Stranger Things in Stranger Times

…I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday…

–“Me and Bobby McGee,” Music & Lyrics: Kris Kristofferson, Singer: Janis Joplin

Nostalgia is in the air.

You can see it every time another superhero movie has a HUUUUUUUUGE opening. I’ve seen it as a college professor for more than a decade with my film students’ almost universal, fanatical fascination with all things Star Wars. 

I thought growing up meant I’d never again have to feel marginalized for the big yawn I felt whenever a friend tried to tempt me into the Marvel or DC comic world.

Little did I know the pressure would be compounded by a perfectly enjoyable but to my mind not particularly deep 1977 film that would not only refuse to die but haunt pop culture for the rest of my life on planet Earth.

Me, talking about Star Wars #overit

Yes, I’ve always preferred the real world to a fantasy from the past.

Look away or backwards for too long and you might miss the danger right before you in the present.   Or the pleasure.

In that sense, you could color me realistic.

But realism is not so popular right now in particular.

You can see this in our politics.  Like it or not, Trumpism is a banshee scream to right the ship (Note: Literally) and make things the way they used to be in the good old days.

It is nostalgia for a past that is simpler, more prosperous and a lot more black and white.  Though to my mind it’s really white and black.  Meaning White first, and then, well, maybe just a little Black, for what remains.

For what else is one to think when perusing what America realistically was in what we now recall as the good old days.

Nostalgic for nostalgia? Hey, it could happen.

Though in fairness, this phenomenon is not alone limited to the U.S.  A new brand of White Nativism – which sure, some scholars refer to as nostalgia – has spread all throughout Europe and beyond.  So much so that one day, generations from now, the future scholars will surely look back to the first half of the 21st century as a time when the world had to choose between embracing the past or vaulting into the future and chose —

_________________________________.

Well, that remains to be seen.  But I, like you, have some very real thoughts on the matter.

This is why it surprises me at just how big a fan I am of the recently dropped season 3 of the ultimate nostalgia machine, Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11. #yuckyuck #illseemyselfout

As a Chair whose taste runs afoul of mythic pasts and the heroes who triumph in them, how is it that the greatest relief I’ve found from TrumpWorld in the last year is following the exploits of a group of kids from the type of suburban neighborhood I never lived in during what I consider the absolute worst decade in the history of my life thus far– the eighties???

I’ve been considering this all week and have not yet come to an answer.

There was really nothing much fun about the eighties.  Just look at the fashions and you can see how much we hated ourselves, and each other.

This was heartthrob hair. For real. #ohBilly

It’s one thing to go to a costume party today with giant shoulder pads and too short short-shorts but it’s quite another to be expected to put them on every day after you’ve teased and moussed up your hair into a humidity-defying frenzy.

What sane human being who lived through those times would crave that?  What kind of insane population would ever popularize that?

These are questions much too big to resolve through the enticing world view we’re given in ST’s third and best season.  Though through a strict storytelling lens, it’s pretty clear.  The appeal of the latest ST incarnation is that in its own small way it manages to evoke the best of nostalgia, fantasy AND reality.

Oh god that mall. That 80s mall.

The world of monsters and evil foreign/governmental villains might steer the overarching plot but what we really relate to is the stunningly imperfect humanness of the characters the Duffer Brothers created and the behaviors of each actor playing them.

Every one of its principal characters is on the surface central casting for the non-hero supporting role in any movie or comic book adventure.  Each in their own way is either neurotic, ill-tempered, phony, depressed, bookish, dumbly amusing or just plain unappealingly awkward.  In short, they are a group comprised of the last ones chosen for any sports team combined with the first ones suspended from every sports team.  (Note: And I wonder why I relate?)

And yet, in watching each of them get their moment as they’re thrust center stage and dared to become heroic, we find ourselves somehow rooting for them in what could objectively be considered the most ridiculous of circumstances.

Steve and Dustin’s handshake alone. #thesetwo

To create tons of believable scares when you’re being chased in a _________________ by a giant gooey _________________ is a tough enough hat trick to pull off.  But to do it in a decade that is already an overused sad parody of itself and get us to actually believe any of those people could actually exist is something else entirely.

And yes, there will be no spoilers here. 

oh thank god!

That is, for the handful of readers who have yet to tune in.  For the launch of ST’s season 3 has set a new record for Netflix, attracting 40.7 million household account viewers in its first four days, almost half of which were viewed on TV screens on its launch over the Fourth of July weekend.  The only show on TV that was more watched during that time was when real-life superhero Megan Rapinoe lead the US women’s soccer team to victory in the Women’s World Cup.

QUEEN #thatsall

Though I was not one of those who watched ST in it first four days, I will cop to binging it in two perfect four-hour sittings over two nights a week later on my big red sofa with tortilla chips, guacamole and my dog in my lap.  For me it was not so much nostalgia as it was pure decadent escape from the continuous loop of a news cycle that at times has become simply unbearable.

Which, even more strangely, probably puts me at the center of the very definition of nostalgia – a longing for a past or a place with happy associations.  It might not be exactly my past or my place/town onscreen but, well, facts are facts, even in today’s world.

Gosh, I hope not.  Since my husband just walked in the room and, hearing I was waxing nostalgic about nostalgia, reminded me that a Swiss physician first coined the term back in 1688 as a psychological disorder similar to paranoia, except that the sufferer is manic with longing.

For what exactly, I’m not sure.  Nor, I suspect, are most of the rest of us.

Janis Joplin – “Me & Bobby McGee”

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The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma 

Do I Have to See Endgame?

There are weeks when you simply do not know what to say.  Or write.  This is one of those weeks.

That is why I’ve been trying to listen.

I say trying because for some of us (Note:  Most especially Chairs) it IS trying.  It takes a lot of effort to listen.

If you’re truly listening you actually have to take a moment or two, or ten, to take in and think about what is being communicated to you.  It means you have to consider what the other person is saying even if your knee jerk reaction is to want to strangle them.

For instance, when I recently heard Avengers: Endgame was three hours I wanted to strangle the entire film business.  I had a lesser punishment for my students who were urging me to see it.

Me at the Arclight for the 8:00 Avengers

I wanted to strap them all to separate Chairs in the corner and make them watch a loop of Magnolia, Godfather Part II and Schindler’s List, all of which have similar running times.

Yes, that would be nine plus hours but it would take that long to teach them that at this point in their lives there are better ways to spend your movie-viewing time if you’re truly trying to learn about movies.

This is me, maybe, probably, judging you

Of course, this would have been the incorrect response for so many reasons.

First of all, I had not and didn’t plan to see Avengers: Endgame so how did I not know it wasn’t every bit as good as any of the above three?  And no, experience is not the answer.   You can’t have an experience with something you haven’t experienced.

I mean, I don’t like it when they turn their nose up at the three-hour version of one of my top 10 favorite movies, Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born.  And god knows that has happened a lot more than once,  twice 250 times.

Don’t judge me!

Second of all, don’t I teach that good and bad are relative terms and that there is no artistic hierarchy?  If this is so, then why is a mess, I mean, mass entertainment movie any less valuable to see than something we film people deem essential viewing?

::Snickers::

If one subscribes to the idea that some escapism is required from a real world that too often than not can be dark, merciless and disappointing (Note: and who doesn’t these days?) then wouldn’t watching a star-studded SUPERHERO film be just the perfect prescription for coping with the impending realities any impending college graduate is about to face?  Certainly it’s worked for much of the rest of us for generations.

Third, and lastly of all, we ignore that which has international mass appeal and popularity at our own peril.

Now you’re getting it!

No one is saying that one has to experience an In-N-Out or McDonald’s hamburger.  But if one is going to open a fast food restaurant, or any meat-serving restaurant, wouldn’t it behoove one to at least one time experience THE most successful meat product on the planet?

To NOT do so would mean a willful ignorance of the marketplace and world around one.  To close one’s ears, eyes and taste buds to what is would mean one is willfully NOT listening to what the majority of people prefer.

OK but this is a different problem all together.

To lower, or even raise one’s standards ONE TIME and try – meaning hear, see or experience – something one in no way prefers means one is purposely remaining willfully ignorant.

And we all know people who are WILLFULLY IGNORANT, right?

I DO NOT CARE HOW GOOD THIS CHICKEN IS

We know what happens when we don’t listen to and ignore the demands, tastes and preferred choices of a group large enough to be considered a MASS audience, right?

Someone can step in and serve up a modern version of the McDonald’s hamburger that is so simultaneously seductive and yet poisonous that it can bring an entire industry to its knees in submission.

It will then duplicate, replicate and otherwise dominate everything to such an extent that few other types of preferred food stuffs would be able to survive.

Thanks Chair, now I’m also thinking about dinner.

Imagine a world where one had little choice but to eat not only a fast food hamburger, but a certain type of fast food hamburger, at least periodically, for primary sustenance?

Then imagine a world where these choices extended to all of the arts and entertainment.

Then, finally, imagine what that same, seductive poisonous product could do to, say, a democracy?   What WOULD happen when so few choices were left?

That means this is a good thing right?

That and so much more is why this week and going forward I am going to do my best to try and not only listen, but HEAR.

I don’t want to live in a world where burgers, superheroes and flaccid dictatorships are my primary, and then only, options.  (Note:  That is unless I really do and this is the last reel of the original Blade Runner because I do know, that in just a few decades, I will have a chance at a sequel).

… and when I come back I will have the voice AND hair of Shawn Mendes #reincarnation

I guess what this means is that a screening of Avengers: Endgame is in my foreseeable future.   God (or whoever you deem Her to be) help me.  And us.

Judy Garland – “I Don’t Care”

This is US

[ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS AHEAD… PROMISE]

The best part of Jordan Peele’s Us is how the filmmaker continues to subvert audience expectations by simply being himself and showing the world as he sees it.

In this case it is watching a family of color as our principal protagonists, nee heroes, as they fight the inevitable monster and carnage that threatens to engulf them.

Not creepy or anything #runsaway

More importantly, it is the relegation of the white couple to the traditional role of the best friends who you know will appear and reappear at will when some comic relief or convenient plot device is needed.

In this way Us is a totally original mainstream reinvention of the horror genre that is very much in the tradition of Peele’s groundbreaking Get Out.  Our view of the upscale suburban nuclear family to which very bad things will happen is no longer beige but color-corrected.

Yes, Ru!

The fact that this is about all that has changed from the usual is both the film’s strong point and its weakness.  Many contemporary horror films already have a patina of social commentary and Us is no different.

It spoils nothing about Us to say that in initially taking us back to 1986’s Hands Across America campaign, where a multicultural human chain was created in cities across the United States to raise money for charities that helped people in poverty, we are being set up for the inevitable “but has the world really changed” question by the end of the film.

The attempt to make this well-to-do Black family just as human as any white family in any horror film – that is to say a bit too two-dimensional and self-satisfied – succeeds as well as it ever has.  The characters are just as clueless, oblivious and bereft of individuality as any white family in a similar social class or big screen genre entertainment.

but still not as horrifying as this #isit2020yet

It’s sort of the way I initially felt watching gay culture become mainstreamed in the eighties and nineties and beyond with the advent of Will & Grace, Ellen, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Marriage Equality.

Well, I guess we really have arrived, I recalled thinking.  Now we can be just as average as everyone else.  Hallelujah!

Never mind I was also simultaneously seeing myself like Dustin Hoffman/Katharine Ross at the end of 1967’s The Graduate – two people who get EXACTLY what they wish only to be left wondering, Well, uh, okay.  You mean now this is my…reality?  

Uh oh

Of course there ARE many more benefits to being able to finally get married or serve openly in the military than there are to being front and center in a horror film (Note:  And as soon as I can think of one I’ll let you know….Oh, KIDDING!!!).  But if movies are indeed one of the most enduring and mainstream social chronicles of who we really are, it’s hard not to hope for just a little bit more.

After all, George Romero’s seminal Night of Living Dead gave us a Black hero as far back as 1968 and became the social commentary scale against which all horror films got measured.  I can recall finally seeing it as a teen some years later on television and being blown away at its message (Note: Don’t hate me, it was the seventies) and audacity.  So is it too much to ask for a little more than that of the genre some fifty plus years later?

Enough with the scary Nuns.. really #dobetter2019

In fairness, Romero has stated publicly that the reason that his lead actor in Night was Black mostly had to do with the fact that the actor, Duane Jones, was simply the person who gave the best audition.  Nevertheless, with a budget of $114,000 and an international gross upwards of $30 million it’s hard to imagine the director-writer didn’t know he was on to something.

This is what happens sometimes in moviemaking, happy accidents of instinct where the choices one makes pay off creatively and financially far better than anyone could imagine.  One could argue the same is possible and true today, but not as likely as when your budget is $20 million plus a helluva lot more than that in marketing.  Not to mention all of the release dates you have to meet (which includes both film festival and distributor/exhibitor bookings) AND the sophomore jinx trifecta of a best screenplay Oscar win, critical plaudits and box-office breaking success in an auteur driven film, your first, in the horror genre.

