Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Never too young...

You're never too young to embarass yourself in the Hollywood trades, it seems.

Monday I was engaging in the unfortunate but amusing practice of trolling through the middle pages of The Hollywood Reporter. The least read pages in the least read Hollywood trade is truly a disturbing cesspool of beyond lame news, masturbatory features, and "congratulatory" ads.

I happened upon a real gem Monday in the midst of a "special issue" the Hollywood Reporter devoted to the momentous occassion of the 100th episode of "My Wife and Kids." Amongst the fascinating articles about this brilliant contribution to the American arts are many ads from various companies and individuals involved in the show congratulating exec producers Damon Wayans and Don Rio. These are typical.

What's not typical is that one of the ads was taken out by Noah Gray-Cabey, who is apparently a regular on the series. He appears to be six or seven. And his managers or agents or someone took out a half page ad congratulating the producers in his name. Which I can only assume means with his money. Apparently they convinced his parents that a few thousand dollars from the trust fund would be better spent on an ad in the trades than on his college tuition or something else trifling. Isn't this kind of thing prohibited by some kind of child labor law? It should be.

(Separely, I'd like to briefly quote from one of the articles. It's a Q&A between someone at the Reporter and Rio and Wayans. This is actually a question posed by an alleged journalist: "The show has consistently brought in viewers since the pilot aired in 2001. Why do you think 'My Wife and Kids' appeals to such a wide audience?")

Monday, November 08, 2004

Decadent Hollywood

As a denizen of the neighborhood and employee of the business, I'm often annoyed by the pissy comments that come Hollywood's way. Lots of Americans love to trash us, but they still watch our movies and TV and make entertainment one of the country's (and the world's) biggest industries. I think it's a very cool place to live and work.

But then sometimes I understand why everyones hates Hollywood. We are totally fucked up. Today's evidence: a press release that caught my eye about the valuable goodies that needy celebrity presenters at the American Music Awards will receive. Here are the choice paragraphs:

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Christmas will come early this year for Usher, Gwen Stefani, tennis superstar Serena Williams, "Desperate Housewives"' Eva Longoria & Nicollette Sheridan, Toby Keith, the "Newlyweds"' Nick Lachey & Jessica Simpson, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, cycling champ Lance Armstrong, Janet Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Mandy Moore, Snoop Dogg, Anna Nicole Smith, Nelly, "American Idol"'s Clay Aiken, William Shatner, Rod Stewart and about 40 other entertainers.


Why? Because they are all participants in the 32nd annual "American Music Awards," which Jimmy Kimmel will host, November 14 on ABC-TV. They will all receive unique gift baskets containing a plethora of special gifts for their participation.

Special "American Music Awards" duffel bags will be given to the stars and contain almost 200 items including a share in a race horse, Ice Link diamond watches, a lifetime of Sirius Satellite Radio, Scott Kay platinum jewelry, MP3 players, a year of free massages, Maytag Skybox personalized refrigerators, All Access passes to Golds Gym and Spectrum Sportsclub, portable DVD players, cooking tours of Italy, certificates for lasik eye surgery, limited edition bottles of Marilyn Merlot wine, fog free shower mirrors, assorted jewelry including sterling silver peace sign necklaces, rhinestone tank tops and crystal belt buckles with Swarovski crystals, Omaha steaks, "hands free" electronic trash cans, Krups espresso machines, Vera Wang perfume, assorted women's apparel including personalized crystal sandals and sequined tops, electronic toothbrushes, Godiva and Ghiradelli chocolates, assorted Urban apparel, Cross pens and retro radio phones. The gift packages were assembled by Steve Stein of Hollywood Connection and are each valued at approximately $32,000 in honor of the show's 32nd anniversary.

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I strongly urge the disenfranchised of Los Angeles to storm the American Music Awards and loot these duffel bags.

City Mouse and Country Mouse

Remember that story many of us read as kids about City Mouse and Country Mouse who go to visit each other and discover how different life is in rural America compared to the big city?

That, apparently, is the real story of the 2004 election, according to historian Sean Wilentz. In the best analysis of voting patterns I've seen so far, he smacked down that retarded Red State / Blue State meme that won't go away in yesterday's LA Times and points out that it's rural and most of suburban America vs. urban America if you want to see the real difference in voting patterns.

This map in USA Today drives the point home. My home state of New York? Mostly red except for New York City, Albany, Buffalo and a few other places that are probably upstate cities I don't know about. My current home of California? Blue all along the coasts in and around Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., while the entire inland area of the state (plus conservative San Diego) are red. To take a counter-example, look at Texas. This "red" state has a few sizable blue chunks in what I believe is Austin and a number of heavily latino cities near the border like El Paso. As Wilentz further points out, Kerry even won cities in conservative strongholds like Jackson, Mississippi, and Selma, Alabama.

What's really striking here is how, geographically, this country went overwhlemingly "red" (for Bush) this year. But in the places where lots of people live, like my home in LA, we went strongly for Kerry. Wilentz accurately points out that one of the main reasons is race -- Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to live in cities. Wilentz doesn't think much of the fact that "artsy intellectuals" (as he calls us) live in cities since there aren't alot of us, but I think if you define that category broadly to include young hipsters of any sort -- most of whom may not actually work in movies or publishing or advertising, but are working other jobs and wish they were, there are a decent number of us and we definitely tend to be liberal. I also think that in diverse urban areas where there is no one dominant religion or cultural paradigm, you're much more likely to prefer a candidate who's more agnostic on what American culture should be (Kerry), vs. one who projects a definite idea and appeals to a plurality of people who prefer it (Bush).

My final point here would be that this trend shows that the whole "red state"/"blue state" concept is driven by absurd way in which we elect president -- the electoral college. Because 51% of the people can define a state's vote, suddenly the red areas of eastern California and the blue cities of Texas and Alabama become meaningless. It doesn't just distort our political system (see Bush's "victory" over Gore in 2000 despite losing the popular vote), but distorts our very understanding of American culture and how our political views divide us.

Not so Incredible

Do Pixar publicists just hand $100 bills out to critics and journalists at screenings? Honestly, if I hear one more person refer to the "geniuses at Pixar," I might throw up.

I don't know if this makes me a heartless prick (which I've been accused of before), but I'm consistently underwhelmed by the Pixar films. I just saw "The Incredibles" with very high hopes after all the reviews and was not impressed. Not to say it sucked or anything. There are a few cool touches in terms of design (all the sets are great and it has a neat 50/60s look to the cities). And I do have to say the voices were very well cast, with actors who fit the characters rather than the biggest celebrities they could find (I'm talking to you, Dreamworks).

Pixar still hasn't figured out how to do closeups of a human being without them looking a little freaky (they all look like they have weird hair plugs like a Barbie doll), however.

But the main thing is the story. I feel the same way I did about "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story": It's cute, but what's so frikkin special about it? It works very well for kids, but there is nothing particularly appealing to anyone over 12 save for a few mildly clever jokes. The plot is fine but literally every twist in it is utterly predictable. And the attempt at an "adult" theme just doesn't work. Is it supposed to be some kind of social critique that we want to eliminate all differences in ability? That was maybe clever when Kurt Vonnegut wrote it in "Harrison Bergeron" back in the '60s. But it's not clever now and certainly isn't accurate. America is a country that venerates its heroes and loves to look up to celebrities, whether they're actually heroic or not. If we had real superheroes, we certainly wouldn't sue them and make them pretend to be power-less.

That's not meant as a slam -- "The Incredibles" is fine for what it is. But I just don't understand the acclaim. I mean, a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? That's higher than the brilliant Ray, for God's sake. And talk of a Best Picture Oscar? That's a bit disturbing. Let's all get some perspective here folks. It's a competent kids' movie. Nothing more.

(Side note: I saw it at the El Capitan, a theater in the heart of the tourist district in Hollywood owned by Disney. First we had to pay $15, which is an outrageous price if you're not getting a luxurious theater like the Arclight. Then we had to sit through a truly unbearable 15 minute stage show with dancing Disney characters and grinning actors who I wanted to shoot to put out of their misery. I'm sure the 5-and-under crowd digged it, but since we were seeing a 10 PM show, I feel like they could have cut it for the sake of the 90% adult audience.)

Welcome

This will serve as the "who am I?" and "what is this blog?" post for the time being.

I was born 8/17/77 in New York, grew up in a very vanilla suburb of Rye, NY (with some time in CT with my Dad), went to college at Swarthmore, spent a year in the AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps stationed in Charleston, SC, and moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and have lived here ever since, save for a one year stint in DC. Currently I work as a reporter for Variety, a trade paper for Hollywood insiders who want to know every minute detail about showbiz. I also co-write a comedy website called Dateline Hollywood, am one of the founders and editors of the somewhat well known political site Spinsanity, and co-wrote my first book recently about deception, PR, and politics called All the President's Spin. And I am writing some other stuff that's not worth talking about (but I hope will be someday).

What will this blog be about? Probably a few key interests: politics -- some middle ground between the purely nonpartisan focus on deception from Spinsanity and the arrogant partisan blather on most blogs that I can't stand; movies and TV -- I live in Hollywood and work in the industry so I'll have plenty of opinions -- some as a fan and some "inside baseball"; occassional observations about business and culture that interest me; and some stuff from my jobs -- alot of amusing stuff from people who take themselves WAY too seriously comes up at Variety, especially hilarous and disturbing press releases that I intend to post.

What won't it be? My personal view on every little political controversy that bubbles up; inane details from my personal life; or links to everything I think is interesting. I hate those kind of blogs.