A Tribe Called…

A 2010 gray Dodge Challenger registered to and driven by a 20 year-old Ohio white man at a white supremacist/Neo Nazi rally on Saturday barreled into a crowd and mowed down more than 20 people, killing at least one.

Those white supremacists and Neo-Nazis demonstrated the night before in front of a black church in Charlottesville, Virginia – yelling out the phrases “blood and soil.” This was a Nazi chant – about purity of blood and an ownership of land in the country one was born into.

Torch bearing white supremacists. This is 2017.

The problem is America is a nation of immigrants and no one other than Native Americans were born here. This country is not by birth or ownership inherently white. It is, as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stated on Saturday afternoon, an ever-evolving “mosaic.”

A few hours after the violence on Saturday, Electoral College POTUS Trump said it was time to heal and that for a long time there has been “hatred, bigotry and violence — on many sides.”

Say whaaaaaat? #twilightzone #TrumpAmerica

Well, actually, not in this case.

These demonstrators, with helmets, sticks, bats and loaded rifles, weren’t doing civil disobedience. They were doing intimidation. And at least one or more did domestic terrorism by getting into a car and using it as a lethal weapon.

All of this because the local city council voted to take down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee – the Civil War military man who led the Confederacy fight to, among other things, preserve slavery.   Yup, more than 150 years after the defeat of the South and General Lee, a group of American representatives decided that it was finally time to take away the very public honorarium to a man warring in order to preserve the rights of wealthy white landowners to own and beat (and if they wanted to, kill) brown African humans at will.

Bet they are real proud of themselves #toolittle #toolate

What is this world coming to?

Let’s stop pretending that Trump’s qualifiers like on many sides aren’t in the same family as his racist dog whistles of bad hombres and people who come here who don’t speak English and that all of them aren’t a strategy to anything more than this:

A re-whitening of America through government mandated exclusion based on race.

Let’s also refrain from the make believe that his proposed mandate to ban transgender people from the military is anything more than homophobic hate support to mollify those who believe LGBT people don’t have the same rights to their country that they do.

And while we’re at it, let’s additionally not naively believe that because Trump has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted to Judaism – or a few Black people in his cabinet – that he won’t specifically malign and attack Blacks, Jews or any other race or religion as a whole if a particular member of that group publicly speaks out against him or disobeys a particular type of behavior (nee proposed edict) he wants normalized.

The garden is blooming

To qualify or allow for racism and hate is to lie down with it. To whit – the night before the guy in Charlottesville used the car to plow into the crowd – several hundred other white supremacists and neo-Nazis also assembled on a nearby University of Virginia quadrangle, shouting:

You will not replace us, Jew will not replace us.

When your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is a man who ran a vast media platform admittedly for the alt right – an invented polite word for white supremacists and Neo-Nazis – and your deputy assistant in the White House is Sebastian Gorka – a man who openly wears a medal from a Nazi-linked Hungarian group to your inauguration – there’s not much left to be said. This is because you’ve already said it by NOT SAYING anything about whom you’re associating yourself with and what you’re enabling.

This reference never gets old.

Tribalism is not pretty but to some extent we’re all guilty of it. Meaning – we are all a part of something even if we don’t want to be or forever, to the nth degree, choose to be. This starts with family and continues or discontinues up or down depending on your point of view.

This week I found myself binge-watching all three seasons of Amazon’s acclaimed series Transparent. Yeah, you’d think I’d have seen it already and been a big fan.

I mean, I’m a gay Jewish guy from a family with more than its share of scandals and the fictional Pfeffermans in Transparent are a scandal-ridden Jewish family with not only a transgender patriarch but two lesbian sisters (well, maybe bi but one leaning far towards lesbian).

the real “modern family”

Still – full confession – after watching the pilot when it first appeared three years ago – there was something about this family that I SO DID NOT want to be a part of. I mean, they were too selfish, too neurotic and way too privileged for my taste. I mean, I grew up middle to lower-middle class and knew exactly who these people were despite the gay and the Jewish parts of them. They were the very people that, all through my life, annoyed the hell out of me. And looked down on me. I mean, I couldn’t..can’t…bear people like them.

Well, suffice it to say I was WRONG.

Because to some extent, yeah — they are me – or parts of me – no matter how much I may have wanted to run away from it.

Pretty much.

There is something about their cultural Jewishness – even with them being from affluent Pacific Palisades and me from middlebrow Flushing, Queens – that was undeniable in the bagels and shmeers and overwrought over-intellectualizing.   My family may have been far less outrageous sexually (well, that I know of) but we made up for it with other outrages of taboo behavior that I will save for another time.

