Buh-Bye 2016

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There is a Yiddish/English expression called kenahora, which when loosely translated means putting a curse or the evil eye on something.   Of course, in usage it generally means the opposite – that is warding off fate from even glancing in your direction in a negative way.

How would this happen with mere words? Well, we Jews don’t like to tempt fate so our thought is that it usually occurs if we were to brag about even the tiniest of good fortune.

For example, at the holiday dinner table your mother says:

You know, I haven’t gotten sick all year. How great is that!

At which point her mother, your grandmother, quickly interrupts and shouts, Kenahora! And then goes one step further and throws salt over her shoulder.

giphy

The latter is a second more drastic step in warding off evil though in truth it actually means blinding the Devil, who we Jews don’t even believe in. So no, that makes no sense but well, historically, once again, better safe than sorry.

Why bring this up? Well, because I was going to open this piece with this declarative statement:

Could 2016 have been any worse????

And then quickly decided against it. With only less than a week left and given my heritage and what’s already happened in 2016 there is no point in taking what clearly is the very real risk of destroying us all. And yes, OF COURSE my mere words have every power to do so. Every religion teaches us that – doesn’t it???

So instead of pushing our luck and asking for any more trouble, kenahora, let’s look back to the year that is almost at its end (Note: No editorializing there) and try to focus on the best and worst of what each of us, in our own special way, have lived through and probably wrought. It’s a limited list, but so probably is our time left here. If you look at it objectively. Kenahora.

MOST SURPRISING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

Death

Not a great year for celebrities

Not a great year for celebrities

Let’s get this out of the way first. I mean, George Michael died on CHRISTMAS DAY, 2016 (and then Carrie Fisher dies two days later????). Counting back in no particular order we’ve also lost David Bowie, Edward Albee, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Patty Duke, Phyllis Diller and even Zsa Zsa friggin’ Gabor who held on till 99! To say nothing of PBS’s Gwen Ifill, CBS’s Morley Safer, PGA’s Arnold Palmer, NASA’s John Glenn and Everyone’s Doris Roberts. There will also be no more future Alan Rickman performances, Pat Conroy books, Leon Russell songs or Phyllis Schlaffly lectures (thank the Devil). Not to mention, we no longer have the flesh and blood Elie Wiesel to turn to as a historical touchstone at a time when we may need him most.

Am I forgetting anyone? #shade

Am I forgetting anyone?

It also felt 2016 marked the death of logic, of science, of civility and most of all – TRUTH. Though unlike human beings, those last things can once again get reborn. And if you believe human beings can too, please re-read that last things list one more time and reconsider.

MOVIE/TV SHOW/PLAY I CAN’T BELIEVE I SAT THROUGH:

Tie: Nocturnal Animals & Jackie (in no particular order)

Ugh. Not again.

Ugh. Not again.

Both of these movies have absolutely no reason for being other than the egos of the filmmakers. Of course, that would apply to the majority of movies so perhaps it’s not a valid criticism. So let’s put it this way.

Nocturnal Animals has not a real emotion in its seemingly endless two plus hours and is an homage artifice – of human behavior, of reality and of depth. No one is saying that a designer can’t write and direct great films, just like I’ve never heard anyone claim that there is not some writer somewhere that couldn’t conceive and manufacture his or her own fabulous designer suit or even clothing line on demand. It’s just that it takes a great deal of skill and has not ever happened. Though we spring ever hopeful for 2017 and beyond – it’s doubtful.

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

As for Jackie, it’s the first pornographic film I’ve ever seen with nary a sex scene. Rather, it’s a leering, unjust, seedy little dance on the grave of one of the few American icons left who deserves better. Telling a no-holds barred story on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis will make a fine film one day but this isn’t it. Unless you call watching her roam around the 1963 White House to the tune of Richard Burton singing Camelot as she tries on formal gowns, smokes cigarettes and drinks, some sort of new, cutting edge, cinema verite drama. Natalie Portman is terrific playing a construct of someone who looks and sounds a lot like the former First Lady as skewed fictional doppelganger trapped in the filmed pretention of a cinematic fun house mirror.

 

BEST INSURGENT

Keith Olbermann – GQ Videos The Resistance

Help me, KO, you're my only hope. #forreal

Help me, KO, you’re my only hope. #forreal

Once upon a time there was a sports commentator who became the host of a political show on a fledgling cable network called MSNBC and proved he was not only as smart and incisive as his contemporary counterparts but a lot bolder, uncensored, outrageous and articulate. This all happened during the George W. Bush presidency where he is often credited with being the first and longtime sole credible anti-Dubya voice of American outrage.

Keith eventually left politics and returned to sports casting but once the Pres. Elect who lost the popular vote by 2.85 million surfaced this year as the unleashed GOP candidate for the White House he listened to all my tweets to him and eventually stepped forward once more in a series of brilliantly researched, unvarnished and truth-telling 6-11 minute weekly ongoing video segments. Quite simply, he’s the best around at distilling the past, present and potential future horrors of our Birther-in-Chief and vows to continue to do so until such time as someone else steps up to heed the call. That doesn’t seem likely any time soon. Nor even possible at this point. Here’s a sample:

Click here to watch #RESIST

Click here to watch #RESIST

BEST COMEDIAN OF THE MOMENT

Wanda Sykes

It Girl

It Girl

It’s not only because she’s an out black lesbian married to a white woman in LA. raising kids in a house where one day she woke up and realized she is still and ever will be – “a Black woman who waits on White people.” Though moments like that certainly help.

It’s because she is another one of those people who can’ t help but be a truth teller and will do it at all costs. Like several months ago during a benefit standup performance in Boston where she told the crowd – This is not the first time we’ve elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president. He’s just the first confirmed one.

And when a small but loud group in the crowd booed she had the backbone to tell them to fk off and presented a bunch of examples to prove her point. At which time, they…Well, watch for yourself. Comedy, like tragedy, happens in the moment. It’s just that the take and the tone is different, depending on your audience.

BEST COOKBOOK

Small Victories by Julia Turshen

#DROOL

#DROOL

This cookbook was on the NY Times bestseller list for months this year but I would never have known about it had my friend Howard not got it for me as a birthday present. What makes it great? It’s the simplicity and depth of flavors all done in a homey, readable and self-effacing style.

Julia Turshen spent years as a personal chef and co-authored any number of well-known cookbooks with others. But in this solo effort she shows us the possibilities and accidents to be found either in our cupboards or with a perfunctory shopping list and the numerous choices and variations those foods and flavors hold. You often think – this sounds so simple and easy, how can that be? Well, it can – try the Turkey Ricotta Meatballs and Tomato Sauce.   Or you resist and say to yourself, that’ll be the day I spend any time roasting radishes, much less serving them to guests (Note: You should, with her Kalamata olive dressing Pg. 114).

Did i mention DROOOL?

Did i mention DROOOL?

No, I don’t know her and I don’t get commission. But I do know what’s good.

PERSON WE COULD SEE LESS OF IN 2017 (aka TOO MUCH OF THEM IN 2016)

Kellyanne Conway

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

She is the first woman to both manage a major candidate presidential campaign and emerge with a president-Elect. Winning – well, that’s in the eye of the beholder.

There is something about the Cheshire Cat grin, the constant verbal use of the word “Hashtag,” followed by her 49 year old self’s snide, self-satisfied, whiny delivery of the phrase He’s Your President Too, that makes me know she’d be the only one to cast as Lucy Van Pelt in a D.C. revival of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

But I love Peanuts too much to seriously suggest that. Just know that it is likely we will see less of her in the New Year. She’s poised to be working behind the scenes of what now looks to be key advisor to her Oval Office elect guy – a role similar to the one Valerie Jarrett played to President Obama.

God (or whatever you believe Him or Her to Be) Help Us.

MOST REVISITED SHOW (Netflix, Cable, or DVD)

The Twilight Zone

... but I'll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

… but I’ll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

See above, as well as #1 above. Need I say more? There’s something about it that, well, explains everything. And that’s soothing.

BEST VIRAL VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Chewbacca Mom

She just gives me hope for humanity. Such joy, such humanity, such…hysteria!!! For the longest time I wasn’t sure what it was. The joy of laughter? The ridiculousness of the mask? The iconography of Star Wars, suburbia, motherhood and mayhem?

That is for much bigger brains than me to decide, analyze and then write about in media journals. Here’s what I know – it was the top viral video of the year and was viewed more than 8 million times.

Stay with it.

And don’t pretend you did not laugh once.

And if you didn’t…you’re lying.

BEST GAY THING OF THE YEAR

Moonlight

YES

YES

Three time periods in the course of the life of a young, gay Black man. That’s the logline. But as any artist will tell you, a logline says little about the work it describes.

The majority of critics are calling it the movie of the year and certainly that’s debatable – as any choice would be. What’s inarguable is that it breaks new ground and is something we’ve never seen before – a chronicle of the type of young life in a segment of society that has never been seen onscreen and will be much needed in the 2017 and beyond days to come.

HEALING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR

What was it that Alan Alda’s character posited in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors –

Comedy is tragedy plus time

Well, screw that. And not only because this quote is also separately on record from both Steve Allen and Carol Burnett in printed interviews decades before.

Sometimes – well, actually rarely – do comedy and tragedy come together in one perfect moment to equally express the SADNESS AND HILARITY of what we’ve just endured. This solar eclipse-like occurrence is called true IRONY and when it happens it is truly lightning in a bottle on the pop cultural landscape.

This is what Kate McKinnon and SNL wrought several days after the shocking results of #Election2016. Almost THREE MILLION more in the country were equally devastated that Hillary Clinton would not become president and that an uncertified lunatic would. And a significant number of those SNL watchers were still upset at the recent passing of genius balladeer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose seminal Hallelujah has for decades emerged as the bittersweet parable of loss.

But it was not only KM at the piano singing that tuneful dirge with a tear and glint in her eye that brought it home. It was the one line message she delivered when the song was over when, clad in the iconic HRC white pantsuit and perfectly coiffed twelve shades of blonde helmets of hair, she turned to the camera and said:

I’m not giving up and neither should you. Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night (Live).

Amen to both statements.

And #HAPPY2017.

The Film of 2016

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More than half the country’s voters (by 2.8 million and counting) are bemoaning the year 2016 and can’t wait for it to come to an end. Certainly, I am one of them. I mean, not only did a lunatic become president-elect but Florence Henderson died. One wonders – how much worse can it get???

OH C'MON! #effthisyear

OH C’MON! #effthisyear

And yet, this year did offer one very significant piece of filmic art. A work that provides a road map for our futures and could possibly inspire generations to come.

It is the most important film of the year.

And just might be the most significant motion picture of the next four years.

A movie that thinkers and dreamers will return to time and again as we forage our way through the hell of our futures —

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Wait a minute…

This is not to say it is the best film of the year. I will leave that for others to determine. It is not even to say that it will be in your top 10. Perhaps you don’t like musicals. Maybe you hate L.A. Or perhaps (and maybe) you have no patience for the dreamers among us. Certainly, that attitude is popular these days. Lord knows what it will be in two, three or twelve months from now.

oh hey 2017!

oh hey 2017!

Still, there is a timely importance to La La Land whether it’s to your taste or not. Whether you love it, hate it, or if it wins any Oscars or Razzies at all.

La La Land offers a road map on how to proceed. It shows us methods to cope. And it eventually delivers a desirable if not bittersweet future which, given the current circumstances of our real lives, is a terribly tempting reality for which to strive for in the next 48 months. And awfully clever for a fantasy film.

No, I am not overstating this. And note: there will be no spoilers here.

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

Granted, as a show biz aspirant who arrived in Hollywood decades ago with my own version of stars in my eyes, perhaps I’m a bit partial. But I don’t think so. What’s the old adage – “everyone has two businesses, their business and show business?”

You don’t think that’s true? Go back to your hometown anywhere in the U.S. and, despite how they voted, see what happens when you tell them you work in film or television.

#lifegoals

#lifegoals

The plot isn’t much. A guy and a gal in their twenties each trying to make a big dream in their lives come true in a world that keeps saying:

No, not on my watch. What you want is impossible and you don’t have the karma or smarts or talent to bring off what you choose to do.

Being young and in their twenties – and yes, looking like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (Note: Remember this is a metaphor & okay maybe he’s in his thirties but who cares), they keep fighting. And failing. And failing yet again. Then they figure out other ways to get their dreams that seem like they’ll work but sadly, do not.

Along the way they find each other and that’s nice.

But something still doesn’t feel quite right. They are not living up to who they are and what they believe deep down in their souls. And if you can’t do that, well, it’ll only be a matter of time before everything else in your life and world will turn to shit. (Okay, I’m inserting my own philosophies here but that’s their general point. Or, well, at least mine here).

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

In any event, what these dreamers believe in more than anything is that acting on their core beliefs – nee using their true talents – will not only benefit them but in some small way can bring some relief to other people’s lives. If only just for a few random moments. And what this story proposes to us is that when one of them (or us) gives up, the other one forces them to go on. And when the other one of them (or us) gives up, the other one of…Well, you get the picture.

More than the power of positive thinking it’s the mutual power of faith and hope in each other that is really what La La Land is about.   Of what can be achieved when you fulfill what you know is right, and how you can be helped along on this road even when you begin to doubt yourself.   Okay, I’m beginning to have déjà vu right about now re:the whole faith and hope thing, but even still, that doesn’t mean this way of thinking is wrong.

We're with you girl

We’re with you girl

Survival means imagining against all odds and acting on it.

Dreaming the big (or small) dream and doing something about it.

Proceeding when others say no and call you names and threaten to do a lot worse to you.

And then do a lot worse. And A LOT more than that.

In order to counteract what’s coming we ALL need INSPIRATION from everywhere. What popular culture can do is produce art that INSPIRES us to fight. Or to continue the fight. Or simply just be and act on WHO WE ARE continuously and to maximum effect.

... EVERYBODY NOW!

… EVERYBODY NOW!

Naysayers can make you cry, infuriate you, and make you want to beat the crap out of them or yourself. But only you can decide when THEY win. THEY don’t get to marginalize you – only you can do that to you. If this sounds a little precious – well, maybe. So is the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, The Constitution and The Gettysburg Address when you read them. And we all should read them, again or for the first time, sometime.  And then perhaps get a copy of the text of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and critique that for purple prose. But not before we take in the true meaning behind those words.

One of the screenwriting books I use for teaching says a good movie is like “a seamless dream.” Well, that’s about as great a description as I’ve ever heard.   And makes it even important to remember that without dreams we wouldn’t have innovation. Or innovators – aka – the people who change things.

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Not everyone can inspire or change stuff on a massive scale. But any number of us working together to support each other’s dreams and/or innovation – yes, it just may take a village – can do so. And if you doubt that, right about now you might want to remember that Steve Jobs’ estranged father was a Syrian refugee.

There are real life heroes and movie heroes. None of them are flawless and none of them do it alone.

See you in the trenches. And in our dreams.

Chair in Space

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 3.37.37 PM

Almost two weeks ago I went to a screening of Interstellar at the Motion Picture Academy. About a day and a half later I had my first ever attack of sinus-related vertigo, which is a condition characterized by extreme dizziness, nausea and vomiting.   Were they related? I’m not quite sure.

Certainly, it is tempting to get on the bandwagon and blame Interstellar for all the ills of the world, including my own. Plus, I can’t for certain say that the film didn’t make me dizzy – both literally and figuratively. But what good does it do to complain about it? For as much as I am stuck with a lingering case of vertigo every time I move my head around a bit too fast, there is no escape from the cultural impact of a new film by a director as renowned and popular as Christopher Nolan.

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

The most that we all can do is deal with both illnesses – my vertigo and Nolan-mania – as best we can. Of course I, for one, have a sinus rinse, cortisone nose spray and antibiotics to counter the Big V and it’s slowly getting better.   But right now there is no known treatment for Nolan-mania or those determined to spread it around to the rest of us. Certainly, quarantine hasn’t seemed to work as a cure for other recent outbreaks, not to mention it’s mostly unpopular. And in this case, it’s counterintuitive. If we know anything Nolan, it’s that you don’t try to remedy the effects of him or his films with anything that is even vaguely unpopular.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown...

Heavy is the head that wears the crown…

Full confession upfront: there is nothing Interstellar offers to exactly hate but an absence of hate does not necessarily translate into a presence of love. It has its moments, though one would expect that in any movie with an almost three hour running time and a choice from among the best of what commercial Hollywood has the offer in terms of above and below-the-line talent. But what it has little of is sustained and coherent dramatic tension as well as a plot that is entirely discernable to those who have never studied astrophysics. Not to mention it has nothing truly original to say in the final analysis, that is unless that message was encoded and transmitted in a way that only people in another galaxy or time dimension could discern and then explain to us naysayers in simpler terms – which is certainly possible given the atmosphere Nolan-mania has us now living in and the literal lack of it we get in the film itself. And NOTE: No, these are NOT SPOILERS (not that you’d understand them if they were). NOR WILL THERE BE ANY!

Alright, Alright, Alright.... continue on

Alright, Alright, Alright…. continue on

The one indisputable piece of good news here is Interstellar is an attempt at taking chances and doing SOMETHING, even though a dizzy, cloudy-headed, middle-aged sinus sufferer like me didn’t quite get what that was or at least can’t recall it. And this is very much better than the choice to make NOT VERY MUCH NEW or NOTHING MUCH BUT MONEY that most big studio movies/filmmakers are opting for these days.   So one supposes sickies like us – meaning we who have somehow avoided the disease of Nolan-mania but are nevertheless still considered ill in the culture as we know it – should be grateful. And to answer your next question: Yes, it has truly come to that.

Yes. YES.   And – YES.

I happened to catch Interstellar with two other screenwriter friends – both of who went to film school – which I didn’t – and both of who have more major studio writing credits than myself. In my mind, this somehow means they were more likely to be bigger fans of the previous three hours but this didn’t turn out to be the case. One liked it a bit more and one a bit less than myself but we were all in the general ballpark of – huh??? Still, given what we’ve all experienced in Hollywood during the last decade we all agreed we were happy a movie that was trying something “different” – though none of us quite could verbalize what that was – was at least given the green light.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

Given the fact that I can’t let a subject drop – as should be evident by now – I couldn’t help but then pose this imaginary scenario to my two friends:

If you had submitted this screenplay in any of your screenwriting classes, what would have happened?

One immediate answer was: “Oh please, it would’ve been ripped to shreds,” and the other was a non-verbal head shake which I translate to, “Are you kidding, even in my most neophyte writing days, this is nothing that I could ever do because I would never, ever write anything as pretentious as this.”

But more telling was the follow-up one of my Nolan-immune buddies posed:

“Suppose we each submitted this to our agents or managers?” Before I could even answer he jumped in. “I can tell you what would happen, they’d NEVER send it out. They’d throw it right back at you. But Nolan has earned the right to do whatever he wants.”

Yes, this is true. And well deserved because this is how the system we’ve all signed up for works. Yet as the Spiderman comics themselves at one time wrote, and the Spiderman movies decades later once offered:

With great power comes great responsibility.

(Note: Most sources credit Voltaire for first coining this phrase. Still, Stan Lee adapted it to modern times and who am I to argue with the one guy who has probably out-Nolan-ed Nolan?).

Ya damn right!

Ya damn right!

Another perspective on this is what that same writer friend, who also happens to be a parent, quickly added:

Sometimes it helps when there are people to tell you NO.

This speaks to the imagined nirvana for most of us doing creative work – a world where we can do whatever we want, a place where there are little if any “no”s, and a situation where we are both paid and given almost unlimited money in order to make our visions come true.

Hmm, be careful what you wish for or at least consider if you are always the best judge of what you are wanting.  Because above all else there is always one ultimate power – your audience.   No one can ever take away your artistic power to do anything what you want but a lack of audience disposes of the money and creative freedom in Hollywood as quickly as others think it seemingly came. This can be problematic once you get to a certain place if you’ve gotten used to the perks or enjoy making a sizeable living. Sure, it’s a high-class problem but then again – everything is relative. There are those back in your hometown who fantasize daily about living yours or my dingy little non-Nolan-like life – especially if it has anything to do with show business.

One of the oddities for me of Interstellar was how much its first act reminded me of… Michael Bay’s recent Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.

GASP!

GASP!

The same life-has-passed-him-by scientifically handy good ole boy Dad, the similar spunky daughter who has always been Dad’s favorite and is probably a tad too much like him, and the identical heartland Americana setting where the American flag is sacred but its citizens have somehow been betrayed by a government that has either disappointed them, betrayed them, or out and out lied to them. There are secrets, there are shadow corporate interests and there is the advancement of technology that might or might not destroy, betray or save the world.

Well, one supposes the way you make a tentpole film is to somehow tap into the mythic family and the Heartland (whether it be faux Nebraska or Texas), right? Hmmm, not necessarily. No one makes a blockbuster tentpole like James Cameron but not even Avatar or Titanic chose to delve in so obvious a territory. Not that those two films both didn’t have faults and employ archetypes but somehow it felt as if, well – they had a bit more coherence, emotion and well, dare I say it…honest humanity?

... and I just remembered they were blue

… and I just remembered they were blue

Part of Christopher Nolan’s appeal and originality is that his films are a bit colder and more brittle and that is certainly an admirable stance to take rather than to drown viewers in bathos. It’s what makes his take on the Batman films so compelling and how movies like The Prestige and even Inception – both of which have emotional characters making odd and sometimes even distancing choices – work as well as they do. It’s also part of what put him on the map to begin with in Memento – a movie that perfectly employed his high intellectuality with the very flawed and/or too perfect husbands or former lovers he likes to put at the center of his movies.

This, among many reasons, is why Interstellar is a head scratcher. It’s good that it’s not Transformers or Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film Nolan himself admits was an inspiration here) but – exactly WHAT IS IT???

The only thing I can come up with is an overly long studio film with technical Irving the Explainer speeches that feel as if they were written by the guys or gals who want to get paid to author books like Stephen Hawking for Dummies but are not quite yet masters of the craft. But Christopher Nolan is at his best a master of film. That’s why Interstellar is so confounding for so many of us, and why we can’t drink the Kool-Aid. To do so would be like saying we enjoyed a Big Gulp that has sat out in the sun for too long and lost its fizz.

Superheroes

Hero-Worship

Lance.  Jodie.  Manti Te’o.  What are we to do about you?  You thrill us.  Then you disappoint us.   Then you thrill us again.  And then you drop us down even further.  Have a heart.  And just be real.

Of course, that’s exactly what we DON’T want you to do, despite what we say.  We’re like a put upon boyfriend or girlfriend who begs their untrustworthy mate to be honest and then, when faced with their true self, angrily throws the book at them along with the front door and whatever else we can grab.  And since I have been in this position at least once in my life I can honestly testify to the truth of this action. This is not to say that I wanted to NOT know the truth and to remain living in the lie.  It’s more – I wanted confirmation that the person who I loved was, indeed, the person I thought that I had chosen to love, rather than who they really were.

This is unfair and does not make for good relationships.  But it is what hero worship is about.  And that’s what we’re talkin’ here.  Or maybe it’s a potential reality show called Heroes: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Yes, the latter is more like it.  That avoids words like lies and truth and anything in between.   Because once you go there you get into very murky territory (as the military can tell you).  There’s a reason why despite all the remakes and sequels you will only learn so much about Batman, Superman, Spiderman or even our much-maligned Cat Woman, even though you’re sure you know everything.   But they are fictional creations where filmmakers (or other makers) are in control, and every really great creative artist knows better than to tell-all.

Superhero's cape stuck in revolving door

On second thought, this cape ain’t so easy

However, this is not the case in our current age of mass celebritydom, which can be confirmed by watching any one of a parade of B-stars on reruns of Celebrity Fit Club or Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  You will find out and/or see more than you ever wanted to realize about recognizable names like Sean Young, Brigitte Nielson and Jeff Conaway (RIP) and be none the better for it.  Nor, will they.  In fact, though a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, in some public cases it will, indeed, work quite nicely.

Which brings us back to this week’s live celebrity superheroes and the people who love them (the latter of whom would be us).  We’ve had quite a week.  And it’s hard to know where to start.  But I say, let’s go for the gusto.

THE LANCEMAN

STERN EXCLUSIVE LANCE ARMSTRONG GRAFFITI-100 

There was something about watching (now former) seven time Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his lies about a long history of illegally drugging his body to celebritydom’s mother confessor Oprah on international television that was the worst kind of cliché.  And yet, it was fascinating and riveting and featured two superheroes – one at the height of their super-powers (Oprah) and the other forced into an arena stripped of everything that once made them the most formidable force on the planet.  Imagine Christian Bale’s Batman in the black suit and with full arsenal (Oprah) fighting a Tobey Maguire Spiderman (the Lanceman) with zero accessibility to anything Web-based (a daunting task for any of us these days.. oh and pun intended) and you can sort of get the picture.

port-opinion-20illo-300x0

Not a good look

Lance is a survivor of stage-three cancer whose name has raised mega-millions of dollars for a cancer education and prevention organization called Livestrong that has helped untold numbers of people psychologically, financially and even physically.  For those reasons alone, he will always be somewhat okay in my book.  But I’m not a sports fan and after a lifetime in the entertainment industry I know that no one – not one person – that you know from their public image is ever, ever, ever giving you the full truth of all that they are.  In fact, often they are disappointing in real life simply because as mere mortals they can NEVER live up to the carefully constructed image of what they are resonating in the zeitgeist.

Nor, if they want to survive, should they.  Because if all is exposed then nothing is protected. And with more than 7 billion people in the world, that makes you a pretty easy target.

The problem for Lance Armstrong is two fold.  One is the boldness of the lie upon lie and the other is the denial of such once he was caught.  Though he operated in a haze of credibility for years, he and Oprah pretty much acknowledged that had he not tried to make his last big comeback in the last decade he might have “gotten away with” all of his previous wins and no one would have ever been the wiser.  Yet the truth  – as anyone who has really known a celebrity can testify to – is that it takes a real-life superhero to walk away from that status (and those are rare, if they exist at all).  I mean, once you’re a god with all of the perks it affords, you begin to believe you ARE a god so why would you ever want to be simply human again???  For love?  For sanity?  For…humility?  Are you kidding????

Yet this activity also fostered The Lanceman’s escalating denials – which proved to be his version of Kryptonite.  There was no way he could stay in the game without upping his vitriolic disownment of the real truth.  And every time he did this, he got more famous (or infamous) and further away from reality, thus making his superhero achievements even bigger and more open to public consumption than they ever were.  Consequently, the perch from where he would inevitably fall grew higher and higher – prompting some to dub him the “biggest liar” in the history of sports or, perhaps, humankind.

Thanks Lance!

Thanks Lance!

The latter hardly seems fair or true, though certainly those are not adjectives to be applied in this kind of discussion.  Yes, we know he was a bully who took down other people in his way.  And uh huh, we acknowledge he ripped off his competitors and the organizations that touted him by his “lies” and “win at any cost” strategies.  But worst of all – he’s proven to us that rather than embody a superhuman version of the good part of the human spirit, he’s merely the man behind the curtain posing as The Wizard Of Oz – a man who in real life is equal parts great and awful  — a reflection of the best and the worst of our qualities.  Quelle Suprise.

JODIE POSSIBLE

Jodie-Foster-3

There are very few 50 year-old movie stars who have been in the business for 47 years, won two best actress Oscars, directed three feature films and still find time to raise two seemingly very well-adjusted children.  In fact, I can’t think of one — except Jodie Foster.

Then it shouldn’t be surprising that in recapping to us highlights of her life in a slightly odd, slightly rambling stream of consciousness speech while accepting a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Golden Globes, that she drew so much attention, concern, praise and vitriol – the kind usually reserved for some sort of superhero (or perhaps villain, depending on where one stands).  Being exceptional and famous and on television can do this because you can never please everyone by being exactly and totally who you are in public.

If Ms. Foster were to have a superhero name I vote for Jodie Possible, after the TV cartoon heroine Kim Possible – because a) we know the likelihood of childhood star human survival to age 50 b)we know the likelihood of leading movie actress industry survival to age 50 and c)we know the likelihood of sanity and so many other forms of survival that seem to actually make Jodie IMpossible.

But what has not been traditionally super heroic to the mainstream (up until maybe this year?) for Ms. Foster is the fact that she is gay, or to put it even more precisely, a lesbian – two words she managed to clearly avoid yet more than hint at in the seven minute acceptance speech heard round the world.  Ironically, that is part of what made her a bit of a superhero to me up until that night – the fact that she has lived her own sort of life all these years with intelligence and grace, often out of the spotlight yet hiding in plain sight of anyone who has driven through the hills and valleys of southern California.

jodie-foster-golden-globes-2013-speech

Amazingly the conversation the next day was not about her arms…

So why is it that Jodie Possible’s speech, tinged with a tone of arch, dare I say it, anger, left me and a significant portion of others – confused, upset, disappointed and, dare I say it…pissed off?  Why was she now so suddenly upset about celebrity culture when for years she wisely chose to ride above (or below) it? At a time when there are numerous out gay celebrities in 2013, why was she cryptically addressing her ex-female lover and personal life in odd language that implied some sort of public persecution for years by evil onlookers? Especially when today most people no longer care what she does in bed or are willing to give her a pass for secrecy because a crazed would-be assassin named John Hinckley famously said he was trying to prove his love for her when he shot some bullets at Pres. Ronald Reagan in the eighties?

The whole seven-minute speech was strange and uncomfortable in a way we weren’t used to from the public superhero named Jodie.  What it also seemed to be was – honest.  Sort of like when Tom Cruise went on Today and eschewed all of psychiatry to Matt Lauer, or spoke condescendingly about non-Scientologists on a famous You Tube tape espousing the superiority of all those in the upper echelons of his adopted religion.

In full disclosure, I’ve briefly met JF several times in passing (not making passes!) over the decades (once when she was a teenager and several more times as an adult) and have always found her to be nice, smart, classy and more normal than any 50 year-old former child star/still movie star should humanly be.  This is why I was so taken aback by a side of her on television that I had never seen publicly or privately.  Why so edgy?  Why that look in her eye that implied she was capable of saying something she could never take back or, worse, something we could never forget or forgive her for?  Well, why not?  Why couldn’t she do all of those things and what difference does it make that she’s confused and disappointed me by not being Jodie Possible this one time?  Unless, of course, this is who she really is and all of the other times on screen and the handful in person were just….acting.  Which would mean, I’ve been duped.  And – we (I?) don’t like that.  Especially from superheroes we look up to.

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

But aside from all that fancy reasoning, here’s the one thing her speech really did teach me – all actors, even the really good ones – need writers.  And I’m more than comfortable living with that.

THE MASK OF MANTI TE’O

quite literally, the masked man

quite literally, the masked man

This story is still unfolding and is still thoroughly confusing.  To paraphrase the famous line from that classic hero worship film Love Story – what can you say about a 24-year-old college football player who was runner up for the coveted Heisman trophy, led his team to record victories weeks after enduring the gruesome deaths of his beloved grandmother and girlfriend on the same day, and won the heart of the sports world for doing so?  That you loved him?   That you looked up to him?  Or — that he’s a pretty big liar and now you’re a pretty big jerk with egg on your face?

love_story_car

Note:  The Love Story tag line, for those of you under 50

“What can you say   about a 25 year-old girl who died?  That she was beautiful and brilliant.  That she loved, Mozart and Bach,, the Beatles and………me?”

It appears that part of Manti Te’o’s aura is not just that he is a very good college linebacker (now turned pro, with an agent) who performed exceptionally well in a specific period of time, but that he did so against emotional odds heavy enough to inspire at least one or two after school specials or network TV movies if the industry still made them with the same amount of frequency they did in years past.

So imagine everyone’s outrage when it was unearthed this week that Manti’s  (or Mr. Te’O – we haven’t been introduced) relationship with his girlfriend was not only an online “romance” with someone he never met despite all implications otherwise, but that she did not even exist in real life and that he was the victim of what he and his coaches claim was an elaborate internet hoax perpetrated on a naïve and purely trusting soul.  So, you mean…he merely helped win all those games when just his beloved grandma was dying???  Well…I’m not sure if that counts at all….

What people say they are angry about in this case is not so much the reality but the deception and downgrading of the myth.  Forget the fact that this guy can play football, but how dare he make up a girl who never existed, even if he didn’t know she existed at all!! And if he was in on it and was using the story of the death of this girl to make his achievements even more spectacular – well, that’s really despicable.  I mean, it’s one thing to do that in a reality TV show (which everyone knows isn’t fact – or do they?) but this is real life.

Are you sure we're not watching The Bachelor?

Are you sure we’re not watching The Bachelor?

Some people posit that there might be some compelling reasons for the fictional girlfriend who then died.  The most popular of these is that Manti Te’O, a devout Hawaiian Mormon, is secretly gay and wanted to hide his private life because it goes against both his religions — those being both the Mormon faith and football.  Well, I have no idea if this is true but here’s a thought – in the scope and meaning of life as it exists in 2013 – who really cares?

We need to grow up and know that in reality heroic human achievements are never done by superheroes.  Translation:  If someone’s story sounds too good and looks too good – usually it is too good.  I learned this the hard way once when a bad movie deal that I desperately wanted to believe in went horribly bad.  But we need to know it today in real life — which sports and the movies we watch are not.  Not nearly.  Not even close.