INTERVIEW with Katherine Oliver

There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

Adam Schartoff: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

Katherine Oliver: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

AS: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

KO: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?

KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto. The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?
KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto.

INTERVIEW with Joe Swanberg

“Uncle Kent” is Joe Swanberg’s fifth time at the directing helm, the sixth if you count his co-directing “Nights & Weekends” with Greta Gerwig ["Greenberg"]. This film also happens to be his fourth time working with IFC in distributing his films. After the VOD success of “Alexander The Last” which ran concurrently to the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival [SxSW], Joe had no trouble setting the same course at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  “Uncle Kent” is the story of single 40 year old animation artist Kent (Swanberg film veteran Kent Osborne) who invites Kate, an attractive New Yorker he meets over the internet, to fly in and spend the weekend. What results is a series of strange and funny, but utterly human, episodes. It’s a very contemporary story and, in its way, shows a filmmaker, like his main character, trying to move from behind technology and reach out for human emotional connection.

Joe Swanberg spoke with me in between screenings in Park City.

Adam Schartoff: How did “Uncle Kent” end up being chosen as one of the Sundance Selects?

JOE SWANBERG: I have a really great ongoing relationship with IFC. “Uncle Kent” is the fourth film of mine that they are putting out. We’ve always been up for trying new things, to push the envelope with technology and alternative ways of distributing my films.

Two years ago they put out a film of mine called “Alexander The Last” and we did a day & date VOD premiere with the South by Southwest Film Festival. When “Uncle Kent” got into Sundance, it just made sense that we would try it again here. We hope to reach a wider audience and keep pushing in this direction.

AS: How does it feel distributing “Uncle Kent” through an alternative channel, not just going to the theatrical route?

JS: I had the experience of going theatrical in 2007 when IFC released “Hannah Takes The Stairs”. It was great. I was able to fulfill that life long ambition of seeing it play in movie theaters. I had that filmmaker fantasy experience. Read more

film review: THE WOODMANS

Directed by C. Scott Willis
Produced by Neil Barrett, Jeff Werner & C. Scott Willis
Released by Lorber Films
USA. 82 min. Not Rated

Imagine growing up in a family of brilliant artists, a household where nothing else really matters other than creating objects of beauty. The Woodmans is a documentary that will give you a peak at what that experience might be like; the uniqueness and the beauty, yes, but also the scar tissue as well.

Betty and George Woodman married back in the 1950s. He was brought up in a WASP New England family. When he brought Betty, a Jewish Bohemian artist, back home, George’s family rejected them outright. The two went on to get married despite that, and they created an insulated life of their own, greatly helped along by their complete immersion in their art—for Betty, spectacular ceramic art; for George, painting on canvas. They also created two beautiful children: a boy, Charles, who would go on to become a video artist, while their second child, an intense, pretty girl named Francesca, would become a photographer.

Director C. Scott Wills / Photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2010

C. Scott Willis’s compelling documentary really centers on Francesca’s tortured and brief life through the recounting of the surviving three Woodmans and a small number of close friends and schoolmates. The film, which debuted at Tribeca Film Festival last year, soberly makes sense how Francesca, an incredibly talented artist—perhaps the most talented among her family—lost a battle, like so many others prone to depression and despair, and committed suicide at the age of 22. She would leave behind a trove of amazing photos and experimental film footage that eerily looks into the mind of its tormented creator. Read more

film review: UNCLE KENT

Directed by Joe Swanberg
Written & produced by Joe Swanberg & Kent Osborne
Cinematography by Joe Swanberg
Edited by Joe Swanberg
With Kent Osborne, Kevin Berwersdorf, Jennifer Prediger, Josephine Decker & Joe Swanberg

Kent (Kent Osborne), a solitary 40-year old animation artist, mostly sits around his Los Angeles apartment drinking beer, hitting the bong and working at his computer. Clearly Kent’s a smart and talented man whose earnestness draws people to him, but lately Kent seems to be shrinking from life.

He prefers spending time online or hanging out with his cat to actually going out and meeting someone. Joe Swanberg’s new movie “Uncle Kent”, one of the Sundance Selects choices that will air on VOD during the course of the festival this month, finally drags the Mumblecore generation into full adulthood, kicking and screaming.

UNCLE KENT actors Jennifer Prediger & Kent Osborne; photo courtesy of Sundance Selects

Kent has become skeptical about getting married; he’s reconciled being single. Sex, for instance, is generally handled autonomously. As he says to his pal Kev (Kevin Bewersdorf), “I can sit on the couch until I’m hungry and then eat whatever I want.”  Despite his protests, its clear that he still yearns for emotional connection. Hence, inviting Kate for a weekend visit.  Kate, as played by newcomer Jennifer Prediger, is a woman Kent recently met on Chatroulette, an online video chat service. She flies in from New York City on the premise of business –she’s an environmental journalist -  but also ostensibly to figure out how she feels about Kent, not to mention the boyfriend she left at home.

