Monday, June 28, 2010

Honoring Roger Corman

When we were kids, my sister and I spent most Saturdays at the Cornell, a big ol’ barn of a theater that showed 50-cent double-bills of every Jerry Lewis, Elvis and “Beach Blanket” movie ever made. Even though the Cornell was dank and reaked of stale popcorn, I adored it and fell passionately in love with motion pictures.

One of the most prolific filmmakers of that period was Roger Corman, a master at creating cheap, schlocky fare that entertained a young but growing baby-boomer audience. Among his better known works are Death Race 2000, The Trip, The Raven starring Vincent Price, the original black-and-white Little Shop of Horrors, which was famously made in two days, and, yes, The Wasp Woman. Corman was quickly crowned the “king of the B movies.” But his influence was ultimately far more far-reaching as he inevitably had a hand in training many of my generation’s most renowned actors and directors, including Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy), Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), and Joe Dante (Gremlins). In recognition of his accomplishments, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Corman an honorary Oscar as part of this year’s awards festivities. He was also feted on Friday as part of last week’s L.A. Film Festival (LAFF).

The LAFF event took place at the intimate 200-seat Grammy Museum theater. As usual, we were early and so sat where we could easily watch everyone enter. Our eyes were especially peeled for Jack Nicholson, whom we hoped would show-up to pay homage to his mentor.

Tim was the first to spot someone famous. “There’s Peter Bogdanovich!,” he whispered. He then noticed Peter Fonda standing in the far doorway with Roger Corman.

After a brief film chronicling Corman’s career, all three men took the stage, along with horrormeister Joe Dante and Roger’s business partner and wife Julie Corman. Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Curtis Hanson moderated the conversation.

All four protégés told how they came to work for Corman. Dante started as an editor, creating two-minute trailers for Corman’s vast library of films. This eventually led to him direct Piranha, a low-budget Jaws-type film that was hugely popular on the drive-in circuit in the 1970s. Hanson started as a screenwriter and under Corman’s tutelage went on to direct Sweet Kill about a man who literally loves women to death. Bogdanovich, too, started as a screenwriter after Corman read a couple of his articles in Esquire magazine. He was soon co-directing the motorcycle gang movie The Wild Angels, one of Corman’s biggest hits. Julie Corman told how she reluctantly became Roger’s producer. ("You can manage the money," he told her!) But it was Fonda who really stole the show. Not wanting to become another Disney contract player, he auditioned for Wild Angels and got the lead role when it was discovered his competition, George Chakiris, couldn’t ride a motorcycle. Three years alter, Fonda and Dennis Hopper made the iconic film Easy Rider.

Some of the anecdotes they told were recycled from the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which we rewatched a couple of weeks ago after Hopper died. Still, it was wonderful seeing the interaction among the panelists and hearing their stories in-person, all while Corman sat there smiling broadly. Jack Nicholson never did appear, but we had a great time anyway.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

L.A. Film Festival

We’ve never been to Sundance or even the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but we do occasionally attend LAFF (the L.A. Film Festival) because it’s close and we like to pretend we’re hip. This year the festival moved to L.A. Live, where Tim works, making it much more convenient than Westwood and UCLA, where it used to be held. In addition, the movies are especially strong this year, so we bought tickets to five events. We’ve gone to three so far.

Like all film festivals, this one has its share of big-name movies (e.g., The Kids Are All Right), but we’re usually more attracted to the off-beat films we might not otherwise see. On Sunday, we saw The Tillman Story, a riveting documentary about the cover-up of former football star Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan. This was followed on Monday by Waiting for Superman, a powerful documentary about the pathetic state of public education in America. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who also directed the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, introduced the film. Feedback is encouraged through ballots that are turned in at the end of every screening. We each gave both films the highest rating.

The festival can be quite the scene, depending on the event. Although Monday night’s big movie was a documentary, the paparazzi were out in full force yelling at a redheaded young actress named Jessica (??) as she walked down the red carpet. She wasn’t in the film, but we did see her later in the audience (and still have no idea who she was!).

