‘Financial Lives of the Poets’: Bumbling all the way to the poor house

Posted in book reviews, books, journalism trends by Diane on September 28, 2009

financialpoets“The Financial Lives of the Poets” is avert-your-eyes funny: I kept putting it down, only to pick it right back up. Jess Walter spins comic discomfort out of his hero’s harebrained schemes the way Larry David does on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: You know nothing good can come of his actions, and you’re right.

But you still want to see how it all turns out.

Matt Prior, a business reporter sorely lacking financial judgment, is behind the eight ball when “The Financial Lives of the Poets” begins: Laid off from his newspaper job, he’s about to lose his house, and, he suspects, his marriage. Not helping: the fact he gambled the family’s money on a crazy website marrying poetry and finance a few years earlier, or his wife Lisa’s eBay shopping spree. Other added pressures: His senile Dad is staying with them after losing his own nest egg to a stripper; the kids are in a private school the family can no longer pretend to afford.

So what does Matt do? Fall into a money making scheme straight out of “Weeds.” There’s a riotous mix of characters – evil bosses, fellow journos struggling to hold onto their jobs, and hapless drug dealers – that liven up the proceedings as Matt races against the clock, obsessively monitoring his wife’s online flirtations with a former boyfriend as he bumbles along.

Walter, a former newspaperman himself, isn’t interested in creating a sob story about our country’s financial predicament or flailing newspaper biz. Nor does he wag his fingers a la Michael Moore. The bosses and bankers are evil, but Matt and his cohort aren’t helping themselves with their foolhardy behavior.

No end to the comic indignities…


Cook ouster: A vote for fan, and company, interaction

Posted in Disney, Google, social media by Diane on September 22, 2009

dickcookDick Cook’s ouster late last week caught many off guard, but apparently boiled down to irreconcilable differences: Cook wasn’t collaborative enough with colleagues and his division was perceived to operating as an island from the rest of the company. This issue came to a head when the movie chief kept the rest of the company in the dark about the big guests he had lined up for the company’s D23 expo.

To Cook this caution was well warranted given the tendency of big stars to back out at moment’s notice. Stunned, he told colleagues he was a square peg in a round hole, the LAT reports.

The Daily Beast’s Kim Masters suggested his ouster was the end of an era. I agree, but not necessarily for the same reasons. At the D23 event, which I covered for The Wrap, Iger talked about the need to nurture fan connection to the Disney brand. The event was designed to give fans a sneak peak at coming attractions in the expectation they would share that info online.

Iger the technologist, and a telling anecdote from “Googled”

Stieglitz as Paris Hilton: Georgia on our minds

Posted in art, NYT, TV by Diane on September 18, 2009

georgiaokeefeHolland Cotter’s NYT review of the Whitney’s new Georgia O’Keefe exhibit is very fine, to be sure, but no match for colleague Ginia Bellafonte’s delicious review of Saturday’s Lifetime movie named for the painter.

The TV movie, not too surprisingly, revolves around O’Keefe’s juicy affair, then marriage, with mentor and promoter Alfred Stieglitz. Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons fail to adequately convey such messy emotional characters, the reviewer notes before observing that Stieglitz is depicted “as a sort of publicist who today might hatch a higher-brow Paris Hilton.”

This is the guy, after all, who “shepherds O’Keeffe to the altar of celebrity by displaying his nude photographs of her alongside her own work.”

My favorite line, however, comes at the very end:

The unintended effect of “Georgia O’Keeffe” is to leave its audience wondering if a painter who prized integrity madly loved a man only because he could play Phil Spector to her Ronette.

For more, check out Bellafonte’s review, Independent Protegee and Needy Starmaker, and Cotter’s take on the Whitney exhibit, which is accompanied by a slide show of O’Keefe’s formative abstract work. There’s another O’Keefe slideshow at NY mag’s Vulture blog.

Above postcard of O’Keefe circa 1948 has been hanging in my home office for years.


Funny people, choppy rhythm

Posted in book reviews, books, comedy by Diane on September 17, 2009

officialbookclubwhatwouldsusiesaywhenyoulieidrinkforareasonBeen reading a slew of books by comics lately, because there are a number of them coming out, and who couldn’t use a laugh these days? What surprised me most — and probably shouldn’t have — is how uneven they have been.

Why should I expect funny guys and gals to be able to write sustained comedic prose? That’s not what stand-ups or sketch comics do; they tell a funny story then move on the next gag or anecdote. Without an overarching theme or connective narrative thread, pacing can be a problem: When books are written as a string of self-contained stories or anecdotes, it’s easy to put them down for a while after you’ve finished a chapter.

Such has been the case for three of the four books by comedians I’ve read, wholly or partially, the past few months. The exception? Kathy Griffin’s unexpectedly soulful memoir, “Official Book Club Selection.”

The brassy comedienne, who wrote the book with the help of journo Robert Abele while filming her reality show, writes candidly about growing up the youngest in an Irish Catholic family, her struggles to make it in L.A., plastic surgery and marital travails. She also tackles an extremely difficult subject – her brother Kenny’s incest and drug problems – with sensitivity and grace.

‘You’re in good hands’


‘Capitalism’: Can you take it to the bank?

Posted in movie review, movies by Diane on September 16, 2009

capitalismYou know what I wish? I wish that Michael Moore weren’t such an obvious manipulator of the facts. He’s such an unreliable narrator that it gets in the way of my enjoyment of his films.

Latest case in point: “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which I saw at the L.A. premiere Tuesday night. The provocateur rails against the government’s handling of the finance crisis in typical fashion: He satirizes the powers that be and tugs the hearts strings with stories of average working folk afflicted by corporate malfeasance.

Moore blames the government for its cozy relationship with Wall Street in particular and big business in general. According to “Capitalism,” things began falling apart when Ronald Reagan was elected president; deregulation and mindless focus on profits laid the seeds for the economy’s collapse last year. Further, he presents archival footage of FDR suggesting none of this had to happen: The ailing president apparently wanted to enact a second Bill of Rights stipulating the right to a decent wage and healthcare before he died. Moore told the premiere audience that this footage had been purposefully suppressed; even FDR’s library didn’t know it existed.
Are we getting the full story?


VOD: Why own when you can rent?

Posted in DVD, rentals, VOD by Diane on September 14, 2009

In yesterday’s NYT, Beastie Boy turned indie film distributor Adam Yauch made a very pithy prediction about DVD:

I think that VOD, streaming and/or downloading will soon replace the rental market. And buying DVDs will just be for serious collectors, or when someone really loves a film. DVD sales are becoming more like people who collect vinyl records.

This seemed very wise for a number of reasons, not least being I’ve believed for a while that VOD and streaming will supplant DVD rental and sales. But I especially liked the comparison of DVD purchasers to the hobbyists and purists that collect vinyl records. Coming from a musician, the metaphor packs extra punch.

As Internet and cable VOD becomes easier to use, it will grow in popularity: The convenience of ordering a movie from your TV or computer outweighs a trip to the rental store. And let’s face it, more and more people are realizing they won’t necessarily watch the movie a second time, making a purchase harder to justify. But those than do want to will be able to download the movie for repeat showings.

This isn’t necessarily tragic: As I’ve pointed out before, studios wouldn’t mind a shift away from DVD rentals to VOD, for they get a greater cut of the action.

The NYT story explores indie film distribution in great detail. Read it here.

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Jim Carroll — He DIED, DIED

Posted in books, music by Diane on September 14, 2009

jimcarrollQuick Jim Carroll memory: Met him briefly during the five minutes I worked at Viking Penguin years ago. He spent most of his visit hitting on a coworker’s comely teenage daughter, who was, if I’m not mistaken, going to Dalton School. Carroll, who went to Trinity School and wrote about it in “The Basketball Diaries,” a movie Leonardo DiCaprio eventually starred in, tried to use that as an entree without much luck. Last night, a former Variety coworker tweeted that no one in the office knew who he was. I thought everyone had at least heard his signature song, “People Who Died.” I’ve certainly heard it on the radio often enough.

Carroll made it to 60, dying at his desk. Read more in the New York Times obit.


Disney’s D23 confab: All about the Internets

Posted in Disney by Diane on September 14, 2009

igerd23Who else but Disney would have created a conference like D23? What other studio has the ego to even try?

Opening day at the four-day conference devoted to all things Disney, top dog Bob Iger kept saying that no one else could have mounted a gathering like it. That may very well be true, but it’s even more interesting to examine how and why the studio took the plunge.

Iger suggested there were two main spurs: Fan interest in a Disney club, and desire to share “Disney treasures,” aka production artifacts, with those die-hard supporters. But that wasn’t the only motivation: Iger believes that the Internet can help sustain fan connection to the brand, and these fans can in turn draw new fans into the fold.

“Not only will they tell people about this and the things that they see,” Iger explained, “but they will also tell people about the company.”

Less crowded than Comic-Con…and more controlled


Bye, bye ‘Meinhof’

Posted in movie review, movies by Diane on September 9, 2009

baadermeinhofThe past few weeks, we’ve been treated to another round of Woodstock nostalgia, a slack coming of age drama about that concert, and a new season of “Mad Men” rife with foreboding about Sixties upheaval. What better antidote than a movie about the darker consequences of that rebellious period?

“The Baader Meinhof Complex” chronicles the increasingly violent exploits of a group of German extremists in the Sixties and Seventies. It’s mesmerizing, and appalling, up to a point. Then the violence all starts to blur together.

Mostly, however, the movie is a timely reminder how parochial our view of the period tends to be. The same shots are played over and over: Woodstock. Altamont. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. RFK assassination. Watts. Kent State. Never mind the turmoil in Europe or elsewhere. “Baader Meinhof” takes a more global approach: Germans criticize America, and the treatment of women in Iran from the start.

Motherhood or terrorism…?


Army, we already miss you

Posted in Variety by Diane on September 8, 2009

vintagearmyWhen I started at Variety, Army Archerd was about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his column. There was a lavish party — newbies weren’t invited — and a certain expectation that he would retire. He was 80 — and he’d had a good long run, breaking the news of Rock Hudson’s illness from AIDS, among other scoops.

But Army had no interest in retiring, and continued writing for Variety — online the last few years — until two late July. Today, he succumbed to cancer, ankling to the great beyond at age 87. I’m among the many that will miss him.

Unlike some of my former Variety counterparts, I did not grow up reading the trade paper, first becoming acquainted with it as a fact checker for TV Guide. Even then, I was just scanning news items on microfiche.

I didn’t really get to know Army and his work until I started working at the paper in April 2002. Army was so wonderfully old school, scribbling notes on slips of paper, phone cradled under his ear. He was very serious about his column: When I edited Variety’s party coverage, he would call to check and see what we were running, to make sure we didn’t overlap.

Competitive, yet courtly