The Future… fifty years ago

April 23rd, 2014

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The 1964 World’s Fair opened 50 years ago this week in Flushing, New York, and every family within a day’s drive (including ours) made the pilgrimage to get a taste of what other cultures were like on U.S. soil before Epcot existed, and to catch a glimpse of the future.

We saw the revolving turntable history of kitchens from the past to the future as presented by G.E. (and narrated by an actor named Ronald Reagan). We saw Disney’s first animatronic robot in the form of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address in between friendly greetings. We dined at a restaurant in the clouds (or slightly above the smog) before the Seattle Space Needle existed. And we saw men with jet-packs strapped to their backs flying into the sky above the stage and wondered how soon it would be before we had our own. Fifty years later we’re still wondering, and they never perfected the technology beyond the insane danger of having a napalm bomb of hydrogen strapped to your body.

Let’s take a look back into what we thought was looking forward:

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Here’s what we thought cars would look like, according to one exhibit.

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When you consider most cars of the time looked more like this 1960 Thunderbird, at least they got the aerodynamics down somewhat.

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We thought we’d be traveling through all cites on monorails above the ground such as this one. But, today, about the only place you’re guaranteed to find monorails is Disneyland or Disney World.

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Dancing fountains with light are still popular. You can find them in front of hotels in Las Vegas, and at the Shell Factory in Cape Coral, Florida. Dubai probably has them, as well. Because it’s such a rational use of water in a desert environment.

 

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And no, we actually didn’t think people would be bigger, but I just find it hysterical that I appear to be checking out Paul Bunyan’s package, perhaps to see if size really is proportional.

 

 

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Even though JFK had been dead several months, the over-sized sunglasses his widow, Jackie, always wore, were still popular, and remain in the sunglasses rotation to this day. My mom did them justice and rocked the dark hair bouffant, as well.

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Standing in line hasn’t changed much, but fashions have, for better or worse. My systers in the center here are rocking the loud color print patterns of the day, which you might also recognize from Sally’s psychedelic rebellious phase on AMC’s Mad Men.

 

0001001-R3-E095Here’s the jet pack guy if you look closely in the center of the frame as he comes down for a landing. I think all the other men standing around the stage are medics with fire extinguishers.

 

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I have no idea what this exhibition was unless it was some kind of tribute to psilocybin mushrooms. Either that or it’s the Hobbit pavilion.

 

 

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Cool is still cool. Even with a 15-inch blue feather stuck in your cap.

 

 

 

 

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I don’t know why my dad, who was taking these slides, didn’t get a shot of the most iconic symbol of the Fair – the Uni-sphere, but I’m grateful for the shots he got of a time and a place where we knew an awesome future was awaiting us.

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I’ll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day

March 31st, 2014

Anchorman earthquake 1

Southern California has experienced several moderate earthquakes in the past few weeks (4.1-5.1 on the Richter scale).

During my 16 years in L.A., I experienced hundreds of earthquakes. Most of them were either pre-shocks or after-shocks measuring well below 3.0 on the Richter scale. At that intensity, you feel them on a subliminal level that seems to merge with all the other energy and events that bombard you in a city without pause.

seismogramIt got to the point where, if something as dramatic as a 4.0 should happen to stir my senses, I might casually look up from the newspaper I was reading and calmly predict to my wife, within a tenth of a point, whether it was a 3.9 or a 4.1.

That’s just how Californians are about earthquakes. It just goes with the territory.

A year or so before I left California, my feelings about earthquakes changed when I was spooked and spooked badly. I was in bed about 5:30 a.m. when I woke up and it dawned on me I was in the middle of an earthquake. A big one.

apt collapseThe walls were vibrating and rumbling loudly. As I stepped out of the bed, the floor was sliding out from under me. Without any waking time to gather my thoughts into my usual casual attitude about such events, I felt a cold panic race through my body.

I put on a bathrobe and walked to the front door and, all that time, the earthquake still had the world around me in a full chop and blend. I stepped into the cold desert air, worrying less about falling telephone poles than my apartment building collapsing around me.

freeway earthquakeThe earthquake finally subsided. There was a moment when the nightingales stopped singing and a chorus of deafening car alarms and sirens filled the air instead.

muggerWithout warning, I had been attacked, and the feeling afterward left a rush of adrenaline in my system that put my body through a form of shock that took weeks, and even months to recover from.

That last early-morning earthquake I went through turned out to be only a 5.5, but the feeling of being caught at such a vulnerable moment never quite left me. When the 7.1 Northridge earthquake struck California shortly after our move to Florida, my wife and I hugged each other and felt blessed that we had the sense to get out when we did.

palms blowingSo here we are in the land of hurricanes. They’re not a good thing, either, but at least there is a warning when one is heading your way. There’s time to prepare mentally and emotionally. That’s a big thing. A hurricane is like hearing about a rash of burglaries in your neighborhood and having time to get your defenses up, whereas an earthquake is like suddenly getting violently mugged from behind out of nowhere.

If I had to make a choice of a disaster – and we’ve all seen that every part of the country has it’s own versions from twisters to deep freeze blizzards to floods and mudslides – I’ll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day. We have time to think about what’s going to happen, how we’re going to prepare for it and what we need to save – and even what our plans might be should we need to rebuild.

And, if we happen to first hear about one at 5:30 in the morning, there’s plenty of time to make coffee and read the newspaper. “Oh, look, it’s a category 3 and should be here by… Thursday, next week.”

Tropical Storm Irene Map - 2

 

 

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Things I’m Over, Volume 1

March 17th, 2014

Media Library

1) Collecting Shit       
          55 pennyWhen I was very young I collected coins. I don’t think I ever got past a wheat cent, or maybe a buffalo nickel. The holy grail of mildly passive coin collecting at the time was a misprinted ‘55 Lincoln cent where his image was blurred. Never got that one. I sold the collection for about $40 when I was ten.

I collected Marvel Comics almost until the age I went to college. I had issues 1-50 of most every title that came out in the sixties, including the original X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, etc. If I still had those issues today and they were in near mint condition, the collection would be worth at least a half million. X-Men Number One alone recently sold for more than $30,000. I could’ve paid for my son’s college a few times over with my collection, or bought a nice shack on the ocean in Monterrey. X-menBut then we didn’t have comic saver bags back then and, even though I kept them in prime condition, I doubt I would’ve continued lugging the whole lot from Florida to L.A. and back again. I sold the entire lot for about $400 in 1973 and used the money to buy two large 80-lb ESS speakers, after I heard the cascading guitars of “Band on the Run” on them in a stereo store. I still use those speakers 40 years later, so it turned out to be a good investment. No regrets.

I eventually collected about 1,000 vinyl LPs, but as soon as I heard CDs, I traded them in starting in 1986 until I had about 1,000 CDs (I kept some of the best art vinyl). I never collected movies on VHS because it was a lousy medium, a pain in the ass to rewind, and you could never get a decent freeze frame. Laser discs cost $100 each and were too expensive. DVDs were perfect, so I collected about 700 of my favorite films and television shows. Now I’ve traded most of the DVDs in for Blu-rays because they’re even better. I won’t go 4K because, frankly, my 1080p eyes will never need anything better than the image I get from Blu-rays. And now, I regularly trade in my Blu-rays that I doubt I’m ever going to watch again for other Blu-rays I just want to see.

elton_john-captain_fantastic_and_the_brown_dirt_cowboy-frontalAt some point, I finally realized that collecting is just a more organized form of hoarding. And I realized something even more important: It’s never really about the collecting; it’s more about the hunt. The joy of collecting was in finding that rarer ‘D’ penny, scoring that latest issue of Spiderman, picking up the Captain Fantastic LP the day of release, or having your favorite film finally come out on DVD or Blu-ray. It was the hunting and gathering that was fun, not the actual owning or putting that stuff on the shelf. Sure it’s nice to see this big library of stuff on my shelf, but, like I’ve said before, am I really going to listen to or watch it all again?

So now, it’s all just an evolving and diminishing library. If I have something I think someone else might enjoy, I pass it on. That gives as much pleasure as the original hunting and gathering. If I want to ‘briefly’ own a film or CD, I now trade in others to pay for it. I recycle. It’s all just moving through me now, not possessing me. And I also realize, I could let go of it all tomorrow. Well, except for the 3,100 songs on my iPod and iPhone. You’ll pry those songs in my earbuds from my ears when I’m dead (or I get tinnitus).

