New to the Neighborhood

This past week the democratically led House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald J. Trump right out of the Oval Office.

There were seemingly endless hours and days of sober, nasty, angry and all around contentious testimonies, cross-examinations and speechifying none of us could get away from.

Even if you didn’t tune in, read about it or experience it via a random social media post/tweet, it was in the air.  Try going into any public place and someone, somewhere said somethingOr you I thought they did.

Of course, this is merely act one.

For those dreaming of a white christmas

In the next month we have a trial in the Senate that looks to be eerily similar except for the outcome.  Since that body has a Republican majority it’s likely that all of those legal and ceremonial bickerings will end with Trump exonerated/still in office and both sides of supporters feeling similarly aggrieved.

It’s about the only thing we all agree on as a group.

This weekend I watched the new movie about famed children’s TV star Mister Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  I watched it on a screener at home because I was so similarly aggrieved that I was too lazy to go out to the movies and too wrung out to actually spend time looking at anything that I even vaguely cared about.

Yeah, I never got the TV show Mister Rogers Neighborhood OR the man himself.  In fact, full confession, as a kid he REALLY gave me the creeps.

I’m not kidding.

Enjoy your nightmares

The sweater, the monotone, the dumb songs and the STARE into the camera made my skin crawl.  It seemed like any minute his red wooly arms would reach through the camera, grab me and then touch me in a place he didn’t belong.

Intimacy issues?  Trauma?  Challenge with trust?   Perhaps so or maybe it is all of the above?  But, I mean, who didn’t in those days?  Not to mention, which of us doesn’t have at least one of those in these days?

That’s why I can only point to current events as the reason why I bought A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about a journalist interviewing Mister Rogers in the late nineties, hook line and sinker.

Wait… what?!

Sure, you could argue that the fact the film centered on a jaded, too-smart-for-the room journalist with childhood daddy abandonment issues was what made this cynical, smart-mouthed writer and child of divorce with childhood daddy abandonment issues like it.  And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

But neither would you be even close to being entirely right.

There is nothing less than this writer wants to see than Tom Hanks starring as yet another onscreen heroic character (Note: Particularly in a sweater).  In fact, for the first 20 minutes of the film I literally found myself so majorly annoyed and offended I began shouting fuck you out loud to Mister Rogers, the WGA, the screenwriters and anyone else who would listen (Note:  My poor dog) for subjecting me to this mess.

seemed like a good time to dust off my favorite gif

But then at some point something hit me.  It was a line from the beginning of the film and I had to pause, then eject and then replay the DVD from the beginning to get the exact quote.

Yes, I shudder to repeat this out of context but it’s something…Mister Rogers says to one of his…..ugh……..puppets in the first five minutes.  And that is:

Do you know that means, to forgive?  It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have at them.

Yeah, I know.

.. and then the Chair’s heart grew three times

A purple prose bromide that is just another part of the never-ending Toolkit of New Age Logic.

Not to mention, it’s not even original to me.  I was a faithful Oprah watcher and to this day I still get O Magazine.  Plus, I’ve literally had decades of therapy where this very issue – and very line – has been covered ad infinitum.

But usually it is in reference to me and my personal issues, not those of national neuroticism and consciousness.

OK.. and well this too

As a left leaning Democrat who used to feel like he was a liberal  (Note: Until the last year where I’ve been yelled at for being what is now considered a MODERATE) well, let’s start with I’m angry with everyone and anyone categorizing me as that.

But then there’s also:

1- A president who hate tweets a 16-year-old climate activist because he was jealous she got the cover of Time Magazine as Person of the Year instead of him. (Note: And his wife, the faux anti-bullying activist, among other fauxs).

What it’s actually like to BE BEST

2- His various enablers, from Congress on down, who don’t mind him consistently meeting with powerful Russians, including Putin, on the phone and this week in the White House, and laughing about it even as he’s being prosecuted for actions relating to it.

3- Staunch conservative Republicans who turn a blind eye to his attacks on people who have spent their lives trying to defend the freedoms they claim to hold dear (Note:  This week it was calling the FBI scum, and last month it was referring to the press as traitors and very bad people)

4- His loyal base of EVERY voter (Note: Whoever they are) who are okay with base insults against every non-white, non-straight or ethnically specific group under the sun from the Oval Office, as long as said base get to watch those who oppose their politics squirm while he throws then a bone on some issue near and dear to their hearts.

I didn’t say it — he did!

There are also:

5- The Democrats, liberals, et al, on social media who loathe Trump but rant and rave about how NO ONE but THEIR candidate (Note: Often Bernie Sanders, sorry) will do.  This is usually accompanied by endless posts and stories about some failing among the many, many, many others in the Trump-opposing field.

6- The women who are threatening to sit it out if the Dem nominee isn’t female, the gays who claim they won’t vote until the nominee is queer, the people of color who will willingly stay home unless…..well, you get the picture.

Posted without comment

7 – The woke culture that has gotten my students to the point where they are often afraid to write, or even say, anything controversial in class for fear that they might micro-agress/offend.

8- The vitriol, threats and sheer meanness from the top on down, that has turned young people mostly off to politics and given them little faith that they or anyone else can make a difference until this generation of boomers die out and they are able to take control.

Okay, boomer, indeed.

All of this and more has brought me to the point where, in the search for a solution, I actually find myself, all these decades later, turning to….Mister Rogers for comfort????

I draw the line at the puppets though #STILLCREEPY

Well, if that’s what it takes, fine, I do forgive them.  Trump and his followers, every last one of them.  Seriously, I do.  I only wish they could forgive whatever they think me and my ilk did to them (Note:  This includes all those who now claim the mantle of 2019 liberal).

Mister Rogers, and now I, might be a little naive but at the moment this seems the only solution for any of us in this country to have even a fighting chance.

Mister Rogers – “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Opening Theme)

The World According to Affleck

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-10-21-33-am

I never take A FILM BY credit. Film is a collaborative medium. And I’ve gotten enough attention.

Ben Affleck said this last line without irony, his head looking slightly away from the packed audience at the Writers Guild Theatre who had come to see his latest movie, Live By Night.   After which this group of about 400 writers and their friends broke into a spontaneous round of applause.

It’s hard to overemphasize just how difficult it is to get a bunch of writers anywhere, but especially in Hollywood and at a screening at the WGA, to spontaneously applaud for anything these days. Except perhaps the public stoning of Donald J. Trump in downtown Beverly Hills, and preferably in the window of Neiman-Marcus, if we are making wish lists or I am making personal orders.

... that and of course, for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace

… that and of course, for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace

Still, there we all were praising a guy who had just made a film we all saw that he had not only starred in but directed, co-produced…and this is the real kicker for this crowd…actually served as sole screenwriter. I mean seriously, how much more devaluing do we have to all endure and whom the “f” does he think he is???

Well, as it turns out, Hollywood writers are not as bitter of a group as you might imagine, which is not to say we’re un-bitter; and as a whole we don’t begrudge certain people the mega power to further their careers once they’ve succeeded far beyond most, which is not to say we’re thrilled for them daily. What writers, and most people in the world respect, is honesty, hard work and a brutal sense of recognition that no one, most especially those at the top, could ever begin to do it all alone.

Now, whether Ben is like that one-on-one, I have no idea. Truth be told, I have been fooled by star actors – and a couple of times one-on-one – a handful of times before. After all acting, nee pretending, is what they do really well and get paid to do really well. But in this case, I just don’t think so. Nor did a room full of my peers, more than a few of whom are far more cynical than I, if you can believe that’s possible. Which I assure you, it is.

