erik lundegaard

Saturday April 30, 2011

Movie Review: Fast Five (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There was a time when cultural conservatives feared the gender neutral. They worried men were becoming like women and women like men.

Let them come see “Fast Five.”

poster for Fast Five (2011)Seriously. Each gender has become a parody of itself. The women are preposterously beautiful, the men preposterously pumped. I’m sure Paul Walker, who plays Brian O’Conner, is a fairly buff dude, but next to Vin Diesel, who plays laconic car thief Dominic Toretto, he looks like me. And Diesel next to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays Special Agent Hobbs, looks like me again. Can the Rock even put his arms down these days? In her review, Manohla Dargis brings up the homoerotic undertones of a fight between Diesel and Johnson but I’d go further. The two men, both bald, rigid and tumescent, reminded me of nothing so much as two erect penises fighting. Someone even makes a reference to a “cock fight.” Freud isn’t even needed anymore.

This is the fifth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise (hence “Fast Five”), the fourth chronologically (it takes place before “Tokyo Drift”), but it’s my first go so I was hopelessly lost.

Kidding.

Apparently at the end of the last movie Dominic was arrested, but at the beginning of this one, as the bus full of prisoners rides that lonely road to the penitentiary, three sports car zoom up, veer around, and force the bus to flip ten times. “Amazingly,” a news reporter says, “there were no fatalities.” Yes, amazingly. One minute into the movie Dominic escapes.

To Brazil, with former rival O’Conner and sister Mia, who’s O’Conner’s girl. There they run into a dude from the first movie, Vince (Matt Schulze — on the buffness scale between Walker and Diesel), who tells them about a job they can do, “a sure thing,” “easy money,” etc. It involves driving a flat-bed truck at high speeds over uneven ground next to a speeding train, using a propane torch to cut a hole into one of the train cars, and driving out the racing cars within. Easy peasy. Becomes more complicated when one of the locals insists on driving the GT40 but Diesel says “Ladies first” and Mia gets it. That’s the moment on which the rest of the movie hinges. Turns out the GT40 hides a computer chip that contains all the drug deals, $100 million worth, of local slumlord Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Apparently Reyes is the guy behind this “sure thing.” He wants to retrieve his chip. What’s it doing there in the first place, on this sports car on a train speeding through Brazil to who knows where? Why are you asking, Brainiac? Lookit Dom drive that car off that train. Kick ass! Lookit Brian hang by one arm from what’s left of the flat bed. Kick ass! Lookit both Dom and Brian fly off the edge of that cliff and crash into the water 200 feet below. Kick—

Actually that last stunt is pretty cool. Time slows, the sound cuts except for the wind, Dom and Brian begin to back out of the car flying through space.

Of course they’d be dead after the crash. They’d be dead 10 times in this movie. Instead they pop up after a few seconds, make a few manly quips, look around to see the bad guys pointing guns at their heads. We’re off and running again. Superheroes are more vulnerable than these guys.

Parts of it aren’t bad, actually. Justin Lin knows how to direct an action sequence, and the script by Chris Morgan shows some wit. So there’s $10 million in drug money in 10 different locations. Do they rob each one? BO-ring! Instead they bust into one drugspot and burn the money. This forces Reyes to gather all his money into one safe location. Unfortunately that safe location is a police station.

By this point, Dom has gathered his team of experts. That’s one of my favorite cinematic devices, actually, gathering a team of experts, but like everything else here it’s done quick and sloppy. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is supposed to be the fast talker, for example, but he’s hardly Chris Tucker, and Tej (Ludacris), the safecracker, constantly one-ups him. Gisele (Gal Gadot) is supposed to be the utilities and weapons specialist, but she’s a hottie, Miss Israel 2004, and her most memorable moment is getting Reyes’ palm print, needed to crack the safe, on her ass. Good work, girl. Meanwhile, poor Han (Sung Kang), is supposed to be “the chameleon.” He supposed to blend in with the crowd. Really? In Rio? And how is that a talent? Saddest talent in the world. Might as well hire Joe Lieberman for the role.

In this manner feints are made in the direction of better movies, then botched or ignored for the next fast thing. Relationships are suggested in a glance. Oh, I bet Gisele and Han get together. (They do.) Oh, I bet Dom gets together with that police chick. (He does.) Meanwhile, the Rock plays the Tommy Lee Jones/Ed Lauter role: the cop hellbent on catching the heroes who winds up aligning himself with the heroes. It's a parody of an action movie. Of course the name of one of the production companies responsible for this thing? “Original Film.” There’s no irony in Hollywood.

It goes zoom-zoom but a sadness permeates “Fast Five.” There’s such need here. We need speed, we need beautiful ass, we need arms the size of tree trunks. You can calculate how small and slow and alone we feel by how big, fast and macho everything is on screen.

Vin Diesel and the Rock about the rumble in "Fast Five"

Cock fight.

No tagsPosted at 09:51 AM on Apr 30, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Friday April 29, 2011

What Wish is Being Fulfilled with a Royal Wedding?

“I wish the royal couple the very best. They seem like nice people, truly. Fellow human beings, at the very least. And that's why I hope that when in the unlikely event that they ever read this, that they won't take it personally when I say that the coverage of this whole ceremony and its run-up was revoltingly obsequious and almost entirely devoid of news value, and so altogether bubble-brained that it makes me think that if there is such a thing as karmic payback for wrong priorities, we're due for some major trauma.”

--Matthew Zoller Seitz, “The mind-numbing stupidity of the Royal Wedding,” Salon.com

That's a great paragraph but overall Seitz's analysis doesn't parse the blame properly. He blames us all equally but I wouldn't. I would mostly blame women.

Most of the men I know don't care one wit for this thing. It's noise to them. Women I assumed have better priorities, meanwhile, actually asked me to DVR it for them. They need to watch it. Why?

Here's an answer. It's from the book “Which Lie Did I Tell?” by screenwriter William Goldman, who also write the novel, and the screenplay for, “The Princess Bride”:

I loved telling stories to my daughters. When they were small, I would go into their room and stories would just be there ... I was on my way to Magic Town around 1970, and I said to them both, to Jenny, then seven, and Susanna, then four, “I'll write you a story, what do you most want it to be about?” And one of them said “princesses” and the other one said “brides.”

“Then that will be the title,” i told them. And so it has remained.

Seven and four. This stuff is as ingrained in girls as Superman is ingrained in boys. “Princesses” and “brides” are female wish fulfillment, and so the royal wedding brings out the girl in all of them as much as “Superman: The Movie” brings out the boy in me.

But I'm a boy. I get Superman. The wish is to be strong, good, and help people. It's to be able to fly.

What's the wish being fulfilled with a royal wedding? To get attention without earning it? To be greater than others by virtue of station?

Ladies? Ladies?

The Royal Wedding of Will and Kate

“I'll write you a story, what do you most want it to be about?” And one of them said “princesses” and the other one said “brides.”

No tagsPosted at 09:56 AM on Apr 29, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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The Life Submarine with Oliver Tate

It was after I watched this talk by Harvey Weinstein on Jeff Wells' site, in which he made passing reference to the movie “Submarine,” that I saw the trailer for the movie on IMDb.com. Curious, I checked it out. It looked good. Although this shot seemed somehow familiar.

Screenshot for Submarine (2011)

Even more so the wallpaper in this shot.

Screenshot for "Submarine" (2011)

By the time the protagonist walks by the swimming pool in this shot, I was thinking, “OK, that's enough.”

Screenshot for "Submarine" (2011)

I still hope the movie is good on its own and not simply derivative of Wes Anderson. June 3rd release in the states.

No tagsPosted at 07:14 AM on Apr 29, 2011 in category Trailers
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Thursday April 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

WARNING: IN RE: SPOILERS

Imagine you’re a rich yuppie who likes raping high-end prostitutes and then cutting them up with your custom switchblade. Imagine you’ve killed at least one girl this way and gotten away with it because they pinned the crime on some Latino schmuck now doing a life sentence in San Quentin because his lawyer—someone no one’s ever heard of, who works out of the backseat of his Lincoln Continental, for shit’s sake—got him to cop a plea. Then imagine, oops, your luck runs out. The latest girl you’re trying to rape and stab to death bonk-bonks you on the head and the cops arrest you for assault. Bummer, dude. On the plus side they think it’s an isolated incident, not part of a chain of beatings, rapes and murders. And you’re rich, you’ve got a family lawyer from a high-powered law firm, and you could hire anyone, even Gerry Spence, to be your criminal defense attorney. So who do you hire?

You hire the Lincoln lawyer, of course.

Poster for Lincoln Laywer (2011)Why would you do that? Didn’t he get the Latino schmuck to cop a plea to a crime you know he didn’t commit? So if he couldn’t get an innocent man off, why would you think he’d get your guilty ass off?

Ah, but that’s not the point. The point is that this shitty lawyer, whom we’ll call Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), will do some investigating, probably with his investigation team of Lorna (Pell James) and Frank Levin (William H. Macy), and they might just discover the parallels between this case and the Latino schmuck case and put 2 and 2 together. Which means you’ll be up for murder.

Hey, wouldn’t they be worse?

No, but dude, you forgot attorney-client privilege! When the attorney finds this shit out, he can’t say shit.

But wouldn’t that be true of any attorney? Why hire the one who’s most likely to find out you’re a serial killer?

No, see, he has to defend you. Cuz that’s like his job, man.

But can’t he simply quit the case? Can’t private attorneys quit cases before trials begin? Particularly if one case is adverse to a client in another case?

No, but ... think of the mind-fuck, man. I mean, you’d be totally messing with that dude’s mind. First you’d make him realize that he made an innocent man plead guilty; then you’d make him defend you: a guilty man. You’d be totally messin’ with him.

So wouldn’t that make him less effective? And wouldn’t your freedom rely on his effectiveness?

That’s the great thing! Lincoln lawyer turns out to be the bitchingest lawyer around. He’s got, like, biker clients, and he’s bribing parole officers and court policemen. And that family lawyer? Played by the warden in “Shawshank Redemption”? Lincoln lawyer starts smokin’ on his ass with the law and shit. And the prosecutor of the case? Played by the coach in “Glory Road”? He really doesn’t know shit. He just sits there, doesn’t even object, but he’s got, like, a hot prosecutor chick with him, with hot glasses and all. And Lincoln lawyer, he’s got a smokin’ hot ex-wife, played by the chick who played the stripper in “The Wrestler,” and they doin’ it all the time even though they exes. Plus he’s got a black chauffeur who’s totally street smart.

But I still don’t get why the Lincoln can’t quit the case. It hasn’t even gone to trial yet.

No, but he’s got a plan, man. See, he’s going to get the dude off, cuz he’s ethically bound to do it, right? But he’s gonna plant the seed so the police will realize preppy killed that other chick and the Latino dude is totally innocent. So he’s gonna get him off and put preppy behind bars for the original crime. Two birds, right?

But don’t the police wind up arresting the rich serial killer, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), for only one night? Then they let him go? And doesn’t Louis then try to kill Haller’s family?

Yeah, but Lincoln lawyer’s a step ahead, yo. He sends family away, gets his chauffeur to get him a gun, and brings in the biker dudes to mess with preppie. Mess him UP.

But some of the crimes, the murder of Frank Levin, for example, right before the trial began, were commited by the mother, right? Frances Fisher? That’s the twist at the end. Mick Haller thinks he’s safe, but suddenly there’s Mommie Dearest holding a gun.

Yo, that skinny bitch NUTS. Plugged my boy. But he got her back good. And in the end he slinging it but still riding that Lincoln.

And that’s the end of the movie.

Word.

Yes. My word.

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Posted at 06:29 AM on Apr 28, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Wednesday April 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Then I went to the Uptown Theater to see 'I Am,' a documentary in which filmmaker Tom Shadyac asks 'What’s wrong with the world and what can we do about it?' Oprah has an entire television network dedicated to same, though I don’t have the stomach for her shark-swim in the shallow end. The same could be said of 'I Am' and several have, but in a culture war where three new poems by Mary Oliver (Parabola, exactly) gets no play and Donald Trump can flick a booger and be “part of the conversation” if not the next president of the United States, I’ll go down casting my vote for a mainstream film that quotes the mystical Sufi poet Rumi (love is the answer, always) and the calm spiritual minds of Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomksy, Howard Zinn, and dozens of others interviewed by Shadyac.

--Jim Walsh, ”Fear and Loving in South Minneapolis," an article which can be read in the print version of Southwest Journal, if you're in South Minneapolis, but will only be available online for the rest of us, you know, eventually. I'll keep you posted. Or you keep me posted. In the meantime, here's Jim's archive for the paper. He's always worth reading. He always reminds me what's valuable.

Jim Walsh, the man who puts the sexy in Sexy South Minneapolis

Jim Walsh, the man who puts the sexy in Sexy South Minneapolis

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Posted at 06:55 PM on Apr 27, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links

Obama's birth certificate

No tagsPosted at 07:36 AM on Apr 27, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Tuesday April 26, 2011

Jellybean's Snack Time

Apologies. I'd write more but someone needs to be fed ...

Jellybean the cat at rest

Jellybean the cat in motion

Jellybean the cat ... in your face

Dude. Food.

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Posted at 09:24 PM on Apr 26, 2011 in category Photo of the Day
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Movie Review: Of Gods and Men (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Of Gods and Men” is a monastic movie. It’s filmed as unaffectedly as the Cistercian monks lived their lives, and gave their lives, in Tibhirine, Algeria, in 1996. It documents their modest activities in a modest manner. We see them carry firewood and clean floors. They pack honey, miel de l’Atlas, and sell it at the local market. They farm, tend to the sick, help procure visas. They study—both St. Augustine and the Koran. They pray and sing hymns and psalms. A true review of the picture would be written equally modestly, using short, plain sentences, but I know myself too well and promise nothing.

Poster for "Of Gods and Men": "Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)Going in, I didn’t realize Xavier Beauvois’ movie was based upon a true story. From a 1996 article in The New York Times:

French and Algerian authorities said today that the bodies of seven French monks killed by the rebel Armed Islamic Group had been found near the monastery south of Algiers where they had been kidnapped two months ago. ...