We returned last night for the L.A. premier of Animal Kingdom, an incredibly intense Australian drama about a psychotic gang of robbers. I was hoping to see Guy Pearce, the film’s most famous actor, but he didn’t show. Instead I had to make do with Ewan McGregor, the young Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Star Wars prequels and the title character of Ghost Writer, one of our favorite movies of the year thus far. He wasn’t in Animal Kingdom, but he did sit in the row ahead of us, so I was thrilled.

I expect the wildest festival event will be tonight’s premier of Eclipse, the latest installment in the Twilight vampire saga. We won’t be there, but we did see hundreds of fans camped out (literally) in the L.A. Live plaza, waiting four days to attend the film’s red carpet festivities. You couldn’t pay me enough money to get within 10 blocks of that zoo tonight!

Next up for us: an interview with film legend Roger Corman (Friday) and Welcome to the Rileys, a drama starring James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo (Sunday). More soon . . .

P.S. You can read about the Corman event above--a wonderful evening! Less wonderful, though, was Welcome to the Rileys, which we saw Sunday afternoon. Gandolfini and Leo were terrific, but the theater was filled to capacity with fans of Kristen Stewart, who plays a young stripper the older couple befriend. More importantly, Stewart is Bella, the female love interest in Twilight; so every time she said anything remotely funny, the audience burst into a fit of giggles. Could I have ever been that silly??

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lakers Parade

In case you don’t follow basketball: the Lakers won the championship Thursday night in a nail-biting (even by my non-fan standards) come-from-behind game. Life has now returned to normal; but first, Tim had to help set-up a remote broadcast from the victory parade through downtown L.A. yesterday morning. He got up at 4:30AM to be there by 5:30AM. I quickly fell back to sleep after he kissed me good-bye. The phone rang two hours later. No surprise: it was Tim.

“Quick! Put on the TV, channel 692. I think I’m on camera!” he whispered excitedly.

I ran to the living room and turned on the satellite. Sure enough, there was my husband walking behind the announcers, who were still deconstructing the game four days later. I burst out laughing and called his cell.

“You’re sticking out like a sore thumb in your white t-shirt!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to get out of the way,” he explained. “The producer is madly waving me out of here.”

But there he was again, five minutes later, pretending to lay down some extension cords. Tim never met a TV camera he didn’t like. This went on for several minutes until the phone rang once more.

“Start the tivo so I can see myself when I get home!” he said. And so I hit the record button and headed toward the shower.

Here are a couple of photos I took off the TV. Can you spot the interloper pretending to work behind the announcers?

Oh yeah, the parade was a big success and the broadcast went off without a hitch. Altogether a banner day for my husband.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sting @ the Hollywood Bowl

As I’ve reported before on this blog, I’ve been a huge Sting fan since the early 1980s. In fact, I like to say that I’ve been in love with Sting longer than I’ve been in love with Tim--which is probably why Tim doesn’t mind buying me Sting tickets just as long as he doesn’t have to go with me to the concerts.

Sting has reinvented himself many times over the past thirty years. Starting as the lead singer for the rock band The Police, his music took a decidedly jazz-pop turn when he struck out on his own in the mid-80s. He’s won two Grammy awards and has received three “best song” Oscar nominations. He’s even appeared in movies (remember the near-naked Feyd Rautha in David Lynch’s Dune?). In 2006, he recorded Songs from the Labyrinth, a CD of Elizabethan tunes, which he performed with lutenist Eden Karamazov, and last year filmed a reading of Twin Spirits, a play about German composer Robert Schumann (Sting) and his composer wife Clara Wieck (Trudie Styler, Sting’s real-life wife). He is currently touring with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performing symphonic versions of his pop-rock songs. Last night’s Hollywood Bowl concert was sold-out.

