OOOOHH BABY (DRIVER)!

Baby Driver is the sleeper box-office hit of the summer and a movie not without its charms.

It has pretty much redefined movie music for the future by creating a title character so enmeshed in what’s coming through his headphones that the song choices become not only an essential part of the narrative but, at times, the narrative itself.

It also creates a space for its lead, Ansel Elgort, to step forward and assume true movie star status – not merely in box-office dollars but in presence. It’s hard to imagine any other young actor with the charisma, dramatic heft and self-effacing charm to anchor the mind-boggling acts of passion going on around him done in the name of money, speed and most importantly, love.

Meanwhile… “What’s an Ansel Elgort?”

But chiefly, it arrives at a time where as a country – and world – we all need two hours of escape from reality through an imaginary city where, in the end, justice is served in an untraditional yet somewhat believable fashion given the context of what’s come before.

The latter is key in both a positive and negative way. For although Baby Driver delivers on so many levels it also falls short in several key departments – realism. And…realism.

Wait.. people aren’t this good looking in real life?

Of course, reality these days feels a bit unreal so perhaps that isn’t necessarily a fault. Unless, of course, one attends movies to see some reflection of life as one has experienced it, or even hopes to experience it.

It’s hard these days to be an audience member who prefers the more human musings of 2017 cinema like The Book of Henry and Dean. That statement in itself might feel oxymoronic since one of those films takes place in a pushed reality fantasy and the other follows the angsty life of a Brooklyn cartoonist whose drawings push the narrative at least one third of its 87 minute running time.

Still, neither of those films depends on relentless violence and over-the-top action sequences. Nor do their stories throw human logic out the window and halfway through turn into a Road Runner cartoon, a comic book or a horror fantasy.

Plus.. this Jon Hamm haircut #youareforgiven

I mention the last three examples because if one looks at movies in terms of box-office returns/deliverable profits it’s easy to see the issue with people like myself – those of us who wish Francois Truffaut were still alive and active on the film scene, or that at least Paul Thomas Anderson and Kimberly Pierce made more movies.

WWFTD?

Here are the top 10 top grossing 2017 films domestically:

  1. Beauty and the Beast – $503,940,432
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $384,949,006
  3. Wonder Woman – $361,591,191
  4. Logan – $226, 275, 826
  5. Fate of the Furious – $225,587,340
  6. The Lego Batman Movie – $175,750,384
  7. Get Out – $175,484,140
  8. The Boss Baby – $173,782,946
  9. Kong Skull Island – $168,052, 812
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Vol. 623 – $167,980,297

Oh, and the list is almost exactly the same for worldwide grosses, except Get Out and Pirates move down to the top 20 and Transformers: The Last Knight and Fifty Shades Darker move up from #15 and #14 to #9 and #10.

More like FIFTY SHADES MORE BORING #nochemistry  #snooooze

Not to mention — the worldwide box-office grosses for the top 10 range from $1,259,744,572 (that’s Billion, with a B), down to a measly $378.8 million.

Obviously realism, or as I call it in my more bitter moviegoer moods – basic logic – doesn’t count for very much anymore.

I can’t even go there

What is logical in a capitalistic society – especially in business – is profit. Money. Though the type of movies at the tops of the chart on the whole cost a lot more than the smaller ones down towards the bottom, their international markets and ancillary revenue streams have increased so much that studios need merely one or two massive tentpoles every few years in order to justify all of the other risks.

That is, if this is merely a numbers game.

… and some numbers are not so great #sorrytommy

Having begun my career as a bit of a reluctant box-office guru when I was a reporter at Daily Variety in 1979, I can’t help but feel disheartened. I started the weekly national box-office story at the paper then out of sheer confusion over the scattershot press releases we would receive about how “outstanding” every big film opening was doing.   Decades later it’s turned into pretty much almost anything anyone in the movie business – and that includes too many movie fans – thinks about. And in the case of most every decision maker at the studios, cares about.

Not to say it was not always mostly this way for the studio suits in the old days or recent past. But at least there was a bit more of a balance.

As evidenced by Feud’s Jack Warner #ohhediditagain #moneytalks

The Hurt Locker was released in June. Forrest Gump (not my fave, but still…) came out in July. Heck, even All the President’s Men first appeared in April.

Where are their 2017 equivalents?

Don’t write in with a list of foreign films, limited releases, bomb studio 2017 movies or tell me to stream Netflix, Amazon or _____________. I get it and I do. We’re talking Movies here.

That said, the new Spiderman (Homecoming) has soared past $100,000,000 domestically in its 3-day opening this weekend.

As John Oliver would say, “Good work, Spider Twerp”

That’s the sixth Spiderman film in 15 years even though this one is considered to be NEW – meaning it’s a SECOND reboot of the franchise with a new director and star.

I haven’t seen it yet but I do know when it comes to 2017 realities one could do a lot worse.