The murders set off a wave of public outrage in France, and 10,000 people, led by Prime Minister Alain Juppe, marched on Tuesday night to Trocadero Square, where the Declaration on the Rights of Man was signed nearly a half century ago, for a moment of silence.

The Armed Islamic Group ... has been waging an armed struggle with the Algerian Government since 1992 ...

We get that armed struggled by and by. Between visa paperwork and evening prayers, the head of the monastery, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), a tall, spectacled man who likes to walk in the woods and feel the bark of trees, meets with local leaders, who complain about a recent murder: how a new breed of religious insurrectionist slit a girl’s throat and threw her off a bus for not wearing a hijab. “For a veil!” one of the leaders says with disgust. “They say they’re religious but they’ve never read the Koran.” Christian listens, worry in his eyes.

Shortly after, cars and vans pull up at a construction site, and the foremen, later identified as Croatians, have their throats slit. The news quickly descends on the monastery, along with people and advice. The monks are told they need military protection but Brother Christian makes a stand. “Je refuse,” he says.

That line sounds great, and even better in French, but this is not a Hollywood movie with its love of absolutes. The monks’ courage is tinged with fear. Their faith is tested by doubt and silence. At a round-table discussion, the first of many, they discuss the problem of both leaving and staying: “We were called here” vs. “I didn’t come here to commit collective suicide.” Things are left undecided, life continues, fear remains.

One evening, as Brother Paul (Jean-Marie Frin) goes to lock the gate, those fears are realized. A group of terrorists, led by Ali Fayattia (Farid Larbi), burst in with machine guns drawn and demand to see “the Pope.” Told they have no Pope, he declares, “The leader! Who’s the leader here?” Christian emerges, nervous and upset. He tells Fayattia no weapons are allowed inside a house of peace. When Fayattia tells him his weapon never leaves his side, Christian nods, says, “We’ll talk outside,” and moves past him. By the gate, Fayattia demands the doctor, Brother Luc (the superb Michael Lonsdale), to care for one of his men, who’s wounded, but knowing Luc’s age and health, this, too, Christian refuses.

Fayattia: Vous n'avez pas le choix. (You don’t have a choice.)
Christian: Si, j'ai le choix. (Yes, I do.)

The movie keeps coming back to not only the desirability of choice (the right to choose) but its undesirability (the weight, the difficulty, of choosing). “J’ai le choix” leads to How do I choose? What do I choose?

Christian, armed only with faith and truth, gives Fayattia a choice: he can bring his man to Brother Luc or he can seek care elsewhere. Then he suggests asking around about the monks and he’ll find they’re modest men of modest means. Finally he quotes from the Koran: “You shall find the closest to you in love and kindness shown to the believers are those who say we are Christians, for among them are priests and monastists, and they are not arrogant.” When Christian finally mentions that that night is Christmas Eve, the birth of the savoir, Fayattia, as stern as ever, actually apologizes.

That’s the scene but I haven’t conveyed its power. The refusal is made from a position of weakness, the apology from a position of strength. All of it solves nothing, least of all the monks’ dilemma.

They are basically caught in a civil war and are metaphorically being shot at from all sides. A government official, urging them to leave, says, “Your courage will be exploited,” and blames the civil war on the vestiges of French colonialism. When Christian tells neighborhood leaders that the monks feel like birds on a branch, wondering whether to take off, the leaders, who want them to stay, disagree with the metaphor and substitute a Christian one. “No, we are the birds. You are the branch.”

The monks vote to stay in "Of Gods and Men" ("Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)

The most profound angst is felt by Brother Christophe. Olivier Rabourdin, the actor, has a tough face, but Christophe, the character, has trouble locating his inner toughness. When Christian tells him he needn’t fear for his life because he already gave his life, to Christ, Christophe admits, “I pray ... and I hear nothing.” We see him in the attempt. The others hear him in the attempt: “Help me, help me, don’t abandon me.” Tensions mount. Washing dishes, Luc makes an offhand remark. “Fuck off,” Christophe says, and walks away. I believe it’s the film’s only profanity.

We don’t see enough of Luc, by the way, who has a wise, quiet charm. He’s gentle with patients and impatient with government officials questioning his patients. “I’m not scared of death,” he tells Christian at one point; then adds with a smile, a touch of monastic jocularity perhaps: “I’m a free man.” In an early scene, he sits on a bench in the winter sun talking to a local girl about love. She wonders what it feels like, and we, or the romantics in us, suspect she’s in love. When he gives her a description of love that is both simple and beautiful—“Something inside you comes alive...” he says, “but you’re in turmoil, especially the first time”—she responds, No, she’s never felt that, and certainly not with the boy her parents want her to marry. “Oh, c’est ca,” Luc answers. She asks Luc if he’s ever been in love and he answers, yes, several times. “Then I experienced an even greater love and I answered that call. Sixty years ago.” It’s such a beautiful scene I didn’t want to leave it. It shows us not only how much these Christian monks are part of the life of this Muslim village but why. They don’t proselytize about Jesus’ love; they quietly demonstrate it.

Scene from "Of Gods and Men": Brother Luc talks of love

Later we see the same girl farming with Brother Christophe; then we don’t see her so much. One wonders what happens to her, this modern Muslim girl, caught between a corrupt government and reactionary revolutionaries. It can’t have ended well.

It doesn’t for the monks. Christian is asked to identify the body of Ali Fayattia, captured by the military, mutilated by villagers, and his response before the body—sadness and prayer—irks the military official. Suddenly the monks are dealing with raids from the government, and helicopter hoverings from the government, but in the end it’s the Armed Islamic Group, A.I.G. (those initials are never good) who kidnap them. Earlier, when contemplating what to do when the terrorists came, Luc jokingly suggests hide-and-seek. “On peut jouer à cache-cache?” He also declares the elfin Brother Amedee (Jacques Herlin) fit after a medical exam with the words, “You’ll outlive us all.” Both jokes are prophetic. Brother Amedee hides from the terrorists beneath his bed, and when seven of the nine are taken, he outlives them all save for Brother Jean-Pierre (Loïc Pichon).

The final scenes in "Of God and Men": "Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)

Is the Tchaikovsky too much? In the scene before the kidnapping, Luc nonchalantly plops two bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter, and plays, from a beat-up tape recorder, Tchaikovsky’s Grand Theme from “Swan Lake.” The monks drink, slowly, and slowly enjoy each other’s company, and come to tears. Some think the scene too much, in its echoes of the Last Supper, in its apparent foreknowledge of death, but I found it beautiful: not only for itself, but for how it highlights, retroactively, just how modestly these monks lived their lives. For them, a glass of wine, and tape-recorded Tchaikovsky, is an event.

A translation question: How did “Des hommes et des dieux” in French become “Of Gods and Men” in English? Why not “Of Men and Gods”? My friend Jake raises a more telling point: Is the plural of God, or dieu, necessary in either title? The film suggests, at various points, one God for us all, all religions, particularly at the end. As the camera focuses on familiar monastery rooms, now empty of life, we hear the letter Brother Christian wrote in event of his violent death. That letter, translated into myriad languages, is akin to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: a strong Christian stance to violence and immorality.

He begins:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country; that the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure; and that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion.

He ends with words so beautiful I have nothing to add:

My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father's and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you, too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.

Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell, which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.

Amen. Insha'Allah.

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Posted at 08:55 AM on Apr 26, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Monday April 25, 2011

Married to the Beast: Andrew Sullivan and the Carrie Bradshaw of Websites

As soon as I heard about it, I had a bad feeling. She seemed too slick, he too homey. This feels wrong, I thought.

No, not Will and Kate. I'm talking Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Beast.

Sullivan was my main blog source for so long, a fiscal conservative who backed Obama early, memorably labeled Sarah Palin's nomination “a farce,” and gave us a blow-by-blow of the Iranian green revolution on a Saturday afternoon while the mainstream media slept. He was bald, bearded, British and frumpy, and thus seemed perfect for the Atlantic monthly site, which has something almost ink-stained about it. You get the feeling the folks there are still trying to edumicate us. You get the feeling its writers don't have to craft first sentences in accord with SEO best practices.

Not so the Daily Beast. It's a slick site whose slogan, “Read This Skip That,” borders on stupidity. It features slideshows, news on Will and Kate, forms of titillation.

You know the way Republicans are obviously privileged but portray themselves as put-upon? I get that same vibe, that same disconnect, but from a female perspective, on the Daily Beast. “Frat Culture's Woman Problem” in one corner, “What Turns You On?” in another. It feels like the Carrie Bradshaw of websites. It's all about her.

Here are the latest promiment headlines on the Atlantic site:

  • Barbour Won't Run for President
  • Is Congress Going Too Far to Protect Women in College?
  • “Do I Have Knees?”
  • America's Post-Ownership Future
  • The Ongoing Disgrace of Gitmo

Here are the latest prominent headlines on the Beast:

  • What Turns You On? New Book Finds Some Surprises
  • Who's In, Who's Out? (At the Royal Wedding)
  • Obama's Awful '70s Show
  • Serial Killer Victim's Secret Life
  • The Vote Igniting the Middle East

So what do you do when a friend winds up with someone who's obviously wrong for them? Play along? Smile?

I love you, Andrew, but ... I don't know. That place you're staying ain't you. I'll still check you out, but mostly I'll be hanging over here with the ink-stained wretches. While they last.

Andrew Sullivan, stuck on the Carrie Bradshaw of websites

Andrew Sullivan, stuck on the Carrie Bradshaw of websites.

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Posted at 09:44 PM on Apr 25, 2011 in category Media
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What Brings You Here

Here are some of the searches that landed readers here, along with links to their landing pages.

Some came speaking foreign tongues...

Some came with questions...

...or to test theories...

...or with quotes:

One even quoted me:

Some just listed things:

Others were interested in comparing and contrasting:

Some, surely, didn't find what they were looking for...

Some, despite misspellings, did:

The "U dick" girl from "The Social Network"

You'd think she would've been listed as the “u dick” girl in the credits. Nope. Sorry, bro.

No tagsPosted at 06:35 AM on Apr 25, 2011 in category What Brings You Here
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Sunday April 24, 2011

Hollywood B.O.: Easter Weekend Helps Resurrect Five Films

There are many reasons why the box office for a movie, in its second, third and fourth weekends, goes against the norm and doesn't drop off more than 30 percent.

It might have opened poorly and doesn't have much to drop off from. It might have opened opposite a blockbuster, “The Dark Knight,” say, so it takes a while for the audience to go, “Oh yeah, that one.” The distributor might have added hundreds of theaters. It could be the weekend after the Oscar noms, or the Oscars themselves, and that generates buzz. There's also positive word-of-mouth. Better movies, one assumes, have longer legs.

But it's rarity when this happens. How rare? Let's start with wide releases, 2,000+ theaters, where, weekend to weekend, no more than 300 theaters were added. That gives us 107 results for this year.

Of those 107, only 23 dropped off less than 30 percent from one weekend to the next. Here they are, sorted chronologically:

2011 movies whose box office dropped less than 30% after opening weekend

A lot of Oscar contenders here (“True Grit,” “Black Swan,” “King's Speech”), where word of mouth was presumably good. A lot of second-rate animated features (“Yogi Bear,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Mars Needs Moms”), which didn't open well and made up for it in subsequent weekends.

But no weekend has more than three such results. This month it's been even rarer: Just three results for the entire month. And two are the same movie (“Insidious”).

But this weekend it happened five times. Five wide-release films dropped off less than 30 percent from the previous weekend.

It wasn't the number one movie, “Rio,” which dropped off 31 percent.

Numbers two and three were new releases: Tyler Perry's latest, which grossed $25.7, and “Water for Elephants,” which grossed $17.5

Number four? Yes. “Hop,” in its fourth weekend, Easter weekend, added 16.8 percent in revenue over last weekend. Easy to see why.

Number five, “Scream 4,” got killed in its second weekend—like most horror movies. It dropped 61.7 percent.

The rest of the movies I'm talking about are numbers seven through 10: “Soul Surfer” (-23%), “Insidious” (-20.2%), “Hanna” (-27.5%) and “Source Code” (-18.5%). One wonders about their staying power.

Is it the Easter weekend? Maybe. Last Easter weekend, though (April 4), every returning movie dropped more than 30 percent, and the year before, in 2009 (April 11), only two movies (“Knowing” and “I Love You, Man”) dropped less than 30 percent.

Is it word of mouth? Possibly. With the exception of “Hop” and “Soul Surfer,” all the movies have fresh Rotten Tomatoes ratings.

Crappy openings? Sure. With the exception of “Hop,” none of these movies opened with more than $15 million.

In the end, I'd say it's a combination of the Easter weekend, which gets people out, some postive word-of-mouth, which gets people remembering, and the fact that nothing exciting opened. A year ago, when every returning movie dropped more than 30  percent, “Clash of Titans” opened with more than $60 million. A year ago, I imagine families flocking to “Titans” without thought. This weekend, I imagine families looking up at the options, crinkling their noses, and going, “Well ... I heard 'Source Code' is supposed to be pretty good...”

The numbers resurrected at Box Office Mojo here.

No tagsPosted at 05:06 PM on Apr 24, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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Screenshots of the Day

Jesus is risen: from Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964)

Jesus is risen: from Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964)

Jesus is risen: screenshots from the ending scenes of Pasolini's “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (1964), a faithful adaptation of Matthew, and generally regarded as one of the greater versions of the greatest story ever told.

the Virgin Mary in Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964)

It does raise the question, however, and apologies for the blasphemy, about whether the actress playing the Virgin Mary (here, Margherita Caruso) can be too good-looking.

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Posted at 01:08 PM on Apr 24, 2011 in category Photo of the Day
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Saturday April 23, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Maybe Misrata wasn’t worth dying for—surely that thought must have crossed your mind in those last moments—but what about all the Misratas of the world? What about Liberia and Darfur and Sri Lanka and all those terrible, ugly stories that you brought such humanity to? That you helped bring the world’s attention to?

