A day at the TV Land Awards

Cast Of The Love Boat

The TV Land Awards are not an “and the winner is…” kind of award show extravaganza. They’re more a series of honorary nods to the very popular shows of television’s illustrious, time-killing past with an emphasis on glitz. And so a bunch of us media types were invited to add to the hub-bub at the Sony Studios back lot on a breezy April, waiting on a red carpet for whichever celebrity was escorted to our assigned spots, with those from famed print and broadcast outlets obviously getting the first dibs. In the case of this lowly pixel stained wretch, I felt honored to chat with a few really terrific performers who, each in their own way, had made quite an impression on me personally.

That most definitely applies to Jane Leeves, the comedically gifted actress best known as Daphne, Niles Crane’s Manchester-born one-true-crush and eventual wife from “Frasier.” After confessing that I’d had a crush of my own on her since before her famed “Seinfeld” turn as “Marla, the Virgin” her response was typically blunt-yet-charming. “I’m not that old!”

“Neither am I!,” I blurted. (I later learned that Ms. Leeves birthday was the following day. My own birthday was two days prior. I guess age was on both of our minds.)

Aside from being no non-TV star herself, Ms. Leeves was there to promote her now show, coincidentally to be aired on TV Land in a rare foray into original programming, “Hot in Cleveland.” The show teams Leeves with Wendy Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) and Valerie Bertinelli (“One Day at a Time”). The three play “very L.A.” career women with show business-related backgrounds of various types. (Leeves plays an “eyebrow plucker to the stars.”) Feeling a bit aged out of the L.A. game, they attempt a trip to Paris, but instead find themselves marooned at the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They quickly realize that beautiful, middle-aged women who can refer to celebrities by their first name are actually in fairly short supply in the midwestern metropolis and they decide to stay and be big fish in a smaller glamor pond. Betty White costars as a neighbor, perhaps a wacky one. Cue the glib comparisons calling this a “younger ‘Golden Girls.'”

Nevertheless, fans of Ms. Leeves should rest assured that her character is no retread of Daphne Moon. “She’s focused her whole life on her career and has forgotten to have a life. She’s the sort of smart aleck, wise-ass of the group, so it’s very different.”

janeleeves2

Then, perhaps feeling a bit star-struck, I went with the fallback question I frequently steal from our esteemed Will Harris. What project has she done that she doesn’t feel has gotten enough attention.

“It’s my cooking, quite frankly.”

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Liza’s at the Palace

Early on, Liza Minnelli did a fantastic job of making the world forget her “somewhat famous” parents. In Bob Fosse’s 1972 film version of “Cabaret” and in “Liza with a ‘Z’,” the TV variety special he put together for her, she proved herself a first-rate actress, singer, and dancer with a humorous, gently ironic style all her own. Despite solid acting performances in numerous movies and TV shows since, her overall career trajectory since has been, of course, difficult.

In 2008, Minnelli regained her diva status with a critically acclaimed concert/theatrical performance, “Liza’s at the Palace,” which incorporates a recreation of the legendary nightclub act of her multi-talented godmother, Kay Thompson (“Funny Face“). Taped before an adoring, celebrity-studded audience at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, this late 2009 performance is sure to please hardcore fans. For some, however, it will be painful to watch, for all the pizazz. It’s not that age, illness and all the rest have taken their toll on Minnelli’s almost too powerful voice, nor would any sane viewer expect her to dance like it’s still 1972. Her commitment remains undeniably powerful. The problem lay elsewhere. For all her attempts to tell a personal story, Minnelli’s style when communicating through song or spoken word has become — and I don’t know how else to say this — bizarrely phony and off-putting. It’s one thing for a second-generation powerhouse performer to have show business in her blood, it’s another thing when nothing else appears to be in it.

Click to buy “Liza’s at the Palace”

  

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Celluloid Heroes: Eight Musicals of the 21st Century

A funny thing happened this decade — the once dying genre of live-action movie musicals seems to have returned to the movie repertoire. As the decade closes, I can think of exactly two major westerns, but I keep remembering musicals that I should consider for this piece (including the mostly well-regarded French musical “Love Songs,” which I forgot to see before writing this, je suis désolé).

As a lifelong fan and a nearly lifelong tough critic of musicals, I love most of these films. However, this list is not so much a traditional “best of” and I’ve included one choice I definitely don’t like. (It won’t be hard to guess which.) These are musicals that I think contributed to the development of this polarizing and hard to pull off genre. They don’t hark back to times gone by or try to recapture a past glory that will never return, but actually take us into the future. That’s important now that musicals seem to have a future.

