Do the Oscars Matter Anymore?

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It’s that time of year again: when people come together to talk about what some famous actresses wore—who wore it best—oh, and which film won Best Picture. Probably something artsy and serious. Sometimes it’s deserved—a film of true excellence and craftsmanship in writing, acting, and directing. But usually it’s just a film that you may or may not have seen. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve decided all serious dramas will be relegated to DVD viewing—‘cause, you know: why do I need to see talking faces on a big screen?) Also, movie prices are astronomical, so—okay, I see it: I’m part of the cycle and why Hollywood is nickel and diming every potential film that passes through their gates in the hopes of production. No wonder they’re settling for the bottom line so often—a “sure” thing (read: sequel, prequel, or remake of something that did legitimate business once). But I digress.

Anyway, it’s the Oscars again. And of second most importance, it is 2017. I make a point of the year because frankly, I don’t believe the Oscars are nor have been the same for a long time now.

I often wonder what my younger doppelganger today would think of this Hollywood pastime now. What do young, budding (okay, and gay!) dreamers like me today think of this rapidly declining tradition of awarding the “Best” in Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences?

Cut to: me in the early 1990s. Maybe because things often look better in retrospect or I just didn’t know any better because I was a kid, but: the Oscars felt like they meant something back then. The five, count ‘em, just five nominated films for Best Picture (more on the topic of that category being expanded to ten nominations later) really felt like they earned that coveted spot. Each film that was nominated felt special, and it was usually a tight race that was more or less about merit and not just politicking by studios and adhering to social trends of the day.

Culturally, budding gay—I mean, budding dreamers of all stripes only had a few outlets to view their favorite stars back then: People magazine, and “Entertainment Tonight”. Which meant we were primed and hungry to see all these stars convene on one epic night—a smorgasbord of glamour, glitz, and at least to an idealistic kid like me back then: talent!

The Oscars have been cheekily dubbed “The Superbowl for Women”—in terms of annual cultural impact and significance. But unlike the actual Superbowl, the Oscars have been morphing and changing notably, and gradually eclipsed by other smaller Superbowls in the past two decades.

In the age of Twitter, TMZ, and the E! Channel, we can literally follow our favorite stars online 24/7 to see what they ate for breakfast or what color their kids’ poop is; spy on them as they exit an airport terminal via shaky video footage, or consume their daily lives in a craftily executed weekly reality TV show.

With these enlightening options that we’ve been blessed with through technical progress, the mystery of what it means to be rich and famous and talented has become rote and accessible in ways never before imaginable.

I have a feeling my teenage doppelganger today would view the Oscars the same way I viewed silent films or drive-in movie theaters when I was a teen in the 1990s.

Perhaps in response to this changing culture (read: poorer ratings for the telecast—undoubtedly due to the Academy’s penchant for nominating “serious” films that don’t do much business at the box office)—the category for Best Picture was expanded to include up to ten nominees, in 2009. The Academy claimed this was a throwback to the early years in the 1930s and ‘40s, where there were up to ten nominees per year—but many cynical observers assumed it was a blatant attempt to nab more viewers for the annual show. The quip “Are there even ten films worthy of being nominated every year?” hit the web quicker than you could say ‘Action!’. Incidentally, the Oscars suffered its lowest TV ratings ever the previous year, so read into the subsequent change however way you want.

As I alluded to earlier, I could relate to the criticism on the merit of today’s films—let alone their worthiness of being nominated for such an honor. In our current cinematic climate, I think the cap of five nominees is/should’ve been more relevant than ever—an elite prestige worth striving for, artistically.

Nearly a decade later, the expansion of nominees hasn’t made a mark on me as an Oscar viewer or a movie fan. If anything, it makes it harder for me to remember what films were nominated each year—but that could be more of a reflection on my waning interest for the show altogether.

In 2016, the Academy was confronted with yet another issue—this time one of moral. The lack of diverse nominees that year spurred a boycott by many African-American artists and viewers, who claimed a racial bias against them. Although I understood the greater issue of diversity, as a minority myself even I had reservations about the campaign. Was the Academy biased, or were there simply no quality films that year that starred African-Americans (or other ethnic groups)? If it was the latter, for instance—the issue wasn’t the Academy, but the movie industry itself.

