Saturday, April 04, 2015

Celebrity Banter

Happiness is being interviewed by Phil Hall! He asked me about my radio show, how I happened to become a film critic, and the status of movies today. Fun questions, for sure. Below is a link to the entire interview posted at Celebrity Banter yesterday. 

Thanks so much, Phil, for your interest and support.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

No Biz Like Show Biz

If you love show biz, please put My Hi-De-High Life by Peter Keogh on your must-read list! In this wonderfully entertaining memoir, the author recalls funny and sometimes shocking adventures of his life as a producer, stage manager, prop master, tour guide, dresser, night watchman and usher at various Australian and London venues. 

As the world’s most avid movie addict, I particularly enjoyed Keogh’s revealing descriptions of fascinating behind-the-scene situations involving so many stars of the Golden Years of Hollywood, including Debbie Reynolds, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Peter O’Toole, Liv Ullman, Eve Arden and more.

Growing up gay in 1950s Australia was no picnic for Keogh, but he did more than survive. Even his later unlucky experience during a court case could not bring him down. Although parts of his life have been painful, Keogh clearly revels in his show biz activities. The book comes even more alive when he writes about the stars he’s come in contact with. For example, priceless is the only way to describe how he started out as a Debbie Reynolds fan, became her friend, and then the producer of Irene, her popular stage production in Australia.

Happily, Keogh writes with a breezy, chatty style that helped draw me into his world. It’s a real treat to read a memoir so genuine, amusing and candid as My Hi-De-High Life!

(Published by Apex Publishing Ltd. E-book version is available on

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

An Irish Film To Remember

Spencer Tracy once remarked about Katharine Hepburn, “There’s not much meat on her bones, but what’s there is cherse.” Similarly, the little bit of dancing in Dancing at Lughnasa is “cherse” indeed. When the five Irish sisters finally give in to their urge to dance, viewers are treated to an exuberant display of folk dancing that represents the best in quality film editing and directing. Looking back on that night, the movie’s narrator calls it, “Dancing as if language had surrendered to it; dancing as if words were no longer needed.”

The lot of Irish women in the 1930s was not a happy one. But the five unmarried Mundy sisters gain strength and courage from each other.  Despite poor economic conditions, individual eccentricities, and birth of a love child to the youngest sister, these women try bravely to keep the family unit intact. Led by Kate (Meryl Streep), the strict oldest sister, they knit gloves, raise chickens, and care for Michael (Darrell Johnston), an 8-year-old illegitimate child of romantic Christina (Catherine McCormack). Kate, who teaches in the village Catholic school, worries mostly about their simple-minded sister, Rose (Sophie Thompson). Big-hearted Maggie (Kathy Burke) and stoical Agnes (Brid Brennan) round out the Mundy female clan.

Although not central to the action, three men play important roles in the lives of this family. Their long-absent older brother (Michael Gambon), a man of the cloth, returns from Africa as a religious outcast. Instead of converting the natives, they seem to have converted him. He and Michael both receive unconditional love from all five Mundy sisters. And Michael’s father (Rhys Ifans) makes a farewell visit before leaving to fight in Spain.

A great ensemble cast contributes to the excellence of this moving film. Streep’s Irish brogue is perfect, and Thompson’s unusual portrayal of Rose emerges as a memorable one.   

Based on Brian Friel’s Tony Award-winning play, Dancing at Lughnasa avoids the pitfalls of so many plays adapted for the screen.  Thanks to screenwriter Frank McGuinness and director Pat O’Connor, the movie version opens up the story to include such memorable scenes as a pagan ritual deep in the Donegal hills and a dangerous picnic on a boat. O’Connor states, “The challenge for me in making this film was to draw together intense and extraordinary things -- romance, humor, tragedy, realism, and mysticism -- in a work that is, I hope, emotionally uplifting.” 

Filmmaker O’Connor met his challenge with flying colors.  One doesn’t have to be Irish (or a woman) to appreciate this wonderful movie. (Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “PG” for mild language and thematic elements.)

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favorite Films of 2014

Will wonders never cease? For the first time ever, three musicals made it to my list of Top Ten movies of the year.  As an avid movie musical fan, I feel quite happy about that. My list also includes a couple of fantasies, a drama, a sci-fi flick, a romance, a comedy and a biopic. As usual, these films have been selected mostly for their entertainment quality. They are the 2014 films I want to see over and over again.

MALEFICENT. Angelina Jolie commands the screen as the wicked fairy from “Sleeping Beautyin a new version of the fairy-tale fantasy. This unusual adaptation deals with such serious themes as betrayal, revenge, love, and redemption. But the most impressive thing about Maleficent involves its creative presentation. Practically every scene comes across like an intriguing work of art. The film is truly a rare cinematic masterpiece.

NIGHT CRAWLER. This practically perfect movie follows one of the most mesmerizing creeps ever seen on screen, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the main character (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) for one second because I was afraid to miss ANYTHING he said or did. The film’s outrageous dialogue and its important theme about the emphasis of violent stories on TV news also contributes to  a fascinating story being told -- one that held my intense interest from beginning to end.
MAKE YOUR MOVE.  Derek Hough (be still my heart) tap dances up a storm in this VERY entertaining musical co-starring the multi-talented South Korean star BoA. Believe it or not, our favorite “Dancing with the Stars” pro can really act! Plus, the dance numbers are first rate here. How often do we get to see dynamic tap routines on the big screen lately? And SURPRISE!!!  the story is riveting -- just like the PR claims. Too bad the movie received such a limited release. Fortunately, the film is out now on DVD, and I highly recommend it.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. This was the most emotional film of the year for me. Shailene Woodley’s portrayal of a teen suffering from cancer who falls in love with a fellow student tugs at your heartstrings. I admire how the romance is treated so tastefully in this movie. Yes, it’s a sentimental tear-jerker. But there are charming and humorous moments throughout plus, all the cast members are excellent in their roles, especially Laura Dern as the compassionate, caring mother.       

