“They paved paradise.” The power of documentary film in pandemic: A Castle in Brooklyn, King Arthur and Marvel’s 616

They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

– “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell

“Your imperfections make you special.” – Joey, student actor in “Spotlight,” the final episode of Marvel’s 616

Today, we brought in our deck furniture (from the summer!) to store in the basement, that is after decorating our house for Christmas. We bought the set what feels like yesterday (April), and we dutifully covered it to protect it from harsh sun and booming thunderstorms, pretty much never sitting on it, once wrapped in a cumbersome, billowing shroud of waxy canvas. So we paid for outdoor couches, negotiated their delivery in pandemic, never used them, and just huffed and puffed maneuvering them through endless doors and hallways into our basement, in another attempt to protect them.

Futility and comedy, thy name is home ownership. Everyone keeps blaming 2020 for everything, as if an arbitrarily determined twelve-month signifier of time’s passage is the cause of our collective woes. Yet, what has actually been laid bare in this dumpster fire period is, in fact, that we are all ourselves to blame with our materialistic, self-absorbed mania day after day, a long-standing debt that finally came due. How much have we taken for granted and what damage have we done to planet, culture, ecology, health, and mental well-being in the process? We’ve likely only seen the tip of that iceberg. Ahoy, me maties!

Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quieter time
Lights down, you up and die
Driving in on this highway
All these cars and upon the sidewalk
People in every direction
No words exchanged
No time to exchange

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennas waving
They all do it the same
They all do it the same way

– “Ants Marching,” Dave Matthews Band

My last legit movie review was Birds of Prey. In February. Lord, I hope that’s not the last movie I ever get to see in an actual movie theatre. If I had only known, I’d have chosen … oh, who am I kidding? I still would have seen it. I miss the communal experience of movies, observing audience reaction and assessing the art as well as the commerce of cinema. Wild horses couldn’t get me to go now, if ever again, but I do miss it. Yet, between lone gunmen and rampant plague, performance venues are the new OK Corral.

Thanksgiving has always been a special movie time for my family. My parents and I, year after year, would see hundreds of films over the long holiday weekends, beguiled by Hollywood’s relentless marketing machine. We’d pronounce a film as “awful!” only to change our minds over breakfast, searching for connective tissue and insights into the human condition from such disparate selections as Life of Pi and Daddy’s Home 2. I miss that. I miss my parents.

My husband and I have had no end of entertainment – deck furniture notwithstanding. Showing my age, I do resent that finding new shows to binge is tantamount to a digital Easter egg hunt these days. Netflix? No. AmazonPrime? Maybe. Disney+? Possibly. Do we just have this on DVD somewhere?

We’ve enjoyed a lot of what we’ve seen, at times arguably more forgiving of relative quality for the escape that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Ratched, Upload, All-American, Hollywood, The Order, The Boys, Emily in Paris, Mandalorian, The Umbrella Academy provided. I’m 99% certain we would have watched very few of these (let alone looked forward to each installment like Victorians eagerly awaiting the next Dickens chapter) had the world not been ending every five days. For this time with my husband, enjoying our home, staying at home, not chasing frenetically scheduled ACTIVITIES!, I am grateful. Pandemic has been a pleasant reprieve in that regard, and I may have been permanently transformed into Boo Radley as a result. Check our trees for handmade toys left for passers-by.

My dear friend Tyler Chase is a talented documentary filmmaker, and she gave me a sneak peek at her latest A Castle in Brooklyn, King Arthur. To say it was the right movie to see in my present mindset would be textbook understatement. I am haunted days after by her clear-eyed, unsentimental but utterly empathic filmic observations on the clash of creativity, capitalism, obsession, free thought, and community in postmodern America.

From the film’s website: “A Castle in Brooklyn, King Arthur with Golden Globe Award recipient, Brian Cox as the Narrator is an intimate and journalistic documentary by filmmaker, Tyler A. Chase. The intimate and journalistic documentary … filmed over a period of seven years, A Castle in Brooklyn, King Arthur, brings us through the doors of the iconic Broken Angel building and into the world of its creators, the visionary, Arthur Wood and his wife, Cynthia as they cling to their life’s work, the Broken Angel building, the last symbol of the bohemian artist culture that once permeated Brooklyn, NY.

“The Woods created the 108 foot Broken Angel objet trouvé building as a sculpture and landmark for the community located in a section of Clinton Hill bordering on Bed Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The Broken Angel building is the subject of local and international news specials; photographed by many. The Woods are loved by their neighbors who see the iconic structure as a beacon of freedom and the threat of its destruction as an omen of the disappearance of a way of life and community. To many it is a symbol of freedom – to others an opportunity for profit.