2) Putting a napkin on my lap when I eat out
I hardly see anyone do this anymore. I think it was part of a bygone era from when we watched Donna Reed with our parents. But we were trained well, because I have been doing it subconsciously ever since. Now, I’m thinking… “Fuck it.” It’s not just being lazy. Donna ReedPerhaps it’s a mild act of rebellion, where I don’t give a shit if I happen to spill something on a pair of pants. Or maybe I don’t have any pants worth caring that much about. A spill? Oops. Oh, well. Either wash them or toss them. How’s that for being a Rebel with a Cause? I’m sorry, mom, but you’re not around anymore to feel like you failed teaching manners in any way, and, like I said, laps seem to be open game these days. I believe I can count the times something actually dropped in my lap on one hand. With allergy season 24/7, I’m more likely to blow my nose on the napkin today than lay it across my lap.
dining-etiquette-tips-M2_A3e_581Ann Landers just turned over in her grave.

No napkin would have stopped the glass of water my future wife threw under the table at my crotch when we were goofing around on an early date. I remember getting in a movie line afterwards to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in Westwood with my pants soaked in the front thinking, “No one’s going to think I actually pissed my pants.” If so, why would I really be standing in a movie line with this beautiful woman by my side? But as we walked further down the line and people continued to chuckle behind my back, I wondered if my reasoning had been wrong. That’s when I discovered that I had somehow also sat on an open package of brown mustard back at the deli. So it looked like I had not only pissed my pants, but shit them, as well. No wonder everyone was laughing.

A napkin on my lap wouldn’t have saved that event from occurring. And for that memory alone, and the laughs it provided, I’ll just say grace.

 

 

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LEGO my nervous system

February 26th, 2014

Lego Movie

Am I the only one who got hyperventilated and got dizzy watching The Lego Movie? It was like a Pixar movie on  a Tilt-a-Whirl on methamphetamine. Which is actually an unfair comparison, because Pixar movies usually have a real heart instead of a fake one implanted at the last moment with that live action message moment. And Pixar’s stories usually unfold rather than being blasted at you like buckshot from a scattershot nuclear neon shotgun on ‘stun.’ The Lego Movie makes Toy Story look like a puppet show power point presentation.

Sure, I get the popularity of the movie. It’s like crack for kids with short attention spans. I don’t think there’s a scene that lasts more than three seconds before another chase with a thousand pieces of visual and aural stimulation bombard you incessantly into submission. I get the feeling the creators’ sensibility and inspiration was formed under ecstasy at a Rave with strobe lights flashing. The filmmakers don’t take any chances or trust that you won’t get restless unless there’s sight gags, random joke comments, recycled plot memes, first person roller coaster gyrations and explosions pummeling you every possible moment.

1024px-Red_bull_1This film shouldn’t get three stars; it deserves six Red Bulls, because that’s what it was conceived, animated and produced on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I walked out of the theater with physical heart palpitations as if I had drunk the Red Bulls myself. That’s why the film itself is like an Adderall prescription for restless 3-10 years olds. No doubt they are pummeling their parents to take them to their nearest toy store RIGHT NOW to gobble up Lego kits they will take home to try and recreate the visceral thrill of the picture, that is… until they realize again Legos actually don’t animate themselves unless you ARE on drugs.

Okay, I’m a codger, a fuddy dud, an aging boomer. But it’s almost like our entire culture is now the movie Speed, where the bus will explode the moment it de-accelerates below 50 miles per hour.

i_love_lucy_chocolate_factory_scene_parodied_in_my_little_ponyBut what all these people drinking 5-Hour Energy drinks, Red Bull, Starbucks coffee infusions, Mountain Dew and jacking themselves up on high-intensity shooter games, and Lego movies don’t realize… is that there IS a price to be paid for pushing your adrenaline glands to the max 24/7. You WILL crash and burn out. Eventually. And sooner rather than later. It may be physical when you wipe out your adrenals, or mental when you fry your synapses, but you’re headed for a fall. Maybe we’re all headed for a fall. Think of your brain like Lucy Ricardo on  I Love Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates coming down the conveyor belt, which keeps getting faster and faster until everything is all Fudged Up (no one gets that reference but boomers, but that’s okay).

One sign is to just look around next time you’re out and see people with the jittery legs. You know who I’m talking about. They’re sitting, but their leg is jittering like they are anxious to go somewhere, anywhere. Like the very act of trying to sit still is causing them to hyperventilate, or boil like water cooling the rods of a nuclear reactor. TMI see this EVERYWHERE now, and it’s obviously some manifestation of some real or manufactured pent up energy having a hard time being contained. I know people who would physically explode if they ever tried to harness or still their bodies and minds long enough to practice transcendental meditation.

I remember my psychic mother-in-law (yes, I had a licensed psychic mother-in-law) once told me that the human race was vibrating itself out of existence. Naturally, I put this observation into the category of many other wild predictions she made that seemed a bit far-fetched at the time.

Now… I’m not so sure. The idea that we can’t focus on any one task at a time; that we have to be stimulated constantly by multiple inputs at all times… is a pretty clear symptom of this phenomenon. No one can actually attend a concert, sit and just listen anymore. They have to sit, stand, listen, yell, sway, jazz hands, record with their iPhone, tweet to their friends, and save to their Facebook all at the same time. The idea of any experience being purely one thing anymore is passé. It’s not even allowed to be a real experience unless it’s somehow documented, recorded, relayed or re-copied or Instagramed ad infinitum and at the same moment.

Maybe this is the current evolution of the human race; to require so much multiple stimulation at one time to speed up the process of our internal coping mechanism and force that evolutionary leap to processing everything faster like the computers that serve us.

meat grinderOr maybe we’ll discover sooner than we expect or are prepared for, that, unlike the lifeless microprocessors in our computers, the only thing you get when you speed up the processing of the living tissue, meat and blood we are ultimately made of… is hamburger.

Maybe that’s why zombies are so popular right now in the culture. It’s not because we fear them or the apocalypse; it’s because we envy them. They only have one thing on their minds at any time, all the time: your brains.

If you’re ten years old and you now set The Lego Movie as your necessary level of stimulation, then I will wave to you as you pass me by aging your nervous system at rate 100 times faster than any entertainment I ever grew up with. I may still be living in Mayberry, but you’re next stop in The Twilight Zone is Willoughby. (Google that while you read this, watch YouTube and listen to Imagine Dragons)

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I believe Woody Allen

February 12th, 2014

Wooden Allen directs Cate Blanchett in his latest film Blue Jasmine

I have zero loyalty to Woody Allen, either as a man, or as a comedian or a director. I rarely see his films anymore. If he were a scumbag pedophile, put me on the list to have him go to prison and rot in hell. But sometimes perversity is in the mind of the accuser, and I believe this is one of those times.

Less than a week after Woody Allen was celebrated at the Golden Globe awards with a typically daffy speech by Diane Keaton, an accusation that he sexually assaulted his seven year-old daughter when he was married to her mother, actress Mia Farrow, suddenly surfaced again. A remarkably vivid account by the daughter of the episode from 20 years ago appeared in the paper. Could this man really be a monster instead of a beloved comedian and director? Let’s check some of the details:

The alleged assault was investigated at the time of the accusation by the police and by prosecutors and no evidence or charges were ever brought forth. Allen may be a celebrity, but if there were any strong evidence beyond heresay that the event occurred, the New York tabloid press would eviscerated him beyond any favoritism or protection from the law.

The accusation occurred shortly after Allen had broken up with his wife and after his affair with her high school-age daughter. Yeah, that’s pretty icky. But the couple didn’t live together and it wasn’t his or her biological daughter. He can definitely pass the stink test as an old lech, but if you want to condemn middle-aged men for lusting after high school-age women or perhaps their children’s nannies, be prepared to throw a wide net. We’re all a bit Jack Nicholson when it comes to a Jennifer Lawrence (and yes, he did sort of hit on her). But there’s a huge difference between attraction to a fresh young woman and sexually assaulting a child. And Allen’s ‘attraction’ for the young woman went beyond infatuation to the point where he has been happily married to her for the past 20 years. If he was such a powerful and sick-minded predator, he could have easily sidestepped that commitment.

Okay, so you have a woman, an actress no less, who was not only emotionally attached to Allen, but also professionally – she appeared in several of his movies. She’s dumped in the worse possible way, and is consumed with a hatred, spite and anger beyond anything we can comprehend. Enough that she leaves an actual message for Allen warning him, “You took my daughter, so I’m going to take yours.” And that’s just what Allen (and I) believe she did. She took the only child that, as it turns out, was biologically his with her, and turned her against the father in the most vicious way possible – by planting the seed of an assault and feeding it for the past twenty years. There’s no question the girl now believes it. But where have we seen this before? How about the Salem Witch Trials? How about the McMartin Case in California?

I lived in Los Angeles when the story of the alleged child molesting McMartin day care providers rocked the media. The trial went on for months, lives were ruined, and, in the end, it was found out the workers were innocent. One young child was coached to provide damning testimony and got tons of attention, and the next thing you know, all these other children were solicited to provide testimony and, one by one, when they were asked, “And did such and such happen to you?” “Yes, it did,” they agreed, and they got tons of attention, too. Fortunately, no one was hung or burned at the stake before the stories were proven fancifully false.

But never mind all that, let’s just use some common sense. Almost every actress who has worked with Allen in the past twenty years has either been nominated for an Academy Award or won. How does this happen? How do they give the best performances of their lives for this director? And why do they trust him so much? Don’t they have any ounce of intuition if he were some kind of secret predator, monster or pedophile? Aren’t actresses supposed to be the MOST intuitive or empathetic because of their skills? Or is it because he just creates a unique protective environment for them to open up on screen? That takes a tremendous amount of trust. And loyalty. The major actresses all flock to appear in his movies, not just because they think they will get nominated, but because they know they will have a remarkable experience in an emotionally nurturing environment.

So imagine you’re an actress who will never have that opportunity again – either professionally OR emotionally? And you were married to the man for 10 years. And he fell in love and ran off with your adopted daughter? It’s like the hate, spite and anger trifecta. What could you possibly do to get back at him? And at a time when, once again, an actress – not you – is going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for being in one of his pictures (Yes, Cate Blanchett is going to win for Blue Jasmine). Would you casually and spitefully reveal that his other supposed biological child is not his, but Frank Sinatra’s? Ouch, that’s got to burn. And would you help revive an old accusation that he assaulted his one biological daughter and with some new details that were magically never presented during the original accusation? Would that hurt him enough?

Would it hurt him more than the Valentine’s Card you once sent that actually had needles stuck into the faces of all your seven children, and a knife with your adopted daughter’s face stabbed into the heart?

Sometimes perversity IS in the mind of the accuser, and sometimes it’s enough to poison the mind of a child and spew more hate than anyone can imagine.

Woody Allen is no angel. He’s a neurotic, old man who made an indefensible lapse in judgment initiating an affair with the one young woman who his wife would see as the greatest betrayal. But he’s still with that other woman 20 years later and she still loves him. Sometimes love is blind and stupid and hideously unfair, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

And if another woman is incapable of ever reaching a point of forgiveness, if only for her own sake, she will just continue to stab and stab and stab at that heart.

 

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Winter Movie Round Up 2013-14

January 20th, 2014

american-hustle-posters-sony

The Wolf of Wall Street

Not only a disappointment, but dishonest. It’s a disappointment because it’s Martin Scorsese and also because it’s three hours of numbing, repetitive hedonistic behavior with about five minutes of punishment or redemption at the end. It’s like one of those reality hour shows about Super Nannies, where the first 55 minutes are the child out of control breaking shit and causing chaos and driving everyone nuts, and then the last five minutes he has miraculously been tamed and is a repentant saint. The premise being we just want to see the bad behavior over and over and over again like pigs in slop. Wrong. Boring.

wolf-of-wall-street-02The dishonesty is casting a movie Adonis like Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. The movie is based on a true story about a toxic little gremlin from Queens, but would you really want to watch a Jason Alexander snorting coke off a woman’s ass or having sex with beautiful naked chicks for three hours? Not a chance. But that would have been a more honest depiction of how the lust for money corrupts and ultimately is hideous. How do we know all those gorgeous women weren’t hopping onto his lap because… because he’s freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio!? I read where DiCaprio defended the picture by saying you’re supposed to get disgusted with the guy. But if you really wanted to send that message, why not have all those naked models hopping on top of Gilbert Gottfried? Then I would be disgusted and I might also get the point.

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Martin ScorseseAlso, did Scorsese actually think he was making a comedy allowing his actors to do improv-like schtick for way too long in each scene? It didn’t work, and just came over as grating and undisciplined from an editing point of view.

American Hustle

Pass the goombah hair gel, because David O Russell just out-Scorsesed Martin for a three hour film that holds up both thematically, visually and with fantastic ensemble acting. The lead here is also a nebbish, but at least Christian Bale has made himself out to look like a putz, with an ugly comb over, glasses and 60 extra pounds of flab. So by the time the hot babe Amy Adams hooks up with him to pull the fast cons, we get that she’s in it mostly for the game. The theme that everyone is playing everyone else, whether in a money con or a marriage con comes across both humorously and profoundly. That’s how you make your point. Here’s a director firing on all cylinders at the top of his game, and pulling career performances out of an ensemble of actors doing the same.

Christian Bale;Bradley Cooper

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

smaug-eye-featureThis festival of innovative action sequences was far more entertaining than the first Hobbit film. I still dislike films that overuse CGI instead of real stunts, but at least this film is SUPPOSED to be a fantasy. The barrel chasing scene down the river with the dwarves was fantastic to the point where I would need to study the storyboards just to catch all the clever little bits of action that were off-handedly thrown in. The dragon sequence, which filled almost the last whole third of the film, was also a revelation in the good use of CGI enhanced with the ironic twist that Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) was facing off against
Bilbo - The Hobbit 2 MovieSherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug).

You still feel a bit cheated when a film ends in a cliffhanger that just whets your appetite for the next installment, but it doesn’t come as a shock and we all trust Peter Jackson to deliver the goods. Plus, I’m old enough to remember when the Flash Gordon serials played at the movie theaters and always ended with a cliffhanger. And those model rockets on strings were a hell of a lot less convincing than a CGI Smaug. But it also just goes to show how much audiences used to have to contribute their own imaginations to form the reality on screen without the technology doing all the work it does today.

Anchorman 2

I confess that the only reason I even saw this film was because I was given the wrong time for the film I was trying to see (Wolf of Wall Street) and I just had to find the next convenient film showing. That is not enough reason to justify seeing this dreck.
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The only way it conceivably would have been funny to me is maybe watching after a six pack of beers in a theater full of giddy drunk frat boys. It’s the same basic joke over and over – Ron Burgundy is clueless – but without any cleverness. And why have such a great ensemble of comic talent like Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell if you’re going to hog the entire picture for yourself?

The main gripe I have with this picture is personal: It never fails that when a comic performer is successful, they suddenly think they can WRITE. So instead of seeking out or giving the gig to original material written by a refreshingly new or experienced comic screenwriters (hint hint) who have carefully woven something with great structure and sustaining twists and turns for a comic star, they hog all the action and the money. Anchorman-2-Poster1They just sit in a room with their buddies and make it up as they go along (you too, Seth Rogan). And it shows. There’s just no way to sustain two hours of Will Ferrell mugging. Never mind that no comedy should exceed ninety minutes or risk wearing out its welcome, period. No comedy sequel should be made built on something other than a finished and polished script before cameras roll. If you want to self-indulgently or metaphorically masturbate on film, don’t assume we want to watch. Jokes only work in service of a good story, not the other way around.

PHILOMENA

Philomena

Here’s the perfect film to cleanse the palate. Real characters you actually care about. I love the odd couple combination of a cynical younger atheist writer and a remarkably accepting and gracious elderly woman who has infinitely more reason to be an atheist or cynical, but sticks to her faith instead.

real philomenaHow do they affect each other when joining up to search for a son she felt she had no choice to give up more than 50 years ago? I heard the real Philomena interviewed on NPR talking about the scene where she last saw the son she raised until 3 years old looking out the back window of the car as it was driving away forever. How could she ever get over that? How could she ever forgive herself? Or others who forced her hand? And how can you miss Dame Judith Dench fully inhabiting the role of Philomena to show you just how movingly she did. You will never forget, either.

 

 

 

 

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Time Enough At Last?

January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode ”Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

 

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Merry Christmas 2013!

December 23rd, 2013

Speaking of 1963…
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0000999-R1-E009And the son also beams…

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Where were we in ’63?

November 20th, 2013

Fourth grade. Miss Booth’s class. Miss Booth wore glasses and had a big bun of white hair. She looked like George Washington, but she was also my favorite teacher in elementary school, and a very sweet person to have looking over you when the P.A. system came on and the principal announced that our President had just died after being shot. I was nine years old.

We were told to be silent and I can remember just putting my head down on the desk and trying to grasp what it meant that “Our President” had just been killed. Then they sent us home. I can’t remember if I ran or walked the mile or so home. Because of the Cold War and nearby Washington D.C. being a ground zero target for Soviet ICBMs, we often had Civil Defense drills where we were released from school and told to run home as fast as we could. This was no drill. I can only remember getting home and finding my mom red-eyed and crying on the couch in front of the television in our living room.

We lived in Maryland about 15 miles from the White House and everyone we knew in our universe liked President Kennedy. He was young and vibrant and optimistic. The Cold War with Russia was tense, but the ‘hot’ wars were over and America was in a boom economy. He promised we’d be on the moon within the decade after the Russians had gotten the jump on us to space with Sputnik, and we believed him. We envisioned the future like the cartoon, “The Jetsons” with our families living in dwellings among the clouds and scooting around on our own private flying saucers. The press labeled the glow of optimism that surrounded Kennedy and fueled our belief in the future as “Camelot” – a magical kingdom on a hill.

It seems that few people to this day can believe that a lone gunman discontent or looking for glory could bring that kingdom down with a cheap Italian rifle and two bullets. I couldn’t believe it. I spent years later in California going to lectures by Mark Lane and other conspiracy theorists trying to weave some fantastical story that gave such a senseless tragedy the mass complex story line it deserved. But I’ve spent the rest of my life learning to understand that, more often, the simplest explanation is usually right, and today, single lone disturbed gunman cause havoc almost every day. The problem with most mass conspiracy theories is they involve human beings, who are flawed and often susceptible to paranoia; they involve other human agents who are never as brilliant as we attribute their plots to be; and most people (who are not professional spies or soldiers) can’t resist the attention from spilling secrets if they know anything. Human behavior demystifies the myths almost every time. (For my full view on conspiracy theories see this blog).

Here’s what I do know is true: John F. Kennedy saved the world. At the most tense moment in the Cold War for thirteen days in October of 1962, when Russian was placing nuclear warheads aimed at the United States in Cuba, Kennedy resisted bullying five-star hawk generals like Curtis Lemay demanding we immediately attack, which would have certainly ignited World War III. Instead, he challenged and stared down the Russian Leader Khrushchev both through public denunciations at the United Nations, and through secret emissaries communicating indirectly, and made a face-saving deal for Khrushchev to back down and withdraw the missiles. Strong arm diplomacy instead of knee-jerk reaction won. And for nine year-olds like us who were shown 18 millimeter films in school of how we could somehow protect ourselves from a nuclear bomb by ducking and covering under our desks, the imminent threat of a worldwide exchange of thousands of inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads was lifted.

A year later, and long before the details of that story were ever fully revealed, our President was dead. Two days later his assassin was shot by police wannabe Jack Ruby (a George Zimmerman for his day); a familiar Dallas nightclub owner with aspirations for his own vigilante glory. And we spent the next few days watching Kennedy’s funeral. There were only three television channels back then and they were all tuned into the funeral events nonstop. We saw the flag-covered coffin in the caisson move slowly through the cold streets of Washington. We watched six year-old John Jr. salute at his father’s grave. We watched the widow, usually fashionable with a stylish hat and sunglasses, sheathed in a dismal black with a veil. And we experienced the optimistic spirit that so pervaded his presidency being gradually lowered into the ground along with his remains.

I guess you can say we just grew up. We learned to no longer believe in the shining kingdom on a hill. JFK had Addison’s disease. He took steroids. The steroids destroyed his back. He slept around. His wife remarried a Greek tycoon. John Jr. died piloting his own plane. Personal details soon overshadowed the mythical qualities of a president who could actually represent a nation’s collective hopes and aspirations.

Where were we in ’63? Naïve, but blissfully optimistic.

 

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Linda Ronstadt “Simple Dreams” – Book Review

November 5th, 2013


Dear Linda,

When will you be loved? Now and forever. Thanks for your magnificent talent.

Okay, on to the book.

I guess I must have been dreaming if I thought we were going to get a story about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll from my favorite all-time rock goddess. But sadly, you pretty much dismiss your rock n’ roll years in this sweet little memoir that is strictly about your musical evolution from barefoot Tucson mariachi granddaughter, to country, to rock, to standards, to opera, and back to mariachi again.
And the rock records – the stuff you’re most known for – gets the short shrift. You practically disown your period in rock because you claim you were naïve about the technicality of your instrument – your voice, and that your singing was terribly flawed through all those classic songs we grew up with; “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” etc.

Well, excuse me, but it’s precisely because you weren’t so technically-oriented on hitting every C sharp with precision that those songs have the resonance, character and raw appeal to those of us who love them. There’s a down-to-earth realness about them. I continued to support your journey and bought all your standards LPs such as “What’s New,” but then promptly handed them over to my mother. I’m sure you hit every note correctly, but there was a sterile coldness about them precisely because it came off more like some technical stretching exercise rather than genuinely from the gut. Those are the songs of a different generation, who earned the right to own them through different experiences. Even my mother preferred the original singer versions.

I even bought “Canciones de me Padre,” your first mariachi collection. And Si, you can yelp with the best of them. But again, even though you have Spanish heritage roots, it’s obvious this was not your natural first language and you were also attempting a physical stunt by trying to recreate these classic mariachi songs. But, again the stories they told didn’t come from your gut. Those songs weren’t written by someone with experiences such as yours.

“Heart Like a Wheel,” “I Believe in You,” “I Never Will Marry,” (you never did) “Hasten Down the Wind…” Maybe these songs weren’t technically perfect, but they were chosen specifically by you or for you (by your insightful producer, Peter Asher) and they fit the life you were going through at the time, as the hippie chick hooking up with songwriters, hiring future Eagles members as your backup band, checking out the scene at the Troubadour, and finding your way through the strange and lost world of Southern California.

I understand your reluctance to get into any gossip, or tell more detailed stories about your liaisons with former beaus such as California governor Jerry Brown, author Pete Hamill, songwriter J. D. Souther or others, but I would have been interested in hearing the positive aspects of what each of these mentors meant to you and how they affected your progression. That’s some pretty heady company.

I remember walking by and seeing you having dinner with Jerry Brown at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood one night back in the 80s. What I would’ve given to eavesdrop on that conversation, or to even ask you for an autograph at the time, but I was far too respectful of your privacy.

The main beef I have with this book is that so are you. You don’t have to get into the saucy stuff, but what an incredible set of experiences you could have talked about; more than just fretting about the instrument, the instrument, the instrument. People read books to find a point of intersection to relate to either enrich or inform their own lives or interests, but who of us can relate to having so singularly powerful or beautiful an instrument as your voice? We KNOW that part. What can you tell us that you learned personally from your loves, triumphs and losses? I realize this isn’t People magazine, but it doesn’t have to be gossip. Just human.

You apparently wrote this memoir prior to finding out you have Parkinson’s disease, which has abruptly ended your singing career. This is crushing information and I can’t even begin to imagine how that diagnosis has affected you and your passion to interpret music through your voice. Personally, I think you should write a book about coping with this disease and, hopefully, how you find more strength and other passions to move forward. Baby boomers everywhere are going through similar types of experience, having life challenges and chronic conditions that force us to adapt how we live, love and move on. Your journey can inspire you forward and also help the rest of us. Whether you own it or not, the mantle of being an icon to so many of us fans requires some stewardship.

Ironically, or perhaps cynically because of the disclosure of your condition, you have finally been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this very year. I’ve ranted that you should have been in there ages ago. But after reading you so disclaim your own rock heritage in this book, I now understand the Hall might be reluctant. No matter. I think you get in, and I look forward to seeing you accept the award at the ceremony, and also to some of the other powerful women vocalists of our time (Trisha Yearwood?) try to recreate some of your hits. They might do well, but, just as when you tackled the standards with Nelson Riddle, it won’t be the same.

No one else can own your sound on those rock and roll hits.

So, can you? Please?

Sincerely,

A lifelong fan

(P.S. – Please issue a compilation release of all the covers you did of Neil Young songs (and include the songs you sang with him on his albums) and call it “Forever Young” or something like that. We believe in YOU!)



 

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