Though seriously, that’s a pretty lame excuse. Isn’t it?

Boga – “Nowhere to Run”

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Where We Are

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-1-22-14-pm

I can’t take much more of this. And neither can you.

Pick a card. Any card.

Oh, you know what I mean.

I’m tired of unarmed Black people, mostly male, dying at the hands of white police officers.

Hold it. I have nothing against police officers. Or white people – working class or otherwise. But whether a dark-skinned guy is holding a book, an Epi-pen, or even carrying a firearm that he is clearly NOT pointing in your face, you don’t shoot to kill.   Forget nuance and details and circumstance. It’s pretty simple. A last resort. Whether it’s a cop or you shooting because you’re being disobeyed or wholly confused – or only pseudo threatened. Not convinced? Okay, pretend it’s NOT you but someone else, anyone else, and they’re aiming a gun at your little brother or your older father. Or grandfather. Or MOTHER. Cause that’s next. Then answer. So…right?

Let's get real here people

Let’s get real here people

I can’t deal with any more mentally ill young people going into a nightclub, movie theatre, school or, in the latest case, a mall in Seattle, and shooting it up.

Five dead and another troubled white boy in his twenties in custody. Sound familiar? The truth is no one would get shot if we didn’t have guns. Stop! No, ain’t gonna take your guns away. I’m just sayin’. You can’t shoot someone if the machines to shoot with are illegal. Can’t happen.

Wouldn’t reducing the number of guns out there even slightly lessen the number of deaths? Forget if you like to shoot elk or simply want to reenact the Revolutionary War with your friends…or the practicality of passing legislation. Maybe we prevent one death, just one – your kid.   Or you? Could it be worth it? Or would you rather just have everyone carry and live as if you were on the set of Braveheart but with 2006 Mel Gibson. Too soon? Then how about Gunsmoke or The Wild, Wild West? (Note: TV or film remake). Or Falling Down with 1971 Clint Eastwood playing the Michael Douglas part as Dirty Harry. Better?

Where should we start?

Where should we start?

I’ve had it with arguing about which ethnic or religious group subset is responsible for said terrorist bombing du jour.

I don’t effin’ care. Really. A terrorist is not a member of any sane religious and/or ethnic group that I’ve ever run across. Their sub-set is terrorist, plain and simple. I’m a New Yorker and I hate that some soulless ass thought a lethal pressure cooker in Manhattan was a good idea several weeks ago. But blaming it on his skin color or spirituality…Wait!

That’s like blaming the gays for Roy Cohn. Or the Christians for Ann Coulter.  Or putting me, Tom Cruise, Dave Franco and Usher in the same pot because we’re all 5’7.” I’m nothing like any of them, though certainly we’d fit into some of each other’s clothes (Note: Hi Ush…). You know what I mean?

Uh, Tommy WISHES he was 5'7" #lifts

Uh, Tommy WISHES he was 5’7″ #lifts

Still, if you want to know the truth, where this is all coming from, here’s what it’s really about.

I just can’t take any more of the Trump.

Yet as a good citizen who has had issues with my country over the decades but has come to see that I love it nevertheless, I am afraid to fully turn him/it off for fear of waking up in more of an alternate orange reality than I am already in.

#IMWITHHER

#IMWITHHER

You know how they say there’s a tipping point for everything? That final push that breaks the camel’s back or yours – the thing puts anyone or anything over the edge of sanity or maximum density?

Well, I finally hit it. And over such a little thing, too – at least by comparison.

The NY Times, CNN and others report that Gennifer Flowers, the former mistress of Bill Clinton – he’s the former president who is the spouse of current Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton – has been invited to Monday’s presidential debate. By Republican nominee Donald Trump.

umm... WHAT?

umm… WHAT?

Okay, FINE! If you want to split hairs it’s technically only slightly murky – the way every single statement, tweet and Trumpism is. Which means – it’s the norm. In response to fellow billionaire Marc Cuban being seated in the front row at the debates, Trump tweeted, that if that happens perhaps I will seat Gennifer Flowers right next to him. Talk about false equivalencies!

For those too young to recall or wise enough to forget, Ms. Flowers many, MANY decades ago had an affair with Bill Clinton and Republican operatives in the early nineties tried to blow up his presidential campaign by bringing her to the forefront when such things as marital history and monogamy mattered in presidential politics. It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard about Ms. Flowers but every now and again she reappears on the national or international scene when people get desperate enough about the Clintons and throw up their hands when they’re out of ammunition.

