What’s Happening (and What Happened)

It isn’t easy to speak out against injustice when it threatens your livelihood, your friends and family, or your physical and/or psychological self.

But what can be worse is NOT speaking out when any or all of the above are being threatened or at stake.

As news publicly broke this week of showbiz mogul-producer Harvey Weinstein being a serial sexual predator – in rolling stories and testimonies chock full of the kind of salacious details one’s eyes and brain wish they could un-see but certainly never will – I was ironically reading What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s book explaining her 2016 presidential election loss.

No, the irony did not escape me.

No man can write with much authority about the very particular challenges women face when a powerful man tries to crush her and centuries of patriarchal power automatically conspire to protect him and ensure his victory and her suppression. But en masse pushback and testimony from both women AND men can begin to slowly dismantle this kind of oppressive traditionalism and hopefully one day assure this kind of bull crap doesn’t continue.

oh it does… just ask abbi and ilana

As a gay guy, I never bought into the macho stance of patriarchal power despite the fact that I’ve clearly benefitted from it. I am not threatened by powerful women. In fact, I usually gravitate towards them.   Before it was fashionable, they gave me a chance and didn’t judge me by an unintentional swish of a hand or an unconscious sibilance from my mouth.

Is it obvious?

I’d like to say my attitude was merely because I was raised by this type of female and am an innately nice guy but in my heart of hearts I know it was more than that. Each of us are a product of our environments AND experiences and in turn are imbued with both learned and inbred prejudices we have a responsibility to recognize, dismantle and not make excuses for.

So as a male who is close to Mr. Weinstein’s age and who also grew up in his hometown of Queens I can say with great authority that he’s totally full of S*IT when he chalks up his actions to statements like:

I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.

Yes, Amy, he REALLY said that.

Well – that I know of.

… and of course what I saw on Mad Men #poorbobbie #utzchips

Of course, this is part of the problem. We just can’t fathom someone we know fondly in one context being a predatory pig in another. Or even if we can imagine it, we don’t want to believe it. Or even if we believe it, we’re not sure it’s our business or what we can do about it. Or even if we can do something about it, if it’s worth the risk because surely we can’t fight someone with all of that fame, power and money.

This goes for women as well as men, albeit for different reasons.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton.

You rang?

There is no need to itemize the litany of predatory jabs Mrs. Clinton has been hit with over many decades of public life based on her gender. It’s bad enough to be accused of not being able to do the same job as a far less qualified man (Note: Or man/boy serial sexual predator), or slammed merely for the tone of your voice; likability; hair, makeup and wardrobe; or lack of…stamina?

Still, it’s quite another brand of gender politics when your man/boy opponent goes so far as to weaponize your husband’s former mistresses (LITERALLY) in front of you and the world in order to somehow get the public to place the moral blame on you for his dalliances during a presidential debate.

I can’t even…

Hillary has many things to say about what happened in her book, which manages to finally cut through all the doctrinaire thinking about her and her campaign and do the one thing she seemed unable to do for enough people during the campaign – humanize her. And that’s a value judgment coming from a guy who always saw her as human. At least, I thought I always did.

Which made me wonder, what is it about what she writes in this book that makes her seem even…more human? Perhaps it’s passages like these, when she reflects on her feelings the morning of her concession speech:

… I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades. Still, every time I hugged another sobbing friend – or one stoically blinking back tears, which was almost worse – I had to fight back a wave of sadness that threatened to swallow me whole. At every step, I felt that I had let everyone down. Because I had.

Excuse me while I do this for the rest of time.

There is nothing more humanizing for us than a woman not only admitting defeat but blaming herself for it.   One hates to believe this is why certain sections of her memoir paint a more appealing Hillary but one also can’t fail to recognize it greatly contributes to the reason.

Nevertheless, it feels a lot better to focus on what Mrs. Clinton (Note: Why do I feel disrespectful consistently calling her Hillary?) humbly and wisely writes about learning from one’s mistakes and the ability we all have to use our virtues in order to soldier on for a better tomorrow.

Margaritas also help

Quoting a long passage from one of her favorite books, Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son (Note: Imagine that, a presidential nominee who reads!) about how she began to personally recover from her loss, she reflects:

Nouwen calls that the “discipline of gratitude.” To me, it means not just being grateful for the good things, because that’s easy, but also to be grateful for the hard things too. To be grateful even for our flaws, because in the end, they make us stronger by giving us a chance to reach beyond our grasp.

My task was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election. Humility can be such a painful virtue. In the Bible, Saint Paul reminds us that we all see through a glass darkly because of our humbling limitations. That’s why faith – the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen – requires a leap. It’s because of our limitations and imperfections that we must reach beyond ourselves, to God and to one another.

No, The Chair has not gone soft. I cop to not being a particularly faithful person in the traditionally religious sense. Still, here’s what coming of age in the 60s and 70s did for me – it gave me an undying faith that love and peace and caring could eventually win the day.

that…. and everything in the musical Hair

Sure I might not always remember this, and it will take time and we all might not be around to see the final result. But if time teaches you anything it’s the value of baby steps, the path of incremental change and the revelation that evolution means this all keeps going ad infinitum (hopefully).

Mr. Weinstein’s behavior is, sadly, just one more mere iteration of Mr. Trump’s. It’s not about who is more ill or who is more dangerous. It’s about all of us speaking out for what we know is right the moment we realize something is very wrong.

Tonight Show Female Writers Read Thank You Notes to Hillary Clinton

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Chair

If I were a religious person, or at this point believed in God at all, I might consider this weekend’s —

  1. flooding destruction of the Texas coast (Note: And now further inland),
  2. pardoning of a convicted racial profiling former sheriff by a bitter, angry and at best unqualified US president and
  3. banning of transgender people from the military randomly despite any real support for it from our military leaders or objective evidence that it is needed —

The beginning of a MASSIVE DIVINE PUNISHMENT for the United States.

Heck, maybe I’ll join a church, rejoin a synagogue, or start my own religion just so I can come up with some irrefutable reasons.   

The Patron Saint of the Chair

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’m not a somewhat spiritual person. I often think there has got to be something more than what we can all see in any moment (especially this moment) and some mysterious order to a universe that has personally given me pizza, Bette Midler, and the ability to block it all out by playing electronic Scrabble with myself.

… and Jon Hamm and puppies

On the other hand…I have five fingers (as the desperate vaudevillian said as he tried to make a joke when, alas, he had clearly run out of them for a demanding audience).

If you’re anything like me – and perhaps if you are reading this you are in danger of being so – you can’t for the life of you or anyone else rationally understand why Sheriff Joe could get convicted in court some weeks ago and this weekend be rewarded for his crimes of putting brown-skinned people (many of whom were guilty of nothing at all except being non-white) in holding pens where the temperatures were upward of 140 degrees and the stench of their own feces and menstrual blood wafted in the air all around them day after day, week after week and, perhaps, longer.

Where do I even start? #horrified

Here is the ACLU’s list of some of Sheriff Joe’s crimes against humanity.

So how can it be that some minority kid who smoked a little pot or sassed back a law officer sits incarcerated for years?

Who would have thought former George W. Bush speechwriter and leading conservative thinker at the Atlantic, David Frum, could explain it to me.

I’ll wear nice pants

The link is here and you should read it. But Frum’s primary point is that Trump has chosen to do the Sheriff Joe pardon and the military transgender ban precisely this weekend because it is under the cover of the floods, hurricane, and who knows, by the time you read this (pestilence?), in Texas as a way to divert your attention from the heinousness of his actions. He argues it is a sort of a reverse showmanship –- rather than trying to get your attention he is seeking to hide it via the bigger event.

Of course, Trump being Trump, that’s not totally it. It’s also a big F-K YOU to anyone who dares to reel him in, challenge him, disagree with him, unseat or even partially bask in his glory. I’ve felt this for quite a while. But in his writing this weekend Frum quotes the tweet of the editor of a conservative website and states the case far more eloquently than I do.

Still, who would have also ever thought 10 years ago – when I proclaimed to anyone who would or wouldn’t listen that Dubya would be THE WORST PREISDENT IN HISTORY by a mile in my lifetime and two lifetimes after mine – that the very man who put so many of those empty, callow words in his mouth could be so in sync with what I was thinking?

The next logical conclusion might be well, if that’s possible perhaps things are not as bad as the avalanche of massive divine punishment you are cleverly predicting by not predicting, and thus absolving yourself of all responsibility for putting it out there?

Where I’m at right now

Of course, I have no way of knowing, not being a person of God or any particular faith. Though I am culturally Jewish and reacted mightily to the chants of “Jews Will Not Replace Us” by those protestors just two weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA.   That place where a woman was killed by one of them. The them being part of the group Herr Trump (aka The American Fuhrer) defended as “many good people” several days later.

Too much to call him Herr Trump (aka The American Fuhrer)? Or too soon? Well, let’s let God be the judge on that one.   I’m willing to give Him/Her/It the Power on this one just so I don’t have to decide.

Insert your pop culture god of choice

What will be decided in the ensuing months and year (or two) is just how much help our Electoral College Potus received from the Russians in order to get elected in the first place and how many laws he and his minions broke in the process, if any. There will also be verdicts on the man’s (Fuhrer’s?) businesses, taxes, financial dealings and perhaps even sexual habits. Given all of the accusations in that infamous dossier, one can be hopeful.

You know the one…. (image care of the brilliant Full Frontal with our girl Samantha Bee)

That’s because you can’t hide the truth from God or a special prosecutor like Bob Mueller.   Unless, of course, you are crazy enough go nuclear and….

Okay, let’s not even joke about the possibilities of that. The one thing we know about Trumpian diversions is that they ARE always done under the cloak of protecting himself, his supporters and every member of his extended family. Truly, there is not an underground shelter big enough. Not even North Korea could build that.

God willing.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”

 

Motor City Mayhem

Detroit is a movie you won’t forget. Or at least I won’t. It is brilliantly infuriating, difficult to watch and necessary to experience. If we as a country – or really as a people – are to begin to figure out how to move forward with the remnants of 2017 life, it’s a starting point. Not the only one but a possible one.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are both white and yet have chosen to tell a historical story that can be read as part of the ongoing story of the White patriarchal repression of Blacks. This has already created a side controversy that one realizes, after seeing the film, provides endless intellectual fodder but is sort of beside the point.

More to the issue is that if the arts can play some small part in bridging the gap between where we were, where we are and where we hope to be, Detroit should become a potent and powerful conversation starter. It’s that unrelenting and uncompromising.

…. but this time, the hype is real

Watching the film at a Writers Guild screening of people of all sorts of colors, ages, shapes, and sizes, it was clear the entire audience was emotionally gutted and awake. This was a Hollywood film made by whites where no white savior came in to save the day or even the score for the poor, put upon downtrodden.   We will never know what any other filmmaker of any other color would do with the same material – for better or worse – but at the moment Detroit is what we have of one hideous incident in one particularly hideous moment in our past.

This, by the way, is not meant to be congratulatory in any sort of way. There are no congratulations to be had in any discussion of this debacle.

Fifty years ago a racist patrolman in Detroit led a small group of law enforcers to alternately beat, torture and murder a small group of innocent Black men hanging out at the local Algiers Motel.

Detroit burns in July 1967

It was an explosive, ugly time of race riots and social injustice in big cities all across the country, but most especially in in the Motor City where an almost all White police force (93%) were tasked with holding the line on the residents of a fast-growing Black city (30%).

The unfolding story of the movie Detroit uses the ever-growing popular method of plopping its audience directly into the dramatic center of its narrative and trusting that in the age of web surfing, iPhone clicking and incessantly intense game-playing it will be able to play catch up.

Recent films like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk do this and go for the big overall visceral reaction at the expense of individual character development and emotional nuance. Others like Atomic Blonde provide a couple of Irving the Explainer scenes of incoherent exposition and then have us settle down so we can watch the real entertainment – some larger than life extended violence where an unlikely hero/heroine (and who better than Charlize Theron) beats the crap out of everyone in slight we’d like to pulverize if were we six feet tall and had the benefit of hair, makeup and extensive martial arts training by stunt coordinator experts.

Charlize looking a little different from her Mad Max days  #oliviapopejacket

Detroit, however, is not about sensationalized hollow victories or a dramatic retelling of heroism under the thematic banner that War is Hell. It only starts out as a generalized expression of the Big Idea and a pastiche of characters one never gets to really know yet follows along into over-the-top battles. Its power is that it does all of this and then, at some unsuspecting point once this is all established, gets real specific, real fast. And stays there and unfolds for the essential body of the work – a kind of American horror movie gone wrong in a period motel hallway. And then goes on from there to show something about how we lived then. And ask the question if, at the end of the day, it’s really all that different than the way we live now – or is now just a cleaned up version?

Suffice it to say that at the end your visceral nerve endings are not only more than met but you also didn’t need chunks of exposition or violently musical YouTube-like video sequences to do it for you. There are actually real people to watch doing unfortunately all too human things that prompt all too human reactions that go on and on and on. As we say in screenwriting class, in science and in psychotherapy – cause and effect, real cause and effect. For every action is there is a reaction – one that is logical and one, in the movie Detroit, anyway, that you can follow.

… and countless other movies used for the exact opposite purpose

When asked the often-dreaded question of how he approached the material in a talkback afterwards, screenwriter Mark Boal said that he essentially saw this as a movie about an artist whose life was derailed. That, and a good deal of research, and talent, is probably a large part of the reason that the script for Detroit works so well. Call me old-fashioned but if you don’t know or care about the people (in this real-life case an aspiring young Motown-type singer) what do you really have? As a writer you need to find a way in. You can’t effectively write an issue or a historical event.

Sure, you can film it and use all sorts of technique, CGI and camera tricks to forge effective mass entertainment. But at the end of the day, what do you really have? What are you telling us that we didn’t already know, or need to be reminded of?

Certainly, movies can succeed solely on mass entertainment value, escapism, cheap thrills and recycled messages. Many of these films are highly watchable and superbly executed. But we’ve reached a point in the business where we have gotten used to the former and forgotten films like Detroit. Go see it and consider this a reminder.

But you can still go see Jon Hamm and this terrible haircut in Baby Driver #iunderstand

That might be a good way to end but it would be an oversight not to single out the mammoth filmmaking skills of Kathryn Bigelow here.   A two-year DGA study at the end of 2015 noted women account for 6.4% of film directors and just 3% of major box office films.  But let’s be kind and say the numbers have gone up slightly in the last year and a half. Still, that’s pretty piss poor.

When you watch Detroit you don’t so much ask yourself, how did she do that shot but in what world was she able to integrate all those disparate scenes and themes so convincingly, recreate an often botched decade of American history (the sixties) on film so convincingly and get those performances out of those actors so effortlessly? Heck if I know.

That girl #shesgotit #sheknowsit

It makes you wonder how many hundreds of other potential Kathryn Bigelows there are out there. Filmmakers who are female, or perhaps non-white, non-heterosexual or non gender binary, who might never get the chance. And how many of those stories are yet to be told. Not only through the entertainment industry but in any other American industry.

That would be one way to truly Make America Great again.

The Dramatics – “All Because of You” 

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

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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

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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.