Saturday April 30, 2016
Yankees Suck, Reason #83
On July 27 Arthur “Red” Patterson, the popular Yankees public relations director who the year before had gained nationwide fame by taking a tape measure to determine the distance of Mickey Mantle's tremendous home run hit out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, announced his resignation from the team, citing a clash of personalities with the Yankees general manager [George Weiss]. Patterson had become disgruntled when Weiss passed him over for the assistant general manager's job in April, and the final straw for him was when Weiss castigated him for giving a couple of free passes to a game to the elevator operator at the Yankees' Fifth Avenue offices.
Friday April 29, 2016
Quote of the Day
“As many of you probably know, I'm a Democrat. And as you may have seen, I've also been a fan of Bernie Sanders. Much of what he stood for and helped bring to the forefront in this primary are things I too have fought for. ... But having been through many bruising primaries in my life, I'm also a realist. From where I sit, the math is clear. Hillary will likely win, and she will be our nominee. But that doesn't mean Bernie didn't also win. He won in a myriad of ways, none more so than energizing the Democratic base in a way no one expected. Young people in particular have become so passionate about this election. Because they recognize the historic importance at stake is nothing less than the very soul of our nation. So I'm asking Democrats out there to take a pledge, along with me: #Vote Blue No Matter Who.”
-- George Takei in a mesage to progressives.
Friday April 29, 2016
The Better Pee Wee Reese Story
The myth, as portrayed in “42.”
Some part of me thinks Ken Burns needed to see this “New Rules” bit from Bill Maher before he finished (or started) his Jackie Robinson documentary, which ran on PBS a few weeks ago. Maher goes off on liberals who dump on their own whiteness to make themselves feel better, and, based on the doc, I think Burns is suffering from some version of this. Maybe he feels guilty that, in his seminal “Baseball” doc 20 years ago, he bought into the Pee Wee Reese myth—that the Dodgers captain put his arm around Jackie Robinson at Crosley Field in Cincinnati to quiet his hometown racist crowd—so now he has to dump all over that narrative. Before, it happened. Now, it didn‘t. Unequivocally. Both times.
Here’s Burns in Mother Jones:
Pee Wee is supposed to have walked across the diamond from shortstop to first base, which would‘ve never happened, and put his arm around him. ... It didn’t happen. There's no mention in Jackie's autobiography. There's no mention in the white press, and more importantly, there was no mention of it in the black press, which would‘ve run 25 stories related to this.
It’s the certainty that bugs me. It feels off. But who has time to double-check?
Joe Posnanski, it turns out, in a piece for NBC Sports called “The Embrace.” It's worth reading the whole thing.
Of the hand-on-shoulder story, Pos writes:
There is a compelling absence of evidence here. There isn't a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines. This is enough for [author Jonathan] Eig, for Miller and particularly for Burns to conclude that the story, at least as popularly told, is a myth.
I would add that while primary sources are well and good, journalists, even good journalists, can often not only bury the lede but miss the story. Bill Madden talks this up in his book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever.” The first time both World Series teams fielded African-American players (1954, Game 1), most sportswriters didn't comment upon it. And a shortstop talking to, or putting his arm around, a first baseman prior to a game? I wouldn't be surprised that that didn't make the cut. What was the score? That's what fans wanted to know.
Posnanski then goes into the “why” of the myth. As in: Why do we need it? And from where did it spring?
The answer to the second question is interesting. A baseball historian, Craig R. Wright, of whom no less a figure than Bill James says, “I would trust Craig's opinion a great deal more than Ken Burns,” has researched the matter and believes that it did happen in some form. And he points Posnanski to a 10-part series that Jackie Robinson did with the Brooklyn Eagle's Ed Reid in 1949, where Jackie says the following:
I‘ll never forget the day when a few loud-mouthed guys on the other team began to take off on Pee Wee Reese. They were joshing him very viciously because he was playing on the team with me and was on the field nearby. Mind you, there were not yelling at me; I suppose they did not have the nerve to do that, but they were calling him some very vile names and every one bounced off of Pee Wee and hit me like a machine-gun bullet.
Pee Wee kind of sensed the hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn’t say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me through him and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that.
Slowly the jibes died down like when you kill a snake an inch at a time, and then there was nothing but quiet from them. It was wonderful the way this little guy did it. I will never forget it.
Not fans; not necessarily Crosley Field; not hand on shoulder; but otherwise, there it is.
It's actually a better story. It's less paternal and feels truer. It comes straight from Jackie within two years of breaking the color barrier. And Jackie's widow, Rachel, corroborates, according to Posnanski.
So why didn't Burns pivot to this, the more interesting story, in his doc? Why was he so insistent about denying Pee Wee Reese completely? How did he manage to get it wrong twice?
Moments of grace are rare in this world. Why not celebrate them?
Thursday April 28, 2016
Movie Review: Concussion (2015)
There’s a good story here but this isn’t it.
A man of science discovers something horrible about a powerful American business and tries to push past PR and corporate lawyers to get word out. In the process he’s harassed, belittled, besmirched. He’s an ordinary man under extraordinary pressure, but ultimately, through perseverance, and sacrifice, and the good works of a few others, the word gets out. And the world changes a little for the better.
That’s a good story. It’s “The Insider,” after all. So why doesn’t it work here?
It should actually work better here, since, in “The Insider,” Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) battles Big Tobacco, an institution many rely upon but nobody loves. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is going up against football. He’s a foreigner telling America that their favorite sport is killing their favorite sons—and maybe their own sons. He’s going up against a corporation that “owns a day of the week,” as his boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), tells him. He should have half the country against him. He should have every goombah on every street corner getting in his face. He, and we, should feel immense pressure.
Nope. The movie blows it from the beginning.
Seven degrees of Will Smith
We’re introduced to Dr. Omalu when he’s an expert witness in a nondescript trial and he’s asked to state his credentials. First, he mentions a degree from Nigeria. Suspect, right? Like an email from a Nigerian prince. But then he mentions another degree, and another, each more impressive than the last. Many are from America, one is from the UK. He has to keep interrupting the (opposing?) counsel to, in effect, toot his own horn. Then he looks at the jury with a self-satisfied smile.
Wow, is that wrong. Have him be slightly embarrassed at least. Or have someone else mention the degrees. It’s such a tone-deaf scene that our hero, who is supposed to be modest and circumspect, comes off as annoying.
Omalu makes his living as a quirky Pittsburgh coroner who listens to R&B while dissecting the dead; he talks to the dead to find out their secrets. He’s got the respect of the head of the department, Dr. Wecht, but not so much from his immediate superior, Sullivan (Mike O’Malley), who fumes meaninglessly on the sidelines. Is Sullivan racist? Just an asshole? Who knows? He’s a straw man.
Then one of Pittsburgh’s favorite sons, former Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse wearing a Frankenstein forehead), winds up on Omalu’s table after killing himself at the age of 50, and Omalu, through extensive research, including using $20,000 of his own money for tests, discovers a new form of brain trauma. He names it “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,” or CTE, and his findings are subsequently published in a medical journal. That’s when the harassment from the NFL begins.
How is this harassment dramatized? Well, Omalu gets a few angry phone calls. He’s yelled at by an NFL official. His wife, Prema (the impossibly beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw), pregnant with his child, is followed in her car—maybe—and then has a miscarriage. The harassment should be menacing, all-encompassing, but it feels like wisps of nothing.
Mostly, the NFL just doesn’t listen to him. This exchange is indicative:
Wecht: Did you think the NFL would thank you?
Wecht: What for?
Omalu: For knowing.
I like that, but it’s not exactly dramatic. In “The Insider,” Wigand actually suffered. He lost his job, his wife, his home, his self-esteem. The FBI harasses him. His journalistic counterpart, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), wonders over this. He makes accusations in the form of questions—maybe Brown & Williamson has former agents on its payroll, and maybe current agents have been promised cushy jobs, and maybe he should start investigating—and he gets them to back off. Here, the FBI harasses ... Dr. Wecht. They indict him on 84 counts. A title card at the end tells us he was ultimately exonerated but ... did he do it? Is it bullshit? Is Omalu so clean they can’t touch him?
Seriously, if the government is in cahoots with the NFL, as implied, why doesn’t immigration go after him? He’s not even a citizen until 2015. Instead, he and his impossibly beautiful wife simply leave Pittsburgh for So Cal—but not before the well-mannered Omalu takes an axe to a wall at his home in frustration. And in poignant slow-motion.
Are you ready for some football?
Is writer-director Peter Landesman (the underrated “Parkland”) not director enough for this? Is Smith not actor enough? Did Sony’s corporate hand get too involved?
I liked the scene at the University of Pittsburgh where Dr. Steve DeKosky (excellent cameo by Eddie Marsan) realizes the validity of Omalu’s findings—and their repercussions. I liked Brooks throughout. I liked looking at Mbatha-Raw.
But the movie is heavy-handed in all the wrong places, and goes out of its way not to alienate football fans and the NFL. Every other character has to talk about how beautiful football is. Every other scene contains some take on America—mostly how great we are. The story is about a horrifying way that American football and American business is fucked up, and the movie keeps patting these villains on the back.
Wednesday April 27, 2016
Ethel Merman by Arthur Laurents
“In the Gypsy company, she was famous for a sexual joke she didn't get. When she asked Jack Klugman, her leading man, whether Tab Hunter was gay, Jack replied, 'Is the Pope Catholic?' 'Yes,' said Ethel, still waiting for the answer. Not bright, no, but endearing and despite a life spent in saloons, childlike.”
Wednesday April 27, 2016
‘SI is Part of a Giant Plan to Flaunt All Decency’
The following are letters sent to the relatively new Sports Illustrated magazine about their spring 1955 baseball issue, which featured New York Giants superstar Willie Mays, Giants manager Leo Durocher, and his wife, actress Lorraine Day, on the cover:
Up until now, I have not found anything in particularly bad taste in SI, but by golly, you print a picture on the cover in full color, of a white woman embracing a negro (with a small letter) man, you make it evident that even in a magazine supposedly devoted to healthful and innocent sports, you have to engage in South-bating [sic]. . . . I care nothing about these three people, but I care a heck of a lot about the proof this picture gives that SI is part of a giant plan to flaunt all decency, so long as the conquered of 1865 can be reminded of their eternal defeat. —Shreveport, La.
To tell you that I was shocked at SI’s cover would be putting it mildly. . . . The informative note inside that this Mrs. Leo Durocher, a white woman, with her arm affectionately around the neck of Willie Mays, a Negro ballplayer. . . . Let me say to you, Sir, the most appalling blow ever struck at this country, the most disastrous thing that ever happened to the people of America, was the recent decision of the Supreme Court, declaring segregation unconstitutional. —Nashville, Tenn.
Please cancel my subscription to SI immediately. . . . This is an insult to every decent white woman everywhere. —Fort Worth, Tex.
Such disgusting racial propaganda is not fit for people who are trying to build a stronger nation based on racial integrity. —New Orleans, La.
They‘re recounted in Bill Madden’s book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever,” and are a reminder of how far we‘ve come. Also not, since the arguments, and the anger, and the combination of Southern defensiveness and entitlement, feel familiar on another level: a level of class, or immigrant status, or religious affiliation, or sexual preference. It doesn’t go away; it just shifts.
Tuesday April 26, 2016
Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016)
The extent to which Prince and I grew up in the same city (Minneapolis), but didn’t (north/south, black/white), is reflected in how I first came across him: on the cover of a national music magazine touting “The Minneapolis Sound” while visiting family and friends on the east coast in, I believe, the summer of 1981. I was vaguely insulted by the headline. I was dismissive. “I’m from Minneapolis. How do I not know the Minneapolis sound?” But I didn’t. Or I didn’t know that Minneapolis sound. It’s this kind of dichotomy—north/side, black/white—that Prince spent his life bridging.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, another fellow Minnesotan, once wrote the following:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Prince held two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retained the ability to funk. He was black/white, male/female, gay/straight, lustful/spiritual. He sang of dichotomies: “Girls & Boys,” “Elephants & Flowers.” He played with the opposites. He named a bouncy ditty “Jack U Off,” and a pair of beautiful love ballads “Do Me, Baby” and “Damn U.” He kept imagining places where we could be whole. Just take Alphabet St. across Graffiti Bridge and wind up at Paisley Park.
First Avenue is the downtown Minneapolis venue where much of “Purple Rain” was filmed, and in the movie Prince imagined it a lot more integrated, and a lot more stylish, than it actually was. I know because I used to go there all the time. Flash? Glam? Sexy? I didn’t even have a raspberry beret.
To be honest, I thought he was a weirdo. That pullout poster from “Controversy”? Showering, with the water dripping off his thong? What was he doing? The inside art for “1999” in his small neon bedroom, playing with watercolors, with the sheet pulled back enough to reveal his naked ass? But he became a soundtrack of my life. I wore out the first disc to “1999” and only ventured to the second when a friend told me she’d dealt with the suicide of her friend by listening to “Free” over and over again. I was at a pool party when one of our sexiest friends came up to me in the shallow end, flirting, and lip-syncing to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” I actually picked up a girl—or she picked up me—after we danced to “Erotic City” on the First Avenue dance floor.
In truth I needed more of what he was preaching. I was too uptight, too worried about what other people thought. I played the safe, dishonest middle. He went long on honesty, sexuality, spirituality. He loved God, wished u heaven, but girl you got an ass like he’d never seen. The opening of “D.M.S.R.” should be tattooed on all of us:
Get on the floor
What the hell’d you come here for?
In the winter of ’83/’84, I remember standing on the second level at First Ave, watching people on the first level dance, and someone walked up next to me and did the same. I looked over and froze. Prince. Six months later, with “Purple Rain,” he was everywhere.
For some reason, when I first heard “When Doves Cry,” I thought it was older Prince. The same with “Kiss” two years later. Both seemed familiar and a jolt at the same time. “Purple Rain,” the movie, astonished me by ousting “Ghostbusters’ for the No. 1 slot at the box office; it wound up grossing the equivalent of $174 million today. It was the 11th biggest hit of the year and it made Roger Ebert’s top 10 movies of 1984, but it’s got its faults. The glaring one is the notion that the Kid is too selfish, that “the only one who digs your music is yourself,” and that he’s only able to become successful when he collaborates with Wendy and Lisa on “Purple Rain.” Pardon me, but what song does he open with? Right, “Let’s Go Crazy.” That’s the music no one digs but himself? One of the greatest, balls out, rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written? Not to mention a beautiful opening sermon. In the ‘90s, I got a rejection notice from a small journal about some crap story I’d written so I sent it to someone bigger, I believe The New Yorker, and in the cover letter quoted Prince:
If the elevator tries to bring you down
Punch a higher floor
Another sentiment to tattoo on all of us.
If I was surprised by the success of “Purple Rain” I was more surprised by the relative quiet that greeted “Around the World in a Day.” I remember hearing “Raspberry Beret” blaring from a convertible in Dinkytown on a warm spring ’85 day, and I thought, “This will be huge.” It wasn’t, quite. He kept disappearing. Didn’t he announce he was retiring or something to look for the ladder? Instead, he directed and starred in “Under the Cherry Moon.” Oops. I loved “Sign O’ the Times” and “LoveSexy” (“Alphabet St.” is another song that hit me immediately), ignored the “Batman” stuff, stayed with him through “Graffiti Bridge,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and the “Love Symbol” album. I kept expecting another resurgence, a popular breakthrough. Instead, the glyph jokes, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince jokes. But whenever the discussion came up, I laid down my three musical geniuses in the rock era: Beatles, Dylan, Prince.
I first saw Prince in concert during the “Purple Rain” tour in '84 and the last during “Musicology” in '04. I went with Patricia and about half a dozen of her co-workers—all women, of course. This is a bit late, guys, but a Prince concert was the best pick-up joint in the world. The ratio was something like 12-1, and the 12 were going crazy. It was Erotic City.
Last week, when I heard the news, I was on vacation in Utah, of all places, and was surprised by how much it hurt, and was surprised again by how much it hurt everyone. The world turned purple in mourning and celebration. It cried and partied like it was 1999. I so wanted to be in Minneapolis that day, and the days that followed, but social media helped me for once. My friend Adam in particular kept posting and posting and posting. All of us shared stories, memories, links, and songs. We tried to talk ourselves through it. We tried to put the right letters together and make a better day.
Rest in peace, you sexy motherfucker.
Monday April 25, 2016
Reader: Quit Bloviating
This arrived in my inbox while I was on vacation in Utah last week:
Please, quit bloviating about movies you haven't seen (Finest Hours) and pontificating about the box office of movies that don't deserve so much discussion (Batman v. Superman), get into the theater, and start writing insightful review essays, which is why I go to your blog.
Love bloviating/pontificating. And he got the “v” in “Batman v Superman” right. I've passed a few movie theaters where they added the “s.”
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince XII
“Jim, we're all creative. I'm creative with music. You're creative with your pen. The builders out there [working on the soundstage] are creative with what they're building. Shoot, I couldn't do what they're doing. But if you go sit down with them and interview them, they'll lay some complex shit on you, and their work is very, very creative. It takes everybody to do this.
It even takes the person down the street to write the lies. It even takes People magazine, who said, 'We'll put you on the cover if we can have you, your wife and your baby on it.' Now, I have been a musician for 20 years. This is the best record I've ever made. You know: Kiss. My. Ass.
”What time is it when people [value gossip more than art]? But again, that gives me something to talk to you about, and that gives us a joke that we can laugh about here today. It's all connected."
-- Prince Rogers Nelson, via Jim Walsh, encore requested by Adam Wahlberg
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince XI
“A side effect of aging is that people you love/respect/admire will die, and I accept that, but this is unacceptable.”
-- Benjamin Dreyer, via Twitter, on the death of Prince, April 21, 2016
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince X
“Just remembered one more Prince story that I love. A friend's son worked at a Starbucks in Minnetonka. One day Prince wanders in and orders something. The kid, honestly not knowing who he is, says, 'Can I get a name please?' Prince gives him an 'Are you serious?' smile, then says, 'Tim.'”
-- Marc Conklin, via Facebook
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince IX
“I can't say that we went on to be pals. But we did record a lot at Paisley Park, and he became comfortable enough to grace us with his presence, not bejeweled and not dressed up. He'd be wearing maybe his jammies and sweat pants or maybe a pear of jeans and sneakers. He could sort of just hang out. He may have been a little more normal than he would've liked people to know. That's the treasure that we got, to be able to sit in the big atrium where you're taking a break and Prince shuffles by in his slippers and makes some popcorn in the microwave. My sister's a disc jockey, and he would pass by and say, 'Tell your sister hi for me.' People like to paint him as a reclusive this or that; I think he was genuinely truly, truly shy. But one thing says a lot about him: I was there making a solo record a few years later, and I got a message that said that my friend had just died. I was truly rattled, and the next time I went back into the studio, he had filled it up with balloons. Now I'm gonna cry.”
-- Paul Westerberg in Rolling Stone.
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince VIII
“In 2005 I went to pick up a friend for a movie. Friend met me at the door and said before we go I had to watch this Prince solo during a George Harrison tribute, which he had taped on VHS a few months before. I said fine but let's make it fast because ‘Capote’ wasn't going to watch itself. We sat down, watched the Prince solo, and spent the next three hours talking about it, never making the film. I love how stunned Petty and Harrison's kid look up there; it's how I felt. Still need to see ‘Capote.’”
Adam Wahlberg, via Facebook
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince VII
“I never met Mozart, I never met Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker. I never met Elvis. But I met Prince.”
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince VI
“Prince, to me, represented the last of the self-assembled pop stars. There's a spectrum of things that contribute to pop stardom: the ability to sing, play instruments, write hits, produce albums, dance on stage or in videos, and all the while look great doing it.
”Most performers manage to combine a few of those attributes. It's unheard of, unicorn-like, to see someone be all of those things at once. Even Michael Jackson had the help of Quincy Jones. Prince however, practically embodied the spectrum. It was right there in the liner notes of his first album For You, which read, 'produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince.'"
-- Alan Palomo, via The Guardian
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince V
“My favorite Prince song is 'Kiss.' He released it when I was eighteen and only beginning to learn myself and my place in the world. I had grown up listening to bands that denigrated women in the most revolting manner, bands like the coincidentally named KISS, which performed song after song celebrating the sexual using and cruelest disposal of women. ...
”Prince's 'Kiss' was a revelation. Here he beckons to a woman, and tells her explicitly she doesn't have to be beautiful, rich, or cool to draw him. If she is insipidly childish, slavish to fashion, or seeking to win him only with her sexuality, he wants nothing to do with her. She doesn't have to emulate anyone else. He wants her as she is, *who* she is. It's her mind and maturity, he sings, that lights him up:
Women, not girls, rule my world
I say they rule my world.
Act your age, mama, not your shoe size
Maybe we could do the twirl ...
“In my deeply self-doubting eighteen-year-old mind, that first phrase of 'Kiss' resonated over and over: 'You don't have to be beautiful...' What Prince wrote in that song thirty years ago he wrote into his career, surrounding himself with talented women and creating magnificent music with them. I am grateful to him for knowing that women, in all their complexity, intelligence, and individuality, made him better, and for the little thrill I still feel when I hear him sing that first line of that irresistibly rousing, joyful, sexy, affirming 'Kiss.'
”I don't have to be beautiful, he tells me, and by the grace of his words, I feel beautiful."
-- Laura Hillenbrand, via Facebook
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince IV
“I mean, he had his own color. Who has their own color?”
-- Jimmy Fallon on the death of Prince, on Saturday Night Live.
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince III
“When it's 1985, and you're a 15-year-old boy growing up in a blue-collar town in upstate New York, and the choice is between Springsteen and Prince, you go with Springsteen. Springsteen meant cars and escape and distant fathers and shitty jobs. Springsteen was nihilism. Glorious, self-pitying, pre-Cobain nihilism. What could be more masculine, right?
”But the girls. The girls always went with Prince. Always. That confounded me. It confounded my male friends (redundant: all my friends were male) with our stupid basketballs and chicken wing parties. Prince wore boots with heels. He wore makeup. He sang like a girl. Prince confounded us because he was about sex, because he challenged our parochial definition of what it meant to be a man.“
-- Steve Fennessy, ”Prince and My Evolution," in Atlanta Magazine.
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince II
“It's 1979 and I'm filling up my tank at a gas station in then zero-diversity Chanhassen, wearing my Dinner Theatre waitress uniform—the infamous 'blue serge'—and up pulls a tiny luxury sportscar driven by a little black man with a drop-dead gorgeous woman in the passenger seat. A Spanish Galleon could have dropped from the sky, it was that striking of a sight in that town at that time. They sped away and I was left wondering 'Who was that!?' Only later did I realize it was Prince whose 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' was getting a lot of airplay at the time. It wasn't long before he bought his first house out there which led to Paisley Park.”
-- Karen Tischler, via Facebook
Sunday April 24, 2016
Remembering Prince I
“My first recollection of seeing him was a dress rehearsal for one of his early tours. I was next to another musician, a couple other guys that were up-and-comers and that thought they were hot shit, and we were watching Prince. The guy turned to me and said, 'I'm fucking embarrassed to be alive.' And that's how I felt. He was so good. It was like, 'What are we doing? This guy is, like, on a different planet than we are.' It was showmanship, it was rock & roll, it was fun, it was great. I think it helped everyone around. It made us all think that Minneapolis wasn't the dour town that we tried to pretend it was. He was like a ray of light in a very cautious place. He was a star. He made no bones about it. He was glitz to a place that wasn't used to it. I remember a little scuffle broke out in front of the stage one night and Prince said, 'Stop fighting, you'll mess up your clothes.'”
Sunday April 24, 2016
Lancelot Links Looks for the Ladder
I had the vertical version of this poster on my wall for about a year in the mid-1980s.
I was on vacation last Thursday when my fellow Minneapolitan, and fellow graduate of Bryant Junior High School, Prince Rogers Nelson, died at the age of 57. Here are a few articles worth checking out. I'll keep adding to them as I come across them.
- Via Romenesko, the headlines from around the world.
- The New York Times' obit by Jon Parales.
- “He was ours”: My friend Jim Walsh was with Prince 12 weeks before his death.
- This one really hit home for me: Steve Fennessy in Atlanta Magazine on “Prince and My Evolution,” about middle class white kids confronting all the contradictions of his Purple Badness in 1984.
- A must-read: a great oral history of Prince via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
- Even the sportswriters had to say something. Joe Posnanski on why Prince's was the only Super Bowl halftime show that mattered.
- But mostly we've been hearing from the musicians: Members of Pearl Jam said Prince was the greatest guitarist they'd ever seen.
- Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top spent two hours talking guitar-playing with Prince and walked away mesmerized.
- Paul Westerberg has some of my favorite quotes. Among them: “He may have been a little more normal than he would've liked people to know. That's the treasure that we got, to be able to sit in the big atrium where you're taking a break and Prince shuffles by in his slippers and makes some popcorn in the microwave.”
- City Pages posted one of the last photos of Prince: biking to work at Paisley Park.
- And all the world turned purple.
- And sang.
- And sang.
- Jim Walsh finds a long-lost note from Prince in his basement.
- The Minnesota Daily finds its long-lost article about Prince from 1978.
- Suzanne Vega finds the letter Prince wrote her after the release of “Luka.”
- YouTube: Questlove sets up a ping-pong match between Jimmy Fallon and his Purple Badness.
- An insane Prince discography: chronologically.
Saturday April 23, 2016
How to Get Ahead: Shmethics
In his memoir, “As Time Goes By,” Howard Koch, the writer of, among other movies, “Sergeant York” and “Casablanca” as well as the radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” tells the story of fellow screenwriter Jerry Wald. Seems he met the brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein when they were young college grads trying to make it in Hollywood. They had wit and style. Koch writes:
Jerry stowed them away in a modest Hollywood apartment where he brought them movie ideas, mostly garnered from newspapers or other periodicals, which they constructed into screenplays. He paid them each $25 a week, barely enough to live on at the time, while Jerry's salary at Warners skyrocketed to the $1,000-a-week range, mostly on the strength of their borrowed efforts. Jerry didn't tell the Epsteins that their stories were being produced, nor did he invite them onto the lot. [He kept] them slaving away on his behalf.
One day, the Epsteins went to the theater, saw one of their scripts on the screen, got wise. Jig was up. And Jerry?
Was he fired? Was he even reprimanded? On the contrary, he was promoted to the status of producer, in fact eventually one of the leading producers of the industry.
Because it's just about hard work, as FOX News tells us.
Friday April 15, 2016
Rod Carew Tries On My Glove, 1970
A few facts and vague memories:
- I'm the kid in the pink shirt in the center. It's my glove Rodney Cline is trying on.
- I think I was embarrassed by the pink shirt—not the color but the collar. I wanted to be wearing a T-shirt like my older brother (offering his glove to Carew).
- I was slightly embarrassed by the glove. I hadn't worked it in properly, and I had small hands, so the pinkie finger for the glove was particularly closed off. I think Rod made some mention of that. I think he counseled me on how to break it in better.
- It was a Stan Bahnsen glove that was bought for me at Korner Plaza in Richfield, Minn. A bit of irony, given my current feelings about the Yankees.
- Can you believe they didn't have any Twins gloves at Korner Plaza? None. No Killebrew, Oliva, Tovar, Carew. I mean Stan Effin' Bahnsen? You kidding me?
- It was Camera Day, Met Stadium, Bloomington, Minn., circa 1970.
- We have no idea who these other kids in the photo are.
- Nothing like a baseball stadium.
Friday April 15, 2016
Box Office: 5 Lessons from the First 3 Months of 2016
Nothing says “January box office” like movie stars dunked in frigid waters.
1. Pick a memorable title.
Turns out the movie that grossed the least while being distributed in more than 3,000 theaters was “The Finest Hours,” which managed $27.5 million in 3,143 theaters in January—just a notch below “Zoolander 2,” which grossed $28.8 in 3,418 theaters in February. “Zoolander” I had no trouble placing, but ... “Finest Hours”? Worse, I'd seen its trailer incessentantly in the fall. Oh right, that Chris Pine, Boston Coast Guard thingee. Men fighting big, cold waves; the woman who loves him fighting the uncaring bureaucracy. It probably never would've done well but a title that has weight, that people can remember, might've helped.
2. Shitty sequels to shitty movies generally mean shitty box office.
Here's the domestic #s for the three “Kung Fu Panda” movies: $215, $165, $141.
“Ride Along” did $135, “Ride Along 2,” $90. “Olympus Has Fallen” managed $99, “London Has Fallen” fell to $60.
“Zoolander,” which I always thought overrated, never did much business in 2000, $45 mil, but “2” did just $28. Unadjusted.
My favorite is the “Divergent” series, which was supposed to be the new “Hunger Games.” It disappointed when it opened with just $150. The second one disappointed further: $130. And this one? $62. The fourth (and last) is scheduledl for next year. How low can you go?
3. Are Conservative Christian films dead?
In the spring of 2014, the tepid “Heaven is for Real” grossed $90 mil, the insipid “God's Not Dead” grossed $60, and the European miniseries resurrected as a feature film, “Son of God,” grossed $59. So the moneychangers flocked to the temples.
This spring? Not exactly hosannas. “Miracles from Heaven” did OK biz, $54, but “Risen,” with Joseph Fiennes, in a story similar to “Hail, Caesar!”'s (Roman tribune is converted) managed only $36. After two weeks, “God's Not Dead 2” is sputtering at $15 mil, while “The Young Messiah,” released in February, hardly got out of the manger: $6 mil.
Christian moviegoers: Why have you deserted him?
4. Stars schmars.
Anyone see the Natalie Portman movie, “Jane Got a Gun”? Or Sasha Baron Cohen's “The Brothers Grimsby”? Of course not. They grossed $1.5 and $6.8, respectively. Do I add “Dirty Grandpa” with Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, to the list? It did better, $35, but is that total worth it? For the ickiness factor?
5. Make better movies.
All of these movies sucked. Every one of them was deemed rotten, or way rotten, on the Rotten Tomatoes site—with one exception: “The Finest Hours,” which managed a 63%. Which brings us back to the first lesson.
Thursday April 14, 2016
Lancelot Links with a Walkoff Win
- Who knew “Mark Trail” was still a thing? Who knew anyone liked it? Who knew Jeff Moravec and Kevin Cannon could create such a lovely, straightforward tribute?
- Can we believe in the Mariners again? by Art Thiel. Great title, great story, great writer. My answer? Talk to me in July.
- Related: Geof Baker of The Seattle Times with a piece on a NY company that measures fan loyalty. In last place for MLB this year? You got it. The Times headline needs work: “When it comes to loyalty, Mariners fans sorely lacking.” How about: “After 15 years of futility, M's fans last place in loyalty.”
- Even more related: David Schoenfield shows statistically that Felix Hernandez is the unluckiest pitcher alive. I.e., in his career he's had 45 starts where he gave up zero or 1 run and didn't get a win out of it.
- *I* got lucky, though: My first game of the season was a 4-2 walkoff win over Texas in 10: Touch 'em all, Dae-Ho Lee.
- It's even better in Korean.
- This is from last fall but I just saw it and fell in love: Hamilton's Angelica, Renée Elise Goldsberry, lip-syncing the Schuyler Sisters rap with, as the Schuyler sisters, the three King George IIIs: Bryan d'Arcy James (Eliza), Jonathan Groff (Angelica) and Andrew Rannels (“and Peggy”). Fun! This is how you lip-sync, Hollywood.
- These come and go quickly from YouTube, but some nice half or quarter scenes from “Hamilton” here.
- Sigh. Someone had to do it eventually and the winner is the New York Times: Just how accurate is 'Hamilton'? You can start with none of the founding fathers being black. But overall, the argument sounds like any argument in any history dept.
- The trailer is out for “David Brent: Life on the Road.” So perfectly painful.
- How cool is Ant Man's reaction to Captain America? Psst, DC: This is how you do it.
- Sarah Larson of The New Yorker follows around Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy as the two former SCTV stars promote their award-winning Canadian TV series “Schitt's Creek.” BTW: “Schitt's” is on Amazon Prime. P and I have watched the first three episodes. Much recommended.
- My friend Motoko Rich has a piece in The New York Times on how Hollywood portrays teachers. Basically it's two extremes: buffoons (for upper-middle-class white kids) or saviors (for poverty-stricken minority kids). The latter is how we want teachers to be, the former how we remember it or experience it.
- Vox uses metacritic to attempt to quantify good and bad acting. A fun exercise if not exactly shocking. Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Fassbender are good, Adam Sandler and Ashton Kutcher are not. But there are a few surprises: John C. Reilly, for example. It's also less “bad acting” than “actors in bad movies.”
- Ross Barkan, political reporter for the New York Observer, has quit his job over his paper's cozy relationship with Donald Trump. Meaning: 1) the paper is one of two to actually endorse Trump, and that's chiefly because, 2) the owner is Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Yay for democracy.
- Meanwhile, most Republicans are distancing themselves from Trump as if he's an aberration. Not so fast, says Jonathan Chait.
Sunday April 10, 2016
Box Office: Melissa McCarthy Beats Up Batman and Superman
Superman can't stay aloft.
Expect a lot of similar headlines for the weekend's box office, in which McCarthy's “The Boss” debuted at $23.48 million, beating the third weekend of “Batman v Superman,” which fell another 54.3% to $23.43 million.
Obviously it's a squeaker, and those positions could reverse when the actuals come in tomorrow. Besides, a more accurate headline would read something like:
Auds Opt for New Crappy Comedy over Older, Shitty Superhero Movie
“Boss” got 18% on Rotten Tomatoes; “BvS” 29%. And as I wrote yesterday, that's higher than it really deserves.
Meanwhile, “Zootopia” (98%) stayed strong, earning another $14 mil in its sixth weekend, for third place. It's now grossed $852 million worldwide, the biggest global hit of the year, followed by “BvS” at $783.5 and “Deadpool” at $755.
“Deadpool” (83%) is still the 2016 b.o. champ in the U.S., where it's grossed $358 vs. $296 each for “Zootopia” and “BvS.”
“Batman v Superman” isn't a disaster but there are a lot of indicators that everyone is pretty much turned off, and that doesn't bode well for next year's “Justice League” movie. Here, for example, is a chart of how the movie has done each weekend:
|Batman v Superman||$$||Drop||Place|
The key is that last column. Its opening weekend was the 7th-best opening weekend ever, its second weekend the 32nd-best second weekend ever, and this weekend it had the 63rd-best third weekend ever. Which, right, is nothing to sneeze at. But quality blockbusters don't drop like rocks like that. That Superman can't stay aloft should be a little embarrassing. And that a pairing of Batman and Superman, the two most famous superheroes in the world, can't stay aloft should be earth-shattering for Warner Bros., since it indicates hundreds of millions of dollars that won't be made in box office, and that again, or times two, in merchandising.
Here are a few insider comments from Kim Masters' recent piece in The Hollywood Reporter:
“The biggest problem,” says the head of a rival studio, “is that it is not turning [DC] into Marvel. The audience has communicated, as have the critics.” One agent notes BvS likely won't get to $1 billion despite launching the universe with “two of the most iconic characters in history.” Pointing out that Jurassic World pulled in $1.67 billion globally, he continues, “you can't tell me Batman v. Superman is so much less valuable.”
So #FireZackSnyder? Nope:
Sources with firsthand knowledge of the situation say the studio has no such plans [to change producers/directors]. One says the filmmakers naturally will evaluate what went wrong with BvS, but when it comes to Justice League, “we're not going to take a movie that's supposed to be one thing and turn it into a copycat of something else.”
Warner Bros. is doubling down on the dumb. I guess it's all they've got at the moment.
Saturday April 09, 2016
The False Positives in the 29% Rotten Tomatoes Rating of 'Batman v Superman'
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' currently has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is rotten indeed, but I got curious about those critics that liked it. As in: What exactly did they like about it?
That's what I went searching for, but I found something else.
Yes, a few of the positive reviews are positive:
- “Unfairly maligned, Snyder's dark vision is impressive and starkly different from the competition. The plot is perhaps too ambitious but the film delivers more often than it doesn't with Affleck's Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot being highlights.” — Chris Bumbray, JoBlo's Movie Emporium
But many sound like shrugs:
- “You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have a Zack Snyder film.” — Wesley Lovell, Cinema Sight
- “Above all of it's [sic] flaws, what works in Batman v Superman is enough to please the less demanding audiences.” -- Cuauhtémoc Ruelas, Tijuaneo
While a few are so negative they make you wonder what a critic has to say to give a movie a thumbs down:
- “Unfortunately, director Zach [sic] Snyder's scattershot, overly complicated and hugely drawn-out exposition depletes the story of all its fun and power, reducing his leads to impotent cranks.” - Roe McDermott, Hot Press
- “While the actors and the show are worth [sic] of a superhero film, it sacrifices the humanity of the characters and drowns in endless videogame sequences that ultimately leave us an emptiness and without amazement. Totally numb.” -- Mario P. Székely
A few of these were translated (poorly) from the Spanish. Maybe that's how they got translated into positive reviews, too: poorly.
Saturday April 09, 2016
The Reality TV Candidate
Again, from Gabriel Sherman's New York Magazine piece, “Operation Trump: Inside the most unorthodox campaign in political history”:
One factor that's been particularly crucial to Trump's rise may be the way that reality television, cable news, and talk radio have shaped the culture's sense of “reality” — in other words, its relationship to truth. If Ronald Reagan showed us that Hollywood was good training for politics, Trump is proving that the performance skills one learns in the more modern entertainment arenas are even more useful. Talk and reality shows are improvised operations, mastered by larger-than-life personalities expert at distorting and provoking, shifting and commandeering attention.
Even before this, I kept thinking of Reagan: how often Trump, like Reagan, gets it wrong, and how much, as with Reagan, it doesn't matter. Carl Icahn will be Trump's Sec. of Treasury; well, that's news to Icahn. Paul Ryan keeps calling; news to Ryan. Sherman adds the following almost as an aside, knowing it should be devastating, knowing it isn't at all:
“I don't spend much money,” [Trump] told me. “In New Hampshire, I spent $2 million” — actually $3.7 million — “Bush spent $48 million” — actually $36.1 million — “I came in first in a landslide, he came in sixth” — actually fourth. “Who do you want as your president?”
Reagan was the first to master this type of “big picture”/“wrong facts” successful political campaign: trees causing more pollution than cars; praising events that only happened in movies; trickle-down economics; ketchup as a vegetable. Like in a movie, facts didn't matter; feeling did. He also played the white race card over and over again. (See: “welfare queen.”)
Trump, of course, is expanding upon all of these—but with reality-TV loutishness rather than “B”-movie Hollywood glamour.
Interestingly, Sherman sees a Trump almost wistful about his reality-TV days: wishing he could go back to them, wishing he could stop this crazy thing. He's still in the game, though; and if he's in the game, he has to play to win. It's as if Trump, too, is hoping to wake from the nightmare he's created.
Saturday April 09, 2016
What Liberal Hollywood? Trump's 'Air Force One' Entrance
Being all “What Liberal Hollywood?” like I am, this quote from Hope Hicks, 27, Donald Trump’s campaign spokesperson, in Gabriel Sherman’s profile of Trump campaign headquarters in New York Magazine, caught my eye:
“Look at the rally we did in Mesa, Arizona, December 16th,” added Hicks. “That was the first one when we pulled the plane in and ‘Air Force One’ [the theme song of the 1997 movie starring Harrison Ford] was playing. It’s efficient. It’s for branding ... ”
Again. Again the right-wing uses the tropes of Hollywood even as it condemns Hollywood.
Off the top of my head:
- Donald Trump goes for the music of “Air Force One.” (“Get off my plane!”/”Get out of my country!”)
- The NRA makes its pitch for more guns: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
- John McCain during the 2008 election: “I’m like Jack Bauer.”
- W., post 9/11, on bin Laden: “There’s an old poster out west that I recall that said: ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’”
- Reagan: “I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers: ‘Go ahead, Make my day.’”
The GOP is so insubstantial and absolutist now, it's more like a competing studio than a political party. It's just having a little trouble with its leading man. Casting calls are going out.
Friday April 08, 2016
Michael Shannon by Anthony Lane
Came across this nice description reading Lane's review of Jeff Nichols' new film, “Midnight Special”:
The actor Michael Shannon appears in all four [of Nichols'] films, starring in three of them, and, if you seek a reliable guide to Nichols's work, consider Shannon's face. Smiles do not become it; the mouth tightens, by reflex, to a crinkled line, and once, in “Take Shelter,” it gapes wide in a terrible and soundless O, as the hero wakes from a nightmare. The eyes, not quite matched, are set far apart in a square and noble head, which feels too heavy with care to be borne upon his shoulders. Although he is rangy and tall, anxiety freights him down, or brings him to a devastated halt. Shannon does not look alien, exactly, but never, even in company, do his characters seem like happy members of the human tribe.
Lane found the movie flawed but resonant. He would like to see it again, “to revel anew in its group portrait of those who are haunted by the will to believe.”
Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”
Friday April 08, 2016
Why Did Martians Land in Grovers Mill, NJ?
A monument in Grovers Mill, NJ.
From Howard Koch, a New York playwright hired by Mercury Theater to write Orson Welles' radio plays in 1938, in his memoir, “As Time Goes By”:
For my third assignment a novella was handed to me—H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds—with instructions from Orson to dramatize it in the form of news bulletins and first-person narration. Reading the story, which was set in England and written in a different narrative style, I realized I could use very little but the author's idea of a Martian invasion and his description of their appearance and their machines. In short, I was being asked to write an almost entirely original play in six days. I called [producer John] Houseman, pleading to have the assignment change to another subject. He talked to Orson and called back. The answer was a firm “no.” It was Orson's favorite project.
On Monday, my one day off, I made a quick trip up the Hudson Valley to visit my family. On the way back it occurred to me I needed a map to establish the location of the first Martian arrivals. I drove into a gas station and, since I was on route 9W where it goes through part of New Jersey, the attendant gave me a map of that state.
Back in New York starting to work, I spread out the map, closed my eyes and put down the pencil point. It happened to fall on Grovers Mill. I liked the sound; it had an authentic ring. Also it was near Princeton where I could logically bring in the observatory and the astronomer Prof. Pierrson, who became a leading character in the drama, played by Orson. Up to then hardly anyone had ever heard of this small hamlet surrounded by farmland; overnight the name of Grovers Mill was heard around the world.
There's a great description of Koch going to bed early on Sunday night, Oct. 30, 1938, waking up early, and, on his walk to the barbershop on 72nd street, hearing passersby talk of “invasion,” and “panic.” He assumed the worst: Some European country falling to Hitler's Germany. It was his barber who corrected him. How odd would that be? Your words causing mass hysteria?
Koch, gentlemanly and circumspect in his writing, keeps finding hysteria. “War of the Worlds” led to Hollywood, where he wrote, or helped write, “Casablanca,” “Sergeant York,” “The Letter,” and “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” among others. But he was also tapped to write “Mission to Moscow,” a whitewashing of the Soviet Union when they were our allies during World War II, and as a result he was fingered by the man who tapped him, Jack Warner, before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He was one of the original “Hollywood 19.” He was subsequently blacklisted and fled to Europe, where he and his wife continued to be hounded by the U.S. government.
Thursday April 07, 2016
Famous Last Words: Jimmy Dykes
“If you ask me, he'll be out of the league by June. I don't think he can hit .240.”
--Jimmy Dykes, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, during spring training 1954, about a young, highly touted Chicago Cubs infielder named Ernie Banks. Taken from “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever,” by Bill Madden.
Thursday April 07, 2016
Lancelot Links Makes America Great Again
- Author Gabriel Sherman, who is used to loud voices, takes us inside the Trump campaign, which is small, inexperienced, douchey and massively successful. That Wall of Shame in his headquarters? There should be a lot more people on it.
- The call for “Open Carry” at the GOP Convention? That actually originated from gun-control advocates—pushing the Republican policy to its logical (read: illogical) conclusion. Adam Gopnik applauds and cries “Encore!”
- A quick history of the Panama Papers, the 11.5-million-file leak from Mossack Fonseca, the fourth-biggest biggest offshore law firm, via The Guardian, that exposes the private financial activities of the rich and powerful. A lot of the trails are covered up, but many lead to specific people like Vladimir Putin. Not to mention Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. More, please. MF (nice acronym) is only fourth-biggest, after all.
- Paul Krugman points out that Obama's approval ratings are rising, and he feels it's because 1) the GOP is showing us what shitty leaders look like, and 2) his policies have been successful.
- Benedict Cumberbatch was filming “Dr. Strange” in New York, so what did he do? Stopped by a comic book store for research. Oh, and he also looks perfect in the role.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who turned a biography of one of the founding fathers into the biggest Broadway musical of the century, is asked by The New York Times what he reads. Turns out he reads a lot. He's reading like he's running out of time.
- If you've been paying attention, you can't help but notice that Netflix has fewer and fewer movies in its catalogue. Apparently this is a feature not a bug. It's also why I'm watching more on Amazon Prime—not to mention returning to Scarecrow Video to get the movies that nobody has.
- Indiewire has a new critic. Here's Jeff Wells' slow, backhanded clap. Agree with Wells on every one of these points.
- Omer Mozzafer picks his favorite Roger Ebert review: “Milk Money” from 1994. I didn't even know this thing existed. Anyway, it's a good review.
- Vox gives us 19 Nonsensical, Idiotic Things in the “Batman v Superman” movie. What's interesting is how many of them boil down to: This character has no motivation for what they're doing, and that's why we're bored.
- In the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza really breaks down the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders divide better than almost anyone.
Wednesday April 06, 2016
Bryce Harper's Clown Cap, Bro
Here's the cap:
And here's his reasons for wearing the cap. It's basically an argument with baseball traditionalists:
“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I'm going to go, 'Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.' That's what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It's exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It's that flair. The dramatic.”
Now I'm a Minnesotan, so bound by law to be a fan of the nondescript. When I was growing up in the days of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, the Bud Grant-led Minnesota Vikings didn't even spike the ball; they just dropped it in the end zone like it was their job. I always liked that. Plus Cam Newton? Ewww. I'm a Seattleite now, so pick a Seahawk if you want me on board. Richard Sherman. Michael Bennett. Marshawn Lynch.
Even so, I'm not averse to what Bryce is saying. But the cap? Let me count the ways it's a bad idea:
- Baseball is already fun. Isn't it?
- I mean, didn't you watch the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals?
- Hey, how about that Eric Hosmer slide?
- Lorenzo Cain going first to home on a single? Twice? You try that sometime.
- Or the 7th inning of that Texas-Toronto ALDS?
- Or Joe Posnanski's write-up about it?
- Besides, that cap is waaaaaay too similar to Donald Trump's.
- Seriously, it's a clown cap, bro.
- More seriously: Why would you imply that your multimillion-dollar job playing a boy's game isn't fun? You do know what most people do for a living, right?
On the plus side? Since Harper wants to be demonstrative, and wear his hair crazy, and make baseball “fun again,” he's that much less likely to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2018 season.
Tuesday April 05, 2016
Dreaming of ‘Hamilton’
I‘ll see you in my dreams. Or not.
Last night I dreamed that “Hamilton” was touring and playing in Minneapolis, so P and I visited the Twin Cities to see it. We hooked up with my old college roommate and his wife, who knew less about the musical but were game; they went along on my say-so.
The theater was crowded and chaotic. It felt like a movie theater in that the afternoon show was leaving as we were arriving. I ran into an old bookstore friend, who was dressed in an odd outfit (he’d always been odd), and he told me the touring show wasn't great. I kept thinking, “I don't want to know this.” It felt like spoilers.
We were staying in a hotel above the theater, and I was in our room fixing a drink, and thinking of watching it all on TV, when I began to hear the opening strains of the overture from below: Dun de-de-de dun dun.... And I'm like, “Wait. TV??? We came all this way to see the play. I need to be down there.” But then I had to go to the bathroom. And then I couldn't find the key to our room. And then I couldn't fit the key into the door. The hallway was crowded and people were watching, and I seemed to be bending the key out of shape to try to get it to work (Freudians, have at), and all the while I kept thinking, “I'm missing it, I'm missing it...”
One of those awful anxiety dreams. Dreaming like I'm running out of time.
I had another “Hamilton” dream about a month ago. In that one, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself gave me tix to the Broadway show. P and I were already in New York, and the tix were for six days in the future—on the other side of the New Year—so we had to rearrange our schedules to make it all work. That, too, became an anxiety dream about where to stay, where was our stuff, etc.
In neither dream did I see the musical. So even in my dreams I don't get to see “Hamilton.”
Tuesday April 05, 2016
Movie Review: Blockade (1938)
“Blockade,” the only Hollywood feature film about the Spanish Civil War to be released during the Spanish Civil War, has been called an espionage thriller and a romance, but it’s really a “Whose Side Are You On?” movie. Will Norma, the once-wealthy Russian art dealer (Madeleine Carroll of “The 39 Steps”), come over to the side of Marco, the simple farmer/soldier played by Henry Fonda? Or will she betray his cause for the security and power of Andre Gallinet (a delicious John Halliday)?
We know the answer. And not just because the screenplay was written by John Howard Lawson, head of the Hollywood division of the American Communist Party.
Despite that lineage, by the way, “Blockade” has been whitewashed of almost every political reference. Civil war? The enemy seems external rather than internal. Spain? Never mentioned. So Hollywood’s great Spanish Civil War movie doesn’t mention Spain or a civil war. Yet The Knights of Columbus still considered it communist propaganda and picketed theaters. Here’s a snippet of the review from Catholic News, via Thomas Doherty’s book “Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939":
The Trojan horse is dragged within the walls! It’s a plea for peace, but peace at the Reds’ price!
Instead we got war at the fascists' price: about 50 million lives, more or less.
Oxen Express to Castlemar
The movie opens with Fonda as the poet/peasant Marco speaking with his friend Luis (Leo Carrillo), who is lazier and strumming a guitar, about the glory of farming and the beauty of the earth. “This belongs to us, Luis, and nothing can take it from us,” he says. Then bombs fall, villagers flee, but Marco rallies everyone: “No, we’ve always lived in this valley! ... This is our land!” and turns the tide. It also sets up a stalemate, and the titular blockade.
Marco and Norma meet cute before the bombs. She crashes her car, and Marco and Luis tow it for her to Castlemar—Luis on the oxen, Marco in the passenger’s seat. He flirts with her, quotes Byron. She says with a light laugh, “I’ve traveled on the Rome Express and the Orient Express but nothing can compare to the Oxen Express to Castlemar. I’ll never forget it.” He (enraptured as only Henry Fonda can be enraptured) respoinds, without a trace of a laugh, “I won’t, either.”
His early battle heroics make him a lieutenant on the good side, where he’s forced to wear a cloth cap with absurd tassel while ferreting out traitors. And it's not just him. We see a sign hanging in a bar:
DO NOT DISCUSS MILITARY MATTERS WITH STRANGERS
BEWARE OF SPIES
One of those is Norma’s father, who tries to trick Marco with the gun-in-the-shoe ploy, but Marco drops the old man. Norma discovers the body, and the killer, and the two lovers are distraught. At one point she gives this speech, which isn't a bad speech:
I was born in the Russian Revolution. My mother was killed with me in her arms in front of my father’s eyes. He took me to Budapest. There were guns in the streets and men marching. We escaped at night. China, South America, back to Shanghai. You think you’re fighting for your country but I know better, because I never had a country. My father followed any flag for the danger of it. [Pause] I never know how old and gray he was until I saw him die. He wanted a house and a garden. But that’s finished. You finished it. With one little bullet.
That’s much of the movie: He’s in love but a good soldier; she’s in love but he killed her father. Plus Andre Gallinet is so much more interesting.
Norma turns to the good side less for Fonda than for starving children and the women who lost them. Then she and Marco flush the rats from high places.
Happy ending? Not quite.
The conscience of the world
The bad guys are caught, sure, but the war goes on; and Marco, in classic Henry Fonda fashion, condemns it all in a Big Speech:
Our country's been turned into a battlefield! There’s no safety for old people and children. Women can't keep their families safe in their houses, they can't be safe in their own fields! Churches, schools, hospitals are targets! It's not war. War is between soldiers! It's murder! Murder of innocent people! There's no sense to it. The world can stop it. Where's the conscience of the world?
This last sentence, the last line of the film, is spoken less to other characters than to the camera—to us. That’s Lawson at his most strident, and he’s definitely getting at something, but it’s hardly the propaganda the Knights of Columbus made it out to be. Every anti-Fascist message isn't a pro-communist message. As itself, the movie is about defending your homeland. Ideology doesn’t factor in. And God and churches are plentiful. Even Joseph Breen, the Hays Office censor, thought the protests were a little cracked. “I have also heard from a number of Catholics,” he wrote to a co-censor, Father Lord, “many of them priests, who write and ask, ‘What is all of the shouting about?’”
In the end, “Blockade” lost money, the Fascists won Spain, and Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled until 1975, when his death became a running joke on “Saturday Night Live.” Meanwhile, the movie’s producer, Walter Wanger, a longtime proponent of liberal causes, sold out his communist screenwriter, Lawson, not to mention the rest of the Hollywood 10, in a 1947 meeting before the Screenwriters Guild. Where’s the conscience of the world? Right about there.
The conscience of the world.
Monday April 04, 2016
John Oliver Tears the Yankees a New One
On his “Last Week Tonight” show last night, John Oliver had a bit about the opening of the Major League Baseball season and the wonders that await us. A Cubs championship? Ichiro's 3,000th hit? A not-great Phillies Phanatic joke?
Then it got good:
There is only one thing, however, that we can all be absolutely sure of this season, and that is that the New York Yankees will continue finding ways to look like the biggest elitist assholes in all of sports.
What's fascinating is that it's not the usual elitist assholish behavior from the Yanks. It's not:
- spending more money than any other team by far (they're No. 2 to the Dodgers)
- assuming the best young players on marginal teams will be theirs (although Yank fans already assume Bryce Harper will wind up in pinstripes)
- winning championships (they're in a dry spell for them: one title in 15 years)
It's none of that. This elitist assholish behavior from the Yanks involves dissing their own fans.
They have a new policy that prevents fans from printing tickets at home. When fans complained that it would be harder to resell tickets online, Lonn Trost, the Yankees COO, whom I've actually spoken with (see: this article from 10 years ago), suggested this wasn't a bad thing, since the rich premium customers wouldn't necessarily want to sit next to, you know, the rabble. He said the following:
He might not know how to act, Trost intimated. He might not know the proper way to dress. He might disturb the Yanks traditional premium club clientele.
The true beauty is what Oliver's show decided to do about it: They bought two premium tix for the first three Yankees games, and are selling them for 25 cents apiece to the person who looks least like they've sat in a premium seat before. Brilliant.
You can see the whole thing here.
Monday April 04, 2016
Opening Day 2016: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: My favorite story about Opening Day comes via Joe Posnanski (who else?). One year, Moe Dabrowsky, a Chicago Cubs pitcher in the 1950s, ran onto Wrigley Field on Opening Day to see a fan holding up a sign: “Wait 'Til Next Year.” I kinda feel that way about the M's. But it's Opening Day (traditionally speaking), and we're required by law to believe all teams are strong, good-looking and above average. So let's check out the active leaders. Warning: Expect to see a lot of A-Rod.
BATTING AVERAGE: Miggy is known for clout but he's been the A.L. batting champion for four of the last five years, too. He's also the active leader with a .321 career average. The next three are former active leaders on the downhill side. Ichiro has gone from .333 in 2007 to .313 now; Pujols, a career .325 hitter in 2012, is currently at .312; and Joltin' Joe Mauer, .323 in 2013, is .312 today.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's .423 OBP is the 14th-best in baseball history. No active player is close. No active player is even over .400. Miggy is second at .399.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Albert leads this one by 18 points (.580 to .562 for Miggy), ninth-best all-time. But he used to be fourth-best, behind only Ruth, Williams and Gehrig, when he was slugging .628 in 2009. That's right: In six years, he's dropped 50 slugging points. And he has six more years on his contract, Angels fans.
OPS: Similar story here. In 2009, Albert's 1.055 lifetime OPS was fourth-best all-time. Now he's at .977, 10th-best all-time. Then it goes Miggy (.961), Votto (.957), A-Rod (.937).
GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: Only eight players have ever played in 3,000 games, and A-Rod is 281 away at 2,719. Can he do it? He says he's going to retire after the 2017 season, which means he has to average 141 games per year. Last year he played in 151, so it's possible. After A-Rod, it goes Beltre/Ichiro for games and at-bats, and Ichiro/Beltre for hits. Ichiro is 65 away from 3,000. All former M's, btw.
DOUBLES: David Ortiz starts out his final season as the active leader in doubles only because he out-doubled Albert last season, 37 to 22, putting him one ahead lifetime: 584 to 583. That's 18th-best all-time. If Papi hits 25 more this year he'll wind up 11th-all-time. Impressive. But the M's did get a month and a half of Dave Hollins.
TRIPLES: Carl Crawford has been the active leader in this category since 2010 when he had 105. The next season he hit seven more. Then the inevitable slowdown with age: 2, 3, 3, and 2, for a grand total of 122. Jose Reyes is second (117), Ichiro third (91). Carl is 96th all-time. Another Crawford, Wahoo Sam, is the career leader with 309. An unbreakable record.
HOMERUNS: A-Rod is about to become just the fourth man in baseball history to hit 700 homeruns—he's 13 away—but not much ballyhoo. Yes, PEDs. Yes, people don't like him. But this should be a bigger story. Then it goes Albert (560), Ortiz (503), Beltre (413), Cabrera (408). Can you guess the active HR leader still in his 20s? A surprise to me.
RBIs, RUNS: A-Rod is eighth all-time in runs with 2,002, and fourth all-time in RBIs with 2,055. No active player is within 350 of him in either category. Another 21 RBIs, by the way, and he'll move past Cap Anson into third place, with only Ruth (2,214) and Aaron (2,297) ahead of him.
Ks, BBs: A-Rod is the active leader in both of these, but he excels in the K's: He's fifth all-time there with 2,220, and only 39th in walks (1,324). On the active list, Ryan Howard is second in Ks with 1,729, while David Ortiz is second in BBs with 1,239. BTW: Not many free free passes for A-Rod: he has only 97 intentional walks. Even Ichiro has more than that. Ichiro!
STOLEN BASES: Speaking of: Last year Ichiro needed 13 SBs to get to 500, and he got 11. Barring tragedy, he'll get there this year. Or this month. He'll be the 38th man to do so. Carl Crawford, at 480, and Jose Reyes, at 479, will be No.s 39 and 40. Then there's not much: Michael Bourn and A-Rod tied for fourth with 326. I feel the need for some speed, MLB.
WINS: In the modern era, we've never had an active leader with fewer than 200 wins—Bunning/Drysdale, 209 wins in 1969, was closest—but that might end soon. Tim Hudson retired with 222 wins, Mark Buehrle (214 wins) is pondering same, while current active leaders Bartolo Colon (218) and C.C. Sabathia (214) aren't getting any younger. After them, it's John Lackey with 165. Of the kids, King Felix has managed 143 wins despite pitching for a unnamed team with a pretty crappy offense.
LOSSES: This is also Bartolo, with 154, followed by Bronson Arroyo (131), C.C. Sabathia (129), John Lackey (127) and Jake Peavy (117). Interesting stat: Fernando Rodney, who never started a game in his career, who almost always enters a game with the lead, has nearly as many losses (55) as Clayton Kershaw (56).
STRIKEOUTS: Onetime Yankee ace and current fifth starter C.C. Sabathia is on top with 2,574, with Colon second (2,237). But roaring up into third place is Felix Hernandez with 2,142. Expect him to be king soon.
BASES ON BALLS: Once again, it goes C.C. (894), then Bartolo (856). On the all-time list, CC's walks are nothing: 163rd, tied with Bob Friend. In fact, this year is the first time the active walks leader is below 1,000 since Walter Johnson had 937 walks at the start of the 1921 season. Aren't batters walking more? This seems counterintuitive in the Moneyball era.
ERA: Clayton Kershaw led this stat last year with an astonishing 2.48 career ERA. Then he improved upon it. He's now at 2.43. Adam Wainwright is half a run behind at 2.98, following by Big Madison Bumgarner at 3.03, David Price at 3.09, and King Felix at 3.11.
INNINGS PITCHED: If Mark Buehrle doesn't come back this year, for the first time in the modern era the active leader in innings pitched will be under 3,000: C.C. at 2,988.2, following by Bartolo at 2,980.2. Just a few years ago we had a 5,000-IP guy (Greg Maddux, 13th all-time), and even more recently we had a bunch of 4,000-IP guys (Roger, Randy, Jamie), so this is all quite new.
COMPLETE GAMES: Give C.C. credit: A bad year last year, but he still managed another C.G. to go up to 38. But give Bartolo credit, too. At 41, he managed another CG to keep pace at 36. Eventually, though, this will be C. Kershaw's, who, at 27, already has 21 CGs.
SHUTOUTS: Bartolo's reign will be shortlived. Last year, he managed another for 13 career, but Clayton Kershaw pitched three more for a total of 12. C.C. also has 12, Felix 11. Not too long ago, we had guys in the 60s (Blyleven, Ryan); then 40s (Clemens), then 30s (Randy), then 20s (Hallady). I could see Kershaw reaching the 20s again. #KnowHope.
SAVES: F-Rod, atop this list with 386 (7th all-time), will always have a place in my heart for destroying the Yankees in the 2002 playoffs. Joe Nathan, who's trying to make a comeback, is second (377), while MVP-choker Jon Papelbon is third (349). Man to watch? Craig Kimbrel, fifth, with 225. He turns 28 in May.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: C.C.'s reign will be short-lived. Since the 2012 season, he's added only .7 for a career 54.1 WAR while King Felix has added 16.4 for a career 49.8 WAR. Then there's the guy in fourth place, Kershaw, who in the same 3-year span has added 22.8 in WAR for 47.2. BTW: Can someone get Kershaw a better nickname? The Claw? Kid K? Please.
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (118.9, 12th all-time, ahead of Lou Gehrig, behind Ted Williams), then Albert (99.7), Beltre (83.8), Beltran (68.4), and Miggie (64.7), who's dinged for his D. Rounding out the top 10: Utley (62.3), Ichiro (58.4), Cano (55.1), Teixeira (52.4), Ortiz (50.4). Of course, in the end, that's not what it's all about.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): This is what it's all about. *FIN*
Sunday April 03, 2016
I Told You, 'He Doesn't Get Superman At All!'
Hate to agree with Hitler, and these have been done to death, but yeah. All of it.
(Except for the “Mad Max” love, of course.)
Sunday April 03, 2016
Box Office: 'Batman v Superman' Drops Big, But Big Enough to Lose Zack?
Do Warner execs hear a bomb about to go off?
In 2013, I wanted “Man of Steel” to succeed at the box office because I wanted Warners to make another Superman movie. And look what that got me.
This weekend helped but not as much as I'd hoped. “Batman v Superman” won the weekend, grossing $52 mil, which is a 68.4% drop, which isn't good but it's not as earth-shatteringly awful as, say, the movie itself. It's not as bad as the last “Harry Potter” movie, for example, which dropped 72% in its second weekend, or any of the “Twilight” movies (69-72%) or “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which fell 69%. So probably not enough to wake Warner execs from their Snyder slumber.
We'll see if those numbers hold when the actuals are released tomorrow.
After 10 days, “Batman v Superman” is now at $261 domestic, which is the 11th-best ever, but short of the “Avengers” streamroller DC was most likely hoping for ($373 for the original, $313 for the sequel). It's also short of “The Dark Knight” ($313). You'd think adding Superman would help box office, but apparently not when you also add Zack Snyder.
“BvS” did have a wide-open field, by the way, as the only movies that debuted were niche products, “God's Not Dead 2” and “Meet the Blacks,” and both got even worse reviews than “BvS” (14% and 20%, respectively, on RT). “God's 2” opened in about 1500 more theaters than the first but grossed $1 million less: $8.1. It's a series that deserves to die. Hey, why not give it to Zack Snyder? Win win.
Looking forward to Richard Linklater's “Everybody Wants Some!!” opening wider next weekend. Because somebody open a window in here.
UPDATE: “BvS”'s actuals were down a bit: $51 mil for a 69.1% drop. So actually even worse than “X-Men: Origins: Wolverine.” We'll see what good it does.
Sunday April 03, 2016
Lancelot Links: Opening Day Edition
- The Kansas City Royals are champions of the world, and Joe Posnanski wonders what lessons can be gleaned from their surprising rise to the top. They're good lessons, by the way, and not limited to baseball.
- The New York Times has taken a photo of Mets fans in utter misery as the Royals' Eric Hosmer slides in with the tying run in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, and interviewed the heartbroken. So, so worth it.
- The Royals had an insane postseason but let's not forget the 53-minute 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers.
- Nor the epic article by Posnanski and Michael Schur about the 53-minute 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers.
- This spring, Posnanski continues to talk about the bat flip for the ages, as well as Bryce Harper's recent comments about how baseball should be more fun, and more demonstrative (but presumably with less neck-choking). A lot of the old guard, like Goose Gossage and Mike Schmidt, disagree with Harper but Posnanski doesn't. And he finds an old guarder who agrees with him: “Our time was our time; it's their time now.”
- Tyler Kepner has a Times piece on the “Endangered Species of Baseball,” which I thought might be: 1) young fans, or 2) African-American centerfielders, but is actually single-season stats players don't touch anymore. Recent ones: 75 stolen bases, 250 IP, 100 relief innings, 20 sac bunts. But what's 40/40 doing here? That was always an outlier—and most likely a PED outlier. Plus Cubs championship? If you're doing recent phenomena, why not a Yankees championship? Just one title since 2000. In Yankees history, that's a drought.
- How about some spring training action? Here, the Twins' Byron Buxton flashes some midseason form in center.
- Speaking of: Via Classic Twins blog, I came across this 22-minute doc on the 1970 Minnesota Twins, which is really the team that introduced me to baseball. It's my team: Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Tovar, Cardenas; Blyleven, Perry, Tiant. I feel such a nostalgic pull seeing this. It's also, admittedly, pretty dull, in the PR spirit of the times, with an odd mid-60s soundtrack (think “Austin Powers”). Sponsored by Midwest Federal!
- A short oral history of how Dan Okrent and Lee Eisenberg discovered Bill James. Let me know when the longer version comes out.
- These days, it seems, Bill James has too much time on his hands. It's portrait of a stats guy doodling.
- Pinstripe Alley, a Yankees blog via Sports Nation, wonders why Hal Steinbrenner is pushing a revisionist history of his father that any fan worth his $15 beer knows is BS.
- More good news from Yankeeland: Hal is also pushing to reduce payroll for the Yanks.
- Who's going to win it all this year? Posnanski is one of many suggesting the 108-year dry spell of the Chicago Cubs is about to end.
- Finally, Josh Wilker, writer, father, “Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” apologist, has a sliver of time on his hands between his day job and parenting, so he writes about an old Ray Fosse baseball card and the possiblilty of boundless skies. And what could be more Opening Day than boundless skies?
Saturday April 02, 2016
Feeling the Bern Out
Last night, a friend on Facebook posted a link to an article in which the author suggested if all else fails Bernie Sanders should run as a third party candidate in November. I didn't click through to the article, just saw the quote pasted above the post. It was late, on a Friday, I'd had some drinks, and I got angry. The three comments below the post pissed me off even more:
- I'm in.
- Whatever it takes for positive change.
- Jill Stein Bernie Sanders ticket? Yes please.
So I added this:
- Please see 2000, Naderites. Jesus Christ.
The “I'm in” responder then responded to that, saying because Bernie won primaries and Nader didn't, mine was “a straw man argument.” Which totally misunderstands “straw man argument.” But I responded anyway. In part:
If Hillary supporters were suggesting a third-party run I would say “Fuck you” to them, and I say it to anyone on Bernie's side as well.
Then I got away from the Internet because who needs that shit.
I woke up this morning still thinking about it. Then I realized what day yesterday was. Of course. April Fools! And I'd been fooled! I kind of laughed and shook my head. I thought, “How could I have fallen for that?” I anticipated all the shit I would get, and what I would say in response.
So I went back on Facebook and ... found out it wasn't an April Fools joke. It was a real article, a real sentiment. People had since added to the post. Thankfully, most were reasonable and on my side. One woman, the “I'm in” woman, was the outlier, with a visceral hatred for Hillary.
All of which is simply lead-in to the quote below from my man Paul Krugman. His post this morning, “Feel the Math,” essentially says, “Nice run, Bernie. Now behave. And get your people to behave, too.” Quote:
Second, it's time for Sanders to engage in some citizenship. The presidency isn't the only office on the line; down-ballot races for the Senate and even the House are going to be crucial. Clinton has been raising money for other races; Sanders hasn't, and is still being evasive on whether he will ever do so. Not acceptable.
Indeed. I know who “them” is. I just hope most of us know who's us.
Saturday April 02, 2016
Yankees Suck, Reason #38, Cont.
Two years ago I posted about the shabby treatment of Vic Power at the hands of the New York Yankees, which appeared to be grooming him to become the team's first black player—roughly seven years after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then ... not so much. They kept him down in the minors for several seasons, and, in December 1953, traded him in a multiplayer deal with the A's (then in Philly), where he made his major league debut on April 13, 1954. A year later, he had a .319/.354/.505 line while playing Gold-Gloveish D. (He wound up winning seven GGs during his career.) And even though the by-then Kansas City A's were essentially a Yankees farm club between 1955 and 1960—shipping to the perennial champs the likes of Roger Maris, Ralph Terry and Hector Lopez—Power stayed in KC.
Because? Racism? Well, the Yankees did bring up Elston Howard, and he made his MLB debut on April 14, 1955—eight years minus one day from the day Jackie broke the color barrier—so some might say it wasn't really racism. But it kinda was.
I'm reading Bill Madden's book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever,” and Madden goes into it a bit. Here's Tom Greenwade, the Yankee scout who signed Mickey Mantle, in a 1960 interview with New York Herald-Tribune's Harold Rosenthal on the Yankees' supposed reluctance to break the color barrier:
The Yankees have never discriminated against Negroes. Our policy has always been: “When we find one good enough, we'll take him.” Vic Power and Rubén Gómez were not the right type. You had to know Power's reputation. He's a bad actor. Chases after white women and stirs up trouble. We had trouble with him in Kansas City [the Yankees' Triple A farm team] and we knew he wasn't going to the Yankees, so we got rid of him. Elston Howard, on the other hand, is a high type of Negro. He was the one we wanted.
Madden's book also details the ways Yankees owner Del Web and GM George Weiss screwed over the supercolorful Bill Veck to keep him from moving the hapless St. Louis Browns to either Milwaukee or Baltimore, or possibly the west coast, opening the door for the Dodgers and Giants to do that. The Browns eventually moved to Baltimore but under different ownership.
Friday April 01, 2016
Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 (2015)
And so it ends with a whimper. Mine.
Yes, we’re finally done with this thing that began four years ago, when we were all so much younger and smarter. Now we can step back and see the glorious arc that is “The Hunger Games” tetralogy:
- Part 1: Katniss becomes reluctant hero.
- Part 2: Katniss becomes reluctant symbol.
- Part 3: Katniss becomes reluctant soldier.
- Part 4: Katniss reluctantly chooses which boy she loves during a revolution.
Did anyone else think about Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” watching this? In “Sleeper,” Woody wakes up in the future, becomes part of a rebellion, led by Erno, against the tyrannical “Leader,” who—Woody finds out—has been completely destroyed save for his nose, which the Powers That Be are saving for a cloning experiment. Woody steals the nose and gets away with the girl, Diane Keaton, who still believes in Erno’s rebellion. At the end, Woody tells her: “Don’t you understand—in six months we’ll be stealing Erno’s nose!”
Erno here is Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of the rebellion, which is being orchestrated by former “Hunger Games” showrunner Plutarch Heavensbee. Since Plutarch is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died two years ago, he can only do so much in this movie. That said, Hoffman dead is still a better actor than Liam Hemsworth alive.
So: Revolution at hand, Coin sends Katniss into the Capitol with a team of favorite TV show characters:
- Remy Danton, “House of Cards”
- Margaery Tyrell, “Game of Thrones”
- Foggy Nelson, “Daredevil”
- Dr. Valentin Narciss, “Boardwalk Empire,” et al.
- Ro Laren, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” et al. (I've missed you)
Plus the two boys she must choose between: Thor’s brother, Gale, who is tall, handsome and dull; and little Peeta, who is forever in need of saving, and who has been brainwashed by the government and now wants to kill Katniss. What’s a girl to do?
Their mission? To film heroics that will incite the masses. It’s also implied that Coin actually wants Katniss dead. One less obstacle to power, she supposes.
The team journeys across empty cityscapes, outraces a flood of oil (don’t ask), are assumed dead, aren’t, hide underground, are attacked by slimy creatures, and in the end Katniss and Gale wear hoodies and join the Capitol folks in the long walkup to the presidential palace, where the evil Pres. Snow (Donald Sutherland, the best thing in the series) is encouraging everyone to gather. Then bombs fall and many people die, including Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who is the reason Katniss sacrificed everything in the first place. The bombs are blamed on Pres. Snow but we find out, bit by bit, that the rebellion did it. It was Coin, who declares herself interim president, sets up a “Hunger Games” for the Capitol’s children, and lets Katniss kill Snow in the public square with bow and arrow. She introduces her, standing on a platform 100 feet behind Snow, right in the line of fire.
You see where this is going, right? Katniss steals Erno’s nose. The mob then kills Snow on its own.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1” is not all horrible. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair is good, but he dies in the tunnels (shame), while Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, also interesting, aren’t given enough to do (again). I love it when Snow is giving a speech but his broadcast is usurped by Pres. Coin—a sign of her power—and she quotes Snow on Katniss: “A face 'picked from the masses' he called her,” she says. “Plucked,” he corrects, if only to himself.
Another good bit: As Peeta recovers, he keeps asking Katniss what’s real/not real. I.e., what truly happened to him and or what was he programmed to believe happened? She keeps telling him: real/not real. Then after all the shit goes down, and Gale reveals himself to be a simple-minded soldier (or something), Katniss winds back in District Whatever with Peeta, and then in bed with Peeta; and since he's a sensitive sort, we get this exchange:
Peeta: You love me: Real or not real?
Katniss: [Pause] Real.
Hey, that's actually a nice ending!
Except it fades back in. Idiots. We fast-forward several years to when Peeta and Katniss have two kids and play with them outdoors. He’s by a stream, she’s under a tree. She looks even more distant than before, less “there.” I guess it’s supposed to be peaceful? She says some unnecessary lines in voiceover. Then “The Hunger Games,” which grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide, finally, mercifully, joins the ranks of The Fallen.