Tim was actually going to see Sting with me this time, but had to work at the last minute (damn those Lakers!), so Karen went instead. The concert was scheduled to start at 8PM, so we left the house at 5:30PM. We took the shuttle from Hollywood & Highland, the garish mall half-a-mile south of the Hollywood Bowl. Three radio stations were broadcasting from outside the Bowl: Jack FM (classic & contemporary rock), KLOS (classic rock) and KOST (L.A.’s best-known “soft rock” station). It just goes to show how eclectic Sting’s music is!

Most of the audience seemed to be our age, though some were much younger. One of my former students (in his early 40s) happened to sit two rows in front of us. I was surprised to hear that he and his wife became fans long after Sting left The Police. How old must I be to still be a fan from his Police days? Yikes!

It was light out when the orchestra arrived and started to play. We assumed they might play a few opening numbers before our hero appeared. But, no, after only a handful of notes, Sting came strolling out and sang to jubilant applause.

The Bowl is an enormous venue (18,000 seats) and we were nowhere near the stage. Still, I could tell he was trim and fit. The large video screens, on both sides of the stage, also confirmed that he’s as gorgeous as ever. The best part, though, was his voice, which is still beautiful and strong. Normally I would have cried when he started to sing, but it was daylight and didn’t want to look like a blubbering fool!

The concert was fabulous. Sting sang all my personal favorites and spent a lot of time providing context for many of the songs. He doesn’t usually converse much with the audience, so this was a wonderful treat. He was obviously relaxed and sang for two hours, at one point bringing out trumpet-player and good friend Chris Botti, much to everyone’s happy surprise. The concert ended with “Every Breath You Take,” arguably Sting’s most famous song (but not one of my favorites), followed by three (!!!) encores. His final offering: an acapella rendering of “I Was Brought to My Senses.” Even people who were rushing to beat the traffic stopped to listen. It was a breathtaking ending to a perfect evening.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hero Complex: Leonard Nimoy

I’ve seen Star Trek’s William Shatner in-person many times, including an up-close-and-personal encounter several years ago in a radio show green room (thanks Tim!). But I’ve only seen his co-star, Leonard Nimoy, three times: (1) at a “grand slam” Star Trek convention celebrating the show's 25th anniversary; (2) at a live reading of the fantasy novel The Lost World; and (3) at the BookExpo America convention two years ago. Shatner has managed to reinvent himself many times since the original TV show ended 42 years ago. Nimoy, however, will forever be Mr. Spock, arguably the most iconic television character of the 1960s.

This weekend the L.A. Times is sponsoring a film festival called “Hero Complex,” featuring well-loved science fiction movies and their directors. Last night was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (STIV), starring and directed by Leonard Nimoy. The event was sold-out. Luckily I bought my ticket within five minutes of seeing the initial ad in the paper.

The movie started at 7PM. I arrived an hour early and was greeted by a long line already snaking around the theater’s lobby. The audience looked pretty normal for a Star Trek event--I only saw one person in uniform. I checked in, got my wristband and then took my place at the end of the line. The guy in front of me attempted to strike-up a conversation by saying he’d never seen STIV.

I took the bait.

“You’ve never seen Star Trek IV?” I asked incredulously. “How's that even possible?”

“I’m a Star Wars fan,” he explained.

“Well, they’re not mutually exclusive, ya know,” I retorted as patiently as I could.

“I know,” he said proudly, “but my friends are all either Star Trek or Star Wars fans, not both. You must be a trekkie!”

“Since 1966,” I said.

He pondered that bit of news for a while, then asked: “Here’s one for you: Next Generation or classic Trek?” referring to the first two series, which are often compared and debated.

I took a moment to respond. “The Next Generation is my favorite show, but I have great affection for the original series,” I said diplomatically. Obviously I was in no mood to argue the finer points of either show with someone so clueless. We proceeded into the theater in silence.

I own STIV on DVD and have watched it countless times. Still there was something exciting about seeing it on the big screen again, even if the quality wasn’t as good as my digital version at home. The story, which has the crew travelling back to 20th century San Francisco to retrieve a pair of humpback whales that are now extinct on 23rd-century earth, holds up well after all these years. In fact, the movie, which was released in 1986, remains one of my favorite ST films. Even Tim, who jokingly calls it “Star Trek: The Whales,” likes the film and he’s not much of a ST fan.

