Saturday February 29, 2020
Next Year's Oscars?
He's just met a girl named Maria. Has a remake of a best picture winner ever won best picture? No.
Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere is already handicapping next year's Oscars, and lays out his top 10 picks. Links go to trailers if available or IMDb and the lot if not. Scratch that. There are no trailers. There are barely stills. So the links just go to IMDb.
- “Mank” (David Fincher): The creation of “Citizen Kane” from, one assumes, given the title, the perspective of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) rather than Orson Welles (Tom Burke of “The Souvenir”). Amanda Seyfried plays Marion “Rosebud” Davies. Netflix movie. Should be fun.
- “Trial of the Chicago 7” (Aaron Sorkin): I don't know if I‘ve seen better recent casting than Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, and Frank Langella will make a good, thunderous Judge Hoffman. Plus the rest of the cast (Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, John Carroll Lynch)? Mmwa. But can Sorkin direct? This is his second effort, after the disappointing “Molly’s Game.” Except hyper-articulate speeches. Ambllin/Paramount.
- “The Last Duel” (Ridley Scott), about the last official duel permitted by the King of France, in the 14th century. Read more here. From a screenplay by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener. It's the “Good Will Hunting” boys' first co-screenwriting credit since “Good Will Hunting.” Stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver as the duelists. Add it to the list of “last” titles: Samurai, Airbender, Action Hero, Knight, Blood, Tango in Paris, Picture Show. Everything dies. 20th Century Fox.
- “Stillwater” (Tom McCarthy): Has he made a bad movie? This will be his second in 2020, supposedly, after the interestingly titled “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.” “Stillwater” stars Matt Damon (again) about an Oklahoma father who travels to France, where his daughter has been charged with murder. Focus Features.
- “West Side Story” (Steven Spielberg): I think you know it. This time, Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler are the star-crossed lovers.
- “Macbeth” (Joel Coen): For once, Coen isn't collaborating with brother Ethan but with this Shakespeare dude. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the Mr. and Mrs. of the title. Scott Rudin/A24.
- “Blonde” (Andrew Dominik): The New Zealand director behind “Assassination of Jesse James,” etc., stars “Knives Out” hottie Ana de Armas as a fictionalized Marilyn Monroe, exploring her inner life.
- “Annette” (Leos Carax): IMDb's description: “A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife have a 2-year-old daughter with a surprising gift.” Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Nice work if you can get it, Adam. What's the surprising gift? Who knows? Let's hope not super strength. Does anyone see Adam Driver as a stand-up comedian? Maybe the Lenny Bruce type? And can anyone see the director of “Holy Motors” coming close to an Oscar nomination? Oh, and it's a musical. CG Cinema/Arte France Cinema/Amazon.
- “News of the World” (Paul Greengrass): Reteams Greengrass and Tom Hanks from “Captain Phillips” in a story about a man who brings the news of the world to local townspeople in the Old West, and who “agrees to help rescue a young girl who was kidnapped.” From the writer of “Life,” “Lion,” and “Beautiful Boy,” all of which had buzz, all of which I didn't even see. Playtone/Universal.
- “The Last Planet” (Terrence Malick): My man! And another “Last”? And per the title, about environmental destruction? No. A retelling of several episodes in the life of Christ. With Geza Rohrig (“Son of Saul”) as Jesus, Matthias Schoenaerts as Peter, and Mark Rylance as Satan. Interesting. Will the Bible thumpers who continually complain about Hollywood come out for it? Nah. No doubt there will be doubt, and they don't pay for that. No distributor yet.
So two Drivers, two Rylances, and two “Lasts.” And too auteur-driven? Reads like a critic's wishlist rather than Oscar‘s. Wells adds the caveat that “Carax is crazy” but “in a good way” and says he senses new possibilities in the post-“Parasite” world. Sure. Or reaction. People sensed new possibilities in a post-Obama world, but it turns out the people doing the sensing were fascists.
Wells adds 15 more possibles: Chris Nolan’s “Tenet,” Charlie Kaufman's “I'm Thinking Of Ending Things,” Wes Anderson's “The French Dispatch,” Guillermo del Toro's “Nightmare Alley,” Sofia Coppola's “On the Rocks,” Denis Villenueve's “Dune,” Spike Lee's “Da 5 Bloods,” Edgar Wright's “Last Night In Soho,” Steven Soderbergh's “Let Them All Talk,” Adrian Lyne's Deep Water,“ Liesl Tommy's ”Respect,“ Paul Verhoeven's ”Benedetta,“ Apichatpong Weerasethakul's ”Memoria,“ Chloe Zhao's ”Nomadland“ and Mia Hansen-Løve's Bergman ”Island."
We'll revisit down the line.
Thursday February 27, 2020
Joe's Top 100: 31-40
Denton True “Cyclone” Young
We pretty much know the final 30 now, don't we? If we know bWAR and Joe. Which we kinda do.
First, here's the latest 10, a helluva group:
You look at that and wonder, “Can there be a better 10?” And the answer is: Sure, the next 10. And the 10 after. And then the final 10. Joe has mixed it up, certainly, putting George Brett, as one example, ahead of guys with higher WAR ratings, but the overall is one of improvement. This is the first group to average a WAR greater than 100, for example. Cy helps.
How about that, by the way. To me, that didn't get enough chatter on Twitter and the like—putting the third greatest player by bWAR back at 34. But Joe let us know early on he favored more recent players over the oldsters—and Cy is a fairly old oldster, playing half his career before there was a 20th century or an American League.
So: the remaning 30. The 30 greatest baseball players of all time.
I assume it‘ll be the 100+ bWAR guys that haven’t been mentioned yet:
- Babe Ruth
- Walter Johnson
- Barry Bonds
- Willie Mays
- Ty Cobb
- Hank Aaron
- Roger Clemens
- Tris Speaker
- Honus Wagner
- Stan Musial
- Rogers Hornsby
- Eddie Collins
- Ted Williams
- Grover Cleveland Alexander
- Alex Rodriguez
- Lou Gehrig
- Rickey Henderson
- Mickey Mantle
- Frank Robinson
- Lefty Grove
- Mike Schmidt
- Randy Johnson
- Joe Morgan
- Albert Pujols
We also get the superlative players with lower WARs because they‘re either still playing or they were catchers—and WAR is notoriously unfair to catchers:
- Johnny Bench
- Mike Trout
Finally, for the final four slots, I assume it’ll be these great Negro League players:
- Turkey Stearnes
- Oscar Charleston
- Josh Gibson
- Satchel Paige
What does this leave off? Cap Anson for one, the first player to get 3,000 hits, but Joe, who has written extensively of him, thinks some of his 19th-century numbers are a bit suspect, and anyway he was responsible for maintaining the color line is baseball for so long. So: so long.
You know who else will be missing from Joe's 100 greatest players list? Twelve first-ballot Hall of Famers. These legendary names: Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Jim Palmer, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Dennis Eckersley, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Ivan Rodriguez, Jim Thome, and Roy Halladay. This is not a knock, just an indication how difficult it is to narrow the list down to 100. But I think I would've found room for Palmer and I-Rod and maybe Glavine.
Not to mention Harmon Killebrew.
28 days to Opening Day.
Wednesday February 26, 2020
Box Office: Three Eddie Murphy Trivia Questions
Rising: The Billy Bear bar scene in “48 Hrs.”
Quick trivia question: What was the first feature film starring Eddie Murphy—i.e., no concert films, no “Best Defense,” which was a Dudley Moore vehicle—that wasn't among the 10 highest-grossing movies of the year?
Answer: it took a while. Here's his ‘80s output:
|YEAR||MOVIE||RT %||BOX OFFICE||YEAR BO|
|1983||Eddie Murphy Delirious||83%||n/a||n/a|
|1984||Beverly Hills Cop||81%||$316||1st|
|1986||The Golden Child||26%||$80||8th|
|1987||Eddie Murphy Raw||81%||$51||20th|
|1987||Beverly Hills Cop II||45%||$154||3rd|
|1988||Coming to America||67%||$128||3rd|
It wasn’t until the end of the decade, with the abyssmal “Harlem Nights,” that audiences finally went “Nah.” to Eddie. Otherwise, in the ‘80s, he didn’t star in anything that wasn't critically acclaimed or box-office gold, and usually both. Since then, the reverse. Here's the ‘90s output—live action only:
|1990||Another 48 Hrs.||18%||$81||14th|
|1992||The Distinguished Gentleman||13%||$47||34th|
|1994||Beverly Hills Cop III||10%||$43||34th|
|1995||Vampire in Brooklyn||10%||$20||82nd|
|1996||The Nutty Professor||64%||$129||8th|
Amazing thing? I actually kept going to his movies. Was I on autopilot? Did I think he would return to form? I definitely saw both “Boomerang” and “The Distinguished Gentlemen” in theaters. I think I waited on “Nutty Professor” until its video release. I think I was disappointed that he even made it. Eddie doing a Jerry Lewis remake? He was supposed to be better than that. But his trajectory followed that of most other SNL breakout stars: mock the cultural crap on “SNL,” then contribute to it in Hollywood.
“Shrek” and his AA nomination helped obscure how bad the aughts were for him. Here’s the live-action movies. Remember in the ‘80s when his movies were both critically acclaimed and box-office hits? Now he couldn’t manage either.
|2000||Nutty Professor II: The Klumps||26%||$123||16th|
|2001||Dr. Dolittle 2||42%||$113||16th|
|2002||The Adventures of Pluto Nash||4%||$4||177th|
|2003||Daddy Day Care||27%||$104||26th|
|2003||The Haunted Mansion||14%||$76||38th|
When did it finally feel like it had all slipped away for him? Or maybe if the paycheck was there, he didn't care? What other explanation is there for this?
So if the first feature film starring Eddie to not be among the top 10 box-office hits of the year was “Harlem Nights,” what was his last feature film—and live-action (no “Shrek”), to have that distinction? The thing that he used to do so easily—when was the last time he did it?
You‘ve got to go back to “Dr. Doolittle” in 1998. In the most recent decade, he barely did anything. He limped through it and then righted himself at the end with “Dolemite.” He reminded us why he mattered.
|2012||A Thousand Words||0%||$18||112th|
|2019||Dolemite Is My Name||97%||n/a||n/a|
I’d like to think he learned his lesson from “Dolemite,” but these are the movies on his plate according to IMDb:
- “Coming 2 America”
- “Triplets” (a sequel to “Twins,” with Arnold and Danny, in which the missing sibling is Eddie)
- “Beverly Hills Cop IV”
Third and final trivia question: Animated movies and concert films aside, what is the highest-rated Eddie Murphy movie according to the users of IMDb?
Would you believe THIS?
Tuesday February 25, 2020
Movie Review: 63 Up (2019)
Jackie, Nick and Neil, 1964
When I saw it at a recent Saturday matinee at SIFF Uptown, “63 Up” seemed the age range of the audience as well. I felt like the kid in the crowd. Too bad. Real kids could learn so much from this.
- Dreams don’t always come true
- Really, almost never
- But backups/safeties can
- Class matters; both ways
- It goes so fast
It felt a bit like attending a class reunion; I kept getting reacquainted. “Oh right, Tony, the wannabe jockey who becomes a cabby, who’s got a joie de vivre and is always on the run, always on the make. And Nick, the farmboy who doesn’t “want to answer those kinds of questions” (about girls), who becomes a scientist and moves to the states and marries one beautiful woman, then divorces, then he marries another beautiful woman. I guess it pays to not answer those kinds of questions. And of course Neil, unforgettable Neil, who at 7 was a cute Liverpudlian boy with Beatle bangs who skipped along sidewalks and wanted to be an astronaut, and who at 28 was homeless in the Scottish countryside, unable to answer questions without rocking back and forth, in the midst of a psychological breakdown.”
I could never forget him. Not in a million years.
