Thursday October 31, 2019
Quote of the Day
“Right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. Every square inch of that is a lie and it's under your logo. That's not defending free speech, Mark, that's assaulting truth.
”You and I want speech protections to make sure no one gets imprisoned or killed for saying or writing something unpopular, not to ensure that lies have unfettered access to the American electorate.“
Aaron Sorkin, creator of ”West Wing“ and screenwriter for ”The Social Network,“ in ”An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg“ in The New York Times. It's good to hear. I can only hope Zuckerberg and other libertarian-leaning, all-powerful Silicon Valley techies listen.
Scene from ”The Social Network.“ The note, passed to Zuckerberg, simply says ”U dick."
Sunday October 20, 2019
Altuve's Walk-off Sends Astros to World Series; Yankees Suffer First Pennant-Less Decade in 100 Years
I missed it, but Altuve didn‘t.
So it’s over. The giant frachise with the giant outfielder (6' 7“, 282-pound Aaron Judge) was sent home packing, while the small-market team with the small second baseman (Jose Altuve, 5' 6, 165) continues on to the 2019 World Series on that player's giant, 2-out, bottom-of-the-9th homerun—the first series-ending walkoff HR against the Yankees since Bill Mazeroski went deep against the Casey Stengel-led Evils to end the 1960 World Series.
And I have mixed feelings.
Oh, I'm happy. No doubt. This is waaaaay better than the alternative. A dark shadow has passed. I have a bounce in my step again. More, and I‘ve been finger-crossing for this for the last few years but now I can say it aloud: this decade is the first that won’t see a Yankees pennant since ... the 1910s:
- 1920s: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928 (6)
- 1930s: 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939 (5)
- 1940s: 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949 (5)
- 1950s: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 (8)
- 1960s: 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 (5)
- 1970s: 1976, 1977, 1978 (3)
- 1980s: 1981 (1)
- 1990s: 1996, 1998, 1999 (3)
- 2000s: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009 (4)
- 2010s: (0)
That's why we hate them. And that's why this is a great moment.
And in what fashion they went down! An early Astros lead (3-0), the Yankees chipping away (3-2) but the Astros holding them at bay with great defense (Brantley, Reddick, Altuve, Correa), until, in the 9th, two outs away, Astros closer Roberto Osuna gave up a 2-run shot to DJ LeMahieu that looked like it should‘ve been a can of corn but kept traveling and traveling and barely went out over the outstretched glove of George Springer in right to tie the game, 4-4. Shock, silence. But Osuna gathered himself and got the final two outs, which left the Astros batters facing the Yankees’ 103-mph fastball closer Aroldis Chapman. He got two quick outs. Then he couldn't get his fastball over. He walked George Springer and went 2-0 on Altuve (both fastballs that weren't close), before catching the plate with a slider. So his next pitch was a slider. Which Altuve figured. And deposited it in the left-field bleachers. And as the shortest man with the biggest heart in baseball calmly rounded the bases amid absolute, joyous chaos in Houston, the New York Yankees, the Evil Empire, the giant monster with the monstrous collection of pennants (40) and rings (27), had the stake pounded in its black heart for another baseball season.
How could I have mixed feelilngs about that?
Because I didn't watch it.
It wasn't like I had other plans, either. I had none. I purposely avoided it. I did what I did in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, which is to maintain radio silence, internet silence, avoid even potential peripheral contact with the game via Twitter or FB or my phone, because back then it seemed like any marginal contact on my part would result in the Yankees suddenly having life. I'd check the score on ESPN.com, and the Yankees would be behind (yay!) and then suddenly they wouldn't (shit!). This kept happening, too. So I avoided it all for Game 7 of 2017, which the Astros won, and I avoided it again for Game 6 this year. I told myself, ”If you avoid it completely, and the Yankees still win, then watch Game 7.“ Instead, because of my superstitions, the, yes, insane superstititons of the tightly wound baseball fan and inveterate Yankee hater, I missed one helluva game.
You‘re welcome, Astros. My sacrifice is your pennant.
Speaking of: That’s the Astros third; and they‘re playing a team that just got its first. Odd position for the ’Stros. They began in 1962 named for a gun (Houston Colt .45s), played in an artificial monstrosity (the Astrodome), then moved to a baseball-friendly park that for a time was named after an infamous, era-defining financial scandal: Enron Field. Of the 30 MLB franchises, they were the 26th to see a World Series, and it took them longer to get there (their 44th season) than any franchise besides the Senators/Rangers, who didn't win one until their 50th season in 2010. When the Astros won their second pennant in 2017, they took on a team with 19 pennants. They‘ve always been the underdogs.
Now, not so much. Startlingly so. After this run, they have the most postseason appearances by any expansion franchise (13), and the No. 2 team isn’t close (Angels: 10). Hell, they have more postseason appearances than one of the original 16 teams, the Chicago White Sox (9), who had a 60-year headstart. This third ‘Stros pennant puts them in sole possession of third place among expansion pennants, behind only the Royals (4) and Mets (5). And if they win the Series, they’ll be tied with the Royals, Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins for most World Series championships by an expansion team (2).
Now look who they‘re going against: a city that hasn’t seen a World Series since 1933 and a franchise (Expos/Nationals) that has never seen one, and who took longer to get to the Series (their 51st season) than even the Rangers. Yes, the Nats now have that record in futility. Indeed, the only team that can beat that record, i.e., the only pennant-less team left in baseball, is your Seattle Mariners, who begin their 44th pennant-less season next year.
That said, not sure who I'm rooting for this World Series. This will be the second Series with two expansion teams (Mets-Royals, 2015), and I like both of them. It's a matchup of the stellar starting pitching. In terms of regular season bWAR, the Astros are fielding the No. 1 and No. 5 starters (Verlander, Cole), while the Nats have the No. 6 and 9 guys (Strasburg, Scherzer), and the difference is slim. Right now I just want a Game 7.
Gotta say, on their main page, The New York Times massively underplayed the moment:
”Outlast"? Way to hype it, boys. (And it turns out NYT has done this before.) The inside gets closer:
BTW: Here's how the Yanks went this entire calendar decade without making the World Series:
- 2010: Texas Rangers (ALCS, 4-2)
- 2011: Detroit Tigers (ALDS, 3-2)
- 2012: Detroit Tigers (ALCS, 4-0)
- 2013: n/a
- 2014: n/a
- 2015: Houston Astros (WC)
- 2016: n/a
- 2017: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-3)
- 2018: Boston Red Sox (ALDS, 3-1)
- 2019: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-2)
Thank you, Texas, Detroit, Boston and especially Houston. Now take 'em out, Carey.
Thursday October 17, 2019
‘The Floodgates May Have Opened’
“When the impeachment inquiry started, a little more than three weeks ago, there were only an anonymous whistle-blower's complaint and the summary that Trump released of his July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian President. Because the investigation has moved so quickly, it is easy to lose sight of how much has been learned since then. Day after day, in fact, the House's impeachment inquiry has produced significant revelations that point directly to Presidential culpability. ...
”Ever since Democrats took control of the House in January, Trump has sought to block them from conducting investigations and oversight of his Administration, defying subpoenas, refusing to send officials to Capitol Hill, and fighting Congress in court. The impeachment inquiry, however, has finally breached the Administration's blockade. Just this past week, the fired U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch; the former National Security Council senior director in charge of Ukraine policy, Fiona Hill; the current State Department deputy assistant secretary in charge of Ukraine policy, George Kent; the Secretary of State's senior adviser, who quit in protest over the Ukraine affair last week, Michael McKinley; and Sondland, a wealthy Trump donor turned E.U. ambassador, all testified, defying Trump in order to do so, and at considerable risk to their careers. ...
“‘The floodgates may have opened,’” said Hill's attorney Lee Wolosky.
from “Forget Trump's ‘Meltdown’—Follow the Testimony,” by Susan B. Glasser, in The New Yorker
Thursday October 17, 2019
A Man, A Plan, A Numbskull
Schumer: Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?
Trump: Our plan is to keep the American people safe.
Pelosi: That's not a plan. That's a goal.
Conversation at the White House yesterday, as U.S. policymakers try to fix the mess Trump has made of the Turkish/Syrian/Kurd situation by abandoning the region. The above photo was first tweeted by Trump, who was trying to show that Pelosi had a meltdown; instead, it's been embraced by pretty much anyone who hasn't drunk Trump's stupid Kool-Aid. We need more people standing up to the SOB. Think of how many lives we‘ve already lost because the man on the right either knows nothing or is severely compromised. Or both. Think of our lost standing in the world. The U.S. has been attacked before but this is the first time in my lifetime we’ve done it to ourselves.
Wednesday October 16, 2019
A couple of years ago I put together a spreadsheet that tried to calculate which MLB team was the “most due” for a World Series title. I took into account such factors as when they were founded, their total number of pennants and championships, years since a pennant, and years since a championship.
Now you can see why I‘ve never written a movie book; I keep diverting myself.
Anyway, it turned out that by my calculations the team that was most due was ... the Washington Nationals. Wasn’t really close. They had zero titles and zero pennants, and had been around eight years longer than the other zero/zero team, the Seattle Mariners. They had it all. By having nothing.
Now they have something.
Last night they beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 and won the first pennant in franchise history, and brought to Washington D.C. its first pennant since 1933. Joe Posnanski has a great read, and great Douglass Wallop homage, entitled “The Year the Nationals Won the Pennant.” It talks about the long history of heartbreak for Washington baseball, going back to Senators I (now the Twins) and Senators II (now the Rangers), and the short history of heartbreak for these Nats (formerly Expos). Other years were supposed to be their years and weren‘t; this one wasn’t and is. They were down at the beginning of the year, they were down late against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, they were down late against the Dodgers in the fifth game of the NLDS; and then they won and won and won. And then they killed the Cardinals.
How often does the most-due team get its due? It's a thing to behold.
Of course now You Know Who is Most Due. On so many levels. The Mariners are the only MLB franchise left that has never won a pennant, never gone to a World Series. They‘re also the team with the longest postseason drought: 18 years and counting. This is the longest drought not only in Major League Baseball but among the four major American team sports. Imagine that.
But this is the Nats moment. Now they’re just waiting to see who they‘ll play: the Astros, who have two pennants and one title; or the New York Yankees, who have 40 pennants and 27 titles. No surprise, I'm rooting for the Stros. If the Yankees get in, though, what a matchup: Most Due vs. Least Due. Way least.
Tuesday October 15, 2019
Where ‘Grease’ Isn't the Word
Another odd “known for” anomaly from IMDb:
I‘ll cut to the chase: It’s Randal Kleiser, who was a talking head in the documentary on John Milius I just watched, so I went to see what else he'd done after “Grease” in 1978. Turns out a lot, just nothing I'd heard of. Or stuff I'd heard of but didn't know he did—like “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid,” the sequel to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” He seemed to do a few of those types of sequels. Not the original, just the less-successful sequel. Not “Pee Wee's Big Adventure” but “Big Top Pee Wee.” Like that.
Anyway, I know him for directing “Grease,” which was the No. 1 movie of 1978, and, if you adjust for inflation, the 28th-biggest movie domestically of all time—just ahead of Marvel's “The Avengers.” It's also part of kitschy revivals, and there was a live musical on TV a few years back. It's still in the conversation. But for some reason, by IMDb's algorithms, you have three better reasons to know Kleiser.
Monday October 14, 2019
Movie Review: Milius (2013)
John Milius is a legendary figure among legendary figures. He was big brother to George Lucas at USC Film School, where he was considered the breakout talent, the guy who was going to make it, while Steven Spielberg considers him the greatest storyteller among all of these great filmmakers—a spellbinding raconteur. He wrote “Apocalypse Now,” directed the first “Conan,” wrote the U.S.S. Indianapolis scene in “Jaws.” He took on the b-picture “Evel Knievel,” starring George Hamilton, which inspired my brother to jump neighborhood kids on his stingray bike at age 11. Plus he’s the supposed inspiration for John Goodman’s gun-toting, keeping-kosher Walter Sobchak in the Coen Bros.’ “The Big Lebowski.”
