Shaft (2019) Is Better Than SJW Critics

If you want to see de-aging FX of Samuel L. Jackson, skip the over-rated and cloying Captain Marvel and just go see Shaft currently in theatres. The opening scenes set up the premise in 1989.

Just finished catching a matinee of the new Shaft film, which is either the second if you don’t recognize any movie before the year 2000 or it is number Five if you count the original Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, and Shaft In Africa.  Richard Roundtree plays the same character in all of them, as well as a TV series indicated on imdb which few have heard about.  This time around, one throw-away line of dialogue corrects a bad call from the 2000 film in which Roundtree’s John Shaft was the uncle of Samuel L. Jackson’s iteration. There is a reference to him being a better father once he stopped, “pretending to be my uncle.”  I think they were being too logical when they did the 2000 reboot, factoring in Jackson’s age.  Now they place Jackson at age Sixty and presumably Roundtree is still a sharp-witted man of his Eighties.  The repository of all knowledge, rottentomatoes, has 89 critics giving it a green rotten splotch of 34% and yet it has a vetted, verified audience rating (3, 146 people who provided proof they have seen the movie) at 94%.  So who do you trust more?  89 critics who saw it for free and are focused on identity politics and whether Shaft adheres to the behaviour code and attitude of…. Twitter, Salon, and The MarySue or anyone who believes if you are not draped in a rainbow flag you are a Nazi? Or do you believe the three thousand, one hundred and forty-six people who rated and maybe commented for free? By now you know what kind of thing is your cup of tea, in any case.

Boxofficemojo today has it only ranking in #7 of the weekend’s movies with $9, 703, 744 domestic. So it has recouped at least what Netflix paid for it already.  Netflix will start showing it June 28, so it will have a short window to make whatever it can theatrically.  It was worth seeing with an audience, but partly for the reassurance that others are laughing at the same frank talk that some critics refer to as “dinosaur.”  The movie itself can feel like an episode and a procedural in that you get what you expect from a sequel. But the refreshing part is its willingness to embrace the point of view of the street wise elder Shafts and have fun with that somewhat at the expense of the more modern-thinking son.  The millennial does have his moments of dignity and the chance to kick ass, without the elders are not the butt of the joke.  They can humorously point out the absurdities and contradictions of modern sensibility.

Below, if you have the time, is an example of a sometimes entertaining pundit of fandom on the internet relishing the audience reception of this new Shaft and the fact that it is not politically correct which demonstrates perhaps that there is a demand for Hollywood to ditch its fake progressiveness and be more down to earth.

 

 

 

 

A Handy Guide to Hating Me

A Handy Guide for Hating Me

 

Why wait to dismiss all the things we agree on because you haven’t found the one issue or sub-issue that marks me as “the enemy” ? Here are some positions or observations I have that have been triggering or provocative in case you want to get the jump on dismissing my input out of hand due to my obvious “evil.”

 

Religion: Raised Roman Catholic and Star Wars fan. Worked in a Catholic parish a block from home approximately from age 13 to 18 as a sacristan opening and locking the church, folding bulletins and putting out the wine and wafers for mass. Rarely go to church but still retain Catholic hang-ups.

 

Trump: Used to be boring enough that I would zip past his interviews on Letterman, but now he has graduated to dangerous. He and his team are 100% garbage.

 

Doug Ford: Ontario’s Trump. Hate him.

 

Trudeau: I wish he followed through on his election reform to get rid of First Past the Post, and cracked down on environmental policy and renewable energy while getting away from pipeline projects. But while I voted NDP I otherwise like Justin and would like to see him continue even with room for improvement. After 11 years of Harper there needs to be a moratorium on conservative Prime Ministers and Trudeau may have more of a chance than the NDP option Nationally.

 

Mel Gibson: I like to see him acting in movies and most of all directing them. Total respect for his craft. On his personal issues, people need to get their facts straight first. Robyn Moore Gibson is the ex-wife of Mel who by all accounts is a wonderful person and who even testified in court on Mel’s behalf as a character witness to state that he had never been violent in all their years of marriage. This was the court case where his ex-girlfriend and baby mama (to Lucia) and composer of generic house music Oksana Grigorieva who recorded (and is responsible for allowing to be released to RadarOnline) Mel’s phone rants. When Joe Eszterhas (the Basic Instinct writer who looks like a biker) decided to take his little kid to Mel Gibson’s island and report that he had not done work on the screenplay he was hired for, did he expect that they were not going to hear some yelling and ranting from him? And is that why his innocent son brought a recording device? While, I enjoy some of he writing, Joe is a dick. As for what Mel said in his rants, I have no theory other than the one-person audience to whom he is talking and the likelihood that she uses derogatory terms herself. Whoopie Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Darlene Love, Danny Glover, George Miller, Robert De Nero, Jodie Foster and Richard Donner are those who defended Mel as a person and friend even if they can’t break down the actual words used and chalk it up to a function of his medication for bipolar disorder or lack thereof. It is also worth noting that when he announced The Passion of the Christ and nobody had even read the script he already had haters piling on. The film’s release resulted in zero anti-Semitic incidents and zero apology from the doomsayers. It also made a lot of money, which further annoyed those who had turned it down. While Mel’s next movie Apocalypto was in post production, a Rabi and others lobbied for Disney to shelve it because they were frustrated that The Passion had been a success. The pressure was the context under which Mel accepted a drink of tequila and fell off the wagon and got behind the wheel of a car. The drunk driving was the worst of it and thankfully nobody was hurt, but this record was expunged because arresting officers allowed the police report full of his rants about his current persecution get released to TMZ. This rightfully caused some blowback for the police involved, but nothing compared to the ammunition it gave to Mel’s haters. If he was noted as rambling, “Jews cause the wars of the world,” he might have meant, “Jews remade War of the Worlds.” I don’t know, but I remember playwright Brad Fraser unfriending me on Facebook for defending Mel. When I got through explaining how telling the story of The Passion is not inherently anti-Semitic any more than being Catholic is, he then revealed that his real opposition to Mel and enjoyment of his downfall was Mel’s irritation at a press conference where someone absurdly asked if he was gay. Some took issue with King Longshanks throwing his son’s gay lover out a window in Braveheart, and may fan the flames of the anti-Semitic angle because it is easier to enrage people. The fenestration scene from Braveheart got laughs. I liked the commemorative rant plates skit Billy Dee Williams did on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and some youtube videos using the rants in Ransom re-edits, but I was happy to see Mel nominated for Hacksaw Ridge and back in movies. As much as I liked Mad Max: Fury Road I admit I would have preferred elderly Mel to follow through. All he had to do was drive and be strapped to a mast for most of that movie.