As for neurosis, privilege and sheer self-involvement, they slowly became only a mere artistic exaggeration of behavior I had always known, too often exhibited and too often chose to forget, the more I watched. This was my reality, no matter how much I didn’t ever want it to be. And I sort of loved them for it, and in spite of it.

Now I’m not saying Trump or anyone in his White House should take a hard look at Saturday’s alt right (ahem) Neo Nazi demonstration of death and embrace that part of them the way I’ve done with the Pfeffermans. First of all, that analogy wouldn’t be fair to the Pfeffermans, even though I’m sure at least one of them would think nothing of pushing the same metaphor, and even worse, on you about me if they were real and I was fictional.

ahem…. Ali

What I am proclaiming is that each and every one of us – from every possible family and ethnic group there is – every last one of us – do that work for each and every last one of them. Make the analogy, claim the metaphor and push daily the very truth we see before our eyes in the White House and its association with the alt right/white supremacist/Neo-Nazi groupthink.

Trump rose to power and is now the president of American racism and Neo-Nazi/white supremacist behavior. So it behooves us all – every last one of us – who do not want this to continue to be our familial reality – to speak out against IT. Every day. Maybe even more than once a day. Before we no longer have the chance to safely do so.

Cher – “Half Breed”

Motor City Mayhem

Detroit is a movie you won’t forget. Or at least I won’t. It is brilliantly infuriating, difficult to watch and necessary to experience. If we as a country – or really as a people – are to begin to figure out how to move forward with the remnants of 2017 life, it’s a starting point. Not the only one but a possible one.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are both white and yet have chosen to tell a historical story that can be read as part of the ongoing story of the White patriarchal repression of Blacks. This has already created a side controversy that one realizes, after seeing the film, provides endless intellectual fodder but is sort of beside the point.

More to the issue is that if the arts can play some small part in bridging the gap between where we were, where we are and where we hope to be, Detroit should become a potent and powerful conversation starter. It’s that unrelenting and uncompromising.

…. but this time, the hype is real

Watching the film at a Writers Guild screening of people of all sorts of colors, ages, shapes, and sizes, it was clear the entire audience was emotionally gutted and awake. This was a Hollywood film made by whites where no white savior came in to save the day or even the score for the poor, put upon downtrodden.   We will never know what any other filmmaker of any other color would do with the same material – for better or worse – but at the moment Detroit is what we have of one hideous incident in one particularly hideous moment in our past.

This, by the way, is not meant to be congratulatory in any sort of way. There are no congratulations to be had in any discussion of this debacle.

Fifty years ago a racist patrolman in Detroit led a small group of law enforcers to alternately beat, torture and murder a small group of innocent Black men hanging out at the local Algiers Motel.

Detroit burns in July 1967

It was an explosive, ugly time of race riots and social injustice in big cities all across the country, but most especially in in the Motor City where an almost all White police force (93%) were tasked with holding the line on the residents of a fast-growing Black city (30%).

The unfolding story of the movie Detroit uses the ever-growing popular method of plopping its audience directly into the dramatic center of its narrative and trusting that in the age of web surfing, iPhone clicking and incessantly intense game-playing it will be able to play catch up.

Recent films like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk do this and go for the big overall visceral reaction at the expense of individual character development and emotional nuance. Others like Atomic Blonde provide a couple of Irving the Explainer scenes of incoherent exposition and then have us settle down so we can watch the real entertainment – some larger than life extended violence where an unlikely hero/heroine (and who better than Charlize Theron) beats the crap out of everyone in slight we’d like to pulverize if were we six feet tall and had the benefit of hair, makeup and extensive martial arts training by stunt coordinator experts.

Charlize looking a little different from her Mad Max days  #oliviapopejacket

Detroit, however, is not about sensationalized hollow victories or a dramatic retelling of heroism under the thematic banner that War is Hell. It only starts out as a generalized expression of the Big Idea and a pastiche of characters one never gets to really know yet follows along into over-the-top battles. Its power is that it does all of this and then, at some unsuspecting point once this is all established, gets real specific, real fast. And stays there and unfolds for the essential body of the work – a kind of American horror movie gone wrong in a period motel hallway. And then goes on from there to show something about how we lived then. And ask the question if, at the end of the day, it’s really all that different than the way we live now – or is now just a cleaned up version?

Suffice it to say that at the end your visceral nerve endings are not only more than met but you also didn’t need chunks of exposition or violently musical YouTube-like video sequences to do it for you. There are actually real people to watch doing unfortunately all too human things that prompt all too human reactions that go on and on and on. As we say in screenwriting class, in science and in psychotherapy – cause and effect, real cause and effect. For every action is there is a reaction – one that is logical and one, in the movie Detroit, anyway, that you can follow.

