erik lundegaard

Tuesday September 17, 2019

Movie Review: Other Men's Women (1931)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Apparently they were down with OPP in the 1930s, too. At least at Warner Bros. 

In the clunkily titled “Other Men’s Women,” Loretta Young-elopee Grant Withers plays Bill White, a raconteur for the railroad who has a girl in every station. We first see him stepping off a slow-moving train and ducking into a station diner for three eggs and double entendres with the waitress. He’s counting all the while. Counting what? Double entendres? No. Train cars, we soon realize. So he knows when to get back on board. Like a lot of early Warner Bros. leads, he also has a catchphrase. Offering a stick of gum, he says “Have a little chew on me.” He must say it 10 times in the first 10 minutes.

He also drinks too much, carouses, and is tossed out of his flat by a stuttering female landlord, whose stutter he makes fun of. Plus he’s trying to avoid Marie (Joan Blondell), one of his dames. Not sure why.

Good news: His colleague Jack (Regis Toomey) has offered to let him stay at his place, further out of town, with his wife, Lily (Mary Astor of “Maltese Falcon” fame), and a handyman, Peg-Leg (J. Farrell MacDonald), who, yes, has a literal peg leg. At one point Peg-Leg and Lily are arguing over who should use the shovel to turn the earth for her sweet-pea garden. Peg-Leg wants to help but can’t really use the shovel, which is about when Bill offers his services. Then we see the result: Bill turning the earth, Peg-Leg following behind and poking a hole in the ground, into which Lily plants her seeds. Everyone is useful. Nice scene.

Bad news: The longer he stays the more he and Lily flirt; and one day, when Jack is gone, she’s sewing a button onto his shirt, he feigns to dance with her, and we get this exchange.

Bill: Say, I think you‘re the swellest girl in the world.
Lily: Oh, you’re a dear. And just for that I'm gonna give you a little kiss.

At which point both suddenly realize the depths of their longing for each other. She moves off, he pesters, he grabs and demands to know how she feels, she admits, they kiss.

And to think, it all began with “Say, I think you’re the swellest girl in the world.” Sign of a true lothario: making that line work.

When Jack returns, he senses something wrong—his wife is pale and Bill isn’t around. In fact, he’s already fled. But they’re still colleagues, so Jack sees him. By the time Bill confesses to kissing Lily, Jack thinks it’s worse. They fight, Jack gets the worst of it, and his head hits a rail. Result? 

“He’s blind,” Lily says. “Stone blind.”

Now we’re in melodrama territory. A character can’t go blind—let alone stone blind—at the end of the second act without it being a melodrama.

As for the final act? Bill is still working on the railroad, now partnering with his friend Ed (James Cagney, fourth-billed in his third film), when the rains come. A flood might wash away the bridge, so Bill decides to take a train, loaded with cement, and drive it onto the bridge to weigh it down. Or something. Ah, but Jack overhears and stumbles to do the job himself. Now they’re fighting over who gets to sacrifice himself. Jack, blinded, wins this one. He drives the train onto the bridge, a wave comes, the bridge collapses, there goes that.

To sum up, Jack lets Bill stay at his place, and Bill repays him by:

  • cuckolding him
  • blinding him
  • floating the idea that kills him

You’d think this wouldn’t lead to a happy ending but you’d be underestimating Hollywood’s capacity for such things. At the end, we get a refrain of the opening. Train pulls up, Bill, counting cars, goes into EATS, and now Lily is there, too. They’re happy to see each other. They make small talk. She asks him to come see her sometime. He makes it back to the train, and, as he’s running along the top, jumps up and down in excitement. 

“Other Men’s Women” was written by playwright/actress Maude Fulton and directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman. We get a few good shots—like when Jack feels his way toward the train that will lead to his sacrificial death—but no memorable lines. Withers isn’t bad but you get why he didn’t last as a leading man. He played big, and often goofy, and not exactly smoldering. Blondell is underused and Cagney criminally so, but we do get to see him dance lightly across the screen. He and Withers also have a nice bit talking atop the train cars, and, without looking, stooping for low bridges because they know the route so well.

As stated, it’s Cagney third movie role. In his fifth, also for Wellman, they made movie history.

