“By the historical standards of presidential hubris, Barack Obama’s disingenuous defense of his tone-deaf invitation to Rick Warren is a relatively tiny infraction,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Frank RIch in his usual Sunday column. “It’s no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history.
“Since he’s not about to rescind the invitation, what happens next? For perspective, I asked Timothy McCarthy, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an unabashed Obama enthusiast who served on his campaign’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council. He responded via e-mail on Christmas Eve.
“After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that ‘it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.’ This means Warren should ‘recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.’
“McCarthy added that it’s also time ‘for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.’ And ‘for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”
“Amen. Here’s to humility and equanimity everywhere in America, starting at the top, as we negotiate the fierce rapids of change awaiting us in the New Year.”
So if the cash-strapped N.Y. Times sells its stake in the Boston Red Sox for $150 to $200 million, this won’t be enough to get the paper through ’09, but “it should buy it some additional breathing room,” says the Silicon Valley Insider‘s Henry Blodgett . And they could pocket another $300 to $400 million if they sell the Boston Globe and About.com. A total between $450 to $600 million.
This additional cash “would allow the company to meet its cash needs until mid-2010,” the story says. “By then, however, if current business trends continue and the company hasn’t slashed costs, the news operations will be burning cash fast.” On 12.9 Blodgett estimated that the Times will need $214 million to make ends meet in ’09, $546 million in ’10, and $500 million in ’11. A grand total of $1,260,000,000.
Face it, guys — you’re going to have to Sam Zell yourselves and then some to keep body and soul together. I hate to say it, but a lot more staffers are going to have to work from home, and the print edition may have to fall by the wayside within two or three years, if not sooner. The main thing is to keep as much of the Times editorial team intact as possible, by hook or by crook, and not to weaken the operation by shelling out for ceremonial comforts.
Three days ago Jamie Lee Curtis published a HuffPost piece called “It Is A Wonderful Life.” It’s one of the most inspiring responses to the economic trouble we’re all facing that I’ve read since Election Day.
The gist is that too many of us have become drunk on lifestyle comforts over the last 20 or 25 years, wrapped up in them to the point of isolation and neurosis, living inside (and keeping life out of) our SUVs, McMansions, iPhones and whatnot. And that the severe economic downturn that we’re all going to suffer through for the next couple of years will be kind of a good thing in that it will force us to come out out of our cocoons and eat less and engage and share and generally pay less attention to the idiot wind.
Curtis is right, of course. The next two years (perhaps a bit less or more) are not going to be pleasant in a Great Gatsby/Louis Quatorze sense of the term, but material abundance has never done much for anyone’s soul. I think we’ll all come out of this period in a richer spiritual place than we’re all sharing and feeling right now. The big-feast way that comfortable middle-classers have been living in this country has been appalling me for years — too much food, too many toys and drugs, too many video screens, homes that are way too large and lavish, cars that guzzle way too much gas, etc.
“Many Americans are now feeling that pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization of financial loss and despair,” Curtis writes, “and many are facing financial ruin. Many men and women are feeling the shame and fear and anguish. I’m sure many have wondered if the world would be better off without them, that the judgments made about subprime loans and the lies that they were fed about them, were their fault and failures — theirs alone. They are not alone.
“I don’t know if we should bail out the broken auto industry. Now that gas is back down are we all going to go back to business as usual? Go out and buy a big guzzler just to keep the broken thing creaking along. Is that real help? I don’t know. Is loading up our plastic really going to help? Is debt the answer? I don’t think so.
“What I do know is that we are fat. Obese. See WALL*E. That is the future. We have fat lifestyles, fat habits, fat minds and arteries. Last week, Obama said that it was going to get worse but that we would emerge, leaner and meaner. I don’t think lean is mean — it just rhymes. Lean is healthy. Most of us eat too much, super-sized lives and meals. My four words to a better life, brand new, self-help/beauty/how-to book is being published right here on the Huffington Post, downloadable for free — right here, right now.
“Eat Less, Move More.
“What this crisis is going to do is bring us into financial alignment. Families may have to live together again! What a concept. Grandparents will live with their grown children and help raise their grandchildren — even at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Neighbors are going to meal-share and carpool and child care for each other and maybe even rent out parts of homes to other families. Less meat, more beans. Might be better for you anyway. Less indoor gym workouts and more walking, more park time, more family outdoor time.
“Obama promised change. Change comes from truth. Jung said, ‘Only that which changes, remains true.’ But as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ Can you? Can you handle the change? You can if you understand that you are not alone, but that we can handle anything together.”.
“I’ve been wondering what film WALL*E might pick off for a Best Picture nod. I’m guessing Frost/Nixon is the low-hanging fruit, huh? How long until we start seeing those articles? A Best Picture race of The Dark Knight, WALL*E, Benjamin Button, Milk and…shudder… Slumdog Millionaire would almost be respectable. Even if it consists of too much lesser work by a lot of good people.” — HE reader “KB,” posted a little while ago.
Marley and Me did $13.8 million yesterday — a very strong showing — and is projected to earn $38.3 million for the three-day weekend. Benjamin Button did about $9 million yesterday with a projected $27.9 million for the three-day weekend. Since it did around $12 million on Xmas Day, a good hold would have been about a million or so more than that, so $9 million isn’t all that terrific.
Adam Sandler ‘s Bedtime Stories did $9.7 million, $27.3 million projected. And the fourth-place Valkyrie made about $8.1 million yesterday with $22 million projected by Sunday night.
Jim Carrey‘s Yes Man did $5.9 million yesterday, projected to pull down $16.7 million for the weekend. Now sitting at close to a $50 million cume. Okay, not sensational. Will Smith’s Seven Pounds did $4.7 million yesterday, projecting $13.8 million by Sunday night — now approaching $40 million cume, not that great for a Will Smith film.
The limited release Doubt did 1.8 million, $5.8 million for the three-day weekend. Playing in1200 theatres, a little over $4 thousand a print…fair, so-so. Meryl Streep ‘s Best Actress Oscar nomination (along with Viola Davis‘s nom for Best Supporting Actress) will help matters in January.
Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino did $746,000 yesterday in about 84 situations and $28,000 a print. Projecting about $2.2 million. The film’s wide break is right after the 1st of the year. The film plays, has legs, will do well in ’09.
Milk is doing fair — a weekend tally of $1.8 million, $5900 a print, in about 300 theatres. Frost/Nixon isn’t doing much at all — 200 theatres, projecting about $1.5 million for the weekend. Revolutionary Road opened well in three theatres — about $213,000, $71,000 a print.
Last Chance Harvey will do about $15,000 a print and $94,000 for the weekend in six theatres. That’s not much.
The reputation of the shameless Ben Lyons, the 27 year-old co-host of At The Movies who’s become infamous over the last four months as probably the least knowledgable and perceptive high-profile movie critic of the 21st Century, as well as a passionate practitioner of kneepad love in the service of the Hollywood entertainment machine, has finally stirred the interest of the L.A. Times entertainment section.
Chris Lee‘s 12.28 piece, called “Critic Ben Lyons Gets Many Thumbs Down” (with a subhead stating that “the new At the Movies reviewer’s detractors find him a celeb-loving shill for film marketers“), is well and wisely written — but what took the Times so long to run it? Much of Lee’s article cherry-picks from what various online voices have been saying for a long while.
Voices like efilmcritic’s Erik Childress (Lyons’ “integrity is out the window… everyone thinks he’s a joke”), Defamer‘s Stu VanAirsdale, myself, Variety‘s Anne Thompson, Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert and blogger Scott Johnson and his stopbenlyons.com.
Lyons’ fame, reach and success are emblematic, Lee states, “of the drastic transformation of film criticism. Long gone are the times when a vaunted single critic such as the New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael could inject a film into the national consciousness with a single positive review. These days, moviegoers are just as apt to check a movie’s rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the popular movie-review aggregating website, as to read an actual review from a major news organization.
“Worse, with readership plummeting, newspapers and magazines have had to drastically thin their ranks of critics. [And] movie marketing has never been more pervasive, and many studio summer blockbusters are now described as ‘critic proof,’ meaning that negative reviews do nothing to affect the box office.
“In this light, Lyons’ ascension to the ‘throne’ of televised film criticism has come to represent something more than just the changing of the guard — many view it as yet another example of the dumbing-down of media and of celebrity triumphing over substance.”
But let’s be candid — Lyons wouldn’t have been hired if Disney suits hadn’t decided that America’s moviegoing culture has massively dumbed itself down over the past 25 or 30 years — that your average movie patron has become much ditzier, shallower, stupider and less interested in intelligent (or semi-intelligent) adult-level movies than they were in the ’70s and ’80s, when the original Siskel and Ebert movie-reviewing show debuted, found its footing and became something of a mass-market hit.
My favorite Ben Lyons dissings, in no particular order:
(1) “Sarah Palin is the Ben Lyons of the Republican Party and Ben Lyons is the Sarah Palin of film criticism.” — attributed either to HE reader “Dobbsy” or efilmcritic’s Erik Childress.
(2) “Lyons is to film criticism what Chris Paolini is for literature, what Sanjaya is to music, and what Tiffany is to Hulk Hogan‘s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.” — HE reader “JERMS guy.”
(3) “I don’t like Lyons because you can tell right off the bat that he’s too much of a glider and a gladhander. Plus he went to school with Ivanka Trump. Plus he once called Nikki Blonsky his good buddy. Plus he’s going out with Whitney Port. Plus there’s something inauthentic about a supposed film maven who plays golf.
“Golf has its own spiritual kwan and undercurrent, of course, but 90% of the people who play it do so because they want to schmooze their way into power. Golf courses and clubhouses are havens for conservative-minded ex-fraternity guys who love wearing those awful pink and salmon-colored Tommy Hilfiger polo shirts and trading insider info with their pallies over mixed drinks after the game. You can’t serve golf and movies any more than you can serve God and Rome. They represent entirely different theologies.” — myself in a July 2008 piece called “The Two Bens.”
(4) “Since a capacity to utilize language is usually linked to capacity to think, sentences in which Lyons called Body of Lies ‘overtly complex'”, when the context of its use clearly shows that he meant ‘overly complex’ and calling Miracle at St. Anna a ‘classic of epic and scope’ clearly indicate that he is barely mentally qualified to watch, at most, a summer action film, much less critique one. What the hell is a ‘classic of epic and scope’ anyways? What the hell does that fragment even mean?” — HE reader JustThisGuy.
(5) “Ben Lyons sat down next to me at [a] Towelhead screening. And I lost any respect I had for him as a televised film critic right then and there. Because he obviously hadn’t studied his predecessor’s guide to filmgoing etiquette. Lyons remained on his cell phone for the entire duration of Towelhead. While he wasn’t talking on the phone, he did spend most of the two hour running time click-typing out texts. His head was continuously pulled down, face away from the screen. His zombie-like eyes bathed in that annoying bright blue light. He then later went on to give the film a ‘Don’t See It’ review on his show.” — anonymous movieweb guy.
(6) “If Jeffrey Lyons was nails on a blackboard, then his douchebag son Ben is the sound of rabbits being slaughtered, or whatever it is they use on all of the detainees at Gitmo. He is everything I hate about everything: smug, talentless, boring and the beneficiary of garden variety nepotism. And he probably does get mad squack, which is why I want him dead. Dead. I hope he reads this (right) and becomes upset, if only for a moment, at the idea that there is someone out there who wants to see his lights snuffed out, because I’m pretty sure that he gets his balls licked all day long. If I saw him crossing the street I would accelerate.” — HE reader “Milkman.”