Downey Soft

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According to a recent statement by the brilliant actor Robert Downey Jr., running a professional film production means, among other things:

  • Making sure your star actor doesn’t have to work on his birthday or anywhere near a holiday
  • Never having to sacrifice to or even think about the demands of a tight budget, and
  • Not requiring or even asking an above-the-title guy like himself to do even less than a weeks worth of press interviews around the time of release in order to sell the film

Well, what do you want for $20-$30 million plus dollar one gross percentage per movie?

Found in RDJ's bathroom

Found in RDJ’s bathroom

To be fair, Mr. Downey stated this to Entertainment Weekly a few days ago on a press tour to promote the mega-budget studio film The Avengers: Age of Ultron and was specifically speaking about why he has absolutely no desire to ever again do a $500,000 budgeted indie film – or presumably even one for under $5,000,000.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to say how absolutely disappointing it is to hear this. Not to mention obnoxious.

For my money, Mr. Downey is truly the best of the best in his age group and has been so for a very long time. Of course, now that he is part of several superhero franchises as our Iron Man and our Sherlock Holmes he seems to use about .01% of his vast reserve of talent. Still, even that is perfectly legitimate. Heck, if any one of us were being offered that kind of f-k-off money for six months of work in middle age you’d better believe the vast majority of us would take it. Not to mention, the Ironman films especially and The Avengers films to some extent are mass entertaining in large part due to Mr. Downey’s talents and – well – a man or a woman (Note: Where are all the solo FEMALE superhero movies???) deserves to be (properly?) rewarded when they can so effectively elevate sequel after sequel far above the very low bar for even escapist movie fare these days.

He said it.

He said it.

Nevertheless, judge for yourself. Here is exactly what was recently said by one of my all time favorite film guys AND the one famous actor I have repeatedly opted for over the years when asked the ubiquitous question: If you were allowed to have _____ with any famous movie star without retribution who would it be?

EW: Do you ever have a craving after making one of these (“Avengers”) to make like a $500,000 budgeted indie movie?

RDJ: No.

(Nervous chuckles all around)

EW: Why?

RDJ: Because they’re exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, “What was I thinking?” But I’m interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they’re like, “Hey, man, we’re just running a couple of days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the Fourth of July? And, by the way, but, like, the crew — can you pay for the craft services? And, oh, by the way, man, when we go to Sundance, it’s like, can we just sit you in a chair and you can sell this for six days in a row so that we’ll make 180 bucks when it opens in one theater? God, this is so powerful what we’re doing. What do you think of the movie? You saw it last night?”

“I thought it’s mediocre.”

“Yeah, isn’t it the greatest?! Man, everyone’s an artist here.”

“Actually, most of you are kind of inexperienced and lame.”

Well, guess what, RDJ. I think you’re kind of lame. But this seems apt. Because in my experience when you build up someone you have fantasized about being with but truly don’t know all that well for too long, the truth of that person is almost always a disappointment.

You tell em, Joaquin

You tell em, Joaquin

Say what you want about Matthew McConaughey and his Oscar-winning performance in the movie Dallas Buyers Club, which was made for about 12 cents, or perhaps proclaim you didn’t get Gods and Monsters, which won a best screenplay Oscar 17 years ago, starred Ian McKellan and was shot in under 30 days for the 1988 equivalent of 12 cents – each of them would NEVER have gotten made without some name talent attached. Nor would Mr. Downey’s career, which was sadly interrupted due to a long-term jail sentence as a result of drug addiction, even been resurrected were it not for the willingness of smaller films and bigger names to take a chance on him, vouch for his reliability and hope upon hope he could once again deliver the sparks of genius he previously showed in films like Chaplin, Natural Born Killers and yes, Less Than Zero.

How quickly we all forget.

I don’t know Mr. Downey so I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on in his head these days. Maybe he’s just tired. Or perhaps he really wasn’t the guy I thought he was. (Note: Perhaps?). But there’s a larger issue here and that is the willingness of many of us, including myself at times, to take the easier or at least more financially profitable way out when given the chance.

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

We live in a capitalist society and with worldwide economic uncertainty there is clearly something to be said for making as much money as one can in order to ensure a secure life for yourself and your family when times take their next inevitable downturn. But how much is enough and when does one begin to sacrifice other essentials in the name of what one considers financial and familial peace of mind? That, one supposes, is a matter of opinion and certainly an area where we are all at some point more than likely going to get tripped up on since there is no easy answer.

Nowhere is this question more unclear than it is in the entertainment business. One man’s artistic endeavor is another man’s lameness. And another man’s lameness can, in part, be caused by his lack of artistic chance-taking, cushy private jets and lack of empathy for those trying yet sometimes not succeeding at delivering a small piece of humanity to less than 3000 movie screens per weekend across the country.

Hey Robert... remember when I was Batman?

Hey Robert… remember when I was Batman?

Fill in movies like Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2, Ironman 2 & 3 wherever you see fit in any or all of the above categories. And then consider where you’d put The Judge. Lord knows I wouldn’t begin to direct you into deciding just how lame they are or are not. I will also stay away from including The Avengers, which I rather liked, and the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I have not yet seen, in either category. And that’s not only because my students would kill me or that I believe Joss Whedon is a really cool and talented guy.

What I have also entirely avoided here is another press incident with Mr. Downey the week before when he walked out mid-interview because he didn’t like the line of questioning a British reporter was serving up about his past drug addiction and whether or not he was still haunted by those “demons.” This is always dicey territory for a journalist whose job it is to ask the tough, relevant questions, and the subject whose option it is to not answer or walk out on questions he doesn’t want to respond to or deems irrelevant.

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I chose to give Mr. Downey the benefit of the doubt when he chose to leave, even though his on-air excuse was – “what are we doing here” and “are(n’t) we promoting a movie?” Well, uh, no RDJ – you are doing an interview with a journalist whose job it is to be a reporter, not your publicist. Still, it’s fair not to have to delve back down into the depths of an uncomfortable subject that you don’t believe is pertinent to the news at hand and, as always, you have every right to make an abrupt exit.

However, what seems quite unfair is to snidely look down from your now very, very high pile of money, access and – there’s no other way to say it… privilege – and make snide, cutting remarks about people who are doing their very best to tell the stories that places like Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Fox, Sony and Walt Disney Studios have no desire to tell anymore. One could also say it’s behavior unbecoming not only a superhero but any actor who has ever successfully played one.

And, finally, the very definition of LAME.

Chair in Space

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Almost two weeks ago I went to a screening of Interstellar at the Motion Picture Academy. About a day and a half later I had my first ever attack of sinus-related vertigo, which is a condition characterized by extreme dizziness, nausea and vomiting.   Were they related? I’m not quite sure.

Certainly, it is tempting to get on the bandwagon and blame Interstellar for all the ills of the world, including my own. Plus, I can’t for certain say that the film didn’t make me dizzy – both literally and figuratively. But what good does it do to complain about it? For as much as I am stuck with a lingering case of vertigo every time I move my head around a bit too fast, there is no escape from the cultural impact of a new film by a director as renowned and popular as Christopher Nolan.

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

The most that we all can do is deal with both illnesses – my vertigo and Nolan-mania – as best we can. Of course I, for one, have a sinus rinse, cortisone nose spray and antibiotics to counter the Big V and it’s slowly getting better.   But right now there is no known treatment for Nolan-mania or those determined to spread it around to the rest of us. Certainly, quarantine hasn’t seemed to work as a cure for other recent outbreaks, not to mention it’s mostly unpopular. And in this case, it’s counterintuitive. If we know anything Nolan, it’s that you don’t try to remedy the effects of him or his films with anything that is even vaguely unpopular.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown...

Heavy is the head that wears the crown…

Full confession upfront: there is nothing Interstellar offers to exactly hate but an absence of hate does not necessarily translate into a presence of love. It has its moments, though one would expect that in any movie with an almost three hour running time and a choice from among the best of what commercial Hollywood has the offer in terms of above and below-the-line talent. But what it has little of is sustained and coherent dramatic tension as well as a plot that is entirely discernable to those who have never studied astrophysics. Not to mention it has nothing truly original to say in the final analysis, that is unless that message was encoded and transmitted in a way that only people in another galaxy or time dimension could discern and then explain to us naysayers in simpler terms – which is certainly possible given the atmosphere Nolan-mania has us now living in and the literal lack of it we get in the film itself. And NOTE: No, these are NOT SPOILERS (not that you’d understand them if they were). NOR WILL THERE BE ANY!

Alright, Alright, Alright.... continue on

Alright, Alright, Alright…. continue on

The one indisputable piece of good news here is Interstellar is an attempt at taking chances and doing SOMETHING, even though a dizzy, cloudy-headed, middle-aged sinus sufferer like me didn’t quite get what that was or at least can’t recall it. And this is very much better than the choice to make NOT VERY MUCH NEW or NOTHING MUCH BUT MONEY that most big studio movies/filmmakers are opting for these days.   So one supposes sickies like us – meaning we who have somehow avoided the disease of Nolan-mania but are nevertheless still considered ill in the culture as we know it – should be grateful. And to answer your next question: Yes, it has truly come to that.

Yes. YES.   And – YES.

I happened to catch Interstellar with two other screenwriter friends – both of who went to film school – which I didn’t – and both of who have more major studio writing credits than myself. In my mind, this somehow means they were more likely to be bigger fans of the previous three hours but this didn’t turn out to be the case. One liked it a bit more and one a bit less than myself but we were all in the general ballpark of – huh??? Still, given what we’ve all experienced in Hollywood during the last decade we all agreed we were happy a movie that was trying something “different” – though none of us quite could verbalize what that was – was at least given the green light.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

Given the fact that I can’t let a subject drop – as should be evident by now – I couldn’t help but then pose this imaginary scenario to my two friends:

If you had submitted this screenplay in any of your screenwriting classes, what would have happened?

One immediate answer was: “Oh please, it would’ve been ripped to shreds,” and the other was a non-verbal head shake which I translate to, “Are you kidding, even in my most neophyte writing days, this is nothing that I could ever do because I would never, ever write anything as pretentious as this.”

But more telling was the follow-up one of my Nolan-immune buddies posed:

“Suppose we each submitted this to our agents or managers?” Before I could even answer he jumped in. “I can tell you what would happen, they’d NEVER send it out. They’d throw it right back at you. But Nolan has earned the right to do whatever he wants.”

Yes, this is true. And well deserved because this is how the system we’ve all signed up for works. Yet as the Spiderman comics themselves at one time wrote, and the Spiderman movies decades later once offered:

With great power comes great responsibility.

(Note: Most sources credit Voltaire for first coining this phrase. Still, Stan Lee adapted it to modern times and who am I to argue with the one guy who has probably out-Nolan-ed Nolan?).

Ya damn right!

Ya damn right!

Another perspective on this is what that same writer friend, who also happens to be a parent, quickly added:

Sometimes it helps when there are people to tell you NO.

This speaks to the imagined nirvana for most of us doing creative work – a world where we can do whatever we want, a place where there are little if any “no”s, and a situation where we are both paid and given almost unlimited money in order to make our visions come true.

Hmm, be careful what you wish for or at least consider if you are always the best judge of what you are wanting.  Because above all else there is always one ultimate power – your audience.   No one can ever take away your artistic power to do anything what you want but a lack of audience disposes of the money and creative freedom in Hollywood as quickly as others think it seemingly came. This can be problematic once you get to a certain place if you’ve gotten used to the perks or enjoy making a sizeable living. Sure, it’s a high-class problem but then again – everything is relative. There are those back in your hometown who fantasize daily about living yours or my dingy little non-Nolan-like life – especially if it has anything to do with show business.

One of the oddities for me of Interstellar was how much its first act reminded me of… Michael Bay’s recent Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.

GASP!

GASP!

The same life-has-passed-him-by scientifically handy good ole boy Dad, the similar spunky daughter who has always been Dad’s favorite and is probably a tad too much like him, and the identical heartland Americana setting where the American flag is sacred but its citizens have somehow been betrayed by a government that has either disappointed them, betrayed them, or out and out lied to them. There are secrets, there are shadow corporate interests and there is the advancement of technology that might or might not destroy, betray or save the world.

Well, one supposes the way you make a tentpole film is to somehow tap into the mythic family and the Heartland (whether it be faux Nebraska or Texas), right? Hmmm, not necessarily. No one makes a blockbuster tentpole like James Cameron but not even Avatar or Titanic chose to delve in so obvious a territory. Not that those two films both didn’t have faults and employ archetypes but somehow it felt as if, well – they had a bit more coherence, emotion and well, dare I say it…honest humanity?

... and I just remembered they were blue

… and I just remembered they were blue

Part of Christopher Nolan’s appeal and originality is that his films are a bit colder and more brittle and that is certainly an admirable stance to take rather than to drown viewers in bathos. It’s what makes his take on the Batman films so compelling and how movies like The Prestige and even Inception – both of which have emotional characters making odd and sometimes even distancing choices – work as well as they do. It’s also part of what put him on the map to begin with in Memento – a movie that perfectly employed his high intellectuality with the very flawed and/or too perfect husbands or former lovers he likes to put at the center of his movies.

This, among many reasons, is why Interstellar is a head scratcher. It’s good that it’s not Transformers or Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film Nolan himself admits was an inspiration here) but – exactly WHAT IS IT???

The only thing I can come up with is an overly long studio film with technical Irving the Explainer speeches that feel as if they were written by the guys or gals who want to get paid to author books like Stephen Hawking for Dummies but are not quite yet masters of the craft. But Christopher Nolan is at his best a master of film. That’s why Interstellar is so confounding for so many of us, and why we can’t drink the Kool-Aid. To do so would be like saying we enjoyed a Big Gulp that has sat out in the sun for too long and lost its fizz.

The Chair Challenge

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Did you ever have one of those weeks? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having celebrities I like and that feel as if they’re a part of my family die. Plus, is the universe going to blow up? Are we headed for World War III? It certainly seems that way. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t been one movie I’ve loved or even liked more than a little this summer. I mean, how many reruns of House Hunters International can I watch? Yes, Costa Rica looks nice and inexpensive but, seriously – you’re going to uproot your spouse and two kids, go live in a shack on the beach and have them all piss happily in a rusted tin outhouse for $900 a month? Really????

Sorry, I will not calm down. Or pull out my dog-eared copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz from 2008. That was then and this is now. Besides, a good rant can do just as much as being impeccable with your word, not taking things personally, not making assumptions and always doing your best. And in case you were wondering – YES, THIS IS MY BEST! At the moment.

Okay, I feel better already. And so will you. So if that works imagine how good an unlucky 13 of them will feel. What follows are a baker’s dozen of my petty best of the moment. And I CHALLENGE ALL OF YOU to come up with at least one of your own and write in about it. Don’t worry. You don’t have to dump a bucket of ice water over your head afterwards. Or send money. This is therapy. At least for me. For all of us.

Oh, in case you were wondering I AM GRATEFUL – to live in a country where ranting is still legal and among others who can relate, understand and come up with funnier and better things to complain about than me. So as my mother used to warn: DO NOT DISAPPOINT ME. Which explains more than you need to know about myself or my rants on any given day.

MY UNLUCKY 13:

1 – You’re no longer a SPORTS HERO if you beat women and children.

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Nuances are meaningless when a man knocks out his wife with a punch to the jaw and drags her limp body across a floor. Ditto when another guy repeatedly whoops his 4 year-old son with a switch to the crotch or beats him bloody with a stick and then chews on the remainder of its picked off leaves in front of him. The NFL’s Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson should be in jail for these offenses – not the subject of debate.   How does any woman put on a Rice jersey or a single football fan support a star running back who put a little boy not yet old enough to attend public school into the hospital? #TimothyRayJones? #Malala? #OJanyone?

2- If you throw your adolescent child out of the house for being gay you should be neutered against your will and relieved of all your wordily possessions. Rolling Stone recently did an expose about the epidemic of homeless LGBT kids, many of who have been thrown out onto the streets by their fundamentalist parents. I, for one, am tired of small-minded cowards hiding behind dogma in order to inflict pain and suffering on family members who they deem unworthy. So let me put it in language their pea brains might understand. Think of your offspring like a plate you knock over in the store. Meaning, you break it, you bought it. Or in this case – you make it, you own it. For life. But unlike a plate, you can’t throw yours out or give it away because you decide you suddenly don’t fancy its pattern or it fails to live up to your preconceived idea of the surface on which you choose to put your cold meatloaf sandwich during one of your typically lazy Sunday afternoons.

3- I don’t have the time to iWatch.

... and just about as useful

… and just about as useful

Who doesn’t love the sleek, stylish lines and shiny cool bling of something Apple? But wasn’t one of the benefits of the iPhone stapled to your person the fact that it pretty much rendered wristwatches obsolete? Do any of us really need a mini computer timepiece on our arms? Well, perhaps need is the wrong word. How about want? Isn’t it tough enough to make an effort lifting up your arms to do…. anything these days? #WWJobsDo?

4- Matthew Perry needs to sit out some more pilot seasons.

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It's not going to happen

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It’s not going to happen

We all love MP not only as one of our perennial Friends but for various admirable turns he’s done in both drama and comedy since those halcyon days. Still, a reboot of The Odd Couple as a half-hour CBS comedy this fall? Which was already rebooted in the eighties with an all-black cast from the 1970s hit series? Which was rebooted from the hit film? Which was reinterpreted from the hit Broadway show? The only person not tired of all of these hits is Neil Simon, who brilliantly created the story to begin with and even more brilliantly continues to collect royalty checks from it five decades later. #NoPoachingZone.