In order to keep himself emotionally in check, Kent hides behind his video camera through much of their weekend. Otherwise they tiptoe around each other barely recognizing the obvious attraction they share for each other. Instead they behave almost adolescently sharing explicit and intimate details of each other’s past and current sex lives. This titillating process eventually leads them to meeting up with a young woman named —- whom they meet on Craiglist and whom they end up taking home for a threesome.   Read more

film review: THE GREEN HORNET

Directed by Michael Gondry
Written by Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg & George Trendle
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Edited by Michael Tronick
Columbia Pictures.

“The Green Hornet” is one of those cynical studio blockbusters that makes you resent those two hours you just spent and will never get back.

For those who must know the plot, Britt Read (Rogan), son of wealthy newspaper tycoon James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), takes over his father’s company after the old man mysteriously dies. The question that Britt must grapple with over the course of the movie is whether his father was a good man, who stood up against corruption and the ever-falling standards of the media (ironically), or was he a bully, hypocrite, and mouthpiece for local mobsters.

The Sentinel is a Los Angeles family-owned newspaper, and it represents a fading industry. While it does employ the usual looking pasty, curmudgeonly newsmen from yore (including Edward James Almos with nothing to do) the prodigy ends up hiring Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) as his personal secretary and ogling her at every chance.  There are just too many similarities here to “Iron Man”.  That movie, by contrast, is unadulterated genius. Read more

film review: I’M DANGEROUS WITH LOVE

Directed, photographed & edited by Michel Negroponte
Written by Nick Pappas & Joni Wehrli
Released by First Run Features
USA. 84 min. Not Rated

If addiction is a bitch, kicking it is a motherfucker. But what if there was a magic pill or serum you could take when going through withdrawal, something that made the process painless and stopped the jones? Shouldn’t that be distributed to every addict on the planet? Well, it turns out that there’s a highly controversial drug that exists and does just that. It’s called ibogaine. So why doesn’t anyone know about it if it’s such a miracle cure? Probably because it’s a hallucinogen and illegal as a result.

Dimitri Mugianis, the subject of Michel Negroponte’s fascinating new documentary, is a former musician and drug addict, who, after being mentored in the ways of administering ibogaine, made helping others detox his life’s mission. You might think that the risks he takes are morally questionable at times but what is indisputable is his absolute commitment to helping others with their illness. Since the drug is illegal, Mugianis must work covertly, usually meeting his clients in motels on the outskirts of New York City. He consults medical experts on the phone, but a medical professional is never present; being caught would certainly result in being stripped of a license and jail time. While never losing sight of the fact that what he’s doing is against the law, Mugianis is not morally conflicted. He has quite clearly grappled with all sides of the issue and has come to the conclusion that his work’s essential. Sitting in Union Square, Mugianis movingly talks about all the friends he has lost to drugs over the years, and, indeed, how he himself ought to have been among those dead. Read more

92nd Street Icon Takes Off In Tribeca

For those who don’t like to trek north of 14th Street, the 92nd Street Y Tribeca has been bringing eclectic programming downtown since opening in 2008.

Setting up a second Manhattan location gave the 136-year-old Upper East Side institution a chance to try something new, said center director Michele Thompson. “The 92nd Street Y was founded in 1874 and attracts people of all ages and backgrounds — about 300,000 every year. With 92YTribeca, we wanted to build a facility that would speak to a particular slice of that pie: young adults who are done with college and are looking for engaging experiences and a community of their own.”

They must be doing something right — the center, which includes an art gallery and café, has already seen more than 60,000 people attend more than 700 events. “We concentrate on creating eclectic, smart cultural programs — in film, music, art, comedy, storytelling and more,” said Thompson. “We’re also committed to collaborating with artists and organizations that are relevant to our audiences, whether it’s Zach Galifianakis or Vashti Bunyan.

“During the daytime we bring the expertise of the 92nd Street Y downtown, with lots of opportunities to explore ideas — whether it’s at a book talk or lecture during lunch, in a writing workshop for moms or in a class on Japanese Flower Arranging.”

Thompson said the idea to expand the 92nd Street Y with a downtown offshoot had been around for a while. “With more and more people living downtown and in Brooklyn, Queens, Hoboken and Jersey City, we saw the cultural scene shift south as well,” she said. “Tribeca is a central location and accessible.  We were looking for a ground-level space that was open to the sidewalk and would allow us to design and build a flexible, multi-purpose facility; this one fit the bill!” Read more

INTERVIEW with Wavy Gravy

filmwax's Adam Schartoff with Wavy Gravy; photo credit: Michelle Esrick (c) 2011

Wavy Gravy — counterculture icon, court jester of the war protest movement, clown emcee of Woodstock, one of Ken Kesey’s original Merry Pranksters and King Hippie of The Hog Farm —was visiting the West Village recently. The man once long ago known as poet Hugh Romney was helping filmmaker Michelle Esrick promote her new documentary “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie”.

Wavy was as mischievous and fun as ever.  He was also enthusiastic to talk about his current work raising money for cataract surgery around the world and Camp Winnarainbow, the summer camp he and his wife Jahanara run.

Dressed in his usual tie-dyed T-shirt and bowler hat, he proceeded to wave a rubber fish, mounted at the end of flexible rod, in my face making the fish kiss me.

