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POPCORN POPCORN POPCORN POPCORN POPCORN ™
One Popcorn, Poor • Two Popcorns, Fair • Three Popcorns, Good • Four Popcorns, Excellent
By Michael S. Goldberger
Inspires Only Moderate Laughter 2 & 1/ 2 popcorns
The idea is great: the unconfident masses of Movieland totally dependent on muses. Unfortunately, the execution isn’t quite so inspired. Only feigning an industry muckrake, comedianwriteractor Albert Brooks playfully nibbles the fickle claw that feeds him in
The Muse, a jovial yet plotthin farce more inclined to celebrate the wickedness of Hollywood mores and folkways than to actually denounce them.
Prepare to giggle, snicker and occasionally laugh out loud. Expect few guffaws, even less roars and not one sidesplitting shriek.
The flipside of Bowfinger, this chide at show biz focuses not on Tinsel Town’s wannabes, but on those who desperately scratch to maintain their impossibly elevated stations in LaLa Land. In fact, so great is the fear of falling from filmic grace that they’ll stoop, or, in this case, ascend, to anything that promises to prevent said unthinkable horror.
And since they’re all too smart and sarcastic to believe that it’s talent which supports their lofty positions, the more mystical the choice of career elixir the better.
So when screenwriter Steven Phillips (Brooks) is told by studio bigwig Josh Martin (Mark Feuerstein) that they’ll be canceling his threepicture deal because he has “lost it....,” lost his edge, that is (the callous exec prefacing that this was his polite way of putting it), it matters little that he has penned 17 produced screenplays, garnered a humanitarian award and earned an Oscar nomination. He’s finished.
Hence only a brief moment of incredulity passes before a successful writerfriend (Jeff Bridges as Jack Warrick) convinces Steven that retaining a real live muse is the answer. Why, of course they exist. And what’s more, everybody’s doing it, which provides the film an opportunity for celebrity cameos.
Amusingly interspersed among the string of vignettes posing as Mr. Brooks’ screenplay (coauthored with Monica Johnson), there’s a hyperkinetic Martin Scorsese ranting about doing a Raging Bull sequel and a very cautious James Cameron (Titanic) being warned to “stay away from water” this goround.
Enters the muse. Or is it princess? The professionally inspiring daughter of Zeus who figures in our schlemiel’s future, fashioned by a comically astute Sharon Stone, goes by the mortal name of Sarah. But her services will cost you. First you have to woo her with gifts of application, praying that she’ll deign to take you on as a client.
Brooks does a funny bit with a key ring here as Steven first tries to obtain Sarah on the cheap. But she soon reads him the riot act. It only makes sense: He stands to make a lot of money after she vaporizes his writer’s block; the muse merely wants her percentage. Thus, the writer is soon footing the bill for Sarah’s $1,700anight, indefinite stay at the Four Seasons, scurrying to fill her refrigerator with specialty foods and personally delivering (at all hours).
For all this, she takes him on a field trip to the aquarium. The aquarium?
Now, not only is the cinema scribe without ideas or inspiration, but confused to boot. Meanwhile, the meter is running. The writer anguishes. Why the aquarium? Is it a metaphor?
Eventually, Steven takes it on face value and actually hatches an idea for a comedy about an unlikely aquarium owner, a swarm of bothersome creditors and a batch of sick
fish. Alas, now there is new trouble. He has no third act. Understand, though: Steven is a caricature, and it’s in his nature to whine no matter the workings of the plot... even when things are going well. Though portrayed by the perennially likable Mr. Brooks, the instanton malcontent routine does get a tad tiring.
Earning minor redemption, the director tosses in a bit of a twist concerning the comely Andie MacDowell as Mrs. Writer’s Block, the eversupportive Laura. While it initially looks like the yarn will have her thinking hubby is having an affair, the filmmaker swings it in a different direction.
Instead, once Steven explains Sarah’s role in his plight, she unselfishly suggests that they accommodate the goddess on a waitandsee basis. But here’s the rub. It seems that Laura has long dormant creative aspirations of her own, as well as a great cookie recipe. And all it takes is this Svengali of a muse to convince her that she can be the next Mrs. Fields.
