Channeling the Rage

Here’s what I will remember about the day that all pretense of the US Supreme Court being an impartial arbiter of justice died:

Female voices screaming SHAME! while Mike Pence methodically tapped his tiny white mini-cup/gavel from a raised podia/desk, stoically demanding::

The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery.

Of course, there is no order of any kind that will be restored as long as Pence is Vice President and Donald J Trump continues as the Electoral College POTUS.

everyday is a nightmare

Everyone knows it and yet there is a pretense that somehow this can all be worked out because Americans all are part of one big great family.

Let’s be plain, if you are a member of a family with an extremely abusive, rage-a-holic FATHER and a second-in-command mother who goes along with all that he says and does, it NEVER works out.

Though, it could probably make a good script.

One or two sessions with a good therapist will make it clear that the only way to survive is to take the power away from the abuser and recognize YOU have the power.

YOU can choose whether to continue the status quo and remain a victim of abuse or to fight back in any way you see fit.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many ways to fight back in families.  These are the top 2:

  1. Cease contact and remove the abuser from your life
  2. Join forces with allies and remove the abuser from power

In the case of the American family the first option is admittedly a limited one.

Considering this shack in the woods? #nottheunibomber

Sure, you can choose NOT to watch Electoral College POTUS preen and insult his enemies-of-the-day list at Third Reich-style nativist rallies held solely in red states.

But you cannot fully remove yourself from the wrath of his power i.e. the laws he enacts, unless you renounce your citizenship and move elsewhere.

Once a person turns 18 or 21 in a small, abusive nuclear family moving out and asserting independence is a more than practical and advisable option.  However, it is NOT an option for anyone under age.

I mean… unless you are a boy wizard.

So at this time in the extended American family we can all consider ourselves minors – or at least a general population with all the rights of minors. Therefore, we are left with option #2.

What this means is to stop wasting time engaging in debate about our abuser and instead conspire to go around him and his minions.

In plainer talk it means removing HIM and THEM from power.

The young people will win.

There is no point trying to reason with a rage-a-holic liar.   Even when you win, you lose because as long as they sit at the top they can weaponize the system any way they like.

You might succeed in making your case but they withhold funds.

You can reach an agreed compromise but they might back out at any moment and pull the rug out from under you.

You could get everyone who matters to agree that this is the law of your land but because they control the government and all means of production, they might instead choose NOT to ENFORCE the rules you previously both agreed to and fought for.

OK Chairy, this is starting to feel more real. #holdme #underhiseye

Brett Kavanaugh proved to be exactly this type of rage-a-holic liar at his confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court, under oath and before a judicial committee of senators, as well as the world.

Fearing his ascendance to his lifelong aspiration of being a Supreme Court judge was over after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in great detail of his teenage attempt to rape her while drunk, he sputtered to the Senate and the world:

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

Yeah, calm down Bart. #ilovebeer

He then added fuel to his raging fire against liberals by following it with:

…And as we all know in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.

Luckily my husband and I got married when Obama was president.  Still, I’d gladly burn the license in front of the Capital building in exchange for Kavanaugh’s removal from the Court in light of those statements.

.. and then we we get remarried I will be registered at West Elm.

The reason is not merely the above.  It is also the continual and convincing rolling proof that he is indeed a first class liar of epic proportions.

Even if one does not believe Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations (Note:  Though I have yet to find anyone outright say SHE is lying), there is PHONE TEXT proof that he lied to the committee as to his knowledge of those and other accusations.

Numerous Yale classmates came forward to state that Kavanaugh and his team texted back and forth with fellow Yalies at least FIVE DAYS prior to the New Yorker piece exposing the drinking and sexual abuse/attempted rape charges against him that he claimed to know NOTHING about.  In those texts and talked about phone calls, both he and his team asked his old friends and classmates for their support in discrediting the charges/accusations/allegations, et. al.  In effect, they were seeking to marshal support behind him before anything he swore under oath to know nothing about came to light.

I can literally only imagine this…

Whether he faces charges or not, and for however long he remains a Supreme Court Justice, what we do now know FOR SURE is that Brett Kavanaugh is both a liar AND a rage-a-holic.

We should consider him exactly like the president who nominated him and deal with him in exactly the same way.  Then, and only then, will the American family truly be restored.

#DEMONSTRATE  #DONATE  #RESIST  #VOTE

Madonna – “American Pie”

Advertisements

Making an Impact

I want to make a difference, says just about everybody at least once.

This is especially the case lately in these Un-United States.

Though ALL OF OF US, every last one, do still live in a country that now rips children from the arms of their parents crossing the border and cages them in holding facilities where they see an hour of sunlight a day.

This, by the way, while our attorney general smiles creepily about it as he gleefully quotes a Bible passage used previously by the Third Reich (Note: aka The Nazis) to defend it.

Yes, we have to own our current failures and keep repeating these facts whenever we can even if SINGELHANDLEDLY we can’t change them.

If only because historically it takes A LOT for Americans to make political change but as a people we DO CHANGE – though usually only when our backs are against the wall and there is no other alternative.

Or, as one oft quoted line goes:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing – after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Over the years this has been attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Israeli politician Abba Eban, to an unnamed “Irishman” to, well, any amalgamation of sources.  Which makes it no less true.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that everybody thinks they are making a difference because they themselves are different. Every Instagram photo, each Facebook post, all the Twitter rants undisputedly reach people and can be a catalyst to GREAT CHANGE.

… and that’s why there are 96 colors in the box

Or simply deflation when one realizes it didn’t matter as much to everyone else as it did to us. And that even though one or more people than you thought noticed or followed or commented you will NEVER in ten lifetimes match Katy Perry’s 110 MILLION Twitter followers or even Trump’s 52 million.

If only Katy were twice as powerful.

disney princess today… President tomorrow? #itcouldhappen #noreallyitcould

Still, it is essential to remember that each of us has A LOT more power than we think. In fact, every day we hold in our hands the possibility of affecting pivotal decisions, sometimes even life and death ones, among others that cross our paths.

And if you think this isn’t so you have never been a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a parent or even enemy to anyone.

This, of course, is impossible. In those areas we are ALL double-hyphenates – at the very least.

It is not an exaggeration to say that you never know the full effect you are having on someone you forge any sort of relationship with. Sure, you know what YOU get from them but you don’t truly know how your thoughts, deeds, actions or lack of them served as a catalyst to another person’s change – which then precipitates others, who in turn go on to inspire many others, and then go on to create ______________.

You flatter me so #imblushing

Well, you get the picture. Though perhaps you don’t.

I myself have to be reminded of this every so often, usually when my psyche is at an all time low after seeing kids, usually non-white and poor, taken away from their parents for no other crime than fleeing to the one country where they were told there was an opportunity for freedom – an equal playing field where anyone, even them, could make something of their lives.

