Popular Culture

50 Years Ago Today: The Debut Of Star Trek

A lot of ink and pixels being spilled about Star Trek and its cultural impact.  Many of these articles are personal, and I was going to write one myself.

But here’s the thing about Star Trek — you either get it or you don’t. And if you are a child of the 1970s like me, you get Star Trek in a way that I could not convey to you in words.  It’s just one of those things that binds.  You loved the original series, loved the animated series, hated the first movie, were relieved at the second movie and the fourth, came to love The Next Generation, were a little troubled to see the cult phenomenon become so mainstream, and are fine with new reboot, although, it’s just not the same as when you discovered that original series and played it in the backyard.  The world is different now, you are different now, and Star Trek is different now — and they don’t seem to fit like they used to.

And you either get that or you don’t.

Live long and prosper, indeed, Star Trek.

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You Can Now Make Star Trek Movies….

… and you won’t get sued for copyright infringement, as long as you follow these guidelines, just released by CBS and Paramount:

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:
  1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.  
  2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
  3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
  4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
  5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
  6. The fan production must be non-commercial:
    • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
    • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
    • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
    • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
    • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
    • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
  7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
  8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:
    “Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
  9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
  10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

Lady Dynamite: A Review

I have had a girlfriend with bipolar issues, and another who has since developed identity diffusion disorder* (formally known as multiple personality disorder).  I’ve worked with informal counselling of families and friends of people stricken with mental illness.  Because of that, I can attest to the fact that it is no picnic to be in their shoes, or anywhere near their shoes (especially when they are not taking care of themselves).

This is why I am so enamored of Maria Bamford who not only handles her affliction head on, but turns it into a comedy both VERY funny and VERY personal.  Her illness is played for laughs.  It’s not the first to do this (“Orange Is The New Black” does this too), but Bamford goes the extra mile by letting the audience know that her mind, while humorous from a distance, is actually pretty scary too.  And she seems to make the audience understand that mania, while enthralling and objectively empowering, actually is dangerous to the point of being life-threatening.  Watching her, you know that Bamford has worked to maintain her stability, knowing what is good for her and what isn’t, but you also know that it is work (and pills and therapy and….) that never ends.

So here’s a review of the show from Slate:

In a scene toward the end of the first season of Lady Dynamite, the Netflix comedy starring Maria Bamford, Maria shares her concern about her lack of friends with her life coach, Karen (played with perfectly vapid sincerity by Jenny Slate).  At first, Karen answers with well-worn therapy jargon, telling Maria, “The only friendship you need to be concerned with is the one with the gal in the mirror.” Maria presses her, saying, “I’m just worried, because the only two friends I have left who will still be friends with me are Dagmar and Larissa”—to which Karen cheerfully responds, “Yeah, because you’re bipolar and you’re incredibly hard to stay friends with. I mean, people are really just going to fall by the wayside. And that’s life … for you.”

What’s remarkable about this exchange is not Karen’s apparent callousness in the face of her client’s troubles. In fact, by the episode’s end, Maria abandons her goal of “no friend left behind,” realizing that not all friendships are worth the sacrifices required to keep them. What makes this scene, and Lady Dynamite as a whole, so refreshing, is that Karen is exactly right. Maria isn’t an easy person to be friends with. She is thoughtful and eager to please, but her good intentions don’t always make up for her bad decisions.  And her desire to help those around her can’t prevent her brain from turning stress into mania, or stop the destructive behavior mania incites.

Maria’s life coach is just one of the many voices of harsh truth throughout the show’s 12-episode season. Some of these truth-tellers are more tactful than others. In the blue-tinted scenes representing Maria’s time in Duluth, MN, taking part in psychiatric outpatient therapy after a severe manic episode, her parents are shown to be kind and patient, but also matter-of-fact about her illness. When her mom scolds her dad for going out just as Maria arrives home, he replies to them both, “I thought we weren’t going to treat her differently just because her frontal lobe went on the fritz.” Her obnoxious best friend from childhood adds her own insight, musing: “Isn’t that funny, all the fame and fortune of Hollywood can’t save ya, if your brain done broke.”

Many of the tone-deaf comments Maria hears regarding her life with Bipolar Disorder (“Actually, I’m Bipolar II,” she tells her life coach, to which her life coach replies, “Right, which means you’re twice as hard to stay friends with.”) are played for laughs. But the humor is that much sharper for its proximity to truth. One of the major themes of the season, and one of the most sincere and affecting elements of Maria’s character, is her struggle to honestly state her own feelings, especially when they are unpleasant or scary. Whether she’s agreeing to act in ad campaigns of increasing absurdity (the most memorable of the bunch being the Bamford Pepper Stepper Pepper-Bot, a backpack-sized robot that feeds whole bell peppers to the jogger wearing it) or buying a nicer house than she needs to please her childhood friend’s aggressive real estate agent (a convincingly intimidating June Diane Raphael), Maria’s inability to say what she really thinks threatens to destroy not only her career, but also her closest friendships and romantic relationships.

While the desire to avoid conflict clearly isn’t new for a TV character (pick almost any sitcom of the last several decades and you’ll clearly find plenty of storylines set into motion by one character withholding information from another), Maria’s fear of sharing her thoughts is based on more than a simple desire to be liked. The character of Maria, like the real Maria Bamford, has good reason to fear how other people might react to her true thoughts., She perceives the world through a lens that is hers alone. This unique view is what makes her such a great comic, and what has earned her such a respected perch within L.A.’s alternative comedy scene. Her albums and specials are full of jokes that range from absurdly hilarious to disturbingly dark, often told in a number of different voices (outside of stand-up, Bamford’s greatest success has been in doing voice work for commercials and animated programs). She is physically small and outwardly cheerful, which highlights by contrast her frequently grim comedic observations. This apparent contradiction is what makes Maria the character, and Lady Dynamite the series, feel so refreshing amid a wide range of half-hour shows featuring stand-up comedians. And it is also what singles out Lady Dynamite’s depiction of mental illness from every other show on television.

Depictions of mental illness on TV have generally grown increasingly nuanced and considered in recent decades, with prestige dramas from The Sopranos to Homeland, treating mentally ill protagonists with seriousness and respect. In the past year, comedies like You’re the Worst, and Crazy Ex Girlfriend have presented characters who are highly functional, frequently charming, and relatively successful, despite living with ongoing symptoms. But Lady Dynamite goes even further. Instead of treating mental illness as an obstacle for a character to overcome, or a device to explain otherwise nonsensical actions, Lady Dynamite builds it into the very fabric of its world. It mines tragedy for comedy, showing us a character who is herself struggling to find the humor within her own terrible pain. It’s the rare comedy that shows us that the reality of mental illness is that darkness can coexist with creativity and fun and hope.

Like Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, or fibromyalgia, Maria’s mental illness will never go away completely. Even after months of psychiatric care, Maria returns to Los Angeles knowing the risk of a manic episode or a suicidal depression isn’t entirely behind her. She actively tries to do the things she knows will help her stay healthy, but the dark realities have not changed, and neither has her desire to make people like her. (When her mother tells her not to look to others for approval, Maria replies, “But that’s literally what standup is, looking for approval from strangers.”).

The wisest advice Maria receives over the course of the first season comes from another comically blunt therapist. While taking part in an art-therapy group at the Duluth psych ward, Maria tries to stop two other patients who are arguing over the magazine cut-outs for their vision boards. Maria says, “Hey, we’re all here to get along.” Without missing a beat, the group therapist corrects her, saying, “No, Maria, we are not. We are all here to better ourselves and sometimes that means expressing your negative emotions in a constructive way.” Trying to set an example, the therapist goes on to tell her patients that they stress her out so much that she sometimes contemplates taking “all the pills” in her desk. She laughs as she says this, patting another patient on the shoulder.

Maria is generally realistic, but she is also an optimist. She believes that happiness, healthy relationships and basic human kindness are not only worth striving for, but are achievable. Her challenge, and the challenge of Lady Dynamite, is balancing that hope and desire for good with the realities of her suffering. The entire show is an exercise in following the art-therapy teacher’s advice: finding a way to use the fear and pain of mental illness to construct something that ultimately brings joy. Just as in life, the truth can be painful, but it can also be incredibly funny.

* No “You sure can pick ’em” comments please.

This Is Slightly Obscene

I saw “Hamilton” with the original cast (except Anthony Rannells was substituting for J Groff) last October, a couple of months after it opened.  I knew it would be big and a tough ticket to get in a few months, but I had no idea.  Check this out.

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Of course, these are tickets for one week from now, and Lin-Manuel and Leslie Odom and others are leaving after the first week in January.  So, I kind of get the price inflation, but still…..

Tony Nominations 2016: Hamilton Is The Show Where It Happens

To almost nobody’s surprise, Hamilton took the most nomination this year at the Tonys, with a record-breaking 16.  The Best Featured Actor in A Musical has 3 of the five nominees from Hamilton.  I saw Allegiance, which I thought was fairly good, so I am surprised it didn’t get a nod anywhere.  Would have loved to have seen George Takei get a best featured actor in a musical, but Hamilton took many of those spots.

Full list below with my selections in red

Best Play

Eclipsed
The Father
The Humans
King Charles III

Best Musical

Bright Star
Hamilton
School of Rock—The Musical
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Waitress

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge
Blackbird
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Noises Off

Best Revival of a Musical

The Color Purple
Fiddler on the Roof
She Loves Me
Spring Awakening

Best Book of a Musical

Bright Star – Steve Martin
Hamilton – Lin-Manuel Miranda
School of Rock—The Musical – Julian Fellowes
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed – George C. Wolfe

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Bright Star
Music: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Lyrics: Edie Brickell

Hamilton
Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

School of Rock—The Musical
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Waitress
Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Frank Langella, The Father
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong’o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Alex Brightman, School of Rock—The Musical
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Reed Birney, The Humans
Bill Camp, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Andrea Martin, Noises Off
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, Thérèse Raquin
Christopher Oram, Hughie
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge
David Zinn, The Humans

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Es Devlin & Finn Ross, American Psycho
David Korins, Hamilton
Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Best Costume Design of a Play

Jane Greenwood, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Michael Krass, Noises Off
Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Tom Scutt, King Charles III

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting
Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Natasha Katz, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Justin Townsend, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening
Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Best Direction of a Play

Rupert Goold, King Charles III
Jonathan Kent, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Joe Mantello, The Humans
Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed
Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Direction of a Musical

Michael Arden, Spring Awakening
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Scott Ellis, She Loves Me
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Choreography

Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Best Orchestrations

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Daryl Waters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Spot-On Review of Maria Bamford

Forget Amy Schumer.  Yes Amy is funny, but she’s becoming a bit of a Johnny One-Note. (Yes, we get it, Amy — you are beautiful even if you’re not a size 4, but how many times do we have to applaud your body and being “brave” about it?).

But for my money, the real edge-y woman of comedy is Mario Bamford.

Which is why I am pleased she is finally getting some credit with her new show:

There’s a great song in the musical “[title of show]” that asserts, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing / Than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” For two decades, that’s been Maria Bamford’s brand. She’s played small roles on sitcoms; she was the spokeswoman for Target. But the purest Bamford essence could always be found in her dreamy, destabilizing standup routines, which dealt head on with time spent in mental institutions, struggling with a bipolar II diagnosis and an assortment of crippling O.C.D.-ish compulsions. In her YouTube series “The Maria Bamford Show,” which was set in Duluth, Minnesota, where she’d retreated after a breakdown, Bamford played not only herself but various family members, frenemies, and dates—while crooning to her psychiatrist, “If I keep the ice-cube trays filled, then no one will dieeeeeeeee.” In her self-distributed show, “Special Special Special,” she performed in her living room, with only her parents as an audience.

When I first heard about “Lady Dynamite,” Bamford’s new Netflix series, I felt apprehensive, having been burned, in recent months, by too many floppy, over-extended dramedies produced by streaming neworks, such as “Love” and “Casual.” These shows, like “Lady Dynamite,” often dealt with dysfunctional, single Los Angelenos, often on the fringes of the entertainment world, unable to commit to love. But then I watched the first “Lady Dynamite,” and the second, and the third, and soon the weekend was gone and I had to start watching the show all over again, from scratch. Like “Arrested Development,” whose creator, Mitch Hurwitz, co-produced “Lady Dynamite” with Pam Brady (a longtime collaborator with Matt Stone and Trey Parker), the series is not a dramedy but a true comedy. Despite (or because of) the show’s serious themes, it’s stuffed with jokes, visual and verbal, to the point that it’s like a tottery Jenga game. The pilot leans a bit heavily on the meta-comedy—it features a debate between Bamford and Patton Oswalt about how to structure the series—but after that it becomes a real joyride. In certain ways, “Lady Dynamite” shares ground with the terrific “BoJack Horseman,” another comedy about the difficulty of distinguishing ordinary Hollywood misery from genuine mental illness. But it has a distinct vibe, somehow at once celebratory and melancholic, with a hallucinogenic edge. It performs a small miracle by expanding Bamford’s story just enough to make it feel sitcom-like while still maintaining her voice.

The central plot of “Lady Dynamite” tracks Bamford’s Pilgrim’s Progress toward a balanced life in Hollywood, braiding together three separate timelines, each filmed in a slightly different style. There’s “Past,” a bright-neon era from before her nervous breakdown, when Bamford was doing that high-paying gig for Target (satirized, scathingly, as the union-busting Checkmark) but was also careening through bad friendships and awful relationships, ascending toward full-blown hypomania. There’s the gray-blue “Duluth,” set after Bamford moved back in with her Midwestern parents, having been institutionalized for suicidal depression. And there is “Present,” in which Bamford is medicated, gamely trying to restart her Hollywood career, and dating again, while struggling not to repeat the choices she’s made in the past. Each episode ends with a plaintive strain of Dean Martin, with the resonant lyrics, “I don’t know what I’m doing / More than half of the tiiiime.” As with H.B.O.’s “Enlightened,” “Lady Dynamite” is a show that frequently satirizes New Age and therapy speak but that nonetheless has faith in their bedrock ideals.

None of this complicated blend would work without Bamford’s fascinating, hard-to-describe, explosively brittle performance style. A tiny, tense figure in her forties, Bamford has scared-looking eyes and a pointy nose and straw-like (or, sometimes, crazily permed) blond hair, and she holds her shoulders hunched as if in eternal apology; she’s a bit like a comedic Cindy Sherman, using her unthreatening Hollywood-blonde blankness as a screen to project something that’s far stranger and more out of control. She’s fragile, but her jokes are hard. She’s also a skilled shape-shifter who can perform multiple voices—a sexy rich lady, a shrieking cartoon character—who nonetheless seems trapped in her own spasming physicality. In the tradition of performers like Andy Kaufman and Paul Reubens, she’s constantly wincing and screaming and contorting her face, yet she’s also quite sweet, almost deceptively so. One of the smartest things about “Lady Dynamite” is that it doesn’t rely on a self-pitying portrait of Bamford as a pure victim of those around her. Yes, she is a people-pleaser who gets bullied by false friends and crazy agents. Sure, she gets engaged to a newly divorced stuntman with bad credit. But she is also pathologically passive-aggressive in response to any sign of conflict—during one relationship, she hides in the shower and stuffs a sponge into her mouth so that she can scream after every phony, awful interaction. As the episodes elapse, the show builds a fascinating and nuanced portrait of a woman whose magical gifts aren’t all that inseparable from what makes her a little bit impossible.

Maria simply is a pleasure to watch, simply because of her shape-shifting face.  And while she is upfront and honest about her bipolar disorder (bipolar two, she would stress), she doesn’t beat it over the head with the audience.  It is a thing she has; it is a thing she deals with.  Every day.  And she does it with humor and grace and, uh, stress.

Looking forward to season two.

And if you don’t know Maria and her style of comedy, here’s a 2 minute sample:

Oscar Predictions 2016

I don’t care a lot this year, mostly because “The Revenent” will take many awards, and while I liked the movie, I wasn’t blown away and I didn’t care for DiCaprio.

“The Revenent” will win Best Movie, Best Actor (DiCaprio), and Best Director.

Best Actress will be Bree Larson for “Room” (a fantastic movie).

Best Supporting Actor will be Sylvester Stallone for “Creed” which will be a nice moment, although I really liked Mark Ruffolo in “Spotlight” (my favorite movie that I saw)’

Best Supporting Actress will be Kate Winslet for “Steve Jobs”

Best Original Screenplay to “Spotlight” and Adapted Screenplay to “Room”.

And the rest I don’t know.

Hamilton in 7 Minutes (A Cappella and A Bit Whiter Than Usual)

0:00 – Alexander Hamilton
0:30 – My Shot
0:41 – The Story of Tonight
0:49 – The Schuyler Sisters
1:08 – You’ll Be Back
1:30 – Right Hand Man
1:43 – Helpless
2:00 – Satisfied
2:14 – Wait For It
2:29 – Ten Duel Commandments
2:40 – That Would Be Enough
2:57 – Guns and Ships
3:31 – Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
3:35 – Non-Stop
4:02 – What’d I Miss
4:04 – Cabinet Battle #1
4:14 – Take A Break
4:34 – Say No To This
4:45 – The Room Where It Happens
5:01 – Washington On Your Side
5:11 – One Last Time
5:20 – We Know
5:24 – The Reynolds Pamphlet
5:30 – Burn
5:50 – Blow Us All Away
5:55 – It’s Quiet Uptown
6:27 – Who Live, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Oh, Give It A Rest, White People

The Guardian reports:

The NFL has been accused of various misdemeanours down the years, from ignoring head trauma to failing to control its players’ off the field activities. Now we can add another problem to the list: allowing hate speech to be disseminated during the Super Bowl via the medium of song and dance.

That, at least, is the view of a group behind an “Anti-Beyoncé Protest Rally”, which is due to take place on 16 February outside NFL headquarters in New York. “Do you agree that it was a slap in the face to law enforcement? Do you agree that the Black Panthers was/is a hate group which should not be glorified?” reads the group’s posting on Event Brite. “Come and let’s stand together. Let’s tell the NFL we don’t want hate speech & racism at the Superbowl ever again!” The group did not respond to the Guardian’s request for more information.

Beyoncé was the star of Sunday’s Super Bowl half-time show, appearing alongside Coldplay and Bruno Mars. She performed her new single, Formation, which referenced the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The proposed rally is not the only dissent that has risen after Beyoncé’s performance. On Monday the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani appeared to be particularly incensed by the reference to Black Lives Matter and described the performance as an attack on the police. “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” he told Fox News. “And what we should be doing in the African American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers.”

Giuliani also believed the Super Bowl was the wrong platform for Beyoncé. “This is a political position and she’s probably going to take advantage of it,” Giuliani said. “You’re talking to middle America when you have the Super Bowl. So if you’re going to have entertainment, let’s have decent, wholesome entertainment. And not use it as a platform to attack the people who put their lives at risk just to save us.”

This is yet another exhibit in a theory I have long espoused — i.e., that conservatives have binary minds. Black Lives Matter is not an attack on ALL police and people who put their lives at risk.  It is attacking bad police and bad police training.  Is that too nuanced for people like Giuliani?

My “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Review: We’ve Been Had [Contains Spoilers]

So I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  In IMAX 3D.

A very fun movie, even if you are not a fan of the series.

BUT here’s the thing: Of COURSE it is a good movie; 90% of it is the same ingredients as the original, right down to the bar/cantata scene with strange music and weird aliens. A villain in a black mask. Father/son conflict. A cute droid carrying an important secret. Mega-death planet destroyer (with one small vulnerable spot that the rebels must get to destroy it). Humorous quips while the battle rages.

The other 10% is nostalgia (revisiting old friends).

It enjoyed it immensely, but boy, they sure made a predictably “safe” moneymaker.  It bordered on plagerism.

That’s what happened to the Star Wars franchise when it went to Disney.  It became formula (like everything Disney does), and the new Star Wars is more than just a blockbuster movie — it’s the anchoring element of a vast commercial program, painstakingly factory-made for maximal audience appeal, which means maximal inoffensiveness. Don’t expect the next two Star Wars movies to be much different.  In fact, Star Wars sequels and prequels are destined to be part of moviemaking into the infinite future. One can envision Hollywood eventually turning out Star Warses well beyond the Lucas-planned nine movies (which I don’t believe to be true anyway), each periodically “rebooted” for a new generation of customers by casting the latest new young stars in new costumes facing the same old perils and uttering the same old quips.

Warren Beatty Is So Vain (Among Others)

Well, mystery partially solved:

Carly Simon released the hit song “You’re So Vain” about a self-absorbed lover in November of 1972, leaving fans to wonder for more than four decades who it could be about.

Now the mystery is somewhat solved. Simon, 70, told People magazine that at least part of the song refers to actor Warren Beatty.

“I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren,” she told People.

That apparently is no surprise to Beatty.

“Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!” Simon said.

You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, goes the chorus. You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you?

The second verse includes the lines:

You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive / Well you said that we made such a pretty pair / And that you would never leave / But you gave away the things you loved and one of them was me / I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee / Clouds in my coffee, and…

Simon, who was married to singer James Taylor from 1972-83 and has two children with him, claims the other verses in the song are about two other men. She doesn’t plan on revealing their identities any time soon.

I think everyone had already figured out that Beatty was the guy.  Or one of them.

Well Played USA Today

Today is “Back To The Future” Day.  In the movie Back To The Future II, Marty McFly gets in the DeLorean time machine and travels from 1985 to October 21, 2015.  At one point, he sees a copy of the “future” USA Today (that’s how he learns the date).  So what does the actual USA Today look like for today?  The newspaper is marking the date that graced the front page of its appearance in Back to the Future II more than 25 years ago with a wrap-around supplement that features an elaborate recreation of the edition featured in the iconic movie.

USA-Today_Back-To-The-Future

And by the way….

An Apology Was What Was Called For

First, the video that went viral and started it all….

The Mac & Cheese Kid, as he has known, apologized by video.  Critics were, and are, saying that he is still a smug arrogant brat and/or is not acknowledging his alcohol problem.  I hear all that and don’t necessarily disagree, but I don’t think that is relevant.  An apology was appropriate (some people in this world can’t even muster that) so let’s acknowledge that he made one before we snark, okay?

How Long Does It Take To Get Hooked On A Show And Start Binge-watching?

Netflix, ground zero of binge-watching, did a study.  This is how long it takes to start binge-watching a show, by episode:

Arrow, Episode 8
Bates Motel, Episode 2
Better Call Saul, Episode 4
Bloodline, Episode 4
BoJack Horseman, Episode 5
Breaking Bad, Episode 2
Daredevil, Episode 5
Dexter, Episode 3
Gossip Girl, Episode 3
Grace & Frankie, Episode 4
HIMYM, Episode 8
House of Cards, Episode 3
Mad Men, Episode 6
Marco Polo, Episode 3
OITNB, Episode 3
Once Upon A Time, Episode 6
Pretty Little Liars, Episode 4
Scandal, Episode 2
Sense8, Episode 3
Sons of Anarchy, Episode 2
Suits, Episode 2
The Blacklist, Episode 6
The Killing, Episode 2
The Walking Dead, Episode 2
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Episode 4

This might explain why I had a hard time getting into Mad Men.  Six hour long episodes is quite an investment before a person gets “hooked”,

Stephen Colbert’s Next Late-Night Show

I like Stephen Colbert.  I liked him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and I like his improv work.  I liked him when he did Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

I liked his charactor on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, although the schtick wore very thing with me after a while.

As David Letterman’s Late Night replacement on CBS, I had high hopes.  Letterman was and is the late-night guru of my generation, so I didn’t expect Colbert to be groundbreaking in a field now overcrowded with contenders.

So I watched his debut show this past Monday with guest George Clooney and Jeb Bush.  And all I can say is…. meh.

For one thing, I don’t care for talk shows that rely on too much pre-recorded or pre-written material.  The chatting part with guests should be free-flowing, not scripted.  I don’t mind if you plan to do things with them (like play a game, Fallon-style), but don’t cut to a video made earlier that day with the guest.

For another thing, Colbert hasn’t proven to be a good interviewer.  On The Colbert Report, he would often interrupt the guest in order to inject his Bill-O’Reilly-like personality for comedic effect.  I found that annoying.  On Late Night With Stephen Colbert, he still interrupts the guests and is thinking about what to ask rather than listening.  Very unusual for a guy with an improv background.

That said, he’s clearly making a splash, and I am happy about that, by booking big political guests.  Last night, he made news by having Vice President Joe Biden on… and Biden made it pretty clear that he won’t be running.  But according to The Verge, it was a watershed interview for Colbert, and the highlight of his week.  And why?  BECAUSE he dropped the gags:

Colbert warmed Biden up by ridiculing the moral integrity of other politicians, noting that the vice president’s reputation has always been sterling by comparison. “How did you maintain your soul in a city that is so filled with people that are trying to lie to us in subtle ways?” joked Colbert.

There weren’t many one-liners or gags after that. Instead, Colbert took Biden into a conversation that centered around faith and heartbreaking personal loss. Tragedy for both men came only two years apart; Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed in a 1972 car accident, and two of Colbert’s brothers along with his father perished in a 1974 plane crash. They could relate with one another about persevering through the emptiness that resulted. “Faith sees best in the dark,” said Biden, a quote borrowed from philosopher Kierkegaard.