The audience was very engaged, laughing and clapping at all the right times, especially during the opening credits when all the actors’ names were listed. I was reminded that two cast members, DeForest Kelley (Bones) and James Doohan (Scotty), have already died. But the man of the hour was definitely Nimoy who, after the film ended, made a dramatic entrance at the back of the theater (where I was sitting!) and walked, with escorts, to the front stage. I leapt to my feet as everyone gave him a standing ovation.

Highlights of the interview are available elsewhere, so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that Nimoy was terrific, responding thoughtfully to questions posed by L.A. Times columnist Geoff Boucher. Topics ranged everywhere from STIV to the original series to the 2009 ST movie, in which he played Spock for the last time, to his recurring role in the current TV show Fringe. The interview was supposed to last only 45 minutes; but Nimoy waved away the timekeeper and continued the conversation well after an hour. I was most pleased when he admitted he was now very comfortable with his legacy as Mr. Spock--this from the man who infamously wrote a controversial autobiography, I Am Not Spock, in 1975. Before leaving the stage, he admonished us all to “Live Long and Prosper” while flashing the Vulcan hand salute. Many of us returned the salute, while the rest just applauded wildly.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lakers Press Pass

One of the best reasons to live in Los Angeles is the plethora of renowned sports teams within the city limits: professional, college and (I’m guessing) amateur as well. This is especially important to Tim. But even I—who has no time to follow one team let alone several—would hate to live in a town that doesn’t offer year-round sports. Right now, the focus is on the Lakers as they play Boston for the national basketball championship. Tim’s radio station broadcasts the Lakers, so not only has he been able to see some games in-person, he’s also seen many of the celebrity fans who sit courtside during those games. I asked him to write a blog entry about his most recent Laker adventures. Here’s what he had to say:

I work at the local station that carries the Lakers. All season I've had a press pass that would allow me to go to any of the games. I only started using it once the playoffs began. Since I don’t have a specific function for the broadcast, there is no assigned seat in the arena for me. So, like all the other orphans (radio stringers, foreign journos, hangers-on) I head up, way up, to what's called the “hockey press box.” It's higher up than the cheapest seats in the last row of the arena. At least we get to sit between the baskets. There’s plenty of room to stretch out and read the newspaper, plus there’s a counter to lean on if I’m inclined to watch the game. The best part is an uncrowded restroom with no lines.

My first game was amazing. During halftime one of our broadcasters told me to go with him downstairs. We first went to the Chick Hearn Media Room, where I saw TJ Simers & Bill Plashke from the L.A. Times and many of the TV sports guys from the local L.A. stations. He then took me out on the floor of the arena. The press pass was like a golden key; you waved it and people said, “Come on in!” We walked by Jack Nicholson, Dyan Cannon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“There’s Andy Garcia,” I said to myself. “And Teri Hatcher!” I also saw Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. My head was spinning, but I, of course, played it cool like the SoCal native I am.

I called Cindy from the floor and told her everybody I'd seen. She only cared about Andy Garcia.

Back to the media room for one last run through, then up to the hockey press box for the second half. I stopped to get a beer on the way back. Unfortunately, the press pass gets you nothing at the concession stand but a blank stare and a cashier saying, “One beer, $12.”

To our radio station's delight, the Lakers made it to the NBA finals. Suddenly my all-access pass was worthless.

“Only the NBA can issue credentials for the finals,” I was told. “Sorry!”

This was particularly distressing because the Lakers are playing their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics. There had to be something I could do . . .

My boss came to the rescue. He requested passes in case there was some glitch with the broadcast that we needed to fix. The team has played 41 home games this season, plus the first 3 rounds of the playoffs, and not once have we needed to rush over and save the day with technical daring-do. But it does allow me to roam up above the 300 level and find a place to sit. I passed on the first game and set my sights on Game 2 today.

