Posted by Joy Bennett
General view of Unlikely Heroes Justice Ball, Los Angeles, CA September 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Last night I was invited to the Justice Ball at Boulevard3 on Sunset Boulevard to benefit the international anti-human trafficking organization Unlikely Heroes. This important organization rescues and restores child victims of sex slavery worldwide. I was thrilled to attend this glamorous ball, it was well-attended and in a lovely setting with fountains, fireplaces, and lots of gorgeous folks all dressed to impress. For the shot above, I jumped up on the seat of the stone surrounding the pool. Unfortunately, my glasses fell into the pool shortly thereafter! No worries, I fished them out, but when I asked for a napkin, I discovered it was a napkin free zone! I wiped my hands on my skirt, recovered, and kept going.
There are over 27 million people trapped in slavery worldwide, according to Unlikely Heroes founder Erica Greve. You can watch a very important video about Unlikely Heroes featuring Ms. Greve, President and Founder of Unlikely Heroes. This woman started the organization when she was working as a social worker in Oakland, California and realized there was no organizations to help these unfortunate victims of child sexual abuse. Here's the video: vimeo.com/48671489. For more information or to support this very worthy non-profit, visit www.unlikelyheroes.com.
12.14.13 at 8:51 pm | Handel's Messiah sung by the audience at Disney. . .
12.10.13 at 8:35 pm | A. Scott Berg discusses his new biography,. . .
12.9.13 at 7:39 am | The great Kobe Bryant returns to play with the. . .
11.28.13 at 5:18 am | Have a wonderful Hanukkah!
11.15.13 at 7:09 pm | The lovely and talented Annette Bening discusses. . .
11.4.13 at 1:30 pm | Horseracing at its Finest
12.14.13 at 8:51 pm | Handel's Messiah sung by the audience at Disney. . . (41)
7.24.13 at 1:50 am | A great diet that satisfies your sweet tooth. . . (15)
11.15.13 at 7:09 pm | The lovely and talented Annette Bening discusses. . . (5)
September 24, 2013 | 3:17 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Photo courtesy RITpress.com
Jack Garner was a chief national film critic for the hundred or so newspapers and outlets of Gannett Company for twenty years, and was the film critic of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle for thirty years. I met Mr. Garner and knew him slightly when I was living in Rochester, New York, at a film festival we both covered many years ago. He has been an inspiration and model for how film criticism should be approached, and this book is also a fine and enjoyable synopsis of his long and rewarding career.
In a film critic, you want a reviewer who, above all, has good taste, intelligence, and a fine sensitivity. Mr. Garner has all three in spades. He set the bar very high for film criticism, and was, and still is, a role model for writing about cinema and all things related.
Mr. Garner discusses in his book such things as his basic concepts of film reviewing. “First, I tried to give every film a fair shake.” “Second, I think of myself as a shades of grey critic.” Every film has some redeeming quality, he writes, and most films are neither perfect nor completely dismal. “Third, I try not to give too much away.” Plot spoilers are the bane of a film reviewer’s existence. “Finally, I hate numbers or stars” or other such rating system.
Later on in the book, Mr. Garner discusses what is a critic? To sum up, he feels that a critic is both a journalist and historian, an advocate both for the consumer and for the arts. Simply put, a critic is someone who expresses opinions about the quality of a work, and backs up those opinions with examples and justifications.
A critic must address two basic questions, he writes. What is the artist trying to do, and how well he or she succeeds. The film should be considered in light of the quality of the acting, the execution and originality of ideas, and its form and technique.
But the most important element of any movie is “a film must have life” -- it must move you and stir emotional reactions in the viewer. “A good film demands a reaction.” I couldn’t agree more.
His book also includes such gems as favorite reviews he’s done over the years, lists of his favorite all time movies and actors and why, his memorable encounters with such icons as Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Ray Charles, James Stewart, and many others, and his iconic and important essays on the art of cinema.
Intelligently organized, and very pleasant to read, this excellent book sets the standard for film criticism, and should be considered an essential part of any film lover’s library.
September 20, 2013 | 4:36 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Opening Night of NYIFF - LA Edition, Sept. 18, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Wednesday night I was thrilled to attend the Red Carpet Opening Night Event of the New York International Film Festival - LA Edition. Friends invited me, and there I met lots of directors, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, producers, and friends of the above, all celebrating the festival, which runs through September 21.
This is one of the largest independent film festivals, and started in 1993. It's known as the "voice of independent filmmaking." In past years the works of dozens of celebrities have been featured, including Andy Garcia, Selma Blair, Dominique Swain, Tony Danza and countless others. More information and tickets to the events are available here nyfilmvideo.com.
They were also handing out awards Wednesday night. I couldn't catch them all, it was a loud, fun, crowded scene, but I did snag a Mr. Bradd Hopkins, who is the winner of Best Screenplay for his project "Ludlow." A very nice fellow. Congratulations to Mr. Hopkins and all the other festival award winners!
I will return to the festival this Friday to see some festival films and attend the events, and will report back on it then.
I must say I am continually impressed with the ingenuity, gumption, and sheer inventiveness of independent film and filmmakers. I believe that the quality of independent films are often higher than the dribble that the big studios often put out, year in and year out. Tickets are still available to the festival, which is taking place at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, in itself, a lovely and historic venue.
Note: I just added more photos from this event on my Flickr page, check them out here: flickr.com/joybennett.
September 10, 2013 | 1:36 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, CA photo by Joy Bennett
If you live in or visit Los Angeles, there is a breathtaking, exceptional museum for photography in Century City that I recently discovered: The Annenberg Space for Photography. I just visited there last week, and saw the outstanding exhibit on Helmut Newton which was amazing. Sadly, that exhibit is now closed, but the museum is preparing a new exhibit set to open on October 26th called "The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years."
The Helmut Newton exhibit was one of the finest photographic exhibits I've ever experienced. His work was shown with depth, sensitivity, and power, and I learned a great deal that afternoon about this groundbreaking photographer and his work.
If you love photography as I do, it's worth your time to explore this wonderful museum, and best of all, it's completely free. You just have to pay for parking, and they validate, bringing the cost down to $3.50. They also have a library, a gift shop, and a wonderful lecture series available.
For more information about the museum, visit annenbergspaceforphotography.com. The museum is closed now but will reopen on October 26th with their new exhibit. You can see a preview of the upcoming exhibit on their website.
The museum was founded in 2009 by Wallis Annenberg, the billionaire heiress who has dedicated her life to philanthropy. "Wallis Annenberg is the Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Based in Los Angeles, Wallis is a visionary who strives to improve the well-being of people and communities throughout the world. She has spent much of her life focused on philanthropy and is dedicated to education; communications; arts and culture; medical research; animal welfare; social justice and environmental stewardship. " From the Annenberg Space for Photography website.
To find out more about Wallis Annenberg, the fascinating heiress who started the museum and has funded countless other philanthropic projects for the City of Los Angeles and elsewhere, you might enjoy reading this October 2009 Vanity Fair article: http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/10/wallis-annenberg200910. The world needs more individuals like Wallis Annenberg!
September 2, 2013 | 9:27 pm
Posted by Joy Bennett
The Butler film poster
Today we saw The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels (he also directed Precious, etc.). It was excellent. I've rarely been so emotionally affected by a film.
Forest Whitaker is the Butler, and does an outstanding job, aging through his many decades of service. The make-up and hair stylists did a terrific job with the effects of aging through the years, but it is Mr. Whitaker's skill himself that really carries the day. It's no surprise, this gifted actor received an Oscar for his portrayal of the dictator Idi Amin, and what range he has. His incarnation of the Butler is gentle, strong, disciplined and uncannily spot on. Jane Fonda is also excellent as Nancy Reagan.
Oprah herself is one of the main characters as the Butler's wife, and here she is as we've never seen her before: boozy, vulnerable, yearning for a husband who has been called away by the White House. What wife could compete with that? She also does a terrific job.
The film for me at least was often hard to watch, as the Civil Rights movement, Birmingham, the Freedom Fighters, and the formation of the Black Panther party were all unflinchingly portrayed. The assassinations of two of our finest, Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy also play strongly in this film. This era was one of our darkest hours as a country. Look just how far we have come in race relations; yet how far we still have to go as a nation, and a world. A difficult, emotionally soaring, outstanding film, just perfect for this Labor Day Weekend.
August 27, 2013 | 9:13 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl, August 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Last Saturday night was a real treat. I was given a press pass to see one of our favorite performers, who we've loved ever since we heard her powerful, expressive voice in the hit musical Wicked on Broadway: Kristin Chenoweth.
The Hollywood Bowl was a perfect setting for this amazing performer, the evening was pleasant and clear, and you couldn’t have asked for a better night to enjoy this very special event.
Right on time, Ms. Chenoweth came out in a long, dazzling white gown, reminiscent almost of a wedding dress. Her voice was superb and effortless throughout, and to Ms. Chenoweth’s credit, she did not rely heavily on the Wicked songbook for her show. A lesser performer certainly would.
The singer put an unmistakable emotional stamp on the evening with her choice of songs. She started with “Que Sera, Sera” and made her way through an impressive oeuvre of material, mostly from hit films and musicals, see song list below. She ended with “Smile” the classic song Charlie Chaplin wrote for his film Modern Times (1936). “Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near, that’s the time you must keep on trying…” Ms. Chenoweth made this familiar tune sound so fresh, with such emotional impact, I was left in tears.
The emotional arc of the concert was set, it was as if Ms. Chenoweth was telling us, here’s life, here’s what it can do to you, but here’s how to survive it: with humor, charisma, hard work, and faith. Just watch, I‘ll show you how.
Beautiful fireworks began and ended the concert, which only added to the excitement. At the Hollywood Bowl, a wonderful, outdoor venue, you can bring in your own picnic food, or order or pick up nicely prepared dinners, snacks and drinks there.
Ms. Chenoweth is funny and sweet, yet there is an unmistakable edge to her. You don’t get your own solo show for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl without some mettle. She came out of Oklahoma, from a not-particularly musical family, but has had an impressive career, largely due to her own perseverance, work ethic, charisma, and remarkable instrument.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Conductor Kevin Stites, did a wonderful job backing her up. This is a powerful orchestral machine, finely tuned to every musical nuance.
This is why I stay up late nights, blogging away, the chance to take in concerts like this. Kristin Chenoweth is a vocal artist of the finest caliber. Overall, an exceptional concert in a very special setting.
SONG LIST *
“Que Sera, Sera”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
“The Man that Got Away”
“Working 9 to 5”
“Tuppins” from Mary Poppins
“When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2
A Song from Phantom of the Opera
“I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles
“My Lord and Master” from King and I
“Tits and Ass” from A Chorus Line (revised to “Boobs and Butt)
Avenue Q song w/puppets
“Popular” from Wicked sung in different languages
“For Good” from Wicked duet with audience member – great!
“WWDD -- What would Dolly [Parton] Do?” Ms. Chenoweth wrote
“God Bless America”
* I think it caught them all, forgive me if I missed one or two.
Hollywood Bowl, August 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett<
August 24, 2013 | 4:07 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Shot from Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, photo courtesy adoptfilms.net/harry
If you’re a fan of Harry Dean Stanton (and who in their right mind isn’t?) you will enjoy a documentary coming out in Los Angeles on September 13th called Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction directed by Sophie Huber. I was kindly invited by the publicity staff to a screening of this film last night in Hollywood, and got to see it at a really cool studio office building near Sunset. It was a fine film, shot partly in black and white, and features Mr. Stanton and his friends reminiscing about his remarkable life.
It also features Mr. Stanton singing. He has a fine, strong voice – who knew? He has a poet’s soul and admits to being a “womanizer” which has taken its toll on his love life. Yet with a face as soulful as his, it’s easy to forgive. He has a touch of a philosopher in him, too; and reflects on how “it’s all going to fade.”
Then after the film I wandered into the nearby Amoeba Music on Sunset – an amazing place, then drove back along Santa Monica Blvd. to Fairfax. I couldn’t resist running into Canters for some melt in your mouth chocolate chip rugula. Delicious! Traffic was blissfully light coming home, it was great. I love this city!
August 23, 2013 | 9:13 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
A recent Milk + Bookies book donating party in Santa Monica, CA, photo by Joy Bennett
Milk + Bookies, no that's not the name of a lactating gangster, but a unique and successful non-profit founded by my friend and neighbor, Meredith Alexander. Pictured above is a recent Milk + Bookies event. Meredith is there in the left background eating ice cream, and the children have just heard the actor dressed up in his colorful outfit read to them. Now they're coloring after inscribing and donating their books, and eating ice cream!
Some Hollywood wives (Ms. Alexander is married to Jesse Alexander, a writer and producer best known as Executive Producer of Lost, Hannibal, and several other TV shows) are content to sit back, shop, decorate, and enjoy a life of ease. Not so with Meredith. Through determination, creativity, hard work and perseverance, she has developed this non-profit for almost ten years. It now donates well over 10,000 books annually to needy children and organizations. She started it in 2004, yet didn’t take a salary until last year, and works full time at the task. She does have a board and early on asked two friends to help her, one a financial whiz and the other a producer. However, it was clear from my interview that Ms. Alexander is the driving force behind Milk + Bookies.