Give me a child until he is 7
For those who don’t know: the “Up” series began in 1964 when, per director Michael Apted’s voiceover, “Granada television brought together a group of 7-year-olds.” Since then, Apted has revisited them every seven years. They’re now 63. The entire series is basically time-lapse photography for human beings.
I think the first time the series was bundled into a movie was in the 1980s for “28 Up,” which played at the University of Minnesota Film Society where I volunteered on Thursdays. I saw it numerous times. It was riveting and devastating.
One way it was devastating—somewhat obscured now at 63—was the way adolescence fucks us up. The kids at 7 were mostly boisterous and outgoing and at 14 the opposite. They looked to the side, mumbled out of their mouths, covered their mouths. They were painfully embarrassed about everything. Even at 21 and 28, it felt like they were still recovering from the shock of whatever adolescence does to us.
Now, at 63, it feels like a slow, downhill coast. We’re getting parents dying and grandchildren being born and retirement on the horizon. Weight needs to be lost, nose hairs need to be trimmed, but much less angst. It’s less about what will happen than what has.
Nick has cancer. He was always absurdly fit for a scientist, and here, when we first see him from behind, it’s a bit of a shock. So thin. So bent over. In the chair, it’s better. He lights up talking about the great “moment of pure joy” in his life when his son was born. Neil is still alive, and, thanks to an inheritance, owns property in France. He’s involved in church, too. As a reader? His Liverpudlian friend, Peter, who dropped out after “28 Up,” and didn’t return until “56 Up” when he wanted publicity for his band, returns again, with trepidation. In many ways, he sounds the most like I think I might sound—worried over the thing he said two minutes ago. We also hear him singing. His voice is lovely.
I kept asking questions in the dark. Has anyone come out of the closet? It began in ’64/’70, when such things were rarely admitted, but no, not here. Are all the participants still alive? That was just a by-the-way thought. We’re about an hour in when we keep getting shots of Lynn, the librarian, whose funds are forever being cut, and who still keeps striving to educate children. There she is at 21, then 7, 35, 56 and we’re waiting and waiting. And then it hits us: No, she died six years ago. Her husband and two daughters are interviewed to keep up the story. The library where she worked dedicates a wing in her name.
She’s not the only missing one. Of the original 14, we also don’t have Suzy, who decided against doing it this time around, and Charles Furneaux, one of the three prep-school boys, who, from 7 to 21, tended to wind up where they hoped to wind up. I.e., they talked about wanting to get into X, Y and Z, and at 21 Apted intoned that they got into X, Y and Z. It was as if they had a gilded path. The dreams of others fell apart but theirs held. Two of them, Furneaux and John Brisby dropped out after “21 Up.” They felt it was all a bit unfair—as if effort wasn’t involved on their part—but Brisby was coaxed back, and good for him. Last go-round, he pointed out that his gilded path included his father dying when he was 9 and attending Oxford on a scholarship. So there. Furneaux, lean and long-haired at 21, never returned, even though he became a TV documentary producer. The third of the three, Andrew Brackfield, has always stuck it out.
Is there truth in the series’ critique of the class system? Yes, with Brisby’s provisos. The working-class kids tended to stay working-class work. Tony, who wanted to be a jockey, became a cabbie but has a nice life—even if, now, he’s fending off Uber and the like. The working-class girls became admins and librarians. The children’s home boys became a bricklayer and a forklift operator. Meanwhile, the prep-school boys became: 1) barrister, 2) solicitor, and 3) TV producer.
A quote attributed to Ignatius Loyola begins the series: “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” So is there truth in that? A bit, with provisos about the shattering nature of adolescence. Put it this way: It feels true enough for Jackie (mouthy as a child, never not), and Tony (forever running, forever himself), and Paul (gentle as a child and as a grandfather in Australia). It feels less true for Bruce, who, as a teen, had cheekbones you could cut glass on, and Andrew, the middle prep-school boy, and Lynn.
And of course it’s not true at all for Neil.
I will show you the man
We don’t get enough politics, to be honest, given everything that’s gone on in the world in the last seven years. Brexit is mentioned a few times but Trump only once—to Nick, our American. Did no one else have an opinion on this asshole?
I’d also like more on the effect the series had on them. Most anticipate another segment with trepidation but we never get the why of it. Is it the questions? Justifying what you’ve done against what you wished to do? Being seen as a symbol? Were there positives? Did it grease any paths? Help them get laid? Tony talks about having Buzz Aldrin in his cab when a passerby asks for an autograph. When he passes the paper back to Buzz the passerby corrects him: “No, I want your autograph.” That’s a great vignette but I’m curious about it writ large. I’m interested in this: Did talking about their life paths on TV alter those life paths in any way?
If you’re the least bit empathetic, you certainly wonder how you would look or sound in the series, and how your words through the years would echo back to you. Erik at 14: “I would like to be a writer.” Voiceover for “21 Up”: Erik was now doing menial work at a bank, having dropped out of university. Erik at 42: “Yeah, at this point, I don’t see myself ever getting married.” Voiceover for “56 Up”: “The wedding took place at a small civil ceremony in the Georgetown neighborhood in Seattle.”
“63 Up” flags at times. Tony is the first segment and maybe the longest, and at some point I went, “Wait, there’s how many more of these?” But then suddenly it's over. As Tony says about life, it all goes so fast.
Tony, Neil, Jackie and Lynn, 1964
Monday February 24, 2020
Sunday February 23, 2020
Box Office: Coronavirus Shutters Chinese Theaters
Not much on the domestic box-office front to report. “Sonic the Hedgehog” fell 55% but still won the weekend with $26 million. “Call of the Wild” debuted and finished second with $24.8 million. Both are in the low 60s on Rotten Tomatoes and look awful. “Birds of Prey” finished third in its third weekend with $7 mil. It's now at $75.2 and seems likely to be the first DCEU movie to not break $100 mil. Previous low was “Shazam!”'s $140. Lowest in MCU is “Incredible Hulk” (the Ed Norton one) with $134. But that was 12 years ago.
That said, the U.S. market is doing great compared with China.
I'd totally missed out on this story, this obvious story. On Mojo, I looked at the numbers to try to figure out the year's big Chinese New Year movie. This is from today:
|Weekend||Overall Gross||Releases||#1 Release|
|Feb 7-9||$3,956||1||Fighting with My Family|
|Jan 31-Feb 2||$27,754||2||Knives Out|
|Jan 24-26||$88,673||4||Spies in Disguise|
|Jan 17-19||$32,717,677||47||Sheep Without a Shepherd|
Immediate thought: Wait, didn't Chinese New Year already happen? Yes. It began the last week in January. So why weren't the numbers bigger?
Second thought: Wait, “Fighting with My Family”? That WWE thing from last year? Where are the Chinese movies?
Third: Wait, $3,956 total? And that was ... two weekends ago?
The other shoe finally dropped on my idiot self: Coronavirus.
The Chinese government actually shuttered movie theaters in January—just as Chinese New Year was happening. Brutal. Imagine American movie theaters being closed just as soon as kids got out of school or during Xmas break. Like that but maybe combined. And this was the year China was predicted to surpass the U.S. as the biggest movie audience in the world. Not likely now, particularly with no end in sight for the Coronavirus.
So are no theaters anywhere in China open? Yep, none. From a story in the Hollywood Reporter a month ago:
Among the big-budget movies that had been set for release on Saturday were Wanda's comedy-action sequel Detective Chinatown 3, Huanxi Media's comedy tentpole Lost in Russia, sports epic Leap, Jackie Chan‘s Vanguard, Dante Lam’s action flick The Rescue and family animation Boonie Bears: The Wild Life, among several others (local regulators have always blocked Hollywood films from releasing during the festival period, giving local studios an uncontested run at the box office).
In the “Detective Chinatown” series, the first was set in Thailand, the second in the U.S. (New York), and the third scheduled for Japan. In the “Lost” series it went Thailand, Hong Kong (homages galore), to Russia.
Saturday February 22, 2020
‘You Were Meant to Be Here’
“Later, at the news conference, while the young players giggled like schoolboys, they told how Brooks had said before the game, ‘You were meant to be here.’
”Quite dramatic, I thought. When the conference ended, I collared Brooks. ‘Herb, did you really say that?’
“He reached into his jacket breast pocket and pulled out a card. Scrawled on it were the words, You were meant to be here.”
Gerald Eskenazi, New York Times sports reporter, recalling the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. victory over the Soviet Union, 4-3, in Lake Placid, NY, 40 years ago today.
Friday February 21, 2020
Movie Review: Little Women (2019)
I’m a neophyte here—never read the novel nor seen a screen adaptation—so a quick question: Are we supposed to like the March sisters? I found them a bit annoying. Or what I found annoying was the feeling we were supposed to love them and that burst of creative, argumentative energy they brought to a room. They bring life to gloomy, male-only habitats like Mr. Lawrence’s (Chris Cooper), or to the poor, sickly immigrants down the road. At the same time, there’s something closed-off about them. And self-important? I got the feeling outsiders weren’t welcome.
They’re kind of the original latchkey kids, aren’t they, since Dad (Bob Odenkirk) is at war and Mom (Laura Dern) is always volunteering somewhere, so it’s up to Jo (Saoirse Ronan) to keep them together. She does this to a fault. She warns older sister Meg (Emma Watson) against marriage and wills younger sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) to live. She runs from marriage herself. She’s constantly circling the wagons. In this, she reminds me of Dennis Quaid’s Mike in “Breaking Away,” who warns the other guys against anything (girls, jobs) that would break up the group.
Yes, I know. I’m the only one who will be making this analogy.
All kinds of weather
Were they too different? In a way that didn’t feel real? I have three siblings, and two of us became journalists/editors like my father, but each March sister gets her own creative sandbox:
- Meg: theater (?)
- Jo: writing
- Amy: painting
- Beth: music
And still the bickering. It’s mostly Jo and Amy (Florence Pugh), the most dynamic of the sisters, who, no surprise, get the most screen time. Jo is controlling, Amy doesn’t want to be controlled, etc. She’s also bratty. When she can’t go to the play with Jo and Meg, and their dates Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) and John Brooke (James Norton), she throws a fit, finds Jo’s novel and burns it. Me, leaning over to Vincent: “I would never forgive her.” *
Then I forgave her.
(*Vince and I saw the show last Sunday evening at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle. There were about 30 people there. One other man.)
My wife read “Little Women” when she was young and says writer-director Greta Gerwig made the biggest improvements with Amy. She and Pugh turned her into the movie’s most interesting character. That bit where Pugh is sitting in a chair and playing with her nose? Or her joy at finding Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) in Paris? A great choice by Gerwig to bend the chronology. Since we first see Amy and Laurie together—rather than Jo and Laurie—we root for them as a couple. We root for the joy he obviously brings her.
The girls begin the movie separate. Jo is in New York, struggling to be a writer under the indifferent editorship of Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts, playwright), while desiring the approval of her fellow teacher and boarder, the ridiculously handsome Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel). That’s another departure. In the book he’s German, 40s, nothing to look at. Now: French, 20s, wowsie. The magic of Hollywood.
Amy is in Paris, painting, thanks to the largesse and under the watchful, jaundiced eye of Aunt March (Meryl Streep, sublime), who is interested in a rich husband for her. She knows opportunities are few for women. Except that’s not Amy. She wants to be a great artist, and if she can’t be that (and she can’t, because she isn’t), she’d sooner give it up. But what does that leave? She’s got a rich suitor and he proposes. There’s also Laurie, living the dissolute life in Paris after being rejected by Jo, and he’s rich, and he proposes, too. He’s the one she wants but on her terms. She doesn’t want to play sloppy seconds to Jo. She doesn’t want Laurie to want her simply because he can’t have Jo. (Psst: He wants you simply because he can’t have Jo.)
Elsewhere, Meg is married to Brooke, a kind but poor schoolteacher, a big nothing really, while Beth is back home, playing piano and being nice and about to die of complications from scarlet fever. Beth’s illness is the thing that brings the group back together. Or nearly. Amy doesn’t make it in time.
