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”

Advertisements

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