The Way We Are

When you love someone, from Roosevelt to me, you go deaf, dumb and blind.

That’s a line from one of the great Hollywood love stories – the 1973 Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford film, The Way We Were.

It is said by the very blonde, flawed and handsome Hollywood screenwriter Hubbell Gardner to his much more passionate and intelligent wife, the unabashedly ethnic Katie Morofsky, as a roundabout admission that he’s cheated on her.

The reveal of his sexual antics was bad enough after years of her unwavering belief in him. But what made it worse was what it represented – the latest of a long string of lies that undeniably proved the person she knew all these years was not a person at all. He was merely a mirage she created for herself.

A mirage… with insanely good hair

The real guy, in fact, was someone much harsher and uglier – someone indifferent to all sorts of immorality in not only others but in himself. Someone she did not really know at all.

In light of that —

Here’s a partial list of recently exposed, accused and extreme sexual predators in the entertainment industry with multiple victims and/or accusers:

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick, Steven Seagal, Louis C.K. and producer-writer Gary Goddard. 

Yes, I’ve limited the group to the most RECENT and the most FAMOUS. Certainly, there are more. A lot more. And a lot more to come.

I need a drink… or 12

Here’s a similar list in politics:

Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump, Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, Fox’s recently deposed Bill O’Reilly and Fox’s recently deceased leader Roger Ailes, journalist and former MSNBC commentator Mark (Game Change) Halperin, famed New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Note: I’ve also left out former POTUS George H.W. Bush from the list because he’s 93, wheelchair bound and his accusers have so far limited his violations to recent ass-grabbing and sexual innuendo from his wheelchair.

Uh, yeah, this IS where we ARE at the moment.

#SAD

The Way We Were screenwriter Arthur Laurents was writing about Hollywood and the glittery protective wall that shields many of its most lauded inhabitants all those many years ago. This was long before I got here. As did people who came before him like F. Scott Fitzgerald. And so on and as far back as the industry existed.

Yet here I sit, a writer with nowhere near their credits, about to say what they and others described, a lot more directly.

Be careful about whom you admire and be careful before you agree to meet them. If they are in the handful of the top three or five you most admire they can’t help but disappoint you – and sometimes most grandly. Because what any of us admire in a public figure in any field is not about WHO they are but what they’ve ACHIEVED in their individual fields.

Many of us, including myself at times, like to say one’s achievements are a part of them – like kindness, a great sense of humor or looks. Sadly, that’s a lie.

Talent, a mastery of a subject and glaringly high-level success, is a marker of work not personality traits. Most certainly, they are not markers of a great person, a bad person or even, in the end, a mere average person. They are outward achievements that vault an individual into the public eye and provide those old-fashioned values like fame and fortune.

But they say little to NOTHING about who that INDIVIDUAL really is at his or her core – or whether they are even a guy or gal you’d choose to hang out with, much less call a friend, role model or even object of adoration.

What they only are is produce – from that person.

Living in the ruins

Certainly, this is confusing and downright un-American. Not to mention, it’s disheartening as far as popular culture is concerned. This is why I don’t tell my students about the evening I spent in the eighties with one of THE greatest and most famous artists of the 20th century. Or a work experience I had years later with one of THE great music stars of the last five decades. Or the several months in which I was paired with that renowned and supposedly sensitive writer-director-producer some time after that on some other project that will go unmentioned.

Disasters, all of them, and not because I wasn’t trying. Yet each was horribly disappointing (if not horrifying) in their own way and to this day I still can’t understand how three so brilliantly talented individuals whose work I admired that much could be so downright……ugh…well, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Remember this formula! #keepexpectationslow

Which then left me with a small but personal dilemma I suspect many of us are going through at the moment with the above names and those I left out. How do we look at their work now? Do we boycott them for political and/or personal reasons? What is the line for boycott – accusations, convictions, suspicion, personal opinion or just a general mass zeitgeist feeling?

Well this was a bad idea from the start…

If you eschew one of them do you eschew them all?

How long do they have to be in the doghouse? For life? Maybe so. Especially for the most egregious.

But is there any room for reparations among the lesser crimes? Or can any of these crimes even be lesser? And how much do apologies really mean?

Certain apologies are enough to get you that Iron Man money

Also – Do we get special dispensation for the ONE artist whose work has helped us through hard times or served as a creative guide for our entire professional lives??? Why not? Or…why???

This is easy for me given the present list of all of the newest offenders mentioned above. I can easily live without their work. And for that matter, I still don’t understand why Hollywood has forgiven the sexual abuse and anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson not that many years ago — so much so that they cast him in the current Paramount mainstream comedy Daddy’s Home 2??? Though perhaps that’s punishment in itself.

What she said. #flopflopflop

On the other hand, I still watch Woody Allen movies and have gone to see numerous films Roman Polanski has directed. One of these guys has been accused by his daughter of childhood sexual abuse and the other fled this country in the 1970s for giving drugs and alcohol to a 13 year old and having sex with her.

