Quote of the Day
“As a moment in American politics, the pummelling of Rubio felt like an expression of collective rage at the falseness of so much that happens in Washington: the pivot, the dodge, the pallid follow-up question. Authenticity has rarely been more sought after in our public life—and, at once, so elusive. Accountability—the knowledge that the men and women we elect will act, foremost, in our interest and not that of their donors—has become a civic myth. Until a week ago, the students and parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School never intended to be part of politics in this way, so they reject its pieties and rhythms. In several minutes on a weeknight, they laid bare Rubio's central political flaw—inauthenticity—more vividly than I ever could in a magazine profile.
”It was easy to watch the town hall and wonder if this will be an inflection point in America's broken politics regarding guns—a moment when the force of money and political organization will actually be overwhelmed by the public desire to end the slaughter in American schools. But it is naïve to assume that it will necessarily be different this time; those choices are ahead, not behind.“
Evan Osnos, ”CNN's Town Hall on Guns and the Unmaking of Marco Rubio," The New Yorker
Movie Review: Monkey King 3 (2018)
Well, that took forever to end.
Were all the waterworks—and I mean the river kind—the result of the popularity of “The Mermaid” two years ago? Combine water and unrequited love and get bang-o box office? Did anyone suggest that it might not be the best use of our time? That it’s all part of a minor subplot between our lead character’s love interest’s fierce adviser, Chang’E (Gigi Leung), and a river god (or goddess), and has nothing to do with anything anyone cares about?
I’m not saying it’s easy to adapt a classic, much-beloved, 16th-century picaresque for the 21st century, but surely more fun can be had.
Womenland of Western Liang
For those who arrived late: “Journey to the West” is an episodic adventure tale about a Buddhist monk, Tang Sanzang (Feng Shaofeng), traveling west to get scriptures to save the hedonistic east. He’s aided by three companions/disciples:
- Zhu Bajie (Xiao Shenyang), a half-pig creature
- Sha Wujing (Him Law), a blue-skinned water creature
- Sun Wukong, the all-powerful Monkey King (Aaron Kwok), who was born of divine crystals used to repair Heaven after a battle between the Bull Demon King and the Jade Emperor
They all call Sanzang “Master” (Shifu) but they’re the ones forever getting him out of trouble. The chapters on which “Monkey King 3” is based, #s 53-55, follow this trajectory: get into trouble, get out of it, move on.
In the original, via this translation, the four pass through Womenland of Western Liang, populated, yes, only by women. Most have never seen a man before. So how do they procreate? By drinking from the Motherhood River. That’s what two of our protagonists (Sanzang, Bajie) do by mistake. And Monkey King is sent to Miscarriage Spring in Childfree Cave to battle the immortals there and return with a cure to end their pregnancy.
In the next chapter, they go to the “Male-Welcoming Post Station” in order to pass through Womenland. But word gets out that Sanzang is the brother of the Emperor Tang, and the Queen wants to marry him for the power and because she’s, well, man-crazy—like all the women in Womenland. But before all of that can happen, Sanzang is stolen by a woman who turns out to be a demon-scorpion. It takes the disciples all of Chapter 55, and the deus-ex-machina help of the Bodhisattva, to rescue him.
That’s the original. What do you keep, what do you toss, how do you make a modern movie out of it?
They toss the scorpion woman. They make the potential nuptials between Sanzang and the Queen (Zhao Liying) less the result of power, expedience and/or lust than moon-eyed love. Believe it or not, they keep the Motherhood River. As with the nuptials, though, they soften it. Sanzang decides he can’t abort the baby, so Monkey King freezes everyone and makes the pregnant men drink the miscarriage water. Our hero remains moral and gets to continue the journey.
You know that line about the moral arc of the universe being long but bending toward justice? If we see the truth in it, and I do, it means earlier times were less moral, less just. You certainly get a sense of that in the original (or translated) text of “Journey to the West.” Everyone’s threatening to kill everyone; everyone laughs at the pain of others. When the men first alight into Womenland, they happen upon a house with older women, who tell our heroes the following:
“All of us in this family are getting on,” the old woman replied, “and desire doesn't bother us any more, which is why we didn't harm you. If you'd gone to another household with women of different ages, the younger ones would never have let you go. They'd have forced you to sleep with them, and if you'd refused they'd have murdered you and cut all the flesh off your bodies to put in perfume bags.”
And yes, the perfume bags were left out of “Monkey King 3,” too.
