Podcasts

When I jogged, back in the day, I was alone with my thoughts. I’d think about work. I’d think about what I was writing. I’d practice moving meditation. I’d occasionally trip and fall. This was before running shoes were available on the market and the toes of my Keds would wear out, causing the soles to droop in front and catch in cracks in the sidewalk.

Then came the transistor radio, and if a game was on, it took precedence over thinking.

Then came the Walkman, and thinking was dealt a mortal blow. AM/FM and tape cassette, on a belt. I kept a list of the books on tape that I listened to, just for fun. By the time that I lost the list, it had more than 500 titles on it.

And then came the nano, and iTunes. Books joined thinking as activities several clicks down in my hierarchy of cerebral activities in which to be engaged while out on the hoof.

I still want to think. I want to listen to books. I do listen to a little music. I’m out there for more than two hours a day. But, just as I’ve got a list of Web sites to surf to every day, I’ve also got a list of podcasts that I don’t want to miss. Naturally, the list changes, evolves. It includes 50+ titles.

Uh oh. Metaphor-for-life alert. Time misspent, observing rather than doing? Listening rather than thinking? Ironically, I’m thinking now, but only about thinking. Is that productive thinking? Rats. Now I’m thinking about thinking about thinking, and what you’re thinking. Or wait, am I just observing myself? I tell myself, Listen to yourself! What the hell are you talking about? But that’s not lving life, it’s just analyzing it. Whew. All of a sudden I understand why I like listening to podcasts.

My current favorites:

Sports: Baseball Today; Bill Simmons; Hang Up and Listen

Movies: Filmspotting; The /Filmcast; B-Movie Cast; Kermode/Mayo

Politics: To the Point; Slate’s Political Gabfest; Left, Right, and Center

Other: Slate’s Culture Gabfest; On the Media; Comedy Bang Bang

I’ve also been listening to David Blight’s Yale lectures on the Civil War (iTunes University).

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My Favorite Blogging Topics

I was born and raised high up on the side of a mountain where the sheeps eat their grass. I was quite grown before I met other people. Because of this, my main interest has always been other people and their ways.

My first blogging topic was my family. I wrote all I knew. I got my Uncle Louie arrested and sent away. This was when my folks told me I was dead to them, but I could still live in the house.

My second blogging topic was the neighbors. I wrote a lot about them, until the police made me stop hanging around under their windows.

My third blogging topic was the other kids at school. I wrote a lot about them. When the tragedy happened, I was accused of “bullying.”

My fourth blogging topic was when I was in prison. I wrote about the prisoners, especially the men on death row and what I learned and heard about them. Three of them were executed early because of my blog.

My fifth blogging topic was my wife. Because of firewalls or government laws and regulations or church groups or some other reason, my writings about our sexual life caused protests about behavior “that shamed nature.” My service provider threatened my life.

At this time, I am looking for a new topic. In fact, I’d like to write about  you.

Women over 45 in the movies

From the reader: “Could you explain why there are almost no women over 45 in movies or in magazines that cover the film industry? Has there been an epidemic of some kind that’s wiped out only women over 45 and only in the Greater Los Angeles area? Is this happening to men over 45? And if not, why not? And if you were a woman over 45, where would you live?”

I’ve addressed these issues previously here and here. The reader’s premise is no longer accurate. Female stars are no longer consigned to the movie-star boneyard when they enter their 40s.  Back in the day, female stars lived hard and by the time they were 40, many of them could pass for 60. Today, female stars in their 40s, 50s, and 60s still look great (and of course, can still act, if they could in the first place).

What is true is that strong female parts can be hard to find, and women are less likely to carry a film in Hollywood than are men. Such is not the case in, for example, France.

Some female stars over 40 (I contend that those in the list who are between 40 and 45 will continue to work when they hit 45; there are many in this list who won’t see 60 again; a Sophia Loren or Ursula Andress still has credits in the 2000s):

Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Geneviève Bujold, Charlotte Rampling, Nicole Kidman, Lucy Liu, Laura Linney, Demi Moore, Julia Roberts, Holly Hunter, Meg Ryan, Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Mary McConnell, Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Alfre Woodward, Geena Davis, Stockard Channing, Frances Conroy, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, Angelica Houston, Lily Tomlin, Sarah Palin, Debra Winger, Catherine Deneuve, Signorney Weaver, Isabella Rossallini, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Adjani, Lili Taylor, Jane Curtain, Janeane Garofalo, Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, la Streep, Renee Zellweger, Parker Posey, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Dianne Weist, Blythe Danner, Adrienne Barbeau, Ana Belen, Ann-Margaret, Blythe Danner, Cheryl Ladd, Cheryl Tiegs, Betty White, Ann Savage (sadly deceased, but she made it into My Winnepeg), Cristine Rose, Concha Velasco, Cybill Shepherd, Diane Keaton, Faye Dunaway, Fionnula Flanagan, Gemma Jones, Jaclyn Smith, Helena Rojo, Jacqueline Bisset, Jane Seymour, Jean Smart, Jane Badler, JoBeth Williams, Karen Allen, Kirstie Alley, Linda Gray, Lynda Carter, Mary Kay Place (sister wife!), Morgan Fairchild, Olivia Newton-John, Pam Grier, Peggy Lipton, Raquel Welch, Sally Field, Shelly Long, Sonia Braga, Sophia Loren, Vanessa Redgrave, Ursula Andress, Wendie Malick, Renee Russo, Lena Olin, Jane Fonda, Fanny Ardant, Julie Christie, Tina Turner, Tanya Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Shannon Tweed, Nancy Sinatra, Sela Ann Ward, Rita Wilson, Phylicia Rashad, Mia Farrow, Madonna, Melody Thomas Scott, Melanie Griffith, Kim Cattrall, Julie Newmar, Katie Sagal, Kathy Bates, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Tilly, Jessica Phyllis Lange, Joan Allen, Gena Rowlands, Grace Jones, Cloris Leachman, Debbie Morgan, Debbie Harry, Diahann Carroll, Ellen Rona Barkin, Emma Thompson, Andie MacDowell, Angela Bassett, Annette Bening, Kristin Davis, Emmanuelle Beart, Jennifer Beals, Mariska Hargitay, Carrie-Anne Moss, Mädchen Amick, Marisa Tomei, Madeleine Stowe, Sela Ward, Linda Fiorentino, Tia Carrere, Kristian Alfonso,Teri Hatcher, Sandra Bullock, Julianna Margulies, Ashley Judd, Gina Gershon, Famke Janssen, Caitlin Keats, Phoebe Cates, Kate Walsh, Courteney Cox, Elizabeth Hurley, Sophie Marceau, Salma Hayek, Patricia Valasquez,
Kari Wuhrur, Ayelet Zurer, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Julie Dreyfus, Sofia Vergara, Monica Bellucci, Brooke Langton, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Brooke Shields, Lauren Graham, Vanessa Marcil.

Life in Hollywood: prosecuted compelling equivocal removal favorable

There is a producer, Isaac, with whom I have worked at Universal for years. Isaac has prosecuted a successful career in the industry, with many compelling films to his credit, and few that were equivocal. He’s never faced abrupt and ignominious removal from his office and from the lot, like so many of his peers. His  future prospects are favorable, if not sparkling.

Isaac called me into his office the other day and asked me to do a treatment of an idea he had. Or he had had. Or that he had had. He paced behind his desk.

“The nation is filling up with geezers,” he said. “Even I am becoming a geezer. Let’s cash in on the demo.”

“Sure,” I said.

“E. T.,” Isaac said. “His race, out there in space, they age faster than us. He comes back to Earth, he’s old. He’s a wizened little f**ker. He comes back to find Drew. You remember that other movie Drew was in, where some guy has a Barrymore fan club and he just wants to have lunch with her, and when she finds out, she has lunch with him? Well, with E.T. in this movie, I’m thinking, she doesn’t find out that he’s back and she doesn’t have lunch with him. See, E.T. always had a yen for Drew. Anyway, Universal lets him stay on the lot but he can’t get a meeting, not with Drew, not with Spielberg, not with nobody, nothing, nada, zilch. He’s old news. Nobody cares from this guy. Eventually, he gives up with a broken heart, or whatever he has in there, and walks out the gate. Or gets kicked out. He ends up on the street with Will Smith in that homeless violin movie. Or was that Jamie Foxx? So then E.T. has some street  adventures, you dream up something for him, and meanwhile Drew hears what’s happened and she goes out looking for him. She’s depressed. Maybe she’s not over that breast-reduction she had. She didn’t realize how much she was going to miss them.”

“Geez, Isaac, I don’t know about this.”