Note: I have made a small donation to her organization, and have helped take photos at a recent event. I also intend to get involved to support her efforts – literacy and giving back are two causes that are also very close to my heart.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Alexander on August 20, 2013 at the Milk + Bookies office in Santa Monica, California. We started by both agreeing how unique and valuable what Milk and Bookies does is, by instilling the habit of helping others at a young age. It makes giving fun and social; and also supports literacy, always a good thing!
I asked her what prepared her for this job, what did she study in college? She said she studied at the University of Colorado, but left before graduating to study floral design in London. Then she was a professional floral designer at several shops in Los Angeles.
I inquired what do her kids think of her job. She has two lovely boys, one seven, the other twelve. She thought a moment and then said they like it, they enjoy the events and are proud of the organization.
I asked what has been her biggest challenge has been with the non-profit, and she said, “Funding, and getting kids to stay excited about giving. This is hard to track, what happens after their Milk +Bookies event.”
I wondered if she had any recommendations if someone was going to go about starting their own foundation or non-profit. “There is strength in numbers, don’t try to do it all yourself, work with others, help out an existing organization. Otherwise your passion [may] get drowned out in administrative tasks.”
She does have a Golden Rolodex of celebrities that have become involved with Milk + Bookies. I asked her if she had any tips on working with well-known personalities. “No one size fits all.” Everyone’s different, yet most people are, underneath it all, the same. She said that the folks who become involved with Milk + Bookies are pretty much in line with the non-profit’s values and there haven’t been many difficulties.
I asked her about approaching corporations for support, do you always have a personal contact or connection there first? She said sometimes they do, but some corporations, for example, The Gap, came to them.
She does have a newly hired Program Manager to help her: Caitlin Young. Caitlin is a recently UCLA graduate and spent nearly a year at Milk + Bookies as an intern. Meredith is gradually training her to take on more and more administrative tasks.
I mentioned what was their yearly budget, and she said, "Our Annual Operating Budget is less than $250,000.”
I wondered if she had any tips about balancing work and family obligations for working women. “Not really, it’s always a challenge, especially with two young boys at home.” I mentioned we both probably lose a lot of sleep, even as I type up this interview at 4 am!
I asked about her husband Jesse’s involvement. “Minimally, other than being a supportive husband and cheerleader.” They met through friends years ago, and have been married for seventeen years.
Meredith also mentioned that other than organizing the Milk + Bookies events to get kids involved in donating books, they also run some side programs where, for example, publishers give them books directly and they find a home for them. They also do some special projects. For example, as I was interviewing her, an office intern was putting together some mini Milk + Bookies boxes to give to a crafts convention in Palm Springs.
Milk + Bookies also has an excellent website, where you can learn more about the non-profit at milkandbookies.org. It is designed by a professional website design company, and the music for the video on the website was composed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Jiacchino (who did, among other things, the music in Up.)
She also mentioned that although Milk + Bookies is non-denominational, it is considered a mitzvah, a good deed that kids having a bar or bat mitzvah need to do. This would count as that good deed.
In addition to their five member Board of Directors, they have twenty people on an Event Committee, and also have one large annual fundraising ball in April of each year. They also have four rotating office interns, usually from local colleges; and then there’s Caitlin Young, the newly hired Program Manager.
Meredith said the Milk +Bookies kits are $30, but are free to schools or teachers. They will also help find a deserving local recipient for the books donated at each Milk + Bookies event if necessary.
Milk + Bookies is a national organization with tax-exempt status, and events are continually being hosted across the country. In the boxes supplied for each event, there are also clear instructions and materials for each event, which can be held at a birthday party, school event, retail stores, book fair event, etc.
In addition to running Milk + Bookies, Meredith is also an author, and published the lovely book for children of all ages, Sweet Pete in 2011, with illustrations by Kerry Meyer. The book is now available as an eBook at Amazon.com for $2.99. I just read the little book and it's adorable.
It’s folks like Meredith, her staff and volunteers that make this world just a little bit better for all of us. For more information on Milk + Bookies, visit their website milkandbookies.org. Thank you Meredith, for being such a good friend, neighbor, and inspiration to us all!