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)

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Chaos & Clarity: How I Learned to Survive Waiting for the Mueller Report

America 2019 — You can feel the chaos.   Step outside your door and engage people and eventually it’s difficult not to sense a series of conflicting feelings depending on where you are and whom you are hanging with.

Sure, to some extent it has always been this way.  But if I had to pinpoint one byproduct of the Trump presidency that would register across the board it is that we are in a transition period where nothing is exactly as it used to be.

A poem for our times

From the perch where I sit in the bluest of blue states, I think of it as everything being a little off.    Yet red state America supporters that view things as finally back on the right track are more than likely thrown by the level of anger and moral outrage from folks like me.

Those in the middle, as well as others more magnanimous who currently seek to unite the country, are likely torn.  They see merit in various places but struggle to herd all of us cats back into any sort of viable formation. The confusion and abnormalities they are forced to bear witness to daily must be confounding.  It’s any wonder they can even function as the rest of us relentlessly snipe at them (and each other) from both sides.

We’ll just call these folks Switzerland

As we await the full result and impact of the Mueller report one coping strategy is to embrace the chaos knowing full well that there has never been a chaos invented that lasts forever.   I mean, thoroughly lean into it.  Revel in it.  Play around in it from different vantage points before taking any definitive action in any one matter related to it.

The nature of chaos is that it is an ever-swirling series of unpredictable, seemingly random events that eventually turn into, well… many physicists believe at one time a group of such occurrences turned into the creation of the universe.

Even if you don’t believe in science you can’t deny that a bunch of stuff can conspire to happen that can create a new set of circumstances you never expected from a source you can’t fully understand.

Not believing in science?!?!? #holdupChair

It’s called faith and it’s prevalent in the unlikeliest corners and disciplines in both blue and red state America.  (Note:  How’s that for extending an olive branch????)

Of course, I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  It’s part of the seminal work of physician, author and prominent New Age figure Deepak Chopra.  He, in turn, synthesized this way of thinking from Buddhist philosophy, science and the meditation communities, and more than thirty years ago began packaging it into a series of books and seminars, as well as a lavish wellness center located in Carlsbad, CA.

Just checking in

Which doesn’t make any of what he speaks of any less true or more false.

I stumbled upon Mr. Chopra once again while flipping my TV channels in frustration and landing on my local PBS station.  Yes, I was THAT annoyed that evening.

In any event, in discussing his long ago bestseller, The Seven Spiritual Laws to Success (Note: Now available in a cool PBS sponsored DVD package!) one moment hit the writer part of me squarely in the jaw.   Chaos is what ultimately enables creativity.  Horrible as it can be to deal with and live through it’s often when our work or lives are in the biggest mess possible that change happens.

I know, I know… I kept thinking to myself this is so much B.S.  Until I recalled how many professional disappointments led me kicking and screaming into something ultimately much much better for me and how many rotten toads I had to kiss in life (Note:  Too many to count and they know who they are…or do they?) until I found someone different I might never have noticed had I not finally put a lifetime moratorium on ALL amphibians.

This is all just reminding me of how much I love Mayor Pete

When things are as crappy and chaotic as you imagine they ever will be (aka sh-tty) it helps to remember just walking through it or realizing that there was a time when you benefitted from a set of circumstances you had nothing at all to do with (aka dumb luck)  Or that a casual action you took or comment you made off the cuff created an opportunity you never anticipated.

We’ll never know whether it was random or a series of your small, nee authentic actions that created the good times.  It might be a combination of both or neither.  But what we do know is that any action causes a reaction.  (Note: Once again, see science).

We also know the opposite is likely true.  The one way to ensure nothing changes in your absolutely miserable life is to do the same miserable thing each day.  And that even if a series of random events do come together to grant you some good fortune with that strategy you will probably be so enervated you’ll be too ill prepared to take full advantage of it.

Otherwise know as, in popular parlance, a lose-lose.

Not gonna work

I once had a shrink years ago that tried to help get me out of my own pit of despair with a variation on this very strategy.  I was not only sad but angry and isolated and correctly sensed no one, and I mean NO ONE, wanted to be around me anymore.

At one point, in defiance and exasperation at the lack of help and support I believe I deserved, I bellowed: What am I supposed to do, just pretend to be happy?

To which he simply replied:

Yes.

ummm.. am I hearing this right??

Well, at first I was even more pissed off.  So I took a minute to think about it in silence.  During which time he told me that sometimes simply the repetition of a behavior can change things.

Even one you don’t mean?????

Yes.

This is not to say pretending to be happy cures unhappiness.   Obviously we all need to examine and accept what we feel and take action in any way that we can to resolve a situation.  But when there is no magic wand to truly SOLVE the issue, what else can one do simply just to get kick started?

But wait!! Fairy Godmother help!!

Well, another acceptable alternative to that way of thinking is to simply stop and acknowledge things are a mess.  Then look around at the mess and just observe – and DON’T think of solutions.  (Note: If you want to pretend you’re happier than you are when you’re doing this you can go ahead, but it’s certainly not a requirement and I, for one, one couldn’t do both).

Instead treat the moment, desperate as it may be, from the sort of impartial stance of an outsider.   Take it all in fully, from ALL sides, and then, when you’re ready, continue on, remembering all that stuff you were thinking when you had NO skin in the game.

This action won’t necessarily give you an answer but can likely also put you in a different place.   If the problems are deeply vexing, as they are these days, you might want to do it daily, or at least 2- 3 times a week, reminding yourself that the rage or intensity you observed yourself feeling are not felt by everyone (or even anyone) as often.  (Note: Even by you, since you’re now spending at least 10-15 minutes simply observing…or pretending to).  What’s their take and why?  Soak it in, let your mind wander and DON’T have an opinion on it.

So.. not this? Got it.

This exercise is not dissimilar from what many of us writers do when we’re stuck as to what a character would truly do or say.  We stop, look at it from various vantage points, and just sit there – angry and perplexed when no solution comes to mind.  No satisfying one, anyway.

But ask a handful of professionals what then eventually does happen.  Somehow, somewhere a thought, a strategy or even a potentially outlandish answer comes – and usually when you’re driving or in the shower.

Waterproof shower notepads.. actually exist #problemsolved

Refusing to rage about a problem or obsess about it 24/7 doesn’t mean you don’t care or are not seeking a remedy.  It only means you have learned to embrace the process (aka chaos) and know that out of insanity, an idea and an action and a change will come.  It may not be perfect but what could be worse than the mess you – and we – are in now?

Okay, don’t answer that.   Just know that will change, too.  And then change back again.

Damn.

Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait”

Pete for America

Dear Mayor Pete:

First and foremost you need to keep going.

If the country is to again believe America is truly a land of opportunity, well, what better way to illustrate that than becoming the youngest president in U.S. history, the first openly gay POTUS and the only person to be elevated from small town mayor to the highest office in the land?

Your story literally sounds like a pitch for a major studio remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington targeting the millennial generation.

Or is he exactly what we need?

Of course, most of us realize the country that up until recently sold itself as a place where anything is possible for anyone was never really quite that way.  We’ve been too racist, too classist, too homophobic and too corrupt at the top levels of government for way too long.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to say that everyone and everything is innately evil.  More than anything, that is what your nascent, seemingly impossible presidential campaign shows us each day.  If a Democratic gay guy can twice get elected mayor of a Republican town (Note: The last time with 80% of the vote) in Mike Pence’s home state, um, what else might happen?

The bad punch line from 2015 would be:  Donald Trump will be president???

The good punch line from 2020 could be:  Guess what, we’re playing The Scissor Sisters at the inauguration and you WILL be watching two men (he and his husband) canoodling.

the cuteness is almost too much (they have TWO dogs) #icant

Which is a signal to open this letter up to everyone.

For those who think Pete Buttigieg (pronounced BOOT-edge-edge) probably has as much chance getting the Democratic nomination for president as I do, perhaps you’re right.  Or perhaps not.

You need to have at least 65,000 money donors from 20 states or to register at 1% in three national polls to participate in the upcoming blue fate special.  After a recent CNN Town Hall and only the very beginnings of his cross-country travels, Mayor Pete has surpassed that level on both scores.

So, who is this guy?

A Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar and a former Navy intelligence officer and Afghanistan war veteran.

Returning home to South Bend after a tour of duty in 2014 #therealdeal

A mayor who took over a city losing residents and money with the promise he’d revitalize downtown and raze or refurbish 1000 houses in 1000 days who accomplished that goal 63 days early and began attracting lots of new residents, new money, new jobs and new industry into the community.

A candidate who supports the Green New Deal as a good start to tackling climate change, backs single payer health insurance only if the insurance companies play a role and sees the immigrant population as a cornerstone to our success.

He’s also pretty good on Twitter (Note: A key skill in the battle to be POTUS in 2020).   When would-be Starbucks chief and fellow aspiring independent presidential hopeful Howard Schultz recently declared he’d spent more time overseas with the military than any other candidate running, Mayor Pete quickly shot back:

Schultz promptly apologized.

These alone are not qualifications for the White House but they certainly bode well for someone seeking a place in the national conversation.  The transcript from his recent Town Hall provides further evidence.

Slaying it on CNN #GoMayorPete

So does the open letter he made sure to send out to the Islamic society that represents South Bend’s Islamic community right after the white supremacist terrorist attack that killed 50 people and injured 50 more in New Zealand mosque last week.  Suffice it to say it starts with:

…This city is deeply committed to your safety and well-being, continues to state this entire City wraps its arms around you in love and peace, and goes on from there.

As for his views on numerous other issues, here’s some research courtesy of various sources, including PBS, NPR, CNN and The Washington Post:

On vice-president Mike Pence’s religious freedom stance in opposition to LGBTQ rights:

His understanding of religious text “has a lot more to do with sexuality and, I don’t know, a certain view of rectitude.” But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?  Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?

Callin’ out that hypocrisy LIKE A BOSS #nailedit

On climate change: 

A national security threat and long-term problem for future generations. 

And along with 407 other mayors he signed a pact to adhere to the Paris climate accords that Electoral College POTUS Trump pulled out of.

On foreign policy:

Consistent criticism towards Trump for conducting foreign policy by tweet, support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and commitment to keep troops in Syria.  He also sees Iran as the single greatest threat to Israel in the Middle East.

On gun control:

A supporter of universal background checks and critic of allowing guns in school and purported Stand Your Ground laws.

👏👏👏

On the Electoral College and the Supreme Court:

An advocate of a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College (including an openness to look at alternatives so smaller states are not left behind) and author of a proposal to expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices from nine.  The latter plan would allow would allow Republicans and Democrats to each appoint five justices, who would unanimously agree on the remaining five appointees.

His website and his numerous more frequent television appearances reveal a lot more.  But perhaps the most revealing and refreshing quote that seems to get inside his decision to run is the mere fact that more than any other candidate he has skin in the game.

My generation is the generation that experienced school shootings beginning when I was in high school, the generation that fought in the post-9/11 wars, the first generation to have to deal with the reality of climate change, and the first generation not to be better off than our parents materially – if nothing changes.

Donating now.. FOR REAL

Is he too much of a long shot?  Hell, yes.  Is it pie-in-the-sky to think the guy has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected?  Maybe.  But we’ve been a lot more surprised and done a hell of a lot worse.  I haven’t made my final decision now that there are 20 plus candidates in the race but this much I know:

The possibilities are limitless.  ON BOTH SIDES.

Mayor Pete PLAYS THE PIANO with Ben Folds (Like I couldn’t swoon more!)

Let’s Talk About Abuse

Let’s talk about abuse.

Yay!!!!

There’s the kind of horrifying sexual abuse that James Safechuck and Wade Robson testified to receiving from the ages of 7-14 years of age at the hands (and, sadly, other body parts) of then 30 something Michael Jackson.

We heard their stories in plainspoken excruciating detail this past week in the very fine four-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.

hard to watch, for sure

Though we experience the facts second-hand it’s difficult to not feel victimized ourselves by the separate yet eerily similar violations as they are told to us.

Until it dawns on us that if we’re feeling this way what must it be like for the adult versions of these two children recounting it as a…love affair they willingly entered into with a man who was the most famous star in the world at the time?

A man who claimed to be the ONE person who would ALWAYS look out for their best interests against an outside world of sick liars would never understand THEM.

If that sounds far from your story or my story or most of OUR collective stories as Americans, think again.

thinking…

No?

Well, perhaps if we put the details aside and stick to the power dynamics.

It was less than three years ago that our relatively young country was similarly seduced by an older, quite famous man who claimed, and I quote:

… I have seen first hand how the system was rigged against OUR CITIZENS

 I have joined the political arena so that the powerful cannot beat up on PEOPLE WHO CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES.  Nobody knows the system better than me.  Which is why – I ALONE CAN FIX IT.

Oh god, this effing guy. I can’t. I just… ugh

This is not a stretch.  This is seduction of the powerless with promises of rescue and eventually undying devotion from extremely powerful and famous people who, through those seduced, acquire more of what they desperately crave.

In the case of the former it was love and sex.

In the latter case the man got even more than that.  Much to his own surprise he became THE MOST POWERFUL man in the world.  Or, one could argue, the world’s BIGGEST STAR.

Experts say a key strategy to deal with abuse is to recognize it is happening, set limits on the abuser and eventually remove yourself from the situation.

This is easier said than done for underage victims, since their power is severely limited and their cognitive abilities are not yet fully formed.

In the cases of Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson we watch the process of two men, now in their late thirties and early forties, finally able to take those necessary initial steps only decades after those crimes first occurred.

Confronting the past

They realize that the only way to true mental stability and lasting happiness is to finally recognize what happened to them.  By publicly sharing it with the world one could argue they are also taking the crucial next step of setting limits on any residual control the abuser might have on them (Note: Yes, even from the grave).

One hopes by taking these actions they will then be able to move towards the final act of removing themselves from a way of thinking that empowers that situation to remain alive and control their lives and their actions as adults.

It is only in the recognition of just how completely they were seduced and brainwashed into submission while vulnerable that they can break out of a cycle that alters their reality and causes them to act out towards themselves and the world in countless destructive, and self-destructive, ways.

Take for instance, Michael Jackson truthers (yes, they are real)

Misplaced anger is a powerful motivator for all sorts of questionable actions.  But sometimes it is a lot easier than acknowledging the deep pain, and yes, sadness that that anger is masking.

Which brings us back to the summer of 2016 and promises made to those angry enough to take a chance on a very wealthy man who vowed to protect and love them if only they’d give him the keys to their kingdom.  The implicit pact, as it often initially is in these cases, was that they would get access to his extraordinary life.

Then, in turn, particles of the magical fairy dust he possessed would be sprinkled across the country as a salve and solution to many of the problems they and their families had been facing for decades.  With his know-how they could be him, or a version of him.   Or it would, at the very least, be something shiny, new and distracting.

You know.. like a gold toilet.

One can’t help be reminded of the exciting bohemian relative or recently arrived fantabulous best friend who moves into the neighborhood only to turn everything upside down in a seemingly great way and then eventually leave you worse than you were to begin with.   It is only that person who could have ever made you appreciate your hopelessly average, and sometimes woefully inadequate family life.

.. and sometimes it comes with Seventy Six Trombones

But the thing about charlatans and abusers is that they don’t see themselves as villains.  Be it Michael Jackson of the current Electoral College POTUS, they do truly believe that what their nefarious actions do is actually to improve the lives of their victims.  They convince themselves this has to be the case because they so desperately need their victims to satisfy their own insatiable needs.

Rather than consider this as mere political partisanship, it might helpful to read Jane Mayer’s excellent piece this week in The New Yorker entitled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.”

Much like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson she lays out, piece by piece, a narrative of how not a person but an entity, Fox News, evolved into a far right wing propaganda arm for the current White House that undeniably now functions primarily as a 2019 Orwellian version of State TV.  Or, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes more aptly refers to it, Trump TV.

Are we all just living in an ancient Indian burial ground?

To say that this is solely an abusive situation would be an insult to survivors like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson.  The searing personal pain they have had to endure in their lives due to crimes perpetrated against them as children has no sole contemporary political counterpart.

However, to deny that a version of this abuse is not part of our current national equation, and that too many of the rich and powerful from one side of the aisle are complicit in it continuing, is to also deny the obvious.

No, I am not a psychiatrist.  Just a human being who, in the course of his own life, has been in more than a few abusive situations and come out the other side.

Cake – “I Will Survive”

Magical Thinking

Joe Biden told an audience in Omaha last week that Mike Pence is a decent guy.   Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon chose to differ in an editorial in the Washington Post and so do I.

Mr. Pence’s lifetime leadership role advocating against the LGBTQ community, including support for conversion therapy (most heinously during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s as an alternative way to curtail the spread of HIV), opposition to gay marriage, banning trans people from serving in the military, and attempting to legalize discrimination against gays due to religious beliefs (with proposed legislation and/or laws to back all over the above) does not make him decent.

It shows an empirical pattern of behavior that bears additional scrutiny, particularly for someone currently serving as the Vice President of all of the U.S. in 2019.

This is a real product you can buy on Amazon. You’re welcome.

The same could be said of Electoral College POTUS’s rambling two-hour speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) this weekend.  In perhaps his grandest of grandstanding, he threw out his usual invectives that American citizens who oppose him, as well as the media and fellow elected officials who choose to investigate his behavior, are people who don’t love our country.

But perhaps worse yet he continued to defend his self-professed love affair with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un, who he claims had no knowledge of the torture and eventual death of an American teenager under his government’s hands because he told me, despite the universal agreement of our own intelligence agencies that this was not the case.

NOT fake news

It is the same argument he used to defend Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin over the last two years when American intelligence across the board provided him clear evidence that Putin directed manipulation of the 2016 election.

It is a similar kind of illogic that in those two very public hours at the podium caused him to scream, where did that come from?, in reference to Congress’ current plan to look into his finances as a way to reasonably prove his business ties to Russia in light of numerous recent accusations from members inside his own campaign that this is indeed the case.

This same blind rage also caused him to proclaim from the podium that these people are sick for wanting to check his deals.

Nice try

And it is, finally, what caused him to come up with yet a new nickname for the chairman of that House committee – my Congressman, Adam Schiff, a former California U.S. Attorney.  Before this large group of conservatives, in that same two-hour speech, broadcast worldwide, our de facto POTUS referred to that duly elected congressman as LITTLE SHIFTY SCHIFF and his work as bullschiff.

And they’re both orange!

Nice, huh?  Especially for a 72 year-old man some people call the most powerful person on Earth, partly because most conceded long ago he forfeited the usual U.S. POTUS moniker of Leader of the Free World.

Magical thinking can sometimes help get us through the day but it can never, ever make untruths into truths, fantasy into reality or sputtering, fantastical bile-soaked lies into objective evidentiary fact.

This weekend I finally caught up with a film my students had been recommending me to see for several years, Swiss Army Man.  It’s a story about a suicidal guy (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island who finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that he is able to ride to some sort of civilization through the body’s flatulence.

Ummmm…

The guy then lives off the water the body expels from his mouth in sudden gaseous spurts only to find about halfway through the story, the body actually starts talking to him.  It turns out said body’s name is Manny and in order to keep him alive the suicidal guy has to re-educate him about the joys of being human.  This being an American film the guy also, in the process, begins to discover his own humanity again.

The film’s dramatic questions are many but primary among them becomes – is the guy imagining that dead Manny can speak or is Manny some sort of divine miracle that sporadically comes to life?  In other words is Manny ultimately indestructible and does he truly possess the unexplainable ability to enable a mere mortal to appreciate life on its own very messy terms.

The Chair’s recommendation

Would that there was a Manny somewhere who could point out the bumps in the road and make it all better for those of us who too often than not these days live in the belief that it will all NOT be okay.  (Note: The film was released in a pre Trump-Pence 2016)

I consider myself one of those people sporadically and part of my current journey is to work hard enough where I don’t succumb to my inner belief that the countless negative forces in the world have conspired lately in some nefarious master plan to bring us all down – both collectively as a society as well as individually.

This meme is me until Trump is out of office

To be clear, this is not my overriding philosophy but certainly, left to my own devices, it could be.  I have a real talent for assembling events of all kinds in a viable order that could much too convincingly confirm to most of you whatever misguided or guided (at least in my mind) point I am trying to prove.

In popular parlance, it’s what’s called writing talent.

In depressing real life, it’s what enables me to be the most persuasive and darkest of pessimists if I so choose.

But in the loveliest, lightest and most seductive moments of reality, it can also easily move me to the other extreme in seconds.  What that means is it can get me to convince not only myself but others, through the use of philosophy and said rosy perceived reality, that somehow it WILL all magically be okay even though there may be more than a few signs that this is pie in the sky fantasy thinking is  not likely to at all to come true by any reasonable objective standard.

Neither, of course, is the way to go.

I see no problem with these rosy shades, Chairy.

We MUST have hope against the odds and take steps to do our jobs and live our lives and overcome the negative to create the reality we want.  More commonly, that’s called the hard work of getting out of your own way.

On the other hand, we can’t PRETEND that a divine Manny WILL somehow magically appear (or has appeared) and guide us to right the wrongs in our world or society just because we wish him or it to be so.  That is equally misguided and it is what’s more popularly referred to as “magical thinking.”  Or worse.

Joan Didion wrote a book and a play on this theme entitled The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband the day after the couple’s recently married daughter fell into a coma due to pneumonia/septic shock, only to eventually die herself less than a year later.

Chairy, what are you doing to me!!

The idea that one can become so traumatized by traumatizing events that one pretends bad things didn’t happen, aren’t happening or at the very least can be resolved – and that if one dreams with just the right amount of acuity one’s loved ones at any moment could conceivably walk through the door and one’s present reality could instantly become a thing of the past – is tempting.  And that there is meaning in the smallest of events that we can then assemble to divine us through our despair on a magic carpet of made up reality is undeniably hopeful, albeit sometimes intuitively necessary.

YES, whatever gets you through, I can hear some of you saying.  Well, perhaps.  I mean, if it guides one through the grief process and doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one has the right to demand you live in the truth of despair, seeing your glass as perpetually half empty as I too often do.

this also helps me sleep at night

The trouble begins when we wish world events or real people in our lives to be something they are clearly and objectively not.  Especially leaders we don’t know personally.  Because it then gets exacerbated when their associates start to adopt the party lie to get whatever agenda they want past us, twisting themselves into pretzels of illogic in order to do so.

Meaning you can’t explain it any way you like for yourself.  At the end of the day 2 + 2 simply cannot equal 5 — much as any of us would like it to.

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – John Lennon (feat. Elton John)

Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.

This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.

There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered.  It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.

See: Green Book

Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category.  Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film.  (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win.   Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

We know Glenny.

Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.

Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around.  But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.

One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay.  It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.

What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.

Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year.  As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!

But like.. HOW?!

Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.

Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage.  Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.

Was any of this indelibly memorable?  Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.

Welp, there it is.

That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

The Chair’s Oscar Favourites

You might or might not know that Dwayne The Rock Johnson was first choice to host this year’s oncoming train wreck, um, Oscars and that he was actually going to do it.

In fact, he wanted to open the show headlining a huge song and dance number.

How cool would that have been???

No, I’m not being snide here.   It would’ve been VERY cool. Though granted, that’s a low bar when anything about this year’s Oscars comes up.

One bone-headed decision after another, starting with a proposed best popular film (Note: Is all that money not award enough?); to announcing well-known homophobic tweeter Kevin Hart (Note: Um, yeah, it was all out there on the record, numerous times and in various publications) as its host; to relegating four award categories – editing, cinematography, makeup/hair and live action short – to off-screen status (Note: #AlsoRescinded #Speechless).

I can’t… it’s just beyond

What this leaves us with now is for the second time in its history the Oscars will have no host, a tarnished brand at the hands of its ratings grubbing upper management and a membership and general public that either doesn’t care or is too pissed off at the organization to care to.

Well, in truth it does leave us with one last thing: the awards themselves.

YES! THE AWARDS! THEY ARE SO SHINY!!

The higher purpose of the Oscars has always been to honor excellence at the movies. It might not often succeed in the task but watching the times that it does (Note: And yes, doesn’t) has become an international pastime for decades.

Long before the Academy chose to pimp its brand for ratings, there was still the pose of searching for excellence, of wanting to reward some of the year’s films that surprised us, touched us or simply entertained us in their own unique ways.

It is in the spirit of hoping that the headlines this year will be about which truly memorable films won in the categories they deserved to (Note: Or didn’t but should have) that we present:

THIS YEAR’S CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS:

Best Picture

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Everyone is saying this is the toughest best picture field in years to predict. Maybe. Or maybe we’re overthinking it.

For my money, “BlacKkKlansman” was the best of the year. Great story telling, fantastic directing, artistic in all departments, original where it could have been obvious and, perish the thought, a timely message.

This is not the say the other films don’t have their merits. They do (Note: Well, most of them. Don’t get me started on Cheney). However, it feels like “Roma” is the inevitable winner here. It’s lush and different and addresses race and class in the more muted manner the Academy en masse tends to respond to.

Had there not been so much controversy about the veracity of the facts in “Green Book” there might be a different outcome. But this will not be so.

P.S. Cinema purists will be heard ranting and raving everywhere for days afterwards when Netflix picks up its first best picture win. They are the same types of people who swore talkies and TV would kill the movies.

Directing

Who will bring home the gold?

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

I will repeat past pronouncements – this is Spike Lee’s FIRST EVER directing Oscar nomination. Truthfully, he should win and had he not been nominated this year in the adapted screenplay category he’d have a solid shot. But it feels like Alfonso Cuarón will win for a memory piece that has managed to touch people in numerous and very different ways. Though I was not one of them, the grandeur of “Roma” and the awards he’s already received from so many other organizations make his win here almost inevitable.

Lead Actor

For this scene alone, most likely

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Every one of these actors had great moments in their nominated films. But Rami Malek’s performance transcended the film and seemed to literally bring long deceased and beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life. Not only that, he did it in a joyful way, a gift that should never be underestimated in today’s marketplace of despai…Okay, let’s not go there.

FYI, they should have found a spot to at least nominate Ethan Hawke for a career-making performance in “First Reformed.”

Lead Actress

Get ready to kiss her again, Gaga

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

This is the seventh Oscar nomination for acting Glenn Close has received. She has never won. Keep repeating that to yourself and watch the instantaneous standing ovation when her name is called.

And yes, she was quite good in “The Wife.”

Supporting Actor

Put it in the books

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

It should be Richard E. Grant for taking what could have been an easy cliché of an early 90s gay man and turning him into something bittersweet and brilliant. He wasn’t written cliché but, well, you know these things have been known to happen.

Still, that isn’t the point here. Mahershala Ali will likely pick up his second Oscar in this category for a focused, committed and nuanced performance of another type of gay man. Someone a bit more heroic, talented and certainly a lot better dressed.

Supporting Actress

Oscar King

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

It will be nice to see an actress as talented as Regina King pick up the Oscar for portraying a three-dimensional character of a Black mom in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Her solid performance gave the film a weight and a foundation and for that, as well as for all the nuance she brought, she will be rewarded.

If the Academy were to go another way there would be nothing wrong with rewarding Amy Adams for her terrifying take on Lynne (Mrs. Dick) Cheney. She actually managed to almost humanize her. (almost)

Animated Feature

“Incredibles 2”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mirai”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

This is a no brainer for anyone wanting a shot at winning this year’s Oscar pool.   “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” WILL win.

Documentary Feature

Still thinking about this scene #goRuthgo

“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“RBG”

Tough one. “Free Solo” feels like the best piece of filmmaking but seriously, whenever the world underestimates Ruth Bader Ginsberg the RBG effect kicks in and it’s usually for the good of all. Besides, it’s a charming story of a one of a kind warrior. So go with “RBG.” Not to mention, don’t you think the MAJORITY of Academy voters want to see HER on the Oscar stage?

Foreign Language Film

Which Black and White epic will it be?

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

I’m going out on a limb and picking one of my favorite films of the year – “Cold War.” Any director who can tell his parents love story and keep it sick, dysfunctional, sexy and scary is okay in my book. Perhaps it’s silly for the Academy to award “Roma” best picture and not give it the win here but, then again, isn’t it silly to vote for it in both?

Adapted Screenplay

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

My premise: “BlackKklansman” is deserving in this category but a win here would be one way Academy voters can finally give Spike Lee an Oscar win without having to go too far out on a limb and deny Cuarón the best director Oscar for “Roma.”

FYI, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” was an equally good screenplay in an entirely different way and would also certainly deserve the win here. And after winning the WGA award, is certainly a dark horse choice.

Original Screenplay

Sigh

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

This is usually my favorite category (ahem) and this year it’s the one I like the least. I just didn’t find either “Vice” or “Roma” to be particularly good screenplays. “The Favourite” was too in love with how naughty it was being. “Green Book” seemed like a film from the 1980s but not in a good way.

That leaves “First Reformed” which, truly, SHOULD win. It had the type of originality and intelligence we don’t get often enough onscreen anymore. Not to mention this is the FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION for it screenwriter, Paul Schrader? The guy who write “Taxi Driver, “Raging Bull” “Hardcore,” “American Gigolo,” etc. etc.?

Yeah, but, um, he likely won’t win. The members of the Academy en masse are too in love with the pose of being naughty rather than the actual real life naughtiness Mr. Schrader markets in. Therefore, look out for the writers of “The Favourite” to pick up their undeserved Oscar.

Cinematography

OK OK it wins

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

It’s Cuarón for “Roma.” Yup, he shot it too.   And I agree, it looks beautiful and it’s haunting. Just make it stop.

Costume Design

WAKANDA FOREVER

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

I’m just gonna say it – Ruth Carter should win for making Wakanda come alive in “Black Panther.” And I’m picking her for the win. Logic says that it’s always one of those royal so and sos that swoop in on a cloud of crinoline and steal the whole shebang. But let’s count on the Academy not being stupid enough to do it this time since there are two queens competing in this category. That we know of.

Film Editing

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

It feels like all the musical mash-ups in “Bohemian Rhapsody” give it the edge so let’s give that film the nod – along with its editor John Ottman. #Galillelo!! #Galilelo!!! #Galilelo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makeup and Hairstyling

It pains me to even post this picture #shiversdownmyspine

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

The only thing that could get me to vote for “Vice” is a team of people (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) that can make a hot actor like Christian Bale morph believably into the hideous gargoyle creature we refer to as Dick Cheney. Would that such things were not possible.

Original Song

Admit it, just seeing this pic makes you start to sing it in your head

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

 “…In the sha-a-a-allow…we’re far from the shallow now….”   Gaga deserves it. Get used to it.

Original Score

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

The “Black Panther” score had the kind of verve and sense of purpose that made Wakanda come alive. This is, however, a close category and any four of the five nominees could win. #MaryWontBeReturning.

Production Design

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Ugh. Fine. “The Favourite.” Here you go, Fiona Crombie.   Go rent another castle.

It’s the truth, honey!

Sound Editing

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Well, I mean, who knows? Do you? But since “A Quiet Place” is a movie all about not being able to make sound, let’s not choose that. It’s too quiet! So maybe the first man on the moon? Again, there’s not much sound in space.   So I’m thinking….

Thunderbolts and lightning, Very, very frightening!!!! – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sound Mixing

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you hear the…”Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Visual Effects

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

If a biopic about famed astronaut Neil Armstrong can’t win the visual effects Oscar, well….don’t worry, it will. “First Man.”

You’re welcome, Ryan.

Animated Short Film

Adorable

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

I’ve actually watched them all and it’s a strange lot this year. There is only one even vaguely happy entry – “Bao.” It’s sweet and touching and for my money, the best of the five. Some say there is a Pixar backlash but I don’t think it’ll matter. Still, if you’re looking for a second choice go with “Weekends.”

Live Action Short Film

“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

I like dramatic shorts more than anyone but yeesh, this was a disturbingly sad bunch. “Detainment” was clearly the most riveting but there was some controversy in the telling of this real life story. “Skin” ultimately became predictable though it was well-acted. That leaves “Marguerite,” the kind of slice of life story that might just squeak through. They could do worse and just might when the winner is revealed. 

Documentary Short Subject

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

This is an eclectic group where any one of the five could win. “A Night at the Garden” is brilliant and timely though it’s really found footage that’s been assembled. On the other hand, there’s never been a film about trying to educate women in India about sanitary pads and how to make and distribute them on their own. So let’s go with “Period. End of Sentence.” And not just because it’s the snappiest way to end this post…even though it is.

“Shallow” – Gaga & Cooper in Vegas