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Posted at 07:12 AM on Sep 17, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
Monday September 16, 2019

Movie Review: Late Night (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

What a disappointment.

I get why screenwriter/star Mindy Kaling created up-and-comer Molly Patel (Kaling), who gets a dream job writing for iconic female late-night host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), since Kaling was an intern for Conan O’Brien and the sole woman and person of color on the writing staff of “The Office” back in 2005. She knows this stuff.

I just don’t get why the female late-night host. If Kaling was a rarity in writing rooms, Newbury didn’t exist. Not in the early ’90s, when her show supposedly started, and not today, when all the late-night slots are taken by Stephen, Seth, two Jimmys and a James. If you’re riffing on the sexism of the industry, as this movie does, why create a character that makes the industry seem progressive in comparison?

And why make her British? And starchy and out-of-touch? Yes, apparently off-camera Johnny Carson was abrupt and unavailable, but on-camera he was the epitome of sly charm—and we don’t see that from Newbury. Yes, Carson got famously out-of-touch near the end of his 30-year reign, leading to Dana Carvey’s blistering “I did not know that ... Wild, weird stuff...” imitation, so I guess that’s a good avenue to explore, but you need the other elements. You need someone who seems funny. Was Ellen DeGeneres too busy for the role? Lily Tomlin? How about Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Tina Fey—aged 10 years? Thompson’s a pro but I saw nothing about her character that would make me think she’d been a national comic treasure for almost 30 years.

Not very PC
I must’ve seen the trailer a zillion times during the Seattle International Film Festival. It was playing the Centerpiece Gala, a prestigious slot, but the more I saw the trailer the more I worried. That’s the best they’ve got? What’s in this not-very-funny trailer?

Yep. “Late Night” is supposed to be about funny people and it’s not very funny.

Newbury gets off some zingers but overall she’s entitled and out-of-touch. She thinks she doesn’t have to keep up-to-date to keep an audience. New writers are told: Nothing happened after 1995, not the internet, and certainly not social media, so don’t mention any of that. Plus she’s sexist. Her writing staff consists of eight Yalie white men. Her personal assistant, Brad (Denis O’Hare), tells her, “I think you have a problem with living female writers on your staff,” and when it becomes an issue, he’s ordered to find her one. And there, across his desk, is Molly Patel, who works at a chemical plant, and has never done standup or comedy writing of any kind; she’s just a fan of the show. But she gets the gig. Because she’s a woman.

Also because she gets off this line.

Brad: A TV writer’s room is ... It’s not very PC. It can be a pretty masculine environment.
Molly: Oh, I saw most of the writers. I’m not overly worried about masculinity.

It’s one of the movie’s last funny lines.

That sets it all up. Molly is young, non-white, kinda hip; Newbury is old, very white, and decidedly unhip; and the movie’s trajectory is for Newbury to open up enough to Molly’s ideas to save both of their careers.

Except the stuff Molly comes up with? The worst. We get a recurring on-the-street bit called “Katherine Newbury: White Savoir,” where she helps two black dudes hail a cab, a fat woman buy clothes (I think), and some other dude get fries by complaining on social media. This is what turns the show from soporific into “a viral sensation.” I remember my father used to complain about movies in which some fictional Broadway show would get a standing ovation opening night when it was so bad it would probably close in a week, and this is the modern version of that. Even if people got the joke, and there isn't much of one, Newbury would be skewered more than celebrated for “White Savoir.”

As for that politically incorrect writers room? I wish. These guys are sweethearts. There’s a cute monologue writer (Reid Scott of “VEEP”), an older, empathetic, I’ll-be-fired-any-day-now dude (Max Casella), a lothario (Hugh Dancy), a fat guy (Paul Walter Hauser), and some non-descripts. At one point, they wonder over this “diversity hire” but they kind of whisper it. Mostly they’re there to support Molly. When a story breaks that Katherine slept with the lothario, cheating on her Parkinson’s-ridden husband Walter (John Lithgow), they all seem shocked. They soul search. “I thought she really loved Walter,” says the “VEEP” dude, betrayed. It comes off more like a consciousness-raising session.

