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Introducing The #DFNYFive!

Here’s the first #DFNYFive, our five favorite flicks!  So hard to choose,  but these are the ones that consistently come to mind when people ask.

1. Annie Hall

2. Seven Samurai

3. All The President’s Men

4. Stairway To Heaven

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Hope you like the #DFNYFive,  what are your favorites? Looking forward to receiving some interesting responses!

DailyFlickNY@gmail.com

 

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Screenwriter Charles Shyer on “Smokey and the Bandit” and Burt Reynolds

Screenwriter and Director Charles Shyer (Private Benjamin, Father of The Bride 1&2, Alfie) earned his first screenwriting credit on the 1977 Burt Reynolds smash hit, “Smokey and the Bandit” – after the sad death of Reynolds at the age of 82, I asked Shyer about the experience:

Smokey and the Bandit Poster

1) How did you first get hired/hear about Smokey?

“I’d been trying to move out of TV – and into film. I was one of the head writers on “The Odd Couple” at the time – but never felt totally comfortable in the sit-com world.

I’d done a couple of rewrites for Universal and they came to me with a Burt Reynolds road picture that needed a quickie rewrite. I was a kid from the Valley who had never heard of a CB Radio… much less an 18-Wheeler. But I’d always loved country music…and thought Burt was pretty cool… so my partner and I jumped at the opportunity.”

On Location : Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Behind the Scenes

2) How was working with Burt? Lots of improvisation/major changes to script?

“I met with Burt and the director, Hal Needham a couple of times. We did have several meetings with the producers… but the meetings with Burt were great. He was an incredible raconteur and seemed to know everybody from Cary Grant to Sammy Davis, Jr…. you name it. He gave us loads of great lines… dialogue that’s in the final film… stuff about how handsome he looked from a certain angle… shit that was really funny… and charming. I taped recorded every meeting and by the way – still have those tapes.”

Charles Shyer

3) Did you have any idea it would be such a hit?

“Zero. I knew the project had a kind of a good ol’ boy reckless vibe to it and that was exciting. I remember Hal saying to us, “You write it, I’ll shoot it. Come up with any stunt you can think of – any-fucking thing – and I’ll make it happen”. He was fearless in this genre. And there are some fantastic stunts in the film.

But I had no idea it would be a hit. I remember being on location in Mexico on another film – and Variety arrived and there was this double-truck ad announcing that “Smokey” had made something like $250 Million… I nearly passed-out.”

"Smokey and the Bandit" Burt Reynolds, director Hal Needham 1977 Universal

4) Was anything not in the film that you really wanted?

“Gosh, I don’t really remember. The process of writing it was like a roller-coaster. We locked ourselves in a bungalow at Universal and worked day and night for two or three weeks. And when I say day and night – we hardly ever came up for air. We ate three meals a day at our desks… playing country music non-stop.”

Sally Field, Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, and Mike Henry in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

5) Was there ever another film that you wanted to make with him?

“We may have talked about Burt for a couple of other films… but nothing ever came together. I do remember when I first saw the movie – I thought it was okay… a little too Red State for my taste… But last year they had a 40-year anniversary screening and I went with my kids… and I was stunned.

The movie works on pretty much every level. Burt was fantastic. Couldn’t have been more charming… His chemistry with Sally was amazing… Jackie Gleason – what can you say – brilliant… Jerry Reed was the perfect sidekick. And it even had a cool soundtrack. I think “Eastbound and Down” hit #1 on the country charts.

But the best thing about the movie was the fact that it was Alfred Hitchcock’s all-time favorite film. Seriously.

Go figure…”

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Here’s hoping we get to hear those tapes one day!

 

(Images via IMDB and onset.shotonwhat?)

Film – “Ekaj” (2015)

Jake Mestre in Ekaj (2015)

(Images via IMDB)

Into the world of a vanishing New York, with skyrocketing rents, high-rise condominiums on every corner and the daily replacement of local small businesses with bank branches, chain coffee-houses and retail stores, comes the film EKAJ, which feels like a throwback to the gritty cinematic world of the 1970’s and early 80’s in movies like Smithereens  and Downtown 81.  It’s probably hard for most people living in the upper echelons of this second gilded age to believe that these characters inhabit the same planet, let alone the same city, but EKAJ brings these marginalized people to the forefront in a very powerful way.

Interestingly, although the 2015 film from writer/director Cati Gonzalez  is named “Ekaj” which is a reversal of the first name of its star, Jake Mestre, it does not mirror elements of his personal life as I originally believed.  The script had been written before he was cast, although some scenes were improvised by the actors while under the direction of Cati.  Like most, if not all of the cast, Mestre is a non-professional actor, who has brought his real-life experience to the role of Ekaj, a young member of the LGBTQ community who’s run away to NYC to escape the persecution he faces at home from his abusive Puerto Rican father who can’t deal with a “homo c-cksucker for a son.”