”After the war in Liberia you rented a house in the capital and lived there for years. Years. Who does that? No one I know except you, my dear friend. That’s part of Misrata, too. That’s also part of what you died for: the decision to live a life that was thrown open to all the beauty and misery and ugliness and joy in the world. Before this last trip you told me that you wanted to make a film about the relationship between young men and violence. You had this idea that young men in combat act in ways that emulate images they’ve seen—movies, photographs—of other men in other wars, other battles. You had this idea of a feedback loop between the world of images and the world of men that continually reinforced and altered itself as one war inevitably replaced another in the long tragic grind of human affairs.

“That was a fine idea, Tim—one of your very best. It was an idea that our world very much needs to understand. I don’t know if it was worth dying for—what is?—but it was certainly an idea worth devoting one’s life to. Which is what you did. What a vision you had, my friend. What a goddamned terrible, beautiful vision of things.”

--Sebastian Junger: “Sebastian Junger Remembers Tim Hetherington,” Vanity Fair.

Read the whole thing. Please.

Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

No tagsPosted at 02:34 PM on Apr 23, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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What Liberal Hollywood? Anna Faris and the Laws of Date Night

A few weeks ago, in the April 11 edition of The New Yorker, there was a good article by Tad Friend on the comedic actress, and Washington state native, Anna Faris, which didn't seem to get much attention in the blogosphere—other than a curt dismissal on Hollywood Elsewhere—because it was only available in the digital and print editions. It wasn't online. It wasn't free.

Anna Faris in The New Yorker, April 2011But the best part of the article wasn't the stuff on Faris so much as the stuff on women, comedy and movies in general. The writer lists off the almighty Laws of Date Night that keep women and comedy separate and unequal:

  • Men rule. (I.e., they pick the movie.)
  • Men are simple. Don't confuse them. (Unnamed producer: “Men just don't understand the nuances of female dynamics.”)
  • If a woman is the star, it better be a romantic comedy. (Tad Friend: “Unless she is Angelina Jolie.”)
  • Women don't have to be funny. (Preston Sturges: “A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.”)
  • Also, women aren't funny. (David Zucker: “Maybe women have a built-in dignity...”)
  • Really, they're not. (Kennan Ivory Wayans: “If Will Ferrell was a girl, and she's got a belly and a hairy back, she's not running down the street naked.”)

I gained newfound (firstfound?) respect for Seth Rogen, Feris' co-star in “Observe and Report,” who observed (and reported), “If 'Pineapple Express' had been about two girls, they wouldn't have made it. And if I were a woman I wouldn't have a career.”

Friend contrasts female comedians in movies with female comedians on TV, where they're doing just fine, thank you, but the discussion reminded me, yet again, how unliberal Hollywood is in practice. Liberalism means feminism, or includes feminism, and yet what's feminist about 99 percent of the product coming out of Hollywood? Nothing. The opposite. Hollywood isn't even conservative on the matter. It's Confucian.

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Posted at 07:42 AM on Apr 23, 2011 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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Friday April 22, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Uninsured Sick People”

--Onion headline, which is a truer statement of how effed-up the modern Republican party is than any headline in any legitimate newspaper.

The whole mock article is worth reading. A sample: “I don't think I can vote for someone like that,” Pennsylvania Republican Eric Tolbert said. “He says he's sorry, but how do I know that's the real Mitt Romney? What happens if he gets elected and tries to help sick people again?”

Happy Good Friday.

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Posted at 05:19 PM on Apr 22, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Source Code (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The real tension in “Source Code” isn’t whether Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) will be able to find the bomb aboard the commuter train heading to Chicago that kills 200 people on a beautiful spring morning, nor whether he can find the bomber, or bombers, so a dirty bomb won’t obliterate 2 million people in downtown Chicago later that day. No, the real tension, halfway through the movie, is this: How are they going to give us a happy ending?

We know, by this point, that the latter bomb probably won’t go off (Hollywood won’t allow it post-9/11), but we also know that the former bomb has already gone off. That reality can’t be changed. Capt. Colter? He dead. The girl he likes? She dead. So if both leading man and leading lady are dead, how do we get the happy ending requisite of modern Hollywood movies?

Source Code posterI’ll start at the beginning. (It’s a good place to start.)

Stevens is an Air Force pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up one day on a commuter train heading to downtown Chicago, opposite a pretty girl, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who calls him Sean, and tells him, “I took your advice. It was good advice. Thank you.”

A soda pop can is opened, a woman spills coffee on his shoe, the train conductor asks for his ticket, which, despite his protests, is in his breastpocket. He’s freaking. He feels sick. With the train in the station, he stumbles through the car, past a gold watch salesman and a guy in a letter jacket who finished third in some “American Idol” for standup comedians, and goes out on the platform for a breath of fresh air, where a red-haired cyclist returns a dropped wallet to a departing passenger. Stevens asked the cyclist, who is also departing the train, the name of the city in the distance. “Chicago,” the kid says with a bemused look. Back on the train, the pretty girl, Christina, treats Colter’s pain, his identity crisis, as a joke, and he retreats into the bathroom and splashes water on his face ... which isn’t his face. He checks his wallet. It’s the wallet of Sean Fentress, teacher, the face he sees in the mirror. Now he’s freaking even more. Outside the bathroom, Christina consoles him. “Everything’s going to be okay,” she says. At which point the entire train, and all the people in it, blows up.

Nice open.

At this point, Stevens is transported into a stark, gray pod chamber, strapped to a chair, where he communicates, via video screen, with U.S. Air Force Officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who tries to acclimate him to his surroundings and assignment. He says he’s in Afghanistan. No, she says, he’s on another mission. He asks her about the simulation he’s going through. No, she says, it’s not a simulation. A figure, a man with a cane, sometimes shows up on the video screen, annoyed, uncommunicative, presses some buttons, leaves. His name is Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). He exudes a scientific distance and fussiness. “Find the bomb,” Goodwin tells Stevens, “and you’ll find the bomber.” Then she sends him back to the train and we get “I took your advice” and the coffee spill and the ticket punching all over again.

Basically the movie is part “Inception” and “Groundhog Day,” with some “Speed” tossed in.

So if Stevens isn’t experiencing a simulation, what is he experiencing? Rutledge, when forced to communicate, uses the not-bad metaphor of a light bulb: How it continues to glow after it’s been turned off. The mind is like that, he says. It continues to work for approximately eight minutes after you die. So Stevens is inhabiting the last eight minutes of Sean’s existence, with whom he was a good synaptic match. Except he’s not doing the things Sean did. He has free will. In this manner, the third time on the train, he finds the bomb, in an air duct in the bathroom, and by the fourth time in he’s scoping out potential bombers. Because that bomber will strike again, and soon.

But where is Stevens all the while? Whenever he asks, Rutledge appears annoyed and Goodwin betrays a touch of sadness. So on the train, while he’s scoping out other information, he asks Christina to find out about his friend, Capt. Colter Stevens, stationed in Afghanistan, who went missing two months earlier. She checks via smartphone and returns betraying a touch of sadness herself. “Your friend is dead,” she tells him. “He was killed in action two months ago.” For a second, before the train blows up yet again, reality becomes distorted, like a TV signal breaking up, and Colter remembers, in flashes, the helicopter crash. Back in the pod, he seeks answers. “Goodwin,” he says. “One soldier to another: Am I dead?” Goodwin, apparently disobeying orders, owns up. “Part of your brain remains activated,” she says. The capsule he’s in is itself a manifestation, and, with knowledge, it begins to break apart, and Colter, like in a nightmare, seems to get smaller and smaller.

The movie makes an interesting decision at this point. Colter suddenly refuses to cooperate. Time in the real world is running out, and yet for several trips back to the train he does nothing, finds nothing, decides that being used in this fashion when he’s all-but-dead (“You are a hand on a clock,” Rutledge tells him without sympathy; “we set you and we re-set you”) frees him from following orders or caring about the two million in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure if this is a bold decision or a miscalculation. The conventional wisdom is that, in drama, one life means more than two million—we care about Colter, whom we know, but not the two million, who are just a number—but I’m not sure, in a post-9/11 world, that that’s true anymore. The “terror” in “terrorism” is always its randomness, the thought that “It could’ve been me.” In this manner we do care about the two million. They could be us. And why doesn’t Colter care about us? I thought he was the hero.

Either way, it’s a blip. Rutledge plays him an audio recording of his father—with whom he had issues, with whom he wished he could’ve had a better, final conversation—speaking at the funeral about his son’s bravery and self-sacrifice, and his face hardens. “Send me back in,” he says.

This time he figures it out. In past iterations he suspected a Muslim-looking businessman and a student with a laptop, but the bomber turns out to be the very bland-looking dude who drops his wallet. The dude actually does it on purpose. He wants it on the train as evidence that he died on that train. (Although: won’t the wallet be ash after the explosion?) He’s also got a bigger, dirtier-looking bomb in a white van in the parking lot inside a container painted with stars and stripes. Those stars and stripes, and an earlier reference to “racial profiling,” is as political as the movie gets. The terrorist isn’t the worst of them, he’s the worst of us, but, when explaining his motivations he doesn’t sound like the worst of us; he sounds as bland as he looks. He’s destroying Chicago because “the world is hell but we have the chance to start over in the rubble.” That’s it? Seriously?

This iteration ends with the home-grown terrorist getting away in the white van and both Colter and Christina shot and dying in the parking lot (“Everything’s going to be okay,” he tells her, rather than she him); but Colter now has the evidence, which, back in the pod, he relays to Goodwin and Rutledge and the bomber is stopped before detonating the dirty bomb.

Happy ending? Not really. Sure, downtown Chicago is saved and all, but Rutledge, the jerk, is feted, while Colter, our true soldier, is still a fragment of a man, whose memory is to be wiped clean and used again and again in similar circumstances, while Christina, the pretty girl, with whom he’s gotten close lo these many iterations, is dead on the train. Nothing can be done to change that.

Except.

There’s always an “except,” isn’t there? Why not? If you can keep the brain of a dead soldier alive in perpetuity, then transport his mind into the body of a dead train passenger, who’s in the past, and keep doing it until it’s done right, well, who’s to say what you can’t do?

That’s the thing. The technology to do all this is so astounding it’s as if Rutledge is God. Yet the film treats him as he treats Stevens: as a nuisance. He’s a jerk, egotistical, working to do what? Save two million people? With his brain? Big deal. What about the cute boy and girl? Do they get together?

In this regard, Colter has a plan. He asks Goodwin to send him back one more time for those eight minutes on the train. And this time he does everything right. He stops the bombs, gets the gun, handcuffs the terrorist to the train, and bets all of his money, $126, that the comedian can’t make everyone in the compartment laugh. Then he kisses the girl. That’s where this iteration ends. As the eight minutes elapse, Goodwin, as per his request, pulls the plug on Colter and lets him die, and we get a moment frozen in time: with everyone laughing; with boy kissing girl.

Oh, I thought. That’s actually … kind of beautiful.

Unfortunately the moment doesn’t stay frozen for long. Colter’s actions—along with Goodwin pulling the plug?—have created ... wait for it ... an alternative reality, in which everyone lives, and in which Dr. Rutledge and Goodwin aren’t even called upon to begin their project with the remains of Capt. Stevens because the train never blows up. Instead it pulls safely into the station on a beautiful spring morning, and boy and girl, Christina and Sean/Colter, look at their reflection in the Bean, that great steel legume in Millennium Park in the Loop district of Chicago, and life and love is new. The End.

Crap, I thought.

Now we have nothing but questions. So if everyone survives … what happens to Sean? His body is still inhabited by Colter. How does that work exactly? Has he just been stomped out of existence? And how will Colter live life as Sean? Sean’s a teacher. Will Colter be able to do that? Teach that? My god, he won’t be able to recognize his mother, father, friends and family. No one. He’s all alone, really. He just knows Christina. Poor Christina. She thinks she’s got a new boyfriend, someone to have coffee with, but she’s really got a man, in the body of another man, who knows no one but her, who will be forced to cling to her for every second of every day. That relationship’s a disaster in the making.

Wait! Doesn’t Colter now exist twice in the same reality? He’s in Sean’s body, hanging out by the Bean, and in his own mangled body, on life support in that pod chamber. And what happens when Rutledge activates him? Will Sean return? Or is he already there—helpless inside his own body? We think Colter’s the hero but maybe he’s really a greedy bastard taking over as many lives as possible. Maybe someone you know. Maybe yours.

And “Source Code” as a title? Could we please please try to be a little more specific rather than so blandly generic?

I still enjoyed myself. I should mention that. The story zipped, Gyllenhaal is good, I fell in love with Michelle Monaghan all over again. I just wished they’d stopped at that frozen moment. I think people wouldn’t mind a bittersweet ending rather than another Hollywood ending. I think we’re getting tired of this shit.

Michelle Monaghan in Source Code (2011)

Colter: Expect to see this look more often as you fumble through Sean's existence.

No tagsPosted at 08:17 AM on Apr 22, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Thursday April 21, 2011

Where Rob Neyer is Wrong on Baseball's Declining Attendance

A bit of an odd post from Rob Neyer today. The headline asks “Does MLB Have an Attendance Problem?,” to which Neyer answers, “No.” But it's the way he answers no.

He's reacting to a Sports Biz post by Darren Rovell, who saw empty seats all over the league and concluded that attendance was a disaster. Then he crunched the numbers and relayed his findings:

If you average every team’s attendance so far and compare it to that exact amount of games last year, Major League Baseball is only averaging 304 fans fewer per game than last year. While that 1 percent drop is significant, it’s not as much as I would have thought from some of the pictures I’ve seen.

Rovell goes on to say that the situation is still worrisome since MLB attendance has decreased every year, and 8 percent overall, from its record high in 2007. But Neyer didn't seem to read that far down. In his post, Neyer writes:

[The one-percent drop is] worth mentioning, but certainly might be attributed to lousy weather or a particular team's issues.

Lousy weather I'll buy. But a particular team's issues? There are only two issues with baseball teams, winning and losing, so there's always parity there. As one team begins to lose (and attendance drops), another team begins to win (and attendance rises).

