Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Havenly Music

Matt Farley and Tom Scalzo, the prolific musical duo known as Moes Haven, have written over 500 songs -- and it’s a pleasure to listen to them perform their work with such enthusiasm. Too bad they would rather write songs than do concerts. I’ll bet they are fun to watch! But with only two live performances to their credit –- one in Rhode Island in 2000 and the other in Wisconsin in 2004 –- Matt and Tom prefer writing and recording new songs.

My favorite Moes Haven offerings are “Stay with Me,” a tender romantic ballad, and “Moppin’ Concrete in Early May,” a lively and humorous tune that had me dancing around the room. Check out Matt and Tom’s website at

Monday, June 27, 2005

Funny Magic

Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell put a spell on me with their amusing performances in “Bewitched,” Nora Ephron’s new romantic comedy inspired by the popular TV sitcom. Portraying an actor with a failing career, Ferrell made me laugh continuously, and Kidman -– looking as light and airy as cotton candy --- fascinated me in the role of a real witch who wants to be a normal woman.

Before seeing this movie, I had trouble accepting these actors as a couple, but they’re very cute together here. Both do a terrific job showing the frustrations faced by their characters: Kidman’s witch has a hard time giving up magic, and Ferrell’s self-absorbed actor wrestles with the demands of a new project which seems to be falling apart. Of course, Ferrell doesn’t know his co-star really is a witch -– and when he finds out, shortly after he falls in love with her, he goes ballistic as only Ferrell can.

I’m glad Kidman and Ferrell weren’t portraying the actual characters from the 1960s television show in this movie; they are, instead, two people who sign on to play “Darrin” and “Samantha” for an updated version of “Bewitched.” Adding to the fun are Michael Caine as Kidman’s philandering father and Shirley MacLaine as the flamboyant actress hired to play “Endora.” What a treat to see these two become an item!

Too bad this highly entertaining move ends with a dreadful sequence featuring Steve Carell, who’s usually very funny, doing a disappointing imitation of Paul Lynde’s “Uncle Arthur.” Where’s the magic in that?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Catching Up with Luis Urrea

“I just signed a contract for the sequel to 'The Hummingbird’s Daughter,'” a very happy Luis Alberto Urrea told me on the phone yesterday. “It will be titled 'The Queen of America.'” The acclaimed Chicano author was relaxing for a few days in Colorado after completing a whirlwind tour of readings and book signings for his new book, a magnificent novel about Teresita Urrea, an illegitimate Indian girl who became the celebrated Saint of Cabora. Set in Mexico during the late 1800s, this vastly entertaining and inspirational book is steeped in magical realism, filled with colorful characters, and alive with breathtaking sequences of suspense, passion, love and loss.

Representing 20 years of research and soul-searching, "The Hummingbird’s Daughter" (published by Little, Brown and Company) is Urrea’s heartfelt fictionalized version of his great aunt’s incredible journey and accomplishments. “I wanted to bring Teresita back from obscurity and give her the attention and respect she deserves so that people will understand her ministry in the world,” he said. “The deepest truth about the book is that it’s my own attempt to recognize sacredness.”

Despite the serious nature of "The Hummingbird’s Daughter," it contains many humorous moments. For example, Urrea includes amusing homages to good friends like Chicano Studies Professor César Gonzalez and author Rudolfo Anaya. “I put in all kinds of people I know,” Urrea recalled. “A cousin of mine said he thought I was making fun of him, but he fell off the chair laughing when he read that part.”

Urrea insists he is not proselytizing with this book. “I present what I believe Teresita saw, felt and thought – then it’s up to each reader to make their own decisions about it. Yesterday a man whose friend had just died came to the signing. He said he was a skeptic and didn’t believe in God. Handing me the book, he asked me to write something serious in it, and here’s what I wrote: ‘It’s all about hope –- and maybe that’s God enough.’”

According to Urrea, various movie groups are interested in "The Hummingbird’s Daughter," but I’ll report more extensively on that exciting development in a later Memosaic post.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Favorite Movie Quotes

Some great movie quotes made it to the American Film Institute’s list presented on CBS this week. I’m pleased to see so many from “Casablanca” included, such as “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “Round up the usual subjects,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Play it, Sam – play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

However, quite a few of my favorites were missing. Here are the most glaring omissions:

“All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” -– Steve Martin in “Grand Canyon.”

“I worship at the Church of Baseball.”-- Susan Sarandon in “Bull Durham.”

“You’ll shoot your eye out.” –- Santa Claus (and others) in “A Christmas Story.”