The only place this woman belongs is on some third-rate reality show #CelebrityApprentice

The only place this woman belongs is on some third-rate reality show #CelebrityApprentice

The idea that this Orange Clown, this spray-tanned-backed-by-Russian-oligarchs buffoon, this counterfeit trust fund baby, is sick enough and so utterly weak of character and self-confidence that he actually thinks inviting the woman whom his opponent’s HUSBAND had an affair with decades ago to sit in the front row during a PRESIDENTIAL debate against said opponent, is a way to distract her and win, speaks to a kind of base immorality we have not seen before. His knee-jerk childishness and temper tantrums and clear terror at the prospect of only being able to talking about ISSUES is mind-boggling, not to mention a bit scary. As for Ms. Flowers, she has told the NY Times that she will attend the debates – though whether she will indeed be #Drumpf’s guest and/or sit in the front row is still in question.

#DRAMA

#DRAMA

Nevertheless, whether or not Ms. Flowers will or has attended the debates by the time you read this is not what’s relevant. To be considered more seriously is where we are and how silly and sad this has all become. Donald Trump has the temperament of an immature child and commands the room only because the adults in charge, meaning all of us, let him.   However, his just desserts are that in this presidential race he faces one of the few adults in the political world – a strong woman (nee Mom) who won’t let a bilious little boy get away with lying and mouthing off just because he’s angry and bored and tired of all of the many expensive toys he’s been given.

So, really, he could spit into her face or turn into Regan from The Exorcist and it won’t matter. Come Nov. 8th, he’ll be grounded and his fake presidential seal will be taken away for life.

AMEN #ThatsAllFolks

AMEN #ThatsAllFolks

As terrorism, gun control and the racist American demons this child has unleashed, let’s hope she can be half as successful in conquering them.

Finally, if you’re voting for Trump

Plastic Wrap

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 8.04.23 AM

As I sat staring aghast at the before and after pictures of Renee Zellweger that circulated all over social media this week I wondered – am I against plastic surgery or just bad plastic surgery? Or at least the extensive kind since bad is clearly in the eye of the beholder when it applies to things like elective medical procedures and reupholstery which, when you stop to think about it, are sort of the same thing.

For those not up to snuff, some rather shocking photos emerged of Ms. Zellweger at a red carpet event where her face was very much unlike the quite famous one we have all come to know since she emerged seemingly out of nowhere as a full blown movie star in Jerry Maguire – a film where she not only held her own against the megawatt presence of a younger Tom Cruise but matched his charisma frame for frame. Needless to say, anyone who has made following the movies their business or even hobby knows that aside from this being not an easy feat to pull off it is actually pretty near impossible to do against the handful of actors we in the public vaunt into cinema royalty in any given generation.

The making of America's sweetheart

The making of America’s sweetheart

Of course, it’s been almost 20 years since Jerry Maguire and both Ms. Zellweger, all of you and, most importantly, myself are also almost two decades older. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by this now unfamiliar image staring at me in the face that was identified as her face. Even though I am more than a decade older than Ms. Zellweger and on a given day absolutely as vain as any movie star I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help wonder why anyone as talented, accomplished and yes – attractive as she – would choose to alter their physical self to such a very large extent.

Honey, we can all tell you've had work

Honey, we can all tell you’ve had work

Then it hit me – if her alterations simply made her look like a younger version of herself rather than an altered version of, let’s say, her distant cousin raised in Slabovia twice removed – would I have been so troubled by it? Or even noticed? I was quick to comment that this new RZ decision was “sad” and wrote/told those within ear or eye shot on social media to “be themselves” and not adhere to the pressure to “do that to yourself.” Well, whom was I kidding? It didn’t seem to matter to me when I met Jane Fonda last year that at 73 she suddenly looked about 20 years younger. Or that somehow, clearly only through exercise and Scientology, 52 year-old Tom Cruise seems permanently frozen at 38. On the other hand, I was appalled several years ago when I saw the shiny, waxily frozen face of Sylvester Stallone to my right waiting for the valet to bring around his car or the alternately scary images of Mickey Rourke, Kim Novak, Barbara Hershey and Burt Reynolds in recent years in photographs, awards shows, on film and yes, regrettably even in person at the supermarket.

Hey Mickey!

Hey Mickey!

Age is a very, very tricky thing, let me tell you. Physically, psychologically – and in all other ways you can think of. But let’s not get into our mutual expiration dates for fear of depressing the hell out of the room and just stick with the outside wrapping. You don’t want to look like you belong in a rocking chair but at the same time you don’t want to live a pathetically striving existence of trying to compete with people 20 years your junior and then lie yourself into thinking that you appear as refreshed as those that age who are not excessively drinking or drugging up daily over the top doses of some lethal co-combinations or quantities of said substances. Stand next to any healthy individual of that age at your age and the lie becomes too obvious. That is, if you choose to live in reality.

OK, we get it, Meryl. You rule.

OK, we get it, Meryl.

Well, luckily the entertainment business has perfected the art of creating alternate realities and we have perfected incorporating what they sell into our everyday existences. With so much available, the fountain of youth is just one more item to be obtained with one, two or three clicks at the most. True – virtues like intellect, humor, love and decency are what we say we want but they can’t stare back at you in the mirror – either rear view, bathroom or vanity style.