When I asked him if he thought the political work done over the Internet is as effective as getting out there on the streets like in the old days he said, “I just don’t know. It’s what’s taking place now. And now is all there is.  Eternity now, I always say.”

Wavy Gravy with SAINT MISBEHAVIN' filmmaker Michelle Esrick; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

While reading up on Wavy Gravy, it occurred to me how many of my questions would begin with the words, “Is it true…?”  Like, Is it true that Lenny Bruce managed you? Is it true you shared a room with Bob Dylan over The Gaslight and that he wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on your typewriter?  I mean the list goes on and on.

“It wasn’t a private apartment, by the way,” said Wavy.  “It was part of The Gaslight, upstairs.  Dylan had got me to come back there and the room was part of the deal. I think we kicked Bill Cosby out of there, as a matter of fact. He was still a student at Temple, I think. I’m not sure.”

Wavy was doing spoken word at this time. “Then I began to do stand-up improvisation.  Rants, I guess you could call them. Then I started doing more true stuff about my life rather than making up jokes. In fact, joke telling is definitely not my thing. True stories are what I do. And some of them are funny.  Some of them are very funny,” he emphasized.

“When you laugh at stuff, your defenses go down and you’re able to hear something like ‘Nobody for President!’ Holy Smokes! And you think about it. At first it’s just a hoot.  But then there’s an owl behind that hoot.” Read more

film review: THE OTHER WOMAN

Directed by Don Roos
Written by Don Roos & Ayelet Waldman
Executive Producer: Natalie Portman
Edited by David Codron
Cinematography by Steve Yedlin
USA. 119 minutes. Color.
With: Natalie Portman, Michael Cristofer, Charlie Tahan, Lisa Kudrow, Lauren Ambrose, Debra Monk, Anthony Rapp & Scott Cohen

Why Natalie Portman chose to make “The Other Woman”, the story of Emilia Greenleaf, a woman who initiates an affair with her attorney boss, marries him and becomes the unhappy step mom to his 9-year old son, is anybody’s guess.

The film, directed by Don Roos (“Marley & Me”) from the Ayelet Waldman novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, is being marketed as being about Emelia’s difficult relationship with stepson Jack (Charie Tahan). In truth, Emilia is challenged by most of her relationships. That group includes her husband Jack, Sr. (Scott Cohen), his shrewish ex-wife Carolyne (a terrific Lisa Kudrow) and her own dad (Michael Cristofer), a flawed family man who once cheated on Emilia’s mother (Debra Monk).

To show that not all of her relationships suffer; two friends from the law firm where Emilia works and where she met Jack are shoehorned into the script: Simon (“Rent”’s Anthony Rapp) and Mindy (Lauren Ambrose in an underwritten role).

“The Other Woman”’s main problem is that while it has some very good actors among its cast, most of the characters are vastly undeveloped. All too often they come across as little more than contrivances to move the plot along. Read more

film review: BIUTIFUL

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Produced by González Iñárritu, Jon Kilik & Fernando Bovaira
Written by González Iñárritu, Armando Bo & Nicolás Giacobone, based on a story by Mr. González Iñárritu
Released by Roadside Attractions
Spanish with English subtitles
Spain/Mexico. 148 min. Rated R
With Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Eduard Fernández, Diaryatou Daff, Cheng Tai Shen & Luo Jin

For fans of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Death Trilogy—”Amores Perros” (2000), “21 Grams” (2003) and “Babel” (2006)—”Biutiful” is the deathiest of all his movies to date. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a Barcelona single father who never stops hustling, wheeling, dealing, or doing whatever is needed to keep his family from falling over the edge. Yet, even with all his questionable pursuits, Uxbal’s a good soul, albeit a haunted one. In addition to all his worldly problems—and there are quite a few—he also seems to have a direct dial to the spiritual world as well. And as he moves closer and closer to his own mortality in this flawed, mournful film, he struggles to make things right, not an easy task when the world keeps dumping moral obstacles in his path, one after another.

A few of which include an emotionally unstable wife (Maricel Álvarez), with whom he is initially estranged. Uxbal has custody of their two young children as a result of past incidents, which come to light during the film and which he’s at first reluctant to overlook. His drug-addicted brother, Tito (Eduard Fernández), is also his business partner. They provide illegal labor to various clients for a piece of the action, among other questionable ventures, and one particular deal with Chinese developers goes devastatingly wrong. By this point, you might already be inured to such dramatic moments. If that weren’t enough, Uxbal has some serious health issues that, as the movie progresses, becomes harder for him to ignore.
The manic pace, and indeed the manic pressure, that Uxbal must endure is enough to make anyone crack. That relentlessness begins to make the movie sag under its weight. “Biutiful’s” other biggest problem is its sheer number of narrative threads, which ultimately dilutes the movie from any one particular dramatic direction. The best thing the movie has going for it is its casting of Bardem, a solid presence in films like “No Country for Old Men” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Here he’s just as strong, and he almost makes the movie a very good one. One other real asset: cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. As he has done in all three past Iñárritu films, Prieto makes grim look good. Read more