Screenplay by… Adam Schiff

Everyone likes a good story.

But what is a good story and how do you construct it?  Then, how do you tell it?

I brought my students to a panel this week at the Writers Guild Theatre that featured the 2020 WGA nominees for best screenplay.  Overall, they had a great time listening to writer-directors Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Rian Johnson (Knives Out) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), as well as the screenwriters responsible for Joker, The Irishman, Booksmart and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, among others, talk about how they do what they do.

Allow me to sweep up all those names you just dropped

Even if they aren’t always the best at speaking in person about it, these women and men know a ton about story construction and how to seduce an audience through visual, verbal and other means.  They are tasked daily with figuring out what makes people tick and give them a computer screen, a piece of paper and/or a camera, you would undoubtedly be dazzled by what they come up with.

In the last 12 months, many of you already were.

But as they spoke, I couldn’t help but think of another former screenwriter, my congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA).  On that very night he had just spent hours on the Senate floor, as the lead House manager for the Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, trying to convince a recruited audience to vote for the removal of a president many voted for and still continue to support.

For those disgusted with politics, think of it like the nasty studio head purposely test marketing your new movie (Note: The one he hates) before a hostile audience he gleefully assembled in order to determine whether it will be released or not.

Or just think of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…doing anything at all.

The purest definition of #ShtEatingGrin

The screenwriting skills of Rep. Schiff, who back in the nineties actually moonlighted as a screenwriter (Note: He received an offer from film producer Nick Weschler (The Player) to option his crime thriller The Minotaur while working as an assistant U.S. attorney) were on great display all week.

Though he had a lot of help from six other extremely articulate fellow male and female managers in proving his case, he was the one principally tasked with how to structure and execute the narrative they were about to perform.

Is it any wonder then that he chose to start with a quote from Alexander Hamilton and end with another from Atticus Finch?

My 15 minutes will never be up!

Too much a reach?  Consider that Rep. Schiff was primarily trying to put pressure on a handful of senators to allow key witnesses Trump had previously refused to allow testify before Congress to at least finally be heard.

To do this he had to not only construct a legal narrative but present his case in a way that the public could understand so they might also apply some outside pressure on their representatives to hear those stories and vote in favor of impeachment.

So what better way to prove his case to them than to quote Hamilton, the only Founding Father to have a musical named after him that is currently an international phenomenon, one that has grossed more than half a BILLION dollars on Broadway alone, has more than 20 touring companies worldwide, a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a record-setting 11 Tony awards.

… and here’s a #ShtEatingGrin that is deserved!!

I mean, when Congressman Schiff starts out by likening Trump to the type of charlatan none other than HAMILTON warned us about, a man unprincipled in private life… bold in his temper… known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty… to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day it carries some weight, right?  Not to mention it doesn’t hurt when Hamilton also characterizes that man as someone who, much like Trump, could only be trusted to pursue his own interests.

Which is to say nothing about Atticus Finch, hero of THE great American classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  That’s the same one that none other than Aaron Sorkin recently adapted into a hit Broadway play that is just about to start its own two-year international tour.

BONUS: Ed Harris with Hair!

Every writer knows the moral weight Atticus Finch’s words carry when we seek to convince an American audience (or any American) to use the common sense their parents taught them when they were kids about the differences between right vs. wrong.  But it takes a screenwriter’s knowledge of both drama and the audience they’re tasked with seducing to know where to place it.

Gotta say as a screenwriter and teacher of writing myself, I was incredibly pleased my very own congressman was smart enough to give the Atticus quote his key ACT THREE moment in the Trump case.  Especially when Schiff himself confessed on the Senate floor that as a young lad he first heard those words from his own father (Note: Just as Mockingbird’s own writer Harper Lee had heard them her own Dad, fictionalized as Atticus).  To drive the point home further, Rep Schiff revealed that he even attributed Atticus’ words to his own father before learning years later they were actually being passed on to him by his very moral Dad only because he had taken the time to actually READ the classic story and PARENT with it. (Note: Nice touch when speaking about the well known to be NON-READING Trump).

This will be the worst school trip ever

But that wasn’t all.

As one watched Rep. Schiff and his colleagues unspool the case against our ELECTORAL COLLEGE POTUS (Note:  Full Confession; I was riveted to my DVR), it was hard not to once again recall the WGA event.  Particularly that moment when Greta Gerwig told the audience that it was only because she found out LW’s writer Louisa May Alcott managed to hold on to the copyright of her novel at a time when women were mostly powerless, that SHE was able to come up with the boldest female empowerment moments for Jo, Alcott’s heroine, in this new movie version.

Greta deserved Betta #saoirseknows

This idea of digging deep into the facts and constructing your narrative around real actions your main character takes (or took) rather than claims he/she makes was also on display with each Trump video clip Schiff and his posse unspooled on the Senate floor as they were crosscut with evidence of the true real-life contrary actions taken by Trump and documented by staff, cabinet members and in some of his own candid audio tapes in the House managers’ presentation.

It also brought to mind Rian Johnson’s confession about tricks he uses as a screenwriter as he plans his stories for ultimate dramatic effect.   He freely confessed that 80% of his writing process is outlining and structuring his story just as The Irishman’s screenwriter Steve Zailian’s admitted that in order to figure out how to execute every film story on which he’s hired (Note: See his IMDB page and be impressed) he needs a plan and OUTLINING is a good way to come in with a PLAN.

First note in outline: This line must appear every 10 minutes

No wonder after the über-outlined case against Trump unfolded on that very first day even arch adversaries like Sen. Lindsey Graham took Schiff aside and privately shook his hand at the intricately planned and structured way in which he laid out the story he was telling, convincingly taking the senators, step by step, through the Trump narrative HE had decided to tell in order to prove his case.

Of course as everyone in Hollywood knows, particularly screenwriters, you can do everything right and still not get the results you want.

Think of that film recut at the last minute (Note: Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons).  Or consider that terrific cult movie not released properly that first time around (Note: Harold and Maude or The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that had to be rediscovered months or even years later because their messages were sabotaged by the arbitrary moment in which they were determined to first arrive.

Once upon a time this film was a box office bomb

I can’t help but worry whether this will be the case for the storytellers in the Schiff posse, no matter how well constructed and executed their narrative might be.  Particularly when I read this sobering statistic in the Cook Political Report:

A majority of seats in the U.S. senate represent just 18% of the country. 

This means that ANY hope for a majority vote on any one issue in the Senate could conceivably be SUNK by a GROUP OF SENATORS accounting for UNDER ONE FIFTH of all voters in the country.

In other words, the will of more than EIGHTY PERCENT of the country that agree with my Congressman, and me, on the Trump of it all, could EASILY be ignored in the next week.  Or even two or three.

You got that right, Sutton.

This is not the Hollywood ending Schiff or anyone on the WGA panel that evening would write.    But, and not to be a downer, it is also important to remember that for all his wisdom at the end of To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus LOSES his case.

Will we settle for an ending to a similar story that took place almost a full century ago?

Or will we create our own narrative?

Hmmmmmm.

Original Hamilton Cast – “My Shot”

Same Ol’ Oscar

The 92nd Oscar nominations were reliably predictable.  No, this year’s list of honorees cannot rightly be categorized as #OscarsSoWhiteStraightMale.  But neither could the group even vaguely be considered #OscarsSoColorful, #OscarsSoInclusive or even #OscarsSoPurelyArtistic.

It does seem a bit quaint to even be discussing what Hollywood (Note: Whoever or whatever that is) deems deserving of its annual golden statuette when the world is falling apart around us but perhaps that’s the very reason to spend a bit of time on it.  We all need a diversion or two, or twenty-three, and well, every year the Motion Picture Academy never fails to both come through AND simultaneously disappoint.

The Academy always comes through…

That said, it was interesting to see just how aware the Academy was of just how white the awards had the potential to be.  You could tell by their choice of not one but two people of color – Issa Rae and John Cho – to announce the nominees to an international audience.  That’s twice as many non-White people that were nominated in all four acting categories combined!

It’s a sad state that Green Book was more diverse

Meaning, Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of color to be singled out in an acting category this year for her lead performance as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the fine historical drama, Harriet.  Does it count for diversity that Antonio Banderas was also nominated for his lead role in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant semi-autobiographical pic Pain and Glory? That’s for social media to decide so you’re on your own there.

Leading the list of this year’s nominated films with ELEVEN nods was…Joker? Well, the title of that film alone says everything you need to know about the times we live in.  Close behind were: The Irishman and 1917 and Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood with ten each.

More like a TEN (but really, this did factor in right?)

