Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Underdog Wins Again

Most moviegoers enjoy cheering for the underdog. No wonder Hollywood makes so many films based on this popular theme. The success of motion pictures like “Seabiscuit,” “Rocky” and “Million Dollar Baby” can be attributed in large part to their emphasis on overcoming almost impossible odds in order to achieve a goal. “Cinderella Man,” director Ron Howard’s biopic about Depression Era boxer James Braddock, wrings every bit of emotion out of this tried-and-true storyline. Fortunately, it does so with considerable style and heart. At the Sneak Preview on Sunday night, almost everyone in the audience (including me) applauded at the end of this terrific movie. (Full review to be posted soon on

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Hidden Movie Gems

When traveling in unknown territory, it helps to have a knowledgeable guide by your side. Film critic Phil Hall serves that purpose admirably while taking readers on a journey through the expanding world of underground cinema in his book, “The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies: Films from the Fringes of Cinema,” published by Michael Wiese Productions.

“Today’s Underground Cinema is the ultimate hidden gold mine for the true cinephile,” writes Hall -- and he should know. For the past four years, he’s reviewed Underground Cinema productions for Film Threat (, one of the few film sites that include movies of this kind.

Covering the beginning of underground films back in the 1920s -- represented by the efforts of artists like Luis Bunuel and Salvadore Dali -- through today’s digital revolution, Hall deftly analyzes the movement’s horror films, documentaries, comedies, and gay-themed movies. Armed with a passion for film and an impressive writing style, he has created a book that’s not only enlightening but fun to read.

While “Encyclopedia” in the title might scare off some people, it shouldn’t. Although packed with tons of facts and lists, this book evoked more than a few chuckles from me. Hall’s unique sense of humor shines through, especially in his interviews with filmmakers like the Friedman brothers. According to Hall, the Friedman’s created one of the funniest underground films ever made. Hall claims their “Moving” mixes “equal parts Kafka and Beckett with healthy pinches of Abbot and Costello.” His amusing banter with the brothers during their interview emerges as one of the book’s many highlights.

This groundbreaking book will surely motivate readers to search out the hidden film treasures Hall mentions. (For further information, visit the publisher’s website at

Friday, May 27, 2005

Remembering Ismail Merchant

I’m saddened by the passing of filmmaker Ismail Merchant this week. He was a very talented and gracious person – and I feel fortunate to have met him. Here is an excerpt from “Confessions of a Movie Addict” (Hats Off Books) describing that memorable experience:

Much of the excitement at Telluride’s 28th Annual Film Festival happened off-screen. More than usual this year, my husband Larry and I faced situations filled with suspense, adventure, humor, and exotic food. During a hectic 2001 Labor Day weekend, we got lost in the mountains at midnight, sampled Indian cuisine prepared by acclaimed director Ismail Merchant, and received unsolicited advice from Roger Ebert.

One of our favorite films screened at this festival was “The Mystic Masseur.” I didn’t want it to end! Focusing on one man’s burning desire to become an author, this engrossing Merchant Ivory film evoked my own feelings about writing. "Put my picture on the cover," Ganesh, played brilliantly by Aasif Mandvi, insists to the publisher of his first book, a catechism about the Hindu religion. The movie showcased Aasif Mandvi’s acting versatility as his character ages. . .(and) Ismail Merchant directed with his trademark classy touch.

For me, the highlight of the festival came as the result of an invitation to a midnight supper celebrating “The Mystic Masseur.” However, finding hosts Ann and Vincent Mai’s mountain home became an adventure with almost as much suspense as an Alfred Hitchcock film. No matter how many wrong exits or twists and turns stood in our way, Larry and I were determined to attend that party. Our persistence paid off. Greeted by Ismail Merchant himself, who served as master chef for the occasion, we then mingled with such VIPs as James Ivory, Salman Rushdie, Faye Dunaway, Aasif Mandvi, Peter Sellars, Om Puri, and legendary tabla player Zakir Hussein. Although Roger Ebert failed to appear, he called Ismail Merchant’s latest movie "a lovely film" after its screening. I told Ebert that Larry and I could identify with the main character because our first book had been published during the past year. "Be sure to put your picture on the cover just like Ganesh did," he quipped. "Too late for that, Roger," I replied.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Movie Sting

What a terrible thing to do! Hire a wannabe director to make a movie, get his hopes up, cast the film – and not tell him the whole thing is a ruse to trap a criminal. Terrible, yes. But as depicted in “The Last Shot,” it’s also very funny. Alec Baldwin plays the ambitious FBI agent behind this movie sting, and Matthew Broderick portrays the naïve theater usher fooled by Baldwin’s scheme. Both actors have never been better.

Based on a true story, this amusing film shows how gullible people can be about moviemaking and how seductive the filmmaking process is. Fans of behind-the-scenes movie comedies should definitely add “The Last Shot,” now out on DVD, to their must-see lists. (Read the full review on

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Abba Dabba Honeymoon

While reminiscing about Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter in the movie musical “Three Little Words," host Don Grady and I sang an impromptu version of “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” on Louisiana Live yesterday.

“We just set radio back 30 years,” Don said.

After listening to the archived program on, I have to agree with him.

Monday, May 23, 2005

That's Acting

In my latest book, “Susan Sarandon: A True Maverick,” I admitted to both envying and admiring actors. “They get paid for doing what most of us would love to do – pretend to be someone else,” I wrote. “The best one’s do it so well it helps the rest of us understand who we really are. And they make acting look so easy, or – as Henry Fonda explained, they 'don’t let the wheels show.'"

Last Friday at the Daytime Emmys Awards Show, an actor who never lets the wheels show was named Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work as Michael Baldwin in “The Young and the Restless.” I enthusiastically applaud this selection. Every weekday, Christian Jules LeBlanc portrays one of the most intriguing reformed bad guys (my husband uses the term “scumbag” instead) I’ve ever seen on any size screen. Absolutely fascinating to watch, LeBlanc's realistic and entertaining performance reminds us that there’s always hope for redemption.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Horse Sense

Horrified, I watched Afleet Alex stumble while trying to pass Scrappy T in the Preakness race yesterday. My gasp joined thousands of others from viewers witnessing this televised sporting event. If Afleet Alex fell, would he and his jockey be mortally injured? Would other jockeys and their mounts suffer similar fates while trying to avoid the accident? These questions ran through my mind as I jumped up from the couch to get a closer look. Miraculously, after Afleet Alex dropped to his knees, he sprang back up and won the race by 4 and three-fourths lengths.

“He picked himself right up, and after that I knew he had it won,” said jockey Jeremy Rose, a first-time Preakness winner. “He’s an amazing horse. I’ve never seen a horse stumble like that and then win a race like this.”

We can all learn from this spunky steed. When we’re knocked down, just get back up and finish the job. Wanna bet a movie about Afleet Alex’s incredible story will soon be in the works?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Disappointing Trip to Oz

No one loves the Muppets more than I do. But their version of “The Wizard of Oz” failed miserably on TV last night . Maybe my expectations were too high – I was so excited to see this show! How could anything go wrong putting those darling Muppets in the beloved Oz fairy tale? Sadly, practically everything turned me off – the forgettable songs, the loud background sounds, the silly script. Oh how I missed Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” And I’m still shaking my head in disbelief about Toto being turned into a prawn. Puh–leez.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Full Circle

Whenever I watch a “Star Wars” movie, I feel like a little kid again. I want to cheer on the heroes, boo the villains – and zoom through space with all of them. “Revenge of the Sith” is no exception. It’s not as good as the first 1977 film (what is?), but it does an excellent job of explaining how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, one of filmdom’s greatest villains – how he’s seduced by Senator Palpatine’s offer of powers even the Jedi don’t possess. As Anakin, Hayden Christensen looks sensational all in black, and his descent into the Dark Side was quite convincing to me.

I loved the film’s amazing special effects and exciting battle scenes – especially Yoda with his deadly light saber (I wouldn’t want to mess with that little dude!). My favorite creature here is the speedy dragon-like alligator Obi Wan Kenobi rides during one of his missions. I wish this movie contained more humor, but I’m glad to finally know all about how Luke and Leia were separated at birth – which brings us full circle back to the first “Star Wars” adventure. I, for one, am ready to see that terrific film again.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Treasure Chest of Ideas

Anyone who’s written a book or just thinking about it should read Francine Silverman’s “Book Marketing from A to Z.” In this gem of a resource tool, over 300 authors reveal their most successful promotional activities as well as their not-so-successful ones. I’m honored that some of my experiences are included in Francine Silverman’s very helpful book. (Infinity Publishing; March, 2005)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Two Thought-Provoking Movies

I think the two best movies released so far this year are “Crash” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” Although they take place thousands of years apart and are very different types of movies, both deal with issues of intolerance. “Kingdom” is a beautifully filmed historical epic focusing on religious intolerance. It stars Orlando Bloom, who’s maturing into a very watchable actor, as a knight defending people of all faiths living in Jerusalem between the Second and Third Crusade.

“Crash,” on the other hand, takes viewers to contemporary Los Angeles during a tense 24-hour period and shows how misled racist behavior and comments can be. It’s a very disturbing film but so well done that I can’t stop thinking about it. There’s one scene between a father and his little girl who’s afraid of the dark that’s the most touching parent/child sequence ever filmed. And there are so many surprises in this movie. You can’t tell who the good guys and bad guys are. I love to be surprised in a movie, don’t you?

Monday, May 16, 2005

New Book Focuses on Charles Chaplin & James Agee

Author John Wranovics explores the relationship between two artistic giants in "Chaplin & Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay." In his well-researched book, Warnovics explains why megastar Charlie Chaplin became so important to James Agee, the former film critic turned screenwriter, and how their friendship grew during the tumultuous 1940s and 1950s. Also included is Agee’s entire screenplay for "The Tramp’s New World," which was lost until recently. To movie lovers like me – people who can’t get enough information about the world of film -- this book is a real find. (Full Review posted on

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Tribute to Beth Ann Bassein

I missed Dr. Beth Ann Bassein's 80th Birthday Celebration today, but here's a little story about her I asked a friend to share at the festivities:

ONCE UPON A TIME in a land not too far away, a group of brave warriors embarked on a mission fraught with danger. Their goal? To convince the Lords of Academia, otherwise known as the Curriculum Committee, at the University of Southern Colorado, that a Women’s Studies Program was needed. Among this determined group were angry warriors, frustrated warriors, weary warriors – yes, warriors of many different temperaments who represented various departments within the university.

From the English department came Dr. Beth Ann Bassein, a gentle warrior with the soul of a poet. She pointed out that much of the BEST that’s been thought, said and done since the beginning of time has been thought, said and done by WOMEN. Unfortunately, that fact was being ignored throughout the Kingdom of Academia. Because I realize everyone loves a happy ending, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. With Dr. Bassein’s valuable help, successful strategies were developed, and the Women’s Studies program became a reality. I understand it’s still in full swing at what is now called Colorado State University - Pueblo.

So, Beth Ann, congratulations on this important accomplishment as well as on your many others! I’m honored to be a part of your 80th Birthday Celebration. As my Irish grandmother used to say at our family birthday parties:

May the road continue to rise with you.
May the wind be always at your back.
And may God hold you in the hollow of Her hand.