I think they’re right, but you be the judge.

Now comes news of a huge “get”.  Colbert has booked Donald Trump.  If Colbert tries to work LESS at being funny, and keeps up these bookings, he may be a force for the 2016 elections, taking Stewart’s mantle for political comedy.

Straight Outta Beating Up Women

I’m looking forward to seeing the N.W.A. bio-pic “Straight Outta Compton”, but I’m not surprised that the former N.W.A. members deal with the misogyny issue by, well, not acknowledging it.  Ice Cube recently was asked about it and he said that he doesn’t understand why “upstanding ladies” would come to the defense of the “bitches” and “hos” referred to in the group’s rap music.  Sadly, I think that misses the point, since the music talks about murdering and raping “bitches” and “hos”.  I think even “upstanding ladies” would agree with me: that’s still not okay.  And let’s not forget that Dr. Dre virtually ended the career of Dee Barnes (“Pump the jam, pump it up”) after beating her to a bloody pulp.

I expect the movie to say important things, and it certainly is timely given the national focus on police violence and race.  But my understanding is that women barely appear in the movie except as mothers, wives, and you guessed it, hos — which is misogynistic in its own way (the film’s producers include Dr. Dre and Ice Cube).  Too bad.  It almost makes me wish that they would put an asterisk in the corner of the screen along with statistics about domestic violence, particularly violence perpetrated against black women.

Another Lazy Jon Stewart Tribute

I call this lazy, because I’m not writing it.  I just liked what The Rude Pundit said in a couple of paragraphs:

Stewart was never our crusader. If he was going to change things, it would be on a small scale, by bringing attention to issues like veterans’ rights and 9/11 responders’ health. He was our pressure valve, but his Daily Show wasn’t meant to be cathartic, even though sometimes it was. It was meant to make you angry, really fucking angry, that shit was going this way. The problem was, as it always has been, that people are notoriously difficult to move to action. The best comparison the Rude Pundit can come up with is Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright. Brecht wanted his plays to enrage people into action at the injustices of the world, not just enjoy a nice time at the theatre. The problem was that the masses never left Mother Courage calling for an end to war. And people left Threepenny Opera humming “Mack the Knife,” not ready to attack the capitalist pigs. So, of course, Stewart was, as he professed, just a comedian. Except when he wasn’t.

Despite what he keeps telling us, “Jon Stewart” is dead after tonight, as much as “Stephen Colbert” died when that host’s host moved on to the great network in the sky. Whatever Stewart does after, his persona of Daily Show host is gone. What we lose in that is perhaps more deep than the humor, incisive and broad, and the social critique. We lose a way to frame the world, even if that frame was in opposition to Stewart’s obvious positions. We lose a way of understanding how we are being manipulated. By then end of his run, Stewart had earned our trust. He went from the smart-ass brother to the father a generation wished they had. “Jon Stewart” is dead. We shall never see his like again.

I thought Stewart’s final monologue, coming toward the end of his final show last night, was something akin to Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” farewell speech in the sense that it was surprising and timeless and should be listened to.  Speaking for the last time at (to?) his old friend, Camera Three, Stewart talked openly (and un-bleeped) about bullshit.  It was an optimistic speech and a perfect summation of what Stewart has been doing these few years – exposing bullshit in the media and in politics.  He broke down the types of bullshit and urged us to be vigilant.  He’s telling us to do for ourselves what we have relied on him to do.  Maybe it is time we flew from the nest.  Watch this:

Here’s a “rough transcript” that appeared on Twitter last night:

bulllshit

 

UPDATE:  Writing about Stewart’s monologue, the New York Times uses the actual word “bullshit” — rare.

Good Sports

If you’ve watched the Daily Show in the past couple years, you know that Jon Stewart has taken pot shots at Arbys.  This ad appeared on the Daily Show last night.

Endangered Animals On The Empire State Building

This could be cool:

TRAVIS Threlkel was standing on the roof of a building on Fifth Avenue and 27th Street looking uptown at his canvas. It’s hard to miss: It’s theEmpire State Building, and on Saturday evening he and his collaborator, the filmmaker and photographer Louie Psihoyos, will project digital light images of endangered species onto the building in an art event meant to draw attention to the creatures’ plight and possibly provide footage for a coming documentary. Although the men refer to the event as a “weapon of mass instruction,” Mr. Threlkel explained: “We’re going to try to create something beautiful. Not bum people out.” He added later: “Hopefully, this is one big domino. If we can tip it, it would be great.”

On Saturday, using 40 stacked, 20,000-lumen projectors on the roof of a building on West 31st Street, Mr. Threlkel and Mr. Psihoyos, director of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” will be illuminating the night from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. with a looping reel showing what Mr. Psihoyos calls a “Noah’s ark” of animals. A snow leopard, a golden lion tamarin and manta rays, along with snakes, birds and various mammals and sea creatures will be projected onto a space 375 feet tall and 186 feet wide covering 33 floors of the southern face of the Empire State Building — and beyond, thanks to cellphones and Internet connections.

esbanimals

GOP Candidate Ted Cruz Weighs In On…. Captain Kirk?

Ted Cruz gets interviewed for The New York Times Magazine and this exchange occurs:

You’re also a fan of ‘‘Star Trek.’’ Do you prefer Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?
Absolutely James Tiberius Kirk.

** a question or two later **

If you were a journalist interviewing you, what would you ask?
Who knows, I might well ask, ‘‘Kirk or Picard?’’ I’ve never been asked that before, and I actually have a strong opinion on it.

Well, that goes with being a Kirk person.
It does indeed. Let me do a little psychoanalysis. If you look at ‘‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’’ it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind.

I thought your critique might go in a different direction, because ‘‘Next Generation’’ is more touchy-feely in its politics than the original.
No doubt. The original ‘‘Star Trek’’ was grittier. Kirk is working class; Picard is an aristocrat. Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice; Picard is a cerebral philosopher. The original ‘‘Star Trek’’ pressed for racial equality, which was one of its best characteristics, but it did so without sermonizing.

Do you have a suspicion about whether Kirk would be a Democrat or a Republican?
I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat.

Yeah.  I don’t know that Kirk was “working class” and Picard was an “aristocrat”.  Seems like both series had pretty much done away with class, at least for Earth and other planet members of the Federation.

But Kirk a Republican?  Why?  Because he was working class?

And Picard a Democrat?  Why?  Because he didn’t fight and he used his brain?

Bill… help me out…

2015 Emmy Nominations

I don’t watch a lot of television, virtually every show I watched this year (“Better Call Saul”,“Downton Abbey”,“Game of Thrones”,“Homeland”,“Orange is the New Black”,“Louie”,“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”,”The Newsroom”,”Orphan Black”,”Inside Amy Schumer”) was nominated.

I won’t make predictions about who will win; but I will italicized my HOPES.

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“Homeland”
“House of Cards”
“Mad Men”
“Orange is the New Black”

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
“Louie”
“Modern Family”
“Parks and Recreation”
“Silicon Valley”
“Transparent”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
“Veep”

LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA

Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”

LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA

Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

LEAD ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Timothy Hutton, “American Crime”
Ricky Gervais, “Derek Special”
Adrien Brody, “Houdini”
David Oyelowo, “Nightingale”
Richard Jenkins, “Olive Kitteridge”
Mark Rylance, “Wolf Hall”

LEAD ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story”
Queen Latifah, “Bessie”
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Honorable Woman”
Frances McDormand, “Olive Kitteridge”
Emma Thompson, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street”

LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY

Anthony Anderson, “black-ish”
Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Will Forte, “The Last Man On Earth”
Louis C.K., “Louie”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent

LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY

Lisa Kudrow, “The Comeback”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace And Frankie”
Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Amy Poehler, “Parks And Recreation”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

REALITY-COMPETITION SERIES

“The Amazing Race”
“Dancing With The Stars”
“Project Runway”
“So You Think You Can Dance”
“Top Chef”
“The Voice”

VARIETY SERIES

“The Colbert Report”
“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”
“Late Show With David Letterman”
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”

LIMITED SERIES

“American Crime”
“American Horror Story: Freak Show”
“The Honorable Woman”
“Olive Kitteridge”
“Wolf Hall”

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES

“Drunk History”
“Inside Amy Schumer”
“Key & Peele”
“Portlandia”
“Saturday Night Live”

TELEVISION MOVIE

“Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case”
“Bessie”
“Grace of Monaco”
“Hello Ladies: The Movie”
“Killing Jesus”
“Nightingale”

SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA

Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
Ben Mendelsohn, “Bloodline”
Jim Carter, “Downton Abbey”
Peter Dinklage, “Game Of Thrones”
Alan Cumming, “The Good Wife”
Michael Kelly, “House Of Cards”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA

Joanne Froggatt, “Downton Abbey”
Lena Headey, “Game Of Thrones”
Emilia Clarke, “Game Of Thrones”
Christine Baranski, “The Good Wife”
Christina Hendricks, “Man Men”
Uzo Aduba, “Orange Is The New Black”

GUEST ACTOR, DRAMA

Alan Alda, “The Blacklist”
Michael J. Fox, “The Good Wife”
F. Murray Abraham, “Homeland”
Reg E. Cathey, “House of Cards”
Beau Bridges, “Masters Of Sex”
Pablo Schreiber, “Orange Is The New Black”

GUEST ACTRESS, DRAMA

Margo Martindale, “The Americans”
Diana Rigg, “Game of Thrones”
Rachel Brosnahan, “House Of Cards”
Cicely Tyson, “How To Get Away With Murder”
Allison Janney, “Masters Of Sex”
Khandi Alexander, “Scandal”

SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY

Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Adam Driver, “Girls”
Keegan-Michael Key, “Key & Peele”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Tony Hale, “Veep”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY

Mayim Bialik, “The Big Bang Theory”
Niecy Nash, “Getting On”
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Kate McKinnon “Saturday Night Live”
Gaby Hoffmann, “Transparent”
Jane Krakowski, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”

GUEST ACTOR, COMEDY

Mel Brooks, “The Comedians”
Paul Giamatti, “Inside Amy Schumer”
Bill Hader, “Saturday Night Live”
Louis C.K., “Saturday Night Live”
Bradley Whitford, “Transparent”
Jon Hamm, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

GUEST ACTRESS, COMEDY

Christine Baranski, “The Big Bang Theory”
Gaby Hoffmann, “Girls”
Pamela Adlon, “Louie”
Elizabeth Banks, “Modern Family”
Joan Cusack, “Shameless”
Tina Fey, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Richard Cabral, “American Crime”
Denis O’Hare, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Finn Wittrock, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “Bessie”
Bill Murray, “Olive Kitteridge”
Damian Lewis, “Wolf Hall”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Regina King, “American Crime”
Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Angela Bassett, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Kathy Bates, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Mo’Nique, “Bessie”
Zoe Kazan, “Olive Kitteridge”

WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

“The Americans” • Do Mail Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep? • FX Networks • Fox 21 Television
Studios and FX Productions
Joshua Brand, Written by

“Better Call Saul” • Five-O • AMC • Sony Pictures Television / Gran Via Productions
Gordon Smith, Written by

“Game Of Thrones” • Mother’s Mercy • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead,
Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions
David Benioff, Written by
D.B. Weiss, Written by

“Mad Men” • Lost Horizon • AMC • Lionsgate Television / UROK Productions
Semi Chellas, Written by
Matthew Weiner, Written by

“Mad Men” • Person To Person • AMC • Lionsgate Television / UROK Productions
Matthew Weiner, Written by

DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

“Boardwalk Empire” • Eldorado • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Leverage, Closest to the Hole Productions, Sikelia Productions and Cold Front Productions
Tim Van Patten, Directed by

“Game Of Thrones” • Mother’s Mercy • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead,
Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions
David Nutter, Directed by

“Game Of Thrones” • Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with
Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions
Jeremy Podeswa, Directed by

“Homeland” • From A To B And Back Again • Showtime • SHOWTIME Presents, Fox 21, Teakwood
Lane Productions, Cherry Pie Productions, Keshet
Lesli Linka Glatter, Directed by

“The Knick” • Method And Madness • Cinemax • Cinemax Entertainment in association with Ambeg
Screen Products, Anonymous Content and Extension 765
Steven Soderbergh, Directed by

WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

“Episodes” • Episode 409 • Showtime • SHOWTIME Presents, Hat Trick Productions, Crane Klarik
Productions
David Crane, Written by
Jeffrey Klarik, Written by

“The Last Man On Earth” • Alive In Tucson (Pilot) • FOX • 20th Century Fox Television
Will Forte, Written by

“Louie” • Bobby’s House • FX Networks • Pig Newton, Inc. and FX Productions
Louis C.K., Written by

“Silicon Valley” • Two Days Of The Condor • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with
Judgemental Films, Alec Berg, Altschuler Krinsky Works and 3 Arts Entertainment
Alec Berg, Written by

“Transparent” • Pilot • Amazon Instant Video • Amazon Studios
Jill Soloway, Written by

“Veep” • Election Night • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Dundee Productions
Simon Blackwell, Teleplay and Story by
Armando Iannucci, Story by
Tony Roche, Teleplay and Story by

DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

“The Last Man On Earth” • Alive In Tucson (Pilot) • FOX • 20th Century Fox Television
Phil Lord, Directed by
Christopher Miller, Directed by

“Louie” • Sleepover • FX Networks • Pig Newton, Inc. and FX Productions
Louis C.K., Directed by

“Silicon Valley” • Sand Hill Shuffle • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Judgemental
Films, Alec Berg, Altschuler Krinsky Works and 3 Arts Entertainment
Mike Judge, Directed by

“Transparent” • Best New Girl • Amazon Instant Video • Amazon Studios
Jill Soloway, Directed by

“Veep” • Testimony • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Dundee Productions
Armando Iannucci, Directed by

WRITING FOR A LIMITED SERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL

“American Crime” • Episode One • ABC • ABC Studios
John Ridley, Written by

“Bessie” • HBO • HBO Films in association with Flavor Unit Entertainment and the Zanuck Company
Dee Rees, Screenplay and Story by
Christopher Cleveland, Screenplay by
Bettina Gilois, Screenplay by
Horton Foote, Story by

“Hello Ladies: The Movie” • HBO • HBO Entertainment in association with Four Eyes Entertainment,
Quantity Entertainment and ABC Studios
Stephen Merchant, Written by
Gene Stupnitsky, Written by
Lee Eisenberg, Written by

“The Honorable Woman” • SundanceTV • Drama Republic and Eight Rooks Productions for BBC TWO,
co-produced by SundanceTV
Hugo Blick, Written by

“Olive Kitteridge” • HBO • HBO Miniseries in association with Playtone
Jane Anderson, Teleplay by

“Wolf Hall” • PBS • A Playground Entertainment and Company Pictures Production for BBC and
MASTERPIECE in association with BBC Worldwide, Altus Media and Prescience
Peter Straughan, Written by

DIRECTING FOR A LIMITED SERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL

“American Horror Story: Freak Show” • Monsters Among Us • FX Networks • 20th Century Fox
Television
Ryan Murphy, Directed by

“Bessie” • HBO • HBO Films in association with Flavor Unit Entertainment and the Zanuck Company
Dee Rees, Directed by

“The Honorable Woman” • SundanceTV • Drama Republic and Eight Rooks Productions for BBC TWO,
co-produced by SundanceTV
Hugo Blick, Directed by

“Houdini” • HISTORY • Lionsgate Television and A+E Studios for History
Uli Edel, Directed by

“The Missing” • Starz • New Pictures & Company Pictures in association with Two Brothers Pictures,
Playground Entertainment & the BBC
Tom Shankland, Directed by

“Olive Kitteridge” • HBO • HBO Miniseries in association with Playtone
Lisa Cholodenko, Directed by

“Wolf Hall” • PBS • A Playground Entertainment and Company Pictures Production for BBC and
MASTERPIECE in association with BBC Worldwide, Altus Media and Prescience
Peter Kosminsky, Directed by

HOST, REALITY OR REALITY-COMPETITION PROGRAM

Tom Bergeron, “Dancing with the Stars”
Jane Lynch, “Hollywood Game Night”
Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, “Project Runway”
Cat Deeley, “So You Think You Can Dance”
Anthony Bourdain, “The Taste”

STRUCTURED REALITY PROGRAM

“Antiques Roadshow”
“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”
“MythBusters”
“Property Brothers”
“Shark Tank”
“Undercover Boss”

UNSTRUCTURED REALITY PROGRAM

“Alaska: The Last Frontier”
“Deadliest Catch”
“Intervention”
“Million Dollar Listing New York”
“Naked And Afraid”
“Wahlburgers”

VARIETY SPECIAL

“Bill Maher: Live From D.C.”
“The Kennedy Center Honors”
“Mel Brooks Live At The Geffen”
“The Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special”
“Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek To Cheek LIVE!”

WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES

“The Colbert Report”
“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”
“Inside Amy Schumer”
“Key & Peele”
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

WRITING FOR A VARIETY SPECIAL

“The 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards”
“Key & Peele Super Bowl Special”
“Louis C.K.: Live At The Comedy Store”
“Mel Brooks Live At The Geffen”
“The Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special”

Ave Maria

Ouch. Maria is leaving Sesame Street.

mariaIn the early 1970s, Sonia Manzano showed up to an audition on New York City’s Upper West Side, wearing a simple dress and “some cheap Indian sandals.”

Manzano, then a 22-year-old drama student at Carnegie Mellon University, was asked to play a game that would one day become known by its lyrics: “One of these things is not like the others.” She walked away with a job — playing Maria on PBS’s children’s TV show “Sesame Street.”

Forty-four years later, and she’s leaving.  That’s an incredible run.

Luke Leaves Port Charles

Again.

Thirty-seven years after first playing Luke Spencer on “General Hospital,” actor Anthony Geary recorded his final episode of the long-running ABC soap yesterday.

That probably means nothing to most people under the age of 35.  But trust me, Geary was BIG once.  By the early ’80s, you knew what “Luke and Laura” was, even if you never watched soap operas.

Those-of-us-of-a-certain-age all remember the marriage of Luke and Laura, the most-watched soap opera episode ever.  What we often forget is their earlier encounters, including a rape:

Yes, that classic boy-rapes-girl, girl-and-boy-get-married plotline.  Not very enlightened.

More Confederate Flag Fallout

I want to preface this flag round-up by saying this: although I welcome the removal of the confederate flag from the public (and commercial) square, and while doing so may garner some sniping from the likes of Bill Kristol and Haley Barbour, we must remember that taking down the flag is easy. No matter how good it will be to see less of that symbol of treason and slavery tainting the land, it is just a symbol, a relic of the “Lost Cause”.  It is a end product and not the genesis of a deep-seated racism that still plagues our nation a century and a half after the Civil War. If disappearing from public view this flag—which was dragged from obscurity by advocates of Jim Crow in the 1950s—is really to mean anything significant, it must mark the start, not the end of reforms needed to crush racism.

And now the round-up….

From the vile:

(1)  Conservative author Ann Coulter

She claimed yesterday that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has a poor grasp on American history as “an immigrant,” even though Haley was born in the U.S.

During an appearance with Kennedy on Fox Business Network, Coulter said that the deadly shooting at a history black church in Charleston “had nothing to do with the Confederate flag”, despite the fact that the murderer posed with the flag in many published pictures and identified it.

And she lamented that that Americans do not understand the history of the Confederate flag.  she then said that many media outlets, such as MSNBC, got the flag’s history in South Carolina wrong, noting that the flag first went up at the capitol in 1962 under a Democratic governor and legislature to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.  She was wrong — it first went up in 1961, and although it was in part to mark the 100th anniversary, it also was in response to the growing civil rights movement.

And there  is a huge difference between the Democrats of the south in the early 1960s and the Democrats now.  The Dixiecrats all became Republican, and she knows it.

Coulter then took a shot at South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who on Monday called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.

“I’m appalled by –– though, I really like to like Nikki Haley since she is a Republican. On the other hand, she is an immigrant and does not understand America’s history,” Coulter said.

“You think immigrants can’t understand the history?” Kennedy asked.

“Well, she doesn’t!” Coulter replied.

Nikki Haley was born in Bamberg, S.C.  Her parents were Indian immigrants.

(2)  South Carolina Republican State Representative William Chumley

He went on CNN and blamed the victims:

State Rep. William Chumley: These people sit in there, waited their turn to be shot… that’s sad. But somebody in there with the means of self defense could have stopped this. And we’d have had less funerals than we’re having.

CNN Interviewer Drew Griffin: You’re turning this into a gun debate? If those nine families asked you to take down that flag, would you do it?

Chumley: You said “guns,” why didn’t somebody, why didn’t somebody just do something? I mean, uh, you’ve got one skinny person shootin’ a gun, you know I mean, we need to take, and do what we can…

CNN: I want to make sure I understand what you’re telling me… are you asking that these people should have tackled him, these women should have fought him… that…

Chumley: I don’t know what, I don’t know what the answer was. But I know it’s really horrible for nine people to be shot and I understand that he reloaded his gun during the process. [smiles] That’s, that’s upsetting, very upsetting.

CNN: Those nine families, and every black person in South Carolina, and all of the people, the white people who are against that flag believe it shouldn’t be on the state grounds, you are saying it should stay because your constituents want it to?

Chumley: It stays there until the people of South Carolina say it should come down. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

UPDATE:  He recants.

(3)  Even some Democrats get it wrong:

(4)  Bad imagery has the casket of Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s passes the Confederate flag in South Carolina:

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To the positive:

(1)  Two-thirds of the SC Senate agree will voote for flag removal:

scsenate

The SC House might be close.

(2)  Toys changing too:

The debate over the Confederate flag has extended into the world of pop culture.

Fans of the 1980s’ TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard” know that the flag was painted on the roof of The General Lee, the orange Dodge Charger owned by John Schneider’s Bo and Tom Wopat’s Luke. Warner Bros. will no longer sanction the manufacturing of “Dukes of Hazzard” merchandise featuring the flag.

“Warner Bros. Consumer Products has one licensee producing die-cast replicas and vehicle model kits featuring the General Lee with the confederate flag on its roof — as it was seen in the TV series,” a spokesman for the company told Vulture. “We have elected to cease the licensing of these product categories.”

(3)  State Flags

In Alabama:

On the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, the Confederate battle flag which stands at the foot of the confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds was taken down this morning.

Meanwhile, another prominent voice was added to the call to change Mississippi’s state flag. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker said in a statement that:

After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians. As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.

Duggar <> Dunham

So Sarah Palin wrote this:

I worship this.  And because no Facebook post by Sarah Palin is ever complete without a moment of total monkeyfuck insanity, the best part is where she jabbers, “Such obvious double standards applied to equally relevant stories underestimate the wisdom of the public, discredit the press, and spit on the graves of every American who fought and died for the press’s freedom.”  Kind of a leap there how she got the soldiers tied into it.

And Bristol wrote this:

I can’t believe how crazy the media is going over the Duggar family compared to the big fat yawn they gave Lena Dunham when she wrote in her book that she sexually experimented with her sister. I’m sorry to have to do this, but let me remind you:

In her new book called Not That Kind of Girl – according to Bradford Thomas — she writes about “experimenting sexually with her younger sister Grace, whom she says she attempted to persuade to kiss her using ‘anything a sexual predator might do.’ In one particularly unsettling passage, Dunham experimented with her six-year younger sister’s vagina. ‘This was within the spectrum of things I did,’ she writes.”

It gets worse.

She also – according to her own book – used her sister, “essentially as a sexual outlet, bribing her to kiss her for prolonged periods and even masturbating while she is in the bed beside her.”

That makes me want to puke.

Remember the liberal media outrage?

Oh that’s right. It didn’t happen. The liberal media darling Dunham was praised for her “honest and witty” book.

The double standards make me sick. Josh Duggar touched a sleeping girls breast – a terrible thing to go. But now their ENTIRE family is punished and their hit show is canceled? He’s labeled as a pedophile? His family is crucified!

Liberals in today’s media can do no wrong, while conservatives can do no right.

Now, Lena Dunham’s stories are admittedly ookey, and she didn’t help herself by saying that she would do “anything a sexual predator might do”.  But that is (as she has since explained) hyperbole, one of the tools in a comedian’s belt.  But as for actual molestation, there are a couple of important distinctions between Dunham and Duggar, which are apparently lost on the Palins and Jesus:

(1a) Josh Duggar molested 5 girls, including his own sisters and a babysitter.  There were repeated incidents

(1b)  Lena Dunham examined her one-year-old sister’s vagina…. once.

(2a)  Josh was 14 at the time.

(2b)  Lena was 7 at the time.

(3a)  Josh was old enough to know better.

(3b)  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, touching and observing a new sibling’s genitals is a “normal, common” behavior in kids ages 2 to 6 (Dunham was 7, but still…..)

(4a)  With Josh, it was sexual.

(4b)  With Lena, it was curiosity following a discussion with her mom about uteruses.

(5a)  With Josh, it happened.

(5b)  Dunham’s account is suspicious, claiming that her one-year-old sister had put pebbles in her vagina “as a prank” to get Dunham to look there.  (Do one-year-olds “prank”?)

