Saturday, 30 April 2016

Hollywood Babble On & On #1263: Some Shilling Then It Gets Offensive...


Okay, if you're a regular reader of my blog, or my Twitter feed, you will know that I sold a novel to Fahrenheit Press of Los Angeles. Soon A MINT CONDITION CORPSE will be available. It's what I call a "nerd noir" a satirical whodunnit set at a comic book convention starring a brilliant geek detective named KIRBY BAXTER, and his Scooby gang of friends.

So I'm putting out a call to any and all people who are taste-makers in the geek community, or they know taste makers, for some help. We can arrange preview copies of the book, for perusal, and if you, or they, like it, please get the word out. 

I need all the help I can get to get people to read this book. Those who do seem to enjoy it, so the more the merrier.

If you have any leads, let me know, either by my e-mail or via Twitter, and I'll make arrangements with my publisher.

Thanks in advance.

Now onto…


For a brief period SNL alumni Will Ferrell considered and then dropped out of a gig playing the late actor/governor/president Ronald Reagan with a twist.

That twist was that it was going to be a comedy inspired by the conspiracy theory that the Alzheimer's disease that destroyed the last ten years of Reagan's life secretly happened at the beginning of his second term. The theory goes on to say that he only made it through because his staff, in the movie; a young intern, convinced Reagan that he was playing the president in a movie.

Already Republicans, Reagan relatives, and many others are saying this is an offensive idea spawned by deep seeded political malice. The outrage probably was what scared Ferrell off the project in the end.

I also have something to add.

It will be an enormous waste of money and time.

The financiers would be better off putting the budget in a pile and setting it on fire. At least that way they can maybe have a wiener roast.
An even better idea is that they could give the budget to me, and let me make something worth watching, or just to live a lush lifestyle.

That's because this film falls into the far edge of what I call the Offend/Bore Matrix. That's where a film dealing with a controversial subject, like politics and/or religion is so aggressively partisan that it can only offend the opposite side of the issue and bore those who agree with the filmmaker.

But when you get out to the far edge, like this idea, you slip into the realm of the Offend/Creep region. That means that its militant partisanship has gone too far, and has become toxic, making anyone who likes it look like a creep.


Let's say you are a partisan Democrat. You despised Ronald Reagan and think he was the spawn of hell.

That's fine, you have a right to have your opinion of a politician. But there's that little something extra to this script, and that's Alzheimer's Disease.

Do you want to be known as the person who laughs at someone with Alzheimer's Disease?

Bring in Alzheimer's disease and political affiliations tend to fall by the wayside, and it slips into the realm of intense personal suffering.

Very few would find that kind of soul-destroying suffering funny, even if it happened to a Republican, and even fewer would publicly admit to finding it funny solely because it happens to a Republican.

Imagine this conversation:

A: Did you see the new movie about Reagan. It's the funniest thing ever made. 
B: Isn't that about him having Alzheimer's? 
A: Yeah, and it's hilarious. I laughed so much at his inability to remember things like friends and family. 
B: We didn't find it funny when that happened to my Grandpa. 
A: But this a Republican we're talking about. 
B: So?
A: That makes laughing at Alzheimer's okay! 
B: I can't even look at the trailers or commercials without remembering how bad things got for my Grandfather before he died. 
A: You have no sense of humour.
That might put a damper on the word of mouth.


Actress Scarlett Johansson has been cast in the lead role of an American movie version of the Japanese anime Ghost In The Shell.

This led to cries of outrage that the originally Japanese role hadn't gone to a Japanese actor. Most of the cries of "whitewashing" came from Asian-American organizations, and a lot of angry white people.

But do you know who wasn't offended by the casting?

The Japanese.

Most Japanese pundits and media outlets don't really care about Johansson's casting, and many are even enthusiastic about it.

The Japanese aren't freaking out over Johansson because they assume that an American version of a Japanese story would have an "American" actor (translation "White"). Part of this is because the Japanese have no qualms doing a Japanese version of a Euro-American story with Japanese versions of those once white characters. Kurosawa adapted several works of Shakespeare and the tropes of the American Western movie into many of his samurai films.

Then there's the other part: Even when it's not a Japanese version of a Euro-American story, but a Japanese story featuring caucasian European or American characters they will still use Japanese actors.

Case in point...

However, cast a Chinese, or Korean actor to play a Japanese character, or vice-versa, and then they get offended.

To explain that would involve explaining centuries of Asia's ethnic politics and prejudices, and I ain't going there.

Does this mean that "whitewashing" is not a problem?


Whitewashing especially of Asian characters is a real problem, and it's part of the short shrift that Asian actors have been getting in Hollywood since the dawn of the medium.

White actors in bad make-up speaking pidgin English have been used to play Asian characters for over a century.  The most infamous being the popular Charlie Chan movies of the 1930s-1940s which managed to make the character of a brilliant detective shorthand for an insulting and offensive stereotype. 

