Oh, Mother!

Everyone who makes movies in Hollywood these days is an artist of some kind no matter what anyone thinks. Try working in any department on a film and you will see artistry at work. Sure, it might not be to your taste but it’s there.

Still, most people in the business would privately admit there is a very, very small group of writer-directors whose every movie – consistently and with dogged resolve – are always reaching for a lot more than commercial success or to tell a simple story with skill and creativity.

ahem

These are people who understand the economics and plot elements of the business but also aspire to do go out on a limb and add elements to their work that you not only never saw before but never in your wildest dreams imagined.

They seek to tell a story that will always blow you out of the water, that often can’t help at points to confound, offend and most importantly – despite your reaction –cause you to think about what they’ve presented whether you want to or not. Whether you like it or not.

These filmmakers are our current UBER artists and Darren Aronofsky is one of them.

OK.. maybe he’s not helping himself #scarvesfordays

A lot has been written about his just released Mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

  • The fact that it got a record low F Cinemascore
  • The fact that it had a dismal opening at the box office and has rapidly trended downwards
  • The fact that Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, Noah, was a bit of a mess, wildly expensive and made for Paramount – the same studio that backed Mother!
  • The fact that Mr. Aronofsky is in career free-fall, has lost it, and will most certainly follow in the footsteps of many of our greatest filmmakers who ___________.

Well, you can fill in the blanks.

No please Chair, go on. #mnightknows

But the problem with all of the above is that they are irrelevant and beside the point.

And most especially, particularly in the case of the latter, are a whole lot of:

HORSESHIT

Yep… that’s what I smell

I saw Mother! at a screening at the WGA Friday night and for the first two thirds of it I often didn’t quite know where I was despite being thoroughly entertained, intrigued and often second-guessing just how crazy the rest of it could get. Eventually the threads of what held together filmmaking this audacious began to unravel and what I was left with, well, I’ll spare you the details.

Good, bad, and certainly not indifferent, I’m, yes, still thinking about quite a few images in Mother! — all in the muddled spaces of Mother logic that remains in my mind. (Note: And yes, make of that what you will.)

Roughly how I felt after I left the screening

This is a film where the less you know about it the better and the more you try to focus on plot and theme the less you seem to know. That is its greatest fault or most potent calling card depending on who you are and what you prefer to see. But one thing is for certain: Mother! never shies away from its aspirations and goes for them full throttle. It is comedy, drama, horror,and epic all sewn into a patchwork of crazy. But will you like it???

Hell if I know. I don’t even know if I did.

Horror you say? No, a different kind of MOTHER! #ohNorman

Anyone who has followed Mr. Aronofsky’s career as I have (Note: Full confession, he is one of my most preferred contemporary American filmmakers – and there aren’t many) shouldn’t be surprised at what they’re seeing here.

There are certain themes that pop up in all his work:

Fame

Artistry

Love and Sex (not necessarily in that order)

Family

Is it, Darren?

Look at his most enduring movies and you’ll see a guy who leaves it all on the screen and let’s the chips fall where they may.

I can recall sitting at a 1998 Academy screening of his film Pi unable to move out of my chair at the end, wondering: what the hell was that, how did he know what I was thinking about but never dared to tell anyone, and how can I immediately get more?

Two years later he made Requiem for A Dream and gave me existential nightmares that every so often creep back into my brain uninvited and, yet, sometimes also give me the impetus to strive for something even more daring in my own work.

Plus.. I’m gonna be on television!

Six years after that he made me love Mickey Rourke as an actor for the very first time, not to mention The Wrestler, while touching on some very personal family issues I didn’t even know I still carried with me.

When Black Swan came out two years later I believed he’d jumped to a whole new level of addressing the age old question of what is the price artistry and, given its box-office success on such a relatively low budget, fully expected to see a whole raft of ballet films of all genres in its wake. (Note: Clearly I was wrong on the latter and is one of the thousands of reasons why I am not a studio executive).

The closest we got was care of Miss Swift #shakeitoff

Sure, in between there were bigger budget, rambling confusions like The Fountain and Noah but in my mind even both of those were not without their moments. Mostly because I knew each of them were stepping stones to the next film and the next one and then the film after that.

This is what it REALLY takes to consistently produce work that is mold-breaking, thought-provoking and ORIGINAL. You have to disappoint, confuse and perhaps even offend your audience with too many misfired moments in order to get to where the most JUICE is.

I realize metaphors are not my strongest suit and I’m not sure why I use them. (Perhaps because one day I know I’ll find one that works?).

Just doing my part…

But one thing I am ABSOLUTELY certain of is that to en masse roast an uber artist like Mr. Aronofsky for what you or your friends or gang of social media cronies find to be his lessest work is to guarantee that you will never, ever get his future bestest work.

In between tweeting about the Orange Buffoon’s latest tirade against Black athletes and football, many have this week seen fit to take to our virtual Town Square and quite metaphorically (and then some) stone Mother! and Mr. Aronofsky to their virtual, spiritual and financial deaths.

Though usually Ms. Lawrence – one of our current America’s Sweethearts –is spared, they manage to go doubly, triply, even sextupley hard on the one principal artist who dared make that misfired, truly disgusting, stillborn thing that sullied her.

I’m pretty sure this is just how Katniss feels about that

Without ever appreciating this fact: that one principal artist is also, in a past or future work, the same uber talented filmmaker who will help make us fall in love with her – and people like her – in the first place.

Yes, I know Mr. Aronofsky doesn’t need my help. But dismissive, over-the-top reaction to films like Mother! really pisses me off.

Cee Lo Green – “Forget You”

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Notes from the Emmys

Unlike the presidency, the Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote, joked host Stephen Colbert in his opening monologue.

That was pretty funny with just the right patina of tragedy – which, of course, is exactly what comedy should be.

Still, I much preferred the cold open musical number where he joined a bunch of handmaids in long, unflattering robes and white bonnets, dancing their way onto the stage and an audience of industry stars, only to then whip off their garments and turn into the Radio City Rockettes right before our eyes – still wearing their bonnets, of course.

How am I just noticing that some of the Handmaids are Handmen?? #stillfunny

It occurred to me that if Trump had his druthers he just might like certain Rockettes to be wearing those bonnets at a Christmas show in the White House – as he sexually harassed them and more – since this could hide some of the faces that displeased him. Sure, they all might be #UnderHisEye, but it is He that always gets to choose exactly what he sees – and how much.

Okay, I digress. Or do I?

When TV and real life come crashing together. It’s already happening.

For as Colbert wisely stated, Donald Trump is indeed the biggest television star in the world right now and who could argue with that?   On one hand, that gives him the ultimate TV Q – a worldwide face known by everyone. On the other, it makes him the ultimate target of each and every one of us. So let’s just say what pleased me most about Sunday night’s ceremonies were the numerous bullseyes scored right into the center of his, um…Q.

Donald Glover won two Emmys for starring in and directing his FX comedy series Atlanta (the first Black director to do so in this category) and only semi-satirically thanked Trump for making Black people #1 on the most oppressed list. This was not only a poison dart of a joke but a not so subtle acknowledgement that were we not actually living the lopsided reality of Trumpmania he (Glover) would likely not have won at all.

Bonus points for looking so good while doing it #purplesuitALLDAY

Of course, we’ll never know. Though one would like to think our Electoral POTUS could at least bring some smidgen of good to the world.   Though – well… maybe not.

One thing IS for certain — the vast majority of the best series Emmys went to shows that directly, or quite unsubtly and purposefully, dealt with what our Electoral POTUS has wrought on the country.

The best dramatic series – Hulu’s Handmaid’s Taleis the futuristic yet seemingly barely exaggerated stasis of life in America under a Trump-like extreme right wing of religious crazies.

… and Offred went GOLDEN #LizzieMoss #YASSS

The best comedy series – HBO’s Veep paints a barely exaggerated picture of what it’s like in the Oval office, for women in politics and for the rest of us who are left to follow along either helplessly in lock step or just plain confused.

The best variety sketch series – NBC’s Saturday Night Livewas the ultimate pop culture touchstone of all things Trump-related, be it arch nemesis Hillary/Kate Mckinnon’s win as supporting actress; Melissa McCarthy’s guest comedy actress win for playing now former press secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer; or Alec Baldwin’s win as best supporting actor for playing, well…you know.

Making TV Great Again

The best variety/talk show – HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – spent most of its half hours in total intellectual outrage chronicling the many blatant lies told by Electoral POTUS with solid research to disprove them. Too bad most of his voters and he himself will never see and process the evidence. (Note: Still, Trump did once tweet that host and fellow nominee Colbert was a no talent guy during the eligibility period so one supposes that’s something).

Also kudos to John Oliver for bringing this into our lives #Drumpf4ever

This says nothing of all the other winners and their Trump-related themes. The oppression of one woman – and by proxy a group of women – by a very tall powerful white man in best limited series Big Little Lies; the dystopian world in best television movie Black Mirror, whose Emmy winning creator admitted has been likened to one long never-ending look at 2017 madness; not to mention the many awards to the largest group of non-white and sometimes non-heterosexual men and women the Emmys has EVER seen. (Note: Including Lena Waithe, the first Black woman EVER to win a comedy series writing award).

Move over Donald Glover, THIS is a THE emmy suit! #GoLena

That is not to say each and every one of the above didn’t earn the accolades. Only to acknowledge that awards have mostly to do with the intersection of talent, timing and luck and nothing makes the #resistance happier than to finally be feeling #woke enough to acknowledge all those who somehow managed to slip though the cracks in a pre-Trumpian world forcefully pried our eyes permanently (well hopefully) wide open.

And yes – California and we here in Los Angeles (the capital of show business awards giving) are at the heart of the #resistance. Though I, for one, don’t think of myself as #elite. There is nothing #elite about any of this because we non-Trump voters are now a mere minority power in national governance despite actually being in the #majority.

… and I have a lot of shoes

So how is it that we’re leading a mere #resistance? Well, ask any woman who has ever wondered why, if they handily outnumber the men in populace, it has been for centuries that mostly men are in power.

As they say in Facebook statuses (and probably by more than a few Russian bots): It’s complicated.

The Chair’s Worst Emmy Moment: Colbert joking with the real former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, who rode out in a fake podium spouting more untruths we’re now somehow supposed to laugh at while simultaneously normalizing him. #NeverForget

Yeah… I’m not sure about this Sean. #gohome #goaway

The Chair’s Best Emmy Joke: Colbert’s quip that Donald Trump is Walter Much Whiter – in a nod to Breaking Bad’s crazed and tragically iconic lead Walter White.

Now that was not only funny, with a patina of tragedy, but very appropriate. After all, the fictional Walter White’s most memorable line – delivered in equal tones of indignation and outrage at not being listened to and adored– was:

I am not in danger. I AM the danger.  A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!

Lesley Gore – “You Don’t Own Me” (from “Offred (Pilot)”)

Stormy Weather

I’m an awful person.

When I heard that right wing radio host gadfly/gazillionaire Rush Limbaugh called the dire warnings about Hurricane Irma part of a liberal conspiracy to further discussion on climate change – and then decided to evacuate his fat ass from his southern Florida home several days later on Thursday – all I could think of was: Keep your fat ass at home.

You know I’m right

Then I heard about right wing author gadfly/gazillionaire Ann Coulter’s tweet a week ago:

And all I could think of then was: Take you and your black Lycra cocktail dress down to Rush’s house in coastal Florida and let’s see how adept the two of you really are at navigating shark and ALLIGATOR infested waters, yard sale Barbie. (Note: Thanks, Tina Fey).

GURL YES

If this weren’t enough, former Growing Pains star and evangelical something or other Kirk Cameron was then quoted as saying this about the back-to-back appearances of both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma:

God “causes [storms] to happen for punishment, or to water His land and demonstrate His faithful love…What this should be doing for all of us is causing us to remember that it’s God who supplies our life, breath and everything else so that you and I would reach out to Him…So think about that, maybe share that with your kids when they ask why this is happening. 

STOP THE MADNESS

I knew there was a reason I didn’t have kids. I’d never be able to explain to them with a straight face that hundreds of people died because the Lord overwatered his flowerbeds.   Nor could I ever be able to explain how I managed to get put in jail for wishing painful venereal warts on a mentally imbalanced former child star on Facebook. (Note: Both he and I, since his pronouncement was in a much read and re-circulated Facebook post).

By the way, did you know that hurricanes are named by something called the World Meteorological Organization and that the names are done in alphabetical order but skip the letters q, u, x, y and z? This accounts for the seeming randomness of Harvey and Irma while causing people like myself too many sleepless nights wondering just what the hell is wrong with the names Zelda, Yanni or Ursula.   (#TooLiberal?)

OK now I’ve gone off the deep end

When I found myself wondering desperately about hurricane names my husband instantly got the answer for me. He’s quick on these things and it’s one of the thousands of the reasons I married him – he either always has or can always find an answer to any question that I ask. This is no small feat, as you can imagine.

Which is why it troubled me when out of nowhere he eventually blew his stack about the right wing doubter responses to hurricanes and their relation to climate change:

What do they need… the Four Horsemen on horseback?

This is another reason I married him. When he blows his stack it is short and often includes some random biblical reference to their jugulars that I could never think of in a million years B.C.

This is love.

I hate to admit that I am now living in a me against them world but I am now living in a me against them world. I mean, there is so little attention to facts and logic I often find myself screaming into my pillow or out towards anyone who will listen. And that’s because most of what’s said is all so provocative and vindictive just for vindictiveness’ sake – fueled by dollops of insurgency, emotion and endless disguised attempts/quests to reign in popularity… said the man who has written a weekly blog for the last five years for no other reason than to… Well, let’s not get off topic.

Truth be known, I have never actively tried to advocate for one side. What one finds as one gets older and has had decades of therapy with at least a few insights, is that the only side one can truly advocate for is one’s personal point of view. Take this little nugget from liberal America which (yes – surprise, surprise) really pissed me off.

Say it ain’t so, chairy!!

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders went on television (Note: Okay, it was Stephen Colbert’s show) to refute thoughts Hillary Clinton had written about her 2016 campaign for both the Democratic nomination for president and as the Democratic nominee for president.   Deciding for the umpteenth time not to verbally get into the grimy details of a policy debate, Sen. Sanders instead responded to her words with this dismissive retort:

Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country—and she lost, and she was upset about that.

Of course, this begs the question that it was Bernie Sanders that first lost to Hillary Clinton. Which most certainly makes him more of a loser than she is because by logic there is only one candidate more unpopular than the winner of the presidency – and that is the person who lost the presidency to him. The candidate Sen. Sanders managed to LOSE TO at the ballot box.

Just move along now please

I don’t know about you but these days I am indeed loaded for bear – liberal, conservative or anywhere in between. And I don’t even know how to shoot a gun. Well, one with bullets anyway.

We’re all finding our ways to cope.

Eurythmics – “Here Comes the Rain Again”

Peaks and Valleys

Here is what you try not to think about over a long holiday weekend:

  • It was a record 108 degrees in Los Angeles on Saturday but clearly “man-made climate change is not primarily responsible for it,” say any number of those now in power to do something about it in Washington, DC.

Me, right now

  • Massive flooding in Houston occurred some days earlier leaving more than 50 dead and counting, many thousands of others homeless and a cost for full rebuilding over the next decade estimated into the billions (that’s with a “B”).
  • ELECTORAL POTUS has NOW decided to do away with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), thus requiring the MASS DEPORTATION of close to ONE MILLION people brought here as immigrant CHILDREN by parents who came to this country illegally.   They key world is children, or even toddlers – meaning many of these kids don’t even speak the native language of the country they will be deported back to over the next year.

I can’t…

Well, I did. For a bit. But finally it grew too much.

So I did what I usually do – escaped into media.

Just kidding… this is me, right now

There was the Twin Peaks two-hour finale on Showtime; a binge of the entire two seasons of the half-hour Netflix comedy-drama Love; and a screening of the much lauded Sundance indie flick with a confused gay, model-looking hunk protagonist called Beach Rats.

There was also food. A lot of it. A bit of frolic. And yeah, some worrying.

But what about the MEDIA????

Netflix’s Love

Talk nerdy to me

Judd Apatow co-created and produces the show but truly it is the brainchild of its male lead Paul Rust and his wife Lesley Arfin, who write many of the episodes. The reason and resonance is clear – it is loosely based on their relationship.

Of course, what writer of comedy-drama doesn’t base their work on past relationships? The correct answer is NO ONE – no matter how much they deny it in protest.  In this case, it is a twist on the archetypal nerdy, awkward but funny-smart guy in glasses and the hip, wild, partying hot girl with an even sicker sense of humor than he has. Will they get together and make it work? Or won’t they?

You may think you’ve seen it before, as I initially did, but you haven’t. One suspects that’s because the entire series is grounded in the realities that Rust and Arfin experienced themselves. No, not literally. It’s not as if what happened in Annie Hall four decades prior onscreen exactly mirrored the Diane Keaton-Woody Allen relationship or even recreated it. But there’s a reason why certain contemporary rom-com stories are great and addictive and usually it’s because they are real – at least thematically.

Realistically — I bet that sandwich was that good.

Love is all of this and more. Give it a chance and don’t roll your eyes at the initial tropes, which I did – only to then get quickly addicted for 22 episodes in less than a week. God, I love a good binge – of so many things.

Beach Rats 

Where to begin…

Beach Rats centers on a working class teenager struggling with his attraction to men – particularly middle aged men he meets online – but it might as well be set in 1957 instead of 2017. Masquerading as real and unflinching it is instead a skewed portrait of working class life that so tilts the deck towards gay panic and hopelessness that one almost expects its characters to be sporting ducktails and cigarettes rolled up in t-shirt sleeves rather than lean muscled bodies, random tattoos and endless thirsts to get high.

Like a modern day Kenickie! #exceptnot

Of course, they do share “smokes” and often speak like something out of an old Nicholas Ray film or a low budget indie Sundance version of Rumble Fish if those movies contained too many lingering shots of fireworks, arcade games and indecipherable male torsos.

It is certainly fine to depict a group of homophobic or homo-indifferent teenagers in contemporary life. What is not fine (nor real) is to so isolate them and every gay man depicted in the film into clichés last seen in films like Frank Sinatra’s The Detective – that movie from 1968 where a self loathing homosexual hits a lover over the head with a candle or ashtray or something heavy and kills him because he can’t bear the idea of not being straight.

Kind of like what I wish I did instead of watching Beach Rats

If we are to believe director-writer Eliza Hittman’s entire narrative we also have to buy it all leads to a ludicrous third act where an out, smart Manhattan boy drives to Brooklyn after meeting the film’s sexy leading teen-man online and does something TWICE no gay man even vaguely close to the character depicted would do. EVER. Let’s leave it at that unless you’re tempted to find out what happens some snowy night by the Brooklyn version of the Village docks circa 1968. But don’t say I didn’t warn you before you get into your time tunnel and then try to throw it at your screen of choice.

Not content to leave it there, the film also paints lonely pathetic lives for all the homosexual males we meet over the age of 40 –desperate creatures prowling online for boys they can have in the bushes or in seedy motels without having shaved, showered, deodorized or, no doubt, even brushed their teeth. Though somehow our sexy leading teen/man always manages to do so for his sex dates with them. But of course he’s young and not totally gay. Yet. Hmm, what or whom to root for?

At this point I would have preferred this old gay stereotype

Sadly, there is a stinking, rotting quality to everything here – perhaps on purpose for “mood” – but ultimately landing with the great weight of phony pretension. Still, the director seems to have gotten away with this pose in the eyes of films festivals and critics galore. Check out the reviews from Sundance or this one from The New Yorker.

As a kid from the boroughs myself, who grew up loving the fireworks, arcade games and bumper cars depicted in Beach Rats, I began to dread each lingering faux magical shot of the milieu as its endless minutes marched into what seemed like many endless hours. Repetitive visual imagery is no substitute for depth of story and character, no matter how many random lights in the sky or ocean waves one’s camera relentlessly aims to capture.

The Beach Rats audience

There is a great movie to be made on exactly this subject but that’s about the only thing most gay people will feel once this film comes to its retro torturous end – other than anger.

And NO, I didn’t like it. No one bit.

Twin Peaks: The Return 

Paging Agent Cooper…

It’s like the person you dated in college or in your twenties who was a glorious irresistible mess and yet you couldn’t get enough of them. Smart, confounding, funny without trying to be so, obtuse and more than a handful of times just downright f-ckg brilliant.

Often you don’t officially break up with this person. Something circumstantial happens or an unexpected situational event occurs that inevitably puts an end to the whole thing. But it’s never totally voluntary on your part no matter how many times your friends, family or even you feel like you were f-ckd over. This is because there truly was something so unique, so individual about the experience that can never be duplicated and you wouldn’t give that up for the world despite how much turmoil it might have put you through.

When’s the honeymoon?

Ironically enough, David Lynch and Mark Frost did put us through the Twin Peaks wringer again 25 years later thanks to Showtime and those of us who stayed are all the better for it. We got some hope for the saga of Laura Palmer, time traveled back to the 1950s, tried to learn some new, never heard before languages and began to realize that a good deal of the key wisdom of the world can be learned via a giant tea kettle, barren potato head tree or discovered in a Tilt-A-Whirl room with comfortable green velvet chairs.

You know I’m not gonna pass up posting a pop culture chair #takeaseat

OK, some of it made no sense at all, but have you checked the news lately? Nothing in this Twin Peaks was literal but, then again, Lynch and co. were bold enough to linger on so many scenes in real time elongated minutes that perhaps everything was. Twin Peaks is the opposite of anything pretentious – it is filmmaking/TV making (Note: Just what is the difference anymore?) with a purpose. And that purpose is to take us to a place we can believe in despite how extreme, absurd or hateful it is. It is and always has been what the books tell us great storytelling is – a seamless dream.

And with that – good night.

Muddy Magnolias – “American Woman (Slowed David Lynch version)