Pop Culture Crack

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

The Oscars are the crack of pop culture.  And like any drug addict, we culture vultures out there have a love-hate relationship.  We love the idea of it but when we indulge too much we feel sick to our stomachs.  We fetishize everything about it – what it looks like, how it will feel when we get a good dose of it (because like any good vice, all you can remember is how great you felt the very first time you indulged and not how awful the last time), what the excitement will be like when we’re in the midst of all the cool friends we’ll get to hang out with when we are partaking, and how we’ll experience all the glamorous surroundings we’ll be able to live in for those few (or too many?) hours we are feeling its effects before being dropped back into the harsh realities of everyday life the next morning, suddenly feeling lousy and realizing we’ve once again participated in something that, in the long run, really isn’t good for us.

Am I exaggerating?  Well, as one of Will Ferrell’s most memorable characters once stated on Saturday Night Live: “Maybe I am and maybe…I am.”  But that doesn’t make it any less true.  Chances are if you’re still reading, you are a pop culture vulture, as addicted as I am, and will continue to be so.  The Oscars (no longer called the Academy Awards, per the announcement by this year’s producers, who decided the term sounded too musty) are just made (born?) that way no matter how disappointing, boring, over-the-top, inappropriate, endless or just plain bad they are in any given year.  And let’s face it, they’ve been all of that and more, year after year.  So let’s do what any self-respecting pop culture addicts do – give in and – INDULGE.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Think of this post in three sections – the television show; drinking game ideas (or merely soft drink/party games for those under 21); and my best attempt to give you some informed predictions so you can, at the very least, win the Oscar (NOT the Academy Awards) pool.

THE TELEVISION SHOW

It’s going to be a long one this year and it’s going to be very gay. Like even gayer than I am.   And that’s pretty gay.  But not as gay as this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of us.

What do I mean by gay? (And yes, of course I’m stereotyping – but only in a good gay way).  Well, one of the themes of the evening will be Oscar devoting itself to musicals.   No more movie music being relegated to a tacky medley of nominated songs or no medley at all.  Still don’t believe me?  Okay, here are a partial list of some of the singers: Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey (she sang the original Goldfinger for everyone under 30), Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the reunited cast of Chicago (because there’s been an outcry), as well as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the reunited cast of this year’s multi Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (because it’s been too long). Plus – there’s a singing host who the producers claim sounds “exactly like Sinatra” (their quote, not mine) named Seth MacFarlane, who will be closing out the evening in song with Broadway diva (divette?) Kristin Chenoweth in a specialty number that is being kept under close wraps.  What little information we do know is that this musical number will be sung AFTER the announcement of best picture – the usual close out moment of the evening.  Why do I say this is gay?  Because if there’s one thing about my tribe, it’s that when we throw the party we not only make our own rules but WE – NOT YOU – and certainly not TRADITION – decide when it’s over.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Okay, so then – why am I guessing it’ll be a long show?  Well, aside from the James Bond tribute, the salute to musicals, Seth MacFarlane’s monologue, the crew from the accounting firm that tabulates the written and, for the first time this year, online ballots, the In Memoriam segment, the backstage hosts, and the web shout outs, this year we have an unusually long list of famous people who have been announced to be participating on camera.

Among these are an all-star presenters list that includes but is not limited to: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon, the cast of The Avengers (that’s Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Walberg with his teddy bear Ted co-star Seth MacFarlane TED.  Plus last year’s acting winners – Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin, Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer.  Plus – and this is my favorite part – special appearances by Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe.  What’s a special appearance?  Tune in and be afraid, be very afraid..  But here’s my suggestion: food and drink, some blankets and some pillows and…some attitude.  Lots of it.

PARTY GAMES!

Another delightful indulgence

Another delightful indulgence

If you want to challenge your friends, relatives, enemies or professional rivals, here are some thoughts for possible moments during which you can raise a glass, a cup or a goblet.  Or wager a bet.

  1. The number of candid camera shots in the audience of the golden couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (this year’s Brad and Angie).  (Answer: 8?)
  2. Each time or total number of Meryl Streep references, jokes or shout outs.
  3. The number of times (or each time) Catherine Zeta-Jones sings off-tune in her musical number.  (Hopefully, there won’t just be one – number that is – I’m hoping for at least 3 clunkers).
  4. Ben Stiller appearances in a stupid costume (even though he’s not scheduled on the show I still don’t rule it out)
  5. One out-of-place star of an ABC television show who will sneak in as a presenter or participant in an over-the-top moment of network hubris.
  6. Longest standing ovation lasting longer than 30 seconds.  Or any standing ovation if you get particularly thirsty.
  7. Biggest surprise appearance with extra points (or drinks) for each decade of age or each decade of not having been in the public eye.
  8. Number of times Seth MacFarlane breaks into the voice of Family Guy’s Stewie, another animated character, or into song.
  9. Number of Harvey Weinstein jokes or thank-yous.  (And if the thank-you and joke are in the same moment then it only counts once).
  10. How many times, or each time, the camera catches the Tommy Lee Jones scowl. (I’m so hoping for the number 10).

Certainly, feel free to use your imagination in this section and add and subtract as you see fit.

PREDICTIONS

Blogging the Oscars!

Blogging the Oscars!

This is an imperfect science at best, even for veteran Oscar watchers like myself.  The trick is to not get sucked in by what you want to or perceive will win but to try to think like you are one big mass of Academy, uh Oscar voters.  That means you’re likely white, over fifty, somewhat liberal, somewhat opinionated, and a little personally petty but still idealistic enough to want to reward someone who makes you feel good by representing the best of humanity with their movies.  (Note:  You might even give the odd vote to a filmmaker who sends a political message as long as its not too overly threatening or out of the mainstream of cable news subject matter).

Rather than be coy like this year’s show we’re going to start with the most talked about awards and work our way down. There is logic in this since what will give you the edge in the pool is you getting the vote right in the “smaller” categories people know the least about.

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

1. Best PictureArgo (fuckyourself).  It’s won every guild award and the Oscar voters are also all individual guild members.

  My Personal Choice:  Silver Linings Playbook – I’m a softie and it’s really tough to do those kinds of movies and get them right.  Plus, I’m all for dramatic license but I can’t get past the idea of advertising a political film that says “based on true events” and then distorting facts in order to create a dramatic point.  It’s okay to condense situations or create a composite character – that’s dramatic license.   Blatantly changing facts to suit a dramatic need is a no-no.

2. Best Actor – Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln.  He has as much chance of losing as I do of winning in this category.

My Personal Choice:  Daniel Day-Lewis because it was a resurrection, not a performance.

3. Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a showy part in which she never overacts and where she shifts from drama to comedy and somewhere in between on a dime.  She is not going to get eclipsed by Emanuelle Riva in Amour or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty because I like my television and do not want to destroy it with a glass object on Oscar night.

My Personal Choice:  Jennifer Lawrence.  See Above.

3. Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.

Yes, we're talking to you.

Yes, we’re talking to you.

His studio ran a great campaign reminding voters that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar in many decades (see Meryl Streep Oscar campaign playbook of last year).  But more importantly, DeNiro gave an honest, raw and vulnerable portrait of an older man without making it treacly or obvious.  That’s why other actors practically genuflect in his presence and that’s why he will win.

My Personal Choice: Robert DeNiro. See Above.

4. Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables.  Let’s put it this way – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of Les Miz and there was about a minute’s worth of applause during the film after her song.  Enuf said.

My Personal Choice:  Don’t hate me – Anne Hathaway.  You try singing that song and making it something we’ve never heard sung before

5.  Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.  This is the toughest category.  I was about to write in Ang Lee for Life of Pi because a. there’s been a groundswell of support these last few weeks and b. Pi breaks new ground technologically.  But something tells me Oscar voters, many of them mainstream Hollywood types, really do want to reward Steven for helping to keep the industry afloat.  Plus, even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the movie is a bit of a kiss off from liberal America to Congressional gridlock coupled with a warm embrace to a president who tries to reach beyond Washington, D.C. directly to the people.

My Personal Choice:  David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s not his year but it’s the film with the most inherent booby traps by which a director can go terribly wrong.  And he didn’t fall into any of them.  In fact, he ran with them and created something quite unique – a feel good movie that isn’t cliché.  Try it some time.

6. Animated Feature FilmWreck It Ralph.  The Academy isn’t hip but the video game patina, the reviews and the general feeling that it IS the best animated film of the year will buoy Ralph to victory.  Brave is a close second.

My Personal Choice:  Paranorman.  Not because it is the best but because I WAS (am?) PARANORMAN.

7. Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi.  For filming what everyone in the industry thought was the unfilmmable.  And for giving a boost to the art of 3-D.

