My chaotic encounter with composer Ennio Morricone

By Ray Bennett 

LONDON – The late Ennio Morricone was a giant in film music but the Italian composer could be a difficult man as I found out when I went to interview him in London.

He was in town for his 75th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004 and he also had a new album to promote. Titled ‘Focus’, it featured Morricone and the Portuguese Fado singer Dulce Pontes and so I was to interview the two of them. Continue reading

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Recalling Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac, an L.A. legend …

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Legendary Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac died aged 76 on May 15 following complications caused by Covid-19. He was among the many rich characters I encountered in my time in Los Angeles and I recall clearly the first time we met.

The evening after the Los Angeles Herald Examiner folded in 1989, a group of us from the paper went to Dan Tana’s, the fabled West Hollywood restaurant for a meal. As we waited just inside the door, somebody recognized columnist Gordon Dillow from the photo on his column and Jimmy Cano, the city’s best maitre’d, asked if we were all from the HerEx. When we said we were, everyone in the place applauded and we weren’t allowed to pay for anything. Continue reading

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When Kenny Rogers welcomed me to Los Angeles

By Ray Bennett

We flew into LAX from Toronto, checked into the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the Valley, went directly to the then open-air Universal Amphitheater and were led to seats in the front row just as the biggest entertainer in the world strolled onto the stage: Kenny Rogers, who died today aged 81.

It was in early May 1978. TVGuide’s Canadian editions had just been purchased from the US parent company and art director Brian Moore and I were in Los Angeles to talk to freelance writers and photographers as we began to establish our own identity. Continue reading

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My wish list for the 2020 Oscars: ‘Little Women’

Best Picture

My favourite film of the year is Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ with its splendid filmmaking, intelligent update of the story and wonderful performances. The film I admire most is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ with its biting satire, great comedy, astute insight and rollicking surprises.. I enjoyed some other nominated films:  Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, James Mangold’s ‘Le Mans’66 (Ford vs Ferrari)’ Todd Phillips’s ‘Joker’ and Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’. Three I thought were awful … Quentin Tarantino’s ‘ Once Upon a Waste of Time in Hollywood’, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Geriatricfellas’ and Taika Waititi’s ‘Jojo Duck’.  I would have liked to see nominations for Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’, Josh and Benny Sadfie’s ‘Uncut Gems’, Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady On Fire’ and Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Clemency’. I also enjoyed Gavin Hood’s ‘Official Secrets’ and Todd Haynes’s ‘Dark Waters’ Continue reading

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Martin Shaw hasn’t always been a TV copper

Martin Shaw as George Gently x650

By Ray Bennett

Martin Shaw, who turns 75 today, is known best for playing TV coppers in “The Professionals” and “Inspector George Gently” but he also has had a long stage career in roles from Stanley Kowalski to Lord Goring to Elvis Presley, and he loves to fly.

The Birmingham-born actor is regarded as a prickly interview subject but when we chatted in 2011 for a story in Cue Entertainment, we got along fine, possibly because we’re about the same age. Continue reading

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It’s the ‘Royal Toy Story’ for Harry and Meghan

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In ‘Toy Story 4’, the beloved cowboy action figure contemplates leaving the old gang to go off with a beautiful outsider. In the United Kingdom’s version, the monarchy, a much-loved prince wants to do the same.

Think of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as Woody and Bo-Peep. Continue reading

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Recalling Peter Cook and his effortless comedy

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Peter Cook, who died 25 years ago today aged 57, was the funniest person I ever saw and ever met. He was naturally, effortlessly funny but he was never ‘on’ in the way some comedians seem to always be performing. Continue reading

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Why Erin Gray loved being in ‘Buck Rogers’ on TV

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Happy 70th birthday to Erin Gray – co-star in Ricky Schroder’s long-running Eighties sitcom ‘Silver Spoons’ and many other TV roles including Col. Wilma Deering in ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ … still busy today, she was always a great interview.

She told me she loved the sci-fi show: “I loved the stunts. I loved having to swing a gun, climb mountains, fight the bad guys.” One of the highlights, she said, was working with Jack Palance on an episode titled ‘Planet of the Slave Girls’.

“As a child, Jack Palance was always the evil man and here he was the evil Kaleel. I was charging down a corridor to come face-to-face with Jack Palance and I’m supposed to attack him and save the world. I’m going, ‘I don’t believe this. This is what it’s all about. This is Hollywood.’”

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FILM REVIEW: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

By Ray Bennett

Martin Scorsese’s puerile veneration of low-life thugs and violent sociopaths reaches its apotheosis in his leadenly dull crime picture ‘The Irishman’, available now on Netflix.

Over nearly three-and-a-half tedious hours, he takes a hoodlum named Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, top with Al Pacino) at face value as he makes dubious and unsupported claims about the number of men he murdered including the disgraced union mobster Jimmy Hoffa. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Clemency’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Alfre Woodard gives a profound and memorable performance in writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Clemency’, a moving examination of the personal tolls exacted by the death penalty.

Most such stories focus on the victim and the condemned but Chukwu takes a rare look at the people whose job it is to carry out capital punishment. In particular, it’s about Warden Bernadine Williams (Woodard), who carries out her grim duties with a calm authority that belies the increasing doubts and tumult inside her. Continue reading

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