The Time Being

Watching throngs of handicapped people in wheelchairs and with breathing tubes being forcibly dragged out of Congress’ hallways by police was quite a sight.

America 2017. #forreal

As they waited for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over a new health care bill (aka Trumpcare) that would never materialize, the rest of we Americans were being treated to images straight out of….Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale?….Mad Max Fury Road?…or fill in the latest dystopic film or television series (limited or not) of choice.

No, I’m not exaggerating. And there’s a reason this kind of programming (aka content) is popular right about now.

If our lives at the moment were a dystopic film or television series – and who is to say it isn’t given we have a reality star POTUS – one can only imagine what will follow. Certainly you don’t need to be a writer to consider the various options:

1- Police will begin to drag ALL protesters forcibly away, make protesting illegal, and then punishable by death, and then seize EVERYONE’s assets until a superhero comes to the rescue.

2- A superhero – or mere human movement – will spring up and defeat those drunk with power in a bloody, prolonged third act that will cost the studio too much money but is deemed necessary for commercial appeal.

The cheaper and more effective option #VOTE

3- Law enforcement – aka the status quo – will realize they’ve gone too far and back off in the name of decency and benevolence. (Note: Know that this is the most unpopular choice in any development meeting and always deemed woefully undramatic no matter how you try to sell it to them with clever dialogue and intricate plot twists even they didn’t see coming).

4- Self-preservation and arm-twisting will kick in and some sort of compromise will be reached. No one will be happy but society will continue and no blood will be shed. For now.

If we choose #4 – and certainly American history usually bends in this direction, it’s called the kick the can down the road compromise of choice – you will know we aren’t living a real life version of The Truman Show.

Although this is how I feel watching the news every night

Of course, that will have sidestepped the issue at hand (Note: This week it’s health care – a few months ago it was immigration – another month or two hence it could be…well, anything) – for the time being.

The time being is what intrigues me at the moment. The spaces between the monumental fights and events. It seems to me that is really where most of us live unless we’re thrill seekers like Sebastian Junger, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., or someone who believes a $6000 suit, a bad comb over dye job and all the money and power in the world hide who we really are from the vast majority of the world.

It’s hard to know how to behave for the time being. Just what do you do other than go about your daily life?

– Some of us (ahem) have taken to alternately rant and worry

Just being real

– Some of us donate money, take to the streets and yell (or worse) at anyone who disagrees with us or even gets in our way

– Some of us drink too much and party too much as if we’re the uber bourgeoisie and it’s about to be the uber French Revolution (Note: Which indeed it may be)

– Some of us pay this no mind at all and wonder why the rest of us bother

I have done all of the above except the latter. Correction, I’ve even done the latter for at least a few seconds here and there over the last six months. But no more.

… and well other times

Which means I’m left with A LOT of time being to fill even though it feels like my time – and all of our times – are running out fast.

I read a script this weekend that’s a comedy about a man dying of cancer. Apparently, it’s going to be made with a big star and by a major studio. I say apparently, because, as we know, nothing in the world is definite and this applies to the nth degree when it comes to a greenlit movie.

Anyway, in this screenplay the person with the fatal disease takes on all kinds of behavior usually deemed outrageous in an effort to get the people around him to live a little. He’s not really mean to anyone – well, except to some hypocrite he works with who, strangely enough, happens to be in a wheelchair (Note: Think real advanced affirmative action via non-stereotypical character development, an actor’s field day) – and somehow this becomes the key to….

Danny boy… you sure you want to retire??

Well, I don’t want to spoil it in case it gets made. Let’s just say it doesn’t so much solve his issues but makes everyone else around him think a little bit about their own time beings – though as far as we know it is only for the time being. The rest could or would but probably won’t be answered in a sequel.

In light of what happened this week with the many affirmed demonstrators who took to the halls of Congress in fear that they literally will die given the proposed Medicaid cuts Republicans are asking for – I initially had trouble with the new trope of handicapped hypocrite.

On the other hand, lots of other marginalized people in the story were valued and nothing too terrible happened to him that he didn’t deserve and we didn’t want to happen.

The worst of me wants the worst to happen to those manipulators who are full of themselves and only out for themselves.

Arch enemies #couldnthelpmyself

The best of me wants to protect people who are not as able-bodied or advantaged as myself even when I don’t necessarily agree with all of their actions.

But what happens if both those options are embodied in exactly the same person?

Do you go high? Or do you go low? Though really, it’s more about what I’ll do or you’ll do – that really being the collective we. Meaning it’s really ALL about the collective WE.

… or perhaps just the ROYAL WE #thecrown #alltheemmys

More likely you, I and thus “We” will reach some sort of compromise and kick the can down the road in the name of survival. For the time being at least.

As all of us, you and I rant, rave, drink, tune out and/or make jokes about it all.

I can think of no better way to usher in a new unenlightened age.

For the time… Well, you get the point. Though it’s anyone’s guess if WE do. Or ever will.

For the Time Being – Edie Brickell & the Gaddabouts

The 1st Annual Rockers!


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)


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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


NOW with Alex Wagner



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.


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.


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??


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.


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:


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.


The Ginsy-berg Address

We’ve all been lamenting the death of moviegoing and the dearth of good movies for some time now.


(with a whine)

There’s nothing great to seeeeee, the people sitting next to me make too much noooooise, I’d rather stay home and watch tv on MY giant screen, It cost too much moneeeeee, There’s nothing great to seeeee,  I hate people and I don’t like to go ouuut,  There are — no — good — movie stars anymore,  How come movie studios are only about making money and not fiiiilms?  I hate all the screaming babies and all the annoying parents who haaaave them, plus, There’s nothing great to seeeeeee…

Full disclosure:  I’ve been one of the chief whiners and complainers among us.  Perhaps this is because I remember the sheer excitement I’d have at least once a year around holiday time in anticipation of that great New York Jewish tradition of seeing the newest, biggest, boldest and brassiest new film Hollywood had to offer on Christmas Day.  But more likely it’s because I’m now old, tired and jaded and don’t want to leave my upstairs TV room because (cue whining) …There’s nothing great to….

Well, you get the idea.

This is why I’m happy to report that in Los Angeles this past week something new and yet strangely familiar happened.  What is it?  Well, I had one of those perfect moviegoing experiences from my youth not on Christmas day but on the day after Thanksgiving.  The kind of day I only previously remembered in the warm glow of a nostalgia that probably never really existed but that nevertheless seems to be a time that we all spend a good part of our later lives trying to recreate or get back to even for just a moment (see playwrights like Thornton Wilder (Our Town), filmmakers like Francis Coppola (Peggy Sue Got Married) and novelists like Truman Capote (A Christmas Memory).

More clearly?  What I’m talking about is what I felt at the 1:45pm Friday showing of Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner and starring Daniel Day Lewis – at the Arclight movie theatres in Hollywood.

I am not a paid spokesman for Arclight – I swear.

My 2012 day-after-Thanksgiving was the perfect day of moviegoing that I remember from my youth, warm glowing nostalgia and all, and it happened in an entirely different city, in an entirely different century and with a film made by a new group of people (who in my youth couldn’t yet vote)  about another group of other people (born 150 years or more before they were born) who were fighting for the rights of still yet another group of people (slaves) to be free enough to even think about things like the right to vote.

Why was this experience so perfect?  Well, it wasn’t any one element but the sum of all of the very many moveigoing elements combined.  A total that seldom happens anymore but could happen a lot more often than it does if a little more attention and responsibility were assumed by all of us in taking our time at the movie theatre back to one of excitement rather than sheer obligation and/or dread.

Some thoughts:

1. The Company.  Okay, I’ll take responsibility for this one – this time I went to the movies with good friends/family who I actually wanted to be with and whom I knew wanted to be with me.  These were also people who wanted to see the movie we were going to attend.    We were all looking forward to viewing something together well made and thought provoking and that had good acting.  They key here is not necessarily our taste but the idea that we were all united in what we wanted to see and open to enjoying or not enjoying it depending on what we got.

2. Reserved seating and admission price discount plan at a local theatre.  Now granted – there was something very cool I remember about the communal experience of waiting on line with fellow movie fans in order to get tickets and slither into the best seats in the house to the newest and hottest film.  But given where we are today with people congestion, inflated expectations and the convenience of online purchase of pretty much everything except kidneys (stop googling I already checked),  it feels reasonable to expect that you can not only buy your ticket online, but choose where to sit, print out your ticket at home and then simply show up at your individual theatre’s door.  This not only guarantees the bypassing and inconvenience of several lines but allows you more time to wait on lines at the concession stand, for parking validation and, in some cases, even the bathroom.

Do you agree?

3.  A lazy day.  Movies and TV are a bit of a passive medium.  That means they are best enjoyed on days where you don’t feel like doing very much other than taking something in, rather than exerting the energy of talking back.  The day-after-Thanksgiving is one of those days.  On that note, I do wish others would remember this on non-holiday weekends and either stay home or get it up a little better for people who spent at least a year or two of their lives making something they hope you’ll enjoy.

Goodbye Mr. Fathead

4. The seating and the actual theatre.  This is to be filed under “problems of the privileged in over-developed countries” but high on my personal checklist of why people don’t want to venture out more to movie theatres is the actual environment you find once you’re inside.  The Arclight in Hollywood (my local theatre) is about a dollar or two more expensive than most (a dollar of which is discounted if you take advantage of its free membership plan) but as long as you’re leaving your house to go somewhere you might as well do it in a place that respects you and your business.  In the movie theatre world this means something called “raked seating” for people like myself (5’7” and under) where increasingly sloped rows guarantee you will never, ever again watch Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie co-starring with the fatheaded guy or big-haired gal seated in front of you that you’ve spent your entire adult life trying to avoid in every other human circumstance known to man (and then some).  Side note: I’m also waiting for a personal perfume filter filled with fresh air I can infuse from the side arm of my seat and blow in my (and their) face(s) as well as a possible ejector button for loud, annoying and insistent talkers.

Shameless plug for the best movie popcorn in NYC.

5. Great refreshments Yes, you can smuggle in your own can of soda or bar of candy or pot brownie at any local movie theatre.  But let’s face it, there is something about good movie theatre popcorn.  It is expensive at my local movie theatre but, well, no more so than most others.  But it’s also good.  Very good.  And most other movie theatre popcorn isn’t any longer.  I think this has something to do with quality control and consumer care.  Also at my movie theatre –- a pleasant employee announcing before EVERY show at EVERY performance at EVERY screen that the movie chain is responsible for sound and picture quality and that it urges you to seek them out if you are even the slightest bit dissatisfied.  Competing movie palaces take note:  this is your future and you have now seen how you will survive.  Be nice(r).

6.  Cool trailers.  Theatre chains don’t have much control in this area so hopefully someone will pass this thought on to a movie studio.  There are other ways to get audiences into movies other than to finance loud, ugly and mindless films.  I’m not talking high brow – how about just odd or sexy or different and even slightly intense.  You can even throw in a bit of humor if you want to.  Watching two and a half minutes of Bill Murray playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in the upcoming Hyde Park on Hudson certainly qualifies as odd but also raises the bar to clever and, dare I say it, amusingly smart.  Watching Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn shoot at each other in Gangster Squad while Emma Stone plays the requisite “gal pal” certainly doesn’t venture into new territory but looked stylish, titillating and fun.  We’re not talking Fellini or even Almodovar, here.  Just something bigger or unusual no one else has seen that we won’t find flipping through on our five different and indiscernible cable TV remote controls.

7. Superior sight, sound and not seen enough friends.  Another surprise on my recent perfect moviegoing day: The screen is huge, you feel like you’re in the movie rather than watching it and there are no distracting lights from either end of the theatre walls or on any hand held digital devices within striking distance.  In fact, the technology and space is being used so optimally that I can even spot two friends some rows down that I haven’t seen in a while who also decided this might be a good day to get out of the house and take advantage of what the movie business has wisely decided to offer here.  Oh, and did I mention the actual seats are wide enough to fit my dog and me if animals were allowed in movie theatres?  I didn’t think so (and as much as I’d like to, I promise not to smuggle my own dog in.  Still, it’s nice to know she’d fit).

OK maybe not quite this in the movie

8. The crowd.  We live in the age of isolation.  Conversely, one could also philosophize we exist in a time of great choice – where more than ever we can decide when and when not to engage with the outside world.  I’m not a sociologist but I’ll bet that if we were to measure the growth of social anxiety and agoraphobia-related neuroses from the beginning of the new millennium to 20 years from now, we would discover a spike in the charts equal to the one for 20th Century-Fox’s annual box-office from the years right before and right after the first Star Wars movie was released (that’s 1977, or 35 years ago, if you were wondering).   The fact is, most humans do not want to venture out into unfriendly or even inconveniently annoying territory without a chance for some higher returns.  That sort of adrenalin rush of excitement, anticipation and participation was once regularly found in abundance at our local movie houses but is pretty scarce right now.  Yet, waiting for the new Steven Spielberg film at the Arclight this past holiday weekend, you could momentarily feel it again.  It wasn’t a movie industry crowd with its “daggers drawn,” or a day care halfway house full of people looking for something to drag their offspring to because they were bored.  It wasn’t even a dark place to make out with romantic background noise (though I wouldn’t be adverse to using movies for this kind of thing occasionally).  What did exist was a palpable kind of “gee whiz” anticipation of something amorphous, something smart, something potentially entertaining and even perhaps something a little, though I hesitate to say it, special, because – guess what – you can’t get it in exactly that form at home in your own apartment, house or even personalized cave.

9. The movie.  This is not meant to be a review of Lincoln but rather an observation of why as a movie lover and/or potential filmmaker and/or crew member it is important to get your butt out of the house and venture “among those beautiful people out there in the dark” (Norma Desmond’s words via Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond in Sunset Boulevard, not mine).  Like it, love it or lukewarm it (I can’t imagine there will be very many haters), Lincoln is what we nowadays call a “movie movie.”  This means that it exemplifies everything about big film (or is it digitized?) entertainment.  The story of our 16th president’s quest to abolish slavery (set only 150 plus years ago) is one of grandeur and depth and big emotions and big beliefs that needs to be seen on the big screen.  It is successfully directed by one of the most famous filmmakers in the world (Steven Spielberg) in a way only this kind of filmmaker can do.  It is written by one of the most honored writers of our time (Tony Kushner) with a particular depth of accessible political thought and emotional drama (and even a bit of comedy) that is particularly difficult to do as a screenwriter nowadays.  It is performed by a stellar cast led by an actor in the title role (Daniel Day Lewis) who is able to transform himself so totally into its title character that it feels more like an odd kind of human resurrection or cloning from the past rather than merely an impressive performance in the present that we still don’t get enough of these days.  Lincoln also harnesses notions and ideas and expresses them visually through all the top notch technological capabilities mainstream studio filmmaking has to offer and presents them in a sly package just enticing enough to satisfy pretty much anyone of any age who even once ever enjoyed getting out of the house and going to a film in the first place.  And it does this without too much dumbing down of its subject matter or reliance on the star power of an over-the-top box-office draw to “ensure” its result.  What it instead uses are many obvious, and not so obvious, parallels to the social, political and economic realities of life in the 21st century despite the fact that the film itself is set almost two entire American centuries ago.

Let me be clear — Lincoln does not have the multi-layered dramatic grittiness of the best of our independent films or the thrill ride giddiness of some of our highest priced studio blockbusters.  It is not that kind of movie.  What kind of movie is it?  It is the best of the old-fashioned kind – the kind that moves us out of our cynicism or complacency or just plain every day lives and compels us to go back into the movie theatres for something communal that we can’t get in front of our own personal tablet of choice.

It’s a big part of the future of real movie movies.  That is, if movie movies, or even just plain old movies (meaning those you go out to the theatre to see) are to have any future at all.

Go see it.  And a few others this holiday season.