'Transformers' Transform Into Blah Box Office
I've got good news and bad news for people who hate the “Transformers” movies as much as I do.
The good news is that domestically the series peaked in 2009 with “Revenge of the Fallen.” It's tough to compare opening weekends since the movies have opened on three different days: a Tuesday, a Friday and three Wednesdays. It's fairer compare opening days as well as first five days, which I've done below. This is what we get:
|Movie||Opened||1st day||5 Days||Total|
|2007||Transformers||Tues., July 3||$36||107.3||$319|
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||Wed., June 24||$62||200.0||$402|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||Wed., June 29||$43||162.5||$352|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction||Fri., June 27||$42||120.9||$245|
|2014||Transformers: The Last Knight||Wed., June 21||$16||69.0||??|
As you can see, the shamelessly titled “Last Knight” is taking in a fraction of what “Fallen” did eight years ago—and that's unadjusted. The sequels have tended to make half of their total domestic gross in their first five days. If this trend continues, “Last Knight” is topping out at around $140, or $70 million short of its production budget. Bye bye, Optimus. Time to shut down this idiotfest.
Except, of yeah, there are other people in the world, and they seem to love the “Transformers”:
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||$402||$434||48%|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||$352||$771||31%|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction||$245||$857||22%|
|2014||Transformers: The Last Knight||$69*||$196*||26%|
We'll see where it winds up. I assume down, meaning this side of $1 billion worldwide, but probably enough to keep this idiotfest churning.
No. 2 at the box office this weekend were more mechanized, sequelized heroes, Pixar's “Cars 3,” which grossed $25 in its second weekend; but this sequel too is down from the heights of its predecessors. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, “Cars 2” was actually the second lowest-grossing film in Pixar history, after “The Good Dinosaur,” so you kind of wonder why “3” was made. Oh right. Worldwide it grossed $562 million. Sigh.
In third place, it's the third weekend of “Wonder Woman,” which fell off only 39% and is now at $319. Worldwide, it's at $652. It's the crown jewel of the DC Extended Universe. Low bar, yes.
The weekend's best box office news is that word-of-mouth is already working for the summer's best comedy, “The Big Sick,” which opened in give theaters and grossed an average of $80k per. It opens wide July 14.
Trailer: Borg (2017)
My friend Adam, a huge tennis fan, alerted me to this trailer:
For a second I thought it was Alexandar Skarsgaard as Born, but it's his father Stellan playing Lennard Bergelin, Borg's coach. Borg, a shocking likeness, is played by Sverrir Gudnason, who's been around a while. (He's nearly 40.) Also Swedish, thank God. The movie is a joint Swedish/Danish/Finnish production, directed by a Dane, Janus Metz Pedersen. The trailer highlights the Borg-McEnroe rivalry but it'll be interesting to see if the film does, since the film is simply called “Borg.” For now.
It opens in Sweden in September. Resistance is futile.
M’s Game: Two Major League Debuts, two Grand Salamis, and Some Pride
Rye bread, mustard
Thursday night, even though the M’s were riding a 4-game win streak and the forecast called for low 70s and sunny, I couldn’t give away a ticket to the game against Detroit. As a result, my companion for the game was The Grand Salami, the alt program sold outside the stadium, which is published by Jon Wells and produced by my friend Tim, and for which, 15 years ago, I wrote the player profiles. Note to Jon: You need to update those suckers more regularly.
I did find out from the Salami that a biography of Dave Niehaus has been written: “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story,” by Billy Mac and edited by J. Michael Kenyon. Apparently it was crowdfunded? At least in part? It’s being excerpted in the Salami over the next few months. The part I read Thursday night, sitting with a beer in the sun in the right-field bleachers before the game, was informative but not exactly Robert Caro. But fingers crossed.
I moved to my regular seats, section 327 row 9, before the first pitch by M’s starter Andrew Moore. The kid was making his Major League debut, against a pretty good lineup, too. But Moore’s fastball had pop (it seemed faster than the 91-93 it registered), and he threw his mid-80s slider for strikes, and he kept getting ahead of hitters. The first five guys he faced, including future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, and two guys with OPSes over 1.000 (Alex Avila and J.D. Martinez), all saw first-pitch strikes, and all went down accordingly. It was the sixth guy, their tall, goony, white-shoed third baseman, Nicholas Castellanos, who normally can’t even buy a walk, that Moore lost: ball, ball, strike, ball, double in the gap. But he retired Alex Presley and the M’s scored 3 in the bottom of the 2nd, and all looked good.
