December 22, 2012

Bragging Rights

Filed under: Movies,Real Life,TV — DB @ 1:17 pm

Coming closely on the heels of my “Happy Hanukkah, Mom” post, I’m taking a personal moment again…but this time it’s connected to my usual blogging topics, so we’re all good. I need to raise a glass to two good friends of mine who both got a bit of attention on Monday in their long-time efforts to break into the business of show.

First, a young man by the name of Ryan Corrigan. He was a quiet lad when I met him at summer camp in 1991 in our native Massachusetts, where we and our castmates lit up the teenage theater scene with a hilarious one-act production of Neil Simon’s Fools. His mild-mannered persona belies a knack for getting into comic misadventures, and his rapier wit and spot-on skill for lampooning pop culture has served him well in writing, directing, editing and acting in personal, just-for-fun video projects for years along with a small group of equally smart and funny friends. Their banner is called Worst Party Productions, and while I’m disappointed that their website – which I was honored to contribute some text to – is currently lost somewhere on the dark remotes of the Information Superhighway, their videos are readily available elsewhere online. Among my favorite Worst Party offerings are their celebrations of the awesome awfulness of Michael Bay, and their Hott Car Tipps series.



What’s my point in all this? Well, Ryan recently earned a position as a writer on an upcoming web series called Ghost Ghirls, which will air on Yahoo! in a few months, and on Monday the project was publicly announced, its noteriety perhaps attributable to its producer: Jack Black. The series was briefly covered online by Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter, and I have to assume that the part where Black praises Ryan’s talent and proclaims him on the verge of grabbing Hollywood by the balls was edited out due to space issues. If I remember the details correctly, Ryan is one of five writers on Ghost Ghirls, along with its two lead actresses (one of whom, Maria Blasucci, plays Becky in Michael Bay’s Movie Club above…and will soon be seen on Christopher Guest’s HBO series, Family Tree). He wrote at least five of the 12 episodes, I think, and his scripts are helping attract some impressive guest stars even beyond those mentioned in the linked articles. Sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy; it’s top secret, and I’ll have some heat on me if blab.

Anyway, Yahoo! has been showcasing some impressive web series lately; seriously, if you didn’t see Burning Love last summer, you must begin watching it immediately…though as I’m attempting to provide you with the link, I’m seeing that the first several episodes no longer seem to be available online…which makes a lot of fucking sense for a web series. Nice job, Yahoo! Well, here’s the trailer, at least.

Sorry…I’m getting away from the point of this post, but I saw an opening to recommend Burning Love and I had to take it. Hopefully the full series will be back online soon. Bringing it back around to me bragging about my friends, Burning Love set a impressive precedent for Yahoo!, and I’m excited for Ryan and his involvement in a series that hopes to carry that torch. You can bet I’ll be promoting Ghost Ghirls when it hits the web this spring.

Now I turn to a Dallas, Texas native named Brantley Aufill, who came all the way to upstate New York for college, where we met on our first day when he moved in next door to me. It was Fall 1995; I was plastering Reservoir Dogs stills on my wall; he showed me the ginormous Pulp Fiction poster he’d just hung on his. Then I didn’t see him for three weeks. Seriously, to this day I don’t know what happened to him, but the dude was gone as if he’d never been there. I started to think I’d imagined our meeting. Then one day he was back, and we became friends, roomed together the next year, and thus did I learn that this guy is an idea machine. His brain never stops working. He is constantly writing, outlining, developing, and researching multiple stories and scripts at a time, and his ideas always sound great. There are some he told me about back then that he’s long since abandoned but which still pop into my head sometimes and make me think, “That would a be a really cool movie.” Aside from his relentless work ethic, he’s also the most well-rounded movie fan I know, immersing himself in classics, foreign films and documentaries as much as contemporary Hollywood fare. He knows movies, he knows movie history…he’s a true student of film, and that deep well of knowledge informs a voice that is original yet infused with an awareness and appreciation of what’s come before. He’s been hard at work of late with several irons in the fire, just waiting for something to ignite, and he got a huge boost on Monday when one of his screenplays, called The Hooverville Dead, was included on the 2012 Black List.

What is that, you ask? Here’s a nice, short article on the origins of the Black List that appeared in Entertainment Weekly a few years ago, but the gist is that it’s a compilation of the most well-liked, unproduced screenplays that have been floating around Hollywood during a given year. Nearly 300 studio and production company employees submit a list of their favorite scripts of the year to the Black List’s organizers, and those scripts that come up most often get included. It used to name every script that was mentioned even once; now a piece has to be cited at least six times. And this year, Brantley made the cut. The Black List is big news in Hollywood, and the fact that all the writers’ names are mentioned  in publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter is just for kicks next to the real reward of attention this shines on the writers and their work.

Those articles mention some past Black List scripts that eventually went on to earn Oscar nominations or wins, but there are a ton more that have been made since the list began in 2005, including The Hangover, 500 Days of Summer, Superbad, Burn After Reading and Babel. Some that made the list a few years ago or more are finally now in production, including Martin Scorsese’s next project. The current film Hitchcock was on the 2007 list, and Quentin Tarantino’s imminent release Django Unchained was on last year’s list. Of course, while people like Tarantino, Seth Rogen and The Coen Brothers don’t need the Black List bump to get their movies made, unknown or up-and-coming writers like Brantley stand to benefit significantly. Not every Black Listed script will wind up getting made, and not all that do will turn out to be good, but getting included can lead to great things. With all the projects I know Brantley’s got going on, I’m certain this will result in the career surge he deserves and has been working so hard toward. Hell, his work has already been performed at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie fucking Hall!! Unfortunately I don’t have any videos of his work to plug as I did Ryan’s, but he does have a blog…and unlike my rambling posts, his are tight, fun and informative. I highly suggest checking it out, especially for his short and sweet reviews of older movies.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see good things start to happen for a couple of  guys whose talents have too long been enjoyed by too few. So congratulations to my friends Ryan and Brantley for this week’s big strides toward unleashing those talents on the masses. I’m rooting for both of you, as always, not just because I look forward to enjoying your success, but because I desperately and unabashedly seek to benefit from it directly. Seriously, I’m totally down with being a personal assistant. I will fetch your ice cold sodas and steaming hot lattes. I will book your holiday travel. I will pick up your dry cleaning. I know you’re both going places; for the love of God…take me with you.


December 8, 2012

Happy Hanukkah, Mom

Filed under: Music,Real Life — DB @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , ,

We interrupt this blog’s normal programming of nerdy pop culture coverage to wish a Happy Hanukkah to any readers who will be lighting the first candle on the menorah tonight. Specifically, I’m addressing this post to my mother, who laments daily that I’m disconnected from my Jewish roots. True, I am known in some circles as The Fallen Jew. True, I may have been the one to start calling myself that. True, my non-Jewish friend who happens to be a pre-school teacher at the San Francisco JCC probably knows more about Jewish culture and religion at this point than I do. But if it makes you feel any better Mom, I have problems with all religion, not just the one you raised me in. So take some comfort in that. Or not.

Anyway, to show you that “Jewish things” do still seep through occasionally, I’m posting this video that I think you’ll enjoy. It’s a song called “Candlelight,” a recounting of the Hanukkah story performed by The Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group formed in 2007 at Yeshiva University in New York.

This was sent to me a few years ago by a friend, and I admit that my feelings were – and still are – slightly mixed. Part of me kinda wants to punch them all; I’m not sure why. But part of me admits the song parody is pretty clever and that it’s maddeningly catchy. And it’s not like we Jews have a lot of songs in our holiday arsenal, so we gotta embrace what we’re given. As to the catchiness, The Maccabeats can’t take credit. “Candlelight” is based on the song “Dynamite,” a 2010 dance/club/pop/electronic ditty by Taio Cruz. The video takes its cue from another source as well, inspired by a version of “Dynamite” performed by Mike Tompkins. (Mom, those words are red because they’re “hyperlinks.” If you click on them, they will open a new window on your computer and you’ll be able to see the source material. And by “new window” I mean…look, you’ll figure it out. You’ve nearly mastered the DVR. I have faith in you.)

I’m sure you’ll watch this video and wish that I spent time with a group of nice Jewish boys like this, who would be a good influence on me and introduce me to Jewish girls and maybe even convince me to give gefilte fish a chance. Sorry to disappoint you. You’ll have to settle for the fact that I will be lighting the menorah over the next week, and I’m even going to a Hanukkah party tonight. Candles will be lit, a prayer will be spoken, dreidels will be spun, potato latkes will be consumed (and possibly flipped in the air) and you can be at peace knowing that for at least a few hours, I will be the Jewish son you always hoped I’d be…the fact that I’m not a doctor notwithstanding.

So Happy Hanukkah, Mom (and Dad), and all the other members of the tribe out there. And for anyone who feels that The Maccabeats just aren’t your thing, here’s another Hanukkah song that might be up your alley.

* For the record, my mother never put pressure on me to become a doctor. I can’t say the same about meeting a nice Jewish girl.

**For you non-Jewish readers who don’t know from gefilte fish, it’s a disgusting staple of the Passover seder consisting of fish such as carp, whitefish or pike, mashed up into a tight wad and served out of a jar full of translucent jellyslime.

June 18, 2012

Bringing Out the Dead

Filed under: Music,Real Life — DB @ 4:27 pm

Maybe because fear and anxiety about death are so hard-wired into the human brain, we find ourselves fascinated by the concept of life after death. If so, it might explain our culture’s obsession with vampires and zombies (not that the latter really constitutes life after death, but that’s irrelevant for now). The last several years have found us particularly attached to these creatures. True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight (books and films) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (book and imminent film) have sucked in scores of enthusiasts, while Zombieland, Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead (comics and TV show) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies have frenetically dashed or raggedly ambled their way into our hearts…and intestines. These movies, TV shows, video games and books that I mention barely scratch the surface of the surface of the offerings available to sate our cravings for bloodsuckers and brain-munchers.

Lately though, things seem to be taking a turn for the bizarre. Vampires remain safely confined to fiction, but a recent slate of disturbing incidents make a compelling argument that we are at the beginning of a zombie plague. In response to the rise of these occurrences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement denying the advent of a zombie apocalypse…though what they actually say is that they aren’t aware of any “virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).” Just cause they aren’t aware of it doesn’t mean it can’t be real. But for now, I’m going to accept the CDC’s declaration that these chilling acts are unrelated, and not indicative of the impending end of days.

There is, however, one upsetting example of the dead rising from the grave that has been gaining a lot of attention recently as well, and unfortunately this one is all too real. I’m talking about the holographic resurrection of deceased entertainers.

It started in April at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, when Tupac Shakur took the stage in hologram form and sang with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. You might remember Tupac from his hit songs including “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Me Against the World” and “Dear Mama,” or from films such as Poetic Justice, or from his September 1996 death after being shot in Las Vegas. Yes, the man died 16 years ago, but the world couldn’t let go. Songs and albums continued to be released years after his demise, and now the hologram has kicked things up to a new level of creepy. Dr. Dre oversaw the resurrection, which was constructed by the visual effects company Digital Domain and staged at the concert by AV Concepts. It was the first time that such an effect was accomplished without using old or repurposed footage. This was a newly created, original performance by Tupac. How his vocals were achieved remains a mystery.

It’s not like we haven’t seen forms of this before. Fred Astaire was brought back to dance with a vacuum cleaner in a Dirt Devil commercial, John Wayne was worked into an ad for Coors Beer, Natalie Cole sang a duet of “Unforgettable” with her late father Nat King Cole, and Celine Dion sang with Elvis Presley on a 2007 episode of American Idol.  But in each of these cases, previously existing footage (or recordings, in the case of Cole) was used. Tupac’s performance was brand new. And it has kicked off an alarming trend. Setting their sights higher than just projecting old footage, CORE Media Group – which owns the branding rights to Elvis – is partnering with Digital Domain to bring him back for newly created performances. Apparently they envision Elvis returning for new concerts, TV shows and movies. In addition, holographic versions of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe might be on the way, and Michael Jackson’s siblings seem to like the idea of bringing Michael back for a big tour.

Yeah, I’ll bet they do. Cause the world is clamoring to see just Tito, Jermaine and the others in concert again.

Haven’t we already seen what happens when Michael Jackson returns from the dead?

Sure, it’s all smooth moves and funky choreography until he chases you into a spooky house with all his friends and eats your innards.

We may be in the 21st century, but old-fashioned hucksterism is alive and well. The fact that these efforts amount to insensitive cash grabs are the least troubling thing about them. The responsible parties can talk all they want about bringing thrilling new experiences to audiences and how magical it will be, but the magic they’re espousing is of the dark variety, and anyone who’s played around with voodoo or horcruxes can tell you that dark magic doesn’t end well. The artists in question have no say in how their likenesses are being used, but even more crucial is that they aren’t responsible for their own performances. When Elvis, or Tupac, or Hendrix were alive and performing in concerts, they were engaging with their audiences, feeding off real energy and giving it back in return. If Presley thrust his hips, it wasn’t because a computer program told him to do it. He did it because he decided, “I’m going to thrust my hips now. And then I’m going to walk over here and bend down and sing directly to this girl in the blue T-shirt, and now I’m going to cross over to the other side of the stage and fall on my knees and sing to the rafters.” He decided to do those things in the moment, because he was feeling the song and the vibe in the room. Hendrix didn’t smash his guitar, light it on fire or play it behind his head because he was being manipulated by a puppet master. He did those things because he was Jimi fucking Hendrix and that’s what he wanted to do.

Those experiences can not be replicated. A hologram has no soul. It’s a cheat. Tupac’s Coachella stint can be viewed in isolation as “a moment,” but in the end it was just an impressive lightshow. You can’t take a gimmick and turn it into an industry. Or hey, maybe you can…Hollywood seems to be doing it with 3D. But a gimmick is a gimmick, and it doesn’t provide or replace an authentic experience. Tupac, Elvis, Hendrix, Morrison, Marilyn, Janis, Michael, Whitney…they’re dead. They all died too young, with more to contribute to their art, but they’re dead, and for any of us who loved any of them, their deaths became part of our relationship with them. The mourning and the memories became as important a part of the way we relate to them as the concert we saw them perform during their lifetime. And if we never got to see them perform, a hologram will give us no more truthful an experience than we would get from an impersonator. It will just cost a lot more money. And where does this digital-age grave robbery stop? Will performers like Astaire and Wayne be brought back to “act” in movies again? Will politicians resurrect late party champions like Reagan or Kennedy to speak at their conventions and endorse a current candidate? It’s not hard to imagine this getting quickly out of hand.

Look, I’ve got nothing against a good hologram. But let’s use them appropriately. Here are some acceptable uses for holograms:

1. Intergalactic government agent/construction worker killing his enemies

2. Imprisoned princess recording plea for help

3. Humanoid alien communicating with dead parents

4. Starship crew members escaping the rigors of space exploration and hostile encounters with Ferengi by enjoying a little R&R in simulated 19th century London

5. Actors participating in theme park rides based on their movies

6. Backup band for glam rocker Jem

7. Whatever Bill Murray wants (as long as he’s still alive and directly responsible for the usage)

Elvis, Tupac, Marilyn…the legacies of these stars have endured for years after their deaths. There is no lack of interest in their work or awareness of their lives, and that seems to be going just fine. This line doesn’t need to be crossed. Bringing someone back in hologram form and placing them into whatever venue some promoter or greedy estate manager decides is not only a shallow act of self-interest, but completely disrespectful to the artist. Death is a natural part of one’s life, and carrying the memory of the dead is a natural part of life for those left behind, whether it’s the deceased’s intimates or legions of admirers. So I’m hoping that soon enough, all his Tupac-inspired enthusiasm for rock star holograms will die down and that logic and sense will prevail.

But it probably won’t. This is show business, after all.

June 10, 2012

Tweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Filed under: Real Life — DB @ 11:51 am

And who am I to disagree?

I’m just one little man, no longer able to fend off the crushing weight of that cultural force known as Twitter. Goddamn, I hate when I have to give in to something I’ve tried so hard to resist. But give in I must. And I feel like a sell-out.

I actually created a Twitter account several months ago. As my job hunt continues, and as I keep looking at postings for writing and communications positions, one thing that pops up over and over again is that employers want workers who are familiar with/comfortable with/adept with/experienced with social media. Sometimes they leave it at that, and sometimes they specifically mention Facebook and Twitter. Never mind that half these places have absolutely no need for Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. But hey, all the cool kids are playing with these tools, so every shithead wants in on the action, whether or not there’s any action to be had. So okay, fine, if I want to get these jobs, I need to be good with the social media, and that means sucking it up and climbing aboard the Twitter train. I created an account. I signed up to follow Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Eddie Izzard, Simon Pegg, Kevin Smith, Steve Martin…a few other people. Then I pretty much never logged in.

Twitter has always seemed like a stupid idea to me. As if texting wasn’t doing enough damage to both human interaction and the human ability to spell, now we had a whole platform built around the idea of delivering 140-character blips? Overlooking the character limit for a moment, my first thought was, “Why tweet when you could text?” I’m still not sure I know the answer to that. I think it might have something to do with hashtags and building or contributing to a community of commenters around a certain topic…but I’m not yet sure if I fully “get” hashtags, so I have no idea if I’m on the right track. I hear the word “hashtag” and I get a craving for some pan-fried potato shreddings. Or I think of John Travolta extolling the virtues of Amsterdam to Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

They should call ’em hash bars instead of hashtags. I’d dig that the most.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah…Twitter is stupid. I did eventually see one outlet for it that I approved of, and that was comedy. Twitter has been good for comedy.  Maybe I’m not remembering accurately, but I feel like Conan jumped on it pretty quickly and started having fun with it early on. And many other comic personalities have made good use of it. As my above list of followees indicates, I initially utilized it as a delivery system for their witty observations. Beyond that…meh.

There are some political protesters in the Middle East who might disagree with me, as Twitter and other social media tools are credited with playing a significant role in the Arab Spring uprisings. And if these platforms indeed helped in their movement, then praise be to Allah, Mark Zuckerberg and whoever founded Twitter. I don’t deny that people have found ways to make good use of it. Last year, a friend in L.A. was able to score tickets to an anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark (followed by a Q&A with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford!) by responding to a Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter’s Twitter feed. So hey, that’s value. I’m still just not sure how Twitter enables things that texting doesn’t. Please feel free to educate me in the comments.

Hopefully I’ll find out soon enough one way or another, because the whole point of this already-overlong post is to announce – with all the lack of fanfare merited – that I’m now on Twitter. As in, I’m actually going to start tweeting. Not just because a working knowledge of the tool could be an asset in my job search, but because admittedly, it could be a nice complement to the blog and perhaps gain me additional readers. If I have something to say that doesn’t justify an entire post, I can tweet it. If I want to follow-up on something mentioned in an earlier post, I can tweet it. If I want to send a creepy, stalker-ish message to Natalie Portman, I can tweet it. And maybe this will finally be the way to highlight the constant flow of brilliant segments from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that I haven’t been posting on the blog itself.

I don’t expect I’ll be doing it too often, and I’m not about to implore people to follow my Twitter feed the way I pathetically begged for blog subscribers. But if you want to follow me, I’ll be there. Strangely, at the time of this writing I already have eleven followers. Which makes no sense to me since I’ve yet to send a single tweet, meaning these eleven people (one of whom, it should be said, I’ve never heard of) presumably looked me up to see if I had an account and then just signed up. Anyway…the username DB was already taken…as were most reasonable variations I could think of, and even some pretty unreasonable variations. So despite the risk of misrepresenting myself as having an advanced degree, I went with #DoctorDB.

By the time you read this post, I will likely have sent my first tweet. And I will likely feel a little dirty about it. I’ll be in the shower.

May 8, 2012

When Colbert Met Sendak…

Seeing as you’re online reading this right now, you’ve probably already learned elsewhere on the internet that Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and many other classic, award-winning books, passed away today. The New York Times published a thorough obituary online about Sendak’s life and work, and other news outlets have picked up the story as well. But there is an element to this that strikes me as cosmically eerie, and which wasn’t mentioned in any of the three pieces I read this morning about Sendak’s death. Two of those articles touch on the fact that a few months ago, Stephen Colbert traveled to Sendak’s home to interview him. Their chat aired in two parts on consecutive nights, and before I get to the cosmic eerieness, you should watch their hilarious interaction.

[Note: Videos were originally embedded here, but the service used to post them no longer exists and WordPress is sadly way behind the curve when it comes to video embeds, imposing limitations that preclude far too many videos from being used directly in posts. BUT here are links to the two segments of the Colbert/Sendak interview: Part One and Part Two.]


Though it probably seemed like a gag at the time, Colbert really did find a publisher for I Am a Pole (And So Can You!)…and the book, bearing Sendak’s endorsement, became available today. I almost published a post yesterday about its impending release, mainly as an excuse to share the interview and make sure people knew that a new example of Colbert’s genius was about to hit. I ended up not doing it, though I thought I might post the interview in the future, whenever Sendak passed away. Then I saw the news online today – the release day of the book – that Sendak was gone. Maybe I’m alone here, but I find that pretty damn cosmically eerie. So…enjoy the interview, pull out your copy of Where the Wild Things Are and maybe even pick up Colbert’s story. It’s also available in audiobook form, read by Tom Hanks. Seriously. The proceeds are going to a charity that helps military veterans readjust to society, and besides, what better way to honor the departed author than by purchasing a book he so tepidly recommended?

Thanks for the stories, Mr. Sendak.

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