My Taste in Quarantine

There is no accounting for taste.  Especially my own.  These days.

After many decades alternately employed as a critic, journalist, screenwriter, college professor and generally professional opinionist on way too much, I know what I like and don’t like.  It’s not that I’m not occasionally surprised or appalled by where my tastes take me but, for the most part, it’s unsurprising.

Until now.

In this world of social distancing self-quarantine there is no accounting for taste. Especially my own.

We are living in a judgement free zone

During these endless hours/days/weeks at home I find myself falling into endless rabbit holes of entertainment, diversion and amusement even though I have all the time on my hands to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do that can be done solo inside the solitude of one’s own home.

Which is, let’s face it, quite a lot in our 21st century.

The problem is, I don’t want to do much except gawk at everything I can’t experience up close and personal.  In other words – LIVE. 

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the majority of my entertainment hours this week.

Which, as I’ve said, is pretty much the majority of my hours in every single day.

That, and that alone, is why I spent six of them (in one 24-hour period) on Netflix’s reality/docuseries Tiger King.  Sure, I realize it was TV’s  #1 RATED most popular show last week AND the #1 featured choice in Netflix logarithms (Note:  Whatever they are).  But I HATE sh-t like that.

WHY am I watching this?

No, really.

The last time I remember watching TV’s number one show was a Miss America Beauty pageant as a wee lad in the 1960s.  I thought the gowns were cool and I was dying to gawk at some poor bubble-haired young woman from the south or Midwest almost burn herself to a crisp as she threw three fire-lit batons high into the air.

These were they type of diversions I needed back then as a young gay boy trying to not acknowledge reality.

And yet, here I am again, right back where I was, watching a 21st century version for that same type of escape.

Me, working on my wave

But this time in the form of a different spectacle.  That of a gay, polygamous, self proclaimed redneck who cuddles with numerous 400 lb. tigers, has a padlock piercing on his penis and is frenemies with multiple felons that enable him to control an exotic roadside animal sanctuary where he may or may not be plotting the murder of others and may or may not be engaging in all kinds of meth-fueled sex parties with any number of hunky younger lovers.

That’s the amount of distraction required from MY 21st century reality.  And clearly most of YOURS.

Yet I’m not sure how I account going from that to the best screenplay winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Portrait of A Lady on Fire. 

Guilt, perhaps?

Maybe not.  It feels like a much more natural fit for me to watch a very artsy and very French film about two young women in the late 1700s fall in love/lust very, very VERY slowly in a stripped down rustic Nancy Meyer-ish type home by the sea.  One’s a painter secretly hired to do a portrait of the other, a young woman of means promised into marriage by a domineering mother.  And each has a secret that dare not speak its name.

Plus Fire! (just in case you needed that confirmed)

It was really good, I liked it and yet….I dozed off three different times and had to rewind to find my place back into the story because hey, subtitles and lingering looks.  In these times, they’re not as compelling on the faces of people who could actually reach out and touch each other.  In the same room.  Without masks!

So, I mean, watch it or don’t watch but know it’s incredibly well done and under any more normal circumstances I would NEVER have fallen asleep.  I swear.

I SAID NO JUDGEMENT!

Of course, it could have been anxiety that made me that tired.  So as I made my way into the bedroom, knowing my husband was going to be working late downstairs, I was determined that this one night I could finally get my much-needed, fitful, say, at least 6 or 7or 22  hours of sleep.

Whereupon (Note:  A word I must have heard in the French film) I rest my head on my pillow and suddenly become WIDE AWAKE.  Like, not even tired slightly.

So what does one do with that these days?  Check one’s email and look at the link some well-intentioned friend sends you on some well-intentioned diversion to take away your psychic pain of the moment (aka what you saw on the NEWS that day).

Not a good idea.

I just can’t quit you MSNBC

Because after watching that YouTube offering you stumble onto something else and then something further and wind up watching:

A 1973 two-part FIRST EVER television interview with Katharine Hepburn.  You want to talk about three hours of blissful bliss without commercials.  I was up until 3:30 in the morning learning these essential facts:

– Kate thinks that you CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING, meaning, career, love AND your own family. 

– Kate thinks the reason she was a success is that she had great parents who were always attentive and ALWAYS encouraged her in everything she wanted to do (Note: F-k her).

