Rock ‘n Oscars

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Well of course the show was too long. I mean….

On the other hand, we’ve seen worse….A LOT worse. And Chris Rock was really funny. Despite all the hate tweets and humorless prigs who can find no laughs in an iconic internationally watched awards ceremony honoring the arts that is, at it’s worst, laughable.

Well, I don’t know about you but I needed a few good laughs and some decent movie moments this weekend. Expecting the worst – or the most dull – I got something… pretty good. As I tell my students almost daily:

It’s all about expectations.

I was talking to a friend online during a commercial break who was finding the show a mess.   This was right after I was laughing myself rather silly over one of Mr. Rock’s funnier produced segments – I think it was the moment we got to see Leslie Jones beating up a fake Leo DiCaprio and his bear in a mini-Revenant parody over the lack of roles for Black actresses; which was followed by Tracy Morgan in drag as The Danish Girl munching down on a pastry and saying This is good Danish, Girl… !

Still LOL-ing!

Still LOLing!

In any event, what I wrote to my friend was that, yes, the entire show felt a bit uncomfortable because of what’s going on in the Motion Picture Academy at the moment (Note: #OscarsSoWhite) . Which mirrors the time period the country is presently enduring politically (Note #2: #MakeAmericaGreat Again #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter).

I mean, when Mr. Rock joked about the Academy doing an In Memoriam segment that featured all the Black people shot by cops on the way to the movies this year – it sort of encapsulates the overarching issue out there, doesn’t it?

Yet with all that being said – and whether you liked, hated or felt indifferent about the entire show — it still beat Seth McFarlane mincing around the stage singing We Saw Your Boobs! or Rob Lowe serenading Snow White. Oh, how quickly you forget.

Just thinking about Seth's "We Love Your Boobs" makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

Just thinking about Seth’s “We Saw Your Boobs” makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

By the way, this is by no means a mea culpa for Hollywood. One need just look around the audience.   Or simply listen to Louis CK admonish all of the rich attendees – when announcing the short documentary category – that they better pay attention because the winner they were about to honor was not only probably the poorest in the room but would never make as much as any of them in his or her entire lifetime.   Since they were, Mr. CK stated, quite simply the bottom line true storytellers in the room because they all do it for little economic reward.

Preach Louis!

Preach Louis!

See, it’s not like many people in Hollywood don’t get IT. It’s just that they seldom work as a collective. And most don’t Do anything about IT. They’re too busy looking for a job, trying to keep the job they have or simply attempting to survive in an industry where baseline behavior often borderlines on the just slightly insane.

Again, just an explanation – not an excuse. Because any of us who think the white, straight male patriarchy is just going to roll over and relinquish its power need only spend a bit more time monitoring the 2016 presidential election, the relationship between the White House and Congress or merely track the progress in replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court for an answer. As Mr. Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue (and I’m paraphrasing):

Of course Hollywood is racist. But they’re not Burning Cross racist. They’re sorority racist. It’s more – we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.

Indeed.

And oy vey, did Black Twitter did blow up over that one. Well, I’m still p.o.’d Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture 10 years ago so I suppose I get it. And none of the major above-the-line talents on the latter above were even LGBT (why would they be?) – only the subject matter.

But back to the show. Or shall I say, the nominees and winners.

Except this guy, because I can't even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge

Except this guy, because I can’t even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge #ugh

Here are some facts that are interesting to note and remember:

Best Picture, Original Screenplay winner: Spotlight — It was about reporters who uncovered the long buried sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and, most importantly, the Church hierarchy that covered it up.

Best Director, Actor winner: The RevenantA period film about man and nature that subliminally deals with the environment and literally tackles American racism towards Native Americans.

Best Actress winner: Room A contemporary drama about a survivor of kidnapping and sexual abuse.

Best Supporting Actor winner: Bridge of Spies — A drama that takes apart the US government’s secrecy surrounding its 1950s spy program against the Soviet Union and the hypocrisy therein.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short  A contemporary comedy/drama that manages to shed some light and condemnation to the major players in the American financial meltdown of the previous decade.

No, Lady Gaga and Diane Warren didn’t win best song but the former’s performance of Till It Happens to You was undeniably one of the emotional high moments of the night when it concluded with a stage full of young female and male rape survivors surrounding her onstage.

... and I wasn't sure if she could top last year's Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

… and I wasn’t sure if she could top last year’s Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

As for the subject matter of the film that swept most of the technical awards – Mad Max:Fury Road – it dealt with the abuse and victimization of women of all ages in a futuristic societal wasteland – a world with little clean air, water or anything else because of the disregard and greed of all the generations that came before it.

That would be us.

Furiosa knows it

Furiosa knows it

So while the movies have a long way to go in order to meaningfully address societal inequities and real world issues – it’s not as if Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was awarded best picture, the new Star Wars won anything at all, or that Jurassic World 2, Hunger Games 28 or Furious 7 got any nominations.

All of the above might be scant enough progress but I’ll take it for now and hope for a rosier future.

And that they bring Chris Rock back next year.

Among other things.

Hollywood’s Super Bowl: The Chair’s Predictions

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There is something about trying to predict Oscar winners that feels so comforting in 2016.   It’s just that way with meaningless obsessions, especially when they have to do with Hollywood.   Though if that feels bothersome, you could also consider it practical education.  If we all must live in a contemporary world that is patently unfair, what better way to prepare yourself to subvert the power structure than to try and predict its thinking. Consider it a large, life-coping global board game with movie stars.

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

That being said, here are the Chair’s annual thoughts on who WILL and WILL NOT take home the Gold on Sunday night. Use it as a guide on what TO choose and what NOT to choose. Or simply check back so you can dish Chair-y as much as you dish the Awards show itself. (Note: We will provide our usual post mortem evaluation of both the show and our own psychic abilities).

BEST PICTURE

I'll leave you to your imagination....

There hasn’t been a best picture race in many years when opinion and likely results have been so divided. It reminds me of 1982 when, as a young reporter covering the Oscars, I watched the so-called experts with their mouths hanging open in the pressroom backstage the moment the unlikely Chariots of Fire was announced the winner over the two heavy favorites – On Golden Pond and Reds.

That’s what I think will happen this year. Most prognosticators believe the race is between Spotlight and The Revenant with the latter getting a slight, surging edge. However, unscientific though it may be, I have not talked to one industry friend who believes The Revenant is the best picture of the year or will vote for it. As for Spotlight, it would probably get my vote for its walloping simplicity and for making an endless distillation of facts appear to be dramatic. Yet strangely too few industryites feel excited about the film even though all seem to agree it’s quite well made.

The movie many find the most original and timely is The Big Short. Even if it still didn’t entirely decipher all the intricacies of how the American financial system collapsed in the prior decade it came pretty close. Plus, it’s the subject on everyone’s mind in an election year and the filmmakers’ clever breaking of the fourth wall in an attempt to entertain us in order to explain the unexplainable will in the end prove to be irresistible to voters. Of course, I could be wrong. Much like the meltdown of the American financial system that has happened before and will no doubt happen again. Still —

WINNER: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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Does anyone believe Leonardo DiCaprio will not finally win his first Oscar for The Revenant? But as a student of mine wisely commented this week, doesn’t the fact that he really was in physical pain and danger mean that he didn’t have to do as much as an actor? As opposed to Michael Fassbender who actually had to become Steve Jobs, a man we all knew that never had to wrestle with a tiger? Point taken. However, in the Oscar tradition of sweat, drool, handicap, weight loss and rolling around in the mud acting —

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

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Room received four Oscar nominations and its sole win will be for Brie Larson in this category. Her raw, heartbreaking performance held the film together along with the work done by her 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay, who deserves lifetime use of the personal hash tag #OscarsSoOld for being totally overlooked in the supporting actor category. But back to Ms. Larson. No offense to the other ladies but it’s no contest. Besides, she was totally overlooked once before in 2013 for her superb work in Short Term 12.

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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Yes, Sylvester Stallone can really act! That’s all you keep hearing anytime this category is mentioned. But did you all think he really WAS Rocky? Okay, don’t answer – I get it. The industry likes nothing more than to finally have a valid reason to reward one of the last of its old-fashioned movie stars who also created one of its most enduring film franchises of the 20th century.

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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I would so like Jennifer Jason Leigh to win for her bizarrely funny and twisted turn as unapologetic robber/captive Daisy Domergue in H8 – and not only to make up for the fact that she was never nominated for her brilliant turn as a soul-sucking, relentlessly aspiring rock singer in 1995’s Georgia. (Note: Yes, I hold grudges). But it won’t happen. The Academy gave all the films in this category multiple nominations but it’s Alicia Vikander in a squeak. Imagine the difficulty of stealing a movie away from a man who is playing one of the first transgender females in medical history? Yet somehow she did it without showing off. Not to mention, she did equal if not superior work this year as the star robot/replicant/human(?) in Ex-Machina.

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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Do NOT bet against a well-reviewed Pixar film in an Oscar pool. And starring the overeager character voiced by Amy Poehler? Where she gets to learn a well-earned lesson? Seriously.

BRB, watching this for an hour

BRB, watching this for an hour

WINNER: Inside Out

DIRECTING

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Why was it initially so difficult for observers to believe that Alejandro G. Inarritu would win best director for the second year in a row for The Revanant? Well, because we Americans tend to go for the bright shiny object rather than the one we’ve been playing with for a year. Others point to history. The only ones to manage it two consecutive times were John Ford for Grapes of Wrath (1939) and How Green Was My Valley (1940), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz with A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950). (Note: Not to mention, Mr. M. also won the screenwriting trophy in both those years). More recently, Oliver Stone was named best director for both Platoon (1990) and Born on the Fourth Of July (1992).

So accept it. It’s Inarritu in a walk over the other four, all of whom are equally deserving. Still, if it only weren’t for that bear…

WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

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This is one of the few sure things. For making Wall Street rules, regulations and hubris almost understandable and actually funny —

WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

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Tough category but at the end of the day making a visual and exciting screenplay about the research and writing of a story where mental, rather than physical bombs explode, has the highest degree of difficulty. The writers of Spotlight did this masterfully. I just wrote a period screenplay about a journalist uncovering a web of unrelenting corruption. Trust me, they deserve it.

WINNER: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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The vistas, the animals, the dream sequences, the forces of nature!! How did they do it??? And what about how cold it was??? No, were not speaking about The Hateful Eight or the magic surrealism (at least in my mind) of Mad Max. You’re just going to have to grin and bear it. (Note: I had to)

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

COSTUME DESIGN

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There’s a lot of divided opinion on this. Do you go with pretty, gritty or flitty? In a field with a lot of glamour that will likely cancel each other out, let’s go with originality that’s also gritty.

WINNER: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

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Not much debate on this one for me. There are many worthy issues these films tackle. But Amy Winehouse was a once in a generation talent. Her music is sad, happy, incisive and makes you feel and think. This portrait of her life does the same. It’s not for the faint of heart and often quite troubling. Which is why it deserves to win and will win. Watch the film, listen to her records and then search YouTube (start here). You’ll be surprised at the treasures you’ll unearth.

WINNER: Amy

Miss you girl

Miss you girl

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

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A perennial tiebreaker in the Oscar pool. I don’t know and neither do you. From what I hear from people who have seen them all Body Team 12, which follows a team collecting the dead at the height of the Ebola outbreak, has a slight edge. But the others deal with the Holocaust, genocide against women, kids and Agent Orange, Syrians, and family loyalties in the face of murder. Take your pick.

WINNER: Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser

FILM EDITING

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This award often goes to the best picture winner so logic dictates it should be either The Revenant, Spotlight or The Big Short. Which is why I’m going with Mad Max. It’s an illogical year – everywhere. Not to mention, can you imagine editing Mad Max and coming up with anything coherent – much less artful?

WINNER: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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Don’t bet against the Holocaust when you’re Oscar predicting. Especially when the film is as lauded as this one.

WINNER: Son of Saul (Hungary)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

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No one is going to get an award for creating all that slop around Leo’s beard. Better to reward the people who painted the dark streaks below and above Charlize’s eyes. Not to mention that haircut!

WINNER: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road

I surrender!

I surrender!

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

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Ennio Morricone is 87 years old and actually scored all those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns from the sixties everyone has been copying for years. And he’s NEVER won an Oscar. Are you kidding? #itstime

WINNER, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

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Personally, I’d go with “Simple Song #3,” since it’s the perfectly fulfilling climactic moment of Youth – the mysterious song that’s referred to all through the film that ultimately delivers. But at this point the surge of support seems to be more for the Warren-Gaga tune that tries to encapsulate feelings evoked around the all too prevalent epidemic of sexual abuse towards women.

WINNER: “Til It Happens to You,” Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, The Hunting Ground

PRODUCTION DESIGN

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The Revenant didn’t feel designed so much as simply shot. Or is that its strength? Because you and I both know the 1800s west does not actually exist anymore anywhere in this world. But no matter. To create an alternate universe from nothing takes…the Oscar. I think.

WINNER: Colin Gibson, Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND EDITING

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No one likes having to predict this category because as you get older your hearing starts to go and you’re never really sure what the heck you’re listening to. On the other hand, you can still recognize sounds. And on that basis, is there anything to compete with the insanity in Mad Max: Fury Road? Um…no.

Winner: Mark Magini, David White, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND MIXING

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I don’t know about you but the many sounds in The Revenant confused me, and not in a good way. Where was he and how did he manage any of it – it didn’t sound good, did it? Star Wars sounded like it always does, which is certainly good, though not great. Bridge and Martian were both a nice mix of movie stuff. But once again, Mad Max – what the heck was that??? It sounded soooo good. Yes, it did confuse me, but in a very gooood way.

WINNER: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road

 VISUAL EFFECTS

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The movies have become a visual effects feast. Which I’m not sure is a good thing but that’s off point. Star Wars is going to win something and this is the category. The series has pushed industry special effects to the forefront. Is that worthy of an award or condemnation? Again, the subject of another discussion.

WINNER: Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

…AND THE ULTIMATE TIE BREAKERS:

Or as we like to call it – no one TRULY knows anything so take your pick.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

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I have NO idea!!! Some say World of Tomorrow, which gives a little girl a tour of her future; others predict Sanjay’s Super Team, the imaginings of a young Indian boy of Hindu gods as superheroes. The latter seems like the right kind of invention for this category. Though the key word is seems…

WINNER: Sanjay’s Super Team

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

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Nearly every expert I’ve researched has picked Ave Maria, which is about five nuns and their routine in the West Bank being interrupted when an Israeli family moves in. Sounds timely to me but this is pure conjecture. Younger people seem to favor Shok, which centers on the friendship between two boys during the Kosovo War. As my gambler Dad says of the odds in situations like these – pick ‘em!

WINNER: Ave Maria

Want to download the Chair’s full predictions? Click the photo below!

chair ballot

Don’t miss a beat with the Chair as he tweets his way through the Oscars — and laments on his own predictions. And check back for a full recap!

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I’ll See You in…

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“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – or so says an 11th century proverb. But does that mean there is no value at all to erring on the side of positivism and kindness? Hell, if I know.

What I think, as a former movie critic and perennial critique-er of all things pop… well, let’s just say ALL things – is that we all carp way too much and should or could be a hell of a lot nicer. Still, what fun is that???

GURLLLLL please!

GURLLLLL please!

Competitions, contests and best of trophies date back to ancient times when Roman warriors really did fight to the death – and for what? The thrill of the crowd? The spectacle of macho-ness? Under order of their Emperor? Well, perhaps it was all three. At the very least they must have gotten a cool trophy and some cash prizes. Or so one hopes.

Actually, as it turns out Roman Gladiators who were victorious did receive money for each win. As well as something called a laurel crown. And guess what, they also got saluted in public!

You know... Laurel crowns... those things hipster brides wear on Pinterest

You know… Laurel crowns… those things hipster brides wear on Pinterest

Of course, the top award, which was not given all the time, was a wooden sword. This meant a permanent pass discharging them from the obligation of fighting. Yes, that’s right. Back then competition was required. You couldn’t actually sit it out if you thought awards or the powers that be in your industry were dumb, stupid or both.

Question: Is that any different than today?

You did realize we were speaking about the Oscars, right? Because you might have thought we meant the presidential race, which no one seems to be sitting out – at least on the Republican side.

C'mon Chair... the wound is still raw!

Even the Chair forgot about me

Well, let’s leave politics alone for the moment and stick with show biz since the Oscars are little more than a week away and the results far less costly for the rest of us.

Of course, the Oscars are only the largest and most regal example of entertainment award-giving and therefore the easiest example. In actuality, this applies for everything from the Razzies to the Golden Globes, back to the Saturns, down to each and every DGA, WGA, SAG, CSA citation and on through a variety of earned or faux career/life honors that seems to occur at this time of year at each “A,” “B” or “C” list film festival across the country.

If you think awards are not a marketing tool then you either had the same childhood as I did — where you spent too much time staring at a screen and dreaming of holding one of those shiny objects in your hand, or at least wearing some sort of crown or tiara in front of the mirror – or you work for one of these organizations. This is not to say that any of these honors are absolutely unearned. Only that it’s no coincidence that they occur in clumps and often around either the release time or Oscar window for each recipient’s individual star bid that same year.

Are the Oscars nothing more than a contemporary version of a laurel crown? Sort of, yes. Not to mention, they do carry a cash prize. Ask any agent in town and they will tell you a nominee or winner’s asking price and in-demand quotient often doubles, triples or more in the immediate aftermath. Which doesn’t necessarily mean the awards, nominees, recipients or entire process deserves our unyielding criticism. In some ways, it’s just the opposite.

Or in some cases, they still get paid less. #PreachJLaw

Or in some cases, they still get paid less. #PreachJLaw

In gearing up for the annual notesfromachair Oscar predictions next week I began going over the list of nominated movies and reflecting on several other films I’ve seen in the past week. I’ve found fault with a lot of them but in all honestly – are any of them just, well…AWFUL?

I’ve snidely noted that Todd Haynes’ Carol was like watching paint dry over the same scene in a two-hour loop. I’ve also told people The Revenant had story holes and believability issues so big they could rival any speech or even small statement given by The Republican Apprentice (aka our likely 2016 Republican presidential nominee).

No comment

No comment

Today I wondered: Chair, who are you to judge? And why? You of all people know how unlikely it is to even be in a position to make either of those types of films – not to mention how rare to have them emerge with a few memorable scenes that elevate them to high profile status.

Then I began to ponder: Am I just getting soft in the fast-advancing global warming age?

Well, perhaps it’s a little bit of both.

I still stand by my recent comments to anyone who would listen about the Coen brothers Hail, Caesar, when I referred to them as the most withholding filmmakers of all time. This was for a narratively flawed movie that was so intent at denying any audience satisfaction or slight emotion that they couldn’t even give Channing Tatum a big finish to an otherwise fantastic MGM-styled musical dance number.

Not to mention that hair... #why

Not to mention that hair… #ohgawd

However, a far more intelligent friend of mine recently pointed out that maybe that IS their point – a critique of melodrama and emotionalism in American movies. Sure, it’s not my thing but, well, perhaps it’s yours. Or…someone’s? (Note: Okay, yes, that’s the best I can do right now).

Then this week I watched a really solid satisfying film written by another friend of mine about the rescued Chilean miners called The 33. It had been pulled so quickly from local theatres this fall that I missed it yet viewing it now I couldn’t help but wonder – why not more love at the time of its release? It’s action-packed, emotional and well told. Certainly more than anything Michael Bay’s done of late. Or ever.

hehe

hehe

Oops, there I go again. See how insidious this all is?

I guess the bottom line is you can be harsh and bitchy all you want but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% correct. You might actually only be 75% right. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to sit through Transformers 4 again anytime soon. But I will consider the possibility that Mr. Bay could indeed one day make a movie that I might not hate. Sort of. Which would be a huge leap of faith for me.

Ditto goes for this year’s Oscar contenders. Let’s all go on record that all eight films nominated for best picture aren’t garbage. In fact, all have elements that make them good enough to be there. Except…..   Yeah, even that one, I can see on the list.

I'll leave you to your imagination....

I’ll leave you to your imagination….

Though don’t take that to imply that I support the Republican Apprentice to be on any list except one of insanity. Actually, I take that back. I have been insane myself and know a few insane people I like very much – and I don’t care to insult them. True, I might be softening but that doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on all of my core values.

 

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Personality Test

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People say I have a pretty good personality but that doesn’t mean you should follow my lead on anything. Not to mention there are more moments than I care to admit where I would prefer to be called devastatingly handsome. In which case, you’d likely follow my lead on everything. At least initially.

It used to be a good personality was the kiss of death – the excuse you gave for the guy or gal you wanted to set your friend up with, that individual who wasn’t devastatingly handsome – or beautiful. Nowadays, personality accounts for quite a bit. Especially since it’s gotten easier and easier for anyone with even a tiny amount of money and taste to be at least good-looking.

awww thanks

awww thanks

You can work with a personal stylist at J. Crew or even at your neighborhood department store, for gosh sakes. And in 2014, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 15.6 million people in the U.S. had at least one cosmetic procedure. The top five minor ones: Botox (6.7 mil), soft tissue fillers (2.3 mil), chemical peels (1.2 mil), laser hair removal (1.1 mil) and microdermabrasion (882,000). Among full-on surgeries: breast augmentation (286,000), nose jobs (217,000), liposuction (211,000), eyelid work (207,000) and facelifts (128,000).

That’s right – facelifts were at the bottom of the list! So clearly, this is not a top 1% thing anymore.  If you combined every person who voted on both sides in both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries you couldn’t come close to covering the amount of individuals who had Botox two years ago.

.. and that even includes Melania!

.. and that even includes Melania!

So stop blaming this on Beverly Hills matrons and movie stars and the millionaires and billionaires who don’t live and eat next door to you. Well, next door to most of you. Since in Los Angeles you never know whom you’ll find on the other side of your door, or at least restaurant booth.

This is not to say that one cosmetic procedure will make you a fabulous physical specimen. But if done right, it can get you to move up a notch or two in the public eye. As to a desirable personality trait and the people who possess them, the results must be multiplied 100 fold.

Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again can-do bullying has made him the darling of the Republican primary fight. I don’t say this as a bitter Democrat.   I write it as an accurate reporter. He doubles the poll numbers nationally across the board among any of his party competitors.

Well if we're going to get superficial....

Well if we’re going to get superficial….

Bernie Sanders’ enough is enough anger at the millionaire and billionaire class has won over the hearts and minds of young voters 18-25 by a more than 3-1 margin among Dems along with his vision of equality across the classes. Forget Jack Kennedy or Bill Clinton. No one gives a damn about how he looks because his personality is total 2016. Trump probably does get some points on the physical side via his $5000 Brioni suits but let’s face it, the orange skin/spray tan/bronzer and undecipherable hair/weave/plug/torture cancels any possible superior body aesthetic right out.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton’s practical message of I’m a progressive who makes progress is not particularly alluring. I mean, who wants to make progress when you can fulfill a dream mixed with several dollops of anger. Not to mention, she always sounds angry, right? But that’s what happens when women shout. She was never so popular as when she was the beleaguered spouse whose husband had cheated on her. Or when she could simply be an Internet meme of the tireless Secretary of State in shades who had your back.

Good Ole Days

Good Ole Days

 

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican Apprentice’s closest competitor, is principally known as the one true religious conservative with constitutional common sense. Boy, is that a mouthful (and confusing). But how do I know this is true? Well, just this past week I got a note from him signed, Ted. Yes, I mean me – a gay, liberal Jew from New York who lives in Los Angeles and is in show business! Of course I knew you wouldn’t believe me. So – check this out!!

Get a load of this

Get a load of this

I’m not sure if it was my looks or personality that landed me on his hit list of potential fundraisers. But I have slept a whole lot better since personally bearing witness to the precisely targeted efforts of his personal fundraising team. Which begs the question of – how the hell did they get my name and address and what the hell were they thinking – or drinking???

Well, that’s what happens when you indulge too much on a single trait, or piece of evidence, or body part, or statement of a single human being. And, whatever it was, glitched the Cruz For President folks into believing I was worth their money (Note: They promised to match my $45 donation dollar for dollar) and effort. Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous??????

For real

For real

It’s as ridiculous as 35% of Republican voters believing Mr. Trump would make a fine president. Or 75% of our millennial primary voters on the Democratic side convinced Sen. Sanders will be able to make good on the angry promises of the first real American Revolution since 1776 given what’s happening with the other 50% of the voters on the other side of aisle.

Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t born devastatingly handsome or irresistibly charismatic, but I find I’m more attracted to people, i.e. candidates and real life friends and lovers – who have dollops of both. Not to mention, a lot of other stuff. In fact, what I value most – aside from that secret desire for my own physical perfection – is an honest, down-to-earth practical person who is a bit of a dreamer. Someone with vision who is also a bit easy on the eyes. But not too easy. Because nothing worth having really is.

That’s not very 2016 but, well, as both Popeye and Zaza from La Cage Aux Folles once said and sang – I Am What I Am.

 

 

Sorkin Says

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.58.19 AM

There was a time not so long ago when I thought being a teacher in the creative arts signified some sort of failing.

After all, as Woody Allen’s doppelgänger, Alvy Singer, once famously quipped in Annie Hall:

Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.

Many views, Woody, as it turns out, are not as clever as we once thought they were.

As it also turns out, the not so long ago I refer to in my own thought processes was the eighties. Which, given what’s going on in politics at the moment, feels like it was yesterday. To refresh all of our memories – it was a time when the homeless (nee poor) were vilified and money was viewed as the god and goddess of all things as exemplified by one of the most popular movie anti-heroes of the time, Wall Street’s financial baron, Gordon Gekko. In case you don’t remember, he once famously quipped Greed is good. Which pretty much sums up the callousness of thought through most of the decade for those who weren’t there. Or, as I prefer to think of it: the anti-Reagan reality.

At least the cell phones got better

At least the cell phones got better

In any case, this was all brought to mind by none other than Aaron Sorkin when he spoke this week at a panel of this year’s Writers Guild of America award-nominated screenwriters.

At one point towards the end of the evening the entire group of eleven nominees were asked by a young screenwriter, who was now attending UCLA on a military scholarship, how he could possibly proceed with the third act of an in-progress screenplay he clearly hoped to one day sell, that he felt required him to move his story into trans-racial characterizations he feared the world was not ready for.

He's listening

He’s listening

Clearly sensing the real pain and terror in this young man’s voice, it was the famous and most acclaimed of all the writers on the panel who eagerly jumped into the deafening silence and told him:

Don’t ever NOT write something because you think we’re not ready.

Hmmm. It seems that at least one who can do clearly CAN teach. Imagine that.

And Sorkin knows something about writing a character we’re not ready for #unicorns

Well, of course I’m leading with the best example of the evening. The world of mentorship is not a yellow brick road of rosy results and Emerald City glitz and glamour. Amid all the intellectual thought, encouragement and new potential roads of inspiration, there are too many others who are either ill equipped or whose methods are steeped in the art of the teardown and pretentious self-involvement. Every one of us has met at least one of them. The tough love gurus who secretly revel in telling you outwardly or implying to you all too unsubtly that your work sucks. This is usually done through a loop of lecturing where they relate a rating system of all the famous and/or commercially successful people in the field who are really lesser-than hacks you should be not only be absolutely unimpressed by but revile. That is if want your new god-like mentor to secretly continue to bestow upon you their pearls of wisdom.

ahem

ahem

This type of story was bestowed on said WGA audience by none other than panelist and current Oscar/WGA nominated screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. It seems as a younger person, Ms. Nagy became a protégé of Patricia Highsmith, on whose seminal novel, The Price of Salt, Ms. Nagy’s screenplay was based. Ms. Nagy, then a copy editor at the NY Times, recalled a 30-minute limousine ride she took with the quite prickly Ms. Highsmith at their first ever meeting in the 1970s during which the novelist spoke only once every ten minutes to ask her a mere three questions. 

The first question was: What do you think of Eugene O’Neill?

Ms. Nagy’s reply: Not much.

To which Ms. Highsmith gave a very encouraging nod of approval.

well aren't you fancy

well aren’t you fancy

Okay, stop right there I thought from the audience. Eugene O’Neill. Really? The guy who wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and well, you get the picture. I don’t care how damn talented or famous she was – really? What does that get you? Or anyone?

Yet it seemed this was exactly the right answer because here we are all these decades later where this once young writer has gotten all of this 2015-16 attention for adapting the older writer’s 1950s story she eventually received the rights to. Or perhaps it was Ms. Nagy’s answer to Ms. Highsmith’s second question:

What do you think of Tennessee Williams?

Because this time Ms. Nagy managed to give the seal of approval to Mr. Williams – an acknowledgement she claims Ms. Highsmith quite heartily endorsed at the time.

Phew.

Tell me again how great I am.

Tell me again how great I am.

I don’t know Ms. Nagy but one hopes this is not the kind of attitude that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Yet I know it frequently does – not necessarily in Ms. Nagy’s case (Note: As I said, I don’t know her) but to other non-famous or more famous instructors and artists of all kinds my students have told me about and I myself have encountered or read about through the years.

Well, like any experience in life, you take the good with the morally questionable and try to balance it all out with your own actions. This is not unlike writing your own stories or living out the actions of your own life. Call me corny or crazy, and I’ve certainly been justifiably referred to as both, but I much prefer the conversation and mentorship I had in the eighties with Bo Goldman – who I don’t consider so much a mentor but an off-the-cuff Sorkin-like teacher I was fortunate enough to encounter during the course of a day.

Mr. Nice Guy

Mr. Nice Guy

As a young writer I met Mr. Goldman, the two-time Oscar winning screenwriter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Melvin and Howard who had yet to write big studio movies like The Perfect Storm and Scent of A Woman. His agent was a new friend of mine and generously told him I was a talented young writer (Note: Who had only written one semi well-received screenplay at the time) working on a new script. I will never forget Mr. Goldman probably seeing the forlorn terror in my eyes after he asked me about what I was working on and listening patiently as I tried to explain it. But more importantly, I will also always remember him smiling generously at me and saying: Don’t force it, don’t beat yourself up, it’ll come.

He then went on to share several stories of difficulties from his own life, always putting himself and me on equal status as writers.

The reason I can’t remember the stories is not that they weren’t memorable but that Mr. Goldman’s largesse to even include me in the same sentence with him when it came to the craft that he was so lauded for at the time was both shocking and humbling. But he didn’t see the world, as some in the commercial arts do, as a competitive playing field where one is trying to best the next person nipping at your heels behind you; or attempting to put down another more renowned and lauded than you.

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Instead it was important for him to hear my story and reach out a hand of reassurance, as no doubt someone had done for him – or not done for him – confident that in doing so he was risking nothing of his own status and perhaps enhancing it. After all, what artist doesn’t want to spend a moment or two sharing the pain and/or difficulty of the journey, hoping in some way it dissipates its affect on the psyche. Of course, on the other hand, he could have just been being nice. I suspect it was both.

This is what teaching is about and what true mentorship is. It’s also what being a human being is about. And it feels equally good to both receive and give it – no matter what anyone writes or says about it.

Needless to say, Mr. Goldman was a welcome exception to the eighties. But it’s often the exceptional we remember – no matter where we are or regardless of the times.