Pretty... Pretty Much

Pretty… Pretty Much  #WGA

Live By Night is a sort of The Godfather meets Bonnie and Clyde meets a Hollywood gangster movie from the 30s or 40s starring Edward G. Robinson. It’s based on a book by Dennis Lehane and has many charms, most especially a convincing sense of period and the kind of attention to story and character detail one used to see in studio movies of the 1970s but seldom, if ever, sees anymore. None of this is to say it’s a perfect film – even Affleck himself notes that is a short list in his mind that starts with Citizen Kane, as predictable as he admits it sounds. And leans to movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather II and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game.

Still, what is most impressive about Night is how prescient it is in reflecting our current social and political climate through the lens of what is essentially a genre movie about gangsters in the 1920s and 30s. Once you get past the requisite vintage machine gun/shoot ‘em up vintage car chases and character arc set ups, the guts of the film is really about immigration and racism – and America’s ongoing blame game towards people who don’t fit what they (i.e. the majority of Americans) imagine to be its most preferable and vintage paradigm – white, churchgoing, God-fearing and, Lord knows, beyond reproach pure – by all outward appearances, that is.

as pure as this cream three-piece suit

as pure as this cream three-piece suit

It doesn’t matter how you win or what you do behind closed doors if you fit this ideal. In fact, you can don a white robe and burn crosses – as some do – or you can have indiscriminate sex, lie and cheat your way into political position, and double/triple deal with the powers-that-be to maintain your status. Just don’t make the mistake of being Black or Brown-shaded. Or Italian or Irish – which is White but not American. Or gay, which is unspeakable. Or Jewish, which goes without saying.

No doubt, Mr. Affleck will be receiving a lot of credit once the film opens in NY and L.A. on Christmas Day and then across the country in January for his foresight into what looks to be the WHITEST Christmas contemporary America has seen in decades, climate change notwithstanding. But as he readily admits, nothing could be further from the truth.

Take a seat grinchy

Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grinchy boy.

After winning the Best Picture Oscar for Warner Bros.’ Argo, he pretty much had his pick to do anything he wanted with anyone he wanted (Note: Take that in any and every context you like). But at a time when we were at the height of Barack Obama’s presidency, he decided to choose a period novel about immigrants because “America is a place of immigrants and…a patchwork of immigrant goals.” And it was a subject that constantly and consistently intrigued him (Note: And you wonder why we liberal elite applauded).

Of course, it was exactly that theme that troubled others about the commerciality of the project. Do we do a period movie about themes that we have pretty much dealt with over the decades? Eh. Well, Ben did just win the Oscar, he’s starring, he’s made some good films. Oh, and wait – he’s agreed to be Batman!!! Okay, I made up that last conversation and have no idea whether it was a quid pro quo for him to do Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman in exchange for the green light on this one.   Still, even if there wasn’t — there is an implied mutual reciprocity in the business of show. You do one for me in my corner and I’ll give you one for you in your corner.

Thinking about storyboarding Live By Night

Tortured soul… or thinking about storyboarding Live By Night? #letsbereal

Come to think of it, that’s no so different than the way it is in the real world (which show biz, isn’t) and in the upper echelons of our old, and certainly new government (which many of us kind of wish wasn’t real but sadly, most certainly is).

Yes, everyone’s been saying how timely this all is now but not at the time we were doing it. We didn’t know…I didn’t vote for Trump but I do know a few people in my life who did and I’m trying to understand them. – B.A.

That makes Ben a much better man than I am at the moment. I’m not saying I won’t eventually get there but I’m not even close to it yet. For what I believe at the moment is that I really do understand a lot of Trump voters – the anger, the eagerness to blame those “different” for your loss of money, power and perceived “station” in the world. I can’t help but comprehend and I currently hesitate to deny that ugliness because as a gay Jew who went to an integrated school in a big American integrated city with kids who were Black, Brown and yellow-skinned, and multi-ethnic white in origin, I’ve seen and experienced it all countless times before – and at a very young age.   What’s so shocking and insidious to me is that it so fervently continues now – and that it will be a Hollywood gangster movie set in the 1920s and 30s that is the first widely released film in 2017 to address it in any kind of mass commercial artistic way.