Then Neyer writes something worthy of Bud Selig:

But I'm highly confident that ticket prices increased by more than one percent this season, and for that and many other reasons I'm extremely confident that MLB's revenues will be up once again. Which is most of the thing, really. If revenues are up, everybody's happy and nobody's agitating for some idiotic stance in the labor negotiations.

Which is most of the thing? Since when did Neyer start writing from a revenue perspective, which is the owner's perspective? It's clear that attendance is down because the economy's down, and has been since 2007. But it's also down because MLB's fan base isn't made up of baseball fans anymore. Look at postseason ratings, which are abyssmal. For most of the last 20 years, MLB has worked to make a day at the park a kind of sportsotainment outing, with loud music, crazy food, video races, and fuzzy mascots. That game between the lines? Whatever. Now MLB has the kinds of fans it deserves.

Real baseball fans can't abandon baseball no matter the economy. Non-fans, sportsotainment fans, can do so easily, and are doing so. To me, that's most of the thing.

Safeco Field in Seattle, 2011

No surprise: The second-biggest drop in attendance this year is in Seattle: -23%

No tagsPosted at 08:50 PM on Apr 21, 2011 in category Baseball
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Quote of the Day

“I think it’s safe for me to say that what Tim was trying to do by going to war was to look into the souls of men, whose truths are perhaps more exposed in that environment than in any other—and to show the rest of us what he saw. He gave us a legacy in the important work he left behind, and, for those of us who had the honor to know Tim as a friend, a cherished memory of a man whose own soul was very intact.”

--Jon Lee Anderson in his post, “Remembering Tim Hetherington,” about the co-director of “Restrepo,” on The New Yorker site. The site has also posted a slideshow of Hetherington's photography.

Tim Hetherington's photo, of a soldier in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, which won the World Press Photo Award in 2007.
Tim Hetherington's photo of a soldier in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan; it was awarded World Press Photo of the Year in 2007.
No tagsPosted at 09:15 AM on Apr 21, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Wednesday April 20, 2011

Tim Hetherington, Co-Director of Restrepo, Dies in Libya

I just heard the news about Tim Hetherington.

A year ago I saw him at the Harvard Exit in Seattle, tall and thin and British, a photojournalist mostly, standing next to Sebastian Junger, short and broad and American, an author mostly, and his co-director on the documentary we'd all just watched: “Restrepo.” Both calmly answered questions from the partisan Seattle poster for RestrepoInternational Film Festival crowd about the politics of war and the politics of documentary. A few in the crowd, like Jeff Wells later, wanted “Restrepo” to be more political: the how and the why we're in Afghanistan. They felt “Restrepo” somehow lacked. I was stunned. I was stunned by the stupidity of the questions and by the power of the film. I've urged it on everyone since. I doubt there's a movie I mentioned more in the last year. I was a broken record.

Samples:

Maybe someday they will.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hetherington. Emphasis on peace.

Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington during the making of "Restrepo"

Junger, left, and Hetherington during the filming of “Restrepo”

No tagsPosted at 03:24 PM on Apr 20, 2011 in category Movies - Documentaries
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The 20 Greatest Games: 1986 NLCS, Game 6

Bob Costas: So you acknowledged the standing ovation [by tipping your cap to the crowd], but as you walk off—mixed emotions?
Bob Knepper: No, not mixed at all. I was really ticked.

Part of the joy of this series on the MLB Network is not only reexperiencing the ebb and flow of great games, missing when they are reduced to highlight reels, but this kind of back-and-forth between journalists—Costas and Tom Verducci—and players and managers who participated in the games.

There's an early discussion in this episode, for example, the fifth greatest game, Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, about Mike Scott, the Astros pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in '86 and the NLCS MVP (for the losing side: a rarity), and how he shut out the Mets in Game 1 and allowed only 1 run in beating them in Game 4, and how he loomed in a potential Game 7, a fearful figure for the Mets. Darryl Strawberry, the other player sitting with Costas and Verducci, admits as much. He was in our heads, he says. Then the discussion winds to the topic of Scott scuffing the ball. Strawberry feels there's no doubt he did it. Knepper circles around the issue until Costas asks him point blank: Do you think he scuffed the ball? Knepper admits as much. I like the point-blankness. Costas is perfect for this kind of thing: both eminent baseball fan and true journalist.

MLB's 20 greatest games of the last 50 years

MLB's 20 Greatest Games: Great back-and-forth between athletes and journalists.

In the footage from 1986, Knepper does look ticked off as he leaves the game. He took a 3-run lead into the ninth inning but gave it all back, or most of it back, leaving with one out, the score 3-2, and a man on second. The Mets would tie it, the game would go into extras, the Mets would go ahead in the 14th, the Astros would tie it in the bottom of the 14th, the Mets would score three seemingly insurmountable runs in the top of the 16th, and the Astros, bless 'em, would come back with two, and have men on first and second and two outs with Kevin Bass at the plate and Jesse Orosco on the mound. That's why this game is number 5.

Knepper actually got a raw deal. Dykstra's triple and Hernandez's double, both to right-center field, looked like catchable balls. It looked like Billy Hatcher misplayed them. Costas even asks Knepper of the triple: Did Hatcher misjudge the ball? Knepper refuses to say so. It feels like The Code more than The Truth. It feels like you don't badmouth teammates even 25 years later. He takes it all on himself. But that was the game, and probably the series, right there. Mookie's single was a little dinker, not even a dunker, that went off the glove of a drawn-in Bill Doran at second. Bad luck. But Knepper still blames himself. He's still ticked at himself.

Bob Knepper, today

Knepper today. “Keep me in the game,” he thought in the ninth. “Put me at first base for a batter, then bring me back.”

I mean look at the line score of this game:

line score, 1986 NLCS, Game 6

I didn't watch it live. I was in college at the time, studying every night, and gave myself time for only the ALCS and Dave Henderson's heroics. But I did experience it through literature, Philip Roth's memoir, “Patrimony: A True Story,” about his father.

Herman Roth, 86 and a widower, is dying of a brain tumor. He's depressed, sure he's in the last chapter of his life. But Philip gets him interested in the Mets in 1986, and that October they have transatantic phone calls (Philip's in London) about Game 5 of the '86 NLCS. Then he phones the next night for the Game 6 synopsis.

“Well, what happened,” I said.

“It's still on. You wouldn't believe it. Thirteenth inning.”

“My God.”

“They were behind three one in the ninth but it's now the thirteenth inning and it's tied score. I'm watching it now. I didn't even eat.”

“One game's closer than the other,” I said.

“It's beautiful,” he said.

Half an hour later, he called back.

“Still playing?”

“The Mets went ahead four three just after you hung up. Strawberry--and I think Dykstra got him around. And then this guy hit a home run in the Houston bottom of the fourteenth. And now it's the top of the fifteenth. It's four four and there's some fat Mexican pitching.”

“Oh, yeah, that very attractive fellow.”

“The Mets have got this very young shortstop up, who can only strike out ... No--pop-up. He popped up. Well, that isn't a strikeout. Hey, I'm giving you this pitch by pitch in London, it's going to cost you a fortune.” ...

“Go ahead, Herm. I'm a rich man. Pitch by pitch. Who's up?”

I'll always love this game for this scene, for this bond, even if in the end the good guys lost.

Ray Knight ties the game in the top of the ninth, Game 6, 1986 NLCS

Ray Knight, looking like Derek Jeter's older brother, ties the game in the top of the ninth.

Billy Hatcher ties the game in the bottom of the 14th: Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS

Billy Hatcher ties the game in the bottom of the 14th.

Here's numbers 20 through 10 of the series.

Here's numbers 9 through (cough) 6.

Four more to go. Fisk, Buckner, Twins/Braves ... Reggie?

No tagsPosted at 07:02 AM on Apr 20, 2011 in category Baseball
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Tuesday April 19, 2011

Reader Rebuttal: Hanna (2011)

Forgive me if this email is self-indulgent, but I liked the movie Hanna more than I thought I would, and, although your review would probably be understood as positive, I wanted to defend the movie as having more to it than you seem to suggest. 

First, let me agree that I think a stronger movie would have come up with an ending other than a face-off to the death between hero and villian.  That said, I think Hanna is a movie that Joseph Campbell would have loved because of its mythology and its symbolism.  Hanna is never simply innocent, never simply someone who doesn't know who she is.  I think she is meant to represent childhood and the experience of growing up.  At a certain level, at the deepest level, none of us know who we are at that age, and at that age that lack of knowledge is often felt more urgently than at any other time because the insight is new rather than familiar. 

Hanna movie posterMoreover, all of us with any integrity have to confront the startling and ambiguous realization that we are abnormal because, after all, “normal” is not meaningful at the individual level.  In other words, Hanna, the movie and the character, is appealing to the same experiences that makes the mutants of the X-men so identifiable.  Those lost, abnormal people are us - maybe not quite all of us, but many of us.  Hanna is more particularly a symbol for those from broken homes.  It is almost too obvious to say that Marissa represents the wicked stepmother, but I tend to think that that representation is iconic rather than cliched, universal enough to be readily understandable rather than merely common.  More particularly still, Hanna represents those from broken homes who have experienced tragedy in the shattering of that home.  She is curious about, and even mesmerized by, a “normal” family in a way that is, again, readily identifiable because it is similar to the way that those from tragically broken homes simply are mesmerized by “happy” families.

Maybe all of this is too apparent to be worth mentioning or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe I'm reading too much into the movie, but all of this representation seems to work on several levels throughout the film, and, if that is right, then the screenwriters and director deserve credit for it.
 
For what little it may be worth, you are my favorite non-Ebert movie reviewer, and I enjoyed your review of Hanna even if it did inspire this apologetic.  Good luck to you.
 
Sincerely,

Daniel Davenport

No tagsPosted at 09:50 PM on Apr 19, 2011 in category Movie Reviews
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Movie Review: Hanna (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Joe Wright’s “Hanna” is a kind of “Bourne Identity” crossed with “Pippi Longstocking,” an action movie for the European arthouse crowd, but it really works because of the little details. Things like sound, set design, acting, cinematography. Little details.

The movie fades in to white. That’s a change. After several seconds, you can discern a few shapes—rocks, a pond, a swan—but everything else is blanketed in snow. The movie fades into silence, too. For a second, I thought the soundtrack was busted it was so quiet. Then we hear rustlings. Nature is waking up and something is being stalked in the snow. There’s a little girl behind a tree in a forest. No, now she’s behind that tree, with bow and arrow ready, and zing!, right into the side of that caribou. The beast bucks, runs, collapses. She walks up. “I missed your heart,” she says by way of apology, before shooting the animal dead. A second later, as she’s gutting it, she is attacked. By her father. Part of her training.

poster for the movie Hannah, starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate BlanchettWe knew this going in, didn’t we? In a remote area, a father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), trains his daughter, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), that ethereal presence from “Atonement” and “Lovely Bones,” to be an assassin. Then the daughter is captured and starts killing people. Coo-ull.

Except she wants to be captured. Didn’t know that. In their remote, snow-covered cabin, he trains her to be strong and watchful. He drills her on the facts of the world—how much the blue whale’s tongue weighs and how far its song can be heard—but less on its beauty. She marvels at planes. She wonders what music is like. He’s training an assassin but she’s really a romantic. At night she looks through an old German version of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and at photobooth pictures of a pretty woman—her mother, one assumes—who was killed, one assumes, by whatever agency his father once worked for and is now hiding from. We later learn the killing took place while Hanna, two years old, was in the back of a car looking through that same “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” An unnecessary touch.

So she goes voluntarily. She activates a beacon, there goes her father, and here comes the agents. They are looking for Heller but find Hanna, and bring her in, where the woman we know to be the villainess of the picture, Marissa (Cate Blanchett, chewing scenery like Gary Oldman), all coiffed red hair and gray fitted suits and obsessive teeth brushing, watches with something like orgasmic rapture as Hanna kills one, two, three agents—including an agent pretending to be her. Marissa is Hanna’s target, because she’s the one who killed Hanna’s mother, but Marissa makes Hanna her target. As she was all along.

Step back a moment. So if the idea was to get Hanna close enough to Marissa to kill her, shouldn’t Erik have trained Hanna on Marissa’s likely subterfuges? How about showing Hanna a photo of the woman? A drawing? Instead, Agent A gets it. Along with Agents B. C, D and E, and Hanna escapes into the desert.

This is the part of the movie that bored me the most. The escape is well-done, and it’s a teenaged girl now rather than Matt Damon in “Bourne” or Angelina Jolie in “Salt,” but we’ve seen it before. Using quick-cut martial arts skills, against a pulse-pounding soundtrack (Chemical Brothers), Hanna remains a step ahead of the entrenched Marissa barking orders to find her. Even the institution she escapes from, with its big, concrete, tunnelly things, seems leftover from “X-Men” sets. Yes, she escapes. What happens next?

What happens next makes the movie. In the desert she runs into a fat-faced, teenaged girl, Sophie (Jessica Barden), who starts gabbing about the pop star M.I.A. and how she only knew Sri Lankan, and was Hanna from Sri Lanka and did she only know Sri Lankan? She can’t hide her disappointment when Hanna begins speaking English.

(Hanna, of course, is a true M.I.A.)

I guess we’ve seen this before, too, the introduction of the ordinary family, like ours, who doesn’t know from assassination or martial arts skills, who is about to be completely out of its element, but, again, it’s handled well. They’re kind of fascinating, this hippieish family driving through North Africa. They have moments of lightness and silliness, but there’s tension between father and mother (Olivia Williams), and mother and daughter. They’re trying to get back to basics, but their basics are, to Hanna, a cornucopia. The mother suspects this, shares a bond with Hanna, who, one suspects, is the daughter she’d like to have, rather than the pop-music-loving, short-shorts wearing daughter she somehow wound up with. These people satisfy the main requirement of secondary characters: they don’t know they’re secondary characters.

It’s in the North African towns, oases in the desert, where the shortcomings of Hanna’s training are further revealed. She grew up in all that white stillness. She knew how many other human beings? One? Now there’s tons of people, traffic, camels, noise. I thought she’d be overwhelmed but the movie merely makes her fascinated. She remains an innocent. She isn’t overwhelmed until she rents a room and can’t work the TV, lights, tea kettle. She’s a trained assassin who’s never turned on a computer. Plus she thinks her assignment is done when it isn’t. This second act is mostly about Hanna discovering the world and herself. She’s like Jason Bourne in this way. Both are lethal assassins who don’t know who they are. All of our assassins are innocent now.

The third-act reveals are disappointing. It turns out Heller isn’t her father. She has no father. She’s a product of agency-engineered eugenics, a project driven, as they say, by Marissa, then aborted by Marissa. It gets a little fuzzy here, actually. One assumes she aborted the project, and the subjects, to save her career, but it hurt to do so. The project was her baby. Now her baby lives! Hanna is exactly what she always wanted. Come to Momma.

Is this the third and biggest idiocy of Erik Heller? First he trains an assassin who knows nothing of the modern world. Then he trains an assassin who knows nothing of her target. But overall he trains an assassin. The agency genetically engineered human beings to be perfect assassins, so he takes this baby out of their reach ... and trains her to be the perfect assassin. He creates exactly what they want him to create.

“Hanna” is an arthouse action-adventure film but ultimately too much action-adventure and not enough arthouse. It caves in to our need for speed and thrills, evil and revenge. It can’t conceive of a resolution that is not a face-off to the death between hero and villain.

I’ll still take it. I’ll take it for the opening shots of white and stillness, and for the suggestion of a family life lived on the dusty road. I’ll take it for the extended, single-shot action sequence in the Berlin subway, and the chase through the dilapidated dinosaurs of Spreepark. I’ll take it for the shot of Hanna, head out of the window of a van speeding through Europe, hair fluttering in the breeze.

No tagsPosted at 07:38 AM on Apr 19, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Monday April 18, 2011

Jellybean's Morning Adventure

It lasted about 30 seconds...

Jellybean, the cat, stalking a pigeon

Then Jellybean's feeder, carrier and chest-bed (me) sneezed and the pigeon flew off.

Jellybean, sans pigeon, at window.

The windows were closed all the while--it's still like 45 degrees here--so Jellybean had no shot. But she didn't know that. Besides, that pigeon already tasted good in her mouth.

Poor indoor cat. She's such a huntress.

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Posted at 07:19 PM on Apr 18, 2011 in category Photo of the Day
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Distilling the B.S. of CEOs

I read the following three paragraphs, from the article “Distilling the Wisdom of CEOs” by Adam Bryant, in yesterday's New York Times. Three grafs was as far as I got before I began railing in frustration:

IMAGINE 100 people working at a large company. They’re all middle managers, around 35 years old. They’re all smart. All collegial. All hard-working. They all have positive attitudes. They’re all good communicators.

So what will determine who gets the next promotion, and the one after that? Which of them, when the time comes, will get that corner office?

In other words, what does it take to lead an organization — whether it’s a sports team, a nonprofit, a start-up or a multinational corporation?

The Corner Office by Adam BryantIn other words?

What is Bryant assuming here? He's assuming that the employee who demonstrates the greatest leadership skills will get promoted. He's assuming that promotions are based upon positive skills. He's assuming nothing pejorative—ruthlessness, ass-kissing, bad-mouthing competition—goes into success or promotion in a modern corporate office.

I mean, c'mon.

In distilling that CEO wisdom, Bryant comes up with the following traits that will help those 100 hard-working 35-year-olds (and presumably you and me):

  • passionate curiosity
  • battle-hardened confidence
  • team smarts
  • a simple mind-set
  • fearlessness

All positive, of course. No CEO got where they got because of anything untoward. Maybe we should add “self-promotion” to the list. “Selective memory.” “Bullshit.”

Interesting, too, how these five traits may help the CEO but not necessarily the company. Or us. You'll probably find the last four traits, for example, in every CEO that led us straight into the global financial meltdown. When it comes to investing in derivatives based upon subprime mortage loans, fearfulness has its place.

No tagsPosted at 08:05 AM on Apr 18, 2011 in category Business
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Sunday April 17, 2011

Hollywood B.O.: America Shrugs for Atlas

What would Ayn Rand make of the opening weekend of “Atlas Shrugged”? What would John Galt? It grossed $1.6 million for 14th place. Sure, it played in a mere 300 theaters so the game was kind of rigged; but the marketplace is always rigged, and whining about it seems somehow unGaltian. Even if you sort by per-theater-average, “Atlas” only rises to 7th place, behind not only the opening weekends of “Scream 4,” “Rio” and the Italian thriller “Double Hour” (playing in only two theaters), but the second weekend of “Meek's Cutoff.” That last title seems particularly appropriate.

So “Rio” won the weekend: $40 million, first place. That's actually the best opening weekend for the year. Eesh. By this time last year we'd already seen opening weekends of $116 million (“Alice in Wonderland”), $61 million (“Clash of the Titans”), $56 million (“Valentine's Day”), $43 million (“How to Train Your Dragon”) and $41 million (“Shutter Island”). We'll shatter that $40 million in two weeks but it demonstrates just how slow 2011 has been out of the gate.

“Scream 4” came in second with $19 million. “Hop” keeps bouncing, finishing with $11.1 million and third, while “Soul Surfer,” the God-has-a-plan-because-a-shark-bit-off-my-arm movie, dropped only 30%, for $7.4 and fourth. “Hanna,” the movie I saw, and recommend, dropped 40% for $7.1 and fifth.

The other new film, Robert Redford's “The Conspirator,” grossed $3.9 in 707 theaters. Ninth.

“Rio” was also the no. 1 movie in 27 other countries. Here are a few of the countries that didn't succumb to Hollywood this weekend (links lead to trailers):

My initial intention with the trailers was to show what else was out there, and I assumed, in a grass-is-greener way, that they would be good; but each of these trailers looks horrendous. Which of the four would you sit through? The Thai film looks most Hollywoody, the Japanese flick most Saturday-morning cartoony, so I might go with whatever the hell that Dutch film is. Just to embrace the difference.

OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders

OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders

No tagsPosted at 03:38 PM on Apr 17, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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What Brings You Here

Here are some of the searches that landed readers here, along with where it landed them. So much people want to know...

The "I sell tallises" kid from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall"

The “I sell tallises” boy.

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Posted at 10:17 AM on Apr 17, 2011 in category What Brings You Here
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Saturday April 16, 2011

Why Every Guy Wants to be Famous

“At that moment, Matt Dillon saunters past and the girls sway en masse like willows in a spring breeze. ...

poster for "The Outsiders"”'Aaah, man, I'm tired. See you at rehearsals,' he says, hoisting his boom box to his shoulder. He crosses to the elevators and passes the gaggle of fans. Then something remarkable happens. He stops dead in his tracks and whispers to a pretty brunette. She listens for a beat, then turns to the four girls she's standing with and whispers something to them. Matt fiddles with the volume on the boom box. The girls caucus for a total of four seconds, till the brunette leaves her friends behind and joins Matt for a walk to the elevators. He puts his free arm around her. At the last second, just before they enter the elevator, she turns back to look at her friends. Her expression is one I've never seen before. It's like she has a thought balloon over her head that reads: 'Holy shit! How lucky am I?' Matt yawns, and the elevator doors close. The entire transaction takes less than 45 seconds.“

--from Rob Lowe's memoir, ”Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography,“ excerpted in the May 2011 Vanity Fair. Most of the excerpt, including the above anecdote, focuses on auditioning for and acting in Francis Ford Coppola's ”The Outsiders" in the early 1980s.

No tagsPosted at 05:40 PM on Apr 16, 2011 in category Movies
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Lancelot Links

Marion Cotillard in "Inception"

L'opposite de Piaf: je regrette tout.

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Posted at 08:26 AM on Apr 16, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday April 15, 2011

Movie Review of the Day: Ebert on “Atlas”

“I was primed to review 'Atlas Shrugged.' I figured it might provide a parable of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that I could discuss. For me, that philosophy reduces itself to: 'I’m on board; pull up the lifeline.' There are however people who take Ayn Rand even more seriously than poster for Atlas Shruggedcomic-book fans take 'Watchmen.' I expect to receive learned and sarcastic lectures on the pathetic failings of my review.

”And now I am faced with this movie, the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault. I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it. For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms.

“During these meetings, everybody drinks. More wine is poured and sipped in this film than at a convention of oenophiliacs. There are conversations in English after which I sometimes found myself asking, ”What did they just say?“ The dialogue seems to have been ripped throbbing with passion from the pages of Investors’ Business Daily. Much of the excitement centers on the tensile strength of steel.”

-- Roger Ebert on “Atlas Shrugged”

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Posted at 03:57 PM on Apr 15, 2011 in category Movie Reviews
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Why You Should Never Name Your Plane “Green Hornet”

I don't want to make light of a book that contains the horrors that Laura Hillenbrand's “Unbroken” contains, but I find it—how do I put this?—superheroally appropriate that a WWII airplane named Super Man, after getting shot 594 times during an air battle over the island of Nauru, continues to fly many hours and hundreds of miles over the Pacific Ocean to deposit its crew safely on the island of Funafuti; while a plane called Green Hornet can't handle one rescue mission, crashes into the ocean, and in effect causes all the unspeakable horrors that ensue.

Name your planes well, people.

Super Man, an F-24, as seen in Laura Hillenbrand's book "Unbroken"

No tagsPosted at 07:01 AM on Apr 15, 2011 in category Books
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Thursday April 14, 2011

Anticipating Guilty Pleasures

James Rocchi, of MSN, has posted a piece in which he asks different critics about their favorite summer guilty pleasures. Not past summers; this summer.

But it's not summer yet, you say.

But summer movies haven't been released yet, you say.

How can they know what's guilty, or a pleasure, if they haven't seen anything yet?

Details.

poster for "Bad Teacher" (2011)For the record, I thought Matt Singer's response was charming, Glenn Kenney's was funny, and Devin Faraci's incomprehensible. Who doesn't feel guilty over pleasure?

My favorite response, though, came from Jeff Wells. No, not “Super 8”—a movie that doesn't appear too guilt-inducing to me. Wells responded first on his own site, Hollywood Elsewhere, which is how I came upon the MSN piece in the first place. I love his impatience with the folks at MSN who waited 48 hours to post the piece. “I'm sorry,” he writes, “but in this era of instant worldwide expression the idea of writing something and having it gestate and cool its heels off-screen for 48 or more hours seems ridiculous to me.”

He has no idea. In the summer of 2008, I wrote a piece for MSN about a film opening that Friday. Submitted it on, I believe, a Wednesday. Was told it would be posted the following Monday. “But shouldn't we post it on Friday?” I asked. “Since fans of the movie will want to read about the movie over the weekend? Won't Monday be too late?” I was assured otherwise. I was told nothing could be done. Besides, how big could the opening weekend be?

That movie was, of course, “The Dark Knight.”

But it's not Wells' impatience with MSN that I loved. It's the summer 2011 guilty pleasure he writes about that MSN didn't post:

“My other biggie is Bad Teacher (6.24) because I've been nursing fantasies about secretly slutty, ill-mannered teachers (not to mention secretly slutty nurses and pre-vow nuns) since I was ten years old, and this looks somewhat fulfilling in that regard. Why oh why didn't a teacher try to take advantage of me when I was 14 or 15? Why do today's teenagers have all the fun?”

The response is itself a guilty pleasure.

No tagsPosted at 08:46 AM on Apr 14, 2011 in category Movie Reviews
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From the Archives: The Movie Game

From my sister Karen:

Erik, thought of you when visiting the Karps and playing the movie game, Jordan's latest obsession. (Name an actor, movie they're in, another actor in that movie, etc.) It was everyone against Josh, and he still killed us.

From my friend Josh Karp:

as for jordy, he got me with one kubrick film i'd never heard of (eric told me about how he'd wanted to be kubrick for the school biography event and had to settle for hitchcock.). then he tried “the killing,” which i've never seen, but for some reason i knew that sterling hayden was in it. neither he nor karen believed me so i brought it up on my phone. i think both were unable to recover. but jordy will no doubt kick my ass before long. maybe by this summer.

From me, 13 years ago, originally published in Seattle Weekly:

Six Degrees of Boredom

At one o'clock my friend Mike travels up the ramp that separates the warehouse receiving area (his morning detail) from the textbook marking department (where he spends his afternoons). He hangs up his jacket, unpacks a box or two of textbooks, and before the boredom of the routine set in, and with a small smile lifting the ends of his mustache, he glances at his watch. “Hmm?” he asks.

This is his way of signaling for yet another round of the movie game.

The movie game should not be confused with “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The purpose there is to begin with an actor, travel through shared movies, and wind up at Kevin Bacon before your allotted six turns are up. Humphrey Bogart, in other words, leads to Angels with Dirty Faces, which starred James Cagney, who was in Mr. Roberts with Jack Lemmon, a bit player in JFK, which also featured...ta da!...Kevin Bacon. Easy right?

Kevin Bacon in "Animal House" (1978)

C'mon guys! Play my game!

Too easy. There has to be competition to make it worth our while. You've got to understand: Our work is not only repetitive but seemingly without purpose. Mike prices textbooks; I receive them and wheel them in large metal tubs down to the textbook department; Jeff, around the middle of the term, collects these same textbooks and brings them back upstairs, where he and Rich remove the prices and return the books to their publishers. Now somewhere in-between my activity and Jeff's there are apparently student purchases, and learning, and the continuation of culture; but these are mere rumors to us. Since we don't know how much of the books actually get absorbed into students' minds, our jobs often seem the bibliographic equivalent of digging holes only to fill them. We receive textbooks only to return them again.

And what to talk about when we're metaphorically wielding or leaning on our shovels? The mornings are usually reserved for politics (local, national and office), sports, music, personal matters. Such talk peters out after a couple of hours, and, in the gathering monotony, we retreat, one by one, into the buzz of our respective walkmans. It is the appearance of Mike that brings us out of these electronic shells.

