Before and After

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No – this is not one of those postings where you are going to hear about how I remade my body, my house or my mind in six weeks or less.  Though admittedly any of those could be worthy of a little freshening up, if not a total and complete reboot. Yet who but a few close contemporary frenemies has the money, dedication or time?  Well, the latter in that list is a total lie, isn’t it?  Yeah, it is.

It’s a lie because I found the time to spend what felt like 17 and a half hours of my life this weekend seeing the current #1 grossing movie in the world– Transformers 4: Age of Extinction – which in case you didn’t know has made a third of a billion dollars worldwide so far in mere weeks of release, a third of which came from just the US alone in a mere handful of days.  Relax, I didn’t contribute to any of the total – I went to a screening.  As if that will buy me those hours back.

I also found the time to see four other films in an attempt to not only cleanse my palette but to conduct my own very unscientific social experiment to answer this very unscientific question nagging at me: What has changed – the movies or me (nee) us?  Is it all just a giant misunderstanding of unfulfilled expectations or have Hollywood movie studios, led by the tent pole that is Transformers, alienated (get it?) us (nee) me, from the thrill of seeing the hot new movie on opening weekend or even beyond – forever?

is this over?

is this over?

This is the age of binge…everything.  Where there is no time like the present to indulge ourselves with whatever we want because, well, we can.  For instance, though we might be unable to take a week or two for the vacation of our dreams on the spur of the moment we can immediately stuff ourselves with pretty much any TV show we want that will take us there, or watch something online that will give us the vicarious thrill of being there.

That seems to be what the economically challenged (for most us) 2014s are about.  It used to be a very American thing to charge what we wanted on plastic or even quit our jobs and/or indulge, then worry about the results later.  I mean, look at the seventh season of Mad Men and tell me you don’t want to travel back to late 1960s Los Angeles?

Movies were invented for this very reason.  To help us get away and live in a world we could never be a part of were it not for Hollywood and the larger than life people and stories they brought to us.  I grew up that way, as did many of my friends, and it’s what made us want to become a part of the entertainment industry.  That, and the requisite dysfunctional childhoods that by today’s standards seem quite normal and, very certainly, typically American despite what films (and then television) showed us.  How’s that for irony?

My family portrait?

My family portrait?

Still, none of this was on my mind at all when it occurred to me this week that I hadn’t been out at a movie theatre to see a film other than Malefecent – which was a screening a friend took me to that I could have cared less about seeing so it doesn’t count – in about six weeks.   Well, two months if you count the two-week trip to Italy in May (Note:  That accounted for only heavenly bliss on an unearthly plane, hence the omission).  Yet I find time to binge watch TV and keep up with Orphan Black, The Rachel Maddow Show, Love It Or List It, Cold Case reruns and even the new season of The Next Food Network Star daily, weekly and, most certainly, religiously – in the summer – when most TV shows are on hiatus. Forget that I’m leaving out all the time reading, watching and posting mostly meaningless stuff on Facebook, Twitter and God knows where else (Note: This blog excused).

What’s happened?  Is it age or have the movies gotten as bad as the Academy Award hosting duties of Seth MacFarlane more than implied several years ago?

I guess the Chair didn't see A Million Ways to Die in the West!

I guess the Chair didn’t see A Million Ways to Die in the West!

Well, like a newly invigorated Oscar host (Note:  I have no suggestions of anyone better but perhaps, say, Nikke Finke, to re-invigorate them), I was determined to find out if the movies could once again hook me like a bad/good or good/bad TV show or even as effectively as the latest dumb feature/news story or Facebook posting.

Was everything awful I decided in advance about the current state of films the reason why I wasn’t leaving my house for my local multiplex?  Or would it merely take an attitude adjustment on my part – something my parents found more challenging than their own divorce to ever make happen – to cause the difference?

5 Movies/3 ½ Days.   Here is my report.

Thursday Night:

The Obvious Child

Not just Marcel the Shell

Potty mouth?

Expectations:  Some.  Good reviews of a very low budget film calling actress/comedian Jenny Slater the new Sarah Silverman by way of Woody Allen.  And besides, who can resist an original rom-com about…abortion!

Venue: Landmark Theatres, West L.A

Outcome:  Thoroughly enjoyable, touching and wickedly funny at parts.  It’s extremely low budget so don’t go in expecting much in the way of escape.  But it reminded me that despite all of my previous ranting escape is not what movies are entirely about – at least not for me.

It always bugged the crap out of me that films liked Knocked Up dismissed the idea of a young women these days getting an abortion as something out of hand and just, well, not a real serious option.  Even Juno, which certainly presented a convincing portrait of why a teenager would not choose to terminate a pregnancy, never quite convinced me of its heroine’s decision.

Does that hamburger phone have a direct connection to reality?

Does that hamburger phone have a direct connection to reality?

Oh, of course no woman enjoys having an abortion or even making the decision to do so.  But it’s a choice MANY choose and will continue to choose whether the people who call themselves right-to-life (Note: Meaning those who are pro choice are anti-life?) like it or not.  So why hasn’t it been addressed in any movie in any real way since what seems like the 1970s.

The above is for far greater minds than myself to address.  What The Obvious Child does so brilliantly is not make abortion an issue but tell the story of a young female comic in her twenties making choices as she tries to understand both herself and love.  Yeah, there’s a cute guy involved – isn’t there always?  And it’s funny.  And it rings true.  If this were two decades or ago and it was possible for more than one or two really small films per year to break through into the zeitgeist, we all would’ve gone to it sooner.  But it’s not and this is the new movie-going normal.  If you’re interested you have to look around and make the effort.  If it’s your kind of film and makes a bit of money, it might be easier to spot the next time.

Friday Night:

Ida

The gray lady

The gray lady

Expectations:  Promising but a bit like medicine that I realize will be good for me in the end.

Venue: Writer’s Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, CA

Outcome: Haunting, provocative and thoughtful.  It makes you think and impresses you with simplicity without ever trying to.  It also makes an extremely convincing case for artistic brevity and international cinema – two items that shouldn’t ever need to be reinforced but will, unfortunately seem to always have to be.

If I’m not the audience for a black and white Polish language film set in 1962 about two strong Jewish women with echoes of the Holocaust, then who is?  So why did I only go to see Ida because a good friend recommended it to me in particular, and then only because it was screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre at a convenient time (Note: Which still technically counts as leaving your house)?  Lazy and complacent, that’s why.

Is this all it takes?

Is this all it takes?

All films are irrefutably artistic in some form because each and every one of them is an example of the art form.  But is there good art and bad art, high art and low art?  Who knows?  The only thing I’m sure of is that at 83 minutes Ida’s director, Pawel Pawlikowski, a former documentarian, has made a true work of art.

The film is the definition of spare in the best possible ways.  Imagine Ingmar Bergman making an Italian neo-Realist film by way of Mike Leigh and Terrence Malick and you might begin to get a picture.  Or perhaps it is none of those and simply – uh – original.

At it’s core this is a coming-of-age film about a woman who is about to be a nun and then learns she is Jewish.  It’s about family, history, love and what impact one chooses to make on the world and how.  And why.  It is also about the past and probably leaves more questions than it answers.  But the questions it leaves us with are more than enough to chew on for an entire evening afterwards with friends or perhaps even a date who is interested in something more than, well, your ________________.  Yeah, movies used to be about the latter, too.  Not all, because who would really want that?  Just a few of them.  Ida is one of those few.  It is what it is AND deserves to be seen.

Saturday Afternoon:

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction

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Good grief.

Expectations:  None.  Like zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

Venue: Linwood Dunn Theatre, Hollywood, CA

Outcome:  My expectations were met – and then some.

This film is such a great example of what major movie studios are about today.  Therefore criticizing it is a bit like complaining that eating at McDonalds or even In ‘n Out Burger isn’t as good as enjoying the burgers they serve at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut or Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.  Or even at that favorite local greasy spoon you’ve been sneaking out to for years and years.

Hungry?

Hungry?

This is a movie that is not made for me or perhaps you.  The best thing about it is that it doesn’t take itself totally seriously, though you wish the jokes were better or even good.  It tries to be meta in some moments –like when it has an old movie proprietor complain in the first act that movies got ruined when they started doing those lousy sequels (Note: Not totally exact quote but you get the idea). And eventually it simply stops trying to do even that in favor of blowing things up, melting them down and throwing as much product placement at you (do people still drink Bud Lights?) as possible.

Full confession:  I have never seen any Transformers movie all the way through – rephrase that – I have never seen more than 20-25 minutes of any Transformers movie before this one though I’ve tried to if for no other reason than to understand what’s going on in movie land.  Of my attempts, some of them were from the beginning, other times it started in the second act, and at least once I think I forced myself to watch an ending – hoping that if it worked I might be motivated enough to track back and get the full Transformers movie going experience.

See, I made an effort

See, I made an effort

I used to be a movie critic so it doesn’t take a lot for me to be perversely curious about films.  In fact, sometimes I will purposely force myself to sit through something I’m unlikely to enjoy in the hopes that it will be so bad that I will actually be entertained.  I sort of felt that way about Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor until it lost me when the gleam from the spanking new desks in the 1940s military offices it was seeking to portray were so shiny that they began reflecting off the screen into my eyeglasses and gave me a headache.

Mr. Bay still clearly loves golden time lighting and shimmery new/old stuff.  But rather than give me something truly god-awful he’s basically made a movie that at the end of the day is merely repetitious, corny and dull.  The effects are fine, the robots or whatever you call them feel generic and somewhere along the way Mark Wahlberg, who turned in fine recent performances in movies like The Fighter and Lone Survivor, not to mention Boogie Nights, got Bay-ized into oblivion here.  He’s truly hideous in the movie but you try to make those lines work and then get back to me.

My favorite moment was during the act three action in China (Note: Why we are in China is a mystery, except it must have something to do with international financing).  At one point, a requisite Steve Jobs type character, who is stuck lugging what amounts to a mini nuclear bomb in what reads like like an elongated violin case, balks at a group of old ladies preventing him from passing and bellows:  How do you say get the fuck out of the way in Chinese?

Oh hey, I'm in this movie!

Oh hey, I’m in this movie!

This line does not simply please me so because it is uttered by Stanley Tucci, who plays the Job type and is part of my real life extended family.  It makes me happy because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to say to Michael Bay – in English – but unfortunately will never get to do so.  Unless, well, I just did.  (Note: In which case, be forewarned if I happen to fall upon any tragically sudden accident).

Saturday Night:

The Lego Movie

more than just shiny plastic?

more than just shiny plastic?

Expectations:  High, high, high.  Everyone seems to think it’s awesome!!

Venue: My upstairs TV room big screen with a brand new DVD since it’s not playing at a theatre and I waited too long to see one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

Outcome: I don’t get it.  And I didn’t like it.  What gives???

I sooo don’t get the appeal here.  Don’t hate me.  Okay, hate me if you must – I’m not changing my mind.  I can’t help but believe that the hype here is because of diminished expectations for wit and inventiveness during the first half of 2014 and  this simply happened to pass for something that could fill in the drought.

In case you were wondering, I’m a big fan of the Toy Story movies, really enjoyed Despicable Me and sang along to both Happy Feet and Frozen.  Oh, and I loved Ratatouille, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast  – if it counts for anything.

OK.. this too!

OK.. this too!

Fine, I’m done apologizing because I don’t have to.  I barely laughed through any of this and thought the characters especially simplistic and poorly drawn – in every way that implies.  And let’s talk about its ultimate theme – the reinforcement of the patriarchy.  Yes, I’m going there.  There’s a twist at the end of the second act that felt totally unnecessary and seemed determined to make something that up to that point was just sort of silly suddenly become a family movie with a message.

There is nothing wrong with a first act showing an average young worker drone Lego guy singing an original ditty called Everything Is Awesome as the film proceeds to show us how his assembly line life is anything but.  Yet somehow, as he Forest Gump’s his way into…well, I don’t want to give it away…the song replays and asks us to believe everything is indeed awesome because….uh….oh, what’s the difference?  It was about as simplistic and mundane as one expects a Lego movie everyone seems to love NOT to be.  And I got to watch it at home eating dessert.  Hmm, maybe this means I should leave the house.

I would like to attribute by extreme dislike to all that time I spent earlier in the day on Transformers 4.  Or maybe it was a case of inflated expectations – knowing full well everything I had read and heard about this experience indicated it was 100 minutes of unadulterated little pleasures.

Well, that’ll teach me to look forward to anything or to think even for one second I am still a kid at heart.  Bah, humbug.  Though this is exactly the kind of film I also would NOT have liked when I was 10 years old.  I was the kid who much preferred Mary Poppins.  And didn’t play with Legos.  Yeah, that could be it.  But I’d still take Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke over Will Ferrell and some animated pieces of plastic any day – because they were truly awesome.

Sunday Afternoon:

Jersey Boys

Got you under my skin

Got you under my skin

Expectations:  Middling – middlebrow.

Venue:  Writer’s Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, CA

OutcomeCouldn’t Take My Eyes Off Of It – see that’s a riff on a Frankie Valli tune and this is a biopic about him and the popular mega platinum singing group The Four Seasons in the 1960s.  Oh, never mind.

This film was so much fun – especially the first hour and 20 minutes.  So what if it then has the issue of almost every show business bio ever made.  And that issue is that once the uber talents become famous their personal demons – be it money, drugs, thug life, romance or family – are never as interesting as the purity of their exciting rise to the top with their newly discovered uber abilities.

None of this matters here because you get to listen to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ never-ending list of hits in an old-fashioned styled film whose pacing, cinematography and editing seem to exactly fit the time it’s portraying.  And unlike other movie musicals these days – say, uh, Nine or Chicago – it’s so nice to hear the songs sung by actors who are really singers as opposed to movie stars that can sort of get by without croaking out the words (Noteworthy example: Catherine Zeta-Jones – and yeah, I do know she won the Oscar – I still had to cover my ears at a few key moments in her “singing”).

Gurllll

Gurllll

Let it be said I had zero expectations for Jersey Boys going in.  I’d never seen the show and LOATHE movies where actors talk to the camera doing onscreen narration.  However, JB not only does all of the aforementioned but has multiple characters doing it multiple times.  Yet even that doesn’t matter because there is a certain suspension of belief in a musical set in the 1950s and 60s that allows you to get away with a lot more than that conceit.

Which begs the question of how an ultra liberal Chair like me watches a Clint Eastwood directed film without thinking about his infamous Chair performance at the Republican convention several years ago.  Well, I don’t think about it because I’m charmed by the film – it’s as simple as that.  Plus, I assume that people who are 30 plus years older than I am and grew up in a very different world are bound to differ with me politically.

Okay, and also it’s Clint.  Anyone who survives 50 plus years as an actor-director-producer in Hollywood and continues to consistently make more films than not that are worth seeing deserves our attention.  Because NO ONE else has.   Or is likely to.  Unless Warren Beatty decides to emerge soon from wherever he is or Robert Redford has a directing comeback 10 years from now.

OK you too.

OK you too.

Until then, leave the house to go see Jersey Boys.  Or leave the house and go see any movie you wouldn’t ordinarily go to anymore.  There’s a chance you might be surprised – and in a good way.  It just takes a little effort from us – and the filmmakers.

Hubris

icarus

Q:  What do you do when your real life exceeds your wildest fantasies?

A:  Keep it to yourself.

This is what comes to mind when I think of Seth MacFarlane as host of the Oscars.

By the way, the above is a quote from James L. Brooks’ very excerptable and very prescient screenplay for Broadcast News, an original script that was nominated for but did not win the Oscar in 1987 (that went to John Patrick Shanley’s more audience-pleasing Moonstruck).  Mr. Brooks’ dialogue was spoken by a somewhat empty-headed, pretty boy reporter (a much younger William Hurt) being groomed for network anchorman to a nowhere near as attractive veteran reporter (Albert Brooks, who incidentally now looks much better and younger than Mr. Hurt) being passed over for the job.  Imagine Seth MacFarlane 25 years from now, no longer well-groomed, svelte and hip but bald, pot-bellied and sallow-faced, talking to, say, a much older Seth Rogen, who right now could stand in for the young Albert Brooks and will likely look as good or better than the older Albert Brooks in two and a half decades, and you might get what I mean.

He has nice teeth.. I guess?

He has nice teeth.. I guess?

In any event, I have no idea if Mr. MacFarlane expected to one day be on the Oscar stage hosting but clearly it is reasonable to believe that two long-running, mega successful television series (Family Guy and American Dad) and one mega successful film (2012’s Ted) that one writes, creates, directs, voices and, by default, stars in before the age of 40, is enough karmic largesse to make any of us believe that this quote could certainly come up in conversation to categorize at least parts of his meteoric professional rise.  Well, if not in his mind, than in ours – or at least mine.   And that is the point.

Mr. MacFarlane’s belief in himself to the nth degree and beyond is what has made him wildly successful and popular and this is responsible for his crude, tacky and, to me, mostly unfunny stint as host of the 85th annual Oscars.  It’s not hard to imagine his very same frat boy type jokes about Star Trek, boobs, Chris Brown beating up Rihanna, and 9 year-old Quvenzhane Wallis one day dating George Clooney going over really well to a group of his bros in his parents’ basement, as one reviewer stated, without a peep of protest.  The trouble is, and the reason for the backlash despite a rise in the ratings (and it was only a 3% rise from last year – not the gargantuan one being bandied about), is that he’s performing to an audience of a billion people watching the Oscars.  And a lot of that core audience are not his bros – meaning, straight white guys of a certain age – but includes ladies with boobs.  And gay men – who mostly don’t think too much about Star Trek, don’t care much about ladies breasts (save, I guess, the representatives of the Gay Men’s Chorus who shared the stage with Mr. MacFarlane in a climactic moment of self-loathing irony during the boobs number), and are certainly protective over Rihanna and little diva in training QW.

Eh, not sure the audience was loving it either

Eh, not sure the audience was loving it either

Still, and perhaps rightfully, Mr. MacFarlane made a choice to be 1000% himself on Oscar night even though he was performing not in (his usual medium of) voice-over and animation and, depending on who you are, he may or may not have made the right call.  What is inarguable is that in making his choices for the evening he chose to indulge in the exact mindset that brought him and his comedy to the worldwide center stage in the first place. – hubris.

Hubris:  an excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

It takes a certain amount of hubris to succeed as any kind of creative artist in show business.  I mean, one big clue is the phrase itself – SHOW business, meaning half of your job is to SHOW who you are through what you do.  To SHOW it without hesitation, to SHOW it boldly, proudly and to anyone who chooses to look at it.  To SHOW it despite the naysayers and with unbridled confidence to the world at large even if you are insecure, nee dying, on the inside.  And even if you are and can’t hide it, you can at the very least SHOW THAT to your audience fully and endear people to you that way.

Seth (I feel as if all this pillaring of him allows me to call him that now) was like a giant id dancing around the stage on Oscar night.  Howard Stern on steroids.  But — do we want Howard Stern hosting the Oscars? (Oh, now don’t tell me he’s next year’s host?!)  This kind of act works great in animation or on the radio or occasionally on the stage in a book musical (see Book of Mormon).  But the Oscars are theoretically supposed to be about the movies.  Not a frat boys’ obsession with Captain Kirk or the boobies of ladies that you want to ogle.  Unless — they can be.  Which is what some (but not all) people are saying.  While the rest of us (okay, maybe just me) are saying:

Just because in your wildest fantasies you can do anything you want doesn’t mean you should do anything you want.  Just ask Mel Gibson and Chris Brown.  When some fantasies are beyond your wildest dreams, maybe there’s a reason you yourself didn’t think of them.

But hey, that could be just me.  In my own informal survey of about 40 of my college students aged 20-22, about 90% were perfectly fine with Seth, in fact they thought he was pretty fun.  This is also borne out by the ratings numbers – which did rise 11% in the key 18-49 demographic, a bottom line kind of thinking which could be all ABC and this year’s producers really cared about.  As for my students, primarily, it was the guys who were most enthusiastic but most of the gals didn’t seem to mind either.  This, however, did not sway me one bit.  Though it did make me feel a bit….well, out of the mainstream.  Which is how I’ve felt most of my life anyway.  And that’s absolutely, totally 1000% okay.  In fact, it’s actually great.  Which could also be my own form of hubris, albeit expressed in a different form.  After all, one person’s excessive pride or arrogance could be another one’s salute to their favorite body part of choice.  Which begs the question posed by Oscar presenter Jane Fonda post ceremony:  If you want to stoop to that, why not a list all the penises we’ve seen?

You can't argue with someone you looks THAT good

.. and you can’t argue with someone that looks THAT good

The night after the Oscars I moderated a panel where a different sort of hubris was the star – a more life-affirming positive kind.  This occurred when three successful graduates of our program – one director-writer, one writer-director and one younger screenwriter – spoke to our current students about their paths to whatever professional good fortune they were now enjoying.

The stories were all the same.  A larger than life and seemingly illogical belief in your ability to “succeed”, a fierce dedication to the kind of work that you wanted to do, and an almost inhuman amount of enthusiasm and good humor along the way that caused people to want to be around you.  These kinds of strategies brought one of our grads a seven-figure plus studio sale on a script she wrote – one of the hottest scripts on Hollywood’s Blacklist.  It brought another alumn numerous on-camera network commentator spots that exceeded his wildest fantasies because it was nothing he ever desired, plus the ability to direct what are now five feature films.  It also has given the third the opportunity to support himself as a paid screenwriter for 20 years, writing numerous studio assignments and taking time out to direct a few of his own independent features, all the while living a more traditional life of husband and father during that time.

The new secret to success?

The new secret to success?

As I sat and listened to their stories I thought about my own, and that of many of my friends in the business.  Times and technology have changed but the basic scenario hasn’t.  Belief in oneself despite what the world is telling you, an almost superhuman work ethic, and willingness to, at least at some point in your life, occasionally be the kind of person others want to be around.

I guess, in the end, it’s all sort of a form of hubris.  The decision to make is:  do you want to use your powers for good – or for evil?

Oscar Detox

OK boys.. back to storage!

OK boys.. back to storage!

Call me crazy (and many have), but jokes about Chris Brown and Rihanna, Jewish-controlled Hollywood and the breasts of famous actresses as sung by host Seth MacFarlane and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (that memorable ditty We Saw Your Boobsand no, I’m not kidding) are simply not funny.

Yes, we like to call this Oscar Detox.  And there will be more – a lot more – this weekend.

For now, let me point out some interesting factoids:

  1. This year’s Oscar show clocked in at 3 hours and 35 minutes  – only the sixth longest in history.  So then why did it feel longer than Lincoln with only a tenth of its intelligence?
  2. Approximately 10% of the 2013 Oscars was devoted to a 10 year old movie, Chicago, complete with a prerecorded musical warble by one of its stars and an elongated presentation of two 2013 awards by all of its stars.  Note:  It might be relevant that the producers of this year’s Oscars also produced Chicago.  Though it might not. (Not!)
  3. Somehow the live version of the cast of Les Miserables singing its big first act curtain song, One Day More, managed to be better than the totality of the entire film.  Concert tour, perhaps?  And —  how did they manage that???
  4. I was convinced I had 12 drinks too many when First Lady Michelle Obama and Jack Nicholson shared a virtual stage to present the winner of best picture to Argo.  If you would’ve asked me six months ago at this time if either one could possibly happen in my lifetime I would say no.  And, I would add – “That has as much chance of being on the Oscars as William Shatner dressed as Captain Kirk, making proclamations from the future!”

This all shows what I know.  Speaking of which – I hope no one bet the farm based on my predictions.  I got three of the four acting awards, the writing awards and best picture correct.  But I fell into the trap I warned you against – choosing Steven Spielberg as best director because I thought he deserved it over Ang Lee for Life of Pi, knowing full well the Academy was going to find a way to award the technical brilliance of Life of Pi.  Still, Ang Lee seems like a lovely man – so there is that. (Note:  Though not as lovely as Daniel Day-Lewis.  Who is not as lovely as Bradley Cooper).

Please, someone stop me.

Okay, I will leave that up to my loyal editor, Holly Van Buren, who will also grade me on the rest of my predictions.  This will hurt but I suppose I deserve it after a decade of giving grades, rather than being graded myself.  Though in case you were wondering — this year’s Oscar show grade: C- (And that’s only because they got Michelle Obama AND Adele).  My grade for this year’s host, myself, as well as much more?  Tune in this weekend.

And now, to quote Quentin: Peace out.

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Grading the Chair

The ever humble Chair was obviously reluctant to admit he did a phenomenal job predicting the seemingly unpredictable. He did, however, have one major misstep (which is, of course, not the fault of his trusty editor.. ahem). He missed a category! The Draconian grader inside of me wants to saddle him with a big, giant INCOMPLETE, but perhaps the years have softened me. After all, it was only Production Design, and what does a writer know about that anyhow? (I kid, of course, as this was clearly the result of the Academy snubbing the incredible production design of Disclosure  in 94, of which the Chair has long begrudged).

But back to the grades… The Chair comes in with a whopping 17 of 23 correct, approximately 74% correct. Now, in tradition of A-F grading, this would land him a weak C, but in the world of the Oscars, we all know there’s a curve. For a sweep in the ever-pool-busting short subject category, we add +5  points. And for correctly predicting both writing awards, and thus, maintaining his credibility in all respects (as if it were up to debate!), we add another +2, landing the Chair with a 91%… in other words, an A-

A rousing round of applause is due…

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Stay tuned for this weekend’s full Oscar coverage… including a plea for the safe return of Bruce Vilanch (who is holding him hostage?!)

Pop Culture Crack

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

The Oscars are the crack of pop culture.  And like any drug addict, we culture vultures out there have a love-hate relationship.  We love the idea of it but when we indulge too much we feel sick to our stomachs.  We fetishize everything about it – what it looks like, how it will feel when we get a good dose of it (because like any good vice, all you can remember is how great you felt the very first time you indulged and not how awful the last time), what the excitement will be like when we’re in the midst of all the cool friends we’ll get to hang out with when we are partaking, and how we’ll experience all the glamorous surroundings we’ll be able to live in for those few (or too many?) hours we are feeling its effects before being dropped back into the harsh realities of everyday life the next morning, suddenly feeling lousy and realizing we’ve once again participated in something that, in the long run, really isn’t good for us.

Am I exaggerating?  Well, as one of Will Ferrell’s most memorable characters once stated on Saturday Night Live: “Maybe I am and maybe…I am.”  But that doesn’t make it any less true.  Chances are if you’re still reading, you are a pop culture vulture, as addicted as I am, and will continue to be so.  The Oscars (no longer called the Academy Awards, per the announcement by this year’s producers, who decided the term sounded too musty) are just made (born?) that way no matter how disappointing, boring, over-the-top, inappropriate, endless or just plain bad they are in any given year.  And let’s face it, they’ve been all of that and more, year after year.  So let’s do what any self-respecting pop culture addicts do – give in and – INDULGE.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Think of this post in three sections – the television show; drinking game ideas (or merely soft drink/party games for those under 21); and my best attempt to give you some informed predictions so you can, at the very least, win the Oscar (NOT the Academy Awards) pool.

THE TELEVISION SHOW

It’s going to be a long one this year and it’s going to be very gay. Like even gayer than I am.   And that’s pretty gay.  But not as gay as this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of us.

What do I mean by gay? (And yes, of course I’m stereotyping – but only in a good gay way).  Well, one of the themes of the evening will be Oscar devoting itself to musicals.   No more movie music being relegated to a tacky medley of nominated songs or no medley at all.  Still don’t believe me?  Okay, here are a partial list of some of the singers: Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey (she sang the original Goldfinger for everyone under 30), Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the reunited cast of Chicago (because there’s been an outcry), as well as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the reunited cast of this year’s multi Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (because it’s been too long). Plus – there’s a singing host who the producers claim sounds “exactly like Sinatra” (their quote, not mine) named Seth MacFarlane, who will be closing out the evening in song with Broadway diva (divette?) Kristin Chenoweth in a specialty number that is being kept under close wraps.  What little information we do know is that this musical number will be sung AFTER the announcement of best picture – the usual close out moment of the evening.  Why do I say this is gay?  Because if there’s one thing about my tribe, it’s that when we throw the party we not only make our own rules but WE – NOT YOU – and certainly not TRADITION – decide when it’s over.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Okay, so then – why am I guessing it’ll be a long show?  Well, aside from the James Bond tribute, the salute to musicals, Seth MacFarlane’s monologue, the crew from the accounting firm that tabulates the written and, for the first time this year, online ballots, the In Memoriam segment, the backstage hosts, and the web shout outs, this year we have an unusually long list of famous people who have been announced to be participating on camera.

Among these are an all-star presenters list that includes but is not limited to: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon, the cast of The Avengers (that’s Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Walberg with his teddy bear Ted co-star Seth MacFarlane TED.  Plus last year’s acting winners – Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin, Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer.  Plus – and this is my favorite part – special appearances by Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe.  What’s a special appearance?  Tune in and be afraid, be very afraid..  But here’s my suggestion: food and drink, some blankets and some pillows and…some attitude.  Lots of it.

PARTY GAMES!

Another delightful indulgence

Another delightful indulgence

If you want to challenge your friends, relatives, enemies or professional rivals, here are some thoughts for possible moments during which you can raise a glass, a cup or a goblet.  Or wager a bet.

  1. The number of candid camera shots in the audience of the golden couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (this year’s Brad and Angie).  (Answer: 8?)
  2. Each time or total number of Meryl Streep references, jokes or shout outs.
  3. The number of times (or each time) Catherine Zeta-Jones sings off-tune in her musical number.  (Hopefully, there won’t just be one – number that is – I’m hoping for at least 3 clunkers).
  4. Ben Stiller appearances in a stupid costume (even though he’s not scheduled on the show I still don’t rule it out)
  5. One out-of-place star of an ABC television show who will sneak in as a presenter or participant in an over-the-top moment of network hubris.
  6. Longest standing ovation lasting longer than 30 seconds.  Or any standing ovation if you get particularly thirsty.
  7. Biggest surprise appearance with extra points (or drinks) for each decade of age or each decade of not having been in the public eye.
  8. Number of times Seth MacFarlane breaks into the voice of Family Guy’s Stewie, another animated character, or into song.
  9. Number of Harvey Weinstein jokes or thank-yous.  (And if the thank-you and joke are in the same moment then it only counts once).
  10. How many times, or each time, the camera catches the Tommy Lee Jones scowl. (I’m so hoping for the number 10).

Certainly, feel free to use your imagination in this section and add and subtract as you see fit.

PREDICTIONS

Blogging the Oscars!

Blogging the Oscars!

This is an imperfect science at best, even for veteran Oscar watchers like myself.  The trick is to not get sucked in by what you want to or perceive will win but to try to think like you are one big mass of Academy, uh Oscar voters.  That means you’re likely white, over fifty, somewhat liberal, somewhat opinionated, and a little personally petty but still idealistic enough to want to reward someone who makes you feel good by representing the best of humanity with their movies.  (Note:  You might even give the odd vote to a filmmaker who sends a political message as long as its not too overly threatening or out of the mainstream of cable news subject matter).

Rather than be coy like this year’s show we’re going to start with the most talked about awards and work our way down. There is logic in this since what will give you the edge in the pool is you getting the vote right in the “smaller” categories people know the least about.

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

1. Best PictureArgo (fuckyourself).  It’s won every guild award and the Oscar voters are also all individual guild members.

  My Personal Choice:  Silver Linings Playbook – I’m a softie and it’s really tough to do those kinds of movies and get them right.  Plus, I’m all for dramatic license but I can’t get past the idea of advertising a political film that says “based on true events” and then distorting facts in order to create a dramatic point.  It’s okay to condense situations or create a composite character – that’s dramatic license.   Blatantly changing facts to suit a dramatic need is a no-no.

2. Best Actor – Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln.  He has as much chance of losing as I do of winning in this category.

My Personal Choice:  Daniel Day-Lewis because it was a resurrection, not a performance.

3. Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a showy part in which she never overacts and where she shifts from drama to comedy and somewhere in between on a dime.  She is not going to get eclipsed by Emanuelle Riva in Amour or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty because I like my television and do not want to destroy it with a glass object on Oscar night.

My Personal Choice:  Jennifer Lawrence.  See Above.

3. Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.

Yes, we're talking to you.

Yes, we’re talking to you.

His studio ran a great campaign reminding voters that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar in many decades (see Meryl Streep Oscar campaign playbook of last year).  But more importantly, DeNiro gave an honest, raw and vulnerable portrait of an older man without making it treacly or obvious.  That’s why other actors practically genuflect in his presence and that’s why he will win.

My Personal Choice: Robert DeNiro. See Above.

4. Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables.  Let’s put it this way – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of Les Miz and there was about a minute’s worth of applause during the film after her song.  Enuf said.

My Personal Choice:  Don’t hate me – Anne Hathaway.  You try singing that song and making it something we’ve never heard sung before

5.  Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.  This is the toughest category.  I was about to write in Ang Lee for Life of Pi because a. there’s been a groundswell of support these last few weeks and b. Pi breaks new ground technologically.  But something tells me Oscar voters, many of them mainstream Hollywood types, really do want to reward Steven for helping to keep the industry afloat.  Plus, even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the movie is a bit of a kiss off from liberal America to Congressional gridlock coupled with a warm embrace to a president who tries to reach beyond Washington, D.C. directly to the people.

My Personal Choice:  David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s not his year but it’s the film with the most inherent booby traps by which a director can go terribly wrong.  And he didn’t fall into any of them.  In fact, he ran with them and created something quite unique – a feel good movie that isn’t cliché.  Try it some time.

6. Animated Feature FilmWreck It Ralph.  The Academy isn’t hip but the video game patina, the reviews and the general feeling that it IS the best animated film of the year will buoy Ralph to victory.  Brave is a close second.

My Personal Choice:  Paranorman.  Not because it is the best but because I WAS (am?) PARANORMAN.

7. Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi.  For filming what everyone in the industry thought was the unfilmmable.  And for giving a boost to the art of 3-D.

My Personal Choice: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained.  He’s won three Oscars and is one of the best that’s ever been in the business.  He brought a beauty and ugliness to the Old West and the Civil War era and did it without a lot of trickery.  I like that.

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stoll out..

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stroll out..

8. Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina.  It’s won almost everything in this category elsewhere.  Personally, I thought the clothes were a little overindulged, like the rest of the film.  Clearly, I’m a philistine.

  My Personal Choice:  Joanna Johnston, Lincoln.  The clothes reflected the characters and felt real.  I can’t imagine making Lincoln’s stovepipe hat not seem like a prop.

9. Documentary Feature – The Gatekeepers.  I watched ALL of the documentaries and, truly, any one is worthy of the win.  An exceptional group.  The majority opinion is on the seemingly unbelievable but true story of a once lost and now found singer in Searching for Sugarman.  But there is something about watching the various former heads of the Israeli CIA talk about the real and ongoing history of war, torture, espionage and the like that has international resonance for today.  Plus, Academy voters seldom pass up anything that has to do with this part of the world.

   My Personal Choice:  A tough one but…The Gatekeepers

10. Documentary Short SubjectInocente. I know the least about this category because I haven’t seen the nominees.  But awarding a good short on immigration seems timely and prognosticators seem to give this one the edge.

My Personal Choice – I’m blindfolded.  Don’t make me choose.

11. Film Editing – William Goldenberg – Argo – I guess it’s about the final escape sequence that didn’t really happen.  The America/John Wayne type thing and all that.  Or perhaps the opening documentary-like footage in the Middle East crosscut with Washington, DC.  But this looks like a sure winner.

My Personal Choice:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty.  Re-creating the capture of Osama Bin-Laden and not making it rah-rah glossy.  They deserve an award for that.

12. Foreign FilmAmour.  Ever go to a party where everyone had a meaningful or great time and you were just bored?  That’s me at Amour.  Don’t hate me.  I do have a soul.  Just not during those two hours.  I don’t get the hoopla but hoopla, in this case, is inescapable.  Meaning, take the bet.

My Personal Choice: Anything but A.

13. Makeup and Hairstyling – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables.  So many rags, so many dirty faces, so many close-ups.  The Academy loves this movie and, as a group, know so little about hair and makeup that doesn’t make you look good.  Therefore, they will be very impressed.

Although I'm sure that's how Helena showed up to work that day...

Although I’m sure that’s how Helena showed up to work that day…

My Personal Choice:  24/7 personal hair and makeup for moi.  More hair than makeup.

14. Original Score –   Mychael Danna, Life of Pi.  Certainly the most original score.  And it’s the only score people keep talking about.  It is close to a certainty.

My Personal Choice:  To listen to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (which didn’t get any music nominations) on a loop instead.

15. Original Song – Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, Skyfall. It’s ADELE.  Please!!!

My Personal Choice:  You’re not serious, are you?

The ultimate Bond girl.

The ultimate Bond girl.

16. Animated Short FilmPaperman, John Kars.  Boy meets girl thanks to a piece of paper.  It’s sweet, clever and lovely.  And the best in the category (where I’ve again seen all the nominees) by a lot.

My Personal ChoicePaperman – It’s a writer thing.

17. Live Action Short FilmAsad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura.  Another difficult category in which I have seen all five nominees.  At first this story of a young boy trying to survive the perils and poverty in Somalia felt earnest but derivative.  But as it went on it turned expectation and convention on its ear and delivered in a light-handed yet very meaningful way.  It feels like something the voters will want to reward.  Close second would be Buzkashi Boys – a more heavy-handed young boy coming-of-age story in Afghanistan.

     My Personal ChoiceCurfew, Shawn Christensen.  He made the kind of short I’d like to make and did it with an unexpected dance, a lack of post-modern irony and without backing away from very real human drama.  Bravo.

18. Sound Editing – Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi.  It’s not easy to figure out the right balance of animal sounds, the ocean, the jungle, and a lot of voice-over narration.  But Argo, Les Miz, Lincoln and Skyfall were all very tough challenges.

My personal choice:  I’m unqualified to choose.  Okay, Life of Pi.

19. Sound Mixing – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables.  It won the Guild awards and when the Oscar voters hear sound mix the obvious thought is – vote musical.

My personal choice:  Same as above.  In this case only, I am no smarter than an Oscar voter.

20. Visual Effects – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi.  The perception is that this is what this film is primarily about.  It will win.  The end.

     My Personal Choice:  I’ll bite – Life of Pi

Note:  I have saved the writing categories – my favorites – for the finale.

21. Adapted Screenplay – You don’t know how much I DON’T want to write this.

Though I'd love to sit in on that development meeting..

Though I’d love to sit in on that development meeting..

Chris Terrio, Argo.  It wasn’t a bad film but I don’t get the outpouring.  Does Hollywood love seeing itself cast as the heroes?  Are Americans in general just hungry to see something, anything good portrayed about US foreign policy?  Has Ben Affleck, or at least his work, seduced more people than he himself has done personally?  Probably all of the above.  But this does not explain why a screenplay that condenses and fictionalizes numerous events, and to my mind has A LOT of lagging moments that feel written, especially in the first half, has become the critical darling of so many.  As for Academy members – writing awards unfortunately can sometimes be seen as big consolation prizes.  Even though Ben didn’t write Argo, it’ll be yet another olive branch to him.  (Note:  I still think his movie Gone Baby Gone is terrific – AND his best).

My Personal Choice:  Hmmm – can I vote for both David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner, Lincoln?  No?  Damn.  Okay – I have to go with Mr. Russell for being real, clever, dramatic and a bit Hollywood all in one.  Mr. Kushner did a Herculean job on an impossible task.  How do you tell a microcosm story of Lincoln in two and a half hours?  By playing a bit with the facts – maybe a bit too much in the climactic vote scene.  Hence my vote for Russell.

22. Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained.  The key word is ORIGINAL.  He didn’t win for Inglorious Bastards.  Mark Boal did win for The Hurt Locker so voters probably won’t be swayed this time by his work on Zero Dark Thirty.  And if Michael Haneke wins here for his script of Amour, that’s the sound of my flat screen crashing out the window that you’ll hear.

  My Personal Choice:  Django, mother-f-ker.

Cage Match

chaplin-boxing

I have evolved to the point where I don’t automatically think in terms of winners and losers on any particular issue.  This, however, has taken a lifetime.  After all, I’ve always loved games, my Dad is a gambler and – most importantly – I am an American. 

The Inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States this week prompted some reflection – and not just about wardrobe and spectacle.

Truth be told — there is something about living in the United States that will make you competitive on certain specific personal issues of choice.  Otherwise, our country as a whole, and more specifically Las Vegas and my Dad, would never have been able to make any money over the years. (Note: Both have done quite well on and off and continue to thrive even at all of their ripe old ages).  Maybe it’s that we are a tough, relatively young country (despite our age) that started as a brash insurgent who dared to shove their nose up at Royalty.  Or perhaps it’s that we as a people (including my gambling Dad) only motivate ourselves to make the all-important knockout punch when it’s clear that we will lose everything if we don’t.   Most probably, it’s because like most animals we can’t resist a good blood sport. Vegas, Baby!

Giving in to our most base instincts was pretty easy this week.  The world was a cage match where the loser got bloodied and grinded into tiny little pieces while the winner ended up taking a victory lap with a smile, arms metaphorically raised in the air.  Yes, it’s true.  And you know you love it. This is still America so you can be the judge this week.  But here at notes from a chair we’ve already called the winners which, in some ways, is also uniquely American…isn’t it?

HILLARY VS THE MIDDLE-AGED (AND OVER) WHITE MEN

url

srsly boys?

Oh, guys, when will you learn?  In 2012, Hillary Clinton was voted the most admired woman in not only the U.S. but the WORLD, and you are clearly on the downswing somewhere between the model of the Delorean car NOT used in the Back to the Future movies and canned spam.  So why, why, why do you insist taking on this fight and trying to shame Sec. of State Clinton in a televised worldwide Congressional hearing by blaming her for the deaths of four Americans in the foreign service in Benghazi last year?  Because you could?  Well, you couldn’t.

Armed with a head full of undisputedly salient facts even after a severe concussion two weeks ago, Sec. Clinton spoke articulately, combatively and most importantly, smartly for more than seven (count ‘em!) hours to any number of hostile Senators seemingly bent on her destruction.  Yet she managed to destroy them through sheer passion, emotion and brainpower, simplifying but never dumbing down the extremely dangerous and complicated physical and political challenges we face in the Middle East.  We would like to say it felt a lot like what one former president she happens to be married to did with our quagmire of economic issues at the 2012 Democratic convention but this would be taking away credit from the current cage match at hand where the secretary of state was in a box all alone facing a whole new set of hostile opponents that kept on coming.

Lesson:  The average man might be physically bigger and stronger than the average woman and Sen. Rand Paul might want to proclaim publicly that if he were president he would have relieved Mrs. Clinton of her duties.  But there was no whiff of anything presidential about Rand Paul and certainly there was nothing at all average about Hillary Clinton or her appearance before them.

Right in the gut

Right in the gut

Decision: KNOCKOUT HILLARY (2016).

BEYONCEGATE: MRS. JAY-Z VS. THE TEXAS TORNADO

Oh say can you ... sing?

Oh say can you … sing?

Beyonce appeared live and sang The Star Spangled Banner at the inauguration this week but at this writing there is some (well, a lot of) doubt as to whether Beyonce actually sang live at the inauguration this week.  One fact no one disputes – Kelly Clarkson sang a rousing rendition of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) that so completely soared into the musical stratosphere that usually verbose NY Senator Chuck Schumer could only react afterwards with this single word – “Wow.”

Why is this important?  Well, certainly it’s not important in the way global warming, world peace and the Oscars are (obviously).  But it is relevant.  Other than a great credit rating, what often seems to be lacking in the US these days is authenticity, and Beyoncegate, (i.e. was she or wasn’t she lip-synching) is as good example as any of the public being sold a bill of goods that through slick, beautiful and clever show business-like deception is not quite what it’s touted to be.  Uh yeah, that’s right.  Put a ring on it.

If we’re being told Beyonce will sing the National Anthem then the clear inference is that it is Beyonce actually SINGING the National Anthem live.  Otherwise, we can go home and listen to one of her recordings or stare at her in the flesh at a party.  Don’t get all cute on us and say she was singing and she was there – she just wasn’t live singing.  You know it’s not the same thing.  And don’t use the excuse that it was cold outside on inauguration morning and singers don’t do well in the cold.  I mean, would any of us love her any less if she hit a thin or even bum note?  I don’t think so.   Plus, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson (who is younger than Beyo) sang live.  As did Aretha Franklin (who is older than both Beyonce and Kelly combined) four years earlier at Obama Inauguration #1.

Ms. Clarkson’s rendition of America started out with a few thin notes and wasn’t perfect.  But it was the imperfection at the beginning and the mounting drama of the musical moments through the song to the end that made her performance such a wow.  We don’t really want a live performance to be as musically perfect as a recording if it’s going to sound exactly the same.  We’re there because we want some drama, some danger, some thrill of some sweat.  And no, the diva flourish of Beyonce yanking her earpiece from her head did not count in the same way as the huge smile on Kelly Clarkson’s face after she hit the high notes on the final verse of that song that even she doubted in the moment she could get to.

DECISION: TKO KELLY CLARKSON

THE 60s OR the 20 TEENS??

Oh.. hello Jon.

Oh.. hello Jon.

I started teaching a new group of screenwriting students who pitched their script ideas this week and I’m here to report that out of a total of 23 students in two different classes 7 proposed scripts that are set in the 1960s.

That comes out to roughly – 30% or close to one-third.

Luckily, there were none that took place in the eighties because as I continue to emphasize to students or anyone else that will listen that decade goes down as the ABSOLUTE WORST in history.  Greed, avarice, AIDS, big hair, horrible clothes and television shows like “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch” and “The A Team.”  Plus, I’m itching to drop one name in presidential politics but in the interest of staying on topic I am going to REAGAN reign myself in.

The sixties, however, were a different time.  Certainly there were so many awful moments – the fight for civil rights, the escalation of an endless war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy AND Martin Luther King.  Plus, there was even Richard Nixon to top off the decade.

However, what there also was plenty of was old-fashioned hope and a belief on the part of the young that if they worked and shouted hard enough the world could, indeed, become a better place.

I think that’s a large part of why today’s young people and many of the rest of us are still dazzled by the sixties.  That and the music.  And the sex.  And the drugs.  And the rock ‘n roll.   I am mature enough to guide them through all of that, having lived through those times myself.  But in doing so in the next few months I don’t think I can stop myself from asking if what was being fought for back then is being lived up to in its fullest right now.   The answer may lie in the upcoming Coen Bros. movie but, elusive guys that they are, I somehow doubt it.

DECISION: SPLIT

 

REPLICANT SETH TAKES ON THE OSCARS

Here is one of the new ads the Motion Picture Academy has just released for this year’s Oscars.

Seth-bot

Seth-bot

So – am I the only one who thinks this looks as if a replicant is the 2013 Oscar host and that the Oscars are so afraid of IT that they allowed IT to have ITS name get star billing above them?

The picture of the replicant is very funnyman Seth McFarlane and in this “air brushed within an inch of its life” photo he appears to be starring in a new remake of The Stepford Wives entitled Planet Stepford Men and the Audiences Who Must Love Him.  This is to say nothing of Oscar allowing said host, who most Oscar watchers barely know (let’s face it), get above-the-title star billing over a trademark that is one of the most recognizable in the entire over-developed world.

Clearly, the reason for this new “branding” is a merging between the old and the new.  The Oscars are old and Seth McFarlane represents everything young and hip, especially when he wears a tuxedo and clutches a gold statuette as if it’s a microphone he’s ready to sing a set of Frank Sinatra songs into.

Oh Academy, Academy, Academy.  Watch the tape of poor Anne Hathaway hosting with another young replicant James Franco.  Then, watch it again.  Now, once more.  Then consider — just because the artwork has already gone out on this one doesn’t mean it isn’t too late to rethink, regroup and refocus.  You do have Adele and half a billion potential viewers to work with.  You might also want to add some MOVIE stars while you’re at it.  Real ones.

Hold me

Hold me

DECISION: THIS ROUND SETH, FIGHT STILL IN PROGRESS 

BOEHNER & CO. VS. MICHELLE OBAMA & EVERY OTHER FIRST LADY IN YOUR LIFE 

Quite a trio

Quite a trio

“..We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall…” – Barack Obama, 2012

The idea is that the equal rights struggle of women, Blacks and gays is really the same struggle elucidated in the U.S. Constitution – that all the “Men” who “are created Equal” includes them and all other human beings.  That’s why it was particularly disconcerting to see Speaker of the House John Boehner this week voluntarily putting himself into the ring with two fights, one small and one big, he could never win.

The small one is the fun one and features the classic Michelle Obama eye roll that has now become a popular gif.

Just roll with it

Just roll with it

Apparently, that was in reaction to some joke told by Boehner about Pres. Obama smoking a cigarette after his speech (despite the First Lady’s well known desire to have the president quit for good) as Mrs. O was eating a salad while seated next to Boehner.   Okay – so Boehner doesn’t have the timing of Henny Youngman.  Or even John Mulaney.  And one presumes he was nervous because he didn’t ask to sit next to Mrs. Obama.  Or vice-versa.  Let’s count that a gimme.

But the second was the one where he announced publicly in front of thousands at the National Mall on Friday that he isn’t going to rest until he helps “make abortion a relic of the past” – which one can only take at his word to mean that no woman, no how will ever be able to get an abortion, even a young woman who is raped or that if an abortion is made available for that rare exception it will be seen as an immoral anomaly to a societal pariah.   Those remarks and statements like “let that be one of our most fundamental goals of the year” – that would be 2013 – were made at an event billed as a March for Life rally, one at which he delivered the take-away speech.

One supposes the Speaker is entitled to his opinion even if it runs counter to the vast majority of American women just as he is allowed to tell any type of joke he likes to any female, or male for that matter, of his choosing.  But if you were a betting person like my Dad, who would you like to wager on – the middle-aged white guy with the perpetual tan or the majority of American females, the ones now very well represented in Washington, DC by the likes of Hillary Clinton?

DECISION: YOUR FIRST LADY (and those of all ages) because they usually know best.

Oscar: The Family Guy?

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I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan.  But watching him inject Family Guy type humor into his live announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees reminded me of those great Spanish-style California houses that some idiot nouveau-riche person buys and insists on redecorating with sleek, incessantly modern furniture.  No matter how much money they spend or how stylishly they or their decorator try to pull it off, it never looks right.  It’s like the 30-year-old suit you try to reconstruct to today’s styles.  Or the too expensive sweater that never fit correctly that you’re hoping to repurpose.  Or Mick Jagger or Madonna in 2012.

I don’t know that I want to hear jokes about any female Oscar nominee pretending to be physically attracted to Harvey Weinstein before at least noon (or ever).  Nor do I think any of us cares about how Seth feels about getting up so early to tell these jokes on Oscar nomination morning (or any particular morning). All we really care about is – who has a chance to win and who didn’t make the cut – and not necessarily in that order.  Note:  See, I can be bitchy, too.  Second Note:  Seth is actually the first Oscar host to get up this early in 40 years to announce the nominees so, in reality, he could have slept in and nobody would have noticed.  Or complained.

My real Oscar feelings...

My real Oscar feelings…

One fears after giving way to a couple of more traditional Oscar ceremonies (or is it television shows?) we’re right back to an attempt at the younger, hipper Anne Hathaway/James Franco Oscars with the twist being both of their voices will emanate from the same person.  Well, they got a great voice guy so maybe this is indeed the plan.  In fact, wait – when you think about it McFarlane is sort of a combination of Hathaway and Franco.  He can unexpectedly sing yet he also says inappropriate things while smugly hanging back pretending he never really said or did anything at all.   Hmmm — at the very least this could save the Academy money.

As for the awards themselves, here’s the thing.  They mean nothing and yet, they mean everything.   The nothing explanation is the easiest:  the Oscars are basically not much more than a high school popularity contest judged mostly by senior faculty.  The film business is a big version of a small town election where the locals have their favorites yet are somewhat open to new kids in town because they know in their heart of hearts they should be – within reason.  Whose reason?  Well, the reasoning of the senior faculty.  Keyword here – senior.  Which is why you don’t see a best picture, director or writing nomination this year for The Master and why you do see lots of nods for Amour, Lincoln, The Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables (Yes, I know Les Miz’s director Tom Hooper didn’t get nominated but his nomination and very generous win for The King’s Speech several years ago has him covered for at least a decade, don’t you think?).

Oh, of course this is all a matter of opinion!  And mine is as good as any.  Besides, you don’t think there is some universal standard to measure all of this by, do you?

Which brings us to why the Oscars mean everything.  There are probably a realistic  .005% of people who make films who have ZERO desire to win an Academy Award.  The rest fall somewhere between “it would be nice” and “I have a knife, I know how to stab, now point me in the direction of the backs I need to clear out of my way in order to get on that stage.”  I’m not saying this is a quote from Harvey Weinstein and I’m not saying this isn’t a quote from Harvey Weinstein.  I’m just sayin’.

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Don’t try and be cute, Harvey, we know the truth.

To say that Oscars are an iconic representation of excellence is, perhaps, to sell them a bit short.  Not that they are un-iconic and not that they don’t measure some degree of excellence.  But they are much, much more than that.  They are an imprint from childhood. They are a symbol of glitz and glamour. They are bragging rights to a club known round the world (and probably beyond if such a thing exists). They are a line in a bio that can’t be topped by any other recognition an industry has to offer (the Nobel Peace Prize – please!!!) and they are a guarantee that your obituary will not be ignored by any reputable newspaper for all of eternity (or for as long as newspapers exist, which might not be too long, so you’d better get to work and win one pretty soon if this is what floats your boat).

Sacred is probably too precious a term for the surprisingly heavy yet compact gold statuette.  Rarefied, perhaps?  Hmmm – definition please?

rar·e·fied

  1. (of air, esp that of high altitudes) Containing less oxygen than usual.

  2. Esoterically distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people.  “rarefied rituals.”

A rare beast

A rare beast

Yeah, that’s about right.  Those that seek to make the Oscars over into the current or most popular of contemporary images or shows are missing the entire point of the whole thing.  At their best, the Oscars are not about young and hip –  they are about timeless and a bit untouchable.  That’s the entertainment value.  That’s the pull.  I mean, has no one at this year’s ceremony ever watched Dynasty, Dallas or even…Revenge?  Okay, perhaps there hasn’t been enough of the timelessness and untouchableness we all long for lately but to many of us (okay, me) that was always the intrigue and that was always the point.  You can do tweaks, you can be a tad self-deprecating.  But I don’t want to take my classy aunt to a kegger nor do I want to watch her reaction from the audience as she’s forced to watch the help try too hard to entertain her or, worse yet, try to incompetently to pull center stage from her.  Though if my aunt were as adept at double takes and sassy retorts as Maggie Smith (former Oscar winner) on Downton Abbey this might be well worth considering.

I don’t blame Seth for any of this.  He is who he is.  Plus, it’s tough to turn down Oscar when he knocks on your door – especially if you’ve NEVER dated him.  Remember – Marlon Brando had both won the best actor Oscar (for 1954’s On The Waterfront) and had attended the ceremonies before he sent up Sacheen Littlefeather onstage to publicly to refuse his second Oscar for The Godfather in 1973.

No, I think that what we all long for these days is a little bit of…dare I say it…okay….class?  Or is it…glamour?  Or maybe…24-karat gold fun?  This is not to be confused with snobbery or stuffiness.  We have any number of international royal families to choose from for that.  But just as I don’t expect anyone to stick a Whoopee Cushion on top of the Queen’s Throne at her Golden Jubilee, I similarly don’t expect to hear Austria/Germany Hitler jokes at the announcement of the Academy Award nominations from a trying-too-hard to be hip and groovy and edgy host. (Uh yeah, that joke is right after the announcement of the foreign film nominees).

Now, I don’t think that’s too much to ask —  do you?  Or, Do you?

Finally, you can’t do a blog on the Oscar nominations without going out on a limb and early predicting who or what will win some of the major awards.  So, for what it’s worth, here it is.   Note: As a lifetime Oscar watcher I know a lot but realize I am often wrong on waaay too many of these categories.  Still, will that stop me from sharing it with you?  As this year’s Oscar host might actually say from the stage at the actual ceremonies themselves (drinking game, anyone?), “hell to the no!”

Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress:  Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Foreign Film: Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner, Lincoln

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke, Amour

See you at online live-blogging the ceremonies.  Unless I am assassinated first.