The aforementioned Ms. Erivo was also one of a handful of recipients to receive two Oscar nominations in two separate categories this year.  Her second was as co-writer in the best song category for Harriet’s “Stand Up.”  Also double nominated were: Scarlett Johansson as both lead actress and supporting actress for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, respectively; and David Heyman as a producer on two potential best picture winners, Marriage Story AND Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.

Here is a full list of the nominations along with some (accurate? snide? bitchy?) opinions on those chosen and those left out of the major categories.  Let’s save the rest for when the awards are handed out on Feb. 9th.   In the meantime, get your Joker masks ready, the next four weeks promise to be….memorable?

My mantra to get through these nominations

BEST PICTURE

FORD V FERRARI  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT  Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER  Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN  Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY  Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917  Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE  Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

The question is, what DIDN’T get nominated?  Pretty much all the films predicted to get a nod in this category managed to squeak through.  The possible exception was Knives Out, which nevertheless received what more and more seems to be the consolation prize of a writing nomination, in this case for its director Rian Johnson.

Still gets top honors for best knit!

What else MIGHT have been nominated in this category even though you’d be crazy to expect it?   Well, the indie movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco should not have to rely solely on the Independent Spirit Awards to be named among the best films of the year when it is clearly that and more.   But don’t get me started on the #OscarsSo……. Again.

DIRECTING

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese

JOKER  Todd Phillips

1917  Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Bong Joon Ho

Here’s the thing.  Greta Gerwig, Little Women, Lulu Wang, The Farewell, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alma Har’el, Honeyboy and Kasi Lemons, Harriet.  When you have five women who directed the aforementioned Oscar caliber films and not one gets nominated in this category, well, this is why people begin to talk.

We riot at dawn #burnitdown #justiceforGreta

Though whenever this subject comes up I point to the SOLE FEMALE to WIN best director, Kathryn Bigelow.  She got the award for her work on The Hurt Locker, a war movie with a male protagonist.  What this tells us, aside from the fact that Bigelow is a great director, is that the subject matter of a movie has as much to do with the gender of a director where the Oscar nominees (and winners) are concerned.

Anyone hungry? #sausagefest

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

ANTONIO BANDERAS   Pain and Glory

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

ADAM DRIVER  Marriage Story

JOAQUIN PHOENIX  Joker

JONATHAN PRYCE  The Two Popes

There are those who might rightly be grousing that the performances of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman should have gotten a nod.  But truly the best performance of the year NOT in this category was in Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler did the best acting of his career as a Jewish, compulsive gambler jeweler who can’t get out of his own way in an unrelenting and uncomfortably riveting film.  Does he deserve the Oscar for it?  Yes.  Do I care if you disagree?  No, cause it’s true.

Get ready for Grown Ups 3 #sigh

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOM HANKS  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

ANTHONY HOPKINS  The Two Popes

AL PACINO  The Irishman

JOE PESCI  The Irishman

BRAD PITT  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

Brad Pitt is really the only one who matters here…for so many reasons.  Least of which is that Mr. Pitt is the sole person in this category NEVER to have won an acting Oscar.

This category is so 90s, you have to watch all the nominees on VHS

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 CYNTHIA ERIVO  Harriet

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Marriage Story

SAOIRSE RONAN  Little Women

CHARLIZE THERON  Bombshell

RENÉE ZELLWEGER  Judy

Yeah, it was between Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina (The Farewell) for the female of color slot and Cynthia won.  Just kidding, sort of, but not…really.  However, it won’t matter.  Renee Zellweger’s daring recreation of Judy Garland at the end of her life, singing and all, will win and should win.

Although Charlize wins for inspiring the most gasps (and nightmares)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KATHY BATES  Richard Jewell

LAURA DERN  Marriage Story

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Jojo Rabbit

FLORENCE PUGH  Little Women

MARGOT ROBBIE  Bombshell

Did you really think J Lo would be nominated for doing her Oscar pole dance in Hustlers?  Really?  No, I mean…really???  Really????????

MAYBE WE DID CHAIRY?!?!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

THE IRISHMAN  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT  Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER  Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN  Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES  Written by Anthony McCarten

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

KNIVES OUT  Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY  Written by Noah Baumbach

1917  Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

You could have read three or four articles predicting the screenplay nominations and scored close to 100% in both of these categories.  But for my money, the big omission is Booksmart, a coming of age/last night of high school story chock full of memorable characters in hilariously awkward situations you felt you had both seen and never seen before.  So imaginative, heartfelt, funny and extremely difficult to achieve that it took four writers – Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Of course the fact that they’re four women writing a female driven narrative had NOTHING to do with the snub!

