Diversity Watch: February 2016

The SAG Awards helped Hollywood feel good about themselves as they celebrated a diverse array of actors. But all of this attention on awards shows kills me because when an award show does give awards to a diverse group of actors, they’re really kind of celebrating something that doesn’t exist. The issue in Hollywood is that the films that are being made aren’t diverse. In fact, many of the people who denounced #OscarSoWhite weren’t really putting their money where their hashtags were. George Clooney spoke out against it, but his filmography is mostly whiter than a snowstorm.
So, to keep an eye on things so people don’t get all stunned again when most of the Oscar nominees are white again, here’s Diversity Watch for February 2016.

Below are the wide release movies (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com) for the next 29 days.

The Choice:
Nicholas Sparks. I don’t want to say that “Enough Said” but, I mean…
Sparks1
Sparks2

Hail Caesar: The Coen Brothers latest features a lot of famous white people trying to save another famous white person (but it’s not Matt Damon this time, so there’s that.)

Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies: We’ll probably have to wait for Malcolm X vs. Monsters or Roots with Zombies or Charlie Chan vs. Chupacabra to get some non-white people in one of these mashup films. But, on the plus side, this one features strong women fending for themselves!

Deadpool: Morena Baccarin is Brazilian! And she plays the love interest. Named Vanessa Carlyle. OK, so she’s playing a white girl but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s Brazilian! We’ll count it as diversity!

How to Be Single: White girl problems. But with Damon Wayans Jr. and Jason Mantzoukas along for the ride. Mantzoukas is Greek, which might not count to many as “diverse” but c’mon, we need as many points as we can get here.

Zoolander 2: Penelope Cruz! And mostly a bunch of white people, sure, but who can notice any lack of diversity when Penelope Cruz is on screen!

Race: Boom! A bonafide non-white movie! The story of Jesse Owens. Directed by a Jamaican! Granted, a white Jamaican guy but kudos to Hollywood for finding a white Jamaican, right?

Eddie the Eagle: This and “Race” kind of say it all about Hollywood. For a black guy to get a movie, he has to win four gold medals in the face of the most evil dictator we’ve known and be one of the greatest athletes of all-time. Meanwhile, a white guy comes in last in two ski jump events at Olympics, becomes lovable loser to many because he’s so bad, and about 30 years later, someone makes a movie about him.

Risen: The director of Waterworld is bringing you the story of the Resurrection and I have to give him credit – he’s got actors from all over the place in this one. Including one man diversity gang Cliff Curtis!

The Witch: Indie movies are quietly an equal opportunity offender when it comes to diversity and indie horror seems to be one of the bigger culprits of the indie world. A funny sketch might be explaining that the reason black guys always die first in movies is because the ghosts get jealous that the white people are more afraid of the guy than then ghost. There’s something there. I think. Anyway, The Witch is a period piece which usually equates to mostly white people.

Triple Nine: This movie had a ridiculous cast and thankfully, it’s got a decent mix to it with: Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins, Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Michael K. Williams (OMAR!), and Kate Winslet. (This might be my Must Watch movie of the month although I’d say to avoid the trailer since it seems to give away a lot of the movie. But it’s about cops who are forced to pull off a heist.)

But then there’s…

Gods of Egypt: Starring… Gerard Butler? Geoffrey Rush? Nikolaj Coster-Waldau aka Jamie Lannister? They at least got Chadwick Boseman in there but this one really wipes out any points Hollywood might have garnered this month. Especially coming off of the heels of Exodus: Gods and Kings with Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale.

And in case you weren’t scoring at home, I believe that’s 12 wide releases and 12 white directors. On the plus side, we’ve got four films featuring females as leads so there’s some progress on that front, I guess.

March and April look a little better diversity-wise but next time someone complains about #OscarSoWhite, remind them that that is just a symptom of the diversity problem facing Hollywood.

02/16 Goals

OK, 2016 got off to a solid start but it could have been better. So here are the personal goals for February.

1. Lose 15 pounds
All told, I think I lost 12 pounds in January, which isn’t really saying much given that I had a lot of weight to lose. Also, I have 18 pounds to go to get me back to where I was a few years ago (when I was still too heavy.)

2. Work Out/Write in the Mornings
Waking up in the morning has been increasingly difficult so I really need to stop sleeping in and making my mornings productive.

3. Finish drafts of two projects – one screenplay, one pilot
I’ve been failing on this front. This was a goal for December. But I’ve made some headway on the screenplay so I think that finishing a first draft of these should be doable by the end of the leap month.

4. No More Message Boards/Twitter fights
Message boards can be good. They give you a place to vent or to discuss your feelings about a film or show or political development when your friends can’t discuss it or if you just don’t want to bore them with your take on things. But I spent way too much time getting in pointless discussions, especially on websites like AV Club or Twitter. There’s nothing to be gained. Sometimes, I’ve actually learned things during discussions on websites but more often than not, the prevailing attitude is the caustic communication of the 21st century – which is more about pointing out why people are stupid rather than actually discussing the matter at hand and possibly finding a solution or common ground. So, I’m going to try to quit those cold turkey.

5. Post More on SoulHonky / renovate the site
It might seem odd to quit commenting on other sites and, instead of putting that time to use offline, redirecting that energy to a different online pursuit but keeping SoulHonky.com up might actually have some benefits – building a bigger readership with more posts – and, truth be told, it lets me get stuff like list of goals off my chest without pestering my friends and co-workers about it.
Also, I’m not wild about the look of the site and have been wanting to change it up.

6. Try Out One New Place A Week
My overall goal starting last December was one new eatery and one new event/locale a week. But the fact is that I simply don’t eat out that much and given the amount of tickets I’ve been buying of late and my upcoming trip to New Orleans, I need to be a wee bit more frugal. So I’ll make it one new event/locale/eatery a week.

7. Read 1.5 Books
This is pretty low bar to clear but I’ve never done well with keeping up with my reading goals so I’ll start small. Although, if The Adventures of Kavalier & Klay is the next book I start reading, it’s a higher bar than say Maria Semple’s “This One’s is Mine.”
On a related note, I definitely recommend Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadaette?” I wasn’t blown away by the last act but the book has all of the wit that you’d expect from a former Arrested Development writer.

8. Post One New Recipe
I’ve been wanting to post more about my cooking… or rather my attempts at cooking. I’m currently toying with Sweet & Sour Sauce and Gochujang as well as Chimmichurri & Teriyaki and Lemon Pepper and Teriyaki. (Also, I need to try other sauce besides teriyaki.) But I’d like to throw out some ideas and see where they go.

9. Submit a Hit Record Project
I think I tried to do this back when it was announced that HitRecord was getting it’s own TV show (and I might have submitted it but I can’t remember my login) but I’m going to try again. I’m thinking of submitting a song I wrote years ago or maybe the scripts for a webseries that I never got around to making.

10. Stop Putting Things Off
This is more of a general 2016 Resolution but a reminder wouldn’t help. I am the king of procrastination and coming up with ideas and not following through with them, which stops this year! January was pretty good but I can do better. And I will do better.

11. Eat Vegan One Day a Week
I did OK with this last month. I ate MOSTLY Vegan a day a week but I’d like to focus and actually stick with fully Vegan for one day a week. Shouldn’t be that hard.

Sadly, still relevant

I made this short with some friends a few years ago and, sadly, with #OscarsSoWhite trending, it seems like it is still relevant. I mean, does anything say, “We give zero fucks” like, in the face of the OscarsSoWhite controversy, announcing a Laurel & Hardy movie?

Song of the Day: The Mary J. Blige of Sweden?

That’s probably an unfair comparison since Mary J. is an icon and this young lady from Sweden could easily turn out to be more of a Craig David, big splash followed by small ripples, but I’m a big fan of this single, even if she is wearing one of those nose rings that are becoming fashionable for some reason.

The 2015 Pop Culture Immortals

Here are the pop culture moments from 2015 that I think will stick with me over the years. I’m probably forgetting some although, if I’m forgetting them, can they really be all that memorable?

25. “I have fashion friends.” from Ryan Gosling’s character in “The Big Short”. If you know that type of guy, that line is pretty hilarious. At least it was to me. This is guaranteed to be the quote that I say that nobody remembers ala “I will shoot you in the face!” from Reservoir Dogs.

24. After “It Follows”, I realized that I just don’t like indie horror that much.

23. “It’s just a flying saucer, honey. We gotta go!” Kirsten Dunst with the line read of the year in Fargo.

22. Julianne vs. Archie and the unraveling mess that was The Good Wife Season 5. (Although season 6 righted the ship a little.)
22a. And where the hell did Robin go?

21. Me randomly asking people, “Do you bleed? You will.” in the gruff Bat-voice from the Batman v. Superman trailer.
22a. Me being the only person who thought randomly asking, “Do you bleed? You will.” was funny.

20. “It was great. Which was a relief. Because if it wasn’t…
(Pause)
I would have been really fucking mad.”
– At a Q&A, Leonardo DiCaprio’s response to a question about how he felt when he finally saw “The Revenant”.

19. The fact that, no matter what the situation or what crisis faced her, the lead actress in “Quantico” would speak in a husky, breathy, Jessica Rabbit voice.

18. The look on Rachel McAdams’ character’s Nana’s face when she was reading the story at the end of Spotlight.

17. “Now fuck off.” Margot Robbie in a bubble bath in “The Big Short”

16. The guitar guy in Mad Max.

15. “Just blink” and “We had an agreement.” from The Revenant. Although I’m not sure if I got those quotes exactly right.

14. My negative reaction to the violence in “John Wick”. For me, there’s a not-so-fine line between throat-chopping (since I loved “Taken”) and constantly shooting people in the face ala “John Wick.”
14a. “Oh.”

13. “You knew all along, didn’t you?” from Mr. Robot.

12. The power of “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”

11. Bryce Dallas Howard’s super-heels in Jurassic World.

10. The Marguerita guy in Jurassic World (and that it was actually Jimmy Buffet!)

9. The fact that, no matter how many times I heard it, I couldn’t place The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” until 25 seconds into the song.

8. “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor.” and the subsequent dance scene in Ex Machina.

7. Steph Curry owning the NBA and becoming a potential Hall of Famer, if his body can hold up.

6. How much I despised The Hateful Eight.

5. Constantly saying “Hello” in the style of Adele… and, half of the time, having it be mistaken as in the style of Lionel Richie.

4. Empire’s “Drip Drop” and why nobody thought it sounded like Hakeem was rapping about an STD.

3. Furious 7. So much stupid. So much fun.
3a. “The street always win” followed by the most forceful stamped foot ever courtesy of Vin Diesel.
3b. The fact that the plot of Furious 7 was the heroes chasing a villain who wouldn’t stop chasing them long enough for them to get the thing they needed so they could chase him.

2. 99% of my Uber rides involved “Hotline Bling” popping up on the radio.
2a. This was the year that I realized that I just don’t get Drake.

1. My friend Jay looks at me in disbelief after Jermaine Kearse’s impossible catch.
I say, “What are you gonna do?”
The sole Seahawks fan in the room chirps, “You’re gonna take that L.”
And then Malcolm Butler happened.
(And, after a few minutes of stunned disbelief, the Seahawks fan got up, walked out and went home without saying a word.)

SoulHonky RX: Diagnosing SPECTRE’s Problems

For a boring movie, the latest James Bond film SPECTRE is proving to be a film that I can’t stop thinking about. Unfortunately, it’s not because the movie was good – it’s pretty much a bore – but because it seemed so close to being a good movie but they opted to take the easiest, most boring choices each stop of the way.

I feel like this is the kind of film that can teach people a lot of lessons about bad filmmaking but I don’t feel like wasting too much time on a film I already feel like was a waste of 2+ hours of my life so I’ll throw a couple here now and maybe throughout the week, I’ll post more lessons.

But for now, let’s get started and LET THE SPOILERS COMMENCE!

The first lesson we can learn from SPECTRE is:

Ingenuity is King

The opening shot of Spectre sets up the main issue of the entire movie. It’s an impressive single take in an impressive locale with great costumes and James Bond is just walking around. While the shot is technically impressive, we get no information from it. You could cut out the entire shot and the scene would change at all.

After the shot, James blows up hotel and then chases after the injured villain. And by “chases”, I mean he walks after him. It ultimately leads to big fight in a helicopter but what could have been an amazing set piece ends up being mostly a lot of walking after people. And that, in a nutshell, is SPECTRE.

The mistake the movie makes is that it puts us in the vibrant energy of the Dia Del Muerte parade in Mexico City and then barely utilizes it. It’s perfectly set up for a game of cat and mouse. The opening shot could have exposed potential escape routes or henchmen lying in wait but it offered nothing. The parade was filled with costumes and masks; Bond and his nemesis could have kept cloaking their appearance, trying to outwit their opponent.

Nope. They just walked. And some people got in the way.

In a similar waste of a set piece, Q finds himself stuck in the gondola of a ski lift. One bad guy is in the gondola with him. Then another comes in. And then, in arguably the simplest and most cliche escape, some tourists come in and Q scoots out just before the door closes.

(And that escape wasn’t just a letdown for the audience, it didn’t do much to raise the pulse of anyone involved. Such a close call would probably give people a sense of urgency but after Q escapes, he heads to his hotel room, where no bad guys are waiting for him, none ever come, and Q, Bond, and Madeline Swan go about their business as if the the while gondola moment never happened.)

“Spectre” is, quite simply, a boring movie and it is because the film leaned heavily on the impressive locations to gloss over the fact that James Bond doesn’t actually do anything. He’s literally told to go somewhere to find information, which he then finds with little effort of his own, and then he follows where that info tells him to go. The most creative he gets is seeing a mouse run into a wall and thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s something in that wall.” Really, the most difficult thing he does is seduce Monica Belluci, who inexplicably has been told all the information James needs.

I always complain about Blunt Force Cinema but this is yet another example of it. James has no problem getting to where he needs to be and the only real hurdle to jump is fighting the bad guys who are following him. It’s not “We have to go here and overcome A to get B”, it’s “So I’ll walk right into A to get B and then, shit, these bad guys showed up AGAIN?!”  So besides not being creative, Bond is also almost completely reactive in the film, which makes James Bond a dull boy.

Big Reveals Require Big Impact

You know your movie is doing something wrong when someone can be told the two big twists in the film – that 1) Max was working for the bad guys and 2) that the villain was Blofeld, who is James’s adopted brother – and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

An effective twist makes you reconsider what you saw and believed and changes the way you look at the film the second time you watch it. The twists in “Spectre” don’t change the way the story unfolds at all. Max is never trusted by anyone and is always trying to shut down Bond. The fact that his motives are not as on the up-and-up as he makes it seem doesn’t change that and, in the film, is almost treated as an afterthought.

The reveal of Blofeld is even less consequential and, even worse, is delivered at a moment when there are far more pressing issues. James Bond is strapped into a seat and about to get his head drilled and we’re supposed to care about the bad guy’s name? It reminded me of the reveal of Kahn in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s pure fan service and almost laughable given the situation it happens in. “Before I drill into your head, I’m going to tell you… I NOW GO BY MY MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME!”

(In the grander scheme of things, I actually think the Blofeld reveal, which seems to be lazily retrofitted into the other films, diminishes the previous films. James wasn’t a great spy hunting down evildoers, he was a target who was simply adept at overcoming his would-be assassins, who still managed to take out the two women he cared the most about. All of which makes James look far less effective as a secret agent. Which is an impressive in a film series in which the hero’s been telling people his real name the entire time he’s been a “secret agent.”)

Finally, when you reveal the big end game of a film, there have to be some serious stakes involved. In SPECTRE, Blofeld explains to Bond how he is going to get an amazing surveillance system that will see the entire world. He does it while standing in front of an amazing surveillance system that is seeing the entire world. To a certain extent, the entire goal in SPECTRE is to make it so when hacking all of the security systems in the world, Blofeld only has to remember one password for all of the systems instead of the multiple ones he has to deal with now.

So the big reveal for Blofeld was, “James, you see this amazing global surveillance system? I’m going to upgrade! UPGRADE! Oh, and that guy you never trusted is the one helping me, but you probably already knew that.”

 

I have some other lessons like the importance of keeping to the theme and why having an unknown villain often weakens a film or series of films but this is all for now. And honestly, having written this, I already feel like I wrote too much about this film.

#Fridebate: Bruce & Caitlyn Jenner – Halloween Costume

I haven’t seen anything about this yet; maybe people are waiting until it happens to feign shock as if nobody saw it coming but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the more popular/controversial costumes for couples this year was Bruce and Caitlyn Jenner and it was this year’s Costume to Launch A Thousand Thinkpieces. (Even worse, what about a single person in a half-and-half costume with one side being Cait and the other being Bruce?)

Is it offensive? Is it less offensive if straight couples do it than gay couples since then the genders would be “correct”? Is putting correct in quotations offensive?

What say you… both people who read this blog?

What is the goal of a biopic?

“Steve Jobs” is a very good movie, which is especially impressive because I’m not sure that Steve Jobs really had enough going on in his life to make for a great movie. He’s an interesting man and had some moments along the way but it’s not the most filmic life out there.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took some dramatic license with the film, breaking it into three parts. In what almost felt like a kind of Christmas Carol riff, the film has Jobs, right before he has to go in front of a large crowd to introduce a key product (Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac), getting visited by key figures from his past and present. Obviously, this fictionalized set-up leads to: encounters that never happened, time-shifts to move arguments so they happen at that time, and – in possibly the most ironic move, completely ignoring the existence of Jobs’s wife and three kids.

Now, as always happens nowadays, there are a lot of thinkpieces and You Didn’t Fool Me stories pointing out all of the inaccuracies in the film. (And to be fair, I’ve complained about it myself at times.) We’ve seen the same thing for almost every biopic that has come out recently. “The Imitation Game” was a screenwriting Oscar but altered the story to make a more interesting character. “American Sniper” introduced a rival sniper who Chris Kyle didn’t really have any run ins with and made him a motivating factor for Kyle. While these changes certainly alter the story of the man the movie is about, is that wrong? Is the goal of a biopic to represent the man as closely as possible or to tell the best story?

To say that changing biographies is a recent event ignores the long history of American legends and tall tales. People have always embellished stories. Hell, one of the great movies of all time, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is almost entirely about this phenomenon, ending with the great quote, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

At the same time, is there something to be said about who we make legends? American Sniper’s Chris “The Legend” Kyle was a lightning rod, known for making up stories himself and having a less-than-PC take on the people he was supposedly liberating in the Middle East – should we question “American Sniper” more because perhaps he isn’t the kind of person that we should be lionizing? Steve Jobs was apparently a monster to work for; is it wrong to leave that out or try to give him a happier ending? Do we need to show all of the sins of James Brown or can we celebrate the genius entertainer in “Get on Up”?

And where do we draw the line? Is having Alan Turing make a potentially treasonous decision in order to hide his sexuality too much? Is ignoring the backdrop of the war that Chris Kyle was in appropriate? And can we say “Well, it’s a case-to-case basis” when then what should be in or out will be shaded by our own individual takes on the subject?

Ultimately, I think the only consistent approach is that people need to just accept that biopics are works of entertainment, first and foremost. (Hell, a lot of people have Fargo as one of their favorite true crime stories and it’s completely fiction.) If you care about it being factually correct, acknowledge the films that stick closest to the story rather than ripping apart films that do what films have always done. (That being said, if the movie’s flaws can be used as a jumping off point for a deeper discussion about the subject or bring more attention to their true story; by all means, call it out. But these articles that just point out differences and fictional additions seem rather pointless to me.)

At least, that’s my take on it.

What can we learn from: Jem & The Holograms

By Sunday morning, most of Hollywood was abuzz about the horrific opening bow of Jem and the Holograms. The Blumhouse/Universal production was one of the worst openings in film history after getting bad buzz from fans of the original cartoon and lousy reviews from critics.  So where did the film (or rather, the marketing, since I, like everyone else, didn’t see the movie) go wrong? What can we learn from this dismal showing? I’m sure there’s a lot went wrong but I think there are three obvious lessons that we can take from this.

DEMOGRAPHIC DODGING

The key to a successful remake is maintaining enough of the source material to appease the original fanbase while delivering something fresh that will attract new fans. Jem & The Holograms succeeded in doing the complete opposite. They lost the original fans by making such drastic changes that there weren’t holograms in movie version of Jem & The Holograms. Instead of holograms, they offered a fairly standard Innocent Person Makes It Big, Struggles with Fame story that wasn’t likely to draw in anyone, nevermind the ever-fickle youth audience, who aren’t going to be enticed simply because Jem finds fame via a viral video. So basically, the movie got greenlit because it was “Jem & the Holograms” but then they alienated the people who actually watched the show and didn’t give the kids who never heard of the show any reason to be interested in it.

EMBRACE THE STUPID

For the past decade or so, Hollywood has had a fetish for taking properties and making them darker or grittier. And it almost never works. But whenever something like the James Bond franchise succeeds with that direction, Hollywood decides to keep going with it. And then you end up with Jem and the Holograms with no holograms.

The fact of the matter is that, as Katharine Trendacosta wrote at io9, Jem is an absurd show.

“It starts with the death of Jerrica and Kimber Benton’s father, leaving the elder Jerrica an inheritance of a music company, an orphanage, and a secret base filled with instruments and run by a supercomputer which can project completely interactive holograms. Yes. I know.”

Or better yet, as director Jon Chu said:

“We had versions of them being transformed by holograms, but it got complicated, because if you really think about the cartoon, it is confusing. Is she turning into a totally different person? So people don’t recognize her – do you have to have a different actress? You know what I’m saying? All the sisters, the people in the cartoons know that they’re the sisters, but they don’t know that it’s Jerrica, so there’s a lot you have to explain live action that a cartoon can get away with.”

What Chu, Blumhouse Production and Universal Pictures didn’t seem to understand was the fact that making a more realistic Jem defeated the entire draw of a show that had the tagline “Truly Outrageous.” People weren’t watching the show to see the crushing emotional impact that fame had on young Jerrica and her friends. They were watching because a lot of crazy shit happened. Oh, and no, you don’t need to explain the details Chu mentioned any more than you have to explain how a suit and pair of glasses somehow makes Superman completely unrecognizable.

Making Jem without the absurdity is like remaking Mr. Ed and asking, “But what if the horse didn’t talk? How can he talk?”

BONUS TIP: If you’re remaking a kid’s cartoon and the guy you hired to direct it says, “It’s confusing”, it’s probably not the right fit.

GIRLS LIKE ADVENTURES, TOO

You’d have thought that “Frozen” would have taught this lesson but here we have a film that dumps all of the adventures of the original show and instead focuses on everyone’s feelings. The big moment for Jem in the two trailers of the movie is… deciding whether or not to sign a solo contract. Which, of course, leads to more tears.

For the love of goddesses, let the hijinks ensue! I’m not saying turn Jem into Resident Evil but let them have some peril in their lives other than “My friends are totes mad at me!”

 

Now, obviously, making these changes might not have saved the day and made Jem and the Holograms a hit but it would have at least given them a fighting chance. Instead, we have another franchise biting the dust earlier than it should have. Although, honestly, a straight-to-DVD sequel might be the best thing for this franchise – let someone have free reign to play up the silliness and they might have something worth watching.