So yeah, there’s all of that for me to NOT be proud of. In fact, the complicity feels even worse when I write it and read it over. Though I fear if I only watched the work of people in the industry who I knew and morally approved of, it’d either be a very short list or I’d keel over in boredom. Maybe both.

I swear if there is a Tom Hanks scandal I will scream #teamRita

This is not to say there are not all kinds of cool, moral, wonderful and faaaabulously talented artists I’ve both met personally and have yet to meet that are at the top of their games creatively and who never cease to bore you – or me. And plenty enough of the opposite to bypass.

It’s only to admit that we now live in an age where the behavior of artists will be inexorably linked to their art – which will in turn determine how, where and by how many people it will be consumed.

Well, that should be interesting. Or not.

Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”

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What Do We Do Now?

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At the end of the iconic film of American electoral politics – The Candidate – blonde, handsome and iconically American Robert Redford sits blankly confused after winning his unlikely maiden bid to the U.S. Senate and famously asks the smarmily savvy political consultant who got him there:

What do we do now?

Almost half a century later, it’s still an apt question.

Two more comparatively young Black men were shot and killed by police this week in what can best and most generously be described as grievous mistakes in the line of duty and at worst would be called racist executions by white guys in law enforcement uniforms.

Still, we should all think long and hard after we listen and speak to as many people as possible on questions such as the above one. Because before those two deaths had even sunk in, a cock-eyed retaliation took place from an angry, unbalanced decision-maker that had worldwide reverberations. This would be the murderous rampage via an assault-like rifle and handgun from a single shooter into a crowd of Dallas police officers and demonstrators that managed to murder five white cops as well as injure seven other people.

too many headlines

too many headlines

Oh yes. The execution of the police was done by a 25 year-old African-American veteran of our seldom-mentioned U.S. war in Afghanistan in retaliation for the aforementioned shooting of the two Black men at the hands of the police. Though what the shooter didn’t know is one of the men in blue that he killed was a young American war veteran himself.

The Candidate was released in 1972 but reflects what seemed like the ripping apart of the social fabric of America at the time. Race riots nationally in 1967, the Chicago police beating the crap out of demonstrators at the Democratic presidential convention in 1968 and the murder of four at Kent State University in 1970 when members of the National Guard decided to shoot into a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War with a couple of rocks and beer cans. Though in fact, two of the dead were simply walking by on the way to class.

Pres. Obama said in a speech this week in Poland that what is going on now is different from the civil unrest in 1960s America and that today we are a country more unified.    This is why he is a leader and the president of the U.S. That’s what great leaders attempt to do – unify.

Also this

Also this

Me, I’m not so sure. I tend to think of it more like the writer and journalist James C. Moore (“Bush’s Brain”) observed several days ago. He opined that the angry rhetoric of the far right has released an ugliness into the country that began to bubble to the surface once the majority of us elected our first African American president almost eight years ago. And that this ugliness has morphed into a righteous anger on the part of many whites who are now rallying behind a Republican nominee who periodically releases coded racial dog whistles that flame their anger and more than imply a good old-fashioned American retaliation (nee violence?) to protestors or those deviating from their “values” is more than acceptable.

It is interesting to note that part of what angered young Americans in the late sixties and early seventies was not only the Vietnam War but the election of Richard Nixon, who famously campaigned as the law and order candidate who represented the silent majority. It might not be as currently catchy as Make America Great Again or Take Back America but it served its purpose. He did win. Twice. Though never mind he was forced to resign midway through his second term in order to avoid what was a likely impeachment due to the dirty tricks with which he willingly engaged in order to be re-elected to the White House. #Watergate (Note: Look it up).

... or watch any of these movies

… or watch any of these movies

Of course, if you’ve watched any news report in the last several months where either of the nominees speaks or is spoken about it is impossible to not hear accusations of dirty tricks, double-dealings, sketchy email servers, shady real estate dealings or crooked something or others – from both sides.

Still, in 1968 it was at the Democratic convention in Chicago that the Democratic mayor Richard Daley unleashed his police force to rough up protestors that he believed were behaving in an “un-American way.” This time it is only when we watch the Republican nominee speak and a protestor is present do we invariably hear said nominee bellowing from the podium – “Get’em Out! Get ’Em Out” – usually amid roars of approval from his apoplectically cheering crowd as the would-be insurgent is dragged, often literally, out of the arena and away not only from earshot but from his sight line.

Sure, history might repeat itself but certainly never in exactly the same way and usually not by the same crowd in question. Nevertheless, there’s a tediousness to it all, isn’t there? You’d think we adults would have learned something by now.

a bloody mess

a bloody mess

Tediousness is, of course, a highly inappropriate term to use when the deaths of loved ones and social injustice are involved. But when you watch Pres. Obama – arguably one of the most even-handed statesmen the country has ever wrought –once again stand at a podium and try to speak about race relations, gun violence and what does indeed make America great amid all the carnage, you can still see the weariness in his eyes.

It’s like a tired, spent parent having to correct his disobedient child for the 1700th time. You know he simply wants to shake the kid and say, “don’t you get it, yet?? What the “f” is wrong with you??” But instead, like all good parents, or teachers for that matter, he bears down and tries to phrase the lesson in yet another way so the youngster might, just might, understand.

and when in doubt...

and when in doubt…

This is in sharp contrast to what anyone else is doing at the moment.   So even though I might sometimes disagree with his tactics or phrasings, in the end I have to admit that I almost always agree with the message Pres. Obama is trying, against the greatest of odds, to get across.  Perhaps, this is because he is equal parts Black and White. Though I’m sure some would say that’s far too easy of an answer.

THE RISE OF THE ___________

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I want to do anything but write about ________ today.

Literally anything. Except jump out of an airplane or die. Which in my mind is the same thing.

And, he referred to my hands –‘ if they’re small, something else must be small.‘ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.’

I'm just gonna leave this here...

I’m just gonna leave this here…

Here’s what Modern Family writer @DannyZuker recently tweeted on the subject.

In the spirit of that, here’s a line from one of my favorite films, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) –

He has his father’s eyes…Satan is his father… 

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Drumpf.

Get ‘em out, get’ em out, get ‘em outa here!

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And suddenly all the Black people were gone – pushed and dragged away by large burly men when they dared to speak out in a public place. Or dared to just be standing around doing nothing but listening.

Bill Maher played the Hitler card in a short, hilarious reference on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher on Friday.

I suggest watching for its mere 2 minutes. But if you don’t want to it involves a visual of the Fuhrer shouting loudly and hysterically to thousands of rabid, cheering supporters in the 1940s. Yet instead of listening to words from the leader of The Third Reich we’re hearing recent 2015/16 sound bites from ________  as if they were utterances from Heil You Know Who.

The transitions are seamless. I mean, you’d never ever know. Even the occasional joke feels real. It all works.

Here’s part of the climactic monologue/speech from another movie I love, Tootsie (1982), when the hero-in-female drag explains why in the end female leaders are in much more preferable to their male counterparts.

…Now you all know that my father was a brilliant man; he built this hospital. What you don’t know is that to his family, he was an unmerciful tyrant – a absolute dodo bird. He drove my mother, his wife, to – to drink…

Dorothy tells it how it is

Dorothy tells it how it is

I don’t drink much myself but I can’t say a nice stiff Scotch wouldn’t hit the spot just about now. Perhaps even a sip would do it for me. Yes, I’m a lightweight. But at least I know it. Unlike some people.

trump-says-the-truth-and-the-jew-cringes

The grammar mistakes are________ ‘s, not mine. Just in case it was confirming his thoughts about how inaccurate journalists are. Well, I used to be a journalist. Now I’m just a blogger. Or, to use ________ ’s language, a loser. Of course, so is the New York Times, according to ________ . So, journalistically speaking, I’m in good company.

Louis C.K. wrote an open letter to his fans this week about the Person of Color (Note: Orange) whose name we dare not speak. It was funny, honest and intelligent. Creative reportage is perhaps the best description. Much like the new journalism writings of people like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson in the 1970s. But given the informality of Twitterverse and emailspeak of the new millennium, a quote like this speaks volumes:

louiscktrump2

Of course, there was a lot more to what he said than that – a whole letter to the public, actually. You can read it here.

If you don’t, just know that preceding the above quote was this thought from Mr. C.K. (Note: Calling him that seems so weird, doesn’t it? #Louie) – he’s okay with the next president being from the other side of the aisle.

We are about 40 percent conservative and 40 percent liberal…And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while. But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time.

Though this is what Robert Redford had to say in one of the most romantic movies ever made – The Way We Were (1973). He plays a pretty boy aspiring novelist and eventual screenwriter who is speaking to mousy, brainy political activist/Jewish girl Barbra Streisand, a college classmate who he will marry, cheat on and years later divorce right after she gives birth to his only daughter.

Well, you make fun of politicians. What else can you do with them?

BRB watching this for the 1,000th time

BRB watching this for the 1,000th time

You can call them out – or not vote for them.

Actually, ________ ’s competitors are doing the former in great big shouts all over the country and every time you tune into our many airwaves. But none are willing to say they’ll do the latter. In fact, at their most recent debate this week, they all vowed to vote for him if he is their nominee. That’s exactly the opposite.

It sort of reminds me of a line from one of my all time favorite guilty pleasures – Postcards From The Edge (1990).

…I’m not a box, I don’t have sides. This is it, one side fits all!

It is interesting to note the character saying that is a reformed drug addict.

