Monday, January 22, 2018

"You Vill Be Happy!"

I don’t know why it annoyed me so much.  It echoed exactly what I wrote yesterday, except, this time, about drama.  Maybe, hearkening to Fagin from the musical Oliver!,

“I think I better think it out again.”

My perspective yesterday was a lament for a now passé genre of comedy which, characterized in three words, would be,

“Recess from Reality.”

Call it the “Silly Putty” of comedic entertainment, consumed not for learning and growing but just laughing.  (“Soupy Sales”, anyone?)  Not all the time, but sometimes, I think, we need a restorative “palate cleanser” from life.  Which seems no longer commercially available.

Call me a “Lonely Crusader for Comedic Diversity.”

(I just imagined myself, a solitary protester, carrying a sign on a stick reading, “Where’s ‘The Silly?’”  Wearing a loud, checkered coat and a flower that squirts water?  No.  That’s “Gilding the Lily.”  Regular clothes, with an incendiary message.  A classy campaign, championing unclassy comedy.  Paraphrasing the old {animated} sitcom Dinosaurs:   “Lonely Protester – Gotta love me.”)   

Alright, enough about me.

“Yeah, right.” 

Oh, a gratuitous “Wake-Up” call from “Blue Italics Person.”  Thank you.

Anyway, so here comes this guy, writing an op-ed column in the paper about how the Hallmark television channels are making a fortune doing, basically, “Recess From Reality” dramas, and I’m like,

“Wow.  He’s saying what I’m saying.  And I hate him!”

Comforting Head’s Up:  “Meaningful Distinction” to follow.  (So you won’t think I am “bank-shotting” hating myself.  Always a possibility, but not, thankfully, this time.)

The commentary’s objective observer characterizes “Hillary Country” entertainment as “dystopian”, “grim”, “dark” and populated by (Booga-Booga!) “unconventional families.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

That purportedly left-leaning audience, otherwise known as “The Devil’s Spawn”, is said to be “dwindling.”  (Not because of the many available alternatives.  It’s the irredeemable subject matter that’s doing them in.)

On the other hand, the ratings and revenues for Crown Media’s Hallmark networks, offering the good people of America “shows that express traditional family values”, steering clear of shows expressing “political themes and stories that denigrate religion” favored by the“Trump Country” viewership are soaring.

Justly so, as they are doing “The Lord’s Work” on television.

I have thought about writing how the country’s “Political Divide” has created two diametrical cultures of entertainment, but as my time on this planet winds down, I have (hopefully) abandoned chronicling the obvious. 

Our Current Predicament:

Two nations. 

Two distinguishable entertainments.

Taking a moment to (gratuitously) mock theirs

The self-righteous op-ed columnist mentions a Yuletide-themed made-for-TV movie entitled, “The Christmas Train.”  Full Disclosure:  I happened to have somehow missed that movie.  But here’s my (imagined) “Thematic High Point.”   

Everyone’s sad to be away from their loved ones during this special time of the year… until somebody chimes up:

Wait.

Diabetic Alert:  I am unaware of the distinction, so, erring on the side of caution, readers with “Type One” and “Type Two” diabetes should assiduously avoid the following (pretend) summary.

Okay, now that I have averted the legal consequences of “Abetting a coma”, where was I?

Oh yeah.

We have reached the emotional nadir of this heart-tugging saga.  At which point, some upbeat “Heartland Pollyanna” exhorts,

“Come on, people.  If we all can’t be home for the holidays, why not celebrate Christmas right here on this train!”

Hold on.  My fillings just started to ache.

Okay, now the “Meaningful Distinction.” 

My Promoted Agenda:  An available alternative of comedic silliness, sprinkled amongst the “Wiser Heads Leading Us Out of the Wilderness Into Enlightened Wisdom, Insight and Understanding.” 

But with laughs.

The Columnist’s Similar But Demonstrably Different Frightening Agenda: (In the form of a “Capitalist Warning”):

“Television producers are typically quick to emulate the latest success.  But for many, apparently, Hallmark-style programming that appeals to red state residents is a bridge too far.  The loss is theirs.”

The Punitive Message:  Do it our way, or go broke.  (Never mind that the “Hillary Country” programming amasses all the honoring awards.  To the “Never nominated (for good reason)”, that just shows that the elitist “Anointed Arbiters of Quality” are as “out of step” as the producers. 

Wow.  I once got “96” on a Chemistry exam.  Cautioning Subtext:  “Somebody studied.”)

Okay, I gotta go take a “Bile Bath.”  (By which I do not mean a bath in bile, but rather a bath to cleanse at least some of the oleaginous stuff off.)  I am not sure what got into me today.  I have entirely eschewed my customary admirable “Argumentative Balance.”  Something about a sensible suggestion, carried to a worrisome extreme.

I wanted to revive a hue in the comedical rainbow.

This fatuous flak insisted that every television production should sound like the theme song from Annie.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Style Over... Everything Else - Notes On 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Middouti'"

   Writer Martin McDonagh made a big splash in the theater when he was 26.  He subsequently branched out into movies, his latest offering, which he also directed, Three Billboare Outside Ebbing, Missouri.


(How’s that for uncharacteristic concision?  Whose compact assertion I risk squandering through excessive patting myself on the back.

Nope.  I’m out.)

An artiste who strikes gold early faces the danger of believing they have successfully “Cracked the Code” and are creatively infallible.  An artiste who directs their own material?

WRITER/DIRECTOR:  “What do you think?”

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  “I like it.”

WRITER/DIRECTOR:  “What a coincidence.  So do I.”

I have written earlier about a McDonagh play I saw called The Beauty Queen of Leelane.  Formulating Conclusion:  A recognizable M.O.

Original writing. 

Deficient narrative policing. 

(Note:  In the theater, the playwright, especially if successful, has, contractually, the last word.  The director may offer suggestions, but the playwright is free to hum impatiently which they do so.)

Three Billboards gives us an intriguing “Jumping Off” point:

Seven months after the atrocity, a grieving mother of a raped-and-murdered teenaged daughter pays for three adjacent billboards, on which she challenges the local sheriff for making no progress uncovering the assailant.

The obstacling “wrinkle” in her unwavering rancor?

The likable sheriff is dying of cancer.

And off we go.

It’s a promising premise.  And the acting, especially the leads:  Frances McDormand, (married to one of the Coen brothers; I am not certain which one, but it only matters that they are), Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell – are unilaterally rewardingly stellar.  

I was also impressed by the overall casting.  Although an accompanying family member pronounced it, “Too ‘Hollywood.’”  Meaning, the participants were too “glossy” (as in actors’ promotional “8-by-10 ‘Glossies’.”)  I myself have no problem believing there are attractive people in Missouri.  Those Hollywood “transplants” must have emigrated from somewhere.  The Midwestern air appears to be good for your complexion.

(A Blogger’s Possibly Erroneous Perception:  Since the massive success of Hillbilly Elegy, I have detected a newfound focus on “Heartland” difficulties.  As in politics, the “Big Cities” feel seemingly eclipsed by the provincial problems of the unglamorous folks who stayed put.  Though it could be I am just noticing this more.)

Although Three Billboards’s” storytelling generally held my attention, it, at meaningful junctures, felt annoyingly arbitrary.  (As if the Writer/Director said, “That’s how I want it” and the Director/Writer readily concurred.) 

Among other diminishing infractions, the less than scrupulous storyline includes head-scratching coincidences, characters changing unpersuasively in midstream, and serious actions proceeding without consequence – a guy throws another guy out a window, with no expected constabulary follow-up.

It’s like I told a comedy writer once:  “Your good jokes are ‘Check Marks.’  But your bad jokes count too, in the other direction.” 

By that score, Three Billboards barely breaks even.

However, because of the acting…

Hold on.

For your increased enjoyment and understanding, I shall now pass the baton to the superiorly articulate New York Times film reviewer Manohla Dargis:

“(McDonagh) doesn’t always know his A material from his B, or he doesn’t care; his jokes can be uninterestingly glib, with tiny, bloodless pricks that are less about challenging the audience than about obscuring the material’s clichés and overriding theatricality.”

I could not have put that better myself, or – which is the reason I cribbed it – nowhere nearly as skillfully.

In my view, the director went excessively easy on the writer (who happened also to be the director.)  The actors’ performances ultimately bailed the thing out.

I don’t know. 

Maybe it’s idiosyncratic storytelling makes you a scriptorial standout. 

My Humble Personal Assessment

No creative effort is ever less appreciated because the plot makes more reasonable sense.

For to occur in the future, however, Mr. McDonagh will have to surrender some creative decision-making to somebody else. 

(Full Disclosure:  Which I would never have admitted when I was calling the shots.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"A Passing 'Pappy' Post Of Personal Privilege"



(Written By:  "The Pacific Ocean Invisible Mariachi Ensemble", a Division of the "Invisible Sacred Mountain Mariachi Ensemble.")

SHE'S HERE TO STAY...

THEY'VE GOT A LOVELY LITTLE GOLDA
AND EVERY DAY SHE'S GETTIN' OLDAH

SHE''S HERE TO STAY.


SHE'S HERE TO STAY...

SHE USED TO BE A WHOLE LOT SMALLER
NOW LOOK AT HER SHE'S SO MUCH TALLER

SHE'S HERE TO STAY.

GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA
GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA
GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA
WE LOVE YOU...

GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA
GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA GOLDA
GOLDA GOLDA GOL..

DIDYOU JUST POO?"


One more, because I love who's in it.





"Earlo's Reliable Litlte Helper"

Once I was single. 

Twice when I was single, I had dates.

The second one’s somewhat of an exaggeration.  But it is an embarrassingly miniscule “somewhat.” 

In those days – and who knows, maybe still – men asked women out on dates.  Which gave women the optional alternative to say, “No.”  Who the heck wants to risk that? 

So I rarely ever asked. 

Once, around age 13, while pledging a high school fraternity – I was a “Legacy” from my older brother; otherwise, I would have never gotten involved.  (I know “You get jackets.”  But I already had a jacket.) – I called up a girl, at pretty much random, and in a trembling voice-changing falsetto, asked her if she would like to attend a fraternity party with me. 

It was the first time I had ever asked a girl out on a date.  She kindly replied that she’d like to, but she had a Bar Mitzvah to attend that evening. 

I hung up and never called anyone else for ten years.

I know men generally have (on aggregate) more physical and in later life, economic power than women, but the available punishing “Power of No” should not be dismissingly ignored.  I am not blaming women – it was just the way things were set up, and who knows, maybe predominantly still are – but to the “Sensitively Challenged”, even a polite “I’ve got a Bar Mitzvah that evening” turndown can sound resoundingly like,  

“You?  Never!”

This in no way balances the books.  But it deserves an acknowledging entry.       

One of my “fingers of one hand” number of dates was a traditional “set-up.”  A close female friend asked me if I wanted to go out with someone, and I unenthusiastically replied, “Okay.”  Although hardly excited by this “pig-in-a-poke” prospect, with the “Yay or Nay” ball, as it were, in my court, I had at least eluded the dreaded,
direct “Turn-down.”  Besides, if I had said “No”, I’d be rejecting my ostensibly thoughtful female friend.  And what did she do to deserve that?

Besides meddling in my highly protected personal loneliness.

We went out to a movie.

Which, finally, if you were wondering, being confused by the title, is what today’s offering is about.  Earlo’s “Essential Little Helper” –

The starkly revelatory moviegoing arena.

Here’s the thing:

The selected movie you attend tells you all you need to know about the person sitting beside you.  Meaning the one you came in with and most likely bought tickets for, not the one sitting on the other side.  They’re somebody else’s problem.  I had sufficient troubles of my own. 

I am sitting in the movies with someone somebody else believed was a “match.”

I don’t remember who picked it.  I probably did, because I really wanted to see it.  The movie was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  A “cowboy comedy”?  It was quintessentially up my alley.  Conventional Wisdom?  Butch and Sundance was indisputably hilarious.

My “Blind Date” for the evening

Never

Laughed

Once.

They recently swabbed some goo from inside of my nose, and sent the procured sample out to be tested.  It turned out I had a bacterial infection.

People’s reactions to movies provide an equally accurate diagnosis.

I never saw that humorless woman again. 

On a second occasion – I am chronicling (virtually) all of my dates in one post so as not to bother either of us with them again – I love Neil Simon and I adore Bruce Jay Friedman.  Neil Simon, adapting a Bruce Jay Friedman short story called The Heartbreak Kid into a movie?

That is unquestionably “Count me in!”

I am, once again, there with a date. 

The Heartbreak Kid (recently remade with Ben Stiller, but I passed) tackles darkly uncomfortable terrain with edgy, comedic intentions.  Its provocative “What if…?” hypothesis:

“What if you meet the proverbial ‘Girl of your Dreams’ while on your honeymoon with the woman you have recently just married?”

It is imaginable that lurking insidiously in the unconscious of at least some newly wedded men – and who knows, maybe newly wedded women as well – is this “One chance in a million but still possible” nightmare scenario: 

You get married for life.  And then immediately encounter “The One.”

In this case, the new bride is stereotypically Jewish (complete with errant egg salad ensnared in her ethnically ringletty hair.)  The mythical “One” he meets on the honeymoon getaway is a radiantly dazzling Cybil Shepherd.  (Read:  Iconically Gentile.) 

My date for the evening is Jewish, although uniquely, and appealingly, herself.

The film’s dramatic crescendo – the man abandoning his “newly united” for the unattainable “Nordic Princess” – is achingly uncomfortable.  More so in the film version than in Friedman’s original short story, which, with the advantage of being seven pages long, sidesteps the inevitable “yucky parts.”  When fully extended to “movie length”, a purely imagined “Theoretical” plays out considerably more hurtfully. 

Though, as a man – even, shamefully, a Jewish man – I was unaware of how hurtfully.

At one point, my evening’s companion abruptly excuses herself.  It is only later, upon leaving the theater, that she reports that she had exited into the lobby and ferociously berated the manager, screaming,

“Why do you show such terrible movies!!!”

Message, concerning what I took as an allegorical comedy, loud-and-clearly received. 

It was not going to work out.  (As it eventually did not.)

Movies cost more than they used to.  But for learning what you essentially need to know about someone who might ultimately matter,

They are a revealing and determinative bargain.


(Though you should sneak in your own more reasonably priced popcorn.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Your Route Guidance Begins... Never"

I could not write this idea.  And part of “I couldn’t” was “I didn’t want to.”  And part of “I didn’t want to” was “I didn’t know how.”  

It’s interesting.  (To me.) 

An idea comes to you and you think, “I can write that.”  And then you don’t do it. 

For months. 

Lemme tell you, post ideas are not easy to come by.  And yet, you got a good one wriggling on the hook, going, “Reel me in, Writer Boy” and you continually go,

“Eh.”  (Rhymes with “Feh.”)

If you’re me – a not particularly busy person – you curiously wonder what’s going on.

(Note:  I shall try to keep this concise.  At this writing, we are flying home from Toronto and, as a courtesy to the customers, I am determined not stretch this distraction-from-my-awareness-of-sitting-in-a-heavy-object-inexplicably-up-in-the- air out until we land.  Quoting the itinerant beggar in Fiddler on the Roof, speaking on your behalf, “If you have a long flight why should we suffer?”  (Which might have been used in the show had the Anatevka evacuees flown into exile.)

Anyway, here’s “the idea that seemed pretty good” I felt perplexingly unmotivated to write: 

“A driver in strange surroundings turns on “Route Guidance” to assist them and proceeds to ignore everything the Route Guidance announcer tells them to do.”                                             

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?  You track the “Route Guidance” announcer’s mounting frustration as the driver insistently overrules them following their own directions instead, the assisting announcer trying to nudge them into compliance, their reasoned persuasion escalating into annoyance, building to a crescendoing,

"Why did you turn me on in the first place!?!"

The comedic elements are all present.  The “Route Guidance” routine, as they say, virtually “writes itself.”

“Hm.” – he spontaneously perceives.

Maybe that’s the inhibiting obstacle right there –

The yawning predictability of the concept.

The funny yawning predictability – because I am, after all, a professional comedy writer– but “yawning predictability” nonetheless.

Suggesting – as I ponder it further – I am a limited professional comedy writer.

Borrowing from baseball, I can make – using a “writing” descriptive – the original plays but cannot comfortably execute the routine ones.

Example:

“Two strangers, connecting on the Internet, meet for the first time for coffee.”

A consummate professional would immediately jump in with both feet.

Me? 

(“URKEL”-ISH) “Do I have to?”

When I am not writing “conceptually” – a Southern diplomat proposes a Civil War-averting compromise in which the South agrees to free the slaves two days a week – my companion literary “Comfort Zone” is “writing from experience.” 

I have zero experience with “Internet Interludes.”  (I am 72.  I have been on, like, six dates.)

“You’re a writer – make it up”? 

Sure.  But I’d be counterfeiting reality.  The Result:  Superficial and shallow.  Easy jokes and clichéd choices.  Still funny – because – he professed humbly – it’s me – but lacking the leavening ring of resonating veracity.  

(That was me, trying to be a writer.)

If I had to do it, I would wind up mimicking my professional “betters.”  To me, that’s not writing.  It’s connecting the dots that other writers laid down.  

Taking the creative “high road”, not because I am a superior person but because I am unable to do otherwise –whatever I write, I am required – by myself – to find a uniquely Pomerantzian perspective.  Otherwise, why am I bothering?

That’s where I was with the “Route Guidance” possibility.  I could not conceive of a fresh – and thereby inspiring – humorous approach.

Until…

As it often does, during my mediation, an intriguing direction suddenly materialized.

Which, if this plane gets me uneventfully to my destination,

I shall deliver when next we meet.

It may not be good.

But at least it’ll be original.

A burdening prerequisite, looking back,

That may have seriously hampered my career.

Oo-oo,


I got sad.