A Conspiracy Of Silence And Hypocrisy

The Harvey Weinstein story is an appalling one.  The reports of Weinstein’s behavior related by women in articles published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other publications are horrific.  Those stories tell us a lot about the ugly sexual realities of the Hollywood and film-making world — and they also tell us a lot about the quality of the people who work there.

ox281266930182248439It’s pretty clear that a lot of people knew of Weinstein’s behavior and had heard stories about him.  They were aware, at least, that there were indications that he had repeatedly engaged in aggressive sexual propositioning and grossly inappropriate behavior, even if they credited his claims that his ultimate sexual liaisons were all “consensual” rather than criminal.  Some people obviously knew more, and were involved in either helping to identify young women for Weinstein to target or in quashing or covering up the terrible stories that are only now surfacing, years later.  And yet, none of these people evidently said anything, or did anything, to stop Weinstein’s behavior, and he continued to show up on the red carpet for the awards shows and work in the Hollywood community and win awards and gain accolades and get his picture taken with grinning movie stars without having to answer for his conduct or suffer any consequences.  It’s a sad and disgusting commentary about the lack of ethical, principled, decent, courageous people who would be willing to endure potential repercussions in order to do what they know is right.

Lena Dunham wrote a piece for the New York Times about her experiences with sexism in Hollywood and the silence of men in the wake of the Weinstein scandal.  I don’t always agree with Lena Dunham, but she’s right in this instance.  I’m guessing, though, that the awareness of Weinstein’s behavior went beyond his unfortunate victims and men, and included women as well.  They all engaged in a conspiracy of silence — and also a conspiracy of the rankest kind of hypocrisy.  Those of us out in “flyover country” are frequently lectured by the Hollywood stars about what we should be doing, what we should be thinking, or who we should be supporting — but it certainly appears that at least some of those Hollywood stars cravenly didn’t act in accordance with their stated beliefs when it counted.  Maybe they just lack any personal courage, or maybe they’re concerned only about themselves and their next movie, or maybe they didn’t believe what they were saying in the first place and said it only because that’s what was written on the script.

I’ll remember the awful Weinstein story the next time I see a public service announcement featuring Hollywood stars or other celebrities lecturing us on how to conduct ourselves.  In the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the hypocrisy it exposes, why should anyone credit anything a Hollywood star has to say about the world?

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Box Office Bombs

This summer of 2017 has been one of the worst ever for Hollywood.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, the number of tickets sold is likely to hit a 25-year low, and summer box-office revenue in America is down about 16 percent.  If it weren’t for international ticket sales, which increased slightly, the movie industry would be looking at a summer of complete, catastrophic, virtually across-the-board failure.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALESWhy did the summer of ’17 suck for Hollywood?  If you read the Hollywood Reporter story linked above, a theme quickly becomes apparent:  almost every would-be blockbuster seems to be a remake or the latest installment of a tired “franchise.”  Pirates of the Caribbean 5.  The latest Transformers CGI-fest.  The Mummy and Baywatch.  And some of the new efforts, like King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword, were colossal bombs.

It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that the film industry has run out of creative gas. When every big commercial film is a remake of a TV show, a comic book, or another remake, you’re not exactly giving moviegoers lots of new, interesting fare that might lure them to the box office.  You’re not finding the next Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind at your local theater.  Kish and I were totally unmotivated by this summer’s fare. Whenever we checked what was at the local megaplex our reaction was always . . . meh.  We were far more interested in what was playing at the local art film houses, or what was on Netflix.  The only big movie I saw this summer was The Dark Tower, which was an excuse for a bunch of guys to go have a beer and watch an action film.  I would never have gone to see it otherwise.

Will Hollywood learn a lesson from the dismal summer of ’17, and start looking for some new, fresh, original ideas for films that will get people out of their houses and off to the theater?  Maybe — but don’t count on it.  There were some franchise and remake successes this summer, with the new Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Despicable Me 3, and Wonder Woman films performing well.  Hollywood likes franchises and remakes because they seem safe and conservative, with built-in audiences and no need to come up with original story ideas, so Hollywood will probably point to the successes, disregard the duds, continue with remakes, and comic book stories, and “franchise” flicks.

And if that happens, the rest of us will continue to stay home.

Giving Us A Reason To Watch The Oscars Again

I didn’t watch the Oscar broadcast last night.  I haven’t watched it in years, as the broadcast has gotten longer and longer and the speeches more self-congratulatory and tedious.  I’m not alone in this — the Nielsen ratings for the Oscar awards ceremony have been falling for a number of years.

US-OSCARS-SHOWSo, when I saw this morning that the Oscars, through Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, screwed up the announcement of the best picture in legendary, unforgettable fashion, I wondered:  could this have been done to try to increase the ratings for the show?

After all, people like the possibility of surprises.  Many Nascar fans go to races in hopes of an exciting crash or two, and lots of hockey fans yearn for a throw down the gloves fight.  Reality TV shows are all about unexpected twists and turns that leave viewers talking.  If the Oscars is just going to be a bunch of tuxedo-clad and ball gown-wearing stiffs reading cards from an envelope, it’s pretty staid stuff.  But if there’s a chance that the announced winner turns out not to be the real winner, and there’s a big, confusing scrum onstage while things get sorted out, maybe people will start tuning in again.

It’s hard to imagine how the announcement of the winner for best picture could be so botched.  I feel sorry for the people involved in making La La Land, who initially thought they had won, and I feel sorry that the people involved in making Moonlight, which I thought was a fine film, had their moment of triumph tainted by a foul-up.   But maybe this colossal screw-up will make Hollywood a little less smug.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Publishing Actors’ Ages

Let’s say you were concerned about age discrimination in Hollywood, where male stars seem to get roles no matter their age, while female actors — other than the peripatetic Meryl Streep — seem to have difficulty getting cast once they hit 45 or 50.  Would you:

(a) notify everyone in the film industry that you were assigning an extra investigator to specifically focus on enforcing existing laws against age discrimination in the industry;

(b) decide that current federal and state law wasn’t sufficient and therefore enact new legislation directly regulating age discrimination at the movie studios that make the films; or

(c) enact a law preventing internet sites, including specifically the IMDb website, from publishing actors’ ages and date of birth information.

Weirdly — or maybe not so weirdly — California chose option 3.  Yesterday a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the law, finding that “it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment” because it bars IMDb from publishing purely factual information on its website for public consumption.  And, the court found that although preventing age discrimination in Hollywood is “a compelling goal,” California did not show the new law is “necessary” to advance that goal.  The judge added:  “In fact, it’s not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end. For example, although the government asserts generically that age discrimination continues in Hollywood despite the long-time presence of antidiscrimination laws, the government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website.”  You can read the judge’s pointed, three-page ruling here.

This conclusion is not surprising to anyone who understands the First Amendment, and presumably didn’t come as a surprise to the lawyers trying to defend California’s law, either.  All of which begs the question of why California legislators enacted it in the first place — and that’s where the “maybe not so weirdly” comment from above comes in.  I’m sure the Hollywood community is, collectively, a big-time contributor to political campaigns on a California state level, just as it is on a national level.  If you were a politician who wanted to say that you had done something to address age discrimination in Hollywood, but without doing anything that might actually, adversely affect the rivers of cash flowing to your campaigns from the big studios, supporting a law that affects only an internet website that actors hate because it discloses how old they really are is a much safer bet.

It’s nice to know that we have federal judges who understand what the First Amendment means, even if California’s elected representatives are clueless.  And if those legislators are so concerned about age discrimination in Hollywood, maybe they’ll actually do something about it — rather than just taking steps to block speech they don’t like.

The Magnificent Seven

On Sunday Kish and I went to see The Magnificent Seven, the Denzel Washington-led reboot of the ’60s classic.  It made me realize, again, how much I enjoy westerns — and how infrequently Hollywood produces them these days.

The original The Magnificent Seven, which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, is one of the best westerns and best ensemble movies ever made.  In that film, Yul Brunner recruits seven gunslingers who try to help some hapless Mexicans protect their village from the depredations of a ruthless gang of bandits.  In the current remake, the general storyline is the same, but the bad guy is an evil mine owner who has no problem with gunning down people in the middle of the street and setting a church on fire to try to intimidate the peaceful townspeople into selling him their land for a pittance.  (When somebody intentionally burns a church, you can be pretty sure he’s a bad guy.)

nesokb1uksa3vy_1_bTwo of the townspeople find Denzel Washington, a quick-draw bounty hunter, and convince him to help, and Washington then recruits the team.  As in the original, it features a diverse collection of western types, all of whom have split-second reflexes, can shoot with awesome precision, and have the military training from their Civil War service to develop a plan to defend the town that is worthy of Robert E. Lee.  (It being a modern movie, there’s got to be some dynamite and explosions in the plan, too.)  We learn some of the seven’s back stories during the recruitment and the training of the townspeople, but this movie, like the original and so many other westerns, is all about good versus evil.  We know that everything is pointing toward the final, inevitable showdown with the evil mine owner.

This film isn’t as good as the original Magnificent Seven — that would be holding it to an impossible standard — but it’s an enjoyable romp, and the western scenery that is a big part of the appeal of any western is gorgeous.  Washington capably fills Yul Brunner’s shoes, and the rest of the cast play their parts admirably, finding their inner heroism as they fight, and sometimes die, to free the rustics from the yoke of the evil mine owner.  It’s a fine, well-made story that strikes many of the enduring touchstones of American mythology.

So why don’t more westerns get made?  At our screening there were only three other couples in the theater.  I guess that’s why.  In a world of superheroes and CGI, maybe stories about human beings, horses, and guns just can’t compete.  That’s too bad.

Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

O.J. Obsession

Yesterday a news story was published about Los Angeles police testing a knife that purportedly was found buried on the property at O.J. Simpson’s former estate.  Immediately the story was put at the top of news websites, and people started talking, again, about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

video-ynewskatiecouric-com2c5d3a12-51e9-308f-9110-e679c43c4a71_fullThe purported knife find story, and the possibility that the knife has anything to do with the murders, seems wildly unlikely.  What I found most unsettling, however, was how the story immediately brought back all of the extremely weird elements of the O.J. Simpson murder trial story and reintroduced them into the national narrative, from the slow-motion Bronco chase to the hangers-on at the Simpson estate to the racial elements of the investigation and trial to the glove that wouldn’t fit and finally to the verdict.

When the trial was going on those decades ago, the country seemed absolutely obsessed with it, and most people who were adults when the verdict was announced will be able to tell you exactly where they were when they heard that Simpson was acquitted.  I didn’t even follow the trial that much, but I certainly can — I was in the Flatiron restaurant in Columbus, just finishing lunch with a shocked group of colleagues.  It’s embarrassing that the O.J. Simpson verdict is one of those special memory incidents, right there with the JFK assassination and the first plane flying into one of the Towers on 9/11.

It’s hard to understand, now, why the O.J. Simpson trial commanded such enormous attention.  He was a former football star and sometime movie actor accused of a horrific crime against his former wife, sure — but what was it that provoked such intense interest? Apparently, it was the combination of murder and celebrity and Hollywood and race and heavy media coverage, and probably a few other factors thrown in, too.  I wasn’t happy to read the story about the alleged knife find and talking once more about the murders, and I have no interest whatever in watching the O.J. Simpson miniseries.  The Simpson trial and verdict told us something about the country, then, something that seems strange and frivolous and almost alien now.  I don’t want to relive it.