The format of the movie game is similar to “Six Degrees” except that Kevin Bacon holds no more power than any other actor. A non-participant tosses up the ball, as it were, by naming any actor (Actor A). From there we proceed by predetermined order. Mike names a movie Actor A was in; Jeff then picks a different actor from the same movie; Rich mentions another film with Actor B. Etcetera.

Essentially you try to name an actor or movie that will stump the others but which--important proviso--you can get out of yourself. Presented with Wallace Shawn, it does no good to mention My Dinner with Andre unless you also know something of the screen career of Andre Gregory; otherwise you're grinding the game to a halt. If you pass or guess wrongly, you're given a letter: M, to start. Spell M-O-V-I-E-S and you're toast.

Strategies abound. Since I know something of older Hollywood, I try to wind the game in that direction by choosing an actor's earliest film or a film's eldest actor. Mike, at the other side of this temporal tug-of-war, tries to pull us toward the litany of modern character actors--Tracey Walter, Kurtwood Smith, William Sadler--that he stores in his pockets like so many nickels and dimes. Jeff, meanwhile, wants to trick us all into the swamp of the schlock/horror genre that he rules like some in-bred Alabaman.

Some plots, especially when the field narrows to two, are positively Byzantine. If, from Charles Grodin, I say Midnight Run, Mike will mention Robert DeNiro, to which I can go New York, New York, forcing him into Liza Minnelli, which will lead to That's Entertainment!, causing him to fumble for Gene Kelly. Now he's dead. Of course you can be so intent on your own strategy you don't see your opponent's. Once I had Jeff mired in 1930s musicals when I mentioned Fred Astaire; it shot us all the way to 1981 and the horror film Ghost Story. In a flash we went from my strength to Jeff's, and I, anticipating a pin, wound up flat on my back. It is this kind of drama which leads Rich to suspect that the movie game could make it big on cable access.

Charles Grodin

We've tried other games to occupy our minds. There was “Questions”, from Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where everything said has to be in the form of a question. No statements; no non-sequiturs; nothing rhetorical. But you can only have so many conversations like this:

“How are you?”
“Are you asking?”
“Are you suspicious?”
“Should I be?”

The One-Syllable Game was good for a day. The-point-was-to-make-all-words-just-one-note. Kind-of-stilt...ing.

Attempts to transplant other art forms into the movie game's pre-existing structure have failed miserably. Writing is too solitary an occupation to allow for the necessary cross-connections between artist and product, while musicians, in a more group-conscious field, are less whorish than actors, tending to work with the same people for long periods rather than flitting from co-star to co-star. The movie game stays.

But how much longer? Already certain avenues have worn so smooth we practically slide through them. Tom Hanks to Bachelor Party to Adrien Zmed to Grease II to blah blah blah. Hey, let's talk about girls for a change.

--originally published in Seattle Weekly, October 1998

No tagsPosted at 06:41 AM on Apr 14, 2011 in category From the Archives
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Wednesday April 13, 2011

Sodo Mojo, 2011 Style

Went to my first M's game of the year last night. I actually got to sit in a luxury box behind homeplate (the Hank Greenberg luxury box, “Jews and Baseball” lovers), because my friend Bill won it for the evening.

“How did Bill win this again?” Patricia asked during the third inning.

“Sitting on his ass,” I responded.

Seattle Mariners logoI.e., He won it the previous September during Fan Appreciation Night. Sitting in the right seat.

So: Free game. Luxury box. Ivar's fish n' chips und beer. A big kid on the mound, Michael Pineda, with a mid-90s fastball that just pops. He kept the Blue Jays hitless through three, scoreless through seven, and left the game, to applause, with a 3-2 lead and one out in the eighth--a lead that was preserved when 1B Justin Smoak ran into short right field to catch a foul ball, wheeled, and nailed the runner trying to score from third at the plate. Exciting! M's won it, 3-2. Pineda's first MLB victory.

And yet...

Maybe I'm getting jaded.

Maybe the problem is the luxury suites and its hallways, which are plastered with team photos and headlines from the M's glory days, approximately 1995 to 2003, and so walking them reminds you how good this team used to be and how not-so-good it is now.

Maybe it was the cold weather, about 50 degrees, and the sparse crowd, about 15,500 announced, so I was reminded, several times, of an amusement park during the last days of summer before it shuts for the season. A time when you get hard-core fans, stragglers, and not much else. A time when imperfections hidden by sun and crowds are suddenly apparent.

We won. But this is not a team going anywhere anytime soon. Seattle knows it. That 15,500? That was the big crowd for the Jays series. Monday night we set a record low for Safeco Field with a paid attendance of 13,056. Wednesday afternoon's game? 12,407.

Sodo Mojo, 2011 style.

No tagsPosted at 07:51 PM on Apr 13, 2011 in category Baseball
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Movie Review: Win Win (2011)

WARNING: TAKE-DOWN SPOILERS

I left “Win Win” in a calm state of mind. Tom McCarthy’s movies tend to do that to me. I went home, fed the cat, got ready to write, turned on the light in my office, and, pop!, one of the two light bulbs in the ancient, overhead lamp blew out. So I got out the stepladder and replaced the bulb. But it was one of those new curlicue bulbs that gives off a harsher, more piercing light. Didn’t like it. So I removed it, fumbled for an old-fashioned, softer bulb. Wouldn’t screw in properly. The overhead lamp, as I said, is ancient, and probably needs electrical work, and finally I gave up, returned the unspent bulb to its case, returned the stepladder to the closet, turned on the light with its one working light bulb, and sat down to write this, as calm as could be. If I’d just seen a Michael Bay movie I probably would have yanked the overhead lamp down by its roots.

McCarthy, as an actor, is most memorable to me as the fictionalizing, preppy journalist from the final season of “The Wire”—a role so indelible I doubt I’ll ever be able to trust his face again—but he’s directed three movies now: “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor,” and “Win Win.” Three for three.

"Win Win," directed by Thomas McCarthy, starring Paul GiamattiHe’s been topical lately, hasn’t he? Muslim incarceration and deportation in “The Visitor”; now the post-global financial meltdown world.

We never hear those words in “Win Win,” though, do we? The film doesn’t mention Wall Street or subprime mortgage loans or CEO salaries. It’s just tough economic times. The movie could take place in the late 1970s.

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is an attorney with a small, solo practice, a wife and two girls, and a metaphorical piece of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Nothing goes right for him. The dead tree out front needs to be taken down, the clunking furnace in his office needs replacing, but he has no money for either of these things because his business is dying. Plus he’s having anxiety attacks. Plus the high school wrestling team he coaches is oh-for-whatever. They’re winless. They’re lose-lose.

Then a solution to his money woes presents itself and changes everything. A client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), suffering the early stages of dementia, can no longer live on his own but doesn’t want to become a ward of the state, and his one relation, a drug-addicted daughter, can’t be found. What to do? Mike’s secretary, Shelly (Nina Arianda), mentions how she sure could use that $1500 guardian fee ... which is when the light bulb goes on over Mike’s head. During the court hearing to determine Leo’s future address, Mike convinces the judge that he will become Leo’s guardian, and the judge, after some befuddlement, agrees. Instead, Mike takes Leo to an assisted living facility. Mike is pocketing $1500 a month from the state, Leo gets cared for at Oak Knoll, it’s win-win. Except it’s completely unethical and could get him disbarred.

For a time, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, because McCarthy cuts away before the judge makes her ruling. But you suspect something’s not right ... just as most of us suspected something wasn’t right with those subprime mortgage loans. This is McCarthy’s M.O. He doesn’t hand us things; he doesn’t engage in sloppy or obvious backstory. He lets events play out. Knowledge comes by and by.

The wins for Mike keep coming, too. Watching Leo’s house, he finds, on his front steps, Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), the drug addict’s son, a teenager with dyed blonde hair and deadpan expression, lost in the buzz of an iPod. Leo didn’t know he existed but accepts it with the calm fatalism of most McCarthy characters. (Which explains my own calm fatalism with the light bulb.) Kyle, meanwhile, turns out to be a great wrestler, and, when he lands on Mike’s wrestling team, he becomes a kind of Roy Hobbs for the suburban New Jersey set. He inspires others to win. Or lose less.

Shaffer was a wrestler and non-actor in suburban New Jersey when McCarthy plucked him for the role, and his character, who has some of the funnier scenes in the film, bursts the confinements of the stereotypical teen. He’s monosyllabic but not sullen. He seems to have no goals until he does. There’s something almost Zen about him. The men become fans. When Mike and his friend, Terry Delfino (McCarthy regular Bobby Cannavale), find a clip of Kyle at the Ohio state wrestling tournament, they high-five each other and whoop it up. When assistant coach Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor), well-meaning but even more hapless than Mike, sees Kyle wrestle, he says, “I don’t think there’s anything we can teach him.” After a match, we get this exchange in the school hallway:

Mike: What is it like—to be as good as you are?
Kyle: Feels like I’m in control. Of everything. You know?
Mike: Must be nice.

That’s one of the great ironies of the film. Kyle has no control over his life (he has to live where people say), Leo has no control over his life (he has to live where people say), but the people who do have control, like Mike, feel like they have no control. Maybe because they’re the ones who actually run things. You only feel out of control when you’re supposed to have it in the first place.

The ethical lapse in the first act, of course, goes off in the third. Kyle’s mom, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), turns up, friendly but with a local lawyer (Margo Martindale, the Denver mail carrier from “Paris je t’aime”), and demands custody of both Kyle and Leo. Transcripts are dug up, Mike’s secret is revealed. What will happen?

Surprisingly little. The ethical lapse is confronted personally but not penalized professionally, while the solution Mike feared in the beginning—getting a second job as a bartender—is the solution he embraces in the end. It’s not exactly a Hollywood ending but there are Hollywood elements to it. The economic crisis in the film world means having to take a second job; the economic crisis in the real world means being unable to find the first.

Even so, bravo. It’s sad that a film like this—accessible, funny and warm; a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t pander or dumb down—can’t get wider distribution. Maybe if more of us saw it we’d be a calmer country.

No tagsPosted at 06:50 AM on Apr 13, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday April 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

“And to make sure no one steals them en route, I'll put 'ATTENTION: MARINERS TICKETS!' prominently on the envelope.”

--Our season-ticket coordinator Stephen Manes sending out tickets to the hapless Seattle Mariners, who already look like the worst team in baseball ...

No tagsPosted at 05:24 PM on Apr 12, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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The Third Greatest Yankees Hater in the World

  1. Go to Google
  2. Yankees SuckType in “Yankees Suck”—with our without quotes
  3. Look at the results

If there's no “News” info, the first two results will be websites specific to baseball. Then ads, then videos. The fifth result, only the third website, will be this one. It'll be this page: “61* Reasons Why the Yankees Suck.” It'll be me.

I discovered this on Saturday and have been tickled ever since. I will wear the mantle proudly.

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Posted at 09:02 AM on Apr 12, 2011 in category Yankees Suck
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Monday April 11, 2011

Thomas Geoghegan: Future Supreme Court Nominee?

“Memo to President Obama: How about appointing [labor lawyer Thomas] Geoghegan (whom you surely know, or know of, from his quiet heroics on behalf of working folk in Chicago) to the federal bench, preferably the Supreme Thomas Geoghegan, future Supreme Court nominee?Court? He’s eminently qualified. He writes prose that can be read for pleasure. He thinks clearly and creatively. He even ran for dogcatcher once. Admittedly, he’s not one of your chronically cautious “centrists,” but isn’t it about time the Court had a serious (and funny) counterweight to the charmless right-wing dittoheads who now dominate it and who are so politically and morally insensible that they cannot distinguish between a Fortune 500 corporation and a human being?”

--Hendrik Hertzberg in “Mr. Justice Geoghegan, Dissenting,” on The New Yorker Web site.

I'm not smart enough to say who does or doesn't belong on the USSC, but I interviewed Mr. Geoghegan for Illinois Super Lawyers a few years back—about running for U.S. Congress, about why the left seems so beaten down in this country, about why productivity goes up and real wages don't—and he's impressive. Put it this way: I'd certainly like to hear his voice, his point of view, more often in national discussions than, as Hertzberg says above, the usual charmless dittoheads. I asked him, for example, what stayed with him about his campaign for Rahm Emanuel's seat and he said: “I met a lot of elderly people living alone who don’t have enough to live on.” Please send that sentence to Paul Ryan and John Boehner, symptomatic of the unsympathetic right.

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Posted at 06:34 PM on Apr 11, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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My Starting Nine (of the Literary World)

Josh Wilker, voice of the mathematically eliminated, and author of one of my favorite recent books, “Cardboard Gods,” was interviewed a few weeks back by Shelf Awareness, who asked him, among other things, to name his five favorite authors. He did them one better: he gave them a starting nine.

On his own site he asked, a la the MLB Network, “What's your starting nine?”

That's my kinda question.

First, I went with American authors only, partly because it's our national pastime, and partly because I couldn't figure out positions for Tolstoy and Kundera. Then I tried to pick my most-read authors. This is what I came up with:

  1. James Baldwin, CF: Great range—from novels to essays to memoir to plays. (.312/.401/.405)
  2. Tobias Wolff, 2B: Never hits the ball far but always hits it cleanly; good at moving the man over. (.293/.397/.372)
  3. Ernest Hemingway, 1B: The legend. Opposition pitchers quake when he steps up. (.302/.384/.557)
  4. Norman Mailer, C: Big mouth behind the plate; big bat at the plate—he’s always swinging for the fences. (.264, .374, .531)
  5. John Irving, 3B: Another big hitter, not as naturally talented as Mailer, but he's put together some incredible seasons. (.274/.359/.514)
  6. Philip Roth, RF: A line-drive hitter, he sprays it all over the park. (.282/.367/.482)
  7. E.L. Doctorow, LF: Just what the world needs, Edgar, another left fielder. (.275/.353/.455)
  8. J.D. Salinger, SS: A lot of heart and soul; plus poetry on the glove. (.266/.353/.422)
  9. Kurt Vonnegut, P: Crazy lefty. (2.88 ERA)

Leading off, playing center field, and author of "Notes of a Native Son," no. 22, James Baldwin. Baldwin.   Batting second and playing second, number 2, the author of "This Boy's Life," Tobias Wolff. Wolff.  In the third spot and playing first base, number 3, the author of "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest "Big Papa" Hemingway. Hemingway.