Nonetheless, in true form, the Academy reacted swiftly with their image in mind—claiming they would add a significant amount of women and people of color to their voting bloc. The validity of this gesture aside, the consequence of this detrimental publicity also left a viewer like me wondering how sincere future nominations would be. As well intentioned as the campaign was to shed light on the Oscars’ lack of diversity, the fallout could be that they might overcompensate and recognize films (not people, mind you) of lesser merit to meet political correctness.

This shifting of objectives and influences only aided the rapidly declining relevance of the Oscars in my eyes. It was not about simply awarding the best films anymore—but a commercial and social experiment gone awry.

But this was nothing new overall: the Oscars have always been about more than just the merit of moviemaking, of course.

I turned eighteen when the world entered a new millennium in 2000, and the year “American Beauty” won against a highly publicized award campaign for its chief rival nominee that year, “The Cider House Rules”. Maybe because I’d technically became an adult and therefore achieved full enlightenment at last, but the fact that a movie studio launched a publicity campaign to swarm voters to choose their film was not lost on me. Apparently, voters don’t just go into hibernation and pick winners, then emerge back into the real world alive and rejuvenated by the purity of their choices.

The validity of their choices has often been debated for other reasons as well: awarding an actor or director for their current, less stellar work simply to acknowledge their greater body of work is another common longstanding ploy.

That being said, it’s safe to say that the curtain has finally gone down on my love affair with the Oscars. Honestly, the last few years I’ve been less and less drawn to the extravaganza. As late as 2013, I still recall having a few vestiges of excitement that I’d had in my youth—feeling like I was witnessing something greater than myself. But the past two years and on the eve of this year, it’s dawned on me now that the heyday of the show has long joined the past. It doesn’t detract from the merit of truly good movies, but that’s the thing: good movies and the Oscars are not the same thing, and they haven’t been for a long time.

So it’s that time of year again—when people come together to talk about what some famous actresses wore—and who wore it best. Oh, and which film won Best Picture. Exactly. That’s all it is.

 

 

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La La Land: The Story of Us (Review)

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They say there are no new stories to tell, and nothing new under the sun—that phrase itself is a cliché, see. Yet we still need these tales, for ineffable and primal reasons. Why? Well, it’s ineffable—so sometimes it’s beyond words.

“La La Land” is one of the most familiar stories in the modern canon: girl has a dream of stardom and pursues it in spite of demoralizing setbacks. On top of that, it’s a love story between a girl and a boy—and the boy also has the same dream, essentially. This sandwich of familiarity is enough to send any quasi-cynic running for shade—and I don’t mean for cover. But oddly, many of us are still on board with this setup; so much so, that this film has become the breakout hit of the year: Oscar bait and pop cultural force. And for good reason: for many, it’s simply our story.

The film opens with an inventive musical nod to one of the hallmarks of the city of stars: L.A. traffic. In a gridlock on a steep highway overpass, passengers do the most natural thing in a musical: break into song and dance—jumping on top of their vehicles, courting each other out of their cars, and dancing on the concrete lane with unmitigated reverie, proclaiming in the song’s title how it’s “Another Day of Sun”. For a person who’s lived in Los Angeles longer than I care to divulge, this scene blew straight passed my jaded antennae and bowled me over with its unabashed whimsy. Instead of scoffing at the absurdity of it all, I wanted to join in.

At the song’s end, we meet Mia, played by pixie-ish but quirky Emma Stone. Mia is an aspiring thespian who heeded her childhood calling to tinsel town to realize her dreams of becoming a star—but mostly to tell stories through her craft, like every bleeding-heart artist on Earth. Although Mia is certainly likable, the film is less about character than plot and ideals. Stone is competent as always, but you guessed it: does not add a new wrinkle to this careworn archetype. She does add another notch to her increasingly impressive repertoire, proving that Hollywood may not be so shallow after all: in one scene, after a humiliating audition, Mia zips through a hall of Stone-lookalikes that are also vying for the part. In the elevator, flanked by two of these clones, she is clearly the least statuesque and nubile.