Even if this were never true for all (and most especially them in 2018) is beside the point. The United States was always more an idea than a reality. It is no different than the honest advice you might give to a beloved friend or the warm feelings you can’t help but share with a mysterious potential lover who never dreamed anyone would dare think of them the way that you do.

Paging your inner Eliza Dolittle #Icouldhavedancedallnight

Sometimes all any of us have to do is say what we feel (or believe) to someone else, give them something to think about, and change can begin to happen for them, and us, right before our eyes. Other times the timing is wrong but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a great result when we’re not around. In still other cases, we might reach no one but the mere fact that we attempted to finally connect might immeasurably help ourselves, giving us just a little more courage to speak up in different circumstances where the connection we’re trying to make could be much more significant. Or perhaps in the end it’s just another baby step towards, well, something else.

This week I attended an event in honor of the 125th anniversary of Ithaca College held at Walt Disney Studios. It was a big blowout hosted by I.C. alum Robert Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive officer – a guy who is arguably one of the top 10 most powerful people in the entertainment industry.

After me… of course #wink

Aside from the fact that he looks great while somehow being even OLDER than I am (Note: And let’s face it, that’s all that we in L.A. really care about, right?), it was fascinating to see the face of this guy brighten when he talked about the meaningful human connections HIS COLLEGE LIFE gave him and taught him – so much so that forty plus years later he agreed to show up and host the gala festivities on his own studio’s back lot the very day he lost his much publicized attempt to acquire 20th Century Fox, to one of his rivals, Comcast.

I’ve held an endowed CHAIR (ahem) position, taught writing and mentored countless students and graduates at the school’s L.A. campus for more than 15 years and in that evening found myself face to face with more grown up versions of people that I will always remember fondly as the not quite adults Mr. Iger once was than you can count.

Feeling very proud #channelingmyinnerMaggie

Forget that some of them now have kids who are teenagers and know a lot more about so many things relevant to today’s world than I do.

What I will always remember from that evening are the numerous instances someone came up to me and recalled some pivotal time where I managed to somehow say something that made them not give up, imparted some little piece of craft (Note: That, no doubt, someone had taught me) that fixed a problem with their work which felt insurmountable or imparted some tiny piece of life advice or social statement (Note: Likely perched on the soapbox I carry around with me, along with my manifesto of liberal talking points) that gave them the confidence to engage in the battle of the world to get what THEY really wanted.

OK.. maybe channeling my inner Ron Burgundy

I mean, who KNEW? At this point, it’s not as if I can remember 85% of the things I’ve said in the past – or even in the very recent present. Though I will confidently proclaim that in every case, whether I remembered it or not, I had NO IDEA what I was saying was even being listened to, much less important to anyone I was saying it to.

It was merely spontaneous engagement on a topic with a group of people sitting in a room and sort of willing (Note: Yeah, sometimes it is tough) to engage.

That’s not the stuff of great teaching. It’s more the talent we all have – of being a thoughtful, decent, listening and reactive human being. At the end of the day it’s only the give and take and exchange of ideas with others that ultimately makes any real difference at all. Or has the chance to.

Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

50 Shades of a Blockbuster

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 2.34.56 PM

There’s a new film blockbuster in the works and it doesn’t center on a comic book and it most certainly won’t feature a superhero.  Oh, wait a minute – it kind of does and it absolutely will.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a trilogy of books about the S & M relationship between a sexy, billionaire businessman possessing gray/grey eyes (get it?), who’s into sexual domination, and aptly named Christian Grey, and his perfect submissive match, Anastasia/Ana Steele – a young college student who arrives in his office one day to interview him in advance of him giving the big keynote speech at her graduation. (Note:  Apologies to all former and current students who feel slighted at my school’s total failure to produce anything even vaguely comparable to CG in the past or, for that matter, in any part of our foreseeable futures.  And no, it is not lost on me that his initials are, indeed, CG).

We're more black and white.. than grey

We’re more black and white.. than grey

In any event, Mr. Grey, or Christian as Ana is quickly urged to call him, instantly became a sort of pop superhero phenomenon some time ago to many mega millions across the comic book world we now live in, though admittedly in a more adult, fantasy setting.  To be exact, the FSoG trilogy has sold in excess of 100 million copies since the first in its series began as a self-published E-BOOK three years ago.  Not to mention, by the time its rights and subsequent sequels were acquired and massively distributed worldwide, its writer, E.L. James, had vaulted to the #1 spot on Forbes 2013 list of top earning authors with an estimated $95 million of revenue in the till for all of her hard work.

EL James' house

EL James at home

Not that any of us do this for the money.

Understandably, there is great fascination as to how the novelistic fantasies of Christian and Ana will play out on the big screen, so much so that the potential of their celluloid (well, okay, digital) coupling is already beginning to build into a worldwide Twilight-like frenzy.  (Note: Interesting, enough, author James’ initial stories for these novels were first posted as Twilight fan fiction until sales soared, she chose new names for her characters and went about expanding the narrative).

It's like us... with whips!

It’s like us… with whips!

But back to FSoG:  The Movie.  The trailer was launched this week and, international fan bases being what they are, it quickly went viral.  The entertainment website The Wrap reported that in less than one day it had been viewed almost 7 million times on YouTube and it is nearing double that total (probably more) in less than a week.  Not to mention how many tens of millions more have watched it elsewhere in various iterations, myself included.

None of this is surprising in light of the phenomenon that is FSoG but is certainly not hurt by the fact that none other than Beyoncé has reworked a slower, more slutty sultry version of her megahit “Crazy In Love” as the theme song to all of the quick cutting, visual and/or implied sexual steaminess FSoG seeks to emit.  And yes, we must use the qualifier seeks because one person’s steaminess is someone else’s camp classic or moral offense.  Truth be told, I’d take any one of the three after a Saturday night spent watching this weekend’s number one film at the box-office, Lucy.  But judge for yourself right here and right now.

Whichever you prefer — steaminess, morality, campiness– the inevitable fact is this film will make a great deal of money – lots and lots and lots and lots of it.  So much so that one can only hope that those working on it have the greatest of deals established upfront with a guarantee to be involved in the next inevitable two or three more FSoG films in all of our pop culture futures.  Given the latter is most certainly the case whether we choose it or not, what is worth noting are several overall factors in how we view what is being touted as the new, hot (not to necessarily be confused with HOT!) film of the day.

1. The Blockbuster and potential Tentpole – Rather than argue about it, any observer of movies (which includes almost everyone you and I know) should recognize what truly makes the modern blockbuster and how many different facets of the industry contribute to it. It is rare, almost unheard of, for an original screenplay to bounce onto the scene – as say ET or Stars Wars or Home Alone did in past decades – and become an international phenomenon anymore.  One needs to be a sequel, a comic book or – the film embodiment of a best selling series of something written or conceived to great financial success in another medium.

Like me!

Like me!

This is not bad news or good news (depending on whether you’re a producer/studio head or creative talent) but simply reality.  That is, until some poor schnook is able to break through the morass and defy the odds.  Which is also inevitable given another reality – that the only sure thing in the world, aside from death and taxes, is change.  Perhaps you are that poor schnook (Note: author E.L. James was not poor before writing FsoG – she was, in fact, a British television executive).  If so, more power to you.  Still, all that being said – and as my gambler Dad tried to warn me – one should always understand the odds before taking the bet.  Not that it ever stopped he or I from making the leap at the things we both really wanted.  Which is probably the best piece of advice to follow but only if you want to wind up as either of us.

2. Women – As a gay guy I particularly LOVE women. Seriously.  No, this does not mean that I ever wanted to be a woman (well, aside from maybe Barbra Streisand when I was 13, but who didn’t?).  Women were always among my bestest friends as a boy and are among my favorite people as adults.  I had mothers and I have sisters – in all forms of the word.  This is why I am somewhat bothered yet openly recognize that big budget movies today deal mostly in archetypes – male and female – though the latter particularly seem to be getting the raw end of the stick.

I feel pretty?  From Jezebel

I feel pretty? From Jezebel

In terms of FSoG, the feminist website Jezebel referenced this as well as anyone else in one of its recent stories with the headline – Put A Cardigan On It:  How to Make a Beautiful Actress Less Beautiful.  The piece then went on to show a somewhat shameless array of mouse to swan images of young screen heroines from the past 40 years starting out in bad sweaters only to be transformed into sunnier versions of themselves in much better and skimpier outfits, not to mention hairstyles and cleavage.  Needless to say, this transformation was mostly due to their hot relationship with a hot guy – the big exception being Devil Wears Prada.  Well, with those as the only choices (Miranda Priestly vs. Christian Grey?) I guess most straight women I know would take the hot guy anytime.  Certainly I would.

This all begs the question of whether cardigans are the new eyeglasses. I for one can remember a time not that long ago in the movies when all it took was for a plain Jane to whip off her spectacles and – BOOM – you had a Bond girl.  Literally.  Which was a lot more efficient than making her shed a variety of badly colored, scratchy, ill-fitting outerwear.

QTers

On that note, I don’t know what to make of Woody Allen’s new Magic in the Moonlight, which seems to want us to root for a romance between a twenty-something young psychic who may or may not possess those powers, played by pert, pretty and perfectly dressed (sans cardigan) Emma Stone and a bitter, curmudgeonly fifty-something magician portrayed by Colin Firth.

However one feels about Mr. Allen’s real life involvements with women, the near thirty-year age difference is so creepy and unacknowledged, especially in the majority of reviews, that one wonders what exactly is the new normal out there in film land.  Sure, Eastwood, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas have played movie heroes who often romanced women a decade or two younger than themselves.  But is…three now the new one or two?  And what will the standard be in another 20 or 30 years?  It makes the upcoming submissiveness of a young college girl to the desires of a billionaire who was at least born within the same decade feel like a relief.  Or a 1970s after-school special.  Which it might yet be in another 30 years.

Keep working on it!

Keep working on it!

3. Actors – There are movie star films and then there are movies that rise to the top without performers who are household names.  Young adult films and steamy love stories that enjoyed great success in other mediums tend to do the latter.  Twilight had no stars at the time of its launch.  Endless Love, based on the best selling steamy novel from the eighties, was cast with a known but very young model (Brooke Shields) who had limited acting experience and a totally unknown young actor, Martin Hewitt, who is, once again, unknown today. (Note: And please, can we just forget the more recent remake earlier this year? Please?). 9 1/2 Weeks, perhaps the best example of a big studio kinky sex film, starred Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger – experienced movie actor quantities but by no means Brad, Angie, Tom, Sandy, Julia or even Shailene.

The new "it" couple

The new “it” couple

This makes the casting of Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as CG and AS in FSoG certainly in keeping with past choices.  Ms. Johnson has been in a few films and is the daughter and granddaughter of movie stars who know a thing or two about this sort of sexy screen area.  Mom Melanie Griffith first drew controversy for appearing naked at the age of 17 as a promiscuous teen runaway in the 1975 drama, Night Moves and I, for one, remember her father Don Johnson parading around in all his natural glory in 1973’s The Harrad Experiment to great effect – at least on my end.  We won’t even get into her maternal grandmother Tippi Hedren, not naked per se but best known as perhaps one of the most famous of all the Hitchcock blondes.  Which at the very least qualifies you as an expert in steam.  And certainly much more.

A different kind of masochism

A different kind of masochism

As for Mr. Dornan, he’s appeared in a few movies and starred in the recent British TV series The Fall. But like Ms. Shields he also got his start as a model, becoming famous enough to be nicknamed The Golden Torso.  Interesting Side Note: In most of his former work he had a beard (uh, I mean facial hair – don’t be bitchy).  Yet he will appear totally clean-shaven as CG – evoking a physical image slightly akin to that of another Christian – Bale – in American Psycho.

Dornan vs. Hunnam... everybody wins!

Dornan vs. Hunnam… everybody wins!

Of course, this was not the filmmakers’ original conception.  They had first cast Charlie Hunnam, who stars as a rugged, muscly biker in the hit cable series Sons of Anarchy.  But when Mr. Hunnam had to bow out due to scheduling they presumably decided to go in a different direction, as they say.   By the way, the word presumably is a proper one in this case because Mr. Hunnam initially gained acting notoriety as the lithe, blonde underage boy deflowered by one of the handsome leading men in the 1999 British miniseries Queer As Folk.  At least that’s how I first experienced him.  And from memory I can tell you that aside from his experience making steamy naked love onscreen early in his career, he would have cleaned up quite nicely if the FSoG filmmakers had desired it.  As for what images I am suddenly choosing to recall onscreen, #NoThereIsNotAPatternHere.

4. Audiences/The WorldNobody knows anything as William Goldman once famously said about people in the motion picture business predicting hits.   All of it is ultimately second-guessing.  But if one believes in the basics of science – which could be considered a controversial stance in many places in the US these days yet hopefully is not yet one here – there is certainly a cause and effect to everything.

FSoG, like the Twilight series of books, has been dubbed as Mommy Porn in more than some circles.   Confused?  Well, luckily we have a web dictionary handy.

mommy porn

A genre of mainstream erotic literature that primarily appeals to the sensibilities of mothers and housewives

Beware the power of the mom

Beware the power of the mom

Now certainly I am not here to besmirch those sensibilities or to even begin to define what they are because generally I subscribe to what Woody Allen once wrote/said in Manhattan re orgasms:  My worst one was right on the money.

Nevertheless, as stated above the world is not random.   Even musician/singer John Mayer wrote/sang about being nice, kind and honest to young women in Daughters, one of his most famous hit songs, despite his very well publicized and occasionally tawdry womanizing adventures during the last two decades.

Writes/Sings Mr. Mayer:

…On behalf of every man

Looking out for every girl

You are the god and the weight of her world.

So fathers be good to your daughters…

If you want John Mayer, who I don’t know but seems like a nice guy to hang out with, to date your daughter, well he comes off like the gold standard given his song but his actions seem otherwise. Of course, I don’t know because, as I said, I’ve never experienced him personally.  Or any of the women he dates, including any of your daughters.   As for the movies, apply similar logic.  Maybe creating and frequenting future blockbusters like Ffity Shades of Grey won’t come back to haunt us decades later in some odd shape or form.  Or maybe it will.  Like a date with Mr. Mayer, and most certainly Mr. Grey himself, there is room for fantasy on either side.  The only real fantasy is writing off what we do as a random choice – one that will have no effect on any of us or our world at all.

Final Note and full disclaimer: I’ll be seeing FSoG opening weekend – which is – wait for it — Valentine’s Day, 2015.  Like everyone else, I’m nothing if not curious. Whether that’s good, bad or just simply steamy, if for you to decide.

Diary of a Chair: Escape from Chicago

Sure, it looks good now, but just wait…

Saturday, Aug. 11, 10pm –  Our last night at the Chicago hotel that hosted this year’s tribute to Harry Potter-obsessed teenagers – Leaky Con.  This means that upon arriving into town three days earlier there were more than 1000 (mostly) teenage girls dressed as characters from all the books and movies in the lobby. When I asked the bell captain what was up he snidely smiled as he told me – “there are 4000 of them staying here to attend the conference.”  Yuk. Yuk.

As it turns out – 98% of the crowd are sweet and lively.  About 25% were young men.  And 5% were parents and adults of questionable character. Think — the cast of “Glee” but instead of musicals they all like young people’s English literature for their own particular reasons.

a sampling of attendees

Note:  Costumes were all homemade and one girl insisted I do a secret handshake with her, which turned out to be fun.  Of all those under 21, all were polite except for the two 18 year olds in the early check out line who happened to be staying in the hotel – but instead of being into all things Potter were mostly into oblivious texting on their sleek, black phones.  I can’t help but think this observation is significant.

Saturday, Aug. 11, 7pm – Earlier that evening, we’re at the finale banquet dinner of a 3-day academic conference held at the Adler Planetarium.  The views outside are  spectacular and it’s a fine choice for a finale.  But I do miss the Potter gals.

love her.

Also, I discover Planetarium light shows have not changed much since I was in fourth grade.  Why do we go out of our way to remind children of how insignificant humans are in the existential scheme of planetary existence??

Sunday, Aug. 12, 1:00 am – I can’t sleep thinking about the 5 am wakeup time to get to the airport for the 8:30 am flight back to Los Angeles.  It could be partly due to the root canal awaiting me this week and my dentist’s parting words:  “and then hopefully we can save the tooth.”  No one cared about such things in Potter world, I think.  In fact, I know that to be more of a contemporary American thing and consider picking up one of the books myself prior to flying.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 7:30am – I’m at the super cool Virgin America terminal awaiting to board our hipper-than-hip plane that allowed me to listen to Amy Winehouse on the departure flight while I was watching “Jeff Who Lives At Home” on the screen of the young girl next to me without the sound.  I am not stalking young females.  No.  Really.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 10:00 am – Mechanical problem on the plane that they’re working on.  Meanwhile, we talk to three sisters in their 70s going to visit a fourth sister for a “sister’s reunion” on Catalina Island.  I realize they’re way funnier than anything in the movie as they talk of ducking outside for “smokes,” the fact that one of their sons is wasting his life “shoving chicken out a window” at the neighborhood KFC and should go back to college, and question if the logo on one of a competing airlines is actually Lucifer or just looks like him.  I couldn’t make this stuff up.  Really.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 11am – A pilot who looks like the younger brother of Capt. Sully of Hudson River fame, explains to us they’re still working on the plane and there’s no word but that he will keep us informed and, yeah, it stinks to be so inconvenienced.  He’s sorry.  Aside from liking his manner and the fact that he’s central casting for a trustworthy airman, his name is Steve – as is mine and my partner in travel (and life).  I take this as a sign that everything will be okay.  Really.

Our pilot, in about 20 years

Addendum: Virgin gate attendants give out a game with 15 jumbles of airline-related words.  The two Steves have five college degrees between them and smile as snidely as the hotel bell captain, convinced we will be among the first five winners to unscramble them all and get free food and drink vouchers.  We don’t even come close.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 12:30 pm – Virgin scrubs our flight.  Since we’ve all been awake since 4am and waiting, no one is happy.

Bad news:  No other airline at O’Hare has empty seats at this late date on a Sunday.

Great news!  Snappy and “with it” Virgin Air will provide a special plane for any of us who want it that will get us out on a flight to L.A. that leaves at 11:00 that night.  We can hang out or just come back to the gate at our convenience an hour ahead of time.  As the Barefoot Contessa says on the Food Channel, “How Easy Is That?”

“SO easy,” says Ina.

In “I’m cool” news:  I manage to be the first to give my name the Virgin Air personnel so I don’t have to wait on line with the other 100 plus people reserving space for 11:00 pm.   And a few minutes later the sisters are even snuck a Virgin gift certificate to free meals at the Olive Garden!  It’s true – seriously!

Sunday, Aug. 12, 2:30 pm – We finish a not-so-good lunch at another terminal and, in an airport walkway, a passenger from our plane tells us our special 11:00 flight was cancelled and it’s a good thing he saw us cause we need to get back to the gate asap.  Not sure what this means for the sisters at the Olive Garden but we skedaddle to selfishly take care of ourselves.

Gee thanks, Ina

Sunday, Aug. 12, 4:00 pm – We are sent downstairs for ticketing and spend 90 mins. waiting on line trying to get rebooked for any later flights at all but everything’s sold out.  A lady from Iran starts to yell, fearing she’ll lose her job if she doesn’t get home.  She later tells me later that she “expects this in my country because everything is like that – but this is America.”  I’m not quite sure what to say right then and there.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 4:30pm After two hours waiting, Virgin Air promises swears they will provide a plane at 9am for us since their other flights TOMORROW are booked.  They give us a voucher to the Double Tree Inn,  a 10-15 minute tram ride away and send us half a mile to the baggage claim area to pick up our bags once checked.  Then they instruct us to return to this airport no later than 6 or 7am the next morning – three hours prior to the take off of this flight.  My tooth finally starts to hurt.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 6:30 pm – The tram driver was Third Reichish , it’s starting to rain and we listen as a fellow passenger – a 20something guy with long-hair and a very cool affect – tell his odd relationship history with women to a female traveler from Hong Kong in the next seat who he flirts with.  I realize once again in my life that looks aren’t everything.  I hope to God she realizes this and I’m not even religious.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 9:00 pm – The long-haired guy is still bending the ear of the young woman in the Double Tree Inn Restaurant but they’re both in new outfits.  Uh, oh.  Also, a bartender with a deep voice who claims to have known Ryan Seacrest when he was working in Chicago radio (as the Olympics plays on TV behind him), plies two women with drinks on opposite ends of the bar.  One eventually starts to cry and he steps out from behind his post and rubs her back.  The other later orders another drink and he drops that he’ll “be here till 11.” Then she hints she might return.  As my grandmother used to say, “oy vey.”  I, however, admit to being equally repulsed and intrigued.

Sunday, Aug. 12, 10:39 pm – After watching snippets of the closing ceremony of the Olympics we leave the TV on NBC because the hotel room’s remote control won’t change channels and we need a diversion.  We miss several musical acts but get to see the pilot of something called “Animal Practice” and the Sunday night Chicago news, whose weather forecaster promises big morning thunderstorms.   When The Who show up to close the Olympics post newscast and I can’t help but wonder what happened in London as we were staring at a TV pilot, the local news and the threat of a Midwest electrical disaster that could down our plane.  A voice answers: NBC hubris.  But at this point I’m too tired to really fight.

WHO even saw this?

Sunday, Aug. 12, 10:53 pm – My cell rings and it’s a local number.  But not one I recognize.  It’s our same favorite corporate Virgin Air reps telling us the 9am aircraft for tomorrow has mechanical difficulties too.  They can squeeze us on something that leaves Monday night but that there are only a few seats left and that, really, there is no guarantee with them or anyone else if we don’t book now.  The other Steve (my partner – not the pilot) starts to uncharacteristically fling nasty, non-Harry Potter insults at the Virgins in the background as I ask if we can count on this flight actually happening.  I’m told that “nothing is ever 100%.” Duh as if I didn’t already know that.  And truthfully, I wouldn’t write that anywhere.  Well, except here.

Monday, Aug. 13, 12:30 am –I think I see lightning. It is now raining.  Since I don’t like flying even in nice weather, this concerns me.  As do my teeth because due to stress and the fact they upset my stomach, I missed the last 6 hours of antibiotics meant to keep an almost dead tooth from becoming infected.  The other online-intrepid Steve meanwhile scours the web and eventually sneaks us on a 7:55 am United flight (take that, Virgins!) so we can get back in the nick of time for our jobs and my tooth.  To ensure this and to accommodate the machinations of weather and dictatorial tram drivers, we pony up another $800 as my finger shakily sets the hotel room wakeup call for…4 ayem.  I’m convinced I don’t need to sleep because not being alert to everything around you is obviously much too dangerous.

How I imagine this flight.. or the beginning of Lost

Monday, Aug. 13, 5:00 am – A new tram driver misses our stop at United completely even though we and another couple told him three times of our destination.  Note:  This couple bears no resemblance to any couple mentioned thus far and is not recognizable from the airport, bar or hotel.  I’m not sure if this is significant but think even the smallest detail could be at this very crucial and very early time.

Monday, Aug. 13, 8:15 am – We are seated on our new United plane, convinced we’ve gamed the system (somewhat) and mentally composing our letter (email?)/phone conversation with the hideous Virgin Air to reimburse us. (Unless I can persuade a powerful friend who has met Richard Branson to give me his email address and his vacation home).  That is, until the pilot announces there is a bad smell in the baggage/engine area in this new United airplane that they need to investigate.

Monday, Aug. 13, 8:17 am – We are told we can deplane if we like and walk around while they tinker or we can stay put until there is news.  I begin to worry about the other Steve next to me, reassured somewhat by the airline rule against passengers carrying guns onboard a plane and thrilled no Steves I know (or live with) actually have a permit to carry one.  Remembering the advice of a former writing teacher from many years ago, I quickly decide to listen to Earth, Wind and Fire’s greatest hits to calm me down..

Monday, Aug. 13, 10:15 am – We are ordered to take our seats again, passengers are ordered back inside, the engines rev and we are told we will be taking off.  No one seems to know what the smell was or if it’s affected the engine.  It’s as if it never happened, though suddenly I detect a distinct gasoline odor and become very concerned.  The other Steve threatens to behead me with his iPhone if I dare utter one word about it.  I shrink down in my seat, the stench of fumes all around me, and cover myself with a thin blue United Airlines blanket with a disinfectant chemical odor all of its own.  For many reasons, I don’t want to die this way.  I am not really happy.

Roughly how I spent the flight.

Monday, Aug. 13, five hours later, 1:30 pm – We land safely at LAX, 36 hours after our initial return trip began.   But I begin to wonder what Orville and Wilbur Wright would think about both the popularity and reality of air travel today.  And consider that more can happen since we haven’t deplaned.

A few minutes later, I think of the fine Lichtenstein exhibit we snuck off to at Chicago’s spectacular Art Institute and wonder if I’m too much of a complainer who hasn’t yet caught on to the fact that we’re all living in our own version of one of his comic book paintings.  I also ponder if me asking this very question is what Lichtenstein had intended all along.

I give in.

As we walk through the airport to L.A. baggage claim, I think of JK Rowling and consider if when she sat in her apartment conceiving Harry and Hogwarts if she ever dreamed of what the ripple effect would be of her mass invention (or if it would be).  And also, if she’s even aware of this obscure Midwest convention of Potterites called Leaky Con that, its brochures clearly note, have nothing at all to do with her or any of WB’s “Harry” films.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.  Not even close.  The only thing I do know is that – strangely – I do miss the Potter kids at the hotel.  Though I have no plans in the near or distant future to ever travel back on an airplane to see them.

Then I have one last thought –  that perhaps I can invent another way – one that doesn’t involve the corruption of a really neat invention – by either mere neglect, inconsideration or some other sort of corporate malfeasance.

In a Potter-like land of make believe, I find myself, once again, hopeful.

Prep Time

Focus Pocus

Among the many “straight to the trash” emails I received yesterday morning was one trying to sell me “an innovative way to channel and fine-tune the writing process” that would provide the “essential tools to write a best seller.”  No, it wasn’t personal ownership of JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins.  They are not mere items but cottage industries and those don’t usually go on sale, especially via internet communications (though their work is downloadable for an inflated fee.).   Anyway, as further evidence, my email implied that the purchase of this not inexpensive item would provide me with enough structure, knowledge and answered questions to really “get in the zone” of my project.  To use their words, and I quote:

“Ask any writer – once you get in the zone you can write forever.”

Is that supposed to be a selling point — writing forever?  That’s the very last thing I want to spend the rest of eternity doing.  Forever is quite a long time and if I’m going to spend it doing any one thing it’ll be eating pizza, participating in some sort of carnal pleasure, or at least receiving attention for all that I have already “written” in this lifetime and perhaps a few other incarnations before true eternity hits.

In case you’re wondering, the internet “item” in question being sold via this particular email was a computer program – and not even the original version.  In actuality, it’s the program’s 4.0 permutation, which begs the question of what happened to the poor schnooks who purchased versions 1.0,2.0, 3.0.  (No, the correct answer is NOT that they’re disgruntled iPhone users).  Were they rooked and can only hope to write for one-third of eternity?  Or half?  Certainly, for me, that deal would be even better.  And by this point undoubtedly cheaper given consumer demand for outdated software.

What would be even cheaper – way cheaper – would be to not buy the 4.0 or any other version at all.   Or any other snake oil that promises you the keys to the kingdom – the way to save you so much time that the road to success will become as smooth and easy as it was gliding down the sliding pond at your local playground when you were three years old.  Trust me, if there were a shortcut to these more adult “things creative,” all of us who came before you would have figured it out long ago, not to mention the generations before us and back through all of eternity.  My money is on the gang who built the Pyramids or the perhaps the author (or authors) who claim to be William Shakespeare.

Nope... not that pyramid.

The sad, honest and even dirty truth is that in order to be good at what you do you need to put in the time doing it.  In his new book on creativity, “Imagine,” the young author and former neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer (and he’s only 30!) spends time theorizing and positing on where creativity comes from and quotes people from all walks of life on their process.  Bob Dylan, for example, was ready to hang up his guitar and sometime rhyming ability until one day, when he sort of didn’t care, the song “Like A Rolling Stone” quickly came to him in a flash of anger.  Certainly Dylan is a songwriting genius and there is no program or book in the world that can teach you to write or sing exactly like him (some would say, Praise the Lord on the latter).  But Dylan also didn’t wake up one day with the ability to write “Like a Rolling Stone.”  It came after decades of writing and preparing for that moment where what he was feeling could be put to music so easily.  And even then, there is no promise that he’d be able to do it as well, or as quickly, again.  Yes, indeed, creativity is a harsh mistress, or gigolo, to be an equal opportunity offender.  But then again, just about anything worth having has some kind of downside.

Lately, it’s come to my attention that there are more than a few people unwilling to put in the time to “prepare” for what they aspire to do or achieve and more than a few others who have prepared inadequately, but act shocked, surprised or offended when the crown or throne or lottery check is not immediately handed over to them.  It might not seem like Kim Kardashian or her sisters ever paid their dues on the road to fame and fortune but if you google their images and Wikipedia page you will see the evolution of “the look,” reportage on sex tapes, and an obsession with fashion, fame and commerce that was inbred almost from birth.  Now, if this is your idea of a good time – start young or have your children start young.   Or even better yet use that prep time towards something else that appeals to you, because the position of young iconic reality show punching bag has already been done and will, no doubt, be done again by others much more obsessed with it than a reader of any notesfromachair blog could ever be.

Geeky in every shade

This past week I went to see MSNBC host (and one of my intellectual goddesses) Rachel Maddow being interviewed by Bill Maher in Los Angeles and was taken aback at just how staggering all of this preparation stuff can really be  (note: I have a crush on Rachel because, as she admits – she looks like a tall geeky man).    Rachel is meticulous in her research for her 5 day per week hour long MSNBC program and it certainly shows in her new book “Drift.”  Her look at how U.S. military intervention went from the Founding Fathers’ concept of checks and balances to modern day presidents from Ronald Reagan through and including Barak Obama taking it upon themselves to launch and/or continue wars without Congress approval and maintain them through private military contractors – takes a complicated, dry subject and, through penetrating research and thought, makes it read like a novel (It’s been #1 on the NY Times bestseller list for two weeks).    At the same time, unlike most novels, it will alternately also make you really angry at inarguable current event facts we’re living through in present day.

Coincidence?  Nah.  Rachel is also an Oxford PhD, former radio show host, comic book reader, out lesbian liberal activist, and likes to drink cocktails — proving you can be smart, prepared, rigorous and misbehave, or at least have fun.  This is why her work is both smart and yet approachably human.  Mr. Maher – curmudgeonly, insensitive atheist that he is, is quicker than he’s ever been interviewing her despite being an avowed pothead, misogynist and slightly dirty old/young man who is convinced marriage is the sure death of sex.  Still, he somehow manages to convincingly sell his brand of nihilism pretty convincingly and, he has noted, this is in part because he still spends a significant part of the year doing live standup routines all over the country – something he’s done consistently over the last 30 years.  Whether you like him or not, the sharp-tongued remarks he’s consistently so good at as an interviewer don’t happen without this or some other kind of ongoing practice.  That and being an obsessive reader of daily newspapers, magazines and books also helps, as he readily admits.

Every semester I always have a few students skating by while others work a lot and then don’t work and still others are work horses who break through.  Sometimes there are also those frozen with anxiety.  And sometimes, but not often enough, a small group don’t seem to have any trouble at all and came fully formed through dedication and love of what they do (or perhaps natural talent and desire so it doesn’t feel like work).  None are recipes for success or failure on their own but each can set you on the road to good, bad or indifferent.  But students have an excuse – they are mostly young and they’re learning.   You wonder about the last few years of people seeking high office who haven’t put in the prep time, or tried to cram the prep time in over a very short period of time (I’m not mentioning Sarah Palin by name because she’s doing just fine as a media gadfly).  Yet on the flip side, I’m also not mentioning those with perhaps limited experience for the highest office in the land who still took decades of prep time prior to that election to excel at one of the finest universities in the world, become a scholar of the law, work in trenches with the underprivileged, run for elected office and lose but then win, and win a seat in Congress again.  All the while, with his other spare hand, he wrote (all by himself) two best sellers, got married and had two kids.  The latter gave him the ability to empathize with the plight of families everywhere.  That and the fact he was raised by a single working mother who used to wake him at 5 or 6 in the morning to go over his studies or do homework he had put off and got him in the routine of responsibility for doing his work – and doing it overtime if he had to (or was ordered to do so).  I don’t want to mention names again but, okay fine, but this person’s rhymes with “Shamrock Yo Mama”

Ultimately, of course, this is about more than petty political endorsements or bitchy remarks in a self-published weekly snarkfest like my own.  It’s really about – the pride we take in what we do – the time we put in – and the quality of the final product.  What does it mean to you? Or us?  Or anyone?   What are our expectations from ourself and the world with it and without it?  Master improvisers practice to be so impromptu – ask any stylish person known for his or her “disheveled look” (I used to date someone like this – trust me – there’s a real art to the properly fashionable wrinkled shirt).    Conversely, most hard-working practitioners have an improvisational skill they can count on after years of hard work, or perhaps always had it but chose to work hard to put their innate skills over the top.  In any event, each were smart enough to not take a shortcut that, in the long run, they knew would only sentence them to spend the rest of eternity figuring out why they not only didn’t fit into a particular kind of 1, 2, 3 or 4.0 requirements of a particular program.  Instead, they led the way, writing an entirely new, more exciting one based on practice and, on what they had learned.

SURPRISE!

Jack in the Box

There are so few surprises left in the entertainment world that it puts a great big smile on my face when I find one.  So it was not unsurprising that I was grinning ear to ear last night when I found out that Lauren Ambrose, the flame-haired Emmy-nominated actress who played the slightly screwed up, aspiring young artist Claire on HBO’s brilliant “Six Feet Under” TV series, was cast as Fanny Brice in the upcoming Broadway musical revival (the first in 45 years) of “Funny Girl.”

Now, for those of you who aren’t musical theatre freaks or gay, don’t stop reading.  Because there will be a larger point made.  Fanny Brice is the part that made Barbra Streisand a Broadway and movie megastar and defined her as a performer for decades.  Industry wisdom was that NO ONE could ever do it, be as good or believable, and that it was pretty much a waste to spend millions of dollars in musical theatre (or other) money in order to try and convince anyone (much less an audience) to the contrary.  Still don’t care?  Okay —

How can I explain this to readers under 40?  Particularly those who are heterosexual —

Jaden Smith

Jaden as Harry? I don't think so.

Having someone step into Barbra Streisand’s shoes as Fanny Brice would be akin to remaking the first  “Harry Potter” movie and casting – uh – say – Jaden Smith as Harry?  It just won’t feel right to most people on the first blush.  Or the second.  Or even the twenty-third.

I’m a huge “Six Feet Under” fan and a Lauren Ambrose fan in particular.  Her current turn as a bizarre pharmaceutical rep on the Starz series “Torchwood” is a gem and I’ve seen her be good in lots of stuff over the years.  But playing the quintessential Jewish American musical comedy heroine, the same part played by THE real-life quintessential Jewish American musical performer/heroine of the last century?  Are they kidding?

Then I thought about it and realized.  Well, she can act.  But can anyone act that well in a part that’s been done so perfectly that they’re not right for? (at least according to conventional wisdom).  Hmmm.  Maybe.  But even accepting that, how could she sing it?  I mean, I’ve actually heard her sing.  A former writing partner of mine directed the film version of “Psycho Beach Party,” one of her first roles, and she was quite good.  But – “Funny Girl?”  Are you kidding?

Then I listened to this –

And this

It’s oddly infectious.  And off.  And funny.  And she can really sing.  But I mean – really sing.  Not necessarily like Barbra Streisand.  But the funny, quirky, infectious thing she does could possibly remind me of some performer.  Maybe one from the past.  Let me think.  Hmmm.  Still thinking.  Maybe – Fanny Brice?

The point here is not whether Lauren Ambrose will be a great Fanny Brice or perhaps the disappointment a small handful of nasty and bitter Lea Michele fans were hoping for.  (No, she didn’t get the role – get over it!).  It’s that it took a performer with the drive and talent of Ms. Ambrose to not let the industry define her – but define herself and forge her own path despite what any of us naysayers think.

Can you imagine if after “Six Feet Under” she’d said to her agents – you know what I’d like – to do a big Broadway revival of – “Funny Girl.”  HUH????  Answer:  What about the star of your own TV series on NBC, honey?  There are potentially millions of dollars in that.  What about movies?  They want you as Katherine Heigl’s sister in “29 Dresses” and it’s lots of exposure to a new audience.  What about, uh…wait, even if you can sing, no one can compare to Streisand.  Why set yourself up for failure?  As your agents we’re here to tell you….

Oh, go jump in the lake, CAA.

Now I’m not entirely sure that’s how the conversation went but I can guess.  That’s the advantage of being the chair of this blog.  And I don’t know that I’m so far off.   Except that I hear that Ms. Ambrose is quite a lovely person and would probably not treat the people that represent her so shabbily.  So I’m quite happy to do that for her.

The reason I’m willing to mouth off is that someone needs to occasionally speak for creative risk-taking and artistic independence.  Or at least shine a small (albeit very small) light on artists who  “walk the walk” and follow their muse — Creative people who take chances when they don’t have to, probably passing up many more seemingly sure things in order to do this.  This goes not only for someone in Ms. Ambrose’s position as a working actress, but also for any person in the creative arts who is not working.  We all make choices every day on which projects we’ll work on, what we will devote our time to.  Are we choosing the “sure thing” (as if there were such a thing) or deciding to do what is “calling” to us?  In Ms. Ambrose’s case I can only guess that when some years ago when she decided to play in small clubs as a singer with a retro jazz band called The Leisure Class that she was answering “the call.”  Because it wasn’t for the money or attention.  This isn’t the 1950s. Or even the l920’s.  This isn’t the age of girl singers.  Or turn of the roaring twenties singers.  That really went with, well, was  pretty much last popular in — the age of Fanny Brice.  Oops.

I might have told this story before but it bears repeating.  Many years ago I worked as a publicist on the set of the sequel to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  It was admittedly not the high point in my career although for some weird reason it is now met with some odd kitschy respectability.  But what I particularly recall from that time is the look of surprise and disbelief on the face of some of the (above-the-line) crew when they found out I was a writer.  (“Yeah, sure, who isn’t”).  This was nothing compared to the absolute shock on some of their faces when by the end of filming I had sold a screenplay I wrote that was packaged with several big stars and given a green light to be filmed less than six months later.  “Did you hear the PUBLICIST sold a movie?”  “How can that BE?”

The entertainment industry (actually the world at large) pretty much wants to define everybody.  It’s easier that way.  Even as I’m writing this I have to cop to the fact that I am probably guilty of it too.   But we all make a big mistake when we set the limits for someone else.  And – for what it’s worth – an even bigger mistake when we set limits for ourselves and what we can do.   If you’re in the creative arts, the very nature of it, the very fun of it, is that there ARE no limits.  It’s a playground.  And aside from a few basic parameters when you’re in the playground there are no rules.  You get to make up the game as you go along.  It’s better that way, certainly a lot more fun.  Because every once in a while the odds are that if you play the game you make up right, you get to be the BIG, BIG winner.  The verdict is out but I suspect that is what’s in Ms. Ambrose’s future.  And perhaps one of ours if we’re willing to follow her path.

