David Gergen, a respected right-of-center establishment and political consultant, has said in so many words that in emphasizing the “other”-ness of Obama, the McCain campaign is making a “very intentional effort to paint him” in racially-coded terms. “The McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it,” be began, “but it’s a subtext of the campaign…everybody knows it. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you when you see the big Charlton Heston ad, ‘the one’…that is code for ‘he’s uppity, he oughta stay in the place.’
“You know…everybody gets that who’s from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, ‘I’m against quotas’…we get what that’s about. We understand where that’s coming from. That gets across.”
Cue the Hollywood Elsewhere naysaying righties to find some way to spin this in another direction. C’mon, guys — ball’s in your court. We know you can do it. Guys?
It’s fairly well known that in Tropic Thunder (Dreamamount, 8.13), Robert Downey, Jr. plays an extremely pretentious, Oscar-winning actor named Kirk Lazarus who decides to not just “play” a black guy but almost literally become one by changing his skin color and other physical attributes. One result has been is that some of the African-American “slow kids” have taken offense at his performance. Here’s an mp3 of Downey explaining the thinking behind the role, the genesis of it, and so on at today’s Tropic Thunder press junket.
Four Seasons hotel, 2nd floor, 11:20 am
A journalist at the round table actually asked Downey “how is this performance different from 19th Century blackface?” Downey said, “Well, first it’s entertainment set up by people who are high minded enough so the film won’t be racist or offensive. Second, the whole film is based on the idea that what [our characters] do on some level is offensive and who we are on some level is despicable and pathetic. Which is the truth and not the truth. But the part of it that’s the truth is entertaining. How far-reaching can someone’s narcissism go?”
Before accepting the Lazarus role, Downey sifted it all through. “You check your gut and ask, you know, do I feel like the universe is going to support this?” Going into a standup riff, he said that “for a moment I was thinking ‘fuck Ben Stiller…[here is coming to me saying] I want to do a great big movie with you, but I want you to have the highest risk factor and I want to maybe put you up for ridicule and have people, like, hate you for something you should have known was fucking wrong to do.
“We were in rehearsal and I said, if Kirk Lazarus has himself unde the imropession that he’s black but he’s coming up against an emotional interface with a black man….what’s entertaining about this? Just about nothing. So I said, the only thing he knows about black culture as an Australian…is what everybody who doesn’t know anything about black culture but has put themselves under the impression that they know, is that he knows some stuff from some shows…from the ’70s.” He meant The Jeffersons, characters in Across 110th Street, Isaac Hayes.
Downey also indicated his political leanings. To men, anyway. “I’m not a political person by design, but where we’re at as a country, which is often where things are on a global scale…we’re on a precipice where there can be a lot of healing and advancement or things can…out of fear or design or negligence, things can kind of go in a lousy way or stay stuck…and that’s kind of on the menu for the next few months.”
Again — here’s my recording of Downey’s chit-chat
What’s profoundly depressing about the current chapter in the presidential election race is that the smart, informed, semi-educated segment has pretty much made up its mind about Obama vs. McCain, and from here to November the race is necessarily about appealing to the asleep-at-the-wheel types — under- educated podunks, racists, citizens of Bumblefuck, slow on the pickup.
And these people — say it, admit it — have a way of bringing everyone down that is truly relentless and numbing. They’re basically the slow, scowling pudgy guy in the back of the class who rarely does his homework, is always scratching himself and smells like he’s just scarfed down some fast-food chicken.
In her 8.3 N.Y. Times column, Maureen Dowd has portrayed this sinister situation by the lights of Jane Austen:
“In this political version of Pride and Prejudice, the prejudice is racial, with only 31 percent of white voters telling The New York Times in a survey that they had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with 83 percent of blacks.
“And the prejudice is visceral: many Americans, especially blue collar, still feel uneasy about the Senate’s exotic shooting star, and he is surrounded by a miasma of ill-founded and mistaken premises.
“So the novelistic tension of the 2008 race is this: Can Obama overcome his pride and Hyde Park hauteur and win America over?
“Can America overcome its prejudice to elect the first black president? And can it move past its biases to figure out if Obama’s supposed conceit is really just the protective shield and defense mechanism of someone who grew up half white and half black, a perpetual outsider whose father deserted him and whose mother, while loving, sometimes did so as well?
“Can Miss Bennet teach Mr. Darcy to let down his guard, be more sportive, and laugh at himself?”
Roger Ebert was mixed on the original The Mummy (’99), which I hated with with every last fibre of my being. Ebert was “not pleased with The Mummy Returns (’01). And yet he recently called the latest version, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, “the best in the series.” At the end of his review, he writes, “Now why did I like this movie? It was just plain dumb fun, is why. It is absurd and preposterous, and proud of it.”
I really and truly consider all three Mummy movies (the first two directed by Stephen Sommers, who produced the current installment) a blight upon our souls. It is industrial-strength pollution in the American cultural river. Giving a pass to these movies is like blowing a kiss to the devil himself.
Here it is August 3rd and Hollywood Elsewhere, a reasonably hip, zetigeist- appraising, industry pulse-taking site, is only just waking up to Don’t Forget to Validate Your Parking. I’m speaking of the brilliant, extremely well written webcomic by screenwriter and “movie executive” Mike Le that’s been going since last December. I missed Cory Doctorow‘s Boing Boing link last January because I don’t read Boing Boing so whatever, sue me, I do what I can.
All I know is that Le’s dialogue feels natural and well-timed in a deadpan, GenY-ish Doonesbury vein, and that he knows from Hollywood suck-up psychology. And from bitterness, cynicism, hunger and desperate, under-educated phonies. I laughed out loud twice this morning, and I’m not a laugh-out-louder. (Mainly a heh-heh type.)
“Don’t Forget To Validate Your Parking is a webcomic written and illustrated by Mike Le, the American screenwriter and movie executive,” says the DFTVYP Wikipedia page. “Officially launched on December 11th, 2007 and published roughly once a week, the webcomic is loosely based on the author’s experiences working in Hollywood. Don’t Forget To Validate Your Parking’s initial popularity was limited to Hollywood insiders as it was passed around through internal work emails and private tracking boards”
“The only main character is a drawn version of the author sitting behind his laptop and on the phone. All supporting characters are expressed through dialogue, usually as a voice on the phone. The tone of the webcomic is comedic, satirical, and ironic.”
22 words to have, keep and hold: “You can tell how far your life and career will go based on the five people you spend the most time with.”
Yesterday morning’s calculation was that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor would nudge out The Dark Knight by $2 million or so — a slight but decisive margin. That equation has now gone south. The Bat is king again.
Fantasy Moguls Steve Mason has reversed his cards and is now saying The Dark Knight will finish the weekend with $44.8 million (a mere 40% drop) vs. $42.5 million for the Mummy. What happened, it would appear, is that the negative Mummy word started to spread on Friday night and that’s what took it down.
The unfunny Step Brothers has come in third with $15.5 million for a cume of $62.16 million. Mamma Mia is up to $88 million with a with $13.1 million haul and a fourth-place showing. Swing Vote has died with a $7 million haul, which, barring a groundswell miracle, means won’t even make $20 million by the end of the domestic run.
“This raucous, low-down commentary on Hollywood filmmaking, war movies, narcissistic actors and the thin line between make-believe and reality is the most giddily entertaining, wickedly smart and cinematically satisfying comedy in a season overloaded with yuk-’em-ups. If there’s any justice, Tropic Thunder should be the breakthrough moment for Stiller as a director.” — from David Ansen‘s review/interview piece (dated 8.2) in Newsweek.
Having seen Tropic Thunder (twice), Michael Cieply‘s statement in an 8.2 N.Y. Times article that Paramount executives are facing “the delicate task of selling what may be the raunchiest comedy yet in a summer that has seen more than its share” seems bizarre. The film isn’t raunchy at all; it’s merely extreme. And that’s an appropriate tone given (a) the necessity of any comedy to push the envelope to at least some degree, and (b) the extremities (emotional, psychedelic, whatever) that are expected from any film dealing with the Vietnam war.
The scene in which director-cowriter-star Ben Stiller “slurps gore from a human head” is, no lie, fairly funny. Ditto Robert Downey Jr. wearing blackface throughout (although the humor is in Downey’s vocal attempts to sound “black”). And the extended gag about “Hollywood’s weakness for what they impolitely call retards,” as Ceiply puts it, is about the rules that actors and Hollywood directors have followed in portraying characters with disabilities.
How are the Thunder guys supposed to refer to these characters? As mentally or emotionally “challenged”? As “handicapped”? The word “retard” is funny; the others are not.
This Valkyrie website promo reel is fine and so is Bill Nighy‘s statement to MTV.com that Bryan Singer‘s film is “honest and serious” and rarin’ to go on the next Valentine’s Day (“Take your date to see a movie about killing Hitler!”). But if you ask me…okay, nobody’s likely to ask me anything but if they did I’d say newly arrived MGM/UA marketing chief Mike Vohlman needs to do two things to keep the fire going over the next six and a half months.
One, he needs to release more Valkyrie stills to the various sites as I’ve been looking at the same three Valkyrie photos for I-don’t-know-how-many-months. And two, he needs to start showing Valkyrie to some friendly columnists and top-tier critics sometime in the mid fall with the understanding that if they like it, it might be cool to post an early review (or two or three) in late November or early December.
A Boston-residing friend of Jett’s was watching a replay of Fox & Friends around 9:30 this morning and saw a segment in which they got into the Jon Voight thing and in so doing mentioned yours truly two or three times.
If anyone happened to TIVO this segment, perhaps they could capture and post in You Tube and send along the URL? Something along these lines?
Listen to Voight, by the way, tell the Fox & Friends guys that “two and half million people were slaughtered in Cambodia and Vietnam” as a result of U.S. troops pulling out of Vietnam.
Uhhm, wrong. To my knowledge there was no massive slaughter in South Vietnam at all at the hands of the North Vietnamese after the takeover in ’75. The slaughter that did occur — approximately 1.5 million to 2 million people in Cambodia — happened at the hands of the Khymer Rouge, the paramilitary communist force that ruled Cambodia from ’75 to ’79 under the leadership of Pol Pot. It’s been argued, however, that U.S. bombing of Cambodia strengthened the hand of the Khmer Rouge. Voight’s claim that our abandoning Vietnam in ’75 led to two and half million deaths is therefore, due respect, an ignorant understanding.
“The relation between the massive carpet bombing of Cambodia by the United States and the growth of the Khmer Rouge, in terms of recruitment and popular support, has been a matter of interest to historians,” says Wikipedia’s Khmer Rouge page. “In 1984 Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia argued that it is ‘untenable’ to assert that the Khmer Rouge would not have won but for U.S. intervention and that while the bombing did help Khmer Rouge recruitment, they ‘would have won anyway.’ 
“However, more recently historians have cited the U.S. intervention and bombing campaign (spanning 1965-1973) as a significant factor leading to increased support of the Khmer Rouge among the Cambodian peasantry. Historian Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen have used a combination of sophisticated satellite mapping, recently unclassified data about the extent of bombing activities, and peasant testimony, to argue that there was a strong correlation between villages targeted by U.S. bombing and recruitment of peasants by the Khmer Rouge.
“Kiernan and Owen argue that ‘civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began.”  In his 1996 study of Pol Pot’s rise to power, Kiernan argued that ‘Pol Pot’s revolution would not have won power without U.S. economic and military destabilization of Cambodia’ and that the U.S. carpet bombing ‘was probably the most significant factor in Pol Pot’s rise.’ 
In a 8.1 piece called “Gold Derby Meets Roller Derby,” Awards Daily‘s Ryan Adams slammed The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil for his diva-behavior piece on Frozen River‘s Melissa Leo. It ran 260 words. This morning (8.2) O’Neil responded with a shoot-back (“Awards Daily makes an assassination attempt on Gold Derby! Is This War?”) and a windy defense of himself and his professional rep. It ran about 2000 words.