Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jon Stewart ignited a talk-show feud when he said that if he’d listened to CNBC’s Jim Cramer’s financial advice, “I’d have a million dollars today—provided I’d started with $100 million.”
The two entertainers sparred between networks for days, until Stewart invited Cramer to the “The Daily Show” so they could spar in person. According to the L.A. Times, Stewart made mince meat out of Cramer. Then again, that’s what Stewart does best—with a whopping dose of humor and not inconsequential sex appeal.
From LAT Notebook blog:
Stewart’s point this time was much the same, that CNBC practiced irresponsible journalism,while selling itself as a source of superior insight and information. “You should be buying things and accept that they’re overvalued but accept that they’re going to keep going higher,” Cramer said in one of the clips Stewart had earlier hurled against him, noting “I probably wouldn’t have a problem with CNBC if Cramer’s slogan was ‘Cramer: He’s right sometimes,’ or ‘Cramer: He’s like a dartboard that talks.’ “
Although Stewart took some care to separate Cramer, personally, from his larger attack on CNBC—whose misrepresentation of the financial crisis as “some sort of crazy once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming” he called “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst” —the net he was throwing was certainly meant to include him.
Earlier in the day, Cramer had appeared on “The Martha Stewart Show” and had admitted that he was “a little nervous” about going on “The Daily Show.” “You should be nervous,” Martha Stewart replied, and indeed there was something in his bearing last night that reminded one of a small boy reluctantly called before the school principal. Cramer is a star in his own world, but in the larger hierarchy of cable TV and pop-political culture, “The Daily Show” ranks higher than “Mad Money.” And though he had told Martha Stewart earlier that “I’m going to have to fight back. I’m not a doormat,” he came off rather as chastened, conciliatory, pleading and overwhelmed:
“I try really hard to make as many good calls as I can.”
“I should do a better job.”
“I wish I’d done a better job.”
“I’m trying. I’m trying.”
Jon Stewart had a home-court advantage, of course, as well as a few damning clips, not meant for broadcast, of Cramer describing, in a positive way, certain barely to not-even-barely legal things a hedge fund manager might do to work the market to his advantage. And he also had editorial control—the interview that went out over the air was cut for time; Cramer comes off somewhat better in the complete exchange, which is available online. But what makes Stewart formidable is that he also has a passion greater than the irony in which it is often couched.
“I understand you want to make finance entertaining,” he said, “but ... you knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months. ... These guys were on a Sherman’s March through their companies financed by our 401Ks, and all the incentives for their companies were for short term ... and they ... walked away rich as hell. And you guys knew it was going on.”
Closing the show, Stewart added, “I hope that was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do.”
Who’s your money man now?
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March 12, 2009 | 11:15 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Even after his Golden-Globe winning, Oscar-nominated star turn in “The Wrestler,” Marvel Entertainment did not want to pay Mickey Rourke what he’s probably worth to play the villain in “Iron Man 2.” (This comes as no surprise, and you’ll see just how cruel studios are to actors in my upcoming story about SAG president Alan Rosenberg). Anyway, the word is that Marvel wanted to pay Rourke $250,000, which is not the going rate for those who are either talented or famous, or in Rourke’s case, both. After many weeks of laborious negotiations, a deal was finally made. They haven’t released the agreed upon figure, but if I know anything about Rourke’s agent David Unger, the ICM powerhouse that singlehandedly revived his career, Rourke could take down “Iron Man” with gold.
More from The Guardian:
Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr, who will reprise his role in the sequel, has reportedly been instrumental in persuading his fellow Oscar nominee to take the role. The two actors have encountered each other several times on the awards season circuit and it is thought that Downey Jr used the opportunity to apply some serious schmooze.
Rourke’s character will be based on two comic-book villains – Whiplash, who flies around on a board and uses a whip, and a Russian villain named Crimson Dynamo. Rourke has been developing the character with director Jon Favreau, who also returns to the franchise.
Iron Man was one of the biggest hits of last summer, taking $572m (£414m) across the globe and making a sequel inevitable. But despite its huge success, reports have painted Marvel Studios as a tightwad in its recruitment process for Iron Man 2. Terrence Howard was dropped as Colonel James Rhodes – reportedly over his salary demands – and replaced by Don Cheadle.
March 11, 2009 | 4:37 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Just think, if Jews objected to their wedding rituals being depicted on screen, a good bit of Hollywood’s film archives would be wiped out. “Fiddler on the Roof,” for example, would have been painfully anti-climactic. What’s a movie about shtetl Jews without the Cossack pillaging of Tzeitel’s wedding?
Mormon church leaders, however, are up in arms over HBO’s “Big Love” and its decision to film a sacred temple rite. “Only church members in good standing can enter temples to perform or witness sacred ceremonies,” wrote Variety. Church leaders argue that because they are so secretive, a television executive couldn’t possibly have accurate knowledge of these rituals. “Members take a vow not to discuss the rituals outside temple walls,” the article in Variety stated, but added, “although details of the ceremonies are widely available on the Internet.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying, “Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding.”
Not to accuse the Mormon Church of ill meddling, but—make up your mind—is the depiction forbidden or is it OK if Hollywood gets their “context” right? Producers of the popular HBO drama, about a polygamous family in Utah, swear their sensitivity to the subject. For this episode, they employed an on-set expert in Mormon rites to supervise the controversial scene. Since the show’s creation, they have consulted with the Mormon Church and promised to distinguish between the beliefs and practices of The Church of Latter-day Saints and the fundamentalist, fringe groups and individuals who merely practice polygamy.
But angry leaders dispute HBO’s religious concerns: “Despite earlier assurances from HBO, it once again blurs the distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show’s fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices,” the church statement said.
Read more in Variety’s report, Mormon Leaders Take Aim at ‘Big Love’:
“In approaching the dramatization of the endowment ceremony, we knew we had a responsibility to be completely accurate and to show the ceremony in the proper context and with respect,” Olsen and Scheffer said in a separate statement issued through HBO. “We therefore took great pains to depict the ceremony with the dignity and reverence it is due.”
The church declined an interview request by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
News of the episode has sparked an online campaign by individual Latter-day Saints, who are calling for a boycott of “Big Love” and cancellation of subscriptions to HBO, AOL and other Time Warner Inc.-owned entities.
The church itself has not called for a boycott and said in its statement that doing so would just fuel controversy and interest in the program.
Church leaders also said members of the rapidly growing faith should not feel defensive about HBO’s characterization of Mormons.
“There is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long term negative effect on the church,” they said in the statement.
“Big Love” is in its third season on HBO and a fourth is in the works. The program tells the story of Bill Hendrickson, a fundamentalist (played by Bill Paxton) who runs a chain of hardware stores and lives with three wives (Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) in a Salt Lake City suburb.
Like Utah’s real-life fundamentalists, the Hendricksons’ beliefs are tied to the early teachings of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, who said polygamy was an essential doctrine for exaltation in the afterlife. The church ultimately abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.
When “Big Love” first aired, negotiations between the church and HBO resulted in a one-time disclaimer included in the show’s credits that distinguished the modern church’s position on polygamy from the beliefs of the fictional characters in the series.
This season, however, the show’s polygamy-focused stories have included more mainstream Mormon references.
March 10, 2009 | 5:56 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Young David, King Saul, Goliath and their friends meet again, this time in the new TV series “Kings,” and in a place that looks a lot like a cleaned-up New York City.
The NBC network has high hopes for the show, which opens with a two-hour premiere on Sunday (3/15) at 8 p.m. Subsequent weekly programs will start March 22, same day, time and station.
An advance peek indicates that “Kings” will bring the biblical drama into a contemporary setting, with a dash of sci-fi added for good measure.
Creator and executive producer Michael Green, whose mother is Israeli, said the idea for the show came to him several years ago during a trip to Jerusalem, and he wrote the pilot while working on NBC’s “Heroes.”
“Kings” is set in the present in a kingdom called Gilboa, whose opulent capital, Shiloh, resembles a much cleaner New York, and which is ruled by a power-suited King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane).
When the king’s son, Jack, is taken hostage by an enemy army, he is saved by a young soldier named David Shepherd (Australian actor Chris Egan), who becomes an immediate media favorite.
Green wrote the pilot halfway through the George W. Bush administration and viewers may see some political resemblances in the power struggles at King Benjamin’s court, including the behind-the-scenes influence of powerful corporations and the anticipated change from the old to the new king.
However, Green warns against taking the perceived allegory too literally.
For more background information, visit www.nbc.com/kings.
March 5, 2009 | 3:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The Jewish resistance film “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig has provoked a wave of protest in Poland. It is being booed in cinemas and accused of distorting history, according to The Guardian.
Although locals recognize the fact that the Bielski brothers formed an armed resistance against the Nazis and saved 1200 Jews from certain death, there is a widespread perception that they were also violent towards Polish locals. Nationalists, in particular, continue to believe that the Bielski brothers colluded with Soviet partisans in a 1943 attack on the village of Naliboki in which 128 people were killed. This, “despite historical investigations that have exonerated them,” as the article states.
Adding fuel to the fire is the Polish media, who view the Bielskis more as thugs and bandits than resistance heroes. The conservative newspaper Rzecpospolita ever so bluntly stated that the Bielski brothers raped and murdered during their efforts to obtain food for their forest hideout.
Whether these accusations are fact or fiction, the Bielski brothers were clear in their mission: they were battling a large, powerful and brutal enemy, they could trust no one, and their only aim—no matter the cost—was to save their own from Nazi death camps. The morality of going into their war, I think is justified. Maintaining morality once you’re at war is certainly harder to come by.
From The Guardian:
Opponents say in its telling of the true story of the four Bielski brothers who fled the Nazis and set up a kibbutz-style secret village with hundreds of followers in a forest in what was then part of Poland, the filmmakers have, in true Hollywood style, simplified the facts, mythologised the group and omitted to address accusations that they ill-treated Polish locals and the underground home army.
The most scathing attack, which has led to charges that anti-Semitism is the driving force behind the criticism of the film, appeared in the conservative daily Rzecpospolita.
In a leader column the paper wrote: “The Jewish groups were not squeamish when it came to procuring food. They turned to pillaging, murder and rape.” The newspaper said that while it was understandable that the film succeeded in challenging the cliche that Holocaust victims largely “went to their death like sheep to the slaughter”, director Zwick had mistakenly “put on a pedestal a man who was bandit and hero rolled into one”, referring to the group’s leader, Tuvia Bielski.
The liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has also made clear its disapproval of the film’s lionisation of the Bielski brothers. While clearing them of involvement in Naliboki, two of its reporters, who unfavourably depict Tuvia Bielski as a drunk and a womaniser, came up with evidence suggesting he took part in a joint operation with the Soviets to wipe out Polish anti-communist units and that he helped lead the Soviets to the whereabouts of a Polish underground leader.
March 4, 2009 | 9:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Nothing like having your business manager abscond with all your assets while you’re meditating on a mountaintop. Such was the unfortunate fate of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, according to an article in The New York Times. Cohen spent five years at a Los Angeles Zen Buddhist Monastery only to return to a shadow of a life. Cohen’s complete financial disregard and naive trust of the manager who robbed him, left him virtually penniless. (A court awarded him $9.5 million but he hasn’t collected a dime, wrote the Times).
In an effort to recover what he lost and tout his newfound spiritual zen, Cohen is back on the road after a fifteen year absence, he told The New York Times. This time, the Sabbath-observant Buddhist is looking to reverse his fortunes—quite literally. And instead of using spirituality to transcend worldly desires, Cohen is on a spiritual journey to get them back.
Cohen tells The New York Times:
“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” Mr. Cohen said on Friday of the resulting legal proceedings, which awarded him $9.5 million — money he has yet to collect. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”
His spirituality, however, has helped streamline his life. There are even similarities, he says, between meditating and touring:
“There’s a similarity in the quality of the daily life” on the road and in the monastery, Mr. Cohen said. “There’s just a sense of purpose” in which “a lot of extraneous material is naturally and necessarily discarded,” and what is left is a “rigorous and severe” routine in which “the capacity to focus becomes much easier.”
However, it hasn’t helped him focus on his business savvy.
“My sense of ownership with these things is very weak,” he responded. “It’s not the result of spiritual discipline; it’s always been that way. My sense of proprietorship has been so weak that actually I didn’t pay attention and I lost the copyrights on a lot of the songs.”
But the confounding question is how he maintains his identity as both an observant Jew (he keeps the Sabbath even on tour) and a practicing Buddhist.
“Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”
Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”
March 3, 2009 | 11:41 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Sarah Silverman and her show’s co-creators were threatening to end the series over Comedy Central’s insistent budget cuts for the third season. But the four-day standoff ended when Comedy Central’s sister cable channel, “Logo,” which specializes in gay and lesbian programming, stepped in to split costs. It might have been the first major series to crash as a result of the economic crisis, but as movie ticket sales are proving, America needs their escapist entertainment now more than ever.
“The Sarah Silverman Program” will be back for a third season on Comedy Central, following the resolution of four-day day standoff over planned budget cuts.
The cable channel has ordered a 10-episode season of its signature live-action series, which will now be co-financed with gay-oriented sister cable network Logo.
“We’re happy,” Silverman said. “All we ever wanted was just to make our show. Nothing fancy—just our show.”
It’s a happy ending to a drama that threatened to make “Sarah Silverman” the first major primetime casualty of the economic crisis after the cable network was forced to slash the budget of the series by more that 20% and its executive producers refused to continue at those terms.
“Things were tough on Friday and over the weekend,” said Comedy Central’s president of original programing Lauren Corrao, who headed the network’s efforts to keep “Sarah Silverman” on the air. “We very much wanted the show, we just couldn’t come to an agreement for a budget that was acceptable and uncompromising to the producers and that we could afford.”
In a surprising twist, Corrao came up with the idea early on Monday to share “Sarah Silverman” with another Logo, which caters to gay, lesbian and transgender viewers.
She called former Comedy Central executive Marc Leonard, now a senior exec at Logo.
After discussing the idea for several hours, Logo’s brass called up their Comedy Central counterparts to tell them they wanted to be part of the show.
Details on how the financial responsibility and the window sharing will be divided between the two partners are still being worked out, but sources said with the combined financing, “Sarah Silverman” will have a budget a tad higher than last season’s $1.1 million per episode.
March 3, 2009 | 2:04 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I scrambled for weeks trying to get an interview with Bruce Vilanch for our Oscar issue, when all the while, our good friend Joel Stein got the gig straight through Hugh Jackman.
Stein chronicles his experience writing “a little bit” of the Oscars from a swanky hotel room in New York, why most comedy sucks, and his gay love for Hugh Jackman in a column for Time:
For reasons I accept but will never fully understand, hundreds of millions of people would rather be entertained by the Oscars than by this column. So I felt vindicated when I got an e-mail three weeks ago from John Palermo, the producing partner of this year’s host, Hugh Jackman, saying he liked my work and wanted me to write for the Academy Awards. I wasn’t exactly sure how the Academy expected me to craft an opening in which Jackman quickly segued into talking about me and my sophomoric sexual obsessions, but I was up for the challenge.
Since this was clearly the biggest, most important comedy job I’d ever get, I expected the Academy to send an official package of Oscar history, tips from past writers and a truckload of money. Instead, I got just some grainy DVDs of Jackman hosting the Tony Awards. I was starting to wonder if I was really hired by the Oscars when I found out I wasn’t. It turns out the Academy hires pros like Bruce Vilanch for the presenter banter but lets the host pick his own team. This makes sense when the host is a comedian with a staff of writers. It makes less sense when the host is known for being PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive. What I’ve learned from late-night Cinemax is that sexy people don’t place a high value on writing. (See the top 10 movie performances of 2008.)
Because Jackman lives in New York City, the writers flew from Los Angeles to work out of a room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. I was expecting to join an enormous gathering of the greatest comedy writers in the world, who would mock me with cutting barbs about my relative youth and handsomeness. Instead, there were three dudes eating Gummi Bears from the minibar. Two of them weren’t even Jewish. The third was a 27-year-old who makes Web videos and got the job when he was pitching a movie idea to Jackman’s company—an idea it turned down. The Emmys, I’m guessing, is written by two interns in Bangalore.
Luckily, all four of us had a few things in common. We hated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and had no idea that The Reader wasn’t a children’s magazine. We also thought Jackman shouldn’t tell any jokes and should instead open with a big musical number that references the recession. But every good concept we had we immediately killed because it reminded us of Billy Crystal. You would think that would be a good thing, since Crystal was the most beloved Oscar host ever and got the job eight times. But comedy writers are far more interested in impressing other comedy writers than in pleasing an audience. This is why most comedy sucks. If we thought we could have gotten away with an opening number that made fun of genocide, we would have. Instead, we just wasted hours making those jokes anyway. We also spent a lot of time trying to figure out if we’d get in trouble for ordering room service. The answer, so far, is no.
The only proof that we really were writing for the Oscars is that Jackman would visit our room for a couple of hours each day. To my surprise, the best kind of boss is a sexy boss. Jackman greeted each of us with a giant hug, which would have been a perfect test of how gay I am, except I was totally focused on making sure I wasn’t crushed to death by his giant lats. So ... pretty gay. Jackman would laugh uproariously at everything we suggested, which is one of the huge advantages of writing for a noncomedian. He acted out all our stuff, belted out our songs while standing on furniture and even watched most of Be Kind Rewind with us for no good reason. He was so omniscient in his niceness that not only did he look sad when we played him the Christian Bale freak-out tape, but he also, after agreeing to record a parody of it, called Bale to make sure it was cool if we put it online. He even let me try on the real, $18,000 plastic Wolverine claws, which made me want to do a bit about the moon and body hair; the reaction made me realize I probably should have seen an X-Men movie before writing for Jackman.
It soon became clear that not only was writing for the Oscars not the hardest job of my life, it wasn’t even the hardest job of my week. We brought in a guy who wrote music, and six days later, the opening number was complete. It’s not bad, and when Jackman sings it, it’s great. Because while we weren’t smart enough to write great jokes, we were smart enough to figure out that Oscar audiences don’t remember jokes. They remember whether the host set the celebratory mood, as Crystal did. Our job was to get out of the way of Jackman’s charm, and if that meant ordering room service and letting the other writers do all the actual lyric-writing, then I was a fine hire. All the good jokes, by the way, were mine.