Peaks and Valleys

Here is what you try not to think about over a long holiday weekend:

  • It was a record 108 degrees in Los Angeles on Saturday but clearly “man-made climate change is not primarily responsible for it,” say any number of those now in power to do something about it in Washington, DC.

Me, right now

  • Massive flooding in Houston occurred some days earlier leaving more than 50 dead and counting, many thousands of others homeless and a cost for full rebuilding over the next decade estimated into the billions (that’s with a “B”).
  • ELECTORAL POTUS has NOW decided to do away with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), thus requiring the MASS DEPORTATION of close to ONE MILLION people brought here as immigrant CHILDREN by parents who came to this country illegally.   They key world is children, or even toddlers – meaning many of these kids don’t even speak the native language of the country they will be deported back to over the next year.

I can’t…

Well, I did. For a bit. But finally it grew too much.

So I did what I usually do – escaped into media.

Just kidding… this is me, right now

There was the Twin Peaks two-hour finale on Showtime; a binge of the entire two seasons of the half-hour Netflix comedy-drama Love; and a screening of the much lauded Sundance indie flick with a confused gay, model-looking hunk protagonist called Beach Rats.

There was also food. A lot of it. A bit of frolic. And yeah, some worrying.

But what about the MEDIA????

Netflix’s Love

Talk nerdy to me

Judd Apatow co-created and produces the show but truly it is the brainchild of its male lead Paul Rust and his wife Lesley Arfin, who write many of the episodes. The reason and resonance is clear – it is loosely based on their relationship.

Of course, what writer of comedy-drama doesn’t base their work on past relationships? The correct answer is NO ONE – no matter how much they deny it in protest.  In this case, it is a twist on the archetypal nerdy, awkward but funny-smart guy in glasses and the hip, wild, partying hot girl with an even sicker sense of humor than he has. Will they get together and make it work? Or won’t they?

You may think you’ve seen it before, as I initially did, but you haven’t. One suspects that’s because the entire series is grounded in the realities that Rust and Arfin experienced themselves. No, not literally. It’s not as if what happened in Annie Hall four decades prior onscreen exactly mirrored the Diane Keaton-Woody Allen relationship or even recreated it. But there’s a reason why certain contemporary rom-com stories are great and addictive and usually it’s because they are real – at least thematically.

Realistically — I bet that sandwich was that good.

Love is all of this and more. Give it a chance and don’t roll your eyes at the initial tropes, which I did – only to then get quickly addicted for 22 episodes in less than a week. God, I love a good binge – of so many things.

Beach Rats 

Where to begin…

Beach Rats centers on a working class teenager struggling with his attraction to men – particularly middle aged men he meets online – but it might as well be set in 1957 instead of 2017. Masquerading as real and unflinching it is instead a skewed portrait of working class life that so tilts the deck towards gay panic and hopelessness that one almost expects its characters to be sporting ducktails and cigarettes rolled up in t-shirt sleeves rather than lean muscled bodies, random tattoos and endless thirsts to get high.

Like a modern day Kenickie! #exceptnot

Of course, they do share “smokes” and often speak like something out of an old Nicholas Ray film or a low budget indie Sundance version of Rumble Fish if those movies contained too many lingering shots of fireworks, arcade games and indecipherable male torsos.

It is certainly fine to depict a group of homophobic or homo-indifferent teenagers in contemporary life. What is not fine (nor real) is to so isolate them and every gay man depicted in the film into clichés last seen in films like Frank Sinatra’s The Detective – that movie from 1968 where a self loathing homosexual hits a lover over the head with a candle or ashtray or something heavy and kills him because he can’t bear the idea of not being straight.

Kind of like what I wish I did instead of watching Beach Rats

If we are to believe director-writer Eliza Hittman’s entire narrative we also have to buy it all leads to a ludicrous third act where an out, smart Manhattan boy drives to Brooklyn after meeting the film’s sexy leading teen-man online and does something TWICE no gay man even vaguely close to the character depicted would do. EVER. Let’s leave it at that unless you’re tempted to find out what happens some snowy night by the Brooklyn version of the Village docks circa 1968. But don’t say I didn’t warn you before you get into your time tunnel and then try to throw it at your screen of choice.

Not content to leave it there, the film also paints lonely pathetic lives for all the homosexual males we meet over the age of 40 –desperate creatures prowling online for boys they can have in the bushes or in seedy motels without having shaved, showered, deodorized or, no doubt, even brushed their teeth. Though somehow our sexy leading teen/man always manages to do so for his sex dates with them. But of course he’s young and not totally gay. Yet. Hmm, what or whom to root for?

At this point I would have preferred this old gay stereotype

Sadly, there is a stinking, rotting quality to everything here – perhaps on purpose for “mood” – but ultimately landing with the great weight of phony pretension. Still, the director seems to have gotten away with this pose in the eyes of films festivals and critics galore. Check out the reviews from Sundance or this one from The New Yorker.

As a kid from the boroughs myself, who grew up loving the fireworks, arcade games and bumper cars depicted in Beach Rats, I began to dread each lingering faux magical shot of the milieu as its endless minutes marched into what seemed like many endless hours. Repetitive visual imagery is no substitute for depth of story and character, no matter how many random lights in the sky or ocean waves one’s camera relentlessly aims to capture.

The Beach Rats audience

There is a great movie to be made on exactly this subject but that’s about the only thing most gay people will feel once this film comes to its retro torturous end – other than anger.

And NO, I didn’t like it. No one bit.

Twin Peaks: The Return 

Paging Agent Cooper…

It’s like the person you dated in college or in your twenties who was a glorious irresistible mess and yet you couldn’t get enough of them. Smart, confounding, funny without trying to be so, obtuse and more than a handful of times just downright f-ckg brilliant.

Often you don’t officially break up with this person. Something circumstantial happens or an unexpected situational event occurs that inevitably puts an end to the whole thing. But it’s never totally voluntary on your part no matter how many times your friends, family or even you feel like you were f-ckd over. This is because there truly was something so unique, so individual about the experience that can never be duplicated and you wouldn’t give that up for the world despite how much turmoil it might have put you through.

When’s the honeymoon?

Ironically enough, David Lynch and Mark Frost did put us through the Twin Peaks wringer again 25 years later thanks to Showtime and those of us who stayed are all the better for it. We got some hope for the saga of Laura Palmer, time traveled back to the 1950s, tried to learn some new, never heard before languages and began to realize that a good deal of the key wisdom of the world can be learned via a giant tea kettle, barren potato head tree or discovered in a Tilt-A-Whirl room with comfortable green velvet chairs.

You know I’m not gonna pass up posting a pop culture chair #takeaseat

OK, some of it made no sense at all, but have you checked the news lately? Nothing in this Twin Peaks was literal but, then again, Lynch and co. were bold enough to linger on so many scenes in real time elongated minutes that perhaps everything was. Twin Peaks is the opposite of anything pretentious – it is filmmaking/TV making (Note: Just what is the difference anymore?) with a purpose. And that purpose is to take us to a place we can believe in despite how extreme, absurd or hateful it is. It is and always has been what the books tell us great storytelling is – a seamless dream.

And with that – good night.

Muddy Magnolias – “American Woman (Slowed David Lynch version)

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Terrible Tongues?

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.29.21 PM

The first time I heard my voice on a tape recorder I thought to myself:

Oh my God, I sound like one of those guys!

Yeah, you know the ones.

I must have been about 11 or 12 and I can’t remember the circumstance. All I can remember is thinking:

You better lower your voice.

Forget about when I was in college and saw myself on videotape (Note: Yeah, videotape) for the first time and realized:

You’ve got to use your hands less!

Well, two decades of psychotherapy and several more decades later, here I am once again – just like I was back then – waving my hands all around, speaking in a nasally, sometimes humorously campy, pseudo intellectual tone for all the word to see. Exactly like I was back then. And they say life comes full circle.

Do I sound gay? Well, certainly.

Duh.

Duh.

Self-acceptance can take decades, a lifetime or well, 12 lifetimes – meaning that if you don’t believe in God, reincarnation or _____ it will never happen. Of course, there are people with normal families who grow up very well-adjusted and seem to have always known and liked who they were. I met one once back in 1968. But perhaps that was more about the sixties.

There is a documentary at movie theatres, streaming and on demand called Do I Sound Gay? that examines the issue of boys who discover they are homosexual and almost simultaneously realize, often to their great shock the first time they really hear themselves speak, that their voices reveal them as such. Its filmmaker David Thorpe uses himself as the primary subject and does a fine job opening up his life and insecurities to us as a way to examine this particularly universal sociological issue. I mean, even if you are not gay, who among us loves how they sound or even sounds like who they think they really are?

Sounding gay in theatres now

Sounding gay in theatres now

Still, the question of do I sound gay sounds positively quaint these days. I mean, who really cares anymore? If one truly wants to reflect on who we are in the context of the times we live in, the real inquiry to make is:

Do I sound crazy?

Or rather, it should be –

Do they sound crazy?

Because chances are if you’re thinking you sound insane you are most probably as normal as the rest of us. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Of course, I write this when we’ve just gotten news that yet another person shot up another group of unsuspecting people in a movie theatre. (Note: Currently, it’s three dead with at least 7 more injured).   Who knew people were that angry? I was going to say – older White people – in light of this latest movie theatre massacre but this had to be adjusted in light of the joker-haired younger white guy who was just found guilty of shooting up many more people three years ago at a multiplex in Colorado. Not to mention the other young white guy who killed elementary school kids in Connecticut. Which leaves out the Muslim shooters of late, who prefer military bases – but that sounds racist and unnecessarily profiling a whole race of people. Though truly, if I were Muslim and living in America I’d be angry, too. Though, like the gay kid I was in the seventies, I’d certainly be afraid to show it.

A caveat for Fox News Watchers: No one here is saying Muslims have the right to shoot up military bases. I can’t even…

"Don't even get me startedddd!"

“Don’t even get me startedddd!”

Donald Trump seems to be the public face of white rage these days. Which is ironic because what the hell does he have to be angry about? We have to listen to HIM. Not to mention, he’s got a job. Sort of. And he’s rich. So he says. Happily married. So it appears. And to a woman much more beautiful than himself. So it appears. On the surface. One supposes he must possess some sort of inner beauty we can’t see. Or, at the very least, is a master of disguises.

Well, we all know how to disguise ourselves when the need arises, don’t we? Sometimes it’s by force of habit – like when you sound gay and don’t want to – and on other occasions it’s when you’re running for president and want to be the one who gets the most votes. So you go into your shtick – whatever you decide that will be – and show the world who you are and how great that can be for them – especially if they choose you to lead.

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Chris Christie’s the plain-talking working class guy who doesn’t, ahem, mince words. The kind of person you could imagine eating a hot dog next to you at a football or baseball game (Note: No, I am not going for a wiener joke of any kind here). Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum sell themselves with down home, family values religion, Hillary Clinton as the smartest, most experienced woman in the world (Note: I’d have to combine Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie to come up with those two attributes in one person) and Bernie Sanders as the commie high school history teacher who you remember fondly as the one individual who told you it was okay to stick your finger into the face of the establishment – preferably the middle one.

There are more candidates and more images but you get the picture.

Trainwreck is one of the top comedies at the box-office at the moment and, among other things, it features the birth of our latest and most certainly and hilariously insurgent new movie star of the moment, Amy Schumer. Not only did Ms. Schumer write the perfect vehicle for herself –- as a slightly foul-mouthed girl who will gladly have sex with you and get you to enjoy it, or just enjoy watching her do it or you even if you don’t want to –- she did it while snidely inverting the cliché male/female tropes of romantic comedy. The guys in her world are all too sensitive and obsess about whether Amy likes them. This is just as Amy and her female friends spend their time bedding every possible male in sight they deem even barely sheet worthy providing they can have them out of their apartment (or leave theirs) by the time the sun comes up the next morning.

You heard right, Lebron!

You heard right, Lebron!

It’s nice to hear a new female star speaking to us masses with a new voice – even if that voice is an old one for her. Or even if it is an exaggeration of who Ms. Schumer really is. Certainly, we will never know for sure unless we all get to sit down in a room with her….and even then…

Still, my favorite Trainwreck character had to be the essentially unrecognizable Tilda Swinton in a small supporting role where she plays the sleaziest magazine editor in N.Y. All spray-tanned, with a blonde-streaked wig, too much blue eye makeup and nail polish and so reed thin that she’d go appropriately unnoticed at even the hottest A-list, gossip-dripping party of the moment (Note: I never know where those are exactly) she is really the ONLY character that seems truly representative of where we are in July 2015. She’s dishonest, smart, crazy, gets to fire anyone she wants at will without suffering ill consequences and yet will surprise everyone when she shows up all in black at a funeral to mourn an employee’s dead relative.   Is it all for show? Does it have nothing to do with who she really is? Who cares? She consistently speaks in double talk and gets rewarded for it and criticizes everyone else for sounding weak yet manages to run her own mini-empire without ever breaking a sweat. Not to mention, she doesn’t seem to ever need food. Even when she is munching down a sandwich at her desk right before you eyes in the middle of the day.

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Incidentally, her name is Dianna and she speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent – which means that in some form she’s an immigrant. One wonders if she’s legal, is taking the job of some American and is sane enough to even carry a gun? Our minds would boggle if we got the real answers. The only thing we need to know is that she uses her voice to get everything she wants when she wants it. Whether it’s gay or vaguely authentic – well, that never even enters the picture.