MUPPETS MOST WANTED. Have you ever thought a movie was made just for you? That happened to me while watching Muppets Most Wanted. This hilarious romp includes most of my favorite things: singing, tap dancing, comedy, and The Muppets, who always make me smile. This eighth Muppet movie is one of their best. Happily, that special Muppet magic is still going strong.

WINTER’S TALE. This strange but wonderful film -- which represents magical realism at its best -- took my breath away with its compelling performances, tender love story, thrilling background music, and suspenseful sequences involving a magical white horse. Colin Farrell and Jessica Findlay make a superb romantic couple on screen. They look soulfully at each other in a way that melts your heart. I would be remiss not to mention the splendid look of the film. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel makes the most of wintry landscapes, moonlit nights, starry skies and period settings. Winter’s Tale may not be the easiest film to follow, but it’s one of the most visually stunning.  

SNOWPIERCER. Snow scenes and action in a fast train, oh my! This sci-fi movie takes place after Earth has suddenly become uninhabitable because of a disastrous global warming cure-all. Those who’ve survived are living aboard a train that keeps circling the same track at super-sonic speeds. The survivors are divided into a caste system, which a daring group finally rebels against. Great special effects enhance this exciting offering starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris. I was glued to my seat while watching the captivating journey unfold.  

ANNIE. In a refreshing update of the popular musical, our spunky heroine sports an Afro and the Daddy Warbucks character is now a wealthy candidate for mayor of New York City. Because these key roles are played by Quevenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, they are in excellent hands. Most of the musical numbers still make me want to join in -- especially “It’s a Hard Knock Life” -- and I felt in such a good mood after seeing this amusing, uplifting movie!    

LIFE’S A BREEZE. In this delightful Irish comedy, a grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and the youngest member (Kelly Thornton) of her extended family work together to save their other relatives who can’t seem to do anything right. This is a very funny -- yet touching - movie with the most amazing and hilarious twists and turns I’ve seen on screen in a long time.    

THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD. This fascinating true-life tale about the desire for fame and the price it demands stars Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn in his later years after the booze and legendary philandering have taken their toll. Kline talks like Flynn, swaggers like Flynn and simply BECOMES Flynn in this movie about the famous actor’s scandalous affair with star-struck teenager Beverly Aadland, portrayed oh-so convincingly by Dakota Fanning. Kline and Fanning are disturbingly spellbinding together here. But there’s more! As Beverly’s fame-obsessed mom Florence, Susan Sarandon almost runs away with the movie. And I loved every minute of it.

HONORABLE MENTION: Life Itself, Gone Girl, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 13 Sins, My Old Lady, X-Men Days of Future Past, Godzilla, The Face of Love, Hateship Loveship, The Calling, We Are the Best!

DISHONORABLE MENTION: Into the Woods, Under the Skin, Cheap Thrills, Authors Anonymous, Inherent Vice, The Zero Theorem, A Fantastic Fear of Everything

MOST MEMORABLE SCENE: Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader lip-synching “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in The Skeleton Twins 



Thursday, January 01, 2015

Going for the Gold

Happy 2015, everyone! I look forward to starting out the new year by talking with film historian James Colt Harrison and Classic Movie Guide founder Diana Saenger, who will be dropping by Movie Addict Headquarters on January 6 for a preview of the upcoming 72nd Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 11 with funny ladies Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as co-hosts again this year. James and Diana plan to focus on the awards for Best Picture as well as Best Actor and Best Actress in the drama and comedy/musical categories. This should be a fun and enlightening episode for movie fans!
Films in contention include Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, Into the Woods, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, St. Vincent and Pride. Nominees in the acting categories are: Eddie Redmayne, Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Joaquin Phoenix, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Aniston, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Helen Mirren and Quevenzshane Wallis.

James Colt Harrison has contributed film commentary to such outlets as the La Jolla Village News, Rage Monthly, No Cover Music Magazine and San Diego Metro Weekly. Diana Saenger not only heads up Classic Movie Guide, she's also entertainment editor for the San Diego East County Gazette and operates her own site called Review Express. 

Time: 4 p.m. Eastern Time (1 p.m. Pacific Time) on BlogTalkRadio.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nightcrawler Wins Seven Awards from SDFCS

As a founding member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, I am happy to report that Nightcrawler came away the big winner in the 2014 awards, which were voted on this Monday. Below is the complete list.  

Jake Gyllenhaal, NIGHTCRAWLER
Marion Cotillard, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Mark Ruffalo, FOXCATCHER
Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL
ames Herbert, Laura Jennings, EDGE OF TOMORROW
Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pincock, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
James Newton Howard, NIGHTCRAWLER

The 18-member San Diego Film Critics Society composes print and online journalists and was started in 2000.

Way to go, SDFCS!

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Here Comes Annie Again

Movie musical fans, cheer up! I know the past few months have been bleak as far as our favorite genre is concerned, but Annie is on the way. This modernized version of the popular Broadway play dances into theaters nationwide on December 19. 

I love the songs, especially "It's a Hard Knock Life," which was one of my favorite routines to perform with the Mesa College Musical Comedy group during days of yore.

This new motion picture stars Jamie Foxx as a kind of Daddy Warbucks type character, Quevenzhane Wallis as the optimistic Annie, and Cameron Diaz as the mean Miss Hannigan (the role Carol Burnett played so hilariously in the previous Annie film). 

I, for one, can hardly wait to see this version. It should be a wonderful movie for the entire family.

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