“Shut up. Put in a little sex. Howard the Duck got it on in his movie, didn’t he? Did Spielberg show the little guy’s thing at all? E.T. comes back, he’s old, but he’s still human, you know what I mean?”

“Couldn’t he be regular age, maybe six feet, like in Avatar?”

“What, are you crazy? Nobody wants to see Drew shtup a six-foot lizard. What are you thinking? But now, if he’s old and creaky, it’s a Mother Teresa thing. And even old, he could be hung. The geezer demo can still operate. Don’t make this Coccoon. It’s more like The Wrestler meets Thelma Schoonmaker.”

He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a personal checkbook. Scribbled me a check.

“Keep it to yourself,” he said. “These sharks around here, they’ll steal your balls out of your boxers, you let them.”

Life in Hollywood: upset, “ho stroll,” common, money, house keys

It has never upset me to learn that a woman I am seeing is a whore. Over the years, some of my best friends have been whores.  That doesn’t mean that I want to see my current squeeze out on Sepulveda or down on a ho stroll in South L.A. Hey, I’m a script doctor. I’ve got a lot in common with my friends the whores. They need money, I need money, but we’re all a little short right now. Probably more than one woman with my house keys still in her purse is selling it as we speak.

Having said that, there was Tivona. Tivona did a little work in costumes but a lot more with the crew. She didn’t service the stars; she handled all those names you see in the crawl at the end of the movie. Tivona and I liked to share a drink or two, or a toke or a line or a pipe once in a while when we were both free. I liked Tivona and Tivona liked me. We spent some quality body time together too and it didn’t hurt that she was flexible in mind, body, and morals. She also darned a couple of socks for me.

What happened with Tivona was, she was so well liked around the studio that eventually some producer offered her a bit in a summer blockbuster. All she had to do, naturally, was sleep with a couple of executives and the star. So I congratulated her and invited her out to dinner to talk about it.

“I don’t think I should go,” she says.

“What?”

“Well, you know. I’m sort of going with the top line now. I’ve got my ticket. I’m not sure that I should be, you know, consorting with the crew anymore.”

“Tivona. You’re screwing a couple of rich sleazeballs to get a part in a movie. It’s no different than what you’ve been doing around here for months.”

“Please don’t talk like that, Honey. I’m an actress now.”

“You’ve been acting for years, if you know what I mean.”

“Don’t be coarse. I’ll get you tickets to the premier.”

“I don’t want the premier. I want your rear.”

But I didn’t get it. Tivona (not her real name, by the way) is a real star now, with the public romances and the adopted babies and the home in Malibu and the fancy wheels. All I get from her on the set is a wink.

Life in Hollywood: moment, woman, grand, reassembled, misunderstand

Harry likes to call me on the spur of the moment. He’ll have a woman and his poker buddies waiting for him in Vegas at the MGM Grand and I’ll drive him over from L.A. When we arrive, I’ll find the boys reassembled in Harry’s suite, ready for action, and the girl sitting at his wet bar. I always grumble when he asks, but don’t misunderstand. I never regret helping him out.

Just to be clear, Harry is not Willie Nelson. Harry is an older, grizzled star like Willie. Harry sings like Willie. He spends time in Hawaii like Willie (who lives there). Harry smokes cigars and a lot of weed. He loves poker, like Willie. Willie, however, focuses on life and poker in Paia with the other members of his rat pack there: Don Nelson, Owen Wilson, and Woody Harrelson. Harry lives up on Mulholland Drive. The poker rooms in their homes, Willie’s  and Harry’s, aren’t so very different, though.

Harry doesn’t like to fly and he doesn’t like to drive his own car. I’ve been his gofer on a number of movies over the years and he’s happy to ride shotgun with me behind the wheel. He insists that I be sober both ways, so our little road trips provide me with an opportunity to dry out a little. When the traffic is reasonable, the trip takes five hours, more or less. On this latest occasion, I told Harry that I had to be back on set in two days, no matter what. Harry said we wouldn’t be gone that long.

He seemed unusually excited this time around. He ran off at the mouth all the way to Nevada. His arch enemy Sid was coming to the game, and Sid always got Harry going. Harry and Sid are the best of an excellent group of poker players. They’ve taken a lot of money off the others in the group, and Sid has taken a lot of money off Harry. This time, Harry said, he had a secret weapon. He wouldn’t say more.

We checked into the Grand and in no time at all Harry had a blond bimbo on his arm, his girl for the trip. He squired her around, showing her off to hotel staff and punters he knew from all over. Harry’s wife never made the trip.

The poker game, once it started, progressed as it often does when Harry and Sid are after each other and in top form. By the time the sun came up, after no more than twelve hours of play, the two of them were alone at the table in the suite. The rest of us were spectators. Once head-to-head, they switched to seven card stud exclusively. Old school. After an hour of play, Harry was already on the rocks. He sat back in his chair.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said. He gestured toward the house phone. “Get the doc down here.”

A young Asian physician appeared, gave Harry a onceover, and told him to stop playing.

“I won’t stop,” Harry said.

“Don’t be an idiot, ” Sid said. “I’m not playing a sick man.”

“Then forfeit your chips,” Harry said.

“You ain’t that sick.”

Harry rubbed his face. He groaned.

“Let my girl take over for me,” he said. “Just until I get myself back together.”

Sid’s eyebrows shot up. He looked over at the bimbo. He looked back at Harry.

“Who is she?” he said.

“That’s Reba,” Harry said. “Reba, come over here.”

Reba came over. I pushed a chair forward and she sat down at the table next to Harry. Sid stared at her.

“Harry, you dog,” Sid said. “You’re throwing in a ringer. You think she’s better than either of us? Or is she a mechanic?”

“Look at her,” Harry said.

She was not prepossessing.

“Take off the dark glasses,” Sid said to her.

She took off the glasses.

“Take off the wig,” he said.

She looked at Harry.

“Go ahead, Baby,” he said.

She took off the wig. She had a mousey little noggin.

“You know her?” Harry said.

Sid shook his head.

“If she were any good, you’d know her?” Harry said.

“Sure.”

“Well, then. Play cards.”

“Watch her hands,” Sid said to the rest of us. “Watch her like a hawk.”

Mort had been dealing for Sid and Harry. Sid tossed his ante into the center of the table and motioned to Mort.

“I’ll explain the rules to you,” Harry said to Reba, “but then I’ve got to get my feet up on the couch for a little bit.”

Sid barked a laugh.

“Right,” he said. “She don’t know the rules.”

Apparently, she didn’t. The game progressed in fits and starts. Reba truly seemed ignorant of the game, not to mention of any strategy or tactical subtleties. She played a conservative game and Sid took her money slowly, shaking his head and rolling his eyes as he did so.

Harry had moved back to a sofa from which he watched the action. And slowly, strangely, Reba began to win. The pots got bigger. Mort handed over the cards to Jacob, but Sid’s luck did not change. By lunchtime, he was wiped out. Reba was modest in her success but Harry wasn’t. He crowed and then he crowed some more.

“I know I’ve been snookered,” Sid said. “Tell me how and it’s worth it to me. She didn’t cheat. I’d bet on that.”

“She didn’t cheat,” Harry said. “She’s a sweet kid and a freak of nature. I’ll let you stew until next time and then I’ll explain what happened.”

Sid fussed, but he had a story to eat out on and a revelation to look forward to. On the way back to L.A., Harry told me about Reba.

“Did you ever  play that game with a little kid where you put your hands behind your back and put a penny in one of them, and then you hold your hands out in front of you and the little kid tries to guess which hand has the penny? Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t but if you want them to get it, you can sort of move that hand closer to them and they’ll pick it. And then it’s their turn and they hold their two hands out and you start to point and they’ll sort of move the empty hand toward your finger, so you always choose the empty hand if you’re not a complete schmuck? You ever do that?”

I shrugged.

“Well, if you play that game with Reba, she’ll always pick the hand with the penny and you never will. It’s not telepathy. She can read body tells by instinct, without thinking, instantly. You hold your hands out and if you want her to pick the empty hand, she can tell just by your tiny movements which hand you want her to pick. Like you were that little kid. We keep doing the same thing when we grow up, only just, you know, a tiny little bit. Of course you’ve got to care or it doesn’t work. When she holds out her hands, you’ve got to want to pick the hand with the penny, and if you do, she’ll get you to pick the empty hand, again, sort of like the kid does, by signalling which hand is empty, and then you go along without even knowing it. Or if you want to pick the empty hand in the first place, to score point with her by letting her win, because you’ve got designs on her, you’ll keep finding that damn penny every time she opens her hand, with her grinning at you and saying My aren’t you the lucky fellow, I guess I just can’t win. Do you follow me?”

I shrugged again.

“Sid cared. On every hand,” Harry said. “He wanted to take her money.”

“But wouldn’t she still make dumb bets?”

“That’s the beauty of it! In the beginning, with small bets, she could afford to play like a beginner, which she was, because that allowed Sid to judge her ability and informed his behavior in subsequent hands. After that, Reba didn’t play her cards. She played Sid, always doing the opposite of what he wanted her to do or hoped that she would do. Sid kept trying, harder and harder, raising the bets higher and higher, but he was actually beating himself by telling Reba how to bet the opposite of what he wanted. Because he’s a hell of a player and if she bet his way, he was going to win for sure.”

“How’d you meet her?” I said.

“She’s a shrink at a rehab clinic in Woodland Hills. Spend a week with her and you’re off your jones for a month. A week for a month. Keep her in mind. Sooner or later, you’re going to need her.”

Movies I’ve decided not to see

Movies are loved, some by God, some by Satan, all by the director’s mom. If you decide not to watch one, you better have a good reason, because you’re bound to piss off somebody with your decision.

Some years ago, I embarked on the task of watching all of the movies on the IMDB Top 250 list, as it was constituted at the time (it changes a lot). I completed the task, with the exception of nine films, all of which I watched part of (all of which I watched in part). I propose to list those nine films, which I desperately wanted to watch but on some level decided not to (but decided not to on some level), plus Titanic. Perhaps by studying this list, I can form a general rule about the movies that I watch and the movies that I don’t watch.

1. Titanic

2. The Lion King

3. Scarface

4. Grave of the Fireflies

Hmm. The rest of the nine are gone, bumped off the list by other films. Running my eyes over the current 250 entries, I’m reminded that it’s a profoundly silly list (#76, Raging Bull; #75, The Green Mile).

Plan B… I’ll fill out my list with films from the 250 that I don’t suppose I’ll ever see.

5. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

6. How to Train Your Dragon

7. Black Swan

Still need three more. Ok, first three I can think of:

8. That Robin Williams movie about the doctor in a clown suit

9. Sex in the City, 1 & 2

10. The Passion of the Christ

I thought I’d never watch Howard the Duck and Death to Smoochy, but then someone turned me on to them and I did watch them and I liked them. I was never going to watch the second or third Transformers, but I just read a review by a woman who liked them both, so… This list of ten is fungible. No, fungible means that I could swap in ten other movies easily, so it’s fungible in that sense, but also, the ten entries here could change polarity at some point, after being praised by someone on /Filmcast, for example, and move to that other list of movies, that I desire to watch.

Basic reasons I don’t want to watch these movies:

1. Titanic – The boat sinks and almost everybody drowns. Cameron tries to sneak around this by showcasing a survivor up front. Doesn’t help. I don’t want to put in two hours watching only to have everybody drown on me. At least with The Poseiden Adventure, you got to guess who would make it and who wouldn’t.

2. The Lion King – I’ve got nothing against lions. A guy down the block kept a lion in his house til it killed him.

3. Scarface – Pacino. Did he have the scar? The part I watched, I can’t remember the scar. Did anybody call him Scarface to his scar, I mean, to his face?

4. Grave of the Fireflies – I only got 1/3 of the way through this one before my unsuccessful suicide attempt.

5. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring – This might be a great movie, but there are so many Chinese movies that I haven’t seen, that if they passed me at the rate of one per minute, and in that minute I could watch the whole movie, I’d never come to the end of them because they are being made and are entering post-production even faster than that.

6. How to Train Your Dragon – I was going to say something about a young dragon and her training bra but this is a family blog.

7. Black Swan – I saw a swan the other day. If you notice, all the other birds give swans a wide berth, because they really are crazy, black and white. Maybe not as crazy as a loon, but they’ll spring a hissy fit in a heartbeat if the bread that you throw them is even half-stale.

8. That Robin Williams movie about the doctor in a clown suit – When I was in the fourth grade, we took a tour of a funeral home and the embalmer was dressed as a clown. This was supposed to make us laugh when they showed us the corpse they were working on. It didn’t.

9. Sex in the City, 1 & 2 – False advertising.

10. The Passion of the Christ – I was going to watch this one with my Sunday School class, but instead I had a chance to see a private screening of a phone video clip of Mel Gibson, drunk,  beating his wife with a Torah yad. That seemed sufficient.