All That Jazz

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 1.10.11 PMNormal people use the time between New Year’s Eve and going back to work on that dreaded Monday to -– well, come to think of it what do they do? I have absolutely no idea. And what is normal anyway? Again, I got nothing.

What I spend my time doing – and have done for most of my life at this time of year – is to go to the movies. For as long as I can remember (Note: And that’s long before anyone, even Louis B. Mayer, got screeners in the mail) I’ve spent the primary part of the post Christmas holiday season catching up with all of the “prestige films” the studios have mostly kept from us.

This is not simply because I’m Jewish. I probably haven’t been to temple in at least five years and even then I think it was only for a bar mitzvah. Though I did walk through several synagogues on a trip to Italy this summer, which really doesn’t count since they were FAR outweighed by the at least 437 churches I also managed to stroll through

Where were we? Oh yes, the cinema.

Go on...

Go on…

These days the cinema means lots of things. It could be going out to the mall or your local specialty theatre and paying a bit too much to see a movie that doesn’t quite live up to your expectations. It could also be watching something old you may or may not have seen before on television that you or the majority rule will be fun holiday viewing. If you’re a bit more privileged or connected or facile, it can even be watching a DVD of a current motion picture now playing in theatres at home or at a friend’s house via a screener, day and date VOD, pay cable or, um…some other means (Note: Please do NOT write in and ask what some other means means).

I admit to doing all of these in the past five days (Note: Not the some other means, I don’t want to be expelled from show business any more than I already am). Which brings me to about six and a half films just seen in a relatively short period of time. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. Which doesn’t mean I LOVED them. I liked them all and each did what all good films do – made me think while also entertaining me at the same time. Yet in every case there was something sort of, well, missing. Until today… when I caught up with a small movie that was actually released in October called Whiplash.

hitting the right beats

hitting the right beats

It’s excellent, disturbing, thought provoking, a little over the top and emotional – though not entirely emotionally satisfying. Frankly, at the end you’re of two minds and are not sure exactly what to think or who to sympathize with. Which is precisely what was missing from the other five and a half films that I merely LIKED though really did enjoy.

What were the other films? Oh, perhaps a few you might know or have heard of:

  • Unbroken
  • American Sniper
  • Wild
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • A Most Violent Year

These are some of the best and brightest the awards season has to offer and will no doubt be crowding around the Oscars along with a few others. Yet none of them has the unpredictably and sheer verve 29 year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle brought to a story we’ve essentially seen many times before – that of teacher who for good or bad pushes that potentially special student beyond the limits of where we (or perhaps they) ever thought they could go. In this case it is in the unlikely scenario of an aspiring drummer and his jazz musician professor, which works because it’s visual. Yet it really could be any one of us up there – if we allowed ourselves – who ever went to school and met that key catalyctic person. Go figure.

He already has that "Oscar glow"

He already has that “Oscar glow”

There is no point telling you any more than that or building up a film beyond the point where it could possibly live up to expectations. The only thing to be said for sure is that J.K. Simmons, the veteran character actor who plays the teacher, will indeed be the one person in the movie who will be winning the Oscar this year. That you can take to the bank because he shares the common denominator of all great performances that rivet you in films – you are never quite sure what he is going to do. He pulls you in, scares you, seduces you and then…well, you’ll see. It’s terrifying, sad, difficult to watch and yet impossible to turn away from in fear that you will miss something you might not want to have seen in the first place. This is to take nothing away from Mr. Chazelle, who manages to capture it all in the most original ways.

Taking a cliché genre, any genre, and turning it on its ear without selling out what we love about it to begin with is no easy feat. Yet it can be done. Look at the best films of Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman, Pedro Almodovar and Paul Thomas Anderson – not to mention Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski – and you begin to understand. It takes not only hard work but NERVE, VERVE and the DESIRE to do this in the first place.

Don't believe me? Try some tanis root...

Don’t believe me? Try some tanis root…

One fears that writers, directors and studios have begun to lose their taste for such things. Scratch that. Most people working in the movies know that to a certain extent this is true. Yet that doesn’t mean that one still can’t come up with something quite wonderful.

For instance, The Imitation Game is a very engaging, sad and illuminating look at Alan Turing – the brilliant, secretly gay British logician who broke the secret Nazi Enigma code and became the single biggest contributor to the Allies victory in World War II only to commit suicide less than a decade later after his arrest and sentencing for homosexual behavior. As superbly acted, clever and well-made as the film is there is little surprising in it if one knows anything about the story. Even for those totally unfamiliar, it pretty much follows the traditional dramatic route because you know from the beginning that victory is afoot and who will be primarily responsible for it – and even how.

The war.. from two fronts

The war.. from two fronts

Unbroken follows a similar path though not quite as adeptly. Still, it is not without its merits. The unbelievably true story – as its billed – of former U.S. Olympian Louis Zamperini surviving a devastating plane crash and subsequent imprisonment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II – delivers everything it says it will deliver. Those are summed up in the adjectives you no doubt have seen in large font on most of its ads: SURVIVAL. RESILIENCE. REDEMPTION. It has all of those many times over. In fact, there is not a moment in the entire motion picture where it doesn’t – which is the problem. As reassuring as that can be to any of us as audience members, it is seldom what makes a really GREAT film.

