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!”

Movie Logic

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 1.11.40 PM

There are simple logistics of the movie business one must recognize if one is to venture creatively into the Hollywood film community.

The two #1 movies of the last month – Superman vs. Batman and Zootopia – have so far together grossed $1.5 BILLION worldwide at the theatrical box-office. To be more USA centric – for certainly part of our responsibilities as US citizens is to make all things American at least SEEM great again – this includes almost $300 million apiece for each film in tickets sold here (Note: And in Canada but isn’t that a mere technicality and certainly beside the point?).

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

I have not seen the much-maligned S vs. B because at this point in life (and having been a movie critic in one of my many past lives) I get the appeal and deserve credit for time already served. As for the big Z, I have attended at the desperate urging of my students and found it to be a perfectly lovely experience that was smart, funny and has something to say worth listening to. Certainly not in the vein of Spotlight, 12 Years A Slave or, well, Sophie’s Choice, but hey, Viva La Difference!, right?

Two movies I have seen in the last two weeks fall into different categories and fates and their titles are Midnight Special and The Fundamentals of Caring. Never heard of them? Well, how can that be?

Midnight Special has also been in theatres for almost a month and its writer-director Jeff Nichols was responsible for the very well reviewed indie film of several years ago – Mud – starring recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey. As for Fundamentals – okay, it hasn’t been released yet. But if you’re at all a movie fan you might have heard it was one of the big success stories of this year’s Sundance Film Festival where Netflix picked it up for a near record $7 million. Not to mention, its directed by longtime David Letterman producer Rob Burnett and stars one of our not that currently numerous comedy movie stars, Paul Rudd.

Ahem... the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

Ahem… the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

How I felt about the latter two films (Note: They each have their charms) is less important than the fact that they will generate a slight fraction of the revenue of the first two I mentioned and probably equally that much in buzz and recognition by general audiences. That, in fact, is not a failure on the part of either of the two films. More simply, it is reality.

Midnight Special works on a narratively unusual storyline that even the NY Times movie critic managed to circumvent in his recent review. But since this certainly isn’t the Times, here’s how I’d put it –

It’s a film about a father and son on the run pursued by both the government and members of a cult they are escaping from, each of whom want something very special from them. Beliefs of the supernatural, of religious cultism, and of governmental overreach and villainy come into play but what’s really at play is how much you love your own family and how much and what you’d do to save them.

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

That sounds kind of timely, right? Well, Warner Bros. must have thought so since it’s their film. Which they’ve slowly rolled out to release in…493 theatres (Note: Z and S vs B have each been in 4000 plus screens) – where it’s grossed just $1.4 million nationally.

As for The Fundamentals of Caring, it’s based on a best-selling novel and is the kind of comedy-drama they used to make when I was young (it was the seventies and the movie business was having one of its small handful of GOLDEN ages). This merely means Hollywood, and in turn the world, were making the kind of content (Note: Ugh, there’s that word again) that we would all be nostalgically longing for decades, and likely centuries, later.

Its plot? I’ll let IMDB speak to that one:

A man suffering an incredible amount of loss enrolls in a class about care giving that changes his perspective on life.

Though, well, that kind of doesn’t do it. In reality, it’s a funny comic road movie – sort of My Left Foot meets Harry and Tonto meets Summer of ’42 – that doesn’t drown in bathos and gives its young teenage hero a chance to flirt with and at the very least kiss (Note: Uh, no spoilers here!) one of the current it girls of every teenage boys’ dreams – Selena Gomez.

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

I managed to see it as the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival where its director proudly announced Netflix would indeed be giving it a real and true THEATRICAL release later this year before it can be streamed for the entire world to see.

But, well, uh – isn’t that a given? Not really. Actually, not at all.

I purposely have resisted giving my own review of the above two character-drama movies because these are the kind of films I would have written at one time and, actually, still might or could write. So not only am I a snob here but, well – I want you to LIKE them because I want more of them to get made and fear any slight negative thing I might say about them (Note: Not that there are any!) might be some part of some additional nail in their commercial coffins.

Still, this much I know to be true –

You can’t expect to be considered a Hollywood play-uh if you create these properties in the same way Zack Snyder (S vs. B) or Disney (Zootopia) are. Ever. Not even close. The 2016 world doesn’t work that way no matter how much you know and love Francois Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky or, well, even Pedro Almodovar.

We agree Paul... it sucks

We agree Paul… it sucks

Again, no value judgment and fortunately there will always be a future Almodovar or Truffaut or Tarkovsky. Not to mention, Alan Pakula (Sophie’s Choice) or Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). But theatrically they will be even scarcer than they already are. And you might find them working on many of the current and developing smaller screens creating content – (Note: Oh, how I LOATHE that word – it sounds like materials you find in a corporate travel brochure) – to be consumed, well, everywhere.

Of course, none of this is news but it is worth remembering and pounding into one’s brain if one is to at all have any at all realistic sense of where things stand and what the future holds. To be educated and forewarned is to be forearmed and smarter navigating the reality of yours and our futures. We need the makers of films like Fundamentals, Midnight, Spotlight, Mud and, yes, even Sophie’s Choice – not to mention Zootopia and your superhero of choice – if we ever are to make America truly great again.

Yes, I’m talking about diversity, choices – the true land of freedom and opportunity – at least as far as entertainment and culture is concerned. That would be a society where any idea, indeed anything one chooses – might just become a reality – for any one of us.