Which brings us back to Ms. Zellweger. In answer to the outpouring of…reaction…to her new look, she issued the following series of statements:

“I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows…

My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”

Reaction?

Reaction?

That is a lot more than any of us want to know about her life or even have the right to know but let’s not try to pretend it answers the question which is – why does an accomplished, more than reasonably attractive person (Note: I always thought she was flirty and really pretty but lets go with the former) endure the risks of major surgery and perhaps a life-altering change in appearance in order to look…younger? More attractive? Or less or more….???????????

Certainly, Ms. Zellweger is under no obligation to say anything at all. And for those who want to advance arguments, the correct answers are not things like:

  1. She makes her living as an actress and at 45 years old this is the price that must be paid.
  2. Plastic surgery is always a gamble and she just got unlucky. Besides, she doesn’t look all that different.
  3. Why are you specifically raking her over the coals, anyway?

Actors the caliber of RZ play real characters and as they age they have the ability to adapt and become all kinds of more interesting and even older people; to say she doesn’t look all that different is like me trying to pose as a full on Divan rather than a mere Chair; and I am a huge RZ fan not only for her commercial hits like Bridget Jones, Chicago, Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain but in lesser known films like The Whole Wide World, Nurse Betty and My One and Only. In fact, in the latter 2009 road movie she gives a charming performance as the fictionalized version of actor George Hamilton’s beautiful Southern belle mother who determinedly drives cross country with the younger George in tow as life lessons abound. Watch it on DVD or Netflix and see if you don’t agree.

... this film is from 2009 (yes, that's 5 years ago)

… this film is from 2009 (yes, that’s 5 years ago)

The truth is there is something truly insidious about what the scientific advances in beautifying medical procedures have wrought on our culture. I live in L.A. where so many are surgically enhanced. But this is not limited just to the movies or on the left coast anymore. It’s in most big cities. And smaller ones, too. Go to an upscale restaurant and you see it everywhere. And not just on women. I go to the gym and I see it in the faces of guys I used to know who now have foreheads and cheeks (not to mention other body parts, I presume) that you could bounce a quarter off of. This is the same city I came to more than thirty years ago where I spotted a still dazzling attractive man in his late seventies stumbling a bit tipsy down the streets of Beverly Hills. He was tanned and had deep bags under his eyes and lines on his forehead and cheeks but wouldn’t you know that with his thick black glasses and gray black hair Dean Martin was still devastatingly handsome. And he wasn’t even sober! Not to mention a few years ago at a private screening for eight I also found myself wildly attracted to sixty something year old Helen Mirren, sexy as hell despite wrinkles in her face after a day of filming but with a healthy, quite upright body and refreshingly blunt intellect to match.

What's your shelf life?

What’s your shelf life?

We can dismiss all this by saying these are exceptionally attractive people who have aged well but that doesn’t address the very fact that there is a way to still look great on the outside to both strangers and yourself without going under the knife and taking the risk that if she were not forewarned even your own mother might pass you by on the street. That kind of extreme alteration used to be reserved for fictional characters in soap operas and murder mysteries who had committed a crime and needed to change their identities. Getting older is not a cause for either of those.

... or 1980s stardom

… or 1980s stardom

All of this is not so say one can’t be well groomed and use beauty aids. Do NOT get cute and try to employ the where do you draw the line argument here. You’re in charge of the line and you’re the master (or mistress) of how you look.

Cher, the ultimate show business survivor and, among other things, admitted plastic surgery user, had the best answer to those who questioned her employment of cosmetic procedures to look good and, as she says, “keep the package viable.” And that is:

If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.

I would only add to that statement: There are lots of people who will still find you equally or even more attractive if you choose NOT to do that. Perhaps even yourself.

And that goes double for anyone else – famous, unknown or even infamous – who might be considering cutting into their face now or at some future date. This gets harder to say as you get older but it’s a lot easier to maintain as an alternative as the years go on.

Straight Talk

Rule of thumb:  If something that’s said publicly bothers you for more than a day, and worse, is inaccurate, you have an obligation to do something about it.

If you disagree at the very least you have to write a letter, tell someone else, or run for office.  If it’s untrue and the person telling it to you is mistaken or, as my Mom used to say – a liar – you have to do even more.  And not be afraid to do it because in the long run you always win when you express what’s true.

So –  here’s what director Adam Shankman said last weekend publicly in a Q&A session at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences when discussing his new film “Rock of Ages” – a musical set in 1987 Los Angeles.

Oh god.

“The year the movie takes place – 1987 – was a great time, a different time  – so free, really.  I didn’t have a care in the world.  Really.”

Really?

Here’s what you have to know because facts and statistics don’t lie:

1987

  • 41,027 persons are dead from AIDS.
  • 71,176 persons are diagnosed with AIDS in the US.
  • Randy Shilts’ investigative journalism book, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, is published chronicling the 1980–1985 discovery and spread of HIV/AIDS, government indifference, and political infighting in the United States to what was initially perceived as a gay disease.
  • AZT (zidovudine), the first antiretroviral drug, became available to treat HIV.
  • Williamson, West Virginia closed its public swimming pool following an incident involving a local resident with HIV/AIDS. The Oprah Winfrey Show broadcasts a town hall meeting during which local residents express their fears about AIDS and homosexuality.
  • In August, 1987 the Rae family, including HIV+ hemophiliacs (Ricky Rae and his two brothers) living in Florida, are barred from their church and school. After they successfully sue to enroll the kids back in school, their house is burned to the ground.
  • The first known AIDS death at the time was in 1981 but actually occurred in the mid-seventies.
  • An Early Frost, TV’s first prime time AIDS film, was broadcast November 11, 1985 (two years earlier) on NBC.
  • In April and October of 1987 President Reagan finally uses the word “AIDS” in public. He sided with his Education Secretary William Bennett and other conservatives who said the Government should not provide sex education information.

Artwork from 87.

Good times?  Oh yeah.  Especially for someone like Mr. Shankman who is openly gay and in 1987, was turning 23, and already a professional dancer/choreographer having attended New York’s prestigious Julliard School of the Arts.   If I take Mr. Shankman at his word, this last statement (“good times”) is not at all sarcastic.  If I report to you what I think is the real truth – that he is either forgetful, exaggerating to sell his movie, or was indeed somehow personally and callously unaffected by a tragic, international pandemic affecting a lot of people who looked a lot like him (which I can’t imagine is the case but, then again no one can be the best judge of character 100% of time), then his statements are even more egregious.  Because he should know better.

The ignorant and the callous piss me off.  Am I being too personally sensitive?  I don’t think so.  Because pick a tragedy, any tragedy, any tragedy at all,  and substitute an appropriately analogous amount of facts (if you could indeed come up with them) and the result would be the same.  Worse yet – no matter how you try to slice, dice, parse or analyze what was said in defense of that dangling quote, it just gets worse and worse. But let’s try anyway…

Argument #1 — This was an unintentional public misstatement made for no other reason than to sell a movie set 25 years ago.  All our memories fade at some point and years tend to jumble. 

Uh, well – he also said a similar thing in the L.A. Times about that time period and broadened it to include the entire decade of the eighties.  To quote: “It was endless sex with endless partners with no threat of AIDS, seemingly.”

What was it that former Bush president once said?  Ah yes, here it is:

“Fool me once — shame on you.  Fool me (twice?) – you can’t get fooled again.”

What am I looking at here?

Argument #2 – This is just a film director who wants audiences to remember 1987 that way because he’s trying to sell a movie set in an imagined 1987.  So rather than mistake or misstatement here is a huckster making a callous calculation no one can call him on because he can always answer back:   “Come on, we’re talking about a movie that is pure entertainment, a fantasy — and anyone who takes what’s said literally is too PC and has no sense of irony or humor.”

Problem is in 2012 we’re all too hype weary and too savvy as a society. Annoying people with nothing better to do than call you on inaccuracies (those people used to be called journalists) then come forward and confront you publicly with what your literal words were.  Hype can, in essence, quickly become backlash (ask The Octomom).  To put it more plainly — We might expect to be lied to but when it’s found out and it’s credible we really, really, really don’t like it (or your product) or even you for trying to pull one over one us.  (To put it still more plainly: BUSTED!!).

ARGUMENT #3 – He really doesn’t know he’s “talkin’ smack” and believes what he’s saying is true.  People in show business tend to live in bubbles.  He concentrated on his art – dancer; choreographer; and budding director – and perhaps was not affected the way you were.   

Right.  You mean like the story that used to make the rounds for years about show business legend Ann Miller.  Reacting many years later to news of the death of John F. Kennedy she was purported to have said:  “He died?  What do I know, I was touring in “Sugar Babies.”

Oh, Ann.

Yes, of course that story is a fake.  As is argument #3.  People who are super successful in show business are especially aware of what’s going on culturally.  The ability to take your talents and apply it in a timely fashion to the world around you, whatever that happens to be at the moment, can often be the very talent that pushes you into major success.  Think of it as learned serendipity.

But —  as counterintuitive as it might be to a successful career in show business and even though our present reality might be a quite bitter pill to swallow — it seems to me there is still a human obligation to tell the truth, especially as any kind of artist.  To twist facts in your work for the sake of a good story is one thing — but to take that story and pass it off as some kind of reality when the cameras are off and you’re in the presence of real life with history and facts and people who can actually breathe – that’s another.   It just means that some things that fly in the face of logic can’t be debated.  For instance, you can no longer claim the president wasn’t born in the U.S. when a state (yes, Hawaii is one of the 50) produces a birth certificate in hard ink that says he was.  In the same way two plus two equals four no matter how much you want us to believe under the rules in your own personal idealized new world it is, indeed, five.  Yes, I suppose it could even be seven if you redefine terms and definitions and laws.  But by those standards, I can also proclaim a rhinoceros is a cat and a dog is a yellow-bellied sapsucker, or perhaps one-legged owl.  I mean, anything is possible in a society where only 1% of us make the rules and the other 99% are required to play by them.