 

Woody Allen: 27 features, a few shorts and a TV series have been directed by Woody since the break up with Mia Farrow in 1992 during Husbands and Wives over the affair with Soon Yi and Mia’s vengeful and vindictive manufacture of child abuse charges in which she used her daughter Dylan to lie for her – a strain that has caused real harm to Dylan well into her thirties. I believe Moses Farrow, and I come to this by fearlessly reading the accounts and the fact-checking articles by Robert B. Weide. Any serious broadcaster with reach, including Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gale King, should have read in full and contemplated the writings of Robert Weide on the matter before jumping onto the bandwaggon following the onset of the #MeToo movement. The Woody-Mia-Dylan conflict is not a case that should be held up as an example if your goal is to ensure that society listens to accusers. That case is bound to fall apart on scrutiny and hurt the benefit of the doubt that one wishes a serious abuse accusation to be greeted. Even those who engage on-line in casual debates need to read through the Weide articles, which are called open letters to Ronan Farrow (who himself as a serious journalist has also apparently ignored).

There is no doubt that Ronan has had a positive impact overall in many investigations but he has this one huge blind spot: his mother.

 

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/qa-with-dylan-farrow/

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/moses-farrow-speaks-out/

 

This link actually contains hotlinks to several other articles on the topic:

 

http://woodyallenmoblynching.com/2018/02/25/robert-weide-woody-allen-innocence/

 

In summary, the narrative I believe is that Mia Farrow messed up Dylan by drawing her into her separation with Woody and using her as a weapon by inventing an abuse the circumstances of which have been refuted point for point in terms of logistics and contradiction. To assert this is not “blaming the victim” or making any sweeping statements about abuse or victims. It is an assessment of one case, and a bizarre one at that. I don’t especially respect the lemmings who have come out and expressed regret for acting in Woody Allen movies. Ellen Page can regret To Rome with Love because it is one of Woody’s weaker movies. But she would be wrong to assume that Dylan and Mia are right and that Moses, Woody and Soon-Yi are wrong.

I respect Dianne Keaton and Alec Baldwin for defending Woody when so many actors have jumped onto the bandwagon of #believeher blanket judgement.

 

Alec Baldwin: The one good thing that came from the Trump era is that it gave Alec something to make a high profile splash after a brief period where he lost a talk show deal as a result of being videotaped calling a paparazzi who had stalked his family and picked through his trash a (paraphrased) “Fu*king British Cigarette!!” If anything, I have respected his outrage against paparazzi and ambush journalism and I reject the idea that there is a contract that says being a public figure or entertaining means unwanted attention must be accepted. There are plenty of common targets for gossip magazines who have not benefitted in their careers from such focus. I don’t have to agree with every opinion of Mr. Baldwin to enjoy many of the films and TV shows he has done (30 Rock, Mission: Impossible Fallout). Image rights and audio rights should have to be secured in a release waiver which would make paparazzi pests less common.

 

Star Wars: I prefer the Original Trilogy (1977-1983) before the 1997 special editions changes (for which 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is the least compromised) and before the 2004 DVD version or the further changes on Blu Ray a few years later. I did not care for the Prequel Trilogy, which was not the same tone or balance of jeopardy and humor and which did not have a strong enough narrative overall. That trilogy starts off just for children with Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace and ends with a fire, lava and mutilation of its PG-13 Revenge of the Sith. I like the Disney era which some outspoken fans and former-fans are up in arms over because they see it as being too progressive and because producer Kathleen Kennedy had said some things in public like, “The force is female” and “I don’t owe anything to the original white male fans of Star Wars” which of course they found inflammatory. It is odd that some who are most critical of the current Disney era of Lucasfilm defend the objectively inferior cinema of the Prequel Trilogy. Padme should not have died in III, which contradicts adult Leia’s memory of her mother in Return of the Jedi. I agree with many complaints about the Disney era even if my conclusion (acceptance) is different. Why can’t Luke Force-push Rey when she aims the lightsaber at him?  And I have to thank the “Fandom Menace” activists who looked into exactly who comprised the “Lucasfilm story group” that Rian Johnson bounced ideas off of.  I had imagined maybe Timothy Zahn and other writers who know their Star Wars would have that distinction, or maybe the finest dramaturges. But it was quite loaded with SJW motivated people with thin resumes. Guidance in storytelling that comes from those sensibilities is bound to throw things out of whack and land with a thud as it did for so many.  I am curious to see how Lando Calrissian is used in IX and happy for Billy Dee Williams. Wonder how Luke is worked back into the story and I’m guarded about how footage of Princess Leia will be repurposed after the death of Carrie Fisher.  They will get my money but I understand the boycotters like Doomcock who say #WithoutRespectWeReject when it comes to Disney product.

Movie Directors: I have no concern whatsoever about the gender or ethnicity of a movie director, only that the person is actually conceiving the shots – the psychology of the frame itself and the displacement impact of a cut and how those are chosen. The director ideally directs the attention of the audience. If it is true that, “once the screenplay is ready and the casting is appropriate Ninety percent of the director’s job is done” then all discussion of direction should take those elements as read and only concentrate on that remaining ten percent which makes at least as much difference as an extra chromosome. If the director leaves the use of the frame to the cinematographer, the cinematographer is a de facto co-director and I don’t celebrate that kind of dynamic. I have infuriated people because I have utmost respect for Robert Zemeckis and I am critical or dismissive of Robert Altman. I don’t like an improvisational hodge-podge. I like a deliberate use of the camera.   I respect what might be called the storyboard sketch approach, so that thought is put into how shots follow each other or echo each other throughout a movie.

 

Abortion: There are people I care about who have had abortions and I have not rubbed their noses in my opinions but they know I am not the person to ask for a ride home from the clinic. I am against the criminalization of abortion because in pragmatic terms it can not be enforced evenly – rich people would still find access and poor would not. The promise of “stopping” abortions is a carrot used by conservative politicians to play on emotion of their base voters but there is little they can do to prevent it. They can only pull punk moves like closing a clinic because it does not meet physical specs of a hospital in terms of hallway width. But people are catching onto those sneaky moves as well. Having said that, as much as I do not want to be the person trying to police people and make sure they go full term with each pregnancy I don’t spin-doctor abortion itself to make it more palatable. To me it is “magical thinking” to say that a life only becomes human or “quick” when the umbilical cord is cut or when the baby breathes oxygen instead of amniotic fluid. It is not – in my view – magical at all to say that when that spark of zinc happens as the 23 chromosomes from the sperm is deposited into the 23 chromosomes of the ovum and the start of a 26 chromosomes life begins that this is the process of becoming and that the same process continues if it attaches to the uterus and grows into adulthood.   Giving birth is a brave action for a mother and some do not survive childbirth, so I can’t condone forcing anyone to go through this process but I admit that I admire it and I would be lying if I said that I admired abortion.

 

Alfred Hitchcock: I admire his process of visualizing a scene in advance, and this is the approach I most respect as “real” cinema direction. People may diminish his name because in the modern era his behavior with Tipi Hedron on The Birds and Marnie has more attention. A TV movie The Girl with Tobey Jones and Sienna Miller explored this dark side of his character during that period of his life. Hedron attended his funeral and continues to give him proper respect as a director despite his inexcusable and dangerous decisions. What he contributed to film language is essential and may be overlooked in the rush to dismiss those with character flaws.

 

 

Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title and The Catastrophe of Success are two books worth reading, in that order, about Capra. The latter is partly an evaluation of the former and speculates as to how much of Capra’s recollections were exaggerated. Regardless of his politics as a somewhat conservative populist with corny endings, his movies were well done. I do not know fully what his working relationship was with cinematographer Joe Walker but Capra’s earliest storyboarded short film The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House has a discriminating choice of shot. Although he came from writing, his visual sense was authentic. As for content, people might be critical of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and it was poorly received by certain insider press at the time but the idea of the “Taylor Machine” enforcing a rigged situation in Washington DC rings true today. But the key is how he used the frame and the cut with personality that punctuated scenes and kept his choices on point.

 

Roman Polanski: I can take or leave some of his movies, which tend to be slower paced. Ever since I was a child in elementary grades we knew the joke, “Roman Polanski cruises in a school bus.” I did not know he survived the holocaust when his parents did not. And it was a while before I learned that his pregnant spouse Sharon Tate was killed by the Manson family. But even learning the details of the rape he committed upon a 13 year old girl I see it in context as atrocity breeds atrocity in shaping and staining a human mind. His insight into evil and moral failing might inform some of his better works as a director. Carnage, Death and the Maiden, Chinatown, The Tennant, The Ninth Gate, The Ghost Writer, and to an extent Repulsion – various movies of his that I actually liked I will continue to enjoy regardless of his indefensible use of that girl who has since forgiven him even if legal activists have not. I thought Frantic was boring and slow back in the eighties and somehow have it on DVD but have not re-watched it as yet. Harrison Ford starred in it and had the dubious honor of accepting Polanski’s Oscar for the Piano years later, so an admirable person can appreciate the man as a director and not define him entirely by is personal failings.

 

Rape and Terrorism: These are two subjects often argued about on social media despite the fact that neither side in a debate will be in favor of either crime. One cannot condone rape or terrorism, and we hope to never have these horrors visited upon those we love or ourselves. And yet there are sub-issues in which people can argue to a point where they forget that the other person is also not in favor of these acts. People have an all-or-nothing sensibility sometimes which is not constructive to adult, sane discussion. I remember the term, “without passion or prejudice” as an advisory for jurists. People tend to throw that out. If I defend a parent saying that a daughter should dress warmly or conservatively, I will be accused of “slut shaming.” If I say here is a photo of Brock Turner, don’t go to the late night party with him or accept any drinks beside a dumpster because he is the Stanford rapist, again I might be accused of putting the responsibility on the prospective victim.   But I would then also argue that to say to the rapist, “don’t rape anyone” would be a joke. Nobody has to be told not to rape. And fear of being caught does not stop people with a behavior control disorder. People do have to practice defensive driving and defensive living. It is wrong for a terrorist to release a gas valve into a public area. It is also wrong for someone who has been advised of this to insist on lighting a match for a cigarette because it is his/her right. People do have to look out for each other. It is fine to say that yes the rapist or terrorist is the problem but are there ways to moderate behavior to reduce their success rate? Do you continue shopping, flying, dating in the same patterns because “otherwise the terrorist/rapist wins” or do you attempt to participate in keeping the odds of safety in your favor to an extent? These are reasonable questions I might ask if I want to get my head bitten off on social media.

 

Guns. I like the Australian ban solution and would like to see this in North America. At the same time I do not want guns banned from movies because the best movies usually have guns in one form or another. I also object to ambushing of Tom Selleck by Rosie O’Donnell or Charlton Heston by Michael Moore, even if their intentions for the right reasons or the big picture. It tends to diminish the seriousness of the matter and make it hypocritical. I could not scold Selleck for liking guns when I spent so much of my youth watching Magnum P.I. and celebrating when he shot that bad guy after asking, “Did you see the sunrise this morning?” (Because his friend Mack had said he was going to see the sunrise before the bad guy killed him.) Such is the complexity of the gun debate. No doubt that too many crazy and sad people have access to them and people are not held responsible enough who decide to keep or sell them when they end up being used for violence.

 

Why.  What if the reason so many white males have gone on shooting sprees is that simply any action creates an equal opposite reaction? What if progress itself agitates the unbalanced and alienated mind? December 6, 1989 14 young women, engineering students around my age, at Polytechnique wawere shot dead by a gunman whose manifesto or suicide note blamed women for his failure.   At Colmbine ten years later, two young men who felt alienated and insulted and called gay by classmates ordered some firearms and shot up the school. The internet and social media definitely accelerates this. As does the wave of outrage culture and ine infiltration of SJW language into the vernacular since 2014. Every action, however well intended, creates an equal opposite reaction. I remember a friend of a friend first using the “word” mansplain on me on Facebook around 2014 – among other shade throwing and insult – and I can fully understand the desire to kill because of it.

There are some reprehensible and abusive people who wrap themselves in white knight armor and virtue signal constantly without actually having ethics.

 

LBGTQ2S issues: In favor of allowing same sex marriage rights and the wedding cakes that they entail. Absolutely need to put a stop to policies in the world that allow formally or tacitly the execution or murder of LBGT people, including the concentration camp that was reported to exist in Chechnya. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41645281 And at the same time, despite a strong stance against bullies in any form, I will laugh at humor that points out the adjustment and awkwardness of interaction between people who have an aversion to something in the other’s life. I don’t see a problem with language that is called “othering” because people do place themselves in their own categories. While I recognize that it would be upsetting for some people to hear an early Eighties routine from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, I can still watch it for nostalgia and find it free of the caution and falseness of most modern entertainment. In my own writing, I do not see any group as being in a permanently critic-proofed victim category. A character who identifies as gay or LBGTQ should be allowed to be unsympathetic or a villain or errant in some other way and not bound to be the wise guru that straight people ask for advice. As reasonable as that sounds, there are some who consider any verbal argument lost by a gay character to be “punching down” and I am against this. I can understand writers avoiding diversity if they are going to have to inherit unwanted co-writers enforcing codes reminiscent of the Hays Code that was enforced from 1930 to 1968 – a shockingly long stretch. http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

When you watch DVD extras for The Silence of the Lambs or Basic Instinct you learn of how GLAAD really went after those productions and tried to shut them down and protested the movies. Years later, no doubt the activists of today are embarrassed by those actions. People wanted the antihero Michael Douglas played in the noir thriller Basic Instinct to say the equivalent of, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” upon discussing his girlfriend’s bisexual past. When Jerry Seinfeld had an episode using that line and running it into the ground, we should be able to assume that the enforced quote is now exposed as perfunctory virtue signaling.

 

Do the Right Thing: Although Mookie is later seen still delivering pizza for Sal in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, I don’t think he is necessarily wrong. I blame Buggin’ Out for all of the disaster that happens, for Radio Raheem and the pizzaria. The right thing of the title, for me, is not putting black celebrities onto the wall to appease Buggin’ Out — who does a double take at the wall as if he has just noticed it after eating in the shop since he was a kid. I expect to see Chinese decor in a Chinese restaurant and Italian trappings in a Pizza shop. Sal should be allowed to put up whatever photos he wants. A store is like an embassy in whatever area it is set up.

Sal made a mistake in letting Buggin’ Out and Raheem into the shop after hours. He should not have bashed the radio but they also should not have been provoking the situation. As for the police brutality, nothing has changed since 1989. When the title is spoken in the movie, the “Mayor” tells Mookie, “Always do the right thing.” Mookie says, “That’s it? Got it.” and he moves on.

 

Dexter: I have read the comic books and all eight Jeff Lindsay novels. I like the Early Cuts animations and I have the complete series on DVD. It should be viewed in chronological order but I rate the seasons in quality as follows: Fourth Season, Second, First, Fifth, Sixth, Third, Seventh, Eighth. I’m critical of the Assistant D.A. being allowed to know so much when Dexter’s sister had been close to the Ice Truck Killer and a the Bay Harbor Butcher suspect had been working at the same precinct. I’m critical of Deb’s later belief that she had a romantic attachment to Dexter, something that rings false like a quip someone made in the writer’s room that someone else thought should pay off. It only undermined her character. If they do a follow up, I hope Dexter who is logging in Oregon will track a killer along the Oregon trail and that Deb will be his new conscience. I have no idea how Hannah and Harrison can be reunited with him without it seeming contrived. Unless Hannah has been following news about murders in Oregon and looking for a pattern and deciding to risk return to the States from Argentina where Harrison might have already begun building a life. Maybe Dexter hears about a former Nazi or rogue priest and other criminals being poisoned in Argentina and knows Hannah is still around and maybe he has a second goal on the Oregon trail of crossing the bridge at the end into Canada and taking a flight from there. I’d like Michael C. Hall to have a shot at playing Batman, but then I’d like him to give Dexter a satisfying wrap-up.