... or in the same condition I am when I watch any GOP debate

… or in the same condition I am when I watch any GOP debate

Movies, like history, repeat themselves and their messages. And often in the form of history – both past and present.   Much as I love film, there are times when I so wish this weren’t true.

Watching the Gross

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I thought I’d grown used to the movies I like grossing very little money but it’s sobering. Still, this shouldn’t be surprising. I can now get into films as a senior citizen in some places. I know, I’m shocked too.   When I went to see the Steve “Jobs” movie a few weeks ago I almost passed out. But still paid full price.

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Clearly, I’ve permanently strayed from the “youth” demographic Hollywood covets no matter how many times my peers say 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 20 and death is something that happens to OTHER people. That’s scary enough. But to realize that not one of my favorite films is among the 50 top grossing movies of the year – well, that’s positively un-American. It’s like my entire country has turned on me when I wasn’t looking. And in more ways than one. On the other hand, it’s not the first time. I lived through the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Forrest Gump winning the Oscar yet I am still here whining about it all as our first African American-president completes his second term of office and Birdman was last year’s best picture winner. Inevitably, these types of things, as well as life, do run in cycles.

And yet…

Hard as it is to recognize I have come to understand that like many Americans the movies are my touchstone. Each year at least a handful reflect what myself and our culture were thinking or feeling en masse and, when they worked really well, even showed us alternative ways to cope. Did Michael Keaton really go out the window at the end of Birdman? Who cares – it raised the question of just what are the alternatives we all face when trying to survive as an artist of any kind. And if one believes, as I do, that anything you attempt to do well in life does indeed have some sort of artistic element to it, it is essential we continue to consider these questions. And spend less time pondering how high of a gilded wall we can build around ourselves to keep out those who are different. Ironic, isn’t it? That a country built on a melting pot of difference should be faced with the 2015 Shakespearean question of how we engineer and preserve our current gene pool to exclude as many others as possible.

There’s a reason why, at its essence, drama hasn’t really changed very much since the Elizabethan period or even as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Still works!

Still works!

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to The MOVIES, 2015.

If you’re a member of a Hollywood guild each year you’re fortunate enough to receive DVDs of many of this year’s movies so you don’t have to move your privileged ass off the couch and make the effort to go to the movie theatre if you so prefer not to. (Note: Well, you wouldn’t either if you didn’t have to and had a decent TV setup at home – give me a break)

So being the lazybones (nee whore) that I am I decided that after gorging myself on turkey I’d continue gorging myself on some of the movies I got in the mail and have not yet seen. I also decided to go out to the movie theatres and pay for a few others as well as attend several industry screenings (Note: Yes, for free – I’m not only getting lazy in my old age but also cheap). And what continued to amaze me is that without exception the films that I really enjoyed continue to make very, very little money at the box office. How long before these types of films are not made at all? I fear, not very long.

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I'll ask Matt Damon)

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I’ll ask Matt Damon)

Now before you go saying I’m part of the problem because I’m not going out to see my films enough – you’re only partly right. Like all of you, I should venture out and support my local theatres more than I do. But also know that part of the marketing budgets of all production companies include sending out free DVDs to guild members not to be kind but to get us to VOTE for said film in an enormous array of awards competitions that the industry will use to promote the winners and get you/us – the audience – into the theatres to see or into the stores to buy or into our heads to stream. For better or worse that’s the way the system works. Bottom line dollars.

I suppose this explains why as a Writers Guild member two of the early DVDs I received were for Furious 7 ($353 million domestic box-office gross) and Jurassic World ($652 million). Did anyone really think these would win any writing awards? (Note: That question was rhetorical). No, it was about spreading the word. Well, fyi, I’ve previously seen both a Furious AND a Jurassic movie before and was entertained. I tried briefly with both of these. Oh God. I might be old but I’m not brain dead. Yet. Which is why I turned them off.

As for some of the others – well, here I am to do the job that I was sent to do by the studio overlords – spreading the word. (Note: As if I wouldn’t give my opinion anyway).

TRUMBO

He is Spartacus?

He is Spartacus?

This is the story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and how his intellectual liberal leanings sent him to jail for a year in the 1950s merely for being subversively un-American as a member of the Communist party. (Note: Think of him as a Muslim under a future Trump administration).

More interesting is the tale it tells of how Trumbo, once out of a jail, worked secretly writing tacky low-budget movies under assumed names and got his other unemployable writer friends jobs doing the same via a hidden writer’s clearing house he ran out of his house. With the help of his wife and children. Who answered five different telephone lines and served as their script couriers.

As played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this Trumbo is a witty, erudite crusader, family man who takes advantage of the people around him while at the same time loving them and his country in the most unorthodox of ways. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that will surely get him an Oscar nomination. The movie takes a long time to get going and in the first half especially feels a bit like a choppy, TV movie biopic from the 1970s. But ultimately it’s smart, breezy, clever and not without some meaning. And slickly made by director Jay Roach.

