Friday, September 30, 2016
posted at 12:13 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Go ahead and laugh at Donald Trump’s claims that he was foiled by a finicky microphone on Monday night, but I can relate. When I write a bad column, it’s all my keyboard’s fault.Read Bruni's full column here.
The other columnists have reliable keyboards. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but they do. Reach your own conclusions. When one of them taps out a beautiful sentence, a beautiful sentence appears on the computer screen, just the way it’s supposed to.
When I try to tap out an even more beautiful sentence — and my sentences are amazing sentences; you can’t believe these sentences — I have to press and bang and hunch closer to the desk and bang even harder and still you never know.
The sentence winds up mangled. It lacks a verb. Or it sprouts an adverb (“bigly,” anyone?) that sounds ridiculous, though I’m not. Readers experience a rant where, really, there was eloquent reflection — or would have been, if not for my keyboard. A “sniffle” sneaks into the equation when there wasn’t any “sniffle” at all. It’s just a nasty trick of that keyboard. A defective keyboard, which the other columnists don’t have.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's "The Front Page" is one of the most beloved scripts of the 20th century, and a remarkable group of talented people have performed it. It was a hit in its first incarnation 88 years ago, directed by George S. Kaufman and produced by Howard Hughes. It has been revived five times. It was also turned into a 1931 movie starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien, then remade into a fast-talking gender comedy as "His Girl Friday" with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell directed by Howard Hawks in 1940, then back into its original form with a Billy Wilder version starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1974.
Now it's back on Broadway, and while my wife and I were visiting my daughter this weekend, we managed to score three tickets to what is already the hottest show in town because of its all-star cast: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor, and Robert Morse. Those are the big names, but the character actors who fill the supporting roles are impressive, too, including Lewis J. Stadlen, Christopher Macdonald, Dann Florek, Dylan Baker, Halley Feiffer, and Sherie Rene Scott. Aside from the last two, you'd probably recognize any of them as soon as you saw them.
"The Front Page" takes place in an era when newspapers were king, when most big cities each had half a dozen dailies, and they competed with each other for every tabloid-ish story they could cover. Here's the Wikipedia summary of the plot:
The play's single set is the dingy Press Room of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building, overlooking the gallows behind the Cook County Jail. Reporters from most of the city's newspapers are passing the time with poker and pungent wisecracks about the news of the day. Soon they'll witness the hanging of Earl Williams, a white man and (supposed) Communist revolutionary convicted of killing a black policeman. Hildy Johnson, cocky star reporter for the Examiner, is late. He appears only to say good-bye; he's quitting to get a respectable job and be married. Suddenly the reporters hear that Earl Williams has escaped from the jail. All but Hildy stampede out for more information. As Hildy tries to decide how to react Williams comes in through the window. He tells Hildy he's no revolutionary and shot the police officer by accident. The reporter realizes this bewildered, harmless little man was railroaded — just to help the crooked mayor and sheriff pick up enough black votes to win re-election. It's the story of a lifetime. Hildy helps Williams hide inside a roll-top desk. His daunting challenge now is to get Williams out of the building to a safe place for an interview before rival reporters or trigger-happy policemen discover him. The Examiner managing editor, Walter Burns, is a devious tyrant who would do just about anything to keep Hildy with the paper. Nevertheless, Hildy has no choice but to ask for his help.Slattery plays Hildy, and it's a little odd seeing him in this role after he was part of the great ensemble in "Spotlight," last year's Oscar-winning movie about newspaper journalists. And there's an unintended laugh when Hildy announces that he's quitting reporting to move to New York for a job at an advertising agency -- yes, he's off to become one of the "Mad Men." But Slattery handles it all very well and is more than up to the part.
In any other production, he'd have top billing, but Nathan Lane is the King Of Broadway and, even though his Walter Burns doesn't appear until late in the second act (of three), he's the one many theatergoers want to see on stage. In fact, there's a moment in the middle of the play, when Lane has yet to make his entrance, that Jefferson Mays (Tony-winner for playing multiple characters in "A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder") re-enters the newsroom unexpectedly, and several audience members applauded thinking it was Lane finally getting on stage. Once Lane does appear, it's essentially a two-man show -- he and Slattery engage in the kind of rapid-fire dialogue you'd normally see in a British farce, complete with door slamming and other physical shtick. Their timing is impeccable.
Goodman plays Sheriff Hartman as a gravel-voiced buffoon who's always at odds with the newspapermen. Goodman looks to have lost quite a bit of weight for the role, but he can still throw it around on stage and hold his own. He's particularly good in an extended scene with "Law and Order" veteran Florek as the Mayor of Chicago -- two dumb politicians plotting Williams' execution to advance their own careers with election day approaching.
As a stage play, "The Front Page" has always been a little bit too long at 2 hours 45 minutes. A lot of the setup in Act One could be done away with -- there's too much time spent with the other newspapermen before Hildy Johnson shows up. The movie versions (particularly "His Girl Friday") are a lot tighter, but director Jack O'Brien has everyone working at a crackling pace, and the special effects of shattered glass and gunshots ringing around the newsroom during one key scene were very well done.
This was only the fourth preview night for this production, which will officially open on October 20th, so there were a few slip-ups, but they were barely noticeable with a cast this extraordinary. All of us who left the theater Friday night walked away happy, as will anyone lucky enough to get seats for the guaranteed-to-be-sold-out limited run of this American classic.
Monday, September 26, 2016
- Surprise! I thought everything on Twitter today would be experts predicting what will happen at tonight's debate, but it's only 9 out of 10.
- Looking forward to tomorrow, when all those experts apologize publicly for their predictions turning out to be wrong and accept accountability.
- Here's the only prediction guaranteed to be 100% right: no Clinton or Trump spokesperson will admit the other candidate made any good points.
Until now, there has been exactly one great movie about chess, "Searching For Bobby Fischer," the 1993 drama about Josh Waitzkin, a real-life chess prodigy played by Max Pomeranc, with Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as his parents and Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne as chess teachers with very different methods.
Now comes "Queen of Katwe," another real-life story about Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a girl from the very poor Ugandan village of Katwe who develops an extraordinary talent for chess. She's coached by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo, who should have been Oscar-nominated for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma"), who introduced to the game to several of the boys and girls in the village. When her abilities become more apparent, he wants to take her to regional, national, and then international competitions, but money is a severe problem.
Her mother, played by Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar-winner for "12 Years A Slave"), is barely keeping a roof over their heads for Phiona and her brothers and sisters by selling corn in the marketplace -- their father is long gone. Her daughters don't have much of a future in the town unless they take up with a man with money (as Phiona's sister Night does), but with Katende's urging and his clever politicking with the chess authorities, Phiona grows from a child of the slums to a teen with a talent that can help her rise above her surroundings.
Director Mira Nair doesn't let "Queen Of Katwe" fall into Disney's underdog-wins-in-the-end cliches. She gets wonderful performances from Nalwanga and all the other child actors. Nyong'o is just right as the mother overwhelmed by her circumstances, and Oyelowo is perfect as the chess mentor who teaches Phiona about the game and how to overcome life's obstacles. Nair also uses a color palate that keeps the scenes vibrant even when the drama is at its most intense.
"Queen Of Katwe" is a wonderful family movie. It would be nice to see it inspire more kids of color (as well as Caucasians) to take up chess, to learn its strategies and its disciplines, to understand how to plan ahead and consider the consequences of their actions -- both on and off the board.
I give "Queen of Katwe" an 8 out of 10.
Watching it, I was reminded of two other chess movies that, while not as great as "Searching For Bobby Fischer," are both very good. One is "Brooklyn Castle," a documentary about a public school in New York's poor BedStuy neighborhood that keeps turning out chess champions. The other is "Pawn Sacrifice," with Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer taking on Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Reykjavik in 1972.
Previously on Harris Online...
The original 1960 "Magnificent Seven" starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn (and 2 other actors you've never heard of) as the good guys. It was directed by John Sturges, who also made "Bad Day At Black Rock," "Ice Station Zebra," and "The Great Escape" (McQueen, Coburn, and Bronson starred in the latter, too). Plus, "The Magnificent Seven" contains the greatest theme song ever written for a western -- it got an Oscar nomination for Elmer Bernstein.
The 2016 remake stars Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio (and three actors you've never heard of) as the good guys. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has made two other movies starring Denzel ("Training Day," "The Equalizer"), as well as "Shooter" and "Olympus Has Fallen." It also has music by James Horner that you will not remember -- until the end, when Bernstein's original theme plays over the credits.
Both movies are about gunmen in the old west who are hired by the people of a small town to protect them from the bad guys. In the original, they were a bunch of Mexican banditos led by Eli Wallach, overacting with a bad accent. In the remake, they're the enforcers for a ruthless businessman played by Peter Sarsgaard, underacting with a constant snarl.
Denzel plays Chisolm, a gunfighter who recruits a multi-cultural group of defenders at the behest of Haley Bennett, a woman from the town who hires them. Bennett's previous claim to fame was her 2007 debut as a Britney Spears-like singer in the underrated Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, "Music and Lyrics." You'll see a lot of her this fall, as she also stars with Emily Blunt in next month's "The Girl On The Train," followed by Warren Beatty's "Rules Don't Apply," and she's fine in this.
It's fun to see Denzel on a horse, dressed all in black, sporting a weapon on his hip (am I the only one who had a flashback to Cleavon Little riding into Rock Ridge in "Blazing Saddles"?). As in most of his movies, he's the authority figure everyone else looks to, and he's more than up to the task. The rest of the cast is okay, although they're not given anything original to do. Unfortunately, Fuqua follows the lead of so many other action directors by cutting too quickly, so it's hard at times to see the impact of the bloody gunfights that make up the bulk of the movie.
There's not much more to say. If you've seen the original, you know how "The Magnificent Seven" is going to end. If you haven't, you can probably guess anyway.
The remake pales in comparison, but it's not a bad two hours of predictable big screen entertainment. I give it a 7 out of 10.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Ian, Dan, Colin, and I are still too depressed about the end of Brangelina, so we won't be on the air this afternoon. That means I won't be posting any podcasts this weekend, but in the meantime, you can enjoy Dolly Parton doing a beautiful a cappella version of her 1973 hit "Jolene" with help from Pentatonix...