Hitting cleanup and catching, number 1, the author of "The Naked and the Dead," Norman Mailer. Mailer.  Fifth, playing third, and author of "The World According to Garp," number 6, John Irving. Irving.   Sixth, the right fielder and author of "The Ghost Writer," number 17, Philip Roth. Roth.

Batting seventh, the left fielder and author of "The Book of Daniel," number 33, E.L. Doctorow. Doctorow.  Eighth and playing shortstop, number 42 and author of "The Catcher in the Rye" and the Glass family series, Jerome David Salinger. Salinger.  Pitching and batting ninth, number 99, author of "Cat's Cradle," Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut.

My starting nine.

This means a lot of talent on the bench, of course: Cather, DeLillo, Morrison, Updike. Serously: Updike? I'm not starting Updike? Don't I want to win this thing?

Originally, by the way, I had Gore Vidal pitching, so I could have a battery of Vidal-Mailer, but then I remembered Doctorow wasn't on the team so someone had to go.

It's a tough, fun exercise. Now what's your starting nine?

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Posted at 07:48 AM on Apr 11, 2011 in category Books
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Sunday April 10, 2011

Hollywood B.O.: Lame “Hop” still outjumps “Arthur,” “Hanna,” “Your Highness” and the “Soul Surfer”

Eesh. Not a good weekend for new movies. Four opened, but none came within half of the second weekend of “Hop,” which still dropped 42.2%.

Here's how the top six fared by gross, via boxofficemojo.com, with the four new films in yellow:

Title
Studio Weekend Gross % Change Theater Count / Change Average Total Gross
Hop Uni. $21,696,000 -42.2% 3,616 +37 $6,000 $68,152,000
Arthur (2011) WB $12,605,000 - 3,276 - $3,848 $12,605,000
Hanna Focus $12,323,000 - 2,535 - $4,861 $12,323,000
Soul Surfer TriS $11,100,000 - 2,214 - $5,014 $11,100,000
Insidious FD $9,740,000 -26.6% 2,419 +11 $4,026 $27,097,000
Your Highness Uni. $9,520,000 - 2,769 - $3,438 $9,520,000

Among the newbies, “Arthur” prevailed, barely, but it was also the movie playing in the most theaters. Take theater average and it's ladies first: “Soul Surfer,” then “Hanna,” then “Arthur,” and—last no matter how you slice it—“Your Highness.”

RT numbers are bad on all of these, although “Hannah” almost makes the cut. IMDb numbers are bad on all of these but “Hannah” and ... “Your Highness”? Really?

Title
RT% (top critics)
IMDb.com rating
Arthur (2011) 25%
4.6
Hanna 57%
8.1
Soul Surfer 38%
5.5
Your Highness 10%

6.3

Does this mean “Your Highness” delivers for its core audience, which is small and stoned? It'll be interesting to see how the films fall off next weekend. Or by how much “Your Highness”'s IMDb numbers fall off.

Miserable.

On the plus side, “Sucker Punch” shed half its theaters and is already out of the top 10.

No tagsPosted at 04:57 PM on Apr 10, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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Quote of the Day

“With this budget deal, America's brief flirtation with milquetoast progressivism comes to an end.”

--Mark Siegel, the 19th floor, via Facebook. A short post on the subject is here.

No tagsPosted at 03:51 PM on Apr 10, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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From the Archives: 1996 Book Review of Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

A dozen pages into Making Movies I sent a copy to a friend for graduation. I assumed the rest of the book would be good enough for such an occasion. I wasn't wrong.

At the time of the writing, Sidney Lumet had directed 39 movies, starting in 1957 with 12 Angry Men, peaking in the 1970s with classics like Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network, then gradually losing steam until, by the early '90s, he was directing vehicles for Melanie Griffith (A Stranger Among Us) and Don Johnson (Guilty as Sin). But this is not a book about one man's rise and fall. Lumet doesn't even see his career as following this trajectory. Who does? If anything, he sees the movie industry suffering in this manner. The last chapter includes diatribes against the National Research Group and their audience surveys, and the fact that certain studios won't green-light pictures until a major star is involved. He writes:

This has two immediate effects. First, the stars' salaries skyrocket... The second effect is that the agencies that represent the stars are automatically in a more powerful position.

the cover of Making Movies by Sidney LumetMaking Movies is an aptly named book because it’s ultimately about ... making movies: the financing, the lighting, the camera work; rushes, answer prints, foleys and timers.

Don’t forget script girls. Because certain scenes may require many takes, and because a portion of take two may be spliced with a portion of take 11, a script girl is employed to ensure that actors perform the same actions at the same moments. Making 12 Angry Men, for example, the script girl mentioned that an actor had taken a puff of his cigarette on Line A yesterday while today he did it on Line B. Henry Fonda disagreed; he said the actor did it on Line B yesterday. So two takes were made. It turned out Fonda was right. This anecdote is told to demonstrate Fonda's incredible movie memory but it also helps reveal movie making’s incredible complexity.

Add artistic considerations if you are artistically considered. It's not about lighting actors well; it's about lighting them in ways that relates to character and theme. Ditto camera shots and camera angles. There is no camera shot of the sky in Prince of the City until the lead character is contemplating suicide. Sky implies freedom, Lumet writes, and the lead character is finding himself more and more trapped as the movie progresses. Since he starts out the movie self-assured, too, and then slowly loses control, Lumet lights the movie to follow this pattern:

In the first third of the movie, we tried to have the light on the background brighter than on the actors in the foreground. For the second third, the foreground light and the background light were more or less balanced. For the last third, we cut the light off the background.

What camera angle? Which lens? How should character A be edited against character B?

With the director needing to answer each question, you might think Lumet would be a proponent of the auteur theory. Nope. In fact, he uses the favorite auteur of the auteur theory, Alfred Hitchcock, to fault it:

He always essentially made the same picture. His stories weren't the same, but the genre was: a melodrama, layered with light comedy, played by the most glamorous actors he could find...photographed often by the same cameraman, with music composed by the same composer... His how to do it was the same because what he was doing was the same.

“Movie directors do not work alone,” Lumet writes. “There will be a visual difference if we work with Cameraman A or Cameraman B, Production Designer C or Production Designer D.” Then he writes about those he works with. He gives credit to cameramen Peter McDonald and Andrzej Bartkowiak and Boris Kaufman; production designers like Tony Walton; editors like Margaret Booth; and stars like Paul Newman and Sean Connery, who wear their fame lightly; who travel without entourages.

He answers questions I’ve long had about the movies. How can the Academy give awards for Best Editing unless you know what they edited in the first place? “In my view,” he writes, “only three people know how good or bad the editing was: the editor, the director, and the cameraman.” He includes tantrums against the uselessness of the teamsters and love taps for Paddy Chayevsky, the screenwriter of Network. His love for the movies is apparent in every sentence, as well as his intolerance for the parasites that high-profile industries like film-making attract. Making Movies is that rare movie book that is as interesting discussing camera lenses as it is discussing Paul Newman. I’ve now got a new book to give to friends.

--May 24, 1996

Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet on the set of The Verdict

“Paul leads one of the most generous and honorable lives of anyone I've ever known.”

No tagsPosted at 09:41 AM on Apr 10, 2011 in category From the Archives
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Saturday April 09, 2011

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Sidney Lumet's “Making Movies” was the first insider look at the movies that I read that stuck. I recommended it to friends for years. I bought it for I don't know how many of them. Now I can't find my copy. I must've loaned it out.

Sidney Lumet, directorLumet always seemed like a gentleman to me, and gracious toward other talents, and my haphazard reading today has only reinforced that notion. Here he is on Christopher Reeve, whom he directed in “Death Trap”:

What seemed such a nice, simple, artless performance in “Superman” was the finest kind of acting. Reeve's timing — and humor — has to be just about perfect to make the character come off.

Here he is on Tab Hunter, whom he directed in “That Kind of Woman” with Sophia Loren:

Primarily a character actor, yet always used as a leading man because he's so pretty. I've seen him do character parts in which he's really great. But, as a leading man, he tightens up. Mostly, he turned to character work in American television when his Hollywood career started going sour. Then, he played the roles of psychotic killers and so forth, and his talent became clear.

I wonder if this comment on Akira Kurosawa was related to some Q&A, some interview with a journalist, regarding Lumet's 1959 TV movie based on Kurosowa's “Rashomon”:

Kurosawa never affected me directly in terms of my own movie-making because I never would have presumed that I was capable of that perception and that vision.

I know. They made a TV movie based on “Rashomon”? With Ricardo Montalban? Yep, and directed by Sidney Lumet.

He was one of the better directors to come out of 1950s TV. Before he was 30 he'd directed the Gettysburg Address, the Conquest of Mexico and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with John Kerr as his Jesse and James Dean as his Robert Ford, all for the “You Are There” TV show.

His first theatrical movie, “12 Angry Men,” was more like a play. It didn't move so Lumet made it move. Did he think it was his greatest movie? Do we? The voters at IMDb.com certainly do. It's considered the seventh greatest movie of all time by their rankings, ahead of “Seven Samurai,” “Casablanca,” “The Third Man,” “Rear Window,” almost everything. I wouldn't rank it so high, but ... Not bad for a first film. Lumet began there and ended with “Before the Devil Knows You're Dead,” which contains my favorite performance by Ethan Hawke. Forty-one films between those two. Nice bookends to a career.

His heyday was the 1970s. In a span of three years he directed “Serpico,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” and “Network.” Wow. He was always interested in cops and lawyers and grit and ethics and “How do you do the right thing when everyone around you is getting ahead doing the wrong thing?” He loved New York. He kept filming on location. Is that why he never won an Oscar? Not enough time in Hollywood? Or did he never deserve to win one? He was nominated four times but can you make an argument for “12 Angry Men” over David Lean's “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” or “Dog Day Afternoon” over Milos Foreman's “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”?

“'Network'!” fans will say. “He should've trounced John Avildsen's 'Rocky'!” True. Although that was also the year Martin Scorsese wasn't even nominated for “Taxi Driver.” There's overlooked and there's overlooked.

In the late '70s he kept adapting Broadway (“Equus,” “The Wiz,” “Death Trap”) to not much avail. He merely made an OK film out of one of my favorite books, E.L. Doctorow's “The Book of Daniel.” He remained serious in a business that increasingly wasn't. He made movies for adults, dramas, in an industry that geared its product for the younger and dumber crowd. Soon, well, he was kind of out of the picture.

One of the friends I gave that “Making Movies” book to was my brother-in-law, Eric Muschler, Jordy's dad, who wrote the following to me in an e-mail in 1999:

I loved reading the behind-the-scenes set-up stuff. The planning of each frame, the scheduling. Amazing. And the progression of light and camera angles and how even that is used to move the theme and story. (I.e. 12 Angry Men moving from downward shots to upward shots to grow the sense of being trapped in the room.)

Here's the Times' obit.

Here's Nathaniel's farewell at FilmExperience.net, which includes every one of Lumet's 43 movie posters. (Nathaniel, thanks for line 6, below.)

Rest in peace, Mr. Lumet, you craftsman, you serious man.

Four of Sidney Lumet's films — three of which are great.

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Posted at 05:21 PM on Apr 09, 2011 in category Movies
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Lancelot Links

  • This week someone alerted me to Austin Kleon's pep talk/slide show/life advice “How to Steal Like an Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me),” and some part of me is cheesed that I still need this advice, at my advanced age, but mostly I'm just grateful that it's there. Immediate reactions to the 10? 1) I've always stupidly fought against; 2) I've always known, have even had arguments about, but I've never put it that way before; 3) I need to repeat every day; 4) will be increasingly difficult; 5) YES! Or, paraphrasing John Lennon, Art is what happens when you're busy making other plans; 6) is more profound than it sounds; 7) is, well, not as worthy as the others (poor 7); 8) please, 9) got that covered, and 10) yes, “Kill your little darlings.” Much thanks to Austin. I'll keep returning.

The third thing nobody told Austin Kleon

Statue of Tony Oliva being unveiled outside Gate 6 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Classic Minnesota moment: a statue is unveiled but ... no need for too much pomp and circumstance. It's just us here.

No tagsPosted at 09:10 AM on Apr 09, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday April 08, 2011

Dueling Movie Critics: O'Hehir vs. Edelstein on “Your Highness”

“Gingival surgery would be more fun than watching this brain-draining, spirit-sucking attempt at a stoner spoof, which combines the cutting edge of frat-boy wit, the excitement of a mid-'80s made-for-TV action flick and the authenticity of a Renaissance Faire held in an abandoned field behind a Courtyard by Marriott. A bus trip from Duluth to Sioux City would be more fun, and don't think I didn't do my research: That takes 13 hours and costs 96 bucks.”

--Andrew O'Hehir, “Is 'Your Highness' the Worst Film Ever Made?” on Salon.com

“How low does Your Highness go? As low as the deepest pits of Adam Sandlershire, the darkest pools of Kevin Smithport, the coprophagic caverns of John Waterstown. As its title implies, it also soars as high as Mount Cheech-and-Chong. It features geysers of gore; bare boobs; Natalie Portman’s bum; and a long, stiff Minotaur knob, which is something you don’t see every day. The trick is that Your Highness is played like a straight sword-and-sorcery epic, with nary a whisper of camp — a cunning weave of low and high, regal and smutty, splendiferous and splattery. It conforms to popular (bad) taste in ways you might find alarming. But on the far side of alarm is nirvana.”

--David Edelstein, “'Your Highness' is Bad Taste Done Right,” in New York Magazine

Looks like O'Hehir on points: Rotten Tomatoes' top critics currently have “Your Highness” at 10%.

A publicity shot from "Your Highness," starring Danny McBride, James Franco and (gulp) Natalie Portman

This is similar to the critical reaction, too.

