OOOOHH BABY (DRIVER)!

Baby Driver is the sleeper box-office hit of the summer and a movie not without its charms.

It has pretty much redefined movie music for the future by creating a title character so enmeshed in what’s coming through his headphones that the song choices become not only an essential part of the narrative but, at times, the narrative itself.

It also creates a space for its lead, Ansel Elgort, to step forward and assume true movie star status – not merely in box-office dollars but in presence. It’s hard to imagine any other young actor with the charisma, dramatic heft and self-effacing charm to anchor the mind-boggling acts of passion going on around him done in the name of money, speed and most importantly, love.

Meanwhile… “What’s an Ansel Elgort?”

But chiefly, it arrives at a time where as a country – and world – we all need two hours of escape from reality through an imaginary city where, in the end, justice is served in an untraditional yet somewhat believable fashion given the context of what’s come before.

The latter is key in both a positive and negative way. For although Baby Driver delivers on so many levels it also falls short in several key departments – realism. And…realism.

Wait.. people aren’t this good looking in real life?

Of course, reality these days feels a bit unreal so perhaps that isn’t necessarily a fault. Unless, of course, one attends movies to see some reflection of life as one has experienced it, or even hopes to experience it.

It’s hard these days to be an audience member who prefers the more human musings of 2017 cinema like The Book of Henry and Dean. That statement in itself might feel oxymoronic since one of those films takes place in a pushed reality fantasy and the other follows the angsty life of a Brooklyn cartoonist whose drawings push the narrative at least one third of its 87 minute running time.

Still, neither of those films depends on relentless violence and over-the-top action sequences. Nor do their stories throw human logic out the window and halfway through turn into a Road Runner cartoon, a comic book or a horror fantasy.

Plus.. this Jon Hamm haircut #youareforgiven

I mention the last three examples because if one looks at movies in terms of box-office returns/deliverable profits it’s easy to see the issue with people like myself – those of us who wish Francois Truffaut were still alive and active on the film scene, or that at least Paul Thomas Anderson and Kimberly Pierce made more movies.

WWFTD?

Here are the top 10 top grossing 2017 films domestically:

  1. Beauty and the Beast – $503,940,432
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $384,949,006
  3. Wonder Woman – $361,591,191
  4. Logan – $226, 275, 826
  5. Fate of the Furious – $225,587,340
  6. The Lego Batman Movie – $175,750,384
  7. Get Out – $175,484,140
  8. The Boss Baby – $173,782,946
  9. Kong Skull Island – $168,052, 812
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Vol. 623 – $167,980,297

Oh, and the list is almost exactly the same for worldwide grosses, except Get Out and Pirates move down to the top 20 and Transformers: The Last Knight and Fifty Shades Darker move up from #15 and #14 to #9 and #10.

More like FIFTY SHADES MORE BORING #nochemistry  #snooooze

Not to mention — the worldwide box-office grosses for the top 10 range from $1,259,744,572 (that’s Billion, with a B), down to a measly $378.8 million.

Obviously realism, or as I call it in my more bitter moviegoer moods – basic logic – doesn’t count for very much anymore.

I can’t even go there

What is logical in a capitalistic society – especially in business – is profit. Money. Though the type of movies at the tops of the chart on the whole cost a lot more than the smaller ones down towards the bottom, their international markets and ancillary revenue streams have increased so much that studios need merely one or two massive tentpoles every few years in order to justify all of the other risks.

That is, if this is merely a numbers game.

… and some numbers are not so great #sorrytommy

Having begun my career as a bit of a reluctant box-office guru when I was a reporter at Daily Variety in 1979, I can’t help but feel disheartened. I started the weekly national box-office story at the paper then out of sheer confusion over the scattershot press releases we would receive about how “outstanding” every big film opening was doing.   Decades later it’s turned into pretty much almost anything anyone in the movie business – and that includes too many movie fans – thinks about. And in the case of most every decision maker at the studios, cares about.

Not to say it was not always mostly this way for the studio suits in the old days or recent past. But at least there was a bit more of a balance.

As evidenced by Feud’s Jack Warner #ohhediditagain #moneytalks

The Hurt Locker was released in June. Forrest Gump (not my fave, but still…) came out in July. Heck, even All the President’s Men first appeared in April.

Where are their 2017 equivalents?