“I’d rather be a ghost floating by your side than enter heaven without you.” -– Chow Yun-Fat in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

“If we bring a little joy into yer humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though all our hard work ain’t been in vain fer nothin’.” –- Jean Hagen in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Less than Perfect

“What movie are we seeing today, dear?” my husband asked as he changed from golf duds to film-going attire. “The Perfect Man,” I yelled through the bedroom door. “Oh, it’s the story of my life then,” he hollered back at me. How I wish he’d been right! That would’ve been much more intriguing, I’m sure, than Hilary Duff’s new movie, a plodding romantic comedy without any life or sparkle to it. (Read the full review at

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Five-Star Book

I wish Christopher Null’s enlightening new book, “Five Stars! How To Become a Film Critic, the World’s Greatest Job,” had been available back in days of yore when I started writing movie reviews. Reading it would have cleared up any misunderstandings I had about what’s involved in this exciting profession. And it would have helped me avoid some costly as well as embarrassing mistakes. Even now, after spending ten years as a film critic, I find Null’s book extremely valuable as a resource for ways to perform my job better.

Drawing on his extensive personal experience as a professional film critic and founder of, one of the largest and most successful movie websites on the Internet, Null gives readers a splendid crash course in film history and the mechanics of filmmaking in addition to detailed information about writing reviews, breaking into the writing profession, setting up a website, getting on screening lists, obtaining free DVDs, handling criticism, interviewing celebrities and much, much more.

Null, a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), includes excellent samples to illustrate each section of his book. The terrific reviews, letters, interviews, etc. scattered throughout are not only fun to read but also very helpful. And his lists of studio PR contacts, independent distributors and specialty video/DVD distributors should come in handy for anyone just getting started in the business.

This well-written book is essential reading for wannabe film critics -- and a valuable resource for those of us who already have “the world’s greatest job.”

“Five Stars! How To Become a Film Critic, the World’s Greatest Job” is scheduled for release by Sutro Press on July 1, 2005. For further details or to pre-order, go to

Friday, June 17, 2005

Batman and Tarzan Begin

Is there room for another Tarzan movie? After all, over forty films have already been made about this legendary hero. If a film helps children understand that being different doesn’t mean being less worthy, and if, like “Tarzan II,” it does so in a lighthearted and humanistic way, the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes.”

Although the big movie released this week is “Batman Begins,” believe it or not, some people -- mostly youngsters -- may be more interested in finding out how Tarzan became “Tarzan” than in discovering how Bruce Wayne transformed himself into “Batman.” What took place between the time a baby boy survived a plane crash in Africa and his reign as King of the Jungle? Walt Disney’s animated “Tarzan II,” released Tuesday on DVD, answers that question with humor for the kids and a few laughs thrown in for their parents.

“Batman Begins,” however, adopts a dark and serious tone. Although Christian Bale is splendid as the emotionally tortured Bruce Wayne, he’s not as impressive in his Caped Crusader garb. I don’t think the mask fits him – and his voice sounds a bit mechanical. Because I’m an avid Bale fan, that surprises and disappoints me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ghost Buffalo

Denver’s up-and-coming Ghost Buffalo band plans to release an album later this year, according to Marie Litton, who was named Best Frontwoman by Westword Magazine in its “Best of Denver” issue of March, 2005. “Ghost Buffalo is a full-time passion for leader Marie Litton,” Westword reports. “The songwriter lends her soaring, haunting voice to the group’s heartache-weary country rock; on stage she’s nearly dwarfed by her acoustic as she gazes heavenward and pours her heart out to the universe.”

I’ve had the pleasure of previewing a few songs to be included in Ghost Buffalo’s first album. Westword is right -- they are truly haunting. And, in addition to Litton’s soulful vocals, fellow band members Matt Bellinger, Josh Coyle, Mike Ricketts, Tom Ventura and guest cellist Angela Kimber deserve recognition for their fine instrumental performances.