What they left in? Not worth much. The women in Womenland alternate between fierce Amazonian warriors and Chinese shopping-mall girls using sa jiao. We get two unrequited loves. We also get an entire scene of our heroes chasing after a mischievous missing parchment whose words hold the key to everything.
Meanwhile, you know who gets short shrift in “Monkey King 3”? Monkey King.
Seriously, I don’t know what director Cheang Pou-soi was thinking.
Down down down
So after the warriors capture our heroes a second time, Chang’E, worried about the Queen’s growing infatuation, sends Sanzang in a dinghy into the middle of the Sea of Sorrow—but not before the Queen rides past them and joins him. Was that her plan? Or was she not thinking? Because they wind up nearly dying out there. No one can find them, not even the Monkey King. But somehow—and I’ve already forgotten how—the four of them, and the Queen, wind up at the gateway on the other side of the Sea of Sorrow, where they can finally leave. Except the Queen can’t. There’s a forcefield around Womenland and it gets her, sickens her, and much of Womenland dies.
So they have to return. And she has to be revived. And then the river god arises and blah blah blah.
There’s 45 chapters to go, but I can’t imagine this series will continue much longer. The first movie got negative reviews but was still the No. 3 movie of 2014, grossing US$167 million. The second movie got better reviews and was the No. 4 movie of 2016, grossing $185. This one? Mostly negative reviews and it was the No. 4 movie. Of the weekend.
Not a good sign. Monkey King himself might not be able to save this franchise now.
The following is from Jill Lepore's much-recommended “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” after the author details the successes of the women's movement in 1972, including:
- the first issue of Ms. magazine
- Shirley Chisholm running for president
- the ERA passing the Senate
- Title IX signed into law
Two steps forward, meet the step back:
“Who'd be against equal rights for women?” Bella Abzug asked in 1972. A lot of people. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the women's movement stalled. Wages never reached parity; social and economic gains were rolled back; political and legal victories seemingly within sight were never achieved.
Then, too, feminists were divided, radicals attacking liberals and liberals attacking radicals in a phenomenon so widespread it even had a name: “trashing.”
As early as 1970, the founder of the New Feminist Theater warned, in a letter of resignation from the Congress to Unite Women, that feminist “rage, masquerading as a pseudo-egalitarian radicalism,” was becoming “frighteningly vicious anti-intellectual fascism.”
The divided feminists? Radicals attacking liberals? Anyone else flash on the Democrats in 2016? You could say the same about rage turning into “anti-intellectual fascism.”
Lepore adds this about one radical group's attack on liberal feminism:
In May 1975 ... the Redstockings held a press conference to announce the release of a sixteen-page report. It purported to prove (1) that Gloria Steinem was a CIA agent; (2) that Ms. was both a capitalist manifesto and part of a CIA strategy to destroy the women's movement; and (3) that Wonder Woman was a symbol of the ruination of feminism. The report, printed as a broadside, was illustrated by a drawing of Wonder Woman with Steinem's head.
Everything old is new again.
Under the Influence
He really is just an astonishing piece of shit.
Movie Review: The Monkey King (2014)
Well, at least I learned the origin of the Monkey King. Otherwise, this thing was painful.
Is it even possible to tell this story to westerners? I think you have to grow up with it. Although apparently the movie took its critical hits in China, too. It did well at the box office—No. 3 movie for the year—but there was grousing. Replacements were made.
But it's even worse for moviegoers outside of China. Here, for example, is IMDb’s synopsis:
A monkey born from heavenly stone acquires supernatural powers and must battle the armies of both gods and demons to find his place in the heavens.
That ain’t quite it. You ready?
OK. So the Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) attacks Heaven but is beaten back the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat), who is about to kill the upstart when Jade's beautiful sister (and the Bull Demon King’s lover) pleads for his life. So Jade simply banishes the dude to Earth.
Meanwhile, with most of Heaven destroyed, the Goddess Nuwa (Zhang Zilin, Miss World 2007) turns her body into crystals to rebuild it. One of those crystals lands on Mount Huaguo and becomes a monkey in a bubble, who, for a second, bonds with a fox/girl, before her paw is burned.
You still with me?
Cut to: Several years later. Monkey (now Donnie Yen, “Ip Man,” “Rogue One”) is an annoying, chattery thing, who, after grabbing after a butterfly, falls a great distance. He survives, the butterfly does not. This saddens him. So when Master Puti (Hai Yitian), one of the Ten Great Sāvakas of Gotama Buddha, brings the butterfly back to life, Monkey wants to learn the trick and agrees to be his student. Puti gives Monkey a name: Sun Wukong.
Sun is a quick study, gets into it with other students, but eventually the Master spirits him away, shows him a bit of his future, then let him to return to Mount Huaguo, where the other monkeys—all of whom, including an oddly long-nosed one, look like extras on a bizarre British children's show—are amazed at his new powers. But what if he leaves them? Won’t they be defenseless? So Wukong visits an underground kingdom and takes everything the Dragon King throws at him. He winds up with: 1) a suit of armor, 2) weapons for the monkeys, and 3) a new staff. But he causes a massive tidal wave in the process, the Dragon King complains to Heaven, and the Jade Emperor sends a guard, Nezha, to arrest him. They battle. And then...
Wait, by this point, Wukong has reunited with fox girl, Ruxue (Xia Zitong), who’s been sent there by the Bull Demon King; and it’s BDK who kills Nezha, earning Wukong’s gratitude. BDK also tells him he belongs in Heaven. Monkey King is intrigued, but he mostly wants to learn about immortality because he doesn’t want Ruxue and the monkeys to die. That’s why he goes.
In Heaven, the Jade Emperor is amused by him and makes him a stable boy; everyone else is less amused, sees him as impertinent, and fights him. Much shape-shifting occurs. No one is who they seem. But after battling through hell (almost literally—a molten fiery place), Monkey King returns home ... to find all of the monkeys and Ruxue slaughtered. He went away to find immortality for them but in doing so sealed their fate. Worse, they are killed because of him. Bull Demon King tells him it was the soldiers of Heaven who did it, and MK buys it, and, enraged, attacks Heaven; but of course it was BDK who did the killing so Monkey would do his bidding.
Cue big final battle.
- Master Puti is killed by BDK
- BDK is turned into an actual one-eared bull by the Jade Emperor
- The Monkey King, as punishment, is buried under the Five-Finger Mountain for 500 years. Or until “Monkey King 2.”
All of this insanity is exacerbated by the bad CGI and a lousy lead performance from Donnie Yen. Sorry. Love him. But he’s not the right dude to play Monkey.
The hero with one face
So what does it all mean? Fuck if I know.
The entire movie is really preamble. “The Monkey King” is the first part of the great 16th-century classic of Chinese literature, “Journey to the West,” which contains four parts and 100 chapters, and whose ostensible protagonist, Tang Sanzang, hasn’t even been introduced yet. “West,” whose truncated, translated version is called “The Adventures of Monkey,” is an episodic adventure story about Tang, a young Buddhist scholar traveling west to bring back scriptures, and encountering various evils along the way. His traveling companions include Monkey King, a half-pig creature and a river ogre. The evils they encounter include spider-women. This story has been made into paintings, plays, movies. Over and over again.
But in the original preamble, Monkey King falls from grace because of hubris, not because he’s tricked into attacking Heaven. I guess modern China, like modern Hollywood, wants its obvious heroes and villains. The hero is always the hero, even when he's in the middle of his hero's journey. Joseph Campbell is turning over in his grave. Or smiling wistfully.
Quote of the Day
“For decades, in Trump's business dealings, he never paid a price for his salesman's hype, which repeatedly edged into falsehood. The Mueller investigation may now bring an unprecedented and overdue moment of reckoning.”
Jeffrey Toobin, “Trump's Miss Universe Gambit,” The New Yorker, a detailed article on the history of Trump's involvement with the Miss Universe pageant and in particular the 2013 pageant set in Moscow.
Movie Review: Phantom Thread (2017)
Why does Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) acquiesce to the poison in the end? I assume that's the question everyone asks as they leave the theater. And acquiesce so enthusiastically? With more love than he’s shown throughout? Is it that? Poison is his avenue to weakness and weakness is his avenue to love? Or is it subtler? He’s a control freak and this is a way to give up control for a time. It's a vacation. He gets sick to go on vacation from his awful self.
Even before the poisonings began, I got a whiff of the serial killer amid the movie’s stifled beauty. Woodcock, a 1950s haute couture fashion designer, takes Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress, for a ride in his Bristol 404 sports car in the British countryside at night, and for a second I flashed on Alex and his droogs doing the same in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” (Did Paul Thomas Anderson intend this?) Later, Woodcock peeks through a peephole at how his fashion show is doing, or how Alma is doing in it, and I flashed on Norman Bates doing the same with an undressing Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” (I know PTA intended that.)
Beyond these allusions, there’s just a quiet, insinuating creepiness throughout. How a dinner date with a gentle, handsome fashion designer turns into something else. How quickly his questions turn to directives. He’s not interested in who she is but in what she’ll become. What he can make her become. She’s fabric he can stitch into something beautiful.
See? Right there. It doesn’t take much to push the story into serial killer realm. Particularly with Woodcock’s sister, Cyril (Leslie Manville), sitting cold-eyed on the attic couch while Alma disrobes and measurements are taken.
Then Alma flips the tables. She turns “Psycho” into “Misery.”
We saw what happened to Alma’s predecessor. She disturbed the careful quiet of breakfast with her questions, the proffer of rolls, the uncareful buttering of toast. She’s gone without a second thought.
But what attracts Reynolds to Alma? Her clumsiness? The sense that there’s something prettier behind the waitress garb? That she doesn’t question him—or that she does?
Woodcock brings up death himself. “There’s an air of quiet death in this house,” he says. He talks about secrets. “When I was a boy I started to hide things in the linings of the garments; things that only I knew were there. Secrets.” I’m not sure the meaning of this but I love the way Day-Lewis says it.
From the trailer, and for much of the film, I assumed Woodcock was gay, and closeted, and miserable, but maybe he’s just miserable. As in SOB. He forces his exactitude on the world and it’s never enough. He’s insufferable. Alma cooks him asparagus in butter rather than oil, and he says, “I’m admiring my own gallantry for eating it the way you prepared it.” In the middle of his day, in the middle of his creative process, she brings him tea he didn’t ask for, and they argue. Upset, she leaves with the tea. “The tea is going out,“ he calls after her, ”but the interruption is staying right here with me!”
Confession: I identified with that line. Completely. Even as I was writing this review, which is hardly haute couture, my wife came down the hallway talking of a friend’s house-hunting difficulties and I just stared at her with that “in the middle of something” look until she left. In any creative process, there's that selfish need to stay inside your own head. And the less you can concentrate, the worse you act. When my wife is working on graphic design, you can play a John Philip Sousa march behind her and she won’t blink. She’s DiMaggio at the plate, Marshawn Lynch with the football. I call her “Beast Mode.” I envy her.
The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me. Even his one-liners are perfection.
What makes Cyril align with Alma? I haven’t figured that out. The predecessor she viewed with cold eyes, but somehow Alma wins her over. Maybe she’s just sick of Reynolds. Maybe I’ll have to see the movie again.
Most people wouldn’t want to return to that stuffy house, but PTA’s movies win me over. There’s a density to them. His movies feel beyond flickering images; they're palpable. Daniel Day-Lewis’ precise Reynolds Woodcock is heavier than all the CGI monsters in the world.
Ah, but his endings. He has so much trouble; he’s the anti-Hitchcock there. Yet for all your puzzlement as you leave the theater, debating why Woodcock does it, this may be one of his better endings. “I’m a confirmed bachelor,” Reynolds says at one point. “I’m incurable.” But Alma finds the cure.
‘Three Billboards’ Wins BAFTA for Best Picture; Does this Presage Oscar?
Still no arrests, but many awards.
If you'd told me that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” had just won the BAFTA, the British Oscar, for best picture, and that this presaged an Oscar victory for same since previous BAFTA winners “La La Land,” “The Revenant” and “Boyhood” all won the Oscar, too, I would‘ve probably just nodded and continued the conversation. It would’ve taken me a few seconds to go, “Wait ... Did those three win the Oscar?” They didn‘t: “Moonlight,” “Spotlight,” and “Birdman” did. But I think the pre-Oscar conversation goes on so long these days that it’s harder to keep track of which movie actually won. Those were all in the running, of course. They were part of the conversation up until the announcement. Hell, “La La Land” actually was announced. It was on stage and in the middle of its acceptance speech. Then: Yoink.
So BAFTA presages not much in the best picture category. Although BAFTA and Oscar agreed every year between 2008 (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and 2013 (“12 Years a Slave”), this was an anomaly. In their history together, they‘ve disagreed more than agreed on best picture: 28 of 71 times. Not even 40 percent. And that’s including the movies that won BAFTA/Oscar in different years.
I like how they differ, by the way. BAFTA usually goes (shockingly) British, choosing, say, “Atonement” over “No Country for Old Men,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” over “Forrest Gump,” and (my personal favorite) “Howard's End” over “Unforgiven.” You may say “Howard's End” deserved its BAFTA and I'd be forced to respond, “Deserve's got nothing to do with it, kid.”
BAFTA also goes French more than we do—since we never do. Or we only do if it's Hollywood French (“Gigi”). BAFTA has chosen for its best pic, among others, “Jean de Florette,” “Day for Night,” “Wages of Fear” and “La Ronde.” Not a bad list.
Finally, BAFTA likes small better than we do. “The Full Monty” won in ‘97 over “Titanic.” Only one Woody Allen movie has won the Oscar for best pic (“Annie Hall,” 1977), but three have claimed BAFTAs: “Annie,” “Manhattan” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Remember “Educating Rita”? That won. “The Commitments” beat “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Another trivia question: What three Martin Scorsese movies won the BAFTA? I’ll let you mull it over for a second.
But the BAFTA acting wins do probably presage Oscar victories, since they‘re the same that the Screen Actors Guild chose a few weeks ago: McDormand, Oldman, Janey and Rockwell. Wouldn’t bet against any of these.
They also awarded a BAFTA to oft-Oscar-nominated/never-won cinematographer Roger Deakins for his work on “Blade Runner 2049.” I thought, “That's nice. Nice to see him get one.” It's actually his fourth BAFTA. He won previously for three Coens: “The Man Who Wasn't There,” “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit.” Oscar has nominated him 12 times before this year and handed out exactly zero statuettes. Maybe 13 is his lucky number.
The chart below details all the BAFTA/Oscar wins with agreements highlighted in yellow. You can see the answer to the Scorsese trivia question, too. Ready? The three Scorsese movies that won BAFTAs are: “Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,” “Goodfellas” and “The Aviator.” If you'd given me 10 guesses, I doubt I would‘ve nailed all three.
|2017||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri|
|2016||La La Land||Moonlight|
|2013||12 Years a Slave||12 Years a Slave|
|2011||The Artist||The Artist|
|2010||The King’s Speech||The King's Speech|
|2009||The Hurt Locker||The Hurt Locker|
|2008||Slumdog Millionaire||Slumdog Millionaire|
|2007||Atonement||No Country for Old Men|
|2006||The Queen||The Departed|
|2004||The Aviator||Million Dollar Baby|
|2003||The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King||The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King|
|2001||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||A Beautiful Mind|
|1999||American Beauty||American Beauty|
|1998||Shakespeare in Love||Shakespeare in Love|
|1997||The Full Monty||Titanic|
|1996||The English Patient||The English Patient|
|1995||Sense and Sensibility||Braveheart|
|1994||Four Weddings and a Funeral||Forrest Gump|
|1993||Schindler's List||Schindler's List|
|1991||The Commitments||Silence of the Lambs|
|1990||Goodfellas||Dances with Wolves|
|1989||Dead Poets Society||Driving Miss Daisy|
|1988||The Last Emperor||Rain Man|
|1987||Jean de Florette||The Last Emperor|
|1986||A Room with a View||Platoon|
|1985||The Purple Rose of Cairo||Out of Africa|
|1984||The Killing Fields||Amadeus|
|1983||Educating Rita||Terms of Endearment|
|1981||Chariots of Fire||Chariots of Fire|
|1980||The Elephant Man||Ordinary People|
|1979||Manhattan||Kramer vs. Kramer|
|1978||Julia||The Deer Hunter|
|1977||Annie Hall||Annie Hall|
|1976||One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest||Rocky|
|1975||Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore||One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest|
|1974||Lacombe Lucien||The Godfather Part II|
|1973||Day for Night||The Sting|
|1971||Sunday Bloody Sunday||The French Connection|
|1970||Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid||Patton|
|1969||Midnight Cowboy||Midnight Cowboy|
|1967||A Man for All Seasons||In the Heat of the Night|
|1966||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?||A Man for All Seasons|
|1965||My Fair Lady||The Sound of Music|
|1964||Dr. Strangelove||My Fair Lady|
|1963||Tom Jones||Tom Jones|
|1962||Lawrence of Arabia||Lawrence of Arabia|
|1961||Ballad of a Soldier/The Hustler||West Side Story|
|1960||The Apartment||The Apartment|
|1958||Room at the Top||Gigi|
|1957||The Bridge of the River Kwai||The Bridge on the River Kwai|
|1956||Gervaise||Around the World in 80 Days|
|1954||The Wages of Fear||On the Waterfront|
|1953||Forbidden Games||From Here to Eternity|
|1952||The Sound Barrier||The Greatest Show on Earth|
|1951||La Ronde||An American in Paris|
|1950||All About Eve||All About Eve|
|1949||Bicycle Thieves||All the King's Men|
|1947||The Best Years of Our Lives||Gentleman's Agreement|
|1946||n/a||The Best Years of Our Lives|
Two weeks until Oscar.