During the playoffs the station does a remote broadcast before each home game. Our broadcast booth, which I usually set-up, is in front of the Staples Center, near Magic Johnson’s statue. All the swells have to pass by our location to get to their VIP entrance. I’m always surprised to see the many obviously wealthy men, middle-aged and older, bring their very beautiful daughters and, in some cases, granddaughters to enjoy the game (wink wink, nudge nudge).

The Lakers easily won Game 1 on Thursday. I'm hoping they continue their good play today. You can find me in my favorite seat at the top of the arena. I’ll be the one watching the game through binoculars.


Tim just got home. The Lakers lost, but he got some good photos, including one of former Laker Rick Fox (handsome!), and a short movie of the action (click on it to make it go).

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Envelope: Parenthood

Ballots to nominate TV shows for Emmy awards were apparently mailed yesterday. Of course, Tim and I don’t work in television and so don’t get to vote. But we do have strong opinions about our favorite TV shows.

One such show is Parenthood, the terrific new series on NBC. Based loosely on the 1989 movie of the same name, Parenthood is about the Bravermans, a fictional yet realistic contemporary family grappling with many of today’s societal issues--impending bankruptcy, parental infidelity, interracial relationships, teenage sexuality, autism--but without the melodrama of other family-oriented shows like, say, Brothers and Sisters. The acting is superb and the writing truly topnotch. There’s not enough action to hold Tim’s attention, but I love the show--especially the characters, who really resonate with me even though we (thank goodness!) don’t have to deal with the same problems they deal with every week.

To highlight superior but less popular shows that might otherwise be ignored by Emmy voters, the L.A. Times conducts a “Primetime Emmy Envelope Screening Series” every year at a local theater. The format is similar to the annual Paley Festival, which we religiously attend: an episode of a particular TV show is screened, followed by Q&A with that show’s creative team (e.g., actors, producers, writers, directors, etc.). Unlike the Paley, however, the L.A. Times events are free, though it’s fairly obvious the series is primarily meant to promote The Envelope, the ads-heavy insert published by the Times only during Emmy and Oscar seasons.

I saw the blurb announcing this year’s Envelope series in the paper last week. Three of our shows--Parenthood, Sons of Anarchy, and Justified--were featured, so I quickly signed us up. I received an email yesterday reminding me that Parenthood was being screened last night. According to the email, guild members (i.e., Emmy voters) would be seated first. If seats remained, then non-guild members would be admitted. The theater was in Hollywood--quite a schlep from Culver City on a weekday evening, during rush hour no less! Still, I decided it was worth the effort. I left the house at 5:15PM for a 7:30PM screening.

I arrived at the theater a little after 6PM. There was a line, but nothing too onerous. I checked in at the promotions table and was told all non-guild people would be admitted in a while. After only a couple of minutes, the line started to move. I was inside the theater by 6:30PM. Apparently not many guild members had registered--a shame, because Parenthood really does deserve to be nominated for several Emmys.

The final episode of the season was screened at 7:30PM. It was one of the show’s better episodes, so I hoped the guild voters took note. The producer, Jason Katims, and four cast members--Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Monica Potter, and Erika Christensen--then appeared. The moderator, L.A. Times TV critic Mary McNamara, asked how the show was developed and whether any of the actors had families similar to the Bravermans. Krause said he does--that’s why he now lives in L.A., where he can forge his own identity. Christensen and Graham spoke with obvious affection for their characters and Potter insisted she just recites her lines, though we probably all suspected that isn’t true. Both Katims and Potter shared the pain of shooting the scenes about her TV son Max’s autism and alluded to the fact that Katims has a family member with Asperger Syndrome. McNamara asked Christensen if she swims--an important plot point in one of the more interesting episodes--she does not. Katims then talked briefly about the writing process. Apparently the scripts are rather organic, based a lot on each actor’s skills and inner voice. All the panelists were intelligent and passionate about the show--well worth the schlep to Hollywood on a Tuesday night.

Stay tuned for Sons of Anarchy and Justified next week . . .