… and countless other movies used for the exact opposite purpose

When asked the often-dreaded question of how he approached the material in a talkback afterwards, screenwriter Mark Boal said that he essentially saw this as a movie about an artist whose life was derailed. That, and a good deal of research, and talent, is probably a large part of the reason that the script for Detroit works so well. Call me old-fashioned but if you don’t know or care about the people (in this real-life case an aspiring young Motown-type singer) what do you really have? As a writer you need to find a way in. You can’t effectively write an issue or a historical event.

Sure, you can film it and use all sorts of technique, CGI and camera tricks to forge effective mass entertainment. But at the end of the day, what do you really have? What are you telling us that we didn’t already know, or need to be reminded of?

Certainly, movies can succeed solely on mass entertainment value, escapism, cheap thrills and recycled messages. Many of these films are highly watchable and superbly executed. But we’ve reached a point in the business where we have gotten used to the former and forgotten films like Detroit. Go see it and consider this a reminder.

But you can still go see Jon Hamm and this terrible haircut in Baby Driver #iunderstand

That might be a good way to end but it would be an oversight not to single out the mammoth filmmaking skills of Kathryn Bigelow here.   A two-year DGA study at the end of 2015 noted women account for 6.4% of film directors and just 3% of major box office films.  But let’s be kind and say the numbers have gone up slightly in the last year and a half. Still, that’s pretty piss poor.

When you watch Detroit you don’t so much ask yourself, how did she do that shot but in what world was she able to integrate all those disparate scenes and themes so convincingly, recreate an often botched decade of American history (the sixties) on film so convincingly and get those performances out of those actors so effortlessly? Heck if I know.

That girl #shesgotit #sheknowsit

It makes you wonder how many hundreds of other potential Kathryn Bigelows there are out there. Filmmakers who are female, or perhaps non-white, non-heterosexual or non gender binary, who might never get the chance. And how many of those stories are yet to be told. Not only through the entertainment industry but in any other American industry.

That would be one way to truly Make America Great again.

The Dramatics – “All Because of You” 

The Real Tycoons

I hadn’t planned on binge watching Amazon’s The Last Tycoon.   But it’s set in 1930s Hollywood and stars Matt Bomer as the first young genius studio exec – a guy who is impossibly handsome, a virtuoso at story, Jewish and…wait for it…manages in his own Tinsletown way to fight the Nazis. One might say this was MADE for ME.

Jon Hamm who? #justkidding #maybe

Besides, I desperately needed an escape from Trump and Mooch – two neighborhood bullies from Queens/Long Island, my home turf, whom I’ve fought all of my life to avoid, escape and, ultimately, defeat.

Yes, it’s a bit sobering to realize that despite years of positive experiences, therapy and a life you personally deem a success, that somewhere deep down many of us (Note: Okay, I) still carry around the anger and childhood scars of hurt that our tormenters managed to cavalierly foist on us decades before. Not to mention a deep-seated need to not only defeat them but pulverize their smug, mealy-mouthed faces of capped pearly whites far down below Middle Earth.

I’m with you Liz Lemon!

On the other hand, to recognize this is, to an extent, to be freed of it. You can’t fight people like Donald Trump and Anthony Scaramucci until you realize exactly who they are and what they represent to you. For me, it’s a uniquely New York brand of self-assured macho know-nothingness. A dictatorial, cavalier expression of selfish id that they think entitles them to rule the roost of the neighborhood –which in 2017 terms means the world.

#help

When the Mooch, Electoral Potus’ new “communications director” (Note: If that meant orangutans were interpreters of logic for chimpanzees), this week publically spewed (via a reporter for The New Yorker, no less!) that soon to be ex-White House Chief of staff Reince Priebus was a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and that White Supremacist/Electoral Potus consigliore Steve Bannon was nothing like him because The Mooch wasn’t interested in “sucking my own cock” I wasn’t particularly taken aback. Instead, I was actually back in the old neighborhood. Because that’s EXACTLY how I remembered these cretins talking when I was a teenager.   The difference is at that time I imagined the most either of them would amount to was working behind the deli counter or selling real estate on Queens Blvd. as they chased the grown up versions of the gals with overly processed hair that I worked with at the neighborhood stationary store. I never thought, even in my wildest nightmare, that they could become the defacto leaders of what was once referred to as the Free World.

Is this real life???

I mean, if you would have told me that one of them would have actually become president by cozying up with Russian propagandists – and when in office recall a sex orgy story when addressing a large group of pubescent boy scouts – or egg on a gathering of Long Island police officers to better brutalize the “animals” they arrest as a personal favor to him….

Well, I couldn’t have imagined it. Even in my sickest, most secret fantasy, which, trust me, was quite a bit wilder then than any one is now.

(Note: Oh, and know that there’s nothing wrong with Queens Blvd. real estate sales or slicing pastrami for lunch customers at the local A & P if you at least do it with aplomb and some small measure of decency).

Ain’t nothing decent about this bro

It seems highly unlikely that when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his novel The Last Tycoon in the 1930s that he could have ever imagined two crude pinheaded asshats the likes of Scaramucci and Trump in an Oval Office that was for so long occupied by a leader with the brains, stature and heart of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Still, even back then Fitzgerald – not to mention the expanded story in the Amazon series – understood the idea of reinvention and repackaging for the masses. In Fitzgerald’s world, a working class Jewish guy from the Bronx named Milton is enveloped by the biz of show and emerges as a handsome Wasp named Monroe with all the money, gals and glamour you could shake a camera at.

I mean.. does the man have a bad angle? #askingforafriend

This falls in line with so many of us in the entertainment industry still, people who came from anywhere-but-here to pursue our dreams and mold ourselves into something more than what we were led to believe by the neighborhood bullies that we would ever be.

However what is sobering beyond belief at the moment is that very nitwits we sought to show up have somehow pulled the rug out from under us via their cynical use of media and money in order to run the show as the worst rotting version of their true selves.

OK.. I’m not that far gone, I promise #closethough

Scaramucci came from Wall Street and was a hedge fund manager with reportedly all the baggage and questionable morality those words imply. Trump was the scion of a New York real estate mogul who made money discriminating against minorities and followed his father’s lead making tens of millions by openly refusing to pay vendors for services rendered, declaring no less than five bankruptcies and propping up his flagging empire through an indecipherable (and to date unknowable) web of loans from questionable foreign banks and billionaire oligarchal sources.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

This would be enough for another unfinished Fitzgerald-like novel without both of their current third acts. For instead of reinventing themselves in a slicker, more tailored package for the masses, both of these goombas have doubled down on the coarse sociopathic aspects of their torturous personalities.

Trump, in particular, saw an opening among the disenfranchised – both working class and suburban class; religious, traditional-minded and yes, in some cases racist – and packaged himself a super villain torturer of anyone or anything that has ever done them wrong in the past or dares to in the future.   The sexism, the cynicism, the racism, the rejection of facts and education for emotion and id marshaled on behalf of the FORGOTTEN.

AHHHHHHHH!

It’s like having your own PERSONAL BULLY. And who better than an actual bully – the real unleashed Trump of each and every decade gone by, including his adolescence, to play the role? It’s like when they cast Dr. Haing S. Gnor, himself a Cambodian refugee, to play a fictional Cambodian refugee in the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. He was so believable and so riveting that to this day he is still the only Asian American actor to have ever won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

Trump, of course, has graduated to lead actor but sadly this is real life and at this point it seems crystal clear he is not pretending. This is who he is, was and will be and what we see unfolding is what he has wrought.

Which is why this week I preferred just for a few hours to live in a world where a Jewish kid from the boroughs could actually grow up to be smarter and more successful than any American bully imaginable, ruling a make-believe world of the most beautiful dreams imaginable – a place where the good triumphed and the bad guys were captured and then forced to pay the piper instead of preaching from the bully pulpit.

And doing all this — I look exactly like Matt Bomer.

Too many pics of Bomer? Not possible

Of course, that is precisely why we need dreams – to aspire to something more – and yes, higher – than what we currently are – as we work towards making that ideal a reality.

Not vice-versa.

Green Day – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

Monkey Business?

There is no escape.

Not from Trump metaphors in art generally or in movie sequels specifically.   Even if all you want is a good summer film.

Of course, this also means there is no running from the news of the day, even if you don’t care a whit about the future generally or the human species specifically.

Stay with me… I’m about to get there

You might think you can turn it off by reading a classic novel and transporting yourself into another world. But try it. Chances are there will be some authoritarian figure somewhere bellowing belligerently from the rafters about what’s good for you, your neighborhood or your country in a voice you want to stab to death at any given moment. This being might be the voice of a dictator but, trust me, it can also be your parent, a friend or even your own inner voice.

Sure, I could be talking about just me but, truly, I don’t think so. When one lives in extreme circumstances one unfortunately finds resonance everywhere – and often in the most unlikely of places.

This weekend I went to a Writer’s Guild screening of War for the Planet of The Apes.

GURLLLL

Well, why not?

Sure, it’s the NINTH film of the Apes series, I don’t like sequels and reboots generally and, more specifically, I missed the last two. But I did read some synopses to catch up and there were the stellar written and word of mouth reviews for this new one

I heard it’s fantastic!, related a good friend who spoke to a good friend who knew someone who saw it.

Jeez, did you read this? It’s a rave, yelled my husband across the room over breakfast and our printed newspaper this past Friday morning. An eschewer of movie sequels generally and franchise action films specifically, I got the sense if he wasn’t working on a deadline to finish his new book he might have even joined me and paid the price of admission at a real movie theatre to see it.

And it doesn’t even have Dr. Zaius!

For the NINTH Planet of the Apes movie???? Yes. As I said, we all need our fantasy escapes – unless of course our backs are up against the wall with work and we have discipline. Well, one of us has to.

Besides, if I didn’t go to the new Apes film I would have missed:

Where to begin…

  • Woody Harrelson ordering droves of shackled apes to BUILD A WALL to keep all the bad guys out.
  • Metaphorical strong man father figures who stick by their families at all costs and lash out when their first-born sons are threatened, mutilated and/or killed. (Note: So be careful out there on Twitter).

Well… he would if it were Ivanka

  • Whole tribes of people willing to follow a certifiably CRAZY GUY because times are tough, he talks a good game and seems to have some sort of vague plan that will save them.

Of course, this could just be me reading into the movie but, truly, I don’t think so.

By the way, know you are reading no Apes snob here. The original Planet of The Apes was one of my favorite films as a child because it confirmed all of my worst prepubescent fears about the future of the planet. Even back then I knew we were probably doomed and the best that I could hope for is that some hot guy in a loincloth who looked like a youngish Charlton Heston would take pity on me and “save” me. (Note: This was well before I was aware of his politics, not that this would have mattered to my 12 year old self).

OK well I was looking at his other “guns” #shameless

After the screening of the new Apes film the director/co-screenwriter Matt Reeves spoke to a room full of us writers and related how he wanted to marry a mythic story with the technology of the day in creating the reality of the apes. Well, fair enough, I thought, even if at 142 minutes it all felt a bit overwrought and Woody Harrelson’s nutsy bald-headed villain reminded me too much of Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now without the sick wit. Or it all evoked a type of Bridge Over The River Kwai 2 with simians. Or The Ten Commandments without the presence of God or Charlton Heston – at any age.

I’ll keep the leopard clad Edward G. Robinson though #fabulous

But then Mr. Reeves made the mistake too many of us do when referring to our work – he began to explain it. He actually called his film as a “Darwinian biblical epic” and noted he screened the movies Apocalypse Now, The Ten Commandments and Bridge Over the River Kwai for inspiration. Oh, he did also mention The Outlaw Josey Wales, which I never saw, and now I guess probably won’t have to.

Sorry Clinty #stillanemptychair

All of this is to say, the difference between movie and real life auteurs these days is that the real life ones feel no need to truthfully explain themselves. We get codified messages from The Trump Of It All like build a wall and my (39 YEAR OLD) son is a good boy but not a lot of honest reflection about how he (It?) got to the decisions he made or why he made them. In fact, none.

And so far it’s working.

This should be a lesson for every movie director and writer out there. The moment you begin explaining what you do and why you do/did it is the precise time where you can begin to sew the seeds of your own downfall in the eyes of your audience. At least in the world we live in nowadays. Or, well, my world. A world from which there is no escape – even on a 2000 plus square foot movie screen.

or… RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Though —

You (I?) might want to hang on to these results just in from a new Washington Post/ABC News pollThe Trump Of It All’s approval rating has just dropped six points to 36% from its previous 42% in April. Its/His disapproval rating has also risen 5 points to 58%. These are levels only reached once before: by George W. Bush near the end of his second term – after the economy crashed.

Yes, this is a slim, slim lifeline but is probably better than what you’ll get anywhere else. Of course, this could be just me but, truly, I don’t think so.

Dusty Springfield – Wishin’ and Hopin’

SPECIAL NOTE: We will be taking a brief stay-cation next week and notesfromachair will return in two weeks. During that time, our beloved Holly, the editor, caption writer and image chooser of all things notes will be giving birth to her second child – better known as Sam’s sibling – and we can’t do any of this without her. Or choose not to. Though why explain any further.

Can’t wait for you to meet her!

OOOOHH BABY (DRIVER)!

Baby Driver is the sleeper box-office hit of the summer and a movie not without its charms.

It has pretty much redefined movie music for the future by creating a title character so enmeshed in what’s coming through his headphones that the song choices become not only an essential part of the narrative but, at times, the narrative itself.

It also creates a space for its lead, Ansel Elgort, to step forward and assume true movie star status – not merely in box-office dollars but in presence. It’s hard to imagine any other young actor with the charisma, dramatic heft and self-effacing charm to anchor the mind-boggling acts of passion going on around him done in the name of money, speed and most importantly, love.

Meanwhile… “What’s an Ansel Elgort?”

But chiefly, it arrives at a time where as a country – and world – we all need two hours of escape from reality through an imaginary city where, in the end, justice is served in an untraditional yet somewhat believable fashion given the context of what’s come before.

The latter is key in both a positive and negative way. For although Baby Driver delivers on so many levels it also falls short in several key departments – realism. And…realism.

Wait.. people aren’t this good looking in real life?

Of course, reality these days feels a bit unreal so perhaps that isn’t necessarily a fault. Unless, of course, one attends movies to see some reflection of life as one has experienced it, or even hopes to experience it.

It’s hard these days to be an audience member who prefers the more human musings of 2017 cinema like The Book of Henry and Dean. That statement in itself might feel oxymoronic since one of those films takes place in a pushed reality fantasy and the other follows the angsty life of a Brooklyn cartoonist whose drawings push the narrative at least one third of its 87 minute running time.

Still, neither of those films depends on relentless violence and over-the-top action sequences. Nor do their stories throw human logic out the window and halfway through turn into a Road Runner cartoon, a comic book or a horror fantasy.

Plus.. this Jon Hamm haircut #youareforgiven

I mention the last three examples because if one looks at movies in terms of box-office returns/deliverable profits it’s easy to see the issue with people like myself – those of us who wish Francois Truffaut were still alive and active on the film scene, or that at least Paul Thomas Anderson and Kimberly Pierce made more movies.

WWFTD?

Here are the top 10 top grossing 2017 films domestically:

  1. Beauty and the Beast – $503,940,432
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $384,949,006
  3. Wonder Woman – $361,591,191
  4. Logan – $226, 275, 826
  5. Fate of the Furious – $225,587,340
  6. The Lego Batman Movie – $175,750,384
  7. Get Out – $175,484,140
  8. The Boss Baby – $173,782,946
  9. Kong Skull Island – $168,052, 812
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Vol. 623 – $167,980,297

Oh, and the list is almost exactly the same for worldwide grosses, except Get Out and Pirates move down to the top 20 and Transformers: The Last Knight and Fifty Shades Darker move up from #15 and #14 to #9 and #10.

More like FIFTY SHADES MORE BORING #nochemistry  #snooooze

Not to mention — the worldwide box-office grosses for the top 10 range from $1,259,744,572 (that’s Billion, with a B), down to a measly $378.8 million.

Obviously realism, or as I call it in my more bitter moviegoer moods – basic logic – doesn’t count for very much anymore.

I can’t even go there

What is logical in a capitalistic society – especially in business – is profit. Money. Though the type of movies at the tops of the chart on the whole cost a lot more than the smaller ones down towards the bottom, their international markets and ancillary revenue streams have increased so much that studios need merely one or two massive tentpoles every few years in order to justify all of the other risks.

That is, if this is merely a numbers game.

… and some numbers are not so great #sorrytommy

Having begun my career as a bit of a reluctant box-office guru when I was a reporter at Daily Variety in 1979, I can’t help but feel disheartened. I started the weekly national box-office story at the paper then out of sheer confusion over the scattershot press releases we would receive about how “outstanding” every big film opening was doing.   Decades later it’s turned into pretty much almost anything anyone in the movie business – and that includes too many movie fans – thinks about. And in the case of most every decision maker at the studios, cares about.

Not to say it was not always mostly this way for the studio suits in the old days or recent past. But at least there was a bit more of a balance.

As evidenced by Feud’s Jack Warner #ohhediditagain #moneytalks

The Hurt Locker was released in June. Forrest Gump (not my fave, but still…) came out in July. Heck, even All the President’s Men first appeared in April.

Where are their 2017 equivalents?

Don’t write in with a list of foreign films, limited releases, bomb studio 2017 movies or tell me to stream Netflix, Amazon or _____________. I get it and I do. We’re talking Movies here.

That said, the new Spiderman (Homecoming) has soared past $100,000,000 domestically in its 3-day opening this weekend.

As John Oliver would say, “Good work, Spider Twerp”

That’s the sixth Spiderman film in 15 years even though this one is considered to be NEW – meaning it’s a SECOND reboot of the franchise with a new director and star.

I haven’t seen it yet but I do know when it comes to 2017 realities one could do a lot worse.

Though seriously, that’s a pretty lame excuse. Isn’t it?

Boga – “Nowhere to Run”

Who Run the World?

Generally I’ve always liked women more than men. On the surface, this would seem ironic for a gay man. On closer inspection, it’s really not.

When I was growing up it was just easier to be closer to the gals. I didn’t like traditional “guy” things like playing sports, though I did collect baseball cards and loved the NY Yankees in particular. In fact, I actually knew (and still know) their entire starting lineup from 1966.

OK.. and their smiles didn’t hurt either

Oh, don’t be so surprised. I’m certainly not.

We’re all a bit of an imperfect puzzle and if you’re homosexual those imperfections feel that much more complicated, especially to mainstream America.   Yes, even still.

But let’s table the rainbow soapbox for the moment and stick with women. I did for decades in every which way but sexually. They shared my interests in the arts, or even if they didn’t they liked hearing about it. They really listened to me when I spoke, liked to engage in discourse and seemed to generally care even when the world didn’t.

Not to mention, they seemed receptive to my opinions, so much so that at one point towards the end of high school and all through college there were almost too many women in my life to handle.

Yep, that’s me!

I remember late one afternoon my stepfather being absolutely flabbergasted at the beautiful young woman who had come over to hang out with me for the first time (Note: In retrospect, she was pretty stunning. And smart. I looked her up on Facebook recently and she has become a respected lawyer).

But even at the time I knew he couldn’t fathom how this short, slightly less than macho, snide young man he had lived with for the last five years could EVER attract the attention of the gorgeous creature he couldn’t stop staring at in our entryway.

A John Hughes rendering of the situation

It amused me to no end that I had the secret that would always elude him, and too many straight men, especially in the late sixties and early seventies.

I was actually INTERESTED in her. Instead of being interested in HER.

I won’t go into the Mika Brzezinski/Joe Scarborough brouhaha this week (Note: This can fill you in. Or this.)…

…Other than to say when the current ELECTORAL POTUS insults you on Twitter with bon mots like crazy, low I.Q., dumb as a rock and his requisite reference to any attractive female who challenges him – their BLEEDING from one orifice or anotherwell, you know you’re doing something right.

You’ve gotten under his skin.

Shakespearean in scope

Still, what’s gotten under my skin this week is Friday’s UNANIMOUS ruling by the 9-member Texas Supreme Court reversing the city of Houston’s decision to extend health and life insurance benefits to the spouses of city employees in same sex marriages.

Instead of these benefits being an automatic right based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago legalizing gay marriage across the country, these Texas judges want a trial in Houston where this issue can be fought out in court. Though how this can be anything but a waste of time and taxpayer money is beyond me since same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

It is interesting to note seven of those nine judges were men. Two were women. All were Republicans. I maintain if any one of the many women I grew up with – especially the now adult aforementioned woman in my entryway who stepdaddy stared at all those decades ago – were on the court the ruling would surely not be unanimous. There would be at least one dissent. Which would be a start.

Let’s not forget that Wendy Davis is a proud Texas woman. #theydoexist

Still, I grew up in NYC and not Texas so perhaps mine is as irrelevant and regional an opinion and argument as the one coming from the Texas Supreme Court ruling will (hopefully) eventually be.

Fortunately, there will be THREE women from my neck of the woods – all of them from the various, glorious boroughs of NYC – on the US Supreme Court when later this year they hear the case of the Denver baker who in 2012 refused service to a gay couple that merely wanted him to bake them a wedding cake.

Yes, that one’s actually going to trial.

Even though on a recent episode of The View the baker, Jack Phillips, said:

I don’t judge people when they come in. I try and serve everybody.

Summon some Alice realness right now #eyeroll

Still, he chose NOT to try and accommodate the two about-to-be married young men, previous customers of his establishment, when they merely asked for a cake for their wedding reception. In fact, he told them it was against his religious beliefs. Even though it is against the law for a public business like his to refuse this service.

I can only imagine what Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor will make of this. Actually, I intuitively KNOW what they will make of it based on decades of experience with women like them – women who have spent years making their voices heard to those who choose to listen – or not – to them.

YES. YES. YES.

These are women who, in turn, have devoted their entire adult lives listening to others in an attempt to level the playing field for many who have come after them and have, for various and nefarious reasons, also not been heard and valued for what they had to do or say.

The trouble is there are once again NINE Supreme Court justices and this time a full FIVE of them are straight white males (and the other is Clarence Thomas). Not to tar them all with one brush.

I mean, it is 2017.

Cmon man, get with the times!

Who in their right mind would do that to someone based on their sex, or sexual preference, even if they have said things and done things in the past and present with which they vehemently disagree?

Well, certainly not anyone in their right mind. Certainly, no one in the highest echelons of the court.   Or the government.

Which begs the question of just when WILL we elect a woman president and how much worse IT (Okay, HE) will have to get before we finally come to our sense and do so?

“Respect” –  Aretha Franklin

The Time Being

Watching throngs of handicapped people in wheelchairs and with breathing tubes being forcibly dragged out of Congress’ hallways by police was quite a sight.

America 2017. #forreal

As they waited for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over a new health care bill (aka Trumpcare) that would never materialize, the rest of we Americans were being treated to images straight out of….Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale?….Mad Max Fury Road?…or fill in the latest dystopic film or television series (limited or not) of choice.

No, I’m not exaggerating. And there’s a reason this kind of programming (aka content) is popular right about now.

If our lives at the moment were a dystopic film or television series – and who is to say it isn’t given we have a reality star POTUS – one can only imagine what will follow. Certainly you don’t need to be a writer to consider the various options:

1- Police will begin to drag ALL protesters forcibly away, make protesting illegal, and then punishable by death, and then seize EVERYONE’s assets until a superhero comes to the rescue.

2- A superhero – or mere human movement – will spring up and defeat those drunk with power in a bloody, prolonged third act that will cost the studio too much money but is deemed necessary for commercial appeal.

The cheaper and more effective option #VOTE

3- Law enforcement – aka the status quo – will realize they’ve gone too far and back off in the name of decency and benevolence. (Note: Know that this is the most unpopular choice in any development meeting and always deemed woefully undramatic no matter how you try to sell it to them with clever dialogue and intricate plot twists even they didn’t see coming).

4- Self-preservation and arm-twisting will kick in and some sort of compromise will be reached. No one will be happy but society will continue and no blood will be shed. For now.

If we choose #4 – and certainly American history usually bends in this direction, it’s called the kick the can down the road compromise of choice – you will know we aren’t living a real life version of The Truman Show.

Although this is how I feel watching the news every night

Of course, that will have sidestepped the issue at hand (Note: This week it’s health care – a few months ago it was immigration – another month or two hence it could be…well, anything) – for the time being.

The time being is what intrigues me at the moment. The spaces between the monumental fights and events. It seems to me that is really where most of us live unless we’re thrill seekers like Sebastian Junger, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., or someone who believes a $6000 suit, a bad comb over dye job and all the money and power in the world hide who we really are from the vast majority of the world.

It’s hard to know how to behave for the time being. Just what do you do other than go about your daily life?

– Some of us (ahem) have taken to alternately rant and worry

Just being real

– Some of us donate money, take to the streets and yell (or worse) at anyone who disagrees with us or even gets in our way

– Some of us drink too much and party too much as if we’re the uber bourgeoisie and it’s about to be the uber French Revolution (Note: Which indeed it may be)

– Some of us pay this no mind at all and wonder why the rest of us bother

I have done all of the above except the latter. Correction, I’ve even done the latter for at least a few seconds here and there over the last six months. But no more.

… and well other times

Which means I’m left with A LOT of time being to fill even though it feels like my time – and all of our times – are running out fast.

I read a script this weekend that’s a comedy about a man dying of cancer. Apparently, it’s going to be made with a big star and by a major studio. I say apparently, because, as we know, nothing in the world is definite and this applies to the nth degree when it comes to a greenlit movie.

Anyway, in this screenplay the person with the fatal disease takes on all kinds of behavior usually deemed outrageous in an effort to get the people around him to live a little. He’s not really mean to anyone – well, except to some hypocrite he works with who, strangely enough, happens to be in a wheelchair (Note: Think real advanced affirmative action via non-stereotypical character development, an actor’s field day) – and somehow this becomes the key to….

Danny boy… you sure you want to retire??

Well, I don’t want to spoil it in case it gets made. Let’s just say it doesn’t so much solve his issues but makes everyone else around him think a little bit about their own time beings – though as far as we know it is only for the time being. The rest could or would but probably won’t be answered in a sequel.

In light of what happened this week with the many affirmed demonstrators who took to the halls of Congress in fear that they literally will die given the proposed Medicaid cuts Republicans are asking for – I initially had trouble with the new trope of handicapped hypocrite.

On the other hand, lots of other marginalized people in the story were valued and nothing too terrible happened to him that he didn’t deserve and we didn’t want to happen.

The worst of me wants the worst to happen to those manipulators who are full of themselves and only out for themselves.

Arch enemies #couldnthelpmyself

The best of me wants to protect people who are not as able-bodied or advantaged as myself even when I don’t necessarily agree with all of their actions.

But what happens if both those options are embodied in exactly the same person?

Do you go high? Or do you go low? Though really, it’s more about what I’ll do or you’ll do – that really being the collective we. Meaning it’s really ALL about the collective WE.

… or perhaps just the ROYAL WE #thecrown #alltheemmys

More likely you, I and thus “We” will reach some sort of compromise and kick the can down the road in the name of survival. For the time being at least.

As all of us, you and I rant, rave, drink, tune out and/or make jokes about it all.

I can think of no better way to usher in a new unenlightened age.

For the time… Well, you get the point. Though it’s anyone’s guess if WE do. Or ever will.

For the Time Being – Edie Brickell & the Gaddabouts