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Wednesday, 03 October 2018 17:39

Musicians are Athletes Playing Sports On Stage

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Musicians are athletes. They have talents that can’t be coached but must be practiced to reach their potential. They are expected to perform at the highest level both in practice (in the studio) and in games (on stage in front of thousands of paying customers) despite grueling travel and publicity schedules. And they both exert energy performing with no guarantee of success.

Musicians’ success ultimately depends on their ability to play, which, like athletes, is dependent upon their health. And while musicians’ careers might not be as short as athletes’ careers on average, they’re equally dependent upon talents that inevitably diminish with age. But what are the sports musicians play on stage when it comes to comparable caloric exertion? That all depends on the genre of music they're playing and how they're playing it.

The Research

My research started with 28 musical performances in 27 days, beginning with Earth, Wind & Fire at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 26. From there I flew to Las Vegas for Mariah Carey at Caesars Palace on Sept. 5. A week after returning to Minnesota, I was headed to Chicago for Riot Fest, featuring a three-day lineup spanning almost every musical genre over the last 70 years.

The late 1950s rockabilly and ’60s rock & roll of pianist Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to metal/punk pianist and professional partier Andrew W.K. Fittingly, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played songs from the new wave he helped build and Blondie brought ashore to the states throughout the 1970s, riding the wave to the top of the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1980 with a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide is High.”

Blondie also served as a reminder that the political, electronic punk group Pussy Riot has Debbie Harry to thank for not only popularizing female punk voices but feminism as a whole. And while Bad Religion wasn’t the first band to get political with their lyrics in the 1980s, their popularity certainly made it a staple of the punk genre, paving the way for acts like Pussy Riot to draw attention to political corruption with their music. Pussy Riot did just that at Riot Fest, calling for justice after a longtime member and activist with the group was poisoned, perhaps for uncovering information regarding the deaths of three Russian journalists with whom he’d been working.

The ’90s were well represented by Lagwagon and Face to Face, and although Blink-182 had to cancel for health reasons, the lineup somehow got better with the additions of Weezer, Run the Jewels, and Taking Back Sunday. Blink’s absence didn’t mean pop punk of the ’90s would go unheard at Riot Fest Chicago 2018. Alkaline Trio announced their presence with a fantastic set just before Incubus reenacted the heydays of alternative rock that started in the late ’90s and continued into the new millennium.

If you thought Riot Fest was a punk rock festival, you’d be surprised to know that hip-hop acts have played the festival in consecutive years. The best performance of 2017 was provided by Prophets of Rage, a rap rock supergroup consisting of members from Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. The performance unified very different genres and, as a result, very different people, but was especially emotional coming just months after Audioslave’s lead singer, Chris Cornell, committed suicide. Cypress Hill’s B-Real must have enjoyed the emotional and genre-defying performance he gave with Prophets in 2017, because he was back playing “Hits from the Bong” with Cypress Hill in 2018. Run the Jewels concluded the festival’s final day just as Prophets of Rage did the year before.

Cypress Hill might be playing the only sport for which cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, but that doesn’t mean what they’re doing on stage (and off) isn’t athletic. Exactly how athletic is difficult to determine without primary research. Ideally, I would have slapped a Fitbit on the wrist of each musician before going on stage. Instead, we’ll have to rely on estimates of caloric exertion provided by sources I felt to be most reputable and accurate based on my own calorie counting. So what sports are some of music’s best athletes playing on stage?

Mariah Carey is the Babe Ruth of Popular Singing

Mariah Carey’s body might be enhanced in a Bondsian fashion, but her voice is Ruthian; it might be replaced with a recording on occasion, but never enhanced, only amplified. Mariah is the Babe Ruth of popular music for a lot of reasons, but mostly because she has done and continues to do something no one else in her sport has.

The greatest athletes of all time separate themselves from their peers by being the only athlete in their sport to do something. Mariah has sung a G7 (a G-note in the seventh octave), which no other singer of popular music has done. She regularly reaches F#7 in concert (F-sharp, seventh octave), lifting people to their feet and putting smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I can personally attest to this, but I can only imagine men cried when Ruth allegedly pointed to the center field bleachers and then hit a homer there in what was a tied Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Barry Bonds hitting more home runs than Ruth, regardless of cleanliness, is as irrelevant to the greatest-baseball-player-of-all-time argument as Ruth’s all-time best 182.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career because only Ruth has been both the best hitter and pitcher in his league over the course of a single season (so far).

Had there been an American League Cy Young Award in 1916, Ruth would have won it, but not by the margin he would have won the Most Valuable Player Award had there been one in 1920 (he hit 35 more home runs than runner-up George Sisler) and eventually did win in 1923 despite sharing the home run crown with Cy Williams (he reached base in more than half of his plate appearances and got all eight first-place votes).

While a 28-year-old Walter Johnson led the AL in wins (25), complete games (36) and innings pitched (369.2) in 1916, Ruth was the league’s best pitcher by any measure—new (Ruth had a league-best ERA+ of 158) or old (Ruth led the league with nine shutouts to Johnson’s three and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings pitched in the AL). And while Johnson's Senators finished last, Ruth led Boston to the American League Pennant (and, eventually, a World Series Championship) with 23 wins in a league-leading 40 starts and four other appearances accounting for more than 23 percent of his team’s innings pitched during the regular season (323.2, third-most in the AL). Two years later Ruth led Major League Baseball with 11 home runs along with Tillie Walker, but did so with almost 100 fewer at-bats. It was the last time Ruth would have more wins (13) than homers in a single season.

Using strictly vocal range as a means to determine popular music’s best singer would be like using batting average to determine baseball’s best hitter—it doesn’t tell the whole story. Ruth only led the league in batting average once, and his .342 career average is just tenth-best all time. Axl Rose might have the largest vocal range in the sport of popular singing, but the lowest note he sang (F1) is just one note lower than Barry White's lowest (F#1, or F-sharp, first octave). Mariah’s highest note is seven notes higher than that of her closest competitor.

Longevity matters in GOAT debates too, and Rose didn’t retain his vocal range for nearly as long as Mariah has. The one thing only Rose has done in the sport is so closely contested its baseball equivalent would be Roger Maris breaking Ruth’s single-season, home run record in the last game of the 1961 season, which was 10 games longer than Ruth’s in 1927, but resulted in Maris getting just seven more plate appearances than Ruth had to hit 60. Mariah is the GOAT because, at some point in her long career (like right now), she’s been both the sport’s best hitter of notes (vocal range) and best “pitcher” (highest or lowest pitch sung), and has done so convincingly and simultaneously.

Mariah’s relative dominance of her sport isn’t the only similarity she shares with Ruth. While Mariah isn’t “The Mariah” like Ruth was “The Babe,” her fans refer to her using only her first name with the assumption that absolutely everyone knows which Mariah is the Mariah. And like the Sultan of Swat, who went by his “stage” name of Babe over his given name, George, Mariah has earned a lot of nicknames, including “The Voice” and “Songbird.” So the relative fandom of musicians is also comparable to that of athletes.  

Mariah is beloved by her fans like The Babe was by kids. They defend her unconditionally because she is other-worldly in their eyes and ears. Any comparison to Whitney Houston is met with ruthless rebuffing comparable only to that of Michael Jordan fans fending off LeBron James comparisons as if they’re attacks on their religion or right to free speech. Ruth’s dominance of his sport allowed him to enjoy a long leash when it came to his off-field behavior, and the same goes for divas. There won’t be another Mariah, and there won’t be another Ruth—only imitators and imposters.

But Mariah isn’t popular enough to be the Michael Jordan of popular music, and she’s not burning comparable calories on stage as a basketball player does on the court. Few musicians are. Mariah Carey is playing baseball on stage, and she’s probably working harder than Ruth did playing the outfield, but not as hard as he did as a pitcher and hitter early in his career. Early in her career, though, her on-stage caloric exertion might have been closer to the caloric exertion of Ruth the pitcher/hitter.

If Livestrong’s estimates are accurate, Mariah singing while standing for an hour burns around 140 calories assuming a weight of 150 pounds. Healthy Celeb has her at around 148, which is reasonable given her five-foot, eight-inch height. Since she’s walking around the stage and doing so in heels, she’s probably burning another 200 calories per hour even if she’s lip-syncing. So that’s 340 calories burned per hour singing and moving around the stage (and crowd, which she did in Vegas), but we’re not considering her four plate appearances per game.

Mariah’s plate appearances are her wardrobe changes, each of which she knocked out of the park simply by being a knockout (thank you, gastric sleeve surgery). Mariah had four wardrobe changes during her Las Vegas show, all completed in three minutes or so, and while I’m sure she has plenty of help backstage, she’s still burning calories just as Ruth would even without swinging the bat. She might not burn a home-run-trot’s worth of calories changing clothes, but even The Great Bambino had a “courtesy runner” round the bases for him on home runs late in his career.

If we use an average of 3.5 minutes per wardrobe change given Mariah’s height, weight, and age, she likely burned another 20 calories or more changing clothes. And I think that’s a low estimate given her elevated heart rate going into the wardrobe change and the pressure of quickly completing the change. Keep in mind this estimate represents the caloric exertion associated with dressing and undressing with no stakes or complicated outfits. Still, that’s a total of 360 calories burned per hour on stage.

A non-pitching, non-catching fielder burns roughly 1,000 calories during a nine-inning baseball game. Another source estimates caloric exertion of non-pitchers and non-catchers at 305 calories per hour. An average game is over three hours long, so Mariah’s caloric exertion per hour on stage is comparable to that of a baseball player who isn’t pitching or catching. And her talent, longevity, and dominance of her sport is comparable to that of baseball’s best player.

Earth, Wind & Fire is the 1990s Chicago Bulls of Popular Music

Sinbad said prior to the Earth, Wind & Fire concert that I was in for a religious experience. He was absolutely right, but I didn’t think there would be so much movement on stage given the average age of the band members. I figured Philip Bailey’s voice would have regressed at the age of 67; I was wrong. I couldn’t imagine bassist Verdine White moving as much as he did at 67, and longtime percussionist/vocalist Ralph Johnson, also 67, didn’t miss a beat or note. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and I can only imagine had I ever seen the Bulls of the ’90s, I would have cried tears of joy at United Center just like I did at the Minnesota State Fair.

Earth, Wind & Fire has as many Grammys as the 1990s Bulls have championship rings (6), and like the greatest NBA dynasties, still has a big three in Bailey, White, and Johnson. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant. Earth, Wind & Fire not only has a big three, but nearly as many touring members as an NBA team (9). And they likely burned comparable calories as the Bulls roster on any given night.

Johnson alone likely burned more than 300 calories in an hour of drumming. White’s bass playing and dancing given his slenderness likely resulted in excess of 250 calories burned per hour, and we know singers around Bailey’s size burn around 180 calories per hour if their standing while singing. So the three remaining original members of Earth, Wind & Fire likely burned 730 calories in an hour.

Add the horn section with saxophonist, Gary Bias (217 calories per hour), trumpet player, Bobby Burns Jr. (273), and trombone player, Reggie Young (180), and total caloric exertion comes to 1,400. Two guitarists (217 calories burned per hour each) brings the total to 1,834 calories burned per hour, and background vocalists Philip Bailey Jr. and B. David Whitworth push the caloric exertion total to 2,134. Myron McKinley on keyboards (181) pushes Earth, Wind & Fire’s collective caloric exertion to 2,315 calories per hour. In the hour-and-a-half-long set at the Minnesota State Fair, the band probably burned close to 3,500 calories.

In comparison, if Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman played 40 minutes at their listed weights on Basketball Reference (1,523 calories burned), Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and Ron Harper played 30 minutes at their listed weights (1,200 calories burned), that would leave Steve Kerr 20 minutes (220) and Randy Brown 10 minutes of playing time (118). The 1997-98 Chicago Bulls would collectively burn around 3,061 calories per 48 minutes on the floor, or a bit more than 3,800 calories per hour. The vast difference in mass between members of Earth, Wind & Fire and the Chicago Bulls (Longley was listed at 265 pounds) could account for much of the difference in calories burned per hour.

Andrew W.K. is the Wayne Gretzky of Party Music

No one enjoyed sharing the puck more than The Great One, and no one enjoys sharing a party more than Andrew W.K. Party music is a broad genre and pretty much includes anything played with pace. And while Andrew W.K.’s success in his sport isn’t comparable to that of The Great One in his, there isn’t a single act out there that screams hockey like Andrew’s. Andrew W.K. shows are both pace-full and probably painful for Andrew, but he leaves it all on the stage (even blood sometimes) every night.

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W.K. when you see him live for the first time is his teeth. He has the biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen play music—so big, in fact, I thought he was high on cocaine. Now I know it’s the crowd that’s his addiction. I’ve never seen anyone happier doing their job than Andrew W.K., except maybe Wayne Gretzky after assisting a teammate on a goal. Gretzky loved assisting his teammates so much he has more assists than anyone else has points scored, and Andrew W.K. looks to simply assist the party-starting despite his early passion being fashion

We know playing piano burns around 181 calories per hour depending on size, but no one plays piano like Andrew W.K. The only person who did hasn’t kicked the bench out from under himself for quite some time. In fact, it took Jerry Lee Lewis almost five minutes to change jackets onstage after his band played for 15 minutes awaiting his arrival, but he’s 82 years old!

Assuming Andrew burns just 200 calories an hour playing piano and another 180 calories singing given his size (he’s a big man and wrote about working out for Vice amongst other things), that’s 380 calories per hour burned on stage. But Andrew W.K. moves about the stage more and more violently than Mariah Carey or Philip Bailey, so this estimate is more than safe given his hour-long, Riot Fest set.

Time on ice statistics are only available going back to the 1998-99 season, during which Gretzky averaged about 21 minutes per game. But that was his final season, so using playoff numbers might be a better representation of actual calories burned per game in his prime. In the 1993 Conference Finals Game 7 he played close to 24 minutes, and in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final Game 5 he played 23. Livestrong estimates caloric exertion for a 190-pound hockey player to be 700 calories per hour.

So in 22 minutes, Gretzky would burn a little more than 250 calories, but Livestrong notes that the intensity of hockey as an activity allows for calories to be burned well after coming off the ice. Kind of like Mariah Carey’s stressful, high-heart-rate costume changes, hockey’s shift changes results in hockey players continuing to burn calories even while resting. One study found that 10 men who completed an intense, 45-minute workout on a stationary bike burned an additional 190 calories in the 14 hours following the workout. So Gretzky and his linemates burning an additional 80 calories between shifts is reasonable, making The Great One’s total exertion 330 calories per game.

So I think I’ve at least proven that musicians (and singers are musicians because our voices are instruments) burn comparable calories performing on stage as athletes do playing sports, fulfilling the energy exertion requirement of athletes. Whether a musician’s talent and amount of practice required to perfect and preserve that talent is on the same level as professional athletes require more in-depth, accurate research. But if you aren’t considering the performance of your favorite band as an athletic endeavor, you might consider considering it.  

Honorable Mentions:

Pink Floyd is the 1956-66 Boston Celtics' Starting Five of Rock

The greatest rock band of all time last toured in 1994 with three original members and eight supporting members. That's enough people to match the caloric exertion of the best Boston Celtics teams. Although Pink Floyd was without their Bill Russell (Roger Waters), they still had a Bob Cousy (David Gilmour), a Tom Heinsohn (Nick Mason), and a Bill Sharman (Richard Wright). Waters returned for a reunion performance in 2005.

Pussy Riot is the 1952-60 Montreal Canadiens of Electronic Punk

Regardless of the lack of competition Pussy Riot has in its genre, they've dominated that genre for about as long as the Canadiens did the National Hockey League from 1952 to 1960, winning the Stanley Cup six times and finishing runners-up twice more. Pussy Riot's 11 members probably do enough dancing on stage to match the caloric exertion of the Canadiens of the '50s, too.

Run the Jewels is the LeBron James of Hip Hop

I know Run the Jewels consists of two people—El P and Killer Mike—but it takes at least two people to match what LeBron does on and off the court. Run the Jewels is not only as successful at selling records as LeBron is tickets, but all three of the group's records are critically acclaimed, like LeBron's off-court efforts.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018 20:05

Emmy Awards Winners and Losers (and Non-watchers)

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I am probably like you in that - I hardly ever watch the Emmy Awards. And why is that? Well, for starters there was a run of 20 years where the exact same network shows won year after year. And if it wasn’t the exact same show it was, well, kind of the same type of show. Hill Street Blues, LA Law, NYPD Blue, The Practice, West Wing, the Sopranos. Seriously, that was like - 20 years! The same shows.

And what about those same 20 years in comedy? Well - Cheers, Murphy Brown and Frasier basically dominated from 83-98. Fifteen years and three shows pretty much won year after year.

And that gets pretty dull.

Don’t get me wrong. The morning after the Emmy’s I would always check in to see who won. But I don’t think I saw the show once between maybe 1988 and 2005. Or maybe I saw it once, or twice. But not often.

And that seems to be par for the course for most Americans. Now, keep in mind that the Emmy awards never kept track of viewers until 1990 and for about a decade viewership remained consistently within the 15-20 million range; however, ever since Ryan Seacrest took over the Emmy awards in 2007 (where The Sopranos and 30 Rock won top honors) the Emmys have struggled to get more than 12 million viewers.

There was one highlight in 2013 where show host Neil Patrick Harris brought in almost 18 million viewers (I watched that one!) but for the most part viewership has been declining for the past decade.

This seems odd to me. Once the “Golden Age of Television” began, about - ten years ago, I assumed that a wider variety of nominated shows would bring in a wider audience. For those not in the know, the “Golden Age of Television” has kind of universally been known as the rise of the cable programing and the decline of network TV all within the past decade.

Basically, all it suggests is that extremely high quality, high concept, original and sophisticated TV is universally found on cable stations these days, with the networks picking up a rare gem but usually floundering in the dark with dead fish, after dead fish.

Again, I assumed that a wider net cast by the Emmys would pull in a bigger catch. But, I was wrong. (And enough with the fish metaphors).

The most Emmy nominations by network for 2018 (2017 was similar with Netflix and HBO swapping places):  

  • Netflix 112
  • HBO 108
  • NBC 78
  • FX Network 50
  • CBS 34
  • ABC 31
  • Hulu 27
  • Prime Video 22
  • Showtime 21
  • National Geographic 17

 

Wow. So Netflix received almost as many nominations as all three major networks combined. Of course, with the amount of original content that Netflix pumps out, I guess I am not surprised (I confess I get a little overwhelmed when decided what to watch on Netflix). But still. How long are the networks going to broadcast the Emmy awards when the prime time networks hardly win any Emmys?

In the past ten years, all the best drama winners have been from cable stations (mainly AMC and HBO). Best variety show has been a cable show since 2003 (Comedy Central has dominated this category until HBO took over very recently).  Admittedly, 6 of the past 10 comedy winners were from the networks but that was because Modern Family won for 5 years in a row until Veep (HBO) took over for three years. Glancing over all acting categories I would say there is a pretty even mix of network to cable stations winning.

So, yes, there is a network that wins here there and everywhere but those number dwindle as the years pass. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where this is heading.

Anyway, it has been reported everywhere that this year was the lowest rated Emmy awards ever. I don’t know why. Perhaps audiences have grown tired of the same old cable shows winning again and again. And I guess I can’t blame them. It’s the very same reason I stopped watching in the first place.

Also, it should be noted. I didn’t watch the Emmy awards this year, either. But the morning after I looked over the winners and I did watch the opening monologue, which I thought that was pretty good. So I attached it.

And for those that are interested in such things, here is a list of all the nominations and winners:

Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series

Louie Anderson," Baskets"

Alec Baldwin, "Saturday Night Live"

Tituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

Brian Tyree Henry, "Atlanta"

Tony Shalhoub, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Kenan Thompson, "Saturday Night Live"

Henry Winkler, "Barry" *WINNER

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series

Zazie Beetz, "Atlanta"

Alex Borstein, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER

Aidy Bryant, "Saturday Night Live"

Betty Gilpin, "GLOW"

Leslie Jones, "Saturday Night Live"

Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"

Laurie Metcalf, "Roseanne"

Megan Mullally, "Will & Grace"

 

Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or TV movie

Antonio Banderas, "Genius: Picasso"

Darren Criss, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" *WINNER

Benedict Cumberbatch, "Patrick Melrose"

Jeff Daniels, "The Looming Tower"

John Legend, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert"

Jesse Plemons, "USS Callister (Black Mirror)"

Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or TV movie

Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"

Laura Dern, "The Tale"

Michelle Dockery, "Godless"

Edie Falco, "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders"

Regina King, "Seven Seconds" *WINNER

Sarah Paulson, "American Horror Story: Cult"

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series

Anthony Anderson, "Black-ish"

Ted Danson, "The Good Place"

Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Donald Glover, "Atlanta"

Bill Hader, "Barry" *WINNER

William H. Macy, "Shameless"

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series

Pamela Adlon, "Better Things"

Rachel Brosnahan, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER

Allison Janney, "Mom"

Issa Rae, "Insecure"

Tracee Ellis Ross, "Black-ish"

Lily Tomlin, "Grace and Frankie"

Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie

Sara Bareilles, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert"

Penelope Cruz, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"

Judith Light, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"

Adina Porter, "American Horror Story: Cult"

Merritt Wever, "Godless" *WINNER

Letitia Wright,"Black Mirror (Black Museum)"

Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie

Jeff Daniels, "Godless" *WINNER

Brandon Victor Dixon,"Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert"

John Leguizamo, "Waco"

Ricky Martin, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"

Edgar Ramirez, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"

Michael Stuhlbarg, "The Looming Tower"

Finn Wittrock, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"

Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

Jason Bateman, "Ozark"

Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us"

Ed Harris, "Westworld"

Matthew Rhys, "The Americans" *WINNER

Milo Ventimiglia, "This Is Us"

Jeffrey Wright, "Westworld"

Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

Claire Foy, "The Crown" *WINNER

Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"

Elisabeth Moss, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Sandra Oh, "Killing Eve"

Keri Russell, "The Americans"

Evan Rachel Wood, "Westworld"

Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, "Game of Thrones"

Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones" *WINNER

Joseph Fiennes, "The Handmaid's Tale"

David Harbour, "Stranger Things"

Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"

Matt Smith, "The Crown"

 

Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series

Alexis Bledel, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Millie Bobby Brown, "Stranger Things"

Ann Dowd, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Lena Headey,"Game of Thrones"

Vanessa Kirby, "The Crown"

Thandie Newton, "Westworld" *WINNER

Yvonne Strahovski, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Outstanding reality/competition series

"The Amazing Race"

"American Ninja Warrior"

"Project Runway"

"RuPaul's Drag Race" *WINNER

"Top Chef"

"The Voice"

Outstanding variety sketch series

"At Home with Amy Sedaris"

"Drunk History"

"I Love You, America"

"Portlandia"

"Saturday Night Live" *WINNER

"Tracey Ullman's Show"

Outstanding variety talk series

"Full Frontal with Samantha Bee"

"Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" *WINNER

"The Daily Show with Trevor Noah"

"The Late Late Show with James Corden"

"The Late Show with Stephen Colbert"

Outstanding limited Series

"The Alienist"

"The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" *WINNER

"Genius: Picasso"

"Godless"

"Patrick Melrose"

Outstanding comedy series

"Atlanta"

"Barry"

"Black-ish"

"Curb Your Enthusiasm"

"GLOW"

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER

"Silicon Valley"

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

Outstanding drama series

"Game of Thrones" *WINNER

"The Handmaid's Tale"

"Stranger Things"

"The Americans"

"This Is Us"

"Westworld"

 

According to a recently updated information from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Thriller has been surpassed as the number one selling album of all time. Which, as an 80’s kid, makes me a little sad. =(

 

The last time the RIAA compiled data on this subject was way back in the ancient time of 2006, when digital sales were hardly a thing. Well, now the RIAA has caught up with the rest of modern society, added in digital sales, and updated the Best Selling Albums of All Time List for the first time in twelve years! And, to be honest, most of the results are not surprising, except, of course - for the ones that are totally surprising!  I’m looking right at you #9!

 

Before I reveal this list, allow me a moment to reminisce. I was in grade school when Thriller was released. We, and I mean every last kid, teacher, mother and grandfather was madly in love with Billie Jean and Beat It and Wanna Be Startin Somethin and The Girl is Mine and, of course, Thriller (The Lady in My Life - meh, not so much). But, mainly Billie Jean, Beat It and Thriller. Ahhhh - nostalgia. And youth and dancing in front of the mirror.

 

Oh, that’s right. I danced in front of the mirror to Billie Jean. For, like - years. #comeatmebro!

 

I guess new generations can express their childhood love for modern day pop tarts and boy bands - but their love is misplaced because Thriller is still the big boy on the block!

 

Only, not any longer.

 

But actually, it still kind of is because the new list CHEATS!!!!

 

You see, the new #1 selling “album” of all time is … a compilation of greatest hits. So, even though this compilation of greatest hits has now outsold Thriller by 5 million albums - Thriller is still the top selling, non compilation record of all time.

 

Make sense?

 

Anyway … here are the top 20 best selling albums of all time:

 

  1. The Eagles, Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (38 million).
  2. Michael Jackson, Thriller (33 million).
  3. The Eagles, Hotel California (26 million).
  4. Billy Joel, Greatest Hits Volume I & II (23 million).
  5. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (23 million).
  6. Pink Floyd, The Wall (23 million).
  7. AC/DC, Back in Black (22 million).
  8. Garth Brooks, Double Live (21 million).
  9. Hootie & The Blowfish, Cracked Rear View (21 million).
  10. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (20 million).
  11. Shania Twain, Come On Over (20 million).
  12. The Beatles, The Beatles - "The White Album" (19 million).
  13. Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (18 million).
  14. Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard (Soundtrack) (18 million).
  15. Boston, Boston (17 million).
  16. Elton John, Greatest Hits (17 million).
  17. Garth Brooks, No Fences (17 million).
  18. The Beatles, The Beatles 1967-1970 (17 million).
  19. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (16 million).
  20. Bee Gees, Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack) (16 million).

 

Before bearing witness to the brilliant magic of Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh reboot, Christopher Robin, I was given goosebumps by the trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo. If you thought Disney was going to make money with its purchase of Fox’s Marvel Cinematic Universe or UFC, consider the money to made by remaking every classic Disney, cartoon movie.

Christopher Robin wasn’t just good. It was funny and heartwarming and transported me to another time and place like the tree transported Christopher Robin to the Hundred Acre Wood.

You can’t go wrong with Pooh. I’ve maintained that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and Robin retains that humor by keeping Pooh’s character, and all the characters of Hundred Acre Wood, consistently classic. All great reboots and remakes appeal to their longtime fans’ affinity for nostalgia by preserving the characters they grew up loving. I wrote about Solo doing so, and Robin is no exception.

Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger might have shed their cartoon bodies for live-action “stuff and fluff,” but they are otherwise unchanged and equally enchanting--if not more so. I actually felt as childish watching the grown-up Christopher Robin as Ewan McGregor looked playing with his friends upon his return to Hundred Acre Wood. That feeling was mutual for much of the United Kingdom’s moviegoers over the Labor Day weekend, as Robin topped BlacKkKlansman at the U.K. box office. It was sixth despite being in its fifth week in the states.

Robin has recouped its $75 million budget and has nearly made as much on top of that as of this writing. The live-action remake of The Jungle Book made almost a billion dollars on its $175-million budget back in 2016. It stands to reason that Disney could use the same template to turn its longtime, cartoon assets into revenue generators once again, and they are. Not only did I see the trailer for the live-action Dumbo remake, but the rebooted Mary Poppins Returns also made an appearance, and while the original was a live-action film, it is indicative of Disney adding some cars to the seemingly endless train of Hollywood reboots and remakes.

In May 2019, a live-action version of Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie will hit theaters, followed by John Favreau’s The Lion King in July and Milan in March of 2020. There is a score of reboots and remakes reportedly in the works at Disney, which should buoy its books well above water for a very long time. Imagine, a live-action reboot of The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under or, as I pitched to my sister during the trailers prior to Robin, a live-action remake of The Great Mouse Detective. Disney’s options are vast given the improved technology around visual effects, so it doesn’t have to rely on comic book movies to make its money in theaters.


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Multiple sources are reporting that Louis CK made a surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on Sunday night. You may or may not know that at the height of his career Louis CK was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. He sidestepped and denied the allegations for many years, finally telling the NY Times in 2017 interview:

 

“I’m not going to answer to that stuff, because they’re rumors. If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real … (CK then was asked, “So they’re not real?”) …  They’re rumors, that’s all that is.”

 

Well, CK denied the “rumors” for years. Until too many women came forward and then he admitted that “These stories are true.” He was immediately fired from multiple shows, lost deals and had his recent film, “I Love You, Daddy” pulled from distribution. A film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. The film also starred Chloe Grace Moretz and John Malkovich. The unreleased film is about an aging filmmaker (Malkovich) with an appalling sexual misconduct past and his new relationship with seventeen year old Moretz who happens to be Louis CK’s daughter. It’s unreleased but folks have still seen it. I mean, hell - I’ve seen it. And to be honest - it was okay. It’s even been nominated for awards! True story - the Alliance of Women Film Journalists gave it nominations and an award - winner of the Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award and nominee for the Hall of Shame Award!

 

Way to go Louis! =)

 

Anyway. You can imagine the shit storm of negative social media and press Louis CK was going to get when he made a walk on surprise appearance. Keep in mind that Louis CK often did walk on performance in the past to the sold out room (115) of the Comedy Cellar. It’s just that this was the first one since the allegations broke almost one year ago.  

 

Apparently, audience reaction was fairly positive. His fellow comedians performing that evening said it was “classic Louis” and “quite good.” Cellar owner, Noam Dworman verified that he received one complaint email but also, several supportive emails. So, it sounds as if the walk on show - was fine.

 

But for the most part celebrity reactions have been uniformly disgusted. Comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted: “You know how many talented women and POC comics are knocking on doors trying to get some time in front of audiences or powerful people in this business? And Louis just gets to glide back in on his own terms? Gosh, does it payoff to be in the boys club..the white boys club.”

 

Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi tweeted: “Not falling for this Louis CK "triumphant return" narrative after years of him humiliating women who worked for & with him.”

 

I would even go so far as to say the vast majority of coverage of Louis’s surprise set was negative. Very, very outraged and negative.

 

But Louis was not without his supporters. A few fellow (male) comedians voiced approval. Marlon Wayans said, “It’s nice to see Louis out of comedy jail.”  SNL actor and Emmy host Michael Che had a lot more to say.  

 

He mocked the twitter outrage with, "'OMG! Can you believe that guy went on with his life?! (Yes, I can.)”

 

But Che’s main point was that the outrage was more about fame obsession gone wrong. Che wrote:

 

"What’s interesting to me about these articles against Louis CK performing again, is how important fame is to people. A lot of what I read says that CK shouldn’t get to be a ‘famous’ comedian anymore. Because to them, he’s still winning. Isn’t that strange? Meaning he can be shamed, humiliated, lose millions of dollars, lose all of his projects, lose the respect of a lot of his fans and peers, and whatever else that comes with what he did. But since he can still do a comedy set for free at a 200 seat club a year later, it means he got off easy. THAT’s how coveted fame is. Just because it looks to you like someone is 'getting off easy' cause they still have the perks you would kill to have, doesn’t make it so."

Okay. Maybe. Those are some fair points that I hadn’t considered.

I would push back though, that Che doesn’t seem to mention the shame, humiliation, loss of $$$ and loss of projects that all of the women suffered due to CK’s actions, the subsequent cover up and the strong arm harassment tactics to get the women to just shut up. A lot of them left comedy because of it. How are we to value their loss of $$$ and loss of careers. How do we offer them their “comeback?” Is that even a thing? Are you allowed a comeback for something you dropped ten years ago due to harassment against you? I mean, you might not even be good at it any longer - because you haven’t done it in ten years! So, what should we allow your “come back” to be? A check? How much should it be worth? Should it be based on the overall value of what you lost? How do we calculate that? Is your only “payment” from this ordeal that Louis CK no longer gets to work in comedy? Is that fair for all parties involved?

*shrugs*

I mean, you can be cynical and say that had the women not been subjected to sexual misconduct and harassment - maybe they still wouldn’t have had “what it takes” to become a famous comedian. Okay. Well, what if some of them did have “what it takes.” Maybe one of them had the potential to become the next Tiffany Haddish (only the greatest female comic working today!).

Oh, man. That hurts my soul a bit. To think that a comedy powerhouse like Tiffany Haddish could have been lost to us because of sexual misconduct and harassment. That could have happened. And maybe it did.

Look, maybe Louis just “tried it out” to see what the reaction would be. And now that he sees the overwhelming negative praise, he won’t try it again. Or at least not for a long time.

Maybe he’s working out new material and planning a big come back and doesn’t care if social media is angry. We have no idea what Louis CK is thinking or if he has done anything (or nothing) to right some of his wrongs.

But something tells me - we’re about to find out.

 

Not only is Hollywood remaking and retelling the same fictional stories, but stories based in fact are also being retold because we keep repeating history. Exactly nothing has changed since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989 except, maybe, racial tensions becoming more tense. Black Americans are still being killed by racist cops and white supremacy groups are growing in numbers, getting mainstream support from the President of the United States and are killing way more Americans than Islamic Extremists. The Klan is back with a vengeance, and BlacKkKlansman isn't shy about sharing that fact.

BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of a black police officer in Colorado, new to the department and first of his kind, going “undercover” as a Ku Klux Klan supporter to investigate the “organization.” After cold-calling the Ku Klux Klan utilizing “white voice” not unlike black comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle, Ron Stallworth boasts to his precinct chief that he can speak both “the King’s English” and jive in order to infiltrate the local chapter of the Klan and determine the organization’s intentions and dangerousness while also getting an inside look at the college’s Black Student Union, who invited a Black Panther to speak in town.

The year is 1979 in Lee’s rendition of this true story, but the actual events occurred in 1972. Changing the date allowed Lee to reference then trendy blaxploitation movies and the KKK’s supposed support of President Richard Nixon’s re-election. It might look like 1979 on screen, but if you read just the script’s dialogue, you’d wonder whether it was 1979, 1989 or 2019.

Lee makes multiple references to current events throughout the film, making a comment on our time more so than a comment on the times in which it’s set. Stallworth is accused of naivety by a fellow officer when he says, “People would never elect a man like David Duke President.” Yet people elected Donald Trump, who called some white supremacists at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally “good people.” Good people, however, don’t discriminate as to whom they are good.

Duke, satisfyingly portrayed by Topher Grace, has a gullibility and all-around lack of awareness about him that somehow makes him not only tolerable but hilariously cartoonish. Duke was obviously concerned with how the film portrayed him, afraid that he’d come off as stupid. Lee didn’t care even though Duke told the real-life Stallworth that he “always respected Spike Lee.”

Duke also delivers a line drawing from current events in one of his many phone conversations with Stallworth, saying he wants “America to achieve its greatness again,” another obvious reference to the President's popular, campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” I suspect Duke and Trump share the same idea as to what constitutes this country’s greatest greatness, and if it’s not pre-Civil War, it’s at least a time when white people didn’t have to share anything with black people except the air they breathe.

Do the Right Thing, like BlacKkKlansman, was inspired by actual events. Black kids were indeed chased out of a pizzeria in New York City. Whether the boycott of said pizzeria actually occurred and resulted in a riot destroying the pizzeria is unknown. What is known and is made abundantly clear in BlacKkKlansman, is that the hostility and contempt underlying race relations in America have persisted if not worsened since 1989 despite BlacKkKlansman taking place 10 years prior. BlacKkKlansman transcends time in that sense, but it doesn’t attempt to transcend race despite an obvious opportunity to do so.

Stallworth is portrayed by John David Washington, who does the character justice by conveying both the gumshoe’s greenness and opportunistic, entrepreneurial spirit despite an obvious internal struggle between the black cop walking the beat and the black man longing for and working toward justice for his black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets by racist cops.

Stallworth doesn’t let anything stop him from pursuing his passion project. He is not the easily distracted Mookie of Do the Right Thing. Stallworth is as motivated as they come, and to him, the fact he’s black doesn’t mean he can’t infiltrate the local KKK chapter. There are more than enough white officers to serve as his stand-in, but it would take the right kind of white officer to infiltrate the Klan. Sure, the Colorado Springs Police Department, like most American police departments at the time, had more than its fair share of racist cops. But a racist cop could still give himself away as a cop despite the depth of his racism.

Enter Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish detective who wasn’t raised Jewish. Zimmerman is aptly portrayed by Adam Driver, who is almost too cool when accused of being a Jew at gunpoint by a member of the local KKK chapter. The Klansman is so concerned over Zimmerman’s bloodlines that he demands he take a lie detector test, but Zimmerman’s partner comes to the rescue just in time. Or does he? Zimmerman later alludes to the fact that he’s never really given his Jewish heritage much thought until now, but that doesn’t mean he could pass a “Jew detector” test at gunpoint, even if he wasn’t raised Jewish.

Despite the engaging performances of Washington and Driver, Lee misses an opportunity to make BlacKkKlansman a little more enjoyable and, dare I say, feel-good, by focusing on growing relationships between characters at the expense of others, and that’s likely by design. Lee doesn’t make many feel-good films, but Do the Right Thing certainly does a better job developing the relationship between Mookie and Sal than BlacKkKlansman does for Ron and Flip. Washington and Driver give fine individual performances, but their time on screen together isn’t ample or dramatic enough for their characters’ relationship to grow throughout the film like Mookie and Sal’s relationship does in Do the Right Thing.

Besides length, there’s really no reason not to give Ron and Flip a few moments to convey the growth of their work relationship. Any good film requires a hero to overcome conflict and grow as a person. The same goes for the relationships between characters. They too need to grow and motivate the action and change of the characters, and the relationship between Ron and Flip leaves much to be desired.

Not once do I remember Flip irate despite the danger Ron’s created for him. He’s the one risking everything while the “Black Klansman” sits safely at the other end of a telephone making friends with the grand wizard of the KKK. In fact, the film should have been called BlacKkKlansmen, because Flip is one half of the Black Klansman and has more at risk than Ron.

At first, Stallworth is completely careless when it comes to his new partner’s life, and there’s never really a moment where Stallworth shares a realization of and appreciation for the white man taking all the risk while the black man remains safe on the other end of a telephone. Just because Zimmerman’s white doesn’t mean the Klan won’t kill him. This missed opportunity for Lee to display the dynamics influencing the relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman is one that could have contributed to the film’s drama and the characters’ respective growths throughout the film.

But Driver seemed emotionally unavailable and barely vulnerable throughout the film, whether he was undercover or not. He had his guard up at all times, and that could be his interpretation of the character, as an undercover detective should probably have his guard up at all times. Or his lack of emotional range could be due to a lack of chemistry with Washington, which would explain Lee's limiting their relationship's screen time. Washington doesn't give Driver much to work with in Flip's most vulnerable moment, but if the scene in question is not ad-libbed, the script doesn't give Driver much to work off of either.

Driver might be a victim of pigeon-holing on a Napoleon Dynamite scale, where regardless of Driver's role in a film, he will always be Kylo Ren to some people, which isn't fair to him, but a role like that is sometimes inescapable and can be detrimental to any other performance at no fault to Driver except for being iconic. Driver's demeanor as Flip was almost as if he was inwardly lamenting his performance knowing audiences would disconnect themselves from the viewing experience at the shock of seeing a Star Wars character in a Spike Lee Joint.   

For whatever reason, and I'm leaning toward creative choice, Lee focuses our attention on the relationship between Stallworth and his love interest, Patrice Dumas, a militant, student leader he meets on his first day working undercover. Her disdain for “pigs” only grows that evening when she’s harassed by one of Stallworth’s peers while he waits for her to meet him at a bar. Stallworth doesn’t let his secret profession stop him from making a rookie mistake and getting personal.

Lee’s focus on the fragile relationship between Stallworth and Dumas instead of the underdeveloped relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman robs viewers of a relationship that could have provided them a reason for hope, which is something Lee’s films tend to struggle conveying due to subject matter and history. Black Americans’ relationships with police, or lack thereof, have been and continue to be shaped by a very warranted lack of trust. Police have been and continue to be employed to further hinder black Americans, who in 2018 still feel the financial and social effects of slavery. That doesn’t scream hope, but neither do Spike Lee Joints. Spike Lee Joints mirror reality more so than most filmmakers in history.

Lee’s choice to focus on the relationship between black man and black woman and the struggles they experience despite sharing a skin color instead of focusing on the black man and white man and the struggles they experience working together in spite of their differing skin color might indicate that Lee believes black Americans still need to unify before all Americans unify. In Do the Right Thing, Mookie and Sal’s relationship isn’t cheated like Ron and Flip’s, but Mookie still pitches for his home team regardless of who’s signing his checks.

Mookie’s boss isn’t responsible for the death of Radio Raheem, but Sal’s already short and shrinking temper in the summer and pizza oven heat, and his growing defensiveness and displeasure with race-related questions posed as if he’s on trial for being racist because of the pictures of Italian-Americans he hangs in the pizzeria, escalate the incident to violence before white cops ever get their murdering hands on Raheem.

An argument over music and its volume in Do the Right Thing and the resulting response by police sounds eerily similar to recent smartphone videos taken of police brutalizing a minority amongst a crowd of minorities pleading for the police to stop. Again, not much has changed in 30 years except the number and quality of video cameras and camera operators and an increased means to share videos. The police beatings of minorities are just in high-definition and available to view from multiple angles almost immediately upon the completion of "principle photography." Lee's shot-for-shot videography of the riot in Do the Right Thing could probably be reproduced using smartphones, invoking an even more emotional response given the lifelike intimacy provided by the participants' cameras. 


The riot really begins when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of his employer’s storefront near the end of Do the Right Thing. But he does it because it’s the right thing to do—not because he's taking the side of his people over that of his provider—but because he gives his people and his provider exactly what they need: closure.

Mookie dispersing the crowd with a sentimental soliloquy apologizing for his employer and fellow employees works better on stage than on screen and wouldn’t likely work at all in reality. Would heartfelt words of a pizza delivery boy be enough to soothe you and disperse a riot after your community lost a friend, brother, son and neighbor because the pizza delivery boy’s employer couldn’t stand his “jungle” music? I thought not.

Mookie gave his community exactly what it needed to get over its collective grief in a healthy manner. While looting and destruction of property are crimes, both are a lot healthier than murder or assault of those perceived to be responsible for the tragic death of Radio Raheem. Mookie might have actually saved Sal’s life, but that, like the reasoning behind Mookie’s throwing of the trash can, is not immediately evident to viewers given the emotion-evoking destruction of the pizzeria.  

Like BlacKkKlansman, there was an obvious need for the end of Do the Right Thing to offer viewers a semblance of hope. Mookie coming back to Sal’s destroyed pizzeria the next day to collect his $250 salary and the two of them negotiating a settlement isn’t hope enough apparently. So Lee drops lines from both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to reinforce the dangerousness of duality—the idea that contrasting concepts cannot both be correct simultaneously. But two different concepts can be true at the same time. Nonviolence is a good approach until someone attacks you, which is the message Lee sent at the end of Do the Right Thing.   

Lee has often echoed the words of Malcolm X and King, Jr. in his work, and BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Stallworth represents the teachings of King, Jr., and Dumas practices the teachings of X, putting them at odds as to which path is most likely to award “all the power to all the people.” In the end, of course, they realize the same things viewers of Do the Right Thing did: two contrasting concepts can be true at the same time, and if there’s to be hope for black Americans to ever overcome the persisting socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery, it’s going to require both nonviolent and violent acts by a unified, black people.

The black community's dismissal of the Asian grocer across the street from Sal's pleading with them that he too is "black" like them so the rioters don't loot and destroy his shop is a great example of the message Lee sends in both Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman. Black Americans can't climb out of the socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery as a group inside another larger group of minorities. No other American minority started with the disadvantage black Americans did, so Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. can't relate and, therefore, can't help black Americans overcome their socioeconomic disadvantage. And judging from Lee's apparent choices in BlacKkKlansman, Lee doesn't think white Americans can help either. It's something that has to be done  solely by black Americans solely for black Americans.

So almost 30 years after people first saw a race riot explode on the big screen in a Spike Lee Joint, another Spike Lee Joint now shows people exactly how little has changed when it comes to race relations in America. If there’s one obvious changes between Lee’s films spanning almost 30 years, it’s that Do the Right Thing has a more hopeful ending than BlacKkKlansman, which tells me Spike thinks the future is more bleak for black Americans than it was in 1989. If you're looking for a hopeful, uplifting movie this week, see the relatively inconsequential Crazy Rich Asians. I haven't seen it, but I can tell you it will be an almost complete disconnect from reality that won't require your brain to enjoy. Romantic comedies are, by design, an escape. 

Spike Lee Joints, however, mirror reality and are meant to make you uncomfortable with their unrivaled realness and borderline neorealism, making you aware of things previously foreign and challenging your beliefs of what you thought it was like to be black in America, because if you're not black, you only know what you see, hear and read. And no one provides as accurate and unabridged imagery of black lives in America as Spike Lee. If you're looking for a thought-provoking, uncomfortable, cultural commentary of American race relations then and now, this Spike Lee Joint is educational and entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission. 


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: The Karel Show, Erskine Overnight, The Lounge, The Debbie Nigro Show

Thursday, 16 August 2018 15:39

Aretha Franklin Passes Away At Age 76

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The 76 year-old “Queen of Soul” has reportedly passed after a long bout with pancreatic cancer.

The AP News Tweeted early this morning the following:

Aretha Franklin, the long-reigning “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think” and her signature song, “Respect,” died Thursday at age 76, said her representative, Gwendolyn Quinn.  The cause was advanced pancreatic cancer.

Her last performance was for the Elton John Annual AIDS Foundation Gala in November.

In March the singer cancelled her upcoming performances due to an undisclosed illness.

aretha

For years Aretha Franklin has battled rumors about her health ranging from respiratory illnesses to pancreatic cancer.

In an interview with Access Hollywood she said, “I don’t know where ‘pancreatic cancer’ came from.

“I was sitting there reading the newspaper and it was saying someone in my family said that. No one in my family ever said that to anybody.”

The multi-Grammy award winner deserved a little “RESPECT” and the media honored her privacy requests, despite growing concern for her weight loss.

Diabetes May Be Related to Pancreatic Cancer

 

Ms. Franklin reportedly had diabetes.  Studies have found a correlation between the common blood sugar disease and the lethal cancer.  Once recent study found if one had a worsening of their diabetes it could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.  Since diabetes is a disease that affects the pancreas and its ability to produce and release insulin, its logical that there may be a correlation.

Pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate and unfortunately it remains asymptomatic until it has progressed to an advanced stage.  So a worsening of diabetes (in the absence of poor diet and lack of compliance with medication) may be the only sign that pancreatic cancer is occurring. The earlier the cancer is caught, the better the prognosis.

She is a legend and has touched us all.  May she rest in peace.

Ten Great Performances by Aretha Franklin.

 

Aretha_Franklin.jpg

Her fellow musicians and friends react:

 

Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul

  • Paul McCartney

This morning my longest friend in this world went home to be with our Father. I will miss her so much but I know she’s at peace. #QueenOfSoul

  • Smokey Robinson

The greatest voice in American popular music has been stilled.  Our beloved #ArethaFranklin has gone.  For me, she was a musical lighthouse, guiding and inspiring with every note.  I loved her so and love her still.  Goodbye, Queen of Soul.

 

  • Bette Midler

 

One of the highlights of my career was singing with #ArethaFranklin at The Tony Awards. It was an out of body experience for me. One of greatest singers of all time. You will be missed by all. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=csm3A80M9qA …

 

  • Hugh Jackman

 

On Wednesday, Academy President John Bailey and C.E.O. Dawn Hudson announced three “key changes” - a shorter show with a three hour hard limit, an earlier date for the ceremony and a new “Popular Film” category.

Um. Okay. Well, key changes is usually code for, “We’ve noticed our ratings dropping and we’re panicking - quick, let’s make some key changes!

Let’s break down their panic!

Three Hour Limit

The Academy Awards is a long show. It usually runs three to four hours. Everyone knows this. It doesn’t stop people from watching. And it’s been that way for multiple decades. Sure, some folks  have mild grumbles about that fact but ultimately - the exact same people will have the exact same complaint no matter how many hours the show runs. Cutting the show from 3.5 hours to 3 hours is fairly meaningless. Those same people will complain if it’s two hours or ninty minutes.  

And the Academy ideas for how to cut the show is this - some “lesser” awards will happen during the commercial break and viewers will be updated in shortly edited clips during the broadcast.

Sheesh. Some of these folks are random crew members who will never be nominated and / or win another Oscar again. Just let them have their bloody five minutes on TV, for Pete’s sake!

“Change” conclusion: Unnecessary. And certainly not a “key” change.

Earlier Telecast Time

They want the show to broadcast 2-3 weeks earlier than its usual “last week in February” timeslot. I guess they think that the Oscars two weeks earlier will increase ratings. Or something. The next Oscar, the 90th Ceremony is moving to early March to avoid competing against the Winter Olympics. Which seems fair to move the telecast for that one year. But, in general - moving the ceremony two weeks earlier doesn’t seem as it if it will increase viewers. I just don’t know what they are thinking here.

Let’s test this. Ask a friend. Go to someone you know who doesn’t watch the Oscars at all.

Say to them, “Hi friend! Are you going to watch the Oscars this year?”  

They will respond, “No, of course not. I hate that show. I’ll never watch it.”

Catch them with, “But what if it was broadcast two weeks earlier than usual?”

Watch their cold eye roll of indifference burn into your soul!

“Change” conclusion: Ridiculous and unnecessary.  And totally not a “key change.

New Category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film

And the “We don’t think your film is good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award but because it made a lot of $$$, we’ll throw you a bone” Oscar, goes to …

This is the “key change” drawing the most negative press. Celebrity reactions have been mixed with (usually) the old folks saying, “I hate change” and the young folks saying, “I love change.”

Well, I’m all for change. As many have pointed out the Oscars have not added a new category since “Animated Feature” in 2002 so it’s certainly time for some change. I am happy to hear that a new category is in the works. For the last two decades I have oft said there is glaring missing category from the Oscars, the “Outstanding Achievement is Stunt Coordination.” Once I say that outloud aren’t you like, “Oh, yeah. They totally need that category.”

The fine folks over at Vox.com thought the same thing with their: Forget Best Popular Film. Here are 6 new categories the Oscars actually need. (Although, I disagree with their “Best Casting” idea).

Alas, no. It is not any of those fine ideas. The Oscars will now give an Award to the film that made a ton of money but wasn’t quite good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Of course, we already have those exact awards coming from both the Golden Globes and on a more comedic level - the MTV Movie awards. The Oscars is supposed to be the Award show with gravitas. It shouldn’t be handing out awards to movies because they are popular.

On the other hand - the Oscars originally, had two “best movie” categories. That’s right! The very first Academy Awards gave out two “best film” winners in two separate categories: Wings won “Outstanding Picture” and Sunrise won “Unique and Artistic Picture.”

Of course that was Academy Awards 1. By Academy Awards 2 the “Unique and Artistic Picture” category was gone - never to return. Because, “fuck those unique and artistic pictures!” #amiright

 

I kid. But seriously, in 2009 the Academy tried to address the “popular films not being nominated” problem by increasing the number of nominated “Best Films” from five to ten. Probably because The Dark Knight, a movie that was critically acclaimed and widely popular didn’t receive a “Best Film” nomination much to the chagrin of fans.

BUT THEN - just two years later the Academy was like, “Um, it’s really hard to find ten films we want to nominate for Best Film - every single year!” and changed the ruling from “ten films will be nominated” to “a number no less than five and no more than ten films” will be nominated for Best Film.

So, change happens fast because folks don’t seem to think things through enough. And then change happens again to fix the changes that were hastily made. I suspect something along those lines is what’s in store for this “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” idea.

I mean, if it’s an “outstanding achievement” - just nominate it for Best Film! Why wouldn’t you do that? The movie is an outstanding achievement!

Right?

It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me, folks.

Update September 7th: Due to overwhelming negative press and insider backlash the Academy has nixed the "Popular Film" category. Well, at least for now. Ratings were down 20% from the previous year so I'm sure they'll come up with an equally stupid ideas as Popular Film in a desperate bid to up ratings.

Transcript of the Academy’s full press release:

* * *

Dear Member,

Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.

The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.

Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:

1. A three-hour Oscars telecast

We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.

To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.

2. New award category

We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.

3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars

The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.

The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.

We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.

John Bailey and Dawn Hudson

The Academy later issued an addendum:

While the details for a popular film category are still being finalized, a single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture. The new category will be introduced this coming year, at the 91st Oscars. In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films.

 

True Crime documentaries are nothing new. A few of the better ones have even freed innocent victims from jail for crimes they did not commit. The Thin Blue Line (1988) is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris that covers the story of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. One year after the release of Thin Blue Line Adam’s was exonerated and released from prison.

The Paradise Lost Trilogy covers the infamous West Memphis Three case where three teenage boys were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murders they did not commit. After 19 years in prison and two Paradise Lost sequels, new DNA evidence was found that linked a known serial rapist to the killings and the West Memphis Three were released from prison.

Netflix has a variety of crime docu-series available to stream. The most popular being last years ten part Making a Murderer, directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. Season 1 was a huge hit for Netflix and season 2 is expected on Netflix by the end of 2018.

And now Netflix has again struck true crime gold with The Staircase, a 13 part series directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade that covers the 2001 accidental death, or murder, of Kathleen Peterson . Kathleen was found covered in blood at the bottom of the stairs at her and husband Michael Peterson's home. Michael says she was drunk and slipped down the stairs. The police and the DA say that Michael Peterson bludgeoned her to death. 16 years of legal proceedings followed.

While the director and producers have very carefully claimed The Staircase is an unbiased look at the American justice system it becomes pretty clear that the docu-series is extremely pro Michael Peterson.

And that’s fine because, after watching the entire 13 part series I’m on the fence as to his guilt or innocence. Which, I suppose - makes for fine viewing.  I found the series to be more satisfying, than Making a Murderer which is equally on the side of the white male man accused of murder.  What I mean by “more satisfying” is that, agree with the conclusion of The Staircase or not - it has an ending. Making a Murderer for all it’s pros and cons - is just going to go on and on.

 

So what exactly is “The Staircase” about? (A spoiler free breakdown)

 

Fair question. As mentioned above - it’s mainly about the legal proceedings of Michael Peterson who is accused of murdering his wife. It covers Michael's life in great detail including the lives of his children and his charismatic lawyer, David Rudolph.

People are fascinating. Late great film critic Gene Siskel always said that an actor’s face is far more interesting than an explosion. And that carries over to documentaries and real life. People are interesting and flawed and ridiculous and they lie when they should tell the truth and they tell the truth when they should probably lie. And that’s what’s great about The Staircase. It's about people. I liked Michael Peterson, I liked David Rudolph, I like Michaels daughters and one of his sons.

I found one of the other sons a little shady, only to find out that said son had a weird, extensive criminal history - none of which was presented in the docu-series. In fact, there was considerable amount of “strangeness” cut out of the series. Accused murderer Michael Peterson had a fifteen year love affair with The Staircase editor even though the director and producers all claim that fact didn’t affect her judgement as she cut together the series.

Um - maybe that’s true. But probably not.

There is a hugely popular theory of how Kathleen actually accidentally died that is oddly absent from the series. There theory is equally absurd as it is plausible. If you want to continue a spoiler free review do not click this link here (which discusses the theory in detail).  

But the main thing I found odd about The Staircase is the lack of empathy towards Kathleen Peterson - the victim. The woman who either tragically died or was murdered. We know virtually nothing about her other than - she's the victim. Maggie Serota writes a really nice piece for Spin.com called Netflix’s The Staircase Doesn’t Seem Particularly Concerned With Kathleen Peterson.

 

From her piece:

“Like a supporting female character in a mafia movie, the Kathleen presented in the crime doc had no interior life of her own and existed only to know other people, namely her husband and likely killer Michael…”

Serota’s observation is spot on. For a 13 hour series covering the death (possible murder?) of Kathleen Peterson - we are presented very little information as to … well, anything about her. Which means the show produces very little empathy for the victim, other than a few harrowing photographs of the crime scene. And worse than that, doesn't even try to produce empathy for her. According to The Staircase, Kathleen Peterson is basically just - "the dead woman."

And that seems like a professional choice by the director, the producers and the editor in an effort to slant the viewer towards the idea that Michael Peterson is innocent.

And maybe he is. But Kathleen Peterson is dead under mysterious circumstances. And her in debt husband needed money. And Kathleen had a huge life insurance policy. By the way, if you are suddenly thinking, “You said this was spoiler free!”  I assure you that information was spoiler free. You know why? Because the 13 part series doesn’t even bother to mention the fact that there was a money problem and a huge life insurance payout. (Motive, anyone?)

Michael Peterson received one third of the life insurance policy, which he spent on legal fees. The other two thirds of the money went to Kathleen’s first husband and her daughter from that previous marriage.

All that being said, I found The Staircase to be fascinating and in places, quite shocking. There are story twists in the series that, if you viewed them in a feature film you would say to yourself, “No way is this even remotely plausible!” But as they say, “Life is stranger than fiction.” And the events surrounding the death / possible murder of Kathleen Peterson are certainly that - strange.


All thirteen one hour episodes of The Staircase are currently streaming on Netflix.

 

Four of the five top grossing films in the United States thus far in 2018 are sequels, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom already grossing $222 million to take the fifth spot on that list.

It should be no surprise that the dinosaur-driven, action-thriller saga would manage a good enough opening week to more than cover its $170 million budget. But I see Fallen Kingdom falling in the box office like the dinosaurs suddenly fell from existence.

I have long been a fan of the Jurassic franchise. It’s responsible for some of the best special effects and puppeteering in cinema history. The idea of resurrecting the dinosaurs to live amongst humans intrigues the hell out of me, and the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios is also one of my favorite all-time rides.

Fallen Kingdom just isn’t a very good film. The setting nor the story allow the filmmakers to take advantage of its stars and I’m not talking about Chris Pratt and Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m talking about the dinosaurs, who have always been the stars of the Jurassic franchise, and there’s evidence other people are aware of Fallen Kingdom’s failures.

Fallen Kingdom’s weekly domestic gross fell 71 percent from last Friday to this Friday. Only Hotel Artemis and Chappaquiddick experienced larger drops in revenue over the same time. With films like Sicario 2 and Uncle Drew expecting $18- and $16-million openings, respectively, Fallen Kingdom’s brief reign atop the box office will be briefer than the length of time Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were open to the public. A July 4 opening of The First Purge in 3,000 theaters won’t help, and Ant-man and the Wasp opening in 4,100 theaters on July 6 will precipitate Fallen Kingdom’s fall in domestic box office revenue.

Meanwhile, Tag had the fourth-best percentage change in revenue over the last week, losing just 30 percent in revenue during that time, and it’s still being shown in over 3,000 theaters, so there’s plenty of time for people to see something original and unique to wash the bad taste Fallen Kingdom left in their mouths. It’s really hard for an action movie to overcome poor reviews (51 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and 59 percent audience score), but moviegoers are more willing to give comedies the benefit of the doubt because of people’s unique senses of humor. An action movie must be carried by characters, conflict or effects, but a comedy always has comedy on which to fall back, which might be why Tag’s box office revenue dissipated 55 percent to Fallen Kingdom’s 71 percent in their respective first week’s Friday-to-Friday revenues.

In an age when an original idea is hard to come by at the movie theater, I appreciate a film like Tag that attempts to tell a story never before told, except for in The Wall Street Journal. A group of friends spending the month of May playing tag for 30 consecutive years is a damn fine premise for a movie. It’s not a story entirely, but it gives you the time and place to serve as a setting and interesting characters that can hold an audience’s attention long enough to tell your story.

Tag’s unique premise makes for the perfect bromance comedy about making friendships span the tests of time and space. Not only is Tag hilarious; it’s a bonafide action movie worthy of the big screen. The action sequences are shot superbly, slow-motioned to Matrix-level speed and accompanied by wickedly funny play-by-play commentary.

Jeremy Renner’s character, Jerry, has never been “it,” and this is the year his friends finally get him, because they know where he’s going to be and when. But Jerry’s not the Neo of tag for nothing. He’s got mad skills, making his friends look ridiculous in some of the best action sequences doubling as physical comedy that you’ll see in theaters this year or any other. The same cannot be said for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, whose predecessor also excelled because of an action-comedy combination.

So if you’re looking to scratch your action movie itch, consider seeing Tag instead of Fallen Kingdom. You’ll not only be entertained by the frequency and presentation of Tag’s action sequences, but you’ll laugh during and between those action sequences and enjoy seeing an original idea projected on the big screen.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: The Karel Show, Erskine Overnight, The Lounge, The Debbie Nigro Show

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