“Dancer in the Dark” (2000)

Earlier this year, the brilliant but often irritating Danish director Lars von Trier shocked hard-to-shock European festival audiences with graphic sexual violence in “Antichrist.” Back in 2000, all he needed to divide audiences was some really intense melodrama and an approach to making dark musicals partially borrowed from TV creator Dennis Potter (“Pennies from Heaven,” “The Singing Detective”).

Featuring a literally once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by singer-songwriter Björk as a young mother ready to sacrifice everything to save her son’s failing eyesight, “Dancer in the Dark” is maybe the most emotionally potent story of parental love I’ve ever seen. As a musical, it’s strange and arresting.

Like the Potter television shows and movies and “Chicago,” further down the list, the musical numbers take place in the mind of the lead character. In this case, however, it is particularly poignant as our heroine is a fan of musicals who, though she is gradually going blind, is attempting to appear in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” Below, she musically confesses her situation to a smitten Peter Stormare (yes, the guy from “Fargo”). Lumberjacks or not, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” sure seems like a long time ago.

Moulin Rouge” (2001)
As the non-musical Pixar films became the dominant template for animation and the musical form lost its last apparent movie bastion, big studios began to experiment with musicals starring humans. Unfortunately for me, the first and still one of the most popular of this decade’s high profile film musicals was Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully shot, amazingly designed, dull-witted, and over-edited “Moulin Rouge.”

Yes, this musical fan is not a fan of the musical that’s been credited with resurrecting the genre. Why? A couple of sequences work, but on the whole I expect the funny parts of a movie to make me laugh and, even more important, I like to see the movies I’m seeing. As far as I can tell, Luhrmann simply doesn’t have the confidence in this film to allow us time to view the arresting images he’s worked so hard to craft, nor does he permit time to actually see the hard work his dancers and actors put in. Editor Jil Bilcock is expected to do all the performing instead.

As for what Luhrmann and his arrangers did with the various classic songs they threw into a musical Cuisinart, the less I say about it the better. At the risk of sounding like a fogey (or a member of an 18th century Austrian court), too many notes. Way, way, way, too many notes. See if you disagree.

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Shouldn’t it actually be “9 1/2”?

I guess 2009 is as good a year as any for a movie called “District 9” to be followed by one called “9” and another called “Nine.”

This is the film version of a Broadway musical based on the non-literally autobiographical quasi-surrealist 1963 sensation, “8 1/2,” so named because it’s writer-director, Federico Fellini, had made seven films and a featurette prior. Anyhow, this pretty marvelous new trailer has been circulating for about a day now and it’s time to feature it here.

Combining somewhat staged looking “behind the scenes” footage with clips from the movie, the idea here seems to be to reach out a bit both to putatively musical hating males with some of the most beautiful women in the world including Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. Lest director Rob Marshall be seen as in any way sexist or ageist, we also have seventy-something Judy Dench showing she’s still got the stuff for musicals — she played the role of Sally Bowles in the original 1968 London production of “Cabaret” (though her Sally was closer to the original stories in that she wasn’t a great singer) — and none other than Sophia Loren, still glamorous as heck at 75 (she’s got just a few months on Dame Judi). No bubbi in my family every looked like that.

“Nine” kinda sorta fills up a hole in Ms. Loren’s resume as, rather amazingly, the world-wide superstar and reigning Italian screen queen of almost the entire fifties and sixties never worked with Fellini, her nation’s most influential and arguably greatest director of the same period, though she did present him with his honorary Oscar in 1993.

Anyhow, my nominee for possibly the sexiest trailer of the year or maybe this entire, rapidly ending, decade…

H/t Culture Monster. If you missed the earlier trailer for “Nine,” see it here.

  

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Movie moments for me #1

I’ve worked pretty hard this week, especially on my piece on the fascinating documentary, “We Live in Public,” which I hope people actually read. In any case, I thought I’d permit myself the luxury this weekend of posting clips for no other reason than I love them. (Not that I don’t often sometimes find interesting excuses for doing just that.)

The scene below is from Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” — a lovely, sweet moment from a rather dark, though highly entertaining, movie.

By the way, it’s hardly a secret that Fosse is one of my favorite directors. If you’d like to know more about the man behind “All That Jazz,” “Cabaret,” “Lenny,” and my personal cinematic hobby horse, “Sweet Charity,” etc., you might want to take a look at the Fossethon I put together some time ago at my personal blog, Forward to Yesterday. Also, thanks to Damian Arlyn who reminded of this clip by posting it on Facebook yesterday.

  

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