erik lundegaard

Wednesday October 31, 2018

Movie Review: Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018)

Jane Fonda in Five Acts

Act III, scene ii

Last week, Patricia and I watched the HBO doc, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” by Susan Lacy (recommended). The five acts are based upon the men in her life—the men who seem to dictate who she is or what she‘ll become:

  • Act I: Henry Fonda
  • Act II: Roger Vadim
  • Act III: Tom Hayden
  • Act IV: Ted Turner

Act V is the happy ending. She becomes herself. That’s the narrative, the journey of discovery—the late-in-life realization that she doesn't need a man, or need to please a man, and that she's most herself when she's with other women. This narrative isn't without validity. It's just a little neat.

What goes unmentioned? Each man isn't just new: He upends the previous man. He's the opposite of the previous man. Henry Fonda, her father, is the all-American with staunch values and probriety, so, in the ‘60s,  she winds up with Roger Vadim, a licentious Frenchman who isn’t particularly interested in politics, after whom, in the ‘70s, she marries Tom Hayden, wholly interested in politics and in fighting the worst aspects of capitalism, so, of course, in the ’90s, she is wooed and won by super-capitalist Ted Turner.

She doesn't have a “type,” does she? Or her type is the opposite of the previous type.   

In the doc, she makes herself seem like the acted upon in all of this, the controlled, but some part of me wonders if she didn't do some controlling. She got to choose, after all. For all her insecurities, she was Jane Fonda. That counted for something. That always counted for something. 

It's a shame she gave up on Hollywood around the time Hollywood was giving up on her for leading roles. In 1990, she co-starred with Robert De Niro in “Stanley & Iris” then didn't make another movie for 15 years: “Monster in Law” with Jennifer Lopez, when she was 68. One wonders what she might‘ve done if Ted Turner hadn’t come along. The roles she missed out on. What we missed out on.   

It's a shame, too, that the doc was made before #MeToo broke. That would‘ve been an interesting conversation. 

As for Henry? I still remember the GAF commercial he made in the early 1970s. He was doing his usual schpiel, and at the the end, a little girl goes up to him and reverses the definitions. “Aren’t you Jane Fonda's father?” she asks. And he gives the camera a kind of hapless shrug. I always found it charming. I wonder if Jane ever saw it?

Posted at 06:08 AM on Wednesday October 31, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 30, 2018

Movie Review: Hell's Kitchen (1939)


This was Warner Bros.’ third attempt to make this story in the '30s: first with James Cagney in ’33 (“The Mayor of Hell”); second with Humphrey Bogart in ’38 (“Crime School”); and here, in ’39, with Ronald Reagan.

Immediately you go: Wait, what? Cagney to Bogart to ... Reagan? Was Warners trying to make Reagan the next gangster hero or something?

Hell's Kitchen with Ronald Reagan reviewNah. The role Cagney and Bogart played (former tough kid from the neighborhood + social reformer + romantic lead) is broken into parts. The former tough kid is now Buck Caesar (longtime character actor Stanley Fields), who’s a kind of comic-relief Al Capone. The social reform is a necessity: Buck has to go straight and give back to the community or face eight years in the pen. Reagan just gets the romantic lead.

Actually, he’s not even that, since there’s no romance here. There’s just two good-looking people who could be romantic leads. If the story got around to it. But it doesn’t.

So what’s Reagan? He’s Buck’s college-educated nephew and mouthpiece. He’s second banana to the second banana.

I can’t help but think of Jack Warner’s famous line upon hearing Reagan was running for governor of California in 1966: “No, Jimmy Stewart for governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend.” In the 1980s, when this anecdote was constantly bandied about, I thought it meant Reagan was friendly or something. Nah. Warner was actually casting the damn thing. Stewart is your lead, he was saying. Reagan ain’t your lead. He’s never your lead. 

God, if only the rest of us had just listened to Jack Warner.

Street vs. white-collar
There’s actually a few differences between the Reagan versions and the other two—besides breaking the lead role into parts.

The Cagney/Bogart versions begin with the kids and the crimes that landed them in reform school. The star doesn’t show up until about 15-20 minutes in.

That’s reversed. We begin with Buck Caesar’s suspended sentence, his declaration before his gang to go straight, leading to objections and obvious future mutiny from his lieutenant, Mike Garvey (Frederic Tozere). Then Krispan (Grant Mitchell, quite good), the superintendent of Hudson School for Homeless Boys, comes hat-in-hand for a donation. He gets it—but more than he bargained for. Caesar’s nephew, Jim (Reagan), suggests Buck actually get involved in the school, since it’ll look good with the judge. He does. Which is a bummer for Krispan since Krispan’s corrupt as hell.

It’s funny when you think about it. Basically Al Capone joins him and Krispan’s reaction is, “Hey, I’m trying to break the law over here!” But that’s the ’30s Warner Bros. ethos. Street criminals have personality, and they’re the product of their environment. White-collar criminals? Those bland sons of bitches are just assholes. 

Now that I think about it, the stars of this one do show up 15-20 minutes in: the Dead End Kids. But unlike the earlier films, we never see the crimes they commit; they’re just in the reformatory. They roll out of the truck like the Marx brothers, then they’re beaten. Our sympathy is immediately with them.

They also have a leader now. Or was Billy Halop their leader in “Crime School”? I don’t remember him front and center so much—just angry that Bogart was schtupping his sister. But I guess that was his general role; gangleader. Oddly, his name doesn’t ring out for me like Leo Gorcey’s or Huntz Hall’s. Maybe because they had longer, more successful careers? Bowery Boys and such? I did see Halop regularly, though, even if I didn’t realize it: He played Munson, Archie’s taxicab boss, in “All in the Family." In 1976, aged 56, he died of a heart attack.

Margaret Lindsay as Beth gets the sob sister role, encouraging the boys toward self-government—Tony as mayor, Leo Gorcey as police chief, Rosenbloom self-nominated as treasurer. She also references “Boys Town,” from rival MGM, as a rationale for it. Was that movie the reason this reboot came so quickly on the heels of “Crime School”? If so, they neglected to find their Spencer Tracy. Reagan wasn’t it.

Another big difference between “Hell’s” and “Mayor/Crime”? The big ice hockey game in the middle. It’s part of the efforts of Mike Garvey and Krispan to bankrupt Buck Caesar and get him out of the way. Works. Caesar lays down a $5k bet, but his boys are losing 7-0 in the second period, when Jim/Reagan finds out the opposition Gladstone team is full of ringers. Like an idiot, he tells Buck, and Buck tries to throttle Garvey—right in front of the judge, too, who had just been congratulating himself on a job well done with Buck. Yet another difference. The earlier judges were sober and dull but generally right.

With Buck on the lam, Krispan eliminates the self-government crap then engages in true movie villainy: he locks up, Joey, a kid with a cough, in a freezer, and tells his guards to shoot the boys’ dog, Spud. Spud gets away, Joey doesn’t.

I like the scene where Leo Gorcey’s Gyp confronts Krispan:

Gyp: Joey’s dead.
Krispan: What? You’re crazy. You’re lying.
Gyp: That ain’t gonna bring him back.

Third of three
I don’t think they kill Krispan—as in “Mayor.” Rule of law and all that. Buck returns, Jim/Reagan promises justice will be done, etc. The movie ends with “Auld Lang Syne.”

“Hell’s Kitchen” is the weakest of the three films, suffering, as it does, from a lack of adult supervision. Splitting up the Cagney/Bogart role weakens both sides of the character—like Kirk in “The Enemy Within.” And give me Madge Evans over Margaret Lindsay.

As for the 40th president of the United States? He displays athleticism in the ice-skating scenes and ... that’s about it. But he does have a kind of straightforward scolding quality. I.e., this gray area isn’t gray, it’s the way the world is, so act accordingly. Didn’t exactly work here, but it would kill 40 years later.

Reagan in Hell's Kitchen

 The scold before the shucks. 

Posted at 01:57 AM on Tuesday October 30, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Monday October 29, 2018

What Glory, Price! Red Sox Win 9th World Series Title

Another baseball season is done and for the ninth time in its history the Boston Red Sox are world champions. That moves them ahead of the Giants (8) and ties them for third all-time with the Athletics. Second is the Cardinals with 11. First is the Yankees with 27. It's still no contest. 

You know what I would worry about if I were a BoSox fan? They‘ve never won a title after the 19th year of a century. All of their titles are clustered at the beginning of each century: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918 and then nothing for 80+ years. Then: 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018. Smoke ’em if you‘ve got ’em, I guess. But it couldn't happen twice. Could it?  

Boston Red Sox win World SeriesI'm bummed for Clayton Kershaw, who takes the “Can't pitch in the postseason” mantle into another off-season. I'm happy for David Price, who shed his mantle in the last two weeks. After winning the pennant-clinching game against the Astros (his first postseason victory), he started two of the five World Series games, going 2-0 in 13.2 innings with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. Has any pitcher had such numbers in such a short series and not won the MVP? Instead it went to Steve Pearce, whom the Sox picked up on June 28. The Red Sox were his 7th team in 11 years. He did well for them (.279/.394/.507) and in the series went 4 for 12 with three homers and a double. He walked four times and drove in eight. He scored five runs. 

Who decides the MVP? “A committee of reporters and officials in attendance.” For some reason I thought pitchers won it often but this century it's happened only four times: 2001 (RJ/Schilling), 2003 (Josh Beckett), 2008 (Cole Hamels) and 2014 (Madison Bumgarner). My brain must still be back in the ‘80s and ’90s. From 1987 to 1997, pitchers won it every year but two (Pat Borders and Paul Molitor in the two Blue Jays years). Back then, it was like QB for Super Bowl MVP. 

Alex Cora, meanwhile, becomes the 11th innaugural-year manager to win the World Series since the advent of the playoff system in 1969. It's the most common tenure for a World Series-winning manager. Go early and often, I guess. 

Mostly, though, the Red Sox victory solidified their claim as Team of the Century. Since 2000, the Yankees have been to the postseason most often (15 times), and are tied with the Cardinals for the most LCSes (9). But then it's a four-way tie for most pennants (4) between Yanks, BoSox, Cards and Giants. Cards and Yankees have two World Series championships. Giants have three. Boston is on top with four. 

Of course, the Red Sox were the Team of the Century in 1918, too. 