Second time through the lineup is the tough part, and Moore got behind leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler; and on a 3-1 count, Kinsler deposited one into the left field bleachers. So it goes. Welcome to the Majors, kid.
I thought manager Scott Servais would pull Moore after five innings, particularly since the 5th was a bit nervewracking. By this point we had a 5-1 lead, but Moore gave up a leadoff single to—who else?—Castellanos, retired Presley, then John Hicks hit a rifle shot to third base. Handled cleanly, it might’ve been a double play. But it skipped past Kyle Seager and into left field for a double. Now it was 2nd and 3rd with one out. A grounder to Cano plated one, and a Kinsler plated another. But Moore got the final out and seemed done. Good game, kid.
Servais had other ideas. Moore came out for the 6th, where he faced Cabrera for a third time. Smart? Whatever, it worked. Moore kept ahead of the hitters and they went down 1, 2, 3. He came out for the 7th, too, and did the same. By now he’d thrown 101 pitches, which definitely signaled the end, and he left the game to a small ovation from the small, sparse crowd.
By this time I was sitting on the third-base side, near the seats we had when Safeco Field first opened, eating Ivar’s fish and chips. It was “Pride Night,” anticipating “Gay Pride Weekend.” I like that they do that. Between innings they flashed PSAs urging civility and tolerance. But not much pride—the M’s variety—was on display at the park.
From me, too? These days, I tend to be a “leave early” guy, and was leaning in that direction when Detroit went to their bullpen in the 7th. They brought in Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, a beloved Yankee killer from 2002 who currently has the fourth-most saves in baseball history (437), but who came in sporting a devilish 6.66 ERA. He hit Heredia with his fifth pitch, then got Mike Zunino to pop out. That’s enough, I thought. Time to head home, I thought. But by the time I made my way down to the 100 level, the M’s had loaded the bases on a single and a walk, so I hung with a group of people at the top of the stairs on the third-base side as Cano batted. He’d hit a 2-run homer earlier in the game, a shot that barely went over the right-center-field wall, and I was hoping for anything but a double play. His swing on the second pitch looked at least like a sac fly. I couldn’t see its arc—the overhang from the second deck got in the way—but I heard the cheers and I saw Cano nonchalantly rounding the bases, blowing bubbles, and everyone in our group, all strangers, were whooping it up and high-fiving one other. A grand slam! When was the last time I saw a Mariner hit a grand slam? I thought of Niehaus, of course, and his ringing rye-bread-and-mustard call, and I decided to stay for the rest of the game. Why not? 100 level was open. Every half inning, I moved closer to home.
Gotta say, Servais made it interesting. To relieve Moore, he brought in 23-year-old Max Povse, another pitcher making his Major League debut. Maybe Servais thought newbies were good luck that night? Sorry. After two quick outs Povse lost Avila on a ringing double, then lost Miggy on a more-ringing homer to center (No. 454). Martinez doubled and Justin Upton singled him in, and suddenly the blow-out was 9-6. That was it for Povse, whose career ERA is now 40.50. The Bengals actually brought the tying run to the plate before we escaped. In the 9th, they went down 1, 2, 3, and another game was in the books. My season record is 3-1.
Twenty-five years ago, thanks to my friend Mr. B, I saw Nolan Ryan’s last game in the Majors, in which, at the Kingdome in September, he didn’t get an out and gave up a grand slam to Dann Howitt. Did I see K-Rod’s last game, too? Afterwards, the Tigers released him. Is that how all pitchers careers end—not with a whimper but a grand slam? I’m sure he’ll get picked up, though. There’s always a need, always hope.
Same with the M’s? They won again last night, 13-3, against Houston, the best team in the A.L., and our win-streak is now at 6. It’s the right direction anyway. A little bit of pride as we head into Pride weekend.
Quote of the Day
“It would be a big mistake to call the legislation Senate Republicans released on Thursday a health care bill. It is, plain and simple, a plan to cut taxes for the wealthy by destroying critical federal programs that help provide health care to tens of millions of people.”
-- the beginning of The New York Times' devastating editorial, “The Senate's Unaffordable Care Act,” on the anti-Obamacare bill unveiled by Senate Republicans yesterday. Sarah Binder then weighs on why Mitch McConnell thinks he can get away with it.
Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)
Given the negatives the movie had to work with, it wasn’t bad. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine saved it. But it wasn’t all that.
What are the negatives, you ask?
- Wonder Woman’s idiot origin story—that Amazon island out in the middle of nowhere, with bows, arrows, ancient architecture, flouncy togas, and references to Greek gods.
- The fact that writer-director Zack Snyder—that idiot—already stuck Wonder Woman back in World War I (in “Batman v Superman”), then had her not do anything for 100 years. That had to be explained. We have to find out why she was committed enough to fight in the Great War, then disillusioned enough to lay down her arms for a century—including during some of the worst crimes in human history: the Holocaust, the rape of Nanjing, the killing fields of Cambodia—only to pick them up again because Superman was too stupid to stop Lex Luthor from creating Doomsday.
Director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (“Party of Five,” “Sex and the City,” “The OC,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) don’t solve the negatives. They just kind of smudge them a little.
I was in Europe when “Wonder Woman” opened, but of course I was aware of the buzz, the positive reviews, the 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Friends on social media raved: More like this! I took it all with a grain of salt but I still took it. Are high expectations problematic? If they are, let me temper yours.
First, the island. At least the Amazon warriors feel like real warriors rather than pretty girls walking around in flouncy outfits. At least the casting isn’t bad: Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen. But it’s still boring. Doesn’t help that Diana’s mom (Nielsen) knows only extremes. “No, Diana, you can’t train to be a warrior.” “OK, sure, train her, but train her harder than anyone’s ever been trained.” “No, Diana, you and Steve Trevor (Pine) can’t leave the island.” “OK, sure, go ahead, but you can never, ever return.”
For some reason, Mom also keeps Diana’s origin—that she’s the daughter of Zeus—from her. She’s a demigod like Hercules. Why the secret?
The answer requires backstory. Way back when, Zeus created humans. Then Aries, the God of War, made them, you know, the fuckups that we are, forever fighting. In response, Zeus created Amazons, warrior women to police the idiocies of man, but in response Aries killed all the other gods. So Zeus battled Aries himself—a bit late, really—and somehow “struck him down” without killing him. In the process, Zeus died, but he left the Amazons a “God Killer” to slay Aries when he returns. Throughout the movie, Diana (Gadot) assumes the God Killer is the sword housed in a temple on the island. Nope. It’s her. She’s the God Killer. And that’s why...
Wait, couldn’t her mother tell her she’s the daughter of Zeus without letting her know she’s the God Killer? And since she is the God Killer, why object to warrior training? Because Mom doesn’t want to lose her baby? Doesn’t that defeat Diana’s purpose? Not to mention the Amazonian one? Seriously, if the Amazons are supposed to police the idiocies of man, why the hidden island where they spend day after day, year after year, century after century, training? For what exactly? And if Steve Trevor can crash-land near the island, and the Germans can storm the beach, what exactly is preventing Diana from returning? Worse is the fact that this origin story proves to be true; Aries confirms it. Which means in the DC extended universe—the movies with Batman, Superman and the Flash—human beings are the literal creations of Zeus. Our origin story isn’t Judeo-Christian, it’s not evolutionary Darwinism; it’s ancient Greek. Shouldn’t the usual right-wing nutjobs be out protesting this? Martin Scorsese gets shit but Zack Snyder gets off scot-free?
Seriously, every attempt at solving the negatives in Wonder Woman’s origin just seems to lead to more negatives.
Here’s another reason why Diana’s mom shouldn’t have kept her in the dark, but it requires another backstory—a cinematic one.
In certain ways, “Wonder Woman” is similar to the 1978 superhero movie that started them all, “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve, in that our title character is both an innocent abroad and straight man/woman for the duration. In “Superman” the humor comes from Lex Luthor and his minions, and the cynicism from Lois Lane. It’s 1978 but Superman believes in our institutions; he believes in truth, justice and the American way. He also knows everything; he’s been educated. He’s innocent but smart.
Diana is the straight woman here—Pine provides the laughs—and she’s innocent, like Supes, but she’s not smart, she’s not educated. Sure, she knows every language but nothing of cultural mores or history. This leads to humorous bits—she doesn’t know flashing leg in post-Victorian England ain’t cool, for example—but doesn’t it diminish our hero? And what does it say of Amazon’s schooling? Are they paying any attention to the outside world?
The movie does improve considerably once Chris Pine shows up for beefcake/comic relief. Even better when we get to London and add his secretary Etta (Lucy Davis, Dawn of the original “Office”). They have good interplay. Of Capt. Trevor’s sidekicks, I liked Sameer (Said Taghmaoui of “La Haine”), could’ve done without the drinking, singing, unable-to-shoot Scotsman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and kind of rolled my eyes when the Native American, The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), shows up. But this is the team that goes to the front to confront the movie’s villains, Gen. Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), whom Diana suspects of being Aries, and the supercreepy poison-gas specialist Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), who, in the midst of an Armistice promoted by England’s Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), is developing a poison gas that will win the war for Germany.
I’ll cut to the chase. Wonder Woman kills Ludendorff with the God Killer sword but it doesn’t stop the war. Everything continues. Man is corrupt, and for a moment she looks like an idiot. But then the real Ares appears—shock, Sir Patrick Morgan!—who crushes the sword, taunts Diana with revelations, toys with her as they battle, but ultimately is destroyed. The weapon we see in the first act—the powerful force generated when Diana clangs her bracelets together—goes off in the third, and it saves the day. This doesn’t stop man’s warlike tendencies either, though it goes unremarked all the same. I guess Diana is less innocent by this point.
The ending is mushy. Not as in “romantic,” as in “without clarity.” Throughout, Diana’s raison d’été is clear-eyed: Kill Ares, stop all wars. Capt. Trevor is good, the Germans are bad. By the end—even though Trevor is good and the Germans are bad—she realizes Steve, and the U.S. and its allies, are part of humanity’s problem, too. For a time she rejects him. But when he sacrifices himself to save thousands, she cries to the skies—like Supes in ’78—and then tears Ares a new one.
And her philosophy after all this? That’s the mushy part. The movie has to thread an impossible needle: give her a reason to be inactive throughout a horrible century without condemning all of humanity in the process. Here’s what they come up with: She decides that fighting doesn’t stop wars; only love stops wars. So she stops fighting to do something else. Like work a desk job in a secret room in the Louvre.
Here’s the exact voiceover:
I used to want to save the world: to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them there will always be both—the choice each must make for themselves—something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.
Or at least until “Batman v Superman.”
As I said, Gadot makes a fantastic Wonder Woman. She’s just a glory to behold even when she’s standing there: strong and tough and lovely. I laughed-out-loud when she threw a bully across a tavern and Sameer said, “I am frightened and at the same time aroused.” Raise a glass.
I also like her sprint across “No Man’s Land”—and the obvious pun therein—and her battle in the small European village, including 1) that slow-mo moment when she crashes with a German soldier through a second-story window, and 2) when she appears atop a demolished town-square clocktower, to cheers, after taking out a German sharpshooter.
But the above problems. Wonder Woman was created by a man with a bondage fetish (William Marston, Ph.D.), and her cinematic origin was switched to WWI by a man with a Great War/bustier fetish (Zack Snyder), and it’s tough for Jenkins and company to overcome all of this. In a way, Jenkins’ task is similar to Wonder Woman’s. Men created this shitfest and now a woman has to clean it up. Given that, Jenkins doesn’t do poorly.
Tweet of the Day
There is a suppression of information going on at this WH that would not be tolerated at a city council mtg or press conf with a state gov.— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
'One of the Cruelest Pieces of Legislation': An Update
From Paul Krugman's column today:
Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.
This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they're trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won't be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”
Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they're voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.
Not exactly news, but a reminder that we should all be more incensed than we are, and working as hard as possible to help elect a Democratic congress.
'The Hots for Uncle Hymie'
Even though he wasn't highlighted, I thought about Philip Roth as I walked through the first room at the newly created American Writers Museum in Chicago on Saturday. It was because of this photo—a portrait of Arthur Miller as a young playwright:
Quite the looker. And it made me recall a passage in Roth's “Portnoy's Complaint,” but I recalled it wrong. It's where Portnoy is talking about his lust for “the bland blond exotics called shikses” and his corresponding observation that these exotic creatures actually craved them—the nice Jewish boys who underneath it all weren't so nice. Miller and Monroe are mentioned, yes, but only in passing:
...for every Eddie yearning for a Debbie, there is a Debbie yearning for an Eddie — a Marilyn Monroe yearning for her Arthur Miller...
No, the punchline is about another '50s celebrity couple:
Who knew, you see, who knew back when we were watching National Velvet, that this stupendous purple-eyed girl who had the supreme goyische gift of all, the courage and know-how to get up and ride around on a horse (as opposed to having one pull your wagon, like the rag-seller for whom I am named) — who would have believed that this girl on the horse with the riding breeches and the perfect enunciation was lusting for our kind no less than we for hers? Because you know what Mike Todd was — a cheap facsimile of my Uncle Hymie upstairs! And who in his right mind would ever have believed that Elizabeth Taylor had the hots for Uncle Hymie?
That's the line that made me laugh out loud when I first read “Portnoy's Complaint” all those years ago. On Saturday, some part of me was thinking Roth linked Miller to Uncle Hymie, but Roth knew better. So did Monroe, apparently. Miller weren't no Uncle Hymie, that's for sure.