“Planet Ocean” an Important Film for Seaside Dwellers

Planet Ocean, a beautiful new documentary by French filmmakers Yann Althus-Bernard and Michael Pitiot, was premiered on April 18 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. It is a project of Althus-Bernard’s GoodPlanet, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of environmental issues, in partnership with Omega Watches, maker, in 1932, of the world’s first diver’s watch.

The film, which has just been released on DVD, takes the viewer visually through images of the origins of the ocean, its mysteries, its depths, and finally, the ravages to it wrought by man.

Planet Ocean begins poetically, as the deep voice of actor Josh Duhamel intones: “It begins here, with a colony of living fossils, bacteria who live at the surface of the ocean. I am a descendant of this form of life, the most ancient known on Earth, which came into being four billion years ago. I come from here. I come from the ocean.”

Then begins the litany of the intrusion of man. “Facing the ocean, all I can see now is us, mankind. We are 7 billion human beings… We have shaped the world in our image. On the shores of the ocean, we have built vast cities where millions of us live. We have dug out ports, flattened islands to construct our factories.

“The ocean has brought us all the mineral riches of the world. We work materials, melt steel, cut and slice. 100, 000 of our ships criss-cross the seas. We delve unceasingly into the oceans to nourish ourselves. We have become a super-predator.

The planet is ours. And now, where are we going?”

From this prologue the film depicts, in luminous color, the evolution of life on earth over four billion years, encompassing the Ice Age, some 700 million years ago, when the planet remained frozen for 20 million years. And it delves into the depths of the sea to reveal life forms we can’t even begin to imagine.

Plankton, or “floating life,” nearing land masses some 500 million years ago, drifted to the bottom of the ocean and stayed put to create coral reefs.

Nearer the surface schools of fish move in unison, without a leader, whirling and twirling as if bound together by strings. They and myriad squiggly worm-like creatures provide food for other fishes, right up the food chain to man.

When it comes to man, however, the film turns dark. Worldwide, fishing sustains 500 million people, the narrator notes. Fishing with nets up to 25 miles long, men dredge the seas, bringing up fish not by the pound, but by the ton—some 90 million tons each year. Species are being fished to extinction.

And then there is oil, created by the waste, dead plankton, and particles of seaweed which drop to the ocean bottom as “marine snow”. As man digs deeper and deeper for oil, their rigs are burning millions of years of plankton deposits. The film shows the gigantic supertankers in whose holds a part of the bio-geological history of the oceans is being carried away.

In barely 200 years, the film continues, we have violently disrupted 4 billion years of the natural history of the world. We no longer see the beauty of life but only what it can do for our species, what it enables us to produce. Everything that lives around us suffers from our existence. We leave footprints everywhere we go.

As evidence of the destruction, a gruesome sequence shows dead seabirds lying on the shore, decomposing, leaving only the remains of the contents of their stomachs behind: undigested plastic garbage and other non-biodegradable waste products that found their way from humans to the sea.

“This film is not intended to moralize,” Althus-Bernard notes, “but to raise consciousness.” Nevertheless, it ends with a long list of actions that need to be taken by the world community, including stopping subsidies for industrial fishing, banning deep-sea fishing and limiting deep-sea exploitation, respecting fishing quotas, promoting small-scale fishing, protecting ecosystems so marine life can recover, and foremost, imagining and implementing an international stewardship of the oceans.

It’s a serious and workable plan, and one that we in the ocean city of Santa Monica should be most eager to encourage.