Don’t write in with a list of foreign films, limited releases, bomb studio 2017 movies or tell me to stream Netflix, Amazon or _____________. I get it and I do. We’re talking Movies here.

That said, the new Spiderman (Homecoming) has soared past $100,000,000 domestically in its 3-day opening this weekend.

As John Oliver would say, “Good work, Spider Twerp”

That’s the sixth Spiderman film in 15 years even though this one is considered to be NEW – meaning it’s a SECOND reboot of the franchise with a new director and star.

I haven’t seen it yet but I do know when it comes to 2017 realities one could do a lot worse.

Though seriously, that’s a pretty lame excuse. Isn’t it?

Boga – “Nowhere to Run”

Buh-Bye 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-9-45-13-am

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.

Requiem for a Dream

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-26-46-pm

Jon Hamm was in my dream last night.

No, no, it wasn’t like that.

Unfortunately.

We were actually sitting around a table with a gay character actor named Tim Bagley I had just seen on TV and I was explaining the blog to Jon. I think Tim was chiming in with great support – as all good character actors do in my dreams – telling Jon about how much he liked one of my blog posts. I was a little scared and embarrassed until suddenly Jon smiled, seemed to get excited and all was well with the world. Because suddenly he was getting up, seemingly pumped, heading to a nearby laptop to check ME out when….

I woke up.

NOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOO!

Opening my eyes I wasn’t so much sad as I was disappointed –- that I wasted a Jon Hamm dream on this stupid blog, that I barely got up the nerve to speak to him and, worst of all, that I’d never ever get to find out what happened. Sure, I could go back to sleep and try to dream the dream again, but that never works out well, does it? When a specific fantasy doesn’t come true it takes a bit more work and finessing to make it happen. Which I suppose might be something to look forward to. But bottom line – I’ll never get THAT moment back again, will I?

Try again next time

Try again next time

I know this is a metaphor for how Hillary & other non-Trump supporters feel about the election and our future President-Elect-Who-Lost-The-Popular-Vote-By-More-Than-2 Million-People-And-Still-Counting. Frustrated, disappointed, powerless and scared we’ll never get the moment back again.   Scared, of course, about so many other things too, but particularly nervous that we blew our ONE shot.

We will not be re-running or reanalyzing the presidential election here because…do we need to one more time? We now have Jill Stein recounts, our personal attempts at activism and four years of arguments, discussions and commiserations with friends, relatives and enemies from which to do that. And I, for one, look forward to being called a “bigot” against working class people by many more people on Facebook because it gives ME an excuse to remind them they supported an openly racist sociopath with a very bad temper to control the nuclear codes for the next 48 months or more.   Amid gloating that if the world blows up, it won’t be on my watch or conscience. Sure, I may die – but I’ll die with a clear head.

Well if I'm being honest

Well if I’m being honest

But back to dreams, fantasies and realities.

It seems that the only way to live fully is to have dreams, even if they get altered or go unfulfilled. It gives us something to strive for and to try to create. It leads us down unforeseen paths we surely never would have gone down. Heck, it gets me out of my bed and away from watching reruns of HGTV’s Fixer Upper – a show I continue to watch even though I’m aware hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines are staunch religious conservatives who contributed money to Ben Carson – a guy who thinks you can be turned gay in prison.

LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING

LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING

But really, who cares about all of that when you can repurpose all those swell broken down milk cans and pieces of shiplap into soothing rooms of trendy, colorful antiques and sit at quartz countertops munching on an endless batch of freshly baked homemade cookies from a woodsy worn farm basket? I, like all the rest of you, do have my price.

Give me tiny topiaries or give me death #resistanceisfutile

Give me tiny topiaries or give me death #resistanceisfutile

Which is why it’s particularly important to keep reimagining yourself and your place in the world and not get caught up in a single static fantasy that is likely not to come true in the way that you imagined it. Never in your wildest dreams did you think the election would… Right. Well, I never ever dreamed that Tom Ford would become a writer-director of movies. And what’s worse – that he would be given money to make a film so goddawfully ridiculous and unreal as Nocturnal Animals and manage to torture the usually brilliant actors Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and all of us with the recreation of TWO PAINFUL HOURS with not a single true moment contained within. Jeeez, there should be awards for that. Oh wait, there are.

When bad things happen to good people #Razzies. #ManyRazzies. #ManyManyManyRazzies

When bad things happen to good people #Razzies #ManyRazzies #ManyManyManyRazzies

But movies and TV do cut both ways. Besides managing to give you ridiculously unfulfilling dreams, they can spur you on to fantasize bigger – or more BIGLY – than you could have ever imagined. That’s what I did this week when on Turner Classic Movies I happened to flip channels and come in almost at the beginning of The Godfather and Godfather II – now renamed The Godfather Saga (NOTE: Who knew?). Not only are these perfect movies, or as close to perfect as the movies can get for me, they are inspiring lessons in filmic storytelling done in our lifetimes. They don’t hold back with the truth yet they spoon feed it out to us with just enough gloss, blood and archetypal fantasy behavior that we can escape and appreciate every awful moment we’ve ever experienced in our own families and cling to them in selfish glee. That, in itself, gave me a new appreciation of the environment I managed to be born into and a renewed love for each and every relative of mine (17!) who had come to my house and sat at my Thanksgiving tables (Note: Nothing Orange was served).

The only tolerable fat cat terrorizing NYC on Thanksgiving

The only tolerable fat cat terrorizing NYC on Thanksgiving

Still, this wasn’t enough to totally cheer me up once everyone had left and I unwisely decided to check social media again. That is when I began to finally binge watch a TV series a former student of mine had been begging me to check out for months and months. It’s an FX show called You’re The Worst and centers on two toxic, self-destructive people who fall in love and attempt a relationship. Boy, is that a GREAT description. And just what the doctor ordered, since I also have had a bad cold and sinus thing going, in addition to becoming a magnet for right wing Jewish hate speech.

This couple (the ones on You’re The Worst) is so absolutely toxic and uncensored that they managed to verbalize every awful, disgusting, insulting retort to every person even I never had the nerve to voice back to in that manner. All I had to do is imagine them in a conversation with every individual Trump voter I had encountered personally or virtually in the last year (or minute) and I immediately felt better – because they were also profoundly and undisputedly FUNNY. And yes, a little sad but – aren’t we all right about now? Well, most of us – I’m taking a chance here and don’t mean to leave out Red State America but at this point I have to be real about who my current audience is. As does the Democratic Party.

Living uncensored like Jimmy and Gretchen #dreamcometrue?

Living uncensored like Jimmy and Gretchen #dreamcometrue?

This is not in any way to advocate dreaming or even fantasizing nasty as a consistent diet to life because the series doesn’t either. Rather, it tries to show us what REALLY IS unvarnished, and in a humorously dramatic way. This is unlike what our current Mr. Ford does in his new, nationally released, murderous perfume ad in feature length. It is also to some extent what our current Orange President-Elect is doing. No one can accuse it him of not being dramatic and funny to a lot of his subjects audience.   But the REALITY he has wrought is one that I and many millions more of the majority voters in the country who did not vote for him, prefer was not real.

Which is why we will keep using the dreams generated by our art – the ones that already exist and inspire us, the ones we create out of whole cloth, and the ones suggested in all of our current and future Jon Hamm dreams (Note: Oh God, please let it be so) – to defeat him – SOUNDLY and ROUNDLY – and reset the course of our lives.  And, in turn, our world.

Well…hopefully.

My Night with Miss Universe

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-12-20-03-pm

I spent the night with Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, twenty years ago. Relax, nothing happened. I’m gay and she’s straight. And truth be known, it was just the evening, other people were around. Still, that means I know her better than 99.9% of you out there.

It was at a very small party to watch the Golden Globes at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. She came with her then good friend, the actress Maria Conchita Alonso. There were no more than 10 people.

Here’s what I remember:

— We teased her that we were disappointed she didn’t bring her crown. She laughed and endured various crown and scepter jokes throughout the evening by people who assumed they were the first to tell them to her.   Sometimes she even laughed. Now that’s what I call a good sport, not a nightmare.

and gurl, that is SOME serious headgear

and gurl, that is SOME serious headgear

— Food was served and she wasn’t an eating machine, as Mr. Trump has told you. In fact, there was plenty left for everyone and even leftovers. Though there usually is when we Jews and gays attend and host dinner parties. We like to overdo. Not to perpetuate any more stereotypes here. (Note: I can say this because I’m gay AND Jewish).

Our queen knows

Our queen knows

— She wasn’t fat or even overweight, not that it matters.   In fact, what I very distinctly recall thinking was how refreshing it was that she didn’t seem anorexic or look like a lollipop. Midway through her reign, she looked radiant and healthy. Little did I know that she did (or would have) an eating disorder some years later caused by the unseemly pressures put on her to look like something other than her gorgeous self.   And yes, she was gorgeous. Stunning, in fact. And not merely in a worshipful, gay guy way. (Yeah, I know that’s what some of you are thinking). Still, I wish there was a straight guy there who could confirm this. But it’s true.

— She was very sweet and very young. We tend to forget when we see beautiful young women in person and off the TV or movie screen that they are not sophisticated, larger than life glamour gals but no more than versions of your younger sister or tomboy best friend from high school or college. She seemed so genuine and trusting, I thought. Though her English wasn’t great it was enough to get by and understand. Yet I worried about what it must be like for her to navigate the many letches of this business. My now husband told me he thought she could probably take care of herself. Little did we both know back then that she could, but that it would take time and she would pay a price for it.

We'll see who has the last laugh #getemgirl

We’ll see who has the last laugh #getemgirl

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to come from the middle of Venezuela, with English as your second language, and as a teenager (she won the Miss Universe contest at the age of nineteen) have to deal with the likes of the 50 year-old version of Donald Trump. Past being prologue, that must have been the real nightmare.

I have not seen Alicia in 20 years except on television, like you. She appears more mature and worldly but the essence of the gal I’ve recently remembered appears the same – polite, lovely, respectful and intelligent. The fact that she would not repeat the racial slurs she said she heard Mr. Trump utter all those decades ago in a recent interview is exactly in keeping with what I remember – a person who didn’t unnecessarily want to hurt others if she didn’t have to.

... and we'll leave that to the New Yorker #snicker

… plus what could she say that would be better than this? #snicker

On the other hand, I’m not (at all) surprised Mr. Trump has tried to smear her for coming forward nor am I shocked that the only sex tape that anyone can find as it relates to the issue of Donald vs. Alicia is a soft core Playboy video where Mr. Trump pours champagne from a bottle over a bunny logo. Classy, right? Not that I’d fault her or anyone performing consensual sex on camera. It’s the leering adult male gaze at young women more than half your age surrounding you and some New York limousines as you pour booze over an image of an animal made to look like a young woman that is the sleazy part that gets me.

Did you really think I would post a pic of Drumpf in a Playboy video? #JonHamm4Ever #myeyesarenotbleeding

Did you really think I would post a pic of Drumpf in a Playboy video? #JonHamm4Ever #myeyesarenotbleeding

In the Oscar-winning movie Little Miss Sunshine seven year old Olive, an aspiring pageant contestant and charismatic innocent, is shamed by her father early on for eating ice cream. Later, Olive asks Miss America if she eats ice cream and she very definitively says yes.   When Olive takes this as confirmation that her appearance is actually pageant-level okay, it worries the male members of her family, particularly at the end of the film when Olive is about to perform in front of the judges and audience because each is afraid their beloved Olive with be laughed off the stage in humiliation. At that point Olive’s Mom finally steps up and very wisely admonishes them to, let Olive be Olive. She might get hurt but at the end of the day the truth will win out if you’re being honest about who you are.

Let Olive be Olive

Let Olive be Olive

Alicia Machado has always known this and tried to live this way, from what I’ve seen up close and recently onscreen. That’s more than I cay say for Donald Trump, someone I’ve seen a lot of recently onscreen but admittedly have never spent an up-close evening with – and hopefully will never have to.

Inspiration Points

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.39.09 AM

If you’re in the entertainment industry and are particularly depressed about your career beware of the following thought as you tumble further down into the abyss:

I had hoped to inspire A LOT of people.

It’s embarrassing to admit one has these thoughts but, well, there it is.

The business part of show business is nothing if not about the accumulation of the A LOT – from audiences, to money, to attention, and to things, some of them even human.

Oh sure, we all have our own self-destructive reasons and the therapy bills that have unearthed them. But to simply inspire – maybe that’s not such a bad goal? And to some extent it is one of the almost guaranteed fringe benefits of the territory.

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

If you’re an art practitioner of any kind, anywhere, trust me at some point you will (and probably have) inspired someone – and probably more than one. You might not mean to but if the work is done right – or sometimes even wrongly – it will happen.

Of course, it might not be your work itself but your work ethic. Your determination and commitment to get things done. Though it can simply be just your output.   Whether or not it’s famous or you are. Which does not mean the famous aren’t inspiring. It’s merely to say sources of true inspiration come in all proportions and to various degrees – and in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from misshapen to minuscule to oversized. For in reality, to be or create an object of inspiration it is ironically really more about letting your work or you just be what or who it is.

I realized this long ago as a teacher and it admittedly satisfied the dark side of my “inspirational” desire. This is not conceit. Most, or at the very least, MANY teachers inspire. If you’re even halfway decent at it, it comes with the job. Usually you’re older and more experienced and your students are many young people whose specific task in those weeks and months is to learn – from YOU. It is inevitable that you will inspire one or two or more of them over the years. (Note: Which doesn’t make it feel any less good when it happens, by the way.)

Ok well we all can't be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

Ok, well, we all can’t be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

But let’s get back to inspiration and the industry that often claims it – show business. Truth be told, I never really loved the actual industry. Though I thought I did. Actually, I thought that I LOVED it. I really did. But once inside there are moments that cause it to lose its luster. While talents are appreciated and one needs a modicum level of talent to succeed (Note: Yes, even the ones you deem mediocre are way better than the mean), the upper echelon of success – the kind that comes with both inspiration and adulation – is a slippery slope. Many people who reside in this area are truly inspiring. But they also have to work hard to avoid the seductive part of being an adulated inspirer and not fall victim to the bottomless pit of it all.

Well, who among us are not up for some good seduction? There is something irresistibly appealing about anything that seduces. On the other hand, when you’re seduced into something that does not mean you are inspired by it. Being dazzled and being inspired are two different realities.

... and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

… and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

Dazzling implies being blinded – which means you are temporarily frozen. And what you are seeing is not entirely real. How can you be inspired by a reality that never existed?

Well, I suppose it’s possible, you say. This is what all the great works of fiction are about. I don’t think so. The truly great works do BOTH. They are not solely tales of smoke and mirrors. They are reflections of existence made of whole cloth. They have a weight. A ballast. They are not light and airy – though on some level, take the great romantic comedies of yesteryear – they can appear to be.

Marilyn Monroe – the movie star – wasn’t inspiring. But she sure was dazzling. Marilyn Monroe – the person – from everything I’ve read from before and after her death – truly was inspirational. And sad. Sometimes it is the trajectory of the journey – how and why she managed it – and where she made it to despite the greatest of odds against her. There is inspiration in that.

the world's candle in the wind

the world’s candle in the wind

Inspiration is not necessarily better than dazzling, by the way. Just different. Both are wonderful in their ways. What am I inspired by at the moment? I suppose Hillary Clinton. No, this is not a political ad. But really – how does she keep going at 68? How the heck does she persevere? Isn’t she, well, tired? Of the bullsh-t? I mean, if I am and you are, imagine how she feels.

I imagine Trump is not tired at all. Which is why, in my mind – dare I say it – he’s dazzling. He LOVES the show. You can see it when he speaks before large crowds. Not unlike the way Bruce Springsteen loves to play for three hour plus at a pop onstage (Note: I once saw The Grateful Dead jam for four plus hours at the Nassau Coliseum – at least I think I did – but that’s a different story).

The memories come streaming back...

The memories come streaming back…

But re Trump – a friend sent me an article about how when Hitler used to speak publicly before huge amounts of followers he’d actually have an orgasm. It feels more like that with some dazzlers, doesn’t it? Though we will never quite know for sure – or want to in this case.

Movies from the 70s inspire me. The Godfather, Network, Annie Hall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. YES, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watch it again as I recently did and marvel at how it was so far ahead of its time – and how timeless it remains. (Note: I get the reason for the upcoming remake but when this happens always ask yourself this ultimate question – Did they not get it right the first time?).

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Bette Midler live always manages a moment of inspiration. Anything Gaga is bound to occasionally – even among the misses, which is inevitably why someone can be inspiring to begin with, they dare to miss. The dialogue of Billy Wilder. Omg.   Certainly the prose Jonathan Franzen. Spending years on his lyrical novels of brilliant word combinations and storytelling (Note: Did you know he had his computer specifically dismantled from internet access so he could write in a room without?) when less and less people read. I’m sure it bothers him but I doubt that’s why he writes. Likely, he does it for all the same reasons everyone does, I imagine. He has something to say and he has to get it out. It’s not a choice, really. It’s that or somehow implode.

Which I guess is the key to being an inspiration. You do what you do for yourself. Without result. And let others make the call on how they feel about it. Which, as Stephen Sondheim once so eloquently wrote, they inevitably will.

Oh – I forgot about Michael Phelps. Did you watch him swim and win his 22d (and last individual) gold medal and become what is undeniably the great Olympian of all time? You have to.

Your Own Worst Enemy

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What’s worse than not completing a task to the best of your ability?

Believing that no matter what you do your efforts will never be YOUR BEST. And, in turn, not THE best. Of anything.

It’s amazing when one looks across our own socio-political-pop cultural landscape how many people are absolutely convinced they are THE BEST when we all know in our heart or hearts they are exactly the opposite. On the other hand, did you ever have that supremely talented friend or colleague (Note: It could even be the face looking back at you in the mirror each morning) you knew would be famous who, through the years, vanished into obscurity? The person that you can’t even find on LinkedIn who could easily have invented it – or most certainly something the equivalent or much better in their own individual field?

... and he was never seen or heard from again

… and he was never seen or heard from again

If you’re under 25 and can’t relate to this — take a gander around the room, your hometown, your school or the social media platform of your choice and choose such a person with that predestined future. Then refer back to this post in 10 or 20 years — yes, notes will be around…somewhere – and check on that name. Or some others you didn’t single out but had considered.   I guarantee you at least one or more will fit the bill. Probably more.

This has nothing to do with the individual capabilities of any one person, even yourself, and more to do with a series of other factors, most of which would be too long and complicated to go into here. Still, there is one that we do have time for because, well, it’s been on my mind a lot lately and is probably among the most universal. And that is…

Self-doubt

And the twin/doppelgänger that comes with it –

Self-sabotage.

What makes me qualified to write about this? Simple. I’ve been one of their chief practitioners for years. On and off. Lately more off than on but still… you never do know when these evil siblings will rear their ugly heads.   They’re a helluva persistent pairing.

#deepthoughts

#deepthoughts

I talk to students every semester about writer’s block – or as I like to call it – the simple fear of being BAD, or whatever your version of it is. The selfs, however, are a whole other animal.

It’s the voice that assures you that you’re no good, especially when you’re about to be if you’d just let yourself alone. It’s the sound of your worst enemy dissing you in your brain, the doubting “friend” who is so miserable in their own life they can’t bear for you to succeed, or most especially be better than them. The relative who wants to keep you in their place or under their control. Or it could be the dulcet tones of your neighbor who has told everyone you’ve gotten too big for your britches.

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Sometimes we’re all Lady Ediths

More to the point, and for some insane reason – it could simply be you. The dark reflection of yourself that claims it doesn’t want you to fail but fears more greatly that you might leave the comfortable or miserable place you’ve gotten used to all this time (months, years or perhaps even more) and finally succeed at something – or perhaps something else.

For me, this doesn’t usually happen at the beginning of a project. I actually love challenges that people tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do. It’s more at the end – when it’s almost over – and I fear it’s time to be judged. To hand it in – give it over to the world – or even a close-knit group of people you do or don’t respect. But how bad could that even be? Who could judge me harsher than myself???

Sound familiar?

Can Donald Trump actually believe he’s right about all the hate he’s spouting? Uh, well…yeah. I don’t know him but in the case of oversized egomaniacs they’ve just managed to invert the paradigm and chosen to behave badly in an extreme effort to deflect their insecurities. I’m not necessarily talking about #Drumpf – though I could be – who knows – I don’t know him. Instead, let’s use Hitler. Did you read that autopsy results recently unearthed that he actually had a micropenis? Case closed!!

jBd5eVa

Okay, I jest. But only just a little. I don’t claim to know Hitler or Trump’s pathology. Or even Mussolini’s. Or Napoleon’s. Not that they’re similar. Though not that they aren’t, either.

You and I and maybe some others instead do not turn the hate outward and thereby inflate our tiny egos by seducing others to follow (like I said, Trump/Mussolini/ Hitler are just examples). We instead direct our hate or insecurities or whatever else you want to call it – inward – at opportune or inopportune times, depending on how you want to (or don’t want to) see it.

What this does is stop us all in our tracks before any risk is involved. But when we act like this we’re not the anti-Drumpf. We’re actually using our bluster in a similar way, just pointed in another direction – towards ourselves.

Case in point….

I can tell you this because I caught myself doing it the other day. It came at the end of a very long process, at the conclusion of an extremely tiring week, in the form of a mild but total freak out.

I’ll spare you the details. We all have our individual challenges and anxieties. One guy or gal’s freak out is another’s everyday life – and vice-versa. Well, whatever works for you. Or doesn’t.

For me, it doesn’t work. As a writer I’ve learned ways to block out the world. But this sort of thing extends beyond the written page and even the creative arts. It can apply to any task at hand in any profession. There are a million reasons not to do your job or your hobby. To not complete what’s required of you or what you secretly long to work on and finish but fear will be an embarrassing disaster you have thus decided not to complete or even start at all costs.

fail444456

What does work for me is pretending that what I’m doing is just for me. Because, well, isn’t it? In the scheme of things – say 100 years from now, who will give a crap about this piddly thing you’re/I’m/we’re devastating over? You are doing it just for you. That others might appreciate or criticize it is immaterial. Truly. Do any of us really believe when we’re 80 or 90 this project is at all going to matter? Ahh, but if it succeeds it could change people’s lives. Or — if we at least make it work to the best of our ability in that given moment it could actually change our life – if only in that given moment. And trust me, that moment of pride or relief, whichever you prefer, can be a really rewarding and life-affirming something.

So I try to stay in touch with that. I also take advice from Julia Cameron’s seminal book The Artist’s Way and write morning pages. This is three pages of stream of consciousness anything when you wake up or start work that day. Literally. And unedited. Whatever’s on your mind. And you don’t even have to punctuate. No one will ever see it but you and even you don’t have to read it over if you don’t choose to! What does it accomplish? It clears your psyche, gets out the cobwebs, lets you spew out the doubt and get it out from your brain where, if it festers, it will be do the most damage. It’s sort of what #Drumpf is doing to us en masse. Can you imagine if he actually had to contain all of those hideous thoughts? There’d be no tacky golden towers big enough.

I feel you going down a dangerous path, Chairy. Resist the urge.

I feel you going down a dangerous path, Chairy. Resist the urge.

Finally, I’ve found great freedom is surrendering the idea of being great. At this point in life, I just want to be. And after decades as a journalist and writer working with many highly creative and original thinkers, I’ve discovered the vast majority of the best of them are simply doing the work – doing their jobs when genius struck. It is true that the greatest revenge in life is loving what you do and making a living at it. When you can get excited and the ideas are flowing you’re too busy to think about result. Nor do you care. And it’s shocking how easy over the years it becomes to psych yourself into this state of mind. If you spend enough time leaving yourself alone if can actually just sneak in and happen. Naturally.

Certainly, we all do fall backwards. It can be frustrating being a part of the real world, especially these days, when every media socially rules. But those maximum density moments are exactly the time to retreat into yourself and create a safe place where you can play – just with yourself (Note: Make of that anything you will – literally). The world likes to call it play but if you indeed play your cards right it can become your work. What we have to keep reminding ourselves when we get too crazy is that they can easily be exactly the same things if we allow them to be.

Rock ‘n Oscars

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Well of course the show was too long. I mean….

On the other hand, we’ve seen worse….A LOT worse. And Chris Rock was really funny. Despite all the hate tweets and humorless prigs who can find no laughs in an iconic internationally watched awards ceremony honoring the arts that is, at it’s worst, laughable.

Well, I don’t know about you but I needed a few good laughs and some decent movie moments this weekend. Expecting the worst – or the most dull – I got something… pretty good. As I tell my students almost daily:

It’s all about expectations.

I was talking to a friend online during a commercial break who was finding the show a mess.   This was right after I was laughing myself rather silly over one of Mr. Rock’s funnier produced segments – I think it was the moment we got to see Leslie Jones beating up a fake Leo DiCaprio and his bear in a mini-Revenant parody over the lack of roles for Black actresses; which was followed by Tracy Morgan in drag as The Danish Girl munching down on a pastry and saying This is good Danish, Girl… !

Still LOL-ing!

Still LOLing!

In any event, what I wrote to my friend was that, yes, the entire show felt a bit uncomfortable because of what’s going on in the Motion Picture Academy at the moment (Note: #OscarsSoWhite) . Which mirrors the time period the country is presently enduring politically (Note #2: #MakeAmericaGreat Again #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter).

I mean, when Mr. Rock joked about the Academy doing an In Memoriam segment that featured all the Black people shot by cops on the way to the movies this year – it sort of encapsulates the overarching issue out there, doesn’t it?

Yet with all that being said – and whether you liked, hated or felt indifferent about the entire show — it still beat Seth McFarlane mincing around the stage singing We Saw Your Boobs! or Rob Lowe serenading Snow White. Oh, how quickly you forget.

Just thinking about Seth's "We Love Your Boobs" makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

Just thinking about Seth’s “We Saw Your Boobs” makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

By the way, this is by no means a mea culpa for Hollywood. One need just look around the audience.   Or simply listen to Louis CK admonish all of the rich attendees – when announcing the short documentary category – that they better pay attention because the winner they were about to honor was not only probably the poorest in the room but would never make as much as any of them in his or her entire lifetime.   Since they were, Mr. CK stated, quite simply the bottom line true storytellers in the room because they all do it for little economic reward.

Preach Louis!

Preach Louis!

See, it’s not like many people in Hollywood don’t get IT. It’s just that they seldom work as a collective. And most don’t Do anything about IT. They’re too busy looking for a job, trying to keep the job they have or simply attempting to survive in an industry where baseline behavior often borderlines on the just slightly insane.

Again, just an explanation – not an excuse. Because any of us who think the white, straight male patriarchy is just going to roll over and relinquish its power need only spend a bit more time monitoring the 2016 presidential election, the relationship between the White House and Congress or merely track the progress in replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court for an answer. As Mr. Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue (and I’m paraphrasing):

Of course Hollywood is racist. But they’re not Burning Cross racist. They’re sorority racist. It’s more – we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.

Indeed.

And oy vey, did Black Twitter did blow up over that one. Well, I’m still p.o.’d Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture 10 years ago so I suppose I get it. And none of the major above-the-line talents on the latter above were even LGBT (why would they be?) – only the subject matter.

But back to the show. Or shall I say, the nominees and winners.

Except this guy, because I can't even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge

Except this guy, because I can’t even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge #ugh

Here are some facts that are interesting to note and remember:

Best Picture, Original Screenplay winner: Spotlight — It was about reporters who uncovered the long buried sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and, most importantly, the Church hierarchy that covered it up.

Best Director, Actor winner: The RevenantA period film about man and nature that subliminally deals with the environment and literally tackles American racism towards Native Americans.

Best Actress winner: Room A contemporary drama about a survivor of kidnapping and sexual abuse.

Best Supporting Actor winner: Bridge of Spies — A drama that takes apart the US government’s secrecy surrounding its 1950s spy program against the Soviet Union and the hypocrisy therein.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short  A contemporary comedy/drama that manages to shed some light and condemnation to the major players in the American financial meltdown of the previous decade.

No, Lady Gaga and Diane Warren didn’t win best song but the former’s performance of Till It Happens to You was undeniably one of the emotional high moments of the night when it concluded with a stage full of young female and male rape survivors surrounding her onstage.

... and I wasn't sure if she could top last year's Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

… and I wasn’t sure if she could top last year’s Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

As for the subject matter of the film that swept most of the technical awards – Mad Max:Fury Road – it dealt with the abuse and victimization of women of all ages in a futuristic societal wasteland – a world with little clean air, water or anything else because of the disregard and greed of all the generations that came before it.

That would be us.

Furiosa knows it

Furiosa knows it

So while the movies have a long way to go in order to meaningfully address societal inequities and real world issues – it’s not as if Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was awarded best picture, the new Star Wars won anything at all, or that Jurassic World 2, Hunger Games 28 or Furious 7 got any nominations.

All of the above might be scant enough progress but I’ll take it for now and hope for a rosier future.

And that they bring Chris Rock back next year.

Among other things.