(6a)  Josh’s parents, Michelle and Jim-Bob, buried and denied the crime in order to serve the higher power of spreading their ultra-Christian faith to the masses. Via a reality TV show. For profit.

(6b)  In her memoir Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham self-reported her incident.

But other than that, these two situations are exactly the same. Thanks for pointing out this glaring “double standard”, Sarah Palin; your entire post is definitely unrelated to your chummy relationship with Josh Duggar. God bless Sarah Palin for protecting us all from hypocrites, pedophiles, and liberals.

On Caitlyn Jenner

CaitlynIt’s all been said.  Kudos to Caitlyn (former known as Bruce) Jenner (and congrats on the fact that she broke the record previously held by President Barack Obama by reaching 1 million followers in 4 hours and 3 minutes).

Yes, she is very pretty.

Yes, the Associated Press did a douche-y thing by using the male pronoun.

Yes, now that Caitlyn has arrived, we’ve already started demeaning women by saying “Well, she’s prettier than Bruce’s former wife”, as if we can’t saying something nice about one woman without demeaning another.

Yes, the fact that there will be a new reality show about her leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me feel less inclined to see her as a “hero”.

But why is nobody talking about Renee Richards?  She is the Jackie Robinson here, not Caitlyn.

P.S.  You might be interested to know that Obama is using Caitlyn Jenner — shoving it down your throat, in fact — so that you’ll be distracted when the civil war starts:

The Duggars Get Softball Interview

Okay, the Duggars.  One word: ugh.  And I could add a lot more to that — about how they’re not really “owning” that their son molested their daughters — but they demonstrated that themselves in an interview with Duggar-friendly Megyn Kelly of Fox News.  Raw Story nails this:

There was so much to dislike and be horrified by in Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’sinterview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News Wednesday night that it is hard to even know where to start.

With an able assist from Kelly — a former lawyer who used her legal training like a defense attorney walking a client through court testimony, making a small admission of guilt here, pointing the finger at someone else in the courtroom over there — the entire interview was an exercise in damage control and blame-shifting with a healthy dollop of the persecution blues.

Among the many low-lights:

  • Jim Bob Duggar, with his wife looking adoringly on, admitting that their son Josh groped –or in carefully-couched crisis manager-speak “inappropriately touched” — several younger Duggar daughters. But the girls were asleep and didn’t know it happened. Also, he touched them over their clothes. Oh, yes, and it was only for a “few seconds,” as if the 5-second rule was in effect which means it never “really” happened. Did I mention that a tearful Josh ratted himself out to his parents? Yes, according to Jim Bob, that happened.
  • Jim Bob and Michelle once again equating transgendered men and women with pedophiles which, by the way, Josh Duggar is not even though one of the victims of the then-14-year-old would have been attending kindergarten if she wasn’t being home schooled. How do we know Josh is not a pedophile? According to Jim Bob, “Actually a pedophile is an adult that preys on children. Joshua was actually 14 and just turned 15 when he did what he did. And I think that the legal definition is 16 and up for being an adult preying on a child. So he was a child preying on a child. ” Move along folks, nothing to see here, just a 14-year-old playing doctorgynecologist with his 5-year-old sister. Nothing weird about that.
  • Why didn’t the Duggars turn their creepy son in? Jim Bob — and you should get used to Jim Bob speaking for the family, because he is the patriarch and also because Michelle doesn’t seem particularly bright — explains: “As parents, you’re not mandatory reporters… The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.” Laws that require teachers to report child abuse to authorities apparently do not apply to home schooling parents. Score one for the home schooling movement. Subtract one from moral culpability.
  • The acknowledgement, as Michelle explained in her little-girl-voice, that the Duggars don’t even let their girls hold hands, kiss or be alone with their boyfriends when they are allowed to have one, lest their purity be sullied. A lesson, I might add, that the girls have had beaten into their heads long after their parents covered up the fact that their own brother had already gotten to second base with four of them.
  • Bringing on Jessa and Jill Duggar — two of the molestation victims whose interview will air on Friday — to vouch for their brother while claiming that they are victims of… wait for it… a vengeful and anti-Christian media, including the tabloids who had a major hand in turning the whole family into America’s Most Famous Breeder Couple and Their Spawn.

This is where Megyn Kelly hit her journalism stride, turning a previously softball interview into an inquisition of the “media” and police authorities who are the real bad guys here and not Josh who, according to his parents, is still working things out with God since he is conveniently beyond the reach of the law.

Because they are Christians, albeit ones who never felt to the need to admit that their son was a creepy sister-groper while they preached sexual morality to America’s legions of sinners, apparently no one else was supposed to know about a little indiscretion that happened multiple times over almost two years with five different young girls.

“I know everyone of us has done things wrong. That’s why Jesus came,” Michelle explained. “I feel like this is more about… there’s an agenda.”

Prompted by Kelly, who practically held up cue cards and mouthed the words for them, Jim Bob said that “THE REAL STORY” is how the supposedly sealed juvenile record of their son was released since they had gone to such extreme efforts with local authorities to bury it for the sake of Josh Duggar’s future. Also, the girls. Them too.

“And when you’re in every newspaper and everything throughout the world, I mean, it’s been an unprecedented attack on our family. And this information was released illegally,” Jim Bob explained. “And so I wonder why all this press is not going after the system for releasing juvenile records. That is a huge story.”

Speaking for his daughters who have been paraded on television since 2008, when they weren’t having their marriage details sold to People magazine as “exclusives,” Jim Bob added, “They didn’t want this out. Every victim should have the right to tell their own story, not the tabloids.”

Defending her daughters who were apparently  raised to believe that “what Josh does in the Duggar household, stays in the Duggar household,” Michelle Duggar explained that the girls” have been victimized more by what has happened in these last couple weeks.”

Accordingly the Duggars insisted that the people who released Josh Duggar’s file either “have an agenda,” maybe were “bribed,” and have absolutely “no consideration” for the girls.

NOW the girls are victims.

As blame-shifting goes, refocusing the narrative on the evil media and the legal system while climbing up on the cross, this was not entirely surprising since there is a lot of money in play here if TLC dumps their show.

As for the show, Jim Bob said they weren’t worried about that right now, saying, “At this point, our family is trying to regroup from these attacks.”

Then Kelly thanked the couple for the interview, to which Jim Bob told Kelly in the only moment in the interview that was the honest to God truth: “Thanks for telling our story.”

That was her job, after all.

Mission accomplished.

Catching Up

The merry month of May is a busy one.  Fortunately, not a lot is happening news-wise upon which I feel the urge to pontificate at length.  However, I few tidbits are worth at least a passing mention:

  • Yay, Ireland for the feckin’ landslide to legalize same-sex marriage.  Significant, I think, in light of the strong Catholic sentiment there.  Seems that Rome is really out of lockstep with much of the flock.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road is everything people say it is, for better or worse.  It’s adrenaline, which means that even if you don’t like it, you’ll enjoy the incredible effort that must have gone into making it.  Steampunk Mario Brothers, as they say.
  • RIP John Nash:

    John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind,” has died along with his wife in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was 86.Nash and Alicia Nash, 82, of Princeton Township, were killed in a taxi crash Saturday, state police said. A colleague who had received an award with Nash in Norway earlier in the week said they had just flown home and the couple had taken a cab home from the airport.

  • The Josh Duggar apologia from the Christian right has been pretty sickening.  The speed with which they “forgive” and pray for Josh Duggar is alarming.  Almost no mention of praying for his victims.  I’ve read so many articles that say, “Josh Duggar was wrong, BUT…..”.  And yes….. technically, he was an underage teen, but I don’t find that to be an excuse — at 17, you’re old enough to know not to molest your sisters and their friends in their sleep.  More importantly, we are learing more about the Duggar’s “purity culture’, and what it does to silence its victims.  And of course, all the forgiveness overlooks the ugly cover-up where the Arkansas Republicans worked to get the police record of the investigation into Josh’s assaults expunged.
  • This will probably develop into a more full post at some point, but I can’t quite get on board with the objections from some womens’ groups about the “gratuitous rape” scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  First of all, anyone who has watched the series at all knows that the show doesn’t pull any punches on a number of fronts.  Incest, horrific and bloody murders, rapes…. they are all in there.  I don’t quite understand why, in Season 6, some people are suddenly finding one aspect of this dark dark show to be objectionable.  Secondly, speaking specifically of the rape of character Sansa Stark two weeks ago, it was not (compared to other GoT scenes) very graphic.  There was no nudity nor was it violent.  It was tame by Game of Thrones terms.  But it was a rape.  And notably, everyone agrees that the scene was exceedingly disturbing…. as depiction of rape should be.  To me, a gratuitous rape scene would be one which was clearly thrown in just to thrill and titillate the audience.  This was not that.  I recall many years ago when Edith Bunker was raped on an episode of the 1970s hit comedy All In The Family.  It was, to my knowledge, the first depiction of rape on television (although the actual rape was not shown).  There was the same sense (in some corners) of outrage — what is rape doing on the entertainment box?  Well, I understand that people don’t want their comedies, or violent medieval dramas, sullied with real-life horrors.  But rape happens, and it is ugly.  I don’t mind that ugliness in my fiction, as long as it is not glorified, and especially if it gets people talking about it.

So Long, Dave

It began one day with this announcement by Larry “Bud” Melman:

“Good evening. Certain NBC executives feel it would be a little unkind to present this show without a word of friendly warning,… We are about to unfold a show featuring David Letterman, a man of science who sought to create a show after his own image without reckoning upon God. It’s one of the strangest tales ever told. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you don’t care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to . . . Well, we warned you.”

People under a certain age won’t know this, but there exists a clear “before Dave” and a clear “after Dave” to television history.  David Letterman was the first to come along and be anti-Hollywood — to show everyone the pomposity and silliness of celebrity and fad.  It was subversive — not in a way that Saturday Night Live was (then only a few years old) if only because he did dumb stuff and he knew he was doing dumb stuff and it was fun and unpolished.  Being unpolished and, well, real, is what separated David Letterman from, say, Johnny Carson and his written-by-a-team-of-writers monologues (Sure, Dave did monologues too, but he did them in a “here’s the dumb monologue part of the show because it’s what you’re supposed to do” kind of way.

Don’t kid yourself.  Leno got his demeanor from watching Letterman.  So did Conan, and the current crop of late night talk show hosts.  The “celebrities are real people” and “show business is actually pretty silly” thing was David’s, first and foremost.

But you never really realized how subversive Dave was because he had that midwestern look and demeanor — the gapped teeth and all.  Plus, he was disarmingly self-deprecating while being smug about pop culture. (To be fair, Letterman’s show came in a smog era — the early 80’s — a time of Reagan and Alex P. Keaton).  A lot of people didn’t get him at first — Cher notoriously thought he was an “asshole” and said so on live television — but she didn’t understand that Dave was parboiling self-obsession, the very thing that personified Cher (back then).  But even she has come to realize what Dave was and is about.

I love what the Rude Pundit has written:

For me, the moment I knew that Letterman was on my wavelength happened during Letterman’s brief stint as a morning talk show host. If I’m recalling it right, Letterman was sitting at his desk, talking, when a mannequin fell from above and onto the desk, like a dead man had just dropped from above. It was startling, hilarious, and completely out of place. I remember thinking, “Oh, the old people sitting at home watching this are gonna be confused.” And that was it.

The stunts on Late Night were Letterman’s way of calling “bullshit” on the old paradigms of television, of pop culture itself. “This is dumb, right?” he was saying (sometimes actually saying). “So let’s do dumb stuff.” But that dumb stuff was a specific critique of the way in which the older generation revered their rigid formats and identities. You couldn’t call Letterman’s stunts “stupid” because he already did. But, damn, wasn’t it funny? And wasn’t that reason enough to drop things off of 5-story building? That bit, which morphed into crushing things under a steamroller or in a hydraulic press, showed us that things don’t need a reason or logic. Against the divisive gender, racial, and class roles the Reagan administration presented, against the rising religious right, which was attacking music, film, and TV with a renewed vigor that hearkened to the 1950s, Letterman tossed two six-packs, light beer and regular beer, as a reenactment of Galileo’s experiments with gravity, off that building.

But the thing that I thought was most fascinating was Letterman’s celebration of not just the average American, but of the weirdness of America. “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Stupid Human Tricks” were more than gimmicks. They were honestly, forthrightly celebratory of the things people do to occupy their time. Letterman’s devotion to the quotidian was always on display. He began hosting the annual champion grocery bagger for a showdown with him, since he had bagged groceries as a teenager. Of course, the first thing you thought was “There’s a grocery bagging championship?” And then you got into the competition. If you were weaned on Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, and Johnny Carson, that was an incredible thing for a TV host to do: to get in the trenches in a serious, not jokey, way with everyday people.

This extended even more to the guests he would bring on with regularity. The misanthropic comic book writer Harvey Pekar appeared numerous times just to be taunted by Letterman into poetic heights of rage. The bizarro stand-up comic Brother Theodore was also a regular, with Letterman pushing him to the edge with a nearly villainous antagonism. This isn’t even to get into Andy Kaufman; he and Letterman used each other to create media firestorms long before Jimmy Kimmel ever made a viral video that turned out to be fake. Regular Larry “Bud” Melman was like a character out of Glengarry Glen Ross forced to do pitches on a street corner.

Even more to the point, Letterman was not above screwing with his corporate masters. While you might know him for needling CBS and Les Moonves, watch Letterman try to deliver a fruit basket to GE headquarters when that company bought NBC. Imagine a good-natured Michael Moore nearly getting beaten by a pissed-off security guard. It said everything you could want about the soulless center of capitalism. (Pekar would make Letterman cringe in an appearance attacking GE shortly after.)

And it can’t go without saying that in those early years Letterman’s head writer was Merrill Markoe and that having a female head writer was an extraordinary, embarrassing rarity then (and it hasn’t changed a whole lot since then). Markoe helped invent Letterman’s schtick: “What we were also consciously aware of was a dislike for the standard kind of closed-club superficial show business demeanor that had dominated the entertainment of the generation before us,” she said recently about Late Night. “So what you might say we did was open the door and invite the rest of the world in.”

Writing this, I keep remembering things that I loved from early Letterman: “Small Town News,” Jay Leno’s appearances where Dave would start each sit-down with “What’s your beef?”, musical performances from bands like X to annual appearances by Darlene Love to sing, “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” cameras on monkeys and dogs, the 360 degree episode, the episode where Letterman broadcast from home because he was waiting for the cable company to show up, the times when Letterman honestly disliked a guest and didn’t care if they knew it.

***

In its absurdist way, Late Night showed us that we don’t need to abide by the old ways of doing things, that the act of dropping a beautifully decorated wedding cake off a building just to see what happens is its own kind of subversion. Letterman would become more specifically political later in his CBS show, but to those of us who were feeling broken by the cultural and social oppressiveness of the Reagan era and didn’t have access to the music scene in L.A. or the performance art scene in New York City, Letterman was sticking it to the man for us.

Dave gives his last broadcast tonight and like most of America, I’ll be watching.  We’ve forgotten all the silly scandals, and remember him as a classy dumb guy.  Here’s a “best of….”

And Letterman’s first post-9/11 broadcast:

Going door to door with Siskel and Ebert:

Ryan Gosling Eats His Cereal

This is sweet.

In 2013, a Scotsman and Vine creator named Ryan McHenry started posting a series called “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal.” The series played off Gosling’s extremely serious mien in so many of his movies; in each Vine, McHenry held a spoonful of cereal up to a televised image of Gosling’s stone face. It was simple and perfect and became delightfully popular.  Here is a compilation of those Vines:

McHenry was diagnosed with osteosarcoma that same year, and died on Sunday at the age of 27. As a tribute Monday night, Gosling—who had previously noted that in all seriousness, he actually likes cereal—made a Vine of himself eating cereal. It was a weird, appropriate, and touching tribute to a creative guy who seemed to delight in making people smile on the Internet.

Amy Schumer and Women’s Issues

Comedian Amy Schumer’s brand of humor isn’t for everyone.  She’s a bit of a potty mouth (if that matters to you), and sometimes her sexual humor misses.  But other times, she is really on the mark about the objectification of women and rape culture.  Two examples of that are below… from the first show of her third season (“Inside Amy Schumer”):

CIA to Carrie Matheson: “Good Riddance”

So, this happened:

That’s an official tweet from the official Central Intelligence Agency to a fictional character — Carrie Mathison of the Showtime series, Homeland.  Next season, Carrie will no longer be working for the CIA.  The CIA tweet references a Sunday New York Times op-ed by Maureen Dowd which declared that Carrie’s “real-life counterparts” were thrilled that Claire Danes’ character would be no longer an agent:

The C.I.A. sisterhood is fed up with the flock of fictional C.I.A. women in movies and on TV who guzzle alcohol as they bed hop and drone drop, acting crazed and emotional, sleeping with terrorists and seducing assets.

Dowd quotes a number of women in the CIA, including Gina Bennett, who has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center for 25 years. Characters like Carrie “can leave a very distinct understanding of women at the agency — how we function, how we relate to men, how we engage in national security — that is pretty off.”

The agents’ personal anecdotes are fascinating: they describe briefing Condolezza Rice while in labor (“I’d tell her about the global jihad and then I would turn away and breathe”) and balancing post-9/11 anti-terror operations with parenting a teenager.

Certainly the women mentioned in the Dowd article are entitled to their opinion.  But I think they are missing the larger point.  Sure, Carrie Mathison doesn’t accurately portray a female CIA agent and sure, this portrayal is demeaning or unflattering– but she is not meant to mirror the typical female CIA agent.  Carrie Mathison is bipolar, compulsively sexual, occasionally predatory. She had a brief, horrifying fantasy about drowning her own baby in a bathtub. She should get to be all of these complicated, unlikeable, screwed-up things.  It makes for interesting drama.

The issue is that in a sea of cop shows, FBI shows, CIA shows, etc., there simply aren’t enough female characters, period.  If there were, then Carrie Mathison would be just one eccentric female character in a wide range of strong cop-like female characters.  And then, her eccentricities would not stand out so harshly.  The problem for Carrie, and female characters on television more broadly, isn’t misrepresentation. It’s under-representation.  Carrie Mathison is held accountable in this disproportionate way because she’s standing in for everyone.

Men don’t have this problem. This is why you don’t hear male high school science teachers fuming about how Walter White is a meth-cooking sociopath. This is why male homicide detectives didn’t get themselves into a tizzy over the drunk, dishonest practices of Rust and Marty on True Detective. This is why men who worked in advertising in the 1960s aren’t up in arms about Don Draper’s adulterous, alcoholic ways.  There are enough men in lead roles to counterbalance these “bad eggs”.

To be sure, there are some female characters who are competent and possess real power onscreen. Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope and Empire’s Cookie Lyon come to mind.  And even Carrie Mathison, in spite of her emotional malady.  But most women, even the so-called successful ones, spend an awful lot of time being sexualized, or at least reinforcing the stereotype that their success comes from sex.  The female reporters on House of Cards for example.  (And even Carrie Mathison uses sex in furtherance of her mission).

So, yes.  This is yet another post and yet another plea for better-written and more female characters.  This is the second golden age of television, they say, and this is still a problem.

Meet The New Host

revor Noah, who first debuted on “The Daily Show” as a correspondent in December, is to replace Jon Stewart as the show’s new host. “You don’t believe it for the first few hours,” Noah told the New York Times ahead of Monday’s official announcement from Dubai. “You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”

The 31-year-old comedian from South Africa has only appeared on the show three times. In February, Stewart broke the news he would be exiting from the Comedy Central show after more than 15 years on air. The network confirmed the news in astatement below:

Trevor Noah has been selected to become the next host of the Emmy® and Peabody® Award-winning The Daily Show.

Noah joined The Daily Show in 2014 as a contributor. He made his U.S. television debut in 2012 on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has also appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, becoming the first South African stand-up comedian to appear on either late night show. Noah has hosted numerous television shows including his own late night talk show in his native country, Tonight with Trevor Noah.

He was featured on the October 2014 cover of GQ South Africa and has been profiled in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, and by CNN and NPR’s Talk of the Nation, among others. He continues to tour all over the world and has performed in front of sold out crowds at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

Here is his Daily Show debut:

Too Many “Ethnics” On TV?

Wow, this article is offensive.  Just the title alone — “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?” — stinks.  [Note to author Nellie Andreeva — the word “ethnic” means “of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc.” — which means white people are “ethnic” too.]

She then goes on to say:

Some of it has been organic. Last year, the leads in Extant and How To Get Away With Murder, originally not written as black, became ethnic once stars of the caliber of Halle Berry and Viola Davis became interested. Such was the case with Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria, who both commanded on-air episodic orders from NBC when they committed to star in drama Shades Of Blue and comedy Telenovela, respectively, as well as Paula Patton, who lifted the cast-contingency off the ABC drama pilot Runner. (ABC and 20th TV cast Patten, who is black, knowing already that the male lead had been conceived as Hispanic. The role went to Adam Rodriguez.) That also was the case with meaty supporting roles on Fox’s Gotham last year, which went for Jada Pinkett Smith, and NBC drama pilot Endgame this time, landing Wesley Snipes.

Also not earmarked as ethnic was the lead in NBC pilot Strange Call, a remake of an Australian series, which went to Community‘s Danny Pudi. CBS tried for a year to cast its comedy pilot Taxi-22, a remake of a French-Canadian series, until John Leguizamo signed on. And testing alongside actresses of different ethnicities, Natalie Martinez landed the lead in the NBC martial arts drama pilot Warrior.

In other words, some actors got the parts based on their talent, not on their ethnicity.  Why is this a problem?  She continues….

But replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.

What quota?  There are more minorities on TV now.  Who said anything about a quota or “rigid rules”?  Obviously there aren’t rigid rules if some parts not specifically written for any ethnicity go to a minority.  Holy mother!!

Ted Cruz Started Liking Country Music On 9/11

HuffPo:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who announced Monday he’s running for president in 2016, said he started listening to country music because of 9/11.

During an interview with CBS’ “This Morning,” Cruz revealed he didn’t like the way rock bands reacted to the terrorist attack.

“Music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock, and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story,” Cruz said. “My music tastes changed on 9/11.”

“On 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded, and country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me, and I have to say, it just is a gut-level — I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘these are my people,'” Cruz added.

51N43628WSL(1)  Did classic rock change on 9/11?  Because…. I don’t think so.

(2)  To be sure, country music had its share of post-9/11 “America Fuck Yeah” songs (courtesy of Toby Keith and Alan Jackson), but I don’t know exactly what was bad about how “rock music” responded.  I mean, there was the Concert for New York City that took place on October 20, 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City that featured Paul McCartney, The Who, Rolling Stones bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, the Backstreet Boys, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Melissa Etheridge, Five for Fighting, Goo Goo Dolls, John Mellencamp and Kid Rock — the purpose of which was to honor the first responders from the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department, their families, and those lost in the attacks and those who had worked in the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in the weeks since that time.  Yeah, that was inappropriate (not!)

(3) Obviously, this was a craven attempt by Cruz to win the redneck pick-up truck vote.

The Cheap Wine You’ve Been Drinking May Contain Too Much Arsenic

That’s the allegation in a lawsuit (read the complaint here — PDF) filed in California this week.  The origins of the lawsuit draw back to Kevin Hicks, a former wine distributor who started BeverageGrades, a Denver-based lab that analyzes wine. The lab tested 1,300 bottles of California wine, and found that about a quarter of them had higher levels of arsenic than the maximum limit that the Environmental Protection Agency allows in water.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that this is a lawsuit, and it is entirely possible that this is essentially a nuisance lawsuit — one contrived by ambulance-chasing lawyers in order to get a quick shakedown of the wine companies involved, hoping that the companies would rather see this go away quickly than have to put up with years of bad publicity (even if they are vindicated in the end).  So take that into account. But in the meantime, below the fold is a list of wines that are included in the lawsuit. (Note: Any wines without a specific year listed mean that the grapes don’t come from a single year.)

Breaking Bad Is Just A TV Show

The word “fan”, as in “someone who likes something”, comes from the longer word “fanatic”, which means “someone obsessed about something”.

I am a fan of many many things; not a fanatic about much (if anything).  I like Breaking Bad.  I was a fan.  But some people are just crazy fanatics:

In a famous scene in Breaking Bad, a furious Walter White, while feuding with his wife, angrily throws a pizza on the roof of his house.

That’s a real house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fans know where it is. It’s a tourist attraction. A pleasant couple lives there. They’re okay with people stopping by to take photos. But they are tired of fans throwing pizzas on their roof.

Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, is quite serious when he tells fans to stay off their property and don’t throw pizzas on their roof. You can listen to him talk about the problem at the 3:15 point in this podcast.

As Shatner once said, “Get a life, people.  It’s just a TV show!”

Oscar Time 2015

Hello?  Is this thing on?  This is my first post using a cellphone app. So bear with me.

Well, I had hoped for really good and interesting Oscar coverage this year, having seen most of the big nominated movies.  But more important family matters have arisen. Even if I had the time or inclination to do an Oscar post, I don’t have computer access.

So if I get to see the Oscars this year, I will probably tweet them. You can follow me there.  And be forewarned… I loathed Boyhood.  Absolutely thought it was uninteresting pretentious drivel.  This will be reflected in my tweets.

UPDATE: Or maybe not. Really beat. It’s been that kind of day.

Stewart Out

There will be time for eulogies and retrospectives, especially since his departure date is still unknown.  But the news that Jon Stewart is leaving the helm of The Daily Show after 17 years comes as a shock, even if it is to be expected (he clearly has been restless this past year).  Stewart made The Daily Show.  It will go on, but it won’t be the same.

Better Call Saul: A Mid-Pilot Review

better-call-saulIt’s probably not fair to review a new series based on half of the pilot episode, but AMC saw fit to split the pilot episode into two days, so they have nobody to blame but themselves.  Plus, it is pretty clear what Better Call Saul will be like just from Part One of the two-part pilot.

Better Call Saul has been billed as a spinoff of Breaking Bad, taking one comparatively minor character — hustler-lawyer Saul Goodman — and going back in time to follow his antics.

I admit to having some trepidation about the new show.  My concerns were two-fold:

(1)  Saul Goodman.  The Breaking Bad character Saul Goodman, for those three people who didn’t see the original Breaking Bad series, is an ambulance-chasing shady lawyer who worked out of a storefront on a strip mall.  The character as it appeared in Breaking Bad was largely comic relief and relatively minor (not appearing in the majority of episodes).  Worse yet, he was one-dimensional.  How could Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan hope to center a new show around that?

(2) Bob Odenkirk.  Odenkirk is a very good sketch comedy writer — one of the best — having honed his craft as a writer on Saturday Night Live, The Ben Stiller Show, The Conan O’Brian Show and Mr. Show with Bob and David.  He’s a fairly good sketch comedy actor as well (being the “Bob” in Mr Show with Bob and David).  But he’s not a strong actor, and not even a strong character actor.  He was adequate, I thought, as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, but the role was not very demanding or particularly leveled.  Assuming that Vince Gilligan intended to round out Saul Goodman for Better Call Saul, could Odenkirk fill out that role?

There’s also the danger of being a spinoff of a wildly popular television show like Breaking Bad.  Unless you get the Breaking Bad cast back — particular Bryan Cranston — you’re not cooking with the same ingredients.  Even the fact that you’re putting it in the same state doesn’t matter — New Mexico in Breaking Bad is not the same as North Dakota in Fargo.  So it can’t be Breaking Bad, which might disappoint Breaking Bad fans…. but if Gilligan tried to make it Breaking Bad, the end product would probably disappoint Breaking Bad fans even more.

To their credit, Vince Gilligan and co-creator Peter Gould (who actually wrote the Breaking Bad episode that first introduced Saul Goodman, late in Season Two) largely avoid those pitfalls.  Although it is a dark comedy like its parent, it is clear that Better Call Saul is trying not to be Breaking Bad 2.  In fact, the more it runs from Breaking Bad, the more successful it will become (I think).

The brilliance of the pilot episode lay in the writing and direction.  Saul opens with a five-minute black-and-white sequence that looks like an art film. We’re in Omaha, Nebraska (my birthplace), where Saul relocated following the events of Breaking Bad.  (The scene is probably an inside joke, mimicking the movie Nebraska, which also starred Odenkirk).  Saul’s new identity is that of Gene, a balding, mustachioed, bespectacled sad sack manager of a mall Cinnabon. He’s also incredibly paranoid, with one eye constantly looking over his shoulder. When he gets home, he pops in a tape of one of his old in-your-face TV ads, ending with the catchy slogan, “Better Call Saul!”

The action flashes back six years prior to the events of Breaking Bad. We’re back in the familiar, colorful environs of New Mexico and Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk) is a bottom-rung lawyer begging for new clientele, whose self-described “A Law Corporation” rests in the back of an Asian nail salon. Aside from a trio of teen “knuckleheads” on trial for decapitating (and then sodomizing) a cadaver, his only real would-be client is his brother, Chuck McGill, a partner at the prestigious law firm of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Chuck is on disability leave, but instead of collecting his share of the company—an estimated $17 million—he’s intent on recovering and reclaiming his former legal glory, much to Saul’s dismay.

Stylistically, Saul is a lot like the best of Breaking Bad (at least when Gilligan was directing).  Cinematically, it was fantastic, with low angles, high angles, and odd perspectives (including a nice scene taking place in the moguls of a skateboard park, which made you very aware there things were not — literally — on the level).  We remember a lot of the highly-charged scenes of Breaking Bad, but a lot of it was slow-paced, allowing tension to build.  Saul’s opening episode reminds of this.  Not every episode is going to be gunfire and explosions, and that’s a good thing.

10809832_422506794581658_1729523195_nAnd Saul — er. Jimmy — is now a three-dimensional character.  Still a slimy ambulance chaser, but now we see that he’s motivated by more than greed.  He’s concerned about the welfare of his attorney brother, Chuck (played wonderfully by Michael McKean, who one hopes to see a lot more of).  If anything, Jimmy is the inverse of Breaking Bad‘s Walter White.  Walter White was a good guy plummeting into the underground world of meth-making and meth-dealing, hence Breaking BAD.  With Jimmy, we see hints of the inverse — a con man lawyer trying to do the right thing (at least where is brother is concerned).  Could this be Breaking Good?  Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were, depending on where you go in the timeline, anti-heroes — it was uncomfortable if not impossible to root for them as drug dealers and/or sociopathic killers.  By contrast, Odenkirks’s Saul, sleazy as he might have been in Breaking Bad, at least had his limits — a man who kept himself a safe distance from the actual drugs and blood.  That alone might make for a better anti-hero — more convincing and compelling — particularly if, as Jimmy McGill in 2008, a lot of his motivation is justice for his brother.  Yeah, he’ll screw it up — after all, incompetence is at the core of Gilligan’s brand of dark humor.

Odenkirk steps up to the increased demands of his character, Jimmy McGill.  He already had a manic, depressed, negative energy to Jimmy/Saul and has great comic appeal (like a scene where he sees a long conference room desk and launches into a Ned Beatty from Network impersonation).  But, more importantly, Odenkirk was able to muster a little depth, particularly in the scenes with McKean.  I don’t think in the seasons to come (Saul has already been greenlighted for Season Two), he’ll be called on to do some, you know, heavy acting, and I doubt we’ll see him walk away with a lot of awards a la Cranston…. but that said, Odenkirk was able to deliver (so far).  Perhaps that is because Saul/Jimmy, even in fleshed out form, isn’t all the complicated, although his dilemnas might be.  For me, the jury is still out on Odenkirk, but I’m cautiously optimistic now.

The easter eggs and other gifts to Breaking Bad fans are fun (“Oh, look, it’s Mike as a parking garage attendant!” “Oh, that’s Tuco – remember him?” “Hey, isn’t that the same cafe where…..”) and maybe necessary to get Breaking Bad fans to tune in.  But they seemed a little heavy-handed, and will probably become a distraction before too long.  Again, Saul needs to find its own footing, and not ride on Bad‘s coattails or rely on Bad crossover links, even as easter eggs.  Hopefully, Gilligan understands this.

But so far — and again, we’re talking about only the first half of the pilot episode — the strength of Better Call Saul lies behind the camera, with the writing and direction.  That will set it above the many other fine shows out there, even in this “Second Golden Age of Television”.  One hopes that Gilligan and Gould will continue to nurture this show (Gilligan also has his hands in a new ABC show called “Battle Creek” so his time may be divided).  My understanding is that the second half of Saul’s pilot episode is frantic and crazy– in contrast to the deliberate slow boil of the the first half.  That should be interesting.  But I, like many, will be watching.

UPDATE (the next day):  After seeing the second part of the pilot I don’t have much to add, except that I’m becoming more convinced of Odenkirk’s acting skills.  The second part was not as frantic as I was led to believe, but it certainly wasn’t a slow boil either.  And it won me over for two simple reasons:

(1)  A wonderful tribute to “All The Jazz” one of my favorite movies.  It was basically a repeated montage of Saul doing what Saul does as a public defender, done to the strings of Vivaldi, and ending with him clapping and looking in the mirror — “it’s showtime, folks”.  Like Roy Schieder as Fosse does here:

(2)  The introduction of a new character played by Michael Mando — who was so wonderful (and evil) as Vic (Sarah’s ex-boyfriend) in Orphan Black

To Kill A Mockingbird II

I’m sadly not much of a reader, but I’ve been around for a long time and I have managed to read a lot during that time.  And by far, my favorite book is the one that everybody loves as their favorite…. To Kill A Mockingbird.  So it is nothing short of awesome that, after a 55 year-long silence, Harper Lee is publishing a sequel to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

From just a purely literary viewpoint, this is huge news. Imagine a new J.D. Salinger novel coming to light about Holden Caulfield 20 years later. That’s essentially the premise for Lee’s “new” novel, Go Set a Watchman. I say “new” in quotes because, according to Miss Lee’s account,Watchman was written first and the flashback chapters about Scout Finch’s childhood so captivated Lee’s editor that he asked her to expand upon it. So, while Watchman was written first, she and her publisher decided to go with Mockingbird, which was actually a prequel.  Lee’s Go Set a Watchman manuscript then got misplaced and she thought it was lost until her attorney found it last year in a “secure location.”

The long-awaited second Lee novel will come out on July 14th and Harper’s publisher (also Harper) will come out with an initial print run of 2,000,000 copies.

The American Sniper Controversy

bradley-cooperI don’t expect “historical” movies to be documentaries.  I have no problem with some artistic license for dramatic purposes.

I saw “American Sniper” recently, not knowing that it was based on the real life events of Chris Kyle, known as “The Legend” for his abilities during the Iraq War.  It was clear from the end of the film (which cut to actual footage of Chris Kyle’s funeral, instead of Bradley Cooper) that he was a real guy.

I didn’t mind that the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, was very pro-war.  I didn’t mind that Chris Kyle (in the movie as well as in real life) basically held contempt for anything Iraqi. including innocent civilians.

And I didn’t mind that Kyle went to Iraq as a result of 9/11, thereby cementing the false link between Iraq, on the one hand, and al Qaeda/9-11 on the other hand.  Some people are going to think that no matter what.  The politics of the movie were wrong and stupid, but I have to open myself up to the reality that many people, including quite possible the actual Chris Kyle and Clint Eastwood, are wrong and stupid about the Iraqi War.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

And in Clint Eastwood, at least acknowledged that there was other views of the war.  He had some soldiers (including Kyle’s younger brother) question the reason for the war itself.  It was a tip of the hat.

So on the whole, I didn’t mind that movie neglected to expose the lies of the Iraq War.

My biggest gripe, however, is that the movie made much of the fact that the Iraqis had put a $20,000 bounty on Kyle’s head.  Didn’t happen that way.  They put a $20K bounty on every American sniper’s head.

And the movies climax, where — spoiler alert — Cooper-as-Kyle takes out “Mustafa”, the number one Iraqi sniper with a single shot from over a mile away?  That’s BS, too.  Kyle’s biography only mentions Mustafa once, in a single paragraph, in passing.  Kyle never took him out, period.

That was taking it too far.  That’s kind of like making MLK march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma and take out Sheriff Clark with laser beam eyes.

Love him or hate him, Kyle was an excellent marksman.  If you have to make shit up to show how good he was, then maybe we shouldn’t be making movies about him.

But other than that, I will take the movie on its face.  I like what it says about the struggle that soldiers and their families go through, and I like how it addresses the mental health aspect of returning soldiers.

Read more fact-vs-Hollywood fiction re: American Sniper here.

The White Male Oscars

selmaI will do my Oscar predictions in the weeks to come, but in case you haven’t heard, not a single actor or actress of color was recognized by the Academy this year, despite a number of acclaimed films featuring non-white casts and directors. The last time there was no non-white in any of the four acting categories, and directing category, was in 1998, making this year the “whitest” Academy Awards in over 15 years.  Many prominent industry figures, including George Lucas and Spike Lee, blasted the Academy for ignoring Selma director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. in the widely praised film.

I saw Selma.  It was a very well-done film.  Unlike many movies that cover historical events, it does not overwhelm the viewer with maudlin orchestrations to hype the situation.  It just lets the events play out, and the characters speak for themselves.

But I don’t know what to make of the controversy.  Are we to believe that the Academy which last year awarded 12 Years A Slave as Best Picture and Lupita Nyong’o as Best Supporting Actress is suddenly racist?

The president of the Academy dismissed the idea that Selma was snubbed, saying, “It’s nominated for the Oscar for best picture. It’s an award that showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of the movie ‘Selma.’”

The president of the Academy, by the way, is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a black woman.

And she’s right.  Selma was a great movie of ensemble acting.  That’s why it was among the pictures nominated this year.  As for Oyelowo, he was very good, but I can’t say he was hands down better than the actors who did get nominated for Best Actor.  (I’ve only seen nominee Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, and I thought his performance was more demanding and better).

So I’m not prepared to say this is a real controversy invoking a real problem.  If there is a race problem within the movie industry at all, it is that most prominent films featuring African-Americans are almost universally about the downtrodden black man throughout history — movies like Selma12 Years A Slave, Glory, Ray, etc.  Other than Denzel Washington in Training Day and Flight, and Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, I struggle to think (without researching it) of the last time someone black was nominated for a role that had nothing to do with slavery, the civil rights movement, prejudice, etc.  And that’s a problem that might need looking at.

But as for the “white male” controversy, I’m inclined to think of this year as an outlier, and not representative of an actual problem.

I Can’t Help It — I Have To Review “Boyhood”

Boyhood-poster-1It’s not unusual that I disagree with some movie critics.  It is unusual that I disagree with, apparently, ALL of them.

And I have to speak out, because Boyhood won the Golden Globe last night for Best Dramatic Film, and many consider it an Oscar contender.

For those not aware, Boyhood is the latest from writer-director Richard Linklater.  It was filmed over the course of 12 years. Unlike Michael Apted’s “Up” series (documentaries checking in with the same people every seven years) or Linklater’s “Before” trilogy (following the same characters every eight or nine years), Boyhood filmed a little bit with its cast for more than a decade. We don’t just meet Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as an elementary schooler. We see his voice change and watch his rites of passage, like sucking at bumper-free bowling, peer pressure to drink and lying about his sexual experience.  We see him trying to find himself, which is not as exciting as it sounds.

Filming a slice-of-life movie over the course of 12 years — it is a film endeavor grand in scale yet tiny in scope.

It is also…. quite bad.

Much of the praise is about the making of the film itself.  I won’t call the use of the same-actors-over-time a “gimmick” – it is not.  It is innovative and clever.  And it might have made for a good movie in the end.  But it didn’t.  You see, when Ellar Coltrane was 5 years old Linklater chose him as his star. Linklater was banking that Ellar (as Mason) would develop into an interesting, expressive and verbal person. He also chose his daughter Lorelei (as Mason’s sister Samantha) as the co-star – hoping as well that she – growing up in Linklater’s film world – would learn how to act or at least be interesting (since a great deal of the dialogue was to be improvised). Unfortunately for Linklater, Ellar and Lorelei are not fascinating to look at and have little to contribute to the scenes.  Ellar hides behind a flop of hair over his face. As he grows older and taller, he hunches over and tries to hide himself.  And Lorelei, particular in the later scenes, looks like she would rather be anywhere than on her dad’s movie set.

Despite Linklater’s hopes, Ellar grew up to be rather bland (thanks to homeschooling in real life, I would say), so what the film ends up being was an almost-three-hour portrayal of a very boring child maturing into an introverted and kind of surly young man.  It’s like watching paint dry, and then coming back every year to see it dry even more.

Throughout the film, Ellar’s character, Mason, experiences minimal joy, sadness or surprise. Perhaps that’s because Linklater wants to show that our lives are made up of the mundane, not the peaks and valleys. That may be true, but when charting significant experiences between 6 and 18, it’s ridiculous not to include the most resonating sorrow and elation that shape who we become.  Linklater seems to be saying, “Hey, the characters go through no arc here”.  Okay, but that means that we’re just watching staged home movies of non-events.  For three hours.

And even when the film tries to introduce a little bit of drama and plot — like when Mason’s mom marries a college professor who turns out to be an abusive, alcoholic jerk — Boyhood becomes cartoonishly melodramatic.  In those moments, it feels like the work of a freshman film student.

Don’t get me wrong — it is fun to watch Mason and his sister grow physically from scene to scene.  It’s fun to watch Mason’s mom (Patricia Arquette) ride the rollercoaster of weight gain and weight loss over the course of twelve years.  But that’s not a movie.

You get the sense, as the project was ending, that the director and actors knew they had a dull movie on their hands, and were striving to find the narrative — the glue that held the whole thing together.  You can imagine them sitting around the table and suddenly realizing that the movie is disjointed and just a bunch of random scenes.  “Wait!” someone perks up “Maybe that’s what we are trying to say!  That life is just a series of mundane unrelated moments“.  And so, towards the end of the movie, you get father-son scenes between Ethan Hawke (Dad) and Ellar Coltrane (Mason) where father says to son that life is just a bunch of improvised moments that you make up as you go along and there is no big answer or theme or mystery.

Well, maybe the movie is that way, but no, life isn’t that way.  MOST of it might be, but even as children we are occasionally faced with events that shape us.  There is an arc to all of our stories.  It just might not be an interesting one.

It certainly wasn’t an interesting one in Boyhood.

The one moment I liked was this: in one scene, the mom praises a helpful Puerto Rican worker who has been fixing a leaking water pipe. “You’re very smart,” she tells him and urges him to go to community college to learn (among other things) English as a second language.  It’s a throwaway line in a throwaway scene, said to one of dozens of throwaway characters who appear in the movie.  Years later, the same Puerto Rican character appears again, this time as the manager of his own restaurant in which the mom is eating.  He comes up to her, introduces himself (“You don’t remember me but….”) and explains how he took her advice, and she changed his life.  Now that was pretty cool — how we all have the potential to touch and effect each other, even in small random ways.  I wish we had followed that minor character’s story.  It would have been far more entertaining.

UPDATE:  Here’s a page from the script of Boyhood, and it’s the mom’s big scene in which she sums up her life.  And she closes by saying, “I just thought there would be more.”

Indeed.

boyhood_script

Fast Thought On “The Newsroom” Season Three

Most of the critics who dislike “The Newsroom” are members of the so-called “new media”, which (surprise surprise) Aaron Sorkin often uses as a target (not only in The Newsroom, but in The Social Network, Studio 60 and even as far back as The West Wing). Last night, Sorkin took another convincing swipe at “new media”, focusing on how Reddit and Twitter “covered” the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers (i.e., badly if not irresponsibly, by misidentifying the bombing suspects).

Nobody watches the show anymore, but I think in the future people will discover “The Newsroom” and long for its message: we need media that is more concerned about being right in its reportage rather than being first.

And I don’t care what people say — it’s still the crispest, funniest show on television.

Not An Apology

“I’m not a racist," Sterling said. “I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I’ve hurt.”

Okay, that's a good start.  Except it wasn't ONE terrible mistake.  After all you were being sued for discrimination, which was mistake one, and then to make racist comments, well, that's two by my count.

"When I listen to that tape, I don't even know how I can say words like that. … I don't know why the girl had me say those things…Well yes, I was baited…I mean, that's not the way I talk. I don't talk about people for one thing, ever. I talk about ideas and other things. I don't talk about people."

Well, obviously you DO talk about people, and she didn't goad you at all into saying what you said.

That's the thing about racists these days.  They can't see their own racism.  It's like they have blinders on.

Just like he has blinders on about Magic Johnson.  Listen to this praise:

Sterling told CNN he's spoken twice with Johnson.

"Did you apologize to him?" Cooper asked.

"If I said anything wrong, I'm sorry," Sterling said. "He's a good person. I mean, what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. But I'll say it, he's great. But I don't think he's a good example for the children of Los Angeles."

*facepalm*

Yeah, I don't think you were goaded.  Apparently, all you have to do is have a mcirophone in front of you and you'll say something offensive and racist.

Shorter Donald Sterling.

"I am not a racist, I just think all black men look like Magic Johnson, and I HATE Magic Johnson, and all people who look like Magic Johnson having black person sex. BUT I AM NOT A RACIST!"

Homeland Season 3 Finale Review

Well, it took a few episodes, but Season Three finally came together.  As I had written before, Season One, which got rave reviews, was exciting and unpredictable because of Brody, played by Damien Lewis.  You never knew whose side he was on; the conflict between him and his family and his loyalties drove every episode.

The problem, of course, was once you realized that Brody was a bad guy (even if he was brainwashed by his captors, even if Carrie did love him), it was hard to root for him.  No, he was not the Langley bomber, but he did try to assassinate the Vice President.  You just can't let him live for that.

Season Three (eventually) became about Brody's redemption, as he worked with Carrie and Saul to change the course of history.  How by removing a militant leader in Iran, so that another Iranian leader (one that the CIA had co-opted) could become the most powerful man in Iran.  It was Saul's idea, and in the end, it worked.

The problem, of course, was Brody.  He had attempted to assassinate the Vice President of the United States, he successfully assassinated the seond most powerful Iranian politician, and he was thought (incorrectly) to have been the CIA bomber, killing 136 people.  Where does a man like that go, not only in the series' storyline, but also for the writers?

It was only fit, therefore, that Brody be hung out to dry, literally.  The president and the new CIA director (played by the great writer Tracy Letts ["Bug", "August:Osage County"]) both agreed that Iran must be allowed to execute the captured Brody, and, in an excruciating scene, he was unceremoniously hung from a crane in a Tehran street, as Carrie watched from the crwod.

A sad ending for Brody fans, but GREAT for the show.  We can now finally leave the Brody plotline (which really needed to happen in Season Two), and Season 4 will open with a world of possibilities.  Will Carrie, who we last see as eight months pregnant, really give her baby to her sister and head up the Turkey CIA office?  Is Saul really retired?  What about Quinn?

The charactors remain interesting.  And now, with Brody (and that silly love subplot) out of the way, the show can really return to its routes — intrigue and political thriller.

Homeland Review As We Step Into Season Three

Yeah, I don't know what the writers are thinking.  I like Dana as a charactor, but to make this season about teenage runaways?  Well, that's a different show.  The success of Homeland, Season One, was that you didn't know who to trust in a show about international terrorism.  And that was awesome.  When it started to become a show about the Carrie-Brody romance, it started to lose its shine.  Thankfully, we're not dealing with the Carrie-Brody romance anymore, but now we have to watch Brody's daughter and some crazed ne'er-do-well troubled teen?  Why?

As for Carrie — well, we had a nice twist which meant that Saul did not throw her under a bus.  That was nice, except it sort of retroactively changes how we felt about poor Carrie being involuntarily stuck in that hospital.  Not so involuntary, so we don't have the sympathy we once had.

Great acting by Claire Danes is keeping this show alive for me with her biploar tenseness, but if they season doesn't turn around soon, I may abandon this show.

First Thoughts On Homeland, Season 3

Showtime's Homeland may have achieved some sort of record for greatest fall from grace for a TV series.  The first season may have been the best-crafted season of any television drama (although Breaking Bad's season four gives it a run for its money).  You had Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a returning war vet and terrorist, and the only person who thought he was dangerous – CIA agent Carrie Matheson — who nobody could believe because of her erratic behavior.  Was he a killer?  Would she get him?  Or sleep with him?  Or both?  The whole season kept you on the edge.

Unfortunately, the producers and writers didn't know what to do with the main characters in Season Two.  Nicolas Brody's ambivalence and hand-wringing didn't make for good television.  In Season One, all the characters were clearly driven and knew what they were doing, even if the audience didn't.  In Season Two, there seemed to be more introspection with all the characters, and the love affair between Carrie and Brody which was doomed to begin with.  So the tension was much less.  Unlike Seasons One, you didn't feel like you were hurtling toward something bad and you couldn't stop.  Not that the entire season was bad — the "Q&A" episode may have been the best of the whole series — but it didn't pull the charactors as tightly as the first season.

Fortunately (without spoiling things too much), Season Two ended with a huge game-changing shocker — well, it was in the penultimate episode — which had the effect of rebooting the series in a way.  What would Homeland do with its clean slate?

The season opener this week bodes well for Season Three (spoiler alert).  Brody did not appear at all.  Presumably, he'll be back at some point, but right not, it's good that the series is sticking with what works — a dysfunctional CIA, and new enemies.  Saul throws Carrie under a bus, and it is painful to watch, but we know that the story always gets interesting when Carrie is isolated.  Plus, as perversely pleasing as it is, she's off her meds (trying holistic treatments), and her bipolar Dad seems to play a bigger role.  We know the series always goes to a new level when Claire Danes is allowed to give us instability, and making us wonder if she's being unstable or really smart (for her part, Carrie thinks that being under lithium may have blinded her to missing key clues that would have uncovered the terrible tragedy that ended Season Two).  Yes, the photos with strings are back out. 

We still hang around Brody's family, and although his daughter Dana remains an interesting character, we're not sure why.  It's a bit unfortunate, because there probably was some more meat there in Season One for Brody's wife… but if Brody takes a back seat this season (and he really needs to), then so does his family.

But the Brodys notwithstanding, the writers seem to know they can't replicate Season One with the same cast of charactors.  What role Brody ultimately plays remains to be seen.  But so far, so good.