No Pressure for Mr. Peele

Sure there are countless worse problems in the real world than the success of Get Out but few if any of them are effectively addressed in the onscreen story of Us.  Instead what we get is a lot of talk about the Freudian concept of our shadow selves and the consequences of such when these darkest impulses are either indulged or ignored.

It’s an interesting discussion for an abnormal psychology class but not quite the stuff that drives a good or even great horror flick.

What does give Us its engine is a bravura performance by Lupita Nyong’o, one part troubled but relentless Mother Hen and the other part vacuum cleaner-voiced scissor sister with an internal moral compass known only to herself.

We don’t deserve you, Lupita

It kind of reminds you of a 2019 version of Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow is given the chance to portray both herself AND the Devil.  (Note: And, um, NO, Lupita does NOT play the Devil in Us.  There are NO SPOILERS HERE for the umpteenth time!).

Much as I adored Rosemary’s Baby I was sort of hoping for more in Mr. Peele’s second time out.  But perhaps this is being unfair to him.  After all, Rosemary’s Baby was based on a best-selling book of cutting social satire by novelist Ira Levin that was expertly plotted and insanely insightful.  A story that dealt with another upwardly mobile couple/mother Hen in a foreboding time period in America that similarly used the horror genre to address dark privilege, the righteous anger of those who have been discounted by it and the chains that will forever tether the two together.

Hmmm, sounds awfully timely to me.  And perhaps this time the film and novel from which it springs could literally be political?  Though maybe that’s way too obvious.

Luniz – “I Got 5 On It” (from the soundtrack of Us)

Chair-side Grammys

Sometimes you just have to unwind, listen to some music, just BE. This week, the Chair is doing just that (and after you finish reading this, consider joining him).

Thankfully for the Chair (and us), during the whirlwind that is awards season, there is an anecdote. An over-the-top, overproduced, glitzy, rockstar affair — stuffed to the brim with so many production numbers, you almost forget awards are being given out (they still do that right?). Love it or hate it, it’s a glamorous distraction and who among us couldn’t use that right now?

The Chair has hand picked some of his favorite Grammy-nominated tunes — a truly eclectic mix of bops and classics (Spotify link here and below!). Here’s why he thinks you should tune in tonight and take a much needed break from our less glamorous reality:

Cardi B – “I Like It”

She makes me laugh.  Hysterical, uncensored, smart, hard working and great rhymer.  Check out her Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.  It’s hilarious.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – “Shallow” (from A Star is Born soundtrack)

Because, well… seriously?

Also don’t sleep on her last album’s title song, “Joanne” — heartbreaking and beautiful. Gaga just nails it.

I don’t find this annoying. Am I alone?

Janelle Monae – album: Dirty Computer

She embraces the raw, sweatiness of desire and gayness.  Also, it’s just a great album.

YES JANELLE YES  #pynk

Greta Van Fleet – “When the Curtain Falls”

Yes, I saw them on SNL.  Kind of like if Robert Plant were a bit more Emo and from the midwest.. and I mean that in a good way

Led Zeppelin realness

Bettye Lavette – “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” 

This is a wonderful rendition of an old Bob Dylan song.  And the Obamas LOVE her… and that’s good enough for me #COMEBACK44

Remember when our President appreciated music.. and art… and enjoyed any aspect of life? REMEMBER? #OKImSpiraling #refocus

Joan Baez – “Whistle down the Wind”

The song is a cover of an old Tom Waits tune – and yes, she still does it for me. It’s her nine millionth album at age 77.  I did a report on her in high school and my teacher accused me of being in love with her.  Still am 40 years later.

Timeless

Sufjan Stevens – “Visions of Gideon” (from Call Me By Your Name soundtrack)

That final credit sequence! Elio! Oliver! Elio! Yep, still crying.

#ChalametwasRobbed

And here’s the Chair’s first official Spotify playlist. Listen along and tune in/tune out (your choice!)

 

Bad Behaviour

There’s an old saying;

People get the government they deserve.

Let’s table that for a moment.

A less troubling but equally important question to ask ourselves during the 2018 holiday season is:

Do we get the movies we deserve?

I mention this because essentially the saying and the question broach the same issue. They ask us to consider whether the situations we now find ourselves in are inextricably linked to and reflective of:

 Who we really are.

Yeah, I’m not ready to look either.

The stock market has just cratered to its lowest December since the Great Depression (Note: The one in 1929).

Our Electoral College POTUS has just announced the US is leaving Syria (against the advice of all our top military brass) to be picked apart by a JUBILANT Russia and China. #YoureWelcomeVlad.

And our government has been arbitrarily shut down this holiday weekend by said EC POTUS, who tweeted the Democrats now own the shutdown! after last week publicly stating  he would be proud to own the shutdown if he didn’t get the money to build his Border Wall Slats Whatever.

I’m with you Charlie Brown

Oh my, it’s confusing.

But not as confusing as to why so many of us will be spending our holidays watching nasty big screen dramedies about such inspiring figures as Dick Cheney (Vice) and England’s Queen Anne (The Favourite).

And yes, this IS much easier to talk about.  And write about.

An Oscar for Rachel Weisz’s eyepatch please #earlypredictions

The latter was a 17th century monarch mired in self-loathing, as well as a toxic lesbian triangle entirely of her own making – and manipulation.

The former was  (in case memory fails) an oil chief who grunted his way into power and self-created a war in Iraq based on “specious” facts.   A man who survives to this day after numerous heart attacks, a pacemaker, and finally someone else’s heart entirely  – all the while reveling in the ominous nickname the majority of the country have for him – Darth Vader.

Pretty much

Well, Merry Christmas to all of you, too!

And — HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

VICE and THE FAVOURITE are certainly not the only movies to see this week but they are among the newest, most touted and certainly most noteworthy.  They’re considered to be prestige pictures and must-see films.

They are also both rotten to their cores – celebrating a kind of ruthless, sociopathic lust to get power and remain in power during which time their “heroes” all wittily revel in the massive carnage they create around them as they crush anyone who dares to question their power.

It’s good to clarify

These films don’t so much take a look at the individuals at their center but serve up their extreme behaviors as a brooding, bloody kind of entertainment spectacle for the masses.  They are in so many ways both Grand Guignol yukfests and serious historical biopics,  each masquerading as the other when it’s most convenient.

When important dramatic questions beg to be answered, better to evaporate into fringe conduct peppered with either hysterical shrieks or guttural grunts.  On the other hand, when an important issue is reduced to egocentric flippancy, what better way is there than to evoke the trappings of the Crown or the White House, amid the deaths of their respective soldiers, in order to drag us back into the urgency of the situation at hand.

Ugh, along with bonus 80s drag #yuck

Just as it might be too soon to laugh at Dick Cheney and his antics in and around Iraq and the Capitol Building it feels faux cheeky to watch three  17th century ruling class lesbians mire around in the mud and curse like sailors for our own amusement.

Yeah, yeah – they said naughty words back then but never to such syncopated snappy effect.  And sure, sure, it was a scream and a half when Cheney shot that guy in the face but what is the point of watching him and his wife get hot for each other in bed while reciting Shakespeare??  God, I’d like to unsee that.

Agh Ew No!

Not to get all Hollywood movie executive – but can’t we at least have SOMEONE to root for or feel sorry for or just plain want to be with for two plus hours?  Even Bale’s Patrick Bateman was more sympathetic than Cheney.  Certainly, he was a lot easier to look at.

Yes, it’s an amazing parlor trick to see a handsome guy like Christian Bale transformed into a bald, bloated bellicose VICE slithering his way to the top with no discernible guilt or crisis of conscience for his misdeeds even as a plethora of facts confront him to the contrary.  It sort of reminds you of….well, turn on the news.

IS IT OVER YET?!

At the same time, watching three ladies so cleverly bitch at each other is a unique screen treat these days, if not quite politically correct.  Though one supposes if you are going to have three  (count ‘em!) lesbian characters engage power in a major motion picture where men are relegated to nothing but sex objects, impotent fools or embattled warriors as mere pawns, you should be given credit for a certain progressiveness – a kind of reversal of gender destinies.

Still, one can’t help but feel like it’s all a crock and we’ve simply devolved into a sadly reflective state.  A period in our culture where we need to minimize real life bad behavior by peppering it with enough humor and absurdity to make it go down easier.  A kind of whistling at the gallows.

What more timely message can the movies give us through which to close 2018?

Jill Scott – “Hate On Me”

Addiction Du Jour

So I’m sitting here listening to Jada Pinkett Smith talk about addiction because what else would you do on a Saturday afternoon when deadlines are looming and you have a dozen and half more student scripts to read?

Killin’ it

You might want to know that it turns out Jada has a talk show on Facebook Watch (Note:  So this is a thing now?) called Red Table Talk with her Mom (Adrienne) and daughter (Willow) and the random guest where they share three generational perspectives on…issues.

Now I’m not a Jada fan, or even non-fan, though I remain rankled by her husband Will Smith refusing to kiss a guy onscreen decades ago when he played a gay character in the film adaptation of Six Degrees of Separation.

Never has there been a more appropriate usage of this gif #ByeWill

Still, that’s not her responsibility and I did enjoy her in Bamboozled.  Though I really dislike the idea of people home schooling their kids, which apparently the Smiths have done.  And I think we can all also agree her announced Oscar boycott a couple of years ago, partly due to Will not being nominated for, ahem, Concussion, was a bit grand and a bit much.

On the other hand, who’s to say?  #OscarsSoWhite became more of a thing and the next year Moonlight did win best picture.

All of this is #SoNotMyBusiness, of course.

I don’t know these people and have no right to judge them.  Except, well, I do – most of us do – especially when they expose their personal lives to us via…well, I was going to say television.  But silly me, Red Table Talk is a web series, which is not exactly TV even though it involves a small screen with talking heads and programming you can make disappear with the flick of your finger.

TV? Phone? Remote? I have no idea.

Don’t knock that power.  How much did you wish you could make disappear this week?

Somehow watching Jada’s Mom talk about her years as a heroin addict, Will’s sister admitting up until a week ago she was stoned on grass 24/7 and Jada recalling her own sex addiction back in her twenties became, in itself, addicting.  At least for the 15 plus minutes it was on.  Add to this the presence August Alsina, the seemingly tough guy young singer she and Mom recently helped out of pill addiction and I began to wonder if my continued interest wasn’t the latent addiction gene that I know I carry but had always managed to keep at bay, finally rearing its ugly head.

Suffice it to say – no.

We’re all addicted to addiction and not necessarily in a good way.

Pretty much

Although…I lament on how unable I am on most days to turn off cable news.   And when I had my students watch Boogie Nights last month I could see the look of sheer terror in some of their eyes when I casually mentioned that porn was not always free to watch over and over again on the Internet.  Speaking of which, is Twitter raging an addiction?

That’s obviously rhetorical.

Three major movies at the moment spotlight addiction.  Julia Roberts tries valiantly to keep her son from going back on drugs in Ben is Back, Steve Carrell valiantly trying to understand why his son does drugs in Beautiful Boy and Lady Gaga is torn up inside and out that the man she loves and knew was an addict before she married him is now back on drugs in A Star Is Born.

I was so moved by this scene I almost forgot the terrible orange hair moment. #ALLY

The old sick joke at the newspaper I once worked at was that it took at least three concurrent examples to even begin to consider something a trend at any moment in time.  So if we add Twitter raging to the mix, well…. draw your own conclusion.  But know another golden journalism rule I learned in grad school at Northwestern — never rule out the obvious.

(Note: You’re welcome since I just provided you with several thousands of dollars of valuable education gratis).

The price is right

In too many ways all three of these film stories are rather obvious, but, isn’t that part of the attraction?  We know these people, we’ve seen these people or perhaps we are these people.  All of us addicts.  Or enablers.  And sometimes both.

Tom Arnold just claimed in Newsweek that even self-proclaimed never tasted alcohol Electoral College POTUS Trump habitually snorted Adderall on the set of NBC’s The Apprentice.  Stand up comic Noel Casler, who says he worked on the show for six years called the EC POTUS a speed freak and said his obsession/ogling of the female contestants on the Miss Teen Universe pageant he owned was something akin to what would happen if you gave Jeffrey Dahmer a cooking show. 

It’s just beyond #MUELLERHURRY

None of this is pretty but we don’t live in pretty times.  Therefore, the more we can understand our addictions and/or the addicts we love, or love to hate, the sooner we can make the necessary informed choices.

They may not all be our cups of tea but let’s not pretend A Star is Born, Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy don’t offer us all something and that together they’re not a trend. We can even learn from Jada Pinkett Smith, god help us.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “I Hate Myself For Loving You”