Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Looking around during a preview of The Last Jedi, I had a startling thought: most of the press people in the audience hadn’t yet been born when the first Star Wars film premiered 40 years ago. Soon after that film hit screens, I stood in line on East 86th Street in New York to see what critics were already calling a cultural phenomenon. The young lead actors (Carrie Fisher was only 19), suddenly found themselves thrust into the public eye, part of a juggernaut whose full impact had yet to be felt. Even today, enthusiasm for the Star Wars films continues, bringing in new generations of theater goers. During a time when other sequels fail, this new trilogy (forget about those disappointing prequels) not only meets, but exceeds expectations.
In a May 25, 1977 review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby, then the paper’s chief film critic, said about the first Star Wars film: “Actually, I may have to see it again.” That was the same comment made to me by the guest I brought to the preview of The Last Jedi. Repeat business is what makes studio executives happy, and those at Disney will certainly seize on this moment as the best holiday gift possible.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Like the first film in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens,The Last Jedi features characters from the past alongside a new youthful contingent. Mark Hamill, no longer the fresh-faced Luke Skywalker, is now a brooding and dark presence, holed up on a remote mountain, determined to avoid future battles. While the mountain is void of people, the non-human inhabitants are a delight to behold. These include: the adorable chirpy Porgs that resemble puffins; slug-like creatures large as dinosaurs; and servants with fish heads dressed like nuns who seem to perform the island’s daily chores. Luke’s sister, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet), still hopes Luke will return to help the rebels, now called the Resistance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the other member of the original trio, was killed off in The Force Awakens.
Oscar Isaac as Poe
The new trio consists of Rey (Daisy Ripley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rather than joining together in the fight, however, each is on a separate mission. The film opens with Poe, one of the Resistance’s top pilots, leading an offensive against the First Order (formerly The Empire), which doesn’t end well.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn
Finn, who has just recovered from injuries, is soon sent on a mission, along with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to find a code breaker on a distant planet that bears a striking resemblance to Las Vegas. (Those customers gathered around the gaming tables remind us of the creatures Luke and Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi once encountered in a seedy intergalactic bar.) Daisy has perhaps the most difficult assigment: convincing a reluctant Luke to train her and then leave his retreat to help the Resistance.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Among all the allied fighters, Rey, whose parentage is in question, seems to be aligned with The Force, that mystical power possessed by the Jedi. While on the mountain, she keeps seeing images of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is connected to The Force since his parents are Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has gone over to the dark side. In these dream-like sequences, Kylo tries to entice Rey to join him, disparaging his uncle, Luke, who once was his mentor. This tug of war plays out through the film, teasing us with the question of who will be turned, Rey or Kylo.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
The First Order is now led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his computer-generated thing, turning this villain into something truly reprehensible), and General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson), whose postering is less threatening than it is humorous. A welcome new face among the rebels is Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Then, of course, there are the favorite droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), truly going “solo” this time around.
Rian Johnson picks up the director’s job from J.J. Abrams, who is now executive producer. Rian, who had a cameo appearance in last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes the leap to directing big time with this film and succeeds on all fronts. From the over-the-top battles (a Star Wars trademark), to the more intimate scenes between the characters, we feel we are in capable hands. Once again, John Williams’ score soars over the action, triggering our auditory memory of Star Wars films long, long ago.
The battle between good and evil is never really over, something the Star Wars films underscore. And it’s hard not to think of our current political climate when watching The Last Jedi. Particularly unsettling are those marching storm troopers that bring to mind Kim Jong-un’s robotic army, as well as those leaders of the First Order whose black uniforms resemble those worn by the Nazis. As the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi closes some plot lines, but leaves many more unresolved, sure to build the anticipation for that third installment.
Photos courtesy of Disney Studios Top: Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman were both born out of the same Brooklyn hospital into Eastern European families. Despite neighborhood proximity, they didn’t meet until respectively landing in Los Angeles the 1950s. One might call this particular collaboration Kismet.
The married couple has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards garnering three. Their extensive oeuvre also includes, in part, iconic television themes, numbers written for television musicals, a jazz cycle, and widely varied songs popularized by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand. The Bergmans never found their way to Broadway but tailored to characters in film (Yentl is a prime example) and when writing for a particular vocalist. “We knew enough about him to fit the lyric to his character time and time again,” Alan Bergman once commented about Frank Sinatra.
Today’s Special Guest is critic/biographer/librettist/playwright Terry Teachout. The inimitable David Lahm, Granat’s symbiotic accompanist furnishes eloquent piano.
Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Host Harvey Granat begins vocal choices with Alan Bergman/Lou Spence’s “That Face,” introduced by Fred Astaire, followed by the Sinatra hit “Nice N’ Easy” credited to Alan Bergman/Marilyn Keith/Lou Spence. Renditions are genial and dancey. Granat’s skilled nonchalance is similar to that of Sinatra. During the second number, he feeds us the lyrics. (The knowledgeable audience often knows songs by heart and are selectively encouraged to sing along.) Teachout suggests we don’t ordinarily think of the Bergmans for a swing tune.
Original placement of familiar songs is something of a revelation. 1967’s “Make Me Rainbows” (music – John Williams) is from what Teachout calls “a justifiably forgotten film” called Fitzwilly.” “If that had been written 10 years earlier,” he continues, “it would have become a standard.” The same year saw original English lyrics for “You Must Believe in Spring” (music – Michel Legrand) from French film The Young Girls of Rochefort: Beneath the deepest snows,/The secret of a rose/Is merely that it knows/You must believe in Spring! …Granat’s version is delicate, poetic, lovely. Teachout declares it the moment the Bergmans became themselves, “the great romantics of the late golden age of songwriting.”
From The Thomas Crown Affair we hear a wistful, resigned “The Windmills of Your Mind” for which composer Michel Legrand apparently wrote five or six melodies. The Bergmans suggested he go to a movie and they’d meet the next morning, whereupon the vote was unanimous. Teachout observes the song is effectively in a minor key “which American popular songs never are.” Lahm adds that the grammar is successfully out of phase with the melody, yet another example of iconoclastic skill.
It turns out that “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (music – Michel Legrand) was written for an obscure 1969 film called The Happy Ending. Granat’s buttery version is rife with yearning. Teachout remarks that rhymes fall on the next to last words. This particular session of the Granat series is illuminated by more incisive music perceptions than usual due to this guest’s contribution.
In the same lush vein, “Summer Me, Winter Me” arrives with recognition that nouns have become verbs: Summer me, winter me/And with your kisses, morning me, evening me/And as the world slips far away, a star away/Forever me with love…Suddenly, magically/We found each other…Granat sings with surprise and excitement, not disturbing the tenor of the song. During “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with what Teachout calls “a great lyric for a soured relationship,” Granat appears to be reflecting in real time. (Both music – Michel Legrand)
In 1973, the Bergmans wrote “The Way We Were” (music – Marvin Hamlish). Though the group is invited to sing and clearly know the lyrics, its volume is extremely soft, in order, one suspects, to fully hear the vocalist’s interpretation.
When, as a little girl, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s daughter was asked what her parents do, she responded “When my mommy and daddy wake up, they drink coffee, go into a room and close the door. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not. And they get paid for it.” And aren’t we lucky?
I hear a great many vocalists. Not only are these sessions illuminating and fun, but Harvey Granat is one of our most authentic balladeers. Again, a good time is had by all.
Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Terry Teachout, David Lahm Bigstock Photo of Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman at the Grammy Foundation’s Starry Night Gala. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. 07-12-08
Songs and Stories with Harvey Granat: Alan and Marilyn Bergman Special Guest Terry Teachout 92St.Y 92nd and Lexington Avenue Venue Web Site NEXT: May 4 On Dorothy Fields with Special Guest, Field’s son, musician David Lahm
After viewing Rogue One, a prequel to George Lucas’ original trilogy, you might find yourself wanting to binge watch the first three films. Rogue One fills in the blanks, specifically how the Rebel Alliance learned about the Empire’s Death Star. Without giving anything away, we know that Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, eventually help to destroy that weapon of mass destruction. Now we learn the backstory, namely the identity of the scientist who helped to create the Death Star and how the Rebel Alliance exploited the design flaw that left the device vulnerable to destruction.
Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk)
There’s a world of difference, however, between the first three films and Rogue One. While all are rated PG-13, younger children may find Rogue One’s action too violent and intense and both the heroes and villains a little scary. (The director, Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla.) There are no Muppet-like aliens that once populated the venues visited by Han Solo and his crew. While the new characters in Rogue One are engaging, it remains a challenge to top the original cast, particularly because after last December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they remain fresh in our minds.
Felicity Jones, last seen running around Italy with Tom Hanks in Inferno, is Rogue One’s female lead. Her Jyn Erso is every bit as brave and smart as The Force Awaken’s Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Jyn’s story serves as the film’s centerpiece. As a child, she watches while her mother is killed and her scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is taken away by an Imperial force led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). The Empire needs Galen to finish the Death Star. The young Jyn flees to a pre-arranged hiding place where she is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
While Jyn has a vague memory of her father being captured, rumor has it that he has gone over to the dark side. But when she’s shown a hologram of her father speaking to her, she learns that he is being coerced into working for the Empire. He’s managed to program into the Death Star a weakness that can be exploited. The organized Rebel Alliance, led by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) doubts Jyn’s story. (Blink and you’ll miss Smits appearance, it’s so brief.) However, a rag-tag group of fighters enlists to help Jyn find her father.
Jyn’s new crew is certainly diverse. We have the leader, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a very tall droid, K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk he gets all of the film’s best lines), a blind swordsman (Donnie Yen), a warrior (Jiang Wen), and Riz Ahmed, as a pilot who defected to help the Rebellion. Once the organized Rebellion realizes Jyn’s group has a chance to succeed, the much-needed air support arrives. The battle scenes are exciting, although the demise of some characters may be upsetting to younger viewers.
Darth Vader, once again voiced by James Earl Jones, makes an appearance towards the end in a scene that sets the stage for what is to come next. While Jones’ voice delivered the expected jolt, it was nowhere near as shocking as the appearance on screen of Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, and was resurrected courtesy of CGI as the Imperial leader Grand Moff Tarkin. (There was an audible gasp from the preview audience at my screening.)
While the Lucas prequels failed to catch fire with fans, Rogue One should live up to expectations. Connecting it so closely to the trilogy works in its favor. And the musical score, from Michael Giacchino, includes enough of John Williams’ original themes that audiences will certainly tap into memories of all those galaxies that came before.