Not a bad resumé. Yet he still felt the need to pad it. Here’s Harrison Ford: “He likes to blow it up bigger than life.” Here’s George Lucas: “And then he’s created this ... persona.”
“Milius,” directed Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson, acknowledges Milius’ tendencies to inflate himself while doing a bit of the same themselves. Early on, for example, we get a voice saying, “John Milius had more movies made than any writer in the history of Hollywood.” A quick IMDb check reveals 29 writing credits, of which about 18 are feature films. Pull a name out of a hat. Woody Allen has 80 writing credits, of which approximately 61 are feature films. Nope.
Basically, the doc loves the big guy too much. As a result, they miss opportunities to clarify the inconsistencies.
Here’s one—an early comment from Milius’ son, who’s now a prosecutor in LA:
There’s something about his personality that is sort of oppositional. If the counter-culture was going left, he was going to go right. To be the opposite of the counter-culture. He was trying to be as controversial in a way as possible.
He’s explaining his father’s right-wing tendencies on college campuses in the 1960s. That’s actually where Milius got the title for “Apocalypse Now.” In an archived interview, sucking on his ever-present cigar, Milius explains that back then kids were wearing “Nirvana Now” buttons with a peace sign on them. So to tweak them he modified one. He changed the peace sign into a B-52 and changed “Nirvana” into “Apocalypse.” Apocalypse Now.
Great story. But ... if he were truly oppositional, why, in the right-wing ’80s, did he go further right? He directed and co-wrote “Red Dawn,” the most paranoid of Reagan-era flicks. How is that oppositional? I guess you could say he was still tweaking noses but this time in liberal Hollywood, but I don’t completely buy that argument. You put him in a Republican convention, with his stogie and his AK-47, and he’d fit right in.
Hollywood movies have always glorified guns and violence, and for all his talents he pushed this tendency further: “Dirty Harry” (uncredited), “Magnum Force,” “Conan,” “Red Dawn.” “He doesn’t write for pussies and he doesn’t write for women,” actor Sam Elliott says proudly but a bit defensively. “He writes for men. Because he’s a man.”
The doc begins with an epigraph from the manliest of men, Teddy Roosevelt, about how critics don’t count (we know, we know), and how the credit belongs to the man “who is actually in the arena.” First, and not to get all critic-y, but it’s kind of a self-serving quote from TR, isn’t it? Since TR was that man in the arena? I never really thought about that before. Second, how does it fit Milius? He wasn’t in the arena. He was a man writing about the man in the arena. Or the man filming a story about the man in the arena. I guess a film set can be a kind of arena. But then so can a book group.
He was a failed soldier who wound up playing with guns for the rest of his life. He says he wanted to go to Vietnam and die before he was 26, but he had asthma and washed out. “I missed my war,” he says.
I would’ve liked more on his big-brother friendships with Lucas and Spielberg. They don’t seem like motorbike-riding, gun-shooting types. What did they do together? When did they drift apart? When did Milius realize the ride was over? That his friends were creating mythic stories that were part of the culture and he was ... not? Or no longer?
After “Red Dawn,” he claims he was blacklisted by Hollywood. “I’ve been blacklisted as surely as anybody in the ’50s,” he says. The doc, to its credit, then cuts to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood not buying it. Here’s Arnold:
I have always been out there as a Republican. They don't care if you‘re Libertarian, if you’re an independent, if you decline to state if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that means nothing to Hollywood. In Hollywood, the only thing that means [anything] is money.
That said, if you are going to blacklist someone, it wouldn’t be stars like Eastwood or Schwarzenegger. A writer-director is way easier.
That said, “blacklisted as surely as anybody in the ’50s”? C’mon, John. Did you have to go before a Senate subcommittee and explain your past political convictions? Did you have to name names? Show up hat-in-hand before, say, Tim Robbins, trying to get a job? No? Then don’t compare yourself to true victims of government-industry oppression.
Basically it sounds like people just decided he wasn’t worth the hassle. We get a story about how he brought a .45 to a notes meeting with the head of MGM. That’s going to wear fast. At one point, Charlie Sheen quotes Milius saying the following: “‘My fantasy’—it’s insane—‘was to fly across tree tops and drop fire on children.’” The “It’s insane” part is Sheen commenting on the quote. And if Charlie Sheen is questioning your faculties, maybe it’s time to drop the “let’s play with guns” shtick and re-examine.
He didn’t. We hear audio of him self-mythologizing about his post-“Red Dawn” career:
That was the point where they said, “He’s gone too far, now we’ve got to shut him down.” Critics said, “We said he was a threat to western civilization. This is proof.” Pauline Kael told us he was a fascist. He’s genuinely a right-wing character. I am not a fascist. I am a total man of the people. They are the fascists. They are creating the fascist society. I am much closer to a Maoist. However, I am a Zen Anarchist.
What garbage. Not a fascist ... because a man of the people? As if Hitler wasn’t? And who bragged about being a Maoist in the ’80s and ’90s? Not even the Chinese.
He had a tough fall. Opportunities dried up, his manager/best friend embezzled his money, which he never got back, and earlier this decade he suffered a stroke. He lost coordination, some ability to walk, and, perhaps worst of all, the ability to speak. Spielberg is poignant and empathetic on the great raconteur suddenly silenced.
I had issues with “Milius” but it’s worth checking out. (It's currently streaming on amazon prime.) The man was a pivotal figure at a pivotal time for movies. But his friends created myths that resonated with the world; Milius wound up creating self-myths that didn’t.
Sunday October 13, 2019
Quote of the Day
“I think they have a lot of respect for us. It's the first time they‘ve ever respected us. I think China has a lot of respect for me and for our country and for what we’re doing, and I think they can't believe what they‘ve gotten away with for so many years.”
Donald Trump, last week, in an executive order-signing ceremony at the White House
Sure thing. Here’s an image from “Detective Chinatown 2,” which was released during Chinese New Year in 2018:
And here's an excerpt from my review of the film:
The U.S.'s most recent and embarrasing export is also visible. Apparently New York City has a police chief who has messy strawlike hair, talks in a bullying manner, and mentions the need to build a wall along the west coast to keep the Chinese out. In case anyone missed the connection, the first time we see him he pops up in front of a giant portrait of Pres. Trump.
Anecdotal, but let's face it: China's not putting that in the film if they think it‘ll turn off Chinese moviegoers. It didn’t. After its run, “Detective Chinatown 2” was the third-highest grossing film in Chinese history.
Wednesday October 09, 2019
This has been my cover photo on Facebook for the past year or so. I read it in one of those PEANUTS anthologies and somehow it just spoke to me. Posting it here because I don't know how much longer I'll be on Facebook, given their policies and politics.
Zuckerberg sucks. Schulz rules.
Tuesday October 08, 2019
Movie Review: Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
Is “Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood” the worst movie ever made?
It’s a comedy that has zero laughs. Zero. And it has Madeline Kahn in it. I didn’t think it was possible for Kahn to be this not-funny but everything she does falls flat. Kudos to Michael Winner, who took time off between directing rape scenes in “Death Wish” movies, for directing her in this.
It’s a heartless film. Every human being in it is worthless. Women want stardom, and will do whatever to get it; men want power and women, and will do whatever to get both. Near-rape scenes are treated lightly, as are two instances of near-child porn. We get jokes at the expense of the Chinese, Eskimos and “faggots.” Stepin Fetchit makes a cameo as a tap-dancing butler. Yes, it's racist and homophobic, but the greater insult is to the whole of humanity. It insults and condemns us all.
It’s 1923 and Estie del Ruth (Kahn) is a starving actress in silent-era Hollywood who doesn’t even have enough money for the bus to go to a studio for an interview with a director. Instead, she hitchhikes in the manner of Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night”—by lifting her skirt. Except, since it’s Winner, and filmed in the 1970s, she’s much less discreet. One car screeches to a halt but he’s rear-ended by the guy behind him, who is rear-ended by ... etc. Four-car pileup. And as the soundtrack gives us a Keystone-Comedyesque rag filtered through ’60s sex comedies, Kahn mugs, hides behind some garbage cans, and mugs some more, while the drivers, all dressed in white for some reason, fight each other. It’s supposed to be reminiscent of slapstick comedies, but it’s so poorly choreographed it’s just confusing. Kahn’s reactions are just as confusing. Is she amused? Self-satisfied? What’s going on here?
That’s when, from the garbage can she’s hiding behind, a German Shepherd—whom we’ve seen engineering an escape from a dog pound—rises and licks her nose. That’s their meet-cute.
Except almost nothing about their relationship is cute. He loves her but she wants stardom. Does she even like the dog who does everything for her? It’s kind of sad.
When she gets to the studio, for example, the director she meets is actually a stagehand who gets her in a back room, where his intentions are obvious. She’s willing to go along if she gets a starring role—but she wants the quo before she surrenders her quid—and he can offer nothing; so he attacks her. It’s the dog to the rescue. In doing so, he becomes a star—this universe’s Rin Tin Tin. And since he only follows Estie’s instructions, she has to be his onset trainer. She resents this. She’s kind of awful about it.
So is her vagueish boyfriend, grifter-director Grayson Potchuck (Bruce Dern), who takes credit for the Won Ton Ton phenomenon while promising Estie he’ll get her a big role in his next production. He never does. Or just as he’s doing so, just as he’s convincing the studio boss, J.J. Fromberg (Art Carney), to include Estie in a movie with Won Ton Ton and Rudy Montague (Ron Leibman)—this universe’s Rudolph Valentino—Estie, in an amazingly stupid coincidence, runs into Montague at a theater where one of his pictures is playing. He’s in drag. To avoid fans? No, he’s a drag queen. And he’s so taken with Estie he demands she co-star in his next picture.*
(*The pitch is that Montague will play Gen. Custer and he and Won Ton will save the regiment. Which leads to a conversation that is only interesting post-Quentin Tarantino:
JJ: Wait a minute. Custer got killed at the end.
Potchuck: So what?
JJ [pause]: You’re right. History’s not the Bible.)
So is Montague an OK dude? Nope. At the press conference introducing the Custer movie, Estie and Won Ton get more attention so he puts out a hit on his co-stars. Yes, a hit. That phone call is a master class in gratuitous vileness. When the hit man, Nick (Victor Mature), hears who it is, he turns to his moll and says, “It’s the fag.” Then when the call is over, we see, in the room with them, tied to a chair with thick ropes, a half-naked 2-year-old girl. He tells her he’ll let her go when the ransom is paid; then he puts her gag back in. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything—it’s just tossed in there. It’s like Winner thought: “This scene isn’t awful enough: What can I add?”
The hit doesn't go off, of course. Or Estie gets the upper hand and it turns cartoonish—with speeded-up motion and big “BOING” sound effects. Meanwhile Won Ton, in an attempt to rescue her, tries to jump through the wall like he’s able to do in his movies. Instead he just bangs off and whimpers. It’s painful to watch.
When the Custer movie bombs and fortunes turn 180 degrees. Potchuck (and Estie and Won Ton) lose their mansion and are forced to live in a cramped studio apartment with her friend Fluffy (Teri Garr). They try a Mexican porno film, but that bombs, too. So Fluffy and Estie become prostitutes.
Reminder: This is a comedy.
Since Won Ton Ton will attack any man kissing or pawing at Estie, she leaves him with a kindly older man (Edgar Bergen), who, it turns out, is a vicious dog trainer with a shitty two-bit show. She doesn’t tell the man that her dog is Won Ton Ton, the most famous dog in the world, and he doesn’t figure it out. He just whips Won Ton and locks him in a closet and has him sprayed with seltzer on stage. Won Ton, or the dog actor, looks genuinely hurt and confused here, probably because he was. Before long, he becomes a stray.
Reminder: This is a comedy.
Then Estie’s fortunes turn again. On the set of a Keystone-y cop comedy, Mark Bennett (read: Mack Sennett) extols the virtues of Estie in the Custer flick and makes her a star. But now she wants Won Ton back. She holds press conferences and offers a $5,000 reward.
At her wedding to Potchuck, guess who shows up? Won Ton! Yay! The end. No, sorry. Despite her very public search for him, not to mention the fact that he’s the most famous dog in the world, Won Ton is shooed out of the chapel; and despite his normally resilient personality, he accepts it; he slumps away with head bowed. Then we see him being fed liquor by cackling bums in a dark alleyway. Then he tries to kill himself by:
- putting his head in a gas oven (Keye Luke tosses him out of his kitchen)
- lying in the middle of the road (a car runs over him without touching him)
- putting his head in a noose and knocking the chair away (he slips and falls to the floor)
Reminder: This is a comedy.
The cameos of silent-era or Golden-Age stars was one of the movie’s selling points, but sadly “Won Ton” wound up being the last screen appearance for many of them. From IMDb’s trivia section:
- Final film of Stepin Fetchit
- Final film of Rudy Vallee
- Final film of George Jessell
- Final film of Ann Rutherford
- Final film of Andy Devine
- Final film of Johnny Weismuller
- Final film of William Demarest
It’s like a hit list. It’s like Michael Winner killed them all.
Why do I keep blaming Winner? Why not screenwriters Arnold Schulman (“Goodbye, Columbus”) or Cy Howard (“Smothers Brothers”)? Or someone at Paramount Pictures? Because by his own admission Winner was a bit of a martinet. “You have to be an egomaniac about it,” he said of directing. “You have to impose your own taste. The team effort is a lot of people doing what I say.” Some actors have gone further; they say he was a virtual sadist on set.
In the end, of course, Estie and Won Ton are reunited, but it’s just so stupid. Won Ton shows up at Estie’s new place overlooking the ocean, but their butler—again, oblivious—shoos him away; then he throws rocks at him. Won Ton whimpers; then he tries to kill himself again by running into the surf. That’s when Estie finally spots him, and they’re all reunited, and cavorting in the surf. The press gets wind, talks up the next Won Ton Ton picture with Estie, but she says the dog isn’t Won Ton; it’s another dog. She lies so he won’t have t do movies anymore. Because that was always the problem.
This stupid movie can’t even get its movie history right. It keeps referencing Clara Bow as the industry’s big star when that was later—1926 or '27. It shows Keystone Cop movies being filmed when that was earlier—the 1910s. Potchuck has a recurring gag pitching movie ideas that get shot down even though they’re the plots of later box-office hits: “It’s about a giant shark terrorizing an entire New England town,” he says, or “A little girl gets possessed by the devil.” He also pitches a musical about a girl who “gets caught up in a tornado and she winds up in this strange land with a scarecrow and a guy made out of tin.” Immediate thought: Musical? In the silent era? And why doesn’t anyone say “You mean ‘The Wizard of Oz’?” Since, you know, it was known. It was a famous series of books that had already been made into a movie three times: 1910, 1914 and 1925.
I haven’t even mentioned how “Won Ton Ton” gets his name. Early on, Potchuck is pretending the dog is his even though he keeps calling him different things: Rex, Fido, etc. So J.J. asks for his name.
Potchuck: Well, his name is .... All right, I mght as well tell you the whole story. When I was working on the railroad back there in ’21, there was this Chinaman bit by a rattlesnake right here in the throat. He lay dying in my arms, and just before he died, he looked up at me so sadly and said, [in pigeon English] “You take care of my dog, no matter what happen. Because he like my velly own boy.”
JJ: Look, I’m not interested in Chinamen, they don’t go to many movies. What the hell is the dog’s name?
Potchuck [dazed]: Won Ton Ton.
JJ [dubious]: Won Ton Ton.
And that’s the joke.
At the Custer screening, one fed-up moviegoer shouts, “This picture could kill the movie business!” Truer words, brother.
Monday October 07, 2019
‘I, in my Great and Unmatched Wisdom’
Witness the audacity of sociopathy:
Someone on Twitter asked “Who says something like this?” and I responded, “Nobody wise.”
And that's not even taking into account the crux of the matter: Trump's apparently unilateral and unthought-out decision to allow a Turkish military operation against our Kurdish allies in Northern Syria. From The New York Times:
Turkey considers the Kurdish forces to be a terrorist insurgency, and has long sought to end American support for the group. But the Kurdish fighters, which are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., have been the United States' most reliable partner in fighting the Islamic State in a strategic corner of northern Syria.
The GOP went nuts in a way they never had for other insane Trump moments: Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Nikki Haley, all slammed him. Even “Fox & Friends” turned. That's what led to the above tweet. Another bad day for U.S. foreign policy. Another good day for Putin.
And Trump? His day also included a decision by a Federal District Court in Manhattan that he turn over eight years of tax returns that had been subpoenaed by the Manhattan D.A. in August “as part of an investigation into hush-money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.” His lawyers immediately appealed to the 2nd Circuit.
May he have many, many more bad days.
Monday October 07, 2019
Ukraine, et al.
In last week‘s New Yorker, Steve Coll (“Ghost Wars,” “The Bin Ladens”) has a good, two-page “Talk of the Town” piece about Ukraine, et al., under the print-edition headline “Reason to Impeach.” I finally read it yesterday. Some highlights:
“Many features of Trumpism—the cynical populism, the brazen readiness to profit from high office, the racist and nativist taunts—have antecedents in American politics. But Donald Trump’s open willingness to ask foreign governments to dig up dirt on political opponents has been an idiosyncratic aspect of his rise to power.”
“When the interview [with George Stephanopoulos last June] was released, Ellen L. Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission, felt obliged to point out that ‘it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.’”
“The [whistleblower] complaint's lucidity and detail may help House investigators defend the integrity of their inquiry against the torrent of spin and lies that will surely continue to issue from Trump and his allies.”
Then we get the history, most of which I knew, but all of it is a good reminder—particularly as the torrent of spin and lies and trolls and bots keep coming:
- February 2014: Popular uprising in Kiev removes Viktor Yanukovych, “a corrupt ally of Moscow”
- April 2014: Hunter Biden, son of Joe, gets a lucrative seat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a large private gas company
- 2015: U.S. and its allies recommend ousting Viktor Shokin, a prosecutor general, who is believed to be soft on corruption. After a visit and ultimatum by Vice-President Joe Biden, he is pushed out in March 2016
- “But the record indicates that Shokin was removed because he wasn't doing enough about Ukrainian corruption.”
- August 2016: Ukrainian law enforcement releases records showing Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, recevied $12.7 million from Yanukovych, the Moscow ally
- From Coll: “Trump apparently concluded that Ukraine was conspiring with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to try to defeat him. For reasons that are not easy to fathom, he also came to endorse a conspiracy theory holding that Ukraine harbors a computer server used by the Democratic National Committee in 2016.”
- April 2019 “Trump told Fox News that Lutsenko's allegations were ‘big’ and ‘incredible,’ and that he thought Attorney General William Barr would find them interesting.”
- May 2019: Trump's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani plans a trip to Kiev to talk up the Bidens and alleged Ukraine/Democrat links “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” Then the trip is canceled.
- Early July: Trump withholds $400 million in military aid to Ukraine
- July 25: Phone call with new Ukraine president Zelensky: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
I'd like to know more about the phone summary, what was redacted, and what those ellipses covered up. I'd like to know more about the post-phone call cover-up, in which the memorandum was moved to a highly restricted computer server not normally reserved for such things. I'd like to know what else is on that server—what Trump says on phone calls with Putin and the leader of Saudi Arabia.
Soon, I hope. He tells it like it is, doesn't he? That's what his supporters say. So I imagine he wouldn't mind us hearing it like it is.
Sunday October 06, 2019
Box Office: ‘Joker’ Breaks October Box Office Record
I‘ll refrain from “laughs all the way ...” jokes.
So, yes, “Joker”’s $93.5 million domestic haul is the biggest opening ever in October, beating out last year's supervillain movie, “Venom,” by about $13 million. But it's also the biggest opening ever for a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix. It beats out “Signs,” which opened to $60 million in 2002, “The Village” ($50 in 2004) and “Gladiator” ($34.8 in 2000).
As you go down that list, the thing you notice is no recent movies. Nothing this decade. We get movies from the 1980s (“Space Camp” and “Parenthood”) before anything from the past 10 years. All of this unadjusted.
Made me wonder: Did “Joker”'s opening beat the openings to all of Joaquin's 2010s movies combined? Yes, and it's not even close. His previous 10 movies opened to a total of $2 million. Not average. Total.
That made me wonder: Did “Joker”'s three days beat the entire domestic box office of Joaquin's other 2010s output? Check it out.
|2018||The Sisters Brothers||$3,143,056||$115,575|
|2018||Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot||$1,441,705||$83,339|
|2018||You Were Never Really Here||$2,528,078||$132,829|
|2010||I'm Still Here||$408,983||$96,658|
Some good movies in there, too. Three (“The Master,” “Her” and “Inherent Vice”) would be in the discussion for best movies of the decade. “The Master,” at least, would be in my discussion.
Haven't seen “Joker” yet but know the controversy. Interestingly, this argument (violence begets...) used to come from the right. Now it's the left.
It did well abroad, too: another $140 million. I guess some people don't want anything logical; some people just want to watch the world burn.
Elsewhere, “Hustlers” made enough $6.3 and is at $91, while “It Chapter Two” crossed the $200 million rubicon with another $5.3. I like that “Good Boys” is still out there. It finished 10th, adding another $900k for $83.
Saturday October 05, 2019
Mamet on Art and Arthur Miller
“We are freed, at the end of these two dramas [Death of a Salesman and The Crucible], not because the playwright has arrived at a solution, but because he has reconciled us to the notion that there is no solution—that it is the human lot to try and fail, and that no one is immune from self-deception. We have, through following the course of the drama, laid aside, for two hours, the delusion that we are powerful and wise, and we leave the theater better for the rest.
”Bad drama reinforces our prejudices. It informs us of what we knew when we came into the theater—the infirm have rights, homosexuals are people, too, it's difficult to die. It appeals to our sense of self-worth, and, as such, is but old-fashioned melodrama come again in modern clothes (the villain here not black-mustachioed, but opposed to women, gays, racial harmony, etc.).
“The good drama survives because it appeals not to the fashion of the moment, but to the problems both universal and eternal, as they are insoluble.
”To find beauty in the sad, hope in the midst of loss, and dignity in failure is great poetic art.“
David Mamet in the Feb. 2005 New York Times Op-Ed ”Attention Must Be Paid," after the death of Arthur Miller a week earlier. I'd put it in a Word doc, which I kept amid other oddities in a Miscellaneous folder on my desktop, which is what I'd do before I had this blog. I found it again as I was straightening up the folder. It's a great reminder. For the thousandth time. A reminder of what art is and most of Hollywood isn't. I should have it as a wall-hanging somewhere.
Friday October 04, 2019
Win! Twins! Please!
On Monday, a friend DMed me a GIF of Bill Nye the Science Guy eating a Twinkie with a precise, studious look on his face. Then he wrote “Preview of Division Series.”
He's a Yankees fan.
So I wrote back.
Me: You mean because the Yankees have faced the Twins in the postseason five times this century and have won all five by a combined 16 games to 2? And the last time the Twins beat them was Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS when Johan Santana was on the mound? And he's been retired for seven years? And since that moment, the Yankees have won 10 straight? Because of that?
He: Something like that.
This is the eighth time the Twins have made the postseason this century—the M's would kill for such a record—but after winning their first series against a great Moneyball-era A's team, they‘ve been shut down, particularly by the Yankees.
- 2002 ALCS: Lost to the Angels (4-1)
- 2003 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-1)
- 2004 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-1)
- 2006 ALDS: Lost to the A’s (3-0)
- 2009 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-0)
- 2010 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-0)
- 2017 ALWC: Lost to the Yankees (1-0)
Who knew those 3 games to 1 losses in 2003 and 2004 would be the heyday?
The last time the Twins beat the Yankees, or anyone, in the postseason was Oct. 5, 2004: a 2-0 shutout by Santana. Oct. 5 should be a state holiday in Minnesota. That's tomorrow.
It's gotta end sometime, right? This, too, has gotta pass, right? Either way, if another Yankee fan sends me a Twinkie gif, I‘ll respond with a gif of someone yanking his doodle, since that’s the origin of ‘Yankees.’ As if it could be any other way.