You like us again; you really like us again
The story about the affair sets up our third act. Katherine takes a sabbatical, then says she’ll return to hand over the show over to the douchey standup the network wants (Ike Barinholtz); Molly says no, she should acknowledge the affair and fight for her show. They argue. Molly’s fired. “VEEP” dude shows up at her house to buck her up. Then Katherine does what Molly suggested, wins back the crowd, wins over the network president (Amy Ryan), keeps the job, and shows up at Molly’s new apartment to woo her back. A year later, everything’s hunky dory.

I didn’t like anybody in it. No, not true. I mostly didn’t like our female leads. It’s basically another example of female storytellers (Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra) giving us flawed, unsympathetic female characters and sympathetic, supportive male ones. Which is fine, but the flaws should be interesting. “Late Night” sets up the usual false dichotomy of Hollywood films: High culture is snooty so let’s wallow in the YouTube muck. These are our only two options.

O’Hare, who’s been in everything, is good, as is Casella. I particularly liked Lithgow’s Walter. There’s a scene when Molly attends a party at Katherine’s and finds Walter upstairs alone playing the piano. She listens. They talk. It’s nice. I didn’t want to leave that room.

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Posted at 08:32 AM on Sep 16, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Sunday September 15, 2019

Box Office: J-Lo Makes it Rain, ‘IT 2’ Scares Up More

Girls just wanna have bonds. 

Could “Hustlers,” in which sympathetic strippers rip off douchey Wall Street brokers in the lead-up to the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, be Jennifer Lopez’s first $100 million movie? It came in second this weekend, grossing $33 million, and such films are usually right on the cusp. From recent years:

YEAR MOVIE OPEN TOTAL THTRS
2016 Sully $35,028,301 $125,070,033 3,955
2017 Annabelle: Creation $35,006,404 $102,092,201 3,565
2018 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again $34,952,180 $120,634,935 3,514
2016 The Magnificent Seven (2016) $34,703,397 $93,432,655 3,696
2016 Sausage Party $34,263,534 $97,685,686 3,135
2019 The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part $34,115,335 $105,806,508 4,303
2017 Get Out $33,377,060 $176,040,665 3,143
2019 Hustlers $33,230,000 $33,230,000 3,250
2018 A Wrinkle in Time $33,123,609 $100,478,608 3,980
2019 Dark Phoenix $32,828,348 $65,845,974 3,721
2017 Blade Runner 2049 $32,753,122 $92,054,159 4,058
2019 Men in Black International $30,035,838 $79,800,736 4,224

 Is anyone surprised a J-Lo movie never broken $100? OK, two movies have—both animated, and neither really J-Lo movies: “Ice Age: Continental Drift” and “Home.” The best live-action grosser of hers if “Maid in Manhattan” from 2002 ($94) and “Monster-in-Law” from 2005 ($82). Her heyday. She’s only done seven live-actioners in the 14 years since 2005:

  • 2007: “El Cantante” with Marc Anthony ($7.5)
  • 2010: “The Back-Up Plan” with Alex O’Loughlin(?) ($37.4)
  • 2012: “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” with mostly female cast ($41.1)
  • 2013: “Parker,” a Jason Statham actioner ($17.6)
  • 2015: “The Boy Next Door,” threatened by a younger lover ($35.4)
  • 2015: “Lila & Eve”(?) with Viola Davis ($0.038)
  • 2018: “Second Act,” girl from the block succeeds in business world ($39.2)

Feels like a film festival in hell. In three days, “Hustlers,” which is supposed to be good (88%), has made almost as much money as almost any of them. Welcome back. Now don’t blow it.

Speaking of: “It: Chapter Two” won the weekend with another $40.7 mil, bringing its 10-day total to $153.8. Nothing to sneeze at ... unless you compare it to “It,” which grossed $218 domestic by this point. A little odd to me. It’s rare when a sequel to a good movie doesn’t do as well in the opening rounds. Because the first played off “Stranger Things” and now we’re kinda tired of it? Because it’s not kids? Because it’s not new? It’s still doing great, just not “It” great.

The fourth weekend of “Angel Has Fallen” grossed another $4.4 to bring its total to $60. The fifth weekend of “Good Boys” grossed another $4.2 to bring its total to $73. The ninth weekend of “Lion King” grossed at $3.5 to bring its total to $553.9.

The other wide opener, “The Goldfinch,” has buzz for a bit, but like so many September releases the buzz died fast: 25% RT, $2.6. The well-reviewed “Monos,” which I saw at SIFF last May, opened in five theaters to good reviews (91%) and little dough ($43k).

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Posted at 03:55 PM on Sep 15, 2019 in category Movies - Box Office   |   Permalink  
Friday September 13, 2019

What Liberal Media? Part 2,398

“There’s also a degree to which TV anchors and pundits offer an unspoken acceptance of a basic Republican idea, that taxes are somehow uniquely bad. You can see it in the way Matthews pressed Warren, acknowledging that total costs may go down but saying he didn’t really care, because what matters to him is whether taxes go up.

”Which, when you think about it, is utterly bonkers. The average insurance premium for an employer-provided family plan is nearly $20,000 a year. If that’s what you were paying, and I told you that I could give you back that $20,000 but your taxes would go up by $10,000 so you’d wind up with $10,000 more than you had to begin with, and you replied, “No deal — I don’t want to pay higher taxes!” you’d be a complete fool.“

— Paul Waldman, ”What is it so important to get Warren to say, 'I‘ll raise taxes’?" in The Washington Post

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Posted at 05:04 PM on Sep 13, 2019 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Movie Review: Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Does anything make less sense than a Cole Porter musical without the Cole Porter music? Maybe a Pearl Jam concert without Eddie Vedder? It’s like you’ve got LeBron on your team and you leave him on the bench. Because “box office receipts for LeBron are down at this time.”

My roundabout rationale for checking this out:

  1. A few months back, I was watching the Cagney flick, “The Crowd Roars,” in which Cagney players a race-car driver, and at one point Joan Blondell says sardonically, “Well, 50 million race-car drivers can’t be wrong.”
  2. My ears perked up. I’d long known that Elvis Presley had a greatest hits album called, “50 Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong,” which I’d always thought a weird, catchy title. So much so that I’d played off it before. Example: “5,000 Elvis Cards Can’t Be Wrong,” about a Memphis attorney who sends cards to his clients on Elvis’ birthday rather than Christmas. But I had no idea the Elvis album title was playing off of something else. But what? What was Blondell referencing?
  3. Turns out, the 1927 hit Sophie Tucker record, “50 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.”
  4. Hey, Cole Porter turned that into a musical in 1929!
  5. Hey, Warners turned that into a movie in 1931!
  6. Hey, Scarecrow Video has it!

And here we are.

Minnesota Swansons
So was it worth the journey? Eh.

The song is mostly about sex (“They shorten them here, They shorten them there/ And if her name is Teddy they make Teddy bare”) but the movie is mostly about love. So Hollywood. Apparently even pre-code.

Jack Forbes (William Gaxton) is a rich American playboy who arrives in Paris on a luxury liner with a French girl on his arm (Carmelia Teraghty of Rushville, Indiana), but spots an American girl, LuLu Carroll (Claudia Dell, Octavia in the ’34 “Cleopatra”), and falls hard and fast. He searches all over Paris and finally finds her dining with relatives at the Hotel Ritz. It’s his friend Michael Cummins (John Halliday) who IDs her. Trouble? Cummins likes her, too, so he suckers Forbes into a bet. Part of their dialogue here almost feels like song lyrics:

Cummins: May the best man win? What’s that got to do with it—with all his jack.
Forbes: That sounds like a dirty crack
Cummins: That may be. But everyone woman you’ve ever got, you’ve got with your money.

Cummins winds up betting Forbes $50k that in two weeks, with no money he didn’t earn during that time, he can’t get the girl. Then Cummins badmouths Forbes to her. Says he’s crazy. And he is—for her—while she’s surprisingly open. I mean that negatively. She’s just kind of a big blank.

So was such a bet a common conceit in 1930s movies? Or high society? I was reminded of “Trading Places.”

I did like the moment when Forbes realizes how much of his day-to-day he’s lost by losing money. He calls the bellboy over to page Lulu and is going to tip him, then pats his pockets. Right, no dough. He still makes the request, but the bellboy, knowing the score, stands there, waiting. Forbes pats his pockets again and gives him ... is it a pen? Anyway, not a bad bit. Later, when he hops aboard Lulu’s cab and sweet talks her all the way back to her hotel, but is left holding the cab fare, he hands over his coat in exchange. Good thing he gets a job or he might’ve been naked before long.

The job he gets? Tour guide. Leads to a long scene in which various characters (in both senses of the word) try to engage him. There’s a slim woman “who wants to be insulted” in Paris. She’s played by Helen Broderick, who like Gaxton, was in the Broadway musical. There’s a Jewish couple and their bratty kid.

Wife: Mister, will you kindly tell us where is the house of Victor Hugo?
Forbes: Victor Hugo? The guy who wrote the movie ‘The Man Who Laughs’?
Wife: Yeah
Forbes: Never heard of him.

It’s like the absurdist comedy of the Marx Brothers without the Marx Brothers. Or the comedy.

All the while, Forbes is being tailed by two inept detectives, Simon Johanssen and Peter Swanson, played by the vaudeville comedy team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. They’re supposed to make sure Forbes doesn’t get the girl. But of course they wind up sympathizing with his plight.

Olsen and Johnson are actually the stars of the film—the leads—but for the most part I didn’t find them funny. L’opposite. Olsen is the stern, severe one while Johnson has an insane, sloppy giggle that wears fast. He laughs at an effete bar patron and a fat one. He laughs more during the movie than we do.

I do like a scene where they become unwilling assistants to a magician (Bela Lugosi, I believe), and a nice slow-mo chase by the cops over a recently tarred street. And of course how could I not love this self-intro to the high-society types: “And my name is Peter Swanson. Of the Minnesota Swansons.”

Music-less
In the end, of course, Forbes gets the girl and wins the bet, Cummins is foiled, and Olsen and Johnson wind up at a place called “Café of All Nations” with a bevy of beauties. Initially it’s just Johnson (we hear his giggle inside) while Olsen stands on the sidewalk with their ticket home: From HAVRE to NEW YORK. But he tears this up with a shrug and says the movie’s closing line. “Well, fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” So we get the line if not the song. 

Apparently director Lloyd Bacon filmed the entire musical, which was released in Europe, just not the U.S., where audiences had supposedly soured on musicals. Only the music-less American version remains. Evalyn Knapp gets a credit, and a photo, on IMDb, but I don’t remember seeing her, so maybe she wound up on the cutting room floor? Meanwhile, an actress playing a hotel-room hottie named Suzette gets no credit at all. Anyone know who she is?

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Posted at 07:32 AM on Sep 13, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
Thursday September 12, 2019

Movie Review: Echo in the Canyon (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The most indelible recent cinematic moment involving Lauren Canyon music wasn’t from this doc about its heyday (1965-1967), but from a scene near the end of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” when members of the Manson family pull into the long steep drive that leads to the rented home of Roman Polanski; and on the soundtrack, using irony like a scalpel, or maybe a bludgeon, QT plays The Mamas and the Papas’ 1967 hit single, “Twelve Thirty” with this exuberant line:

Young girls are coming to the can-yon!

It’s almost too on-the-nose. John Phillips’ song is about how great So Cal is, particularly compared to New York City, which is “dark and dirty,” and where things are so broken the clock outside always reads 12:30. Time has like stopped there, man, but Cali’s the future. You lift your blinds, say “Good morning” and really mean it.

Right. Until one early morning, on the other side of the window, therrrrrrre’s Charlie! 

Good vibrations and our imaginations
I was looking forward to learning about the history of the Laurel Canyon music scene from this doc and almost groaned aloud (and probably did) when I realized it was more Jakob Dylan, looking like the haunted movie-star version of his dad, visiting and interviewing folks about those days and what they meant—interspersed with a 2015 homage concert put on by Dylan and contemporaries Fiona Apple, Beck, Nora Jones, Cat Power and Regina Spektor. This, meanwhile, is interspersed with archive footage of the bands in question (Byrds, Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield), as well as scenes from the 1969 Jacques Demy film “Model Shop,” starring Gary Lockwood, which is set in the Canyon, and which supposedly gives us a feel for the times.

I would’ve preferred more archive footage and a talking head or two to sort the details. Give us the chronology. Tell us who besides David Crosby is full of shit.

They says the Beatles started it all, which makes sense since they started so much. They appeared on “Ed Sullivan” in February ’64, and Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn thought, “Hey, let’s do that.” He succeeded so well by doing Beatle-esque versions of folk songs that for a time, and without nearly the track record, the Byrds were called “the American Beatles.” Tough mantle. 

Once it all began, everyone influenced everyone. This might be my favorite part of the doc: This song influenced that one which influenced the other. George Harrison even got a “If I Needed Someone” guitar riff from the Byrds’ cover of the Pete Seeger song “The Bells of Rhymney.” He even sent Derek Taylor to see McGuinn to see if it was OK. It was. Some cite this kind of collaboration and openness as the reason for the bursting creativity of those years. 

But the doc is more laudatory than I would’ve liked; the filmmakers (Dylan, writer-director Andrew Slater) are too close to the story. We get some warts—Michelle Phillips slept around, David Crosby was a douche—but not a good discussion of why, beyond the track record (two No. 1s vs. 21), the Byrds weren’t the American Beatles. Here’s one answer: They were too earnest. The Beatles were sly and wicked, while Dylan, whom the Byrds relied on for material, had almost a third eye he was so timeless. There aren’t many geniuses in rock ‘n’ roll but those were two. The doc needed to get into the why of it while still celebrating it.

Can’t go on indefinitely
I liked hearing Jakob and the others singing but I was less impressed with him as an interviewer. His main technique is to say nothing. Most of the time, it’s not a bad technique—cf., Robert Caro—but it’s not exactly cinematic. Plus a good interviewer needs follow-ups and, I don’t know, curiosity. People talk up the flak McGuinn encountered when he mixed rock and folk, and no one references Newport? Not even a “I guess your dad knew something about that”? And doesn’t the doc imply Dylan got the idea from McGuinn rather than hearing the wails of Eric Burden and the Animals on “House of the Rising Sun” coming over his car radio? Or is the latter story apocryphal? If so, this was a chance to clear that up. They didn't. They muddied the waters.

How did everybody meet? I kept expecting to hear “Creeque Alley,” which is really the origin story of so many of these bands and personalities, but it never comes. I wanted more on the breakups, too. They harmonized beautifully on a west-coast idealism but couldn’t keep the harmony going. I wanted that dynamic: the disharmony among those beautiful harmonies, with Charlie waiting in the wings. What wasa he, after all, but another So Cal resident influenced by the Beatles.

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Posted at 05:50 AM on Sep 12, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Wednesday September 11, 2019

M's Game: Kyle and the Kids Take One from the Reds

A few minutes before gametime. Mariners attendance will dip below 2 million this year.

I'm part of a season ticket group that meets every March to divvy up the season's tickets and talk about the year ahead. Mostly it's gallows humor. It's a good bunch of guys, with good humor and a deep knowledge of baseball history. I tend to buy tickets to 10 Mariner games, and last night was my last for the season. It was also the first time I ever saw the Cincinnati Reds live. I think. I grew up in an AL city. 

Even so, it felt like the tail end of the tail end. It felt like the dregs. The weather was supposed to be nasty, and the M's were coming home from a really nasty Midwest road trip, in which they went 2-2 against the Rangers, 0-2 against the Cubs, and then 0-4 against Houston, including a 21-1 drubbing on Sunday. During the day, on my lunchbreak, I happened upon the Mariners Baseball Reference page and was comparing how this awful season compared with other Mariner awful seasons of the past:

  • Our .403 winning percentage is on pace for the ninth-worst mark in M's history. Last season's .549 mark was our sixth-best (after 2001, 2002, 2003, 2000, and 1997). 
  • We‘ve had 14 winning seasons. This will be our 29th losing season. 
  • 2001 was the big one, of course: 116-46 for a .716 winning percentage. Second-best is .574 (twice). Meaning we’ve been .700+ but never .600-.700. Odd.
  • Our attendance this year will amost certainly be below 2 mil for the fourth time (in a full season) since 1993. For the remaining 12 games, we'd need to average 34.7k to break 2 mil, and there have only been three games this entire season when we‘ve drawn better than 34.7k: two games in March, and a game last month against Toronto when all the Canadians came down. 
  • All of the sub-2 million attendance years have been this decade: 2011-13, and 2019.
  • We’ve used more position players this year than ever before: 63. The previous record was 61 in 2017. Oh, and this was before last night's game when two new players made their MLB debuts. So I guess it's 65? (Yes, it's 65.)
  • We‘ve also used more pitchers (40) than ever before. Well, it ties 2017. But 105 players total? What’s the record among all MLB teams? 
  • The best season a Mariner player has ever had, as judged by WAR, was Alex Rodriguez in 2000 when he posted a 10.4 WAR. Junior's 1996 season, when he missed a month to a hamate bone injury, is second at 9.7. The lowest WAR for the best Mariner player of a particular season is Ichiro's 3.9 out in 2005. We‘re likely to break that one, too. The best WAR on the team currently belongs to Kyle Seager. At 2.6. 

All of which didn’t make the evening seem propitious. 

But midday the skies cleared, and stayed so, and it was 69 degrees at gametime—about as beautiful a September evening as you could ask for. Plus we had Justus Sheffield on the mound, and I‘ve got hope in the kid. He had a couple good innings against the Yankees, and in his one outing on our sorry roadtrip he pitched five scoreless against the Cubs. Plus starting in right was Kyle Lewis, our 2016 No. 1 draft pick. So things felt new. There was upside. There were possibilities.

First inning looked good: three up and down for the Reds, while Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer had trouble finding the plate.

In the second, Reds right fielder Aristides (Double A) Aquino singled sharply between third and short, but he was erased on a DP. Then Phillip Ervin lofted one into the right-field corner, and our #1 draft pick dove for it. He didn’t come close, the ball bounced to the wall, Ervin glided in with a triple. Then a single, then a double, all sharply rapped. But a comeback to Sheffield ended the threat and it was only 1-0.

Sheffield kept ending threats. They kept getting hits but we kept getting double plays—four double plays in four innnings. We were hitless against Bauer but after 4 innings it was still only 1-0. Sadly, the kid misplayed another one in right, twisting the wrong way several times before making a desperate stab that went for naught (for him) and a double (for the batter). He got no error on either play. My friend Jeff was defending Lewis, since it was his first game, but I'm like, “He's doing the same thing he was doing for three years in the minors, just in a different field. I get where pitching might be at another level. But fielding? Misplaying a ball like that?” I was in the middle of all this when Lewis came to bat for the second time in his Major League career and promptly homered to left center. Tie game. Curtain call. An inning later, our No. 9 hitter, Dylan Moore, rapped one to left. 2-1, M‘s. 

In the 7th, we brought in Austin (Double A) Adams, and he got two quick outs, walked the No. 9 hitter, and faced a pinch hitter. “Isn’t it odd to pinch-hit for your leadoff hitter?” I was asking Jeff. Which is when the pinch hitter, Brian O‘Gradym went deep to right with a no-doubter second-decker, and just like that (as Dave used to say) the Reds were back on top. Oh, that was O’Grady's first Major League homer, too. September baseball.

The Reds pattern that inning was out, out, walk, homer, and in the bottom of the 8th we duplicated it. Narvaez struck out, Gordon grounded out, Nola walked and Kyle Seager (our No. 1 WAR guy, after all), hit a parabola that landed about three rows deep in right. And just like that we were on top again. Tony Bass finished it off, 1, 2, 3, and the M's losing streak stopped at six. It was our second victory in September. 

Of the seven runs in the game, six were scored via homers. That's getting old. Yesterday I read that something like 50% of all MLB runs this year are scored on homers. Pretty soon, everyone's first hit will be a homer. 

Attendance last night was 12,230. Officially. The unofficial number seemed about half that.  

Is Jerry Dipoto's reclamation project going well? We are getting younger. But young enough? By position-player age, we‘re currently tied for the 13th-youngest Mariners team with an average age of 27.9—as opposed to last year’s 29.8. By pitcher age, we‘re about the same: 28.8 this year vs. 29.0 last year. It’s the 11th-oldest pitching staff in M's history.

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Posted at 08:24 AM on Sep 11, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  
Tuesday September 10, 2019

Movie Review: Ne Zha (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I keep wondering when a Chinese movie will break out and do well in other markets. They’re killing it in China, with six homegrown movies in the last four years that have grossed north of half a billion dollars; but these things don’t travel well.

YEAR MOVIE CHINESE BO FOREIGN BO
2017 Wolf Warrior 2 $854 $15
2019 The Wandering Earth $691 $9
2019 Ne Zha $659 $4
2018 Operation Red Sea $576 $4
2018 Detective Chinatown 2 $541 $3
2016 The Mermaid $527 $24

Why does the world come to Hollywood movies and not Chinese movies? Because they’re in English, which much of the world speaks? Because they offer a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy that feels universal? Because the U.S. is a microcosm of the world and that’s reflected in our movies, while China isn’t, and that’s reflected in theirs?

Last February, I saw “The Wandering Earth,” China’s entry into the big-budget sci-fi blockbuster realm, and was thinking, “They still haven’t nailed special effects, but they’re closer. But oy, the story.” I mean, how many people besides scientists have to be insulted in this thing? From my review:

There’s a million-to-one shot to save the Earth and our Chinese heroes are in favor of rolling those dice. Every other country? They just want to return to their underground homes to spend their last precious hours wallowing in grief. The Brits wallow in drink while the Japanese contemplate hara-kiri. As for the U.S.? We don’t seem to exist. We’ve been expunged.

With “Ne Zha,” an animated movie based on a classic Chinese character, they’ve nailed the special-effects part. I was thinking, “Wow, the animation looks great. As good anything Pixar or DreamWorks does.” 

But oy, the story.

Nurture over nature
I lived in Taiwan for two years but I still can’t begin to wrap my head around Chinese mythology. This one basically begins in the clouds, where a pig man and a jaguar man battle against ... I don’t even remember. But the battle results in two pearls—a spirit and a demon—being loosed upon the earth. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I can’t, but basically the underwater dragons convince jaguar-man to get pig-man drunk so they can get steal the spirit pearl, and either through happenstance or by design, the demon pearl winds up in Ne Zha, the newborn of Li Jing and Madam Yin. The distraught parents are informed that this means he’ll only live to his third birthday.

It also means he’s a demon, but the parents do what they can to raise him right anyway. In the village, though, he’s feared. That makes sense—he has a demon’s power and sensibility—but they assume the worst, too, blaming him for things he doesn’t do. He’s a misunderstood demon.

There’s a good scene where village boys conspire against him. One suggests setting up a Rube Goldbergesque series of traps, involving a rotten wood bridge, a beehive, etc., where the only avenue of escapes leads to another trap, which leads to another trap, and so on, until the hapless Ne Zha is forced to flop into a rancid mudpit. The boys are totally game for this and decide the only improvement is to add burrs and their own pee into the mudpit. At which point the planner reveals himself to be Ne Zha and we see the village boys go through the Rube Goldberg machine and wind up in the nasty mudpit of their own making.

That’s the sorta demon part. The misunderstood part is when he’s accused of kidnapping a little girl to eat her. That was actually a different demon, a water demon, whom Ne Zha battles in the village and on the beach, where he’s joined by the tall, graceful, horned Ao Bing. The two play hacky-sack on the beach as well. Ao Bing is Ne Zha’s first friend.

He’s also the son of the Dragon King, and infused with the power of the stolen spirit pearl. It’s his father’s wish for him to use his powers to raise the dragons from their underwater prison. To do so would mean the end of the village. Or something.

All of this comes to a head on Ne Zha’s third birthday, when Li Jing tries to sacrifice himself for his son. Ne Zha refuses to let him, and in accepting his destiny (early death) becomes more than his destiny (a demon). He becomes the hero no one thought he would be.

A bowlful of snot
That’s the part of the movie that could travel well: nurture over nature; controlling your own destiny. Everyone in the world digs that. But to get there you have to go through a dizzying array of Chinese folks legends, none of which are really explained for the neophyte or 外国人。 

My wife had a problem, too, with how one-note it all is: relentlessly loud with few pauses. I was more turned off by the frequent scatological humor—although the Chinese kids who sat in front of us for a Sunday matinee at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle certainly enjoyed the fart jokes. That was cute—the kids more than the fart jokes. I missed how they took the scene where Ne Zha is forced to swallow a bowlful of the water demon’s snot; I was too busy shielding my eyes.

There’s also a running gag with a brawny villager who has a fearful girlish cry. It’s funny the first time; by the 10th, it feels a lot more homophobic.

But they’re closer.

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Posted at 07:19 AM on Sep 10, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
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