Box Office: Bet on ‘Black Panther’
Still sharpening its claws.
In its fifth weekend, “BP” dropped just 34% to gross another $26.6 million. It's now at $605 million domestic, $1.185 billion worldwide. The latter is 14th-best, the former seventh-best. Domestically, it will soon pass “The Last Jedi” ($619) and “The Avengers” ($623). The only real question is if it can pass “Titanic,” too ($659), and become the third-highest-grossing domestic movie ever. “Avatar,” at $760, is out of reach.
That's unadjusted, of course. But even if you adjust for inflation, “BP” is 47th all-time, having already passed up the likes of the ‘89 “Batman,” “Bambi” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Less celebrated but also relevant? “Jumanji” grossed another $1.6 to eke over the $400 million mark.
Most of the new releases didn’t exactly bowl anyone over. The reboot of “Tomb Raider” finished second with $23.6 mil, while the gay teen movie “Love, Simon” finished fifth with $11. But: the Christian uplifter “I Can Only Imagine,” starring Dennis Quaid, surprised with a healthy $17 mil. It finished third.
Meanwhile, the much-ballyhooed “A Wrinkle in Time” dropped 50% in its second weekend for $16 mil and fourth place. It's grossed $60 mil domestic.
It's Not the Tweets
“The largest faction of the [Republican] party has taken the position that Donald Trump is a fantastically successful president whose main error is undisciplined tweeting. What is most notable about this approach is what it omits: the idea that Trump possesses authoritarian instincts or might be deeply implicated in the Russia scandal. It focuses entirely on the most superficial critique of his job performance and ignores evidence of his fundamental unfitness for office.”
Jonathan Chait, “Republicans Can't Understand Why Trump Is Acting Guilty,” New York Magazine
Movie Review: Detective Chinatown (2015)
It goes on too long, one of the leads is way, way over-the-top, and the solution to the crime is a bit icky for a comedy; but “Detective Chinatown” isn’t bad for a foreign comedy. I laughed a lot. It helps to know Chinese culture a little.
Or does it? At the beginning, when Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) is disconsolate after failing the police entrance exam, his mom consoles him by suggesting a week’s vacation in Thailand, where he can stay with a relative: “He is your great-aunt’s husband’s cousin’s wife’s nephew!” she says. Sure, if you know the Chinese concept of relationships, guanxi, (关 系)—basically using any connection, particularly familial ones, to get ahead—that gets a laugh. But every culture has something similar, right?
On the other hand, knowing Chinese wouldn’t hurt. Example: Qin’s third cousin once removed, whom his mom claims is the “No. 1 detective in Chinatown,” is named Tang Ren, which seems to be a play off of tang ren jie (唐 人 街), the Chinese for “Chinatown.” How it plays? I have no idea.
Is it also an in-joke that the movie is set in Thailand and Tang Ren is played by Wang Baoqiang, one of the leads in “Lost in Thailand,” China’s No. 1 box-office hit of 2012? You’d have to be in the culture to know that, and I’m over here in Seattle. And using that whole “No. 1” thing: Are they playing off the Chinese stereotype embodied in Charlie Chan, et al., or is this the language/cultural distinction that led to that stereotype? I’m guessing the latter. But again: 我 不 知 道。
中 国 夏 洛 克
The distant relative turns out to be no detective—officially or otherwise. He just scams old ladies who want their missing dogs returned and acts as informant for a sloppily dressed police sergeant, Kon Tai (Xiao Yang). Otherwise, he drinks, plays mahjong, and spies on his pretty landlady, Xiang (Tong Liya). He gets facials and permanents and lies about his age—saying he was born in the’90s when his craggy face indicates ’70s. (Wang was born in ’84 but they make him look older.)
Qin is the opposite: fresh-faced, Beatle-banged, tie-wearing, and so quiet Tang asks him if he’s mute. But it turns out he’s super-smart in that almost-ADD way of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes: the smoking with the right hand but tobacco stains on the left, plus dirt under the fingernails, indicating ... whatever. He’d be derivative if his character wasn’t the opposite of Cumberbatch’s Holmes: young rather than middle-aged; innocent rather than cynical; polite rather than impolite. He’s the nice Chinese boy with the super brain. He’s the new smart China to Tang’s crass older version.
The case they get involved in is Hitchcockian: an innocent man accused of a horrific crime. The innocent man is actually Tang himself, and the mystery isn’t bad:
- A man named Sompat is murdered in his apartment/studio
- There’s only one way in
- Street cameras indicate that the last to go in and out was Tang, who went in empty-handed and came out with a package
- No one else ever came out
Tang claims/insists he left the package in a garage next to a van. He never saw anyone in the van. He never saw his client.
The murdered man, it turns out, was also involved in a gold heist, and his partners, working for local crimelord Mr. Yan (King Shih-Chieh), assume he double-crossed them with Tang ... and then Tang double-crossed him. So, along with the hapless police, the gang, in the person of three hapless toughs, are also pursuing our heroes for most of the movie. But thanks to Qin’s brain and Tang’s survival instincts, they elude both and figure it all out.
