Oh, Mother!

Everyone who makes movies in Hollywood these days is an artist of some kind no matter what anyone thinks. Try working in any department on a film and you will see artistry at work. Sure, it might not be to your taste but it’s there.

Still, most people in the business would privately admit there is a very, very small group of writer-directors whose every movie – consistently and with dogged resolve – are always reaching for a lot more than commercial success or to tell a simple story with skill and creativity.

ahem

These are people who understand the economics and plot elements of the business but also aspire to do go out on a limb and add elements to their work that you not only never saw before but never in your wildest dreams imagined.

They seek to tell a story that will always blow you out of the water, that often can’t help at points to confound, offend and most importantly – despite your reaction –cause you to think about what they’ve presented whether you want to or not. Whether you like it or not.

These filmmakers are our current UBER artists and Darren Aronofsky is one of them.

OK.. maybe he’s not helping himself #scarvesfordays

A lot has been written about his just released Mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

  • The fact that it got a record low F Cinemascore
  • The fact that it had a dismal opening at the box office and has rapidly trended downwards
  • The fact that Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, Noah, was a bit of a mess, wildly expensive and made for Paramount – the same studio that backed Mother!
  • The fact that Mr. Aronofsky is in career free-fall, has lost it, and will most certainly follow in the footsteps of many of our greatest filmmakers who ___________.

Well, you can fill in the blanks.

No please Chair, go on. #mnightknows

But the problem with all of the above is that they are irrelevant and beside the point.

And most especially, particularly in the case of the latter, are a whole lot of:

HORSESHIT

Yep… that’s what I smell

I saw Mother! at a screening at the WGA Friday night and for the first two thirds of it I often didn’t quite know where I was despite being thoroughly entertained, intrigued and often second-guessing just how crazy the rest of it could get. Eventually the threads of what held together filmmaking this audacious began to unravel and what I was left with, well, I’ll spare you the details.

Good, bad, and certainly not indifferent, I’m, yes, still thinking about quite a few images in Mother! — all in the muddled spaces of Mother logic that remains in my mind. (Note: And yes, make of that what you will.)

Roughly how I felt after I left the screening

This is a film where the less you know about it the better and the more you try to focus on plot and theme the less you seem to know. That is its greatest fault or most potent calling card depending on who you are and what you prefer to see. But one thing is for certain: Mother! never shies away from its aspirations and goes for them full throttle. It is comedy, drama, horror,and epic all sewn into a patchwork of crazy. But will you like it???

Hell if I know. I don’t even know if I did.

Horror you say? No, a different kind of MOTHER! #ohNorman

Anyone who has followed Mr. Aronofsky’s career as I have (Note: Full confession, he is one of my most preferred contemporary American filmmakers – and there aren’t many) shouldn’t be surprised at what they’re seeing here.

There are certain themes that pop up in all his work:

Fame

Artistry

Love and Sex (not necessarily in that order)

Family

Is it, Darren?

Look at his most enduring movies and you’ll see a guy who leaves it all on the screen and let’s the chips fall where they may.

I can recall sitting at a 1998 Academy screening of his film Pi unable to move out of my chair at the end, wondering: what the hell was that, how did he know what I was thinking about but never dared to tell anyone, and how can I immediately get more?

Two years later he made Requiem for A Dream and gave me existential nightmares that every so often creep back into my brain uninvited and, yet, sometimes also give me the impetus to strive for something even more daring in my own work.

Plus.. I’m gonna be on television!

Six years after that he made me love Mickey Rourke as an actor for the very first time, not to mention The Wrestler, while touching on some very personal family issues I didn’t even know I still carried with me.

When Black Swan came out two years later I believed he’d jumped to a whole new level of addressing the age old question of what is the price artistry and, given its box-office success on such a relatively low budget, fully expected to see a whole raft of ballet films of all genres in its wake. (Note: Clearly I was wrong on the latter and is one of the thousands of reasons why I am not a studio executive).

The closest we got was care of Miss Swift #shakeitoff

Sure, in between there were bigger budget, rambling confusions like The Fountain and Noah but in my mind even both of those were not without their moments. Mostly because I knew each of them were stepping stones to the next film and the next one and then the film after that.

This is what it REALLY takes to consistently produce work that is mold-breaking, thought-provoking and ORIGINAL. You have to disappoint, confuse and perhaps even offend your audience with too many misfired moments in order to get to where the most JUICE is.

I realize metaphors are not my strongest suit and I’m not sure why I use them. (Perhaps because one day I know I’ll find one that works?).

Just doing my part…

But one thing I am ABSOLUTELY certain of is that to en masse roast an uber artist like Mr. Aronofsky for what you or your friends or gang of social media cronies find to be his lessest work is to guarantee that you will never, ever get his future bestest work.