My Personal Choice: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained.  He’s won three Oscars and is one of the best that’s ever been in the business.  He brought a beauty and ugliness to the Old West and the Civil War era and did it without a lot of trickery.  I like that.

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stoll out..

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stroll out..

8. Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina.  It’s won almost everything in this category elsewhere.  Personally, I thought the clothes were a little overindulged, like the rest of the film.  Clearly, I’m a philistine.

  My Personal Choice:  Joanna Johnston, Lincoln.  The clothes reflected the characters and felt real.  I can’t imagine making Lincoln’s stovepipe hat not seem like a prop.

9. Documentary Feature – The Gatekeepers.  I watched ALL of the documentaries and, truly, any one is worthy of the win.  An exceptional group.  The majority opinion is on the seemingly unbelievable but true story of a once lost and now found singer in Searching for Sugarman.  But there is something about watching the various former heads of the Israeli CIA talk about the real and ongoing history of war, torture, espionage and the like that has international resonance for today.  Plus, Academy voters seldom pass up anything that has to do with this part of the world.

   My Personal Choice:  A tough one but…The Gatekeepers

10. Documentary Short SubjectInocente. I know the least about this category because I haven’t seen the nominees.  But awarding a good short on immigration seems timely and prognosticators seem to give this one the edge.

My Personal Choice – I’m blindfolded.  Don’t make me choose.

11. Film Editing – William Goldenberg – Argo – I guess it’s about the final escape sequence that didn’t really happen.  The America/John Wayne type thing and all that.  Or perhaps the opening documentary-like footage in the Middle East crosscut with Washington, DC.  But this looks like a sure winner.

My Personal Choice:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty.  Re-creating the capture of Osama Bin-Laden and not making it rah-rah glossy.  They deserve an award for that.

12. Foreign FilmAmour.  Ever go to a party where everyone had a meaningful or great time and you were just bored?  That’s me at Amour.  Don’t hate me.  I do have a soul.  Just not during those two hours.  I don’t get the hoopla but hoopla, in this case, is inescapable.  Meaning, take the bet.

My Personal Choice: Anything but A.

13. Makeup and Hairstyling – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables.  So many rags, so many dirty faces, so many close-ups.  The Academy loves this movie and, as a group, know so little about hair and makeup that doesn’t make you look good.  Therefore, they will be very impressed.

Although I'm sure that's how Helena showed up to work that day...

Although I’m sure that’s how Helena showed up to work that day…

My Personal Choice:  24/7 personal hair and makeup for moi.  More hair than makeup.

14. Original Score –   Mychael Danna, Life of Pi.  Certainly the most original score.  And it’s the only score people keep talking about.  It is close to a certainty.

My Personal Choice:  To listen to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (which didn’t get any music nominations) on a loop instead.

15. Original Song – Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, Skyfall. It’s ADELE.  Please!!!

My Personal Choice:  You’re not serious, are you?

The ultimate Bond girl.

The ultimate Bond girl.

16. Animated Short FilmPaperman, John Kars.  Boy meets girl thanks to a piece of paper.  It’s sweet, clever and lovely.  And the best in the category (where I’ve again seen all the nominees) by a lot.

My Personal ChoicePaperman – It’s a writer thing.

17. Live Action Short FilmAsad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura.  Another difficult category in which I have seen all five nominees.  At first this story of a young boy trying to survive the perils and poverty in Somalia felt earnest but derivative.  But as it went on it turned expectation and convention on its ear and delivered in a light-handed yet very meaningful way.  It feels like something the voters will want to reward.  Close second would be Buzkashi Boys – a more heavy-handed young boy coming-of-age story in Afghanistan.

     My Personal ChoiceCurfew, Shawn Christensen.  He made the kind of short I’d like to make and did it with an unexpected dance, a lack of post-modern irony and without backing away from very real human drama.  Bravo.

18. Sound Editing – Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi.  It’s not easy to figure out the right balance of animal sounds, the ocean, the jungle, and a lot of voice-over narration.  But Argo, Les Miz, Lincoln and Skyfall were all very tough challenges.

My personal choice:  I’m unqualified to choose.  Okay, Life of Pi.

19. Sound Mixing – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables.  It won the Guild awards and when the Oscar voters hear sound mix the obvious thought is – vote musical.

My personal choice:  Same as above.  In this case only, I am no smarter than an Oscar voter.

20. Visual Effects – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi.  The perception is that this is what this film is primarily about.  It will win.  The end.

     My Personal Choice:  I’ll bite – Life of Pi

Note:  I have saved the writing categories – my favorites – for the finale.

21. Adapted Screenplay – You don’t know how much I DON’T want to write this.

Though I'd love to sit in on that development meeting..

Though I’d love to sit in on that development meeting..

Chris Terrio, Argo.  It wasn’t a bad film but I don’t get the outpouring.  Does Hollywood love seeing itself cast as the heroes?  Are Americans in general just hungry to see something, anything good portrayed about US foreign policy?  Has Ben Affleck, or at least his work, seduced more people than he himself has done personally?  Probably all of the above.  But this does not explain why a screenplay that condenses and fictionalizes numerous events, and to my mind has A LOT of lagging moments that feel written, especially in the first half, has become the critical darling of so many.  As for Academy members – writing awards unfortunately can sometimes be seen as big consolation prizes.  Even though Ben didn’t write Argo, it’ll be yet another olive branch to him.  (Note:  I still think his movie Gone Baby Gone is terrific – AND his best).

My Personal Choice:  Hmmm – can I vote for both David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner, Lincoln?  No?  Damn.  Okay – I have to go with Mr. Russell for being real, clever, dramatic and a bit Hollywood all in one.  Mr. Kushner did a Herculean job on an impossible task.  How do you tell a microcosm story of Lincoln in two and a half hours?  By playing a bit with the facts – maybe a bit too much in the climactic vote scene.  Hence my vote for Russell.

22. Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained.  The key word is ORIGINAL.  He didn’t win for Inglorious Bastards.  Mark Boal did win for The Hurt Locker so voters probably won’t be swayed this time by his work on Zero Dark Thirty.  And if Michael Haneke wins here for his script of Amour, that’s the sound of my flat screen crashing out the window that you’ll hear.

  My Personal Choice:  Django, mother-f-ker.

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The 1st Annual Rockers!

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Year-end lists are usually divided into THE BEST and THE WORST.  But here at notesfromachair we’re trying to think of it a little differently – if for no other reason than to stand out from the million other news sources, columnists, cable TV talking heads and bloggers vying for your attention.   That is why we’ve created the first annual ROCKERS – dedicated to anything that has significantly rocked our world in 2012.

For those whose worlds have ever been rocked – which means everyone – this can be either a fantastic or horrible occurrence.  As a Jewish kid I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus but my entire existence felt not only rocked but severely threatened when I realized there was no way I could admittedly make Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In stay on TV forever.  At the same time, my very meager and small world was also rocked the first time I saw Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on TV and realized there were people in the world that I truly did want to hang out with (Note:  Little did I know that a lifetime of hanging out with these kind of show biz types would rock my world in many and too numerous to specifically choose from good and bad fashions).

But getting back to this century — here is a list of our 2012 Rockers.  Not to be mistaken for a Hall of Fame, because these are only good for a single year – not a lifetime.

BEST (nee ROCKIN’) ACTING PERFORMANCE, EXPECTED (but not disappointing):

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Hate all you want but why should Mr. Day-Lewis   Mr. Lewis  …uh Daniel be penalized because we’ve come to expect him to always be (and are tired of him always being) transcendently brilliant?  He literally seemed to pull off a resurrection of a human being who has been dead for more than 150 years from his very first scene as Abraham Lincoln and kept it up for all 3000 hours of the film. Truth of fact, I’m actually a big fan of the movie and didn’t mind the length, especially since almost every other BIG film in the last two months of the year seems to have lasted at least 3000 hours.   Plus there’s the degree of difficulty — try to tell, or more importantly act, the story of an icon and make it seem intelligent, human, funny, real AND come off as a parable for a certain kind of political animal of our times.  You won’t be able to.  DDL can.  When are he and Meryl Streep going to co-star? (staring my 2013 wishlist NOW)

ROCKIN’ ACTING PERFORMANCE, UNEXPECTED (but in a good way):

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Anything but trashy...

Anything but trashy…

Yeah, I’m partial to Coop (uh, that’s what his friends call him and he calls himself – yes, I happen to know someone who knows him – so there).  But given his acting oeuvre, nothing prepares you for the raw, non-movie star type of performance he gives as a bipolar (among other things) guy who is just struggling to live a decent life. Ironically, it’s Coop’s very lack of movie star-ness that has once and for all changed his career and made him into a real movie star – the kind that is famous, good-looking AND can act really, really well.

MOST OVERRATED (nee ROCKIN’ IN A BAD WAY) MOVIE (in every way):

Amour

Oh I wish I could go back to bed...

Snooooooooze.

Listen, I love French films.  And I love depressing films, especially ones about death and dying.  And I love films that have simple or almost no plots.  But Amour depicts an old couple with some financial means in 2012 and what they decide to go through when one becomes terminally ill in a way that NO couple in an industrialized nation in 2012 needs to endure given what is available in 21st century medicine – even when one decides to die at home.  In its attempt to be relentless, writer-director Michael Haneke creates something that is unrelentingly manipulative to suit his needs as a dramatist.  The idea that so many critics have bought into it is baffling and leads me to think that they either do not have enough experience in this area or have a lot of prickly, self-centered old people in their lives who are intent on doing things the most physically, self-flagellatingly painful way possible.  (Fortunately, I do not).  Oh, did I mention the two old people in this movie – even when they were healthy– are the kind of pretentious snobs you don’t really want to spend two and a half minutes with much less two and a half hours?  Yes, it’s very well acted and technically very well made.  But do yourself a favor and spend time with some real live old folks (preferably two in your own family) instead.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, ENDURING:

Mad Men

... or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

… or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

The water cooler show torch has been passed to Homeland and we can’t argue with that.  But there is not a television program on the air that is as consistently smart, well-written, chance talking and socially/politically relevant as Matthew Weiner’s creation.  It never takes the easy way out, stays grounded in reality and uses the 1960s as the lens through which we can see our lives and our history.  And if you think that’s not difficult to do, try writing something in that time period and see how many clichés you will inevitably come up with in even a single scene.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, FOREIGN:

Downton Abbey

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Mainstream American elite culture likes things mostly elitely American.  So how is it that creator/writer Julian Fellowes manages to make the privileged and serving class of post turn of the 20th century England like “television crack,” according to one of my dearest friends?  If I knew, I’d do it myself.  It is in part Maggie Smith playing a bon mot-throwing old rich lady called the Dowager Countess, who is not unlike what we imagine the real Maggie Smith to be were she born approximately 150 years ago to a family of starchy patricians.  But it’s a lot more than that.  Fellowes is now rumored to be writing the new film version of Gypsy for Barbra Streisand.  Well, both are period pieces, after all.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, REALITY:

The Voice

TV's BEST chairs

TV’s BEST chairs

It’s not because a few former students work on this or due to the fact that I wish to God (or whoever you conceive Her to be) that I could be a professional singer.  It’s because this reality competition for vocalists doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, looks, ethnicity, sexual preference or even past deviant behavior.  It’s all about what you sound like – a sort of faux even playing field that never exists in real life but that you get to experience for a few hours a week as long as the season lasts.  Yes, the grand prizewinner is finally voted on by the viewers, which invariably does create a final commercial-type popularity contest in the last few weeks, but those are the least interesting part of the show.  The real story is what comes before and how the judges – from very diverse parts of the music world – both perform and share their own hard knocks with people who have already had or soon will have more than their own share of the same.

ROCKIN’ CABLE NEWS SHOW, PROBABLY UNSEEN BY YOU:

NOW with Alex Wagner

DVR me NOW!

DVR me NOW!

It’s on MSNBC at 9am west coast time and noon east coast time.  Those interested in this type of stuff inevitably already watch Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, et al.  But who you probably don’t tune in to is this smart, extremely funny woman who categorized the many faces of Mitt Romney as “the paradox of the mittens” and used to be editor-in-chief of a hip music and culture magazine called The Fader.  Over the course of an hour, she presides over a panel of cleverly perceptive political experts, covers breaking news, and throws in more witty pop culture references than a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It doesn’t matter that she’s 34, female and of Burmese-German-Irish descent but it’s just one more thing that makes her and her show different than most everyone else on cable TV.

ROCKIN’ LIMITED TELEVISION SERIES, QUESTIONABLE TASTE:

American Horror Story: Asylum

My Bad Habit

My Bad Habit

I think the reason I’m so in love with this show is just how sick, derivative and yet unique it almost always seems to be.  Its second season in a mental hospital is a pastiche of every cliché you’ve seen in every crazed, looney tune horror film imaginable.  Its cast, led by the ghoulishly still sexy Jessica Lange, is shameless and the writing doesn’t always bother to follow what we consider to be the tenets of logic.  Still – any show that cross-cuts between a mad Nazi doctor, aliens and a crazy killer named Bloody Face who likes to skin people for sport – and does it all under the watchful eye of nutty nun who use to be a cabaret torch singer, is okay in my book.  Plus, the recreation room at the asylum consistently plays that 1960s hit record, “Dominique” performed by Soeur Sourire, better known as The Singing Nun.

ROCKIN’ DIVAS PUT TO THE WORST USE:

Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance.

Cmon Jerry, help these ladies out.

Jewish hall of fame gala?

Okay, I’ve only seen The Guilt Trip and the trailer for Parental Guidance.  But as a gay guy I can tell you – these ladies deserve better!!!  And it’s not primarily their fault.  They want to do films.  But – what are the films being made that they should be doing?  There aren’t any.  And yes, Barbra’s still fun onscreen and Bette, well, I’ll take your word for it that she is too.  But….really??

ROCKIN’ NEW TV CHARACTER, RECURRING:

The Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started A Conversation With At A Party, Saturday Night Live

Cecily "Very" Strong

Cecily “Very” Strong

SNL new cast member Cecily Strong is irresistibly annoying as that gal….you know the one, trust me.  We mentioned her last week so we won’t drive it into the ground.  But consider how long it’s been since you remembered any new SNL character since Stefon?  Why does it work?  Because like all good comedy creations, she is barely exaggerated.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/girl-you-wish-you-hadnt-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party/1422717/

ROCKIN’ WEB MOMENT, VIRAL

No, it wasn’t the cat trick, or the pop singer from another country, or the Olympic athletes doing Call Me Maybe for the millionth time.  It was, quite simply:

The 47 PERCENT TAPE

Mitt Romney’s comments in a closed door fundraiser to major donors in Florida about how 47% of the electorate feel they are entitled to government handouts such as health care, food and housing and are people he can never convince to take personal responsibility and care for their lives got him — in true Shakespearean fashion — only 47% of the electorate to Barack Obama’s 51%.  It also caused him to lose the election by 4 million votes.  However, the award really should go not to the tape itself but to the Florida bartender who secretly recorded it – and, in another irony, to James Carter IV, grandson of perennial Republican punching bag Jimmy Carter.  Carter IV unearthed the tape on the web and brought it to the attention of David Corn at Mother Jones magazine.

Free speech, when it works, rocks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

The Ginsy-berg Address

We’ve all been lamenting the death of moviegoing and the dearth of good movies for some time now.

US

(with a whine)

There’s nothing great to seeeeee, the people sitting next to me make too much noooooise, I’d rather stay home and watch tv on MY giant screen, It cost too much moneeeeee, There’s nothing great to seeeee,  I hate people and I don’t like to go ouuut,  There are — no — good — movie stars anymore,  How come movie studios are only about making money and not fiiiilms?  I hate all the screaming babies and all the annoying parents who haaaave them, plus, There’s nothing great to seeeeeee…

Full disclosure:  I’ve been one of the chief whiners and complainers among us.  Perhaps this is because I remember the sheer excitement I’d have at least once a year around holiday time in anticipation of that great New York Jewish tradition of seeing the newest, biggest, boldest and brassiest new film Hollywood had to offer on Christmas Day.  But more likely it’s because I’m now old, tired and jaded and don’t want to leave my upstairs TV room because (cue whining) …There’s nothing great to….

Well, you get the idea.

This is why I’m happy to report that in Los Angeles this past week something new and yet strangely familiar happened.  What is it?  Well, I had one of those perfect moviegoing experiences from my youth not on Christmas day but on the day after Thanksgiving.  The kind of day I only previously remembered in the warm glow of a nostalgia that probably never really existed but that nevertheless seems to be a time that we all spend a good part of our later lives trying to recreate or get back to even for just a moment (see playwrights like Thornton Wilder (Our Town), filmmakers like Francis Coppola (Peggy Sue Got Married) and novelists like Truman Capote (A Christmas Memory).

More clearly?  What I’m talking about is what I felt at the 1:45pm Friday showing of Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner and starring Daniel Day Lewis – at the Arclight movie theatres in Hollywood.

I am not a paid spokesman for Arclight – I swear.

My 2012 day-after-Thanksgiving was the perfect day of moviegoing that I remember from my youth, warm glowing nostalgia and all, and it happened in an entirely different city, in an entirely different century and with a film made by a new group of people (who in my youth couldn’t yet vote)  about another group of other people (born 150 years or more before they were born) who were fighting for the rights of still yet another group of people (slaves) to be free enough to even think about things like the right to vote.

Why was this experience so perfect?  Well, it wasn’t any one element but the sum of all of the very many moveigoing elements combined.  A total that seldom happens anymore but could happen a lot more often than it does if a little more attention and responsibility were assumed by all of us in taking our time at the movie theatre back to one of excitement rather than sheer obligation and/or dread.

Some thoughts:

1. The Company.  Okay, I’ll take responsibility for this one – this time I went to the movies with good friends/family who I actually wanted to be with and whom I knew wanted to be with me.  These were also people who wanted to see the movie we were going to attend.    We were all looking forward to viewing something together well made and thought provoking and that had good acting.  They key here is not necessarily our taste but the idea that we were all united in what we wanted to see and open to enjoying or not enjoying it depending on what we got.

2. Reserved seating and admission price discount plan at a local theatre.  Now granted – there was something very cool I remember about the communal experience of waiting on line with fellow movie fans in order to get tickets and slither into the best seats in the house to the newest and hottest film.  But given where we are today with people congestion, inflated expectations and the convenience of online purchase of pretty much everything except kidneys (stop googling I already checked),  it feels reasonable to expect that you can not only buy your ticket online, but choose where to sit, print out your ticket at home and then simply show up at your individual theatre’s door.  This not only guarantees the bypassing and inconvenience of several lines but allows you more time to wait on lines at the concession stand, for parking validation and, in some cases, even the bathroom.

Do you agree?

3.  A lazy day.  Movies and TV are a bit of a passive medium.  That means they are best enjoyed on days where you don’t feel like doing very much other than taking something in, rather than exerting the energy of talking back.  The day-after-Thanksgiving is one of those days.  On that note, I do wish others would remember this on non-holiday weekends and either stay home or get it up a little better for people who spent at least a year or two of their lives making something they hope you’ll enjoy.

Goodbye Mr. Fathead

4. The seating and the actual theatre.  This is to be filed under “problems of the privileged in over-developed countries” but high on my personal checklist of why people don’t want to venture out more to movie theatres is the actual environment you find once you’re inside.  The Arclight in Hollywood (my local theatre) is about a dollar or two more expensive than most (a dollar of which is discounted if you take advantage of its free membership plan) but as long as you’re leaving your house to go somewhere you might as well do it in a place that respects you and your business.  In the movie theatre world this means something called “raked seating” for people like myself (5’7” and under) where increasingly sloped rows guarantee you will never, ever again watch Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie co-starring with the fatheaded guy or big-haired gal seated in front of you that you’ve spent your entire adult life trying to avoid in every other human circumstance known to man (and then some).  Side note: I’m also waiting for a personal perfume filter filled with fresh air I can infuse from the side arm of my seat and blow in my (and their) face(s) as well as a possible ejector button for loud, annoying and insistent talkers.

Shameless plug for the best movie popcorn in NYC.

5. Great refreshments Yes, you can smuggle in your own can of soda or bar of candy or pot brownie at any local movie theatre.  But let’s face it, there is something about good movie theatre popcorn.  It is expensive at my local movie theatre but, well, no more so than most others.  But it’s also good.  Very good.  And most other movie theatre popcorn isn’t any longer.  I think this has something to do with quality control and consumer care.  Also at my movie theatre –- a pleasant employee announcing before EVERY show at EVERY performance at EVERY screen that the movie chain is responsible for sound and picture quality and that it urges you to seek them out if you are even the slightest bit dissatisfied.  Competing movie palaces take note:  this is your future and you have now seen how you will survive.  Be nice(r).

6.  Cool trailers.  Theatre chains don’t have much control in this area so hopefully someone will pass this thought on to a movie studio.  There are other ways to get audiences into movies other than to finance loud, ugly and mindless films.  I’m not talking high brow – how about just odd or sexy or different and even slightly intense.  You can even throw in a bit of humor if you want to.  Watching two and a half minutes of Bill Murray playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in the upcoming Hyde Park on Hudson certainly qualifies as odd but also raises the bar to clever and, dare I say it, amusingly smart.  Watching Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn shoot at each other in Gangster Squad while Emma Stone plays the requisite “gal pal” certainly doesn’t venture into new territory but looked stylish, titillating and fun.  We’re not talking Fellini or even Almodovar, here.  Just something bigger or unusual no one else has seen that we won’t find flipping through on our five different and indiscernible cable TV remote controls.

7. Superior sight, sound and not seen enough friends.  Another surprise on my recent perfect moviegoing day: The screen is huge, you feel like you’re in the movie rather than watching it and there are no distracting lights from either end of the theatre walls or on any hand held digital devices within striking distance.  In fact, the technology and space is being used so optimally that I can even spot two friends some rows down that I haven’t seen in a while who also decided this might be a good day to get out of the house and take advantage of what the movie business has wisely decided to offer here.  Oh, and did I mention the actual seats are wide enough to fit my dog and me if animals were allowed in movie theatres?  I didn’t think so (and as much as I’d like to, I promise not to smuggle my own dog in.  Still, it’s nice to know she’d fit).

OK maybe not quite this in the movie

8. The crowd.  We live in the age of isolation.  Conversely, one could also philosophize we exist in a time of great choice – where more than ever we can decide when and when not to engage with the outside world.  I’m not a sociologist but I’ll bet that if we were to measure the growth of social anxiety and agoraphobia-related neuroses from the beginning of the new millennium to 20 years from now, we would discover a spike in the charts equal to the one for 20th Century-Fox’s annual box-office from the years right before and right after the first Star Wars movie was released (that’s 1977, or 35 years ago, if you were wondering).   The fact is, most humans do not want to venture out into unfriendly or even inconveniently annoying territory without a chance for some higher returns.  That sort of adrenalin rush of excitement, anticipation and participation was once regularly found in abundance at our local movie houses but is pretty scarce right now.  Yet, waiting for the new Steven Spielberg film at the Arclight this past holiday weekend, you could momentarily feel it again.  It wasn’t a movie industry crowd with its “daggers drawn,” or a day care halfway house full of people looking for something to drag their offspring to because they were bored.  It wasn’t even a dark place to make out with romantic background noise (though I wouldn’t be adverse to using movies for this kind of thing occasionally).  What did exist was a palpable kind of “gee whiz” anticipation of something amorphous, something smart, something potentially entertaining and even perhaps something a little, though I hesitate to say it, special, because – guess what – you can’t get it in exactly that form at home in your own apartment, house or even personalized cave.

9. The movie.  This is not meant to be a review of Lincoln but rather an observation of why as a movie lover and/or potential filmmaker and/or crew member it is important to get your butt out of the house and venture “among those beautiful people out there in the dark” (Norma Desmond’s words via Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond in Sunset Boulevard, not mine).  Like it, love it or lukewarm it (I can’t imagine there will be very many haters), Lincoln is what we nowadays call a “movie movie.”  This means that it exemplifies everything about big film (or is it digitized?) entertainment.  The story of our 16th president’s quest to abolish slavery (set only 150 plus years ago) is one of grandeur and depth and big emotions and big beliefs that needs to be seen on the big screen.  It is successfully directed by one of the most famous filmmakers in the world (Steven Spielberg) in a way only this kind of filmmaker can do.  It is written by one of the most honored writers of our time (Tony Kushner) with a particular depth of accessible political thought and emotional drama (and even a bit of comedy) that is particularly difficult to do as a screenwriter nowadays.  It is performed by a stellar cast led by an actor in the title role (Daniel Day Lewis) who is able to transform himself so totally into its title character that it feels more like an odd kind of human resurrection or cloning from the past rather than merely an impressive performance in the present that we still don’t get enough of these days.  Lincoln also harnesses notions and ideas and expresses them visually through all the top notch technological capabilities mainstream studio filmmaking has to offer and presents them in a sly package just enticing enough to satisfy pretty much anyone of any age who even once ever enjoyed getting out of the house and going to a film in the first place.  And it does this without too much dumbing down of its subject matter or reliance on the star power of an over-the-top box-office draw to “ensure” its result.  What it instead uses are many obvious, and not so obvious, parallels to the social, political and economic realities of life in the 21st century despite the fact that the film itself is set almost two entire American centuries ago.

Let me be clear — Lincoln does not have the multi-layered dramatic grittiness of the best of our independent films or the thrill ride giddiness of some of our highest priced studio blockbusters.  It is not that kind of movie.  What kind of movie is it?  It is the best of the old-fashioned kind – the kind that moves us out of our cynicism or complacency or just plain every day lives and compels us to go back into the movie theatres for something communal that we can’t get in front of our own personal tablet of choice.

It’s a big part of the future of real movie movies.  That is, if movie movies, or even just plain old movies (meaning those you go out to the theatre to see) are to have any future at all.

Go see it.  And a few others this holiday season.