5- Too many actors are changing pace. You can’t blame a professional impersonator for wanting to try on all different types of personas but that doesn’t mean you can’t bitch about it. Steve Carrell is a humorless gazillionaire mentally abusing Channing Tatum in the upcoming Foxcatcher, Pushing Daisies’ charming Lee Pace (no pun intended) played the nastiest of villains in this summer’s sole megablockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, and post Thanksgiving we all have to look forward to a live version of Peter Pan starring Girls’…..Allison Williams?? How would they like it if I renamed this blog Notes From A Zeppelin? Or An Elongated Rant from my Chair. And no, the correct answer is not none of them cares. #Dontbemeanasme. #Thoughtofthatfirst.

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

6- We need to thin the herd of tour buses everywhere. Somebody somewhere is probably offering a tour of pretty much every region in the world. But nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than on the streets of Los Angeles. Here’s the bottom of lines, though. Those of you in the rest of the country don’t get to hate on us (nee make fun) and then come here to visit from every state in the union all year where you will undoubtedly spend at least one day on a tour bus going 5 mph gawking at everything and everyone you see with disdainful admiration. You’re gumming up the traffic and acting like the asshat guy/girl we all once dated who couldn’t make up their mind about us. Note: Those types of relationships never work. And certainly never end well.

7- Drivers of automobiles are not allowed to signal on their choice of odd or even days. While we’re on the subject of L.A. and traffic listen up – you’re a selfish pig if you don’t indicate when you are going right or left and a complete failure as a human being when you suddenly decide to stop in the middle of the street for no other reason than because, well – the sun looked nice? Organic fennel suddenly came into your mind? You thought a pretty guy or gal looked familiar but then realized it was only your own image reflecting into the windshield from your side view mirror? This also applies to big men driving their big trucks who have decided that because they seem more menacing no one else on the road will ever take them to task. Well, I guess I (let’s make it WE just in case) showed them.

Preach Batman

Preach Batman

8- Huge television stars need to stop doing car commercial voiceovers. I was going to let Jon Hamm slide as the voice of Mercedes Benz because after all, he’s Jon Hamm. But he’s started an epidemic that reached its peak last week when I actually recognized the voice of Modern Family’s Ty Burrell on an ad for some other vehicle. I can’t remember which one. And that’s the point. It’s understandable when they get Samuel L. Jackson or Alec Baldwin before the cameras to endorse Capital One credit cards. Their crazy on-camera personas are being bought and paid for with a lot of cash back. But what difference does it make who’s telling me to drive an overpriced automobile if I can’t see their handsome face IN the car and imagine they’re with me? No, of course I’m not specifically talking ONLY about Jon Hamm.   And certainly not of Matthew McConaughey – who is featured live on camera in one of the oddest, newest and most bizarre auto ads of them all.

9- Why can’t we have one universal cord that plugs into everything??? This was not my idea but came from NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who this week said he suggested it to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Yeah, I know, they’ll call it the iCord, build the prototype here and mass-produce it in China with unskilled, underpaid and overworked cheap labor. We’ll all feel guilty about it but it will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and be sexy and irresistible. And we’ll purchase all of them because once again, well, life is so, so, so haaaaaaaaaaaard. #Too1stworldXGoogol

10- Network television needs to stop putting John McCain on the air right after every presidential speech.

What I see everytime he comes on screen...

What I see everytime he comes on screen…

In my mind, Sen. McCain gave up all rights to criticize presidential judgment the moment he selected Sarah Palin as his choice for vice-president. There will be no Sarah Palin joke here because how does one top anything she’s already said and done in the past, including the drunken brawl her entire family was reported to have gotten into this past week in Anchorage? What will be stated is that Sen. McCain’s expertise in the area of decision-making and strategy not only sucks but is potentially quite dangerous. Putting him on directly after Pres. Obama spoke to the nation about how he will deal with the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of the fundamentalist religious terrorists of ISIS is akin to….well, I’ll let you fill in the blank. (Hint: Insert that Sarah Palin joke here).

11- Stop calling America “The Homeland!” There is no other way to say this. We are not in Adolf Hitler’s Germany (yet) or living in a cable series starring Claire Danes. When we discuss whether enemies of our state plan to attack our country that is what we fear they will attack – the country. Words matter. Jingoistic, fascist terminology is dangerous. Unless I’m using it to attack Rick Perry or Ted Cruz in an ironically worded twist on the words they ordinarily use. Which I have not done. Yet. #Oops.

We-all-know-someone-who-needs-to-tuck-and-roll…

12- Adored celebrities need to stop dying for a while. Or at least stop dying so close together. Aside from the emotional grief it causes their friends and loved ones it is hell on us. Robin Williams, Joan Rivers and Lauren Bacall all in the space of a month? And then there’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death just a bit before??? The least of this is the confusion it causes to consumers and the corporations they love. Do you feature Mr. Hoffman prominently in the ads for Hunger Games: Mockingjay? Will it ever be kosher to watch a rerun of Fashion Police again? Was it unfair of me to get creeped out by the live images of a great actor like James Gandolfini in the recent ads for his last film, The Drop? It’s only creepy because none of us will get out of here alive. Oh, grow up – it’s true!!!

13- Give Billy Eichner a show that is not on Fuse TV!

Can you ever watch too much?

Can you ever watch too much?

It’s not as if I haven’t known about comedian Billy Eichner’s hilarious Funny or Die videos for the last year or two. But suddenly he seems to be on every other click of the web making me LOL (yes, I’m using THAT abbreviation because I’m not as clever as he is) at what might have been my lowest moment of the week were he not available. So, network or real pay cable TV – why? Why? Why? Don’t tell me he’s too gay or too New York or too Jewish. I might take it personally. As for Billy, no one is this funny and strange and entertaining so consistently. Not even Matthew Perry. Who I am a great fan of. (See #4 above). Don’t believe me? Fine. Here.

Julia Roberts Obstacle Course

It’s Debra Messing, You Gays

And in case you’re in the mood for a song, here’s something you won’t ever HEAR on the radio. Write in and Rant On.

Win, Lose or Awe: Betting the Oscars

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One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation.  She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.

Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things.   (Note:  I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).

They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.   Needless to say, that era has ended.

We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution.  What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election?  Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.

Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling.  (Note:  You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is?  Um, I beg to differ).

Oh, you know me.

Oh, you know me.

But back to what really matters here  – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.

I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary.  Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care.  Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars.  So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?

But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following.  I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters.  This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.

THE SHOW

The Golden Gal?

The Golden Gal?

It will be too long.  Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane.  It will get boring at parts.  You will get tired.  And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some.  Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.

1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time.  What will she sing?  Hmmmm, let’s see.  The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.

Speaking of Bettes...

Speaking of Bettes…

Prediction #1:  Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.

2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show.  How do you not love Pink?  And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show.  Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….

Prediction #2:  Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz.   Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do.  Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations.  It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious).  Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.

Prediction #3:  Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked star Brie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter.  But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg.  What a shame.

THE AWARDS

Best Original Screenplay:  Spike Jonze, Her

Betting Meter:  Sure Thing

the future is now

the future is now

Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.  Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far.  For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year.  Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment.  And wager the rent.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

Betting Meter:  Safe Bet

12-years-of-not-fancy-dining

Oscar eyes his competition

There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script.  The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note:  Last year’s winner in this category was Argo).  Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo.  The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12 Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times.   Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar.  Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.

Best Supporting Actress:  Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave 

Betting Meter:  Slightly Favored

The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere.  That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g.  Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).

Girl, you know you got my vote

Girl, you know you got my vote

The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle.  But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita.  Though I wouldn’t bet for money –  it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club

Betting Meter: Sure Thing

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bet the house.  I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club.  And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here.  Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick.  That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen.  Brava.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 

Betting Meter:  Closer Than You Think

If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category.  Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season.  Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category.  Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.

Both fierce suits

Both fierce suits

But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.

Okay, consider it.  But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.

Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Betting Meter: Safe Bet

All right, All right, All right

All right, All right, All right

It’s his year, plain and simple.  Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.

Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well.  Which it was.  So deal with it.

The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.

But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose.  Chances are he won’t.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.

The magic man

The magic man

No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents.  But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward.  The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.  For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.

It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.

Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology,  a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.

 Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity 

Betting Meter:  Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!

Can she snag it?

Can she snag it?

My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way.  In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind.  What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year.  Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.

That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice.  American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores.  Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).

12 Years fulfills both of these requirements.  It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note:  There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).

Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes.  Not that that means anything at all.

TIE-BREAKERS:

magic-8-ball

These are the ones that win and lose the pool.  Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best.  Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.

Animated Feature:  Frozen.  No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note:  The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)

Documentary Feature:  20 Feet From Stardom.   No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working.   Plus, it’s good.

Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.  It’s technology and Gravity wins.

Costume Design:  American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson.  Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.

Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger.  Technology wins.  Again.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.

Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!!  (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you). 

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews.  I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:

No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the words Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa come out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.

NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.

You should NOT bet on these.  Or even include them in a pool.  Or even think about doing either.  That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters.  I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you.  Maybe.

Surviving the Plague… with Matthew McConaughey

Dallas-Buyers-Club-Poster-Header

I went with my longtime partner to see Dallas Buyers Club this weekend at the local movie theatre. This was not an easy feat.   The mere image of a very gaunt Matthew McConaughey on the movie poster stabbed me in the gut with a generalized feeling of terror and nausea that brought me back to what I imagine will be the most horrible times of life I will ever barely live through.  That would be AIDS in the 1980s

Posting a blog thirty years later on a date that also happens to be World AIDS Day is an odd proposition.   Seared in my mind forever are the faces of living and dying people I knew well, knew slightly, or only knew of as I passed by them at a party or a business meeting – people who wasted away dead or killed themselves before the inevitable ravaged outcome of AIDS happened to them.   That I survived at all is a matter of luck, timing and, well…luck.  Not to degenerate into pop culture references, but to the gay community in particular this was a kind of real-life Hunger Games where many, many more than one person per district had to fight something quite insidious, evil and amorphous in order to survive.  The primary culprit was a lethal and mysterious virus.  The secondary enemies were ignorance, prejudice, our own government and, in some cases, our own friends, neighbors and loved ones.

more than just a ribbon

more than just a ribbon

But simply remembering one’s own story discounts the power and effect of something so massive.  The story of AIDS, like the story of any worldwide plague, cannot be summed up through the experience of a single individual or even group.  I might get cards and letters for this but it would be akin to saying that The Diary of Anne Frank told the story of the Holocaust better than Elie Wiesel’s Night or William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice.  Or that somehow Gone With The Wind covered the Civil War era in a more realistic way than 12 Years a Slave or Glory  or even vice-versa.  The larger and more tragic the event, the more stories there are to tell.  It all depends on where you were and who you were at the time– your perspective and your point of view.

There is a short remembrance in this week’s New Yorker by a reporter named Michael Specter.  He writes about a  photo that was given to him by a friend of two dying men in the Castro district in 1980s San Francisco – one confined to a wheelchair and another, tall and gaunt, bending down to help him – so he can be reminded of the actual story of those days as he wrote about the plague and gay history in the future.  He references this photo as he tells us of the current skyrocketing rates of new HIV infection in the gay community due to resumed risky sexual practices on the part of young people who were not around to see the ravages that came from the disease at a time when there were no or few effective drugs to ensure long term survival.  He also touches on the fact that by the end of this year AIDS will have killed FORTY MILLION people in total, many of them heterosexual and living in Africa.

powerful reminder

powerful reminder

Once again, who died and why and who lived and how is only part of a much larger story.  This is a medical story, a sociological story, a political story and a human story of the world community and, in no less of a meaningful way, individual lives.  That I know a few wonderful guys who continue to survive the plague 2-3 DECADES later is another story in the mix of all the others previously alluded to.   Where we get into trouble is trying to compare, quantify and draw definitive conclusions as to what is most meaningful or even noteworthy.  How do you qualify survival?  Or quantify death?  There is no way to do it and to truthfully bear witness to the actuality of the worst of what occurred.  There is, only — what occurred.

Which brings us back to Dallas Buyers Club.  This is the story of an admittedly racist, homophobic, white trash talkin’ Texas bull rider and electrician named Ron Woodruff who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 and given one month to live.  Mr. Woodruff was a real person and, by all accounts, not a particularly pleasant one.  But like many unpleasant individuals, he is not without his charms.  The latter qualities are brought out with the sort of bold verve and definitive eye twinkle that plays perfectly into the talents of an actor like Mr. McConaughey.  He does a lot more than lose 50 pounds from his normally tan, muscular frame and paste on a bushy moustache to bring us back to the skin and bones Russian roulette days of the 1980s.  He actually manages to bring to life the kind of guy that would repulse you if it weren’t for the fact that he was sick and dying.  In all honesty, he might repulse you still.

Despicable Ron?

Despicable Ron?

At one point early on in Mr. Woodruff’s company I, a gay man, turned to my partner of 26 years and sarcastically whispered:  Why can’t they just make a film about all of this for us?  Not surprising on my part.  For all the tragic dramatic stories about AIDS that could be tackled by major or mini-major studios in the last 30 years, the only one that comes to mind that had a gay protagonist was 1989’s Longtime Companion.  Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Philadelphia but the protagonist in that movie was Denzel Washington, the straight African American lawyer who defended the dying gay man in a lawsuit.  And The Band Played On was an HBO movie that chose, among all of its many characters, to star Matthew Modine as a straight white doctor fighting the good fight against the disease in San Francisco while numerous gay men stressed and played all around him.  Several years ago I Love You, Phillip Morris treated AIDS as the punch line to a sociopathic joke of a con artist we presume to be a bisexual man in the body of Jim Carrey but are never quite sure of on any level.

Among many others...

Among many others…

Owning a story, even one that you have lived through, is a very slippery slope that I began to slowly tumble down into as Dallas Buyers Club continued.  The character of Mr. Woodruff, who I do recall hearing about in real life, was bold enough to go against the accepted medical science at the time and travel down to Mexico where he found alternative drug treatments dispensed by a disbarred American doctor that, unbeknownst to him, would prolong his life for many years.  He then chose to circumvent the laws at the time, illegally transport the drugs back to Texas, and open up his own “club” to dispense these medications to members who would pay a $400 per head, per month membership fee.  Never mind that he was making out like a bandit – he was also temporarily enabling many other people to save their own lives for significant amounts of time using a model that he mentions in the film was really created by homos in New York, San Francisco and other big cities across the country.

Hmmm – in a normal movie this kind of talk would not redeem Mr. Woodruff’s character in my eyes.  But those were not normal times.  Somehow, as the movie progressed this asshole became a bit of a hero if only because he managed to take away the profound suffering of what stood in for the many young men that I knew personally at the time who would, in the end, have no such relief at all.   Well, extreme circumstances do call for extreme reactions – both in life, movie fantasy and upon reflection.  Never mind that Mr. Woodruff briefly made a personal fortune and the massive nationwide fight gay men were waging on every front, including the ones Mr. Woodruff trod in, were mostly ignored here. Despite my great reticence, as I watched the film, I found myself rooting for this egocentric ignoramus – a guy who wound up being far smarter and eventually, but not totally, a lot more enlightened than I had previously seen as being possible.

(Side note:  The movie also co-stars Jared Leto as one of the few straight actors I’ve ever seen pull off a believable drag queen on film.  Forget William Hurt’s best actor Oscar in 1985 for Kiss of the Spider Woman.  As most gay guys will tell you, that was mostly about a straight guy showing us drag and flamboyance in a film made in the early days of AIDS rather than a straight male actor being a real character in a movie that takes place during the early days of AIDS).

Make room on your awards shelf, Jared.

Make room on your awards shelf, Jared.

I’m assuming that like all real-life movie heroes and anti-heroes in recent years – from Johnny Cash to Richard Nixon – Mr. Woodruff’s true edges have been softened and hardened to meet the filmmakers’ dramatic needs.  This is how it is and will always be in the creative arts.  Even documentaries are not totally real depictions of what actually happens.  They can’t help but be influenced, if only slightly, by the filmmaker’s own interpretation of the events.  Ask D.A. Pennebaker. Or even that master of restraint – Michael Moore. (Note: I love MM and the latter is, um, a joke). (Note #2 – And yes, since memory is at the very least selective, even How to Survive a Plague probably missed a few things).

As for Dallas Buyers Club it might be at turns clunky, thinly developed, or lacking in an overall broad historical perspective. Most movies are, or do, in parts.  But what it does extremely well is evoke an important era and tell yet another story about a human plague that seems to have no end for those of us lucky enough to have survived it.  It will also do this for others new to the fight who will now, and in the foreseeable future, find themselves navigating the waters if the gasps I overheard from several young people around me in the movie theatre are any indication.  And, additionally and in particular, it might slightly sway one or two or more of those others who don’t really care about this fight at all.

If Mr. McConaughey’s portrait of the sometimes off-putting Ron Woodruff enlightens even one small-minded jerk about all of this it will have been more than worth the effort.  And even if it doesn’t, it has every right to stand along all of the stories of that time.  No one owns The Plague Years – even those of us who were fortunate enough to live through them and bear witness to our own individual stories of hell from that time.