Besides Love, You Need A Plot

You can tell from the dopey title—Love Is All You Need-–that this is going to be one of those treacly, predictable, feel-good movies. The plot: rich, grouchy widower meets wide-eyed hairdresser with a heart of gold. He appears to have permanent dyspepsia. She has cancer. Casablanca it isn’t. What’s interesting is that as the world’s demographics change, America has finally decided to acknowledge an aging population and make films for people over 12. But this

is a Danish film, and Europe has always been ahead of us in recognizing that not every film has to cater to teen-age boys and pre-pubescent girls. The stars in this one are the gorgeous but wooden Pierce Brosnan and Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, who is lovely if you can get past her ridiculously over-curled false eyelashes. Of course, they meet cute: she rams into his car in the airport garage and he has a very convincing hissy fit. They are both on their way to Italy, where his son is marrying her daughter. It’s a very thin plot, but pleasant enough. With some beautiful photography of Sorrento, charming old winding streets, a blue blue seashore, and a villa that the wedding party stays in. (Strangely, without any servants to clean or cook for them, it appears.) Much of the scenery is motionless and devoid of people, however, and you get the feeling that it was shot with a green screen and picture postcards were added afterwards. The love story seems to have been shot with a green screen as well, since there’s not much energy or heat in the romance and Brosnan asks Dyrholm to come live with him in Italy without suggesting marriage or even mentioning love. And he doesn’t kiss her until nearly the end of the movie. Must be a Danish thing. Mention must be made of Brosnan’s obnoxious, brassy sister-in-law, the sister of his late wife. You wait for his patience to snap, and when it does he delivers a tirade that everyone would wish they had the courage to deliver to their own nemesis. Not very believable, but oddly satisfying nevertheless. The annoying sister-in-law is played by an actress named Paprika Steen. The name says it all. Other names that had a role in this silly romantic comedy are Susanne Bier, who wrote the story with Anders Thomas Jensen and directed the film. According to the information released by Sony Pictures Classics, which will be distributing the film when it is released in the U.S. later this spring, it was an official selection for the 2012 Venice Film Festival, but was taken out of competition. It was also entered in the Toronto International Film Festival. Love Is All You Need will arrive in Los Angeles and New York in early May. Photo: Pierce Brosnan noses Trine Dyrholm Photo courtesy Sony Picture Classics

Believing’s Not Necessarily About Seeing

How do you describe a sheep to someone who has been blind since birth? Someone who only has a relative concept of size and no concept at all of “white”? Someone who cannot respond to visual cues. For Lindsay Nyman, a beautiful young actress with bright brown eyes, it is a matter of sensitivity. Of using your imagination. Nyman, who is sighted, began her work with the Theatre by the Blind players as a volunteer. Theatre by the Blind is an integral part of CRE Outreach, and is the nation’s only theater group composed entirely of blind actors. A 2012 graduate from UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television, she has had to improvise explanations, descriptions, and movements to a diverse group of actors, singers, and musicians. As for the lamb, she described it by relating it to a dog, “only covered with fluff.” And “soft and marshmallowy”. “Marhsmallowy kind of describes the ‘essence’ of a lamb,” she says. “It’s important to get to the inside of things. You have to go deeper and see the core.” Her intuitive sensibilities have led her to the co-directorship (with Greg Shane, founder and artistic director of CRE Outreach) of a play that she co-wrote (with Colin Simson and with input from the performers). It’s called Yesterday’s, and no, that isn’t a misplaced apostrophe—it’s the name of a jazz club that is the subject of the play. An actress named Cookie plays Candy, the owner of the jazz club who is trying to stave off the failing club’s demise. Which gives her friends and regulars the opportunity to help by volunteering their musical talents. Among the ensemble of 12 are singers Robert Smith and Sean Gorecki, pianist Laywood Blocker, saxophonist Bert Grose, and percussionist Willie Robinson. As for working with the blind, “They have their individual preferences,” Nyman says. “Some don’t like to be touched and some do. But, as you can imagine, suddenly being touched can be a startling—and frightening—experience.” Instead of touching, she uses sound cues. “If I need them to come across the stage to a chair, instead of taking them by the shoulders and steering them, I stand by the chair and tap it so they can hear where I want them to come. “We also have interlaced mats on the floor for blocking so they can follow along and feel where they need to go. They don’t have to use their canes and after awhile their muscle memory takes over. It’s a beautiful thing: we set up an environment that they know is safe and it becomes familiar and provides them with freedom.” Nyman, who is a 23-year-old New Yorker from Long Beach, Long Island, has established a loving, personal relationship with

