Musical Comedy Whore


All the world’s an off-Broadway stage.

(2020) Musical Comedy (Breaking Glass) David Pevsner. Directed by Brendan Russo

 

David Pevsner is a Los Angeles-based actor, comedian and singer who has loved musical comedies all his life. Now, some will stereotype him as a gay man for that – and he happens to be gay – but not all gay men know the lyrics to every song in Cabaret. I suspect Pevsner might.

This one-man show, filmed live, is essentially a confessional about his life which has been sordid at times – he for some time worked as a prostitute even as he was singing on Broadway – fun at times and unbearably lonely at other times, but he narrates the details with a keen sense of humor, and an occasionally bawdy tune, accompanied only by a pianist who harmonizes with him from time to time vocally.

This isn’t for those who are squeamish about gay men having sex, because Pevsner talks about it a lot; in fact even if you’re okay with it might have a “TMI” reaction to the monologues overall, but if you bear with it and check your hang-ups at the door (or more accurately, at the streaming site) you might learn something about human nature and maybe even a little bit about yourself.

=Filmed versions of a stage show live and die by how good the audience response is; Pevsner wasn’t blessed with a particularly vocal audience and at times some of the funniest lines are met with dead silence, which doesn’t help matters much. Pevsner is an engaging performer, self-effacing and without any sort of filter. Some of the songs work, some don’t; some of the jokes work, some don’t but there is no denying that this project comes from Pevsner’s heart.

From time to time Pevsner talks about things in life that are painful, some unbearably so – like the first real relationship he was in that despite the obvious love he had for his partner (and still does, if the show is any indication), the relationship became toxic and he had to give it up. I think we’ve all been through that kind of thing – loving someone deeply who was clearly no good for us and having to give it up to save ourselves from falling apart.

Yeah, I get that at times this comes off like a therapy session for a mature queen, but it takes all types to make a world. I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends with a wide range of gay men in my time (living for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area makes that almost inevitable) and while not all of them are like Pevsner, some are and the world is a better place with them in it as far as I’m concerned.

=So will you like this? Well, that depends on how open-minded you are about frank discussions of a gay man’s sexual history, and whether or not you like musical comedies your own self, because there’s a lot of singing and it is very much in the vein of modern musicals. I will confess I’m more of a classicist when it comes to musical theater, but there were things about A Chorus Line that I loved and the music is in many ways in that vein, so be forewarned – this is a bit of a niche video, but if you fit into that niche, you’ll find this entertaining and enlightening.

REASONS TO SEE: Funny and poignant in equal doses.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels like we’re listening in on a psychotherapy session.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole mess of profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The show was filmed at the Colony Theater in beautiful downtown Burbank, California.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wanda Sykes: Not Normal
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Class Action Park

Gangster Squad


City of angels.

City of angels.

(2013) Crime Drama (Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte, Jack McGee, John Aylward, Jon Polito, Mireille Enos, Austin Abrams, Lucy Davenport . Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Power is something most people covet. Power means control over your own life. For most of us, our desire for power ends there but for others that’s just not enough. They want control over every life, absolute power. Absolute power, as they say, corrupts absolutely.

In postwar Los Angeles, corruption is rampant. The police and politicians are in the pocket of organized crime and in L.A. that means Mickey Cohen (Penn). An ex-boxer and bodyguard from Brooklyn, he has made his way up through the ranks of the Meyer Lansky gang and has been sent West where he has achieved absolute power over the criminal underworld.

Chief Parker (Nolte) realizes that he has lost control of his city and that there is little he can do to regain it. Legal remedies have proven ineffective as he has the corrupt Judge Carter (Aylward) under his thumb, along with a surfeit of politicians and police both in Los Angeles and neighboring Burbank. Parker realizes the only way to deal with Cohen is to go outside the law.

To that end he enlists the help of Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin), a war hero whose wife (Enos) is very, very pregnant. O’Mara isn’t afraid to stand up to Cohen and knows how to wage guerilla warfare. O’Mara can’t do it alone though so he brings aboard Coleman Harris (Mackie), the so-called Sheriff of Central Avenue who keeps the peace in the largely African-American section of L.A. Harris, who has watched the influx of heroin destroy his community. He jumps at the chance to do something about it at the source.

He also brings in quick draw Max Kennard (Patrick), an old-style gunfighter with an anachronistic moustache and an Old West attitude, and Kennard’s partner Navidad Ramirez (Pena) who idolizes Kennard and wants to make a difference. He also brings in tech whiz (for the era) Conway Keeler (Ribisi) who is the best at tapping wires on the Force.

Finally there’s Jerry Wooters (Gosling), a crack detective who like O’Mara was a hero during the war. Now he’s just trying to keep his head down and stay out of the way of the freight train that is Cohen. Of course, if you’re going to do that you probably shouldn’t fall in love with his girl, who is the beautiful redhead Grace Faraday (Stone) who is ostensibly his etiquette instructor. We all know what she really is though.

Assassinating Cohen won’t do the trick as someone who could well be worse would just rise up and replace him. His whole organization must be smashed to pieces, beyond repair. The Gangster Squad must operate under the radar and in the shadows. Should Cohen find out who they are, not only their lives but the lives of everyone they care about will be in grave danger.

If this sounds very much like The Untouchables, well the similarities are unmistakable. This isn’t the same movie mind you – it lacks the epic scope of the Brian de Palma classic, but it’s cut from the same cloth. However, that cloth has faded and grown a little ratty over the years so it’s not quite the same fit.

Then again, Gangster Squad doesn’t have David Mamet writing the script. Not that Will Beall is a bad writer – he isn’t – but he’s not quite at that level, y’know? And this isn’t one of his better works; the script is long on action and short on sense. Quite frankly, the detectives in the Gangster Squad should have been killed many times over. It’s a case of Hollywood baddie bad aim syndrome, and brainless thug disease.

What that winds up doing is wasting another superlative performance by Sean Penn. He radiates menace in the same way as a pit bull does. He can be genial and charming one moment, bloodthirsty and rabid the next. It’s certainly comparable to De Niro’s Capone in The Untouchables except more volatile. Yes, you read that right.

Brolin does okay as the hero, although he simply is eaten alive by Penn. Wisely, he doesn’t try to compete so much as support which takes a pretty generous guy considering he is ostensibly the lead character. Gosling in fact makes a better foil for Penn (although they have no scenes together). Brolin is a fine actor in his own right and with the right role can really make some magic but it doesn’t happen here. However Gosling, who has been on a real hot streak, underplays as he usually does and it makes for a good counterpoint to Penn’s theatrics.

Stone is gorgeous to look at but she doesn’t connect with Gosling quite as well as they did in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Still, she fills the role nicely and quite frankly the era suits her. In fact, the filmmakers really do capture the era nicely, recreating Slapsy Maxie’s nightclub (a favorite hangout of the real Mickey Cohen) and other Los Angeles/Hollywood landmarks of the time.

This isn’t a bad movie, not at all. It’s just not really distinctive. It certainly doesn’t reach the heights of Zombieland which Fleischer helmed back in 2009. He hasn’t really reached that level of creativity since; hopefully the sequel which is currently in the works will bring him back to that standard. Unfortunately, Gangster Squad feels more like a project done to fill the time before he can get something he really wanted to do more.

REASONS TO GO: Penn is mesmerizing. Vision of L.A. in its heyday is well-achieved.

REASONS TO STAY: Shark-jumping ending. Predictable at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s quite a bit of gangster-style violence and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Garden of Allah apartment complex, where Wooters lives in the movie, was a real place, a landmark in Hollywood which was famous for some of the people who lived there, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Benchley. It was well-known for the Spanish-Moorish architecture and for the fair number of actors and actresses that lived there. It was torn down in 1959 and replaced with a strip mall and a bank.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/17/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100. The reviews are unspectacular.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mulholland Drive

OLD TIME BOXING LOVERS: There’s a scene where Cohen is watching a film of one of his old boxing matches. Yes, that’s the real Mickey Cohen fighting.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Waking Sleeping Beauty


Waking Sleeping Beauty

A meeting for Beauty and the Beast doesn't go so well.

(Disney) Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider, Glen Keane, Randy Cartwright, Howard Ashman, Peter Wells, Don Hahn. Directed by Don Hahn

The Walt Disney Studios is synonymous with animated features. Most people are at least aware that studio co-founder Walt Disney (who founded the Mouse House along with his brother, which most people don’t know) invented the genre in 1939 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. They are responsible for some of he biggest box office grosses of all time and when you count the home video sales, merchandising and theme park admissions that have come directly or indirectly as a result of their animated films, the amount of money that has poured into the coffers of Disney is staggering indeed.

And yet it almost didn’t happen. In 1984, the studio had lost its way when it came to the animation department. The movies they were producing – The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron and others – were coming out to critical panning and audience disinterest. The Fox and the Hound came out on the same day as The Care Bears Movie and was outdrawn by the Bears.

Disney as a corporate entity was in big trouble. Their film division was in disarray and only the theme parks were keeping the company afloat. A corporate raider was looking to come in, buy the company and sell off the pieces. The House that Mickey Built, it seemed, was all out of magic. Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law, was in charge of the company and seemed unable to pull it out of its morass. Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew and son of the other co-founder Roy O. Disney, resigned from the Board of Directors and led a coup that ousted Miller and installed as co-chairmen Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Eisner, who had a history of success at Paramount, brought over Jeffrey Katzenberg from there to be his right hand man. Disney was installed as the President of the Animation Department.

The Animators were in a period of transition. The Nine Old Men who had been there since the days of Walt were in their 60s and approaching retirement age. The Department was a mix of the old and the new – young, energetic new animators nearly all of whom were graduates of the Disney-funded California Institute of the Arts, where my sister went to school by the by. Among these were future wunderkind director Tim Burton.

The morale in the division was at an all-time low. Don Bluth, widely regarded as the potential savior of the animation department, had departed, taking many of the young animators with him. The building in which Walt Disney himself had helped create such legendary films as Cinderella, Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, was given away as offices for the stars of the newly-created Touchstone Films division. The animators were exiled to a converted factory in a horrible neighborhood in Glendale. The 200 or so animators still left wondered when the axe would fall.

Except it didn’t. Disney brought in Peter Schneider to run the division and the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken for their feature The Little Mermaid and the rest would be history. The Little Mermaid was a triumph artistically, critically and commercially, proving that there was still a huge market for animated features. A new software system was developed for The Rescuers Down Under which would pave the way for digitally animated movies and the Pixar revolution.

In the ten years between 1984 and 1994 (when Wells died in a helicopter crash, effectively ending the détente in a war between Eisner and Katzenberg which would end with Katzenberg teaming up with Stephen Spielberg and David Geffen to form DreamWorks, where Katzenberg would form a new animation studios that would lead to such animated hits as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon), the Animation Studios would go from being an industry laughingstock, moribund and artistically bankrupt to one of the most powerful and successful divisions in Hollywood history.

The roster of films developed during this movie is impressive – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Toy Story and The Lion King among them. The period is known as the Disney Renaissance and is responsible for the animated feature boom that continues today. Without these films, it is doubtful that movies like Up, Monsters vs. Aliens…heck even Avatar would probably exist.

This is a documentary of this period, taken from home movies (many of which were shot by Randy Cartwright, one of the young animators), contemporary interviews, backstage footage and drawings made by the animators at the time, mostly caricatures. When the animators were displeased, they would respond with wicked caricatures of those who had displeased them, many of which survive today. The drawing above is one such, depicting a meeting in which Ashman (left) lets co-directors Gary Trousdale (right) and Kirk Wise of Beauty and the Beast his displeasure over some of their ideas.

It was a period of great magic, but of great stress as well. The animators were worked long and hard, leading to physical illness and emotional trauma (several marriages would end as a result of the workload). At a meeting with Katzenberg, he is brought to tears over the plight of the animators and as a result, some reforms were brought in although the Studios continued and still do continue to work their animators very hard. There were also studio politics going on (as there always are) that destroyed friendships and created additional stress.

Still, the results are movies that will live forever as classics and that isn’t a bad legacy to leave behind. Waking Sleeping Beauty is not a triumphant documentary in the sense that it will change your outlook on life, but it is a look at a place and time in which magic was occurring. Those who love Disney animation are going to want to see this; those who love the filmmaking process in general are going to like this. Those who love documentary movies are going to enjoy this, and those who don’t like any of those things are probably not going to see this anyway. Still, it’s a well-made movie that I can recommend easily for just about anyone with a pulse.

REASONS TO GO: An insider’s view of the process of getting features made in Hollywood and at Disney in particular.

REASONS TO STAY: One gets the distinct impression that a few punches are being pulled.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the language is a little rough but not enough to be bothersome; some of the thematic elements might be a bit much for younger sorts to follow or care about.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Hahn’s feature length debut; previously he directed the host sequences of Fantasia 2000.

HOME OR THEATER: Home video is probably the way to go with this.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Warlords