Carrie Fisher Was a Hell of a Writer

Carrie Fisher was never given enough acclaim for her talents and abilities while she was alive:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has revealed that Carrie Fisher helped write the script for the forthcoming movie.

The late actress penned in the past both the book and the screenplay adaptation for Postcards From The Edge, along with episodes of Roseanne, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a number of TV specials and special material for the Academy Awards in 1997, 2002 and 2007, along with the 2010 TV documentary Wishful Drinking, during her career.

Johnson recently revealed at a Star Wars fan convention in Orlando that she also had a hand in writing the script for the latest movie.

“I’d go to her house and we’d sit on her bed for hours, going through the script,” he revealed.

“(We) would just have these kind of stream-of-consciousness, Jazz poetry, ad-lib sessions, and I would just scribble down everything she said on my script. And then at the end of six hours, there would be this four word line of dialogue that would be the distillation of all that, that was brilliant.”

She understood the human condition and had a hilarious point of view. She was a great, great writer and a performer who could hold her own with everyone on a stage, including her own mother. The fact that Harrison Ford, who routinely blew people off the screen (and will be considered the greatest actor to never win an Academy Award unless they get him one, soon), never so much as put a dent in her on screen is hardly recognized, either.

Richard Gere Has Paid a Price For His Support of Tibet

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China's influence in the film industry means that actor Richard Here has to appear in independently financed films that are not being marketed to the Chinese:

When Richard Gere walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards in 1993, there was no way he could have known that the night would have repercussions for his career more than 20 years later. Invited to present the award for best art direction, he skipped the scripted patter to protest China's occupation of Tibet and its "horrendous, horrendous human rights situation." The late Gil Cates, the show's producer, was furious, calling the political speeches at that year's awards show —Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also went off script to speak on behalf of Haitian refugees — "distasteful and dishonest" and vowing to ban all three from future Oscars broadcasts.

Gere hasn't done a major studio film in ten years. This is primarily because, whenever he ends up near a project that can be influenced by businesses trying to work out deals in China, pressure is exerted to have him removed.

Lana Del Rey Stands Next to a Vehicle Again

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There's a theme that runs through Lana Del Rey's album covers, and it involves cars, trucks, or some sort of a vehicle. There's a vulnerability here that probably appeals to her audience. I can only imagine the grief she would have gotten twenty or thirty years ago from record company executives. I can't imagine anyone allowing her to do anything like these covers, but, then again, maybe they would have. Who knows?

If you think about how female artists are marketed through the artwork that accompanies their album releases, Lana Del Rey's covers have been pretty groundbreaking. There are no "full body" shots and nothing suggestive. They just shoot her from the top half and they don't overly stage or airbrush anything. These are just simple shots, and they're very effective in terms of using the art to suggest what's inside of the album. 

Brilliant

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You're looking at a preview of the cover of The New Yorker, which has done some fabulous work lately satirizing the idea of Trump in stark terms and with vicious abandon.

If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, look to the arts. Everything is being cut, everything is under siege, and the only thing keeping a lot of people sane is knowing that there are like-minded humans out there who are creating things, writing things, and reflecting back the unreality of modern life right now. It's an insane time, but the satire is pretty fucking good, if you don't mind my saying it.

There's no pretense in this work of being "tongue in cheek" or of simply making fun of someone powerful. This cover shows a bloated, hapless Trump raining destruction down on our institutions. His soft, padded ass is the most prominent thing on display here, and this depiction goes to the heart of what matters about insulting a dictator. You take his most ridiculous feature and you blow it up. You make it indistinguishable from anything else.

When we can look back at this era with some perspective, these are the images that will stand out. They are searing and truthful in a time when the truth can't even get through the door.

 

 

The Lawlessness of Modern Russia

Is there anything in Russia that is not being stolen, looted or turned upside down for spare change?

Mikhail Novikov, a deputy director in charge of construction at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has been placed under house arrest on charges of suspected fraud.

Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court ruled on 29 March that Novikov is to be held under house arrest until 23 May. In January, the Hermitage acknowledged in a statement that investigators from the Federal Security Service, a successor agency of the KGB, had been conducting “operational procedures” at the museum’s Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository centre. Some commentators had speculated that the searches were a reprisal for criticism by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage, of the handover by the local government of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, now run as a museum, to the Russian Orthodox Church.

On Wednesday, Russian media reported that Novikov's case was connected to a larger case of over Rb100m in embezzled funds during major Russian Ministry of Culture restoration projects that has already landed Grigory Pirumov, a former deputy culture minister, in jail.

Since the rule of law really does not exist in Russia, you have to ask one question. Did they really steal the money or did they fail to bribe the right people while they were stealing the money?

Never mind the arts, of course. When all is said and done, we'll be lucky if there's anything left.

Live Stream Mystery Science Theater 3000 on April 9

In a world full of crappy news, this is a bright, shining beacon of hope. Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns with a new season of experiments on Netflix.

1. The preview screening of Experiment 1101 will be available to stream starting at 12:01 AM PT on SUNDAY, APRIL 9th, 2017 [this is only for MST3K "backers" who pledged $25 or more to finance the return of the show].

2. All release times – including the release of the new season on Netflix on April 14th – will be on PACIFIC TIME, not on EASTERN TIME.

Not everyone is getting the e-mails, so pass this along. If you didn't pledge money when the show was coming back, don't worry--you'll get to see the results on Netflix. Watching on Netflix makes sense because, in the old days, and I'm talking to all of you younger folks out there, it was a pain in the rear to program VCRs. I had one that was flaky on me, and I liked to get the whole two hour show on one VHS tape for quality purposes I don't understand right now.

Looks like something magical to me is about to happen.

Terry Gilliam Isn't Crazy

Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote film always struck me as proof that people in Hollywood are afraid of spending money to make great films:

It has now been 18 years since Terry Gilliam first tried to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a.k.a. The Movie That Will Probably Kill Terry Gilliam, Instead. In that time, Gilliam has faced a Job-like series of setbacks on the film, from flash floods to sick actors to dead actors to some “Portuguese chap” who couldn’t deliver the financing he supposedly promised. And yet, Gilliam has persisted on the film for almost two decades, blowing through our entire stock of jokes about “tilting at windmills” and the entire project becoming the exact definition of “quixotic.”

Today, IndieWire reports that Gilliam has hopped back in the saddle again, putting together an unnamed source and an Instagram post from original cast member Rossy De Palma that indicate that production has once again resumed...

There's no reason why a Gilliam film can't be properly marketed and treated like any other commercial film product. Every year, the Oscars come and go, and the absence of really important and great films is the elephant in the room. When was the last time anyone found themselves truly inundated with great films in the span of a calendar year?

The failure to recognize the fact that he does have an audience and that he does have a masterful ability for filmmaking is a result of something entirely not his fault. Wanting to shoot a script and make a film that satisfies the artistic itch is the ultimate worthwhile endeavor.

Can VEEP Still be a Relief in Weary Times?

It used to be fun to watch VEEP because you just knew that the real thing wasn't as awful or as cynical as what you were seeing on television.

Now? 

Holy mother of God, it's like a version of reality we all wish we were living. The real thing is so much more awful, so much more venal that it is impossible to overstate just how horrible things have become.

Can a show that shows us a funny way of looking into the political and social lives of selfish people survive in an era when the real thing is more of a farce than what's written as fiction? Well, if they have been working their asses off, sure. It's entirely possible for art to transcend reality if people have put in the effort. This is a show where people have been doing that so why not?

Populism and Elitism in One Place

There's a fascinating magazine cover coming out soon, and it's for the New Yorker. You can see the Cyrillic lettering and the immediate joke--Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley is what it is called.

The scathing cover will accompany an investigation featured in the next issue that explores Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence on the presidential election, and the frightening return of a Cold War the United States is at risk of losing. The issue comes in the wake of a bombshell report on Thursday that cited White House officials requesting the FBI dispute evidence Trump aides communicated with Russian officials during the election. According to CNN, the FBI rejected that request.

This is a riff on the first cover of the New Yorker, and so it represents a little bit of highbrow satire and commentary, right down to the onion dome over the shoulder. The "elites" are contemplating Donald Trump as some sort of angry insect that should be disdained or kept safely at a distance. Trump himself is depicted as being in an impotent, volcanic rage as per usual. Oh well, they never did like me, or so says Trump.

I think this is important for a number of reasons. One, it's a view of the president that is being expressed in caricature that is becoming normal for people to see--Trump as something small, insignificant or annoying. He is rarely, if ever, depicted in a neutral or positive light. We see the buffoonery and the cartoon aspect of him, always in orange and always with his mouth open. He is never a man shown thinking.

Two, this is really a better example of populism than it is elitism. There isn't a huge audience out there for the New Yorker, but there is one for people who want information about what's going on so this amplifies the need to figure out what is the connection between Trump and Putin. The populist angle here is that it gets to the heart of the notion that the people who voted for him now want to know where his loyalties lie. This New York-centric publication is doing the work that used to be done by major American newspapers. I think it is important for people to read and hear things that inform them and keep them up to date on the latest scandals. At any other point in our nation's history, Trump would not only have not been the Republican president, he wouldn't even have been the nominee. People are still furious about this, and even a New Yorker cover can inspire and sustain their embrace of populism in the face of fascism.

Three, this chips away at the people stuck supporting Trump. These are the dead-enders. A good number of them believe this is all phony. What's astonishing to people who follow the news and read the New Yorker has been the fact that Trump got elected by rather overtly working with the Russian government.  Well, the magazine is about to do a deep dive into all of that. Will it change anybody's mind? Who knows? If you're a Midwestern Republican, this image just sails right past you without registering. But there are always people who peel away from madmen. There are many people who cannot roll with an incompetent banana republic president.

Four, the artistic renderings of Trump and Putin are now becoming too numerous to ignore. The constant refrain--the riffing and meme-ing if you will, are devastating. Presidents who are depicted in the popular day-to-day media in a negative manner have the impossible task of living these things down. Think George W. Bush as big eared and clueless. Think of Bill Clinton as always smiling, even when depicted by those opposed to him. Think of President Obama, cool and poised no matter what was thrown at him. In a little over forty days, the general impression of Trump is that he is a howling, braying old fool with his cake hole permanently set to spew.

The artful aspect here is invaluable. Want to bring Trump down? Draw a picture of him bellowing and fussing about nothing while on his phone. This is what defines him and keeps everyone else sane.

Portrait of Sylvette 1954

I had the chance to go see the collection at the McNay Museum in San Antonio, Texas, and I just had to collect a few images and write about what I saw.

The McNay has a wonderful collection, and I'm starting with one of the Picassos they have because why not? Portrait of Sylvette is an excellent piece of cubism and I very much enjoyed seeing how these paintings were presented. The whole visit was enhanced by the fact that this is a museum that does everything the right way. You can walk through the exhibits, sit down, and relax. I highly recommend going.

Lego Batman is Not Pro-Gay Adoption Propaganda

Just when you thought that liberals were going to be able to get one over on conservatives and sneak some pro-gay adoption propaganda into the burgeoning animated kids movie market, it all falls apart because conservatives are too smart:

The new Lego Batman Movie has come under fire from Catholic evangelists who have slammed the film as “pro-gay propaganda”.

John Henry Westen, Canadian Editor-in-chief of the socially conservative website  LifeSiteNews.com, posted a review of the film titled “BEWARE: LEGO Batman movie promotes gay adoption”. He criticised the creators for being “so anxious to subtly indoctrinate the little ones into the gender ideology that making it humorous came as a distant second thought.”

I thought conservative Catholics were out trying to locate and remove all of the priests who diddle little kids. Apparently, they have some time on their hands. Or they're dumbasses. I vote for having no brains, no talent, and no understanding of the culture.

Everyone knows propaganda works when the film is fall-down funny. Maybe that's the angle all of us in on this conspiracy should have taken. Instead of making a sober, depressing movie about what happens when a gay Batman adopts a gay Robin so they can have that gay lifestyle thing happening, they should have written a lot of great jokes, used a lot of expensive animation, and gotten some funny actors to read all of the dialogue. 

Oh, wait a minute. Rotten Tomatoes says they did that. My mistake.

Mary Tyler Moore 1936-2017

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It would appear that 2017 is going to be just as much of an asshole as 2016:

Mary Tyler Moore, the Oscar-nominated actress best known for her roles in the television sitcoms "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," has died. She was 80.
"Today, beloved icon, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine," her publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told ABC News. "A groundbreaking actress, producer, and passionate advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile."
Moore's portrayal of the single career woman Mary Richards in her eponymous 1970s show arrived alongside the Women's Movement, making her a role model for generations of women, even though Moore didn't consider herself a feminist. The show, which centered on Richards' work as a producer in a fictional Minneapolis newsroom and her life as a single woman, earned 29 Emmy Awards, the most for any scripted series until "Frasier" won its 30th Emmy.

I grew up in Minnesota, and the iconic image of Moore throwing her beret into the air on the Nicollet Mall is a timeless piece of television history. 

Hollywood Doesn't Care About American Audiences

This question is easy to answer:

Will Hollywood Learn From Hidden Figures’s Success?

Nope!

Hidden Figures has been the breakout film of 2017 thus far. Starring three African American women (played by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer), it focuses on an unheralded piece of American history: the work of black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA in the 1960s. Released to strong reviewsHidden Figures seems destined for a few Academy Award nominations next week. Since it expanded nationwide, it has spent two weeks at the top of the box office, ahead of big-budget films like Monster TrucksPatriots DayLive By Night, and Oscar frontrunner La La Land. Made for a comparatively small $25 million, the film is essentially guaranteed to gross at least $100 million in the United States alone, posting a very healthy profit for its studio, 20th Century Fox. The viewing public’s desire for a film like Hidden Figures is indisputable. So why does Hollywood make so few of them?
In 2015, only 32 of the top 100 films at the box office featured a female lead or co-lead; only three of those leads were women of color, and almost half of them did not feature a black female character in any capacity. After having an all-white slate of acting nominees for two years in a row (spurring the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite), the Academy is trying to diversify its voting body with the hope of rewarding a broader selection of films. But Hollywood at large is showing few traces of change. Last year’s most successful films, largely superhero sequels and animated blockbusters, lack for variety in their storytelling. The slow nature of film production means it can take years to really reflect a shift in studio thinking, but Hidden Figures still feels (disappointingly) like an anomaly rather than a sign of a real transformation.

Hollywood is happy to turn out a handful of small, independent pictures like this but, really, the whole thing is built around larger movies with special effects that will appeal to global audiences. The economics are such that, if they were to shift everything, lay off thousands of special effects people, and try to make movies like this, it would bankrupt the industry faster than it's going bankrupt now.

In short, they want to make movies Chinese teenage boys will want to see, own, and watch repeatedly. They don't want to empower a generation of African-American actors and then start having to pay them what they're worth. The only way they can survive is to keep making superhero films that don't suck. They don't care about filmmaking or art anymore--it's not 1970. The biggest directors are not visionaries--they're successful project managers who can work for months on end and produce content. 

Who's the new Robert Altman and why isn't he making movies?

Octavia Spencer alone is one of the greatest actors of her generation. She's not just an actress. She's not just a black actress. She's a fucking actor. They don't treat her like Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, or Tom Hanks because they think she's not a movie star. Put her in a movie with five or six other people who can act, make her the lead, and she'll blow the fucking doors off of people. Do you think there's a Hollywood producer out there ready to sell that to a studio? Who's going to give her $10 million to start in a film and have her as the top billed actor?

Nobody. And that's a crying goddamned shame. She's amazing. And she's undervalued and under appreciated.