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Cookie, a 64-year-old woman who lost her sight as the result of domestic violence by her partner. As the star of Yesterday’s, Cookie has learned to “face her fears and push past her limits,” according to Nyman. “It’s strange, because we are not peers and we communicate differently,” Nyman adds. “Sighted people bond over things they see and share. Their bond is built on visual things; they connect on looks and facial expressions. “With Cookie I have to connect on bigger things. I have to be as open and receptive as I can and conscious of what I’m doing at all times. Directors (and sighted people) have to take more time and thought with how they communicate. “It slows everything down. The director can’t just yell directions, she has to be much more detail-oriented and wait until everyone’s accounted for. More care has to be taken. The actors have to take their cues from hearing and feeling the energy from the other actors. They have to do the work to really listen and stay engaged, to understand without visual cues. “Listening is so important when you’re not part of the gesturing world,” she continues. “Most people get their bodies involved when they communicate, but it’s hard for some visually impaired people to break out of their shell. This production serves as rehab as well as theater. It’s inspiring to see what it’s doing for them, what it means to them.” She notes that blind people normally don’t want to call attention to themselves. “Can you imagine how terrifying it is to be seen when you can’t see back?” she asks. “The theater allows the actors to break through and project themselves, first as a character and then as themselves.” She finds the process confidence-building. “You don’t need sight to connect with the audience,” she says. “For two hours you’re another person—you’re that character—and the audience is with you.” Nyman, who has been “helping” for only a year, has an extensive theatrical resume for such a young actor. She started at nine as the little Jewish girl in the Broadway national touring company of Ragtime and had a recurring part as a Bosnian refugee on the TV soap All My Children. She was part of a pop singing group called Huckapoo and has been recorded on 5 Disney Channel albums, toured with the Jonas brothers, and danced with the Eglevsky Ballet Company. She has also danced jazz, hip hop, modern, lyrical, and tap in various shows and is a certified Pilates instructor. Her family is equally productive. Her father, Bruce Nyman, has served as Supervisor of Nassau County and then as City Manager of their home city of Long Beach, Long Island. Her mother, Shelley, was a schoolteacher and a copywriter at an ad agency. “The positive attitudes of my family, and of the actors in Yesterday’s, has changed my life,” Nyman says. “They’ve shown me how to see the world by stepping outside yourself and looking at it with gratitude and appreciation. “As the tagline for CRE Outreach claims, we’re ‘Transforming lives—one play at a time.’ And I stand backstage silently shouting, ‘You can do it! You’ve done it! It’s happening!’” Yesterday’s, produced by CRE Outreach, Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica. Opens April 19. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. thru May 5. Tickets: $20. 310.902.8220 Reprinted from LA Stage Times, published April 18, 2013.

Coffee with Dan and Jeff

Have you ever been involved in a conversation that was so intense, so definitive, and so funny that you wish someone had been taking notes?

Fortunately, someone did when two forty-something men who had been friends since freshman year in college got together over coffee for the first time in four years. And the range of subjects that they got intense about was both noteworthy and hilarious.

Allen Barton has written a deceptively simple play: Years To The Day, now having its world premiere at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. The story is about friendship between two men: Dan (Michael Yavnieli), full of anger and angst, and Jeff (Jeff LeBeau), whose opinions are diametrically opposed to Dan’s on just about everything. They have a most contentious friendship.

They start out arguing about the relative merits of their respective Awesome Phones and the usefulness of social media. Says Jeff, “Better four years of text and social media than four years of nothing.” To which Dan replies, “Perhaps if people would insist on meeting in person, and not do all the online avatar bullshit, the in-person would happen more often.”

Likening it to the question of the chicken and the egg, Jeff asks, “Which came first, loneliness or text?”

After further discussion, the men segue into a conversation about The Latest Film. Dan hated it; Jeff saw it twice. “Actress Du Jour was extraordinary in that film,” he says. Then, after Dan condemns the film in the most vitriolic way, Jeff offers his critique: “I thought it was a work of art. I thought it was provocative, I thought it was original, I was drawn in, I cared. I cared what happened and the hallucinations were I thought integral to the story of the film. I thought the political commentary was spot-on. Acting top notch. The flow, the pacing. I thought she did a bang-up job of it. I think it deserves all
the accolades it can get.” You can’t get a critique much better than that.

Eventually the men leave off arguing about trivia and get to the hard-core experiences of their lives. Dan is morose because at 43 he feels he is about to die. “I’ve turned the corner,” he says. “I’m on the downhill slope.”

He mourns that he’s middle aged, but Jeff tells him that 50 is middle age. “And 50 is the new 40, so you’re not middle-aged until 60.”

A series of unexpected confidences and intimate secrets follow. Jeff talks about his marriage; Dan talks about his parents. Touching moments.

And then it’s back to the arguments about politics, the elections, and the fact that Dan had voted for the woman whom Jeff calls “a ridiculous and insubstantial homophobic nincompoop.”

“Yes,” Dan replies, “but I don’t need a brain in my President. All I needed

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from her was her big fat NO to more spending.”

And so it goes. The men are deadly serious. They never smile, but their dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny and their timing is impeccable. Director Joel Polis has managed to keep things lively in a space that contains only a table and two chairs, two men, and a lot of talk.

You’ll love it. I did.

Years To The Day will continue at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd. in Beverly Hills, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through May 12. For reservations call 702-582-8587 or visit online at www.ktctickets.com

Photo: Michael Yavnieli and Jeff LeBeau
Photo by Ed Krieger

Marshall and Bencivenga meet Billy and Ray

In 1943 two highly unlikely collaborators quarreled their way through a movie script that earned the anxious concern of the Breen Office (administrator of the industry’s moral censorship guidelines), and was nominated for seven Academy Awards without winning any. The collaborators were Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, and the film was Double Indemnity, which dealt with murder and adultery at a time when married couples in the movies could sleep only in twin beds. Yet it wound up on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Best Movies as well as three other AFI Best lists (Thrills, Passions, Heroes and Villains). Tonight, some 70 years later, that quarrelsome collaboration is brought to life in the premiere of Billy & Ray at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. The collaborators this time are playwright Mike Bencivenga and director/writer/actor/entrepreneur/ and all-around funny man Garry Marshall. Sitting in his comfortable office at the Falcon, the theater he built and owns, Marshall is surrounded by walls filled with memories — photo collages and posters from his hit plays. “My wife is not so fascinated by show business. She likes it, but she doesn’t like it all over the house, so that’s why

we’re swamped. We’re running out of wall space,” he explains. That may also explain why the lobby of the theater has a showcase devoted to softball trophies won by the Falcon team (Marshall pitches.) “I’m obsessed with softball,” he says. “It clears my head. I come from the Bronx, where every day there was a ball involved with your life,” he continues. “I know people get into golf and booze and drugs, but silly me, I chose softball.” Another thing he likes about softball is the fact that “there’s no reverse decision,” he says. “There’s a decision every single time and it’s over and done. I like decisions. In softball, ‘You lost! Next game’,” he shouts. With Billy & Ray, Marshall collaborates with Bencivenga, the playwright, cautiously suggesting an additional line here or there. “In a society that’s so divided, it’s inspiring to see so many people coming together as they do in theater,” Bencivenga says. He acknowledges that it was something of a stretch for two individuals as disparate as Wilder and Chandler to collaborate on a story. “Chandler was an enigmatic, mysterious figure who went from Chicago to England and actually became a teacher there, while Wilder was from Vienna, was a newspaperman in Germany, and spoke English as a third language,” Bencivenga explains. “They butted heads throughout their collaboration. So if you’re going to have a play in which half the time it’s two guys sitting in a room, writing, it had better be darned funny,” he concludes. “It’s wonderful and joyful working with Garry,” Bencivenga notes. “He is so playful, but he has a laser-sharp mind, especially about details, and he’s very respectful… He keeps telling me, ‘You’re the star!’ Who could ask for more than that?” Both men have personal stories about Billy Wilder. “I discovered that a tux is a great equalizer,” Bencivenga begins. “If you’re wearing a tuxedo at a celebrity event, you can talk to anyone. I once attended a dinner at the Film Society of Lincoln Center where Wilder was the honoree. I was a student at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts and I idolized him, so I approached him and he couldn’t have been more charming. When I asked him if he had any advice for a beginning screenwriter, he said, “Yeah. Don’t listen to anybody. Not even me.” Wilder remained a kind friend and occasional advisor to Bencivenga for the rest of his life. The story is reminiscent of Marshall’s famous line when asked how to ensure that a movie will be successful. He replied, “Get Julia Roberts!” (His star in Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and Valentine’s Day.) He might also have said, “Get Hector Elizondo,” who has been in every film Marshall has made — 17 so far. In addition to Wilder, Marshall admits his admiration for Mike Nichols (“I like him personally”), Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, and Jacques Tati. “The French have different timing from us,” he says, “and I learned the most about timing movie comedy from the work of Tati.” Marshall has said that all stories are “Cinderella stories. I don’t do film noir; I’m not that dark. I do film blanc — love stories and fairy tales. I like to focus on somebody who’s not doing well and have something good happen to him. I believe the human condition can be nice.” He credits Carl Reiner, Joey Bishop, Phil Foster, Sheldon Leonard, and Danny Thomas as being important to his career. He worked with each of them on television, as he did with Jack Paar, Lucille Ball, Robin Williams (Mork and Mindy), his sister Penny Marshall (in Laverne and Shirley), The Odd Couple, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, Dick Van Dyke, and others.) He also received some valuable advice from Norman Lear. “I was very shy,” Marshall explains, “and Lear told me I had to ‘get out there.’ In LA, pitching is a big art form and you’ve got to be peppy and tell your story well if you want to get it made.” Marshall has been telling stories all his life. He was a journalism major at Northwestern University and worked for a couple of years for the New York Daily News before changing media. As a writer, producer, and director, “I’ve gotten along with everybody. But the toughest was my sister Penny. She’s a complete perfectionist. “To do well,” he continues, “you work with people you don’t necessarily want to have lunch with. But I’m not in the lunch business. I don’t impress people at lunch.” Asked whom he admires of the newer crop of actors he names Genevieve Joy, a standup comic who was in the Falcon’s I Ought To be in Pictures last fall; a black Jewish comedian named Sarge; Girls actress Zosia Mamet (“David’s kid”); and Christine Lakin, who appeared in three of Marshall’s movies — New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and Georgia Rule — as well as many of the Troubadour Theater Company productions at his theater. He also mentions his current cast. Kevin Blake, who plays Billy Wilder, was in the Falcon’s Laurel and Hardy (as Stan Laurel) in 2011. Shaun O’Hagan, who plays Raymond Chandler, portrayed Mortimer in the Falcon’s Arsenic and Old Lace in 1999. Anthony Starke, who plays Joe Sistrom, made his first feature film appearance in Marshall’s Nothing in Common. The fourth member of the cast is Ali Spuck. But mostly Marshall is “big on nepotism.” In addition to working with his sister Penny, he has written two books — Wake Me When It’s Funny in the 1990s and his new memoir, My Happy Days in Hollywood, with his daughter Lori. His daughter Kathleen Marshall LaGambina heads the Falcon Theatre staff as a producer. And he is working with his son, director Scott Marshall, on a future project with the Van Dyke brothers, Dick and Jerry. In the end, though, the last word belongs to Billy Wilder. His advice, “For God’s sake, have fun! We’re being grossly overpaid to make shit up. If we don’t laugh about that, who will?” Billy & Ray, Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. Opens Friday, April 5. Wed-Sat 8 pm., Sun 4 pm, through April 28. Tickets: $27-57. www.falcontheatre.com. 818.955.8101. Reprinted from the LA Stage Times, published April 5, 2013