This doesn’t stop her from catching the eye of another aspiring artist, Sebastian—a somewhat aging (by Hollywood standards—read: thirties) jazz pianist played by the still smoldering and chiseled Ryan Gosling. He has the slightly more original dream of the two by default: to simply open up a jazz club, which is a feat because it’s a jazz club and this is the twenty-first century.

In a subdued, if not entirely original setup, Mia is drawn into a nondescript nightclub by the chords of a pensive tune that she hears Sebastian playing inside. This melody becomes a smartly recurring musical motif throughout the film. It’s there that she spies Sebastian, but thankfully it’s not love at first sight for either party. They meet again shortly after through serendipity (he’s a keyboardist at a Hollywood party that she attends), and the inevitable develops between these two passionate artists—cue: excoriating debates on the merits of their crafts and the plausibility of their dreams to secure them, and—romantic love. They inspire each other and cheer each other on, unsurprisingly.

These scenes are padded by more musical numbers—less grandiose in overall production, but still charming and catchy—particularly the lovely, haunting theme of the film, “City of Stars”. These numbers also continue to pay winning tribute to more L.A. trademarks and locales like the Griffith Observatory, beach piers and the Watts Towers. The film does lose its musical momentum in the second half of its story, which will not go unnoticed by musical connoisseurs. For novices like me, it’s the best of both worlds: I enjoyed the songs far more than I’d expected from a traditional film musical, but I was just as happy to be saddled with plain plot and character in the interim, however uneven.

I won’t disclose too much of the remaining plot, because it’s no trouble guessing for a proverbial tale as this anyway: the story reaches its emotional apex when Mia can’t bear another humiliating failure, and hits the sore spot many viewers who bought into this story for personal reasons, fear most—pondering that she may not be destined for greatness after all.

Nonetheless, the ensuing conclusion is probably what you’d expect for both aspiring artists in a film like this. And with that, this is the reason why these familiar stories still work: we need to be reminded that things are possible. It’s not cliché; it’s human—which one came first? (Well, frankly the human—but one thing informs the other). Notably, the movie does handle the love story between Mia and Sebastian with less hackneyed results, and I will leave that utterly out of this review for the viewer to discover on their own.

“La La Land” is nothing new, but it’s a tale we’ll never grow tired of because (many of us) will always care about the things it cares about.

Pop Culture and Me: a Forbidden Love Affair

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No one expects me to like pop culture. I believe two key factors play into this: my race, and my lack of style. I’m not going to change either one. Or the unyielding fact that I’ve always been quite enamored by pop culture.

Okay, my race I can’t change. But could I change my style so that it translates into a media-savvy hipster? Or at the very least, someone who looks like they watch TV?

How does that work? Should I wear “Walking Dead” t-shirts? Get a “Breaking Bad” Tattoo? Wear everything I see from Forever 21 to prove that I’m just like everyone else?

The funny thing about being misunderstood is that although we loathe it, we secretly enjoy it too—because it proves that there’s more to us than meets the eye.

I suppose there are some people out there who are happy being simple and straightforward—easily “read”, or as the kids call it these days: basic. See, I am hip enough to know that.

For the rest of us, we instinctively feel that that translates to being shallow, which is generally seen as a pejorative term unless you’re a reality star. Check. I know what constitutes a reality show star.

The truth is, I do play a role in my own conundrum too. It’s my lack of desire to assimilate on some levels that distances me from my peers, which fosters animosity and misunderstanding. But if I’m not interested in jumping on the latest bandwagon, that’s my right too. And being an individual does not preclude an awareness of what’s current in popular culture.

It’s not all bad either, to be fair. When I mentioned something about the Golden Globes one year (yes, I’m even an awards show junkie), a friend innocently remarked: “Wow, I thought you’d be—too cool to watch something like that.” Aww, ain’t that sweet? So maybe there is a contingent out there that isn’t attacking my character when assuming things about me. They’re simply deeming me to be more enlightened than I actually am, which is flattering—and less insulting.

But alas, I can succumb to frivolity as much as the next person. Who doesn’t enjoy the latest celebrity news? It’s like a large order of McDonald’s French fries: not good for you, but you’re not interested in being a saint. You’re allowed an indulgence once in a while. How utterly boring would it be if we only did things that were ethically “good” and enriching for us? If that were the case, there’d be no decent TV shows, movies, or music. We’d all be wearing white robes and chanting scriptures and talking about nothing more provocative than the weather.

So there you have it. The unremarkable reason why a person like me can enjoy the latest Adele album or the Oscars is just that: it’s human nature. Sometimes the simplest answer is the hardest one for people to see or accept. Apparently.

Celebrity News! By Way Of Me….

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Jennifer Lawrence was seen getting a Sprite from a vending machine. Sources later revealed that she was was hoping for a Fanta.

Expectant mother Mila Kunis was spotted telling an unnamed bodyguard that she had a “craving”.

Bradley Cooper went to the restroom while dining out at Spago’s. He returned after two minutes, with no visible differences in appearance or demeanor.

Seth Rogan had a hardy meal at a pizza place. Sources wonder if he is Italian, or not on a diet.

Jennifer Aniston was smiling and radiant, while walking down an unnamed street in either New York City, or Malibu.

Taylor Swift cut a rose from a graveyard in Paris, France. Later, it was spotted lying on a cooler on the set of her latest music video. No traces of it were found after that.

Miley Cyrus was at a sex shop in Amsterdam. Wearing a striped leotard and smoking a joint, she went unnoticed by customers.

Kim Kardashian began to slip off her sunglasses, while stepping into a limousine in Beverly Hills.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were spotted in a small village in Uzbekistan, speaking to a dignitary.

Selena Gomez was overheard talking on the phone, apparently with a close family member, inquiring about an aunt.

Andrew Garfield and girlfriend Emma Stone seem to have weathered a minor tiff: while walking together in Chelsea, Andrew pulled his hand out of hers—but they were seen holding hands again, after she walked through the door he was holding open for her.

Mark Wahlberg was seen grabbing a Fresca for Kate Moss, in a café in New York City. This sighting may have originally been reported in 1995.

Katy Perry is working on a new track called “SEXXX = Good”. It is also the title track of her upcoming album. Miley Cyrus is rumored to be collaborating.

Gwyneth Paltrow was in London, smiling and radiant, while looking at herself in the mirror of a ladies’ restroom.

Christian Bale ate a huge pastry before heading into a gym, where he didn’t emerge for three hours. Sources say he stopped at a grilled chicken place afterwards, and ordered half a chicken.

Sandra Bullock got off a plane after an unruly passenger was escorted off for making remarks—most likely terrorist threats. Bullock was wearing a black jacket and little makeup. Her son was not with her. The 51-year-old star first rose to prominence in the movie “Speed”. She was last seen in the movie “Gravity”, and rumored to star in a sequel to her comedy “The Heat”, with Melissa McCarthy. She has homes in Beverly Hills and New Orleans.

Justin Beiber ate a Twix Bar, two at a time. Sources say this is his “guilty pleasure”.

Charlie Sheen was spotted at the checkout lane in Whole Foods, with a bottle of chocolate syrup, vodka, butter, cherries, oysters, duct tape, matches, aspirin and a dozen eggs.

Katherine Heigl was seen walking on every major street in Beverly Hills. She was known for “Grey’s Anatomy”.

Jessica Simpson was seen with what was thought to be her new baby, but turned out to just be a chihuahua in a stroller.

Jennifer Lopez is dating her accountant. He is fourteen months her junior.

Will Smith had lunch with Tom Cruise. Later, he was frolicking on the beaches of Malibu with his wife, Jada. Afterwards, he was seen shaking hands with Arnold Schwarzenegger at a charity event. Then he had dinner with his two kids, Willow and Jaden at an exclusive restaurant in Brentwood. Afterward, they climbed aboard a jet and flew up to Santa Barbara.

Lindsay Lohan broke a heel off her shoe while walking down a street in Beverly Hills. She left the shoe in the middle of the sidewalk, for other pedestrians to ponder and walk around.

Johnny Depp was seen drinking some chardonnay in Paris. Then he walked alone alongside the river Seine, wearing a hat with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

Lea Michele was seen walking out of her brownstone apartment in Manhattan. She was wearing sunglasses and a hoody. Sources say she looked solemn.

Drake was upset when a crosswalk turned red just as he was about to cross. He flipped off the sign, then started chatting on his cell phone.

Jimmy Fallon smirked and made a face, at the corner of 36th and Broadway.

Adam Levine strutted out of a Saks Fifth Avenue store, unaware that he stepped in some dried dog feces.

Kanye West was wearing a fur coat and Christmas lights on his head, while leaving a charity event for music in the inner city.

Michelle Rodriguez looked angry while eating an ice cream cone in Venice Beach.

Zac Efron walked his dogs: a mini corgi and a maltese. Later, he was seen purchasing a teddy bear and a large lollipop at a shop in Beverly Hills.

Jay-Z bought some orange shoes at a mall in L.A. He said he’ll write a song about it.

Celine Dion was thought to be out walking alone in Manhattan, but sources saw her children ten feet behind her, preceded by half a dozen bodyguards.

Harrison Ford was seen walking out of a dining establishment in Beverly Hills. Paparazzi were shocked to see him.

Robin Thicke gave a waiter a hard time about a sandwich that wasn’t prepared to his liking, apparently. He fussed and hemmed and hawed for twenty minutes, sending the waiter back more than twice. When questioned by the paparazzi what was wrong, the waiter quipped: “I haven’t the faintest idea who this guy is. I know he’s not a rapper ‘cause he’s white, and I know he’s too old to be in One Direction.”

Rachel McAdams had chocolate covered strawberries and a strawberry drink, at a restaurant in Malibu. Later she pulled out her purse, and it had a kitten emblazoned on the front of it.

Drew Barrymore was seen walking down a street in Santa Monica, wearing a gauzy shirt, flip-flops, and a large canvas bag. She also had on a floppy hat. Her publicist says: “She’s such a free spirit.”

Martha Stewart was seen drinking from a water fountain, in Long Island. Bystanders were amused.

Robert Pattinson was seen at a premiere in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Malibu, and Beverly Hills. He is promoting his latest movie, art-house film “Gulf of the Nadir”, a searing portrait of the 1890’s art scene.

Chris Brown was seen on three separate dates with three different women in the past week. Sources say he is either really charismatic, or women just never learn.

Paula Deen’s publicist had a panic attack, while attempting to vanquish the waves of retaliation for her previous racist remarks.

Beyonce slipped while walking down a street in Chelsea; she managed to pretend like she was just dancing, and pulled it off admirably.

Daniel Radcliffe was swarmed by a bunch of teenagers in New York, who were fans of his “Harry Potter” films. Later on, he was swarmed by a couple in their fifties. While at dinner, a cutthroat business-type man asked for his autograph, to give to his daughter. When asked by paparazzi if it bothers him to be constantly stopped for his “Harry Potter” fame, Daniel replied: “Bloody hell. It’s either this or being poor.”

Matt Lauer was splashed by a car that drove by, as he was walking down a sidewalk in Manhattan. When a bystander asked if he was okay, he replied: “Of course! I’m Matt Lauer!”

Nicole Kidman is set to star in a new movie: “Glenda of the Cresting Wave”, a historical drama about an agoraphobic lesbian who discovers her parents were the first scientists to create artificial insemination, in Yugoslavia.

Heidi Klum was at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, posing for photos, watching the show, and occasionally socializing with some actors.

Tiger Woods was having dinner with an unnamed woman, when paparazzi kept harassing them. They left and flew away on a jet.

Lady Gaga wore a dress made of real human bones, while attending the opening of a Manhattan library for under-privileged kids.

Megan Fox’s next movie will come to a DVD near your, or Netflix Streaming.

LeAnn Rimes was smiling and taking photos for paparazzi at the opening of Kobe Bryant’s new lifestyle products line in Hollywood. Rimes rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a country singer.

Channing Tatum’s next film will be about a firefighter who has to bulk up in order to join the force. Gerhard Butler is in talks to play his hunky mentor.

Justin Timberlake’s working on a new single entitled “I. AM. METROSexual.”

Chaz Bono is writing a new book. It’s a mystery novel about a man’s cat and his dead mother. When pressed for its inspiration, Bono replied: “It has nothing to do with my life. Can’t I just do something that isn’t about my genitals?”

When pressed why she hasn’t made any records lately, Christina Aguilera replied: “What’s a record?”

Mel Gibson visited patients in a local hospital in Pennsylvania. When he spoke with an Amnesia patient, she exclaimed: “You are the epitome of the Perfect Man!”

Joan Rivers almost made a racist remark about an unnamed minority actor.

Venus Williams does not drive cars. People driver her in cars.

Kristen Stewart looked somber, as she stepped out of a limo and onto her private jet to a film festival somewhere in Europe.

The Rock ordered six eggs, three pieces of toast, and a side of kale, while having coffee in a café in Brentwood. “We don’t serve eggs after 1pm,” the waiter informed him.

Jared Leto was seen wearing a long purple jacket adorned with fake eggs made of yarn. He took off his orange hat to reveal his long black hair, with one strand braided. “Peace and love!!”, he proclaimed, while giving the peace sign with one hand.

Shia LeBouf peed behind a gas station. When asked if this was a flagrant publicity stunt, LeBouf replied: “I don’t have a bathroom anymore!”

Amy Adams was seen leaving an S & M club in New York City. She was nearly unrecognizable wearing skin tight black leather, thigh high boots, as well as several metal chains that caught the glow of streetlights.

Courtney Cox was spotted feeding killer whales in an exclusive beach in an exotic destination that is obscure and inaccessible to most people.

Reese Witherspoon is in talks to play a modern, independent woman in either a comedy or a drama.

Helen Mirren accidentally belched after a meal of cavier and escargo. Her publicist took over, paying the bill while she slipped out of the restaurant quietly.

Kelly Osbourne dyed her hair another color and got a new tattoo. When asked if she had any projects “in the works”, she hesitated, then said: “Oh, you never know…”

Nikki Minaj revealed that she’s actually a full-blooded middle-aged Czechoslovakian woman. It takes her five hours each day to put on makeup and hair to become an eccentric strong black woman.

Robert Downey Jr.’s dog was arrested for heroin possession.

Lance Bass is recording a solo album. It’s entitled: “From ‘Nsync… it’s Lance Bass!”

Sir Paul McCartney’s personal pilot recently retired. McCartney was sad to see him go, but was delighted to get a new one.

Steven Tyler revealed that his past drug use took a toll on him physically. Fans did not react surprised, on social media.

Ashton Kutcher is working on a new movie called “Don’t Hit On My Girl!” It’s a comedy, from the people who brought you “White Chicks.”

Nicolas Cage went unnoticed as a he walked down a sketchy street in Hollywood. He donned stubble and disheveled hair.

Melissa McCarthy was spotted at the Souplantation, in Torrance over the weekend.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were seen playing in the park with what appeared to be over a dozen kids. Sources couldn’t decipher which one(s) were theirs, or remember how many they are purported to have.

Rosie O’Donnell was seen screaming and quoting the Constitution, on a street in New York City. It was later clarified that she was arguing with a street vendor about getting enough relish on her hot dog.

Emma Watson felt so bad for patrons in a run-down McDonald’s that she’d stepped into in lower Manhattan, that she paid the tab for everyone there.

James Franco is pursuing his next interest—being a Jamaican voodoo priest.

Tom Hanks was seen smiling and eating a donut, in Manhattan.

Pamela Anderson is in talks to play a new character on a TV show. Her character will be a doctor who is blond and sexy.

Paris Hilton is in talks to star in a new reality show, where she will choose a new BFF, or go shopping.

Ellen DeGeneres got some bad news: her third mansion was burglarized.

Ashton Kutcher had his medications switched and was accidentally on sleep meds for the past month. Sources say it did not affect his acting.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in talks to play Albert Einstein. He said the role will be “Very intense, gritty, and complex!”

Kevin Smith was seen shopping in Hollywood. His cart included twinkies, milk, Lucky Charms, Pez dispensers and Archie Comics.

Neil Patrick Harris was singing and dancing, and doing back flips—at a Whole Foods in Beverly Hills.

Rihanna wore a bikini encrusted with diamonds and silver. She took a limo to the grocery store, where her personal shopper went in for a few items for her, while she waited in the automobile.

Denise Richards is in talks to star in another reality show, called “It’s not THAT Complicated.”

Ryan Phillipe is in talks to star in a spinoff of the reality show “It’s Complicated”, about being a divorced star sharing custody of the kids with his ex.

Morgan Freeman will be narrating a new documentary about film narrators.