Take Wild and American Sniper and substitute any or all of the descriptions above. As we roam through the 1100 mile solo hike Cheryl Strayed took through the Pacific Northwest in order to recover from personal trauma or tag along with Chris Kyle on four tours in Iraq where he becomes the most accurate and lethal sniper in US military history, there is excitement and wonderment yet a dulling reassurance of how it will all wind up. Reese Witherspoon and Bradley Cooper expertly pour themselves into each of their roles and give us everything and more than you’d want as their onscreen counterparts. Yet one can’t help but feel deep down that five minutes of any one of their real life adventures were much grittier, exciting and certainly much more morally questionable than any one chunk of time during their entire films.

The great outdoors... in full hair and makeup

The great outdoors… in full hair and makeup

As for Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year it goes like this. The former is essentially a stoner detective comedy-drama set in 1970s L.A. and is a charming mess that will drive you crazy if you try to follow it as a whole but can certainly be enjoyed in parts and with the help of the chemical aid of one’s choice. The latter deals with working class business moguls making it beyond anyone’s dreams and, well, I only saw one-half because I felt I had already seen it many times before (Note: See earlier Scorsese reference). But again, one could and most assuredly will do worse this year. Annie or Transformers 3, anyone?

Which brings us back to Whiplash.

There will be blood

There will be blood

Part of the reason we loved the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight is we never quite knew what he was going to do or where he was coming from. The best I could figure was total nihilism in order to counter the absolutely useless, insensitive, meaningless materialistic world of today. I’d never seen anyone evil-ing their way through a film for no reason other than every reason – tapping into every bad, justified personal insult each of us has ever dished out or had to endure. No one had ever done that in a movie before in just that way to such great effect up to that point and the mere discussion of it makes me want to pop in a DVD for that scene where Joker Heath saunters through Gotham City wearing a nurse’s uniform.

Oh how we miss you

Oh how we miss you

Movies can simply be great entertainment and that is what’s wonderful. They can also be just polemic enough as they tell the story of a social issue in a satisfying way and that certainly is enough to be memorable.

But what we don’t have much of anymore are the films that make you angry, make you think or seem familiar yet will sneakily unearth something awfully important (or importantly awful) at stake in such a way where we do not know at all until the bitter end absolutely what will happen. The end of Whiplash confounds certain audiences and critics because it is precisely the correct ending of a film that gets it absolutely right even though you are convinced from time to time that it is absolutely missing the boat.

Walking the plank

Walking the plank

As a screenwriting teacher I talk to my students a lot about heroes and villains. That no one is all good (and if they were you’d hate them) and that every supposed monster believes somewhere deep down they are 100% justified to be doing the things they do. I mean, why do anything bad or good if you can’t on some level enjoy your actions? That includes reveling in your evilness. After all if you’re going to dare to be that bad and do a high wire act of contrariness to the rest of society and its mamby pamby meandering rules you better or might as well enjoy it and feel like its for a reason.

The teacher captures exactly that in Whiplash in a way I’ve never experienced before. Just as the heroic student – played with superb finesse and skill by Miles Teller – shows us that being a great guy all around is a lot more complicated than the teachings in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” gives one credit for.

Especially if you are a drum...

And don’t get in his way.

I am going to try to remember all of that and more as I continue on the script I’m currently writing as well as the next time I stand before a new group of students (Note: That would be next week) talking about what makes a good movie story. I will also recall and note that the writer-director of Whiplash, Mr. Chazelle, was himself once a young drummer who studied under a mentor of questionable methods and that this movie was inspired by, but not actually based on, real life events.   Yeah, you write or make what you know about because when you give it your all and forget about who’s going to watch and why – you have the chance to show it to us in a true and very real way we all have never experienced or even thought of before even if it would seem like we have. At one point in time, that was what movies were all about. And I’m sort of missing it at the start of this new year.

The Jewish Guido

Mazel!

Mazel!

If the guys I went to school with were movie characters they would be Jordan Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street and Irving Rosenfeld of American Hustle.  Two smart, charismatic and fast-talking Jewish guys from Queens, NY with morally questionable values, especially where money is concerned.  A stereotype, you say?  Uh, not when you consider how many Jewish male lead characters there have ever been in big major studio movies aside from Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  And besides — what major film studio heroes aren’t a bit, um…iconic.  In fact, those of us who are or could have been them prefer the word iconic.  Especially if it means – we’re the LEAD!

The truth is – you gotta start somewhere.

Martin Scorsese has spent half of his career immortalizing similar types of New York Italian guys in the movies but they are usually in the more tough talking form of Manhattan street thugs in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas – men who were certainly charismatic and street-wise but, on the whole, a lot tougher and muscular.  Plus, they could at least duck into Church for confession when things got dicey rather than eat themselves up from the inside out over anxiety.