About Roger

To anyone who only knew film critic Roger Ebert from his television persona, arguing with his long-time colleague Gene Siskel, you might characterize Ebert as “the grumpy one.” But when he died this week after a 10-year battle with cancer, the heartfelt tributes from his friends and fellow critics emphatically belied that image. “I never dated him personally,” as Elaine May used to say about any man she didn’t know, but I watched his show assiduously every Sunday night, just before 60

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Minutes. And if a film got a thumbs up from him (and especially if Siskel agreed), that film went right to the top of my Must See list. Ebert was trained as a journalist. He was pursuing his doctorate when he quit to take on the role of feature writer for the Chicago Sun- Times, where he worked for the next four decades. He became a movie critic in 1967 and eight years later became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 2005 he became the first film critic to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His obituary in the New York Times by Douglas Martin includes the comment, “It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.” And in an extraordinary tribute, President Obama said, in part, “For a generation of Americans — especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.” Just two days before he died, Ebert announced that he was taking “a leave of presence” and would only write reviews of films that he wanted to. Now that he will not be reviewing several hundred movies a year, you will miss him. Even if you never dated him personally.

Activists and the aftermath

Remember “Hell no, we won’t go!” and “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Remember the marches and the draft card burnings and the fiery speeches on the university steps?

Scenes from that American war period are still mesmerizing and laden with emotion for those who lived through it. It was more than 40 years ago that we were in Viet Nam, and we didn’t want to be there. So we came home. Some of us. And the protesters at home went into hiding.

In a new film, The Company You Keep, the turmoil of the period is captured in the blotchy, herky-jerky footage taken at the time. It still packs a wallop. But then the film becomes a gentle vindication of those activities and careens off to the lives of a group of former protesters living in their own manufactured after-life as pillars of their communities.

The war being waged currently in Afghanistan, on the other hand, seems to be taking place in some parallel universe. Nobody seems to be paying much attention. Maybe because the men and women fighting this war were not drafted. They chose to enlist, to fight and die, for a war that seems to be reflected at home only in the mounting price of gas. And the mounting number of casualties.

The Company You Keep is set 30 years after the Viet Nam days, as Susan Sarandon, after living quietly as a suburban housewife, decides to acknowledge her former involvement in an antiwar protest in which a guard was killed. Which sets in motion a renewed search for the other members of the group. One of whom is Robert Redford.

Redford, a successful lawyer living in the Albany suburbs with his young daughter, is forced into a cross-country journey to find the old activist friends who can clear his name. He hasn’t heard from them in decades, but he readily finds them, changed names and identities notwithstanding. And everywhere he goes he is followed by a cocky young reporter, Shia LaBeouf, who first outed him and is determined to make a name for himself with this story.

Aside from the ease with which Redford finds his Weather Underground co-conspirators, the other hard-to-swallow factor is that this still handsome, but obviously aging, actor is the loving and patient father of an 11-year-old daughter, played by Jackie Evancho. It would be infinitely more credible if widower Redford were caring for a granddaughter due to the death of his daughter rather than a daughter due to the death of his wife.

Be that as it may, Redford directs an all-star cast in a story that is fictional but “a piece of American history. It truly gets inside how people were living their lives 30 years later…underground and with a false identity,” he says.

His cast includes, in addition to Sarandon and LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, and Sam Elliott, among others, and we meet them as he travels across the country searching them out.

It’s a gripping, if not entirely convincing tale, but certainly worth seeing—especially if you didn’t actually live through it in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The Company You Keep opened in New York and Los Angeles on April 5th.

Photos, clockwise: Julie Christie, Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon