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Director Todd Philips and Actor Joaquin Phoenix Formed a Unique Union To Make “Joker” An Award Oriented Hit

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Joker Warner Bros

Viewing Joker a second time — thanks to Deadline’s Awardsline screening series — not only provided further insight but also a chance to hear director Todd Phillips explain himself, just as he did at the film’s World Premiere Q&A. Phillips is no stranger to controversial award nominations. In 2006 he was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for scribing Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical comedy Borat — not exactly the most politically correct film of its day. Now he’s gotten both hosannas and harangues for his very un-comical Joker (though it has darkly funny moments). But despite divisive responses, it nonetheless spurred 11 Academy Award noms including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay and earned him the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.

Ocotober 02, 2019 Joaquin Phoenix attend 57th New York Film Festival premiere of Warner Bros. Pictuires, Village Roadshow Pictures and Bron Creative release of Joke at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center in New York. October 02, 2019 Credit:Roger Wong/instarimages.com

Once known for writing and directing comedies from 2000’s Road Trip to The Hangover Trilogy (released in 2009, 2011, and 2013), Phillips expanded into other genres when he did a biographical crime drama — 2016’s War Dogs. But did he ever imagine that Joker — an experiment in transforming a comic book character into some kind of relevant, contemporary figure — would produce such a response, “Honestly, I couldn’t have imagined the level of discourse it [stirred] in the world. It’s a complicated movie and that’s okay. It sparked conversations and debates around it. It sounds insane, but there has been so much conversation around the movie written by people that haven’t seen it. There have been think pieces that say, ‘I haven’t seen the movie, I’m not going to see the movie’ and then they write two pages about it. I didn’t expect that. See the movie and then comment; it seems logical. But it probably helped to have people talk about it. I just didn’t expect that.”

Todd Philips Photo by Brad Balfour

When he dug into the character, Phillips used existing storylines and character as a foundation but took things in a radically different direction from other cinematic Jokers. The director expanded on how what he and his team came up with ended up on screen. “When the idea came to do a stripped down comic book film, we wanted to do a character study on one of these characters we’ve seen before. The logical choice was the Joker. He represents mayhem and chaos, two things I’ve always been somewhat attracted to.”

Todd Philips Photo by Brad Balfour

Added the 49-year-old, “To breakdown how we got it like that was very simple. Scott Silver and I wrote the screenplay and it was about running things through as realistic a lens as possible. That carried over to the design, the cinematography and everything else. What do we know about Joker? He laughs in the comics and movies. How did he get that laugh? Why is his skin white and his hair green? Well in the comics, he fell into a vat of acid. We thought about that in the real world and said, ‘What if he was a clown?” It was fun backwards-engineering that while we were writing, giving him this affliction [as the reason] for his laugh. There was a lot of things that formed. There’s childhood trauma, which is not a new idea, and there’s a lack of love; there’s Gotham which represents a lack of empathy. There’s all these things that to us build character.”

Born in Brooklyn, this New Yorker had been interested in controversy ever since he began as a student filmmaker making a documentary about the late shock punk purveyor GG Allin — “Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies.” So when Phillips cited the directors and films that inspired him, he picked some controversial ones. “When I was younger the movies I grew up on were comedies. But as I got older and started to study filmmaking at NYU, I was studying the great filmmakers of the 1970s the ones who really touch people in a [strong] way. There was Sidney Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and of course Martin Scorsese, his influence is in this movie — ‘King of Comedy’ and obviously, ‘Taxi Driver.’ Production designer Mark Friedberg, Mark Bridges, and I were referencing those films. We talked about Network. I discovered these movies in my early 20s and that changed me. We were referencing those movies throughout this. There’s also the visual references we used for this movie from others and from photographs. Mark and I would pour over that and Mark grew up in New York.”

His Gotham is very much like New York of the 1980s, so this city was about creating this character, which he sought to explore. “I grew up in a town called Teaneck, New Jersey. So as someone who went into the city and snuck in on buses and stuff in the early 80s, I have strong memory of that era. Much of the movie is about that look for references and something anthropological. What did Gotham, New York and New Jersey — since we were shooting there — look like back then? How do you get to that? I found that every time we’d reference movies like Dog Day photographically, it’d be like ’It’s not that movie.’ It’s more of an influence for the idea than the look and feel of it. So for me, what I did was transport my memory of what it was when I got robbed. What did it feel like? What did the city feel like? You start talking about being in New York in the early-80s, late-70s, garbage strikes, what New York looked like. Everything in the movie was run through a very realistic lens.”