A chance encounter on the street introduces him to Mecca, played by fellow non-professional actor, Badd Idea, and the two embark on a Midnight Cowboy-like relationship of two people struggling to survive in any way possible.  Mecca has AIDs, but actually brings some of the funniest moments to the screen in both very light (“I can’t hear you with that shirt on”) and dark (“Come on, everybody gets raped”) ways.  He begins his relationship with Ekaj trying to manipulate him into robbing Johns who think they will be getting sexual favors from him, but over time you see that their feelings for each other develop into something much stronger.

Jake Mestre and Badd Idea in Ekaj (2015)

Written and directed by Cati Gonzalez (also credited as De La Gata Real as the film’s cinematographer), who after 20 years as a fashion photographer, met Mestre as a potential photographic subject, but realized that he would be perfect as the main character in the film she was writing about people suffering in very real ways from both the prejudices they face due to their sexual orientations, as well as from the physical effects of a deadly disease.

The film also appears to include elements that mirror the life of Gonzalez’s partner (and the film’s co-editor and producer), Mike Gonzalez, who lost his mother to AIDS at a very young age, and subsequently also experienced homelessness like the film’s two protagonists.

Beyond the moments of suffering that these characters experience from abusive parents, lovers, violent street thugs, EKAJ also  highlights the therapeutic power of art, and how it can be such a powerful, driving force in the lives of those who might not have anything else to keep them going.  Hopefully this film is seen by all of them.

Cati and Mike Gonzalez are currently working on getting both a short and feature film into production, looking forward to seeing what comes next from this team!

EKAJ Official Trailer (Youtube)

EKAJ Facebook Page

EKAJ IMDB Link

In Development:

Sarai (feature)
I’m Not Going To Hurt You (Short)

Neil Simon On Film

Neil Simon

When I first heard the news about the death of Neil Simon, it felt strangely as if a beloved older relative had died.  Although I had never met the writing legend, his name was one of the first I remember seeing on a television screen, “Based on the Play The Odd Couple By Neil Simon” from the opening credits of the hit TV show of the same name.  The dialogue of its two main characters Felix and Oscar have been so infused in my mind, that there are times in certain conversations where I’m unable to respond (in my mind at least) with anything but what one of them had said in a similar situation.

Those two television characters were based on ones that Simon had created for a play, which was then turned into a hit film.  And although he conquered Broadway with literally dozens of plays, this post will focus on the big-screen adaptations of his writing, a combination of play adaptations, original screenplays, as well as the occasional adaptation of another writer’s work.  There is also one entry that was a television film, but is included as it completes a trilogy of two previous films (all three were adapted from Simon’s original plays).

Simon was a massive talent who started writing for television in the late 1940’s, and while his first play didn’t come out until 1961, they came fast and furious after that, with one every two years, until in 1966 he had four plays showing on Broadway at the same time – Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park.

 

Come Blow Your Horn (1963)

After writing for television for nearly 15 years, his first Broadway play was also his first to be adapted for film as Come Blow Your Horn (1963) – however, the screenplay was written by future television legend Norman Lear, directed by his fellow future television associate Bud Yorkin.  The film starred Frank Sinatra as a swinging bachelor considering changing his ways, and was the first of many Simon stories to take place in a Manhattan apartment.  The film was well received, and became the 15th highest grossing film for 1963, earning $12.7 million dollars, topping even an action classic like The Great Escape!

 

Caccia alla volpe (1966)

After Come Blow Your Horn came After the Fox (1966), Simon’s first (of many) adaptations of one of his own plays.  Directed by Vittorio De Sica and starring Peter Sellers, Victor Mature and Britt Ekland,  the seemingly-uncharacteristic for Simon heist film took place in Italy and the plot centered around utilizing the filming of a fake movie-within-the-movie to cover the theft of millions in gold.  At the time, Simon had three hit plays on Broadway (Little Me, Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple), and in interviews had said that he wanted to write a spoof of arthouse films.  The film received mixed-to-positive reviews, but Simon’s career as a screenwriter was now officially on a roll.

Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Charles Boyer, and Mildred Natwick in Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Next came Barefoot in the Park (1967), the first teaming of Simon with the director/actor Gene Saks, who went on to direct a total of four of Simon’s screenplays over almost 20 years.  The film starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (in their second of four screen pairings) as a young married couple quickly realizing that their personality differences might be difficult to overcome after a steamy honeymoon phase.  The film was generally well received, and earned $28 million – Simon’s theme of a couple having difficulties living under the same roof was soon to repeated (several times) with major success.

The Odd Couple Poster

Then, in what was Simon’s biggest commercial success up until that point, The Odd Couple (1968) arrived on the big screen.  A second teaming with director Gene Saks, the screenplay was again based on one of his hit plays, and its huge success led to the aforementioned television series of the same name, as well as dozens of revivals/adaptations over the following period of almost fifty years.

Like Fonda and Redford in Barefoot, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were also teamed for what was their second time together (after 1966’s The Fortune Cookie – the first of nine total for them).  They play a pair of divorced men, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, living together after Felix’s wife throws him out.