Thursday October 03, 2019
I know this all looks bad. But I'm still very grateful to all the dedicated political reporters who worked so hard to make sure that we wouldn't elect a woman who used a personal email account to conduct work business.— Ian Millhiser (@imillhiser) October 4, 2019
Thursday October 03, 2019
Walk Straight Even Though It's Deep
In second grade my friend Mark and I were playing Tuesday-afternoon hookey in and around Minnehaha Creek, which had dried up. We began to march down the mostly dry creekbed but I balked when it became wetter and wetter and more like a real creek. Why walk through water? It wasn't even summer yet. And in your shoes? But Mark invented a marching song in order to keep me going. He began to chant:
Walk. Straight. Even thouuughh it's deep
Walk. Straight. Even thouuughh it's deep
In that way, we spent the afternoon chanting and getting filthy.
In college I told this story to my friend Craig, who's now a writer-producer in Hollywood, and we both thought it pretty great life advice. The next time I saw him, Craig set a chair next to a piano and played me a new song he'd written that included the line. It was the first time I'd ever been an audience of one, and, being who I was/am, I found it unnerving. But Craig pushed on through. Craig was already following the life advice, while I was still balking.
I do wish I'd followed it more. In retrospect, in certain moments of my life, I needed Mark standing behind me, chanting.
Wednesday October 02, 2019
Movie Review: Devil Dogs of the Air (1935)
Devil Dogs? Plural? More like hot dog, singular.
Thomas Jefferson “Tommy” O’Toole (James Cagney) considers himself the world’s greatest aviator but joins the Marines to (I guess) be with his childhood buddy, Lt. Brannigan (Pat O’Brien), and has to go through all the steps—training, flight instruction, solo flight—that he considers beneath him. He lets everyone know it’s beneath him. He’s got a superior attitude and a superior laugh. He doesn’t exactly endear himself to them. Or us.
It's kinda weird. I'm a Cagney fan but he's a real asshole in this one.
Not only does he disrespect Brannigan, he tries to steal his girl, Betty (Margaret Lindsay). Wait, he does steal her. First he tries to con the mother, Ma Roberts (Helen Lowell), by selling her his crashed airplane, which he says will attract customers to her diner; then he keeps making a play for Betty. He assumes, with that constant, superior giggle of his, that Betty is enamored of him, too. All the while, she fulminates—“Ooo!”—until she doesn’t. It’s like that transition in “Taxi” when Loretta Young goes from absolutely hating Cagney to cozying up to him on a date. Here, O’Toole basically blackmails Betty into going to the dance with him, and the next we see them they’re dancing cheek to cheek—and she’s not minding it a bit. All the “Ooo!” has gone out of her. If it wasn’t 1935, I would think Sam Peckinpah directed it, but it’s Warner Bros./Cagney mainstay Lloyd Bacon.
We keep waiting for comeuppance, but when it comes it’s muted and distracted; then rewarded.
South of La Jolla
O’Toole first shows up in his plane with WORLD’S GREATEST AVIATOR on the side and TOMMY O’TOOLE on the tops of the wings, and buzzes the San Diego Marine compound and does loop-de-loops. When instructions are given, he’s paring his fingernails. When he goes up with a flight instructor, he disables communications so he doesn’t have to listen to him. Brannigan then takes over as flight instructor but when the plane catches fire he bails out, while O’Toole, with a laugh and a “So long, sucker!” lands the plane safely to acclaim. The longtime commander—beloved, one would think—is suddenly tagged with the mocking nickname “Bail-Out Brannigan.” Maybe he is. He tries to bail out again by requesting a transfer to Quantico. It’s Betty, inside the newly dubbed “Happy Landing Café,” who convinces him to stay and fight. Given what happens, one wonders why she made the effort.
O’Toole finally gets an inkling he’s despised when the rookies, after their first solo flight, are hailed and paraded around the compound before a ceremonious toss into the ocean. Hoo-rah! None of this happens to him. He sticks a perfect three-point landing and gets the cold shoulder. “What gives?” he asks. “Figure it out for yourself,” says the mechanic dismissively.
But it’s just an inkling and it doesn’t stick as well as his landings. He makes more plays at Betty. Outside the dance, Brannigan and O’Toole almost fight, but a commanding officer arrives with his wife and two young beauties and asks the young men to escort them inside. All the while, ambulance driver Crash Kelly (Frank McHugh) follows them around hoping to be of use. It’s the movie’s not-particularly-funny running gag. Crash even tries to engineer injuries. Dude, wait seven years. You’ll see plenty.
It is interesting seeing a military movie from a time when there was no draft and no war. It reminds me of “Top Gun” this way. What do you make the climax about? You make it about war maneuvers, Blue vs. Brown, with “the enemy” trying to land “just south of La Jolla.” Some of these scenes, on the beaches amid smoke screens, seem an eerie prefiguring of future battles.
Of course, during maneuvers, O’Toole and Brannigan are in the same plane, and of course their plane is clipped and they lose part of a wing. O’Toole gets all panicky and is ready to bail but Brannigan insists they keep flying; then he wing-walks to repair the damage. One wonders if he’s doing all this to expunge his nickname or if it actually makes sense. The ground is certainly full of doubters: “A thousand to one they won’t make it,” says Ward Bond. They do, O’Toole is hailed again but for the first time he deflects credit.
O’Toole: Brannigan did it all, give it to him.
[They cheer Brannigan]
Brannigan: Forget it. Took two of us to bring it down.
Aw shucks, guys. At which point, Betty arrives and plants a hot kiss on Brannigan, and it suddenly dawns on O’Toole that he’s not the guy for her.
It just doesn’t dawn on Warner Bros. I guess the star was the star, and he got the girl even if the story has to tie itself in knots to make it happen. Here, days after the kiss, Brannigan is walking with Betty and asks her to marry him. She doesn’t exactly jump. She gets quiet and sad and gives the 1930s version of all of those “I like you as a friend” lines I heard 50 years later: “If you were my brother,” she says, “I couldn’t love your or admire you more than I do.”
Ouch. Then this:
She: Oh Bill, I haven’t hurt your feelings, have I?
He: Oh no, honey. I understand everything. ... Good luck, kid.
One moment he’s ready to spend the rest of his life with her, the next he’s bowing out gracefully. So Pat O’Brien.
This is the second of seven movies real-life pals Cagney and O’Brien made together between 1934 and 1940, and most are similar. They’re often childhood friends, in the military, with Cagney the hotshot and O’Brien the temperate/spiritual one. There was often an issue with a girl. In the first, “Here Comes the Navy,” Cagney is after O’Brien’s sister, while here, as in “The Irish In Us,” he steals O’Brien’s girl. Eventually, Warner Bros. just threw up its hands and said, “Screw it, we’ll make O’Brien a priest from now on.” Problem solved.
This, by the way, is IMDb’s synopsis of the movie: “A talented but brash stunt pilot enters the Marine Corps and becomes more disciplined.” So when does the discipline come? At the very end—kinda sorta not really. After the turndown from Betty, Brannigan again requests a Quantico transfer, but as he’s leaving he goes out of his way to tell O’Toole that he’s the one Betty really likes. “If you think that kiss the other day was anything but friendship,” he says, “you’re crazier than a Chinese kite.” Then he leaves, hail and hearty, while O’Toole chastises a private for not saluting—repeating the lines Brannigan drilled into him:
“The Marine Corps only asks for three things: willingness to learn; respect for a superior officer and the uniform he wears; and the ability to take orders so he can give them later on.”
Trouble is, O’Toole never really leaned to take orders without a smirk; he just got good at giving them. He's one of those types.
Anyway, he gets the girl.
The man behind ‘Wings’
A few things I liked. At one point, during maneuvers, there’s a dirigible in the air, reminding us that all of this was filmed pre-Hindenburg when dirigibles supposedly had military value. I also liked the pilot training/tests, which is like a pre-tech, budget version of what we’d see in “The Right Stuff.” Instead of this equilibrium chair from the 1950s, for example, it’s a swivel desk chair. The instructors spin it five turns one way, five turns the next. Then the pilot wobbles out. That’s it.
I liked Lowell as Ma Roberts. She’s got great comic timing in scenes like this:
Ma: Betty’s father was a Marine. Died in the Nicaraguan campaign.
Ma: No. Mumps.
The flight footage is surprisingly good. The story comes from John Monk Saunders, who was born in Hibbing, Minn., in 1895, moved to Seattle in 1907, and served in the Air Service, the forerunner to the Air Force, during World War I. He never saw combat— he was a flight instructor in Florida—which apparently disappointed and/or haunted him. Is that why he began to write about it? Because he couldn’t do it? Either way, in the 1920s, he wrote novels and short stories about WWI pilots, which he sold to Hollywood, and which became, among other movies, “Wings,” “Dawn Patrol,” “Ace of Aces,” and this. For most of the ’30s, Saunders was married to Fay Wray, the girl in King Kong’s palm, and got into an infamous fight with actor and WWI vet Herbert Marshall at a 1934 Ernst Lubitsch dinner party. He also suffered from alcoholism, which is why he committed suicide in 1940.
The main thing I didn’t like in the movie, as you can tell, is Cagney/O’Toole. They really do make him an asshole here. He’s much more likeable as a murderous gangster. Those guys have a code.
Where have you gone, Rocky Sullivan?
Tuesday October 01, 2019
Player of the Year
Last week, the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers of America tweeted their award winners for the 2019 season:
- Player of Year: Daniel Vogelbach
- Pitcher of Year: Marco Gonzales
- Unsung Hero: Tom Murphy
I responded with the following:
By bWar the best players on the 2019 Mariners are*:
- Our Pitcher of the Year
- A .240 third baseman who missed 2 months
- A backup catcher
- Our regular catcher
- A guy we traded in June
- A pitcher we traded in July
- An outfielder injured in June
- A pitcher who missed 2 months and went 4-10
- Our Player of the Year
* The numbers shifted before the season ended: Our backup catcher is now No. 2 and our Player of the Year is No. 8.
This is not to slam Daniel Vogelbach, whom I love, and who had a much better season than I thought he would. I assumed he'd be a 2019 version of Bucky Jacobsen, another softball-player-looking dude who made a splash for a month or two in 2004, hit 9 homers with 28 RBIs, and then kinda disappeared. This season, Vogey clobbered 30 HRs with 76 RBIs. Both led the team—as did his .341 OBP—and he made the All-Star team. But his second half wasn't good:
- Before All-Star break: .238/.375/.505, with 21 HRs and 51 RBIs
- After All-Star break: .162/.286/.341, with 9 HRs and 25 RBIs
This is not to slam the Seattle chapter of the BWA, either. Who else to give it to—our backup catcher? A guy we traded in June? A guy injured since June? Kyle Seager—who missed the first two months and never hit above .220 in any month save August? There's really no good answer. To me, it's either Vogey or Omar Narvaez.
No, it's just to point out the kind of year it's been. As if we didn't know. Baseball Reference has a legacy page for each team, even the Mariners, and it includes sortable columns on, say, wins (our best year was, of course, the 116 in 2001), losses (worst: 104 in ‘78), runs scored (993 in ’96), and runs given up (905 in ‘99), as well as most position players used (67, this year) and most pitchers used (42, also this year).
Then there’s a column called Top Player, which is that year's best player by bWAR. Last year, for example, it was Mitch Haniger (6.1) and in 2016 it was Robinson Cano (7.3). In ‘95, a strike-shortened year, Randy was tops with 8.6, while in 2001 it was Bret Boone at 8.8. The best Mariner year ever, according to this measure, was A-Rod in 2000 (10.4). And the lowest Top Player by bWAR? That would be the 3.9 shared by Ichiro and Richie Sexson in 2005.
Until this year, that is. This year, by bWAR, our best player is Marco Gonzalez with a WAR of 3.4. Only two teams had a best player with a lower WAR: the Blue Jays, whose best player was Marcus Stroman (3.2), a pitcher they traded at the end of July; and the San Francisco Giants’ Jeff Samardzija (2.9), who had no such excuse.
Well, it's a rebuilding year. We‘re remodeling our bathroom right now so I know a bit about such things. I know it’s inconvenient and there are unexpected delays and it's taking longer than expected. Way longer. The teardown, I know, is the easy part.