Of course, some lies are bigger and more offensive than others, especially when they deal with sensitive issues of the past.  For example, if I were a Jewish man of a certain age from eastern Europe and not a Jewish man of the age I am now living in Los Angeles with grandparents who lived and died in eastern Europe, I could never recall the carefree, lovely casual days in Germany and Poland in 1942 – where things were so much simpler and different than they are in the complicated times we must endure in Germany now.

(Note:  For those of another religion, ethnicity, or even, um, sexual persuasion, substitute another time and place in history and you might get the idea.)

Bottom line:

You don’t get to just throw untruths out there and rewrite history, even in the smallest way, and call it perception, opinion or even hype.  It’s misconception at best, and a blatant total calculated lie, at worst.  And it should not go on the public record unchallenged. Young people especially should not be afraid to speak or shout out when something bothers them in the public discourse, or is, frankly, untrue or something they vehemently disagree with.  Yes, a few people might go running or you might bruise a couple of egos right now, perhaps some of them belonging to peers or elders who could possibly be of help in the short term.  But in the long run the majority of many others will offer you respect and probably many more unforeseen opportunities than you could ever imagine because you had the courage to speak and stick up for what you know in your heart of hearts is true.  Most importantly, you’ll respect yourself for setting the record straight on something that matters to you.  This, in itself, is never a bad thing.

Enjoying the Ride

You can be cynical, opinionated and generally contrary to most things and still be a funny person.  Standing up for what you believe in or challenging the status quo doesn’t mean you’re a chronic malcontent or a socialist.  (It doesn’t even mean you resent the rich).  And going to bed generally disturbed at the state of the world sometimes doesn’t mean you’re not ENJOYING the RIDE.

I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the person I love and it occurred to me more than once during that day that I am a lucky person.  I mean, few of us get to have a long-lasting relationship (FYI, I did kiss more than a few toads in my day), much less a decent one (no, they are not necessarily the same thing).  I get to make money at things I love doing (teaching, writing).  I have fantastic friends, a great family and a very cool dog. (and blog!)

However, this does not mean that I walk around 24/7 with a hanger in my mouth stretching my lips into a contorted Joker-like smile or don’t often get exasperated when I turn on the TV, go to the movies or encounter the too many idiots who travel the world with me despite my preference that they just go away.  (no, they don’t have to die, just disappear).  I mean, just yesterday I found myself infuriated as I left the 3:30 pm show of something called “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” (annoying enough, title?).  I was the crazy person you saw in Hollywood at 5:13pm outside the Arclight Theatres audibly muttering to no one in particular “Are they kidding? “ And then to myself in my car – “I can’t believe Sundance still gives awards to such indulgent crap!”

But does this mean I’m not enjoying my life?  9-9-9   Nein, Nein, nein!!!  And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  It means I am human.  As my Facebook motto says, “You can have fun and get angry.  They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Also, I hate to quote movies, but as the psychiatrist earnestly tells the troubled teen in “Ordinary People”:  “Unless you feel pain, you’re not going to feel happy either.” (Yeah, I know you might think the dialogue is dated but so is Melanie’s music to some people and she still happens to be a goddess.

There is an odd mindset in this country that I can trace back to the more than jovial Ronald Reagan – who presided over the seemingly jovial but actually quite tragic and awful decade of the 1980s.  (which was, incidentally, not all bad for me because I did meet and fall in love with my partner of 24 years).  It goes something like this – people who protest, are insurgent or sometimes choose to scowl or occasionally express real anger at their fellow man (and/or the status quo) are:

a) unpatriotic

b) wrong

c) trouble-makers and

d) generally unhappy, disagreeable people bordering on (or crossing the line to) anti-American.

In fact, the total opposite is true.  Just as stuff makes you thrilled to be alive, things can and do mammothly piss you off!  In my mind, part of the task of any artist, or any generation for that matter, is to externalize the anger and frustration in some way that affects people, influences them, moves them, and then ultimately becomes a cog in the wheel of change.  To something better?  Hopefully.  But not always.  But life often evolves on the basis of trial and error.  That being the case, our real progresses can be charted by an up and down graph, not by one that is a straight line to what might likely be a trip to nowheresville.  The messy, back and forth exchange of viewpoints and ideas, some of which might offend, infuriate (Marcy, Missy what’s her name) is precisely the stuff that we need in order to actually be what people in the eighties thought they were aspiring to – a better world.  And take it from someone who has been in a 24-year relationship – it’s not always Zipppity-Doo-Dah, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning because that would get as nauseating as eating my beloved pizza for every breakfast, lunch and dinner or as tiring as having to watch this clip over and over (or perhaps even once?)

As for ENJOYING THE RIDE, you can look at certain people in the news and arts and somehow know that their exterior jovial or scowling demeanor does not necessarily equate to the fact that they are truly ENJOYING THE RIDE.  To whit, some totally biased observations:

  1. Herman Cain – Thoroughly disagree with him politically and find him a bit of an offensive buffoon but yes – ENJOYING THE RIDE
  2. Tom Cruise – The biggest, richest, and perhaps most publicly enthusiastic movie star in the world, but in my humble opinion – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  3. Gloria Steinem – Brilliant writer, feminist extraordinaire, life contrarian to American patriarchy but still ENJOYING THE RIDE
  4. Bill Maher – Love his show, agree with him more than I care to admit, thrilled that he has the nerve to offend, but something tells me – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  5. Barack Obama – president during one of the worst times in American history – and yes, ENJOYING THE RIDE (How is this possible?)
  6. Gabrielle Giffords – Arizona Congresswoman shot through the head and still recovering from brain trauma, before and after clearly ENJOYING THE RIDE
  7. Katherine Heigl – Gigantic film star whose movies worldwide have grossed $1 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”), seems as if she’s the most fortunate actress in her age range at the very least yet ultimately NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.

These observations are unscientific and totally my own yet I’m willing to stand up for them.  Which doesn’t make me right or wrong, or judgmental, just enthusiastically opinionated.  But as you ponder on just how judgmental I really am, consider the observations of current MSNBC female political commentator, business owner and former Congressional candidate with the unfortunate (or fortunate) name of Krystal Ball.  Yes – that IS her real name.  It came from her father, a physicist who did his PhD on crystals (look it up, I’m not lying) and her mother, who is an educator.  Aside from being a businesswoman and CPA, Ms. Ball ran for Congress in 2010 in Virginia and lost but, actually ultimately won.  This might be partially due to how Ms. Ball was able to lead not with her political views but by example of how she lived her life.

You'd think she'd already know the outcome...

In October 2010, one month before the elections, a photo surfaced on a right wing blog of her at a holiday party some years prior dressed as a “naughty Santa” while sucking a red dildo attached to her then-husband’s nose.  (UH, no, we’re not going to reprint it here.  You can google).  Confirming her likeness several weeks before the election and admitting the photos were “embarrassing,” she also saw fit to call the photos sexist and wrote in the Huffington Post “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are gong to leak into the public sphere.”  Yet, she posed the broader and more powerful issue of how society treats females, making “women into whores” and questioning “this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible.”

Ms. Ball, who realizes her very name is both a blessing and a bit of a curse, was subsequently put on Forbes’ List of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women of the Midterm Elections,” is remarried, has a young daughter and is now a regularly outspoken national voice on the issues of the day, owning the many facets of who she is and what has happened to her in the eye of the hurricane.  Her name is Krystal Ball and yet she seems alternately tough, traditionally feminine, angry, smart, argumentative, thoughtful and sweet.  Enjoying the ride?  You bet.  Most definitely. So am I.  On most days, at least.  Are you?

Recipes

I enjoy cooking and I’m good at it.  I’m not a great cook because that would entail inventing recipes from scratch out of thin air or improvising five star meals out of what’s in the kitchen cabinet.  What I love most about cooking (other than eating) is that if you exactly follow a great or even good recipe it’s impossible to make a mistake.  It will ALWAYS come out right.  When my sister, whom I adore, compliments my cooking and tells me she wishes she could be as good as I am at it, I roll my eyes (lovingly) and always have the same response:  “If you can read, you can cook.”

Not so in the entertainment business.  There is no recipe.  No formula.  This runs contrary to what you hear deep inside film and TV studios and from many, if not most, producers and agents.  They believe in the “recipe,” “the formula,” if only for self-preservation.  I mean, what if there were no sure fire way to do your job – you’d have to get creative.  Maybe even edgy or dangerous.

Note:  I’m making an overall point here.  I do know some creative studio executives, producers and agents.  Maybe even one or two who are edgy and dangerous.  And even if I didn’t (but I do) I would not admit it because I would like to get a film made again.  To reiterate, that’s “if” I didn’t.

The recipe you most hear about in film and television is

  1. Take a strong concept or story (robots attacking the earth.. ahem, “Transformers”) and…
  2. Marry it with a proven moneymaking director (Michael Bay: “Tranformers II.”  And “III.”  And…?).   Sometimes you can even…
  3. Put a big star in it (Shia LaBeouf?).  But, uh, okay, not necessarily.  Two of the three elements are often enough.

Another way to go is to:

  1. Take a money-making story from another medium that is so HUGELY popular (“Harry Potter”) that it can’t help but succeed financially, even without big box-office stars.  In that case, it helps to have…
  2. A proven, big moneymaking director (Chris Columbus)
  3. An experienced, literate screenwriter (Steve Kloves) and…
  4. A lot of very experienced producers – too many to mention but you can look it up here.

So okay – there IS a formula, you say?  Hasn’t this guy just disproven his point?  Not exactly.  Or at all.  Because aside from the various examples of other films that had those same type of elements but DID NOT succeed (my friends and I call them LUCY award winners, for reasons which I’ll explain in a minute), it seems that the aforementioned sure-fire formulas for film/TV success I just mentioned in 2011 no longer hold water for the studio powers-that-be.

To prove my point, I cite and credit the following bit of information to Nikke Finke’s Deadline Hollywood, which broke the following story earlier this week:

“Universal recently passed on green lighting At The Mountains of Madness, which Guillermo del Toro was to direct with Tom Cruise starring, based on HP Lovecraft horror tale.”

And what about this one?

 “…The Dark Tower, the ultra-ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that was going to encompass a trilogy of feature films and two limited run TV series. The studio has said, No Thanks. Universal has passed on going forward with the project, dealing a huge blow in the plan for Ron Howard to direct Akiva Goldsman’s script, with Brian Grazer, Goldsman and the author producing and Javier Bardem starring as gunslinger Roland Deschain.

How does this NOT work?

Don’t these fit in the formula?  Uh, not any longer because, as you see, the recipe has changed.   And will change again.  And then again.  Or maybe there was never any sure-fire recipes for film and TV success to begin with (Just as I told you!).

Because if, according to those proven “recipes,” Tom Cruise (still one of our biggest international moneymaking actors) starring in a genre (they never lose money) film directed by a now HOT, money-making and even artistic director like Guillermo Del Toro who understands, has made money and even gotten good reviews in genre filmmaking (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Blade 2,” “Hellboy”) can’t get a film project going, something’s up.  Yeah, Deadline Hollywood tells us “the studio balked at funding a $150 million film that gave del Toro the latitude to deliver his cut with an R-rating.”  But is that it?  Or have economic times called for a seismic shift in new ingredients?

Ron Howard’s films have grossed upwards of $1.8 billion (that’s BILLION, with a “B”) domestically.   So if anyone could do a “Lord of the Rings” type trilogy for his home studio of Universal you’d think it would be a veteran yet still young (ish – for directors) Oscar winner, producing with his longtime mega moneymaking partner from a script by his Oscar-winning long-time writer.  Also, incidentally,  starring arguably one of the hottest international stars both critically and financially in movies today.  But again, no go.

Stop the boiling water, Virginia —  your film package may not have seemed half-baked but is now officially only half-cooked.

The recent economic meltdown of the past two years and the financial disappointments or stale reviews for some much-touted films has changed things.  Nothing is a sure thing, if it ever was.  The recipes for success that are no guarantees of anything have been changed by the people who claim publicly to not have any.  Or maybe, where creative work is concerned, there is no, nor has there ever been, any sure fire recipe to begin with.

Consider:

  1. “Nine” – From the director of the Oscar-winning movie musical megahit “Chicago,” (Rob Marshall) starring the Academy Award-winning actor of pretty much every other acclaimed movie (a slight exaggeration?) in the last 15 years (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  2. “Lovely Bones” – An adaptation of one the world’s most recent best selling single volume books from one of the most sought after directors Peter Jackson of multi-part films (“Lord of the Rings”) the world has ever known.
  3. “Burlesque” – Cher and Christina Aguilera in a movie musical.   It bridges music young and old.  Plus there’s A LOT of skin.  How can it lose?  Or at least not be interesting.  And infinitely watchable?

Help!

My friend Barry (who suggested I cite  him  the films) and I would modestly categorize these last three films as “Lucy” award winners.  Meaning they are films that on paper look like they’re sure successes or of high interest either creatively, financially or for huge entertainment value.  Yet, all three, with fairly sure-fire ingredients in their recipes failed to deliver.

(Note:  This award was named years ago in honor of my favorite all-time TV actor – Lucille Ball, who still makes me guffaw in reruns of “I Love Lucy” just about every time I tune in.  However, she unwittingly created the “Lucy” award when she starred in the ill-fated movie version of “Mame,” an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical that, on paper at least, looked like a viable recipe for success).

It wasn’t.

What is the takeaway here?  That recipes are for cooking, not for movie or TV making.  And just to prove it, I will close with one of my favorites of the former – Ina Garten’s (“The Barefoot Contessa”) formula for GREAT GUACOMOLE.  Over the years I’ve made it at least 100 times and it ALWAYS, ALWAYS comes out perfect.

Ingredients

4 ripe Haas avocados

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)

8 dashes hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

Directions

Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

You can thank me later.