Looking for a Hero

Catching up with The Batman this weekend – a film that was finally released theatrically in 2022 and promptly became the highest grossing movie so far this year with about $750,000,000 in worldwide ticket sales– was long overdue.

Ostensibly this is because I teach screenwriting and try to assign my students an old or new movie to see most weeks so storytelling and structure in different genres becomes second nature to them.

But truly – that’s merely the surface reason.

OK so this is the reason, right?

The real one is that I believe watching the top-grossing movie of any year allows you to stay informed

But also this..

What this means is that, like it or not, the film the most people go to see in any given year tells you quite a lot about our world — whether you want to know it or not.

So, here’s what I know after watching three hours of The Batman.

1. Robert Pattinson is a finer actor than you think and possesses great hair and seductively angular features.

2. Prosthetics have gotten to the point where, if Warner Bros. demanded it, the technical geniuses behind Hollywood moviemaking could make even ME look like The Batman.  Or Selena Kyle.

And, most importantly –

3. We live in a time where there are no SUPER heroes anymore.

But somehow we managed to have three Spidermans?

In writing classes we teach that no one is 100% altruistic.  Meaning every hero has a little bit of villain in them and every villain has a touch of a hero lurking somewhere in their souls.

The key to villains is they believe deep down what they’re doing is right and justified.

The path to a hero is that the vast majority of the world think their actions are right and justified. 

In our world there are no actionable super majorities to anything anymore.  Certainly not heroes.   I doubt even Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky would get a supermajority worldwide vote if we had a global lie detector.  Nor would Russian President Vladimir Putin achieve worldwide super villain status.

It’d be close for Zelensky

The 2022 probing portrait of Batman tells us everything about our lack of true SUPER HEROES.  It takes the moral ambiguities of the franchise, the conceit of most superhero franchises, and gloomily plants a barely faux hero – our hero – smack dab into heroic territory.

But because the bar is sooo low we think nothing of it.

we did finally see Batman’s makeup, so we’ll give it points for that

He’s an avenger/vigilante with a personal agenda so internal and so intense that he barely feels human.  Certainly he’d have a less than zero potential by the standards of any other era to become anything even approaching a valiant do-gooder.

More importantly, no one around him has much of a moral compass.  And the few who do are either operating with their own secret personal agenda or have not received enough screen time for any real them to properly emerge.

We think Gordon’s good??

This weekend I went to the annual TCM Film Festival in Hollywood and rewatched the 1978 classic Warren Beatty film, Heaven Can Wait.  It was a fantasy comedy remake of the 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was based on a 1938 play of the same name.

And it shows – in all the best ways.

The late seventies were enough of a post Watergate time and pre-Ronald Reagan 1980s ME era for the world to still believe that a real life good guy could achieve hero status, inspiring others without giving into temptation himself. 

Classic

Sure, it helped that Warren Beatty at his most handsome played Joe Pendleton, a lifelong second-string quarterback for the L.A. Rams, who mistakenly dies and is escorted to a weigh station to heaven due to his incompetent Guardian Angel.

But when Joe is given a second chance and gets temporarily dropped into the body of a rich, unscrupulous industrialist, who among other things gleefully runs a conglomerate that thinks nothing of drilling oil and polluting entire small towns of people to slightly increase his profit margins (Note: Yes, this film was made in 1978), it seems a recipe for disaster.

Clearly, the good guy will be corrupted by all this money and power.  Because let’s face it, no believable good guy could ever be that heroic with all the oil and money in the world at his personal disposal.  At the very least he’d have to launch his own rocket ship to take him to the edge of outer space or perhaps invent his own super electronic auto before dropping back down to earth to help all the rest of us little people. 

I mean the guy already dresses like a supervillain

He’d have to become a bad guy who takes a stroll on the dark side, before rejoining the merely human race and inspiring them.

Because that’s the only way we’d believe it.

Except, well, no – not in the late 1970s.

Joe never succumbed to darkness.  In fact, he is nothing but good, well intentioned, hard working, loyal and kind, even to the two people he lives with who are trying to kill him in.

His everyman morality wins the day – a morality not born of some past traumas he has overcome but springs from the plain yet solid nice guy that Joe apparently always was.

Not sure I would consider this everyman hair #goodhair

He’s a regular fellow whose superpower is being moral.  A hopeful idea of a movie released during a time when we still had a few smidgeons of hope.

Heaven Can Wait was one of the top five grossing movies the year it was released. Among the others were Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House and Superman.

It’s easy to sense a pattern here because there was one. 

Even in a year when two dark and raw post Vietnam War movies, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, triumphed over Heaven Can Wait at the Academy Awards.

See, it’s not that the late 1970s were an uncynical time.  They were just, well, a little less immoral.

Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out for a Hero”

Our Friends and Family

As Russia is just about to invade Ukraine, and the U.S. and its European allies are just about to retaliate by crippling Russia economically, and the combined fallout from those actions are just about to start the 21st century version of World War III, I spent my Friday night with my good friend Midge Maisel.