“Filmmaker, Tyler A. Chase renders the Woods’ story as one both magical and heart wrenching; following them through triumphs, judicial blunders, injustice, evictions, and comedic moments all the while inspired by the indomitable spirit of visionary artist and creator of the Broken Angel, Arthur Wood.”

Director Tyler Chase filming on location at Broken Angel (above) and with narrator Brian Cox (below)

The piece, which recently received the Audience Choice Award from YoFiFest 2020 and the Grand Jury Prize from the CARE Awards International Film Festival, is lyrical and poignant and heartbreaking. Chase captures the visceral nature of what it must have been like to live in that space. And the pain of being deeply misunderstood. Grey Gardens for the 21st century.

As far as narrative techniques, Chase employs interstitial chapter headings with ironic word choices/definitions, building the momentum inexorably. Like a slow-moving car crash, it’s clear things won’t end well for Arthur, Cynthia, or their beloved home. This chapter device – dare I invoke Dickensian tragicomedy again? – accentuates the tale’s inevitability. We all know how the relentless, monochromatic push of “economic development” can destroy the delicate work of sensitive souls creating art in the margins. America, ain’t it something to see? But the viewer mustn’t look away, and Chase’s gaze assures that you won’t.

The overall construction of the film mirrors the Broken Angel itself, layering upon itself in jagged turns, a documentary collage. Exquisite. The film FEELS artisanal – no doubt because of its lengthy gestation – which brings us that much closer to understanding Arthur’s quixotic DIY style. Hello, Oscar? Don’t overlook this essential, bespoke film.

Brian Cox’ regally dulcet tones as the film’s narrator are, yes, Arthurian, yet comforting with a wry edge. The use of music – folk, classical, even what seems like Gregorian chanting – is elegiac. And the moment Chase steps in front of her camera to advocate in real-time for Arthur (at The U.N. no less!), becoming a character in the story, is breathtaking. Just when the viewer is screaming, “Why can’t someone do something for these souls?!” … she does.

(Side note: for the inevitable scripted Hollywood remake, Willem DaFoe is Arthur Wood’s doppelgänger, and he could start preparing his Academy Award acceptance speech now. And then Stephen Schwartz could musicalize it for Broadway, dusting off some of the salvageable ideas from his work on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Broken Angel! The Musical! Arthur and Cynthia could live on forever!)

Chase tells the story of Broken Angel with an artist’s appreciation and identification sans any judgment. That’s all Arthur likely ever wanted, in his expression and in his life. Is that why some of us “live out loud,” making bold choices, seemingly incongruous with the workaday world? Semiotic code for the person to be seen and accepted as they are? More devastating than the demolition of Arthur’s life’s work is society’s sniffy rejection of his unique soul made manifest in the Broken Angel.

Surprisingly, this same theme carries through another documentary – or rather documentary series – of a more corporate variety: Marvel’s 616 on Disney+. Across eight episodes, helmed by a bevy of filmmakers, the series wisely eschews a linear recounting of Marvel Comics’ storied history, instead highlighting unsung corners of fandom and creative output.

The incisive episode depicting the rise and proliferation of women comic book writers and artists is as reflective of the fraught times in which we live as it is of Marvel’s fits and starts where inclusion is concerned. The episode about toy creation and collection is as frenetic and joy-filled as you might imagine. And the feature on Marvel’s growing community of international artists is quietly introspective and appropriately moving, if not quite compensating for Marvel’s poor track record with creators of color in the past.

Episodes, respectively, on the cosplay community and school-based theatre are almost tangentially Marvel, shining a much needed light on people left behind who found kinship, purpose, and family through the characters, stories, and mythology of Marvel. I dare you not to shed a few happy tears while viewing.

Much (digital) ink has been spilled on the episode highlighting the legendary “Marvel Method,” whereby an issue is created iteratively and collaboratively between writer and artist. Affable, jocular Dan Slott, the subject of the episode, spurred great ire from fanboys over what they perceived as his seeming disrespect for his fellow creators (and, ultimately, for the end user). Slott’s procrastination is played for comic effect in the episode, and his chronic inability to meet dreaded deadlines is excused under the guise of “Marvel Method.”

The angry binge-watching horde missed the point, however. This isn’t about their inconvenience over receiving the latest issue of Iron Man 2020 a few weeks later than expected. This is about, yet again, the thorny nexus of art and commerce. For Slott, like Arthur Wood, creative expression is a kind of one-sided communion with his fellow human beings. The procrastination prolongs the fun, the invention, the collaboration. Hitting deadline means the party’s over, only to begin again on a schedule set by management, not artists.

Dan Slott

The episode ends with Slott prowling his local comic shop – no doubt in avoidance of work awaiting him at home – joyously name-dropping his favorite writers and artists, as he thumbs through their latest issues. In that moment, he is a figure both inspiringly childlike and painfully alone. If anything, I am now more appreciative of Dan Slott as a singular voice than I am annoyed by delays in his output.

I’m just a face in the crowd
Nothing to worry about
Not even trying to stand out
I’m getting smaller and smaller and smaller
And I got nothing to say
It’s all been taken away
I just behave and obey
I’m afraid that I’m starting to fade away

Hey, and for what it was worth
I really used to believe
That maybe there’s some great thing
That we could achieve
And now I can’t tell the difference
Or know what to feel
Between what I’ve been trying so hard to see
And what appears to be real

– “Getting Smaller,” Nine Inch Nails

Images of Bill Schwarz and of my mom Susie Duncan Sexton during various special moments of creativity and community

We all just want to be seen, to be understood, to matter. While writing this, my mom Susie Duncan Sexton received a glorious email from her friend and fellow Columbia City, Indiana native Bill Schwarz. My mother wrote about Bill nearly a decade ago (here), and they recently reconnected. Both are accomplished talents in their own rights (check out Bill’s singing group “New Tradition Chorus” and upcoming concert), but their appreciation for one another is inspiring. Bill just finished reading one of my mother’s books, and here is an excerpt of what he wrote to her in response:

“After reading your book (on my Nook reader) it prompted me to write my opinion… I perceived a sensitive, creative intellect that deeply cared and loved unconditionally. Your pets have that quality as does your son Roy. I sensed in your writing the wholesome expression of joy, yet I saw you tempering feelings of dismay. You said, how does the song go: ‘looking for love in the most usual places…..’”

And isn’t that all any of us desire? A voice that is heard, appreciated, reciprocated. To all of the artists in this world … thank you.

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

– “Nature Boy,” Nat “King” Cole

Want to join me in supporting a good cause? Beginning this #GivingTuesday and on through my birthday on December 28, I’m raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. I’m a proud board member and have seen firsthand how every little bit helps.

And on GivingTuesday Dec 1, Facebook will match $7 million in qualifying donations. Just click donate on this fundraising page: https://www.facebook.com/donate/3378588845591918/?fundraiser_source=external_url

Thank you for your support.

The mission of the Ann Arbor Ronald McDonald Houses is to provide families of children experiencing a serious illness or injury requiring hospitalization or treatment on an outpatient basis, a “home away from home” that assists in alleviating the families’ emotional and financial stress.

Diversity in Legal: Profile of Yours Truly by Wonderful, Legendary Julie Savarino #lmamkt

Thank you, dear Julie Savarino! This is so darn sweet. And put a much needed smile on my face this crazy week. Love you ❤️

Original post: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/juliesavarino_lawfirm-diversity-legal-activity-6730084647503507456-eQDY … she writes …

Meet Roy Sexton — Roy and his husband, John Mola are two of the most multi-talented, community-minded, and kindest professionals I have ever met!

Roy is the Director of Marketing at Clark Hill Law, a 650-attorney #lawfirm with 25 offices across the US, Mexico, and Europe. He also serves as a board member for the Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, and Legal Marketing Association – LMA International.

Roy is a non-stop giver who regularly uses his social media platforms and reach to raise awareness and money for the various charities and causes he supports.

He holds a degree in Theatre from Wabash College, a Master’s Degree in Theatre from The Ohio State University, and an MBA from University of Michigan-Flint. Roy continues to entertain audiences with his acting and singing, and applies those skills as an emcee for various charity events across the Midwest.

Increase #diversity in #legal and follow or connect with Roy on LinkedIn! https://lnkd.in/eN-RBJC

I’m a little less clean-cut in quarantine! Shirt from the amazing Detroit Dog Rescue – available for purchase here: https://detroitdogrescue.com

Open Book Theatre’s incisive, ingenious iPoppy + #LMA20 … it’s a wrap (yet so energizing!)

Thank you to Krista Schafer Ewbank and Open Book Theatre Company for continuing to find innovative, fun, and provocative ways to deliver theatre to our community in these dark days. iPoppy is by turns riotous, satirical, poignant, incisive, but always engaging. A one-woman ten minute show delivered 1:1 to each audience member via the quarantine-ubiquitous #Zoom, iPoppy is a frothy yet searing indictment of our present “culture,” one that wallpapers over socioeconomic inequities, familial trauma, rampant materialism, and the corrosive intersection of racism and sexism with a relentless and soul-crushing press of social media self-promotion and digital deception. iPoppy packs a wallop in its brisk and breezy ten minute run-time. Give it a go, and support local theatre.

“Check out some clips from iPoppy, along with some quotes from audience members. Sign up for your own 10 minute, live performance of this original piece! Written by M.X. Sotero. Directed by Topher Payne. Featuring Marcela Gazaro.”

Preview clip: https://www.facebook.com/699433083431924/posts/4543148755726985/?vh=e&extid=0&d=n

Tickets: http://openbooktheatrecompany.net/one-to-one-virtual-theatre/

This year’s Legal Marketing Association annual conference was a virtual affair, and it was just as vibrant and engaging (if not more so) than our in-person meetings. I’m happily energized AND utterly exhausted. I’m one proud international board member tonight! Below are some highlights …

Enjoy this #lma20 chat with the ever-charming Ashraf Lakhani, Matt Parfitt, and Rob Kates! We discuss their conference sessions (general counsel interviews and email marketing trends respectively), the finer points of long-distance chess, the importance of family, quarantine basketball, and outback policemen!

VIEW VIDEO HERE: https://www.facebook.com/KatesMedia/videos/929010134294388/?vh=e&extid=0&d=n

Yes, there is singing. Dave Matthews, in fact. And a shiny gold jacket. ⭐️ Rob Kates, Meghan Frank from Lexis Nexis, and yours truly with fab host Michelle Friends talk #lma20 🥰

VIEW VIDEO HERE: https://www.facebook.com/KatesMedia/videos/345659206511172/?vh=e&extid=0

Enjoy this final “coffee talk” of #lma20 with yours truly, Rob Kates, Joe Przybyla, Amy Payton Verhulst! We talk about the amazing discoveries of this year’s conference, the wonders of Introhive, what makes a great Legal Marketing Association leader, children’s art, online car shopping, and frosty treat rewards.

Yes, one more song – that I barely make it through without crying. One of my mom Susie Sexton’s favorites from “On the Town” and a fitting tribute to this incredible week. Kudos to conference chairs Kristen Bateman and Jon Mattson and the conference committee and support team (including Kristy Perkins, Malaika Palmer, Christina Abes) as well as rock star president Jill Mason Huse for their truly remarkable work.

Thanks to the SmithBucklin team, including Danielle Holland , Holly Amatangelo , JenaShay Russell , Ashley Stenger , Kimberly McBride , Kat Seiffert , Kristin Frankiewicz, Alexia Malamis for all of the ongoing support.

Thanks to all of the guest hosts and guests this week who made this show such a special addition! Shout outs during the show to Carman Janenne Akins, Jim Jarrell, Megan McKeon, Vanessa Vines Petrea, Jessica Jaramillo, Tahisha Fugate, Andrew Laver, Jessica Aries, Brenda Plowman, Stefanie Marrone, Jennifer Petrone Dezso, Tanya Riggan, Nikki Girard Sherrill, Michelle Friends, Kelly MacKinnon, Christine Mitchell Harris, Patrick Fuller, Gina Rubel, and more!

Lord, this was a neat week!

VIEW VIDEO HERE: https://www.facebook.com/LegalMarketingAssociation/videos/347783449831325/?vh=e&extid=0&d=n

LOVING these stats from now-legendary #lma20!

5 days of crucial content
1 excellent keynote speaker named Baratunde Thurston
1 new hashtag #LMACitizen inspired by #HowToCitizen
140+ speakers
40+ interactive live sessions
3+ hours of 1:1 attendee networking sessions
5 engaging virtual social events
17 countries and 43 states represented
45+ sponsoring organizations
1200+ legal marketing professionals
10 costume changes (MY contribution 🤣)
Too many “skills” to count

Read more: http://view.exacttarget.com/?qs=9be0d726adac2acc771141161d225ef964e0067928f9a4660847b8f66ff4b7921605091cc412d0fd7821fa4d731e442c2583b46ff6dd4b65a54d7607a01428d2eac6e4ae282ba9dc5ba1b9a0c148ac560c3592cae46130d6

LMA20 tribute to the ever-delightful Patrick Fuller … this will only mean something to the people who watched the comedy night event with Last Comic Standing winner and celebrity comedian John Heffron. To the rest of you, I’m sorry … not sorry. 🤣 I generally hate inside jokes. But I can’t resist this one. #skills!
Some final thoughts on #lma20
A closing song – “Some Other Time” from the musical “On The Town”
Smart sartorial choices of #lma20 … “The first but not the last.” Kamala Harris

Celebrate the rebels in your life

[Thank you to Debbie Pecis for recommending I capture these thoughts in blog form.]

When I was in high school one million years ago, I was part of something called Academic Super Bowl. (Make your own jokes.) We were among the first non-sports teams, as I was aware, to win a number of state championships. The tradition at the time was to place photos of state award-winning students outside the walls of our gymnasium. I suspect our wonderful coaches Tom Lough and Jan Hammer, among others, had to work minor miracles (and call in some favors) to allow those of us not holding a ball or a javelin to be placed alongside those accomplished student athletes.

For years, these pictures remained up, and egotistically I admit that fact was a source of pride for me. A few years back, the athletic director inexplicably decided they all needed to come down. My intrepid parents Don and Susie Sexton tried to snag these to no avail. Now, in 2020, my hometown has built a new high school, and they are tearing down our old one. An auction was held for all of the contents of the old school, and these resurfaced. 

Thanks to dear friend and always free-thinking Tina Honaker Houser for spotting them and alerting me. I am happy to report I won them in the auction – thank you to wonderful Phil Wolfe of Schrader Auction and delightful Q Qureshi of Columbia City Goin’ Postal for helping me nab them and for getting them safely to my home. Now I have to figure out what the hell to do with them! Lucy isn’t quite sure what to think. Something tells me I can’t hang them up in the living room. LOL.

I admit that I think it’s a shame that the high school was willing to trade in all of its history for a quick buck. Perhaps that is overly cynical. Nonetheless, regarding the moments captured in these photos, I will always be grateful for the encouragement and confidence that this seminal experience provided me in high school. The support I received from my parents and from these teachers to be my own unique and authentic self placed me on an incredible life path.

I sensed at the time that teacher-coaches Jan Hammer and Tom Lough and their compatriots were doing something unusual and (surprisingly for an academic environment) seemingly rebellious. I don’t know whether or not school administrators – both those at the time and the ones that follow – realize the inadvertently negative messages they send with decisions and positioning like what I’ve described above. However, I will always be grateful for those willing to challenge them. THAT is ultimately what these images represent for me, I suspect. I will treasure these photos always.

Notes from the war front

Back when life was (sort of) normal …

VIDEO: Do you love Sinatra, Bennett, Darin, King Cole? Journey into a night club where every musical era is represented – swing, jazz, big band, lounge, Rat Pack and more. Enjoy this video of “Live from the Starlight Lounge,” our event this February that raised $23,000 for American Cancer Society.

View here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke1Pv65DwTY&feature=youtu.be

ABOVE: Me with dear Legal Marketing Association friends and fellow international board members Brenda Plowman and Cynthia Voth

I wrote the below for wonderful friend Jennifer Simpson Carr of Furia Rubel Communications (and a fellow Legal Marketing Association leader) who was drafting this piece on coping during this present crisis: https://www.furiarubel.com/what-were-up-to/25-ways-to-maintain-positivity-and-mental-health-in-uncertain-times/. I wrote too much – per usual – but she was kind enough to include an excerpt. Here’s the entirety of what I sent to her…

I am offering this list of tips that I myself may be failing to follow. I’m putting them in writing in the hopes that they will become a script for me to hang onto my sanity in these troubling times … as we all suddenly find ourselves in the strange predicament of feeling trapped in our own homes, working remotely, uncertain of how long this will last and what effect it will have on the future:

– switch off social media – connection is important. A steady diet of anxiety, judgment, and fear? Not so much.

– tune out that competitive spirit and any voices (real or imagined) saying you aren’t doing enough. Right now staying healthy and taking care of one another? That is PLENTY.

– avoid people who are using this crisis as a platform to further their own ambitions. ‘Nuff said.

– turn off and disconnect. Keep reasonable hours. Yes, you may be saving on commuting time by working in your basement, but that doesn’t mean putting in 12 hour days. Turn work off, read a book, watch a movie, walk the dog, recharge. 

– don’t get in arguments with know-it-alls. None of us know how this story ends. Be calm, be gracious, walk away from trolls.

– from a work perspective, be sensitive to the burdens everyone is carrying. We need to stay the course on projects that will need our attention when this crisis has passed, while communicating information that our colleagues and clients actually need in this moment. We don’t need to be the source of ALL information on this crisis. There are a lot of other people who are doing that better than we are. Share information that is relevant and appropriate.

– most of all. Be kind. To yourself. To others. To this world.

ABOVE: Danny Wallace, me, Susan Ahern & Megan McKeon (Clark Hill) and Cameron Ireland (BoardEx)

Very proud of the below recognition… happened before all hell broke loose …

Managing Partners’ Forum Awards

– best marketing initiative

2020 winner: Clark Hill

More here: https://www.mpfglobal.com/awards/awards-2020/best-marketing-initiative.aspx

Clark Hill has grown from a regional US firm, to an international firm with 25 offices. Marketing and Business Development was no longer fit for purpose.

They embarked on an ambitious initiative to completely re-imagine their marketing function and make the most of their global potential, through a very clear and comprehensive design of the department and how it has impact as a cohesive central function for the firm.

The judges were particularly impressed by the scale of their research and project commitment, how they achieved buy-in at every level and how they have creatively used data and technology in the delivery and measurement of marketing success, and achieved remarkable results.

Winner’s quote: “We are thrilled and honoured to be recognized by Managing Partners Forum for the strategic and operational transformation of the Marketing and Business Development Department. This initiative was achieved by incredible multi-stakeholder collaboration, the design of an innovative technical infrastructure; and the implementation of a flexible, defined process. A key focus was the capture, organisation and analysis of data which brings a new layer to our firm’s competitive edge.” – Susan Ahern, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, Clark Hill

Counterpoint: “A movie is a movie until they go to odd extremes?” My mom takes on Oscar-winner Parasite

By Susie Duncan Sexton (my ma)

Viewed PARASITE…what do I think? I dunno? At all. But Academy Award winner? WTF? Beyond me how that happened. Gonna take me three days to forget it?

I think I kinda hated it to pieces? I’d like to feel happy now and then? Or at least englightened and hopeful? This was uneven and tricksterish and grim and odd… I see a point to it all, but I already am just bright enough to have known the point without sitting still for three hours reading dialogue stream underneath humans attempting to act out some message or other? Naughty me?

The tried and true theme of class collisions and the very worst of humanity and its general cluelessness and victimization and nuttiness and self-centeredness. Who needs to wallow in it? Bad enough on a daily level. It exists everywhere even in living rooms across the globe if people are lucky enough to have living rooms? JOKER got the message across much more provocatively and, hopefully, meaningfully and artistically? How in the world this incarnation of misery bounced onto the scene and into consciousness and got multiple film awards is totally puzzling.

ReelRoy…occasionally he and I disagree, and that is rare but choice! (Spencer Tracy word there!)

Some of the stuff I have loved over a half century does not always hold up I admit…but hey, slop is slop…manipulation I resent from young film makers, and I felt manipulated? And I would have if this thing debuted years ago…and it could have…sorta? How about THE GREAT GATSBY which I do NOT adore…but it serves the purpose fine?

Hallelujah… I do not feel so nuts now that I think I hated this thing? I am usually not this critical. A movie is a movie until they go to odd extremes?

P.S. James Corden said the week after the Oscars he was enjoying listening to all the people who pretended to watch it. I thought that was cute. I forgot to share that. I damn near gave up on it early on…and later on as well? Ha!

“She just publicly updated her relationship status.” Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a shotgun blast of pure pop riot grrl anarchy. Just the slap in the face “bro culture” has needed. And will continue to need.

Director Cathy Yan and producer/star Margot Robbie, working from a script by Christina Hodson, have crafted a beautifully forward-leaning day-glo antithesis to the retrograde sludge that was Suicide Squad (the precursor to Birds of Prey wherein Robbie’s “Harley Quinn” made her scene-stealing debut). One could even argue that Birds of Prey is a razor-barbed bookend to the exquisite existential angst of DC Entertainment’s Oscar-winning Joker.

The set up of Birds of Prey is that Harley has finally broken up for good with her boyfriend: yes, The Joker. Not Joaquin’s superior “Mistah J,” but Jared Leto’s inferior one – the tattooed, gold-toothed, overacting, “Hot Topic” fever dream one from Suicide Squad. Their breakup involves blowing up a chemical factory because, you know … comic books. As Rosie Perez’ world-weary and whimsically hard-boiled Detective Renee Montoya observes, “She [Harley] just publicly updated her relationship status.” Robbie is divine as Harley. Full of madcap poignancy, unencumbered by the cinematic fetishization she and the character suffered in Suicide Squad.

Alas, freeing herself from one hotbed of toxic masculinity just throws Harley into the deep end of a pool of abusive, egomaniacal, swaggering male bullsh*t as every thug in town now sees Harley as fair game. Leading the pack is Ewan McGregor’s sadistic Roman “Black Mask” Sionis and his sleazy, murderous, codependent wingman Mr. Zsasz (a fabulously glowering Chris Messina). McGregor literally gnaws at every splinter of scenery in one of his best performances – all fluttery hands, gritted teeth and coiled self-loathing.

Eventually the film adds a serpentine plot line about a diamond and a hidden family fortune, tied to a mafia family entirely gunned down years ago with only one “lost” survivor. Think Anastasia by way of The Jersey Shore. As Birds of Prey gathers momentum, like a pinball careening through a Rube Goldberg contraption, Harley partners up with Detective Montoya as well as a scrappy street thief Cassandra Cain (charming Ella Jay Basco), sonically superpowered club singer Black Canary (sparkling Jurnee Smollett-Bell of Roll Bounce and The Great Debaters), and socially maladjusted but utterly a$$-kicking Huntress (dynamite – as always – Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Fargo and Sky High).

There is a buoyancy to the entire film that is utterly infectious. The sheer joy these actors seem to be having playing women in command in a world out of control is a delight. I’m not one to care much for fight scenes or action sequences, but the balletic, athletic choreography on display here is Gene Kelly meets Sly Stallone, Bob Fosse meets Jackie Chan, if filmed by Vincente Minnelli. When a climactic car chase involves one of the characters on roller skates, you may be in for a treat.

The film reminded me of Drew Barrymore’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels, now 20 (!) years old. A film by women and about women, reclaiming a genre (action/superheroes) which has been far too long dominated by men (and, worse, by men of a certain stunted emotional development). Go for the hijinks, stay for the surprising depth of character development, and linger for the final scene as the women celebrate their victory over tacos and margaritas, sharing camaraderie and conversation and honest appreciation for their common humanity. Far too few films – let alone comic book epics – end on such an affirming note. Keep ‘em coming.

P.S. Spoiler alert for my animal loving friends, but Harley’s hyena “Bruce” makes it to the end of the film just fine. 😉

I leave you with these lyrics from one of the songs in the film, the lyrics of which I think encapsulate the flick nicely. From Birds of Prey soundtrack cut “Smile” by Maesie Peters: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X0exh-UHsjg

[Chorus]
Got bridges to burn and places to run
Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun

[Verse 1]
It’s my party, my body, my business
It’s my town and my crown on my hitlist
It’s my world and you’re just living in it
Did I, did I, did I finish?
They are my girls, and it’s us who’s deciding
It’s our door, did we say you’re invited?
Leave your name and we’ll call if we like it
If we, if we, if we like it

[Pre-Chorus]
No more Mrs. Sweet and Miss Nice
No more Mrs. Fuckin’ Polite
Time for Mrs. Takin’ What’s Mine
You don’t need him

[Chorus]
Got bridges to burn and places to run
Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun

[Verse 2]
It’s my party, my body, my business
If he tries to control me, he’s finished
Won’t be crying, there’s plenty of fishes
And I, and I, and I’m fishin’
You should know that you won’t find another
Who will ruin your life then your brother’s
Who will take what she’s owed when she wants to
Did I, did I, did I stutter?

Happy New Year karaoke shenanigans: a musical salute to Dreamgirls, Country Girls, and Funny Girls?

“Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl

Yes, Virginia, there is video. Heaven help us all. And heaven help Barbra Streisand, Luke Bryan, and Jennifers Hudson AND Holliday for what I do (did) to their signature numbers: https://www.facebook.com/1200679273/posts/10218767375514407/?d=n

“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls

Thank you to my karaoke compatriots this past Friday night at Dino’s Lounge in Ferndale, Michigan, for encouraging these shenanigans: Colleen McConnell Fowler, Blaine D. Fowler, Collin Fowler, Bailey Fowler, Lauren Crocker, Michael Stets Steczkowski, Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, Dave Rinaldi, Matthew Laurinec, Jenna Miller, Danielle Zuccaro, Clarice Zuccaro, Sam Finn, Jo Epstein Finn, Bradley L Finn, Dustin Banooni, Warner Crocker, Thomasin Savaiano, and Amanda Murray. Thank you, John Mola, for cheering me on and taking these videos. 🎶❤️

Happy New Year 2020!

“Country Girl” by Luke Bryan
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl

From BroadwayWorld: ‘Live From The Starlight Lounge’ Will Benefit The American Cancer Society Relay For Life, February 5

“Live from the Starlight Lounge” to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, February 5th: https://www.broadwayworld.com/detroit/article/Live-From-The-Starlight-Lounge-Will-Benefit-The-American-Cancer-Society-Relay-For-Life-20191219


Do you love Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole? Journey into a night club where every musical era is represented – swing, jazz, big band, lounge, Rat Pack, pop … and maybe even a few present day surprises.


Join us at the Village Theater on Wednesday, February 5th at 7 p.m. for our 3rd Annual Music Cabaret Fundraiser: “Live From the Star Light Lounge,” an event that educates, entertains, saves.


This show, under the musical direction of Kevin Ryan, director of music and liturgy at St. Thomas a’Becket, will include a live band with special guest trombonist Bugs Beddow as well as a cast of amazingly talented individuals and special appearances from some local celebs. DanceBeat will add to the fun with their unique and vibrant dance stylings. Local personality Roy Sexton, director of marketing for the law firm Clark Hill, will emcee the evening.


“We are thrilled to be returning for year three. The support from the community has been overwhelming. It’s a fantastic cause, and I’m so grateful for the incredible talent volunteering their time for this important mission. Ring a ding ding! Take a step back in time to the Rat Pack era for a fabulous evening of entertainment and compassion. Last year we raised over $20,000, so I can’t wait to see what happens this year,” noted Producer/Director Denise Staffeld, a mortgage loan officer at DFCU Financial.


Enjoy a delicious dessert and sweet treats bar, featuring Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, while trying your luck at our Prize Pull, 50/50 and more. A cash bar will be available.
All proceeds and donations from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Canton and Plymouth


Pre-show reception at 6 p.m.


Tickets are available at www.cantonvillagetheater.org Ticket price is $25.00


Photo credit: Denise Staffeld

“Fear is what can’t be trusted.” Frozen 2

Frozen 2 has a difficult task: justify its existence as more than an unnecessary cash grab sequel to a multi-billion-dollar, unexpected-franchise-spawning original that was kind of a rip-off of the Broadway musical Wicked (which was, itself, a watered-down derivative of a much more interesting novel).

And, for the most part, Frozen 2 succeeds. Not unlike this summer’s Toy Story 4, the lack of a predetermined intellectual property roadmap is liberating, yielding a trippy, dark, existential exploration that surprises, delights, and traumatizes.

Frozen 2 (is that REALLY the best title they could devise?) is beautiful and kinda loopy in a New Agey sort of way. Not sure exactly what I sat through, but I loved its messages of inclusion and empowerment, even if its plot line seems to throw Avatar, Pocahontas, The Fifth Element, Wicked, Marianne Williamson’s brain, and Frozen the First in a blender. Songs are fab too.

I’m not sure the world needed an origin story explaining Elsa’s snow queen powers, even if the potential revenue stream to befall the Mouse House makes such a cinematic move unavoidable. That said, I applaud the filmmakers for doing so with a conscience, muddled as the final results may be.

In essence, without spoiling too much, sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristin Bell) discover that their forebears in the Arendelle royal family might not have been as kind as they should have been to the land’s indigenous Northuldra people. In a timely nod to our nation’s own Thanksgiving mythologizing, the first time their grandfather broke bread with the native tribe inhabiting the “enchanted forest” outside Arendelle, he might have had nefarious colonizing motives. It is then up to Elsa and Anna – alongside returning buddies Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) and Kristoff and his beloved reindeer Sven (both voiced by Jonathan Groff) – to unearth the truth, bring peace to the natural order (reflected in weather patterns run amuck – sound familiar?), and right the historical wrongs. If Disney was ever to offer a populist counterpoint to xenophobic MAGA tribalism it is Frozen 2.

The film doubles down on the zany Nordic fantasy elements suggested by the bizarre rock trolls in the first film, with Frozen 2 offering flame lizards, anthropomorphic wind currents, water horses, bolder giants, and more cryptic hieroglyphs than you could hurl a Rosetta Stone at. It all works better than it should, woven together by our collective fondness for the characters, all voiced with warmth and whimsy by the principals, and for the music.

Songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert López have outdone themselves on the numbers here, jettisoning any singsong qualities of the first’s films ditties in favor of musical comedy complexity and emotional depth. There are no “ear worms” in this score which is a compliment to the songwriters and the filmmakers who allow more character-driven nuance in. I’ll take this film’s “Into the Unknown” or “When I Am Older” or “Lost in the Woods” or “Show Yourself” or “The Next Right Thing” over the prior entry’s “Let It Go” or “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” any day, all day long.

As Elsa notes ominously toward the film’s conclusion: “fear is what can’t be trusted.” If Frozen 2 is as inescapable as its predecessor was and successfully socializes themes of inclusion, equality, fairness, and acceptance among our youth (and their parents), then Disney deserves to fill its corporate coffers with a mountain of box office gold ten times over.

BONUS: Honored!! I was quoted by Law.com’s Frank Ready in “5 Challenges Facing Firms Trying to Boost Marketing With Tech,” which includes discussions of app development, podcasts, YouTube/video, social media, and open-source software: https://lnkd.in/em6NSpr (subscription may be required) … excerpt …

“They assume that you’re a good lawyer. They want to see that you’re a decent human being and that you’re engaged in our world,” Sexton said. “We need to put all of that in language that appeals, yes to millennials, but again, to millennials on the way toward appealing toward everyone else. And the manner in which millennials are reshaping our culture and the way we think, we have to keep an eye towards that.” …

Modern audiences are bombarded by content, and for every firm that adopts a video channel or sets up a podcast booth, there’s probably another lawyer out there doing the exact same thing.

To stand out, attorneys may have to emphasize personality over personal accomplishments and perhaps even begin contemplating the true meaning of the words “free of charge.” #lmamkt