Category Archives: Movies

Finally, the true and inside story of Hollywood’s forgotten force (and Garbo’s lover), Salka Viertel

Salka Viertel was once the highest paid writer on the MGM lot. She was also Greta Garbo’s lover, for whom she wrote five films.  A side note: So close were they that Viertel  bought a house next door to Garbo; when in 1969 Viertel  published her “autobiography” The Kindness of Strangers, she revealed their true relationship. Garbo never spoke to her again, avoiding her on the streets of New York City.

Garbo’s on the left

For the scores of wartime refugees fleeing persecution under Hitler she opened her doors to, Viertel was a lifeline. A courageous woman with a fascinating life and an incalculable impact on the lives of others, she has been long overdue for her moment in the spotlight.

So we can thank Donna Rifkind, whose biography, The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood(Other Press, $30) shines a light on this remarkable story.

Actress-turned-screenwriter (Viertel declared herself  “neither beautiful nor young enough” to be a movie star), she left Berlin for Hollywood in 1928, bringing with her the bohemian spirit of the Weimar era. She would work with the luminaries of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including George Cukor, Irving Thalberg and David O. Selznick. At her house in Santa Monica she opened her door on Sunday afternoons to scores of European émigrés who had fled from Hitler—such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Arnold Schoenberg—along with every kind of Hollywood star, from Charlie Chaplin to Shelley Winters. In the living room (the only one in town with comfortable armchairs, said one Hollywood insider), countless cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born. As Nazi domination grew in Europe, Viertel poured herself into the refugee cause, arranging for jobs and affidavits for Jews and anti-fascists seeking safety in America.

Garbo in perhaps her greatest film, “Queen Christina” (1933). Her lover wrote five film for her. Viertel co-wrote the film with Harold Marsh Harwood. She also co-wrote(with Clemence Dane) the 1935 classic “Anna Karenina”, a snatch seen below.

If Viertel’s name has been largely forgotten in America, it is because too few people believed what she accomplished was important. Now, alongside our current moment’s interest  in recovering historically-overlooked women’s creative contributions, investigating women’s ability to survive and flourish in sexist Hollywood, and considering the moral obligations of Americans to displaced people in a world undergoing a vast refugee crisis, the questions Salka asked herself in the ’30s and ’40s about how one should live—and the answers her life exemplified—are as vital as ever.

It’s impossible to understand the true history of Hollywood without knowing the story of the dramatic, courageous figure of Salka Viertel and her rescue mission.

“The Ice King” chronicles the emotionally resonant journey through John Curry’s remarkable life and career

Forget Frozen. Perhaps the best film taking place on frozen water (think ice) is The Ice King (Film Movement). With a mix of new interviews, crisp footage and a treasure-trove of archival materials,  Emmy-nominated documentarian James Erskine takes viewers on an emotionally resonant journey through John Curry’s remarkable life and career. Curry transformed ice skating from a dated sport into an exalted art form. Coming out on the night of his Olympic win in 1976, he became the first openly gay Olympian in a time when homosexuality was not even fully legal.

Toxic yet charming; rebellious yet elitist; emotionally aloof yet spectacularly needy; ferociously ambitious yet bent on self-destruction, Curry was a man forever on the run: from his father’s ghost, his country,  even his own self.

Above all, he was an artist and an athlete whose body time and time again—sometimes against his will—became a political battlefield. This documentary uses Curry’s life and accomplishments to chart both the evolution of competitive ice skating and of the gay movement of the ’70s and ’80s that culminated in the onslaught of AIDS, which he was diagnosed with in 1987 and which contributed to his death in 1994.

John Curry with his Gold medal in 1976.
BONUS FEATURES
  • On the Beautiful Blue Danube: Creating the Music of The Ice King
  • Q&A with director James Erskine 

Mike Bartlett’s “Press” takes a riveting look at two of London’s fictional rival newspapers

An ensemble cast of some of Britain’s hottest talent portrays the committed and passionate characters behind the daily news at two fictional rival newspapers in Mike Bartlett’s Masterpiece drama Press (PBS Distribution). Set in the world of newspapers in London—its past riven by hacking scandals, its present at the mercy of the digital age and the 24-hour news cycle, its future uncertain—this razor sharp and observant drama explores the current, turbulent media landscape and the ethical dilemmas that journalists and editors face each day.

Charlotte Riley stars as the News Editor of fictional newspaper, The Herald; Ben Chaplin as the Editor of the fictional The Post; and Priyanga Burford as The Herald’s Editor.

Press is rounded out with Paapa Essiedu as The Post’s newest reporter and Shane Zaza its News Editor. Ellie Kendrick stars as a junior reporter, Al Weaver stars as an investigative journalist and Brendan Cowell stars as the Deputy Editor at The Herald.

Joys and hardships. Overcoming obstacles. Near-daily adversities. Welcome to “Animal Babies: First Year on Earth”

Doris Day once told us that “four-legged animals are so much nicer than the two-legged ones”.

We couldn’t agree more.

In Animal Babies: First Year on Earth viewers meet six baby animals from across the globe, the toque macaque monkey, the spotted hyena, the African elephant, the sea otter, the mountain gorilla, and the Arctic fox. Like all babies, young animals can have a first year filled with joy, love and play. To survive, however, they must overcome threats and challenges, from rivals, from the elements, and from predators. Follow along as they experience joy and hardship, confront near-daily adversities, navigate their habitats and overcome challenges in their first year of life

Renowned wildlife cinematographers tell the stories of these magical first months in three parts, First Steps, Testing the Limits and New Frontiers. They travel the globe to follow the lives of these six iconic baby animals as they grow and develop. This is the story of what it takes to survive in the wild. This is their first year on Earth. Welcome.

Great food, great cast. Just the dish: “America’s Test Kitchen: Home for the Holidays”. Seconds, anyone?

What is cooking with PBS Distribution DVDs? Just the recipe: America’s Test Kitchen: Home for the Holidays. The entire cast is home for the holidays, and they’re sharing their tips and tricks for planning a stress-free gathering, while also recounting personal holiday memories and revealing their all-time favorite holiday recipes from the Test Kitchen archives.

Home For The Holidays features hosts Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison and the rest of the America’s Test Kitchen cast gathered together in a casual behind-the-scenes setting, sharing the warmth of the holidays with viewers. The program also spotlights five of the Test Kitchen’s favorite holiday recipes, including new twists on classic holiday fare such as turkey en cocotte and beef tenderloin with smoky potatoes and persillade relish.

Their porchetta recipe offers a flavor-packed alternative to traditional holiday roasts, and elegant holiday desserts such as millionaire’s shortbread and gâteau Breton are sure-fire favorites to consider anytime you’re trying to please a crowd.

Seconds anyone?

PBS’ “Magical Land of Oz” haunts the unimaginable destruction taking a powerful toll on Australia

The destruction is  unimaginable; scores of devastating bush fires destroying the Australian outback, countless homes and (as of date) more than one billion (!) animals. We keep the country, the people and the animals in our prayers.

We especially prayed when was watched Magical Land of Oz, an exciting three-part series from PBS Distribution that explores the magical depths of Australian animal life, unique species that navigate extremes on land and sea. Blue chip cameras capture the continent’s diverse animal populations in its highest snow peaks, frigid southern seas and suburban backyards.

In the first part, Land, viewers see the unique wildlife of Australia which includes a tree-dwelling kangaroo, a spider that survives underwater and a bird that spreads fire. In the second part, Human, the program explores how Australian wildlife has adapted to survive in the human environment, including a flamboyant dancing peacock spider in a suburban garden. In the final part, Ocean, viewers are taken to Australia’s magical coasts and islands where three oceans create the perfect environment for whales, giant cuttlefish and sharks.

Watch and keep all in your prayers.

THIRTEEN’s American Masters and Latino Public Broadcasting’s VOCES offers a brilliant documentary on Raul Julia.

Flashback to 1982. Raul Julia was nominated for a Tony Award for his magnificent performance in NINE.

I was at the awards event, and a man came up to me and said, “You’re father is a great actor.”  I looked at him quizzically. Then he added. “You must be proud to be Raúl Juliá’s son”.

I smiled.  “I should be so lucky”, I told him. to him he encountered with, “You look just like him”!

I should be so lucky. One of my favorite performers—and one of the world’s—was taken from us way too early. In 1993, he was diagnosed with cancer, but he continued to act, playing rainforest activist Chico Mendez in the television movie The Burning Season (1994), for which he posthumously won Golden Globe, SAG and Emmy Awards.  Juliá’s brilliant and daring career was tragically cut short by his untimely death in 1994,  at age 54.

PBS Distribution has released Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage, a special presentation of THIRTEEN’s American Masters and Latino Public Broadcasting’s VOCES. This documentary is a warm and revealing portrait of the charismatic, groundbreaking actor, from his journey from his native Puerto Rico to the creative hotbed of ’60s New York City, to prominence on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Filled with passion, determination and joy and told in his own voice through archival interviews and in the words of those who knew him best, the film traces Juliá’s personal and professional life while showcasing performances from his collaboration with Joseph Papp’s The Public Theater to his successful cinematic career. His best-known roles include the history-making productions of Titus Andronicus, Two Gentlemen of Verona with Clifton Davis, The Taming of the Shrew with Meryl Streep and The Threepenny Opera (for which he was nominated for a Tony  for his role as Macheath); the Broadway musical Nine and Dracula; and films such as Kiss of the Spider Woman, Moon Over Parador, The Eyes of Laura Mars, Romero, Presumed Innocent and The Addams Family. 

Interviews with some of the most respected actors who worked alongside Juliá, including Anjelica Huston, Edward James Olmos, Rita Moreno, James Earl Jones, Sonia Braga, Rubén Blades and Esai Morales, illuminate his impact as an artist. In addition, actors John Leguizamo, Jimmy Smits, Andy Garcia and others share how they were profoundly influenced by Juliá and carry the torch of his legacy. Juliá’s personal side comes to life through never-before-seen family photos and home videos, along with reminiscences from his wife, Merel, his sons, relatives and friends, who share candid insights about his life away from the spotlight.

Ever-present throughout Juliá’s story is the cultural landscape of the entertainment world and the boundaries he broke. Before diversity and inclusion efforts were part of the national conversation, the big man with the engaging personality and accent was able to amass a varied body of timeless work that helped pave the way for Latino actors today. He was also a passionate and pioneering advocate of social causes, including ending hunger. In Juliá’s words, “It’s all done within a context of love. That’s the beauty of it, you see?”

DL, the action movie hunk known as Dolph Lundgren, has a “Hard Night Falling”

Husband. Father. Agent. Killing Machine. And action movie wonder. Don’t miss Dolph Lundgren in the intense action thriller Hard Night Falling (Lionsgate), now wowing audiences on DVD, Digital and On Demand.

Lundgren stars as a highly trained foreign operative fighting a criminal mastermind to save not only hostages, but his imperiled family as well. This is a must-have for every Lundgren  fan.

More on this intense action thriller. After years fighting crime at Interpol, agent Michael Anderson (Lundgren) takes the night off to reconnect with his estranged wife and teen daughter at an Italian villa. But their peaceful night is shattered as mastermind Goro and his mercenaries invade the property, hoping to find a lost cache of gold. With his family in danger, Anderson summons his team of crack operatives to help turn the tide and wipe Goro off the map.

Forget the chocolates . . . “The Gallows Act II” is a Valentine’s Day treat

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: A supernatural thriller summoning the darkest evil through a viral challenge. The Gallows Act II has arrived on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital) and DVD from Lionsgate.

You were expecting a box of chocolates?

Blumhouse Productions’ The Gallows Act II is a sequel to 2015’s The Gallows, with both films written and directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff.  When teenage vlogger and aspiring actress Auna Rue logs onto a sinister website, she’s trapped in the malevolent world of a cursed stage play, The Gallows. After performing a passage from the play for her tiny online fan base, Auna instantly achieves the stardom she seeks—as well as a twisted challenge from a deadly spirit (The Hangman) in this nightmarish supernatural thriller from the company that brought you Paranormal Activity and Insidious.

 

Animation is funnier than a misplaced panda in “The Big Trip”

We’ve heard about mothers being given the “wrong” baby from the hospital, but such accidents are never fun. Or funnier than the misadventures in The Big Trip.

 A goofy stork mistakenly delivers a baby panda to the wrong door in the heartwarming animal adventure, arriving on DVD, Digital, and On Demand January 14 from Lionsgate. From Vasiliy Rovenskiy and Billy Frolick, the writers of Madagascar and winner of the Dove Seal of Approval for all ages, The Big Trip features the voice talents of Pauly Shore and Drake Bell.
The flick is funny as a gang of misfit animals are bent on a quest to return a panda cub to its family.

The bonus track is also fun: “Giving the Characters a Voice: At the Recording Studio with Drake Bell and Pauly Shore”.