Those kind of leading men tend to bleed into the aforementioned characters in our current crop of awards contenders.  Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wife-beater clad muscle head in Don Jon; Bradley Cooper’s co-lead detective Richie DiMaso in American Hustle; or even anti-hero Pat Solitano in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook.  Not to mention all the leads in The Godfather and Moonstruck.

There's gotta be an award out there for these curlers...

There’s gotta be an award out there for these curlers…

Which means if you put all the current Italian and Semitic boys from the boroughs together – which often happens in real life, not to mention in my own personal one – they comprise what I think of as a new ethnic stereotype I and my many childhood compadres from Queens have long awaited to be included on in film: The Jewish Guido.

(Note: See I can say that because I am one of them…well, sort of).

Who are we?  We are everything and more of what the major Hollywood studios think of as colorful and morally questionable.  No, we are not a Woody Allen character or Roberto Benigni from Life Is Beautiful.

Nope, not this Guido

Nope, not this Guido

We are a much more down and dirty, messy type of working/middle class person – a little crass, not afraid to speak our minds and, to put it bluntly: pretty good in bed – which is why we’re often a romantic lead who gets the girl at some point even if we can’t keep her.  You might not want to have us at a fancy dinner party or as your permanent spouse (Note: the latter is still in flux and debatable) but you most certainly want to include us if you aspire to learn how to rise up in the ranks of life or enjoy some unbridled, down and dirty fun.  In short, we have dreams and we’re not afraid to go for them in quite unorthodox and entertaining ways – even if there are overwhelming odds of failure or the likelihood that we will not have the best decorating sense once we achieve those dreams and have the cash to acquire whatever nouveau riche items you or we may crave.  Our reasoning:  if we don’t take that chance we’ll be stuck in Queens forever and, as we all know, with the right amount of money we can hire all the Waspy female decorators we want with taste and eventually charm them into at least having an affair with us after they’re done hanging the drapes.

Okay, so I may have exaggerated just a little bit.  But so are our personas.

This all started several weeks ago when I found myself thoroughly enjoying both    WoWS and AH while many of my friends insisted they reeked of disappointment, misguided storytelling and just plain unsympathetic, despicable characters.  Really?  I hadn’t noticed.  Isn’t this sort of the scrappy, exaggerated way Waspy movie characters behave, albeit with less money and more curse words?  No, claimed my Jewish guy friends from upstate New York, southern California and the Midwest.  They’re just awful people in uninvolving movies.   And those Waspy characters you are referring to are usually the villains, not the hero.

Did someone say Wasp?

Did someone say Wasp?

Well, okay.  Still, there is something to be said for seeing a version of you onscreen, even if it is a slightly unpleasant one.  If there is enough humanity and humor in the characterization you can get away with a lot of political incorrectness.  Enough elements of truth can counterbalance harsh generalities about the neighborhood or plot holes that you can drive a Miata through.  In addition, if you give these guys a little bit more of the macho power you craved when you were younger, or even last week, the fantasy is complete.  At least for some of us.

I can’t say I’m particularly proud of two Jewish guys from Queens being portrayed as people who swindled others out of money in order to lift themselves out of the doldrums of their own lower/middle class existences (Note: though if I had a choice I’d take the fictionalized Rosenfeld in American Hustle, who mostly stole from rich bad guys and didn’t kill people or cause them to kill themselves).  But now that Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss are no longer leading men and only act sporadically, not to mention the total lack of movie roles for Steve Guttenberg in the last 20 years, you can’t blame me for binging a little on these types of recent and very public inroads. (Note: Yes there is still Jessie Eisenberg, born in Queens and raised in New Jersey – but c’mon, there is just nothing boroughs about him or any of his characters).

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

My notesfromachair co-hort Holly Van Buren suggested to me that the emergence of the Jewish Guido might have something to do with our current economic climate and the fantasy of the everyday working class man with the accent becoming victorious.  Not a bad thought.  It’s the boroughs way and certainly is a fine counterpoint to the seemingly omnipotent top 1%.  I mean, it takes a little bit of the crude and in your face in order to cut through all of that upper crust steeliness, right?

Plus, both Wolf and Hustle are period pieces from the seventies and eighties.  Clearly, enough time has passed where rather than championing a Gordon Gekko kind of financial wizard we can indulge in a more in-your-face punk upstart who beats the elite at their own game by any means necessary using the logic gleaned from a tougher life lived.

Still, there seems an even bigger factor – time.  American society may have grown more polarized these days but certainly its people have overall become far less homogenized.  There is ethnicity everywhere – so much so that is unusual for a day to go by on Fox News or right wing radio where the previously dominant White Male patriarchy, particularly in the south and Midwest, don’t wax nostalgic about the good old days and whine about losing their grip on power and the social and moral traditions (Note: one questions what they consider those were) that once made our Great Country great. This and the fact that same country, which less than two centuries ago legally enslaved all of its African American citizens in more than half of its states, has for the last six years had its first African American president presiding over everyone.

Yep.. and still the President.

Yep.. and still the President.

Those factors of time and ethnicity might also be responsible for the emergence of two other crossover major studio films about the African American community this year – 12 Years A Slave and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.  It is certainly no coincidence that as directors and other artists emerge in a position of power – like Steve McQueen and Mr. Daniels – the more chances there are of movies that reflect the history and/or experiences of their particular ethnic groups.  (Note:  Not that they can’t do anything else – both men have worked on “white” films).  It is also no accident that both of these directors have also earned money and acclaim in their recent past that have enabled them to do larger and more mainstream films with African American characters in the leads.  This is just the way it goes as long you can produce massive income with your often larger than life product.  Decades before Spike Lee had a certain degree of power among the major studios until his movies began underperforming at the box-office and the cache he was given by the powers-that-be to make his type of movies began to shrink. (Note: Mr. Lee also came of age at a time where there were far less non-white leads in films than there are today, making his road somewhat tougher).

Interestingly enough, all four aforementioned major films this year – Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels’ The Butler – are also historical pieces that take place far and very much farther into the past.   There could simply be a certain drama to looking at events from a backwards lens.  Though surely it also provides a special kind of safety that gives the Hollywood community and its studio system a specific type of perfect cover.

the current state of Hollywood

the current state of Hollywood

Which all begs the question – why with all of the many, many male Jewish writers and directors working in the movie industry over the decades – not to mention that the studios themselves were founded by a large group of New York Jewish salesmen – have there statistically been such a lack of Jewish male characters as major studio leads on the big screen. I mean, if the African-American model holds, shouldn’t it follow that….?

Well, I have no provable idea.  But even in accounting for time and some evolution of thought, it is still worth noting that American Hustle’s David O. Russell is half-Jewish while Wolf of Wall Street’s Scorsese is very famously Italian.  So, at least in terms of the Jewish Guido, well — you do the math.

Or, to put my take on the whole thing another way, here is what Woody Allen’s quintessentially non-Guido/very Jewish character of Alvy Singer said when he first met his very ethnic-looking first wife Allison Portchnik (Carol Kane) in the 1977 classic, Annie Hall:

Woody-Allen-and-Carol-Kane-620x310

Alvy: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings…and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper…stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself

Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.

Alvy:  Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left.

The 1st Annual Rockers!

1430_photo_1_174946

Year-end lists are usually divided into THE BEST and THE WORST.  But here at notesfromachair we’re trying to think of it a little differently – if for no other reason than to stand out from the million other news sources, columnists, cable TV talking heads and bloggers vying for your attention.   That is why we’ve created the first annual ROCKERS – dedicated to anything that has significantly rocked our world in 2012.

For those whose worlds have ever been rocked – which means everyone – this can be either a fantastic or horrible occurrence.  As a Jewish kid I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus but my entire existence felt not only rocked but severely threatened when I realized there was no way I could admittedly make Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In stay on TV forever.  At the same time, my very meager and small world was also rocked the first time I saw Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on TV and realized there were people in the world that I truly did want to hang out with (Note:  Little did I know that a lifetime of hanging out with these kind of show biz types would rock my world in many and too numerous to specifically choose from good and bad fashions).

But getting back to this century — here is a list of our 2012 Rockers.  Not to be mistaken for a Hall of Fame, because these are only good for a single year – not a lifetime.

BEST (nee ROCKIN’) ACTING PERFORMANCE, EXPECTED (but not disappointing):

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Hate all you want but why should Mr. Day-Lewis   Mr. Lewis  …uh Daniel be penalized because we’ve come to expect him to always be (and are tired of him always being) transcendently brilliant?  He literally seemed to pull off a resurrection of a human being who has been dead for more than 150 years from his very first scene as Abraham Lincoln and kept it up for all 3000 hours of the film. Truth of fact, I’m actually a big fan of the movie and didn’t mind the length, especially since almost every other BIG film in the last two months of the year seems to have lasted at least 3000 hours.   Plus there’s the degree of difficulty — try to tell, or more importantly act, the story of an icon and make it seem intelligent, human, funny, real AND come off as a parable for a certain kind of political animal of our times.  You won’t be able to.  DDL can.  When are he and Meryl Streep going to co-star? (staring my 2013 wishlist NOW)

ROCKIN’ ACTING PERFORMANCE, UNEXPECTED (but in a good way):

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Anything but trashy...

Anything but trashy…

Yeah, I’m partial to Coop (uh, that’s what his friends call him and he calls himself – yes, I happen to know someone who knows him – so there).  But given his acting oeuvre, nothing prepares you for the raw, non-movie star type of performance he gives as a bipolar (among other things) guy who is just struggling to live a decent life. Ironically, it’s Coop’s very lack of movie star-ness that has once and for all changed his career and made him into a real movie star – the kind that is famous, good-looking AND can act really, really well.

MOST OVERRATED (nee ROCKIN’ IN A BAD WAY) MOVIE (in every way):

Amour

Oh I wish I could go back to bed...

Snooooooooze.

Listen, I love French films.  And I love depressing films, especially ones about death and dying.  And I love films that have simple or almost no plots.  But Amour depicts an old couple with some financial means in 2012 and what they decide to go through when one becomes terminally ill in a way that NO couple in an industrialized nation in 2012 needs to endure given what is available in 21st century medicine – even when one decides to die at home.  In its attempt to be relentless, writer-director Michael Haneke creates something that is unrelentingly manipulative to suit his needs as a dramatist.  The idea that so many critics have bought into it is baffling and leads me to think that they either do not have enough experience in this area or have a lot of prickly, self-centered old people in their lives who are intent on doing things the most physically, self-flagellatingly painful way possible.  (Fortunately, I do not).  Oh, did I mention the two old people in this movie – even when they were healthy– are the kind of pretentious snobs you don’t really want to spend two and a half minutes with much less two and a half hours?  Yes, it’s very well acted and technically very well made.  But do yourself a favor and spend time with some real live old folks (preferably two in your own family) instead.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, ENDURING:

Mad Men

... or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

… or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

The water cooler show torch has been passed to Homeland and we can’t argue with that.  But there is not a television program on the air that is as consistently smart, well-written, chance talking and socially/politically relevant as Matthew Weiner’s creation.  It never takes the easy way out, stays grounded in reality and uses the 1960s as the lens through which we can see our lives and our history.  And if you think that’s not difficult to do, try writing something in that time period and see how many clichés you will inevitably come up with in even a single scene.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, FOREIGN:

Downton Abbey

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Mainstream American elite culture likes things mostly elitely American.  So how is it that creator/writer Julian Fellowes manages to make the privileged and serving class of post turn of the 20th century England like “television crack,” according to one of my dearest friends?  If I knew, I’d do it myself.  It is in part Maggie Smith playing a bon mot-throwing old rich lady called the Dowager Countess, who is not unlike what we imagine the real Maggie Smith to be were she born approximately 150 years ago to a family of starchy patricians.  But it’s a lot more than that.  Fellowes is now rumored to be writing the new film version of Gypsy for Barbra Streisand.  Well, both are period pieces, after all.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, REALITY:

The Voice

TV's BEST chairs

TV’s BEST chairs

It’s not because a few former students work on this or due to the fact that I wish to God (or whoever you conceive Her to be) that I could be a professional singer.  It’s because this reality competition for vocalists doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, looks, ethnicity, sexual preference or even past deviant behavior.  It’s all about what you sound like – a sort of faux even playing field that never exists in real life but that you get to experience for a few hours a week as long as the season lasts.  Yes, the grand prizewinner is finally voted on by the viewers, which invariably does create a final commercial-type popularity contest in the last few weeks, but those are the least interesting part of the show.  The real story is what comes before and how the judges – from very diverse parts of the music world – both perform and share their own hard knocks with people who have already had or soon will have more than their own share of the same.

ROCKIN’ CABLE NEWS SHOW, PROBABLY UNSEEN BY YOU:

NOW with Alex Wagner

DVR me NOW!

DVR me NOW!

It’s on MSNBC at 9am west coast time and noon east coast time.  Those interested in this type of stuff inevitably already watch Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, et al.  But who you probably don’t tune in to is this smart, extremely funny woman who categorized the many faces of Mitt Romney as “the paradox of the mittens” and used to be editor-in-chief of a hip music and culture magazine called The Fader.  Over the course of an hour, she presides over a panel of cleverly perceptive political experts, covers breaking news, and throws in more witty pop culture references than a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It doesn’t matter that she’s 34, female and of Burmese-German-Irish descent but it’s just one more thing that makes her and her show different than most everyone else on cable TV.

ROCKIN’ LIMITED TELEVISION SERIES, QUESTIONABLE TASTE:

American Horror Story: Asylum

My Bad Habit

My Bad Habit

I think the reason I’m so in love with this show is just how sick, derivative and yet unique it almost always seems to be.  Its second season in a mental hospital is a pastiche of every cliché you’ve seen in every crazed, looney tune horror film imaginable.  Its cast, led by the ghoulishly still sexy Jessica Lange, is shameless and the writing doesn’t always bother to follow what we consider to be the tenets of logic.  Still – any show that cross-cuts between a mad Nazi doctor, aliens and a crazy killer named Bloody Face who likes to skin people for sport – and does it all under the watchful eye of nutty nun who use to be a cabaret torch singer, is okay in my book.  Plus, the recreation room at the asylum consistently plays that 1960s hit record, “Dominique” performed by Soeur Sourire, better known as The Singing Nun.

ROCKIN’ DIVAS PUT TO THE WORST USE:

Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance.

Cmon Jerry, help these ladies out.

Jewish hall of fame gala?

Okay, I’ve only seen The Guilt Trip and the trailer for Parental Guidance.  But as a gay guy I can tell you – these ladies deserve better!!!  And it’s not primarily their fault.  They want to do films.  But – what are the films being made that they should be doing?  There aren’t any.  And yes, Barbra’s still fun onscreen and Bette, well, I’ll take your word for it that she is too.  But….really??

ROCKIN’ NEW TV CHARACTER, RECURRING:

The Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started A Conversation With At A Party, Saturday Night Live

Cecily "Very" Strong

Cecily “Very” Strong

SNL new cast member Cecily Strong is irresistibly annoying as that gal….you know the one, trust me.  We mentioned her last week so we won’t drive it into the ground.  But consider how long it’s been since you remembered any new SNL character since Stefon?  Why does it work?  Because like all good comedy creations, she is barely exaggerated.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/girl-you-wish-you-hadnt-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party/1422717/

ROCKIN’ WEB MOMENT, VIRAL

No, it wasn’t the cat trick, or the pop singer from another country, or the Olympic athletes doing Call Me Maybe for the millionth time.  It was, quite simply:

The 47 PERCENT TAPE

Mitt Romney’s comments in a closed door fundraiser to major donors in Florida about how 47% of the electorate feel they are entitled to government handouts such as health care, food and housing and are people he can never convince to take personal responsibility and care for their lives got him — in true Shakespearean fashion — only 47% of the electorate to Barack Obama’s 51%.  It also caused him to lose the election by 4 million votes.  However, the award really should go not to the tape itself but to the Florida bartender who secretly recorded it – and, in another irony, to James Carter IV, grandson of perennial Republican punching bag Jimmy Carter.  Carter IV unearthed the tape on the web and brought it to the attention of David Corn at Mother Jones magazine.

Free speech, when it works, rocks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

20 Reasons to Floss

* Part of our mission statement here at Notes from a Chair is to give readers a heads up on potential good and bad things to look forward to in contemporary life.  On the list of the bad is dental work.  Of any kind.

The Chair endured some dreaded gum surgery on Friday and was forced to spend the weekend recuperating and reflecting.   The following is a cautionary list that might help avoid doing (too much of) either in the future.

20 REASONS TO FLOSS:

Floss (verb): to clean (the teeth) with dental floss.

Dental floss:

  1. a soft, strong, waxed or unwaxed thread, usually made of nylon, for drawing between the teeth to remove food particles and prevent the buildup of plaque.
  2. the answer to many of life’s problems.

1. You love disposable income.  When you get to middle age you do not want to give your tooth doctor the cash equivalent of what could be the cost of your beloved new Kia.  And even though we wouldn’t recommend a Kia (a car mechanic told us some years ago it was the one car never to buy – new or used), the same amount could be used to purchase a glamorous Italian vacation; several Tom Ford or Stella McCartney designer somethings (depending on your gender and/or gender choice); or a lifetime worth of movies tickets several times over till the end of time anywhere in the world.

2. Dental surgery does not make you “hip.”  We went to one of the finest and most expensive periodontal specialists health insurance could buy.  Still, we were treated to a Beverly Hills waiting area that featured:

  1. Large purple and lilac tubular cylinders on a dark gray wall that were masquerading as either objects de’op art or potential surgical instruments.
  2. A middle aged woman incessantly muttering and humming to herself in an indecipherable native tongue.
  3. A Beverly Hills matron either giving us the evil eye or flirting to the tune of said native music.
  4. The Entertainment Weekly cover image of Jessica Lange as an ax-wielding nun presiding over her own medical establishment in the new season of “American Horror Story.”

3. “White privilege” is alive and well . Although we live (allegedly) in a post-racial society, whiteness is still given the upper hand in all things dentistry. This was confirmed all the more in a post operative weekend of trash TV that included a human something called Carter Oosterhouse hosting a 1:00 ayem HGTV program called “Million Dollar Rooms.” (yes, that’s a single room, meaning one).  Hell, it was either that or watching the “Insanity” workout infomercial.  Which one would YOU choose????

Oh, and he’s married to actress Amy Smart. #teethwhitening2.0

4. Cindy Crawford has perfect teeth. There is a late night infomercial that will sell you the rare juice/oil of a European cantaloupe to ensure you will age as well as the 45 year old Cindy Crawford. Her perfect teeth seem to confirm the ad’s claim that Cindy uses the juice ALONG with a strict health regimen to all parts of her body, including her teeth.  Not that anyone is looking at her mouth.  Or – are they? (Note: One wouldn’t know any of this unless he/she had unwanted surgery on a part of the body they neglected that wound up keeping them awake in the middle of the night).

5. Waiting sucks.  Having an oral medical “procedure” is not unlike queuing up for gasoline in the 1980s – there’s always a wait.  In our case, it was done to 45 minutes of MUZAK that included a mix tape of Jackson Browne’s greatest hits.  Not to get too “nasty” about a “Jackson” but — do you ever need to hear “Running On Empty” again??  Not if you’re really nasty. #MissJacksonifyouare

6. You will never be on the political stage… but will forever be forced to listen to them.  This came particularly into focus when out of sheer desperation I happened to hear vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan speaking before what must be a made-up entity called the Family Values Association.  Honestly, if Ryan was a private in the military and I had to save him, I wouldn’t.  Spielberg or not.

7. The drugs aren’t worth it. You don’t get the drugs of your choice when you get surgery, just the drugs they give you.  I don’t like things like Percoset.  They make me feel groggy and weird.  But when I try to explain that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal in California I get a blank look from my doctor. #Truckin’

8. Your dreams come to haunt you.  While under the influence, you will invent and watch more imagined tacky television shows than you can imagine just for your own perverse amusement and then be embarrassed for thinking them up.  This includes programs like “The American Bible Challenge” on the Game Show Network where comedian host Jeff Foxworthy tests your knowledge of scripture and then awards cash prizes you are then forced to donate to charity, and Showtime’s “Gigolos,” which centers on a group of overly muscled, tanned and tattooed “males of the evening” in Las Vegas who compete against each other for lady clients.  This is not so bad in itself until you wake up the next day and realize that both of these programs exist and that real life has become your nightmare. #SetyourDVRifudontbelieveme

Actually, THIS is your brain on drugs.

9. Faulty tech equipment. The music guaranteed to drown out the loud sound of drills and strong gloved hands digging other pointy instruments into roof of your mouth, can easily get derailed when you realize the right ear of your headset is devoid of music but not what else is happening in the room. This is especially disconcerting because your right ear is your one good ear in addition to the side of your face that contains the gum in question and is being treated to the sounds of all the excavating action. #SeeMeFeelMe

10. Mouthus Interruptus. –You might think your dentist is brilliant, rich, painless and powerful but you didn’t take into account his desirability will likely cause you to feel like one of those large pieces of real estate that was halted mid-construction by the global economic crisis.  This happens when he walks away to take a phone call from a more important client with either a bigger emergency or a bigger name (since he is the best and very much in demand) and leaves you with a lot of dangling metal instruments and cottony stuffing in your mouth (the kind of cottony you see on the insulating walls of unfinished buildings).  To carry the metaphor even further, you have no earthly idea when work will resume, despite the written contract you both entered into prior to when said work began.

10. Bradley Cooper is still single. #Nuffsaid

11. Angelina Jolie is technically still single .  And she could help you with your career. #Itaintovertillitsover4eitherofu

The new Brad and Angie

12. Trash TV has its limits.  You don’t want to get to the point where you’re so bitter that the only reason you know you’re feeling better is that a) you’re angry you weren’t able to guess the #1 scandal in the Logo special “Scandalicious: 20 JUCIEST CELEBRITY SCANDALS OF PASSION” and b) you are even more angry that your choice was #2.

(FYI – Arnold Schwarzenegger having a child with the maid who helped Maria Shriver raise their children was my #1 choice at #2.  Logo’s #1 choice was the far less scandalicious Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher).  #Theyresolame or #AndyCohenrotinhell

13. Really good doctors are really good actors. Each one can make you feel like you’re the most important person in the room if they want to and at some point they will want to and you will want to believe them.  (Note:  This is why it’s perilous to have too many actor friends – you never quite know how much is true friendship or just a dramatic evocation of one).

So inevitably, this year’s winner of best doctor in a starring role will give you all the care and attention of the best Meryl Streep character when they’re with you but once you blink back to reality and the performance is over they’re suddenly gone and the only reminder you’ll have is the pain in your missing or mended body part when you receive their bill.

On a more immediate basis, this leaves solely their assistant to explain to you the do’s and don’ts of what you’re told is imperative post surgical care while one side of your face feels like a side of beef and the other side, the one with the good ear, is now on the fritz because Amy Winehouse finally kicked in too loudly on the doctor-supplied fritzy headset at the tail end of your surgery.

He wears a mask afterall!

14. You’re a dork. Your eagerness to leave a medical office in disgust and neglect is interrupted by your actor/doctor actually returning in true sensitive Streep-ian fashion to give you a well-prepared, type-written check list of post surgical instructions and to spend time with you kindly answering any questions.   He even puts a reassuring hand on your shoulder.  Now you feel like the little jerk played that year by Katherine Heigl because you leapt to such a snap judgment. Still, since he was billed to you as “the best” and in our case this is Beverly Hills, one still has to wonder– DOES he really care or IS he just acting??

15. It’s never over. Once you see a specialty dentist they are in your life forever– sort of like when that one night stand produces a child. (Speaking of Ms. Heigl).  So it should not surprise you when you are told to book two follow up appointments in the next six weeks and, now that your surgery has been completed, you are not given your doctor’s optimum morning appointments but relegated to mid-afternoon AND told you’re being squeezed in.  This is like both marriage AND divorce. #Ihavecustodyoftheteeth

16. No one will talk to you about it (except on this blog). The percentage of people who want to know anything about gum or dental surgery is equal to the percentage of those who would watch a rebroadcast loop of both the 2012 Republican and Democratic presidential conventions rather than a new season of either “Arrested Development” or “I Love Lucy” with its original cast.  #nochanceinhell

17. Imposed censorship. After you have any kind of dental surgery you are told it is imperative to keep your mouth clean.  How do you do this when you take pride in a lifetime of having done anything but this up until now?  #phuku

Speak no evil.

18. You don’t love baby formula.  Dental or full body, your post-surgery food will be as exciting as baby formula – soft, bland and gooey.  To compensate you will decide to eat excessive amounts of chocolate or other delectably mushy desserts of your choice.  Thus, you will either gain weight or shorten your life (or perhaps both) while you think you are really convalescing.

19.  Goodbye Tooth Fairy, Hello Hitler.  You will never again have to fear a new dental specialist who will remind you of the Nazi doctor who tortured Dustin Hoffman in the dentist’s chair sans anesthesia in “Marathon Man.”  Or, for that matter, be afraid the love child of Jack Nicholson and Steve Martin’s demented dentists will come back to haunt you in that ill-advised 3-D studio remake of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

20. One less thing to worry about. You have to cut down somewhere in that category.  What’s worse – carrying some waxy thread or experiencing any of the above ever again? #tellemJohnny

The Full Ginsburg

The Full Ginsburg?  I’d never heard of it.  And you’d think having a name as, well, distinctive as Ginsberg (mine’s with an “e” and not a “u” but still…) that it might have crossed my culture vulture desk.  Imagine my surprise then when last week I happen upon a Facebook posting from moveon.org – an organization of which I was an early member – commie, liberal that I am – and the following joke video appeared chastising the new law in (Kentucky?  Alabama?  Tennessee?  Oklahoma?  Does it matter?) that makes it illegal to discuss or even mention the word gay in classrooms where students are not over the age of 14.

Well, at least they got the cause right.

I promptly googled “The Full Ginsberg” (which I will now and forever refer to as TFG because I can’t keep misspelling my own damn name) and this is what the ever reliable Wikipedia came up with:

The Full Ginsburg is a buzzword that refers to an appearance by one person on all five American major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, and Late Edition on CNN. State of the Union replaced Late Edition on CNN in January 2009.

The term is named for William H. Ginsburg, the lawyer for Monica Lewinsky during the sexual conduct scandal involving President Bill Clinton. Ginsburg was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

….

How could I have missed that?  Or at least been included in the discussion.  As NY Congressman Anthony Weiner is now fully realizing, sometimes these ideas just take hold and no matter how much you try to protest – when it’s “out there” on the internet, it is (or in his case, you are) out there forever.  Though in his case it might not be him.  Which would, indeed, be too bad for him.  No, I am not inserting (bad use of verbs) the photo.

Not wanting to be out there all alone with my new found moniker, I’ve decided to include a few others.  No, I have not borrowed this sketch from “Real Time With Bill Maher.”  Yet after reading it over it does sound oddly familiar to what his writers do.  Though nowhere near as cutting edge.

The Full Bradley Cooper:  Seducing a known or unknown actress every 7-10 days while still managing to star in the #1 movie of the week, withstand bad reviews, make films with both Robert DeNiro AND Martin Scorsese and speak impressively fluent French on television.

Hate him?  Or love him?

The Full Palin: Employing a secret geographically unspecific sing-song twang to magnetize tens of millions of dollars in your direction, hypnotize many more millions of minions into your followers while rendering the rest of the population powerless to stop you.

The Full Tarantino: Using your considerable talents to achieve meteoric creative success while proving time and time again that not everyone should act.

The Full Glee:  The art of taking an unlimited amount of good will for granted and not funneling it back with enough power, verve or concentration into your cast or the world at large.

 (Fox would not release a clip to us)

The Full U.S. Economy:  Yo-yo binging and purging at its most extreme.

The Full Trump:   Taking a term from the card game bridge and broadening the brand to encompass over the top real estate, over the top television, over the top hair weaves and over-the top lame-brained conspiracy theories.

The Full Zooey Deschanel:  Using doe eyes and vintage dresses to score cool supporting and starring movie roles only to launch a career in half hour three-camera tv comedy.

The Full Suze Orman:  Combining no-nonsense Chicago common sense, SERIOUSLY no-nonsense lesbian power and fully loaded common sense money managing into an empire worthy of a lifetime’s supply of colorful jackets and ‘I’m in on the joke’  “Saturday Night Live” spoofs.

The Full Mitt:  Running for the WHITE house on a haircut, a family photo, some pearly whites and alot of prayers.

I could go on and on since clearly this entire line of reasoning shows I am certainly the most full of it.   So rather than overstay my welcome – why not make it a group effort.

The Full Chelsea Handler?

The Full Kirk Cameron?

The Full L. Ron Hubbard?

Enquiring minds want to know!