More information about Ghost Buffalo can be found on the band’s website at

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Magic of Forgetting

The secret to enjoying both “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and the movie version of television’s classic “The Honeymooners” involves an ability to forget certain things. It’s not easy to do, but I found the more I put out of my mind all those media reports of a rumored affair between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the better I liked their new film. And, with “The Honeymooners,” forgetting about Jackie Gleason and Art Carney as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton is essential to appreciating the film adaptation. Yes, I know those late, great actors made magic together on the small screen, but just go with the flow of the movie and focus on the antics of Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps, who bring their own comic flair to these same roles. Once you do that, you’ll find the crazy schemes hatched by the new Kramden/Norton duo very funny indeed.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Myelin Project

While doing research for “Susan Sarandon: A True Maverick,” I became aware of the wonderful work being done by The Myelin Project, a non-profit group formed to spur research on diseases like the one depicted in “Lorenzo’s Oil,” a powerful film starring Sarandon and Nick Nolte as parents who refuse to give up after doctors say there’s no hope for their young son. Because I wanted to do something to help, I’ve assigned my author’s royalties to The Myelin Project. And so, dear bloggers, when you purchase “Susan Sarandon: A True Maverick” (Hats Off Books), part of your money goes to a very worthy cause. For more information about The Myelin Project, go to

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nature Lover

After reading “Released into the Wild,” my friend Beth Ann Bassein’s lovely book of essays and poems about nature, I’m almost persuaded to take a long walk outside. Beth Ann makes “the out-of-doors” sound so appealing. Too bad I’m stuck here in cyberspace. If I ventured out, I might gain a better understanding, as Beth Ann points out, of what William Wordsworth meant by “O world, I cannot get thee close enough, thy winds, thy wide grey skies, thy mists that roll and rise.”

One of the many joys of reading “Released into the Wilds” comes from the author’s use of poetry -- her own and the words of poets like Wordsworth and William Blake – to illustrate her feelings about the places, plants and animals she observes. As a retired English professor who taught college literature classes, Beth Ann has a wealth of knowledge in this area, and she happily shares it with her readers.

I also enjoyed the intelligent and fascinating observations Beth Ann offers about so many of nature’s treasures. A description of Pikes Peak as “Her Royal Highness,” an intriguing lady who entertains viewers with a colorful changing wardrobe, is especially creative. And Beth Ann’s comparison of kingfisher birds to philosophers made me smile. “I have never seen them reading scholarly texts, but perhaps there are more ways than one to channel lofty mental pursuits,” she concludes.

Beautiful watercolors, sketches and photos add to the enchantment of this very special book from Xlibris Corporation.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Hugh Jackman & The Tony Awards

Had it not been for Hugh Jackman’s swingin’ “I Won’t Dance” medley and his exciting “Somewhere” duet with the legendary Aretha Franklin, last night’s 3-hour televised Tony Awards show would have been a total waste of time for me. No, I take that back. The humorous and rousing musical number from “Spamalot,” this year’s winning musical play, had me chuckling and swaying with those wacky Monty Python knights and their bombastic Lady of the Lake (Sara Ramirez, who earned a well-deserved Tony for her featured work here). I also enjoyed seeing Bill Irwin, my favorite clown, recognized for his dramatic acting in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”

But back to Jackman, a Tony winner himself (last year for “The Boy from Oz”). This handsome actor’s charismatic stage presence and his amazing song-and-dance ability brought down the house. Way to go, Wolverine! Which reminds me – it’s a shame we’ll probably never see a musical version of “X-Men.”

Friday, June 03, 2005

Defending Max Baer

Film critic Jeffrey Chen raises an important issue in his thoughtful review of director Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man.” The movie’s villainization of boxer Max Baer bothers Chen, and he makes some very good points to back up his concern. “Historically, Baer did cause the death of two boxers, one directly and one indirectly,” he writes. “According to some stories, he felt guilty about the demise he delivered after a knockout blow -- it may have even caused him to pull his punches in subsequent fights, when he went on a temporary career downslide. In ‘Cinderella Man,’ however, the boxer is portrayed as willfully evil, even boastful of his status as a manslaughterer.”

As much as I enjoyed “Cinderella Man,” I think its treatment of Max Baer illustrates the danger inherent in biopics. How must Baer’s family be feeling after seeing the man’s reputation defamed in a major Hollywood production? How can they defend him? Perhaps they should demand that filmmaker Howard consider a Max Baer biopic for his next project. (Read Chen's full review on

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Make This Film, Please

“Cold Flat Junction,” a wonderful novel by Martha Grimes, cries out to be a movie starring Dakota Fanning as Emma Graham, its plucky 12-year-old protagonist. Told from Emma’s perspective, the riveting story revolves around a young girl’s efforts to solve the mystery of another young girl’s death while dealing with a host of eccentric characters. My husband and I read this book aloud to each other, and we found it easy to visualize its fascinating people as well as its small-town setting and the Hotel Paradise, an old-fashioned resort where Emma lives. There are opportunities here for splendid performances, eye-catching cinematography and a screenplay filled not only with intriguing dramatic situations but also a great deal of humor. I would absolutely love to see this movie!