Loving the Ricardos

I’m a college professor and a writer so no matter how hard of a professional day I have, let’s face it, I’m not working in the mines. 

Please don’t share that with my college’s senior leadership team or any producer, director or editor I might work with in the future.

Even though deep down they know the same applies to them.

#WriterLife

Nevertheless, it’s hell out there these days, isn’t it?  Or some human replica of what we imagine it to be.   

In a few weeks we’ll be going into our third calendar year of the COVID pandemic.  Though three doses of either a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (Note: The third being your all important booster shot) can pretty much ensure you of not dying, becoming hospitalized or even seriously ill with this potential demon only 30% of the country have so far been boosted.

Don’t ask me why, that’s way above my pay grade.  Though if you press me I’ll say stupidity, stubbornness and willful ignorance, not necessarily in that order.

Yes, Grandma, they are.

To give you an idea of how infectious the new Omicron variant is, New York State set a record of 21,027 new cases on Thursday, the single HIGHEST number since this all began almost three calendar years ago.  (Note: Didn’t I just bring up those THREE calendar years?  Well, I’m doing it again).

There are all kinds of other statistics but perhaps none as sobering as almost 5.4 million deaths worldwide, including 805,000 in the U.S.  The numbers continue to go up and if you continue to be unvaccinated know hell is no longer just waiting for you outside your door but finding better and more clever ways to vaporize itself beneath it and into your system even as I write.

Just call him Omicron

This is why everyone needs to do TWO things this Christmas season.

#1 – GET YOUR F’N VACCINE.

And —

#2 – Watch BEING THE RICARDOS either at the movie theatre wearing a mask, or at home on Amazon beginning Tuesday, Dec. 21st.

You didn’t think we were going down that road, did you?

Wait, really?

But we are taking that turn because you and I and everyone we know is tired of talking about COVID and all of the things we can’t, shouldn’t or should do.  In fact, we’re going out of our f’n minds doing so.

Broadway is closing down left and right, local theatre the same.  Sporting events are getting cancelled or postponed and if you’re going to be attending a music concert in these winter months inside, good luck to you.

No, seriously, good luck.  You’ll need it.

Best wishes from Katniss

However, the one thing we can do is sit at home and partake in that age-old American tradition of watching a movie. 

The entertainment industry is trying to get us all to go out but, with infection numbers spiking so much in just two weeks PRIOR to Christmas, it’s getting more and more unlikely there is going to be a rush to anything at your local theatres.

EXCEPT for the new Spiderman: No Way Home, which broke box office records this weekend because we live in a sick world where the idea of watching a superhero is far more appealing to the American public than actually being one in real life by getting a f’n vaccine.

I mean he is so cute

But if you are actually an adult tired of all that, or a kid or adult like me who was never into superheroes (Note: Except the campy 1960s TV series Batman, which really doesn’t count because Tallulah Bankhead, Eartha Kitt, Victor Buono and Caesar Romero as super villains is too good to turn down), Being The Ricardos will momentary take your mind off of it all.

Not that writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s smart, fast-talking and clever take on the private and professional lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz – or as we still know them, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy fame- isn’t both super and heroic in its own way.

Super Lucy!

In fact, it is at times both serious and affecting.  But it is also always entertaining, thoroughly watchable and a marvel.  The latter is because somehow Mr. Sorkin has managed to throw us back into the 1950s via what is probably the most famous television series in history and yet somehow not get swallowed up by the legend of it all.

He’s is helped greatly by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, who so manage to evoke the spirits of Lucy and Desi onscreen that it’s as if you’re eavesdropping on the better, mover clever version of every conversation, seduction and argument they’d tried to ever have but likely never literally ever had.

Thanks for the rave review!

This is what writing teachers and critics and writers like myself preach when we say that the work should evoke real life without ever literally being real life. 

This is because real life doesn’t happen in three-act structure and can often have endless deadly dull moments in the space of two hours. 

Films, on the other hand, can use those two hours to tell the story of a year, a month, or – in the case of Being the Ricardos – a key week in your life.  And they can do this by showcasing the spirit of your truth in a much more entertaining way than a bunch of cinema verite home movies that you personally shot or even lived could ever hope to do.

Get Back shade?

Movies, at their best, can capture the magic we know sometimes happens in life, with all the good and bad our humanity offers.  And with the right combination of artists and technicians they can also harness all that passion and verve we humans get to experience in a way that reminds us of who we are in those times, at times like these, where it’s easy to forget.

It helps that I Love Lucy still cracks me up and was one of my favorite shows as a kid.  But that’s not truly why I’m on the Ricardo/Sorkin soapbox at the moment.

No one like her!

It’s because for two hours the creative team behind this film made me forget how absolutely screwed up everything is at the moment by telling me a story about a fictional week in the lives of a couple of Americans where absolutely everything was also screwed up for them.

Yeah, it was literally quite different.  But screwed up is screwed up.

AND it made me laugh, forget and finally feel something other than COVID-stark raving madness while doing it.

Just in time for Christmas!

If that’s not the best holiday present you can give yourself in the next two weeks, I got nothin’ else.

But know you certainly won’t get it from The Power of the Dog, despite what every major film critics association want you to believe and labor with.

Meow.

But I’m right.

Being the Ricardos Trailer

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.