The Glory of Denial

Denial just ain’t a river in Egypt.   — Mark Twain

What a week!

A gaggle of witnesses in the impeachment hearings of Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump sat before the House Intelligence Committee all testifying to essentially the same thing.

That thing is that Trump explicitly or implicitly threatened to withhold many millions of dollars of previously approved military aid to the Ukraine unless its new president agreed to investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s chief Democratic rival for re-election in 2020, for corruption.

sighhhhh

Then, an even bigger gaggle of other candidates competing for the Democratic nomination against Biden, who, you might remember from the previous paragraph, is STILL the leading candidate vying to compete against Trump to become the next Electoral College (and maybe even Popular Vote) POTUS, stood on an Atlanta debate stage on one of those evenings trading verbal barbs, sincere looks and well-thought out albeit pre-scripted arguments, in support of themselves.

Maya Rudolph as Kamala on SNL is your Christmas present 2019

Though most of them were ostensibly aimed at each other what they all were really targeting was a growing national and international audience waiting with bated breath to see which of them will become THE lucky gladiator chosen to face Trump in a virtual death match at the Hillary Clinton Coliseum of Public Ridicule to become not only leader of the US but King, or Queen, of the Free World.

Can you even stand it?

That was a rhetorical question.

It’s difficult to be an American citizen right now and go for even a single day where the subject of Trump, impeachment, Democratic candidates and the ubiquitous expression of quid pro quo doesn’t come up somewhere or at some time.

Even if you choose not to discuss it, you will doubtless be in some coffee shop, office building or household where it’s the prime subject or find yourself dragged into a discussion or gibe simply because you’re in the vicinity of something or someone determined to make their own remark, get your goat or simply express an opinion that makes you want to set your hair on fire or eat a package of Ding Dongs.

Or both.

We’ve all been Liz Lemon since 2016

If you participate in any of this too often it begins to feel like abuse, often self-abuse.  But ignore it for too long, e.g. more than a day, and you feel like a partying extra at the Kit Kat Club in the movie version of Cabaret.

Speaking of movies, there is a brilliant one out now from famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar called Pain and Glory.  It is a semi-autobiographical tale about a film director in chronic pain who turns to smoking heroin as a means of denying both the medical and psychological challenges in his life, only one of which is getting older.

See you at the Oscars Antonio!

It is a deep, riveting metaphor for the lives we are all living now, despite how much critics, audiences and award givers will prefer Joker, Marriage Story, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and even Knives Out.  Heck, after the week we’ve just had a spoof of an Agatha Christie film like Knives Out with James Bond-ian Daniel Craig as the 2019 bumbling version of Hercule Poirot enduring the bitchy bon mots of a stylish rich boy played by Chris (Captain America) Evans, sounds preferable to this American citizen.

CHRIS EVANS IN A SWEATER! CHRIS EVANS IN A SWEATER! #swoon

Still, despite the glorious denial escapist entertainment offers and fulfills, it is that very critique the Almodovar film cautions us about glorifying in for too long.

To deny the reality we are living by whatever means available to us is okay for a while.  Most people don’t die from a brief encounter with their drug of choice, be it heroin, big screen entertainment, a chocolate cake cleanse or even a small string of indiscreet online sexual encounters instantly regrettable the following morning.

… or a Billy on the Street Netflix Marathon #elenaforever

But a wise filmmaker like Almodovar warns us with Pain and Glory that escape and denial will only get us so far.  Go down that road for too long and you will lose not only your focus but your health and your moral center.  Yet he also assures us that to simply continue as we are and not try something else, some new means of escape, is to remain stagnant in our miseries.

It is only through our journeys to throw enough stuff up in the air and explore an alternate road that we get insight and, hopefully, wisdom into who we are and what we’ve lost, or actually gained, in the process.

Wait… isn’t this the plot of Frozen 2???

Each event in its entire story is a metaphor for the risks and benefits of trying something new, and the costs of denial when we refuse to admit that merely going down a new road where we pick up a few pieces of gold, or golden wisdom, is no excuse for throwing the rest and best of US, nee our lives, away.

If ever there were a movie for this week and our Trumpian times it is this one, not a biopic offering life lessons from Mister Rogers or a whodunit about the kind of cartoonish, unsavory characters that are all too recognizable when we turn on our TV news shows of choice and gawk at our favorite partisan heroes and villains in Washington, DC. Certainly there are pleasures to be had in the above two films as well as many other diversions of choice.

but but but.. JAMIE LEE!!!  #knivesout

But now is not the time for any of us to revel too long in the glory, and the glory of denial, that they offer.

Especially not after the week we’ve just had and the ones that are inevitably coming ‘round the bend.

Randy Rainbow – “He’s Just a GURL Who’ll QUID PRO QUO!”

Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.

This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.

There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered.  It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.

See: Green Book

Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category.  Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film.  (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win.   Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

We know Glenny.

Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.

Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around.  But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.

One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay.  It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.

What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.

Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year.  As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!

But like.. HOW?!

Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.

Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage.  Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.

Was any of this indelibly memorable?  Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.

Welp, there it is.

That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

Drunk in Trump

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When poet-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron wrote the iconic anthem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised for his 1970 debut album it was in response to everything the small screen was NOT showing about the civil unrest of the late sixties.   It was also a not so gentle reminder to his peers to get out into the streets and to participate. Racial inequality, campus unrest over social issues – none of it could be addressed if the people who wanted change the most simply sat there and watched only small snippets of action of what broadcasters chose to show them.

Needless to say, times have changed.

In 2016, the Revolution IS being televised, tweeted, snap chatted, vimeo’d, texted and emailed – 24/7. In fact, we are getting so much revolution these days that it has created a new normal of constant change and unrest that we get to see happening everywhere at any time that we so choose.

Me, every time I turn on the TV

Me, every time I turn on the TV

Turkey in the streets, 84 plowed down by a truck-driving terrorist in Nice, the premiere of an all female Ghostbusters, world leaders on parade, celebrities undressed and regular people having sex – it’s all available. In fact, it’s often unavoidable.   All you have to do is click on one key or website you had or hadn’t intended and you will likely stumble upon any or all of the above.

That’s why it’s now time to DRINK.

Yes, drink.

It doesn’t have to be liquor. Or wine or beer.

A malted will do. Even an ice cream soda, a Mountain Dew or a Tab – yes, Tab.

Gurl, it's gonna be a long week

Gurl, it’s gonna be a long week

That was what my Mom and her friends drank back in the sixties when they wanted to escape from reality and lose weight at the same time. Sure, it was infinitely unhealthy in large doses – just like booze – but also like booze it somehow made you feel better and tasted good on ice. Not to mention, it had the added plus of coming in a pink can. How gay (meaning happy) is that???

I’m going to need a SH*T TON OF TAB this week to get through The Republican National Convention. Or as you all will soon be calling it – MEET THE TRUMPS! Though it’s tempting to now refer to the Donald as Mrs. Pence, in honor of the off-brand safe choice he made this past week when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his professional spouse and running mate, let’s resist the urge. Since Pence, just like the governor’s botched attempt to legalize discrimination against LGBT people with his heinous religious freedom law last year, will quickly fade into the background.

Because in the coming days it will be: ALL TRUMPS, ALL THE TIME.

Time to fire up the grill! #gagme

Time to fire up the grill! #gagme

This is opposed to Donald Trump, most of the time.

An abridged speaking list (courtesy of the NY Times) on the revolutionary Big Four Networks’ TV this week, all of whom will be broadcasting the Republican National Convention live in prime-time, reads:

Monday Night: Melania Trump (the romantic spouse)

Tuesday Night: Donald Trump, Jr. (aka Patrick Bateman 2.0a) and Tiffany Trump (aka Marla Maples’ daughter though named after Tiffany & Co.), Instagram star and model.

Watch out Kylie! #getitgurl

Watch out Kylie! #getitgurl

Wednesday Night: Eric Trump (aka Patrick Bateman 2.0b and renowned big game hunter)

Thursday Night: Ivanka Trump (the favorite progeny though not necessarily mine, even if she is married to a too smart for his own good Jewish boy). And finally, DT himself, which could give you the DTs if you weren’t already so used to him.

It almost makes you long for the halcyon days of Ivana, doesn’t it? Though not quite.

Clearly, it is impossible to run away from them since you take your life in your hands these days travelling out of the country on a plane, not to mention your patience. So here are some games, suggestions and strategies on how to cope – or to at least get through it.

Monday Night: As a prelude, go to this link and watch Maya Rudolph tell you about Melania Trump’s Edible Diamonds. This is to be done prior to her speaking so whatever words she does manage to say, will wash down more easily.

Extra crispy

Extra crispy

And if that doesn’t work, you might try a White Russian. Of course she isn’t Russian. She is from Slovenia. The drink is in deference to her husband’s admiration for Putin.

Tuesday Night: Prior to any family member you’re gonna get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s talk so you might want to start the evening with a bowl of turtle soup. But don’t have too much because, as my Dad always tells me, ‘soup fills you up.’ Though you don’t want to hear Donald, Jr. on an empty stomach. Instead, perhaps this clip of Oscar winner Christian Bale in American Psycho?

Drink of choice? What else, scotch neat. Down it in five gulps – one for each of DTjr’s children – yes, HE has five kids – five. More. future. Trumps. On second thought – try five scotch neats. Every time he says – well, anything.

Which should prepare you for Tiffany.   Just stare at her twitter photo below and note that aside from being a model and social media star she is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Then have a soy mocha latte – half caf – in her honor. You need to sober up but you also need to sleep tonight. You’re only half-way through this…schedule.

Wednesday Night: Newt Gingrich opens up the prime time slot and will no doubt tout his support of Trump(s) to speak for the silent majority of real America. Both Ted Cruz and Gov. Pence, each of whom will follow, will no doubt echo this thought. To keep yourself alert, make a list of all six wives that combined Newt and Donald have wed and answer for yourself this question under each name – What were/ARE they thinking? Meaning the wives, not the two older men – whose combined ages are now a sprightly 143.

Of course, nothing can truly prepare you for a speech by Eric Trump. He’s 6’5” tall and a big game hunter who likes to pose for pictures with dead animals he’s shot, sometimes along with his brother.

I JUST CANT

I JUST CANT

Perhaps a…Bloody Mary to wash him down? (Note: Virgin, if you’re not old enough to drink or have sworn off alcohol, though that’s inadvisable at this point). Every time the name Trump is mentioned all night. That should get you nice and lubricated, or at least give you enough of a sugar high to not care about anything else except yourself for the rest of the evening. Which, in some way, is keeping with the true theme of the night, isn’t it?

Thursday Night: The Finale. Time to break out the champagne when Ivanka comes on. Seriously. She’s the ideal. The beautiful daughter her father desires would she not be his beautiful daughter. The heiress, the smart female corporate tigress, the new Mom. Heck, she’s even friends with Chelsea Clinton! Or is she? Perhaps, they merely know each other and are cordial. Though it is not entirely inconceivable that at some point in the future their children will have a play/nanny date.

Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew EWWWWWWWW

Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew EWWWWWWWW

Still, it does seem like Cristal (that’s champagne at its best) is in order. Or maybe even Korbel if that’s all you can afford. That seems likely given how good the economy is for the average person. Which is what the message of the week will be, anyway. Cristal for everyone by 2020!!! We Are All Trumps!

This will take you right into Donald, Sr. In order to soften the blow of him either reading from the teleprompter or talking off the cuff – because each is equally painful –prepare a picture of Mariska Hargitay beforehand and kiss it every time he says Law and Order.   Or bellows it. Then chug back some more Cristal, put on Madonna singing Like A Prayer whenever Hillary Clinton is derided for being weak and stupid and pray that there is, indeed a God. And that SHE is listening to you. And not Mrs. Pence.

Rules of the Game

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About three and a half years ago I came up with a silly exercise for my students, who each semester must attend a series of panels on different aspects of the entertainment industry.   Rather than me explain it to you, I scoured my old gmail account to find this task, which will undoubtedly affirm the belief of some that majoring in communications at a private college is a total waste of time. The fact that those people are absolutely wrong and that this exercise is absolute proof that I am indeed preparing them for the world they are about to enter into, will be discussed in a moment. For right now here is the task at hand that you are free to make fun of in your minds five ways to Sunday:

ANGRY BIRDS: THE MOVIE

March 28, 2011

As you all know, Pendleton Productions has purchased the rights to “Angry Birds” and has set up “Angry Birds: The Movie” as our first animated/live action tent pole film with Pixar Studios. It will, of course, be directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”). 

We have cast Angelina Jolie, Paul Rudd, Andrew Garfield, Willow Smith and Kim Kardashian as our birds. Our pigs will be played by Zack Galifinakis, Hugh Jackman and Jack Black. 

In the time remaining, we’d like you to develop a detailed marketing plan to launch our film. Actually, it’s more than a film. It’s an event. Or will be if we decide to hire you because that will be your responsibility.

The marketing plan should reach across all media and be as creative and out-of-the-box as possible while still staying within the realm of reality. Whose reality? That’s up to you. But it should include publicity and promotion plans for the launch, advertising ideas, tie-ins, merchandising, product placement and any other means of creating public attention (but not backlash). It should also take into account platforms in film, television, music, new media and all social media. Because we want to reach, well – EVERYONE!!

You’ve got about 20 minutes to meet and then no more than 5-10 minutes to impress us with a presentation. So, no pressure.

Oh — our blue ribbon panel will vote and award prizes for the winning team.

Good luck and… don’t get shot down.

Okay, perhaps not my finest work. But it was prescient. A year after this assignment it was announced that there would indeed be a movie version of that best selling app/videogame/four quadrant mega-tent pole thingie.   And given that at last count the thingie was at 2 billion downloads across all platforms (and still counting) it was unsurprising that just several days ago Sony Pictures announced it was indeed moving forward with a planned Summer 2016 release of AB on the big screen with a cast that includes SNL veterans Jason Sudekis, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon, not to mention Frozen’s Josh Gad, Key and Peele and Peter Dinklage.

Sounds a little bit different than this "birds" movie

Sounds a little bit different than this “birds” movie

Logic and everyday belly-aching about the lack of imagination among film industry bigwigs tells us that no matter how bad any of us might think this film will turn out, it is also likely to turn out somewhere between a tidy and massive profit. Certainly, it is unlikely to lose money given the longevity this kind of asset assures its makers. Or is it and does it?

The fact is Rovio Entertainment – the Finnish animation company that first created the AB global franchise back in 2003 with a mere app – became rich beyond its wildest dreams from the app and is partners with Sony on the big screen version. But Rovio also had an additional announcement to make almost simultaneously with all this film casting hoopla last week. And that was that there would be a 16% cutback of its workforce, which in laymen’s terms means up to 130 Rovio employees – many of whom were there since the company’s inception – are getting the ax.

huh?

huh?

But how can this be after 2 billion plus downloads, 10 million Hasbro toys sold, an on-demand television show, and theme park attractions across the world, including even one at….NASA? (Look it up, naysayer)

Well, apparently Rovio’s 2013 net profits dropped 50% and this summer it was thus forced to replace its co-founder and chief executive of 10 years. In this way, it is actually telling us it will likely fit very well into the model of any other company in the entertainment industry. For the streets of Hollywood – both live and virtual – are littered with top of the heap successes that either no longer exist or are sputtering along in severely downsized versions.

I am old enough to remember that once upon a time there was a decade called the eighties and an independent film company named Vestron that won the lottery many times over with a worldwide film sensation asset that kept on giving: Dirty Dancing. But after a few years of spending with the big boys (literally) and never again achieving that kind of success, Vestron eventually folded. Remember New Line Cinema – the only studio in town that would roll the dice with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, not to mention the makers of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise? Well, eventually even those assets would still not allow them to compete with the changing landscape of media platforms and they were absorbed by Time Warner and downsized into a sleeker form until eventually winding up as a pint-sized entity of the corporate conglomerate where it is now barely an afterthought.