 

Controversial Movie Preferences:

 

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a better film than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Genndy Tartakovsky is talented but Andrei Tarkovsky sucks.

 

Ghostbusters should have remained in continuity and not remade. The 2016 Paul Feig remake pats itself on the head for showing “women scientists” despite Beatrice Straight having played a credible academic and scientist in Poltergeist two years before the popular Ghostbusters came out. I’m happy and hopeful to learn that Jason Reitman is returning Ghostbusters to the original iteration and continuity with a 2020 movie. I actually like the fact that he is not especially committed politically, because knee-jerk ideology plays poorly in movies.

 

These are the issues that leap to mind at the moment.

 

Also:

 

I’m introverted

 

I like to avoid wading through crowds if I can.

 

I have Jawsphobia but continue buying the movie.

 

I think of myself as a writer-director but not a producer, which may turn off a

producer who prefers directors to take some of the producing burden.

Ironically, I end up often having to do things a producer should do, i the absence of one, and my movies are limited in resources because of that.

 

I don’t play games. Video or mind games. “I’m not your puzzle to solve,” says Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally. And that is a good stance. I don’t like solving puzzles when direct, clear, effective communication tells me how important a message is. I would not want to be so needy as to run around asking people if I have stepped on their toes. I’d rather say in advance what I hope to do and see it through.

 

I write this kind of blog to clear the clutter from my head and put it into someone else’s head.

Problematic, Triggering Tribes and Spin

Controversy doesn’t interest me much more than a blizzard unless I have to wade through it on the way to something I care about, be it movies or living life without a target on my back.

I thought about leaving this post for a different blog, maybe a dormant one, so it won’t contaminate the constructive spirit of this one.  But I’m here and I have the time and something to at least attempt to say.  Words can fall short of communicating the nuances of parallel concerns on a debate, so any time I weigh in on someone else’s thread I feel like it is less about pooling our perspectives in a search for truth and constructive solutions and more about someone extracting verbal DNA to reconstruct in their mind the whole person with whom they interact.

Even people I respect (otherwise they wouldn’t have been in my FB feel in the first place) will say, “Watch out for these phrases” as indicators of somebody’s political leanings and worthiness of deletion. Some are looking for the wolf in sheep’s clothing among their circle.  I have never worn sheep’s clothing.  I am not what you would call a whiteknight, nor an SJW (social justice warrior) as these terms are understood in web discourse. I may love many of the same things you do (Star Wars, and much of cinema in general) and hate the same politicians (Trump and his confederates, Doug Ford and his) but I will have feet of clay trying to – as they say – unpack the divides.

Within the same few days, there were two apparent controversies that split people.  I eventually saw the Gillette commercial ostensibly about toxic masculinity. Had I seen it without hearing that it was sparking a hubbub, I would not have thought anything about it considering that most advertising today has an element of virtue signalling. Having followed some of the discussion, be it from Joe Rogan or Ben Shapiro or more moderate voices, there seems to be a concern about using propaganda to soften men in general and steer them toward being more feminine, and the content about ridiculing “freaks” appears to be the driving force conceived and fueled by the “pink mafia” trying to reverse-bully men who feel okay with “punching down” jokes at their expense.  That seems to be the fuel of the blowback from some men.  I don’t know where I land on the matter.  I don’t feel any of the fashionable outrage for jokes about even the most sensitive subjects.  I am only annoyed by walking on eggshells.  There have been actual PSA’s not selling any product that have had the guys at the barbecue who shame a friend who boasts non-consensual conquest of a woman or some sort of domestic abuse.

The second apparent controversy is mostly artificially bolstered by Forbes magazine’s Scott Mendelson and The Hollywood Reporter’s Kyle Kizu who are upset with the fantastic and delightful news that the 2020 Ghostbusters 3 movie directed by Jason Reitman will ignore the presumptuous 2016 re-set by Paul Feig and instead it will be in-continuity with the Nineteen Eighties iteration Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989).  This choice by Reitman and ultimately Sony is a welcome corrective measure.  This is a subject upon which I have no problem offering an opinion.  Around 1999, there had been talk of Harold Ramis taking over as director of a new Ghostbusters movie, since Ramis had new heat as a director following Analyze This.  But Sony didn’t believe enough in it.  That would have been ten years after Ghostbusters II.  So ten more years were wasted by corporate dithering and lack of belief in that property.  Until 2009, Sony/Columbia had no enthusiasm about a third Ghostbusters.  They expected the back end for the main legacy cast to be too high so they thought the brand was dead.  But the video game of 2009 which involved voices and animation of the original cast sold very well and signaled to Sony that yes, duh, there was still potential interest in the brand.  The video game scenario was set only two years after Ghostbusters II.  Dan Aykroyd was most vocal about a planned third movie checking in on the original characters decades later in modern day.  Even the biggest hold-out Bill Murray in October of 2010 appeared in full Ghostbusters uniform at the Scream awards to support his appearance in Zombieland the previous year, which itself had him playing make-believe Ghostbusters with the younger cast of that film in a cameo.

Sigourney Weaver had spoken with optimism that a script in development would bring the team back together.  There was an appetite being stoked among fans for the return of Venkman and his iteration of Ghostbusters.  February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died after months of illness.  As a co-writer and one of the core 4 Ghostbusters, his loss was enough for Ivan Reitman at the funeral to lose interest in directing the third movie.  Some of the fanbase felt you can’t get the whole band back together so maybe it was too late.  Bill Murray had been blamed for his reluctance to even read proposed script drafts during the vital four years while Sony had renewed its faith in the brand and Ramis was still alive.  This may be invalidated by Murray’s early references to the IP in Zombieland and at the awards show just as Sony’s interest had returned.  The jabs at Bill Murray are the only element I would dispute of the RedLetterMedia video Mr. Plinkett’s Ghostbusters 2016 Review, which otherwise is a vital and useful assessment of that misguided and wrongheaded remake. Feig was the flavor of the month after a few profitable moderate budget movies, and so he inherited the director’s chair and created an overly improv-laden, clueless, and self-congratulatory mess.  More proton pack blasts and cartwheels do not this kind of movie better, nor does coming up with new tech that can shred ghosts or “kill” them in a movie where they should be busted but where there is not even a containment facility until the end and the only trapped ghost is freed due to silly goading.  If you are only concerned about the excitement of seeing women as “scientists” or in “parapsychology” look back to 1982’s Poltergeist.  Beatrice Straight as Dr. Lesh is believable and also funny. (She won an Oscar for five minutes on screeen in Network (1976).) In the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, Jane Adams played an equivalent character called Dr. Brooke Powell – a year before Paul Feig would pat himself on the back for introducing the idea of female scientists in movies.  I mean, if you are willing to go further into make a full time job of it you can start with Kate Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt in The Andromeda Strain (1971) just for starters.  The point is that there are far better movies with far more engaging examples of women as scientists. Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler in a little movie called Jurassic Park, anyone? I’ll just leave this here:

The announcement that Ghostbusters 3 would ignore FeigBusters was a breath of fresh air to fans like myself.  And I’ll date myself.  I was 16 years old in 1984 when the classic Ghostbusters was released, and the year was so full of good movies that it wasn’t at the top of my list. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out that year.  Romancing the Stone was fun.  Beverly Hills Cop may have been the top earner at the box office. In 1989, Ghostbusters II would have to compete against Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as well as Batman and Back to the Future II. That year I was well into adulthood and less easily absorbed by movies, but as the decades passed the Eighties pop upon second look.  Maybe it wasn’t just my age, because directing seems less delegated and more amusing in much of the Eighties films. There was also an element of mischief that is lacking in the less human approach of today.  But the idea of the director of Juno doing a Ghostbusters 3 is very reassuring.  Somebody with vision who can also present quirky characters.

It is a shame that a guy like Kevin Smith defends hard reboots like FeigBusters by saying, “The original isn’t going away.  It’s on DVD.  You can watch it any time.” Well, the same can be said about FeigBusters now.  You can watch the 2016 movie as many times as you like.  It hasn’t gone away.  But the truth is that the “fans” or FeigBusters are not so much supporting a movie but a movement and their only interest is taking imaginary ground in a make-believe war with The Man, specifically a character I did not hear about until 2016.  The DNC deflected Bernie Sanders supporters by calling them – among other vile things – BernieBros who must only be objecting to Hillary Clinton’s gender and couldn’t possibly be inspired by Bernie’s history and clarity on principles.  Sony marketers and trolls came up with the term GhostBros for anyone who rejects FeigBusters, because after all it must be an objection to “funny women.”  Even though many of us loved the same year’s release Bad Moms which was genuinely funny but didn’t appeal to SJW movie critics – it made about five times its production budget and spawned a profitable sequel. It wasn’t bloated by the expectation that all fans want is a logo, a familiar song, and a light-show. Paul Feig had said, “We made a list of things to keep, the car, the logo and the song — we didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Therein lies the problem with Feig: He doesn’t know what is the baby and what is the bathwater. Feig and cast members Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones characterized the detractors of their film as “mother’s basement-dwelling man babies with neck beards and fedoras,”  not to mention the equivalent manufactured stigma that associates rejection of a mediocre movie with right wing or sexist sensibility.  Reprehensible tactics. This began somewhat with the well-documented case of Sony’s marketers or whoever curated the comments under the first trailer culling the posts that had reasonable and articulate responses and leaving only the most childish and racist or sexist posts to create the jumping off point of their narrative: if you don’t like FeigBusters, this is what is inside your soul.

I would stop short of saying that the same principle is at work with fallout from the Gillette public image upgrade.  Looking outside of my bubble or where my Venn diagram for movie discussion overlaps those on a Facebook page I check, there are indeed guys claiming to boycott Gillette or giving the link to order a batch of re-fill blades for the Vector 3 from China so it won’t financially profit the US end of it.  There are some who see it as the currency of being male, the benefit of the doubt coming through the door, to be devalued.  I would argue that having a President like Donald J. Trump has drawn a huge spotlight on the truth of the old boys’ club of Cryptkeepers who need to be disbanded and in some cases jailed. Among those with whom you can be candid, there will be rolling of eyes when something insane happens – like when you realize that indeed Matt Damon was removed from Ocean’s Eight because when asked about the PoundMeToo movement he said what everybody else was saying privately, that there must be a distinction between the gravity of sin in rape versus the slapping of someone’s behind.  Careers were taking hits that perhaps did not deserve that.  But it is like the history of revolution – it happens not in countries where there is a firm totalitarian system but in places where progress has begun and people are hungry for more. Hashtags that easily spread a message on twitter have helped radicalize people in a general sense at the expense of specifics.

Ocean’s Eight was in continuity with the George Clooney trilogy, so I was in full support of it until they cut Damon. Then I wanted for DVD.  In 2016, I refused invitations to see the supposedly re-titled Ghostbusters Answer the Call in cinemas but I did stream it illegally from a bootleg. Months later, I borrowed a DVD from the Toronto Public Library to listen to the commentary. That’s the one where Paul Feig can’t remember the title The Wizard of Oz and referred to it as, “some Disney movie.” I gave it a chance, but gave it no money.  On the other hand, it has taken a lot of my time and attention as all of these circular and imaginary tribe-driven arguments have played out.  I buy razors that are on sale, usually the cheapest. Gillette could put their money where their mouth is and charge the same for a lady shaver as they do for a men’s razor.  The co-writer of Ghostbusters 3 has on his imdb page the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, which is the only wrinkle. As with Ghostbusters, I prefer the “original” or at least the one that was well directed. But I know I’ll see it ASAP in the cinemas and happily fork over the admission.

 

 

 

Working with Murphy on Movies 3: Grants and Bigger Stakes

Back in 1999 there had been a pitch event run at the time by the Worldwide Shorts festival.  Sometimes taking a plunge into the most nerve-wracking exercise can reap benefits that were unexpected.  Had I been smart, I would have made that principle more standard operating procedure in my creative life rather than mere flashes of bravery.  Each of us participating had to pitch a short to a panel of representatives from the various television platforms of the day.  I was pitching “Klepto the Clown” and one of the panelists thought my physicality acting it out was suitably sleazy.  I think I got the best response from CBC, Vision, and Judy Gladstone of Bravo!  Michael O’Hara was also there pitching his own short called The Tackle Box.  A pair of ladies who were also filmmakers and may not want to be name dropped here went with us afterward for coffee and to absorb the experience of pitching.  Michael offered to produce Klepto the Clown.  Sounded good.  And ultimately, it all turned out well.  One of the better experiences and with no serious battle stories.  Michael put in the application with my initial storyboard thumbnails and script as well as the idea of setting it to music by his sister Mary Margaret O’Hara.  We got the grant, which was that stamp of credibility because it was FOR someone.  It officially paid for half of a short’s budget in those days. We coasted expecting funds or a loan to come from the money fairy, but ended up getting an extension for the deadline and by then I had a couple of thousand to loan the production from personal savings renting a room and working in security.   This got the wheels going.  My friend Deborah Bojman allowed me to use her mother’s house as a location, and we had to get a permit from the city for shooting on the street out front for one shot but that worked out. Initially my storyboarded rendering of Klepto looked like a friend of mine who I had in mind for the character.  But he had become union and we were looking at non-union because Michael’s daughter Maddie was not yet in the union and was likely going to be the co-lead who foils the plot of Klepto the Clown.  Michael had seen an article in Toronto Life magazine about Gino Empry, so he arranged for us to visit Gino’s place.  That might be a story Michael will want to tell some day.  Gino showed us a tape from his episode of Made in Canada, the Rick Mercer series he was on.  Quite fun. Worthy of note is that Gino answered the door in housecoat and red trunks like briefs. Michael asked me to design how Klepto should look if Gino plays the role and I drew something up that utilized Gino’s qualities.  But when I showed up to shoot, the hair and make-up looked kind of like many traditional clowns and I didn’t push the issue.  Gino’s maybe real, maybe fake hair might have been a sensitive issue.  During the shoot I remember being taken aside by the AD and the DPs and reminded to just roughly show the blocking with the actors and then leave so it can be lit.  But the shoot went smoothly due to it being heavily storyboarded and easily scheduled for moves downstairs and upstairs. Michael had posted for kids to come to Klepto’s party, and we were fortunate to have a wall of parents present during the birthday scene that required children.  I had to get used to working with an audience.   I shot more than I needed and could have trimmed more just for running time. I was lucky to have a friend who could access a CBC off-line system so the movie could be delivered on broadcast quality tape format. But I should have let the editor be more ruthless.  I also failed to put a time code onto that tape or a copy for the composer Rusty McCarthy to synchronize the score. I had done off-line straight-cut editing in community TV back home, but did not know this aspect of the process and didn’t ask my intrepid editor about it or the control likely would have been added to an additional copy.  Rusty did a good job matching the visuals regardless of me making the job harder.

Since it is a purely visual short it is not fall-down funny.  Nobody has commented, “Hey, that opening shot seems to be a reference to the Hitchcock movie Marnie starting on the “baggage” toted around by the kleptomaniac.”  Our short played well with an audience at the National Film Board John Spotten theater, but when I first saw it it was on a TV in a coffee shop where I was the only crew member to show up.  At least I witnessed it airing on Bravo! for the first time.  Ironically, I had to make the tough choice to use only Rusty’s score as audio and not include the vocals of the great Mary Margaret whose name likely helped get us the grant.  The soundtrack had to be all about punctuating the visuals, and Mary’s experimental vocals were occurring at random intervals that were a distraction.  She did however fit well into the verbal theme Rusty created for the end credits on some versions of the movie.  The more detailed account of the project can be heard in the commentary track video.

Shortly after Klepto had been completed, I had submitted another short around that I had carried and refined for years.  This was not part of the whack of short scripts I had written in 2000 or so.  It had taken many forms.  Big Babies was a musical satire.  Initially I wanted to submit it to the Ontario Media Development Corporation Calling Card program.  The first hitch was that it was producer-driven and the producer could not also be the director.  So I put the word out for producers, and presented the script to a more than I might remember.  One lady who read it and heard the CD of songs turned me down and a year or so later got nominated for an Oscar for her own short.

The demo CD of songs had been produced by Rusty again who had bee given a short window of time to set my crazy lyrics to music.  I had been focused on the Calling Card deadline. It had become the Al Waxman Calling Card program.  But it ended right after I missed what appeared to be the last deadline.  I was still getting response from potential producers and going through with interviews.

I did finally get an Emerging Artists Grant from the Ontario Arts Council.  I figured if I follow through maybe it can be submitted to CBC’s Canadian Reflections.  In hindsight, that might have been naive considering the outlandish nature of my project.  I still felt I should have a woman as producer considering the heat I would receive tackling a topic like the abortion debate with satire. So I did end up going that way and making a leap of faith, careful to state outright what I expected to spend in total but withing I had put a lot more on paper besides a script and storyboards.  A formal before-the-fact budget should have been worked up ahead of production.  There is too much to say about Big Babies.

When I was gearing up to shoot, I was a volunteer stuffing envelopes at LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) when then coordinator Roberto Ariganello asked what I was up to.  He then told me that he had been on the OAC committee choosing projects and had fought for Big Babies because he was the only male and everyone else was against a male dealing with the sensitive topic.  He pointed out the storyboards and song demo CD and believed in it.  He asked why I was just stuffing envelopes to make up my volunteer hours.  He suggested that I take over the Directing Actors for the Camera workshop that the usual instructor Bruce LeBruce had taken leave from.  That was a mostly positive experience, but when you state that there will be a camera to work with you had better make sure one is available and that you are talking to the right people about whether it can be moved from one room to another.

Before shooting Big Babies, I could confidently prepare a class and spend a weekend playing teacher.  Even if it meant arranging a bonus session a week or so later to actually give hands-on experience. After shooting Big Babies, it cleared my head and energized me to write several feature screenplays I had been noodling with.  But there was also a downside resulting from the principle that all must be made to understand the idea of a FINITE figure when it comes to the cost of a movie.

And, no matter how burned out I was after filming I should have been more demonstrative and make triple sure everyone hears each other.  The producer on this film felt like she was my stooge and I hadn’t realized that.  Communicating between the lines on a film crew is not communicating at all.  I have to remember to tell everybody that.  Anything that MUST be known must be said directly and with full attention.  Also, I’ll just say that when an actress said she was allergic to sesame seeds I was LUCKY to notice that the individual who had been told as much delivered an assorted bag of bagels to the craft services table, which included a couple with the dangerous seeds.  I had to warn the actress off of eating bagels. Personality conflicts shouldn’t lead to a medical emergency.  Also, maybe find a way to ask whether any key crew might be on medication or hormones or anything that might cause unusual behavior.     Even though they don’t legally have to disclose.

If someone arrives on set to take photos officially, five that person the film rolls or data chip necessary and ensure that you receive it personally before they leave.  You do not want to be hounding a middle person for copies of photos you have paid for. Especially under the time crunch of sending out your film to festivals.

Here is a short that was inspired by nutty things that were said in e-mails.  I put them into the mouth of a parking valet to generate the script for this sketch:

My grant was $4000.  I expected to match that out of my own guard job savings, making a total budget of $8000. This was agreed verbally twice. Also, the plan had been that actors, the sound recordist, the Cinematographer, and second assistant camera would be paid positions but I would do my own continuity and have no First Assistant Director and the rest would be volunteer positions. By increments, this formulation was compromised and I failed to clamp down.  The producer on a low to no budget project would be expected to not be the head of a producing department but instead to be production manager, line producer, and location but next thing you know I’m being told the producer’s condo/office has production assistants for co-op and that they were being delegated tasks like phone calls and call lists and so on and their hours would be charged to the production.  Apart from some contact numbers that didn’t work when I tried them (and may have been wrong only on my copy of the list, since the producer refused to give any information citing “ways and means of doing business”), the production assistants were capable young women and were just caught in the middle.  But ultimately, there was budget overage beyond $12000 and then $500 for a lawyer and $500 for a website it turned out I had no control over.  That and whatever incredible stress and abuse is worth.  Here is a video where I read an old issue of the LIFT newsletter I wrote based on this experience.  The day it was published and sent out to members I got a silent hang-up call from an unknown number.  May be unrelated, maybe not.

After a series of e-mails requesting production stills and the removal of the website, for example, you don’t want to get a voice-mail from a police constable ostensibly giving friendly advice to stop. Even if it is a distinct yet lyrical name that had been dropped months later by his acquaintance during a less contentious time.  This meant going down the rabbit hole of finding out the term for Canada’s version of internal affairs.  It all represented a tremendous drain on the spirit and the hours of my one life.  And ultimately, attending a Legal and Business Affairs For Filmmakers and Producers workshop at LIFT only resulted in more stress.  The instructor before class said it sounded like I was in the right. Then just before class my nemesis shows up and I neglected to address the proverbial elephant in the room, so the instructor (now an annoyingly successful filmmaker himself) thought I should have advised him right away, which in hindsight is right.  Even though it might have created immediate drama.  He didn’t return my call when I through about engaging him. But when I did find someone to send a registered letter, guess which lawyer responded on behalf of my nemesis.

For the next fifteen years or so, there would be trollish little internet shenanigans that were supposed to be of unknown origin but were not.

This is another case where it might be more informative to listen to the commentary video below.  Even if it is the more polite version: