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Old And New Numbers Dazzle At Broadway On Broadway

Performances by stars from the long-running Broadway hit Chicago and by newcomers from the upcoming musical Memphis were among the highlights of the 18th Broadway on Broadway, the free outdoor concert held annually in Times Square from 43rd to 47th Streets.

The sultry, gyrating singers and dancers from Chicago, including star Deidre Goodwin, electrified the crowd of thousands with the classic "All that Jazz." Then, Chad Kimball, the male lead in Memphis, "brought down the house" with his beautiful rendition of "Memphis Lives in Me." The musical, opening Sepember 23rd at the Shubert Theater, is the story of an interracial romance in the segragated south of the 1950s, played against a background of the burgeoning rock and roll era.

Film and television star Michael McKean hosted the event which kicked off the 2009-2010 Broadway theater season. McKean is starring in the play Superior Donuts at the Music Box Theater, currently in previews and scheduled to run through January 3, 2010. The Steppenwolf Theater production was written by Tracy Letts, the author of August: Osage County.

Other performers included: and Kerry Butler of Rock of Ages, who had the huge crowd singing along with the Journey classic "Don't Stop Believing;" Daniel Breaker, star of Shrek the Musical (minus the costume) along with co-stars Sutton Foster and Ben Crawford; Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson from Finians Rainbow; Tony Award winner Alice Ripley along with Jennifer Damiano and Aaron Tveit from Next to Normal; Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev of the dance extravaganza Burn the Floor; Beth Leavel from Mamma Mia; Cassie Levy of Hair; Christine Noll from Ragtime; Laura Osnes of South Pacific and a non-singing John Stamos, who will star in the first Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie thru January 10, 2010.

Other shows represented by dancing and/or singing cast members included In the Heights, Jersey Boys, Billy Elliot the Musical, the upcoming Bye Bye Birdie, Fela!, The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Wicked and White Christmas (minus the heavy winter clothing worn by an earlier cast at last year's Broadway on Broadway.)

The huge finale led by Stamos and McKean featured cast  members from all featured show singing New York, New York and punctuated by the shooting of thousands (millions?) of square bits of colorful "confetti" into the late summer air, many of which made it to the site of Fashion Week several blocks east in Bryant Park. and most likely beyond (I stopped searching at Fifth Ave,).

Broadway on Broadway 2009, produced by the Broadway League and the Times Square Allaince, was presented by Bucik LaCrosse and Continental Airlines. It is part of Back2Broadway Month celebrating the Great White Way with free events, special ticket offers, dining discounts, concerts, interactive activities and the annual BC/EFA Flea Market and Grand Auction on Sunday, September 27th.

For more info go to:

Ellsberg, A Dangerous Man

Patriotism became trendy during the Bush years, when many thought that simply slapping yellow ribbon “Support the Troops” magnets on their SUVs would make them automatically daring and brave as they defended American values while driving around their neighborhoods. Daniel Ellsberg’s story—as chronicled in Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s incisive and absorbing documentary portrait, The Most Dangerous Man in America (opens September 16, 2009, the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street)—puts the lie to such lazy patriotism by recreating another volatile time when some people put their country’s well-being ahead of themselves.

Ellsberg entered the annals of American history in 1971 when he was unmasked as the man behind The Pentagon Papers, top-secret documents about our involvement in Vietnam passed on to the New York Times and other newspapers. Rightly viewed as a hero by many, he’s also been wrongly vilified as a traitor, but Ellsberg is a true patriot who put his life on the line for what he believed was in the best interests of his country.

It took awhile for Ellsberg to become affected by our long slog in Vietnam, but once he did (after he began dating Patricia Marx, a radio host who became his second wife), he realized that he must risk his own freedom to help stop a war he watched become a fiasco.

Ehrlich and Goldsmith have made a standard talking-heads documentary dressed up by canny use of archival material such as photographs, video footage and priceless snippets from the Nixon tapes, particularly when the president laments (in his view) Ellsberg’s treason and the press aiding and abetting it. And we thought that this kind of White House paranoia and name-calling began after September 11!

The filmmakers’ ace in the hole is Ellsberg himself, who narrates the film. Following his mistrial on charges of conspiracy and theft, the charismatic Ellsberg has walked the walk for the past four decades as a dedicated peace activist, having been arrested numerous times while protesting. The filmmakers also interview his wife Patricia, former Rand colleagues and journalists; even Nixon administration honcho John Dean chimes in.

Why so many of today’s documentaries must show re-enactments of pivotal events (i.e., when Ellsberg and his children are nearly busted by L.A. police while copying classified materials) is mystifying; whenever shoehorned in, they threaten to drag the film down to the level of a melodramatic History Channel program.

Overall, however, The Most Dangerous Man in the America is a movie that all Americans would do well to see: its hero reminds us of the real definition of patriotism.

The Most Dangerous Man in America:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Directed and written by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
Featuring Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg, Howard Zinn, John Dean, Egil “Bud” Krogh, Hedrick Smith, Max Frankel, Anthony Russo
Opens September 16, 2009 at
Film Forum
209 West Houston Street


The Hidden History of Indie Cinema

Today, there are people who think that American independent cinema began in 1989 with Sex Lies and Videotape; or in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs; or even in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project.

Well, writer Phil Hall puts such fallacies to rest with his well-researched and readable The History of Independent Cinema, squarely placing domestic independent moviemaking in an historical context. Both enlightening and entertaining, Hall’s book traces independent cinema from the very beginnings of the film industry as we know it.

Most remarkably for a 300-page book, Hall brings together many disparate strands of American independent cinema and, if he doesn’t tie them together—who could?—delivers enjoyably rough-and-tumble stories about men and women known and unknown. Present and accounted for are the silent era’s trailblazers (Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith), those who came of age during the early talkies (Hal Roach), or those who made popular or critical hits outside the studio system (Howard Hughes, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer).

But Hall’s book is at its best when he travels down several forgotten film roads, even paths virtually impossible to follow because of the dearth of available materials or because the works themselves are of scant historic interest. Among these are “race films” made by “visionaries” like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams; or Ida Lupino, the rare notable woman director; or Yiddish-language filmmakers like Maurice Schwartz and Joseph Green. In these chapters, Hall presents alternative histories that illuminate the standard ones we all know.

There are also succinct accounts of notables who made names for themselves by going their own ways, such as Maya Deren, Roger Corman, George A. Romero and John Cassavetes. And Hall summarizes other trends, from non-theatrical and educational films to online filmmaking, which is itself so pervasive now that a book could be written on just that subject. In his roundup of documentaries, he even mentions Sunn Classics, a great lost era of my youthful movie-watching, when as a gullible teenager I ate up schlock like The Mysterious Monsters and In Search of Noah’s Ark.

Minor flaws include copy-editing errors (mostly punctuation) that crop up frequently, and a larger flaw is the lack of an index, an oversight limiting the book’s usefulness as a research tool. However, The History of Independent Cinema is a most welcome overview.

The History of Independent Cinema
Written by Phil Hall
BearManor Media; $21.95

A Charming Look Into A Certain Future

directed by Jac Schaeffer
starring Emmy Caulfield, Michelle Borth, JoBeth Williams, John Patrick Amedori
seen at The Tribeca Film Festival 2009
The first feature from writer/director Jac Schaeffer, TiMER is a charming look into a future of certainties. It’s part sci-fi, part comedy, part buddy film, part romance, and 100% chick flick. That’s no easy trick.

Oona O’Leary (Emmy Caulfield, best known from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Beverly Hills 90210), pretty, uptight, about-to-be 30 orthodontist, wants guarantees in life and love. In the futuristic world of TiMER (which looks a lot like Los Angeles here and now), the timer, a device surgically implanted on the wrist, offers one. The timer tells one how exactly how long one will wait to meet one’s true love.  It’s like dating service eHarmony on steroids.

Oona’s problem is that her timer has not even started ticking – which means that she either will never have a true love or that he has not yet got a timer. One’s true love must have a timer for one’s own to start ticking.  (It beeps like a pager when the lucky couple meet.)  Opening scenes show her bringing prospective love connections to the timer franchise to have the device implanted – only to learn that each one is not Mr. Right. That is tough for Oona to swallow.
Step-sister Steph, ably played by Borth, has one and it’s counting down – for years to come.  Steph makes the most of it by casual sex with guys whose timers are also counting down – but to different dates. It’s one way of dealing with the inevitable. Borth also figures in an amusing subplot at the old-age home where Steph works involving an octogenarian World War Two vet played by John Ingle of Kitchen Aid commercial fame. Her relationship with Oona offers a buddy aspect to the film.
Into Oona’s well-ordered world lands Mikey, supermarket checkout boy (John Patrick Amedori), who also drums in a rock band at the bar Steph tends in her night job. An uncharacteristic (for Oona) romance follows the classic meet cute. Mikey has a timer, but it is revealed as a fake 55 minutes into the pic, a tool to score with chicks still waiting for their soulmates. (“The closer they get to D-Day, the more likely they are to throw you around a little bit.”) He’s also eight years younger than Oona.  According to the timer, Oona’s soulmate is Dan the Man (Desmond Harrington), who doesn’t make an appearance until more than halfway through the picture. JoBeth Williams excels as Steph’s and Oona’s mom, providing much of pic’s comedy.
Pic’s moral, if there is one, is revealed by Delphine (Nicki Norris), mistress of Oona’s estranged dad, legendary record producer Rick O’Leary (Muse Watson).  “I had it [the timer] removed,” she tells Oona.  “Your dad isn’t my one, but I love him.  Fuck it.”  Or as Mikey says to Oona in a pivotal scene, “Your problem is not that I can’t give you a guarantee.  It’s that you can’t give me one.”
Schaeffer skillfully creates a realistic future not too different from the present and very believable. This film benefits from its snappy dialogue. Editing by Peter Samet and lensing by Andrew Kaiser are more than up to the job.  Maya Siegel’s music, with a tick-tock theme, is well suited to the production.
TiMER does not have a distributor as yet and is not rated, but it's a compelling flick that can attract intelligent filmgoers. It may, however, fly well over the heads of its potentially large teenage audience.  

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