Here are MLB's longest current droughts:

  • World Series championship: Cleveland Indians (1948)
  • Pennant: Washington Nationals (b. 1969), Seattle Mariners (b. 1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1979)
  • LCS appearance: Washington Nationals (1981 as Montreal Expos)
  • Postseason appearance: Seattle Mariners (2001)

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13. 

Posted at 02:06 AM on Monday October 29, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 27, 2018

‘No Time to Think About It’: FilmStruck Struck by AT&T


The site this morning. Soon, gone. 

One of my few happy places over the last few months has been FilmStruck, a movie streaming service that combines the Criterion collection and the Warner Bros. archives, among others. I'd signed up for an annual subscription in early September. (You may have noticed the jump in James Cagney reviews.) I was looking forward to spending the winter with it.


Yesterday it was announced that the site would be shuttered on Nov. 29. Why? From Variety's article:

In a statement, Turner and WB Digital Networks said, “We‘re incredibly proud of the creativity and innovations produced by the talented and dedicated teams who worked on FilmStruck over the past two years. While FilmStruck has a very loyal fanbase, it remains largely a niche service. We plan to take key learnings from FilmStruck to help shape future business decisions in the direct-to-consumer space and redirect this investment back into our collective portfolios.”

What’s more depressing—losing the service or having to read that language? Are these people even human? Can't they even fake it anymore? Look at that last sentence. I was going to mock it by emphasizing its more egregious parts but the whole thing is that. It says nothing. It says “We plan to make money.” There's not an iota of love for its product there. 

FilmStruck had that love. You could tell. People cared. They were kindred spirits.

You don't even know who to blame. WarnerMedia? Or its new owner AT&T? A source in Todd Spangler's Variety article says the move was planned before AT&T's recent purchase by AT&T but “the strategy aligns with the new WarnerMedia blueprint to shift resources to mass-market entertainment services.” 

A source familiar with AT&T's strategy said the telco is looking to eliminate peripheral projects that aren't major producers of revenue. “They felt Time Warner overall had too many initiatives,” the exec said. “[AT&T] have their hands full. They have no time to think about, ‘What do we do with this growth property?’

They have no time to think about it. Jesus fuck. 

Posted at 03:03 AM on Saturday October 27, 2018 in category Business   |   Permalink  

Friday October 26, 2018

‘Vote as if Democracy Depends on it, Because it Does’

While searching for information about the Trump Foundation trial, I came across this letter to the editor from a guy in Lower Paxton Township, in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

Vote November 6I like it. I like it alot. One, he's been paying attention. Two, he gets at the heart of the corruption:

From the treasonous comments Trump made in the Bill O‘Reilly interview on Superbowl Sunday 2017 to treating our NATO allies as enemies and Putin as our friend, this is the most disloyal President we’ve ever had. Add to this that Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort has been found guilty in one trial with another one to follow, and Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer pleading guilty to 8 criminal charges including 2 that names Trump as a co-conspirator. Add in the Emoluments trial, the Trump Foundation trial, and a number of other scandals involving Trump minions, including cabinet members Scott Pruitt and Wilber Ross, and you have a 3 ring circus, the likes which has never seen before in this country. And it still remains what the Mueller investigation has fully uncovered. ...

The most infuriating part is we have a Republican Congress who are complicit with this President. Congress is supposed to be a third leg of our government, acting as a check and balance against the other two branches of government.

Senator Bob Corker, Rep. from Tenn. has gone as far to say, “The Republican party is a Trump cult.” The Republicans have become nothing more than a bunch of Trump lackeys and minions. They are a pathetic, corrupted, and hollowed out version of their former selves. To the point, they have now become the Trumplican party. This is why, even though I‘ve been a registered Republican for over 40 years, I feel it is critical that voters go to the polls this November and vote for Democratic congressmen and women who will stand up to this President. Vote as if our democracy depends on it, because it does.

Last weekend, campaigning for Dr. Kim Schrier in Washington’s 8th district, I came across a lot of different types—Kent is more diverse than I realized—but the guy that stood out is, like the letter writer above, a lifelong Republican who is breaking with the party and voting a straight Democratic ticket. 

Here's hoping there are many more of them—people who see the danger and are moving to counteract it. 

Posted at 01:17 AM on Friday October 26, 2018 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 25, 2018

Tweet of the Day

This tweet yesterday, the bottom one, really hit home for me. The disconnect I feel listening to news coverage on NPR, say. It's like they‘re describing a monster rampaging through the city with the same tone in which they report a city council meeting. Then they quote an official who blames the taxicab driver for getting eaten by the monster: “The monster is the true victim here.” Then they bring in someone who disparages both sides for not being able to find common ground.

Posted at 06:13 AM on Thursday October 25, 2018 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 25, 2018

Lock Him Up

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them. ...

The issue of secure communications is fraught for Mr. Trump. As a presidential candidate, he regularly attacked his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 campaign for her use of an unsecured email server while she was secretary of state, and he basked in chants of ‘lock her up’ at his rallies.

— from the article, ”When Trump Phones Friends, the Chinese and the Russians Listen and Learn," in The New York Times

Posted at 04:37 AM on Thursday October 25, 2018 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 25, 2018

A Theme is Born

The latest “A Star is Born” has nine screenwriting credits but six of those are from the previous iterations—the based-ons. You know: The ‘76 version by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne is based on the ’54 version by Moss Hart which is based on the original by William Wellman and Robert Carson. Some impressive names there.

The recent late adapters also have an impressive name: Eric Roth, who wrote “The Insider,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Munich,” among many others. Then there's director/star Bradley Cooper. Finally, Will Fetters. What is Will Fetters known for? According to IMDb...

Will Fetters credits

I sense a theme. 

Posted at 03:29 AM on Thursday October 25, 2018 in category Movies - Posters   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 24, 2018

NPR's Motiveless Crime

I was listening to an NPR report this morning about the pipebombs sent to former President Obama, former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, and financier George Soros. Since then, we‘ve learned bombs have been sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, and many others. The Manhattan offices of CNN were also evacuated due to a bomb scare. 

What do they all have in common? Well, it’s pretty obvous. They‘re all frequent targets of Pres. Trump and right-wing propaganda networks like Fox News. No mystery there.

Except for some reason, this morning, NPR wanted to preserve the mystery.

Four times during the 3-minute talk between host Steve Inskeep and reporter Ryan Lucas, they cautioned against ascribing any motive to the crimes:

  • LUCAS: But, you know, it’s unclear what the motive of the individual who left this this device may have been... 
  • LUCAS: Certainly a lot of questions as to the motivations behind whoever left it...
  • LUCAS: And there are questions certainly as to whether there is a political motivation behind this...
  • INSKEEP: Yeah. We should emphasize—no one has named any suspect. No one has said anything about the motivations of that suspect or anything else...

I get not ascribing a motive to the actions. But constantly warning us against doing so? What's the motive to that? It felt overdone. It felt like they thought that without their consant drumbeat, we would all take to the streets in a lawless fashion.  

Here's what's worse: At the same time, Inskeep let us know that each of the recipients, Obama, Hillary and Soros, were “polarizing figures.” Just as he reminded us, on Jan. 19, 2017, how much, during his time in office, Obama had divided the country.

Posted at 09:57 AM on Wednesday October 24, 2018 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 24, 2018

Movie Review: A Star is Born (2018)


Wouldn’t it have been better without that final confrontation between Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Rez (Rafi Gavron), his wife’s idiot Brit manager?

Imagine it. On stage at the Grammys, Maine, falling down drunk, literally pissing in his pants, embarrasses himself and his wife, Ally (Lady Gaga), recipient of Best New Artist. He goes into rehab, seems to come out OK, seems to be doing OK, when, with Ally on tour, we watch in horror as he quietly hangs himself. All of us would wonder why. Which is the exactly question most suicides leave us with. Why?

A Star is Born movie reviewInstead, we know exactly why. Rez tells Jackson that he ruined Ally’s big moment and he’s ruining her career and she’s better off without him. And Jackson takes all this in and has nowhere to go with it. Away? What away? Into the bottle? That’s what started the problems in the first place. There’s no place to go except that place. So he goes there.

Afterwards, Jackson’s way older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), tells Ally that she can’t blame herself for the suicide; it’s not her fault. “You know whose fault it is?” he asks, and before he can give his answer (Jackson’s), every person in the audience is thinking this: “Yeah! Her fucking manager!”

So by extension her. She’s the idiot who brought him onto the scene in the first place.

Maybe it’s time
I guess I liked “A Star is Born” or I wouldn’t care so much about this aspect of it. And I did like it. I felt improbably sad afterward. I felt a void in me. I wanted to cry but couldn’t.

That said, the movie lost itself for me when Rez showed up. I immediately didn’t trust him, but Ally did, she dropped everything for him, and said, basically, “Sure, I’ll have background dancers. Sure, I’ll be Beyoncé #32 amid a Destiny’s Child #89.” The first song she sings for Jackson is “Shallow,” and includes the line, “We’re far from the shallow now.” But given the opportunity, she ran right back to the shallow.

Is that the point? Is that the tragedy? The honesty and truth that he fell in love with goes away, and it’s replaced by something manufactured? And is that ultimately why he kills himself?

Most of you know the story. It’s been made four times now but this was the first time I’d ever seen it. Guess I got some catching up to do.

I knew it, of course. He’s famous, plucks her from obscurity; and as she rises, he falls.

Was it always drink? It is here. Mostly. Jackson Maine is a country-rock star who plays stadium tours before 20,000 screaming fans. He’s recognized everywhere he goes. He’s even recognized in drag bars despite the fact that his music isn’t exactly theirs. That’s where he shows up one night just looking for a drink. He’s immediately befriended by Ramon (Anthony Ramos, John Laurens in the original “Hamilton”), whose friend, Ally, is about to perform. She sings. All the other performers are men in drag who lip synch, but they like having her around. She’s their Bette. That night she sings Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” and for a moment, as she lays on the bar, Jackson stares at her the way we all want to be stared at one day: with pure love.

They have an evening of it: this bar, this fight, this late-night grocery store, this parking lot. She sings him an early version of “Shallow.” Just getting to know each other and enjoy each other. It’s nice. He invites her to his next gig in the next town, but she’s all no, she has to go to her shitty waitressing job. But the manager is a dick, he says the wrong thing, and so she’s gone, she and Ramon, driven then flown to his next show, where they stand in the wings. Apparently, while she was sleeping, Jackson took her song, arranged it, taught it to his band, and he wants her out there singing it in front of 20,000 people. She resists. And resists. And resists. Then jumps. She’s a hit. It’s a beautiful song and a high point in the movie.

At the same time...

The movie spends a lot of time talking about what makes a star. Ally’s working-class father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay, thriving in his second act), is the first to bring it up. I thought he brought it up in the negative for her—why she wasn’t, despite the talent—but he’s really talking about himself. He had the pipes (or said he had the pipes) like Sinatra, but he was never in the same neighborhood as Sinatra. Why? What’s that other thing? The thing he didn’t have?

Whatever it is, it feels like she has it in the drag bar but not on stage before 20,000 screaming fans. She acts like she shouldn’t be there. It’s a real reaction—a woman who thought she would be waiting tables is instead doing this—but it’s not exactly indicative of stardom. And sure, the pipes. Blew me away. But what’s the difference between Ally doing this and Lisa Fischer singing “Gimme Shelter” with the Stones? Fischer can sing rings around Jagger but it’s still the Stones everyone came to see.

But it’s a movie, so suddenly everyone’s talking about her? I guess. Bradley Cooper, as director, never really pulls back. The media is never present here, it’s omnipresent. It’s assumed. We never see a headline, spinning or otherwise. Instead , we get the fans, and the cashiers taking photos, and YouTube clicks. Maybe that’s the way now. Maybe that’s how it feels inside the phenomenon.

So now she’s Jackson’s gal, a regular on the tour, like Patti Scialfa to Springsteen; and that’s when Rez shows up offering her a deal. And she reacts like she’s still back at the restaurant.

To let the old ways die
Break it down a little. What’s the tension and conflict in the first part of the movie? It’s them getting together and her getting on stage.

And in the second part? What’s the conflict? So many things. It’s not clean.

It’s his drinking, sure. It’s also tinnitus. He can’t hear the rhythm anymore. Is it also less Ally’s rise than the way she rises? As Beyoncé #32? As someone who bypasses the true for the shallow? At one point, early on, he has a conversation with her about getting that moment and telling your truth, and instead it feels like she’s telling Beyoncé’s. She’s telling Rez’s truth, which are lies. She does dance numbers with back-up singers, and sings about ... what? I don’t think I caught one line. It’s like they turned Patti Scialfa into Whitney. They actually tried that with Lisa Fischer and it didn’t take. But in this world it takes. Soon, too soon, she’s playing 20,000-seat stadium concerts on her own.

I always thought the main (or Maine) problem in “A Star is Born” is that the man became jealous of the woman’s success. Here, it feels more like, “You’re becoming the opposite of who I thought you were.” I think that’s why he calls her ugly, too. Not physically; it’s what she’s becoming. He’s created a monster. He thought he was giving the world something true but it was another false idol for them to worship. But if this is there—intended or otherwise—the movie never owns up to it.

Again: Does he kill himself not just because of the tinnitus and the drinking and the embarrassment, but because Rez wins? Because more and more, it’s Rez’s world? 

Gaga’s good. Cooper’s great. He should get an Oscar nom just for his gin-soaked voice. I was almost disappointed when Sam Elliott showed up. “Oh, he’s doing Sam.” I thought he was doing Blaze Foley. But then Blaze never played 20,000-seat arenas.

Looking forward to the conversations on this one.

Posted at 02:20 AM on Wednesday October 24, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 23, 2018

Of the 16 Original Teams, Who Hasn't Played Whom in the World Series?

Tonight we get the second match-up ever between the Red Sox and Dodgers in the World Series. The first was in 1916.

Back then, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, enjoying their first pennant, while the Red Sox, who had a young pitcher named Babe Ruth on their staff (who won Game 2, pitching 14 innings of 1-run ball), were the best team in baseball. They'd won every time they gone to the World Series—1903, 1912, 1915—and they would win this one, too, 4 games to 1. They would win in 1918. The future was theirs. The whole century was theirs. 

Dodgers Red Sox World SeriesAll of this has made me wonder if the Red Sox had played every one of the original eight NL teams in the World Series. 

Turns out they‘ve played seven. They’re missing the Braves—their old Boston rivals. Wouldn't that be something? We might‘ve gotten that this year but for a few breaks. Maybe we’ll get it next year.

That, of course, raised another question: Has any of the original 16 teams played all eight of the other league's original teams in the World Series?

The answer is the obvious one: the Yankees, of course.

They‘ve won 40 pennants, so it would be pretty amazing if they’d missed any of the original eight. They'd actually collected all eight by 1957 when they knocked off the last one, the Braves, then in Milwaukee. Hell, the Yanks have at least doubles on every NL original team. Here are the numbers:

Yankees Opponent No. of WS matchups
Cubs 2
Phillies 2
Pirates 2
Reds 3
Braves 4
Cardinals 5
Giants 7
Dodgers 11

All 11 of those Yankees-Dodgers matchups, by the way, were between 1941 and 1981. If you were watching the World Series then, you had a 27% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers. Oy. If you were watchingn between 1947 and 1956, you had a 60% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers.

Other fun facts:

  • The Phillies have faced the fewest original 16 opponents in the World Series—just three: Red Sox in 1915, Yankees in 1940 and 2009, Orioles in 1983. They‘ve never beaten any of them. The Phils’ two World championships are against expansion teams: the 1980 Royals and the 2008 Rays.
  • The AL team with the fewest original 16 WS opponents? White Sox and Indians: four each. 
  • Senators/Twins (6 times), Pirates (7), Reds (9) and Cubs (11) are the only teams to have only played original 16 teams in the World Series. 
  • The most common non-Yankees matchup is a three-way tie between Giants/A‘s, Red Sox/Cardinals and Tigers/Cubs. Each has met in the Series four times. 
  • Besides the Red Sox, the other teams that just need one more to complete the set are the Dodgers (need: Tigers) and Giants (need: Orioles).
  • Expansion teams have made up almost half of MLB since 1998, but only once, in 2015 (Royals vs. Mets) have they faced each other in the World Series.

For the completists out there, here’s what each original team needs to complete the set:

AL   1 2 3 4
White Sox vs. Phillies Pirates Braves Cardinals  
Indians vs. Phillies Pirates Reds Cardinals  
Twins/Senators vs. Phillies Reds Cubs    
Orioles/Browns vs. Braves Cubs Giants    
Tigers vs. Philllies Braves Dodgers    
Athletics vs. Phillies Pirates      
Red Sox vs. Braves        
Yankees vs.          
NL   1 2 3 4 5
Phillies vs. White Sox Indians Twins Tigers A's
Braves vs. White Sox Orioles Tigers Red Sox  
Pirates vs. White Sox Indians A's    
Reds vs. Indians Twins      
Cubs vs. Twins Orioles      
Cardinals vs. White Sox Indians      
Dodgers vs. Tigers        
Giants vs. Orioles        

The 21st century is beginning the way the 20th century did for the Boston Red Sox. They've been to the World Series three times—2004, 2007 and 2013—and won all three. Now they face the Dodgers, who, for an added touch of irony, are managed by Dave Roberts, the man whose stolen base in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS began the turnaround for the Sox. Will he help stop the resurgence he began? Or will they keep winning? Maybe the future, the whole century, is theirs. 

Posted at 12:50 AM on Tuesday October 23, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday October 22, 2018


Yesterday, after listening to NPR, I checked to see how often The New York Times wrote about the caravan to Mexico this month.

From Oct. 1 to Oct. 12? Bupkis.

The first time the story appeared was on Oct. 13, an AP piece entitled “Spontaneous Caravan of Migrants Winds Way Through Honduras.” What did the migrants want? What they usually want: “...reaching a better life in the United States.” Also this tidbit: They organized via WhatsApp chats. Trump isn't mentioned.

The second time, from the same day, Reuters mentions an earlier caravan in April, along with Trump's zero-tolerance policy. 

The next day, the caravan was “growing” and “swelling” as it crossed the Guatemalan border. The day after is when Trump politicized it and the story exploded. 

I don't know what the answer is. You can't let in everyone who wants to come to the U.S. But demonizing the group is obviously a political stunt by Trump to stir up hatred for the midterms—or just generally. Because that's what he does: stirs up hatred. See Stephen King's reaction:

Last night, I came across the following in Jill Lepore’s ”These Truths: A History of the United States,“ about the settling of the Oregon territory, where I live. 

More immediately, [Pres. James K.] Polk wanted to acquire Oregon, an expanse of achingly beautiful land that included all of what later became Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, and much of what later became Montana and Wyoming.

”Our title to the country of Oregon is clear and unquestionable,“ Polk announced, as if willing this to be true. Britain, Russia, Spain, and Mexico had all made claims to the Oregon Territory. Americans, though, had been staking their claim by moving there. They'd been heading west from Missouri along the arduous Oregon Trail, a series of old Indian roads that cut across mountains and unfurled over valleys and snaked along streams. In 1843, some eight hundred Americans traveled the Oregon Trail, carrying their children in their arms and pulling everything they owned in wind-swept wagons. With Polk's pledge behind them, hundreds became thousands. They traveled in caravans, guided by little more than books like Lansford W. Hastings's Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California...

A group of people moving in caravans to new lands and, rather than assimilating, taking it over. Either we don't know our history, or what we fear is ourselves.

Extra credit: They Might Be Giants' ”James K. Polk,“ and Van Morrison's ”Caravan." 

Posted at 03:21 AM on Monday October 22, 2018 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 21, 2018

One Moment from the Seattle Times' coverage of the Schrier-Rossi Debate You Won't Hear More About

Here's another example of what's wrong with the mainstream media. Not to mention the Republicans. Not to mention the Democrats. 

It's from the Seattle Times' coverage of the recent debate between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Kim Schrier for the U.S. 8th congressional district seat in Washington state. It's an open seat after Republican Dave Reichert, who's held the seat since 2005, decided to step down. The district was created after the 1980 census and has never not been held by Republicans. 

Vote Democratic 2018Here's the coverage. It's from a piece by Jim Brunner entitled “4 moments from the Rossi-Schrier debate you may hear more about.” It's his second moment: “TWO: An insult to farmers?” It goes like this:

Asked about problems with the U.S. guest-worker program, Schrier said the system doesn't work well for farmers or immigrant workers. She said the system “can lead to sort of a pattern of indentured servitude, where a worker is sort of held hostage by a potentially abusive farmer, or farm owner.”

Rossi responded, “I don't believe our farmers are abusive” and that political posturing has prevented the kind of immigration reform the country needs.

I don't even need to know the details of the U.S. guest-worker program to see what just happened there. Schrier said the system can lead to abuses. She's raising a hypothetical with one possible farmer. Because farmers are human beings, with all the possibilities contained therein. Rossi twists her words so that her one hypothetical farmer becomes all farmers.

And does Brunner or the mainstream media clear this up? The opposite. 

On Thursday, Andrew Bell, Rossi's campaign manager, pointed to Schrier's comment as evidence she's out of touch with the 8th District. 

“Calling farmers abusive seems a strange way to court voters in a district that is rural,” he said, adding that the campaign already has heard from farmers offended by the comment who are considering how to respond.

And do the Dems fight back by pointing out what I just pointed out? The opposite. 

Schrier's campaign backed away some from the statement Thursday, with Rodihan saying, “that's not how she would normally word it.” Rodihan said the larger point is that the farmworker visa program “is broken and both workers and farmers believe the program should be fixed.”

Except Schrier didn't word it that way—Rossi did. He twisted her words, the media didn't clarify, the Dems backed down. Way of the world. Since fucking forever. 

The Republicans do this all the time—when it suits them. An immigrant commits a crime, all immigrants are bad. A Muslim commits a terrorist act, all Muslims are bad. A white guy goes into a black church and kills everyone in there, whoops, what a crazy, mixed-up kid. 

Yesterday, The Seattle Times editorial board officially endorsed Dino Rossi for the 8th district. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in the 8th canvassing for Dr. Kim Schrier. Because we need a check on the real abuses of the Trump administration, and Dino Rossi will most assuredly not be that. 

More than anything, though, I'm tired of this pattern: where language and logic is held hostage by abusive Republicans and remains unclarified by the hapless media. Sadly, that's not close to a hypothetical. 

Posted at 01:57 AM on Sunday October 21, 2018 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Friday October 19, 2018

These Machines Kill Fascists

These machines kill fascists

Posted at 07:47 AM on Friday October 19, 2018 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Friday October 19, 2018

Your Kids Will Always Be Embarrassed of You

“I was incredibly flattered. It was very cool. It was a little embarrassing at times. You know, carpool with the kids and the song comes on and my son's like... [imitates him shrinking back into his seat].”

— Michelle Pfeiffer on being namechecked in the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit, “Uptown Funk.”

Posted at 02:14 AM on Friday October 19, 2018 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 16, 2018

Superman on the Radio: Ep, 1: Baby from Krypton

Superman on the radio, episode 1

Superman debuted in Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938, but by Feb. 12, 1940 he was already all over the place. His daily comic strip began on Jan. 16, 1939 and it was soon in 300 dailies and 90 Sunday newspapers across the country. He crowded out the rest of the Action Comics heroes so after Nov. 1939 he was always the feature on the cover. He got his own quarterly comic, “Superman,” in summer ’39. Talk of a live-action movie serial with Republic Studios fell apart but Max Fleischer began developing his classic collection of Superman cartoons, which would debut in Sept. 1941. Plus a live version of Superman did appear. In June 1940, actor Ray Middleton appeared as The Man of Tomorrow for “Superman Day” at the New York World’s Fair. 

Then there was this. 

The Superman radio series ran thrice weekly for 15 minutes, and it introduced kids to patter that would be soon be familiar to everyone across the globe—if, here, in slightly different fashion:

Boy and girls, your attention, please! Presenting a new and exciting radio program, featuring the thrilling adventures of an amazing and incredible personality!

Faster than an airplane!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Impervious to bullets!
Up in the sky, look!
It’s a bird, it’s a plane
It’s Superman!

I love the differences: “Up in the sky, look!” When did they reverse it? And when did they change the “faster” to a speeding bullet? Which would, of course, necessitate a change in the third stranza, right? You can’t have bullets twice. 

I also love that they call him a “personality.” Plus they‘re polite when asking for your attention. 

Believe it or not, this kind of patter continues. Apparently they had a lot to explain about the guy:

And now Superman. A being no larger than an ordinary man, but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth. Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile in a single bound. Hurdle a 20-story building with ease. Race a high-powered bullet to its target. Lift tremendous weights and rend solid steel in his bare hands, as though it were paper.

The first episode, no surprise, is about the last days of Krypton. Most of the storyline is familiar to anyone familiar with Superman. Jor-El is Krypton’s “foremost man of science.” He warns everyone of doom. They laugh. He tries to build a rocket to take himself, his wife and his baby, away from Krypton, but ... too late! So they just send the baby.

Some differences from the canon:

  • Superman gets his abilities not from a yellow sun but because Kryptonians are “advanced to the absolute peak of human perfection.” They are a race of supermen. Nazism soon made this a little unpalatable. 
  • Krypton is breaking up because it’s being pulled closer to its sun. (Or is that canon?) 
  • Jor-El actually wants to send Lara to Earth: “If one of us must go, it should be you!” It’s Lara’s idea to send the baby. Some dad.

We don’t come off well, by the way. Humans are described by Jor-El as “weak and helpless and with all their faculties extremely limited.” 

Lara: And that’s where we're going? Oh, how dreadful!
Jor-El: My dear, which would you rather do? Go to Earth and live or stay on Krypton and die?

“Earth: Better than dying.”

Anyway, the baby gets away to Earth. Tune in next time. 

Posted at 03:36 PM on Tuesday October 16, 2018 in category Superman   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 14, 2018

The One Way Trump is Jeffersonian

“In 1806, [Pres.] Jefferson secured the passage of a Non-Importation Act, banning certain British imports and, in 1807, an Embargo Act, banning all American exports. During the ongoing war between Britain and France, the British had been seizing American ships and impressing American seamen. Jefferson believed that banning all trade was the only way to remain neutral. No Americans ships were to sail to foreign ports. He insisted that all the goods Americans needed they could produce in their own homes. ...

”The embargo devastated the American economy. Jeffersonian agrarianism was not only backward-looking but also largely a fantasy.“

— from Jill Lepore's ”These Truths: A History of the United States"

Posted at 03:49 AM on Sunday October 14, 2018 in category Books   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 13, 2018

Movie Review: The Mayor of Hell (1933)

The Mayor of Hell movie review


Some kids are sent to a reform school that’s run like a corrupt prison, but two well-meaning adults—including a former gangster from the neighborhood—help save them.

Believe it or not, Warner Bros. made this movie three times in the 1930s—each time with their star of the moment. Here, it’s Cagney. In 1938, it was “Crime School” with Humphrey Bogart. A year later, Warners made “Hell’s Kitchen” with Ronald Reagan.

Wait, Ronald Reagan? As a former gangster?

Yeah, not quite. More on that another time.

Pig slop
The star isn’t really the star anyway—the kids are. Here, they’re somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re teenagers like the latter but diverse like the former. It’s a rainbow coalition of early 20th-century stereotypes: emotional Italian, money-conscious Jew, bug-eyed black kid.

This last is played by Allen Hoskins, who played “Farina” in the Our Gang comedies. The Jewish kid, Izzy (Sidney Miller), is just as outré but feels less problematic. Sure, he winds up running the company store, but his lines are the lines Jewish authors would give their characters decades later. “What I’m making in here I can put in my right eye” he says. “I’ll fix you, ya gonif,” he says. It’s a type produced from within rather than imposed from without.

You know what I liked about this one? The kids aren’t the only ones who start out on the wrong side of the law.

As Patsy Gargan, the new deputy commissioner, Cagney doesn’t show up until 25 minutes in. He rolls into the reformatory with his drunk pal Mike (Cagney foil Allen Jenkins) and Mike’s blonde moll (Sheila Terry), offers a drink to the movie’s villain, Superintendent Thompson (Duddley Digges), then wonders how “to make things look regular.” He asks Thompson to turn in his reports for him. He’s a crook—a cheap ward heeler, as someone calls him. His job is a sinecure in a corrupt administration.

What changes him? For starters, he runs into a younger version of himself, Jimmy (Frankie Darro of “Wild Boys of the Road,” who played the young Cagney in “Public Enemy”). He’s on the lam, gets caught, is whipped and ordered back into solitary.

But what really changes him, of course, is a woman, Miss Griffith (Madge Evans), the school’s pretty nurse. She insists Jimmy gets medical attention. Patsy agrees. She insists what’s truly needed in the school is self-government. Patsy agrees. Then he makes a pass at her.

Here are the books she owns:

  • Fundamental Principles of the Juvenile Republic
  • Self-Government for Juvenile Correction 

Immediate thought: Was the screenwriter...? Yes. Edward Chodorov was a member of the Communist party. In 1953, he was fingered by Jerome Robbins and wound up blacklisted after he refused to cooperate with HUAC.

Delayed thought: Wait, self-government? Why does Patsy think this is a good idea? Isn’t he part of a corrupt government machine himself? I guess the key is the “self.”

Anyway, it works. The kids get real food, they clean the joint up, and even elect our titular mayor (Jimmy, of course). One kid, Pete, gets hungry and steals a chocolate bar from the company store. He winds up in front of the “Supreme Court.” Farina is his defense attorney and another tough mug is the judge. Justice is dispensed. It’s all super-cutesy.

Of course, the forces of corruption try to fight back but the kids are too strong. Patsy is the one who screws it up. One of his men, Joe, tries to take over his racket back in town, so he shows up to reclaim it. A gun goes off, Joe winds up in the hospital, Patsy’s on the lam. At the school, Thompson takes back the reins and it’s back to pig slop for the kids. Even Nurse Griffith resigns.

The ending is fascinating and menacing. Thompson forces Johnny (Raymond Borzage), a kid with a croup-like cough, into solitary after he doesn’t squeal; he dies there. When Thompson gets the news, he’s stunned, and rushes to the infirmary ... where all the kids are waiting. From director Archie Mayo (or Michael Curtiz, who did uncredited work) we get like a minute-long silent sequence in which Thompson stares at the kids faces—who are, by turns, sad, then increasingly angry—and, realizing his predicament, he struggles to get out as if fighting against the current. He makes it, but the kids know the tide has turned. It’s the tsar all over again.

If that scene reminded me of some part of “The Blue Angel”—the nightmarish quality of trying to move and being locked into place—the rest recalled “Frankenstein.” The kids, wielding torches, chase Thompson onto a barn roof, then light the barn on fire. Trapped, screaming, he jumps, hits a wire fence, bounces in the air, and lands in the slop of a pig sty—dead. I actually laughed out loud. Those commie writers don’t fuck around.

And where’s Cagney in all this? Hiding out. But he shows up at the end to convince the kids to put out the fire and face the authorities—who, in ultimate bow-tie neatness, declare it was Thompson’s own fault that he died. Meanwhile, Joe lives, Patsy gives him his racket, and he and the pretty nurse return to run the school. Ain’t life swell?

Come back to the five and dime, Frankie Darro, Frankie Darro
One of my favorite things about watching these movies is finding out about the players.

Frankie Darro is so good in this, so graceful and present, one wonders why he wasn’t bigger. Was it the fact that he never grew tall? Fifteen years later, he was still playing a newsboy in “The Babe Ruth Story.” But he kept acting, and he’s the subject of a biography published in 2008.

The villain? Dudley Digges? He not only played the original Casper Gutman in the 1931 version of “Maltese Falcon,” he directed “Alexander Hamilton” on Broadway in 1917. It was the biggest Hamilton play of all time ... until recently.

I think I got most lost in Sidney Miller’s story. In 1938 he played opposite Mickey Rooney in “Boys Town,” they became friends, and Miller wrote songs for him. (He’s got 28 soundtrack credits.) In the 1950s he helped revamp the first iteration of “The Mickey Mouse Club” and in the ’60s became a regular director of sitcoms: “My Favorite Martian,” “Get Smart,” “The Monkees.” (He’s got 38 directing credits.) He also kept acting (146 credits). I once saw him in an episode of “Barney Miller” in the mid-70s. He’s also the father of Barry Miller, who played the gay kid in “Fame,” and one of Travolta’s friends in “Saturday Night Fever.” IMDb can be such a rabbit hole.

At 90 minutes, “The Mayor of Hell” is longer than most of the early ’30s Cagney movies, but then Cagney isn’t in it much. But his ethos is. It’s the Warner Bros. ethos: Never rat on your friends. Sadly, it’s a lesson that Jack Warner, one of the first and loudest to testify before HUAC, never learned.

Posted at 02:10 AM on Saturday October 13, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Friday October 12, 2018

Thank God for David Simon

Posted at 10:44 AM on Friday October 12, 2018 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Friday October 12, 2018

What's Missing from ‘Fear’

I should probably write more about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” because at this point I doubt I‘ll finish it. I’m about halfway through but I'm not a fan.

What's missing from Bob Woodward's "Fear"?I don't doubt a lot of what happens in it. But I know I'm getting a skewed perspective that is being presented by Woodward as the perspective.  

Woodward uses sources on deep background—as he did with Deep Throat during the Watergate investigations—but writes the book in the third-person omniscient. Everything is presented as fact, as “this is how it happened,” but it‘s, at best, a few people’s perspective, and at worst one person's perspective. It should be, “According to Steve Bannon...” etc. etc., but it isn‘t. Woodward seems to be putting us in the room where it happens but he’s actually putting us in Bannon's idea of that room—and without telling us. That's actually dangerous. 

BTW: Between Bannon being a source for Woodward, and being a source for Michael Wolff in “Fire and Fury,” it's a wonder he gets anything done. 

You know when I had to put the book down? It was post-Charlottesville, when Trump's tepid response to Nazis marching in America led to the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, an African American, from Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Here's what Frazier said about why he resigned:

America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. . . . As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.

The presidential response?

Within an hour, Trump attacked Frazier on Twitter. Now that Frazier had resigned, Trump wrote, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The CEOs of Under Armour and Intel followed Frazier, resigning from the council as well. Still stewing, in a second Twitter swipe at Frazier, Trump wrote that Merck should “Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.” He called those who had resigned “grandstanders.” 

And my reaction to that? “Oh right, he's an asshole.”

That's actually what's missing from the book: Trump's horrible voice. He's an idiot, sure, he doesn't know what he's doing, yes, he has no real structure to decision-making in the presidency, OK, and god he watches way too much fucking TV—and propaganda TV at that—but we don't hear what an awful bombastic bully he truly is. And that's the thing we hear every day. In a way, through all of these sources telling Woodward their story, and via Woodward's own toneless prose, Trump is insulated. He's muted. As awful as he comes across in the book, he comes across much worse in our daily lives. 

Posted at 02:52 AM on Friday October 12, 2018 in category Books   |   Permalink  

Friday October 12, 2018

Lost and Foundations

“It's not just that the megaphones operated by 501(c)(3) groups and financed by a sliver of rich donors have gotten louder and louder, making it harder for ordinary citizens to be heard. It's that these citizens are helping foot the bill.”

— David Callahan, the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, a website focusing on the good, bad and ugly of high-end giving. He's quoted in Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article on the history of foundations and modern philanthropy. Worth reading. Worth thinking about. Much in this country has gotten twisted—even giving.

Posted at 02:14 AM on Friday October 12, 2018 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 11, 2018

Movie Review: Hello, Mrs. Money (2018)

李茶的姑妈: Hello, Mrs. Money review


The actual title of “Hello, Mrs. Money” is “Li Cha’s Aunt” (《李茶的姑妈》). Transpose the name and you get the idea. It’s based on “Charley’s Aunt,” the 19th-century British farce that became a 20th-century Jack Benny comedy, which is now this 21st-century Chinese rom-com/finger-wagging reminder to China not to lose itself in its quest for riches.

Is there something about empires that demand comedies about falling fortunes and men in drag?

Whatever, it’s not good. Given the filmmakers’ track record, it’s not very popular, either.

Mahua FunAge was formed in 2003 to stage plays, then branched out into TV in 2013. Two years later, it released its first movie, “Goodbye, Mr. Loser,” a kind of remake of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which a loser goes back 20 years in time, and, with his knowledge of future pop songs, turns himself into a pop superstar. It grossed $226 million. Last year, Mahua released “Never Say Die,” a body-switching rom-com: $334 million. Earlier this year, “Hello, Mr. Billionaire,” the sequel to “Loser,” was released: $370 million. Boom boom boom.

Then fizz. This one is sputtering. No idea why. Would be interesting to get Chinese thoughts on the matter. I wasn’t a huge fan of the others, but they are comedies and a lot gets lost in translation. That said, for me, it’s definitely been a downward trend: most laughs (“Mr. Loser”) to least (“Mrs. Money”).

At a Sunday matinee show at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle (att.: 3), most of my time was spent waiting out overlong set-pieces and not-exactly #MeToo-friendly scenarios. Nothing funnier than a man in drag being sexually assaulted by a grinning lothario who won’t take no for an answer. Nothing funnier than date-rape drugs sprinkled into drinks. It felt like vague consolation that the powder was less sedative than Chinese aphrodisiac, and the people who drank it were already in relationships. At the same time, those relationships were hardly worth saving. The deer that lost its antlers/penis for the aphrodisiac must‘ve gone: “You’re shitting me. For this?”

Let’s see if I can break down the plot.

Andy Wong, CEO of a company that’s quietly going bankrupt, has two daughters: LiLi is married to Jerry (Allen Ai of “Never Say Die”), a corporate VP with a roving eye; LuLu is pursued by Richard, the titular Li Cha, whom she can’t stand because he loves her so. She agrees to marry him anyway to save her father’s business. Richard’s aunt, you see, is Miss Monica (Celina Jade of “Wolf Warrior II”), an expat worth tons, whom no one has ever seen. Everyone is awaiting her arrival at a lavish engagement party on some tropical island. Except Miss Monica doesn’t show. Or she shows up in disguise—as a maid. She wants to see if the love is real.

You got all that?

Meanwhile, our main character, Jerry’s assistant, Huang (Huang Cailun), a flunky who dreams of riches, and who has set up everything perfectly for Miss Monica, spends a night indulging himself in her suite. When he’s discovered by the others in a bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around his hungover head, he’s assumed to be Miss Monica, and Jerry and Richard get him to play along. Antics ensue.

The most tiresome set piece has Huang running from one end of the island to the other, dressed as either Huang or Miss Monica, depending on the situation and demand. One time, of course, he shows up for Huang’s duties dressed as Miss Monica.

The most problematic subplot involves Jerry’s father, who wants to kill himself because he, too, is now bankrupt. Instead, his son suggests he make a play for Miss Monica. The father’s idea of “making a play” is to be the grinning lothario mentioned above.

Increasingly absurd, the movie reaches a face-palm crescendo when both Jerry’s dad and Jerry’s boss threaten suicide unless Miss Monica (Huang in drag) marries them. So a wedding is staged where she agrees to marry both. Except she doesn’t. Instead, she (Huang in drag) counsels the crowd against the pursuit of wealth. I.e., the movie has everyone pursuing wealth and its message is: Don’t pursue wealth. This message brought to you by a company making hundreds of millions off so-so comedies.

That said, Huang’s (or the Chinese government’s) finger-wagging speech leads to my favorite part of the movie. Huang’s ex and her fiancé happen to be on the island, and both wind up at the wedding. After Monica’s/Huang’s speech about being true to yourself, the fiancé stands and applauds this important message—then quickly declares his love for Miss Monica and asks for her hand in marriage. This is followed by a flurry of similar offers from other guests, including one foreigner pushing his child forward and saying, “Say hi to your new mommy!” 

At this point, with Monica/Huang in wedding dress pursued by a greedy crowd, there’s almost a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” vibe. Would that it were that funny.

Posted at 03:53 AM on Thursday October 11, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 10, 2018

Cry Me a River, Tyler Kepner

There may be no greater sense of schadenfreude than following the social-media paroxysms of Yankee fans rending their garments and pointing their fingers after their team has been blissfully eliminated from yet another baseball season. As happened last night in the Bronx, 4-3 to the Boston Red Sox. 

No one points fingers like Yankee fans. The title was meant to be theirs, and now it's not, and someone has to take the blame. The main scapegoat this year is 2003 ALCS hero and first-time manager Aaron Boone, who waited obscenely long, like until the 4th inning, to pull starting pitchers; and then, particularly in Game 3—the 16-1 debaccle—didn't go to his top-notch relievers. Also getting the brunt: first-timer Giancarlo Stanton, who hit .222 (with a .444 OPS) over the four Boston games.

But of course there are others. Here's an eloquent Yankee fan on the subject:

Angry Yankees fan

100 wins, third-best record in baseball, ALDS: What else could describe that but disgrace? It's shit. Fans deserve an apology.

The mainstream press in New York doesn't exactly try to tamp down these emotions, either. 

"Yanks' season ends in shame"

Shame? Wow. I‘ll remember that in April. I’ll channel Batman ‘66: “Come back, Shame.”

Over at the Times, Tyler Kepner’s think piece seems more circumspect (“Against the Red Sox, the Yankees Simply Don't Measure Up”), but don't kid yourself. Here's the end of Tyler's second paragraph:

“That makes nine seasons in a row without a championship.”

That sentence just drips with a sense of entitlement. He's not even talking about a pennant—something two teams (Nats, M‘s) have never even seen. He’s talking championships. He's talking rings. Because to the Yankee mentality, that's all there is.

As a reminder—to me if not Tyler—here's the championship/title drought for every MLB team, and where the Yankees place on it:

Team Last Title Years
Indians 1948 70
Senators/Rangers *  1961 57
Padres *  1969 49
Pilots/Brewers * 1969 49
Expos/Nationals **  1969 49
Mariners ** 1977 41
Pirates 1979 39
Browns/Orioles 1983 35
Tigers 1984 34
Mets 1986 32
Dodgers 1988 30
Athletics 1989 29
Reds 1990 28
Senators/Twins 1991 27
Blue Jays 1993 25
Rockies * 1993 25
Braves 1995 23
Rays * 1998 20
D-backs 2001 17
Angels 2002 16
Marlins 2003 15
White Sox 2005 13
Phillies 2008 10
Yankees 2009 9
Cardinals 2011 7
Red Sox 2013 5
Giants 2014 4
Royals 2015 3
Cubs 2016 2
Astros 2017 1

* Have never won World Series championship
** Have never been to World Series

So 23 of the 30 MLB teams are in worse shape. And they don't have those oft-mentioned 27 rings and 40 pennants to keep them warm.

But that's why, of course, nine championship-less seasons seem an eternity for the Yankee fan. Indeed, since 1923, when the Yankees won their first World Series championship after buying Babe Ruth and most of the best of the Boston Red Sox, they‘ve only had two title-less stretches longer than this: 17 seasons (between 1978 and 1996) and 14 seasons (between 1962 and 1977). The fourth longest, eight seasons, also took place in this century: between 2000 and 2009. Now this one has surpassed that.

So as Yankee-hating goes, this has actually been a pretty good time. Start spreadin’ the news. 

Posted at 04:57 AM on Wednesday October 10, 2018 in category Yankees Suck   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 10, 2018

Sad Yankees Fan of the Day

In case you‘re like some of my friends and don’t think this is of national import, the tweet below comes from the national correspondent of the Washington Post

Reading the schadenfreude on Twitter after the Yankees were eliminated by the Boston Red Sox last night, I have to admit: I didn't know there was so much of me in the world. 

Sad Yankees fan, 2018

Posted at 04:23 AM on Wednesday October 10, 2018 in category Yankees Suck   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 09, 2018

2018 Yankees Done

Was it better or worse that the Yankees got that 9th inning? Did it make it more painful for Yankee fans (“So close!”) or less (“At least we put a scare in the bastards!”)? And what the hell is up with Craig Kimbrel? He's lights out against most everyone else but with the Yankees he's got the yips. Here's his regular season numbers against other AL East teams:

TOR 12 11 4 3 16 1.64 .108
TB 9 9.1 6 4 15 0.00 .188
BAL 8 7.1 5 7 12 9.82 .192
NYY 6 5.2 5 2 12 4.76 .227

Actually that Baltimore line is even nuttier, isn't it? A lot of it to do with this Sept. 26 game. And his overall line, while good, isn't near his standard. Last year, his K-BB ratio was 126-14. This year? 96-31. 

Tonight, he came in with a 4-1 lead and went: Walk, single, strikeout. Walk, HBP, sac fly (to the warning track). Now it's 4-3, 2 outs, men on 1st and 2nd, and Gleber Torres at the plate. He hits a slow nubber to third. Helluva play by both Nunez to field it and Pearce to scoop it and stay on the bag. Baseball is a game of inches. And in those inches went the Yankees' season.

Good riddance.  

Here's the legion of honor this century:

  • 2000: Oakland A'sSeattle MarinersNew York Mets
  • 2001: Oakland A'sSeattle MarinersArizona Diamondbacks
  • 2002: Los Angeles Angels
  • 2003: Minnesota TwinsBoston Red SoxFlorida Marlins
  • 2004: Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox
  • 2005: Los Angeles Angels
  • 2006: Detroit Tigers
  • 2007: Cleveland Indians
  • 2008: n/a
  • 2009: Minnesota TwinsLos Angeles Angels of AnaheimPhiladelphia Phillies
  • 2010: Minnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
  • 2011: Detroit Tigers
  • 2012: Baltimore OriolesDetroit Tigers
  • 2013: n/a
  • 2014: n/a
  • 2015: Houston Astros
  • 2016: n/a
  • 2017: Minnesota TwinsCleveland IndiansHouston Astros
  • 2018: Oakland A's, Boston Red Sox

The top postseason Yankee killers this century have been: Detroit (3-0), Astros (2-0), Angels (2-1) and Red Sox (2-1). The schleppers? Twins (0-5), A's (0-3), Mariners (0-2).

But enough. The important thing is they‘re gone. Start spreadin’ the news.

Posted at 04:20 PM on Tuesday October 09, 2018 in category Yankees Suck   |   Permalink  

Monday October 08, 2018

Columbus Day

“Since the Middle Ages, Muslim traders from North Africa had traded in Africans from below the Sahara, where slavery was widespread. In much of Africa, labor, not land, constituted the sole form of property recognized by law, a form of consolidating wealth and generating revenue, which meant that African states tended to be small and that, while European wars were fought for land, African wars were fought for labor. People captured in African wars were bought and sold in large markets by merchants and local officials and kings and, beginning in the 1450s, by Portuguese sea captains. Columbus, a veteran of that trade, reported to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 that it would be the work of a moment to enslave the people of Haiti, since ‘with 50 men all of them could be held in subjection and can be made to do whatever one might wish.’ In sugar mines and gold mines, the Spanish worked their native slaves to death while many more died of disease. Soon, they turned to another source of forced labor, Africans traded by the Portuguese.”

— from Jill Lepore's much-recommended “These Truths: A History of the United States.” I was actually hoping for some redemption for Columbus here but didn't find much. Ms. Lepore will be speaking in Seattle this Friday at Benaroya Hall. The Columbus quote about “50 men” comes from the “Diaro of Christopher Columbus,” which isn't the original (that's lost) but something transcribed by Bartolome de Las Casas in the 1530s.

Posted at 02:48 AM on Monday October 08, 2018 in category U.S. History   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 07, 2018

‘Venom’ Breaks October Box-Office Record

“Venom,” a supervillain movie more than a superhero movie, directed by the guy who directed “Zombieland” (fun) and “Gangster Squad” (not so fun), and which garnered a pretty shitty 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, broke the October box-office record this weekend with a $80 million opening haul. The previous record has been set by “Gravity,” when it opened to $55 mil in 2013.

That $80 mil is still the lowest opening box-office record for any month. The only other month that hasn't broken the $100 million mark is January, whose record-holder is still Clint Eastwood's “American Sniper,” which grossed $89 million on MLK Weekend in 2014. Five months—February, April, May, June and December—have already broken the $200 million mark. 

“Venom” is now the fifth superhero/villain movie to hold the monthly box-office mark:

  • February: “Black Panther” ($202)
  • April: “Avengers: Infinity War” ($257)
  • May: “The Avengers” ($207)
  • August: “Suicide Squad” ($133)
  • October: “Venom” ($80)

It's also the second-highest opening for a Tom Hardy movie, after “The Dark Knight Rises.” 

The better news is that Bradley Cooper's “A Star is Born,” co-starring Lady Gaga, with Oscar buzz preceding its glowing reviews and 91% RT rating, came in second with a strong $41 mil. If it gets nominated best picture, as it's likely to, it will already have surpassed the entire gross of six of the nine best-picture nominees from last year. And only “Dunkirk,” at $50 million, opened bigger. 


Posted at 03:50 AM on Sunday October 07, 2018 in category Movies - Box Office   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 06, 2018

Movie Review: Hitler's Hollywood (2017)


What was cinema like under the Nazi regime, run by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels? And how did it differ from what Hollywood did and does?

You’ve already won me over. I’m there.

Sadly, I was frustrated throughout “Hitler’s Hollywood.” Writer-director Rüdiger Suchsland and narrator Udo Kier keep philosophizing unnecessarily rather than laying the groundwork and giving us context. It’s like a Nazi Film 101 class taught by a philosophy TA who insists on talking about his interpretations of the movies without actually teaching you the subject.

Death becomes them
Hitler's Hollywood reviewExample: Kier must tell us a dozen times that Nazi cinema had a fascination with, and almost longing for, death. “A mythical yearning for death,” he says at one point. He says it’s tied to a Nazi regime that “did not celebrate life but a cult of death.” 

The following narration, part of that discussion, comes about eight minutes into the nearly two-hour doc:

  • “What is this German’s dream of death?” This German? The actress/character on screen? Or Germany generally? Wait, is this a mistranslation?
  • “Nazi cinema seemed to be fascinated by death.” Yes, you’ve mentioned that.
  • “Drowning in scenes of yearning for death.” OK.
  • “It was in the glamorous mise-en-scene of death...” C’mon. Stop it.
  • “... that cinema came close to the regime.” Yes, you’ve mentioned that.
  • “Every death was a happy death in Nazi cinema.” Every death? It’s not even true among the scenes you’ve shown us.
  • “Often absurdly kitsch.” [Sigh.]
  • “What kind of nation was it that needs poets to be able to kill and to die?” What poets? Weren’t we just talking kitsch?
  • “What is this German’s dream about?” This German again.
  • “They clearly dreamed of ideals...” Ah, they. So “this German” is a mistranslation. Or something.
  • “... of a safe family life, of unspoilt nature, of a sound home. Nazi cinema created an artificially perfect world: tradition and entertainment.” Aren’t artificially perfect worlds often what cinema is? Isn’t that MGM in the ’30s? So how did Nazi cinema differ?  
  • “What is striking about Nazi cinema....” Ah, here we go! Yes? Yes?
  • “... is a total lack of irony.” Huh.
  • “Instead there is a rather forced cheerfulness: that German laughter that the world was soon to fear. An era that in retrospect is not so amusing...” Nor at the time, Udo.
  • “...appears in films as a time of constant, if rather strained, good humor.”  

This is a particularly bumpy portion, but the narration throughout invariably confuses rather than enlightens. Might as well get Dieter from “Sprockets” to narrate.

The narration actually contradicts the title. It was Goebbels’ Hollywood. He approved everything, had sway and say over every aspect of every movie. Thus the dilemma for German filmmakers who weren’t fascists: “How do you smuggle in your message?” Or more bluntly: “Can you make something for this regime that doesn’t benefit the regime?” It’s a dilemma similar to what Hollywood filmmakers go through, but with much more at stake.

(BTW: I just laid out the dilemma more plainly than the doc does.)

At least the doc lays out the other aspect of the discussion:

According to [German film theorist Siegfried] Kracauer, cinema is a seismograph of its time, an indicator of the cultural subconscious of an era. Cinema knows something that we don’t know. It has an underlying meaning that can be exposed. If that is true, and we believe that it is, what does Nazi cinema reveal about the Third Reich and its people?

That’s asked about 15 minutes in. Then the doc goes about not answering the question. Unless the answer is the aforementioned: “death.” Or is deeper than that? Self immolation? And is the doc suggesting that Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union­—surely his most self-destructive move—is an example of this? That the Nazis didn’t simply yearn to exterminate others but themselves, too? Is that their new mea culpa? “We‘re not that bad! We wanted to kill us, too!”

I still learned a few things. Before decamping to Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman made a German film, “Die vier Gesellen,” in 1938, about four female graphic designers trying to make it in the big city. It seems fairly innocuous but the German filmmakers are unforgiving:  

Bergman later wanted to sweep this under the carpet. She said she declined an invitation to have tea with Goebbels. That was all she would say. Six years later, Bergman played an anti-Fascist in “Casablanca.” It was a sort of atonement.

The doc is even worse toward Douglas Sirk, whose real name, I learned, is Hans Detlef Sierck. Here’s what they say of him: 

Having had a smooth ride for years in Nazi Cinema, he went on to shoot his melodramas in Hollywood.

That’s almost libel compared to Sirk's Wikipedia entry:

Sirk left Germany in 1937 because of his political leanings and his Jewish (second) wife, actress Hilde Jary. ...

His ex-wife joined the Nazi party and because of Sirk's re-marriage to a Jewish woman was able to legally bar him from seeing their son, who became one of the leading child actors of Nazi Germany. ... He died as a soldier [on the Soviet front] on 22 May 1944.

Some smooth ride.

The Wiki entry is actually what I wanted from the film. I.e., What happened to all of these German actors and directors? Did they survive the war? If so, how? If they were male, how did they not go to war? Veit Harlan, who directed the most anti-Semitic of the Nazi films, “Jud Suss,” also directed, in 1944/45, as the Third Reich was ending, “Kolberg,” about a German town’s refusal to capitulate to Napoleon’s army. The extras numbered in the thousands. How were these extras not at war? What battles behind the scenes—between Goebbels and who?—allowed them to remain in the movie? 

Touch my monkey
The best thing you can say about “Hitler’s Hollywood” is that it’s an often tedious primer on German cinema of the era. But some of the images are indelible: the dance in “Paracelsus”; the Technicolor blonde in the white bathing suit riding a white horse in the surf in Harlan’s “The Great Sacrifice”; Baron Munchausen riding a cannonball through the air in Von Baky’s 1943 film. (Cf., American superheroes and rockets.) The doc also explains “Jud Suss” better than the doc on “Jud Suss.”

But I might’ve begun this way. It’s a passage from James Chapman’s book “Cinemas of the World”:

Goebbels, for his part, was firmly of the opinion that feature films should provide escapist entertainment for the masses and that direct propaganda should be confined to the newsreels.

Begin there, then go to Kracauer. Ask: What does the escapist entertainment still reveal—about Germany, about Goebbels, about the Nazis? And what did anti-Nazi auteurs like Georg Wilhelm Pabst manage to smuggle through nonetheless?

Leave “Sprockets” at home.

Posted at 05:00 AM on Saturday October 06, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 04, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)


“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is stupid from the get-go. The characters are stupid, the filmmakers make stupid choices, and everyone is stupid about the one thing the movie should be smart about—money—since that’s the only reason it exists: to take our money.

Here’s a minor, stupid example.

Apparently the place where the dinosaurs live, which is apparently called Isla Nublar, has an active volcano that’s about to blow. Bye-bye, dinos.

Some people, though, including former high-heeled PR flak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are working overtime to save them. We see her walking into her warehouse office wearing sensible shoes and carrying Starbucks-y coffee, and talking to the kids working the phones: a T-Rex-phobic tech geek named Franklin (Justice Smith of “The Get Down”); and a tough-as-nails, I-guess-she’s-got-a-medical-degree young woman named Zia (Daniella Pineda). They’re the new kids on the block.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is way way stupidMeanwhile, an old kid from the lab, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), unseen in the Jurassic movies since 1997, is testifying before a Senate subcommittee and says this: “We altered the course of natural history. This is a correction.” I.e., We shouldn’t have brought them back; it’s probably best to let the dinos die.

That’s not a bad dichotomy. Two likeable characters on opposite sides of an issue. I’m with Malcolm but I see Claire’s side, too.

Except when Malcolm says the above line about “a correction,” the head of the subcommittee, Sen. Sherwood (Peter Jason*), says this: “Are you suggesting the Almighty is taking matters into his own hands?”

Wait, what? Wow, that’s some leap. The worst part: I don’t know whose leap it is: Sherwood’s, for bringing God into the equation, or the filmmakers’—screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and director J.A. Bayona (“El Orfanato”)—who I guess want to condemn Bible-thumping pols. Either way, it’s unnecessary. Let’s say Sherwood is a Libertarian who doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to save owls, whales or dinosaurs. Malcolm has just given him an out. “Hey, this leading scientist says nope.” Instead, before the news cameras, and thus Claire watching TV—and displaying the first of her 50 shades of dumbfounded reaction shots—Sherwood says, “This is an act of God.” I’m sick of powerful Bible thumpers more than you can imagine, but even I thought this was gratuitous.

(* The reason Jason looked familiar to me was because he played the redneck bartender dealing with Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in “48 Hrs.” Great scene. I saw it many times while ushering at the Boulevard Theater in South Minneapolis. And now Hoss is a senator? Way of the world.)

Again that’s just a minor stupid thing from the first five minutes. It gets worse.

10 million dollars
Private industry gets involved—in the form of wheelchair-bound rich bastard Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of beloved dino creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), contacts Claire, and gets her to contact her ex, handsome raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who is the only one who can get close to “Blue,” the supersmart raptor he helped raise. (Was all of this in the first movie? I forget.) Lockwood and Mills say they want to save the dinos but that’s obviously a lie. It’s a “Jurassic” movie. Someone has to have a stupid scheme that blows up in their face. Munching will ensue.

Oh, and there’s a little girl, Maise (Isabella Sermon), playing her own game of hide-and-seek in Lockwood’s mansion. It’s Lockwood’s granddaughter. He’s raising her because her mother died in a car accident. But looks are exchanged, a telltale photo is hidden. What could it possibly be—other than the obvious: that she, too, is a clone, probably of the mother. And ... it’s that. The reveal comes two-thirds of the way through and presented as if it were news.

Everything’s telegraphed. When Claire, Grady, et al., land on Isla Nublar, they’re greeted by a sunglasses-wearing, paramilitary dude, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), whom we know we can’t trust—and not just because Levine played Buffalo Bob in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The camera just holds on him in a certain way. He says things like, “We’ve got your back, brother,” patting Grady on the shoulder, and Grady looks at his shoulder as if it's infected. But even Wheatley’s betrayal is stupid. They need Grady to bring back Blue and they need Blue alive, right? So when does Wheatley reveal his duplicity? Back at the ship? Nah. Immediately. He shoots Blue with a tranq, and Grady with a tranq*, but allows Blue to attack one of his men. In the struggle, Blue gets shot. Now the target is bleeding to death**.

(* I did like Wheatley blowing a puff of air at a tranqued Grady, who, no longer able to stand, collapses. A serious dick move.)

(** BTW: Why do they need Blue alive? Don’t they just need the DNA—as with the dead Indominus Rex retrieved in the cold open? Or do they need Blue to help train the next gen? But—again—aren’t the new Indoraptors super well-trained already?)

So what’s the nefarious scheme? The least imaginative one possible. Rather than send the dinos to their own island, as Lockwood intended, Mills transports them to Lockwood’s estate, puts them in cages in the basement, and plans to sell them on the black market. When Lockwood finds out, he demands that Mills turn himself in. Instead, Mills kills Lockwood. The lickspittle turns.

Here’s another detail that’s so unnecessarily stupid I can’t stand it. Mills needs a black market connection or auctioneer or something, so he meets with Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones, doing a bad American accent), who’s supposedly “the best.” Gunnar actually flies to the Lockwood estate in Northern Cal for the meet. But as soon as he gets there, he acts as if he can’t do it. Not for moral reasons. Because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. He acts as if selling dinosaurs is small potatoes.

By the idiot logic of the movie, he’s almost right. Once the auction begins, before a creepy collection of international war profiteers and Big Pharma, the first dinosaur, an ankylosaurus, is sold for ... wait for it ... $10 million! Gunnar and Mills are actually happy to get such a huge amount, but I immediately flashed on Dr. Evil’s outdated ransom demand: one million dollars. Seriously, don’t Connolly, Trevorrow and Bayona—not to mention Universal—even know the value of their product?

And the idiot hits just keep coming. Mills makes the argument that animals have long been used in war—horses, elephants—and I’m like, “Sure. 100 years ago.” Gunnar introduces the indoraptor as “The perfect weapon for the modern age,” and I’m like, “Wouldn’t one missile take care of it?”

As for our ostensible hero, Grady? After he wakes from his tranq-sleep by a dino’s tongue just as the lava is about to turn him into a burnt hot dog, and he hooks up with Claire and Franklin, and all three make their escape in that plastic ball from the previous movie—riding it over a cliff and into the ocean and swimming onto a nearby beach (cue “From Here to Eternity” homage), then stealing a truck and driving it onto the departing ship just as the island is blowing, but, bummer, back in America, getting captured and tossed into one of Lockwood’s dungeons, after all that, his great idea of escaping from their cell is to taunt the head-butting stygimoloch in the cell next door so it keeps ramming the wall between them and eventually breaks into their cell. I'm like, “That's the plan?” But of course it all works out. Because as the animal charges him, he’s able to leap out of the way at the last second. As we all do with charging animals.  

$1.3 billion
We know how it’s all going to play out, too. The dinos—or at least the indoraptor—will get loose, eat/kill the bad guys, and threaten our heroes. And who will come to their rescue? Blue, of course. 

But even within this obvious framework, they keep adding stupid shit. Maise, for example, knows all the nooks and crannies of the mansion—we’ve seen her hiding out in a dumbwaiter, for example. But when the indoraptor is chasing her, guess where she flees? Into her bedroom. No, not the closet. Into her bed. No, not even all the way under the covers. She just pulls a sheet up to her chin and looks around frightened as the indoraptor approaches. I think it’s supposed to be a Spielbergian moment like in “Poltergeist”—what happens when imagined monsters become real—but Spielberg began from that premise—with the kid in bed, trying to sleep. He didn’t have the kid flee into it*. 

(*That said, in terms of direction, the bedroom scene, with its monstrous shadows, is the best in the movie. A shame it was constructed out of such stupid sand.)

So after Blue saves the day and kills the indoraptor—but not before the indoraptor kills Gunnar and Wheatley—our heroes are overlooking the dungeonous basement where a gas, I guess, has leaked, and the poor dinos are suffocating. They’re being poisoned. So now we get a callback to that original dilemma: Save the dinos or let them die? Claire is on the precipice of pushing the button to release them into the world; but then she pauses, stops, can’t do it. She can’t introduce dinos into northern California. It will wreak havoc. And ruin property values.

If this were a movie made 20, 30, 50 years ago, that would be the end of it. But it’s 2018, “Jurassic” is worth billions, and Marvel/Disney has already paved the way with its continuing universe movies. Shouldn’t Universal join that club? (It tried, certainly, with its abysmal Dark Universe.) Sure, the dinos could be resurrected for the next movie, but that’s same-old, same-old. They need to continue

So guess who presses the button that releases them into our world? Maise, of course. Because, as she says, “They’re like me. 

Yes, honey, they’re just like you. Except they’re up to 100 feet long, up to 100 metric tons, and have razor-sharp teeth. And they’re not very smart.

Of course, considering how well this movie did ($1.3 billion worldwide), neither are we.


  • When the movie began, Patricia said, “Oh, I like Bryce Dallas Howard.”

  • But as the movie progressed...

  • And we kept getting dumbfounded reaction shots like these ...

  • Well, feelings changed. *FIN*
Posted at 04:26 AM on Thursday October 04, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 03, 2018

Trailer: Vice (2018)

Wow. An unrecognizable Christian Bale looks and sounds freakin' amazing here. He looks like he already has a lead actor nom sewn up and maybe the win. He's the tragedy, and Sam Rockwell, as W., is the farce. As was true in real life for Cheney/Bush:

In the meantime, check out the cast list:

  • Christian Bale ... Dick Cheney
  • Sam Rockwell ... George W. Bush
  • Steve Carell ... Donald Rumsfeld
  • Amy Adams ... Lynne Cheney
  • Alison Pill ... Mary Cheney
  • Eddie Marsan ... Paul Wolfovitz
  • Shea Whigham ... Wayne Vincent
  • Tyler Perry ... Colin Powell
  • Bill Camp ... Gerald Ford
  • Justin Kirk ... Scooter Libby
  • LisaGay Hamilton  ... Condoleezza Rice

Some of my favorite characters actors—Marsan, Whigham, Camp—are here. And in these roles? In a movie written and directed by Adam McKay, who gave us “The Big Short”? I'm so in. December 25.

Posted at 01:25 PM on Wednesday October 03, 2018 in category Trailers   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 03, 2018

Boxscores: August 1, 1970

Pirates 20, Braves 10: August 1, 1970

I saw this game on NBC's “Game of the Week” when we were visiting my grandmother in Finksburg, Maryland when I was 7. I still remember it. I remember being thrilled by it.

It was partially the score. I mean, 20-10? That's a football score. Not that I knew football at the time. That would take a few more years.

It was partially the great players involved: Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Willie Stargell, Orlando Cepeda—all of whom I mostly knew from baseball cards and those annual “Baseball Stars of...” books. I don't think I saw them much. I grew up in Minneapolis, an American League city, and I think even on TV we mostly saw AL games. So this was new. 

Plus I thought the uniforms were cool; they were darker than what I was used to.

So were the players.

Start with the Pirates. Their leadoff hitter, Johnny Jeter, was black. So was Dave Cash, Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen. Bob Robertson, batting fifth, was white, but Willie Stargell and Jose Pagan were not. Shortstop Gene Alley was white, as was pitcher Bruce Dal Canton. So six of nine were players of color. 

The Braves did that one better: seven of the starting nine were players of color. 

In comparison, on this day in 1970, my Twins started just three non-white players: Cesar Tovar, Tony Oliva, Leo Cardenas. (Rod Carew was injured.) Their opposition, the Detroit Tigers, did the same: Ike Brown, Elliott Maddox, César Gutiérrez. (Willie Horton, ditto.) It had been 23 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the NL Brooklyn Dodgers, but the American League was still whiter. Noticeably so. At least I noticed. 

Anyway, for whatever reason—the score, the unis, the players—I‘ve never forgotten that game. Sitting in my grandmother’s house on Cedarhurst Rd., in Finksburg, Md., it just stuck. 

BTW: If you‘re wondering where Roberto Clemente was, he must’ve been injured. He didn't play between July 26 and August 7—except, oddly, as a pinch-runner in the July 31 game. 

A year later, on Sept. 1, 1971, this Pirates team would field the first all-black and Latino team in Major League history

For the 1970 season, the Pirates won the NL West, while the Braves—the NL East champs in ‘69—finished second-to-last in their division. Rico Carty led the league in hitting with a .366 mark, and Manny Sanguillen finished third with .325. Hank Aaron hit 38 homers to bring his career total to 592—third all-time. Two years later, he would pass Willie Mays for second all-time. In early ’74, of course, he would break the most sacrosanct record in the game. Clemente hit .352 in '70, but without enough plate appearances to quality for the batting title. But his 145 hits raised his career total to 2,704. Two years later, he would reach 3,000 on the dot, only the 11th man in baseball history to do that. Three months after that, he would die in a plane crash flying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua, Nicaragua.

Posted at 08:42 AM on Wednesday October 03, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday October 01, 2018

Who's Due? Anybody but the Yankees

This isn't exactly shocking, but of the five remaining teams vying to win the AL pennant this season, the Yankees have won more World Series titles than the other four combined: 27-20. This despite the fact that the AL teams with the second- and third-most titles (A's and BoSox, respectively) are still in the mix. 

TEAM World Series Titles How Often Pennants How Often Last Went Last Won
Yankees 27 4.1 40 2.8 2009 2009
Athletics 9 12.5 14 8.1 1990 1989
Red Sox 8 14.1 12 9.4 2013 2013
Indians 2 56.5 6 18.8 2016 1948
Astros 1 55.0 2 27.5 2017 2017

(For those who could guess that the A's had the second-most titles in the AL, take a bow. That's actually a good trivia question. Feel free to use it.)

(And for those who care, the Tigers are the fourth-most successful AL team in this regard—with four titles. Then it goes: Orioles, Twins and White Sox with three each; Indians, Royals and Blue Jays with two each; Angels and Astros with one. Bringing up the rear, with bupkis, is the Rangers, Rays, and our Seattle Mariners.)

Anyway, looking at the above, you could make an argument that the Yankees are in fact due. Throughout their history, they‘ve averaged a pennant every 2.8 years and a title every 4.1 years, and they haven’t gotten either in eight whole years. Poor Bronx. Poor fans. They‘re used to crushing and they haven’t crushed in so, so long they‘ve almost forgotten what it’s like. But, of course, no, they‘re the last team I’d root for. If they went through 50 years of bottom-dwelling pain they'd still be the last team I'd root for. Riffing off Joe E. Lewis, rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for white people. They don't need help.

BoSox? They were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and I kinda like seeing such teams make it to the World Series. Plus a BoSox victory would sting Yankee fans the most. Astros won just last year but they‘re fun, and they’ve only won once in 55 years, and no non-Yankee team has gone back-to-back since the ‘92-’93 Jays. Indians? Look at that painful history. They‘re so, so due. A’s, meanwhile, have the lowest payroll in baseball. How can you not root for that? 

As for the NL? The historically most victorious team there, the St. Louis Cardinals, with 11 rings, were eliminated last week. This is our lineup:

TEAM World Series Titles How Often Pennants How Often Last Went Last Won
Dodgers 6 18.83 20 5.65 2017 1988
Cubs 3 37.67 11 10.27 2016 2016
Braves 3 37.67 9 12.56 1999 1995
Rockies 0 n/a 1 19 2007 n/a
Brewers 0 n/a 1 48 1982 n/a

In a way, all those teams are due. Not a lot of winning in that group. But few teams are due like the Brewers are due. Call it the Curse of the Pilots. Or the Curse of Bud Selig. Shouldn't have moved the team, Bud! Shouldn't have moved the team.

You often don't know who to root for until you start watching, and, as of now, I still have nine possibilities. But I am partial to teams with Lorenzo Cain on them

Here's to October baseball. 

Posted at 11:06 AM on Monday October 01, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard