Category ►►► Hollywood Horrors
February 25, 2013
Oscar the Grouch
Full disclosure: I didn't watch the Academy Awards. Who needs the hassle when you can just catch up with Nikki Finke's live snarking of the event on Monday morning? And from what I've read, the snark was far more entertaining (not to mention funnier) than the four-hour cringefest that the Academy cobbled together. Forget waterboarding -- just get Seth McFarlane down to Gitmo, stat. Fifteen minutes of that shtick will have those orange-suited jihadis spilling their guts begging for mercy.
Every year I'm amazed at how it is that entertainment professionals -- you know, the people who do this kind of thing for a living -- can't seem to find a way to put on a show that isn't reminiscent of the aversion therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange. With all the writing and directing talent on tap, not to mention the sheer star power packed into that room, you'd figure that something interesting would be going on. But alas, the show always seems to spiral into a parody of itself, what with the lame jokes and the canned musical numbers (they even found a way to make James Bond seem boring). If all this seems like a mystery, though, it isn't. In fact, the Oscars provide for us a perfect microcosm of why it is that Hollywood -- by and large, at least -- sucks.
Like any megabudget floperoo cranked out by the studios, the Academy Awards are usually doomed from the start. From the producers without a creative bone in their bodies making creative "suggestions" to the abject terror of giving offense to anyone who might be an A-Lister, it's damn near impossible to do anything that a reasonably intelligent and partly sober person might actually want to watch. That's why directing the show is a thankless job -- and why the Academy has such a tough time getting people to do it. After all, it's not like you have any actual control over anything, and when the show bombs you get to wear the stench of failure for the rest of your career. Who wants that burden?
So you end up with the same old same-old, time and time again. If that sounds like a common complaint about the movies that fill the metroplex, bingo! You just figured out the modern studio system.
Of course, there is a way to fix the Oscars (not that the Academy would ever do it). What they should do is make the awards part of it the way it was back in the old days -- just an open bar and dinner followed by rattling off the list of winners -- and then turn some hidden cameras loose in the crowd to listen in on what the stars really have to say. The downside is that you could only get away with it once -- but what a show it would be!
July 15, 2012
Joss the Political Slayer
As good a writer as he is, apparently the concept of irony is completely lost on Joss Whedon. Consider his remarks at San Diego's Comic-Con:
Toward the end of the session, one woman noted the anti-corporate themes in many of his movies and asked him to give his economic philosophy in 30 seconds or less.
"We are watching capitalism destroy itself right now,” he told the audience.
He added that America is “turning into Tsarist Russia” and that “we’re creating a country of serfs.”
Whedon was raised on the Upper Westside neighborhood of Manhattan in the 1970s, an area associated with left-leaning intellectuals. He said he was raised by people who thought socialism was a ''beautiful concept."
Sigh. A beautiful concept that has led to the deaths of over 100 million people and counting. Aside from the astounding historical ignorance contained in that statement (Tsarist Russia was a monarchy, and whatever you think of Barack Obama, he was still democratically elected), you really have to marvel at a man who has grown fabulously wealthy because of the capitalist system raging against the machine as if he weren't part of it himself.
Whedon went on to say:
We have people trying to create structures and preserve the structures that will help the middle and working class, and people calling them socialists. It’s not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal […] it’s some people with some sense of dignity and people who have gone off the reservation.
What we have here is a fundamental failure to understand economics. If by "structures" Whedon means the ability to go out and earn a decent living, how does he expect crushing regulations, confiscatory taxes and the heavy hand of government (all aspects of socialism) will accomplish that objective?
If, on the other hand, he really means "welfare," then his observation about American becoming a nation of serfs really is true -- except that he's the one advocating our arrival there. Does Whedon ever stop to consider that the surest way to slavery is to make everyone dependent on government largesse? Apparently not.
It's also obvious that he's never made the connection between big government and the corporatism that enrages him so. Did it ever occur to him that big business wouldn't need to peddle influence nearly as much under a smaller government that didn't saddle them with so many regulations? Or that maybe Washington wants it that way, so as to keep the corporate campaign money flowing?
All of this is really surprising to me, given some of the anti-authoritarian themes that have appeared in Whedon's work (Firefly was one of the most libertarian shows I've ever seen). I just hope that living in the Hollywood bubble doesn't corrupt the quality of his writing in the future. I'd hate to see that happen to one of my favorite genre guys.
September 9, 2009
Capitalism: A Love Story
So, Michael Moore thinks Capitalism is a bad idea. What a surprise!
Moore has written and directed the ironically titled film: Capitalism: a Love Story. If you have guessed that this movie is not a tribute to Capitalism, give yourself a cigar.
I’m not sure that anyone has ever made this observation before, but Moore’s movie titles are all stupid and irritating. If I were to suggest some titles that might fit Moore’s oeuvre, they might be: Slobbo, Bowling for Calories, Avoirdupois 911 or Marx & Me. His films have always had a yen to bash corporate America, at the same time celebrating corpulent America.
These movies always feature Moore prominently on screen. He is nothing if not self-indulgent, with the unshakable belief, apparently shared by our current president, that people never tire of seeing him. Well, it’s a cinch that when he’s on the screen, they won't see much of anything else, unless it’s the Parthenon; and not much of that if he’s standing in front of it. And I guess he’s right that some people never tire; that is what Capitalism is about: people paying their own money for something that they want. (In the world that Moore evidently prefers, people would pay to see movies they don’t want in the interests of fairness.)
Moore makes his living as a result of the largesse of the capitalist system, which serves the economic ends even of those who would destroy it: Lenin predicted that the last capitalist would sell the rope that would be used to hang him. In a way, Moore is basically an economic illiterate, or else a complete hypocrite. He is one of those artists who, after becoming ridiculously wealthy because Capitalism rewards talent, though not always intelligence or wisdom -- and certainly not virtue! -- spend all their free time biting the multiple hands that feed them.
I have to think that the companies which fund Moore’s so-called documentaries -- out-and-out propaganda, in the grand tradition of Triumph of the Will -- are modern day examples of those rope-selling capitalists that Lenin joked about, if it can ever be said that Lenin joked about anything.
But as Winston Churchill once said of democracy, Capitalism is the worst of all economic systems, except for all the others. As "unfair" as it may be, it's better than the rest because it's based on the idea that freedom, specifically economic freedom, is good.
What people like Moore, and the idiots who worship at his shrine, fail to grasp is that the freedom that allows General Motors to run itself into the ground and throw thousands of employees to the winds of chance is the same freedom that allows you or me to start a small business and turn it into a profitable venture. Or to buy a ranch and raise cattle. Or make movies that Euroweenies line up to watch because they get an electric tingle out of the America bashing. Moore’s movies don’t do quite as well in the U.S., but there’s always someone willing to pay to see them (not me!)
Moore ends his film with this taunt: "I refuse to live in a country like this, and I’m not leaving." Thankfully there are other alternatives, which given Moore’s lifestyle, are more likely to come into play even before President Obama finishes his attempt to destroy Capitalism. If I thought it would help, I'd send him a case of Twinkies.
October 18, 2006
Good Movies That Inexplicably Make Money
I haven't seen either movie (since neither has been released yet), but check out this comment by Hollywood hypestress and glam gal Nikki Finke. She's talking about the upcoming Tim Allen threequel the Santa Clause 3 and how it's "tracking" better, whatever that means, than the neo-surrealist, PoMoWood Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and she sez...
By contrast, few pics could be as low concept as Disney's "G"-rated Santa Clause 3, which comes out the same day as Borat. Starring middle-aged, middle-of-the-road Tim Allen, audiences don't appear to be tiring yet of this franchise which has inexplicably made money from its first day out.
Yes, that is a conundrum, isn't it? Now why on earth would a charming, family-friendly movie about a kind and decent man, played by Tim Allen, forced to take the place of the real Santa Claus, make any money? Why, there isn't a single breast baring, beheading, or homosexual cowboy (sheepboy) encounter in the entire film! What dork would want to go see something like that?
It's hard to fathom, but Finke appears to be serious in her befuddlement about the appeal of Tim Allen and the Santa Clause franchise. I have no idea how old Nikki Finke is -- the biographical page on her own website doesn't mention anything she has done pre-1995 -- but I wonder if she would be startled to learn that there used to be an era when kids (and adults!) actually liked movies that weren't mean, controversial, or edgy. When entire families could go to the movies together without the parents turning red with embarassment. When a depiction of school violence in a movie (Blackboard Jungle) was actually shocking.
There used to be a time when Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Rob and Laura Petrie, and the Bradys really were considered the standard, even by families that never quite lived up to it. There was something hopeful to be said about such loving, positive role models (as opposed to, say, the Sopranos), even when their reach exceeded our grasp. There was also something glorious about an age when "violence" on TV shows for kids meant the bloodless, comedy shootings of Get Smart or an anvil dropping on Wile E. Coyote's head... rather than a Saturday afternoon rerun of Friday the 13th Part 266.
Never mind mere murder; how many eviscerations and flayings has the average kid seen by the time he's 14?
So "surprise, surprise, surprise," as another prototypical good guy used to say (I'm sure Nikki Finke would make comical gestures more commonly associated with bulemia if forced to watch an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC): many of us doddering ancients -- we actually remember a time before 24-hour porn channels and interactive internet self-abuse sites for the hard-up 12 year old who doesn't have a hook-up tonight -- many of us like watching movies that remind us of what we consider a better cinematic age.
I have failed to find occasion to go see the Black Dahlia... but then, I read the book, so I was forewarned. But last night, I did find time to watch Gene Kelly's the Three Musketeers on TCM (great, except for Van Heflin as Athos; I like Oliver Reed's interpretation much better), and tonight I watched Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Ray Bolger, Virginia O'Brien, and Chill Wills in [see if you can guess this MGM musical!].
I don't think my time was ill spent on that trade. But what do I know? I'm not in "the business," however peripherally.
September 10, 2006
Newsflash! 9/11 Flick Far Fairer Than Other "Historical" Docudramas
This New York Post story, which appears to be trying to cast doubts upon the accuracy and even veracity of movie the Path to 9/11, instead shows it to be tremendously better researched, with more consultants and a greater willingness to change the script for historical accuracy, than any previous movie I've read about.
The showrunners metaphorically bent over backwards, tuchas over teakettle, to accomodate changes demanded by ultraliberal star Harvey Keitel to make the movie more historically accurate by his standards. (Keitel is still kvetching that they didn't rewrite the entire screenplay to make everything Bush's fault.)
I've never been involved in the production of big-budget TV movies, but I've hung around the set and "acted" in low-budget pictures many times, and I know what happens on a movie set. (In this context, "acted" means "stood stiffly and unconvincingly in a crowd scene, shifting nervously and wondering how many takes there would actually be before the two-minute scene was finished.")
Given Keitel's political leanings (about the same as Jack Lemmon) and financial contributions to Democrats:
- He gave $2,000 each to Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY, 100%) and Charles Schumer (D-NY, 100%);
- $1,000 each to Sens. John Kerry (D-MA, 100%) and Bill Bradley (D-NJ);
- $1,000 each to Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY , 100%), and Charles Schumer (for reelection to his House seat the same cycle he ran for the Senate, 1998);
- $1,000 to leftist gadfly candidates Barry Gordon and Mark Green (Keitel contributed $1,000 each to all three candidates in the Democratic primary for Senate for 1998: Schumer, Green, and Geraldine Ferraro);
- $1,000 to Majority 2000 (a Democratic PAC);
- And $1, 200 directly to the DNC;
Given that, the many changes he demanded (and received) in the Path to 9/11 were almost certainly pro-Clinton or anti-Bush.
Anyone who has ever worked with directors and producers knows that the usual reaction when they're told by an actor that "this scene isn't historically accurate" is a glazed-eye stare and another snort of cocaine. The 1AD will then tell you haughtily that "this is a movie, not a documentary; just shut up and read your friggin' lines!" (Or, if you're a minor character, "take a hike, cement head.")
But look at the way the creators of this movie abjectly surrendered to Harvey Keitel:
When Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel signed on to play Deputy FBI Director John O'Neill, who perished in the World Trade Center attacks, he thought the film's aim was to be historically correct, he said.
"It turned out not all the facts were correct," which led to "arguments," he said on CNN.
Virtually from Day 1 of shooting, "Keitel put his own researcher on the case," looking to correct historical, character and other inaccuracies he found in the script, said John Dondertman, a production designer on the film.
That led to Keitel rewriting most of his own lines - which in turn meant almost daily revisions for cast members who had scenes with him....
On one occasion, Keitel holed up in his hotel for an entire day with director David Cunningham revising the script.
Other times, Cunningham would "fumble through the 9/11 Commission book trying to figure out how to correct details Keitel called into question," said the script supervisor....
Fulvio Cecere, who plays NYPD Chief John Dunne, recalls director Cunningham allowing Keitel to improvise entire scenes with fellow cast members.
(Those of you with movie-making experience, please pick your jaws up off the floor.)
And with all that, the Clintonistas still object to the movie and demand that ABC suppress it, so the American people don't finally understand what a prat and rube Bill Clinton was for eight years. Eight years during which al-Qaeda grew to become the most powerful terrorist organization in the world; attacked the United States on numerous occasions, killing scores of Americans and hundreds of other people, with barely a response from us; and conceived, planned, and set in motion the horrific attacks of September 11th themselves, likely the biggest terrorist attack in history.
Often supposedly historical movies use a technical consultant to "get the facts right"... one technical consultant; who isn't allowed on the set (he vets the screenplay) and certainly is ignored when he tells the director what's wrong with the picture. Did the Path to 9/11 use expert consultants? Take a look:
The network hired 9/11 Commission chairman and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean  as the project's senior consultant.
"Kean was never on the set," said Greg Chown, an art director on the film. "The only adviser I worked with was a former CIA guy , who ensured that all the graphics and documents we used were accurate...."
[A commenter who says he is Greg Chown (and I have no reason to doubt it) writes, "I was definitely mis-quoted by the reporter for the Post. All I said during the interview is that I did not know who Keane was." -- DaH]
Another staffer, who spoke confidentially, said the only adviser she recalls is retired FBI agent Terry Carney ....
Barclay Hope, who plays FBI Assistant Director of Public Affairs John Miller, says he spoke briefly with Miller, although the FBI man indicated he didn't want to be involved in production.
Miller was a consultant on the film , and ABC had optioned his book for use in its teleplay.
This is an incredible level of consultation and willingness to change the script during production, all for as much historical accuracy as could be included and still make the movie watchable as a movie.
At this point, I think it fair to say that the historical accuracy of the Path to 9/11 is lightyears beyond the accuracy of most movies based upon real events or actual people (see our previous post for some other such titles).
The Clintonistas have no legitimate complaint; they can only whine that the movie unfairly depicts the Clinton administration being as feckless and pathetic as it actually was. We'll see tonight whether they managed to bully ABC/Disney into editing it beyond all recognition -- cutting out all the parts where Clinton ignores the problem, so it looks as though he were a two-fisted terrorist-buster. Or even whether they're going to air it at all.
September 9, 2006
Bill Clinton: Pull The Path to 9/11!
So now it's come to this: former President Bill Clinton has formally demanded, through his attorneys, that ABC simply shelve its 5-hour, $40 million docudrama, the Path to 9/11.
Well... maybe; I'm a little suspicious, given that the source for this claim is a blog that was linked on Drudge. None of the elite media is carrying this story, though all of them carried many other stories about the Democrat protest against the flick... and many others have demanded that it be pulled and not aired.
While I have no reason to doubt the accuracy (or veracity) of Greg Sargent, the author, I'm still skeptical about this. Sargent appears to be a sincere liberal who has posted many similar letters on his TPMCafe blog (some of which were straight from his host, Joshua Michah Marshall of Talking Points Memo) as well as other anti-Bush, anti-GOP posts; and this letter would certainly be in keeping with Clinton's personal attack on the movie yesterday.
So it's probably true and accurate; but bear in mind that this letter is not yet well sourced.
But what the heck... let's run with it anyway!
No reason is given to pull the movie other than the lawyers' claim that the movie departs from the partisan Democratic version of recent history. (Oddly, I don't recall them having any particular problem with Erin Brockovich or All the President's Men.)
The idea that a Hollywood movie, even one touted as being a "true story," must be held to rigorous historical standards is flatly comical. The Amityville Horror was promoted as a "true, factual story;" and what about Schindler's List? The real Oskar Schindler gave his Jewish workers guns, telling them that if they were discovered, it would be better to die in combat than be sent back to the death camps. Did we see that in the Steven Spielberg movie?
More recently, we have the movie Munich. Several of the Mossad agents -- who are still alive -- stepped forward to say that the movie was totally wrong in many respects... the most important of which was portraying them as tortured souls who doubted the morality of what they were doing (executing, one by one, the architects of the 1972 massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, committed by Black September -- a front group for the PLO). To a man, they said they never had any such qualms about their mission.
Where were these finicky Democrats back then? I'm straining my brain to the white meat, but I can't think of even one who stepped forward to chastise Spielberg for either of those two a-historical "historical" docudramas.
The question is never whether a movie must be a strictly factual account; that would be a "documentary." By definition, a docudrama makes some stuff up, rewrites events, and combines characters, all for dramatic purposes. The question should be, how close to reality is the movie?
And from everything I've read about the antiterrorism history of the past few decades -- which is probably considerably more than Bill Clinton or his lawyers have read -- the Path to 9/11 is about as close to reality as Hollywood is ever likely to get. Live with it.
I have to wonder: suppose, as a thought experiment, a movie were made that simply blamed everything on President Bush, instead of insisting that Bill "Party Time" Clinton shoulder his much larger fair share for eight years of malign neglect. Suppose a movie were made that falsely claimed that Clinton was a dynamo of antiterrorist fervor, a zealous GWOT warrior who went to bed every night angry at the terrorists and woke up even angrier.
Suppose this movie also portrayed Bush as a dunce, controlled by vast, shadowy puppeteers -- multinational corporations (Halliburton, the oil barons, Coors), the neocons (but only the Jewish ones), and the military industrial complex. Suppose the movie portrayed Bush as callous and uncaring, eager to send young Americans to die just to line his own pockets. Suppose it even hinted darkly that Bush was somehow complicit in, or at least had foreknowledge of the pending 9/11 attack, but let it go forward anyway because it furthered the Blofeldian schemes of this feeble-minded evil genius.
If such a version of the attacks were presented in movie form, would these Democratic voices, so solicitous today of the "historical record" and the 9/11 Commission report, be as quick to leap forward, insist upon changes, and finally demand that the movie be yanked from distribution and never shown?
Somehow, in this purely hypothetical example, I doubt it. I suspect instead that they would honor and fête the filmmaker, call him one of the most important political voices of the twenty-first century, and maybe even give him a box seat at the next Democratic National Convention.
Sitting right next to Jimmy Carter, perhaps. You think?
December 26, 2005
During World War II, and in every subsequent war, our troops in the field have had one uplifting treat to look forward to amid all the danger and destruction of combat far away from home: that is the USO, the United Service Organizations, and the celebrities who came to entertain to troops, no matter where they were. But for this war, according to the Guardian, most celebrities have decided simply to "opt out" of entertaining the troops.
The USO was created in 1941 -- before the Pearl Harbor bombing -- as a joint endeavor between six organizations (hence the plural in the name): the Salvation Army, the YMCA and YWCA, the National Catholic Community Services, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the National Travelers Aid Association. From the USO website:
Throughout World War II, the USO was the channel for community participation in the war effort. In more than 3,000 communities, USO centers were established to become the GI.'s "Home Away from Home." Between 1940 and 1944, U.S. troops grew from 50,000 to 12 million and their need for a variety of services grew accordingly. USO facilities were quickly opened in such unlikely places as churches, log cabins, museums, castles, barns, beach and yacht clubs, railroad sleeping cars, old mansions and storefronts.
At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs. USOs could be many things to many people: a lively place to dance and meet people; a place to see movies or find religious counsel; a quiet place to talk or write letters; and, of course, the place to go for free coffee and doughnuts.
From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented an amazing 428,521 performances. In 1945, curtains were rising 700 times a day to audiences as large as 15,000 and as small as 25 on some outposts all over the world. More than 7,000 entertainers traveled overseas. During World War II, Americans had come together as never before. By war's end, the USO could claim that more than 1.5 million volunteers had worked on its behalf.
(In 1944, Universal made a wonderful movie about the creation of the USO: Follow the Boys, starring George Raft -- did you know he began his career as a dancer? -- and spotlighting the talents of Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, the Andrews Sisters, W.C. Fields, Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan, and the only complete dance routine ever filmed of the incomparable female flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya... along with many, many others. If you can find it, rent this movie! It's not particularly historically accurate, but who cares?)
Alas, that proud history is less than nothing to today's self-absorbed, narcissistic "stars," who refuse to travel to combat zones abroad to entertain the troops, but rather stay home in droves. The Guardian article coyly speculates that the reason may be ideological:
It is a far cry from the days following the September 11 2001 attacks, when some of the biggest names in show business, from Jennifer Lopez to Brad Pitt, rallied to the cause. "After 9/11 we couldn't have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go," Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."
Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war.
Frankly, I think this is a shuck. There is no logical argument why even a diehard anti-war fanatic could not entertain the troops -- who, after all, didn't get to vote on when and where they would be deployed. In fact, several mainstays of USO tours are just such ardent anti-war types: Robin Williams, Henry Rollins, Joan Jett, and astonishingly enough, Al Franken. I heard one of Franken's jokes, and I thought it was pretty funny. He said that in the Army, even the food was controversial: "I've eaten five MREs since arriving here, and not a single one of them has had an exit strategy." (Plenty of conservatives are also going, including Ted Nugent, Wayne Newton, and Toby Keith.)
I'm sorry to say that the more plausible reason why so many celebs are boycotting the troops is simple cowardice: they're too afraid to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."
Just about everything in Hollywood except the special effects is worse today than in days of yore... including, I believe, the manliness of the men and women working there. When we were fighting the Nazis and the Japanese (who deliberately targeted USO shows and transport craft, by the way, as a way to demoralize the Allies), every major and minor star in Hollywood, every singer, every dancer gritted his teeth and flew into the war zones to cheer up the weary troops. On the distaff side, soldiers' days were brightened by Dietrich, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, and other first-magnitude stars. In later wars, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Raquel Welch traveled to steamy jungles and snowy plains to remind the men what they were fighting for, as Bob Hope, the greatest USO asset ever, put it.
Today, about the best they can scrounge are Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, a couple of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and Jessica SImpson. For the rest -- thus doth cowardice make conscientious objectors of them all.
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