With Sarah and Laura getting all chummy and surfing the L. A. culinary circuit together, Steven can now add muse envy to his bag of ailments.
By this time, the paid inspiration has since checked out of her posh but “lonely” hotel room and displaced her clients in their very own master bedroom. The assumption is that a comfortable muse is an effective muse. Adding insult to injury, Miss Encouragement has begun helping the children with their homework. They now lovingly refer to her as auntie.
Brooks insinuates various laugh agents at different junctures of his inconsistent but nonetheless bubbly farce. Here, the old standby is the intruder as favored guest, wherein the family patriarch is relegated to little better than fool status while the interloper is advanced to sainthood.
Like most of the patchwork quilt of humorous mechanisms Mr. Brooks attempts in The Muse, the old ploy works... somewhat. This also describes Mr. Brooks’ goodnatured diatribe in general: all hook, very little story and, no comic soul to call its own.
The resultant dearth of characterization makes for more flat spots than can be comfortably ignored. And a bailout ending, more glib than satisfying, cynically points out that there’s no real moral to this sardonic tale of heartless Hollywood.
Still, Brooks is almost always endearing as the Baby Boomer version of Woody Allen — the neurotic schnook as unlikely hero, but without the guilty dark side (and not nearly the same amount of motion picture genius). And if you can get past the flaws, it’s fun to watch the comic auteur ply his shtick, mixing neovaudeville routines with sitcom predicaments and standup routines.
Since The Muse is so obviously lacking in the denouement and climax departments, doubtless the ready irony of a much needed third act will not be lost on every film critic and their grandmother in search of a closing line.
They’ll inevitably suggest that Mr. Brooks might have benefited from some outside inspiration of his own. My muse advises me to stay dignifiedly clear of such easy pot shots.
* * * * * The Muse, rated PG13, is an October Films release directed by Albert Brooks and stars Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell. Running time: 97 minutes.
American Performance Studio Gears Up for Fall Session WESTFIELD – The American Performance Fall Session will begin the week of September 13 with classes in singing, vocal production, acting and public speaking. Private instruction in piano, voice, characterization and public speaking will also be available.
Classes will be planned for children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 17. Group and individual lessons will also be available for adults. Classes are held in Mountainside and Westfield.
The American Performance Studios was founded in 1996 in Westfield by Molly Barber and Jeanette Ferrell Maraffi. The studios are part of the ongoing activities of the Rome Festival, a notforprofit public foundation for the purposes of education and cultural exchange.
The Rome Festival “Young Artist” program invites young musicians to perform in Rome during the month of July in opera and concert.
American Performance Studio students participated in the 1997 and 1998 Young Artists program, performing in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and in Donizetti’s L’Elixir of Love. In July 2000, young singers, dancers and actors will be eligible to participate in the summer festival’s production of Mozart’s Magic Flute.
Mrs. Barber teaches acting, characterization, scene study and public speaking for the facility. She has appeared in several films and commercials in addition to her work on the television series, “Romper Room,” on Channel 9 and KTV.
She has performed in numerous plays and musicals, including a leading role in Mame at Edison’s Plays in the Park. Mrs. Barber has directed
shows locally for the Westfield Bicentennial Celebration, Edison Intermediate School in Westfield and Deerfield School in Mountainside.
A soprano, Mrs. Maraffi teaches piano and vocal production for the Studios. She has performed opera and in concert in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and throughout the Eastern United States for several years. She was also a featured performer on a popular music television program in Florida.
Her performance experience includes jazz, Broadway shows, classical recital repertoire and opera. She performs and coaches singers in Rome as a member of the Rome Festival Artistic staff. Locally, she has sung as the soprano soloist with the Oratorio Singers in Westfield and at First Night Westfield 1998.
Mrs. Maraffi has served as Musical Director for the Bicentennial Celebration Show in Westfield and at Edison and Deerfield Schools.
In 1996, members of the American Performance Studio classes were featured in a television commercial for Wendy’s. In 1997 and 1998, the ensemble traveled to Rome to participate in the Rome Festival. Members of the class have also performed for the Children’s Specialized Hospital Holiday Boutique and for the Neighborhood Council Street Fair on Cacciola Place.
In June, the students presented a benefit recital. Funds raised will benefit students who need financial assistance for lessons.
For further information and a class calendar, please call (908) 2337214 or (908) 2332910.
The Dining Table The Dining Table The Dining Table The Dining Table The Dining Table
UPCOMING AUDITIONS... The Westfield Dance Company, a young dancers performing group, will hold open auditions this Saturday, September 11, from 11 a. m. to 1 p. m. The Company is open to dancers ages 9 and up who must study ballet two days per week as well as modern, tap, jazz or acrobatics. As a member of the Westfield Dance Company, the dancer gains experience performing throughout the community, in the Winter Dance Concert and the annual “Dance in the Park” to be held in May at Mindowaskin Park. For more information, please call (908) 7893011.
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Ashbrook Nursing Home Seeks Crafters for Festival
Filmmakers Symposium Plans Fall Sessions, Upcoming Films
SCOTCH PLAINS Ashbrook Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Scotch Plains will host its 5th Annual Arts and Crafts Festival on Sunday, October 3, from 11 a. m. to 4 p. m. on the facility’s Great Lawn. Admission is free.
Table reservations may be purchased at $10 for a single space and $15 for a double space. The sale of food and drink is prohibited. All proceeds will benefit the
Ashbrook Recreation Department. Please mail table reservations to: Recreation Director Betty Jo Hornung, Ashbrook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1610 Raritan Road, Scotch Plains, 07076.
For more information, please call (908) 8892586.
In the event of inclement weather, all vendors will be provided with a single space in the facility, with a $5 refund provided to those who purchased a double space.
MOUNTAINSIDE Filmmakers Symposium, which has hosted 267 movie premieres during the past eight years, will begin two sessions at local theaters beginning on Monday, September 27.
The first session at Loews Theaters in Mountainside will be held on Monday evenings, beginning September 27. The second session will start on November 8.
Sony Monmouth Mall sessions will be held on Tuesday evenings beginning on September 28. The second session will start on November 9.
Both sessions will be sponsored by Monmouth University. For more information, please call (800) 2227719.
The series is open to the public. However, seating is limited and early enrollment is advised. Subscription
is $103 for six weeks or $194 for 12 weeks plus $20 registration fee.
Confirmed films for the fall session include “Being John Malkovich” with John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and director Spike Jonse; “Music of the Heart” with Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, Angela Bassett and director Wes Craven; and “Ride With The Devil” with Tobey Maguire, Jeffrey Wright, Skeet Ulrich, Jim Caviezel, Jonathan RysMeyers and director Ang Lee.
Other movies are still under consideration for the fall session. Guest speakers who have come to share their insights with Symposium participants include: Danny Aiello, Gil Bellows, Ethan Hawke, Helen Mirren and Bruno Barreto.
By DR. JOSEPH P. DeALESSANDRO
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
Let me recount a delightful dining experience at Civile Ristorante Italiano, housed in a quaint building with little white lights. As you enter this bit of heaven, from start to finish, you are pampered with care and attention, good food and drink, marvelous atmosphere and great camaraderie.
The adventure begins with a greeting from the host/ owner Roger D’Amato, who is the quintessential, marvelous host. The warm welcome is courteous as you are seated at your table that features spotless, starched white tablecloths, beautifully folded napkins and fine glassware. An invitation of things to come.
The restaurant is a boutique room of 15 tables, beautiful decor including crystal chandeliers and massive mirrors to enhance the beauty wherever one sits. A fully operational bar boasts of great wines and a broad array of liqueurs.
Off in the corner is a music facility featuring the piano of Bobby Breccia. The tables all bear candles and the subdued lighting creates a most romantic atmosphere.
One cannot speak too highly of the wait staff and the room manager, Raul Fuksman, whose vast experience as restaurant manager in fine dining establishments in New York, New Jersey and Florida are a tribute to meticulous detail in the operation of the room.
Executive Chef/ Owner Jim Katims also has a long list of previous restaurants.
Mr. D’Amato advised that Civile was established 10 years ago in September and features both Northern Italian Cuisine and other regional dishes, as well.
After being seated, your drink order is promptly taken and filled. A dish of most delicious tiny black olives surrounded by large chunks of Regiano Parmesan Cheese appear and a dish of savory, tasty bruschetta accompany it.
The Antipasto course offers a fine array of appetizing vanities. The Salsiccia Grigliata Piccante, which consists of grilled hot sausage sliced and served over sauteed broccoli rabe, is a delicious course. The sausage is spicy but not offensive, combined with the bitter taste of the broccoli rabe it makes an excellent balanced starter.
The Calamari Fritti, a test of a good fish chef, was served hot with a very spicy tomato sauce on the side. The calamari were wonderfully tender and not overcooked. It melted in your mouth.
Civile has one of the most elegant Pasta e Fagioli that I have ever tasted. The portion is extraordinary and easily enough for two. The tiny pasta and variety of beans float in a delectable, savory broth. Add some great Parmesan cheese and a little red raw onions with a glass of wine and it’s just about as good as it gets. A Stracciatella alla Romana features a great chicken broth with spinach and beaten egg that is superb.
The Pasta menu is very complete. The Cappellini Marichiarra is angel hair pasta with shrimp, lobster and whole clams in garlic with a touch of
tomato. The seasoning perfumes the dishes and is a wonderful effort.
Civile’s Farfalle con Gameri e Asparagi spotlights bow tie pasta with shrimp and asparagus, fresh tomatoes and basil. A mouth waterer!
The Pesce dishes are all so great. It is difficult to decide which is the best. I believe the Lobster Fra Diavolo with lobster over linguine has to be the most outrageous! The lobster
meat is fork tender in this most delightful spicy tomato sauce served over a
bed of linguine al dente.
The Salmon Fileto di Alla Marichiarra, which includes an ample portion of poached salmon accompanied by whole clams and shrimp with white wine, garlic, basil and tomato, are extraordinary. They also serve a Zuppa di Pesce – a combination of shellfish with white wine and fresh tomatoes.
And now the Vitello or Veal. Chef Katims prepared an extraordinary presentation of a 26ounce veal chop broiled to absolute perfection. When speaking of this dish, Manager Raul describes the chop in such exquisite detail that you have no choice but to try his recommendation.
The veal chop, which is a high quality of meat, is not heavily spiced, but with salt and pepper. A delicious experience not to be forgotten! They have other wonderful veal dishes including Veal Scallopine di Vitello alla Francese, Veal Scallopine alla Picatta and other delicious veal dishes.
The poultry dishes include Chicken Savory with sauteed pieces of chicken with garlic, balsamic vinegar and herbs. Pollo La Rosa features chicken breast sauteed with artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, white wine, lemon and butter.
When you thoroughly enjoy the entire meal, it is sad to think you will come to the end of a great dinner. But there is more to come.
A most delightful and artistic, fresh dish including melons, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, oranges and an orange basket furnished from an orange stuffed with baby grapes, makes the presentation the absolute best. Tortufo, tiramisu and ice cream sherbets are also available.
The coffees, espresso, regular coffee and cappuccino with a suggestion of black sambuca, would be appropriate to accompany your dining experience.
Manager Raul is at your beck and call, assuring that all is correct, hot and prepared as you wish. Mr. D’Amato also visits the tables in the restaurant, giving it a great, personal touch.
Civile also offers a catering facility with establishments off the premises. They also have a cooking school at which Raul is the Master Instructor, teaching culinary arts once a week.
I have often said in this column that there is a major difference between eating and dining. Civile’s charming, romantic dining room is the epitome of dining in fine style with excellent ambiance, a talented, professional staff, fine food and a warm greeting upon leaving. You are tempted to make reservations for your next fine dining experience.
Cheri Rogowsky for The Westfield Leader and The Times ROCKIN’ IN THE PARK… The Party Dolls kept the crowds rockin’ September 1 at Echo Lake Park during a concert they dedicated to the memory of Kurt Baudendistel, who had been an announcer for Union County events. The group performed hits like “We Got the Beat,” “Love Shack,” and “Turn the Beat Around.” Pictured, left to right, are: Judy Wilson, Kim Konnels and Chrissy Sparks.