No tagsPosted at 05:56 PM on Apr 08, 2011 in category Movie Reviews
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Comments on “Of Gods and Men”

“What struck me was how authentic everything felt. The relationships, the internal struggles of each character, the motivations of the army and the Islamists, the "Des hommes et des dieux" or "Of Gods and Me"feelings of the townspeople. It all seemed clear while remaining nuanced and without snapping to this or that caricature grid. (Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, medium guys are medium.)

”I think the presentation of the monks’ theological wrangling was especially effective—the thoughts about weakness, death, etc. Atheist (or kind-of-atheist) Suzanne found it quite moving, as did I. In fact, there were no points that felt understandable only to Christians or theists. It all made sense in human terms.

“The title struck me as weird, especially because the plural, Gods, misleadingly suggests that the two religions presented in the movie revolve around two different gods. If anything, the action on screen suggested otherwise.”

--comments by my friend Jacob Slichter on the film “Des hommes et des dieux,” all of which feel exactly right to me.

No tagsPosted at 06:25 AM on Apr 08, 2011 in category Movies
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Thursday April 07, 2011

My Bike Ride: Imitating Big Papi and Nomah

At what age do I stop imitating baseball players?

I'm 48 now and I find I'm still doing it. While biking, no less.

When I'm about to begin a ride I find myself clapping my gloved hands together. Took me a few weeks before I figured out what it reminded me of: David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, Big Papi, who spits into the palm of both gloved hands and claps them together before each pitch. (Parodied in this SportsCenter ad.) Nomar Garciaparra, between pitches, fiddling.Sometimes I'll even mime the spitting before the clapping. One time, I believe, I forgot the mime and brought the spit. Ick. This is a recent innovation, by the way. Not sure why I began doing it. Maybe as a way to kick myself in the ass? A here we go, about to ride! kind of thing.

Then in the middle of the bikeride, particularly at stoplights, particularly in the less harsh months when I'm wearing fingerless gloves, I'll often fiddle with the velcro around the wrists, tightening each glove. Yeah, exactly like Nomar Garciaparra used to do between every pitch. That's two Boston Red Sox. What the hell, right? I'm a Twins/M's fan. But I've been doing this one for a while. I think because both me and Nomar are a little OCD.

Finally, lately, at the end of my ride, I'll take off my helmet with both hands and bend down to touch my toes in one smooth (or its close proximity) motion. Reminds me of when a player, say, grounds out to end an inning, and takes the helmet off and reaches down to unstrap, say, shin protectors at the same time. 

Now if for the rest of the ride I only imitated Lance Armstrong ...

No tagsPosted at 06:25 PM on Apr 07, 2011 in category Biking
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The 20 Greatest Games, Cont.: YANKEES SUCK Edition

Last month I counted down, with MLB.com, 20 through 10, of the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years.

Now, as Kasey used to say, on with the countdown.

9. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2. Yeah, I know I'm a Yankees hater, so I glory in this game, but I think for aesthetic and storytelling reasons alone it should be higher. For these reasons:

  1. It was Game 7.
  2. Of the World Series.
  3. The winningest team in baseball history, which had won the World Series three years in a row, was leading 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning.
  4. That team, the winningest team in baseball history, had the best closer in baseball history on the mound.

Plus this from the D-back side: No team in baseball history had ever been losing in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, then won it that same inning. It had never been done.

Mazeroski's homer in '60? Tie game. Carter's homer in '93? Game 6 (and the Jays were essentially the Yankees of the early '90s). Marlins vs. Indians in '97? Marlins tied it in the bottom of the ninth (against a crappy closer: Jose Mesa), and won it in extras (against a hapless franchise). Yet the Diamondbacks did it. Against the best closer in baseball history pitching for the winningest franchise in baseball history.

This may be my no. 1. And yet it's stuck at no. 9. Plus the MLB Network really needed to bring on some Diamondbacks (or me) to hoorah a bit. Poor Joe Torre's talked enough, hasn't he? And with Tom Veducci. Let him rest. Let him rest.

8. Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS: Red Sox 7, Angels 6. The Dave Henderson/Donnie Moore game. But I'd forgotten that Hendu hadn't started this game, and that he'd helped over the fence a two-run homer earlier in the game. Classic goat to hero stuff. I'd also forgotten the back-and-forth. Boston 2-0 after 2. Boston 2-1 after 3. Angels 3-2 after 6. Angels 5-2 after 7. Red Sox 6-5 after top of 9. Tie game after bottom 9. (Angels came back!) Red Sox 7-6 after 11. (Angels didn't come back.) “You're looking at one for the ages here!” Al Michaels said. Heartbreak for the ages, too. Poor Gene Mauch. One strike away.

7. Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS: Marlins 8, Cubs 3. Speaking of heartbreak. Bob Costas is pretty poignant on Steve Bartman here. He points out it wasn't fan interference. He points out he didn't lean over, as Jeffrey Maier did in '96, to give Derek Jeter a homerun. He talks about the problem of Moises Alou's reaction. He points out how Bartman hasn't, in our cruddy culture, tried to cash in on his notoriety. He talks about Alex Gonazalez's error a few batters later. Me, I'd talk about Dusty's Baker's culpability in the pitch counts for Mark Prior—in this game and his previous game. But as interesting as all this is, I wouldn't have this game this high. 8-3? Is any game's final score in the top 10 going to be less close?

6. Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5. They'll be airing this next week, so video isn't available yet. Doubt I'll be posting it. Or watching it. Consider it a protest. The Aaron Boone game? Seriously? The sixth greatest game of the last 50 years? Did Yankees fans stuff the ballot boxes?

So what are the remaining five games? These four, one assumes:

  • 1975 World Series, Game 6: Fisk.
  • 1986 NLCS: Mets in 16.
  • 1986 World Series, Game 6: Buckner.
  • 1991 World Series, Game 7: 0-0 in the 10th.

Plus ... 1972 NLCS Game 5? Chambliss' homer? Reggie's three homers? Sid Bream in '92? Halladay's no-no? Game 7 in '62? I'd love to see this last one. What game inspired a greater cultural artifact? (R.I.P., Sparky.)

"Peanuts" strip about Game 7 of the 1962 World Series

“Why couldn't MLB have picked the D-backs game just seven places higher?”

No tagsPosted at 07:46 AM on Apr 07, 2011 in category Baseball
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Wednesday April 06, 2011

Quote of the Day

“I'm not saying that our debt problem isn't serious and that adjustments to entitlements shouldn't be part of of the solution. But the hard question that Paul Ryan's hucksterism avoids is this: what is government's role in caring for its most vulnerable citizens?”

--Mark Siegel, “Shredding the Safety Network, Part II,” on his blog The 19th Floor

No tagsPosted at 07:34 PM on Apr 06, 2011 in category Politics
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Movie Review: “La Rafle” (2010)

WARNING: SIX MILLION SPOILERS

You know how you have that moment when you can choose not to eat a cookie or pastry, and you hold it in your hand and some part of your brain thinks, “This isn’t a good idea,” but you pop it into your mouth anyway; and even as all that sweetness is coursing through your system, regret sets in, because it’s what you wanted but it’s not what you needed? I’m increasingly feeling like that at the movies.

I felt like that at the end of “La rafle” (“The Round-Up”), Rose Bosch’s film about the Vel’ d’Hiv incident, in which, at the behest of the Nazis, and with the help of French police and civil servants, 13,000 Jews were taken from their homes in Paris in July 1942, placed in the Velodrome d’Hiver for nearly a week, then the internment camps of Drancy, France, before, after further deprivations, being carted off to extermination camps in Poland. One of the film’s final scenes takes place in July 1945. The sympathetic, Protestant nurse, Annette Monod (Melanie Laurent), is working at a center where survivors, some still wearing the striped, soiled uniforms of the camps, look for lost loved ones and generally find death certificates. But Annette runs into Jo Weismann (Hugo Leverdez), the cute, blonde-haired boy "La rafle." (2010)who made his escape from the camp and survived the war. He’s with a family up north now, he tells her, and she nods, tears in her eyes. She’s happy to make this connection but we know her heart really goes out for Nono Zygler (Mathieu/Romain Di Concerto), a curly-haired boy, motherless but ignorant of his motherless status back in ’42. Annette had wanted to save him then, but was feverish, and knowledge about the final destination of the Jews, Hitler’s Final Solution, came to her too late, and he’d been carted off with the others. Yet here, at the center, shortly after the moment with Jo, she sees a boy walking through the crowd, holding up, in front of his face, a framed photo of a woman, a mother, who looks like, yes, the mother of Nono! And Annette follows that boy and that photo. Then she squats in front of him and moves the picture aside.

By this point I’d long given up on “La rafle.” I knew it had taken one of the most tragic events of the 20th century and turned it into kitsch. Even so, at this moment, I thought, “Let it be him.”

And it was him! It was little Nono, hardly aged for whatever horrors he’d gone through! And Annette begins to cry from happiness and holds the boy in her arms. And immediately, with all that sweetness coursing through my system, regret set in. The scene was what I wanted but it wasn’t what I, nor the film, needed.

What is it with these recent movies about the horrors of World War II anyway? Why do we need to milk tragedy this way? Why is it not enough that Jewish mothers and children are stuffed into cattle cars bound for Poland? Do we need to intercut to the sympathetic, feverish nurse, biking to the train station on her last legs, on the hope that ... what? What if she got there in time? What could she do? Who would she stop? The French police? The Nazis? History? Yet the intercutting continues in order to heighten the drama. Or melodrama.

“La rafle” begins with video footage that still infuriates: Adolf Hitler, that failed architecture student, touring a conquered Paris in an open car in June 1940. Here he is checking out the Eiffel Tower. Here he is checking out the Arc d’Triomph. On the soundtrack, Edith Piaf sings nostalgically.

The action picks up two years later as Stars of David are introduced to the Jewish population. Jo is ashamed of his but comes out of his shell quickly and runs everywhere with his friends. Fat French merchants make anti-Semitic remarks about how many of them there suddenly are. Schmuel Weismann (Gad Elmaleh), a Polish immigrant, Trotskyite, and Great War veteran, assumes it’ll all blow over. He makes quiet jokes with his kids about how Hitler blames even the sinking of the Titanic on the Jews. “Iceberg,” he says. “Another damn Jew!” It’s a good scene, and that rare pun that works in both languages (since iceberg is the same in both languages).

Even as we’re introduced to these two families, the Weismanns and the Zyglers, we also get snippets of the various authorities who make the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup happen: Parisian politicians, national collaborators such as Marechal Petain (Roland Cope) and Pierre Laval (Jean-Michel Noirey), and, most unnecessarily, the Nazis themselves, Hitler and Himmler, who talk about the deportation matter-of-factly in the mountains of Bavaria. Udo Schenk, generally a voice actor, is approximately the 275th man to play Hitler in the movies and doesn’t acquit himself. His moustache seems too dark or his hair too light or something. He seems off. Also unnecessary. Why include such scenes? To exculpate French gentiles in some way? As if Melanie Laurent doesn’t do that on her own.

But they waste our time, and thus, when the round-up begins, we barely know the Weismanns and the Zyglers beyond, you know, Jo is popular and likes to run; Nono is innocent and cloyingly cute in the way of Chaplin kids. At the velodrome we’re introduced to Dr. David Sheinbaum (Jean Reno), who is singlehandedly trying to administer to all the medical needs of too many people in too small a space. A vague romance, or at least an understanding, is sparked with Nurse Monod. A plumber helps a young girl who... oh, right, there’s another family, isn’t there? The Traubes. They’re most notable for Anna (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who, with the plumber’s help, escapes. Does anything else happen with them? Not much anyway. Nothing became their lives like Anna leaving them.

There are other acts of kindness, both small and large, from the French gentiles; but more often the reduction of the Jews’ status brings out the bullies in petty French functionaries, who eye women, lounge on expensive couches, or drink expensive liquor, because now they can. Except we’ve seen it done better elsewhere.

Is the Holocaust such an incomprehensible moment in history that it’s best understood through documentary (“Nuit et brouillard,” “The Sorrow and the Pity,” “Shoah,” “A Film Unfinished”) or memoir (“Survival in Auschwitz,” “Night,” “Maus,” “The Diary of Ann Frank”)? Through a strict adherence to fact? The events are so horrific that the slightest fictional touch turns the drama into melodrama.

To my mind, only one movie, non-documentary, has done it right: Not “Schindler’s List,” which contains its own brand of melodrama, but Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist.” Polanski, of course, besides being an artist of the first rank, lived, just barely, through the Holocaust, and you can feel it in the film. It’s there in the way bodies fall; it’s there in the sudden matter-of-factness of death; it’s there in the lack of sentimentality.

“La rafle” is sentimental, melodramatic, pretty. It does a disservice.

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Posted at 06:47 AM on Apr 06, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday April 05, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Whom do you want to believe? What vague and indeterminate misinformation do you want to poison your heart like the waves and specks of deadly low-level radiation currently not heading out way over 6,000 miles of ocean in the form of mist and seagulls and furious dolphins, soiled Toyota Corollas and shrill Fox News idiocy that makes you embarrassed to be alive in the modern world?”

--Mark Morford, in his column “Fox News ate my nuclear dolphins,” in The San Francisco Chronicle
No tagsPosted at 07:22 PM on Apr 05, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Coup de foudre

Isabelle Huppert in "Entre Nous" (1983)

I first saw Isabelle Huppert in “Entre Nous” (original title “Coup de foudre” or “Love at First Sight”), which was playing at the Cedar Theater on the West Bank in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1984. Talk about coup de foudre. Something about her mouth reminded me of a girl I had a crush on at the university, whose name I've since forgotten. (Wonder where she is? Wonder who she is?) Much of the movie went over my head, much has been forgotten, but Patricia and I watched it the other day and ... it's good ... if obviously created from the scattered nature of life (specifically, the lives of the parents of writer-director Diane Kurys) rather than with the compact force of drama.

It was nominated back then for an Oscar for best foreign language film, but lost, deservedly, to “Fanny and Alexander.” It was also nominated for four Cesars: writing, directing, supporting actor (Guy Marchand) and actress. Not for Huppert, btw. For her co-star, Miou Miou, whom everyone, inexplicably to me back then, focused on. