Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hollywood Abhors a Vacuum

Or why multiplex theaters may be the death of quality cinema.

When I was growing up in Richmond, Virginia there were four old-style, single-screen movie theaters (Byrd, Capitol, Lowe’s and Willow Lawn Shopping Center).  Although I cursed the fact that Sound of Music played for almost a year at the only one within walking distance, the other three offered movies which generally received Academy Award nominations or critical acclaim.  Sometimes you had to wait for a movie to come to town, but the anticipation was worth it.

Today we have multiplex theaters with as many as 30 screens.  The trend began in 1979 with the first 18 screen multiplex, soon followed by a 25-screen version which became known as a megaplex. There are advantages to this trend.  Even though screens have shrunk in size, improvements in sound and digital projection add to the viewing experience.  Blockbuster hits playing on multiple screens ensure available seats (though this never seemed to be a problem in classical theaters with as many 1500 seats compared to the average 300 seats in multiplex theaters).  Multiple showings do have the advantage of more flexible starting times.

Unfortunately, each benefit derived from multiplex theaters comes with a cost, the most obvious being the need to fill each screen with content regardless of quality.  Take a look at the movies with the ten highest box office receipts this past weekend (Source: Box Office Mojo).  Only four of the ten received a majority of positive reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes.  Take a closer look and you shouldn’t be surprised.

Six of the ten are sequels: Find Dory, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Conjuring 2, Now You See Me 2,  X-Men Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

The Shallows is a Jaws derivative.

Central Intelligence is one more buddy movie drawing on the star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart.

Warcraft (the lowest rated at 30 percent) is a spin-off of a popular video game.

Free State of Jones, an adaptation of the book of the same name, is the only “fresh face” on the top ten.  According to the critics, while the film had huge potential “it is not enough to make up for its stilted treatment of a fascinating real-life story.”  (NOTE: I have not seen it, but wonder if there is a scene in which Matthew McConaughey encourages former slaves to seek freedom by beating on his chest and shouting, “All right!  All right!”)

When you have so much space to fill, the priority becomes marketing instead of quality cinema.  Look at the 2015 films with the three highest box office receipts: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World & Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Star Wars  is a special case, but alone spent over $66 million on TV advertising.  And it paid off pulling in over $2 billion in box office receipts not to mention the residuals from Star Wars toys and other paraphernalia. Can you imagine what a studio would do with Gone With The Wind today?  Would we see Scarlett and Rhett Barbie Dolls? Or Ashley Wilkes action figures?

So here’s my question?  If there were fewer multiplexes would more people have gone to see the following 2016 Oscar nominees (box office ranking):  Spotlight (62nd), The Big Short (44th), Brooklyn (70th) or Bridge of Spies (42nd)?  There is a more disturbing question.  Who is responsible for this trend in cinema quality?  Risk averse major movie studios who rely on movies which follow a tried and true box office formula or the audiences who keep paying to see them?  The answer is probably BOTH.

For what it’s worth.

Walk of Shame Nominees

At the end of Season V of “Game of Thrones,” former King’s Landing queen Cersei Lannister was subjected to the “walk of shame” for her transgressions against the religious cult which was positioning itself to turn the Seven Kingdoms into a theocracy.  The “walk” consisted of being paraded naked from the temple to the royal palace during which townspeople shoved and spat on her while they repeated the word, “Shame!”

Fortunately, we live in a society which does not allow such barbaric rituals.  However, there are occasions in which public shaming is justified.  This week, media leads the list of nominees for the Walk of Shame Award.

The most obvious case is CNN’s decision to hire deposed Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to be an election year “commentator.”  My question is, “If CNN existed during the rise of the Third Reich, would Jeff Zucker, CNN president, have hired Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, to join their election coverage.”  [Dear Reader: Before you start sending nasty comments, I am NOT comparing Trump to Hitler.]  This analogy is to point out that Goebbels sole mission in life was to promote and justify the actions of the German chancellor.  Should we expect anything less from Lewandowski?  His first paid appearance on CNN proved the point.  He claimed his former boss had predicted BREXIT would pass, even though the facts (i.e. Trump’s own words) suggest otherwise. That is what ministers of propaganda do.

Shame!  Shame!  Shame!  Shame!

Less obvious, but equally egregious, was Joe Scarborough’s comments this morning on Trump’s shift from a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States to a regional approach (better screening of entrants from countries with known ties to terrorist organizations).  Scarborough saw this as “a pivot.”  Okay, the presumptive Republican nominee is trying to roll back his previous biased, and by the way unconstitutional, position on how to protect America from terrorist attacks.  But Scarborough then showed how shallow his journalist skills are.  He said, “This puts Trump more in line with the position of the Secretary of Homeland Security.”  In other words, Trump, without realizing it, endorsed the current system of screening potential threats to Americans.  If Scarborough were a more acute analyst, his next comment has to be, “If Trump is now suggesting we currently are using the correct approach to screening potential threats, you have to ask what would he do differently.  And how, if he agrees, can he call the people who implement this system ‘not smart.?’ Is he equally ‘not smart?'”  One should keep in mind a “pivot” is a basketball move designed to “fake out” one’s opponent.  Scarborough seems overly susceptible to this ploy.

Shame!  Shame!  Shame!  Shame!

You may have noticed I left Fox News off the list of nominees.  They have already received a Walk of Shame Lifetime Achievement Award for media malpractice.  Therefore, they are no longer eligible for individual awards.

For what it’s worth.

Let’s Stop Calling Them Rifles

I know what a rifle looks like.  I learned to shoot a bolt action 22 caliber rifle at summer camp.  My father had the rifle he carried in India in World War II.  The Sig Sauer SIG MCX used in the Orlando massacre is NOT a rifle.sig_sauer_mcx_carbine

Just in case you don’t agree, ask Sig Sauer.  Go to the manufacturer’s website and look at the brochure for the SIG MCX. (  The tag line in capital letters, “THE FIRST TRUE MISSION-ADAPTABLE WEAPON SYSTEM.”

What else does Sig Sauer tell us about this product.  “The SIG MCX eclipses everything that has come before it.”  It sure does.  It set a record for the number of deaths in a single mass murder using an assault weapon.

Don’t want to waste your time looking at the details of this killing machine.  Just go to their home page.  At the top is reads, “SIG SAUER…when it counts.”  This time the count was 49.

For what it’s worth.

When You Hate Yourself

When I started this blog, my stated purpose was to promote counter-intuitive thinking which forces us to challenge conventional wisdom. It encourages us to ask “what if,” opening our minds to new possibilities. Let me be clear. Contrarian approaches to events and issues does not necessarily lead you to truth, but it ensures you do not overlook alternative interpretations of the facts.

Today, I was watching the continuing coverage of the tragic events this weekend in Orlando. The intersection of possible ISIS influence and homophobia makes this a complex case. Was the shooter’s declaration of support for ISIS a cover for homophobia or was the selection of an LGBT nightclub as his target consistent with avowed ISIS persecution of individuals with alternative lifestyles?

There is, however, one other possibility. What if the anger which brought about Sunday morning’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub resulted from a need to disavow the shooter’s own sexual preferences? There are numerous instances in which the most anti-gay politicians and clergy have voluntarily admitted or been forced to confront their own homosexuality. These include George Reker, co-founder of the Family Resource Council; former conservative California State Senator Roy Ashburn; Pastor Ted Haggard, former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and Glenn Murphy, Jr., former head of the Young Republicans.

My purpose is not to shame these individuals. In fact, I feel sorry for them. They were surrounded by people who believed they were unnatural and sinners. I can only imagine the personal hell they endured pretending to be something they were not. Which brings us back to Omar Mateen and a counter-intuitive explanation of his motives and actions. An alternative conclusion could be it was both a hate crime and influenced by ISIS, but not the way we normally think of these situations. Did Mateen hate himself? When, as his father reports, he railed at the site of two men kissing in Miami, did he hate these individuals or did he hate the fact that they were living the life he wanted but could not have? And to what extent was this self-hate confirmed and magnified by visits to ISIS websites which reminded him he was emblematic of the worst of western culture? Is it possible, sometime this past week, Mateen realized he could not live with himself, decided it was unfair others were able to pursue their preferred sexual orientation, purchased a handgun and assault rifle and planned the attack at the Pulse? I do not pretend to have unraveled the mystery which led to Sunday morning’s massacre. The eventual narrative will come from more rigorous due diligence by law enforcement and psychiatrists.

Earlier this evening I shared this hypothesis with my wife. I acknowledged it was far-fetched. However, it gained a bit more credibility when I turned on the news after dinner to learn several members of the Orlando LGBT community thought they recognized Mateen. Some said they had seen his photo posted on Grindr, the social networking app geared toward gay and bisexual men. A couple of people believed they had seen Mateen at the Pulse on previous occasions. And this makes sense. If there is any truth to this counter-intuitive perspective, Mateen would not frequent gay establishments near his home in Ft. Pierce where he might be recognized and outed. His secret existence would have to play out somewhere else.

Bottom line? Maybe Mateen did not hate America or Americans. Maybe he did not hate the fact there were gays and lesbians. Maybe, he was the victim of another kind of hate, hating oneself. And regardless of the source or target, hate too often manifests itself in violence. While we were shocked by the magnitude of bloodshed in this latest case, the number of dead and wounded should not matter. One life, cut short by hate, is one life too many.

For what it’s worth.


All “Press” Is Not Created Equal

NOTE:  Today I am adding “Media” as a new category.  I originally thought posts related to the media would fall under either “Politics” or “Culture.”  However, the quality of coverage during this electoral cycle continues to raise so many questions I now feel they deserve their own category.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This addition to the Constitution, along with the next nine amendments, is referred to as the “Bill of Rights.”  As  documented in numerous Supreme Court cases, none of these rights are absolute.  Freedom of speech, famously, does not give you permission to shout “fire” in a crowded theater.  Assembly must be done “peaceably.” Petitioning the Government does not include threatening the life of public officials.  In general, access to these rights demands a modicum of responsibility by each citizen.

How does this apply to “freedom of the press?”  First, we need to explore what the founding fathers meant by the word “press.”  There was no “media” in 1789; the written word was the primary means of distributing the news in the form of newspapers or circulars which were produced on printing presses.  Thus, the distinction between “freedom of speech” (i.e. individual expression of an idea) versus “the press” (mass distribution).

Second, we must understand the difference between written journalism and television/radio journalism.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was, “Never send the first draft of a negative email.”  My mentor was promoting the value of avoiding conflict by finding a more factual and less emotional way of communicating my displeasure with an event or issue.  Print journalists have this advantage over their electronic-based colleagues.  Newspaper reporters or columnists have an opportunity to edit and re-edit their work.  They have the luxury of fact checking.  And in many instances, they seek feedback from their editors or colleagues before submitting their work for publication.

What we see on TV or hear on radio is often immediate and presented in raw form.  Correspondents on digital media generally do not stop in the middle of an interview and ask, “Would you mind if we take a break while I Google whether what you just said is true?” Nor do they have the luxury of rephrasing a statement or opinion.  Let me give you a recent example.  On cable news, a reporter questioned a Trump surrogate about his having changed his mind whether Japan should have its own nuclear weapons rather than depending on the United States for its defense.  The surrogate’s response, “Mr. Trump did not say that.”  The interviewer, “So, you’re saying his position has not changed.”  Unintentionally (giving him the benefit of the doubt), the interviewer had shifted the conversation from Trump’s veracity to whether the Republican nominee’s position had evolved or not.

In contrast, a print journalist would have pulled the quote from the CNN town hall on March 29 in which the candidate stated:

You have so many countries already — China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia — you have so many countries right now that have them. Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?

Equally important, the print journalist had time to reflect on the interview and determine the major takeaway from the conversation.

In hindsight, the TV commentator should have been able to do the same thing, but that required better preparation.  Was he caught off guard when the surrogate denied her candidate had ever suggested Japan obtain nuclear weapons?  Shouldn’t he have had the March 29 quote in his notes, just in case she did?

As stated earlier, I believe print journalists have an advantage in reporting the news.  But the disadvantage to TV and radio personalities does not relieve them on their journalistic responsibilities.  If TV reporters want to benefit from constitutional protections such as “freedom of the press,” they need to find a way to emulate their in-print colleagues.

For what it’s worth,