It was the fourth biggest film of 1968 and earned $44 million – making it currently the 251st biggest box office hit of all time (adjusted for inflation it earned $315 million!).

There was a sequel exactly thirty years later (The Odd Couple II), also written by Simon, but it didn’t come close to matching the magic of the original (more to come below).

Sweet Charity Poster

After 1968’s Odd Couple, Simon followed-up with Sweet Charity (1969), a musical-comedy directed by Bob Fosse and starring Shirley MacLaine and Ricardo Montalban.  Simon again adaptated his own play, which was also directed by Bob Fosse, and was itself an adaptation of Federico Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria (1957).  MacLaine plays a taxi-dancer (paid dancing partner) who is looking for love, but has a string of bad luck.  The film was relatively well-received, but was a box-office bomb, earning only $8 million on a budget of $20 million, which at the time was an astronomical loss for studio Universal Pictures.  But Simon would have better luck with his next film.

The Out of Towners Poster

Simon teamed again with Jack Lemmon for The Out of Towners (1970) with his first screenplay not adapted from one of his plays (although he originally imagined the story of the struggling visitors to be a segment of Plaza Suite).  The Arthur Hiller-directed film tells of an Ohio salesman traveling to New York City for a job interview with his wife (Sandy Dennis) and encountering an ever-increasing number of difficulties related to the economically depressed and crime-ridden NYC of the 1970’s which foreshadows another great 1970’s NYC film by Simon, 1975’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

The film’s screenplay earned Simon the Writers Guild of America award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen, and was remade in 1999 with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn as the unfortunate couple.

Plaza Suite Poster

Then, re-teaming with Out of Towners director Hiller and Odd Couple star Matthau, Simon adapted another of his plays for 1971’s Plaza Suite, a series of comedic vignettes with an ensemble cast about the various occupants of the titular suite, room #719 of NYC’s famed Plaza Hotel.  An interesting conceit was to have Walter Matthau play all three of the male roles, but Simon was unhappy with the results and said that, “..I think Walter Matthau was wrong to play all three parts. That’s a trick Peter Sellers can do.”

Star Spangled Girl Poster

The second time a Simon play was adapted with a screenplay not written by him was 1971’s Star Spangled Girl, based on his The Star-Spangled Girl.  The film from director Jerry Paris and screenwriters Arnold Margolin & Jim Parker is about two 1960’s San Francisco radicals  (Tony Roberts & Todd Susman) who get distracted from publishing their underground newspaper by falling in love with the all-American girl next door, Sandy Duncan, an Olympic athlete who represents everything they are opposed to.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers Poster

Simon returned to the typewriter to adapt his own play into a screenplay for Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972), in his third collaboration with director Gene Saks.  In it, married restaurant owner Alan Arkin has a mid-life crisis and tries to seduce three different women (Sally Kellerman, Paula Prentiss & Renee Taylor) in his mother’s apartment, which he knows will be empty one day a week when she’s out doing volunteer work.  The film was critically panned, with noted film critic Leonard Maltin giving it a rating of “BOMB.”  But Simon was to comeback big with his next film in the same year.

The Heartbreak Kid Poster

In 1972, Simon had turned out two screenplays, the second of which was his first adaptation of another writer’s story, Bruce Jay Friedman’s “A Change of Plan.”  The result was The Heartbreak Kid (1972), directed by legendary comedienne Elaine May.  In the film, Jewish New York salesman Charles Grodin realizes on his honeymoon that he’s made a mistake in marrying Jeannie Berlin (May’s real-life daughter) when he meets blonde bombshell Cybill Shepherd.  It’s ranked #91 on the American Film Institute list of the 100 funniest American movies ever made, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs, and was remade in 2007 starring Ben Stiller and Malin Åkerman, with Simon getting credit for his 1972 screenplay.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Poster

After three years, Simon got back to NYC and one of his own plays for another adaptation, writing the screenplay for The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975).  He reunited with Jack Lemmon for the third time, and again with director Gene Saks, but this time as actor, playing Lemmon’s concerned older brother.  Directed by Melvin Frank, the film also stars Anne Bancroft as Lemmon’s wife who is very concerned for his mental health when he appears to suffer a breakdown after being fired.  Adding to his duress are the daily indignities of 1970’s New York City, including a run-in with a young Sylvester Stallone as a suspected mugger.

The Sunshine Boys Poster

Next, working with actor Walter Matthau for a third time, Simon again adapted one of his successful plays for The Sunshine Boys (1975).  The Herbert Ross-directed film teamed the then-fifty-five year old Matthau with the 79 year-old George Burns as a pair of aging Vaudeville veterans in their 80’s who are re-teamed for a television reunion despite not having spoken in 11 years.   The film features Richard Benjamin as Matthau’s talent-agent nephew trying to get his uncle one more gig, and was very highly regarded, earning several Oscar nominations and a win for Burns as Best Supporting Actor.

