Modern Love

As I binge watched Amazon’s eight-episode Modern Love series this week I wondered what part of my relationship with my husband would serve as the jumping off point for our episode.

Nothing came to mind.

That is not because there wasn’t drama, comedy, love, hate and everything in between. (Note: Please, we’re talking about two gay men here).  It’s because after celebrating 32 years together this Oct. 24 there are too many stories.

There are also too many risks that the one story I did choose to tell would only come across to the collective YOU as a painfully self-satisfied humble brag.

what can I say?

Maybe something along the theme lines of:

— See, we almost broke up but then a series of inspired events where we both took chances brought us together!

— You think the perfect mate for you will never come along, well let me tell you about how many toads I had to kiss.

— Share your deepest secret publicly with the world and perhaps get some therapy, or meditate, or give someone a chance that you NEVER would have dated or befriended in the past and you too can be as happy as the ME in MY love story.  Why NOT, right?

I just can’t do it for numerous reasons, and one other, which we’ll get to in a minute.

For those unfamiliar with the world of Modern Love (Note: And which of us isn’t in some shape or form in the broader sense), the series is loosely based on real-life love stories that appear in a recurring column in the NY Times Style section.  It began 15 years ago and grew exponentially in popularity.  Four years ago it became a podcast.  This month it debuted as a half-hour streaming show and this past week it was renewed for season two.

… and that’s not even half the cast!

I guess that means it has good ratings but, seriously, with streaming platforms like Amazon (Note: And Netflix and Hulu and…) we don’t really know.  I mean, would you swear to it?  I certainly wouldn’t.  Maybe it’s a loss leader, like the perfect sized 125 inch Hi-Def TV on sale in limited quantities just to get you into Target on Christmas Day.

Losing interest, already?

Well, don’t.

Before deciding this universe is only for romance novel fans, rom-coms addicts, or those looking for a very special brand of reassuringly Hallmark non-holiday movies (i.e. women and gay men of certain age), not quite.  Actually, not at all.

Modern Love is not necessarily focused on romantic love and not always about happy endings for all concerned.  It can be about weird friendships, familial connections, unsettling dysfunction between parents and kids, old people too close to death’s door or mental illness.  Years ago I read one about a dog that I barely got over, though quickly decided I could have written better from my own experience.   (Note: See humble brag).  Yet on reflection I recently decided the latter was not true, it would have only been different.

Did I mention I love my dog?

The half hour format gives the show a bit of a kick as does the limited space the Times reserves for its frequent Sunday column.  You don’t like that particular story, you won’t be bored or annoyed for long.  But every so often you get whacked upside the head in a great, unexpected way by one of them.

To call them inspiring is to imply too much bathos.  The best ones emerge as unusually true and atypically heartfelt.  In fact, the best ones are the anti rom-com.

This is why actors such as Dev Patel, Catherine Keener, Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Jane Alexander, Andrew Scott and Andy Garcia were attracted to emotional season one roles that these days are scarce to sometimes non-existent (Note: Depending on the way you look and your age and your race) on the big screen.

YES, Catherine Keener, YES.

As Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and many others have opined in the last few weeks, not everyone – meaning actors AND moviegoers – can fit into the Marvel/DC Universe.

This came into specific focus when I began reading the extremely mixed and varied reactions to Amazon’s eight episodes.  Numerous critics felt at least half of them were flat and phony while others loved most of the entire series.  A reviewer for Entertainment Weekly rated them from best to worst and had the nerve to put MY LEAST FAVORITE at number one.  Imagine!

But that’s the way it is with love, modern or old-fashioned.  What floats your boat is a repellent to someone else.  This is fortunate because if reactions were universal I am fairly confident I would not be in a loving relationship for 32 years.

Very romantic

Which reminds me, towards the end of my binge something happened in my own story that may or may not read like a humble brag but stopped me right in my tracks at the moment.

My husband had come upstairs (Note: No, we didn’t couple binge it together!) for an Energy Drink to sustain him long enough to focus on finishing a chapter for the long overdue textbook he was writing.  He went to the fridge, looked up, poured the drink into a glass and finally noticed I was searching, frantically and frustrated, through the cupboards and drawers for something.

What are you looking for?

Do you have any gum?  I just really need a piece of gum.

Yes, I am addicted to Extra’s sugarless bubble gum.  A nasty habit but certainly better than drugs, McDonald’s or indiscriminate anything at this point in time for me.

Actually, I do.  It just so happens that I keep a secret package downstairs in a drawer in my office for this very reason.

.. and now I’m a puddle #thesweetest

At which point he proceeded to go down and up the stairs in less than a minute and proudly produce that pretty pink pack of overly sweet, plastic-wrapped, chemical deliciousness.

This might not make a good episode of Modern Love but it says everything I could possibly tell you about what might still float your boat after 32 years.

David Bowie – “Modern Love”

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

My Second Coming Out

It wasn’t easy to come out the first time.

I was so nervous my friends would hate me, my peers would shun me and my family would either not understand or just decide not to deal with IT or me at all.

That was the late 1970s and though times have changed quite a bit for the LGBTQ+ community, nothing about coming out – then or now – is particularly easy.

Most of us say we enjoy being different and perhaps we do, but it is also human nature to want to belong and not feel like or be like…well, my favorite expression is the cheese stands alone.

Think of me as this sad cheese while you read on…

Still, we all need to live in our truths in order to be truly happy.

That is why I find that all these decades later I need to come out for yet a second time. It’s painful because I’m afraid this time you will hate me and shun me. At the very least, I am absolutely certain you will lose respect for me and behind my back call me all kinds of names.

It’s about to happen…

But I can’t pretend anymore.

The truth is ––

I didn’t like Get Out.

OH CHAIR

I know, I know, I know!!!

I’ve tried so hard to listen and to get on the bandwagon. Yes, I’m a white guy of a certain age so OF COURSE I benefit from the WHITE PIRVILEGE the film is lampooning. But that’s NOT why I don’t get it!!! Seriously!!!

I mean, you’d be hard pressed to find ANYONE who DISLIKES WHITE PEOPLE more at this point in our history than I do.   Even though my 401-K profits from what’s going on in Washington, I live in a deep, dark blue state (in so many ways) and sometimes back away from telling off one of the far right crazies the way I used to for fear of being arrested for strangulation, I still DO side with the values of JUSTICE AND TRUTH for everyone.

It’s just, well…..

It didn’t work for me.

Or maybe I should say.. sorry not sorry?! #donthateme

I loved what it was ultimately saying and I wanted to see THAT film.   Strap me in MY chair and play me that movie – that everyone’s writing about. I want to see an original seamless screenplay that constantly has me laughing and intrigued by characters and a plot that keep me on the edge of my seat – or even far back into my seat, nodding my head at how the inevitable will happen based on the people and events the filmmaker has unfolded.

What I don’t enjoy in my movies are deus ex machina explanations of characters I’ve been watching for three quarters of a film do bad things. Who thought I would ever yearn for a Michael Myers-like reason?

stay with me here!!!

The opening was sick, fun and promising. The act one set up was creepy and believable. The end of the first act worked. I mean, something was up, right?

Then there was:

– The Second Act boredom. A series of sometimes amusing events and set pieces – some clever set pieces but too many other perplexing scenes that didn’t move the story forward with any discernable dramatic purpose – for me, Okay? For me! At least throw me a slightly more than microscopic breadcrumb so I can play along– or two or three – and I would’ve been satisfied, thrilled even, to join the crowd. #DontDunkirkMe.

Having a sinking feeling here

–Catherine Keener spinning that effing silver spoon in that teacup and ice tea glass and… Arghhh, don’t me make relive it for the 1000th time. I crave to see the queen of indie movies pre and post millennium play this kind of character – if I had any sense of who that character was during most of the narrative.

— That reveal at the beginning of act 3 that I had to wait for-EVAH for to make any sense of why, or how or for what reason can I care when no one is making any sense to me for so long. Even when what was really going on was revealed it felt imposed and cheap, reminiscent of a device from some low budget 1950s horror flick I might have watched long before I came out on Million Dollar Movie but turned off before the end (Note: Million Dollar Movie — A showcase for old, often n.s.g films on NYC television in the 1960s).

Sorry but not even a Keith Haring style homage to the movie is going to do it for me.

You might reject all of the above as ill-informed but just know at least I’ve stopped making silly, ridiculous arguments for my case like the one I made just yesterday on social media — Hey, I really enjoyed Black Panther!

Um, right – So because you liked A Black movie that proves…what exactly? It’s like DJT telling a rally in Pittsburgh he’s the least racist person you know because Don King is one of his best friends and he gave Omarosa…her career?

It plays to no one in possession of their own brain, #GetOut pun not intended.

hehehe

Oh, And just know it really doesn’t help to add, I liked Mudbound, too!

Or give a laundry list of your fave POC films starting with Sounder and then going on through Cleopatra Jones, Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany (yes, Deal with it!), Do the Right Thing, Boyz n The Hood, Bamboozled, Malcolm X or I Am Not Your Negro.

NO ONE CARES. And a case could be made for every one that I only responded to them because they didn’t challenge MY white privilege.

I suppose that may be right. Who are we but an amalgamation of our lived privileges and denials when you come right down to it?

On the other hand, it could just be that it wasn’t my cup of….tea?

Groan.

Childish Gambino – “Red Bone” (Get Out Movie Soundtrack)

Notes from Methuselah

A student wrote about an older couple who were returning to their summer home and carrying luggage where one has a heart attack. We were hashing it out in class and I said, “How old.”

“Oh, they’re really old.”

“Ok, but do you mean like, Gloria Stuart in Titanic old?” (Note: The woman who was in her nineties when she was nominated for best supporting actress).

“No, but old…..I’d say, well, I guess they’re in their fifties.”

“THAT OLD!?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“You’re sure?”

“Uh, huh. People have heart attacks in their fifties.”

Long pause.

Crickets. Crickets. #awkward

“I might as well just kill myself now then,” I reply.

Pause. Then some nervous laughs.

“Oh. Well, it just seems like they’re a lot older than the other characters.”

“That’s fair,” I say. “But this couple. Are you sure they could even lift their luggage enough to move it across the room? I mean, they’re that mobile for that age?”

More nervous laughter. Then the rest of the class catches on and starts to laugh.

“And you imply with their body language that they still have sex. Are you sure that’s safe at their age?   Could they even make it into the bedroom, much less do anything?”

Don’t be fresh!

“You’re not going to let this go,” the student countered, finally amused.

“No, I don’t think so. I’m having too much fun,” I say. “And who knows how much time I have left? I better take advantage of it while I still can.”

And….scene.

Thank you. Thank you very much. #noshame

This is a fairly typical scene these days for me and many of my contemporaries. And for my older friends – not to mention my 88 year-old Dad who assures me it will only get worse. Then again, exactly what IS the alternative?

That’s rhetorical. We all know what the alternative is. So it doesn’t bear repeating.

Too much to ask?

Full confession – there was no reason a student in their early twenties should think that a couple in their fifties is anything BUT an older couple. And after my mini-vaudeville routine I admitted as much.   But what I was trying to convey was behavior and sense of clarity. Just labeling someone an older couple isn’t very specific. Unless, well…it is. But I refuse to go there quite yet. Especially at my age.

The movie Get Out positions baby boomers Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as exactly this type of older couple – as well as the symbols of phony, middle aged liberalism. Though even middle aged is relative. As Meryl Streep, playing a fictional Carrie Fisher, stingingly retorts to Shirley MacLaine, playing a fictional version of her then sixtyish mother Debbie Reynolds, after Mom tries to claim middle age for herself in Postcards from the Edge – Really. How many one hundred and twenty year old women do You know?

I thought it was hilarious in the nineties.   But now it’s deeply funny. Tinged with a touch of self-righteous irony on the ungrateful daughter’s part.

Regular On Golden Pond over here #helpme #getoutforreal

I think this was part of the issue for me not being a cheerleader for Get Out. The kind of middle-aged white liberal I am bore no relation to the phony Kumbaya relics I was seeing lambasted on the big screen. Not that I minded the roasting. What I didn’t get was the generalities about a group of people and the seemingly unmotivated behavior based on a stereotype.

Oh. Right. That was the point. Turnabout is fair play. Still, don’t you have to BELIEVE IT in the context of the world you as a filmmaker have created? And if you aren’t specific enough to make us believe it, aren’t you no better than the long generation of movies in the past that have so consistently done it to other minority groups?

Hmm. I’m not sure whether two wrongs don’t make a right or many wrongs make a right for a few new and improved wrongs to at least even out the playing field a little. I’m going to have to think about that one.

This might take a while #brb

The trouble is you get to the point, or the age, when you don’t want to have to think too hard about that one. When I heard 76-year-old Al Pacino was going on the stage locally to play one of my favorite playwrights, Tennessee Williams, during his last creative days in a workshop production of a new play, And God Looked Away, I quickly went online and bought my husband and I two tickets at $189 a piece on a Saturday night.

My first thought: I have to see Al Pacino live onstage before he dies and I don’t care if he’s the opposite of gay and southern. It’s called acting, right?

oh, hello.

Well, I thought so. Even though he’s older and far shorter, Pacino managed to thoroughly inhabit a fading, drug-addled Williams. It felt like the essence of a real character.   In much the same way very hunky and very hearththrob-by Hugh Jackman miraculously evoked the very gay and very lithe singer-songwriter Peter Allen on Broadway in The Boy From Oz. Mr. Allen, like Mr. Williams, was one of my faves and is almost as far away from the Wolverine as, well…I am. Though not quite.

Yet mostly what our L.A. Times critic couldn’t resist sneering about in Mr. Pacino’s case was that:

“The privilege of seeing Pacino portray the aging American playwright in a Demerol haze while pawing shirtless male hustlers as reviewers crucify him for his latest flop doesn’t come cheap.”

SHADE

Hell, that sounds good to me, gay liberal that I am. In fact, I’d pay even more to see that performance again if they fix the play a bit more. At least they were on to recognizable human behavior rather than an overworked or too witty social commentary that bears little resemblance to my reality. Or, well, a reality.

Which I suppose is relative, depending on who you are and what interests you. The hope is that what we’re actually living is reality, and what’s created in our individual fictional worlds based on that reality, is actually worthy of our attentions at all.

Though one supposes it beats the alternative.