AND — It’s made less than a $1 million after three weeks of limited release.

Verdict: Watch it.

TRUTH

Would you... Rather?

Would you… Rather?

I was where most of you probably are on this. Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in a movie that shows us how Rather got pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS because of a 60 Minutes story he did on George W. Bush’s questionable military record of service? A story where sources recanted their original claims but nevertheless a story that was never proven factually inaccurate?

#1 – I don’t want to hear any more about Dubya. #2 – Redford is about as similar to Dan Rather as I am. #3 – It’s my private time, I want to be entertained by a film not forced to think about unpleasant stuff I was forced to live through all too recently.

Well, the film is not really about Dubya at all but about how the news you see on TV is put together and just how influential political dynasties can be “behind the scenes.” More importantly, Redford might not look anything like Rather but he’s got his speaking cadence down pat and is ultimately absolutely believable as the veteran Texas newsman – in fact it’s the best he’s been in a movie in many years. Who knew? Not any of us because no one is going to see it. Since it’s release in October it’s grossed about $2.5 million.

Oh, and then there’s Cate Blanchett starring as Rather’s real-life producer Mary Mapes, a tough-talking Texan she gets exactly right because she doesn’t slather on the accent but instead accentuates her intelligence. The whole film is smart. And –

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING.

SICARIO

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

My students will hate me for this because they seem to love this movie. Why? I have zero idea. Emily Blunt is as good as she can be as an FBI agent drawn into the web of breaking up a Mexican drug cartel by her CIA overlords as well as by others. But…it’s a labyrinth of action with character development and logic so spare as to be almost non-existent. And after a while it simply becomes preposterous. And a bore.

I’ve experienced first-hand as a writer notes on the strategy of throwing audiences right into the world of a movie without much of a convincing setup and allowing the viewer to play catch up. This sometimes works – as it did in the first season of True Detective. And it often times fails, as it does here. But then again, it depends what you mean by failure. Sicario has grossed $49 million in the U.S. alone and another $34 million overseas so far. That makes it a bit more than a modest success in the world of the balance sheet of a film with no above the title movie star or director. It’s also a world where logic and dialogue don’t matter as much the various kinds of actions that are ultimately delivered.

Verdict: SKIP IT. Though you could do worse (Note: See Furious AND Jurassic).

CAROL

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner... what can ya say?

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner… what can ya say?

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two seemingly mismatched women falling in love in the repressive 1950s under the direction of Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce). This movie was MADE for me!! You’d think.

It’s beautiful to look at. Cate Blanchett’s mink coat and shimmering blonde hair and red lipstick are breathtaking. As is every single room, piece of jewelry and choice of scenery and period motor vehicle and hotel room and tacky apartment and cheap motel room. Which is a big part of the problem. It’s a movie in love with artifice – and itself. The drama is real and sometimes palpable but as someone is said to have once said, “it’s like watching paint dry.” The same emotional beats are played over and over. Time and again.   It’s based on the seminal lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952.   But never for one moment do you feel as if you’re watching anything other than a book unspooling in movie time without any of the nuanced language that made it so special.

The two actresses are wonderful. Everything is pretty. And it does show us how much a great deal of the world has changed. But…well….

Verdict: PASS – which is not to say there is not a great deal of skill and intelligence here. Would I watch it before Jurassic and Furious again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just force myself to get all the way through the latter two for the first time. Though Carol needs the money more. It’s grossed about $500,000 in 10 days of limited release. And I doubt there’s a ton more to come. DVD/streaming sales? Maybe. But…OK, I’ll stop now.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

A Spielberg movie written by.... The Coen Brothers?

A Spielberg movie written by…. The Coen Brothers? 

I popped the DVD to this in and had low expectations. I mean, it’s the tale of the reluctant negotiator spy type American hero of the 1950s as played by Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg that somehow you believe deep down in your soul you’ve seen before…. but directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Except it’s not any of those. Or really that much like them.

Tom Hanks is very good, very believable and very likeable – in an authentic, throwback Americana way. It’s a tough act to pull off an insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator in period clothes but somehow you buy it all. At this point it’d be shocking if Mr. Spielberg did not direct an infinitely watchable movie. And this one is pretty darn watchable – thanks also in great part to Mark Rylance’s brilliantly understated performance in a role you need to see rather than read about from me. He anchors the film. And if you think that’s easy when you’re not a movie star, you’re wrong.

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING. It won’t change your life but it’s engaging. Though at a $67 million box-office gross it’s the equivalent of Trumbo or Truth in dollars for a Spielberg pic. That may not be fair but it’s the way the industry thinks. And for our future films bodes a bit ominous.

Feel free to agree – or disagree. But just know the top five grossing films of 2015 are Jurassic World ($652 million); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million); Inside Out ($356 million); Furious 7 ($353 million) and Minions ($336 million). And that’s just in the U.S. alone. Films that are more adult – nee a bit more complicated or intellectually challenging – are in trouble. And need our support. At theatres, on DVD, or yes, even for free. It’s who we are. Or were. Our choice.

Oh you'll be adding me to that list pretty soon....

Oh you’ll be adding me to that list pretty soon….

P.S. Note #1: I did very much enjoy Inside Out but it’s an animated film and they’re in a category of their own. This is not a snob thing but everyone likes at least one animated movie a year except a dear friend of mine who I still can’t convince to embrace Aladdin – the gayest animated movie that’s ever been made. I’ll work on him, though.

P.S. Note #2 – Just got home from a screening of The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne and his co-star, the Swedish film actress Alicia Vikander, will both receive Oscar nominations. As will others behind the scenes. It’s mainstream yet unusual. Thought-provoking though not too complicated. And timely in that it follows one of the first medical cases of gender reassignment. Verdict: See it. People actually speak in full sentences, and often more than one sentence at a time. Plus, nothing blows up.

At least that’s something.

More Whine Please

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When you’re a politician and lash out at the media for asking you questions you don’t want to answer it means you are attacking them for doing their job and ill-prepared to do yours. – The Chair

What a bunch of whiners. I’m talking about politicians – particularly the GOP candidates in Wednesday’s second Republican presidential debate. And who better to know than a reformed whiner and complainer like myself. Oh, it’s not that I don’t still bitch and moan too frequently. More that a combination of age and looking around at the rest of the world and its misfortunes has made me realize that, when it comes down to it, I can scale back the bellyaching by at least 50-75%. Besides, as my father used to tell me, what good does it do anyway? (Note: To which I used to retort – It makes me feel better! Yeah, for 5-10 minutes – but consider what it does to your friends. Not to mention the general audience)

I don't know Chairy... I'm still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I don’t know Chairy… I’m still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I went to grad school in journalism at Northwestern University during a time when newspapers really were made of PAPER and the people and profession was generally seen as a noble quest for the truth by slightly odd and often dysfunctional people who were nevertheless smart and in your face when it came to digging up your inconvenient truth. The ultimate job of a journalist is not to be its subject’s advocate or friend, though both can easily happen – but to inform its readers – nee the public – on what’s what. Not the party line but what’s really being said at the party – behind closed doors.

Imagine it this way – you’re at a family dinner and you need to find out exactly what Aunt Clara and Uncle Artie have been hiding all these years in the locked back room of their house. Is it a trunk full of money, a dead body or simply the art projects they have been working on for the last 50 years? It is well-known among your relatives that one NEVER asks Artie and Clara about that room, much less goes into it, but for the future of the world, the safety of your neighborhood or the piece of mind of your mother who’s asked you to fulfill her last dying wish, that you find out what the hell is in that godforsaken space they’d never let her into.

Would you be able to resist?

Would you be able to resist?

So what would you do – how far would you go to find out? And how much do you think Clara and Artie would hate or blame YOU once you were done finding out? Because clearly you WILL uncover it since everyone that knows you realizes this is your area of expertise. In fact, that’s why the world, the neighborhood or even your family enlisted you for this duty in the first place. You’re the investigator-in-chief of putting people’s feet to the fire and unearthing the truth.

Oh, and you only have two hours to do it.

Are you getting the picture yet? I thought so. When electing the leader of the free world is the issue, investigators – chief or not – aren’t supposed to be nice. (Note: Did anyone see the members of Congress cross-examine Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearings?) I don’t have time to sugar coat for Clara and Art if all you’re giving me is two hours. My mother is dying for god’s sake and I’ve been hired by the world to do this. Failure is NOT an option. Tell me what’s in that effin room!!!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

How do you not ask the self-proclaimed politically incorrect Republican Apprentice a question about temperament and being a loose cannon? Do you ignore the fact that Gov. Mike Huckabee has built his entire campaign on traditional family values and not ask him a question about morality? Does one ignore accusations of financial impropriety against Sen. Marco Rubio when he’s running to be the head of the largest economy in the world? Does Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigns on national television talk shows bragging about not caring about being liked by his fellow senators, NOT get asked a question about his ability to unite the warring political factions of the country?

There’s no such thing as a GOTCHA QUESTION when the security of the world or granting my mother’s last dying wish are concerned. I’ll stop at nothing. Are you kidding?

I can personally confess that people whine and complain to deflect attention from the real issue at hand. When you have a rough day at the office the loud chewing sound of your spouse at dinner makes you feel like you’re eating in the center of the track at the Indianapolis 500 – in the rain. Without an umbrella. So you yell about it to deflect from the real problem to which you have no solution. Not that my husband chews loudly. He doesn’t. In fact, he does nothing wrong at all. We just care so much about each other.

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

See, that’s the party line. Without journalistic investigation. But to answer the direct question – no, he does not chew loudly. Though yes, of course there are times when he pisses me off. And CERTAINLY vice-versa. But we argue, discuss, reason, cajole and sometimes even all out fight about them. That’s why the relationship works. Confrontation is not always a bad thing. Better to confront this stuff now than let it fester into a HUGE problem down the line. Does anyone remember the near collapse of the American financial system almost seven years ago that ensured the election of Barack Obama to begin with?

One of the most cunning skills elected officials posses is the ability to perform expert slight of mouth. That would be the ability to reply to an inquiry with a seemingly related yet ultimately irrelevant retort that avoids the original topic posed entirely. In laymen’s terms, this is called changing the subject. You learn all about sources, subjects and the avoidance thereof in any journalism 101 class. Or simply watch All the President’s Men.

... or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

… or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

Somehow, with the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine, which used to require that all news programs offered up opposing opinions and helped usher in the era of partisan journalism, we’ve gotten to the place where fair and balanced seems to be equated with not challenging anyone with whom you agree with or like on an issue they might not like or want to be on the record with. When what’s required in our new age of worldwide media is precisely the opposite. More questions. More answers. More truth. Because the TRUTH will come out anyway.   These days everyone has a camera and knows how to use it. The more challenges our elected officials, especially the next leader of the free world, has to endure in front of them, the more prepared she or he will be to lead us into the future. Hopefully, one a few less Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhs.

 

Those Were the Days?

Photo courtesy of Dear Photograph

Photo courtesy of Dear Photograph

Nostalgia:  a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.

The man credited for thinking up the word nostalgia was a 17th century Swiss physician named Johannes Hofer who, in his dissertation at med school, used it as a way to describe the type of anxieties he saw displayed in Swiss mercenaries longing to return home from foreign countries, as well as in students and domestics living and studying abroad and missing their native lands.

I am not sure what Dr. Hofer would think of the constant loop of nostalgia that has engulfed pop culture in the last century or if he would even recognize it as such. The new Robert Redford film The Company We Keep, the Emmy winning Mad Men as well as whole networks like TV Land and Nick@Nite, the ranting social speak of the religious right in favor of  “the way it’s always been” traditional marriage, and the evocation of our Colonial constitutional right to “bear arms” (aka muskets) as a counterargument to enacting any legislation at all to prevent the sale of contemporary military style assault weapons – every one of them seem to suggest that the ideals and realities of decades past were… what?…Rosier?  Moral?  Or just plain fun?

I’m not sure.  Perhaps it’s only that we long to return to a time that we believe existed a certain way but in all likelihood and any given human memory (or at least mine these days… and after all it, IS white guys over 50 who do tend to write history), never really ever existed that way at all.

However, what I am positive about is the medical condition of nostalgia could be considered at this point in time a worldwide pandemic from which there is little chance of recovery.  The old begets the new, which grows old and then begets a “new” new, which is really not a recycle of anything new at all – just a reinvention, or post modern de-mythical re-representation of what’s come before it.  Using this definition everything contemporary is nostalgic in some form and we are all very, very, very sick with Dr. Hofer’s disease – a disease to which there is, and has never been, any known cure.

Well, I guess there are worse medical diagnoses to receive and both the world and we have received them – global warming, AIDS, cancer, you name it.  And that everything old is or isn’t new again is certainly not news or even very interesting or original.

However, what is fascinating about it to me is just what we are all remembering and how much of it, if anything, has any degree of accuracy to the real past or, more importantly, to what our present lives are now.  I mean, if the very facts we recall are actually wrong, doesn’t that negate what meaning they have for the current day?

Before your brain starts to break, let’s move on to some pop culture – as we all often do – to illuminate our thoughts.

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This week I took a gang of 15 college students to the glamorous Arclight Theatres in Hollywood to see The Company We Keep, a film directed by and starring Robert Redford that is about his character’s possible involvement in the radical sixties political group The Weathermen.  We took the trip because nearly half of these students are writing movies set in the 1960s, which in itself is certainly proof that the nostalgia bug is alive and well and living in 2013.

Well, I certainly enjoyed reliving the political speechifying and long lost world of American left wing radicals played by right correctly aged actors like Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte and Sam Elliot, among others.  Heck, they were portraying the kind of larger than life older siblings, uncles and cousins I wish I had as a child in the sixties.  As for my students, who before the screening told me their fascination with the period probably had a lot to do with “missing out on all the excitement” – let’s just say they were not quite as taken by this trip down memory lane.  All they felt was “lectured to” about “the good old days” and all they saw was “a depressing group of older people” who “missed what they used to be” and had for the most part lived “pretty sad lives.”

My students upon seeing the "real Sixites"

My students upon seeing the “real Sixites”

My knee jerk answer to this group of early 20ish critics is that all they got to represent them in the film was Shia LeBouf playing an obstinate reporter (is there any other kind?) in a pair of hipster glasses (to repeat: are there any other kind?) and a few unknown actors to whom they couldn’t relate.  But my more thoughtful response is what they actually got was a bit more dramatic reality of the period and the people who made it.  In other words, a somewhat melancholy recognition that huge social change comes in long, drawn out decades and that what seems exciting about any one particular 10-year period are really only small high points amid months and years of ordinary life.  This reality, however, is not what we want to or choose to make of the sixties – especially in mass entertainment.

The above is what makes television’s Mad Men and its success on all levels even more impressive.  But I won’t go on and on once again about the show I consider the best on television.  I will only state that its use of the sixties as a backdrop to social change heaped on a group of fairly non-extraordinary people in New York is accurate and enticing because it doesn’t get hung up in the gauzy glow of an era but instead traffics in everyday looks and behavior amid those moments.   This became even clearer to me last season with the debut of my namesake – a neurotic Jewish writer from the boroughs of New York named Ginsberg (guilty!).   Ben Feldman, the actor (and, FYI, Ithaca College grad) who plays him, not only looked a bit like this young Ginsberg, but even talked and behaved like the older brother I never had in the sixties.  In fact, they so got it right that it didn’t make me feel nostalgic at all, only mortified that I could have ever thought it was fitting to act and dress the way he did.  And if you don’t believe me (and I KNOW I will regret it), picture THIS:

Brothers?

Brothers?

(Note: My photo was from 1972 but I lived in Queens and we were a few years behind the times then).

The television reruns on Nick@Nite certainly give us an exacting view of pop culture at the time and are accurate nostalgia items only if one remembers that I Love Lucy, Dragnet, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Friends, Happy Days and Leave It To Beaver were never true representations of anything but entertainment.  The TV Land network seems to recognize this by merely putting aging (does that mean anyone over 50?) stars like Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Fran Drescher in old-fashioned type situation comedies that don’t pretend to evoke anything but kitschy pop culture.  Perhaps that is reason alone for both its limited success and general lack of critique – it knows what it is and understands it would be misguided to be anything more than that.

This kind of reminiscence is fine for television and movies but when it begins to literally bleed over into politics and social change it becomes more like the disease Dr. Hofer described, still in search of a cure.  Take gun control.  Interpreting our Constitutional right to bear arms as a guarantee every American can own military style weapons our forefathers never could have imagined seems as realistic as applying the separate twin bed sleeping arrangements of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy to any young, typical show business couple of today.  That’s how marital bliss was first portrayed on television, right?  So doesn’t it follow that the same rules be carried over?

Or — maybe that’s an argument better suited to the traditional marriage conundrum.  Things worked so much better in the 50s and 60s when Ward and June Cleaver presided in the suburbs over their two precocious young boys and when the Happy Days’ Cunningham family gave away Joanie in marriage to Chachi.  Well, they worked as long as one dared not be (or marry) any other shade but white, or of any other socio-economic status than middle class, or of any other particular sexual orientation than 100% heterosexual.  I mean, can you imagine if Chachi would have actually wanted to marry Fonzie and adopt children a la Cam and Mitchell in Modern Family?  Or what if Joanie were really in love with Laverne?  Or Shirley?  Would we as a society even be exiting today?  Especially since everyone knows marriage is primarily there as means for a loving couple to procreate.

Though I would have loved to see their offspring..

Though I would have loved to see their offspring..

As unjust as you might think this comparison might be, remember that it was only last month that Rick Santorum, the runner up for the 2012 Republican nomination for US president, in 2012, blamed the shift in favor of marriage equality to include gays and lesbians squarely on the shoulders of television – and in particular one show only — Will and Grace.

Of course, Will, or is it Grace, does live a life closest to mine, so I could be a bit biased.  Certainly, my twisted life does not belong on the tube, influencing the younger generation away from the tried and true traditions of nostalgia.  No – those rantings of mine should stay only in the classroom (Oops!).

A walk down memory lane

A walk down memory lane

Maybe Woody Allen said it best (as he often does) in Midnight in Paris.  In choosing to direct and write an entire film that is a tribute to looking back, he simultaneously sees the past in the beautiful purple hues of glamorous 1920s Paris streets and in the timeless romantic disappointments even that past cannot mask. This speech, delivered not by his hero but by a clear-thinking intellectual in the present (who better than to deliver bad news) pretty much sums up the negative.

Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

But even Woody himself decides at the end of two hours to leave his nostalgia loving main character with a chance of a happy ending.  Of course, that’s only after he traveled back in time, learned a few lessons, and then came to a new, slightly improved understanding in light of what he had so painfully experienced.  Perhaps  that’s the most — and the best — we can hope for when we’re so determined to idealize the past.