erik lundegaard

Friday January 31, 2020

Joe's Top 100: 61-70

No. 70? Some question that. Including me.

I keep adding columns. Originally there were four. Last time, I added a fifth: the player's all-time bWAR placement. Now Position for the sixth. So many things to see. So many connections to make. 

Here's the latest 10 in Joe Posnanski's rankings:

No.  PLAYER CHANGE bWAR ALL-TIME POS
70 Sandy Koufax -24 48.9 321 P
69 Monte Irvin 2 21.3 x OF
68 Gaylord Perry 15 90 46 P
67 Hank Greenberg 7 57.6 215 1B
66 Robin Yount -4 77.3 69 SS
65 Ernie Banks -10 67.5 125 SS
64 Johnny Mize 16 70.9 93 1B
63 Steve Carlton -10 90.2 45 P
62 Smokey Joe Williams 17 n/a  n/a 
61 Arky Vaughan 12 72.9   SS

A lot of howls. So many thought Koufax should be higher. I do, too, but I get it. He's a legend but he only have five great years. That said, if your life hangs on a baseball game, and you can start Sandy Koufax (No. 70) or Gaylord Perry (No. 68), no one's choosing Perry. Not even Perry. Not even Perry's father. Good story, by the way, on Perry's father in the Gaylord piece. The point of this is to read the pieces, after all. 

I particulary don't get the Koufax ranking since at the beginning of all this, Poz wrote the following:

2. I lean toward players who were great at their peak, even if that peak only lasted a short time, and lean away from those who were consistently but not toweringly good for a long time.

Was anyone greater at their peak than Koufax? So why drop him 24 places from the earlier top 100 list? 

One area where Joe's been consistent has been with the following:

4. I take a lot of care to make educated guesses about players whose careers were shortened by things beyond their control — World War II, for example, or baseball's tragic and infuriating color line. I don't make the same adjustment for injuries. As Bill James has written, there's a big difference. The years when Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams or Bob Feller were at war, the years when Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston played in the Negro Leagues, they were still the best players on earth. They just couldn't play in the big leagues because of larger issues. When players get hurt — take Don Mattingly, for example, and his back problems — they stop being the best players in the world. I wish Donnie Baseball didn't get hurt, we all do, but he did, and he was never quite the same player after that. That's not the same as saying that Bob Feller lost four years when he was still the best pitcher on earth.

That's four of the above guys—Greenberg and Mize lost time to WWII, Irvin and Williams lost time an careers to the color line—so they all moved up in Posnanski's estimation: 2, 7, 16 and 17 places over his early 2010s ranking. 

Where will Feller wind up? Who knows? He was ranked 48th in the first go-round. One assumes higher now. 

What might this mean for the top players? Like a Ted Williams? He missed three prime years to WWII and most of two seasons to the Korean War, and he‘s still ranked 14th all-time in terms of bWar. That’s nuts. Before WWII, he had a 10.6 WAR, and after WWII he had a 10.9. One assumes he might‘ve done the same in the intervening years. Same with Korea. Prior: 7.2; after: 7.8. If you add another 42 or so WAR for him, that puts him at 165—second-best ever to Babe Ruth. 

But I think Willie Mays might trump him. There’s this:

3. I lean toward players who did multiple things well over specialists (no matter how great) who basically did just one thing well.

No one did multiple things better than Mays. No one. And while he didn't lose time to WWII (he was 14 when the war ended), he lost two good, early years to the draft. Before he went in, he was Rookie of the Year, when he returned he was MVP. Before he went in, in a partial season, he had a 4.0 WAR; his MVP year was 10.6. Split the difference, give him 15 WAR those two seasons, now he's No. 2 with 171. Ruth is still ahead at 182; but he played in a segregated era. He faced the best white players and that was it. Mays faced the best white and black players. I think the Mays argument can be made with advanced stats. I'd make it.

Posted at 08:00 AM on Friday January 31, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 30, 2020

Quote of the Day

“But, ugh, I'm going to say it: it's been bananas since Amazon bought Whole Foods. And I don't mean organic bananas. You walk in and it's like: ‘Are you a Prime member? Do you want this awful fish?’ They don't even say where the fish is from anymore. They used to be like, ‘Sourced from the Baltic Sea.’ Now it's just like: ‘Fish. Are you a Prime member?’”

— John Mulaney, “How John Mulaney, Comedian, Spends His Sundays,” The New York Times

Posted at 10:56 AM on Thursday January 30, 2020 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 29, 2020

Quote of the Day

“This is not just a radical change to the program, it's absolutely villainous. ... We can be sure that every day this administration is in office, it will try to take health coverage away from as many Americans as it can.

— Paul Waldman, “The Trump administration's cruelty knows no limits. Here's the latest,” in The Washington Post. What is the Trump admin up to? Allowing states to change Medicaid from entitlement to “block grant,” meaning the state gets a block of money and it runs out of money, well, that's just tough shit for anyone or any family that needs the help. Waldman is right; it's absolutely villainious. The highlighted should be repeated every day by every Democrat during the 2020 campaign. Begin there.  

Posted at 02:22 PM on Wednesday January 29, 2020 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 28, 2020

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

It’s not until we see the title at the end that we realize we didn’t see it at the beginning. We also realize why. At the end, it’s an admission. The author is basically saying he did his best but he can’t change history like he did with “Inglourious Basterds.” He’s breaking the fourth wall. I’d argue it’s the most poignant moment in any Quentin Tarantino movie but I’m not sure what else would rank. Poignant isn’t a word we normally associate with the man.

Thinking of QT’s movies, I recall George Will’s distilment of football as “violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Like that, but reversed. Tarantino puts two people together, they yak and yak, then it’s blood on the wall. The people who admire Tarantino and those who don’t basically agree that this is what he does.

Less commented upon is Tarantino’s penchant for resurrection. He started with careers (John Travolta, Pam Grier, et al.), then it was onto genres (grindhouse, spaghetti westerns). Now he’s trying to resurrect an entire time and place. He wants his childhood back—Los Angeles 1969—but he wants it to end right. He’s trying to banish an absolute evil.

The whole movie feels like an enormous act of will.

Poor Easy Breezy
Tarantino stuffs it all in, doesn’t he? “Mannix” and “The Illustrated Man” and “C.C. & Company.” I was reminded a bit of Philip Roth resurrecting every shop in the Italian section of Newark in “I Married a Communist,” and J.D. Salinger telling us the entire contents of the Glass family medicine cabinet in “Zooey.“ 

Does all the detail make the movie a bit uneven? Oh yeah. We get, what, two days in February 1969, then the big August night six months later, and it’s kinda sorta tied together with some Kurt Russell narration, but it feels clumsy. Plus Tarantino keeps tossing in the unnecessary. He can’t kill his little darlings.

Like that early scene at Musso & Frank, where Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), is talking to a new agent, Murray Schwarz (Al Pacino), and we’re getting a sense of where Rick’s career has gone since he starred in “Bounty Law” in the early ’60s. Schwarz talks up the movies he’s done, including “The 14 Fists of McCluskey,” a low-budget “Dirty Dozen”-type of WWII movie whose flame-thrower finale will factor into this movie’s finale. But then he mentions “Bounty Law” again? And we get a clip from the show? I mean, the clip is perfect: from the suspense line (“I’ll be sure to introduce you when he gets here”), to the camera closing in on Rick/Jake as the music wells before commercial cut. But we already know “Bounty Law.” It feels like we’re spinning our wheels here.

Or take the “Hullabaloo” bit: Rick in skinny tie and cig singing and kind of twisting with Hullabaloo cheerleaders dancing around him. Fun? Yes. Necessary? Nah. We’re already getting Rick’s downward career trajectory—guest-starring as the villain on other people’s shows, each time making himself less viable as the potential hero again. This is just another wrong choice.

And yet ... I get it why Tarantino can’t let it go. Rick is trying to prove his cultural bona fides on a mid-60s hipster variety show that normally features the Lovin’ Spoonful or the Mamas and the Papas, and he singing “Behind the Green Door”? A #1 single by Jim Lowe from 1956? It’s exactly wrong for what he’s trying to do. Then you dig deeper and see even more connections. Lowe, it turns out, was from Missouri, which is where Rick hails from; he was also a one-hit wonder, which is what Rick worries he is. And in a few years, this song will be less associated with the safe 1950s (Rick’s heyday) than the decadent ’70s when it becomes the title of a hit porno starring Marilyn Chambers. Rick thinks he’s looking backwards to a safe place but the future holds other plans. As it always does.

Did we need to go to the Playboy Mansion to see Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) dancing with Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass, while Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis) talks about the Tate/Polanski/Jay Sebring love triangle? Of course not. McQueen is only in the movie for this scene. And yet ... connections. McQueen also starred in a late ’50s show about a bounty hunter (“Wanted: Dead or Alive”), then made the successful leap into film stardom that Rick couldn’t. We saw part of that leap, “The Great Escape,” with Rick imagining himself in the role. More, McQueen was friends with Sharon; on the fateful night, he was supposed to visit her. He could’ve been there—to either die in gruesome fashion or maybe change the course of history, as Rick and Cliff wind up doing. It’s all about paths taken and not. Rick imagines himself as a McQueen movie hero but maybe becomes a real-life one instead. 

I could go on. Instead of the obvious films of 1968/1969—“Bullitt,”  “Funny Girl,” “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”—Tarantino stuffs in references to mostly forgettable ones:

  • “Lady in Cement”
  • “The Wrecking Crew”
  • “Ice Station Zebra”
  • “The Boston Strangler”
  • “Mackenna’s Gold”

What do they have in common? Each features a 1950s star trying to stay relevant: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Gregory Peck. But the cultural tide is shifting; the clock is ticking. They’re reminders of what Rick is going through; of what we all eventually go through.

High noons
“Once Upon a Time...” has three big set pieces that take up the first two hours of the film:

  1. Sharon enjoying her own semi-celebrity and watching herself in “The Wrecking Crew”
  2. Rick on the set of the TV western “Lancer”
  3. Rick’s buddy and longtime stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), encountering the Manson family at the Spahn movie ranch

Alfred Hitchcock once said that the drama off camera is sometimes better than the drama being filmed, and that’s what the above Rick/Sharon scenes reminded me of. “The Wrecking Crew”? Awful. Sharon’s reaction to being in it? Glorious. Ditto “Lancer.” For us, the drama isn’t in the show but whether Rick can get it together. Look at his journey that day: from hungover arrival to back-and-forth with Trudi (Julia Butters), a precocious 8-year-old on the set who seems more assured about her craft and career than he does about his. Their dialogue is as close to a Jules/Vincent vibe as we get in this movie, but the payoff is emotional rather than violent. Describing “Easy Breezy,” the protagonist in the western he’s reading, whose downward trajectory is like his, he begins to break down; then he forgets his lines on the set (DiCaprio’s idea) and rants in his trailer (DiCaprio’s improv, brilliant); but it all leads to his triumph as the “sexy Evil Hamlet” on his throne, getting accolades from his director, Sam Wanamaker, as well as from Trudi, who whispers in his ear, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” So sweet. Also a little sad. That he needs it, I mean. Her whole life? She’s 8. But better this than his morning fumblings.

(Extra credit: Turns out “Lancer” was a real TV show, starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant), with the pilot episode directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond). And that seemingly superfluous shot of Stacy leaving the set on his motorcycle? It’s an indication of what the future holds for him. Hammond, meanwhile, is best remembered as the oldest Von Trapp boy in “The Sound of Music” and Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the 1970s TV show. He’s another QT resurrection.) 

If 1) and 2) match in Hitchcockian terms, 2) and 3) are variations on classic western confrontations. They’re High Noons. Rick is acting his on a TV set, of course. Cliff is also on a TV set—the Spahn movie ranch, where they shot “Bounty Law”—but the confrontation with the Manson family is real. Question: Would he have given a lift to Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) if it hadn’t been to Spahn? I get the feeling that Chatsworth was a no-go, but once he found out she and her friends were living at George Spahn’s place, he had to investigate.

That whole scene is like something out of a horror film. As Pussycat pulls Cliff along, silent, bedraggled women emerge from the storefronts. Pitt’s great here—that round, amused way he has of talking—but it’s such a creepy scene. I actually flashed on an earlier Pitt movie (“Se7en”) and feared some similar fate for George amid the mess, lassitude and warm Velveeta. Would he be tied up? Dead? When Cliff sees him on the bed and pulls him back, I was ready for the worst, but the payoff is humorous rather than violent. It’s just George (Bruce Dern), near blind, cantankerous as hell, misremembering Cliff, and wanting an afternoon nap so he can watch Sunday night TV with Squeaky (Dakota Fanning), the girl he thinks is his girlfriend but who is obviously manipulating him. She's so nuts she will attempt to assassinate the president of the United States in 1975.

The violence we expect isn't in the house but comes after Cliff leaves the house. I still don’t get what the Manson kids are doing here. Don’t they want Cliff gone? If so, why give him the flat tire? Just to fuck with him? I also don’t get the supposed suspense of retrieving Tex (Austin Butler) to confront Cliff, since Tex seems no match for him. Which, on the fateful night, turns out to be true.

On such a winter’s day
So, yes, the two parts of the movie—two days in February, one in August—are a bit clunky but they juxtapose well. In the beginning we see Polanski/Tate arriving at LAX, trailed by the press; in the second part, Rick returns from filming four spaghetti westerns in Italy with his new bride, Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo). There’s just no press. That’s really the only real difference. Both couples are glamorous, both have someone else haul their matching luggage, and both go to basically the same place. They’re 100 yards apart. The Polanski place just has a gate. For all the good it did.

The soundtrack music is great, by the way, full of the well-played and obscure, but two moments stand out for me. The first is the first time Cliff sees Pussycat. She and other Manson kids have been dumpster diving, and as they pass Cliff’s car the two exchange looks, smiles, peace signs. And what’s playing on Cliff’s radio? “Mrs. Robinson.” Nice. Even nicer: that bass guitar twang when she turns to give Cliff another look.

The second moment is on August 8. As Cliff takes his dog for a walk, smoking his acid-dipped cigarette, members of the Manson family—three girls and Tex—pull into the long steep drive that leads to the rented home of Roman Polanski; and on the soundtrack, using irony like a scalpel, Tarantino plays The Mamas and the Papas’ “Twelve Thirty” with this exuberant line:

Young girls are coming to the caaaaan-yon!

Holy shit. John Phillips’ song is about how great Southern California is, particularly compared to New York City, which is “dark and dirty,” and where things are so broken the clock outside always reads 12:30. Time has like stopped there, man, but LA is the future. You lift your blinds, say “Good morning” and mean it. Right. Until the Manson kids are on the other side. Tarantino is playing the most pollyannaish song about So Cal at the moment that everything it stood for ended. (Cf., “California Dreamin.’” He didn't go with the famous, triumphant Mamas and Papas version but the plaintive, tired Jose Feliciano rendition. Perfect.)

Did I say two great soundtrack moments? Make it three. The third is at the very end. 

I assumed Tarantino would fuck with the history. He killed Hitler in Paris in 1944, after all, so what are a few Manson kids? Even so, throughout, I had a sense of dread, which peaked as Tex and the three girls arrived on Cielo Drive. Then they‘re sent back down the hill by crazy, drunk Rick Dalton, wearing his short robe and holding his blender of margaritas. That’s the first step in changing history; Rick starts it. Then one of the girls flees with the car. Then Tex and the remaining two go to the wrong house. 

I’m curious: Did Tarantino give Cliff the acid-dipped cigarette because Pitt was so good as the stoner Floyd in the QT-written “True Romance”? Either way, it works. Plus being stoned puts Cliff at a disadvantage. We assume he’ll take the kids easily otherwise. Or is being stoned an advantage? Tex doesn’t know what to make of him until it’s too late. The horrific violence that’s implied throughout is finally visited upon the ones who tried to bring it.

In the quiet afterwards, after the cops leave and Cliff is taken away in the ambulance, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) appears on the other side of the gate; and he and Rick talk about what happened and how fucked up it is. Turns out Jay is a fan. So is Sharon. Two things are happening here. Rick is finally getting what he’s long wanted—entrée into the culturally relevant world of his neighbors. At the same time, we get to celebrate the fact that Jay, Sharon and their friends didn’t die horrific deaths. And as the gates open, we hear this eerie, ethereal sound that I initially associated with some early ’70 movie about, say, a haunted woman. Close. It’s from the 1972 Paul Newman movie “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” and it’s titled “Miss Lily Langtree”—his great unrequited love. That accounts for its eerie, “what might have been” quality. And that’s the sound I assume Tarantino was going for. Because this is when he owns up. With ”Langtree“ on the soundtrack, he finally puts the title on the screen, leading with “Once Upon a Time...” He doesn't let us leave the theater thrilling at the revenge fantasy. He’s telling us it was just a fairy tale. It’s what might have been.

Opening the gate
Is two hours and 41 minutes too long? Usually. But here it breezes by. It’s easy breezy. Doesn't mean there aren't problems. I don’t quite get the Kurt Russell narration. Is he supposed to be his character in the movie—Randy Miller—or a third-person omniscient narrator? And the scene with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) is troublesome. Lee has been treated worse in Chinese movies—see: “Ip Man: The Final Fight”—but there he wasn't repping his whole race; he was just repping himself. 

That said, there aren’t many movies this rewarding when you go down the rabbit hole. Cultural references keep pinging off of one another like in a pinball machine.

Here’s another one and I’ll stop. I didn’t think about it until afterwards—until I thought about QT and resurrections. But the scene at the gate where Jay is talking up “The 14 Fist of McCluskey”? That’s basically Tarantino on “Blow Out” or ”Rio Bravo" or “Patrick” or any of the movies he loves and doesn’t give a shit if you do or not. He’s always been this way. He loves cool, but what he thinks is cool, not the culturally sanctioned cool. In the early ’90s, no one was less cool than John Travolta. To the industry, he was washed up. But then Tarantino opened the gate. He opened the gate for Pam Grier and Robert Forster in “Jackie Brown,” and David Carradine in “Kill Bill.” “Django” is chock full of forgotten actors from this period: Dennis Christopher, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Ted Neely—Jesus himself, buddy. He keeps doing it. And now he's done it with a fictional character. Maybe now, after this night, Rick will make a movie with Sharon Tate. Maybe it’ll be directed by Roman Polanski. In this fairy tale, his future is bright. He’s Rick Fucking Dalton forever.

Posted at 07:20 AM on Tuesday January 28, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 26, 2020

All Over But the Speeches? ‘1917’ Wins DGA

Last night Sam Mendes won the Directors Guild Award for his WWI film “1917,” adding to the hardware he, and his film, have already collected. The week before it won the Producers Guild Award. Two weeks before that, the Golden Globe for Best Drama. It's been nominated for nine BAFTA awards and 10 Oscars. It's rolling.

So what are the chances it rolls its way into the Oscar for best picture? 

At this point, pretty good. This century, the PGAs and DGAs have agreed 12 times (1917 is the lucky 13th), and of those 12 the Academy went with the DGA/PGA pick 10 times. In 2005, to its perpetual embarassment, the Academy chose “Crash” over “Brokeback”; and for the 2016 season, in an envelope mixup for the ages, it went “Moonlight” over “La La Land.” Otherwise, lockstep.

YEAR DGA PGA OSCAR
2019 1917 1917  ???
2018 Roma Green Book Green Book
2017 The Shape of Water The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
2016 La La Land La La Land Moonlight
2015 The Revenanat The Big Short Spotlight
2014 Birdman Birdman Birdman
2013 Gravity Gravity/12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
2012 Argo Argo Argo
2011 The Artist The Artist The Artist
2010 The King's Speech The King's Speech The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men
2006 The Departed Little Miss Sunshine The Departed
2005 Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Crash
2004 Million Dollar Baby The Aviator Million Dollar Baby
2003 Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings
2002 Chicago Chicago Chicago
2001 A Beautiful Mind Moulin Rouge! A Beautiful Mind
2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator Gladiator

It feels like we‘re done. Shame. It’s never much fun when we feel like we're done.

Posted at 09:23 AM on Sunday January 26, 2020 in category Movies - Awards   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 25, 2020

Twins Hall of Fame: Where's Cesar Tovar?

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported yesterday that former AL MVP Justin Morneau has been elected to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. Good for him.

Afterwards, I went to the Twins site and checked out their other Hall of Famers. Apparently they began the Hall in 2000 and this was their inaugural class:

  • Harmon Killebrew
  • Rod Carew
  • Tony Oliva
  • Kent Hrbek
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Calvin Griffith

It's basically who you'd expect, give or take a Calvin.

Who votes for the Twins Hall? The Strib article doesn't say but Betsy Helfand over at the St. Paul Pioneer Press does. Quoting Twins president Dave St. Peter, she writes that Morneau was elected “by a 71-member voting committee which consisted of Upper Midwest media, living Twins hall of famers, team historians and members of the organization.”

They‘ve added to the Hall just about every year, but no more than two a year, although they seemed to have taken a break this decade. Just four guys after 2014? No. They’d just taken a break from updating their Hall of Fame page. Johan Santana was actually added in 2018, and Joe Nathan and former Twins president Jerry Bell (1987-2002) joined in 2019. Morneau is the Hall's 34th member and 23rd player.

All well and good. Except for this: Where's Cesar Tovar? 

Plenty of his teammates are in. Not just Killebrew and Oliva but Earl Battey, Jim Perry, Zoilo Versalles and Camilo Pascual.

Plenty of non-players made it. Some are no-brainers like longtime broadcaster Herb Carneal (2001), manager Tom Kelly (2002) and longtime PA announcer Bob Casey (2003). There's also two farm-system directors (George Brophy, Jim Rantz), a media relations director (Tom Mee), a general manager (Andy MacPhail). 

But no Cesar Tovar.

Turns out I was late to this fight. Fans began making the case years ago. Longtime local sports scribe Patrick Reusse has been making it even longer. 

Should Tovar go in? Yes. Here are some voices in his favor.

Harmon Killebrew: “The man was a dream to hit behind. A truly great leadoff man who always seemed to be on base and who distracted the pitcher enough to benefit everyone who batted behind him.” He added that Tovar was the teammate who never got enough credit. Plus ca change

”Tovar was my little leader,“ 1969 Twins manager Billy Martin wrote in his 1981 autobiography. ”He was the guy who got everyone going. When I wanted him to push Leo [Cárdenas] a little bit or if Rod [Carew] was getting down and I needed someone to give him a boost, I'd get César to do it.“ When Martin became manager of the Rangers, he told ownership, ”Get me César Tovar. The little guy can beat you so many ways—his bat, his feet, his brains, his hustle.“ When Martin became manager of the Yankees, he got Tovar again. 

As a Twin, over seven full seasons (1966-72), Tovar hit .281 with a .337 OBP. He got MVP votes five of those seasons. He led the league in hits in 1971, and in doubles and triples in 1970. He's the last Major Leaguer to lead the league in doubles and triples in the same season. In 1969, he broke up two no-hitters against the Orioles in the 9th inning. In 1968, he played all nine positions in a single game. Bert Campaneris had done it a few years earlier for the A's and was rewarded with a car. Calvin gave Tovar a TV set. 

What about advanced stats? How does he do there? Not poorly, it turns out. Here's the list of players who made the Twins Hall, ranked by the bWAR they earned while they played for Minnesota, and where Tovar would place on that list:

Player Year  bWAR
Rod Carew 2000 63.8
Harmon Killebrew 2000 60.5
Kirby Puckett 2000 51.1
Bert Blyleven 2002 48.9
Brad Radke 2009 45.4
Tony Oliva 2000 43.1
Kent Hrbek 2000 38.6
Camilo Pascual 2012 36.0
Johan Santana 2018 36.0
Jim Kaat 2001 35.6
Bob Allison 2003 34.0
Jim Perry 2011 28.8
Gary Gaetti 2007 27.2
Frank Viola 2005 27.0
Torii Hunter 2016 26.4
Cesar Tovar ?? 25.9
Justin Morneau 2020 23.3
Joe Nathan  2019 18.4
Greg Gagne 2010 17.9
Earl Battey 2004 17.5
Rick Aguilera 2008 15.5
Zoilo Versalles 2006 14.7
Michael Cuddyer 2017 12.8
Eddie Guadardo 2013 9.5

Tovar is already in the Venezuelan Hall of Fame (ind. 2003) and the Latino Hall of Fame (ind. 2014). Twins Hall-of-Fame voters should consider making it a trifecta.

Posted at 08:55 AM on Saturday January 25, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 23, 2020

Terry Jones (1942-2020)

Mr. Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson (left)

He was the member of “Monty Python's Flying Circus” that was most often overlooked. Maybe that's why I liked him. Cleese was loud, Idle cute, Palin happily nonsensical. Cleese and Palin often teamed up on the show's most famous sketches: “Dead Parrot” and “Cheese,” for example. Cleese did his silly walks and cutting voice, Palin did the “lumberjack song.” Jones? I think he did drag better than any of them. I still remember his dowdy housewife coquetteishly picking the next sketch: “Ooh, a Scotsman on a horse.” I think he was the lead granny from the granny gangs that imperiled the town.

He was often the victim—and often to Eric Idle. He was the poor man getting nudge-nudged, for example. One of my favorite sketches was Idle interviewing Jones' Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson, a composer who only wanted to talk about his music but was forever doomed to be asked about his nickname. “Then you'd be Arthur ‘No Sheds’ Jackson” is one of the funniest lines I‘ve ever heard. 

“Python” was on the air in Britain from 1969 to 1974 but didn’t wind up in the states until the mid-1970s. It was PBS. Was it a Sunday night ritual Chris, Dad and me? It was definitely a ritual. We seemed to agree on nothing, emotionally, but we agreed on what was funny. We knew what was funny: Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, SCTV, Reginald Perrin, and Monty Python.

The Times has a nice write-up. Jones was a Chaucer scholar. He co-directed “Holy Grail” and “Meaning of Life, and directed ”Life of Brian,“ their most controversial. His most famous character is probably Mr. Creosote, the disgustingly fat man who explodes after a ”waffer-thin“ mint in ”Meaning of Life.“ Sure. But he'll always be ”Two Sheds" to me.

Posted at 12:57 PM on Thursday January 23, 2020 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 21, 2020

Larry Walker Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame!

Oh right. Also Derek Somethingorother.

It figures the day after my birthday, Jeter would be elected to the Hall of Fame. The only present I got from the Baseball Writers Association of America is that unlike teammate Mariano Rivera last year he didn't go in unanimously. He came one vote shy. Bravo, one member of the BBWAA. He still goes in with the second-most votes ever. His 99.7% is a tidge better than Ken Griffey Jr.'s 99.32%. Because Yankees. Suck. 

Meanwhile, Larry Walker, in his 10th and final year on the ballot, pulled an Edgar: he eked in with 76.6%. Good for him. I believe he's the first guy to go in wearing a Colorado Rockies uni.

Overall, 32 guys were on the ballot and half of those didn't get the 5% necessary to stay on next year. And of those, four were ex-Mariners: Cliff Lee (half a season with the Ms); Raul Ibanez (three stints, about seven full seasons); J.J. Putz (five seasons) and Chone Figgins (three disastrous seasons). I'm surprised Lee didn't last longer, to be hoenst; he was a helluva pitcher. The only ex-Mariner to remain on the ballot is Omar Vizquel, who, in his third year, nudged over 50% of the vote for the first time. Advanced stats guys are probably howling in protest but I‘ve got a fondness: He’s still the most beautiful-fielding shortstop I‘ve ever seen. Plus this

Here’s the totals, along with career WAR numbers:

PLAYER VOTES YRS bWAR
Derek Jeter 396 (99.7) 1 72.4
Larry Walker 304 (76.6) 10 72.7
Curt Schilling 278 (70.0) 8 79.5
Roger Clemens 242 (61.0) 8 139.2
Barry Bonds 241 (60.7) 8 162.8
Omar Vizquel* 209 (52.6) 3 45.6
Scott Rolen 140 (35.3) 3 70.2
Billy Wagner 126 (31.7) 5 27.7
Gary Sheffield 121 (30.5) 6 60.5
Todd Helton 116 (29.2) 2 61.2
Manny Ramírez 112 (28.2) 4 69.4
Jeff Kent 109 (27.5) 7 55.4
Andruw Jones 77 (19.4) 3 62.8
Sammy Sosa 55 (13.9) 8 58.6
Andy Pettitte 45 (11.3) 2 60.2
Bobby Abreu 22 (5.5) 1 60.0
PLAYER VOTES YRS bWAR
Paul Konerko 10 (2.5) 1 27.7
Jason Giambi 6 (1.5) 1 50.5
Alfonso Soriano 6 (1.5) 1 28.2
Eric Chávez 2 (0.5) 1 37.5
Cliff Lee* 2 (0.5) 1 43.5
Adam Dunn 1 (0.3) 1 17.4
Brad Penny 1 (0.3) 1 18.8
Raúl Ibañez* 1 (0.3) 1 20.4
J.J. Putz* 1 (0.3) 1 13.1
Josh Beckett 0 1 35.6
Heath Bell 0 1 7.2
Chone Figgins* 0 1 22.2
Rafael Furcal 0 1 39.4
Carlos Peña 0 1 25.1
Brian Roberts 0 1 30.4
José Valverde 0 1 11.4

* Ex-Mariners

I assume Schilling gets in next year, when the newbie candidates aren't first-ballot guys: Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Mark Buehrle. Do Clemens and Bonds finally get in as well, despite everything? A year later, in 2022, A-Rod becomes eligible. Interesting times.

Posted at 06:26 PM on Tuesday January 21, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 19, 2020

‘1917’ Wins PGA, ‘Parasite’ Gets SAG

Last night the Producers Guild of America chose its best for 2019, and for feature film they went Sam Mendes' WWI drama “1917.” Mark Harris tweeted this morning that “1917” must have a real chance at Oscar now, considering how much it's being attacked. Truer words.

But how much of a harbinger is it? Well, since the Academy went to the preferential ballot in 2009, this has been the PGA's track record:

Year PGA Oscar
2019 1917 ??
2018 Green Book Green Book
2017 The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
2016 La La Land Moonlight
2015 The Big Short Spotlight
2014 Birdman Birdman
2013 Gravity/12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
2012 Argo Argo
2011 The Artist The Artist
2010 The King's Speech The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker

For the first few years of this, there was a lockstep between PGA, DGA and Oscar. They all chose the same. Since 2013, divergence. In that divergence, though, PGA has been the more accurate indicator of best picture than DGA, SAG-cast, or even the Golden Globes, which, with both drama and comedy/musical, has two chances to get it right.  

Overall, in the 10 years since preferential ballots began, the harbinger count favors PGA: 

  • PGA: 7.5
  • DGA: 6
  • GGs: 6
  • SAG-Cast: 4

I still say it's down to three movies: “1917,” “Once Upon a Time...” and “Irishman.” Wouldn't be surprised if we got another split: Tarantino for director, “1917” for picture.

UPDATE: Tonight, the Screen Actors Guild gave its cast award to “Parasite.” I think it's the first time a guild award has gone to a foreign film. Congrats all around. That said, as per above, it doesn't mean much for the best picture Oscar race. Last year, SAG cast went to “Black Panther.” The year before, it was “Three Billobards,” and the year before that, “Hidden Figures.” None came close to best picture. 

Posted at 04:36 PM on Sunday January 19, 2020 in category Movies - Awards   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 19, 2020

Joe's Top 100: 71-80

After the first 30, Poz has 11 new players that weren't on his early 2010s list. Interesting note? With the exception of Carlos Beltran (No. 98) and Larry Walker (No. 96), they‘re all pitchers and catchers. 

Maybe someone pointed out his first list was short on backstops? From 100 to 32, where he stopped, he’d only picked two (Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra), and there were probably only two more in his top 31 (Johnny Bench and Josh Gibson). On this list, he's added three: Piazza, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk. They probably should‘ve been on his first list. Anyway, that evens it out a bit. 

Here’s #s 71-80:

No.  PLAYER CHANGE bWAR ALL-TIME
80 Carlton Fisk NEW 68.5 115
79 Derek Jeter -22 72.4 88
78 Clayton Kershaw NEW 68 120
77 Miguel Cabrera 9 69.6 103
76 Willie McCovey -2 64.5 144
75 Justin Verlander NEW 70.9 93
74 Frank Thomas -13 73.9 81
73 Brooks Robinson -13 78.4 67
72 Robin Roberts 19 85.9 50
71 Bert Blyleven -3 94.4 40

I should take pride, as a Twins fan, that Blyleven is so high up. But if you'd asked 10-year-old me whether you'd want the likes of Willie McCovey/Brooks Robinson or Bert Blyleven on your team, it wouldn't have been a question. But Bert's got the gaudy advanced SABR numbers. He pitched well forever and that matters in WAR. WAR has him the 12th-best pitcher in baseball history. 

Joe's #79 was a bit of a controversy. Most thought he should be higher. Me, I keep wondering which 11 players from his previous list won't make the cut of this one. Six guys who ranked in the 90s on that list haven't been mentioned yet and I assume they‘re gone: Ron Santo, Lou Whitaker, Paul Waner, Craig Biggio, Old Hoss Rabourn and Mark McGwire. Is Tim Raines gone? I can’t believe he'd cut Nolan Ryan, who was 87 previously. My great fear is he‘ll cut Harmon Killebrew, who was 67th on the previous list but who doesn’t have gaudy advanced numbers (WAR: 60.4). It‘ll break my heart. 

I do think the guys he’s ranked in the 80s are better than the guys in the 90s, while the guys ranked in the 70s are better than the 80s. So he seems to be doing something right.  

Posted at 04:11 PM on Sunday January 19, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 18, 2020

‘Or Something’

“Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but...”

— David Scalzo, an early investor in Clearview, which has created a facial-recognition app that it's shared with more than 600 law-enforcement agencies, according to Kashmir Hill's article, “The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It,” in The New York Times. 

According to Hill, “The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.” According to Hill, too, Clearview monitored her as she did research for the article. “At my request,” she writes, “a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.”

Posted at 10:09 AM on Saturday January 18, 2020 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Friday January 17, 2020

Movie Review: Ip Man 4 (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Bummer. I was psyched for this. I mean, Ip Man in America. 

And yes, in my head, I was thinking “Kung Fu,” the TV series about the Shaolin priest wandering the American West in the 19th century kicking racist ass, before I realized, wait, it’s gotta be, what, the 1960s at this point? Exactly. 1964 to be precise. But I was still psyched.

And there would be more of Chan Kwok-Kwan’s perfect Bruce Lee in it? Yes! And he actually gets into an alleyway fight with a superbeefy, chest-thumping karate champion (Mark Strange) and says a variation of the “Boards don’t hit back—but I do” line from “Enter the Dragon”? Yes again! A good antidote to the lame Bruce Lee portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s otherwise stellar “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”

But overall “Ip Man 4” is too similar to, and not as good as, the other three. The most interesting aspect—to me—is how much of today’s xenophobic politics infuse the story. Even the lesson is one aimed at today’s more affluent, educated Chinese: Sometimes, the happiness you’re seeking can be found in your own backyard.

不乖孩子
As we open in Hong Kong, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is dealing with a son who’s ignoring his studies, getting into fights, and not listening to his father. Ah, but the doctor treating his son’s injuries recently returned from getting his degree in the U.S.; and while before he’d been a bit of a rebel, now he’s polite, handsome and successful. Ip Man sees the answer.

(Of course, at that time, in the country now making the movie, such a move would‘ve gotten you reeducated or worse. But onward.)

All of this dovetails with an invitation from Bruce Lee to attend Lee’s famous appearance at the 1964 International Karate Championships; Lee even buys Ip Man a planet ticket. So he goes, less to see Lee than to search for a school for his son.

Most “Ip Man” movies are basically this: For the first half, fight local Chinese (who disparage wushu); for the second half, take on racist foreigners (who disparage kung fu/Chinese generally). Here, it’s once more with feeling.

The Chinese Benevolent Society of Sacramento is supposed to help Ip Man, but, led by president Wong Zong Hua (Wu Yue), they offer a cold, decidedly un-Confucian greeting to the grandmaster. They don’t like that Ip’s student, Bruce Lee, is teaching foreigners Chinese kung fu. Chinese kung fu is for Chinese, they say.

Sans the necessary introduction, Ip Man makes little headway trying to get his son into a prestigious school. (The idea of attending a public school, for free, doesn’t seem to enter into it.) Meanwhile, I was wondering who Ip Man would fight for and protect here; Bruce Lee seemed covered. Ah, but at one school, Ip runs into Wong’s daughter, Yonah (Vanda Margraf), who, in becoming a cheerleader, makes an enemy of Becky (Grace Englert), your typical mean girl with racist overtones. Becky terrorizes Yonah with like 6-8 jocks, so it’s Ip to the rescue. A not-bad scene.

Ip next fights Wang, who thinks Ip helped Becky only to get that letter, and they go toe-to-toe before an earthquake strikes and they have to help the residents of Chinatown. Then ... ? Oh right. A subplot—which really turns out to be the plot—involving a student of Lee’s, a Chinese-American staff sergeant in the Marines, Hartman Wu (Vanness Wu of the Taiwanese boyband F4), who is trying to get his outfit to take kung fu seriously. Problem? Gunnery Sergeant Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins), a pumped-up, roid-rage machine, thinks Chinese kung fu is weak, hates foreigners generally, but also, oddly, prefers Japanese karate. We see his favorite toady, Colin Frater (former U.S. Marine and martial artist Chris Collins), bullying people in the ring and breaking arms. Because Hartman Wu has the audacity to bring a Wing Chun dummy into the Marine gym, he has to fight Frater, loses, and while running extra laps sees a smiling Geddes set the Wing Chun dummy aflame. As often happens in the Marines. 

The movie’s view of America—and the Marines in particular—is kind of amusing. That Hartman would bring the wing chun dummy on his own onto base? And then convince a general into considering Chinese martial arts? Going over how many heads? To prevent this, Geddes sends Frater to dispense with the Chinese martial artists at Chinatown’s Mid-Autumn Festival, where Hartman will be filming the demonstration. But Frater goes a brutal step too far and Ip Man steps into the ring. Previously, Hartman had lowered his camera in shame; but once Ip Man takes a pose, he starts filming again. Another good scene. 

There’s a second subplot—ripped straight from the Trumpian headlines—in which Becky’s father turns out to be INS, and he gets revenge by arresting Wang with intent to deport. Then our subplots clang together in an odd way. Sgt. Geddes shows up at the detention facility and demands custody of Wang just so he can fight him. And Becky’s dad says sure. Because that’s how things work in the U.S.

This pretty much sets up our end. Geddes clobbers Wang so it’s up to Ip Man again. Ip Man wins. 

回去中国
The fight scenes are good—choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping—if a bit over the top; but I still love the stillness and balance Donnie Yen brings to every fight. I guess I'm just tired of the roided-out, racist, rage machines: Twister in “2”; Big Daddy in “Wolf Warrior II”; three more here. They’re all the same—without anything close to nuance. All of them disparage Chinese gongfu, too. With reason? Everyone sucks at defending it except for one guy.

I’m curious: Did the success of “Wolf Warrior II” lead to this storyline? Hero travels abroad, takes on the racist Caucasian, preserves Chinese honor. And what’s with the Chinese fixation with the U.S. Marines? Leng Feng keeps talking about them in “Wolf Warrior II" while in Yen’s previous movie, “Big Brother,” he was a former U.S. Marine. Now this. Look at that Chinese poster. Tell me they’re not selling something. (Mouse over for the U.S. version.)

After Ip defeats Sgt. Geddes, Wang finally offers him the letter of recommendation but he decides “the grass isn’t always greener.” (Surely a message from the current Chinese government to educated Chinese living abroad.) Ip returns home, reconciles with his son, teaches him wushu, dies. The end. For this story. But may I suggest—yet again—Donnie Yen as Kwai-chang Caine in “Kung Fu: The Movie”? A joint Chinese-U.S. production? Wandering the American West in the 19th century and kicking racist ass? Seriously, people, how hard is it to make that happen?

Posted at 08:34 AM on Friday January 17, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 16, 2020

The 2019 Oscar Nominations: Thelma and the First-Timers, That '90s Show, and Bringing a Rock to a Bomb Fight

Oh right. The Oscar nominations.

Remember when I used to get up early on those Tuesday mornings—wasn't it always Tuesday mornings?—to be ready when whichever supporting star or stars strode to the podium to announce the year's nominees? Good times. Remember when I used to be outraged by Oscars' choices? Better times. Now I'm just bored with those who are.

The outrage today almost completely revolves around identity politics—#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoMale—but you also got your hipster film fans who trash longtime character actors like Rami Malek because they don't want them to win in a particular year. And sure, Rami probably shouldn't have for “Bohemian Rhapsody”; but don't trash the man. I remember when he sprang off the screen in 2010 in “The Pacific.” His career is more than your petty animosity.  

This year's Rami seems to be Joaquin Phoenix, which is even more insane to me, because he's fucking amazing in “Joker.” Plus he has the longer, more storied career. Still, idiots/trolls keep trashing his performance. Not sure who they‘re pulling for at this point. Antonio maybe? Anyway I’m tired of it all. I'm tired of the Twitter of it all. It feels like Bernie bros all over again. 

Stephen King had the temerity to weigh in the day after. Here's what he said over two tweets: 

As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue—as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway—did not come up. That said...

...I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.

Of course the knives came out. He was attacked, maligned; his name trended. Two hours later, he tried to clarify:

The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.

Howls. It was as if he'd killed MLK rather than stated a version of judging people not by the color of their skin but by the conscience of their character.

I suppose it's in the general that this conversation doesn't interest me. In the specific, I'm fine with it. 

Example: Some thought J Lo should‘ve gotten nominated for “Hustlers,” which they think a great movie. I think she was fine in a lousy movie so don’t see it as a big loss. But not nominating Zhao Shuzhen from “The Farewell”? 不好意思!

Some thought Awkwafina was a cinch for lead actress in “The Farewell.” Again, eh. But Lupita Nyong'o in “Us”? C‘mon, Academy. That shit blazed. 

The main thing I was disappointed in was the complete lack of anything for LuLu Wang’s “The Farewell,” which I think one of the best movies of the year. But I didn't even have time to get that complaint out. I picked up my rock only to see everyone around me tossing bombs. Classic Erik: bringing a rock to a bomb fight. 

Here are the nominees. With thoughts/factoids. Some of the latter come from Nathaniel.

BEST PICTURE

  • Ford v Ferrari <— If you'd told me when this opened it would get nominated, I would‘ve shaken my head. Need to see it. Mangold has about as solid a track record as a director can have (“Logan,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”) without ever blowing me away.
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker <— The most nominations this year, 11, making it the most-nominated film to ever come out of the superhero realm. But of course it’s not really a superhero film. It's “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy” with clown makeup. “From the director who brought you ‘The Hangover Part III’”
  • Little Women <— Sixth time this has been made into a feature film. Previous: 1918, 1933, 1949, 1994, and last year. Oprah lists all the other versions, too. It's the second time the film has been nominated best picture. The first was the ‘33 with Katherine Hepburn; it lost to “Cavalcade.”
  • Marriage Story
  • 1917
  • Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— My early pick to win: a Hollywood movie about Hollywood movies. Generally, Hollywood can’t resist. Plus it's the most poignant movie from a long-time celebrated auteur whose films have never won best picture.
  • Parasite <— It's the 10th foreign film to be nominated for best picture, and the first from Korea. The others: Grand Illusion (1938), Z (1969), The Emigrants (1972), Cries and Whispers (1973), Il Postino (1995), Life is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Amour (2012), Roma (2018). None won. Oddly unsatisfying list, isn't it? I mean, considering all the great foreign films that could‘ve been nominated? Nary a Kurosawa, to begin.

DIRECTING <— Though attacked for leaving off Greta Gerwig, the directing award, in terms of winners, has gone from least diverse (always white men) to most (always with the Mexicans). Among the last 10 winners: one woman (American), and then this veritable UN of men: France, Britain, Taiwan, U.S., and three Mexicans sharing five awards. The last American man to win the award was Damien Chazelle for “La La Land.” Before him? The Coen Brothers for “No Country.” 

  • Bong Joon-ho, Parasite <— First Korean ever in this category
  • Sam Mendes, 1917 <— His first nomination since he won for “American Beauty” 20 years ago. That’s right: 20 years ago.
  • Todd Phillips, Joker <— Some are trying to Rami Malek him, but I was impressed.
  • Martin Scorsese, The Irishman <— His 9th directing nomination. What was his first? Nope, not that. It was “Raging Bull.” Interesting what was passed over when he was young.  
  • Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— His year? Or do they keep the UN going and choose Bong?

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory < The indie choice; the gay film Twitter choice. His first nom, btw. He's had five Golden Globe noms and six Goyas. Zorro lives. 
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— Not enough people are talking about how good he was in this.
  • Adam Driver, Marriage Story 
  • Joaquin Phoenix, Joker <— His speech will be magnificent.
  • Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes <— His first! And least memorable! Maybe. I still need to see it. Or do I?

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Cynthia Erivo, Harriet <— She goes from never nominated to twice nominated: here, and in original song (“Stand Up” from “Harriet”)
  • Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story <— Her, too! She goes from never nom‘ed to two in one year: here and supporting (“JoJo”). Of course she’s been attacked for taking up all those acting spots. It's like there's shame in it now. 
  • Saoirse Ronan, Little Women <— She's 25 and this is her fourth acting nomination (“Atonement,” “Brooklyn,” “Lady Bird”). Only Jennifer Lawrence got to four faster—also at age 25. Fastest to five is Kate Winslet, who was 31. 
  • Charlize Theron, Bombshell <— I'd have gone Lupita. She should‘ve gotten nom’ed for “Young Adult” seven years ago. 
  • Renée Zellweger, Judy <— Welcome back. Stop messing with your face. Do I have to see this movie? Do I hafta?

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE <— AKA That ‘90s Show

  • Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood <— I still think of him getting nominated every year but this is his first since “Castaway” in 2000. Also his first in a supporting role. Way to go, Kip!
  • Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes <— Another ’90s perennial (“Silence,” “Remains,” “Nixon,” “Amistad”). His first since ‘97.
  • Al Pacino, The Irishman <— His ninth nomination and first since he won for lead in “Scent of a Woman” in ’93. It's ‘90s reunion week. 
  • Joe Pesci, The Irishman <— And again! Third overall, first since he won for “Goodfellas” in ’90.
  • Brad Pitt, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— First nominated in ‘95 (“Twelve Monkeys”) and last nominated in acting in 2012 (“Moneyball”), he’s apparently the shoo-in. He's also the youngest of the five: My age, 56. He's about eight months younger than me. 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell <— Fourth overall, first since “About Schmidt” in 2002. Won't see this unless I need to do a piece on later Eastwood. He's increasingly problematic. 
  • Laura Dern, Marriage Story <— Third nom, no wins. Likely winner here. 
  • Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
  • Florence Pugh, Little Women <— Still need to see “Midsommar.”
  • Margot Robbie, Bombshell <— Her second nom after “I, Tonya.” She‘ll win soon. She’s too good and too hot not to. 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story <— Second screenplay nom. The other was also about divorce (“Squid”).
  • Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin Won, Parasite
  • Rian Johnson, Knives Out <— QT spoiler? Only nom for a popular film that adults can enjoy. Particulary Trump-hating adults. 
  • Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— His fourth screenwriting nom; he's won twice (“Pulp”; “Django”). Didn't win for killing Hitler. 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Greta Gerwig, Little Women <— Her third nom, second in screenplay
  • Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes <— He's the one I know least about in this category. Turns out he's written some of the flattest British biopics of the last 10 years that keep getting honored: “Theory of Everything,” “Darkest Hour” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And this. 
  • Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, Joker
  • Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
  • Steven Zaillian, The Irishman <— The Old Hand. Fifth nomination. Won for “Schindler's List.” 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse <— First timer. Did “The Witch” in 2015.
  • Roger Deakins, 1917 <— 15th nom in 25 years! I still think of him as the guy who never wins, but he won last time out, for, of all things, “Blade Runner 2049.” So never with Scorsese (“Kundun”), or the Coens (“Fargo,” “O Brother,” “No Country,” “True Grit”), or stellar work like “The Assassination of Jesse James...” 
  • Rodrigo Prieto, The Irishman <— Storied career, third nom (“Brokeback,” “Silence”).
  • Robert Richardson, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood <— With Deakins, the other Old Hand: 10th nom, 2 wins. Was Oliver Stone's guy (“Platoon,” “JFK”), sometime Scorsese (“Aviator,” “Hugo”), now QT‘s.
  • Lawrence Sher, Joker <— “From the DP of ’The Chumscrubber.'” His first. Other 2019 credit: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” 

FILM EDITING —> AKA Thelma and the First Timers

  • Tom Eagles, Jojo Rabbit <— His first. He's still editing TV shows in NZ. 
  • Jeff Groth, Joker <— His first.
  • Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, Ford v Ferrari <— Buckland's first, McCusker's second (“Walk the Line”). Only the second film Buckland has been editor on, after 2016's abyssmal “The Girl on the Train.”
  • Thelma Schoonmaker, The Irishman <— Longtime Scorsese collaborator with her 8th nom. Three wins: “Raging Bull,” “Aviator,” “The Departed.” How her editing of “Goodfellas” lost to the editing in “Dances with Wolves” is a true crime that needs investigating.
  • Yang Jinmo, Parasite <— His first. Only Hollywood credit: “Assistant to Mr. Kim,” the director of the 2013 Schwarzenegger flick “The Last Stand.” 

PRODUCTION DESIGN <— Is there a good doc about production design? Would love to see it.

  • Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales, 1917
  • Ra Vincent and Nora Sopková, JoJo Rabbit
  • Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  • Ha-jun Lee and Won-Woo Cho, Parasite
  • Bob Shaw and Regina Graves, The Irishman

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • I Lost My Body
  • Klaus
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4 <— Saw  this one

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE <— Saw none of them, but many are now streaming on the usual suspects (Neflix, Hulu). 

  • American Factory
  • The Cave
  • The Edge of Democracy
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

  • Corpus Christi, Poland
  • Honeyland, North Macedonia
  • Les Misérables, France
  • Pain and Glory, Spain
  • Parasite, South Korea <— Saw this one.

The rest of the categories are here. The broadcast is early this year: Sunday, Feb. 9, 5 PM PST. BYOP. Popcorn. Kidding. We pop. But no bombs allowed. 

Posted at 12:34 PM on Thursday January 16, 2020 in category Movies - The Oscars   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 14, 2020

Quote of the Day

“Another baseball writer, Gordon Beard, when referring to how Reggie Jackson was getting a candy bar named for him, wrote: ”‘Brooks never asked anyone to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore, people name their children after him.’"

— Joe Posnanski in his piece on Brooks Robinson as the 73rd greatest baseball player of all time. The beginning of the piece is so evocative of a backyard, a boy and a dad, it could be from a memoir.

Posted at 07:35 PM on Tuesday January 14, 2020 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Monday January 13, 2020

Miasma Monday

I‘ll have something up on the Oscar nominations soon, I guess—although we’re back to Daniel's sister's line, aren't we? “Just what the world needs, Daniel...” 

Anyway, nothing yet. I‘ve been sick for the last nine days. It started a week ago Sunday as a dry cough and a tightness in my chest, then four days later leapt into the usual horror show of spewing uncontrollably out of most available facial orifices. It got really bad Friday night, which always seems to be the way. It waits for the weekend. Worst night was last night: chills, massive headache, achy, coughing, difficulty breathing, little sleep. The difficulty breathing is the scariest part. Saw a doctor this morning and she asked the usual questions and did the usual tests. Good news: Not flu (I had a flu shot but some strain is making the rounds anyway) and not pneumonia. Just viral gunk mixed with my asthma. (Leading to miasma.) Got meds. I often wonder where I’d be if not for modern medicine. Dead, most likely.

While at the doctor's office, and before the diagnosis, the nurse gave me one of those “Don't spread your germs” surgical masks to wear while I was in the medical center. I did better. I wore it outside, too. Kind of fun. No one's going to come near you if you're wearing one of those things. I might make a habit of it. 

Posted at 04:18 PM on Monday January 13, 2020 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 12, 2020

Quote of the Day

“We‘re really called not to dispel mystery but to abide it, to engage it. And that doesn’t mean necessarily making sense out of it. It's just understanding that there's a big part of this that is inherently and beautifully and romantically mysterious—has to be and always shall be. I write to discover. And if I'm engaged by what that writing has become, then I try to think about what—might it engage anybody else? It's to just try to put my finger on it and hear it. ...

”Even as you‘re writing, you’re not trying to rearticulate a finished thought that stands fully formed in your mind. I assume that maybe you know the poet Jane Hirshfield. You know her work at all? I'm a great admirer of hers. And we‘ve never met face to face, but we’ve become great pen pals. But she was writing to me recently about that very real notion that ‘the poem has an intelligence that the poet does not have.’“

— Joe Henry, on the radio show/podcast, ”On Being,“ with Krista Tippett

I think of several things here: Kundera's theory of the wisdom of the novel—the novel being smarter than the novelist—as well as Rilke's advice (to a young poet) to learn to love the questions themselves; to live the questions themselves, in the hopes that you may live them into an answer. I also flashed back to a moment in the early ‘90s, a party or something, a bunch of white people talking about Spike Lee’s ”Do the Right Thing." I said I'd heard Lee defend the movie before and it always flattened it for me before; the movie, I said, seemed more intelligent than he was. I got slammed for that. I think I got called a racist, and I didn't have the vocabulary, or the presence of mind, to defend myself. Later I remember thinking that they thought I was insulting Lee when I thought I was giving him a compliment. 

Posted at 01:28 PM on Sunday January 12, 2020 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 11, 2020

Training-Wheels Trump

This is dead on. It's one of the many ways legit news orgs are failing us and our democracy. I also know that once they get a Democrat back in the White House the press will be all over their ass about the details of their plans to make the lives of Americans better. It‘ll be a smart person trying to do good, and the press will be off to the side with hands on hips and a cynical look in their eyes. But with Trump they just look on helplessly. They straighten their ties and try to parse out what feels legitimate about what he’s saying—what feels presidential—and it's not much, and of course they‘re not paying attention to everything else—all the ways he’s a complete catastrophe, whch is most of the ways. Here's a small thing but a large thing. It's indicative of who Trump is. At a rally the other day, he called out a representative of the U.S. House and misrepresented his stances. Then he insulted his physical appearance. This is how The New York Times dealt with the story—and the only way they dealt with that story. It's the seventh graf of a story headlined: “At First Rally of Election Year, Trump Boasts About Strike on Iranian General” with the subhed: “The president, addressing supporters in Ohio, said that he had killed a ‘bloodthirsty terror’ and slammed Democrats for seeking to restrain his power to make war”:

Mr. Trump also singled out Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, offering a parody version of the congressman supposedly preferring to talk about taking out a terrorist instead of actually doing so. “You little pencil neck,” Mr. Trump then said derisively, as if addressing Mr. Schiff.

Trump constantly does this. He constantly demeans others by insulting their looks, or by inventing mocking nicknames for them, like he's a third-grade bully during recess. It's one of his main characteristics, and obvious as far back as 2015 and 2016, but the legit press barely touches on it. I think they think it's beneath their dignity. It is, but it's the president of the United States saying it, meaning it's a huge, huge story. It should be the headline: Not what the insult is (that just gives it more air), but the fact that he's making the insult. The president of the United States. 

The legit press has to do a better job at this. I hope it's a constant discussion in the offices of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and NPR. 

Posted at 04:11 PM on Saturday January 11, 2020 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 11, 2020

Flies at the Picnic

“We‘re sort of seduced into thinking: Here’s life, and then there's these bad things that can happen that are obstacles that just fall into your road. As if the obstacle is not the road, you know? We want to think that, all things being equal, we should be content all the time and would be except for these pesky flies that want to ruin every picnic—as if that isn't what the picnic is.”

— Joe Henry, on the radio show/podcast, “On Being,” with Krista Tippett

Posted at 02:58 PM on Saturday January 11, 2020 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 11, 2020

Joe's Top 100: 81-90

This group of 10, from Joe Posnanski's countdown of the Top 100 players in baseball history, is like the first days of spring training: pitchers and catchers reporting. These two positions make up seven of the answers. So does No. 80. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

NO.  PLAYER CHANGE bWAR
90 Max Scherzer NEW 60.3
89 Mike Piazza NEW 59.6
88 Curt Schilling 12 79.5
87 Charlie Gehringer -24 80.7
86 Gary Carter NEW 70.1
85 Sadahura Oh -16 n/a
84 Cool Papa Bell 15 n/a
83 Phil Niekro NEW 95.9
82 Kid Nichols -17 116.1
81 Ferguson Jenkins NEW 84.1

A lot of newbies here. I was kind of shocked Fergie Jenkins didn't make Poz's first list back in the early 2010s. Or Piazza. Or Gary Carter for that matter. Catchers keep getting overlooked thanks to WAR. 

It's now eight new names through 20 answers, which means—unless he doubles up—we‘re losing at least that many from the first list. One wonders who. Ron Santo, who had been No. 98? Lou Whitaker, a perpetual Poz talking point, at No. 97? Old Hoss Radbourn at 92 or Frankie Frisch at No. 84? Who will be the highest-ranked first listee to not make the current list? I know. There are more important things to think, but this is how my mind works.

The point of the list, really, is to read Poz’s great profiles of these great players. I've linked to a few. Have at. 

Posted at 07:53 AM on Saturday January 11, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 09, 2020

Movie Review: Marriage Story (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” spends two hours on the dissolution of a marriage and its subsequent divorce proceedings, and the early critical take was how even-handed it was. Both parties, Charlie and Nicole (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson), have their faults and their favors. Some viewers side with Charlie, some Nicole, but you empathize with both.

This is particularly impressive, people said, since it's based on Baumbach’s recent divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Even the attorneys have real-world parallels. Baumbach, people are saying, managed to tell his ex-wife’s side. What Kundera says about “the wisdom of the novel”? Baumach had it here. 

That was the early critical take.

It’s not mine. I can’t remember the last time I was as furious at a movie character as I was with Nicole. I hated her. I was literally flipping her off in the movie theater. With both fingers.

Why I hated her
Early on, it’s obvious they’re going to get divorced. There’s sadness, etc., but they’re mature, and they agree that the whole thing should be without attorneys to make it as amicable and as cheap as possible.

A few things prevent this from happening.

They have a son, Henry (Azhy Robertson, in a great performance), so there’s the custody issue. But they’re fine sharing custody.

The issue is where. As a family, they’ve always lived in New York. Except she recently got a gig on a TV show and moved back to LA, where she grew up, and where her family lives. So how can they share custody on two different coasts? Would Henry go to two different schools? Can you even do that?

Anyway, that’s the basic dilemma.

How do Charlie and Nicole deal with it? Charlie mostly ignores it, to be honest. He’s kind of got his head in the clouds—or in his art. And he assumes that the LA thing is temporary and Nicole will soon move back to New York City. Which she loves, right? Bad on him for not seeing things clearly.

Nicole deals with it by hiring an attorney. And not just any attorney, but a high-end, cutthroat, creepily ingratiating attorney, Nora Fanshaw, played to the hilt by Laura Dern in all of her Laura Dern-ness. So Nicole does what they told each other they wouldn’t do. And she seems oblivious to this fact. And for the rest of the movie, she’s basically secure. She has a well-paying job, a big home in LA, Henry is with her.

Not Charlie. The rest of the movie is his humiliating scramble to keep up. First he hires his own 40th floor, glass-office-tower attorney, Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), but no, that guy’s way too cutthroat, he’d say mean things about Nicole. So he hires amiable Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), whose office is cramped, cluttered and cat-filled, and who sees Charlie as a person not a case. Charlie loves that. He’s momentarily relieved but we aren’t. I was thinking there was maybe a 10% chance Bert might make a decent match against Nora but she eats him for lunch. Huddling in a back office, Charlie suddenly realizes his predicament while Bert veers off into a joke. It’s long, pointless, with repeated iterations, and Charlie keeps glancing at the clock. “I’m sorry, Bert,” he finally asks, “am I paying for this joke?”

Cut to: The return of Marotta/Liotta. “I needed my own asshole,” he tells Nicole.

Guess what? Nicole doesn’t even get that. She thinks it’s out of bounds. I’m like: What did she think Nora Fanshaw was?

It gets worse. While she’s living in her nice home, Charlie is forced to rent a motel, then an apartment that feels like a motel. While Nicole takes Henry trick or treating through rich neighborhoods; Charlie is forced to get late, sloppy seconds in his shitty, highway-heavy neighborhood. We see the pain he goes through when the evaluator, in all her grand dimness, arrives. We hear the pain he’s going through when he sings a Stephen Sondheim song “Being Alive” before his friends at a NYC club. We imagine the pain he goes through when his Broadway play closes because he’s making too many trips to the coast. Nicole? She sings a wacky song with her sister and mother, all smiles, we never see her interact with the evaluator, and her stupid TV show is doing just fine, thank you.

And then Baumbach implies, through Nora Fanshaw, that women somehow have it tougher in custody battles? Are you shitting me? It was only in the last few decades that men even had a chance in hell. Before that, everyone thought, “Of course children should be with the mother!” But here, Nora pointedly gets to blather on about how people don’t accept mothers who swear and drink too much wine but imperfect dads are just fine. There’s a larger truth in that, sure—the bar for men is way lower—but not in custody battles. I think that's the wrong arena. Even the attorney Fanshaw is based on says she doesn't agree with it.

Just how awful is Fanshaw? In the end, she makes Charlie—or maybe Marotta—accept a 55-45 split without consulting her client, who wanted 50-50. She does it for herself. For her own ego.

I’m sorry, but I don’t know how anyone can watch this and feel equal empathy for both sides. 

What’s my mantra?
So is it good? Sure. Great performances. Driver particularly. And the kid. I thought of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” of course. But there, Dustin Hoffman's Ted has to become a good father. Here, Charlie starts out a good father. What he has to become is both a better ex-husband (one who hears what others are saying) and a tougher ex-husband (one who knows enough not to hire Alan Alda). I also thought of “Annie Hall”—that whole Jewish New Yorker/Gentile LA dynamic. Except here Charlie is won over. He winds up moving to LA. That would never happen to Alvy. 

The most devastating scene, as well as the funniest, is the one with the court-appointed evaluator, Nancy Katz (Martha Kelly), who is visiting Charlie to evaluate what kind of father he is. And my favorite part? She rings the wrong doorbell. So the woman who is going to evaluate the most important decision in his life can’t even figure out where he lives. And he has to be nice to her. 

Is Baumbach best when he tells stories that are autobiographical? Or about divorce? Up to now, my favorite of his has been “The Squid and the Whale,” his 2005 take on his own parents’ divorce. I liked “Greenberg,” too. Hated “Frances Ha,” which still has tons of fans, while “While We’re Young” felt inconsequential and misplaced. Missed “Mistress America” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.”

What I disliked abut “Frances Ha” and “While We’re Young” is that the characters seemed like they could be real but felt untrue. They felt forced. Plus their dilemmas weren’t interesting. The characters of “Marriage Story” seem real and feel true—probably because they were. Plus their dilemmas matter. Or his does.

Posted at 05:59 AM on Thursday January 09, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 08, 2020

Guilds Announce, Oscar Race Tightens

The three big guild nominations were announced this week—PGA, DGA and WGA—and it's narrowed down the best picture race a bit:

MOVIE PGA DGA WGA
The Irishman x x x
JoJo Rabbit x x x
1917 x x x
Parasite x x x
Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood x x  
Knives Out x   x
Joker x   x
Little Women x   x
Marriage Story x   x
Ford v. Ferrari x    
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood     x
Booksmart     x

OK, so the DGA can do the narrowing on its own.

As I wrote last year, only twice in its 71-year history has the DGA not nominated the director of the movie that eventually won the Oscar for best picture. (For sticklers, these were: Olivier, “Hamlet,” 1948; Beresford, “Driving Miss Daisy,” 1989; both received no DGA nom.) If this holds, we‘re down to five movies.

Actually, make that four. No way the Academy will go “JoJo Rabbit.”

And has a foreign-language film ever won best picture? No. Not even “Roma.” So we seem to be down to three:

  • 1917
  • The Irishman
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

“Irishman” also has that Netflix/streaming problem, which might take away votes. Maybe it’s two? Maybe it's QT's year?

Oscar noms take place Monday, Jan. 13. Not sure why the change from the traditional Tuesday. Is someone at the Academy into “disruption”? Thrilling. 

Posted at 01:34 PM on Wednesday January 08, 2020 in category Movies - Awards   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 07, 2020

Movie Review: Ad Astra (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You know those pretty women in Terrence Malick movies that run ahead of the camera and look back and laugh? The ones that represent something just out of reach? Well, they’re well-rounded characters compared to Liv Tyler in “Ad Astra.”

She plays Eve (of course), the ex-wife of our lead, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who’s the son of a famous astronaut. What does she do in the film? Let’s see: She sends her hubby, or ex, somber video messages. She semi-haunts his memories while he’s in space, then shows up in the final frame for reunion and possible redemption. That’s her role. She represents where he’s gone wrong and how he might be saved. As for what she does/likes/is? Please. 

At one point, in one of those draggy selfie videos, she says, “I have my own life, I’m my own person, and I can’t just wait for you.” Actually: You don’t, you’re not, you can. And you do. 

A little Conrad
I wanted to like “Ad Astra” even though I’ve never been a huge fan of James Gray’s movies (“The Immigrant,” “The Lost City of Z”). And I did like it. Pitt is so underrated as an actor; he conveys so much with so little. And I liked the movie’s somber, thrumming tone. I liked its seriousness. It wants to be a great movie. According to IMDb, Gray described his movie thus:

If you got “Apocalypse Now” and “2001” in a giant mash-up and you put a little Conrad in there.

Wow, that’s reaching high. That’s reaching as high as an International Space Antennae.

But how bad is it that I want to correct even this quote? A little Conrad? Isn’t there already enough Conrad in “Apocalypse Now”? How about a little “Contact”: the search for the parent in the stars? That’s more like it. Plus “Apocalypse” is John Milius’ bag about man descending into savagery, his true state, while Gray wants to upend our heroic tropes. He wants to reveal the sad, gnawing emptiness at the heart of the strong, silent type. He wants to create a better model.

But yes, the tone is all “2001,” while the journey is right out of “Apocalypse”: the half-dead man sent on a mission to discover what happened to the great man at the end of the river. In this case, the great man is also his father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), sent decades ago to the other side of Neptune to head up the Lima Project—our search for intelligent life in the universe. Like Col. Kurtz, he may have gone mad. Unlike Col. Kurtz, it’s more than just PR to bring him back/down. Clifford may be sending anti-matter surges that could destroy all life on Earth, while Roy’s mission isn’t to “terminate the Colonel’s command,” as in “Apocalypse”; he’s being used by SPACECOM (basically NASA) to draw out his father so others can (one imagines) do the deed.

First the journey upriver. Roy starts it with Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), an old friend of his father, and they fly commercial to the moon. I like this bit: 

Roy: Can I have a blanket and pillow?
Flight attendant: Certainly. That'll be $125.

Unlike in “Apocalypse,” he keeps losing and gaining partners. He and Pruitt are attacked by pirates on the dark side of the moon—a great chase scene—and Pruitt’s heart isn’t up to it. Roy then takes the spaceship Cepheus to Mars, but en route, and over Roy’s objections, they investigate a Norwegian research lab, which has put out a distress call. It’s like investigating the Viet boat family but instead of disaster for them it’s disaster for Capt. Tanner (Donnie Keshawarz), who gets his face eaten by a lab baboon.

We get some good voiceovers from Roy. During the pirate attack: “Fighting for resources. What the hell am I doing here?” When Roy realizes the Cepheus’ second-in-command is scared: “Most of us spend our entire lives hiding.”

I also like the perfunctory psychological evaluations he has to keep taking. So near future. So now. But some of the dialogue rings false. When the mission begins, Roy tells Pruitt he thinks his father is dead. Then on the moon he suddenly says this: “My dad’s a hero. SPACECOM is trying to impugn a man who’s given his entire life to the program. I think it’s despicable.” Before, he barely seems to feel anything; now he not only feels but says all this? And to his SPACECOM handler? It felt off—like a tuba blast in the midst of a flute solo.

My biggest problem, though, is how the movie gives away early its biggest reveal—what Roy finds upriver.

The horror
At the beginning, working on the space antennae, Roy hears, “A perfect day to try to contact our distant neighbors out there in the heavens,” and I immediately thought, “How do we know we have distant neighbors in the heavens?” Later, looking over old video messages, Roy hears this from his father, “We’re about to answer the number one question: When do we find all the intelligent life out there—and we know we will,” and I immediately thought, “How do you know we will? Maybe there’s nothing.”

And that’s the answer. That’s the big reveal. It’s just us. I would’ve urged Gray away from some of this earlier chatter. You can’t push your audience into thinking the answer two hours before you give it.

That said, it leads to poignant moments:

Clifford: We need to find what science tells us is impossible. I can’t have failed.
Roy: Dad, you haven’t. Now we know. We’re all we’ve got.

Or this in voiceover:

He captured strange and distant worlds in greater detail than ever before. They were beautiful, magnificent, full of awe and wonder. But beneath their sublime surfaces, there was nothing. No love or hate. No light or dark. He could only see what was not there ... and missed what was right in front of him.

I also would’ve argued against the “trying to be a better man” thrust. Sorry, but that emotionless emptiness? That’s what makes Roy who he is. That’s why his BPM stays below 80. That’s why he’s good in a firefight, good landing a spacecraft during a surge, good at everything we’re watching the movie for. You don’t get both—but the movie wants to give us both. It’s like assuming Capt. Willard goes home to a happy ending after terminating Kurtz’s command.

Or how about a little Conrad? At the end of “Heart of Darkness,” its hero, Marlow, returns to England to give the bad news to Kurtz’s widow and winds up telling her Kurtz’s last words. No, not the real ones. Not:  “The horror, the horror.” He says: “The last word he pronounced was—your name.” God, that’s good. He tells her this romantic fiction to make the horrible reality more palatable. Gray (or the studio, with its notes) is telling a romantic fiction, too—about Liv, about betterment—but to us. They want to make us Kurtz’s widow.

Shame. The movie came so close.

Posted at 08:11 AM on Tuesday January 07, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  

Monday January 06, 2020

The Great Unravelling II

“As tensions escalated and more than 3,000 new U.S. troops began deploying to the region, President Trump spent the weekend playing golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort, in Florida, and spewing threats on Twitter in his spare time. On Saturday, he vowed to strike 52 Iranian targets—‘some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture’—if Iran targets Americans or U.S. assets. ‘Those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,’ he added. ‘The USA wants no more threats!’ he tweeted. ...

”Destroying cultural sites is actually a violation of the Geneva Convention—and a war crime.“

— Robin Wright, ”The Breathtaking Unravelling of the Middle East After Qassem Suleimani's Death,” in The New Yorker

Posted at 02:52 PM on Monday January 06, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Monday January 06, 2020

The Great Unravelling

“‘We took a bad guy off the battlefield,’ [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] said, on CNN's State of the Union. ‘There is less risk today to American forces in the region as a result of that attack.’ Yet nothing seems further from the truth. Some form of conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic, overt or covert, seems more possible now than it has at any time since the 1979 Revolution. The U.S. investment in neighboring Iraq—thousands of American lives, hundreds of billions of dollars in American treasure, decades of American diplomacy—appears to be unravelling, with rippling effects across the Middle East. Diplomatic missions in other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries are on virtual lockdown, with American citizens urged to evacuate Iraq and Iran and lie low elsewhere in the region.

”Instead of being a dead bad guy, Suleimani appears almost as potent in his ‘martyrdom’ as he was in life. His death has already spurred anti-American sentiment across the Middle East. It has unified Iran's divided society. And it has also precipitated the first action to wind down or end the American military presence in the region—Suleimani's primary mission since he took over the Quds Force, in 1998.“

— Robin Wright, ”The Breathtaking Unravelling of the Middle East After Qassem Suleimani's Death," in The New Yorker

Posted at 01:42 PM on Monday January 06, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 05, 2020

Box Office: ‘Rise of Skywalker’ Does Great for Anything But a Star Wars Movie

The first movie of each trilogy also has the biggest box office for each trilogy. 

What do the following verbs have in common? 

  • Strike
  • Return
  • Attack
  • Revenge
  • Awaken
  • Rise

Yep. They‘re the verbs in the subtitles of the various “Star Wars” sequels. Just tossing in for no reason. I guess for their sameness. Although not quite, right? The originals and the prequels, sure, they’re the same (strike/attack, return/revenge), but the new ones are less about combat and more about ... growth? Self-improvement? They‘re positive, and mostly about the heroes. They’re selfies, befitting the age.  

“Rise” is the latest and it hasn't exactly done that at the box office. Here's a list of the nine SW movies ranked by domestic box office and adjusted for inflation:

YEAR MOVIE ADJ. GROSS ANN. ALL-TIME
1977 Star Wars $1,590,607,135 1 2
2015 The Force Awakens $965,467,843 1 11
1980 The Empire Strikes Back $876,078,543 1 13
1983 Return of the Jedi $839,950,442 1 17
1999 The Phantom Menace $806,487,053 1 19
2017 The Last Jedi $603,618,885 1 44
2005 Revenge of the Sith $529,768,678 1 70
2002 Attack of the Clones $477,473,705 2 99
2019 The Rise of Skywalker $450,796,223* 3* 110*

* Still in theaters, yo

Nothing's coming close to the first one again but “Force” muscled to the No. 2 slot in 2015. Since then, a downhill slog. Most franchises  would take such a slog. In terms of the canon, “Revenge of the Sith” grossed a piffle in 2005, but it was still the No. 1 movie of the year. Only the second of the prequels, on the heels of the disappointing, antiseptic “Phantom Menace,” wasn't the No. 1 movie of its year, and it still finished No. 2—to the first “Spider-Man” movie. “Skywalker” also won't be No. 1, since another superhero movie, “Avengers: Endgame” is in a galaxy far, far away at $858 million. “Skywalker” needs another $93 mil just to reach “The Lion King”'s $543.6 in second place. Can it do it?

Maybe. Here's box office for the three recent films after 17 days—along with the final domestic totals for the first two:

YEAR MOVIE 17 DAYS DOM. GROSS
2015 The Force Awakens $742,208,942 $936,662,225
2017 The Last Jedi $517,218,368 $620,181,382
2019 The Rise of Skywalker $450,796,441  

By Day 17, “Force” had grossed about 79% of its total, “Jedi” about 83%. If we assume, say, 80% for “Skywalker,” that's another $90 mil. It‘ll be close.

Of course, domestic box office matters less these days than worldwide, so how is “Skywalker” doing there? Even worse. “Force” earned $2 billion worldwide, “Last Jedi” dropped to $1.3, “Skywalker” is at $918 million. It’s ninth for the year, and I think it‘ll wind up fourth. New territory for “Star Wars.” 

So what makes a franchise lose 3/4 of a billion dollars and a lot of interest? Too many, too soon? And too similar? Or just not interesting enough? All “Star Wars” movies drop, as we’ve seen above, but that's not true for other franchises. The most popular “Avengers” was the last.

None of which matters much to Disney since it owns both franchises. Want to see something sad? These were the studios for the top five films of the year when “Star Wars” was released:

  1. 20th Century Fox (Star Wars)
  2. Universal (Smokey and the Bandit)
  3. Columbia (Close Encounters)
  4. Paramount (Saturday Night Fever)
  5. United Artists (A Bridge Too Far)

And this year:

  1. Disney (Avengers: Endgame)
  2. Disney (The Lion King)
  3. Disney (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)
  4. Disney (Frozen II)
  5. Disney (Toy Story 4)

The No. 1 animated movie in 1977 was Disney's “Pete's Dragon” and it was at No. 11—several notches below “Annie Hall.” We were so much older then; we're younger than that now.

Posted at 03:03 PM on Sunday January 05, 2020 in category Movies - Box Office   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 04, 2020

Joe's Top 100: 91-100

Joe Posnanski is counting down his top 100 baseball players of all time. Yes, I know, but this time he means it.  

He tried such a list earlier in the decade, and I think he lasted to about No. 32 (Grover Cleveland Alexander), then tried another last year, which tanked after No. 88 or so (Carlos Beltran). But now he's doing it on the site, “The Athletic,” and I get the feeling he was commissioned for it. I also get the feeling he's already finished with it. It's supposed to be 100 players in the 100 days leading up to Opening Day. Smart! Fun! Anyway I get the feeling he's more or less done. 

He's already up to No. 83 but here's #s 91-100 compared with his previous lists:

NO.  PLAYER PREVIOUS bWAR
100 Ichiro Suzuki 96 59.4
99 Mike Mussina NEW  82.8
98 Carlos Beltran /88 69.6
97 Roberto Alomar 82 67.1
96 Larry Walker NEW  72.7
95 Tony Gwynn 75/94 69.2
94 Roy Campanella 66 37.0
93 Ozzie Smith 77 76.9
92 Bullet Joe Rogan 89 n/a
91 Mariano Rivera 95 56.2

It's an interesting mix. The highest-ranking player from his first list is Campy, who had been No. 66 a few years ago. Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith also took dives. The highest bWAR among them all is a new one, Mike Mussina, followed by Ozzie, who earned most of his on defense. We get one Negro League player—Bullet Joe Rogan—who, I admit, I don't know much about. It's obvious Joe's doing more than WAR here. I think in a way he's writing about who he wants to write about. He's including who gives him joy. 

I‘ll do these in 10-player increments and include any thoughts I have. Right now it’s tough to tell who's been cut entirely. Paul Waner? Ron Santo? Mostly I just want him to finish. For his sake as much as ours. 

Posted at 12:19 PM on Saturday January 04, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday January 03, 2020

Don Larsen (1929-2020)

Larsen, the imperfect man, in the midst of perfection. 

I'd say he was among the least likely to do it, but then the history of baseball is made up of the triumph of least-likely guys: Bill Wambsganss, Pat Seerey, Gene Tenace, Bucky Dent, David Freese.

And Don Larsen.

He made his Major League debut for the lowly St. Louis Browns on April 18, 1953, and by mid-August his record was 2-11 with a 4.78 ERA. Not auspicious. Then over his next five starts something clicked, and he went 5-0 with four complete games, two shutouts, a two-hitter, and a 1.83 ERA. That string of victories probably helped save his career, but it didn't save the Browns, who moved to Baltimore the following season to become the Orioles. 

In ‘54, Larsen actually had a worse season, going 3-21 with a 4.37 ERA and more walks than strikeouts (89/80). His losses led the league. It was the only time he ever led the league in anything.

So after two seasons, he was 10-33. He was known as a heavy drinker and partier. His career should’ve been over.

Instead, he got a gig with baseball's most successful franchise, the New York Yankees, and did something no one in baseball history had done before or probably ever will. How did that happen?

Well, for starters, the ‘54 Yanks won 103 games but lost the AL pennant to the Cleveland Indians, who won 111. Apparently Yanks management, good guys all, blamed its aged pitching staff for winning “only” 103 games, so it went shopping for youth. And as part of a 17(!)-player trade with the O’s, the main prize being pitcher Bob Turley, Larsen was tossed in. Why did the Yankees even want him as a toss-in with a 3-21 record? Because in five starts against the Yanks, he pitched four complete games, won two, and his ERA was a respectable 3.00. Casey Stengel liked what he saw. 

Until he didn‘t. Larsen had a rocky start to the ’55 season, was sent to the minors, returned, rallied, went 11-4 with a 2.82 ERA the rest of the way, and was tapped to start Game 4 of the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. And that's when ... No, not yet. Spotted a 3-1 lead in the 4th, Larsen gave up a homer, a single and a homer, and was pulled after walking the leadoff batter in the 5th. A few days later, the Dodgers won their first World Series.

‘56 for Larsen started similar. So-so until September, then he went 4-0, with 2 CGs, one shutout and a 0.52 ERA. (He seemed to do better late: His career September record reads like a Cy Young season: 21-11, 3.01 ERA.) Tapped again to start in the World Series against the Dodgers, he again floundered. In 1 2/3 innings, he walked four, struck out nobody, and left with the bases loaded. The Dodgers won, 13-8.

So at this point, Don Larsen is meh pitcher who can’t rise to the occasion. And that's only half of it. Nobody pitched perfect games anymore. I mean nobody. There'd only been three in the 20th century, two by pitching greats during the dead-ball era (Cy Young and Addie Joss), and none since 1922. Certainly none in the World Series. God, no. There hasn't even been another no-hitter in the World Series, before or since, and the only other no-no in the postseason was Roy Halladay's in the 2010 NLDS against the Reds. 

It just wasn't done. 

Which brings us to October 8, 1956. I‘ll let Joe Posnanski pick it up from here:

On this day, this perfect day, he wanted to be one heckuva pitcher. The Dodgers first batter, Junior Gilliam, just looked as strike three went by. So did the Dodgers second batter, Pee Wee Reese. Something indescribable had come over Larsen, something almost mystical. The day before, after Game 4, Larsen had driven back to the Bronx with a friend — probably the sportswriter Arthur Richman, though the identity wasn’t revealed in the papers — and rather suddenly said, “I got one of those crazy feelings that I'm gonna pitch a no-hitter tomorrow.”

“A four-hitter will be good enough,” the friend said.

“Nope,” Larsen responded. “It's gonna be a no-hitter, and I'm gonna use my ghoul ball to do it.”

Larsen was a devoted, almost obsessive, comic book reader at the time, and he had grown convinced that he had his own superpower and that was the ability to throw a pitch called a “ghoul ball.” He never fully explained what the ghoul ball did. But whatever it was, he certainly had it going on that perfect day. ...

But mostly, Larsen didn't need Ghouls. He was in control. The perfect day was mostly Don Larsen and Yogi Berra playing catch. Larsen got to three balls on just one hitter all game. “He was uncanny,” said home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, who poetically happened to be calling the last game of his 22-year career.

“I never saw him pitch like that before,” Berra said. “He never shook off one sign. He hit the glove wherever I put it.”

The last out of the perfect day was perfect in itself — Brooklyn's Dale Mitchell watched strike three go by. It was as if, to the very end, the Dodgers could not quite believe what Don Larsen was doing. Nobody else could either. Yogi Berra leaped in the air and raced toward the mound and jumped into Larsen's arms.

“The imperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday,” the New York Daily News wrote.

“I hope my Ma saw me,” Larsen told reporters.

How big was this feat? Larsen didn't pitch again in the Series but he won the MVP. Has any other 1-0 pitcher won a World Series MVP? Yogi Berra actually set a new World Series record with 10 RBIs, while hitting 3 homeruns, and with a .360/.448/.800 slashline. He also caught the perfect game; he called the perfect game. And the MVP still went to Larsen. And maybe deservedly. Did Game 5 break the Dodgers? They scored 25 runs in the first four games, and just one thereafter—a 10th inning run to win Game 6. But they were shut out in Game 7.

Larsen's best years were with the Yankees. With them he went 45-24; with everyone else 36-67. After the ‘59 season he was traded to the Kansas City A’s, in one of those bullshit Yankees/A's trades of the ‘50s, when the A’s were like a little minor league farm system for the Yanks. The A's got Larsen, a past-his-prime Hank Bauer, “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, and Norm Siebern. The Yankees got two throwaways and Roger Maris, who would win the AL MVP the next two years in a row, while breaking Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record in ‘61. Larsen, with the A’s, would go 1-10 with an ERA over 5.00.

But he hung on. He pitched for five more teams, pitched in the World Series again, for the ‘62 Giants, in relief against the Yankees, and won Game 4. After retiring in 1967, he became a paper-products salesman in California. In 2012, he sold his perfect-game uniform to pay for the college educations of his grandkids.

He hung on in life, too. Mickey Mantle once said, “Don was easily the greatest drinker I’ve known, and I‘ve known some pretty good ones in my time.” Yet he lived to be 90. He died on New Year’s Day in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Of his perfect game, Larsen once said, “Goofy things happen.” Also this: “Everyone is entitled to some good days.”

Posted at 03:58 PM on Friday January 03, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 02, 2020

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I heard it was bad and the numbers on Rotten Tomatoes agree:

YEAR MOVIE RT %
1977 Star Wars 93%
1980 The Empire Strikes Back 94%
1983 Return of the Jedi 82%
1999 Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace 53%
2002 Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones 65%
2005 Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith 80%
2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 93%
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  83%
2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi 91%
2018 Solo: A Star Wars Story 70%
2019 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 54%

Look at that chronology, by the way. We’ve had nearly as many “Star Wars” features in the last five years (five) as in the previous four decades (six). No wonder this galaxy feels overdone. And of those 11 films, even crap like “Attack of the Clones” or “Solo” was considered fresh. “The Rise of Skywalker” is only the second film in the canon, after the sterile “Phantom Menace,” to get labeled “rotten” by the critics. Or by RT’s algorithms.

It’s really not that bad. You know what it seemed like to me? Another “Star Wars” movie. “Last Jedi” didn’t seem good enough to get a 90s rating and this one isn’t bad enough to rate in the 50s. They all just seem the same. That’s the real critique.

Errata
Why that subtitle? “Rise of Skywalker”? He’s barely in it and she’s revealed to be a Palpatine. Oh right. At the end, on Tatooine, after Rey (Daisy Ridley) buries the Skywalker lightsabers in the sand, a passerby asks her name, and she replies “Rey Skywalker.” Because I guess she’s carrying on his tradition rather than Palpatine’s. She’s the rise even as the others have fallen.

Sure.

One of the main criticisms is that it’s a “fan service” movie. Whatever its rabid fan base has objected to in the past, writer-director J.J. Abrams tries to correct here. So in “Last Jedi” Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) keeps schooling Finn (John Boyega), who seems stupid and pointless. No worries. Now he’s “Force Sensitive” while she’s relegated back to cameo status. And hey, how come Chewie never got a medal with Luke and Han at the end of the original 1977 “Star Wars”? No worries. He gets it here—handed to him by Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) after Leia’s death. And good god, why does Luke Skywalker, the hero of this whole, long affair, flee to a distant planet, Ahch-To, after his nephew turns to the Dark Side? That doesn’t seem very heroic. Well, Luke agrees with us now that it was a bad move:

Rey: I saw myself on the dark throne. I won’t let it happen. I’m never leaving this place. I’m doing what you did.
Luke: I was wrong. It was fear that kept me here.

Except these corrections don’t correct anything. The original error still exists. Luke went from whining on a desert planet to moping on a water planet without ever gaining a wisdom commensurate with his powers.

Maybe the biggest change relates to Rey’s origins. From my “Last Jedi” review:

The movie does go off in some new directions—notably with Rey’s lineage, which isn’t related at all to the Skywalker/Kenobi clan. Thank god. She’s a nothing from nowhere. She’s the exceptional borne from the unexceptional. In this way, the Force is being democratized. Cf., the kid before the end credits who uses the Force to grab his broom.

Nope. She’s Palpatine. And the kid with the broom is forgotten.

Has the “Star Wars” saga become Palpatine’s now? He showed up in the second film, “The Empire Strikes back,” dominated the third, dominated the shitty prequels, and is resurrected here for its finale. Three generations of good guys (Obi-wan, Luke, Rey) battled his bad-guy surrogates (Anakin, Darth, Snoke, Kylo) before having to confront him—the true power. He’s like the Mitch McConnell of this galaxy. Cackle and all.

Palpatine seemed to die at the end of “Return of the Jedi”—tossed over the railing by Darth Vader in one of the worst edited scenes in movie history—but this is “Star Wars” so no one ever dies. Except Palpatine didn’t just survive in astral form as Obi-wan, Yoda and Luke did; he survived in corporeal form. He says the Dark Side is “a pathway to many abilities some consider to be... unnatural,” and I guess this is one of them. A few other questions: How did he wind up on Exegol if he’s unable to move? And if it’s an uncharted planet, how did it get named? Why do wayfinders help you find it, who created them, and why do just two exist? And how, physically impaired on this uncharted planet, does Palpatine secretly create the greatest armada of star destroyers the galaxy has ever seen?

He just does, it just did, they just do, they just did, he just does.

A few more. When did the Force begin to heal people’s wounds? Never seen that before. And Rey can just lift her hand to the sky and bring down a spacecraft? I remember when Luke had trouble summoning his light saber on Hoth. Was he a piker or something? In the prequels George Lucas tried to take away the magic of the Force by reducing it to midi-chlorians but Abrams wants to make it like Doug Henning magic: It can do anything.

Where have you gone, Bail Organa
We first see Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) cutting through armies to get to Palpatine, his true lord, and we first see Rey sitting in a midair lotus position trying to summon the spirit of the Jedis who came before her. He succeeds, she fails. Why? Because it’s the beginning of the movie? And she succeeds in the end because it’s the end of the movie? Did she learn something in the interim? Or were the other Jedis not paying attention before? Hard of hearing, we are, hmm?

Then the roller coaster begins. Searching for a thing (the wayfinder), with the bad guys hot on their tail (Kylo and the Knights of Ren), the good guys zip to this or that planet, encounter old allies (Lando/Billy Dee Williams) and local obstacles (quicksand), escape, get separated, assume someone is dead (Chewie), infiltrate the bad guys’ ship, blast Stormtroopers, nearly get blasted, escape by the skin of their teeth. Along the way, the hero learns who she really is. This intergalactic scavenger hunt leads to the finale, in which, while outnumbered rebel forces take on the spaceships of the Empire, Jedi and Sith battle for the soul of the galaxy 

Within this familiar storyline, what worked? For me, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has most of the film’s funny lines; the remains of the second Death Star on Kef Bir, reminding us that the past isn’t dead (it isn’t even past); and Kylo/Ben’s shrug after reacquiring his light saber during battle with the Knights of Ren. Loved that bit. 

But the new “Star Wars” is still weighted down by its predecessors. Lando, Leia, Luke and Han all make appearances. Our leads aren’t given enough room, or—save Rey and Ren—a reason to be. In the original trilogy, when Luke went off with Yoda, Han and Leia made up the love story. Here, Rey and Ren are the love story. So where does that leave Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn? Some fans wanted them to be a love story, too, but Abrams went the opposite route by creating Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) for Poe and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) for Finn. So much for fan service. Those two are basically our only new characters in the movie, and neither is particularly memorable.

That’s an interesting experiment, actually: What memorable characters are introduced in each “Star Wars” movie? In the first we get Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, Darth Vader, and Obi-wan Kenobi. That’s our whole universe right there. And in the sequel they added Yoda, Palpatine, Lando, and Boba Fett; and in the sequel to that, Jabba, Akbar, and the Ewoks. OK, Ewoks. But still a good run.

The prequels were horrible at this. Most of the new characters were dull (Qui-Gon, Padme, Mace Windu), and if anyone was memorable it was for all the wrong reasons (Jar-Jar Binks).  And the sequels added no one. I mean, no one. Apologies to all the Sen. Bail Organa fans out there.

That’s why “Force Awakens” was so exciting. It injected fun, new characters into the mix: Rey, Kylo, Finn, Poe, BB8, Maz Kanata and Snoke. Sure, they were derivative, but they popped. Then the sequel undercut them. In “Last Jedi,” newbie Rose Tico outperformed Finn while Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) outthought Poe. Is that why Zorii and Jannah were added here? To support rather than undercut? Still didn’t work. The bros had such promise four years ago but it feels like it mostly went unfulfilled. Poe winds up “leading the fleet” (yawn) while Finn is tossed the sop of “Force Sensitivity” so he has something to do.

I guess General Pryde is a new character, too, but he’s mostly memorable for being played by Richard E. Grant. The Knights of Ren could’ve been memorable if given more screentime. They could’ve been like the super-posse in “Butch Cassidy.” Instead, they barely register.

Exit through the gift shop
You know what this long saga has never been able to do well—except for right at the beginning? Show the appeal of the Dark Side. Yes, Darth Vader emerged through the smoke as his theme music thundered on the soundtrack, and later in meetings he choked out dissent; all that was cool. For two movies, we got it. Then Palpatine is revealed as the true power and everyone went “Yuck.” He’s constantly extending a grizzled claw to young Jedis and is shocked when they don’t take it. The Dark Side should feel like a clean surge of anger; it should feel like revenge or even justice. I mean, c’mon. So much depends on whether young Jedis (Ani, Luke, Rey) will be enticed by the Dark Side, so at least make it a little enticing. Instead they just make it dark.

Is this the end then? Nah, there’s still money to be made. But based on box-office receipts, interest is waning. I’d move Abrams off this; I’d get someone else to shepherd it into a new age. They need new blood both behind the scenes and on the screen. And the characters they have on screen should have a better reason for being.

Who is Rey? For most of her life, she lived a lie (a nobody from nowhere), and as soon as she found the truth she retreated into another lie (“Rey Skywalker”). Is that good? Start there. See if there are consequences—for her and for us. For nine movies, our various heroes have been pawns in Palpatine’s games. What happens when your common enemy goes? What happens when the roller coaster ride stops?

Posted at 11:45 AM on Thursday January 02, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
 RSS

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES
LINKS