But even when Asian-American actors break through in Hollywood they still got shafted. The first Asian-American movie star,  California born Anna May Wong* was beautiful, talented, and denied most of the plum roles she probably deserved.


There were actual laws on the books against the portrayal of interracial romance or "miscegenation."  That meant that she couldn't even kiss a white co-star on screen, even if he was playing an Asian character.

That meant that she was trapped playing stock or stereotyped characters for most of her career.

Those laws are gone, but the narrow casting of Asian actors in Hollywood continues. Also the recent demands for greater diversity in Hollywood also seem to leave them out.

That isn't right.

Hollywood does need to reflect the wider audience, and to ditch a lot of the stereotypes that hold back not only actors, but the art of storytelling.

But that will take effort, and Hollywood isn't known for spending effort, they just prefer to throw money at empty gestures and hope the problem goes away.


*Anna May Wong was also the inspiration for this classic love song…

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Hollywood Babble On & On #1262: Quo Vadis American Crime Story?

Glad to back my loyal readers. I hope you're still out there.


Sorry it's been soooooo long since I last posted. Things have been busy lately. One the up side, I signed a contract with a publisher in Los Angeles for a mystery novel, and my work as chief caregiver for my parents has been taking up most of my time lately since my mother's knee surgery.

Anyway, enough about me, let's talk about movies and TV.

If you've been missing American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, you've been missing a treat. It's been wildly entertaining, and stacked with tons of Emmy worthy performances from the entire cast. I haven't seen a single false note in the acting, and more than a few moments of pure performance bliss.

(The scene where David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian lectures his kids on the emptiness of fame without virtue is pure brilliance. I had to rewind to revel in its satiric glory)

But what to do with Season 2?

Well, it seems that the show's driving force Ryan Murphy wants to take the show in a different direction in Season 2. He wants to take it from covering a true crime story with the sort of intense detail that only a TV series can do, and do a fictional story about people living in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So basically a variation of David Simon's Tremé from HBO, which came and went with some good reviews, but not much in the line of impact.

This seems to be in keeping with Murphy's modus operandi to create a show, deliver really high quality in the first season, then begin whittling away everything people liked about the show in subsequent seasons to diminishing returns in audience satisfaction and ratings. I witnessed this with Murphy's biggest mainstream hit Glee, where my twitter feed went from fans raving about the show, to fans complaining about the show, to fans ignoring the show. The same has happened with his other anthology series American Horror Story, which got raves at the beginning and then faded into a mess of loose narrative strings and steadily declining viewership.

I don't know what happened in the case of Horror Story, but it seems that Crime Story is the victim of a fundamental misunderstanding of the show's success. The people behind the show seem to think that the show's success hinges on issues of race in America.

Like in the real case of O.J. Simpson, race is more of a distraction and an excuse for some decisions than the real heart of the issue. The success of American Crime Story is that they're telling a true story where literally everyone knows the ending so well that it's compelling to watch.

I think there's a market for more true crime, and that Murphy and ACS are fools to just give it up when they've already set themselves up as the gold standard.

Let's look at some cases they could adapt that would be better ideas:

Harry Thaw & Stanford White.  In the 1900s White was a brilliant architect, top dog of New York high society, and an unrepentant lecher. Harry Thaw was the son of nouveau riche industrialists who had the paranoid belief that White had blackballed him from high society, this obsession grew even stronger when he married model and dancer Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been White's mistress when she was a teenager, and may have even been raped by White. This put the already mentally unstable and violently abusive Thaw over the edge and he murdered White in the middle of a nightclub in front of a hundred people.

The trial and its aftermath pretty much birthed the tabloid and scandal culture we have today, and is loaded with so many myths, deceptions, and half-truths it could make compelling viewing. 

Stephanie St. Clair: The Queen of Harlem. This is the story of a woman who came to control the "numbers racket" in Harlem. While Queen she held off the mobsters like the psychopathic Dutch Schultz and became a thorn in the side of corrupt and racist policemen by using her resources to promote civil rights and political reform.

And if business and activism wasn't enough trouble for her, she ended up in a disastrous marriage to a  political activist turned cult leader with messianic and hitlerian tendencies that ended with a gunshot.

The fact that she survived and thrived in these conditions would make a fascinating television show.

You could even cast Travolta as Dutch Schultz, Sterling K. Brown as her right hand Bumpy Johnson, and Courtney B. Vance as St. Clair's charismatic but erratic cult-leader husband Sufi Abdul Hamid who was dubbed the "Black Hitler" by the press.

The Murder of William Desmond Taylor. I wrote a review of the riveting book Tinseltown and I said then that it would make a great series, and I still do.

Anyway, these stories are true and I think they'd really rope in the viewers far better than just another social realist drama about how life is hard in New Orleans.