I admit I was bored for a lot of it. I loved the period details; I loved it when we got a sense of how far away the 19th century really was. The inkwell of Mr. Dashwood, for example, or how Gerwig shows us all the details of Jo’s novel, “Little Women,” being produced, with hand-set type, paper cutting, and a cloth-bound cover.
There’s a lovely scene where Beth has been invited over to the house of Mr. Lawrence to play the piano there, and she begins, and the empty house fills with music, and we see him break down on the staircase because it reminds him of his dead daughter and the music sheused to play. Not only is it a beautiful scene—and good to see you again, Mr. Cooper—but it also made me realize that in the 1860s this was the only way you could get music into your home. I knew this already, of course, but it just hit home here. You had to produce it yourself. None of this passive bullshit. One wonders what all of that passivity has done to us as a species.
So, yes, I loved the stuff that stuck me in the 19th century. Less so the scenes that took me out it. At one point, Laurie and Amy are talking love, and how much control we have over it, and Amy suddenly starts talking not love but marriage:
As a woman, I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don‘t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would belong to him not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn't an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.
Immediately I thought: That sounds like something Gerwig added to tell modern audiences how few rights women had back then.
Yep. Gerwig added it at Meryl Streep’s suggestion to give modern audiences “the opportunity to understand the true powerlessness of women in that period.” I get it, sure, but was there no other way? Took me right out of the story. I was no longer watching 19th-century Amy as written by Louisa May Alcott but 21st-century Florence Pugh as written by Greta Gerwig. It clunked. It flashed: MESSAGE.
Let me add this. One of the toughest things to show on screen is artistic creativity, since in reality it’s a slog. Writing’s the worst. At least painting is visual (see: “New York Stories”), while music can soar (see: “Amadeus”). But watching someone writing is watching someone doing nothing. Yet the scenes where Jo begins the book that becomes “Little Women,” are marvels—from setting up the candles and her notebook just so, to the flurry of work, and the exhaustion, and the flurry of work again, and laying all the papers out on the attic floor—to dry, re-read, edit. I won’t ever forget those papers lined up in neat rows. Gerwig made writing look like something gorgeous in the doing.
Thursday February 20, 2020
‘Full-Blown National Security Crisis’
We are now in a full-blown national security crisis. By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s. https://t.co/Vj6lUV5ZNu— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) February 21, 2020
The crisis is also with the legit press since they always seem to miss the point. Brennan knows the crisis but The New York Times does not, or it's playing dumb for the sake of a feigned objectivity. The real headline isn't “Russia Backs Trump's Re-election, and He Fears Democrats Will Exploit Its Support,” but “U.S. Intelligence Finds Russia Interfering in 2020 Election, but GOP Won't Pass Security Measures.” The Times could argue both parts of its hed are true, but then so are mine, and mine gets closer to the matter. If there's a problem, you wonder what the solution is, not what someone benefitting from the problem will say.
In other news, amid interference from both Trump and AG William Barr, Trump crony Roger Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstructing a congressional inquiry and witness tampering. How many is that now? How many people associated with Trump have now been indicted or are now in prison?
- Paul Manafort
- Rick Gates
- Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
- Michael Cohen
- George Papadopoulos
- Rudy Giuliani?
ABC has a longer list here.
Wednesday February 19, 2020
Movie Review: Behind Office Doors (1931)
Makes sense that a lot of women-in-office movies were made in the pre-code era. Cheap sets, easy sex.
Mary Astor’s Mary Linden here is the opposite of Barbara Stanwyck’s Lily in “Baby Face.” The latter used her body to get ahead in the business world; Mary uses her brain to help one man get ahead. She’s the smartest person in the room but not exactly looking out for herself. That said, can you still make an argument for her as the better feminist—or at least the better wish-fulfillment fantasy? Where’s the challenge in using men sexually? But getting a man to actually clean up his act? To mold the man you love into the man you want? That’s real power.
Not exactly Gary Cooper
“Behind Office Doors” isn’t much, and the blurry, public-domain version on Amazon Prime doesn't help. I wish they'd stop that.
First, a few cultural tidbits.
- In the first scene, we see some partying adults play a game called “Truth,” which is like “Truth or Dare” before the “Dare.” It’s just an agreement you won’t lie or prevaricate. Here, as with the longer version today, it’s a party game, a means of titillation, a potential precursor to making out/sex. Ronnie Wales (Ricardo Cortez) plays it with Mary but it stops at kissing. Turns out she’s in love with another man.
- When Mary proves unwilling, another girl offers herself, saying she’s a “grass widow”—meaning her husband’s often away. Yes, I had to look that up.
- You know that kid’s bit where you point at someone’s chest and when they look down, flick your hand up at their nose? Mary’s friend, Delores (Kitty Kelly), does it to Mary here. The implication is: Don’t be a sucker. I find it fascinating it was already a thing in 1931.
- As was talking about yourself in the third person. The man Mary loves, womanizing salesman Jim Duneen (Robert Ames), does it constantly in the first half of the movie. “Consider the Duneen is on his way.” “The Great Duneen isn’t dressed yet, but come in, honey.” Yes, he’s a jerk. It was the province of jerks back then, too.
The Great Duneen is the movie’s main sticking point. He’s a real creep (slapping Delores on the ass and saying “You pack a gun, girlie?”), and not exactly Gary Cooper (Ames died within a year at age 41 of alcoholism), so what does Mary see in him? It’s such a head-scratcher that Delores asks her to explain. For us. She tells a story about being so overwhelmed on her first day of work that she wound up crying in the hallway. Duneen found her, bucked her up, told her to keep up a bluff. He gave her the secret to life: “Everybody in the world was bluffing.” She never forgot it.
“Oh, he don’t look like no big brother to me,” Delores says.
Exactly. And Mary doesn’t seem the type to wilt in the hallway. But onward.
Delores thinks Mary’s a sap for not going for Ronnie, who’s rich, estranged from his wife, and crazy about her. Plus he’s the dude on the poster. But no soap. He’s barely in it.
Instead, Mary does the following:
- Convinces the retiring owner of Ritter & Co. Wholesale Paper (Est. 1889) to sell the company to his employees.
- Convinces Ritter, and banker Robinson (William Morris), that Duneen would be a good man to lead it.
- Tells Duneen what to say to get the gig. She even writes it down for him.
- Then she squirts ink on his loud, striped shirt and recommends a white one for the meeting.
That’s just for starters. After Duneen gets the VP job, she tones down his angry letters, suggests new business avenues, and he becomes president. And how does he repay her? Hires another assistant, a floozy named Daisy Presby (Edna Murphy), who seems good at just one thing. Yes, that. How do we know? The price tag of the lingerie she’d bought at Wimball’s—and cattily showed off to Mary—winds up on Duneen’s bedroom floor.
Eventually Mary classes up Duneen enough that he’s actually a catch, and, whoops, he becomes engaged to Ellen (Catherine Dale Owen), the banker’s daughter. Ellen’s no fool, either. She senses Mary’s love for her fiancé and wants her out, but as always Mary has to do the heavy lifting. She concocts an excuse (job offer with better pay), and quits, leaving Duneen flustered and out of his element.
The script was written by Carey Wilson (112 credits, AA nomination for “Mutiny on the Bounty,” said to be Louis B. Mayer’s favorite screenwriter), and Alan Schultz (one credit—this), and we get some good lines. When Mary gets dolled up for a business soiree, and asks Duneen what’s wrong with her frock, he responds, “Absolutely nothing. Looks like you been poured in it and forgot to say when.”
My favorite, though, is the piecemeal way Daisy reveals the disasters that have happened in Mary’s absence:
- No, she never processed the orders Duneen sent while on his business trip because they weren’t marked RUSH; she waited for him to get back.
- No, she can’t process them now because she forwarded them to his house.
- No, the butler can’t bring them to the office because of the fire at his home.
- No, she’s not sure how it started, but she thought the firemen were very rude to imply it was her cigarette.
- No, she didn’t fall asleep smoking; she was just “thinking with her eyes closed.”
Eventually, Daisy is canned, the engagement is called off, Mary returns. For a second it looks like we’ll end there, with Mary taking dictation again from the company president she made. Instead: cut to a final scene of Delores at the switchboard, getting a late call from her boyfriend, and seeing a note before her: Duneen and Mary have left to get married. “Ain’t that grand?” she says. That’s the end. The marriage, like Cagney’s death in “Public Enemy,” takes place off-camera. One wonders if it was added at the behest of a studio head or preview audiences. Or both.
Nobody gets out of here alive
“Behind Office Doors,” an RKO Picture, starts out like a wise-cracking Warner Bros. flick, then, under Mary’s tutelage, becomes a more staid MGM movie. I like the Warners part. That's where the cultural references are. At one point, Mary tells Duneen, “What do you think I came here for? Find out there’s one more cough in a carload?” Turns out Not a cough in a carload was an ad slogan for Old Gold cigarettes back then. In the same conversation, Duneen offers her a cocktail but it has OJ in it and she turns it down. For that, he calls her “Mrs. Rick” and adds “And the next time you come, we’ll have that sauerkraut you crave.” Radio show? Song lyric? Another ad? Anyone? I can't find it.
Overall, there’s a real “Nobody gets out of her alive” vibe to the cast. Most of the people in it either stopped making movies shortly afterwards or died:
- Ames died of the DTs in 1931.
- Catherine Dale Owen stopped making movies in 1931.
- Edna Murphy stopped making movies in 1933.
- William Morris died in 1936.
- Charles Sellon died in 1937.
Only three of the principles had any kind of career after this.
Kitty Kelly, who may be the best thing in the movie, continued to work steadily into the 1960s, but mostly in small roles. In one of her last, she played “Third Poor Person” in a 1966 episode of “Batman.” And no, she’s not that Kitty Kelley.
Ricardo Cortez, nee Jacob Krantz, who was trying to become the next Valentino, and who played the first Sam Spade in “Maltese Falcon” this same year, gave up acting for Wall Street in the early 1950s—although he returned for an episode of “Bonanza” in 1960. He died in 1977.
Mary Astor, of course, continued working in movies and television until 1964. She won an Oscar in 1941 for supporting actress in “The Great Lie”—most likely aided by the fact that she played her most famous part, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, in John Huston’s “Maltese Falcon” that same year. She died in 1987.
As “Behind Closed Doors” began, I actually mixed up my Malteses. I thought, “Hey, they’re together here before they’re together in ‘Maltese Falcon.’” It took a second before the other shoe dropped.
Could you make this movie today? Possibly. But you obviously couldn’t end it where it ended it. Tables would need to be reversed. Mary would get the company, and maybe Ronnie, who would be a doctor for the poor or something. I do like the idea of a woman refining and molding the man she loves only to lose him because he becomes such a catch. She cleans him up beyond her pay grade. You could make dark comedy out of that.
Tuesday February 18, 2020
Joe vs. the Volcanic Mob
“No, I don't think the Astros used buzzers.
”And I do think that it is time for Major League Baseball to forcefully, explicitly and unequivocally say exactly that, to say that the Astros did not cheat in 2019 and all statements to the contrary are false and irresponsible unless they come with new evidence.
“We are in the middle of the feeding frenzy portion of this Astros cheating thing. Every crisis has one. It's the point where everybody — the media, the others in the industry, everybody — piles on and tries to push the story as far as it can go. One person suggests taking away the 2017 World Series, the next person suggest barring the Astros from postseason play for three years, the next person suggests giving all the players involved a one-year suspension, the next person suggests it should be a five-year suspension, the next person suggests pulling the Astros off television, the next person suggests taking the Astros away from Houston, on and on, there will be no end to the wrath, not until this portion of the crisis fades.”
“And it is the responsibility of MLB to try and get to the point where the crisis starts fading. There's only so much the commissioner Rob Manfred and his people can do ... but my argument here is that they have to do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to get baseball moving forward.”
Joe Posnanski, “The Astros Experience”
Tuesday February 18, 2020
‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a — Watch out! Behind that pier!’
From “City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s,” by Otto Friedrich. This is in a section on “Casablanca”: the making/marketing of:
There was such indecision about [which man Ilsa would choose] that the authorities finally decided to shoot both possibilities. “They were going to shoot two endings,” Miss Bergman said, “because they couldn't work out whether I should fly off by airplane with my husband or stay with Humphrey Bogart. So the first ending we shot was that I say good-bye to Humphrey Bogart and fly off with Paul Henreid. . . . And everybody said. ‘Hold it! That’s it! We don't have to shoot the other ending.' ” Even that ending, with Bogart and Rains walking off into the night, needed a closing line. One version was that Bogart would say, “Louis, I might have known you'd mix your patriotism with a little larceny.” Wallis claimed that he was the one who thought of something better: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” And even then, they didn't know what they had achieved.
At a sneak preview in Huntington Park, the audience seemed mildly pleased, but several viewers handed in cards that said the ending seemed unclear. Would Bogart and Rains be arrested? Wallis ordered a new closing scene written, in which Bogart and Rains escaped from Casablanca on a freighter. And somebody in the publicity department said a new title should be found, because Casablanca sounded like a brand of beer.
Can you imagine if they'd listened? Filmed more? Showed their flight out of Casablanca? But I assume most people in Hollywood know that if your test-screen audiences says they want more, then you‘ve got ’em.
Monday February 17, 2020
Joe's Top 100: 41-50
No. 41. Both ways.
This is the part of the list where Joe gets a little cute. Too cute? He was a bit cute placing Joe DiMaggio 56th, for the streak, but check out what he does here:
|48||Ken Griffey Jr.||3||83.8||56||OF|
|44||Cal Ripken Jr.||-9||95.9||36||SS|
Three of the last five are in the same place as their uniform number: Gibson 45th, Robinson famously 42nd, and Tom Terrific at 41.
Gibson and Jackie I can see, but bWAR ranks Seaver 21st overall, so 41st feels like a demotion for the sake of the number. Not sure what's next. Rickey Henderson at No. 24? Frank Robinson at 20? A-Rod at 13? Killebrew at No. 3?
Kidding. I‘ve resigned myself to Killer not making the cut.
That said, the pitchers who will rank ahead of Seaver are also legends: Grover Cleveland, Maddux, Unit, Lefty, Christy, Cy. What are you gonna do? The one argument is Pedro Martinez. I know Joe ranks his 1999 and 2000 seasons among the best ever, but he didn’t have the longevity that Seaver did.
Speaking of pitchers, they‘re dominating. The first 60 greatest players by position:
- P: 20.5
- C: 5
- 1B: 8
- 2B: 3.5
- SS: 5.5
- 3B: 5
- OF: 12
I figure 10 more pitchers, too, making a third of the lineup. Is bWAR weighted too much for pitchers and too little for catchers? I still make that argument. By bWar, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven were all better than Johnny Bench—and it’s not close. They‘re also better than George Brett, Rod Carew, Pete Rose and Ken Griffey Jr.
Speaking of: Nice to see Junior here. In the earlier list, he got stuck at 51. So two of the guys I watched regularly in the ’90s will make the top 50 all-time. No, wait: three! A-Rod as well. Are there three other guys in the top 50 who were teammates for at least three seasons and whose team never won a pennant? Ah, the joy and sadness of being a Seattle fan. We saw greatness just not there.
It's interesting to see which legends he's going to eliminate. He's running out of room. Forty spots left. If he includes both Mike Trout and Turkey Stearns, which I think he's gonna, one of the legends is gone. I assume Cap Anson.
You know what else this means? Just 40 days to Opening Day.
Sunday February 16, 2020
Box Office: ‘Birds’ Falls, ‘Parasite’ Leaves Basement
Now at $43 million domestic, $171 worldwide. Beats folding pizza boxes.
There was a lot of chatter on Twitter last week about the opening-weekend box office for “Birds of Pre,” the “Suicide Squad” spinoff starring Margot Robbie and other young actresses playing kick-ass Gotham City villains/not-villains, with nary a Batman or Joker in sight.
OK, the chatter was less about the box office ($33 mil) as the way it was reported: “low,” “down,” “flailing.” The usual suspects attacked the messenger, argued the stats, and talked up organizing groups to go to the movie's second weekend to keep the world safe for women-made and womencentric movies.
Me: More power to ya.
The results? Yeah, the movie's BO dropped nearly 50% to $17 mil. It finished second for the weekend to “Sonic the Hedgehog,” whose 3-day total of $57 million almost matches “Prey”'s 10-day total of $59 million. The usual suspects will probably object to this now, or to the way it's being framed, but I don't know how you could frame it positively. DCEU movies already plays sloppy seconds to MCU movies, and “Birds” has the worst box office among those. The previous DCEU low was “Shazam!” but even it reached $59 million in four days. For “Wonder Woman” it took a day and a half. “Batman v. Superman”? Not even a day.
Alright, here's a way to frame it positively: “Birds” opened to about the same gross as Fox's “Dark Phoenix” ($33/$32), but “Phoenix” fell off 71% on its second weekend and wound up with a total domestic box office of $65.8. So “Birds” will at least do better than that.
Oh, here's another: It's probably not the movie, which got good reviews (79% on Rotten Tomatoes). It's deciding to make the movie in the first place. Yes, Robbie was the best thing in “Suicide Squad” but that's like saying the maraschino cherry is the best thing on a shit sundae; most folks are still going to remember the shit. Plus these are all third- and fourth-tier characters. I suppose you could frame it like that; that it's a wonder it's done as well as it has. But no one in Hollywood is framing it that way.
Elsewhere, the much-slammed “Fantasy Island” horror reboot (9% RT) finished third with $12.4; the black romance “The Photograph” was fourth with $12.2; “Bad Boys for Life” added another $11.3 as it creeps toward $200 million domestic ($181); and the disappointing “Downhill” (40% RT) with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell finished 10th with just $4.6.
Last Sunday, “Parasite” got all the love at the Oscars, winning best picture, director, screenplay and international film, and its distibutor, Neon, tried to capitalize by increasing its distribution twofold to 2,001 theaters. It worked: the movie earned another $5 mil to reach $44.3 domestic, $171 worldwide. But the Oscar-winner still finished the weekend behind “1917,” which grossed another $8 million to reach $145/$323. That said, “Parasite” is now the fifth-highest-grossing foreign-language film in the U.S., and tomorrow will surpass “Instructions Not Included” for fourth place. I think it'll wind up there. Ahead of it: “Hero” ($53), “Life is Beautiful” ($57) and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” ($128).
Saturday February 15, 2020
Screenshot: You Only Live Once (1937)
From Fritz Lang's “You Only Live Once,” starring Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda. And yes, that's not Henry Fonda.
“...the electric eye which detects metal”: love that. How long before they shortened it? Or was this an overlong name for moviegoers unfamiliar with the tech? And hey, when did metal detectors become a thing anyway?
For the modern version, apparently, the 1920s.
In this scene, Joan (Sidney), the secretary to a perpetually scowling public defender (Barton MacLane), is trying to smuggle a gun to her boyfriend, Eddie Taylor (Fonda), who's been convicted of a crime he didn't commit—a favorite Lang theme. Father Dolan (William Gargan) covers for her here but then demands the gun. Is this her first attempt at breaking the law? In the last half hour, Eddie and Joan become a kind of Bonnie and Clyde, but nicer. Fonda's character is similar to his Tom Joad two years later; he begins both movies getting out of jail and is pretty touchy about anyone asking questions. Fonda's persona would smooth out over the years but I like this version, too.
Does anyone know if this is where we get the James Bond title “You Only Live Twice”? Was it playing off of this movie? Or just off the general adage?
Friday February 14, 2020
Kirk Douglas (1916-2020)
As Col. Dax in Stanley Kubrick's “Paths of Glory.” Douglas made the most of his movie stardom.
I first saw him as an impression, Frank Gorshin or David Frye on some late ‘60s or ’70s variety show, all seething talk through clenched teeth in a sometimes-cracked voice, with maybe an index finger creating a hole in the chin. He was always one of the regular imitations, along with Bogart, Cagney, Nixon. I still think of Joe Flaherty's line, “Must be some kind of FREAK,” in an SCTV episode of “What's My Shoe Size?,” and laugh.
So when did I first see him on the big screen? Much later. Probably “The Man from Snowy River” when I ushered at the Boulevard I and II in south Minneapolis. That became one of my mom's favorite movies. No, wait! “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”! Of course. As a kid. He wore a striped shirt. Like us.
Most of his movies, though, came to me as an adult, piecemeal. I never binged on him the way I did with Bogart or Cagney. I would be reading about John F. Kennedy, say, and then watch “Seven Days in May,” which Kennedy thought plausible as a potential American coup. Martin Scorsese's film history doc led to “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Two Weeks in Another Town.” An interest in film noir led to “Out of the Past.” Did I see “Paths of Glory” before I wrote that piece for The Believer? I think so but I didn't realize how good it was until then. And “Spartacus” just once? On a big screen somewhere?
When I was growing up, Douglas' great films were considered “Lust for Life” and maybe “Champion.” Now it's the ones I just mentioned. Via IMDb's user ratings:
- Paths of Glory (8.4)
- Ace in the Hole (8.2)
- Out of the Past (8.0)
- Spartacus (7.9)
- Seven Days in May (7.9)
- The Bad and the Beautiful (7.8)
He made the most of his 1950s movie stardom but stumbled after the mid-1960s. Burt Lancaster, his partner in crime, the Wyatt Earp to his Doc Holliday, kept getting memorable roles in memorable films: “Atlantic City,” “Local Hero,” “Field of Dreams.” Less so, Douglas. When did he begin to realize it was no longer going his way? He kept playing military men (“In Harm's Way,” “Cast a Giant Shadow”) as much of the U.S. turned from the military. He retreated to the western (“The War Wagon,” “The Way West”) as the western was dying, then tried to hook up with one-time A-list directors like Elia Kazan and Joseph Mankiewicz for edgier material (“The Arrangement,” “There Was a Crooked Man...”). Soon he was making made-for-TV movies and playing sloppy seconds to the latest craze. Two years after “The Omen,” he found out his son was the anti-Christ in the Italian-made “The Chosen.” A year after “Raid on Entebbe,” he starred in “Victory at Entebbe.” In 1980's “Saturn 3,” he was paired with two favorites from 1977: sci-fi and Farrah Fawcett. But at least there was “Snowy River.”
He was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky, the son of a poor ragman selling wares by wagon in Amsterdam, New York. It was such a part of his identity it became the title of his 1988 autobiography: “The Ragman's Son.” His theater pal Lauren Bacall helped him get into movies, and, again, he made the most of it. Not everyone agreed. John Wayne was apparently horrified, for example, that Douglas chose to play Vincent Van Gogh. After the premiere of “Lust for Life,” he lambasted him. “Christ, Kirk, how can you play a part like that? There's so few of us left. We got to play strong, tough characters. Not those weak queers.” Douglas responded that it was all make-believe, and that he, John Wayne, wasn't really John Wayne, after all, but that just confused the Duke. Douglas might‘ve brought up WWII, since Douglas fought in it and Wayne didn’t.
Will his true legacy be helping to end the blacklist by giving Dalton Trumbo credit on “Spartacus”? Though the battle for that legacy is still being fought. And the reactionary right still disparages Hollywood every chance it gets.
Man, but look at that birth year. Imagine the world he came into and the one he left, and seeing it all.
Thursday February 13, 2020
Movie Review: Frisco Kid (1935)
It works for a while. Bat Morgan (James Cagney) is a sailor who comes ashore in 1850s San Francisco only to be shanghaied onto another vessel. Or nearly. He wakes up as his attacker is rowing him to the ship, attacks the attacker, and both men go into the drink. Bat swims ashore, where, under the boardwalk, he’s found by a friendly Jewish tailor, Solomon “Solly” Green (George E. Stone), who could get as much as $250 for him but instead nurses him back to health. Bat chastises him later for it.
Bat: And you call yourself a businessman? Why didn’t you turn me over to his ship?
Solly: I sell merchandise, not men.
Nice line. After that, Bat follows Solly’s example and becomes a better man.
Kidding. Bat adopts the code of those who shanghaied him (“dog eat dog”) rather than the one who saved him. In fact, he winds up causing the death of the one who saved him.
Yeah, it’s kind of fucked up.
“Frisco Kid,” directed by Lloyd Bacon (“42nd Street”), and written by Warren Duff (“Angels with Dirty Faces”) and Seton I. Miller (“Adventures of Robin Hood”), is Cagney’s first period piece. He’s in fine form with longish hair and a stocking cap, but he never thought much of the flick. In his autobiography, he called it “one of those catch-as-catch-can affairs Warners put out purely because they had to be put out. By that I mean Frisco Kid had already been sold to the exhibitors even before a foot of it had been shot or conceived.”
Bat’s rise on the Barbary Coast is fun but too quick. He shanghais Slugs (Joe Sawyer), the guy who shanghaied him, then tosses in another of Slugs’ victims for a quick $500 ... which he quickly loses at the blackjack table to a cheating Paul Morra (Ricardo Cortez, Sam Spade in the original “Maltese Falcon”), who also happens to own the place. So much of Bat’s rise is in the establishments. At the low end is The Occidental, where he first got shanghaied, and which is run by Spider Burke (Barton MacLane, the future Gen. Peterson on “I Dream of Jeannie”). With cash, he rises to Morra’s, which includes a few respectable people, and where he becomes a bouncer after killing Slugs’ accomplice, the Shanghai Duck (Fred Kohler). But he’s got bigger dreams. He wants to be the biggest and most important guy in town—and he does that by enlisting the help of powerbroker Jim Daley (Joe King). Together, they create the Bella Pacifica, with its mirrored glass and marbled bar, and which caters to “the swells” and “society blades.”
Why does Daley even listen to Bat? Because he’s got an idea, see? The local newspaper, run by Charles Ford (Donald Woods), is on a campaign to clean up the Barbary Coast. “The town is tired of having a dirty neck,” Bat tells Daley. “And they may try to wash it—unless we buy up all the soap.”
Right. It’s a little vague. All the businesses kick in to Daley/Bat—protection money, I believe—but the first part of Bat’s scheme? Quieting Ford and his newspaper? Doesn’t happen. In fact, Daley wants Ford dead. But Bat met Ford once and immediately liked him, for no good reason other than he’s supposed to like him, so Bat confronts the would-be assassin, Spider Burke, and knocks him out. Later, Burke tries to shoot Bat, but Solly inadvertently steps in the way. Down he goes. And with him, the best part of the movie.
Now we’re just left with the romance. Jean Barrat (Margaret Lindsay) is the publisher, or something, of the newspaper. Her father used to run it but he was knifed in the back for taking on the Barbary Coast. “I’m only telling you this,” she says to Ford, “so you know you’ve taken a dangerous position.” Judge Crawford (Robert McWade) warns Ford, too, but in the other direction: He has to say something to clean up the town. The Judge is a pain throughout. He shows up just to hector people: Ford isn’t doing enough; Jean shouldn’t get involved with Bat. Etc.
Jean: I think there’s a very worthwhile and human side to his character.
Judge: I can’t understand you, Jean.
Jean (light laugh): I can’t understand myself sometimes.
Yuck. But it’s that Warner Bros. ethos. Our guy isn’t bad, he’s just trying to survive in a crummy world. If only he could become respectable. At the same time, we don't want him to become respectable. Those guys are boring. Basically:
|Scum||Charming Crooks||Dull Society|
|Spider Burke||Bat Morgan||Jean Barrat|
|Slugs Crippen||Paul Morra||Charles Ford|
|Shanghai Duck||Judge Crawford|
The Judge is so annoying that when he builds an opera house, Bat can’t resist tweaking his nose. He invites a few raucous Barbary friends, who horrify the swells. Unfortunately, Morra shows up uncharacteristically drunk and invades the Judge’s box; when the Judge objects, he shoots him.
The rest of the movie is lynch mobs. Ford turns back the first mob with a fiery speech about rule of law—only to discover Daley has freed Morra. So he confronts Daley, decks him, and is shot dead by him. That leads to the second lynch mob, which extracts both Morra and Daley from prison, puts them through a kangaroo court, and hangs them. (Morra goes with aplomb; Daley whimpering.) Now they target Bat. He prevented the Barbary Coast mob from burning down the newspaper, but the citizens’ mob doesn't know that, and probably wouldn't care, and they burn down his place and take him prisoner. At the kangaroo court, he's about to get a death sentence when Jean shows up and pleads his case: “You hanged Morra and Dailey because they killed. Bat Morgan has killed no one!”
Me: Well, Spider Burke, most likely, but we can let that one go.
In his own defense, Bat says this:
The only thing I’m guilty of is trying to make good. Make good my own way. [Pause] Which was wrong, I found that out.
Ouch. That pause.
Anyway, the vigilante committee remands Bat to her care. She says she has faith in him. He says she won’t regret it.
We regret it. The end.
Where have you gone, Lili Damita?
It's an odd end. The couple is together but basically surrounded. This was from the period when Warners didn't kill off Cagney. After “Public Enemy,” I don't think he died onscreen again until “Ceiling Zero,” his next picture after this one, which was a sacrificial death, as was, in a way, “Angels with Dirty Faces,” a few pictures after that. Then it was off to the races. Then moidah the bum.
A couple more things worth mentioning about “Frisco Kid.”
On race matters: There’s just one non-white face, Wong Chung playing Chung. We first see him as another player at Morra’s blackjack table; after Bat builds Bella Pacifica, we see him in Bat’s office, shining his shoes. That’s about it. Of the 45 credits IMDb lists for Wong, 44 are uncredited. The one that isn’t is the Anna May Wong vehicle “King of Chinatown” (1939), in which he plays “Chinese man”—which is his credit (or uncredit) in 11 other movies. This is the fourth movie in which he actually has a name, and it’s his third with “Frisco” in the title. The others: “Frisco Jenny” (1932) and “Fog Over Frisco” (1934).
Charles Middleton, soon to play Ming the Merciless in “Flash Gordon,” also has a bit part as a rabble rouser.
Fourth-billed is an actress named Lili Damita, who’s barely in it. She plays Belle, Morra’s girl, and helps him cheat. She’s also in a lot of publicity shots for the film—including cheek to cheek with Cagney—but again, she’s barely in it, and never with her cheeks near Cagney’s. Was her part cut? Was she was just a name to draw in the crowds? In her obit from 1994, The New York Times says the French-born actress was “one of Hollywood's most glamorous celebrities in the early years of talking pictures,” starring opposite Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper and Laurence Olivier, while romantically linked to Prince Louis Ferninand. A 1929 Times headline reads: LILI DAMITA ENGAGED TO KAISER’S GRANDSON. A day later, this errata: HOHENZOLLERNS DENY PRINCE IS TO WED.
“Frisco Kid” is one of her last pictures. What happened? Chiefly, she married an up-and-comer named Errol Flynn. They divorced a few years later, of course, but they had a son, Sean, who—no surprise—was a handsome sonovuabitch. He made a few knockoff movies in the early 1960s trading on his dad’s fame but apparently died in Cambodia in 1970. As a soldier? No, a photojournalist. He went to Vietnam in 1966 for Paris-Match, was wounded, left to cover the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, then returned with plans for a documentary. He and a colleague went missing from Cambodia in 1970; they were never found. His mother had him declared legally dead in the 1980s.
Me: Wow, they should make a movie of this.
They did: “The Road to Freedom,” 2010, loosely based. The Times thought it awful, calling it “a howler.”
Damita did marry again. From her obit: “Her second marriage in 1962 to Allen B. Loomis, an Iowa manufacturer, also ended in divorce.” Not sure why the Times sounds so dismissive here. They were married 20+ years. Plus it’s somehow charming: from a prince, to a movie star, to an Iowa manufacturer. Even those guys—us guys—get a chance now and again.
Wednesday February 12, 2020
Roger Kahn (1927-2020)
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
That's from page 2 of Roger Kahn's “The Boys of Summer,” and since I read the book in the mid-90s I think I‘ve thought that line about once a month. Lord knows I’ve quoted it often enough. After the KC Royals lost the 2014 World Series, for example. Or in this interview about the Replacements. Or trying to console myself after the Seahawks' horrific loss in Super Bowl XLIX. Or in this MSNBC piece about baseball movies. Probably too often. Although I doubt Roger would have minded.
Growing up, the best baseball writing in the eyes of my father, and thus in mine, was all about the Rogers: Angell and Kahn. Angell, who wrote like one, did regular features for The New Yorker, which were collected into books, the most famous of which was “The Summer Game.” But Kahn had the more famous book, “The Boys of Summer,” about the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers. I always thought it was about the ‘55 team that finally won the World Series for that hapless borough, just before the hapless borough lost the team forever, but it’s actually about the 1952 and ‘53 squads—the team that Kahn covered for The New York Herald Tribune. It’s also about Roger Kahn: his childhood, his cub reporter years, his years covering the Dodgers.
It's about becoming a man. He clues you in on the first sentence, which is my kind of first sentence:
At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams.
The Dodgers actually helped in this. The gig did. Part of it is standing your ground, and Kahn was asked by a Dodgers pitcher to stand at the plate while he worked on his fastball. As a way of hazing the new guy? Who knows? But as the ball got closer and closer, Kahn forced himself to stay planted and achieved a kind of victory doing so. Another time, when Roy Campanella objected to something Roger had written, Kahn told him to read another newspaper: “I would,” Campanella said, “except the Tribune is the onliest paper I can get delivered in time for me to read it in the shithouse in the morning.” Kahn shot back: “I‘ll remember that when I write about you.” Afterwards, Jackie Robinson both credits and chastises Kahn: “What you wrote,” he said, “was silly. Some guys thought it was anti. But you were right to stand up to Campanella.”
More than half the book is the Dodgers team in retirement. Roger Kahn searched them out, pre-Google, and visited them and wrote about what they were doing and what they remembered. This section is thus reminiscent of “The Glory of Their Times,” although, in that book, Lawrence Ritter was an invisible interviewer, wholly behind the scenes, while Roger lets us know about his travels, and where he ate, and what he thought. A theme develops about fathers and sons—linking it with the earlier chapter on Kahn and his father. Clem Labine’s son lost a leg in Vietnam, Carl Erskine's was born with mental difficulties, Jackie Robinson's was busted for drug possession then died when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. The Dodger players, many ensconced in white-collar, middle-management positions, become identifiable. Andy Pafko is self-effacing, Carl Furillo is bitter, Preacher Roe is backwoods bizarre, Carl Erskine is courageous and tough and seemingly boundless. Roy Campanella's story is truly heartbreaking, not so much because of the accident that made him quadriplegic, but because of how his first wife dealt with it. She sought out other men; she slapped him when he could not lift his arms to defend himself. When she is finally struck down with a heart attack at 40, it almost makes you believe in divine retribution.
Overall, “The Boys of Summer” is not only a tribute to Kahn's father, who loved baseball, but to his mother, who loved literature. Kahn created literature out of baseball. He was one of the first to do so.
Here's the Times' obit.
And here's the rest of that quote, too. Seems appropriate now.
You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.
Wednesday February 12, 2020
Well Well Well, Is It True, Papa Bell?
This was fun.
Last week, amid all the Trump nastiness (that could mean any week over the last 3-4 years, but in this instance it refers to the GOP acquittal vote in the Senate, and Trump flexing his immoral muscles in the aftermath), I was momentarily distracted, and happily so, by a discusson on Twitter about baseball and movies. Someone rewatched “The Natural” and pinged the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum that a mini-series on the Negro Leagues would be great, right? The president of Negro League Museum agreed. So the first guy asked the room (all of us on Twitter) who should play the likes of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell.
I had one answer, anyway, and posted it:
Don't know if he can swing a bat, or how fast he is, but I always thought @JamieHector wouldn't be a bad choice for Cool Papa Bell.
A day later I got an answer to my answer:
I can swing a bat... https://t.co/c9zn6xGaXR— Jamie Hector (@JamieHector) February 5, 2020
Made my week. I can just hear Marlo's voice there.
Tuesday February 11, 2020
Final Thoughts on the 92nd Oscars
OK, now that we got that out of the way...
When we began this century, a few things were obvious when it came to Oscar predictions. No. 1: Winning the DGA generally meant your movie won best picture. From 1969 to the end of the century—wait, let's go until 2012, a total of 43 years—the line between DGA and Oscar's best picture was broken only six times:
- 1981 when Warren Beatty won the DGA for “Reds” but “Chariots of Fire” won the Oscar for best picture
- 1985 when Steven Spielberg won the DGA for “The Color Purple” but “Out of Africa won best picture (that's when my friend Scott gave up on the Academy)
- 1989 when Oliver Stone won the DGA for ”Born on the Fourth of July“ but ”Driving Miss Daisy“ won best picture
- 1995 when Ron Howard won the DGA for ”Apollo 13“ but ”Braveheart“ won best picture
- 1998 when Steven Spielberg won the DGA for ”Saving Private Ryan“ but ”Shakespeare in Love“ won best picture
- 2005 when Ang Lee won the DGA for ”Brokeback Mountain“ but ”Crash“ won best picture (that's when I gave up on the Academy)
(Gotta say, DGA rocks on these; Oscar's choice is either subpar or downright embarassing.)
Six misses out of 43 tries: 87%. That's a good free-throw percentage.
Well, that line is no more. In just the last seven years, it's been broken five times. It's now less likely than more likely:
- Alfonso Cuaron DGA (and Oscar) for ”Gravity“ but best pic went to ”12 Years a Slave“
- Alejandro Innaritu DGA (and Oscar) for ”Revenant“ but best pic went to ”Spotlight“
- Damien Chazelle DGA (and Oscar) for ”La La Land“ but best pic to ”Moonlight“
- Alfonso Cuaron DGA (and Oscar) for ”Roma“ but best pic to ”Green Book“
- Sam Mendes DGA for ”1917“ but Oscar/best pic went to ”Parasite“
What else did we know? At the start of the decade, if you won the SAG award for actor, actress or the two supportings you had about a 60% chance (24 out of 40 from 2000 to 2010) of holding the Oscar. This past decade, that chance went way up to 85%: 34 out of 40, including sweeps in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019.
If you‘re using the guilds as Oscar predictor, in other words, DGA is down while SAG is soaring.
Oh, and for a while there, it seemed like Oscar and BAFTA were in tune. For six years, from 2008 to 2013, the two never disagreed on best picture. In the six years since, they’ve never agreed:
|2017||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||The Shape of Water|
|2016||La La Land||Moonlight|
This year, we hosted the usual party, a bit smaller, kind of fun for that. I liked Steve Martin and Chris Rock's bit. I still think Oscar is better with hosts, particularly funny ones. I loved Joaquin Phoenix's speech and hated the way the usual snarky folks on Twitter immediately reduced it to a joke. Jesus, people, listen. Didn't see Eminem. Loved the different singers who dubbed ”Frozen II“ in other countries joining Idina Menzel's Elsa on stage. Truly an international movie moment. Don't know why Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph don't host. It's just sitting there, people. Half the standing o's seemed to be for politically correct reasons now. Hildur Guðnadottir gets an Oscar for best score for ”Joker" and everyone stands? For her? No, not for her. She's the first woman to win best score, so they stood for what she represented. Essentially the Academy was giving itself the standing o for being woke. Stop that. Embarrassing.
See you next year, Oscar. When, hopefully, you have hosts. And sit on your asses a little more.
Monday February 10, 2020
‘Parasite’ Fans Slam Oscars for Doing Marginally What Other Film Awards Don't Do At All
Immediate thought last night: Bummer for Quentin but at least it wasn't “1917.”
Second thoughts, this morning: Damn, this victory lap by “Parasite” fans is annoying.
It's the lack of perspective that bugs me most.
Last night, at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, Oscar voters gave best original screenplay, director and picture to “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho's movie about the Korean class system and its discontents. (Full disclosure: I'm so-so on “Parasite.”) It's the sixth time original screenplay has gone to a non-English language film (“Marie-Louise,” “The Red Balloon,” “Divorce Italian Style,” “A Man and a Woman,” and “Talk to Her”), and the second time, I believe, director has gone to a non-English language film (“Roma”).
Most important, it's the first time a foreign-language film, not to mention a foreign film, has won the Oscar for best picture.
Great. Chance to celebrate. But for some, it's also a chance to retroactively slam the Academy for not doing more.
Here‘s a column from Justin Chang, film critic at the LA Times. After doing his own victory lap (“They gave the Oscar for best picture of the year to—wait for it—the actual best picture of the year”), and after saying he’s not going to slam the Academy (“But today is not a day to spend dwelling on the regressive missteps and missed opportunities of Oscar past”), he kinda does that:
“Parasite” has dealt a much-needed slap to the American film industry's narcissism, its long-standing love affair with itself, its own product and its own image. It has startled the academy into recognizing that no country's cinema has a monopoly on greatness...
First, did “Parasite” deal the American film industry a slap or did some part of the American film industry do that to itself? And if it did, was it a slap? I'm having trouble even unpacking this quote. I guess he's saying “Parasite” startled the Academy so much with its quality that it left it no choice? But it always had a choice. On Oscar ballots, it had eight other ones. Hell, not recognizing quality is one of the things the Academy does best.
Overall, it feels like Chang is slamming the Academy for doing something marginally that other countries don't do at all. Most countries' film awards actually are monopolies, in that they tend to exclude foreign films from even being nominated. The Goya is about the best Spanish movies, the Guldbagge Swedish movies; the Golden Horse is for Chinese language films, the Blue Dragon for South Korean films. Not that that doesn't make sense. Most countries struggle to keep their own film industry afloat amid the Hollywood deluge, and awarding its own, and excluding others, is one way to do that. But at least acknowledge this difference.
Just look at best director. This past decade, the Academy Award has gone to directors from Britain, France, Taiwan, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, America, Mexico, Mexico, and now South Korea. Kind of international. In the same timeframe, the Blue Dragon, South Korea's film award, has gone to directors from South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, and of course South Korea. They were the only ones eligible.
The Academy has made a lot of mistakes over the years, and broken my heart so often that I've really stopped caring, but it is among the most international of film awards. It might be good to recognize that.
Monday February 10, 2020
Quote of the Year
“Americans are always worried that when we lose our freedom it‘ll look like the movie Red Dawn—with tanks in the streets. That’s not how a republic ends. We keep the names on the institutions, we just change what's inside. We still have trials—we just don't have witnesses. We can still subpoena people—they just don't show up. There's still an EPA—it just works for the coal companies now. ... When Rome stopped being a republic, it didn't stop having a Senate. And neither have we. It's just more like student government now. Because that's what dictators do. Russia has a pretend parliament. So does China. And North Korea.”
Sunday February 09, 2020
Box Office for ‘Birds of Prey’ Isn't Fantabulous
Sorry. Still trying to get the hang of the Box Office Mojo redesign. Which is actually a Box Office Mojo/IMDb Pro redesign. I.e., the info we used to be able to find on Box Office Mojo (for free) is now on IMDb Pro (for which we have to pay), and it's harder to find. Thanks, Amazon.
The big release this Oscar weekend is “Birds of Prey,” the spinoff of “Suicide Squad,” one of the DCEU movies that helped make 2016 such an excruciating year. Its full title is “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” about which I‘ll let Anthony Lane take over:
Beware of movies with long titles. I vaguely recall a Dustin Hoffman film, made in 1971, called “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?,” but for the life of me I can’t remember the answer to either question. An oversized title has no practical worth, its sole purpose being to give us a mandatory dose of wackiness. Hence the latest contender, “Birds of Prey, and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” Don't you feel kooked up just reading that?
Don't know how “Harry Kellerman” did at the box office, but “Birds of Prey” isn't doing fantabulous. It opened on more than 4,000 screens and grossed just $33 mil. Yes, that's the second-best opener of 2020, after “Bad Boys for Life,” but it's dead bottom for DCEU openers. And not even close:
|YEAR||MOVIE||RT%||DOMESTIC TOTAL||OPENING TOTAL||OPEN %|
|2016||Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice||28%||$330,360,194||$166,007,347||50%|
|2013||Man of Steel||56%||$291,045,518||$116,619,362||40%|
|2020||Birds of Prey||80%||$33,250,000||$33,250,000||TBD|
Shit, I just realize I‘ve seen all of those movies. And in the theater! Meaning I have to see “Birds of Prey,” too? I have zero interest. “Suicide Squad” was so bad, and while I love me some Margot Robbie, I’m not exactly into Harley Quinn.
It's supposedly OK, 80% on RT, which beats the 27% for “Suicide Squad,” but some part of me worries the highish rating is for the female leads, female screenwriter (Christina Hodson), and female director (Cathy Yan). I.e., too many critics seem to be doing PR for PC culture. Lane's review, at least, is scorching. He says it aces the Bechdel Test but is still “an unholy and sadistic mess.” Girl power?
The debate over why it's bombing should get interesting—and decidedly un-PC. Some will point to this and last year's “Shazam!” and say moviegoers are tired of the DCEU. Others will point to this and last year's X-Men movie, “Dark Phoenix,” which also grossed about $33 mil opening weekend, as examples that female superhero leads don't draw the fanboys. Still others will say (or hope) that it's all indicative of superhero saturation, and this genre is running its course. Me, I'd put it all together. The movie stars a second-tier character from a shitty previous film in a shitty superhero universe, and god aren't we sick of all this already? Plus fanboys probably didn't rush out for it.
Second place for the weekend is the fourth weekend of “Bad Boys for Life,” which is now shockingly at $166 domestic, $336 worldwide. Shocking because: 1) Will Smith hasn't exactly been killing it at the box office; 2) Martin Lawrence?; 3) the original came out a quarter-century ago. Yet here we are. Both totals are way ahead of what “Bad Boys II” grossed in 2003, which was way ahead of what “Bad Boys” grossed in 1995. Meaning expect a fourth. Or more Will Smith/Martin Lawrence movies.
What Oscar movies are people going to Oscar weekend? Mostly the frontrunner:
|18||2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films||$825,000||$2,655,444|
|19||Ford v Ferrari||$680,000||$116,376,692|
|21||Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood||$280,000||$142,451,868|
|28||A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood||$95,000||$61,322,240|
|31||Pain and Glory||$60,616||$4,507,256|
We‘re having a few people over for the event. I’ll be rooting for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” and anticipating disappointment.
Saturday February 08, 2020
Stephen Colbert Ain't Joking Around
Well, that was a helluva week.
A lot of worthy stuff to see about this unworthiest of men, let alone presidents, who was acquitted on two charges (abuse of power, obstruction of Congress) by the GOP-held, McConnell-led and thus throroughly corrupt U.S. Senate. Now Trump is back on a rampage—attacking the usual suspects, firing or reassigning the people who stepped up and told the truth. This week someone called Trump “the sorest winner,” which is about as accurate a description as I can think of. Unless it's this line from Jennifer Szalai's review of “Unmaking the Presidency” by Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes:
What makes the current presidency truly unprecedented, they say, is how Trump combines a seething vindictiveness with a total lack of interest in governing.
Damn, that's good. We see the vindictiveness daily. The disinterest in governing, let alone government, will probably have longer-term consequences. See Michael Lewis' book on same.
Anyway, there was worthy stuff from the left and the middle and the generally sane in the wake of Trump's “acquittal,” but I think Stephen Colbert's monologue beats them all. Because it's thoughtful, and admiring (of Mitt Romney's vote of conscience), but oh-so angry. Colbert's funny here ... but he ain't joking around. Just see his takedown of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Or any time he mentions Trump at all.
(WARNING: The section where Republicans talk up how Trump has learned his lesson and will behave himself may cause rage-induced heart attacks in the otherwise rational.)
These are among the things Colbert calls Trump:
- a golden cow
- that monstrous child in the White House
- a bloated golden child who none dare gainsay—who destroyed anyone who did not follow him blindly, and then went and destroyed a lot of people who followed him blindly anyway
Colbert says hearing Mitt Romney take his oath of office seriously is “like finding water in the desert,” but so is Colbert's monologue. He's saying what we‘re all feeling, and what the mainstream media is generally ignoring. He says: “Now we know: Asking a foreign power to interfere in our election is the new normal.” He says: “The only lesson Trump has learned is that he gets away with everything. Multiple bankruptcies: Nothin’. Multiple sexual-assault allegations: Nothin'.”
And he says this:
“We know Republicans are lying when they say Trump didn't do anything wrong, or ‘Maybe he did but he shouldn’t be removed,' ... The Republicans are privately horrified by Donald Trump, and they want someone to do something to stop him, but they don't have the balls to say it out loud when it matters.”
All that and Robert Bolt's “A Man for All Seasons,” too. Watch the monologue. Memorize it. Remind yourself that you're not crazy.
Saturday February 08, 2020
Joe's Top 100: 51-60
By bWAR, one of these guys was the best player in baseball four times. The other? Never.
It seems like there's always a controversial pick early in these 10-spots—a player fans think is better and should be higher: Derek Jeter landing at No. 79 (howls from Yankee fans), Sandy Koufax at No. 70 (howls from baseball fans), and, here, Pete Rose at No. 60 (howls from Pete Rose). Poz dropped him 19 spots from his top 100 list from the early 2010s, which is the biggest drop since he dropped Koufax 24 spots, which is the biggest since ... Well, he only dropped Jeter 22 spots, but you get the idea. It's his own list; Joe's on his own wavelength here. Just as in “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies,” Scorsese said he could only talk about the movies that moved or intrigued him (Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk), rather than the culturally acceptable ones (“Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca”), Poz is trying to ignore the noise to listen to his own personal signal. Good for him.
He's wrong on Koufax, of course.
Here's his latest 10-spot:
Why is there an “X” next to DiMaggio's name? Because in the first list, Poz stopped at No. 32 and never got around to DiMaggio. Maybe he forgot DiMaggio? Maybe he stopped at No. 32 because he realized he had too many players left for the 31 spots remaining? I could totally see it. I‘ll write about that eventually: who was left and why they didn’t fit into the remaining 31 spots.
There were howls for DiMaggio, too, of course. The Braves' Chipper better than the Yankee Clipper? Adrian Beltre ahead of even that? Al Kaline?
What's fascinating is that, at least by bWAR, the Great DiMag wasn‘t. And it’s not just the years he lost to the war. According to bWAR, there is no year where he was the best player in his league. Not just in baseball, but in his league. Ted Williams, his rival, who couldn't play D the way Joe D could? Williams is the best player in the American League six times, and in all of baseball four times. But Joe D's got his three MVPs to keep him warm.
In other news, Rod Carew drops three spots, to No. 57, but I think that's the highest we‘ll see a player wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform. My childhood hero, Harmon Killebrew, who was previously No. 67, won’t make the cut.
In the previous iteration, Buck Leonard was 76th all-time, not bad, but Pete Rose, at No. 41, was among the immortals. Now Buck is ahead of him. As well as ahead of Jeter, Koufax, and Joe DiMaggio.
Things are getting interesting.
Friday February 07, 2020
My Five Worst Movies of 2019
Perennial caveat: My top-10 list is always late because I try to see the best movies of the year, which often arrive late. My five-worst list is always incomplete because I don’t try to see the worst movies of the year. Somehow I manage to see some pretty sucky ones anyway.
I should‘ve had this list up sooner but I was sick most of January. I don’t blame these movies for that. Much.
5. The Wandering Earth
China's entry into sci-fi action is as stupid as most Hollywood blockbusters. Also more jingoistic. I’m like: “Wait, we’re smart enough to turn Earth into a spaceship but dumb enough to miscalculate Jupiter’s gravitational pull?” There's a million-to-one shot to save us but every country wants to wallow in grief: Europeans drink; Japanese contemplate hara-kiri. Thank god for the bubblegum-blowing junior high student from China, who gives such a rousing speech about hope that the rest of the world finally puts down its bottles and and decides to try. You know, like China. Hollywood lesson: If you want the rest of the world to see your movie, maybe don't insult them?
4. Late Night
Emma Thompson plays a national comic treasure who's not funny; the male, politically incorrect writers are actually dull sweethearts; and Mindy Kaling turns Thompson‘s/Newbury’s soporific last-night talk show into a “viral sensation” with an on-the-street bit called “Katherine Newbury: White Savoir,” in which Newbury helps: 1) two black dudes hail a cab; 2) a fat woman buy clothes, and 3) some dude get free fries. “Late Night” sets up the usual false dichotomy of Hollywood films: high culture is snooty so let’s wallow in the YouTube muck. These are our only two options, apparently.
3. More Than Blue
At one point our hero, K, hires private detectives to spy on the wife of a dentist, who's cheating on him. Why does K do this? Because he wants the dentist to marry the girl K loves. Why does he want this? Because he's dying. It's like a fucked-up version of “Gift of the Maji”: “I'm dying so I got you a husband”; “I left my husband because you‘re dying.” The Chinese title translates as “A Story Sadder than Sadness,” but I’d say it's just sad.
2. Dark Phoenix
Brett Ratner's “X-Men: Last Stand“ (2006) ruined the X-Men universe. It killed Prof. X, Scott and Jean, stripped Magneto of his powers, and left the story with nowhere to go. So they went backward and rebooted the series as a 1960s prequel: “First Class.” Then in “Days of Future Past,” they created an alternate timeline which allowed them to bypass the mess of “Last Stand” and do whatever they wanted with the characters again. Guess what they did? Returned to the plot of “Last Stand.” With the guy who wrote “Last Stand” as first-time director. Cue face palm. Before the big battle, Magneto tells Prof. X, “You’re always sorry, Charles, and there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore.” Truer words.
1. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
This is one helluva foregrounding family. Dad overcomes a drinking problem by taking nature photos of animals eating each other, then fulminates against any course of action. Daughter acts too late and then attracts giant monsters to Boston. As for Mom? She causes the death of millions because she thinks giant lizards and moths are wiser than we are. These are our heroes. Don't get me started on the fortune-cookie joke. Godzilla may be gigantic, but the stupidity of this movie is bigger. It fills the screen. It roars.
Tuesday February 04, 2020
Movie Review: Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
The first words we hear from Rudy Ray Moore, AKA Dolemite (Eddie Murphy), are these: “I ain’t lying, man. People love me.”
And we do. Eddie Murphy, I mean. Or this Eddie Murphy—the Eddie Murphy we fell in love with back in the early 1980s, before the the huge successes and second thoughts and maybe the weight of being a successful black artist in an often racist country and industry—the burden of that legacy—helped kill the comedy. What did it mean, anyway, making all those white people laugh? And what did that make you? A clown? A minstrel? So I imagined some part of Eddie’s internal dialogue back then. He went from Reggie Hammond, Billie Ray and Axel Foley to one forgettable movie after another. We kept waiting for a revival that never came. Every step forward (“Nutty Professor,” “Dreamgirls,”) was followed by a step back (“Holy Man,” “Norbit”). Movies that seemed like they might be funny (“Pluto Nash,” “Tower Heist”), weren’t. To a generation born in this century, he’s probably best known as Donkey from “Shrek.” Donkey.
Or maybe this would’ve happened even without the race-legacy thing? So many comedians want to be taken seriously: Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey. Then they often have trouble finding their way back to funny.
Here, Eddie finds his way back. “Dolemite is My Name” is the first Eddie Murphy movie I’ve loved since the 1980s. What’s fascinating is he’s playing someone the exact opposite of Eddie Murphy.
Think of it: Murphy was a hit on “SNL” at age 19, a hit in the movies at age 21, a standup phenomenon at 22, and the star of the biggest box office hit of the year, “Beverly Hills Cop,” at age 23. Not many actors were hotter, sooner.
And in “Dolemite” he plays a dumpy, middle-aged man who missed his shot. An early dialogue from Rudy:
How’d my life get so damn small? Came out here with some big plans, Jimmy. I was gonna do it all, just like Sammy Davis Jr. Movies, concerts, TV, everything. This job at Dolphin’s [Records] is supposed to be my temporary day job. Cut to a million years later, it’s all I got.
Murphy makes this believable. There’s hurt in his eyes.
A second later, he’s making us laugh. Going into an alley of winos, he asks if anyone’s seen Ricco, whom he describes as an old bum with no teeth. Upon which, an old bum reveals his toothless gums and laughs. Rudy: “Oh, shit. Guess that didn’t narrow it down at all, did it?”
The movie begins with Rudy Ray Moore, circa 1970, on the bottom. His road to middle-aged success, even legend, begins by finding and tape-recording Ricco and the others, who do a kind of grandiose, rhyming patter—like Muhammad Ali but way dirtier. He memorizes and perfects their bits, adopts the persona of “Dolemite” (“Dolemite is my name/And fucking up motherfuckers in my game”), and becomes a headliner at the club where he used to be the tepid, five-minute warm-up prior to the music. Then he makes a record in his living room, no one will distribute it (too dirty), so he puts it out himself and sells it under the counter wrapped in plain brown paper with a devil sticker on it: “Like some shit you ain’t supposed to have,” he explains. Soon, enough black people are listening to it that the Bihari brothers, famous for distributing R&B, take notice and put it out. Boom, hit. It leads to more, and more, and more.
And it’s not enough. One night, he and friends go see Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page,” a 1974 remake starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and none of them get it. Why are all these white people laughing? (We weren’t, really; it’s a disappointing movie.) There’s a nice moment when Rudy looks back toward the projection room, and sees the beam of light streaming forth. “If I could get up in that light with my own movie?” he tells his friends afterward. “I could be everywhere all at once.”
At this point, we’re about 30 minutes in. The rest of the movie is the making of a movie: “Dolemite.”
I’m curious if this is how it went down—with “The Front Page” being the trigger. That movie was released in mid-December 1974; “Dolemite” was released in late April 1975. Four months doesn’t seem like a lot of time to go from inspiration to distribution—particularly with all the problems Rudy apparently had.
He keeps running into brick walls and bouncing off. For all the Dolemite chest-thumping, that’s his true superpower: overwhelming persistence in the face of overwhelming disinterest. Producers of blaxploitation flicks turn him down as too dumpy. Even his friends are dubious. “You’re not Billy Dee Williams,” Toney (Tituss Burgess, Titus of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), tells him. “You’re a comedy star. Be happy with that.” But he’s not. “I want the world to know I exist,” he says.
He plays on egos to make it happen. Self-important playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) turns him down—until Rudy talks up “Jerry Jones movies.” Self-important actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) turns him down—until Rudy says, “What if we let you direct?” They break into a dilapidated hotel for a set, use white film students behind the camera, while Rudy borrows against future album sales to finance it. The Biharis aren’t cutthroat*; they try to break it to him gently. “We’ll own your albums,” they say.
Bihari: You understand, you’re not supposed to make a movie for the five square blocks of people you know.
Rudy: Well, that’s fine with me. Cause every city in America got them same five blocks.
(*In reality, the Biharis, at least with their R&B stars, were more cutthroat than this.)
I wouldn’t have minded fewer famine-before-feast moments. I.e., It’s 10 minutes before Rudy self-premieres “Dolemite” in Cleveland, and no one’s there, and he looks worried; then suddenly everyone’s there and it’s a hit. The team is taking a limo to the Dimension Films’ premiere but get depressed reading all the negative reviews, and they think they‘re failures; then they pull up to the theater and the place is packed. Etc.
Not Billy Dee
On the Hollywood Elsewhere site, Jeff Wells makes a good comparison between “My Name is Dolemite” and “Ed Wood.” This one, directed by Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”), is less artistic than Tim Burton’s, and without anyone like Martin Landau’s Bela Legosi as supporting (though Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s Lady Reed comes close), but both movies are about a perpetually enthusiastic man with a crappy vision who gathers a motley crew and makes it happen. The difference? “Plan 9 from Outer Space” wasn’t popular; “Dolemite” was. Rudy Ray Moore kept making movies throughout the ’70s and is now seen as the Godfather of Rap. Longtime fan Snoop Dog even has a cameo here as a Dolphin’s Record DJ.
Would it have been worthwhile to explore the why of the success? Even during the rhyming comedy routines, I didn’t get it; I felt like Rudy and company watching “The Front Page.” I’d also be curious if “Dolemite” was more popular than other blaxploitation flicks. If so, is it because he wasn’t Billy Dee Williams or Richard Roundtree or Jim Brown? You could say he was both wish-fulfillment and identification: Someone who looked like us getting to act like them.
Either way, welcome back, Eddie, We missed you.
Monday February 03, 2020
What So Proudly He Failed
According to The Miami Herald, footage has emerged of Pres. Trump at his own Super Bowl party talking, fidgeting and mock conducting during the playing of the National Anthem, while other guests, including his wife Melania, stood at attention with hands over hearts.
The paper reminded us that Trump has “repeatedly said all Americans should ‘stand proudly’ during the national anthem, and publicly chastises those who don't as disrespectful of the troops.”
My favorite part:
The video was included in an Instagram story by a real estate agent for a Russian-American firm who frequents Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties and events.
Does the man know anyone not connected to Russia?
Monday February 03, 2020
Movie Review: 1917 (2019)
Sam Mendes’ “single shot” conceit lends a dreamlike quality to the movie, doesn’t it? That sense, in a dream, when you’re in one place and you turn and you’re in another? One setting falls away for the next without explanation.
Here, because the camera follows our protagonists, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay of “Captain Fantastic”) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Joffrey’s kid brother on “Game of Thrones”), in their journey to call off a British attack and save 1600 men, we’re following them every step of the way, so we don’t have the cuts and fade outs from one scene to the next. They walk 100 yards or so and they’re in the next setting. Sometimes they don’t even have to walk. When Blake is stabbed in the stomach by the German pilot, and Schofield is holding him as he dies, Schofield is alone, horribly alone. Then two soldiers suddenly appear and help him move the body. As they do this, we see more men, and then the camera pans back and we see an entire regiment. When did they arrive? How did we not hear them coming?
Schofield goes with them until their vehicles can’t get past a bombed-out bridge near Ecoust-Saint-Mein; but Schofield can. He says goodbye, climbs onto the remains of the bridge, and makes it halfway across when a German sniper on the other side starts shooting at him. So the men in the regiment return fire. Kidding. Schofield has gone maybe 50 feet, in maybe 30 seconds, but the regiment is already gone. That part of the dream is over. He’s alone again. Horribly alone.
A river runs through it
It’s a shame the way awards season is set up. We hear about critically acclaimed movies a zillion times before we have the chance to see them, so we go in with high hopes. I saw “1917” last week with my wife, knowing it won the PGA for best film, and the DGA for best film, making it the frontrunner to the win the Oscar for best film. Afterwards, we looked at each other and went, “It’s good.” Long pause. “But...”
It’s a directing feat more than anything. The nonstop quality means we’re on the edge of our seat for most of the film. There’s breathers in the dialogue but then the dialogue goes, too.
Why these two for the mission? Blake is chosen because his brother is in the battalion that might get slaughtered, and he picks his mate before he knows how perilous the assignment is. Why just two for the mission? The man who sends them, Gen. Erinmore (Colin Firth), quotes Rudyard Kipling: “Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.”
Me: But they’re not alone; they’re together.
Me, a beat later: But you need two people on screen. For dialogue.
Initially, in silence, they traverse the grim realities of No Man’s Land, where the unclaimed corpses of man and beast lie rotting; then they jump into the German trenches, which are abandoned, and—hey!—so much nicer than ours. The trench is also boobytrapped, which Schofield spots; but a rat, a literal rat, trips the wire, the place caves in, and Blake saves Schofield. It’s the opposite of what we think will happen. Schofield is taller, leaner and braver; he’s already got the medal that Blake envies but he thought so little of it he traded it for a bottle of wine. But here it’s Blake to the rescue.
Then it’s onto the farmhouse, which after some suspense they determine to be abandoned, and where, with detached interest, they watch an aerial dogfight between two Brits and a German. The German, outnumbered, goes down smoking, and ... is it coming this way? No. YES! Inexplicably, after he barrels into a barn, they rescue the pilot and debate whether or not to mercy kill him. Why not just kill him? He's the enemy. Instead, he kills Blake while Schofield is fetching water.
Me: I guess you don’t need two people on the screen for dialogue.
But, of course, even as Schofield retreats into silence, an entire regiment arrives, gabbing away. Before, the mission was to save not only the 1600 but Blake’s brother. Now it’s also to make sure Blake didn’t die in vain.
Is the second half of the movie a bit much? After Schofield kills the sniper but falls back down the stairs and knocks himself out? The shots of—is it a village?—are eerie, masterful, and reminiscent of the Do Lung Bridge sequence in “Apocalypse Now,” but the whole thing gets both surreal and unreal. Schofield is fired upon, ducks into a basement where he comes across a pretty Frenchwoman and a baby—but not her baby. He leaves them food. To escape a drunk German soldier, he ducks behind a pillar, only to come face-to-face with a young, sober German soldier, whom he chokes to death. The drunk tries to shoot him, several others give chase, so Schofield jumps into a raging river, down a waterfall, pulls himself up over a dozen, rotting, soggy corpses, walks in a daze through the woods, and plops himself down among a regiment listening to one of their own singing a high, plaintive, mournful song.
Guess what? It’s the battalion he’s looking for. That’s how he finds them.
We should all get swept along such rivers.
There’s a few such false notes in the film, and the entire “single shot” (which isn’t a single shot) conceit creates a veneer of same for me. It felt too gimmicky for the surroundings. The casting of the officers was a gimmick itself. Our boys are tasked by Mr. Darcy, pointed in the right direction by the Hot Priest, given a lift by Merlin, so Schofield can deliver the message to Sherlock Holmes in order to save Robb Stark. It’s Masterpiece Theater. Nice, anyway, that the Starks and Lannisters are not only getting along, they’re now related.
“1917” is based on Mendes’ recollections of the recollections of his grandfather, who fought in the Great War. I like how it begins and ends with Schofield dozing under a tree. I wanted to like it more.
Sunday February 02, 2020
Brits Honor ‘1917’
Sam Mendes' “1917” won the BAFTA for best film. Congrats. Wasn't my favorite, or even in my top 10 probably (getting on that, yes), but so it goes. But does this mean anything for Oscar?
Well, yes and no.
In the last five years, best pictures across the pond haven't agreed once:
|2017||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||The Shape of Water|
|2016||La La Land||Moonlight|
In the six years before that, they didn‘t disagree once:
|2013||12 Years a Slave||12 Years a Slave|
|2011||The Artist||The Artist|
|2010||The King’s Speech||The King's Speech|
|2009||The Hurt Locker||The Hurt Locker|
|2008||Slumdog Millionaire||Slumdog Millionaire|
And before that it was a mixed bag—though mostly disagreeable. This century, the two bodies have agreed eight out of 19 times, but I get the feeling this season will make it nine out of 20. I'm getting a “1917” vibe for Oscar. Maybe becaue I don't want it to win?
In acting, it was the usual suspects: Joaquin, Renee, Laura and Brad. I expect them all to pick up hardware next week, too.
Joaquin spoke out against systemic racism. Rebel Wilson brought the house down with a very funny intro to, I assume, best director. Now if she could only be this funny in any movie we pay to see her in.
Sunday February 02, 2020
Tweet of the Day
It’s about Trump. It’s not about Hillary, not about Bernie, not about Biden. It’s about Trump. I don’t care who it is as long as they beat Trump because none of the Dems running represents the literal end of democracy. Trump does. If you don’t see that, that’s one for Putin— Phil Hendrie (@realphilhendrie) February 2, 2020
I came across this last night and I couldn't agree more. Iowa Caucus is Monday and the rhetoric is ramping up, and the Bernie bros (or Bernie bots?) have been out in force. You also have folks like Rep. Rashida Tlaib, at a Bernie rally, saying it's OK to boo Hillary Clinton, and then doing so—with everyone else on stage, including Minneapolis Rep. Ilhan Omar, laughing. I need to take Hendrie's advice, too; because while I think Republicans from Donald Trump to Mitch McConnell to the gang at Fox News, as well as the Kochs and Mercers and all the money people, are upending democracy, I have a slow burning rage for the idiots on the left who should be part of our program but don't see this. Who quibble while democracy burns.
Saturday February 01, 2020
Movie Review: A Hidden Life (2019)
Who knew a movie about a conscientious objector in Hitler’s Germany would have relevance for America in the 21st century? Well, at least our guy is incompetent. That may be our saving grace—his utter buffoonery. He couldn't make the trains run on time to save his life.
Did Terrence Malick know where we were headed? Could he see into the future? This movie was shot in July and August 2016, so before Trump won the election; then Malick spent three years editing. It’s about a peasant farmer, Franz Jaggerstatter (August Diehl), from St. Radegund, a small village in the Austrian mountains, who does not go when duty calls. He does not bend when his neighbors insult him, nor when the Nazis imprison him. He does not buckle when they kill him. He believes in something greater. He leaves behind a wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner), and three daughters, two of whom are still alive.
If that storyline seems ripe for our times, it’s also a perennial Malick concern. Jaggerstatter is basically Pvt. Witt (Jim Caviezel) from “The Thin Red Line” but more so. It’s about where faith matters in a troubled world. It’s about how, as the world worsens, faith matters more.
It is. With caveats.
- It’s gorgeously photographed (DP is Jord Widmer rather than longtime Malick collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki)
- It’s actually a story (as opposed to “Wonder” and “Cups”)
- It’s an hour too long
Hate to be the “too many notes” guy, but it’s what I was feeling as I watching. He could’ve cut 45-60 minutes and I would’ve been happier. Can’t believe it took three years to edit down—or up?—to three hours. That makes it Malick’s longest movie, and it’s a movie where not much happens. The point of the movie is something not happening.
I apologize, by the way, that this review isn’t any deeper. I saw “A Hidden Life” several weeks ago, wrote some of the above that night, then woke up the next morning with a bad virus and a clogged head and didn’t get back to it until now. Back then I wrote Diehl’s performance was “one of the best I’ve seen this year,” but if so it didn’t stick. Not enough has. Maybe because not enough happens? It’s mostly images.
The title comes from a quote by George Eliot that we see on a closing title card:
...the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Isn’t that beautiful? You know what else it is? Words. Malick still isn’t giving enough credence to them. Visually, his films stun us with wonder. Storywise, they make us wonder what might have been.
That said, with the above caveats, I recommend it. Hell, I might even see it again.