Besides the aesthetic, there was the development of Joker’s character, which Phillips acknowledged was as much because of a collaboration between him and star Joaquin Phoenix as anything else. “Joaquin is just somebody who got into it, through all of the characteristics of Arthur Fleck. He liked the spirit of the film, the sort of anti-comic book film.”

Phillips and Phoenix had detailed meetings over three to four months before committing, as the bearded Phillips added “It really helped us down the road.” One thing they discussed was Fleck’s distinctive, uncontrollable laugh. That aspect of Phoenix’s performance had to be right. Phillips recalled, “He was nervous about the laugh. “[The time we took] was like prep in a way. It really helped us down the road. But Joaquin is just somebody who got into it through all of the characteristics of Arthur including the wardrobe.”

Not only has the film garnered all the award buzz, it has been one of Warner/DC’s biggest hits with a box office of $1 billion in global sales. Sequel talk has been surging. “Joaquin and I have talked about it. We’d really like to do more in this world, but the story would have to be right. Neither one of us wants to do it just to do it.”

As Phoenix said at the premiere, “Now when I look back on it, I’m so grateful we did that because playing Joker informed how we approached Arthur. We had a sort of radical reinterpretation of the character. I wouldn’t change it. That happens more often than not. When people ask me I say whatever it is it’s seems right.”

Art

Tony Bennett Auction Exhibition at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco

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Tony Bennett: A Life Well Lived,” exclusive exhibition opening at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, California, celebrating the legendary life and career of the iconic pop jazz vocalist before its two-day auction event by Julien’s Auctions taking place April 18th and Friday, April 19th, 2024 at Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in Jazz at Lincoln Center. The free public exhibition opens April 8th and runs through April 10th (10am-6pm daily).The Fairmont San Francisco and Mr. Bennett have enjoyed a special relationship for decades. Mr. Bennett first performed his hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the Venetian Room at the hotel in 1961. The Fairmont San Francisco has had the honor and pleasure of welcoming Mr. Bennett and his family to the hotel for decades. The hotel also touts a special Tony Bennett suite that pays homage to his career and features several pieces of his artwork.Highlights of the exhibition include artifacts pertaining to the American songbook master’s life and career with his special link to San Francisco such as a San Francisco cable car bell award presented to Bennett for his instrumental role in saving the city’s iconic cable car system in the 1980s; a San Francisco Giants jacket worn by Bennett as the Texas Rangers faced the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the World Series in San Francisco, California, October 27, 2010 and his white personalized “Bennett” San Francisco Giants jersey; his original “Landscape San Francisco” watercolor painting; as well as record awards, a Grammy nomination plaque for his iconic hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and more.

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Events

Jameson Set to Take Over Times Square for Epic Event and More with Colin Jost and Michael Che

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To make St. Patrick’s Eve as epic as possible, Jameson is taking over Times Square on Saturday, March 16. Starting today, fans can visit JamesonSPE.com to enter for a chance to score a spot on the guest list for Jameson’s St. Patrick’s Eve celebration in New York City, co-hosted by Jost and Che, featuring a  surprise DJ performance and a can’t-miss, first-of-its-kind ‘rock drop’ – a Jameson version of the famous Times Square ball drop – at 8 p.m. ET (aka midnight in Ireland) to mark the occasion. Jameson Irish Whiskey is one of the first brands to ever drop the Times Square Ball to launch a celebration for a new holiday. To further spread the St. Patrick’s Eve spirit from coast-to-coast, Jameson will also light up the Sphere in Las Vegas in Jameson green, wrap the ferries and water taxis in the dyed- green Chicago River and have a complete digital takeover at L.A. Live – all marking the new holiday.

Anyone 21+ can tune into the rock drop live streamed on JamesonSPE.com and for those in NYC, Jameson will have a kick-off to St. Patrick’s Eve in Times Square Plaza between 43rd and 44th Streets with a live DJ, giveaways and more from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET.

Because a special holiday deserves an equally stylish look, Jameson is releasing limited-edition, vintage-inspired jackets at JamesonSPE.com. The design includes a hidden pocket inside the jacket to perfectly

hold a Jameson hip flask that comes with the order, as well as luxe patches signature to the iconic Irish Whiskey brand. The Jameson St. Patrick’s Eve jacket will retail for $150 plus tax with free shipping in the continental U.S., and 50-jacket drops will take place weekly hrough March 12.

All proceeds will benefit the Restaurant Workers’ Community Fund (RWCF), a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for food and beverage service industry workers, continuing the brand’s long-standing partnership with the organization to support its bartending community.

For more details about Jameson St. Patrick’s Eve festivities or for St. Patrick’s Eve cocktail ideas, visit JamesonSPE.com and follow @Jameson_US.

 

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Off Broadway

Public Theater Brings “The Ally” Forward for an Intense Debate

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So here’s the pickle. This play, The Ally, clocking in at a far too long two hours and forty minutes, throws controversy at you in numerous long-winded speeches one after the other, filling your brain with details and complexities that clash and do battle with each other from beginning to end. The structuring is intelligent, as the Public Theater‘s new play, The Ally, written by Itamar Moses (Outrage; The Band’s Visit) and directed with precision by Lila Neugebauer (Second Stage’s Appropriate), strides forward into dangerous territory with determination against all odds. Wickedly smart and articulate, the play, in general, overwhelms the intellectual senses. It’s factual and intricate, somewhat off-balanced and attacking, delivering detailed positions with fiery accuracy, which only made me question whether I wanted to sit this one out. Or step more in.

It’s unsafe and determined, placing the action (or inaction, if you really want to get into it) inside a college campus, and attempting to engage in deep-level conversations and arguments with the complicated issues of the world. These are exactly the debates worth having, says basically one character to another, in the tradition of arguing. Because banning free speech is “weird on a college campus.” These conundrums and conflicts are core to passionate dialogue, and just the idea of having them is meeting with fierce debate at universities and colleges across the country. The complexities and the tipping points are layered and real, swimming in a sea of questions about what free speech really truly means, and how differing points of view, civil dialogue, and the stark polarization contrasts collide and enflame. And how, in discussion, defensiveness and aggressive emotional stances are taken on and used against one another like weapons; bullets, and missiles. I even feel a bit worried that taking this stance of wanting to back away might be taken as ‘part of the problem’.

Ben Rosenfield and Josh Radnor in The Ally at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The program notes that “the theatre is a safe space in the most literal sense of that term: no one is going to be physically harmed during this performance in the Anspacher. But it is most decidedly not a safe space if by that term we mean a space where everyone will feel comfortable and no one will feel angry, saddened, or offended. It can’t be that kind of space. The theater depends on conflict – the form itself refuses the idea of a single truth. It’s why I [Oskar Eustis; Artistic Director of The Public Theater] believe that theater is the ultimate democratic art form – just like citizens in democracy, the theater demands that we listen to and share opposing viewpoints, and that from that conflict, a greater truth will emerge.” And I couldn’t agree more with that.

Yet, even with such heightened emotions on stage, delivered full throttle by the excellent cast that includes Cherise Boothe (Signature’s Fabulation,) as Nakia; Elijah Jones (Signature’s Confederates) as Baron; Michael Khalid Karadsheh (Target Margin’s The Most Oppressed by All) as Farid; Joy Osmanski (“Stargirl“) as Gwen; Josh Radnor (LCT’s The Babylon Line) as Asaf; Ben Rosenfield (RTC’s Love, Love, Love) as Reuven; and Madeline Weinstein (BAM’s Medea) as Rachel, who each try to make it sound more authentic than the writing really allows, the play suffers from how deep of a dive the writing goes. But not without a solid attempt by this cast, bringing qualities and characteristics to the forefront whenever they are given the chance. But a lot of the time, like their main focus, Radnor’s Asaf, they must stand and listen to whoever has the microphone at that one particular speechified moment. And wait, just like us, for the next round. And viewpoint.

Madeline Weinstein, Michael Khalid Karadsheh, and Elijah Jones in Ally at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Playwright Itamar has certainly dived fully into some of the most difficult topics of our time and asks us to patiently listen to all sides, even when the dialogue doesn’t really resemble discussion but more like informed lectures or one-framed speeches. On the plainest of sets, designed by Lael Jellinek (Public/Broadway’s Sea Wall/A Life), with costuming by Sarita Fellows (Broadway’s Death of a Salesman), lighting by Reza Behjat (ATC’s English) and sound design by Bray Poor (Broadway’s Take Me Out), The Public‘s The Ally, uncovers some emotional space within the manifestos presented. Itamar states in the note section: It “wasn’t that i had nothing to say,” he carefully explains, like the main character who has to stand back and take on the full force and brunt of the argument. “Rather, I didn’t know where to begin because what I had to say was too confused, too contradictory, too raw.” And if that was the complicated stance he was trying to unpack, the playwright succeeded tremendously well.

But does that make The Ally, at The Public Theater, especially this long-winded one, worth sitting through? I’d say yes, and I’d say no. I couldn’t wait to leave that debate hall, but I was also impressed and intrigued by the arguments presented and discussed, even if ‘debate’ would not exactly be the word I would use for the ideas thrown around at one another with brutal force. One of the later statements said to Radnor’s Asaf by his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Boothe) at maybe one of the few truly emotional moments of actual human souls speaking their truth, sums up my stance. “The thing you need, may not be words.” I won’t argue with that.

For more information and tickets, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Family

The Hotel Edison Opulent and Convenient with History

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George Burns and Gracie Allen lived on the 9th floor of The Edison Hotel. Their friend Jack Benny lived on the 4th floor. Moss Hart lived there after his Once in a Lifetime was a Broadway hit. He then moved his parents there until he found them an apartment. The Edison Hotel is featured in the movies “The Godfather” and “Bullets Over Broadway”, so history abounds.

Located at 228 West 47th Street, you are down the street from Six, Hamilton, Prayer for the French Republic and Sweeney Todd. Across the street is the Barrymore Theatre, but all of Broadway and Times Square is a hop, skip and a jump away. Talk about location, location, location.Built in the late 1920’s, Art Deco abounds from the hotel lobby to the lights and the bed spread in the lush rooms. The hotel is elegant and feels like you stepped back in time. My room was spacious with a king-sized bed that was so comfortable, I wish this was a staycation where I could have spent more time catching up on sleep. I also had a small sitting room with a couch, desk and more windows with views.

The rooms are well designed with great features, such as a Keurig coffee maker and coffee, black-out drapes, windows that opened, and a full-marble bathroom. In the bathroom fluffy towels, designer toiletries and a hair dryer awaited me. The spacious shower also had a relaxing rain shower. In the closet a safe, iron, ironing board and fluffy robes.

There were also two flat-screen high-definition smart TVs, Bluetooth-enabled audio, high-speed Wi-Fi which made my life so much easier, and an alarm clock.

The room was ultra clean and to get to it you need a room key, which you also need for the elevator, so you feel incredibly safe.

Another fun fact…when you arrive you will have a personalized note waiting just for you and some lovely snacks, which were highly appreciated considering I had been running all day and needed a pick me up.

Amenities to the hotel are a gym, two fabulous restaurants, a piano bar, complimentary wine and cheese receptions (Tuesday & Friday), with entertainment, as well as complimentary walking tours of the neighborhood.

You would think for this much pampering and convivence this hotel would be overpriced but it is not. There are rooms are the best offer and prices in town.

If you are looking for history, comfort, boutique, friendliness and luxury, this is the perfect place to stay.

The Edison Hotel: 228 West 47th Street

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Going Down The Rabbit Hole To Discover A Fabulous Unheard Treasure of Linda Eder

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In February one of my favorite singers is coming to 54 Below on the 6, 13, & 17. Linda Eder is forever linked to Broadway history via her Theatre World Award winning performance in Jekyll & Hyde. Her concerts sell out and the reason why is her voice is remarkable.

In 2020 she release an album that somehow slipped through my radar. Retro – volume two is full of Broadway and Standards. There are 17 tracks on the CD. Most are written by Frank Wildhorn with the exception of four tracks. There are two pop tracks, one written by Frank Wildhorn and one written by Jake Wildhorn. She recorded the vocals for four of the tracks at home by herself due to social distancing. This CD is only available at LindaEder.com.

Guest stars on the CD are Will Lee and Michael Lanning. Songs from Bonnie & Clyde, Svengali, Tears of Heaven, Havana andThe Last Five Years are heard here.

I can not believe this slipped through the cracks, but thrilled to find it. Can’t wait to see her at 54 Below.

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