It was remade in 1996 as a television film with Simon’s former television writing colleague Woody Allen playing the George Burns role – Allen had been approached to direct the 1975 film, but wanted to play the part of Al Lewis, getting his wish 20 years later.

Murder by Death Poster

In his first approach to spoofing a specific genre film type, Simon next took on the classic “country house” mystery in Murder by Death (1976) in which an all-star cast spoofed some of the most famous fictional detectives in history.  The Robert Moore directed film starred Peter Sellers as Sidney Wang (Charlie Chan), David Niven and Maggie Smith portray Dick and Dora Charleston (Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man film series), James Coco as Milo Perrier (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), Peter Falk as Sam Diamond (another Dashiell Hammett character, The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade) and Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles (Christie’s Miss Marple).  The hysterical comedy earned $32 million in 1976, outperforming Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Carrie, Logan’s Run and Network to be the 13th highest earner of that year (Rocky was number one, with $117 million).

The Goodbye Girl Poster

Coming back to the theme of two people struggling to live together peacefully under the same roof of a New York City apartment, Simon wrote an original screenplay for The Goodbye Girl (1977).  Working with director Herbert Ross for the second time, the film stars Marsha Mason  as a single mother struggling to pay the rent, so she takes in aspiring actor Richard Dreyfuss and the tension rapidly mounts.  The film earned Mason (Simon’s wife at the time) her second Best Actress Oscar nomination, and it is the only Neil Simon film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.  Ironically, it was defeated by a film from another NYC Jewish comedian with a take on urban living, Woody Allen – Simon’s junior from their days of writing television comedy.  Allen’s Annie Hall  also came out on top for Best Screenplay, but The Goodbye Girl was a much bigger commercial success, taking in $83.7 million, to be the number five movie of the year – but still light-years behind the number one film, Star Wars, which earned $461 million.

The Cheap Detective Poster

In his second try at a genre-film spoof, Simon took on the hardboiled detective and film noir genres with The Cheap Detective (1978).  Peter Falk returns for his second Simon film, and practically reprises his role from Murder By Death, but this time as the lead character, San Francisco detective Lou Peckinpaugh (again a nod to The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, as well as Casablanca’s Rick Blaine).  Robert Moore also returns to direct his second original screenplay from Simon with Marsha Mason making a second appearance in a Simon film.  The film came in a respectable 18th place in box office for 1978, but Simon outdid himself by having a SECOND film for the year come out above it at number ten, his next screenplay, California Suite (1978).

California Suite Poster

Simon’s adaptation of his play California Suite returned him to an ensemble cast/vignette format similar to his 1971 film Plaza Suite.  Walter Matthau returned to star in his fourth Simon feature, and director Herbert Ross was back to helm his third.  The re-teaming was a smash hit, earning $42 million for his second entry in the top 20 films of 1978, and would likely have earned much more if not for that being a very competitive year with phenomenons like Grease ($181.8 million), Animal House ($141.6 million) and Superman ($134.2 million).  The Heartbreak Kid director Elaine May stepped in front of the camera this time to portray Matthau’s wife (he was her co-star from her own directing debut, A New Leaf), with the rest of the ensemble cast rounded out by such talents as Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor and Maggie Smith.  Doc Simon was on a roll!

Chapter Two Poster

Simon’s next project, Chapter Two (1979), was an adaptation of his semi-autobiographical play of the same name.  James Caan plays the main character, a widower who is introduced to a recently divorced Marsha Mason.  The actress returned for a third appearance in one of her husband’s films, basically playing herself, as Simon had written the story about how they met (Caan and Mason had also previously portrayed a couple in Cinderella Liberty).  Murder By Death director Robert Moore also returned for his second turn in a Simon film.  The film’s $30 million take landed it at twenty-eighth place for box office in a year when the number one film, Kramer vs. Kramer (which was also about a couple navigating divorce), earned $106 million.

Seems Like Old Times Poster

Capitalizing on the success of their 1978 hit film, Foul Play, Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn re-teamed as a divorced couple in Simon’s next original screenplay, Seems Like Old Times (1980), directed by Jay Sandrich.  Hawn’s character’s new husband Charles Grodin (his second appearance in a Simon film after 1972’s The Heartbreak Kid), is the D.A. after suspected bank robber Chase.  The film earned $43.9 million to come in at fifteenth place for 1980, a year which was capped by the blockbuster The Empire Strikes Back, earning $209 million.  Additionally, 1980 was a huge year for Hawn who had another film in the top 10, Private Benjamin, which came in at number six with $69.8 million.

Only When I Laugh Poster

Marsha Mason returned for a fourth time, starring in Only When I Laugh (1981), an adaptation of Simon’s play The Gingerbread Lady.  Directed by Glenn Jordan, the dramatic-comedy features Mason as an alcoholic actress trying to navigate reconciling with her estranged teenage daughter, acting auditions, as well as the risks of meeting strangers in bars.  The film earned $25.5 million to be the number thirty-one top earner in a year crowded with action/adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, The Cannonball Run, Time Bandits, Clash of The Titans, Excalibur, and Escape From New York.

I Ought to Be in Pictures Poster

The similarly-themed but gender-switched I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982) brought Herbert Ross back to direct his fourth Simon screenplay, as well as Walter Matthau to star in his fifth Simon film.  The Cheap Detective’s Ann-Margret returned for her second Simon role, this time as Matthau’s girlfriend, helping his estranged visiting daughter reconnect with him.  Even competing with so many blockbusters (E.T., Tootsie, Rocky III, Star Trek II, Poltergeist, First Blood, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior and many more), in the banner year of 1982, I Ought to Be in Pictures‘ $6.9 million in receipts to come in at eightieth for the year signaled that perhaps the Simon express was running out of steam.

Max Dugan Returns Poster

In Simon’s next original screenplay, Max Dugan Returns (1983), he flips the plot of his previous two films, and this time it is the parent coming back into the life of the child.  Jason Robards as the titular Max shows up at daughter Marsha Mason’s house with a briefcase of money he’s embezzled from a casino in the hopes of reconciling with her and his grandson, played by Matthew Broderick.  Amazingly, both director Herb Ross and actress Mason made their fifth and final collaborations with Simon on this film, and  while it was Broderick’s first appearance, he was soon to return in the the second film of Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy”  The comedy-drama brought in $17.6 million, more than doubling the return of I Ought to Be in Pictures, for fortieth place in a year loaded with blockbusters like Return of the Jedi, Trading Places, Risky Business, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Scarface.  In comparison, Simon contemporary Woody Allen’s Zelig came in at sixty-first place, with $11.8 million in box-office receipts.

 

The Lonely Guy Poster

In what appears to be the only time Simon adapted a work which then had the screenplay written by someone else, he shared credit on The Lonely Guy (1984) for adapting Bruce Jay Friedman’s book “The Lonely Guy’s Guide to Life” (whose rights had been acquired by the film’s star, Steve Martin), with screenplay credit going to Ed. Weinberger & Stan Daniels. Simon had previously adapted Friedman’s work for The Heartbreak Kid,  whose star, Charles Grodin, returned here for his third outing in a Simon work, the same total as Lonely Guy director Arthur Hiller.  Martin plays the titular character who after finding his girlfriend cheating on him, enters the world of “lonely guys” and basically commiserates with Grodin while searching for true love.  Earning $5.7 million, it didn’t break the top 100 films for the year, and while it would seem that Simon should have written the screenplay himself, his next original work fared even worse.

The Slugger's Wife Poster

Simon’s screenplay for The Slugger’s Wife (1985) was directed by his first-time collaborator Hal Ashby, known for such great 70’s films as Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Coming Home and Being There, but despite this pairing, it was a critical and box office failure.  The romantic comedy about a baseball player whose performance varies depending on how confident he feels about his singer-wife’s love for him was a definite low point for Simon, with the film earning only $1.8 million to come in at number 143 for the year (three entries below the horror-comedy Re-Animator), but his next script was the first step on a major comeback.

Brighton Beach Memoirs Poster

Longtime Simon associate Gene Saks returned to direct his fourth script, an adaptation of a Simon play for Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), the first entry in his semi-autobiographical “Eugene Trilogy“.  Jonathan Silverman portrayed the angst-ridden, Jewish teen growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, but Matthew Broderick (the grandson from Max Dugan Returns), would later return to play the character in the next entry in the series.  Broderick had played Jerome on stage in the first two entries, and Silverman would return to play the character on Broadway for the third.  Reviews were mixed, and the film earned $11.9 million to come in sixty-ninth in a year filled with big standout films and sequels like Top Gun, Platoon, The Karate Kid Part II, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Aliens. The stage-Jerome Broderick’s smash hit, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came in at number ten for the year, with $70 million.  The stage was set for the next entry in Simon’s “quasi-autobiographical trilogy.”

Biloxi Blues Poster

Mike Nichols, the former comedy parter of Simon directing/acting alumna  Elaine May helmed the next entry in the “Eugene Trilogy”, Biloxi Blues (1988).  Broderick had honed his Eugene Jerome character over 524 performances on Broadway, and the results showed.  Taking Simon’s alter-ego through basic training in the deep South, Broderick’s interactions with drill sergeant Christopher Walken are definitely the funniest moments in the film.  It had generally positive reviews, and did very well at the box office in a year where seven of the top ten films were comedies (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and Beetlejuice), earning $43 million to land at number twenty three.

The Marrying Man Poster

Before completing the “Eugene Trilogy” (albeit on television), Simon wrote an original screenplay for The Marrying Man (1991), helmed by director Jerry Rees, who had mostly done short animated films.  The film stars Alec Baldwin as a rich playboy and Kim Basinger as the nightclub singer that he becomes enamored with, ultimately marrying and divorcing her several times.  Baldwin and Basinger who met during filming had their own tempestuous marriage which ended in (one) divorce.  It is possibly Simon’s least-well received film, and received mostly negative reviews (although Roger Ebert gave it three stars), earning $12.4 million, coming in at number eighty-eight with films like Drop Dead Fred and Ernest Scared Stupid ranking just above it.

Broadway Bound Poster

Possibly owing to the commercial and critical failure of The Marrying ManBroadway Bound (1992), Simon’s final entry in the “Eugene Trilogy,” did not get a theatrical release, instead being shown on ABC Television in March of 1992.  In completing the tale of Simon’s alter-ego Eugene Jerome, it brought back Jonathan Silverman, the star of the first film in the trilogy, but this time portraying older brother Stanley.  It would have been interesting to have Broderick play the younger brother and see the two “Eugene’s” play against each other, but like for questions of its potential reception as a film and what box office it would have earned, we can only guess what the results would have been like.

Lost in Yonkers Poster

The Goodbye Girl’s Richard Dreyfuss returns for his second Simon outing in Lost in Yonkers (1993), a dramatic-comedy adaptation of Simon’s play about two brothers who are forced to live with their grandmother in the titular town after their father takes a job as a traveling salesman to pay off the debt incurred during their mother’s fatal illness.  Directed by Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge), the only woman to direct a Neil Simon film, Yonkers received mixed reviews and earned $9.2 million to come in at number 116 for the year.  Interestingly, coming in at  number fourteen for the year was Grumpy Old Men, starring Simon’s original “Odd Couple” and frequent stars of his films, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

The Odd Couple II Poster

Sadly, the success of Grumpy Old Men which capitalized on the famed pair’s re-teaming, would not be duplicated in their true re-match as Felix and Oscar in 1998’s The Odd Couple II (1998).  In it, the former roommates who haven’t spoken in many years discover that their children are getting married.  Ironically, the Howard Deutch-directed sequel which was based on the original work that had earned Simon so much critical acclaim and financial success (as well as spawning not just one but two network television shows as well as dozens of revivals both in the U.S. and abroad) was to be Simon’s last produced original screenplay for Hollywood.

What followed were the aforementioned remakes of  The Out-of-Towners (1999) and The Heartbreak Kid (2007), as well as a variety of adaptations for TV movies and series, both foreign and domestic, but for me it is very bittersweet that the last screenplay that Simon had turned into a feature film would be a callback to the the two characters that had first introduced me to him in the first place.

"Odd Couple II, The" Jack Lemmon, Neil Simon, Walter Matthau

Rest in peace, Doc!

Marvin Neil Simon (July 4, 1927 – August 26, 2018)

 

(All images courtesy IMDB)

 

 

 

KAWASAKI MINORU – Japan’s Roger Corman?

“I want to be silly for the rest of my life!” – Kawasaki Minoru

It’s easy to believe the above quote as soon as one walks into Lunabase, the bar/HQ run by director Kawasaki Minoru in Nakano, Tokyo.  One immediately gets the sense of joy he has living in a world populated by giant creatures, goalkeeping crabs, ramen-making cats, crime-fighting toupees, and many more members of a fantastic menagerie.

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Although I was familiar with some of Kawasaki-Kantoku (director)’s most popular films, I had never realized they were from the same person.  Years of searching through the DVD racks of New York City shops in hopes of finding movies to supplement my Japanese language studies had made me familiar with titles such as Executive Koala (2005), The Rug Cop (2006), and The World Sinks Except Japan (2006), but it wasn’t until I got to Lunabase that I realized they were all part of a much bigger “Kawasaki film universe.”  

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While on one level Kawasaki’s films can be seen as a collection of fantastic creatures, oddball characters and sexy women, there also seems to be more than just a bit of commentary on Japanese society, as well as Japan’s place in the world.  His The World Sinks Except Japan is a fun parody of 1973’s Tidal Wave (itself an adaptation of Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Japan Sinks), but watching it in 2018, one cannot help but think of the demographic issues that Japan is now facing, and its efforts to increase its immigrant working population while keeping their cultural uniqueness immune from those changes.

Image result for everything sinks except japanKoara kachô (2005)Zura Deka (2006)

After having met Kawasaki-Kantoku over Twitter, I was invited to attend one of Lunabase’s weekly Friday night gatherings of his friends and fans, where they share their love of Kaijū (怪獣 “strange beast”) figurines, Tokusatsu (特撮 “special filming”) movies, and of course, the most popular Japanese superhero of all time, Ultraman (ウルトラマン).  Over the course of these conversations, Kawasaki plays host, discussing a variety of low-budget science fiction films & television shows from all over the world. His infectious desire to keep discussing these shows & movies makes one immediately regret the early closing time of the Tokyo Metro subway lines.  It’s also inspiring to see the next generation of young filmmakers/fans that come to Lunabase to talk with Kawasaki-Kantoku, who seems to enjoy mentoring and inspiring them to pursue their love of movies.  In fact, one young fan who is a practitioner of “Jiorama“, or miniature set-building, has already been featured in a commercial for Coca-Cola!  Ganbatte, Hinoki-san!

(Lunabase Images courtesy http://rivertop.co.jp/)

Additionally, we also discussed his latest short film Attack of the Nipple Drill – the trailer on Youtube doesn’t have subtitles so I don’t understand everything that’s going on, but the madcap performance of comedians Sutchi and Yoshida Yutaka are hysterical!

Recently there was an exhibition at Tokyo department store Tokyu Hands Shibuya celebrating Kawasaki’s 60th birthday with a collection of props from his films, as well as memorabilia from his private collection.  I was able to pick up a copy of his 2013 memoir 河崎実監督の絶対やせる爆笑痛快人生読本, whose irreverant title loosely translates as “You’ll Definitely Lose Weight With Director Kawasaki’s Manual For Pleasurable Explosive Laughter”, a title which he explains in the book has no meaning, but is fun, and definitely an attention grabber.  In the book he describes his lifelong fascination with Ultraman, and it seems that almost any topic he discusses can come back to the giant superhero. He also details his personal background, with many personal anecdotes about his life and filmmaking career, and despite making B-movies, how he has charmed some of the biggest actors in Japan into working in his films – including Lily Franky, Takeshi Kitano, and in what must have been a personal thrill for him, the original Ultraman suit-actor, Bin Furuya.

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The fun book also includes memories about his family-owned fugu restaurant (perhaps the inspiration for his Calamari Wrestler?), which was highlighted in this episode of the BBC’s Japanorama, hosted by Jonathan Ross.  The episode also gives a great introduction to some of Kawasaki-Kantoku’s films. Overall, “…Lose Weight…” is a great memoir for anyone interested in the fun world of Japan’s Roger Corman, hopefully it will be translated into English soon.

I’m grateful for not only having had the chance to meet Kawasaki-Kantoku, but also to have an opportunity to get a glimpse into the “Kawasaki Universe” – which I will hopefully get to know much better with further visits to Lunabase, as well as  seeing more of his films. “Tanoshimini!” (I’m looking forward to it!)

Kawasaki Minoru’s Homepage

Artist Sebastian Masuda’s “Point-Rhythm World 2018 – Monet’s Microcosm” At The Pola Museum Of Art In Hakone, Japan

I’m trying to make people happy and enliven the world with Harajuku Kawaii culture and fashion” – Sebastian Masuda

Having escalated the pop culture phenomenon known as “Harajuku Kawaii Culture” to a level that now represents Japanese contemporary art to a global audience, artist/art director & filmmaker Sebastian Masuda has brought his “Point-Rhythm World 2018 – Monet’s Microcosm” to the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan.

Inspired by the French Impressionist artist Claude Monet’s Water Lilly Pond (1899) during a 2017 trip to the Pola Museum Annex in Ginza, Masuda has created an interactive exhibition that is infused with the support of digital technology video, audio and other artists that allows one to be “immersed” in Monet’s painting.

The homage paid to Monet is fitting as he was an early western proponent of the Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) style of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings.  As Don Morrison wrote in Time Magazine in 2007 (Monet’s Love Affair with Japanese Art), “One day in 1871, legend has it, a French artist named Claude Monet walked into a food shop in Amsterdam, where he had gone to escape the Prussian siege of Paris. There he spotted some Japanese prints being used as wrapping paper. He was so taken by the engravings that he bought one on the spot. The purchase changed his life — and the history of Western art.”  Morrison continues, “Monet went on to collect 231 Japanese prints, which greatly influenced his work and that of other practitioners of Impressionism, the movement he helped create. Under the new Meiji Emperor, Japan in the 1870s was just opening to the outside world after centuries of isolation. Japanese handicrafts were flooding into European department stores and art galleries. Japonisme, a fascination with all things Japanese, was soon the rage among French intellectuals and artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and the young Monet. Perhaps for that reason Impressionism caught on early in Japan and remains ferociously popular there.”

Per Masuda, “Kawaii represents one’s one’s own heartfelt personal universe of cherished things that no one else can disturb.  Be it fashion, music, or art, the visions of a million people are revealed in a million different ways.  Kawaii is supported by each and every point of view.”

The term “Point-Rhythm” combines the art technique of Pointillism, or the use of many small colored dots to form an image, with Masuda’s seemingly preferred technique of rhythmically arranging a variety of existing items and materials (plastic toys, food packaging, etc) into a pattern resembling a colorful explosion (in fact, explosive-using artist Cai Guo-Qiang is thought of as a mentor by Masuda).

Located at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Hakone, the Pola Museum of Art appears set to break with past orthodoxy as this is the first time they have made gallery space available to a contemporary artist.  This exhibition, bridging the past and future, caps a whirlwind run for Masuda of the past several years of both solo and group exhibitions spanning several continents.

Along with his retail boutique 6%DokiDoki, Kawaii Monster Cafe  (both located in Harajuku, Tokyo), as well as his Time After Time Capsule project which is likely to conclude its multi-city/country run at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Sebastian Masuda appears set to extend his prior eight-month run as Japan’s Cultural Envoy to the world into a permanent position!

Sebastian Masuda’s “Point-Rhythm World 2018 – Monet’s Microcosm” runs until December 2nd, 2018 at The Pola Museum Of Art In Hakone, Japan (website)

Sebastian Masuda’s Website

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Sebastian Masuda
Point Rhythm World 2018 -Monet’s Microcosm-, 2018
Mixed media
©Sebastian Masuda
Photo Courtesy @dailyflickny

 

Water Lily Pond

Claude Monet Water Lily Pond, 1899
Oil on canvas, 88.6 X 91.9cm
Collection of POLA Museum of Art

‘One Cut of the Dead’ (Kamera Wo Tomeruna!) カメラを止めるな!

It’s almost impossible to talk about Director Ueda Shinichiro (上田慎一郎)’s film ‘One Cut of the Dead’ without revealing too much of what gives the movie its infectious charm, but what is ostensibly a low-budget zombie film turns into a fun ode to low budget filmmaking, while also including some touching moments of family drama.  And by the time the credits roll alongside the behind-the-behind the scenes footage (you’ll understand once you’ve seen the movie), you’ll want to join in the yells of “Kamera wo tomeruna!” (“Don’t stop the camera!”).

The film has achieved what can only be described as a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like cult status in a very short time, thanks to the non-stop efforts of the staff and cast to promote the film on social media (see Twitter/Facebook hashtags #カメラを止めるな and #カメ止め).

At the screening I was at in Ikebukuro’s Cinema Rosa theater, what started out as a typically staid Japanese audience quickly turned into an excited crowd getting caught up in the action onscreen, and by the time I left, I was already looking forward to seeing it again.

The films’s cast were all students from the Tokyo film school, Enbu Seminar (ENBUゼミナール), and it seems like this was a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of ultra-low budget independent filmmaking.

カメラを止めるな Official Website:

カメラを止めるな Twitter:

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DFNY Focus On: Filmmaker / Film Historian Jim Hemphill!

Jim Hemphill is a filmmaker and film historian whose award-winning movie THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH is currently available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime. When he’s not directing movies he writes about them for publications including American Cinematographer and Filmmaker Magazine, and he has recorded numerous DVD commentary tracks for titles including INHERIT THE WIND, VALDEZ IS COMING, and the upcoming 50th-anniversary edition of HANG ‘EM HIGH. Jim is a programming consultant at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles and his movies have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Alamo Drafthouse, American Cinematheque and many other international festivals and art houses.

Q: Which film do you love that might surprise people?

A: I don’t know that anything I love would surprise people who know me well – and thus know that I can have some pretty eccentric tastes – but even my closest friends might be surprised by the depth of my love for the 2002 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle COLLATERAL DAMAGE, which I think is a stone cold masterpiece. A fairly sophisticated morality play and sociopolitical commentary masquerading as a potboiler revenge film, it’s exquisitely directed by Andrew Davis and chock full of great supporting turns by people like Elias Koteas and John Leguizamo – and Arnold gives a legitimately terrific, tortured performance at the film’s center. Not just one of my favorite Arnold movies, not just one of my favorite action movies or Andy Davis movies – one of my all-time favorite movies, period.

Q: If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, which two would it be & what kind of film?

A: That’s a great question…my ultimate fantasy is to adapt Bret Easton Ellis’ novel IMPERIAL BEDROOMS and reunite the cast from LESS THAN ZERO: Robert Downey Jr., Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and James Spader.

Q: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?

A: There are so many, but I’d probably have to go with THE SHINING because it was the movie that really taught me what a director does…how he/she filters material through his/her point of view and makes it something different through his/her choices in terms of performance, camera movement, lenses, music, and everything else. I was very conscious as a kid that Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING was a different animal from Stephen King’s THE SHINING, and I become obsessed with figuring out how and why the movie worked on me the way that it did. I’m still obsessed.

Q: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?

A: The painting of William H. Macy hanging in Burt Reynolds’ house at the end of BOOGIE NIGHTS. Or the one Dirk Diggler commissions of himself. Or Don Cheadle’s blood-spattered white suit from the donut shop scene. Or Mark Wahlberg’s prosthetic penis. Basically, anything from BOOGIE NIGHTS, which is my favorite movie of all time.

Q: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?

A: I’ll watch a film about virtually anything and everything…as a filmmaker I guess I’m a little more selective in that I have to be pretty interested in a subject to spend years of my life working on it, but I can’t think of anything I would actively be opposed to exploring…my attitude is that anything that happens in life is fair game for examination on film.

Jim Hemphill Films (Website)

Director Jim Hemphill, John Shea, and Lea Thompson

(Director Jim Hemphill with John Shea and Lea Thompson making THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH)