Crazy What You Could've Had
This came on iTunes the other day. Hadn't heard it in years. So powerful. And Michael Stipe's favorite? I think he's stated so in the past.
I think something like this every other day, particularly with “wear me out” part:
You come to me with positionsYou come to me with excuses
Ducked out in a row
You wear me out
You wear me out
Not to mention:
Crazy what you could've had
I think this on a maddening loop.
Quote of the Day
“I am disappointed that many of my colleagues chose to put the security of Americans at stake and waste time playing politics. Congress has a solemn responsibility. As a body, we should never hold America's safety hostage simply for political gamesmanship ... With recent terror threats to the Mall of America hitting so close to home and the potential need for natural disaster relief in Minnesota during the winter months, it is imperative we approve the funding the DHS needs.”
-- U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, (R-MN), who took over Michele Bachmann's seat in the House, on the recent and ongoing Republican threat to defund the Dept. of Homeland Security unless Pres. Obama's executive order protecting 4 million immigrants from deportation is reversed. So at least Minnesota's 6th District is better represented than it was a few months ago. (FWIW, Emmer doesn't agree with Obama's immigration plan.)
The Utter Smallness of King v. Burwell
If Keith Olbermann still did his schtick he might make Michael Greve today's “worst person in the world.” From Jeffrey Toobin's “Hard Cases,” about King v. Burwell, which is being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday:
Shortly after the A.C.A. passed, in 2010, a group of conservative lawyers met at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, and scoured the nine-hundred-page text of the law, looking for grist for possible lawsuits. Michael Greve, a board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian outfit funded by, among others, the Koch brothers, said, of the law, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”
I've heard nothing but arguments against King v. Burwell, and the arguments are getting more blistering. The Editorial Board at the New York Times, which doesn't exactly make waves, calls the lawsuit “a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity” and its central claim “baloney.” Others, including in the Wall Street Journal, have argued that the plaintiffs don't even have legal standing in the matter—they haven't proven they were injured by the ACA—so the case should be dismissed on those grounds. An Indiana law professor suggests it would be “embarrassing” if the court didn't dismiss King v. Burwell.
Toobin, in his piece, mostly argues against the smallness of the lawsuit: the four words in dispute (“established by the state”), and how, in better times, the confusion over the four words (if it's even confusion) would be dealt with. Which is to say: not this way.
As for who would be harmed if the ACA is upended? Toobin doesn't exactly mince words:
If the Justices rule for the plaintiffs, the seven and a half million people on the federal exchange who receive tax subsidies will lose them immediately, which means that most of them will also lose their insurance, because they can no longer afford it. Insurance companies will then likely raise rates for the remaining policyholders, many of whom would drop their coverage, leading to even higher rates, and so on; this sequence is known as the A.C.A. death spiral. A remarkable coalition of state officials, insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, and nurses—many among them less than friendly to the Obama Administration—have filed briefs in the case warning of the consequences if the subsidies are withdrawn. A brief written by the deans of nineteen leading schools of public health states with bracing directness that, if the plaintiffs win this case, nearly ten thousand Americans will die unnecessary deaths each year.
Critics of the ACA have always railed on about Obama and his “death panels” but this may be another case of GOP projection.
Box Office: Moviegoers Not Conned (Much) By 'Focus'
Smith's movie career is lacking focus.
Here’s how Will Smith’s mass-release (3,000+ theaters) openers have done since 2007:
|2007||I Am Legend||$77,211,321||3,606|
Remember the joke that kept Eddie Murphy off “SNL” for 20 years? Like that.
Even so, “Focus” won the weekend with $19.1, followed by the third weekend of “Kingsman” at $11.7, the fourth weekend of “SpongeBob” at $11.2, and the third weekend of “Fifty Shades” at $10.9. The opening weekend of “The Lazarus Effect” was in fifth place with $10.6.
“Fifty Shades” has plunged, boy. It dropped 50 percent on top of the near-record 72 percent drop the week before. It’s the highest-grossing movie of the year so far (at $147) but looks like it’ll have trouble even doubling its opening weekend total of $85. There’s a sexual metaphor here I’ll ignore out of politeness.
A lot of movies—most Oscar winners—increased theater count, including “Birdman” (+806) and “Still Alice (+553); but the oddest increase came from Paramount, whose “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” died in its debut last weekend, receiving abysmal reviews (15% RT) and garnering abysmal box office ($5.9, seventh place). So what does Paramount do? Adds 21 theaters. Result? Movie drops 59.8 percent to 10th place. Ad wizards.
Meanwhile, “American Sniper” keeps on. It dropped only 23.4 percent for another $7.7 million. It’s now grossed $331.1 million. Next weekend it looks set to surpass “Mockingjay–Part 1” ($336.7) as the highest-grossing film of 2014.
Weekend numbers here.
Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
Airdate: Sept. 8, 1966: Our first shot of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and Spock has the conn.
I met him once. From February 27 through March 3, 1979, “Vincent,” a one-man play he wrote, directed and starred in, in which he mostly played the brother, Theo Van Gogh, rather than the title character, debuted at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For much of that spring, he toured the country with “Vincent”; then, as the program noted, “He will reprise the role of Spock in ‘Star Trek—The Motion Picture,’ scheduled for release in 1979.”
That’s why I was at the Guthrie, of course, solo like the man onstage. I was 16, and a Trekkie, or Trekker, and because of my father’s Star-Tribune connections I got to go backstage. There was a group there, all older and better-dressed than me—I think I had an ill-fitting brown suit on—and when Leonard Nimoy finally emerged everyone applauded and crowded around and asked questions about art and Van Gogh and not at all about Spock, who, reprised or not, was still the sore subject of Nimoy’s autobiography, “I Am Not Spock.” I was so quiet during all of this, so Minnesota Nice, that Nimoy signed everyone’s programs but mine. I had to be pointed out to him so he wouldn’t miss me. He didn’t. (See below.)
Most of what I know of TV shows, I know because of “Star Trek.” Once I became a fan, a true fan, I became aware of the following: 1) episodes had titles; 2) production dates didn’t necessarily correlate to air dates; 3) what a pilot was. Remember in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega asks that question? “What’s a pilot?” Obviously not a “Star Trek” fan. Every Trekkie knew it was “The Cage,” about Capt. Christopher Pike, which was remade into the two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in the first season, since ... why not? They had the footage. At one point, probably around 1978, I had a chart up on the wall of my bedroom running down the episodes. I remember being monumentally disappointed with the production date/air date thing. “Wait, you mean they showed ‘Man Trap’ first? And ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before?’ later? Wouldn’t that seem odd to people watching?” I tried to memorize all the episode titles. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. I learned Shakespeare because of “Star Trek.” I learned about Horatio Hornblower. In college, my humanities professor used “Star Trek” to exemplify the human dilemma between logic (Spock) and emotion (McCoy). I was always a McCoy; I aspired to Spock.
“Star Trek” also made me realize this: 4) network executives are idiots. Among their notes after seeing the pilot: “Get rid of the guy with the ears.” When they promoted the show in the fall of 1966, they barely showed Spock at all. They thought America would reject him, this elf creature, this Satanic figure. Instead, l’opposite. He became the breakout star. Spock was the outsider of the crew, cooler than cool. In an emotional time, he was all about that logic. He was also the only one with superpowers: mind-melds and neck pinches. Much has been written about “Star Trek”’s optimistic vision of the future—that eventually, after some messy eugenics wars, we would all be united together in space: black, white, yellow, brown, green. The show debuted only a year after Selma, while we were fighting hot in Vietnam and cold across the Iron Curtain, so this was a far-seeing vision. At the same time—and this has been written to death, too—the show simply transposed many our problems into the future. Humans may have been united, but aliens, even half-aliens like Spock, were the new minority: forever mistrusted, first scapegoated. You don’t think Muslim-Americans don’t identify with Spock in the first-season “Balance of Terror” episode? The Enterprise has been attacked by people who look like Spock; so crewmembers blame Spock. They assume he’ll betray them; they want to incarcerate him. Even Stiles stops short of waterboarding, though.
In “The Man Trap,” Spock is the man not trapped, despite the flirtations of Lt. Uhura.
I was three when “Star Trek” debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, so I caught the show in syndicated reruns in the ’70s, weeknights at 6 PM on Channel 11 (MetroMedia Television, Minneapolis). At the same time, I listened to Nimoy narrate “In Search of ...” on ... was it Saturdays? I saw him in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It always seemed odd seeing him as not Spock, with his hair feathered and parted, with his ears rounded. Nimoy had his problems with the character, about being so identified with something he’d created, but what a world it opened for him. Before “Star Trek” he was the go-to ethnic guy on episodic TV; he never had an acting job that lasted longer than two weeks. Afterwards? From the “Vincent” program:
Without Spock, would anyone have given a shit about his love poetry? Or his rendition of “I Walk the Line”? What must that be like, really? To be as ignored and marginalized as any actor, struggling to break though; and then you do, you break through, and become beloved on the earth. That must mess with your head a little. That must make you believe you should not only sing “Proud Mary” but record it.