In between tweeting about the Orange Buffoon’s latest tirade against Black athletes and football, many have this week seen fit to take to our virtual Town Square and quite metaphorically (and then some) stone Mother! and Mr. Aronofsky to their virtual, spiritual and financial deaths.

Though usually Ms. Lawrence – one of our current America’s Sweethearts –is spared, they manage to go doubly, triply, even sextupley hard on the one principal artist who dared make that misfired, truly disgusting, stillborn thing that sullied her.

I’m pretty sure this is just how Katniss feels about that

Without ever appreciating this fact: that one principal artist is also, in a past or future work, the same uber talented filmmaker who will help make us fall in love with her – and people like her – in the first place.

Yes, I know Mr. Aronofsky doesn’t need my help. But dismissive, over-the-top reaction to films like Mother! really pisses me off.

Cee Lo Green – “Forget You”

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The Art of Art

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As the year closes, many of us serial commenters feel compelled to do a 10 Best (or Worst) list. They both have their charms, depending on your mood. Certainly the latter is more fun to write even if it cuts into all the good karma you’ve accrued in the world thus far.

Still, at this point in my life and on this particular year I’m feeling a bit more benevolent and quite a bit more appreciative. For what?   Well, a lot of things. (Note: I will not be listing them all, don’t worry). But certainly being alive is one.

There are lots of bullets one dodges as time marches on and at no time does this become more crystal clear than when you look in the mirror or view the lives of others around you. The former is a particularly sobering fact. No matter how fabulous you look it eventually becomes apparent to even the least introspective person in the universe at odd moments that you will not withstand the test of time. And even more sobering is the undeniable reality that this can all change faster than the actual announced winner of Miss Universe 2015 if the karmic gods deem it so.

The mere fact that you are still living, breathing and thriving – even in all your imagined or real misery? Well, that also puts you ahead of a large group of others on the planet once you average it all out and divide it by the appropriate number. Watch the news or realistically consider each and every one of your friends and acquaintances, if you don’t believe me. You can even throw in a few of the sworn enemies you are perpetually jealous of – though not The Republican Apprentice. He deserves neither your jealousy nor even one moment of your consideration – for anything.

Your damn right Chairy!

Your damn right Chairy!

This being the case, I wanted to close 2015 by saying thanks and honoring one very large group. And that is all of the artists out there. The great ones, the good ones, the average ones, the not so good ones and… well, as I’ve said, I’m not doing a worst list but if I were and you were – well, you can even count in those too.

It’s the artists that have kept me – all of us – going up to this point in time and I suspect they will continue to do so for the rest of my (our) future(s).

Films, television, music, books, newspapers, paintings, home furnishings – in your hands or virtually – there are actual real people out there who do all of that. At some point it’s all a blank. Until someone sits down or stands up somewhere and has the courage, or anger, or bravado to say to us – here, this is what I think. Take it or leave it. Whether you like it or not.

Be bold

Preach

It’s not an easy thing to do and it’s a really difficult feat to do well. It may even be a necessary thing to do for many of us, you or them who do it – a way of survival, a type of selfish coping that has its own side benefits – but that doesn’t make it any more simple or less hard. It takes time, energy, determination, study and at the end of the day, a fair amount of bravery – especially if you’re planning to be honest and thus risk the wrath and mass condemnation of others. Remember, at the point of origin the screen is empty. Like –- there is nothing there. At. All. Try staring into the night sky and take away the stars and all traces of weather –- then pour black paint on it –- and you might have some approximation. Or do it in the daytime and make it all white. Depending on your mood/s.

This holiday week I was watching Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (co-creator of the brilliant, massively successful American Idiot album and Broadway musical) on a rerun from earlier this year of the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. He was accepting his honor after being inducted into this rare group and recounting his love affair with music. The Beatles, Elvis – even Kool and the Gang as a kid– he heard them all and a lot more growing up thanks to his siblings and extended family. And he loved it all and it soon became apparent to him that this was his world. That would be music – not creating one of the premiere breakthrough crossover punk bands and album/cds in history – that would come later.

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

And – he worked at it from the time he met one of his bandmates in the fifth grade. Yeah, he did the drugs, engaged in all the requisite, cliché misbehaviors (including many stints in rehab and numerous other episodes of self-indulgence) and has had more than his share of hits and misses. But after he played his 15 minute set with his group one had to marvel at just how edgily perfect they remain more than 25 years later. How do they/does he do it? Aside from the obvious talent, the answer lied in the rest of his speech. As he looked out in the audience at a sea of still alive musical icons and got almost teary-eyed as he gave a shout out to Patti Smith for her seminal LP Horses that he listened to as a kid. Right after his drummer, Trey Cool (yeah, that’s his name), met the gaze of Ringo Starr and thanked him profusely for being one of his true inspirations.

And so it goes, for all of us. Whether we’re inducted into the rock ‘n roll Hall of Fame or not. Whether we’re even any good or not.   We get there on the shoulders and backs and through the minds of others.

