. She's a riot throughout, sneaking over to the piano when no one else is about, entertaining the audience between scenes.

She brings a little extra fizz to Coward's sparkling cocktail. (Read more)