Ready? The crimes are unrelated. (I like that.) The gold is still hiding in plain sight in the studio—within a Buddhist statue. As for the murder? That’s more convoluted.
Sompat’s son, it turns out, went missing a year ago, so Sompat parked himself at a coffee shop near his son’s former high school to spy on the kids to figure out what he could figure out. He thought one girl, Snow (Zhang Zifeng), was responsible—I forget why—and he winds up raping her. She writes about it in her journal, which her step-father finds; so the step-father plots to murder Sompat. He hidin his studio, killed him, then pretended to be Sompat when Teng arrived for the delivery job. Then, unseen, he got into the delivery box, and via silhouette and prerecorded directive, ordered Teng to pick it up.
In essence, he delivered himself to safety. That’s pretty smart.
He didn’t just do it for revenge for the rape, by the way. He was also in love with his stepdaughter in more than a fatherly way. But why set up Tang for the crime? Not sure. Except he was a perfect foil.
There’s a subplot about a rivalry within the police between the sloppy, incompetent Kon Tai and the handsome Huang Landeng (Chen He), who knows what he’s doing, but is too ready for his Hollywood close-up and keeps falling on his nose—literally. That’s a good bit. But too much time is spent on this rivalry.
Who gets short shrift? The pretty landlady. She’s barely in it.
Plus, just when we think it’s over, it’s not. Qin is on the way to the airport when he has an epiphany. Sompat, he realizes, was gay; so why would he rape Snow? (Why would he rape her anyway?) And he didn’t. Snow invented the rape, and put it in her diary, to set up her stepfather, whom she knew would read it and take action.
But does that mean ... Snow was responsible for the disappearance of Sompat’s kid? Or is she just awful? That’s some nasty shit to end a comedy on: not just murder but incest and rape; but, oh, not rape, just a girl crying rape.
Half an hour shorter would’ve been better, with the lead taking it down a notch. Or two. Or 12. But I love the concept. Two mismatched detectives, repping old and new China, visiting Chinatowns around the world. Does any other culture have this? Pocket representations of the home country in almost every port? Next stop: New York.
In Case You Were Sleeping Well
“The [Trump] administration also took the unusual step of citing the Russian government for a previously unconfirmed series of intrusions into American power plants and the computer networks that control power grids that occurred about the time of the election. Those attacks suggest Russian state-sponsored hackers have been actively mapping out Western industrial, power and nuclear facilities for eventual sabotage, experts say.”
“Finally, Trump Has Something Bad to Say About Russia,” New York Times Editorial Board, which adds this about the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration after the 2016 Election. “Mr. Trump, for reasons that have never been made completely clear, has until now resisted a congressional mandate that he expand the penalties.”
TV Shows Nominated Best Drama Over ‘The Wire’
“Pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick.”
I think everyone knows “The Wire” never won an Emmy but what's surprising is the few number of times it was even nominated. Just twice, and both for scripts: Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for the third season episode “Middle Ground” (the one where Stringer dies), and for the fifth season episode “—30—” (the last episode of the series).
Here, by the way, are the shows that were nominated for best drama during “The Wire”'s run:
|The West Wing||3||1|
|CSI: Crime Scene Invesgitation||2|
|Six Feet Under||2|
|Joan of Arcadia||1|
Great shows, good shows, a few head-scratchers. Almost all are mostly white shows.
I'm reading Jonathan Abrams' oral history on the series, “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” Halfway through he quotes Lance Reddick, who played Lt. Daniels, and who recognized early on how special the show was. According to Abrams, Reddick is still upset about the lack of awards. “I'll be pissed off about it until the day I die,” he says.
Movie Review: Detective Chinatown 2 (2018)
Our B movies are coming back to haunt us. They’ve lived abroad for three, four decades, and they’ve affected—or infected—the way people see the states. These people are now making movies.
Here, for example, is what we learn about New York from writer-director Chen Sicheng's new Chinese action-comedy “Detective Chinatown 2.” Apparently if you duck into an Irish pub in Manhattan you‘ll find yourself in a biker bar—packed with tough, bearded dudes in leather, each of whom carries a sawed-off shotgun. Also, if someone threatens the Mandarin-Chinese teacher in Harlem, every black student in class pulls a gun. Every one.
The U.S.’s most recent and embarrasing export is also visible. Apparently New York City has a police chief who has messy strawlike hair, talks in a bullying manner, and mentions the need to build a wall along the west coast to keep the Chinese out. In case anyone missed the connection, the first time we see him he pops up in front of a giant portrait of Pres. Trump.
Didn't think much of the first two bits. But the Trump one? 非 常 好. 和 不 好 意 思。
爸 爸 打 我
“2” is very much a replay of “1”—just set in New York rather than Bangkok.
It’s another everything-but-the-kitchen-sink comedy that once again convolutes the mystery with a second mystery—or a second resolution. Just when you think it’s solved, nope, here’s another layer. Kind of an unnecessary one, too. But our leads continue to have good chemistry, even if one continues to be way over-the-top.
As the movie opens, our Beatle-banged and brilliant millennial, Qin Feng (Liu Haoran), a student now at the Chinese police academy, is using an international online app, Crimemaster, which has him ranked #2 worldwide. He’s in New York for the wedding of his former partner, and distant cousin (his great-aunt's husband's cousin's wife's nephew), Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), who isn’t really getting married. Though he greets Feng at the airport in celebratory fashion, with black bodyguards and a limo full of babes as is the American way, he just needs Feng to help solve a case.
It’s a creepy case. Someone is killing people and removing parts of their bodies: a liver here, a kidney there. Tang and Qin aren’t the only ones on it, either. Because one victim is the grandson of Uncle Seven (Kenneth Tsang), the longtime “Godfather of Chinatown,” who’s offering a $6 million reward for a resolution, we’re introduced to a virtual “Clue” board of potential detectives:
- Sherlock Holmes as pre-teen British girl
- a grunting western muscleman (a sad staple of Chinese cinema)
- an older wheelchair-bound black woman who knows Chinese kung fu
- a cute lollipop-sucking Asian girl hacker
Most remain in the background except for the cute Asian hacker, Kiko (Shang Yuxian). She shows up when necessary to spring our heroes, since, with an early-but-acquitted suspect in tow, Song Yi (Xiao Yang), they are being pursued around New York by Uncle Seven’s larcenous nephew (Wang Xun) and his gang. Also on the case is a New York detective, Chen Ying (Aussie actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo), whom Tang Ren is sweet on. She, however, is interested in an American doctor, who shows up midway through, who’s played by Michael Pitt (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Funny Games”). As soon as I saw him, I went, “Well, there’s your killer; why else would he be in the movie?”
The answer to the crimes does for the Tao what “The Da Vinci Code” did with Catholic/Vatican history and “Se7en” did for the deadly sins: everything matches. Otherwise, our heroes race (or strut in slow-mo) in matching tan overcoats around Manhattan. I laughed at two recurring bits: an old forgetful sifu who mistakes Feng for a pretty girl and keeps complimenting him; and the western muscleman (Brett Azar), who asks how to say “Stop!” in Mandarin, and is told “Baba, da wo” (Daddy, hit me). He keeps saying it. Enthusiastically.
Meanwhile, the scene where our heroes steal a Central Park carriage and race through Times Square, shouting exuberantly, is almost a shout-out to America and Hollywood about the new status of Chinese cinema on the world market: We have arrived. Related: “Detective Chinatown 2” has already grossed $519 million in China. That's more than any comedy has ever grossed in the U.S.
唐 人 街 在 那 里？
The biggest problem with the film? At least abroad? Too broad. Again, I like the dynamic between Feng and Tang Ren, which plays off perceptions of new international China vs. old crass China. But Wang Baoqiang’s Tang Ren doesn’t make me laugh. Cringe, more like. He’s so over-the-top he makes Chris Tucker seem as subtle as a Michael Stuhlbarg character. I wish he'd tone it down a notch. Or 10.
Plus there’s just not enough Chinatown in “Detective Chinatown 2.” The title is a play off of Wang's character (Tang ren also means Chinatown), as well as the Chinatowns they‘re visiting (in Bangkok and New York), and I thought the series would give us the flavor of different Chinatowns around the world. Not. Maybe because Chinese audiences don’t want to see different Chinatowns? They want the exotic, not the familiar.
Next stop: Tokyo.
‘How to Pick Up Girls’ by Dominic West
“He has that kind of personality where he can say things and you just go, ‘How did you get away with that?’ I once stood behind him on an elevator—this was back in the early days, before he was married. We had a beautiful day player in the scene, and she was only there for the day, then she was taking the train back to New York. It was a crowded elevator, and he's only got this moment. ... You know what his pickup line was? She turned toward him and she said, ‘You know, I just broke up with my boyfriend.’ And he looked at her and went, ‘Really?’
”Later on, when she missed her train back to New York, I was like, ‘That’s all you needed? “Really?”' I think for the next two years I just kept going up to him whenever he was talking bullshit, ‘Really?’ That was my code for ‘Fuck you.’"
— David Simon, “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire,” by Jonathan Abrams. Cf., Mike Nichols on Robert Redford.
The Royal Way
Passion, check. Innocence, check. Urgency, check. Fun, double check.
“I tell players all the time. I tell them, ‘Look, your number one responsibility is to grow the game. You have an opportunity to play the game because somebody did it so well and made it look like so much fun that you thought, ’Yes! I want to be a ballplayer.'
”That's your responsibility now, to play this game so that someone watching thinks, ‘You played this game with passion, you did it through injury, you did it with innocence, you did it with urgency.’ You made it look so fun that some boy or little girl says, ‘Boy, I’d like to do this someday.' That's your calling. The rest will work itself out.“
KC Royals GM Dayton Moore, ”As Royals Reset, Moore of Same from GM," by Joe Posnanski