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

Last night I re-watched That’s Entertainment – a brilliant 1974 movie that is essentially a clip collection of classic MGM musicals introduced by classic movie stars of the time including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney and, as a surrogate for her mother Judy Garland – Liza Minnelli. It’s an era that will never return again: movies from the 1930s – early 1960s – a timeless American era that will forever define a certain kind of cinema that will certainly live on hundreds of centuries after all of our worried looks into the mirror or at the news on television are long gone. I love musicals and I suppose they’re not for everyone – except those movies, on some level, truly are. Even if it’s not your thing, how do you not admire and remain fascinated by Astaire dancing, Eleanor Powell tapping, Judy Garland singing? Or the optics of Busby Berkeley directing?

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

What you learn watching That’s Entertainment are the endless hours, days, weeks and months these artists labored at their craft. (Note: Needless to say, this was mostly a time before strict union rules – or overly enforced ones either for stars or mere contract players). The repetition, the trial and error, the dedication and yes, sheer push, drive and obsession of the studios and artists to do beyond their best created the kinds of big screen results that will endure long beyond what I’m writing and you’re reading here – or from anyone, anywhere else today.

I fear we’re losing a bit of that these days. It’s not that we all don’t work hard but that kind of intense single-mindedness – shutting out the rest of the world to be immersed in your craft – is it all even possible anymore? How do you shut it all out? The stimulation? The endless bombardment of information? Can you? Will it ever be the case again? I somehow feel as if I doubt it. Perhaps the answer is to simply include it and come up with something else. Or a newer form altogether. Perhaps that is happening already. In fact, I’m sure it already has. Even as we write or speak.

Andy knew what was up

Andy knew what was up

So yeah, Spotlight, Trumbo and Room were terrific for me – and I have high hopes for Hateful Eight and the new Star Wars. I love that Homeland regained its footing and thrilled me with one of the best villains on TV this season while this 22 year old overweight nerdy kid named Jordan Smith on The Voice made my mouth drop wide open when he reinvented Freddie Mercury’s Somebody to Love and bounced Adele off the #1 spot on ITunes. Plus, we haven’t even gotten to Adele. Hello.

Oh and don't forget to buy the world a coke!

Oh and don’t forget to buy the world a coke!

Yes, all of them did truly inspire . But there’s a much bigger group out there that includes many of us – as fellow creators, listeners, fans or passersby. We might disagree about the best and the worst but getting to experience all of it – even the misfires we dish – it is what ultimately unites – rather than divides us.

The Republican Apprentice notwithstanding. Always.

Happy 2016.

The Chair’s Immodest Proposals

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Almost 300 years ago Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay called A Modest Proposal suggesting that the poor in Ireland sell their children as food to the rich so as not to burden the upper class with the sight of so many raggedy moppets as they walked through the streets.

Our blue vs. red state divide has not quite gotten there – yet – though we are well on our way. As the summer doldrums begin to wind down and the bottom of the pop culture and political barrel is scraped (Note: You know it’s bad when you’re re-watching reruns of shows you’ve already seen – last week – broadcast on yet a different cable channel broadcasting reruns) what’s a legal U.S. citizen to do? Certainly, not read.

Getting lost in one’s thoughts seemed the only choice. This despite the advice once overheard at a 12-step meeting;

Your mind is like a dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go in there alone.

Not being an addict and never one to listen to too much advice, A LOT of original thinking occurred this week that unearthed more than a few immodest proposals. They might not quite rank as Swiftian but they are certainly more entertaining than this year’s unavoidable summer replacement series – The Republican Apprentice. Of course, so is the dentistry of almost 300 years ago.

No... I don't mean that kind of Swiftian. #differentBadBlood

No… I don’t mean that kind of Swiftian. #differentBadBlood

In that spirit, here are some not immodest but very necessary proposals. Yes, they are bold but we need to make America great again. Or as Howard Dean once said: YEEEEEHAHHHHH!!!!! (people remember him, right?)

  1. All global warming deniers are to be shipped off to Antarctica to work on restoring the polar ice caps. If there is indeed no global warming, they will discover once they get there that the ice caps are not melting and no work is necessary. If not, they stay for 10 years to see for themselves that the frost has declined yet another 12% during the decade, which in turn caused our temperatures to increase half a degree per year. When they return in 2025 it will be 115 degrees in August and they will be REQUIRED to continue wearing their Antarctica outerwear in the hottest town in either the south or Midwest. Actually, make that Death Valley, where it will be 146 degrees in August, 2025.
Thanks a-holes

Thanks a-holes

  1. Mega churches must be cede 50% of their fortunes to the unborn fetuses of all the children they will force women to bear against their will in states where their contributions to pro-life or anti-Planned Parenthood initiatives are successful. They will also be stripped of their tax-exempt status and that money will be used exclusively for gay wedding cakes.
Still cracks me up. #MissYouJon #COMEBACK