Recipes

I enjoy cooking and I’m good at it.  I’m not a great cook because that would entail inventing recipes from scratch out of thin air or improvising five star meals out of what’s in the kitchen cabinet.  What I love most about cooking (other than eating) is that if you exactly follow a great or even good recipe it’s impossible to make a mistake.  It will ALWAYS come out right.  When my sister, whom I adore, compliments my cooking and tells me she wishes she could be as good as I am at it, I roll my eyes (lovingly) and always have the same response:  “If you can read, you can cook.”

Not so in the entertainment business.  There is no recipe.  No formula.  This runs contrary to what you hear deep inside film and TV studios and from many, if not most, producers and agents.  They believe in the “recipe,” “the formula,” if only for self-preservation.  I mean, what if there were no sure fire way to do your job – you’d have to get creative.  Maybe even edgy or dangerous.

Note:  I’m making an overall point here.  I do know some creative studio executives, producers and agents.  Maybe even one or two who are edgy and dangerous.  And even if I didn’t (but I do) I would not admit it because I would like to get a film made again.  To reiterate, that’s “if” I didn’t.

The recipe you most hear about in film and television is

  1. Take a strong concept or story (robots attacking the earth.. ahem, “Transformers”) and…
  2. Marry it with a proven moneymaking director (Michael Bay: “Tranformers II.”  And “III.”  And…?).   Sometimes you can even…
  3. Put a big star in it (Shia LaBeouf?).  But, uh, okay, not necessarily.  Two of the three elements are often enough.

Another way to go is to:

  1. Take a money-making story from another medium that is so HUGELY popular (“Harry Potter”) that it can’t help but succeed financially, even without big box-office stars.  In that case, it helps to have…
  2. A proven, big moneymaking director (Chris Columbus)
  3. An experienced, literate screenwriter (Steve Kloves) and…
  4. A lot of very experienced producers – too many to mention but you can look it up here.

So okay – there IS a formula, you say?  Hasn’t this guy just disproven his point?  Not exactly.  Or at all.  Because aside from the various examples of other films that had those same type of elements but DID NOT succeed (my friends and I call them LUCY award winners, for reasons which I’ll explain in a minute), it seems that the aforementioned sure-fire formulas for film/TV success I just mentioned in 2011 no longer hold water for the studio powers-that-be.

To prove my point, I cite and credit the following bit of information to Nikke Finke’s Deadline Hollywood, which broke the following story earlier this week:

“Universal recently passed on green lighting At The Mountains of Madness, which Guillermo del Toro was to direct with Tom Cruise starring, based on HP Lovecraft horror tale.”

And what about this one?

 “…The Dark Tower, the ultra-ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that was going to encompass a trilogy of feature films and two limited run TV series. The studio has said, No Thanks. Universal has passed on going forward with the project, dealing a huge blow in the plan for Ron Howard to direct Akiva Goldsman’s script, with Brian Grazer, Goldsman and the author producing and Javier Bardem starring as gunslinger Roland Deschain.

How does this NOT work?

Don’t these fit in the formula?  Uh, not any longer because, as you see, the recipe has changed.   And will change again.  And then again.  Or maybe there was never any sure-fire recipes for film and TV success to begin with (Just as I told you!).

Because if, according to those proven “recipes,” Tom Cruise (still one of our biggest international moneymaking actors) starring in a genre (they never lose money) film directed by a now HOT, money-making and even artistic director like Guillermo Del Toro who understands, has made money and even gotten good reviews in genre filmmaking (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Blade 2,” “Hellboy”) can’t get a film project going, something’s up.  Yeah, Deadline Hollywood tells us “the studio balked at funding a $150 million film that gave del Toro the latitude to deliver his cut with an R-rating.”  But is that it?  Or have economic times called for a seismic shift in new ingredients?

Ron Howard’s films have grossed upwards of $1.8 billion (that’s BILLION, with a “B”) domestically.   So if anyone could do a “Lord of the Rings” type trilogy for his home studio of Universal you’d think it would be a veteran yet still young (ish – for directors) Oscar winner, producing with his longtime mega moneymaking partner from a script by his Oscar-winning long-time writer.  Also, incidentally,  starring arguably one of the hottest international stars both critically and financially in movies today.  But again, no go.

Stop the boiling water, Virginia —  your film package may not have seemed half-baked but is now officially only half-cooked.

The recent economic meltdown of the past two years and the financial disappointments or stale reviews for some much-touted films has changed things.  Nothing is a sure thing, if it ever was.  The recipes for success that are no guarantees of anything have been changed by the people who claim publicly to not have any.  Or maybe, where creative work is concerned, there is no, nor has there ever been, any sure fire recipe to begin with.

Consider:

  1. “Nine” – From the director of the Oscar-winning movie musical megahit “Chicago,” (Rob Marshall) starring the Academy Award-winning actor of pretty much every other acclaimed movie (a slight exaggeration?) in the last 15 years (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  2. “Lovely Bones” – An adaptation of one the world’s most recent best selling single volume books from one of the most sought after directors Peter Jackson of multi-part films (“Lord of the Rings”) the world has ever known.
  3. “Burlesque” – Cher and Christina Aguilera in a movie musical.   It bridges music young and old.  Plus there’s A LOT of skin.  How can it lose?  Or at least not be interesting.  And infinitely watchable?

Help!

My friend Barry (who suggested I cite  him  the films) and I would modestly categorize these last three films as “Lucy” award winners.  Meaning they are films that on paper look like they’re sure successes or of high interest either creatively, financially or for huge entertainment value.  Yet, all three, with fairly sure-fire ingredients in their recipes failed to deliver.

(Note:  This award was named years ago in honor of my favorite all-time TV actor – Lucille Ball, who still makes me guffaw in reruns of “I Love Lucy” just about every time I tune in.  However, she unwittingly created the “Lucy” award when she starred in the ill-fated movie version of “Mame,” an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical that, on paper at least, looked like a viable recipe for success).

It wasn’t.

What is the takeaway here?  That recipes are for cooking, not for movie or TV making.  And just to prove it, I will close with one of my favorites of the former – Ina Garten’s (“The Barefoot Contessa”) formula for GREAT GUACOMOLE.  Over the years I’ve made it at least 100 times and it ALWAYS, ALWAYS comes out perfect.

Ingredients

4 ripe Haas avocados

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)

8 dashes hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

Directions

Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

You can thank me later.