Flying too close to the sun?

Flying too close to the sun?

Which brings us back to my students.

Many of them are aspiring writers, directors and producers. There are others who hope to work in more specifically technical fields such as editing, cinematography and sound. In addition, I have a healthy number who are majoring in various forms of journalism, marketing, advertising and public relations. All of them are social media savvy and many are game savvy, or at least game literate. They may not be Angry Birds players – clearly not enough of us are for Rovio – but they have played or will (eventually) be playing some newer, hipper version of it on their phone, tablet or screen of choice not yet invented.

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This being the case, there is another game I would like them to be skilled enough to play well in: the game of reality.   It didn’t take any genius on my part to predict the Angry Birds reality but it did take a bit of chutzpah to force them to think long and hard, regardless of their career aspirations, of how the commercial world of entertainment functions and what they are up against. No longer can a writer just be a storyteller or a cinematographer spend his/her time ignoring everything else but how precisely light flows into the frame of a scene.   In order to navigate the waters and be in a position to exercise your craft within the “system” most seem determined to enter, one needs to understand a world where we are all so ridiculously connected to both the ridiculousness of minutiae and the seriousness of global destruction, human rights violations and refighting the social revolution of the 1960s. Meaning that it should be a mystery to no one how a game application where nasty little furry birds slingshot themselves into innocent farm animals in the hopes that they will obliterate them into nothingness could net its creator many multi-millions/perhaps billions of dollars. Nothing about it should.

Since this is the world we have allowed them to inherit – this Angry Birds world – my thought three and a half years ago was to prepare them in a game of my own rather than to sit around and watch as the slingshot passed them by. Don’t get me wrong – I have higher aspirations for them than the virtual destruction of pigs via feathers. But wouldn’t it be great if they could accept the ridiculous Angry Bird reality of where we seemed headed, use their creativity to smartly work within that world and then leverage it into other employment with something newer, better and certainly more creative of their own once they amassed the access to do so?

After all, the next generation is being born this way

After all, the next generation is being born this way

Well, I thought so. But as it turned out, they were not the clueless, intellectual snobs I assumed many of them would be and that I certainly was at their age. They jumped into the assignment at the time, coming up with some of the best, most creative and certainly wisest marketing strategies I had ever heard. This includes any and all ideas I witnessed during the tortured eight or so years I spent working at three different studios in film marketing before become a more tortured – though in a good way – screenwriter, teacher and blogger.

... and before I became the great Chair-dini

… and before I became the great Chair-dini

This is a generation that, if nothing else, appreciates irony. I loved the AB live celebrity dunk in Times Square. The simultaneous worldwide Angry Bird game, the virtual billboards in cities across the world that would keep score via international teams, the personal appearances of movie stars in bird costumes that would litter the airwaves and magazine pages, and even the animal rights charities that – through some twisted reasoning I can’t remember but recalled liking at the time – would become involved in some huge charity event benefit culminating at the film premiere.

Taking a cue from China's Angry Bird's theme park

Taking a cue from China’s Angry Bird’s theme park

Sure, some of them balked at having to spend half an hour of their day thinking about film marketing – especially since on the whole this is a generation who doesn’t care much to sell something they don’t believe in.   But they all immediately understood the value of doing so. The truth is they’re a lot smarter and two steps ahead of the game that most of the rest of us are because they know games, have fun with games and will, no doubt, be changing the game while the rest of us are still complaining about the very existence of the game that we somehow, through ignorance, omission or sheer laziness, helped make a reality.

Here’s hoping that once they get the power they don’t turn their backs so some other younger, more vibrant member of some future animal species can knock them off their perch.   Though surely by that time there will be an app for that which works better than any new, lame exercise I could have come up with.

Until it doesn’t.