Still cracks me up. #MissYouJon #COMEBACK

  1. Scandalized, shamed or even disliked celebrities will be required to clean the latrines of every soundstage they have ever worked on or dressing room they’ve ever trashed – with a toothbrush (Note: non-electrical). In the meantime, all of their money will be donated to charities whose causes have been enabled or made necessary by their bad behavior. If they don’t contribute an applicable charity will be named for them. Here is a partial list of this year’s names: Bill Cosby, Katherine Heigl, Cara Delevigne, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Robin Thicke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Donald Sterling. Tom Cruise is on probation but will be watched closely during 2016.
Oh god I don't even know what to do with you.

Oh god I don’t even know what to do with you.

  1. Politicians must become journalists and journalists must run for office. This will happen impromptu though will be supervised by a citizen’s volunteer army headquartered out of the old Fox News and MSNBC/NBC buildings. Both will be available because the politicians will have caused their ratings to plummet by making no new policy decisions.  #gridlockgonewild #bloodfromwherever
  1. Any citizen can make an arrest for someone driving 5-15 mph down the street in their car while on their cell phones. The offender will then have their vehicle impounded, their phone confiscated and a microchip installed underneath their wrist that shocks them each time they use a mobile device at any time during the next year. Furthermore, drivers who take up two parking spaces, touch the yellow line of the space next to them with their vehicle or park their SUV in a spot that is clearly labeled COMPACT will be murdered. That’s right, murdered. They will hand over the keys to their car, be strapped to a pole and the driver of the car parked next to them will floor the gas and either split them in half or decapitate them. As the rest of us cheer. Those who don’t cheer will meet a similar fate for not cheering.
This is starting to get serious.

This is starting to get serious.

  1. Florida and Ohio will no longer be allowed to vote since they seem to not only tip the balance of elections unfairly but both are too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. Except minority voters. They will continue to be allowed at the ballot boxes to make up for all those years where their votes weren’t counted. This policy will last through the next election cycle when new voting regulations will require every wealthy resident of those two states to line up at their local polling place with their birth certificate and most recent tax return. The latter must then meet the approval of a special IRS agent employed at each location to detect fraud.
  1. Anyone refusing to provide goods and services to transgendered individuals anywhere on the gender continuum will be forced to live as their opposite sex indefinitely or until they vow never to discriminate again. If they agree to non-discrimination and break the agreement, then it’s a one-strike rule and they will forever be condemned to the same fate as the individuals they refuse to allow to be their true selves. Also, there will be no wardrobe consults from the LGBT community. #uglysthenewblack #gayagenda
  1. The word dude can only be used in reference to people on a ranch. Otherwise it’s $250 a pop, which will accrue in a fund distributed each year to aspiring fiction writers. Individuals choosing to end a spoken declarative sentence with a question mark will pay $100 per violation, since they tend to be younger. Those fees will accrue in a government account in order to supplement social security and unemployment benefits for future generations.
that's $250, Marky!!

that’s $250, Marky!!

  1. There will be a moratorium on films based on superheroes or comic books for the next 25 years in favor of stories about actual human beings. If there is no measurable decrease in box office revenue during that time the law will be extended another 25 years. If revenue increases, any references to superheroes or comics will be outlawed for future generations. If revenue decreases, there will still be no comic book or superhero movies made until science discovers a viable alternative.
What... no Iron Man 4??

What… no Iron Man 4??

  1. In the next 30 days, the manufacturers of all TV and audio equipment will be required by law to come up with a single, user-friendly remote that can regulate power, channels and audio. Those will be their only three uses. And the device will be equipped with a lifetime battery. Companies who DO NOT participate will have to start new manufacturing operations based ENTIRELY IN THE U.S. and pay unskilled labor DOUBLE THE MINIMUM WAGE. #technomania #bringjobshome .
  1. Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street and the entire Law and Order oeuvre will be given to all illegal immigrants to study for a 30-day period. If any individual in question can pass a test on any one of the series at the end of that time they will automatically be declared American citizens with the irrevocable status that goes with it.
Stabler/Benson 2016

Stabler/Benson 2016

  1. Members of the NRA will be required to play Russian roulette with their weapons each time a school, movie theatre and army base mass shooting happens. If they die their assets will be distributed to survivors of the fallen. If they live they will not be able to use Obamacare for medical treatments, even after they go bankrupt from health costs. An assault weapons ban in Congress would automatically rescind this law.
  1. For every sports analogy made by a newscaster (“This is the Senator’s Hail Mary Pass” or “It’s bases loaded and two outs in the ninth in the life of this bill”) a reference must be made to a Broadway show. This will be done until phrases like “A Chorus Line” are used to refer to the new freshman class in Congress or “Oklahoma” means something more than a Republican stronghold.
  1. Dogs will be regarded with the special status reserved for religious institutions. This means that society will worship them in their homes and shelters and spread the words of their good deeds. Not to mention, all contributions to their upkeep will be tax deductible. Forever. (Note: Make that all animals).

Define Hero

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There are many heroes in the world but there is a certain kind of hero that feels indigenous to the U.S. because of the opportunities that exist here if you have good timing, the right kind of talent and a little luck.

Many have said of late that the United States is on the decline – the inevitable downslide of any #1 World Superpower. Like the Roman Empire and countless others before us, there will be a point at which the influence of the U.S. will not be the primary one in the world. I’m not perceptive and certainly not expert enough to know if we are at or approaching that moment. What I am sure of, though, is that despite this country’s many challenges it still possesses a majority market share of the world’s attention and enough economic rags to riches possibilities that, if managed correctly, can create a certain type of successful individual with just the right blend of superpowers that we deem hero-ic.

No.. No... not you

No.. No… not you

Certainly, the latter applies to the rescue workers of 9/11, the everyday individuals who hold families together, the people who spend their entire lives teaching in a small elementary or high school for what in the corporate arena would be considered a pittance, or the many military men and women who have sacrificed their lives protecting the Homeland.

Those are all a given.

But let’s discuss a different kind of “hero” – the kind of people we often claim as our own American Heroes – meaning they are nothing more and nothing less that a real American success story.

Okay, perhaps HERO is not the right word to use before, after or during the July 4th holiday. One can hear the complaints now – There’s nothing heroic about making lots of money, even if it’s from your talents!! Or — clearly you don’t know any of our men and women in uniform, and we KNOW you haven’t spent any time in a Veteran’s hospital, homeless shelter or cancer ward, because then you’d know our TRUE AMERICAN HEROES.

Oh, please

Oh, please

No one is taking anything away from them. But let’s be honest about what we value day to day and who we lavish our attention on – i.e. the people that we look up to.

Hero: a man (or woman) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

The people we most admire in 2015 culture are those with abilities and qualities. Courage is good and nobility is to be lauded, at least on paper. But ability and quality – give us more of those.

Oprah Winfrey

Kim Kardashian

Beyonce

Steve Jobs

Barack Obama

Rod Serling

Jerry Seinfeld

Warren Buffet

Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton

Now we’re talkin’. And no, I’m not putting Donald Trump on the list. And yes, I have put Kim on. It’s 2015, yo.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

When we’re honest across-the-board and through the current generations about those in the culture we consider our American heroes – that’s a cross-section of who really comes to mind. (Note: Of course this is subjective – it’s MY list of what you’re thinking – but try to make a convincing case that on some level I’m NOT right. You can’t).

Show biz, politics, pop culture. And you can’t really be born wealthy to make the list. We like people who came from nothing and made something out of themselves. As if something were at all definable. And sorry those to the manner born. You can be lauded and rich and successful but you’ll never really be who we Americans consider to be a hero. Hence NO TRUMP. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt – he’s long gone (NOTE: Clearly!) and was our absolute exception in that category.

We don’t need to go over the above names one by one. Look them up on Wikipedia, consider the last generation or two, read and/or watch the media and think about the people this country has been known for as of late. There is no REAL Indiana Jones. He was a fictional American hero. Truly.

I want to add another name to the list you may or not know – Nina Simone. Some of you might be saying – huh? Or whom? Well, watch the current and riveting documentary now steaming on Netflix entitled, What Happened, Miss Simone? And then get back to me.

Stream me now

Stream me now

Quick background: Nina Simone was a brilliant American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. She had several hit songs in the fifties and sixties, recorded more than 40 albums before dying 12 years ago in France and is generally considered by many in the music biz one of the greatest singer/musicians who ever lived.

Check out her famous recordings of I Put A Spell On You, I Loves You, Porgy, Little Girl Blue, Mississippi, Goddamn and Young, Gifted and Black and you’ll see why.

But what the documentary allows one to learn, or re-learn with a greater impact, is that Miss Simone was born Eunice Waymon in a poor North Carolina rural town in 1928, was a musical prodigy who played piano at 3, and studied relentlessly to be the first Black female classical pianist in the world.

Meaning, she had the talent but was born into the wrong time. So after a prestigious music school rejected her due not to her lack of talent but because of the color of her skin, in the 1950s she began playing piano at small clubs to support her family where she was told in order to make money she had to sing. Which she did – and in a way unlike anyone had ever heard before.

Many young people today are unfamiliar with her work in large part due to her role as a Black activist at the time. She marched with, performed for and befriended the gamut of civil rights warriors – everyone from Malcom X to Martin Luther King to Stokely Carmichael. Disgusted with racism and white America, she eventually chose to leave her country of origin and settle in Africa (Liberia to be exact) and then on to Holland, Amsterdam and eventually Southern France.

The talent was heroic, the activism was more than heroic and the trips and resettlements abroad were necessary – though it makes her no less an American hero for speaking up, singing out and being counted.

She has the requisite personal problems in a show business/pop culture bio – domestic abuse, financial ruin and mental illness. But what this film also clearly shows is a snapshot of someone who could have easily been one of the names on that above list had she been lucky enough to have been born 20 or 30 more years later.

Preach

Preach

Or not. The truth is – we will never know. Perhaps it was really the times that made her what she was (Note: Or any of us) and without that turbulence the right sparks might not have ignited. If so, that makes her journey even more heroic in my mind.

I am currently writing a movie about a man you have probably never heard of – another American hero but, by my earlier definition, someone who would not be on the above list. That is because he wasn’t famous, but instead chose to take on corruption in small town America as the editor of several local newspapers and wound up paying a huge financial and personal price for it. He is one of many American heroes but he’s the unsung kind – the opposite of who we’re really talking about in our heart of hearts when we publicly hold up the ideal of the most outstanding among us.

That is not my prejudice or judgment and it is not good or bad or anything in between. It just is. That’s who we are.   And well, why tamper with perfection, right?

Especially in, on or around our Independence Day weekend.

Camera Ready

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When I was younger I thought I’d be an in front of the camera guy. But as it’s turned out I’ve spent most of my life as a behind the desk fellow who is occasionally a behind or beside the camera consultant. However every so often, meaning not all that much, I am ready, willing and able in front of the camera and, if shot just the right way and caught at the correct moment, can be quite effective at the task at hand.

The latter will certainly not make me the gay male Oprah – one of my few printable fantasies of the last ten years – but, well, at least it’s a start. To what I’m not sure. But something tells me that with the way the media, information and general business and social interaction are going, it would behoove each of us to learn how to be in front of the lens in order to make our case, sell our story, or simply just be the best and most appealingly real (Note: Or even calculatingly unreal) version of us.

... because this creep could be around the corner

… because this creep could be around the corner

I was recently interviewed by the local news for a piece on noisy neighborhoods. More specifically, to speak about the nightmare house above us being illegally rented to huge party givers and events for upwards of $5000-$7500 per night on varying weekends and weeknights – and for usually more than half the month – by our lying scum of a neighbor who has ignored my previously very polite and in-person pleas to cease and desist.

Of course, I didn’t call him a lying scum of a neighbor on camera. I let the evidence speak for itself. Not that I had any control over what would be in the final piece or how it would be cut together. All the more reason to stick to the basic facts of what happened and let truth and reality do most of my talking.

Can you tell I'm saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

Can you tell I’m saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

I think I did fine but certainly could’ve done better. Maybe torture was not the best adjective to categorize this situation given we’re living in an age of waterboarding and beheadings, as my sister so ably pointed out. (Note: And what ARE family members for anyway if not to remind you of this kind of stuff). Actually, I did instinctually realize that after I said it but frankly, I couldn’t think of any other word to get the point across. It feels “tortuous” in my limited world. You try to sleep when Snoop is rapping outside your back door electronically amplified many times over until he reverberates throughout the rest of the house past locked windows, doors, bedrooms and even ramped up allergy air filter machines at 3 and 4 in the morning.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Of course – I didn’t refer specifically to rap music on camera. That wasn’t the point and I didn’t want anyone to misconstrue race (or musical taste) has anything to do with this. It doesn’t. But I’ve seen enough as a reporter, publicist, screenwriter and general media commenter and gadfly to know that one too specific slip of my tongue might’ve taken over the story in an entirely different direction. Yes, the music that was playing was mostly rap and because it involved loud speaking and a persistent beat it was particularly annoying. But I had to consider – would it have been any less upsetting if they were blasting Better Midler, Lady Gaga or the score from Les Mis? Well, maybe at first but that would quickly fade. I can recall being at a local diner too late one night when I was in high school where the broken jukebox played Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for two hours straight. We were stoned and hysterical laughing for most of it but eventually I did want to strangle someone – or at least knock over the revolving standee of cheesecake and baked goods right through the window and into someone’s – anyone’s – face. And we weren’t trying to sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning.

a different kind of torture device

a different kind of torture device

The sheer level of incompetency displayed by others (and even sometimes myself) when placed before the camera is continually shocking – okay, well then let’s just say surprising. (Note: See sis, I’m listening). And to be clear, I’m not talking about home movies or videos here. I’m referring to planned interviews, speeches – political, business or recreational – presentations, and general work or play versions of ourselves we project out into the world when we are knowingly being recorded or in a place where we will likely be. Not to mention, a lot of this behavior comes from professionals presumably being paid to know a lot better.

Here’s one very minor example that turned into a major story this week amid the debate over the blue/back vs. white/gold dress and Congress almost defunding the Department of Homeland Security:

In her post-Oscar comments on Red Carpet looks, E! personality and Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic, decided to publicly take the petite, bi-racial18 year-old Disney Channel actress/singer (and beloved Dancing with the Stars runner-up) Zendaya Coleman to task for her too ample….wait for it….DREADLOCKS!   Sitting stiff-as-a-board upright in the studio – flawlessly coiffed in designer duds and shot in the best TV lighting a basic cable channel like E! can buy, Ms. Rancic carefully considered the image of this young girl smiling in her designer white Grecian dress and carpet-ready new hair before sniffing:

She has such a tiny frame this hair overwhelms her. Like, I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…. and weed!

I'm more wondering why Zendaya was at the Oscars... but oh well

Dress aside.. was anyone else wondering why she was at the Oscars?

It would not have been relevant for me to even mention Zendaya being bi-racial had Ms. Rancic’s comments not played into some unfortunate stereotype a certain segment of the population has about…people who sport dreadlocks? The type of non-white persons we usually see wearing them? Something else? Hmmm.

Well, whatever it was caused a real crap storm. Ms. Rancic and the show quickly issued more apologies than George W. Bush ever did about the war in Iraq, Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne quit over the remarks and unnamed sources have accused Ms. Rancic of trying to channel perpetually politically incorrect yet hilarious former co-host, the late Joan Rivers, in a desperate attempt to be funny.

... and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

… and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

The latter could be getting to the heart of the matter. Which of us has not made some sort of offensive flub that unintentionally revealed our own prejudices or how ill-suited we were to public joke-telling? However, what made this flub particularly noteworthy was not only the willingness of the co-host to state it to everyone in the world but the fact that it was scripted. That’s right, Ms. Rancic apparently did not think of that line on her own but had it written specifically for her by one of the show’s…writers?

It’s true – someone sits in a room and actually gets paid for making up those kind of comments, jokes and/or mere witticisms… which sort of makes what was said a bit worse. Presumably, a professional joke scribe, director, crew member or network somebody might know better. Except when they don’t. Meaning, if one is going to traffic in borderline racist, sexist, and homophobic insults in order to get a few laughs and drive up the ratings – or one’s own pubic status – one has to take the hot hair heat that rises and inevitably blows back from employing that kind of strategy.

Ya hear that G?

Ya hear that G?

I remember working in marketing on a movie with the brilliantly talented actress Anne Bancroft, who had some really funny and interesting stories about her experiences over the years in show business that she shared in various press interviews. I mean, they were really good and they revealed small bits of herself again and again and again. But after a period of time I began to realize – wait a second, I already know this about her. Did I read it, did I dream it or was it…oh, right, it was essentially the same story. Savvy actress that she was, Ms. Bancroft learned early on the best strategy when faced with speaking about very personal experiences about you and your craft publicly. Give a few to them and keep the rest for yourself. Just update, alternate, embellish and recycle some of the best stuff a bit through the years and no one will ever notice. Except those whose job it is to go through the torture of countless interviews with you and most certainly they’d never tell. Oops.

It's ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

It’s ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

Of course, this isn’t a good strategy for the majority since most of us don’t have those kind of acting chops. Not to mention, she could also be very spontaneous and say hilarious and telling comments on the record at the right moment. But being a smart movie star she was also quite well aware of exactly how she came across and why. Always. It’s not about lying but owning who you are.

As one really high priced shrink once pointed out to me: There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything. But there’s also nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to think about whether you want or need to say it out loud.

Yes, it was expensive advice but worth every penny. I pass it on to you for free.

 

Grampy’s Grammys

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.16 AM

Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.

tina-fey-gif

There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.

MILLENNIALS: A Love Story

Narcissist couple taking self portrait.

My students, usually aged 20-23, are, as a group – smart, motivated and kind of terrific.  So I’m sick of the media, as well as others, picking on them. The selfish millennials.  The Me, Me, Me Generation.  The narcissists who live off their parents as long as they can, don’t want to do hard work, strive for fame rather than creative or intellectual achievement, and are far more concerned with how many friends or followers they have on social media than the people who like or even love them in real life.

As Bill Clinton said about Barack Obama during Mr. Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton: “GIVE. ME. A BREAK.  This whole thing is the greatest fairy tale I’ve ever seen…”

Though I don’t have Bubba creds, as a screenwriter, journalist, teacher and human being I can tell you that cleverly made up stories, like both clichés and really good lies, ALWAYS have a grain or two of truth.  As does all great fiction.  So it’s not wholly untrue that the insults cast about against young people today have zero reality to them.  But it also doesn’t mean that, on the whole, they are correct.

We all know it's true

We all know it’s true

Or to put it another way: just because the new mocha and carrot cake cupcakes from that great bakery in your neighborhood taste lousy doesn’t take away from the fact that their classic vanilla and chocolate ones, which far outnumber the former anyway, aren’t still fantastic and wouldn’t win you first place on Cupcake Wars.  Given the choice, most people go in for basic flavors (which, for my money, are always better), yet they are never featured upfront as the specials of the day.

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

And no, I don’t think I’m pushing the metaphor.

I just finished reading 26 screenplays in 12 days, notes and all, from these young people and I can tell you what’s on their minds -–forbidden love, dysfunctional parents and families, escape from their troubled or mundane worlds to a mythical or alternate one in the past or future, society’s vacant value system and lack of responsibility to future generations, and the general existential tragedy of life as seen through a broadly comedic or intensely overdramatic lens or mindset.

Yes – all the things that bothered the Generation Xers, the Baby Boomers and I suspect each new coming-of-age group back through the decades and centuries of time remain intact.  Sure, the packaging might be different because we’ve gone from carrier pigeon, to Pony Express, to snail mail, to email, to texting, and to Twitter.   But the actual themes, passages and journeys in existence remain constant.

I know how difficult it is to write even a bad script since I have done it many more times than I care to remember.  So I can also tell you that while some (or even many) of these young people write their screenplays in between periods of YouTube gazing, web surfing or gchatting, their sentiments are equally sincere, if sometimes over or understated – just as all of my peer group’s are were.  Perhaps that’s why they are being over-categorized and subtlety dissed, just like we were – but with an even nastier streak.

Eyeroll

Eyeroll

Time Magazine hurling insults at The Me Me Me Generation in its recent cover story harkens back to 1967 when the magazine, during in its heyday, voted its annual Man of the Year award to the 25 and Under.  The difference is, 45+ years ago Time went out of its way to profile and categorize all types of people in this new generation in various POVs and color shades of the rainbow.  Last week, however, the only famous millennial it quoted in its entire cover story was Kim Kardashian.

Said Kim:

“They (millennials) like that I share a lot of myself and that I’ve always been honest about the way I live my life.”  (“Ha!” – The Chair)  “They want relationships with businesses and celebrities.  Gen X was kept at arm’s length from businesses and celebrity.”

Well…okay.

When I asked 25 of my students several years ago about Kim and their peer group’s fascination for her they simultaneously laughed in my face and groaned.  It wasn’t at all what Kim did or didn’t do that made her interesting, they agreed, but “how ridiculous she is” and “how much some people make a fuss about her.”  In other words, it was the postmodern version of a Kim Kardashian existence that intrigued them, not the now about-to-be new Mom herself or the vast Kardashian empire ($80 million and climbing) that she, her sisters and her own mother created by not being particularly good at anything but being famous.

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

There have been individuals of every generation well known for well, not very much.  Consider the classic line towards the end of the movie musical Gypsy, based on the memoirs of renowned performer stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, when her press agent tries to get her to lighten up in front of the lens of a photographer, who is about to shoot her naked in a bubble bath for a huge spread in Life Magazine:  “Smile Gyps, show us your talent!”   To which Gypsy throws back her shoulders and shoves out her breasts.*

The difference is, of course, Gypsy Rose Lee was never held up as representative of her entire generation.

This all reminds me of what it was like when I was a reporter for Variety (1977-1983, I was 5 years-old at the time, obviously) and every year they’d put out an anniversary issue where they would ask us to do trend stories.  I hated those stories.  Because they always involved generalizations about a group of people or professionals or ideas that were conveniently being grouped together so we could reduce them to a catchy sociological phenomenon or cultural stereotype.  I think it was the year of the woman at least 3 times during that period and perhaps oh, I don’t know, 15 times since.  There has also been the emergence of the gays and gay power or – as it used to be called back in the day – the PINK mafia.  In the 60s it was Black power.  Before that it was the rise of the immigrants.  Now, it’s the rise of illegal immigrants (the least offensive term), or, to put it more kindly – the emergence of The Dreamers.

Something like that...

Something like that…

It’s all sort of the same thing when you get down to it because it’s the story of our country, if not the world.  A group emerges onto the scene that somehow seems to threaten the status quo, who in turn fears it will (and perhaps is) beginning to lose its power.

But writing from the other side of the generation gap it’s easy to see this simple fact:

Everything, after a time, makes way for the new, whether that thing likes it or not.

I’m around the new a lot and generally like what they’re about.  I talk to them.  I even hang with them occasionally.  It could be that I like them because I’ve taken the time to know them and not categorize them.  I also understand the unvarnished truth – that they’re not here so much to take over but continue with us on the journey – and then steer the ship when, inevitably, we no longer can.

(* The line (and all the lines) from “Gypsy” were written by the very brilliant playwright/screenwriter Arthur Laurents.  Lest anyone think movie characters think up what they say themselves)