I always assumed he was a reluctant participant in anything “Star Trek,” but he kept showing up, didn’t he? When NASA rolled out the space shuttle Enterprise in 1976, he was there on the tarmac along with most of the original cast; it was Shatner who was absent. Nimoy showed up in the first movie (barely, it turns out), and when he died in the second we heard it was because he wanted out. Not really. He wanted to direct. And he did: “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”; then he directed something completely different, “Three Men and a Baby,” which became the most popular movie of l987. Here’s the odd thing: he wasn’t able to cash in on it. Did any director of the biggest movie of the year have a shorter shelf life afterwards? Nimoy only gave us three more: “The Good Mother” (1988) with Diane Keaton; “Funny About Love” with Gene Wilder (one of his last starring roles); and “Holy Matrimony,” in which, in a Hutterite community, a 13-year-old boy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is forced to marry his late brother’s 26-year-old wife (played by Patricia Arquette). Oddly, the doesn’t seem happy about it. (My 13-year-old self would’ve passed out from happiness.) Then Nimoy directed one show in 1995 and no more.
But he kept acting. And he kept playing (or playing off) Spock. Despite “I Am Not Spock,” he was the last survivor of the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew—part of J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, where, sadly, he became responsible for the destruction of the planet Vulcan. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get rebooted.
The usually reticent New York Times has a lovely obit, in which Virginia Heffernan not only translates Spock’s signature phrase, “Live long and prosper,” into Vulcan, but writes that Nimoy brought to life “one of the most indelible characters of the last half century.” Indeed.
The autographed program: Click for a slightly bigger version.
Top 25 Movies of the Decade So Far
Hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the decade. And you know what that means, don't you? Listomania.
Yesterday, The Film Stage came out with its list of the top 50 films of the half-decade, and it's ... um ... Well, let's just say their arthouse films (“Upstream Color,” “Before Midnight,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”) are not my arthouse films. Except when they are (“The Tree of Life,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Master”).
Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own list.
Feelings about movies change, of course. Some grow in the mind with repeated viewings or simply through repeated thought; others diminish. Roger Ebert's favorite movie of 1980 was “The Black Stallion, with ”Raging Bull“ second; but when he did his ”Best of the '80s“ list 10 years later, ”Stallion“ didn't make the cut while ”Bull" was now No. 1 for the entire decade.
Here's mine. Your mileage will vary.
- The Tree of Life (2011)
- Boyhood (2014
- De rouille et d'os (2012)
- Ida (2014)
- Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
- Birdman (2014)
- Restrepo (2010)
- Moneyball (2011)
- Le Passé (2013)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- The Drop (2014)
- End of Watch (2012)
- The Social Network (2010)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
- La Grand Bellezza (2013)
- A Separation (2011)
- The Master (2012)
- A Film Unfinished (2010)
- Margin Call (2011)
- American Hustle (2013)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
- Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
- Young Adult (2011)
- The Descendants (2011)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
Obama's Veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the Third of His Presidency; What Does That Mean Historically?
Via Senate.gov, which should know:
|Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)||372||263||635|
|Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)||304||110||414|
|Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)||180||70||250|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)||73||108||181|
|Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)||42||128||170|
|Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)||45||48||93|
|Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)||42||40||82|
|Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)||39||39||78|
|Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)||48||18||66|
|Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)||20||30||50|
|Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)||19||25||44|
|George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
|Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)||33||11||44|
|Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)||26||17||43|
|William McKinley (1897-1901)||6||36||42|
|William H. Taft (1909-1913)||30||9||39|
|Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)||21||16||37|
|William J. Clinton (1993-2001)||36||1||37|
|Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)||13||18||31|
|Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)||16||14||30|
|Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)||21||8||29|
|John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)||12||9||21|
|Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)||12||1||13|
|Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)||4||8||12|
|George W. Bush (2001-2009)||12||0||12|
|John Tyler (1841-1845)||6||4||10|
|Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)||9||0||9|
|Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)||2||5||7|
|James Buchanan (1857-1861)||4||3||7|
|James Madison (1809-1817)||5||2||7|
|Warren G. Harding(1921-1923)||5||1||6|
|Barack H. Obama (2009-present)||3||0||3|
|James K. Polk (1845-1849)||2||1||3|
|George Washington (1789-1797)||2||0||2|
|Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)||0||0||2|
|James Monroe (1817-1825)||1||0||1|
|Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)||0||1||1|
|James A. Garfield (1881)||0||0||0|
|John Adams (1797-1801)||0||0||0|
|John Q. Adams (1825-1829)||0||0||0|
|Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)||0||0||0|
|William H. Harrison (1841)||0||0||0|
|Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)||0||0||0|
May there be more.
“The disco music shifts to the Bee Gees, white men who have done this wonderful thing of making themselves sound like black women. 'Stay' Alive' comes on with all that amplified throbbleo and a strange nasal whining underneath: the John Travolta theme song. Rabbit still thinks of him as one of the Sweathogs from Mr. Kotter's class but for awhile back there last summer the U.S.A. was one hundred percent his, every twat under fifteen wanting to be humped by a former Sweathog in the back seat of a car parked in Brooklyn.”
-- part of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom's driving-home musings in the summer of '79, in John Updike's 1981 novel, “Rabbit is Rich.” I thought of this passage after last night's doubly odd showing from John Travolta: both on the red carpet with Scarlett Johansson (below), and on stage with Idina Menzel. I think John needs another talk with Quentin Tarantino. Maybe QT (who's got issues of his own) could at least get him to lose the rug.
Best Picture Box Office: Yeah Yeah, 'American Sniper': But Which Film Did Best Overseas?
First, how great is it that the Oscar race is coming down to two artistic, independent and original movies like “Boyhood” and “Birdman”? I've been thinking about this all week and wanted to reiterate it here as a kind of thank you to the cinematic (or Academic) universe, before delving into the dirt of the numbers.
Second, a mea culpa on my post-Oscar nomination, um, post, “The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees,” in which I worried over the low, low box office of the nominees, adding, “I could see 'Imitation Game' gaining some moviegoers.” (I was right.) “Will they expand 'Birdman'?” (They did, barely.) “Will they re-release 'Whiplash'?” (Dunno.) And finally:
“Are people psyched to see 'American Sniper' now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?”
Five days later, it had grossed more than $100 million and counting. It will probably be the biggest box-office hit of 2014. So ... culpa from mea.
Even with that sudden turnaround, though, the Oscar box office numbers are down. 2009 was the first year since World War II with more than five best picture nominees—when they Academy, trying to boost ratings, went from five nominees to 10. A few years later, they opted for 5 to 10. Here's what that b.o. has looked like:
|Year||No. Films||Total Gross||Avg. Gross||High||Low|
|2009||10||$1.7 billion||$170 m||Avatar: $749||A Serious Man: $9|
|2010||10||$1.3 billion||$135 m||Toy Story 3: $415||Winter's Bone: $6.5|
|2011||9||$628 million||$69 m||The Help: $169||The Tree of Life: $13|
|2012||9||$1 billion||$111 m||Lincoln: $182||Amour: $6.7|
|2013||9||$813 million||$90 m||Gravity: $274||Nebraska: $17|
|2014||8||$620 million||$77 m||American Sniper: $319||Whiplash: $11|
Huge blockbusters the first few years with this format. Then a tapering off.
2014's numbers will continue to rise a bit, maybe another $30-$50 million, mostly on the back of “American Sniper.” So it won't be the worst total b.o. since 2009. But close.
And it will certainly be the most lopsided. Even “Avatar,” the most dominant box-office hit of all time (unadjusted), didn't dominate its fellow nominees the way “Sniper” has done this year. Eastwood's flick has grossed $319 million domestically. The other seven movies combined? $301 million.
Here are the numbers, with worldwide gross (domestic + foreign), along with the non-UK foreign market where it's made the most money:
|Picture||Domestic||Worldwide||Big Foreign Mkt.|
|The Imitation Game||$83,921,000||$160,840,682||Australia/ Italy|
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||$59,100,318||$174,600,318||France/Australia|
|The Theory of Everything||$34,145,000||$104,145,000||Italy/ S. Korea|
How great that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” did better abroad than any other best picture nominee—even “Sniper”? Little Wes Anderson and his quirky characters. Who knew? Bravo, too, Germany and the Netherlands for the “Boyhood” support.
See you in a few hours.
GREAT 'Birdman' Spoof to Open Spirit Awards
Saw it via Jeff Wells' “Hollywood Elsewhere” site. Guy doesn't miss a beat. Except for the “Lincoln” debacle, in which he told Daniel Day-Lewis how to act. Plus his odd “42” poster defense, where he gave tips on baserunning to Jackie Robinson. But ... you know.
Here's another “Birdman” spoof, which is less exact but brings a bigger smile: “Big Birdman.”
There will be more of these spoofs. That's how iconic the movie already is.
Oh, as for Spirit Award winners for best independent films? “Birdman,” Richard Linklater, Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, “Ida,” Dan Gilroy (screenplay).