– Kate knows the other reasons she was a success was that she was incredibly hard-working, didn’t drink or do drugs, and, most of all, didn’t indulge in self-pity (Note #2 – Double f-k her).

– Kate said that in addition to talent, the reason people become movie stars is that they have a distinct voice, the camera somehow loves how they photograph and that they are incredibly….LUCKY. (Note:  Really?????) 

Click here to watch the whole glorious interview

Though in the case of a legend like Garbo it was the added element of mystery, she noted.  No matter how much time you spent with her and no matter how well you liked her (and Kate copped to both) you NEVER REALLY KNEW HER.  NO ONE DID.

See, I don’t know what to do with that.

And probably already knew it at 1:00 a.m., anyway.

Which is why, when I look over the last three self-isolating weeks and am being totally honest – I have to admit – that despite all of the above and much, much more –when you total it all up –  I have still spent the majority of my mindless entertainment time – on my usual time suck….

You know you love it!!

There are hours of home makeover shows but this week I was all about Love It Or List It and Nate and Jeremiah Save My House.  Rather than being romantic, reality show bizarre or biographically uninstructional, these two series are most particularly, and hopelessly, predictable.

Come for the design, stay for Hilary’s coordinating accessories #necklaceandearringsfordays

A mess of a house is presented to a duo of two experts (Note: Cause a duo is always two) and in the end, they always always, ALWAYS  have the same inevitable outcome.

The homes are so colorful, so functional and so vastly all that and more you can’t help but be blindsided.  And, unlike the type of blindsiding we’ve grown used to, in a hopelessly great way.

Sure, no matter how great my house might be it won’t ever be that bright, perfect or airy.  However, these days it doesn’t matter because NO ONE AT ALL who wants to LIVE will get to redo their house from the ground up because NO ONE AT ALL can be a ONE-PERSON BAND OF reconstruction in self-isolation.

And somehow I find that reassuring.

As reassuring as I find Nate and Jeremiah’s coordinating outfits #howcutearethey #somuchBEIGE

Not to mention, even if you could do everything YOURSELF, where would you get the materials?  Someone (and certainly more than one) would have to deliver it ALL to you and then YOU would have to Lysol or Clorox wipe them ALL down.   Every.  Last.  One.

Even with all the time in the world, none of us has time for that.

2011 Tony Awards Performance (with Sutton Foster) – “Anything Goes”

The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)

Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

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!”

My Other Half

This is not a reflection on marriage or relationships.  It’s far more self-centered than that.

The still miraculously ageless Paul Rudd, our Dorian Gray of the 21st century, stars in a new Netflix series called Living with Yourself.  In it he plays a man in seemingly middle-aged malaise (Note:  Because really, it’s Paul Rudd).

There is actually a “Which Paul Rudd is Older” Quiz and it’s SO hard. Click here to take it and fail miserably like me #HEISAVAMPIRE

Life has turned against him and it’s mostly not his fault, more a circumstance of battle scars and, well, age if you don’t count his still voluminous hairline and the suppleness of his skin.

This man is 50 years old #dealwiththeDevil

In any event, after a sad public semi-meltdown at the office, his newly reenergized work friend takes pity on him and gives him a card with the key to his secret of rejuvenation.   What it turns out to be is the number of a slightly seedy storefront in a strip mall where, for a small pile of money, you will become the BEST of you.

Or, put more succinctly, a CLONE of you; the rested, hottest, most well adjusted version of yourself, the best of yourself and without having to endure painful psychotherapy or tedious self-help courses.

You will wake up and walk out as strong and as vibrant and as in demand as, say, football quarterback Tom Brady.  Because, as the series more than implies, that is how Tom Brady manages it.

Ugh, forget it

Though since nothing is that easy in our actual reality these days AND because all good TV shows and movies need some conflict, it’s not that easy.  Rather than killing off the world-weary version of Paul Rudd, as this storefront usually does (Note:  Ha, imagine that they thought they could even nick Paul!) with no one the wiser, things go awry.

The real, down-in-the-mouth Paul Rudd somehow manages to live (Note:  Was there ever a doubt?), emerging through dirt and plastic wrap from sex feet under clad only a diaper, where he then walks six hours home to his nice house and nice wife and angrily confronts…HIS OTHER HALF.

These pics are 11 years apart… I just can’t get over it

No, it’s not his wife who he encounters when he enters back into the world that was once, more sadly, his own.  What he sees instead is the best version of him; someone that he instantly recognizes physically but for all intents and purposes is now a psychological stranger.  Right before his eyes is his truly OPTIMUM self.  The can-do guy without the bumps and dings and self-sabotaging either life or he saddled himself with.

It’s infuriating and yet strangely comforting.  It makes him sad and resentful and, yet, gives him a sliver of hope.

In short, it allows him and us to look in a three dimensional mirror and try to somehow rectify what it means to be the best AND most world-weary versions of each of us in any given moment, mindful that every option is always available and every alternative has its perks and minuses.

We agree, Keanu.

This gets you to thinking.

If even ageless Paul Rudd is world-weary and tired and angry and bitter what hope is there for me?

But if there is indeed an age defying, bouncier version of the Paul Rudd that we all know and love hiding from even Mr. Rudd himself, perhaps each of us suffers from the very same malady?

Maybe there is a better version of yourself lurking somewhere deep inside.  This would be a person less jaded and certainly less fed up.  This would be a guy (or a gal, obviously) able to take a different, more positive road to, well, everything, and make his or her choices accordingly.  This could be someone WE’D envy and, more positively, even aspire to be if we weren’t already them.

Imagine if we had access to that?

My better version would look like Matt Bomer, right? #please

Who would Donald Trump be?  Is there a better version?  What would Vladimir Putin do?  Or maybe there are even worse choices and what we are now experiencing is actually his best self?

Or vice-versa.

Again, it gets you thinking.   Though that can be a perilous course depending on which version of yourself you are.

Jekyll or Hyde?

Difficult though it might be to accept that we are not set in stone, condemned to act in a certain way given our all of our specific life experiences up to that very point in time, it is worth considering.

What would it be like it be like if my mind and body could get serviced by the best human garage in town and emerge as a nearly refurbished version?  Not only could I be freshly painted and waxed on the exterior (Note:  Because, please, that’s the first thing you notice, no matter how much psychotherapy you’ve had or not had) your outlook could be a sharpened, shiny and certainly more electrifying version of that very same DNA.

We call that Fonda-ing

This does not mean you’d be anyone else but you.  It only allows you to be the very best of who YOU are and choose what actions YOU take accordingly in any given situation.

It also allows for a more limber point of view from which to make these choices.  Not necessarily younger, since we all must choose unwisely when we’re young, but simply less cynical and jaded.

It gets you to thinking again, and again, and again.

What are the possibilities contained within all of our inner operating systems?

Fiona Apple – “Better Version of Me”

We’re Secular, Bitch

I watched El Camino, the Netflix film that continues the story of one of the best TV series of all time, Breaking Bad.

It’s a respectable effort to complete the arc of the series from BB’s creator Vince Gilligan even if it doesn’t soar to the same heights.  Still, we get to know what happens to our favorite dim bulb sweetheart of a crystal meth maker, Jesse Pinkman, witness a brief encounter between him and… (Note: Okay, NO SPOILERS HERE!) and realize once again that once you heavily enter into the world of drug dealing and drug taking no good will come of it.

Nothing de-glorified the illicit worlds of drugs and toxic masculinity better than Breaking Bad.  It’s certainly not the only example of that in popular culture but its ability to eschew proselytizing and instead focus on the lives of the people who choose this road made it one of the most respected, watched and memorable TV series of all time.

Quality TV, bitch

Jesse Pinkman grew up in a two parent household with a Christian mom and dad who, by his own admission, did the best they could to raise him with the moral values he needed to sustain himself in the world.  He was fictional yet somehow familiar, like the lovable doofus next door who once showed potential but somehow, and in some way, went on to break bad.

Jesse came of age in the early nineties, right around time our current U.S. attorney general, William Barr, first served in that post (1991-1993).  This was under then Pres. George Bush, Sr. and at the time, as now, it was Mr. Barr’s task to set the standard for the legal, and, in turn, moral tone for the country.  In other words, he is the custodian of what passes as the rule of law.

Preach

A devout Catholic, Mr. Barr’s tone and morality have remained constant and virtually unchanged since the time young Jesse Pinkman was looking for guidance on how to be an adult.

By way of explanation, here are some nuggets from a speech Mr. Barr, our sitting A.G.,  gave this week to an audience of law students at Notre Dame Law School, many of whom never heard it because they were too busy protesting his appearance outside of the auditorium on campus from which he spoke.

…Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct…We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system?… Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress?…

We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism…Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground…Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic.

….New Jersey recently passed a law requiring schools to adopt a LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching,

….Over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. …But I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age. 

Jesse is not a fan

Attorney General Barr is on a familiar frontline of American governmental religious fervor and his perception is that there is a decided lack of it that is causing the moral decay or our world.  Or at the very least, it’s lack is the primary reason for our social problems and the key to why so many people, both young and old, disobey the law, misbehave in general and seem so, well…unhappy.

If you lived through the thirties, the fifties, the eighties/nineties or were paying attention in the latter half of this decade, aka yesterday on Fox News or the Christian Broadcasting Network, you’ve heard this before.  If not, you can go through the speeches of Father Coughlin (1930s), Joseph McCarthy (1950s), both Bush POTUSes and Barr himself (1980s/1990s/2000s) and catch up.  Or better yet, view Mr. Barr’s Notre Dame speech here:

… and prepare to lose your lunch

What it boils down to is a society whose problems have mostly to do with straying from a strict RELIGIOUS doctrine. It is a school of thought that conveniently (and very purposefully) ignores the many secular advances in the world like, say, women having equal rights or laws against them being stoned in town square for cheating on their husbands – to – laws preventing members of the LGBTQ community from being fired from their place of employment, barred from their local marriage license offices or, say…being stoned in town square for simply…being.

Most importantly what it seeks to do is blame the Jesse Pinkmans of the world – either fictional or real – on the fact that they were raised in a country or household where government and home teachings of the Bible were not somehow enshrined in their being and viewed as the gold standard of citizenry, if not the requirement and guiding principle of its government and its leaders. (Note:  This would presumably include our current American “leader”).

pretty much sums up my thoughts

In times like these it is important to remember, repeat, and rinse and repeat again, that this line of thought was precisely the opposite type of doctrinaire thinking on which our country was first founded.

One of the essential pillars of American democracy is and always has been the separation of church and state.  Don’t take my word for it.  It’s the very FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What this means is feel free to NOT BELIEVE in God and religion or BELIEVE in any God or religion you want.  But bottom line – leave RELIGION and whatever you believe it to be out of our government.

It is also important to note that the very definition of secularism (Note: Barr’s dreaded word) is: the principle of the separation of the state from religious institutions.

You know.. unless you live in this universe  #seeyourselfoutRudy

This in no way means that we can’t consult many sources, include our religion, to define what is right and wrong individually for us.  But as a government, a basic tenant of American law is that we leave our religion at the door.

As Americans we are guided by a set of norms and law that evolve over time, not ones enshrined in early A.D or B.C.  We have our problems, particularly these days, but this freedom to think any way we like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is in our DNA.  It has made us the most prosperous nation in modern history and, until recently, the one country the vast majority of immigrants in the world have chosen to migrate to.

Hmmm, perhaps what this attorney general and his cohorts from up above are trying to do by him speechifying about the enshrining of our country with an old/new religion is nothing more than their latest strategy to stem immigration?

Unlikely.

The game Barr and his ilk are playing is far simpler.  In fact, it’s all about the simplicity of thought.  Quiet the masses by evoking a past that never existed and ignore, prosecute, condemn and persecute (legally or by any means necessary) anyone who dare speak against them.  When all that fails, claim the sinners are the ones taking away THEIR freedom of choice, their religion, and stifling their ability to simply be who THEY ARE.

There is an immoral majority in American society right now but it’s not the Jesse Pinkmans of the world.  Rather, it’s the members of our top government elite, such as Barr, who think we’re all too dumb to catch on to their bait and switch game of immoral strategy to retain power and do what they please behind closed doors. (Note: I’m trying NOT to imagine anything I can’t unsee or unthank).

Well, they underestimate all the rest of us sinners at their own peril, don’t they?

Hopefully.

Nick Lutsko – “The Ballad of Jesse Pinkman” 

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)