I wonder if my fellow AMPAS (Motion Picture Academy) members will recognize that Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawkins in "Theory of Everything" is head-and-shoulders above any other acting stint this year? I've seen the pix three times and find something new in it every time, a nuance or story point. God knows I am not denigrating the other contenders, from Michael Keaton in "Birdman" to Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Imitation Game" to Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper," all really fine.
I wonder if I am the only critic to remain enraptured by "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," which opened early this year and was simply sensational. Andy Serkis is superb as Caesar, the ape leader who tries to make peace with humans. My favorite pictures are all still out there, from "Grand Budapest Hotel" to "Whiplash". I was recently asked what pictures I disliked this year, and "Fury came to mind....Brad Pitt is excellent but I hated the brutal portrayal of American soldiers in it. Recently I saw Mike Leigh's import, "Mr. Turner," at the Academy, the biopic about the famed British painter, and found it to be incomprehensible and unattractive, though visually stunning.. Half the audience walked out by the end. A few years ago I had dinner at El Cholo and its owner, Ron Salisbury, introduced me to an older man at the table, Louis Zamparini, telling me that Louis had been his babysitter when he was a kid. Louis is the hero of "Unbroken," Angelina Jolie's new film, which is getting much Oscar buzz. My rave review of "Selma" will run here on Huffington closer to its Christmas opening.
I must tell you about a strange movie which I saw his weekend....the official Hungarian entry in the Foreign Film Oscar competition. It is called "White God" and was co-written and directed by Kornel Mundruczo. It won the Prize Un Certain Regard at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and the dogs in the film were awarded the Palm Dog Award. Did he say dogs? Yes it is a film which features some of most extraordinary canine sequences ever put on film. The feature chronicles a young girl, Lili (played by Zsofia Psotta) and her search through Budapest for he beloved dog, Hagen, which was cruelly discarded by her father because mixed breeds are deemed unfit by the state.. But what is most extraordinary is that we also see the dangerous journey the dog makes to be reunited with her. He is captured by illegal dog fighters and trained to combat other dogs, and there are horrendous sequences in it of these battles. Which makes it unsuitable for any children, most women and many men. Hagen then 'leads' the hundreds of so-called unfit dogs in combat against 'the hands that beat them' at the animal control enter.
After the screening, we met a remarkable woman named Teresa Miller of Animals4Films, who went to Hungary with several dogs to help train the animals there , 250 dogs from all over the country. There are several sequences which took my breath away. The scenes of several hundred dogs running through the streets of Budapest following Hagen are rather unbelievable, and the last shot, of these 250 dogs lying silently in the town square faced off with the girl and her father, is stunning. (see poster at top).Teresa brought the dog star of the movie with her, and he was petted by most members of the audience. I don't know if this picture will get a wide release by Magnolia, but if you have the stomach for it, "White God" is a singular cinematic experience.
As a young man in the '60s and early '70s, I spent most winter weekends playing tennis at The Racquet Club in Palm Springs. It was the 'in' resort, founded by actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy when actors were not welcomed at other resorts there. I frequented Melvyn's Restaurant at the Inglewood Inn, and Dominick's, D'Amici and Pal Joey's. All of these came to mind when I read the first of a five-part series called Gangsters in Paradise running now in the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper. It's about the Mafia's influence in the Coachella Valley - a 'very real and violent reality' the paper says in the headline for the series by Bruce Fessler. You can get it on the paper's website. Wow. It relates how the mob came to the desert in the early '60s because Mafia insiders liked to spend their winters there. The third sequence is about to run and it centers on Frank Sinatra and his friends. Who knew?
Last night after a screening I spent two pleasant hours in the wonderful bar at the rear of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel alongside Chef Ari Rosenson's CUT. The drinks were strong and reasonable, but it was Ari's food which floored me. Prime Steak Tartare ($15), Louisiana Shrimp Cocktail ($18), Tuna Tartare 'Sandwiches' ($16), and a large, intriguing artisanal cheese selection (Three for $17.) Next time I won't need an excuse to come here for a drink and a bite' it's now a destination spot. The restaurant in the front of the hotel was busy, busy , and CUT remains one of the best steak houses in the city.
I am reading the new, sensationalized biography of Bob Hope, HOPE: ENTERTAINER OF THE CENTURY, by Richard Zoglin, a Time Magazine writer and critic. It brought back memories of my interactions with Hope and his troupe of entertainers during their visit to the war zones of Korea in 1952 and '53. I was in charge of some entertainment units there and escorted them up and down the peninsula. I remember singer Frances Langford and comedien Jerry Collona, and for seveval years after I returned home I dated an accordionist named Lola who was on that tour. Hope was a complex, rather confusing star, and in later years I didn't agree with his conservative politics, but he sure put on a great show on his USO tours.
A film executive named Frank Yablans died at age 79 this week. A good guy, and I owed him a great deal. On a day in mid-February of 1971, he was named President of Paramount Pictures by the studio's autocratic owner, Charlie Bluhdorn. I was struggling to get my movie about Billie Holiday, "Lady Sings The Blues," made. Had just signed Sidney Furie to direct it, and we had Diana Ross on board to star. Sidney had an actor friend named Brad Dexter, who was trying to help us set it up. Brad was famous as the guy who saved Frank Sinatra from drowning in the surf at Malibu when Frank was founderng and being drawn out by the current. It so happens that Brad and Frank Yablans were friends, and without telling us Brad went to Paramount without an appointment the very morning when Frank took over. Dextter walked into his office and made the pitch for our movie. At 6 pm that night I received a call that Paramount was on board with the movie, Frank's first deal in his new job. The picture went on to receive five Academy nominations, huge acclaim and big boxoffice, and started the film careers of Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. It was certainly the best role Diana ever had. Pryor, who was relatively unknown, had only a single line in a nightclub scene ("Hey, Jerry, give the girl a chance"), but he delivered that one line so amusingly that we wrote him into the next day's scene..and then worked the Piano Man character into a major role in the film. So, yes, I owed a lot to Frank Yablans.
Chef Thomas Keller will be innovating a unique reservation system called Tock at his two ultra-upscale restaurants on both coasts beginning next month. At Per Se in New York and the legendary French Laundry in St, Helena, a ticket system will replace the usual calling-for-a-table routine. It was first used by Nick Kokonas at his Chicago upscle eatery, Alinea, and now it has a major
proponent in Keller Quite simply, the diner prepays for food and service with his credit card, being guaranteed a reservation. It does not include beverage service, which will be extra. Yes, you get it...no tipping quandary, it's all taken care of. It is a wonderful 'plus' for the restaurateur, who doesn't have t worry about the perpetual 'no-shows,' for there are none. The dining establishment knows exactly how many meals it will be serving, allowing it to be precise in its ordering and prep. Keller says it will improve the relationship beween customers and management by cutting out some of the inconveniences of reservation-making like busy signals and voice-mail messages. Each restaurant gets a 'tool kit' with the sytem, so it can add a wait list for last-minte openings, and an exchange service for a certain numberof days out allowing changes. Nick tells me that this Tock service will work for other businesses, like hair salons, spas and such. Thusfar Keller is not using the Tock system for his more casual places, like the Bouchon bistros. I love the idea and hope that it catches on here in L.A. No fussing with the bill, tip, and such. (Though it will be difficult to split the bill between two parties with the system.) I'll keep you in touch about it.
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