Category Archives: Biography

REVIEW: “LUCY AND DESI” (2022) Amazon Studios

Who knew that it would be director/actress/comedian extraordinaire Amy Poehler that would bring us the “LUCY AND DESI” movie we all needed this year. While 2021 was us an Aaron Sorkin version, that was truly based on only just a moment in time in the life of this most beloved of all TV histories famous comedic couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

(Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

This documentary is not only a love story to Lucy and Desi, it is about THEIR love story as well. One that with all it’s publicized up’s and down’s, was one for the history books in more way than just one. Here we not only learn about a long-forgotten box of discovered audio tapes from Lucy herself, but these tapes allows us to hear much of their history directly from horses mouth so to speak, Lucy and Desi themselves on home video and recordings. And boy are they a joy to watch. Here you get the true story of how Lucy started her career, as a model no less because she was stunningly beautiful, leading her to Hollywood where she was dubbed “Queen of the B’s” aka B-movies at the time, as those were the days of Hollywood starlets being signed to a singular studio and their films picked for them.

And we see Desi’s life as well, coming from a prominent Cuban family affiliated with the Bacardi rum empire at the time, and whom lost everything when the 1933 Cuban revolution took place at the age of 14, he was one of the few of his family who was sent and made it to the shores of the USA. Starting off young in Xavier Cugat’s band, Desi branched out on his own and is the man we can thank today for the infamous ‘Conga line’, something that you will most probably be participating in at most weddings, and most definitely on a cruise ship at some point or another. As well, it shows some classic Desi performances of his still-famous-around-the-world signature song, “Babaloo”.

But the two were destined to meet and that moment happened on the set of and RKO movie entitled “Too Many Girls”, sending them into a whirlwind romance, and into marriage just a short time later. That whirlwind romance never truly ended for either of them, though both moved on eventually, it’s one of those true stories in life of a love that never really dies. Amy Poehler delivers a masterful review of the rich, varied, fascinating history and this famous duo, by giving us peeks into not the just good, but the hardships as well. From Desi time in the Army and their long separations, to the Communist scandal, to Desi’s unfaithfulness stories being plastered on the front page of every gossip rag in town. But through it all, the fact that it was Lucy who demanded that Desi be her not just her real husband, but her TV husband as well – something America had never before witnessed, an Anglo-white woman, with a Cuban-born immigrant as a real life couple. And not just that, but the many firsts the couple did such a showing a pregnancy and having a child on TV, sleeping together in a double bed, buying out RKO and making it their own Desilu Studios with multiple hit sitcoms coming out of it, besides their own. And two of the biggest deals in the entertainment world at the time, making re-runs of shows possible, and having a woman run a studio. These accomplishments might not seem like much today, but they paved the road for making it as such.

Some of the best parts though come from their daughter, Lucie Arnaz-Luckinbill, as she speaks so lovingly about her parents true love story with clips from notables such as Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Bette Midler, and Charo, sharing their admiration and love for Lucy, not just as a friend, but honouring all of her achievements and the giving moments that she shared with each of them. And sadly, it also shows the hardships of the end of their lives with Desi succumbing to lung cancer, with his daughter taking care of him till the end, yet Lucille herself coming to spend a last day with him watching re-runs of their show, laughing and reminiscing the good times. Lucy herself would pass three years later from heart issues.

Photo by Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection/ Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on the launch of Desilu Studios

In the end, they said their “I Love You’s” to each other, and probably just like the rest of us, realized that even sometimes just love isn’t enough to hold you together, but it also never leaves you. And even today, we can watch those ‘I Love Lucy‘ re-runs and laugh, smile and realize, yes everyone still loves Lucy.

Grade: A

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

LUCY AND DESI will premiere March 4, 2022 exclusively on Prime Video

REVIEW: “TED K” (2022) Super LTD

One questions always arises as you begin to watch what might seem like another movie about a someone who did so much harm to so many. In essence, Ted Kaczynski was one of America’s first ‘domestic terrorists’. “TED K” is the latest in a slew of films based on one of America’s worst and longest active domestic terrorists. The film by co-writer/director Tony Stone’s biography of Ted Kaczynski, was known during the decades-long manhunt for him as “the Unabomber,” portrays him as a mathematical genius of a man whose idea that the outside world is encroaching on him and he has had enough, a self-perceived righteousness so to speak, to enable him to take action against everything and everyone who contributed to this.

Ted K’ begins with a prologue of basic details, most of what we already know – Kaczynski was a Harvard educated math genius who dropped out of society and moved to the Rocky Mountains in Lincoln, Montana, which as we know, is home to many of these nationalists groups and there has been found evidence that Montana was once selected “for the development of a white Aryan homeland to be used as a base of operation”. So it should come as no surprise this is where Ted picked to live off the grid. Following that, the opening sequence sets the stage as we see Kaczynski hiding in the forest while loggers tear down the forest around him, snow mobiles whiz by with vacationers on them – all feeding his imagination that modern technology, will be the end of humanity as it is and feels this is so wrong, that even though he wants no part of it, he finds himself bowing to it to carry out his ‘ideals’. All the while, trying to convince as many people as he can of the same philosophy.

That’s how the movie’s Ted Kaczynski, is played here by Sharlto Copley. But therein lies the danger here in doing this as Copley is actually so good at points, that the movie approaches the thin line of romanticizing not just the man, but in an odd way, what he stood for as well as you can’t deny some of his predictions ring with a bit of truth in today’s world. So instead of seeing him as the monster he was, you look at him as a flawed human being – when that is just not the case, but it is good acting. The showing of who this man is, how he holds grudges, erupts in rages to everyone from the phone company to verbally abusing his family, all the while begging them to send some money his way. For Ted it seems it was always someone else’s fault for what happens to him in life, and that, more than any of his crazy demands in his 25,000 word manifesto of which this film is based primarily upon, is what defines the man. The deluded thoughts of a man who considered modern technology to be evil and used a hit list to identify the targets for his homemade bombs – bombs by the way, that often injured unintended victims and not his intended targets.

And so it comes to the conclusion that we already know, but that still rings hard with the fact that under the threat bombing of another target, his manifesto makes it to the pages of the Washington Post, therein leading to his downfall after the longest manhunt in history, betrayed I’m sure in his own delusional mind, by his brother who recognized the writings. And so brings us to the end of this long chapter in life, sadly we were to see many more domestic terrorists come to fruition, and even just recently, almost lost our country to them – and maybe that is why it is important to sometimes still watch a film like this. Superbly acted, but also to keep us aware that all amongst us are not with us.

In the end, Ted was just a sexually frustrated misogynist who became a dysfunctional, delusional and dangerous man. Sadly, he won’t be the last.

Grade: C+

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“TED K” premieres exclusively in theaters Friday, February 18, 2022

REVIEW: “BEING THE RICARDOS” (2021) Amazon Studios

“Luuuuuucy… I’m Home.”

Probably one of the most timeless, classic lines that is still uttered today. But behind the scenes of not only the “I Love Lucy” show itself, but the marriage between Lucy and Desi itself, was a very tumultuous relationship. This is the story of one week in the lives of these two larger than life characters known worldwide then, and still today.

So let’s get the elephant out of the room right off. Nicole Kidman does not look like Lucille Ball. Javier Bardem does not look like Desi Arnaz. Whether you choose to overlook this and instead concentrate on the performances and story itself, is up to each individual watching Being the Ricardos”. As well, it was nothing as I thought it would be, hence Being the Ricardos is not a funny comedy like the show was, and while yes, it’s hard to fathom a film about Ball that isn’t at least accidentally a bit funny, Sorkin’s biopic instead, focuses his lens on the couple through one particular tumultuous week in their lives as a married couple, their very well known marital problems, as well as being co-TV superstars. And we can also be honest enough to say “should seen it coming” as comedy is not really Sorkin’s bag.

As for Lucy herself – well she was at the time, Hollywood’s most bankable comic genius. Ball was the biggest TV star on earth, a massive moneymaking machine whose eye for physical comedy was like no other. Those working on the then biggest soundstage at the infamous Desilu Studios, in the writers room around her — Co-stars Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), William Frawley (J.K. Simmons), Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale), Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and a bland Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy), who contribute to a fractured work dynamic that is on the verge of collapse due to a leaked news story about Lucy being a member of the Communist Party. On top of that, pictures of Desi appeared front page of the biggest of all tabloids at the time, the Confidential, with another woman. And to add the icing to the cake, Lucy is pregnant and both her and Desi want to televise her pregnancy as part of the show – something that just wasn’t done in those times. These were the days when married couples still had separate beds on TV. So a very big deal indeed.

JAVIER BARDEM, J.K. SIMMONS, NINA ARIANDA, and NICOLE KDIMAN star in BEING THE RICARDOS Photo: GLEN WILSON © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

While writer-director Aaron Sorkin places three different events in the same week – but did they take all actually take place during the same week? Not really knowing much about all the events of the time, doing a little research paid off in droves to find out the following points of fact:

Point #1. The Walter Winchell accusation about Lucille Ball being a Communist took place on September 6, 1953. This accusation is what kicks off the events in the film.

Point #2. Lucille’s second pregnancy with her and Desi’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr. who was actually born on January 19, 1953. This would make the pregnancy announcement actually being made at some point around July of 1952.

Point #3. Desi’s cheating scandal plastered on the front of Confidential tabloid as the magazine was considered to be THE gossip magazine of the 1950’s – well, yes, they did run an article about Desi cheating on Lucy. The film implies the photo was from six months before, but the truth is that the affair had happened many years before. The article also ran as the cover story of the January 1955 issue versus the same week as everything above was listed.

JAVIER BARDEM and NICOLE KIDMAN star in BEING THE RICARDOS Photo: GLEN WILSON © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

So all this has of course been taken the liberty of making it all more intense of a week than what probably really happened. Look, there’s no denial that Lucy and Desi had their marital problems, nor is there any doubt about the complex (to put it nicely) relationship between the two in their private and professional lives. However, Sorkin just tries to combines too many incidents in telling this story and while we all love going behind the scenes of TV and film stories, Being the Ricardos just goes about this the wrong way.

The performances though are all quite on par. Kidman actually really comes through as Ball, even doing one of the most favourited Lucy shows of all time, the stomping of the grapes. Bardem as well, let’s you know that while Lucy is always front and center, he is the true head of the show. Nina Arianda really comes through as Vivian Vance showing how things really were for her as being the side-kick of the show and her resentment of being so much younger than her ‘show husband’. As well, when does J.K. Simmons not come through with a character performance and he does so here on point.

With good performances like these they could have left the taking of liberties with the timeline of the story itself seem unnecessary and might have been better served if staying a little more to the actual true timeline it really was, rather than trying to push making a tense drama of it all happening at once. In essence a more cohesive biographical telling of the story of such icons would have been enough.

Grade: C+

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

BEING THE RICARDOS opens in theaters Friday, December 10th and debuts on Amazon Prime Video December 21, 2021.

REVIEW: “KING RICHARD” (2021) Warner Bros.

Tennis is usually known as a rich people’s sport and can wholly be verified by just looking at the cost of tickets to even a smaller tournament. For the devout fans such as myself, this has left us for the most part, unable to attend such events. And yes, it is also a very European/white American based crowd as well, especially in the 90’s when the Williams sisters we coming on to the scene. Sure you had Arthur Ashe, but he was in the 70’s and was also a man, and even he had loads of issues being sported on him. With all that leading into the fact that sports movies in general can be difficult watches at times, mostly as the stories either have to be a touching one, a hard one, a biography etc., to make a point. Here director Reinaldo Marcus Green takes us on a journey film of the crazy, intense, wild and somewhat shady life of Richard Williams aka “KING RICHARD“. The film is at times emotional, but most of all, it’s a pretty good vehicle for Will Smith to show off his acting range.

Williams, the father of the now legendary Serena and Venus Williams, comes forth with the focus being mostly on Venus as yes, she is the older sister even though Serena is the more victorious of the two, but the narrative depicts his vision and determination to ensure that his daughters grasp every opportunity – willingly or less so – on their journey to undoubted tennis greatness. Though he does come across as a tightly focused man, he can also comes across and a rather unpleasant, thoughtless individual for whom, after a while, you can began to feel a growing dislike as it’s well known he hasn’t always been the most liked person on the tour, but the question put forth is really whether he was right in having his ‘plan’ and doing whatever he thought was right to get it done. The somewhat arbitrary way in which he treats not just his family, but those around trying to help (and, admittedly, to capitalize on the impending gravy train), can be looked at as all just bit too improbable, but you can’t deny what he did either. Certainly you can put yourself in Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), or Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), shoes and would have made the decision to tell him where to get off long before it became apparent that these two girls actually did have the ability to make it big. But then as well, it proved Richard to be pretty much right about his ideals after all.

By far the most inspirational part of the movie was really the improbable story. That a dedicated father instilled in his daughters a strength and resilience and confidence that they could do anything, become number one in the world, and in Serena’s case, become the greatest player who ever lived. Training day and night, rain or shine, he kept pushing them towards greatness, when many people scoffed at his claims about his girls, when many refused to train them, when they saw something insignificant, he saw their full potential.

Aunjanue Ellis is really strong in all the film as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams, being somewhat of the balance to Richard’s craziness, while Saniyya Sidney does a fantastic job as Venus, one of the best supporting teen roles I’ve seen in a while. She is a revelation and is definitely a name to watch as she completely stole the show at times. As well though they and the rest of the sisters are all too often subsumed in the domineering shadow of Smith. And noting that at 2¼ hours, it is also far too long with too many scenes that detract from the pace, that often can be meandering off and dragged in a lot of areas including how it skims over King Richards past – while many in the tennis world do know there was a true bit of shady-ness to the real man. I think many will have wished we could have done with far more input from the real “stars” of the movie to illustrate just how determined and accomplished they were as opposed to their father.

Overall this is a good watch. So tense, surprisingly funny and with a powerful and uplifting story. A film worthy of the Williams’ epic legacy. Personally I wish it would have shown the journey of the Williams sisters even more into their later career stage, but again this movie is NOT really about them, its about Richard ‘King’ Williams and his belief in them, their dedication to training, and ultimately their resiliency in the face of adversity to become the essentially perfect trifecta that propelled them to unprecedented success that was never realized by any other player before them. When they went onto the court, they truly believed that no one could beat them. Then they went out and proved it. Not only were they out there proving to themselves, but also to every person who went to see them. They then became role models for every other African American girl (and boy) who wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Screening Group

“KING RICHARD” – IS OUT IN THEATERS AND ON HBO MAX NOW 

REVIEW: “SPENCER” (2021) Neon Films

Having high hopes going into director Pablo Larrain’s “SPENCER” considering how much I enjoyed ‘Jackie‘, I was surprised to find myself truly wondering what it was that I was watching and then remembering the word ‘fable’ being brought out at the beginning. And that is at least somewhat of an explanation for this sad tale of a film that I find myself having a hard time trying to describe how I felt about it. Two things I think I can justifiably say this film is a fictional thriller using factual characters, who apparently only speak in poems and riddles and it is definitely not a biography.

The set up is Christmas 1991, and Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart), is driving herself to Sandringham Castle in a Porsche convertible no less, through country roads speeding along casually, something that realistically would never happen, but again, it’s a fable so why not. She gets completely lost even though she acknowledges she’s been there so many times before, but not before stopping in a small diner-type country restaurant and pretending almost awkwardly that she is not just a Princess, but regular country folk like they are, all the while in her upscale Chanel clothing. After arriving late and after the Queen, a huge faux pas in the world of royalty, she is clearly targeted by the rest of the family at this point. And here is where it really goes off rails as we all know yes, there was a Diana vs. The Royal Family dynamic, but this film takes that to a whole different level. With visions belying her at every corner, including Anne Boleyn to what I’m guessing is supposed to be taken as a warning for Diana to not fall into a similar fate, as she is literally shown as being a whiney, complaining, consistently late for everything, and Larrain makes her out to be so unpleasant and self-centered, you almost wonder if you would want her as your dinner companion at all.

There is much to follow here as the film continues an almost odd over-the-top portrayal of Princess Diana, with only small bits of actual fact here and there. The bulimia we all know she suffered from is shown up front and personal, yet almost made fun of at other moments. There is an odd whole scenario of a scarecrow which follows us throughout the film, without ever really giving good reason except for the fact that she speaks and dresses it like a human, and a psychedelic dance sequence I’ve yet to figure out. I understand why some may like it, but it’s completely void of any relevance to the Princess Diana and Royal Family story that actually took place. I think my entire beef with this film is that they made her look whiney, weak and mental and I just don’t think Stewart did her justice for me. It wasn’t terrible mind you as Stewart is good, but by far not great and by just simply adding to her actual personality, having a blonde short haircut and a not so Diana English accent, she didn’t encapsulate who or what Princess Diana really was. It wasn’t terrible – but I just didn’t feel the way so many do as besides the haircut she didn’t fit Diana’s personality for me, it’s as though she was almost too distracting for me is how I can best say it. But maybe that was the point – not sure.

It is undoubtedly beautiful to look at, the score is immediately captivating, as well as the costumes, production design + cinematography are the standouts as is her supporting cast of Timothy Spall as Major Alistar Gregory, who comes off as ‘foe’ at first, but might actually be ‘friend’ instead, as well as Sally Hawkins playing her maid en confidante’ Maggie. We barely see Jack Farthing as Prince Charles, and as well The Queen either played by Stella Gonet. The way they portray her is a choice a very unsympathetic and annoying ‘choice’ that was certainly very off putting but the standout part is it did show her love for her sons as I don’t think any film could ever deny that. Again, I realize I’m in the minority here on this one, but one can’t help or deny how one feels about a film as it is truly something each person puts in perspective on their own. But in essence for me, Diana was a strong independent woman who was roped into a lie, and dealt with it better than most, while crashing at times, I wanted them to show the part of how she used it all that and made it her strengths versus weakness.

Grade: C

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“SPENCER” FROM NEON FILMS – IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW 

REVIEW: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” fails to ignite completely..

Wandering into “THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN” my assumption was it would point me to a somewhat of a Nikola Tesla type films with Louis Wain perhaps being the British version of him. I couldn’t have been more wrong, which can sometimes be a benefit to not knowing exactly what you are going into as it leaves you to actually judge a film for what it is – versus what others say about it.

The film opens in 1881 and Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), is a young man whose life has just dramatically changed over the death of his father. Per the time and status that the Wain family has acquired, Louis must step into the role of breadwinner for his five younger sisters and their aging mother. Initially, it’s hard what to make of Wain as he is constantly drawing, yet his eccentricities also include a belief in the electrical currents that drive all life forms, hence my previous thoughts. The film itself doesn’t spend much time on this, though it seems to be important enough, but the feeling is at first it’s more eccentricity vs. a mental illness – later deemed to possibly be schizophrenia. What the film shifts to almost exclusively is Wain’s family life. His stern and demanding sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough), is completely unforgiving of his little ‘whims’ as they are referred to, and demands that Louis find steady work to support the family, which again is supposed to be his role now, clearly one he does not want. An interview with an Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), is an editor/publisher looking to offer Wain a job, and this is when we are first treated to see what a gifted illustrator Wain is can be and his speed at drawing is due to an incredible ability to draw with both hands simultaneously.

As we continue on more with his family theme versus who Wain really is, he ends up overcoming one of his insecurities around his cleft lip which he has always covered with a mustache, and ends up marrying Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), the governess to his sisters. For the times this was quite the scandal, most especially given the differences in age and social standing of both involved, but Louis plows on as it seems as though she was the only one who understood and encouraged him as an artist. Needless to say his sisters are enraged at this and there is much more shown here again of this than what really is it that makes Louis Wain who he was.

We then are drawn into the tragedy that strikes Wain, and watch as he really mentally spirals more and becomes inspired by their pet cat, Peter. In fact, Peter becomes his muse of sorts though confusing because again, his sisters are all mixed in plus the fact that he clearly thinks the cat is Emily. It does however leads to thousands of drawings of cats for publication in newspapers, magazines, greeting cards, and just about every other platform available at the time. But also once again the films leaves Louis and takes back to his sister’s lives and his youngest sister Marie (Hayley Squires), being committed. So it’s a mish-mash of back and forth whereas I wanted to know who Louis Wain was about, it was very hard to decipher until the Cat pictures come along and that is what he becomes famous for. Personally I would’ve like to delve into this subject and how it evolved more rather than a major focus being on his family lives instead of his as it seems Wain’s work becomes enormously popular for a time, the film doesn’t really explore it in any detail, choosing instead to dance around the question of his and all his sisters mental states over the decades which span about 50 years in time.

Olivia Colman provides the narration and tries to make it lively at times. Taika Waititi and Nick Cave both have brief cameos, as well as Adeel Akhtar in smaller role as Mr. Rider. A role that clearly should’ve been more prominent as Rider was one of Wain’s few friends who we see meet briefly early on, but in the end finds Wain in a sanitarium and ends up being the one who helps Louis secure a place better accommodations in lovely home complete with a garden and yes, plenty of cats. The performance here by Cumberbatch is a bit over-the-top with his tics in the first half of the film, almost to quirky at times – he does make the mental part realistic at times, and drawing part of Wain seem interesting and real. Again, when the film lets us see those very pertinent parts come through.

All in all, if you know nothing about or who Louis Wain was, this might not explain it to you precisely as it follows the path of his family and all the peculiarities of them and him, rather than serve up a more poignant look at Wain and his Cat drawings for which he is actually famous for.

Grade: C

 

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN ” IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW AND WILL BE COMING TO PRIME VIDEO ON FRIDDAY, NOVEMEBER 5, 2021

TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “WOLFGANG” Disney+

Where do you start when talking of a man who literally put food on the map. Let’s put it this way, years ago, when things like cell phones, Instagram, and Twitter didn’t exist, restaurants were dramatically different as well. For those who could afford it, going out to dinner at fancy Los Angeles restaurant meant being served a multiple course melangerie of something along the lines of the oh-so-austere conventions of French cooking. The food might be wonderful, but it was also things people never really ate, especially Americans. And the very high-end gourmet restaurants such as L’Orangerie and L’Hermitage were stuffy, with waiters wearing tuxedos. So not only was “he” better dressed than you were, “he” (as yes, it was always a “he”), was always rude as well. “He” always looked down on you if by chance, you couldn’t pronounce the food on the menu precisely. That all changed with Wolfgang Puck.

Puck was 25 when he came to Los Angeles in 1975. At 14, he left his native Austria, where he had peeled potatoes in the back of hotel kitchens at a very early age to escape his abusive stepfather. Wolfgang went to serve as an apprentice cook in the south of France, and then in Paris as well, before coming to Los Angeles where he worked briefly in a DTLA restaurant before going to Ma Maison. Back then the owners of restaurants were the ‘Kings’ so to speak, and Patrick Terrail was just that, the owner/king of Ma Maison. But it wasn’t till Terrail was almost on the brink of bankruptcy that he let Wolfgang become head chef at Ma Maison and create his own menu, that the restaurant got put on the ‘map’ so to speak.

After years of giving it his all to get no credit whatsoever as again, owners were king and Terrail took credit for everything Puck was doing. So upon the advice of many, but mostly his girlfriend at the time, Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang pooled some money together with a lot of different partners chipping in what they could, took the plunge, and bought an old Russian-Armenian restaurant that had once been a private home right on a hill up-top the famed Sunset Blvd, and viola’ ~ Spago’s was born. Lazaroff became the interior designer and it was only because of lack of money that the ‘open kitchen’ was put forth and became their trademark ‘thing’. It became famous for it and and they served pizza no less from a true wood-burning oven, with fresh ingredients only as Wolfgang himself would get up early and go to the fish market. They had product picked up from a farm Wolfgang had found about 3 hours outside of the city, talk about straight off the farm, American’s in the city didn’t know what hit them. And everyone followed suit.

Spago’s was a magical place where you could ask and answer the question; what would it be like to have dinner with a big room of the most famous people in the world, and have a blast doing it, It was said that Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Sidney Poitier had dinner together in the center table, and no one around them would leave. I wholeheartedly believe this. From Spago’s Wolfgang Puck went on to start Chinois in Santa Monica, the first ever ‘fusion’ restaurant of it’s kind. He of course became a media darling as well, going on every talk show, starting his own brand of soup and pizza and building an empire with his name on it and of course, doing every post Oscar’s Governors Ball dinner since 1994. This doesn’t come without a price, and not just the personal cost of losing your wife and not being as present in your children’s lives as they might have wanted, but the price being a workaholic who was a part of every single decision. This includes the one to leave the old location that made him famous on Sunset Blvd. behind and open a new Spagos in Beverly Hills, featuring a menu more close to his heart, of food he grew up with alongside his famous dishes. Of course it succeeded, because how could it not, he cooked with love and from passion, and that is one recipe that always works. Add in the fact that now Bryon Puck, his son, is following in his footsteps and becoming a chef, Wolfgang seems to be making up for lost time and there is no greater success than to see that of your child loving the same things you do. Puck also had son Cameron with Barbara and has remarried to Gelila Assefa with whom he had two additional sons Alexander and Oliver, and it was lovely to see them shown all together in a kitchen teaching and learning from their Masterchef father.

Adding in a personal note, I remember my first job as an Assistant to a Talent Agent in the late 90’s, I was fresh out of school, wanted to be in this world I found so fascinating. Our offices were at 9000 Sunset Blvd, right down the street from Spagos and the first time I ever went I was terrified, nervous, excited, everything all wrapped up into one thing and it was simply and truly .. magical. There was a energy, a life to it – like it was it’s own being – and the food was fantastic. I was always a fan of Anthony Bourdain as he taught us to travel and experience food, but without Wolfgang Puck cutting the path to making food and the chefs and their staff who work 12-15 hour days making it, and to tell us what food really is and can be, we might never have had the opportunity to get to know anyone else. With that, how can you not give mad respect to the master, the original, Wolfgang Puck.

“A”

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘Wolfgang’ ~ courtesy of ID-PR

“WOLFGANG” DEBUTS ON DISNEY+ FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2021

Tribeca 2021 Review: “No Man of God”

It’s hard to like a film about a serial killer as ‘like’ might just be too inappropriate a word to use. With that being said, “NO MAN OF GOD” is a familiar, yet still an intriguing look at the psychological tug-of-war so to speak, that went on between Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood).

The film starts us in 1985, shortly after Bundy’s capture and conviction. The story told here is from a bit of a different perspective as the numerous others we have seen in the past, this one being from the view of analyst Agent Hagmaier, who is in the early days of what is now known as being a criminal profiler. Being an analyst in the early days meant going in and listening to hours upon hours of what Bundy did and how, in an attempt to learn more about the psyche of those who commit these heinous crimes. Most of what takes place is one on one, in an interrogation room with the religious Hagmaier being one of the few the Bundy will speak to.

This is essentially a movie about two people, and each gets almost equal focus. Wood plays Bill as the newbie who doesn’t really want to be there, but feels duty prone. Bundy, who was known for intensely disliking anyone in law enforcement or government, has turned down a TV special for $50,000, but Bill is convinced that he can be the one to get Bundy to open up. Bundy thinks the cops are all “liars in cheap suits.” and is playing them all hard at the end saying he has tantalizing tidbits to reveal about some unknown victims to avoid the death penalty. Despite numerous warnings like “when you get too close to a guy like this, you could lose your way,” Bill talks with Bundy year after year as his revolting in-detail, tales begin to overshadow into Bill’s home life. On the other hand, Kirby portrays Ted with a cool calculated indifference, an almost unnerving calm, that feels as though it reaches through the screen at you and carries a whole lot of intimidation along with it. As Bundy’s ‘friendship’ with Bill morphs into more, you begin to feel a layer of the almost filmy slime forming on your skin, the kind that makes you feel you need a shower. While I might be baffled a bit by the casting of Kirby though, as the impression was that Bundy had these beautiful blue eyes that made him so irresistible and helped lure in the women to him, it’s fair to also point out he could make his eyes almost black because yes, he was a very dark human being. Whichever it is, both acting portrayals here are top of the line, including the small supporting cast of Robert Patrick as Roger Depue, Bill’s boss, and Aleska Palladino as Carolyn Lieberman, Bundy’s death penalty lawyer who was rumoured to have been having a prison affair with him, though the film does clear this up once and for all.

Director Amber Sealy doesn’t take us into any new or unknown territory in ‘No Man of God’, it does give us probably the best acted and darkest Bundy to date. Oddly, I hope this is the last one as the obsession of serial killers being ‘all the rage’ of our society and the fame they achieve doing it, is not really something to be celebrated.

C+

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Tribeca Virtual screening ~ courtesy of KWPR

NO MAN OF GOD” OPENS IN THEATERS AUGUST 27,2021

REVIEW: “TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” (2020) IFC Films

We all grow up learning about not only our heroes, but of our villains as well.  Sometimes these “villain’s” can actually become heroes to those who follow and worship them – as is the ‘Robin Hood effect’ where by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, they are greatly admired people in history. Depending on where it is you grow up – is whom you learn about.  So while a greater part of my growing up was in the U.S., I learned of people like Jessie James, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, and Bonnie & Clyde etc. While ‘down-under’ in Australia it seems they had a ‘villain’ all of their very own. Ned Kelly and The Kelly Gang.  I know some of the films done about these characters have taken a lot of liberties when it comes to facts, so when I found out this one is based upon a book written by Peter Carey – who describes the book as being ‘true’ – with a big emphasis on such as it being in the title as well, it was a bit jolting to see the “TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” open with the statement: “Nothing you’re about to see is true.”

Delving into the first hour of the movie which takes a total focus on Ned’s childhood. Young Ned (Orlando Sschwerdt) as the eldest son of the Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis) and John Kelly (Ben Corbett), who are some of those unlucky Irish who were transported to Australia as convicts. British Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) not only arrests John for stealing a cow which Ned actually stole, but has been with Ellen this whole time as well. The whole episode leaves Ned to start a spiral that seems to follow him from this point on. In-between Ellen resorts to whatever she must do to keep all her children alive and in steps Harry Power (Russell Crowe) with whom Ellen sends Ned away with to supposedly “make him a man,” but has essentially sold him to Power. Power tries to force Ned to kill O’Neil as revenge, and Ned falls short as he shoots him, but almost as an accident, and doesn’t kill him – but O’Neil then hauls him off to jail. Yes, this is just the first hour which is so crazily portrayed, it’s almost as if they are all going through some psychosis or another and we are just along for the ride trying to keep up with it all.

We then fast-forward ten years for the even more graphic second half of the film with a now grown up and out of jail Ned (George MacKay). Ned returns home to find his mother shacked up with a guy only a few years older than himself, George King (Marlon Williams) a drifter from California no less, who proclaims he is going to be Ned’s new father – he is also a horse thief and has recruited Ned’s younger brother Dan (Earl Cave), and Dan’s friend Steve (Louis Hewison) to help out. Their ‘signature’ is of the gang is wearing women’s dresses, which Ned finds and goes on a rail to return the dresses. In doing so, he is suddenly with Mary (Thomasin McKenzie), who he falls for immediately even though she has a baby that isn’t his. And in one of the more odd scenes, and there are many, he meets and almost becomes friends with another British law office, Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult), whose character is hard to differentiate from his childhood nemesis, Sergeant O’Neill.

This whole film is akin to a whirlwind or a high speed hurricane where you find yourself in the center of and can’t get out. I can best describe it as an Insane Historical Fantasy – with a punk rock soundtrack that upon hearing at the beginning, I almost thought Ned was going to be a 1970’s punk rocker, an Australian Sid Vicious of sort, because of it. After doing my own little piece of research on Ned Kelly and his gang, I find out he was known most of all for what made him most famous, as the bushranger who wore a suit of bulletproof iron during his final shootout with the police. While this is shown in the film, and despite the historical setting, context and characters, it by no means represents or even intentionally tries to tell a historically respectable, let alone accurate portrayal of Ned Kelly.

Understandably I’m very split on this film, but let me at least give credit where credit is due. The acting all around is great, the cast is all fine in what they’re given, stand outs include; Orlando Schwerdt as Young Ned, Russell Crowe, Essie Davis – whom I will say totally creeped me out and I will admit to not really having known who she was at all – turns out she is the directors wife as well.  Thomasin McKenzie and Nicholas Hoult did okay enough, but again, it was as if Hunnam & Hoult were interchangeable as their roles were so similar and both distasteful characters. I haven’t got many complaints about the other performers, only that they weren’t given much for me to be invested in despite the film’s insistence I empathize with Ned. I believe anyone of a similar age to when the real Ned Kelly died (25) could play Ned, yet despite the material not being compelling enough to decide if Ned’s actions be justified or vilified, it’s not going to sway how anyone views the character be it hero or righteous criminal, but perhaps intensify it as it did make me personally want to read about him. Mackay is as fine as ever with what he does, yet his lack of a beard that’s always characterized Ned Kelly fails me to even buy him as Ned completely.

Ultimately, it’s greatest weakness is it’s development of Ned as an outlaw. Once Ned is outside the law, his extremist views to the law and state government take hold even though you feel as though Ned wishes he could’ve lived an honest life for his supposed child who from what I’ve now read, never existed. Yet his fall from honest life is fast and doesn’t pick up much weight when his ‘movement’ builds compared to the way the scenes leading up to it do. There’s a lot to admire about this film, yet I don’t think it’ll have a overall appeal to many. I can see it being praised by some, yet ridiculed by others.

With it’s violence and rough sex and language scenes, to say it isn’t recommended to the ‘faint of heart’ would be an understatement.

Grade: C-

@pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening link: Courtesy of IFC Films 

“TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR RENT/PURCHASE ON AMAZON

REVIEW: “BOMBSHELL” (2019) Lionsgate/AnnapurnaPictures

Director Jay Roach’s newest drama is the aptly titled “BOMBSHELL” in which we see a literal sex harassment bomb being dropped with not only the star talent names that are all over the cast of this true story, but of the toxic effects of Chairman Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) as well, and what ensues during this well deserved take down. Ailes, who ruled the roost at Fox News until the toxicity of his created atmosphere surfaces in an accusation that is led by seasoned television host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), after her firing from the company. What follows, shows us in detail the culmination of the loss of not only his CEO/Chairman title, but of his reign at Fox News. And folks – this ‘Bombshell’ couldn’t have dropped at a better time.

With the #MeToo movement in full force for a couple of years now and with victims coming forward and sharing their horrific experiences around sexual harassment, the revelations are astounding but not surprising after more and more highly regarded and powerful men have been uncovered as sexual predators in the workforce. To be fair, what happened in 2016 at Fox News, does get dramaticized to make it more appealing for the movie going audiences, but at the core of the story is nothing but truth.

The film follows Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) who opts to fight her ouster from the company claiming that her career was marked by frequent harassment often by Aisles himself. At the same time Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), is dealing with backlash from Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and is being forced to endure what she sees as verbal attacks for the good of their audience and ratings.  As this story unfolds, the audience is introduced to Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a young journalist eager to make her way up the corporate ladder. She is introduced to Aisles who asks her to “model” for him claiming that since they work in a visual medium, he cannot just let anyone on the air and needs to ensure “loyalty” amongst his staff. Carlson eventually files a lawsuit but due to the power that Aisles and the Network holds, nobody is willing to come forward to back her and she is faced with taking on the media giant alone. The movie then centers on the key players and their day to day lives which enables them to find the strength to come forward and do what they believe is right.

Everyone here from our leads to the supporting is a respected name and adds in so much to the overall story line.  John Lithgow gives the performance of a lifetime, from the paranoia to his personification of ‘fake news’ to his harassment, both verbal & sexual in nature, of the loathsome Roger Ailes. Connie Britton steps up as his wife Beth Ailes, who seemingly doesn’t want to see what’s right in front of her, until of course it actually is with the tapes Carlson unveils she has. Kate McKinnon is on hand as Jess Carr, the Faux news ‘secret’ Democrat who hides her sexuality in a closet of her own making that she can’t get out of. We have so many small roles that even out this cast with everyone from a hilarious little pivot role of Judge Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach), to Richard Kind stepping in as Rudy Guiliani, Greta Van Susteren (Anne Ramsay), Sean Hannity (Spencer Garrett), Geraldo Rivera (Tony Plana), Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff) and lastly, Jennifer Morrison as Juliet Huddy, one of the very few who filed years before all this came out and was subsequently banished to an outlying station. With all wonderful supporting cast, it’s Margot Robbie who has found her possible Oscar winning role here in Kayla. There are moments when as the horrible things are happening to her, the pain in her eyes is palpable – with the audience feeling and living every second with her. We really have to commend the make up/designers here as Theron really looks so much like Megyn Kelly in this film that at times its hard to not feel like she IS Kelly.  Theron transforms so well, you’d almost think she could pass as her clone with her characteristics, facial expressions, voice, all under perfect control – it’s uncanny. Same with Kidman as Carlson as her acting is nuanced, as she brings an energetic confidence to her character and the film that we all can applaud.

Personally, it can be respected what these women went through and finally stood up for – what can’t always be forgiven is the damage they caused with their words on Fox and waiting so long to finally step forward. While the film touches on important matters that has recently come to the light in droves, it doesn’t always reach its potential and with some choppy editing and often-bizarre narrative techniques, making the story relatively disjointed at times. The film is sure to spark some discussion as despite the events portrayed in the film it appears that many of those who acted improperly managed to financially win from their downfall but it at least set a precedent for those looking to come forward knowing they are not alone.

Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, December 3, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate

“BOMBSHELL” IS OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE // WORLDWIDE TO FOLLOW JANUARY 2020