What does the Oscars have against girls and poles?

Not to downgrade the rest, but I got up at 5:15 am for this!  So, here they are without comment:

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD 

I LOST MY BODY 

KLAUS 

MISSING LINK 

TOY STORY 4 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE IRISHMAN  Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER  Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE  Jarin Blaschke

1917  Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Robert Richardson

 

COSTUME DESIGN 

THE IRISHMAN  Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT  Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER  Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN  Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Arianne Phillips

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

AMERICAN FACTORY 

THE CAVE 

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY 

 FOR SAMA 

HONEYLAND  

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

 IN THE ABSENCE 

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL) 

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

WALK RUN CHA-CHA 

 

FILM EDITING

FORD V FERRARI  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN  Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT  Tom Eagles

JOKER  Jeff Groth

PARASITE  Yang Jinmo

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

CORPUS CHRISTI  Poland

HONEYLAND  North Macedonia

LES MISÉRABLES  France

PAIN AND GLORY  Spain

PARASITE  South Korea

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BOMBSHELL  

JOKER 

JUDY 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 

1917 

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

JOKER  Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN  Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY  Randy Newman

1917  Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER  John Williams

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I CAN’T LET YOU THROW YOURSELF AWAY  from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

(I’M GONNA) LOVE ME AGAIN  from Rocketman; Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin

I’M STANDING WITH YOU  from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

INTO THE UNKNOWN  from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP  from Harriet; Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

THE IRISHMAN 

JOJO RABBIT 

1917  

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

PARASITE 

 

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

DCERA (DAUGHTER) 

HAIR LOVE 

KITBULL 

MEMORABLE 

SISTER 

 

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

BROTHERHOOD 

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB 

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW 

SARIA 

A SISTER 

 

SOUND EDITING

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER 

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA 

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER  

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVENGERS: ENDGAME 

THE IRISHMAN 

THE LION KING 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Now Playing: MEH

A friend of mine recently posted about being disappointed in the current crop of movies and pondered whether his expectations were simply too high.

I thought:

I used to feel this way about people until years of therapy educated me to the fact that since you can’t expect anyone to behave in the absolutely perfect way you would in any given situation, well, you can’t quite fault them for it.

But art is something else and movies are really something more than that.

If you can’t depend on a chunk of the films in the last three months of the year to be really great, or at least really, really good, what hope is there for the future of the country/world?

Even my pessimism is working against me

Or to put it another way:

What else can THEY take away?

THEY get to fill the majority of movie screens most of the year with super heroes, escapist action and the mindless romps of cardboard characters that pass for humor.  Surely the little sliver left for us adults, or people of any age with some discernment or taste, would not go undisturbed.

Would it?

Oh Chairy, you make me laugh

Well, I quickly diagnosed the condition.  The U.S. film industry has entered a state of artistic global warming and it’s going to take generations of action to reduce the trend and it’s effect on the world.  That is, if it’s not too late already.

Of course, this makes sense.  We have for a while been the #2 polluting country worldwide, responsible for 15% of the planet’s greenhouse gases/carbon monoxide emissions (Note:  Only China bests us at 30%)  Not to mention,  we recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

So if the choice comes down to huge corporate profits vs. the safety of the planet, be it from pollutants in the air, sea or mind, um, there is only one choice.

Money TRUMPS everything. 

You know I loathe to use the word!!!

This is not to say we’re doing nothing about pollution or that there are no good films to see.  We do and there are.  Though it sort of reminds me of the quality of work I did when my divorced working Mom assigned me my daily household chores.

Never did I NOT get the job but not once, EVER, did I achieve anything spectacular as a final product.  The amount of sheer commitment, single-mindedness and self reflection on the importance of the request that in turn would produce the ultimate load of uber clean and perfectly folded bathroom towels to please Mom could not be further from my #1 priority.

Listen… it was hard work!!

What I wanted was to do it my way, get my allowance money and not have to deal with what was clearly unwarranted and unjustified negative feedback.  We made a deal and I more than fulfilled my end of the bargain.  In fact I did a damn great job of it given all the amount of commitments I had to juggle and guff I was up against as a latch key teenager.

To not to see it my way was clearly ignorance, an inability to truly understand the task at hand with the funds available to me and the overwhelming nature of the job I was tasked with.

Or, so I thought.

See:

It’s not that The Irishman isn’t interesting or well made.  It’s just that, well, it’s a bit of a slog.

I think I aged 20 years watching this

It’s not that Marriage Story doesn’t try.  It’s just that, given the many (Note: So Many) problems in today’s world, it ultimately comes off as superficial, self-important, over-praised and naval gazing. 

It’s not that Knives Out isn’t fun and has nothing to say.  It’s just that, well, it’s not nearly as great as the first two and a half minute trailer and that’s a problem in an almost two hour spoof of an/all Agatha Christie film. 

and a criminal underuse of miss jamie lee

It’s not that Parasite doesn’t have a cool point of view and doesn’t subvert our much too comfortable expectation of “cinema.” It’s just that, well, it’s screenplay is far from seamless and it requires us to accept way, way too much fantastical stuff for a non-genre film.

It’s not that Jo Jo Rabbit is not entertainingly fantastical and welcome-ingly strange.  It’s just that, well, when reinventing the comic Nazi archetype en masse one needs to be much, MUCH more clever and A LOT more specific (Note: See Inglorious Bastards).

It’s not that Hustlers doesn’t have a really and truly quite compelling pole dance by an age-defying Jennifer Lopez and literally countless seductively glossy film montages.  It’s just that, well… an anthem of feminism and/or female empowerment?  R-R-R-Really?  No……really?????

OK but… how many de-aging cameras are on her?

I could go on and if you catch me in person I’d be glad to.  You might not be interested or glad about it, though, and certainly I’d understand that.  After all, there is enough disappointment, bitterness and anger in our overly polluted world already.

The point is, really, where are today’s cinematic equivalents of:

Citizen Kane, Singing In the Rain, Giant, All About Eve, The Graduate, A Clockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby, All the President’s Men, E.T., Sophie’s Choice, Do the Right Thing, Working Girl, Boyz in the Hood, Schindler’s List, Mulholland Drive, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moonlight and yes, La La Land??

You said it Chairy!!

They (whoever they are) say that we get the best art in the most difficult of times.  Judging from the movie art this year this means either the times are going to have to get a lot worse or filmmakers and the industry at large need to figure out a way to go from the satisfaction of good/really good/highly profitable to the exhilaration of great/risk it all fantastic/not trying to thread the needle of commerciality and art and thus achieving both incredible.

No pressure.  At least no more pressure than past generations of filmmakers and their needy, more than willing to go on a journey, audiences ever felt.

Hozier – “Take Me To Church”

Is The Irishman why we go to the movies?

After spending three and a half hours seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, financed by Netflix, at a screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, there are lots of thoughts and feelings to be sorted out.

None of these have to do with the future of film exhibition or whether Netflix is justified in its release pattern for the new Scorsese film.  For those who don’t know, that would be only eight theatres in NY and LA this week, followed by additional movie screens in more cities seven days later and, finally, its streaming debut just ten days after that (Nov. 27) for anyone with a Netflix subscription or the ability to hop on to someone else’s account.

Netflix is so needy #validation

Scorsese, who turns 77 years old on Nov. 17, is one of THE best American filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries, or any century.  Yeah, he’s publicly expressed his disinterest in superhero films and sounded the alarm bells about a money guzzling, tent-pole-driven, market-researched-to-death movie industry obsessed with the Marvel/DC Universe at the expense of cinema dealing with humans and the complexity and nuance of their emotions.

But, for the record, he’s right about that.  Most of us would tire of potato chips and chocolate bars if we ate them 75% of the time.  Even if we didn’t, think of the affect it would have not only on our bodies but our souls, assuming it already hasn’t.

Avengers: Age of Gluttony

Point being, Scorsese not only has a good argument about what passes for present-day cinema but has earned the right to grouse.  For Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, New York, New York, The Aviator, Casino and The Departed alone, he can opine from now until the end of time about what displeases him and/or makes him happy about any one group of films or the movie industry in general.

also thank you for this gif

Which makes one wonder if the same goes for his audience.  If you’ve been a Scorsese admirer and mostly loyal fan all these years, do you have the right to be disappointed in the latest entry into the master’s oeuvre that everyone else seems to be calling brilliant?

Well, of course you have the right.  This is still a free(ish) country.  But is it called for, or even worth it to bring up?

Yeah, it is.

Oh there’s more…

Movies by their very nature are a communal experience.  Sure, many of us now too often watch in the confines of our own homes, and too often do it alone.  But the cinema Scorsese makes and presents is shared with others in a dark room where it’s then debated and dissected afterwards.  It’s part of the gift he’s given us for over half a century and to ignore real life discussion of a new Scorsese film would be like negating the very existence of the artist himself.

So here’s the thing…

Is that Ray Romano?

The Irishman is extremely well made, brilliantly acted and doubtless couldn’t be directed better by anyone else on the planet.  But it’s as cold as a tray of ice cubes on a bleak winter’s day and about as revelatory and/or insightful.

Ouch, Chairy!

After 209 minutes it’s difficult to not wonder aloud, Why did I just spend all of this time watching this?  What did this film tell me that I didn’t already know?  In what way was I touched, repelled or even slightly moved by the lives of these “wise guys” and the people around them?  (Note: Not to mention, I already knew the Mob murdered Jimmy Hoffa!!!).

This is especially true if you’ve ever seen a mob film by Scorsese.  Or watched one in that genre by his friend and contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola.  Or even binge watched the HBO series The Sopranos.

Don’t drag me into this! #cuttoblack

It’s unfair to say that with The Irishman Scorsese has made his version of a sequel to a sequel of his latest superhero film.  The Irishman has many flaws (Note: Despite what the critics are saying), but once it reaches the three-hour mark it forges some new ground.  In its last half hour, one begins to realize why the director spent all of these years trying to make this story and why it is likely the final chapter of every mob story he has ever told.

You can trust the Chair

But suffice it to say that dark and foreboding as it might be, that third act ending doesn’t so much surprise as simply…play out.  It takes you down a road you didn’t expect to see onscreen but pretty much could have imagined would have happened exactly that way off screen.

Would you have imagined it, if left to your own devices?  The answer is probably not if you weren’t a contemporary of Scorsese.  So in that sense, it does play in to the director’s own definition of cinema and, in its way, far surpasses anything you will see in the latest Marvel/DC superhero film.   Which is not to say it is Scorsese, or even cinema, at its best.

God, he’s so rich

There are many different reasons why we go to the movies.  Though let’s qualify that to reflect a 2019 reality.  There are many different reasons why we watch movies.

Escape comes to mind.  File this under the category of general entertainment.  We want to laugh and forget or, if we are addicted to catharsis, we want (and need) to cry and commiserate.

I already know I’ll be a disaster during this movie

Perhaps we want to feel superior to a person or class of people being portrayed onscreen.  Taken one step further, we might even joyfully hate watch something we know will be hopelessly dumb, awful or not to our taste just because we can, especially if we’re the type that has no empathy for its own highly overpaid craftspeople boring us.  (Note: Rest assured the latter also includes ALL of its above-the-line talent [nee actors, producers, writers AND directors] despite what they might say or admit to in interviews.  Though this should never, ever include Scorsese or anyone of his caliber).

But mostly, many of us go to and/or watch movies simply because we are true blue fans, Scorsese or otherwise.

… and for the popcorn #arteriesclogging #delicious

We hope for the best, realize we may be disappointed and yet still are pleased that we saw it.  Some but not all of us in that category can usually find something to like in almost anything, even if it’s the good intentions of those who might have let us down.   (Note: See a few paragraphs above). More importantly, there is always a chance we will see something we like, perhaps even love, and be transported.

And for that experience, we will be grateful, perhaps forever grateful.

With so many other ways to spend our time these days there is still nothing quite like sitting in the dark (or semi-dark, or even light) and watching someone else’s idea of life unfold.  For a short time we get to feel something we might have never felt before, or in that particular way

I have a lot of feelings, OK?!?!

There are Scorsese films where we have that for a few fleeting moments, for numerous moments or, sometimes, all the way through.

You (okay, I) want The Irishman to be the latter even though the best you can say about it is that it’s in the former.  But like all great cinema, the movie and its director contain some moments where you feel as if you are in the presence of screen super heroes.

And that says something.  Actually, it says a lot.

Muddy Waters – “Mannish Boy” (from soundtrack for The Irishman)

 

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)