No, thank YOU!

Not only that, I plan to spend Sunday night with my new friend Sam, as played by the magnificently freaky Bridget Everett, and might even this week, if I have time and have to escape that badly, finally check in with my four-decade old frenemy Tammy Faye Baker via the unique metamorphosis of Jessica Chastain. 

Though I considered loving Lucy (and Desi) a second time if Nicole (and Javier) will have me (Note: As if THEY (or anyone else) have a say these days about ANYTHING I do).

I’m talking about the fourth season of The (indeed) MARVELOUS Mrs. Maisel, the new episodes of the first season of my fellow freaks on HBO’s Somebody Somewhere and the reverse of nostalgia (Note: Rage?) provided by the 2021 feature film I’ve thus far resisted, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

You need this show in your life

Not to mention my favorite film (or is it streaming platformed movie) of 2021, Being The Ricardos, which didn’t get a best picture Oscar nomination but should have.

And no, I don’t care that you didn’t like it.  I was thoroughly and totally entertained.

As for Russia, F them and the Trump they rode in on.

We’re all here now, right?

I write all this to remind myself, and anyone within earshot (or brain-shot), that TV and movies, especially these days, are important.  

These people are our friends and family because too often our real family and friends are not to be had or enjoyed at the snap of our fingers.

Even if they are, who knows if they’re our 2022 definition of safe to be around without wearing a f’n mask?  

The good ones probably are but when this week we hear that the U.S. Surgeon General’s 4-year-old kid gave him and his wife and their other kid symptomatic COVID all bets are off about what’s safe.

I surrender!!!

Screw Bill Maher and the rest of his acolytes who are over masks.  Safe is safe and sometimes only a pre-selected and pre-screened handful of a virtual few can provide true comfort and joy in an age of duress.

Duress meaning not so much threats or pressure but looming and persistent international insanity.

It might seem strange that a gay male adult of advancing years such as myself could find pleasure in spending time in 1960.  But the brittle, sarcastic wit and survival skills of Midge Maisel reminds me of just how much I have survived and just how much I’ve used my humor, brittleness and sarcasm to get me through in the past.

Bonus hats! Bonus Milo Ventimiglia!

Plus, um, the clothes.  I couldn’t fit into them but there is something inspiring when you take the time to match your hat and shirt with the color of your wallpaper.  That kind of attention, that effort, well, it does make you believe that anything is possible if you can get yourself motivated enough.

As for Somebody Somewhere, it’s not like I’ve ever lived in, or even been to, small town Kansas.  I’m a New York City boy whose idea of exploring the heartland was the two years I spent in grad school and working in Chicago.  

Me? A country boy?

However, what Sam and her non-traditional cohort of friends point out to me in each edgy half-hour segment is just how small town everyone’s life truly is when you strip away the big buildings and your own ego.  

No amount of sophistication can diffuse the internal rage you inflict on yourself because of the actions of some friend, family member or acquaintance the kid version of yourself endured in the past.

Not to mention, it’s nice to remember that big can be just as small and equally as lethal if you don’t figure out a way to get over yourself and be honest and bold from this moment going forward.

But what the first season of this show helps remind me most is that no one, not any one person, can do this alone.  We like to think we’re one-man bands in survival and endurance, especially those of us who see ourselves as survivors.

Really makes you think about how talented Bert is.

Yet watching Ms. Everett and company I’m reminded that often it’s only when you stop pretending and admit that you’re at your absolutely crappiest in the presence of someone you’d normally never tell anything to, and certainly never deign to hang out with, that you learn anything valuable about yourself.

Meaning insanity IS doing the same thing (or person) over and over again but expecting different results. (Note:  Thanks Einstein and sorry for the parens).

I can’t explain why I am once again tempted to be in the presence of Tammy Faye since she and her then evangelical hubby remind me of many of the hypocritical bigoted, destructive and hateful forces that truly changed American society for the worst.

Poor Jessica with those eyelashes!

Not only do we still feel their effects today but understanding the personal foibles that caused them to create a movement that is still with us in an even more poisonous form somehow makes it all worse.  

Many of us got her, and them, then.  I mean, is it really that difficult to understand those were the actions of several deluded and damaged people?

But perhaps that’s exactly the reason to spend a few hours with her now. To remind ourselves (Note: Okay, myself) that it’s nice to understand but it’s even better to use that knowledge to move around, over and right damn, gub through them.

In order to diffuse the bomb you need to know what makes it tick, if you want to use World War lingo.

Which leaves us with Lucy (and Desi), who so many of us still love. 

Lucy forever!

I can count on one finger the number of TV characters from the fifties who have survived to this day.  And still make us laugh uproariously.  And are still loveable.

One. 

Finger.

This provides me, and you, with perhaps the greatest gift of all.  

To know that survival is, indeed, possible.  Especially if you are able to laugh at yourself and the world as it quickly unfolds, and sometimes upends, all around you.

I Love Lucy Theme