To Post or Not To Post

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I can’t even…

This is millennial talk for phrases and feelings like:

  • If you talk about that one more time I’ll kill you or kill myself.
  • I can’t stand IT anymore. IT can refer to anything large or small you can’t deal with on a given day. For instance: Please stop talking about that cake! (Vintage Lily Tomlin – look it up – or better yet, click here)

And finally:

  • I WILL NOT deal with you, this situation or this subject one more time. And if YOU, or IT or the WORLD as it is right now persists in this way for one more second…

ill_kill_you_office

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? In reality, what exactly are you, or I, or the collective WE going to do??? About reality???

I listened to a piece on NPR this week where a female journalist talked about the mass anxiety Americans are feeling about the upcoming presidential elections and how large a part social media is playing in exacerbating the symptoms.

Because it’s NPR and somewhat solution-oriented via an alternating avalanche of often times fascinating and sometimes overly dry information, much was discussed about what the average overwrought, overanxious and over stimulated citizen could do to counteract all the…tension.

Among the suggestions were:

1. Escape all wireless communication for at least an hour each day. For instance, said journalist related that at least four or five times a week she walked an hour on the beach alone with her dog and without her iPhone.

you know.. before I go for that walk.

you know.. before I go for that walk.

2. Before posting news stories or opinions or both about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or on any other political or social issue of the day on social media, stop yourself and ask –Is this absolutely necessary? Do I really need to say this? Perhaps I don’t want to go so far out of my way to fuel or start an argument.

RESIST!!!

RESIST!!!

3.  Consider the ways you can avoid listening to or engaging in political or social issue discourse with those whose views differ substantially from your own. For instance, it was offered that if you click on the right on your Facebook feed there is an option to unfollow someone. This means you will not see anything at all that your friend posts but that he or she (your friend) will never know you’ve chosen to ignore them. Thus the stress of an argument can be avoided and you’ve beaten the far more nuclear option of defriending unfriending – social media’s version of telling a person that yes, you and/or your views are just that odious and/or inconsequential to me that I just can’t with you anymore.

Get on this Zuckerberg. #hurry

Get on this Zuckerberg. #hurry

Much as I love and adore and respect journalists – both male and female – not to mention NPR – here’s the problem with their theories and suggestions.

The correct response to where the country and we as Americans are right now is not – I CAN’T ANYMORE.

The correct response to where we Americans and OUR country is now is – I MUST AS MUCH AS I CAN AND I WILL RIGHT NOW.

The time is.... well, you know!

The time is…. well, you know!

Is this ALL too upsetting and eating into your day? Wow. Imagine what it felt like in 1774, 5 and 6 if you lived in one of the original 13 colonies and were about to declare war on an empire as large as all of Europe in comparison to the land you owned at the time? Not to mention no electricity, running water or Beyonce. Or even the possibility of her. Yes, you know what I mean.

Anyone who reads notesfromachair or even vaguely knows me is very aware I’m a liberal Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter. I make no effort to hide it and, in fact, am proudly vocal about it. But what you might not know is that I listen to Donald Trump and read what he says very carefully. I also listen to what his supporters and surrogates say on air and in print pretty consistently. Yes, sometimes I want to throw the TV over or burn the newspaper but I figure it’s my obligation to listen and read if I’m going to speak about these subjects. Even if I decide not to speak, it’s my responsibility as a voter.

Ok now he's just baiting me!

Ok now he’s just baiting me!

So here’s a snippet of what Donald Trump bellowed just a few days ago before a crowd in Ohio of thousands of supporters screaming lock her up, fists raised in the air. 

THIS IS A MOMENT OF RECKONING FOR OUR SOCIETY..AND OURSELVES. AND I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN FIX IT.

Here’s a Trump supporter and his friend in Virginia this past week, firearms exposed at their hips, standing outside for 12 HOURS into the campaign headquarters of Jane Dittmar, the female Democratic candidate for Congress who supports Hillary Clinton, as they stared menacingly into the window inside.

Real winners these two. #godhelpus #god?

Real winners these two. #godhelpus #god?

And now look at the T-shirt worn by a family man at a Trump rally – on his feet in Pennsylvania cheering his choice for president right beside his wife and three kids.

@#)#$*%&@!!!

@#)#$*%&@!!!

These are three reasons among many I can’t stand in support of the current non-engagement meme. And no, these are not outliers. This is business as usual at his festivities. I’ve been listening. And watching. All along.

Though I agree with Trump and his followers on absolutely nothing perhaps the one area we are vaguely at least on the same planet is the idea that we, as a nation, have gotten a bit…well, soft. Because since when is an argument a bad thing when you’re fighting for your collective soul? How is it that intellectual engagement and criticism and facts have become the enemy? When did it become more than acceptable to degrade and insult people based on their sex, appearance, skin color or orientation without being called out for it? And in what reality did it become too “politically correct” to consistently and categorically challenge people on their rudeness and inhumanity? From either side?   Family, friends or even non-followers.

3uif0d

OK well I didn’t say I always do it in the most effective way

What country are we in, anyway? I don’t get it. When did we become so complacent in the eye of an Orange sh-t show. It’s exactly when the dung hits the fan that you need to step up and fight. Not wait until you’ve drowned in a cesspool of your own isolation and indifference. Just what IS more pressing for the future of the WORLD than the election of the next US president in the next 28 days? Your shopping list? Your dentist appointment? The 30,000 mile checkup on your car? Your kid’s Halloween costume? Sorry, sit this one out and every day could be Halloween. And you might be locked up for not celebrating it in exactly the way the Great Orange Pumpkin dictates. Daily. Do you really want to be required to have a six foot gold gilt Jack-O-Lantern in your window or suspended from the flagpole on the Capitol steps reading Drumpf? And no, I’m only HALF-kidding.

Of course, those are just my views. Feel free to disagree. Or unfriend/unfollow me. I’d rather be aware of what I’m up against than be killed with indifference or a faux phony kindness. Or just be killed. For speaking out. You think it can’t happen. Lie back, do nothing and just wait until they’re wearing T-shirts about you, armed to the teeth and staring into your collective windows. Yes, I’m using the collective you. But only just barely.

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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.

Shakespeare meets Kim Kardashian

Are you writing your life story or letting someone else write it for you? What happens when what you want to do runs counter to every logical action you should be taking – at least according to those around you?  Do you follow your inner voice; ignore it’s/your profound urges; or forge a compromise somewhere in between?

That question came to mind after watching the movie “Anonymous” this weekend.

For the 99% of you who haven’t yet seen this movie and will no doubt EVER see it –

“Anonymous” asks the burning 2011 question – did Shakespeare really write all of his own plays and sonnets or was it someone else?   Perhaps accounting for its grosses, the very 2011 answer to this question is:

WHO GIVES A RAT’S ASS! I CAN’T GET A JOB; I’M BROKE; I’M NOT DOING WHAT I WANT IN LIFE; I HATE MY JOB; MY LACK OF LOVE LIFE OR PRESENT LOVER/MATE/HOOK UP STINKS; THE WORLD IS GOING INTO THE CRAPPER SO WHY BOTHER WITH ANYTHYING; AND TO TOP IT OFF KIM KARSDAHSIAN GOT PAID $17 MILLION (despite what her Mama says) TO GET MARRIED ON TV AND HAS FAME, FORTUNE AND UNLIMITED MILES TO EVERY AIRLINES AND NOW GETS WHAT LOOKS LIKE A PRETTY CLEAN, SCOTT FREE DIVORCE SO WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT SOME QUILL PUSHER FROM 400 YEARS AGO WHO WROTE PLAYS THAT I NEVER UNDERSTOOD ANYWAY AND ALWAYS MADE ME FEEL STUPID!?

Uh, okay.  Point taken.  But still —

Here’s the thing —   It’s not really about whether you think this movie, or any movie, TV show, play or web site, is good or bad or indifferent.  It’s really, “can this make me laugh, cry or, perish the thought, think?”  “Anonymous” has made a lot of purists of the literary theatrical world angry about issues that matter to them.   They don’t fancy that some uppity TV writer (screenwriter John Orloff, best known for “Band of Brothers”) is telling the world that a nobleman named the Earl of Oxford wrote all those plays instead of an uneducated former actor (Shakespeare) who also did odd working class jobs before he could support himself with his art.  They think the issue of this movie is whether Shakespeare did indeed write all of that stuff.

I don't even know who you are anymore!

Quite simply – they’re wrong.  As wrong as the rest of us who don’t really want to see films anymore about subjects that, on the surface, don’t lead with our obvious interests.   (Me included – though I did see “Real Steal” and had a fun time!).   What the movie/story of “Anonymous” IS really asking us is this: What happens when you don’t following your heart and are stuck living a life that is dictated by other people?  What the movie “Anonymous” poses is that the REAL Shakespeare was really this educated guy named the Earl of Oxford who was not SUPPOSED to be a writer but live in a respectable way because of what his FAMILY and PEERS expected him to be.  But all the Earl feels passionate about is his WRITING (They called it being a “poet” in those days).  But instead of facing them (family and friends) head on, this RICH KID tried to have it both ways (never a good idea) and be extra crafty.  So he wrote and wrote and wrote anonymously and when he was ready and older (and way less happy) with a huge output of work, he hired a younger guy (Shakespeare) to pass himself off as the public author of all the Earl’s writings so the Earl could continue his anonymous life as a nobleman with the satisfaction that what he wanted to say to the world (and there were a lot of “screw you’s in his plays”) would finally get out there and he could still be “RESPECTABLE” (or be hidden).

Recipe for disaster?  Well, uh, yeah.  As we really know in 2011, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (calling Herman Cain?  Maybe even the Kardashians) because any time you try to live a little bit of a lie or do things for the wrong reasons it just gets worse and worse for you until you end up with, well, living and dying on the twisted end of fame – hounded by the very forces you once were convinced were your “lovers” or even friends.

Number 9 looks just like you

Spoiler: It doesn’t end well for the Earl of Oxford.  So the real 2011 question is – what do we learn from his story?   No – the answer is not don’t make a serious costume drama in 2011 and expect today’s Kardashian-bent moviegoers to attend, even though I’d be hard pressed to mark that answer wrong on a multiple choice test.  Nor is it – I don’t want to be a writer or anything in the arts so I don’t care.  It is – I’m going to have to take my shot; make my mistakes; because in the end at least I’ll know they’re mine.  That alone has to be better than succeeding on someone else’s terms (ask the Earl of Oxford or, well, even Kim Kardashian at this point, who seems to not be quite laughing all the way to divorce court).

Most human beings that I know, myself included, don’t dedicate their life to full service (Gandhi and Mother Teresa were exceptions.  Or – were they?).  So it’s hard to follow the advice of people like Tom Brokaw who this week said that you measure your life by contributions to your government and community, not the amount of toys you can buy; or Steve Jobs, whose sister Mona Simpson eulogized him as a guy who worked every single day of life (including weekends).  This is especially so since they got to play with all the toys they ever wanted.  Brokaw, through his network TV work, had hundreds of acres of farm land in his home state and quite fancy and expensive NY digs, and hobnobbed with every famous person in the world for decades.  Jobs, lauded as one of the great inventors of modern times, still indulged himself with 100s of the same shirts he loved from a single store or flying in the best marble in the world from a particular region in Italy in order to build Apple headquarters exactly the way he wanted.  Yes, one man’s toy is another man’s discarded Kardashian – but still – what’s important to remember is they both got their toys doing what they loved to do.  Just as Shakespeare – or whoever he was – found his only true happiness (and wealth – personal and/or literal – who knows why some hit the money jackpot and get both) from doing HIS writing.   As he wisely once said — the PLAY‘s, the thing.  No matter who he (or they?) really was.  The words still hold true today.