Grambling’s White Tiger (1981, directed by Georg Stanford Brown)

The year is 1968 and Jim Gregory (played by Caitlyn Jenner, back when she was still credited as Bruce) is a hotshot high school quarterback who has just been offered a scholarship to play at Grambling University.  With their star quarterback in his final year, Grambling needs a good backup.  Meanwhile, Jim dreams of playing in the NFL and is excited to play for a program that’s known for producing professional football players.  Grambling’s legendary head coach, Eddie Robinson (Harry Belafonte), is eager for Jim to join the team.

The only problem is that Grambling is a historically black college and Jim Gregory is very much white.  In fact, Jim will not only be the first white player to ever join the Grambling Tigers but he will also be the only white student enrolled at the school.  From the minute that Jim arrives on campus, he discovers that he’s not wanted.  The rest of the team sees him as an interloper and they resent that he took a scholarship that could have gone to a black player.  Meanwhile, the local whites distrust Jim because he’s a student at a black college.

Based on a true story, this is a football film that doesn’t feature much football.  Jim doesn’t get to play in a game until the very end of the season and, even then, he’s only on the field for a few minutes.  He doesn’t win the game or even lead a scoring drive.  Instead of focusing on the usual sports movie clichés, Grambling’s White Tiger instead explores Jim experiencing, for the first time, what it’s like to be a minority.  Jim eventually wins over his teammates through his hard work but he still remains an outsider for the entire film.  When he goes into town, a saleswoman and her boss initially offer him a discount on a pair of boots until they discover that he plays football not for Louisiana Tech but instead for Grambling.  When he first meets the parents of his new girlfriend, he’s told that an interracial relationship will never last and is advised to move on.  When the funeral of Martin Luther King is broadcast on television, all Jim’s teammates walk out of the room one-by-one until Jim is left sitting alone.

In typical made-for-network-TV fashion, Grambling’s White Tiger explores important issues without delving into them too deeply.  (For instance, the fact that Jim’s spot on the team is potentially coming at the expense of a black student is an intriguing issue that is mentioned at the start of the film but never really dwelled upon.)  Harry Belafonte is perfect as the stern but compassionate Coach Robinson while LeVar Burton is likable as the only member of the team to initially welcome Jim.  Jenner, however, is thoroughly miscast and several years too old to play a college freshman.  As an actor, Jenner is stiff and awkward but the true story of Jim Gregory is interesting enough that the film will hold the attention of any football fans in the audience.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Lenny (dir by Bob Fosse)

Yes, it’s true.  Long before the creator of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was even born, Lenny Bruce was a real comedian who was challenging the status quo and going to jail for using words in his routine that were, at the time, considered to be so obscene that they couldn’t even be uttered in public.  Today, of course, we hear those words and they’re so commonplace that we barely even notice.  But, in the 50s and the early 60s, it was not uncommon for Lenny Bruce to get arrested in the middle of his act.  Club owners could literally be fined for allowing Lenny Bruce to perform on their stage.  At the height of his fame, it was a struggle for Lenny to find anyone willing to even consider booking him.

Whether it was his intention or not, Lenny Bruce became one of the first great warriors for the 1st amendment.  It made him famous and a hero to many.  Many people also believe that the pressure of being under constant legal threat led to his death from a drug overdose in 1966.  Lenny Bruce was only 40 years old when he died but he inspired generations of comedians who came after him.  It can be argued that modern comedy started with Lenny Bruce.

Directed by Bob Fosse and based on a play by Julian Barry, 1974’s Lenny takes a look at Lenny Bruce’s life, comedy, legal battles, and eventual death.  As he would later do in the thematically similar Star 80, Fosse takes a mockumentary approach to telling his story.  Clips of Lenny Bruce (played by Dustin Hoffman) performing are mixed in with “interviews” with actors playing the people who knew him while he was alive.  Because the story is told out of chronological order, scenes of a young and enthusiastic Lenny are often immediately followed by scenes of a burned-out and bitter Lenny reading from the transcripts of his trial during his stand-up.  Fosse never forgets to show us the audience listening as Lenny does his act.  Most of them laugh at Bruce’s increasingly outrageous comments but, to his credit, Fosse never hesitates to show us the people who aren’t laughing.  Lenny Bruce, the film tells us, was too honest to ever be universally embraced.

The film doesn’t hesitate to portray Lenny Bruce’s dark side.  For much of the film, Lenny is not exactly a likable character.  Even before his first arrest, Lenny comes across as being a narcissist who is cruelly manipulative of his first wife, stripper Honey Harlow (Valerine Perrine).  As opposed to the somewhat dashing Lenny of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Dustin Hoffman’s Lenny Bruce comes across as someone who you would not necessarily want to be left alone with.  The film’s Lenny is a hero on stage and frequently a hypocrite in his private life but that seems to be the point of the movie.  Lenny argues that one of the reasons why Lenny Bruce could so perfectly call out society for being fucked up was because he was pretty fucked up himself.

As with all of his films, Lenny is as much about Bob Fosse as it is about Lenny Bruce.  As a director, Fosse often seems to be more interested in Bruce’s early days, when he was performing in low-rent strip clubs and trying to impress aging vaudevillians, than in Bruce’s later days as a celebrity.  (The world in which the young Lenny Bruce struggled was a world that Fosse knew well and its aesthetic was one to which he frequently returned in his films and stage productions.)  It’s also easy to see parallels between Lenny’s uneasy relationship with Honey and Bob Fosse’s own legendary partnership with Gwen Verdon.  The film’s grainy black-and-white cinematography captures not only the rough edges of Lenny’s life but also perhaps Fosse’s as well.  Just as Lenny Bruce performed confessional stand-up comedy, Lenny feels like confessional filmmaking.

Of course, it’s not always a pleasant film to watch.  Dustin Hoffman does a very good job of capturing Lenny Bruce’s drive but he doesn’t really have the natural comedic timing necessary to be totally convincing as a stand-up comedian.  (The film sometimes seems to forget that, as much as Lenny Bruce was admired for his first amendment activism, he was also considered to be a very funny stand-up.)  Still, it’s a valuable film to watch.  It’s a document of history, a reminder of a time when you actually could get arrested for saying the “wrong” thing.  Some people would say that we’re returning to those times and it’s easy to imagine that the real Lenny Bruce (as opposed to the idealized version of him) would not be welcome to perform on most college campuses today.  One can only imagine how modern audiences would react to a part of Lenny’s stand-up where he repeats several racial slurs over and over again.  (If Lenny Bruce had lived to get a twitter account, he would be getting cancelled every week.)  Lenny‘s vehement celebration of freedom of speech is probably more relevant in 2020 than it was in even 1974.

Lenny received several Oscar nominations, including best picture.  However, 1974 was also the year of both The Godfather, Part II and Chinatown so Lenny failed to win a single Oscar.

(Interestingly enough, Fosse’s previous film, Cabaret, was also prevented from winning the award for best picture by the first Godfather, though Fosse did win best director over Francis Ford Coppola.  Five years after the release of Lenny, Fosse would make All That Jazz, which was partially based on his own health struggles that he suffered with during the filming Lenny.  In All That Jazz, Cliff Gorman — who starred in the stage production of Lenny — is frequently heard reciting a Lenny Bruce-style monologue about death.  Fosse’s All That Jazz would again compete with a Francis Ford Coppola production at the Oscars.  However, Kramer vs Kramer — starring Lenny‘s Dustin Hoffman — defeated both All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now for the big prize.  22 years later, Chicago, which was based on Fosse’s legendary stage production and which featuring the song that gave All That Jazz it’s name — would itself win best picture.)

The New Mutants has a new date and trailer.

Marvel’s The New Mutants was a film that was supposed to come out in mid 2019, but was pushed back. The New Mutants focuses on a set of kids in a hospital and takes more of a horror/drama stance that’s similar to F/X’s Legion.  It’s a little different for Marvel, and fits for the Fox banner.

The New Mutants, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Alice Braga, and Charlie Heaton, is set to premiere in cinemas on April 2020.

About Last Night: A Few Thoughts on the Golden Globes

Watching the Golden Globes is always an odd experience.

First off, there’s the mix of TV awards with movie awards.  For someone like me, who spends most of January thinking about the Oscars, it’s always somewhat annoying to have to sit through all of the television awards before even getting to the first film award.  The Emmys are over so it’s not like winning a Golden Globe is going to give Chernobyl or Fleabag the boost necessary to win a real award.

(Especially since those two shows already deservedly cleaned up at the Emmys….)

When it comes to the Globes, we care about the movies.  I was happy with the majority of the film awards.  I was especially happy to see the underrated Missing Link pick up the award for Best Animated Film.  I was glad that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was named Best Comedy, even though I think it’s debatable whether or not the film was actually a comedy.  I’m sorry Eddie Murphy didn’t win for Dolemite Is My Name but, at the same time, Taron Egerton gave an outstanding performance in Rocketman.  I haven’t seen 1917 yet so I’m not going to comment on whether it should have won Best Drama or whether Sam Mendes deserved to defeat Scorsese and Tarantino.  That said, upset victories are always fun.

Of course, this morning, most of the Golden Globe coverage is not centered on 1917 defeating both The Irishman and Marriage Story for Best Drama.  Instead, almost everyone is talking about Ricky Gervais.  It says something about the vapidness of pop cultural criticism in the age of social media that Gervais was apparently “too mean” for some people.

When it comes to a show like the Golden Globes, the host sets the tone.  For instance, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted, they set a tone that basically said: “Look at us and all of our famous friends!”  It’s a friendly tone where everyone tells everyone else how great they are.  When Ricky Gervais hosts, the tone of the evening is usually a lot more awkward because no one is quite sure what Gervais is going to say and, being the Brit who created The Office, it’s not like Gervais is going to suffer if no one in Hollywood ever returns another one of his calls.  Both approaches have their strengths and their weaknesses.  There have been some years when I’ve been in the mood for the Fey/Poehler approach.  This year, with its promise of 11 months of wealthy celebrities trying to tell everyone else how to vote and probably getting angry because people in Iowa don’t care about funding Amtrak, I was in the mood for someone willing to shake things up and say, “Get over yourselves.”  In other words, I was in the mood for RIcky Gervais.

During Gervais’s opening monologue, he touched on several topics that everyone should have known he was going to touch on.  He said that Epstein didn’t kill himself and then accused everyone in the room of being his friend.  He told the assembled that Ronan Farrow was coming for all of them.  He told everyone that no one wanted to hear their political opinions because they had no idea what it was like to live in the real world and that they had less schooling than Greta Thunberg.

And whether you think any of that is funny or not is up to you.  Humor is subjective.  Personally, I think that the most important thing that a comedian can do is ridicule people who think that they’re above ridicule.  I also think that any belief or ideology that’s worth anything will be able to survive being the subject of a joke.  Many of my followers on twitter were not amused that Ricky Gervais made a joke about Greta Thunberg but so what?  If what she’s doing is truly worthwhile, it’ll be able to survive someone making a joke about her skipping school.

Besides, Gervais made a few good points.  Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself and a lot of famous people did hang out with him, even after he was first arrested.  The majority of Hollywood did work with Harvey Weinstein, even though apparently his behavior wasn’t exactly a secet.  There are many self-proclaimed “woke” celebrities who do work for terrible companies.  (And let’s not even get into the people who refuse to criticize China.)  And when it comes to politics, Patricia Arquette proved Gervais’s point to be correct during her acceptance speech.

(The audience, I noticed, was surprisingly lukewarm to Arquette’s anti-war speech.  There was some applause but still, one got the feeling that the room’s reaction was largely, “Oh God, Patricia’s talking politics again.”  Personally, I was more impressed with Joaquin Phoenix’s speech, if just because it may have been inarticulate but it was also sincere.  Of course, as soon as he said that celebs didn’t need private jets, the music started.)

Good points or not, you could tell that the audience was often not sure how to react to Gervais’s comments.  Tom Hanks looked shocked, though I think that has more to do with Hanks being the most impossibly wholesome film star working today than with what Gervais saying.  (Seriously, if anything bad ever comes out about Tom Hanks, my entire belief system will crash.)  Others, though, had that “OMG — WHAT’S HAPPENING!?” look on their face.  It reminded me a bit of the 2013 Country Music Awards, when Carrie Underwood made a joke about the Obamacare website crashing and the audience clearly didn’t know whether or not it was safe to laugh.

(Of course, the same people who loved it when the CMAs made fun of Obamacare weren’t amused when future ceremonies featured jokes about Trump.  So often, people’s attitude towards humor seems to be, “I love it when you make jokes about the other side but if you make a joke about me, you’re the worst person who ever lived.”  Eventually, Gervais will tweet out an anti-Trump joke and the people who love him now will suddenly hate him and the people who currently hate him will go back to retweeting him.  What a vapid time to be alive.)

Anyway, last night’s Golden Globes ceremony was a typical awards show ceremony and no one will remember a thing about it in a week.  The Globes are pretty much there to tide us over until the Oscar nominations are announced.  They did their job and life goes on.

Music Video Of The Day: White Lines by Melle Mel (1983, directed by Spike Lee)

This song, one of the first hit rap songs about drugs, is often mistakenly described as being a collaboration between Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel.  Grandmaster Flash actually had nothing to do with the song.  He had already left Sugar Hill Records before the song was even recorded.  When the single was first released, it was credited to “Grandmaster and Melle Mel,” in order to create the impression that Flash was involved.  In his autobiography, Flash wrote that he once heard the song was while he was on the way to buy crack and, at that moment, he felt that Melle Mel was specifically speaking to him.

This song was recorded at a time when much of America — specifically, white America — was either unaware of or unconcerned with the drug epidemic that was ravaging America’s poorest neighborhoods.  White Lines attacks both cocaine and a legal system that punishes poor black kids more harshly than rich, white businessmen.  “The businessman who is caught with 24 kilos” is a reference to car manufacturer John DeLorean, who was arrested after trying to buy 24 kilos from an undercover FBI agent.  DeLorean was later acquitted after he made the case that the FBI agent had entrapped him.

(DeLorean today is best remembered for designing the car made famous by Back to the Future.  Between 1981 and 1983, 9,000 Deloreans were manufactured and 6,500 of them are reported to still be in working condition.  I once came across a classified ad from someone who was looking to sell his DeLorean.  I called and offered him a thousand dollars.  He laughed and hung up.)

This video was shot by Spike Lee, who was a film student at NYU at the time and yes, that is Laurence Fishburne.  Fishburne appeared in this video shortly after playing Cutter in Death Wish II and he has the same look in the video as he did in the movie.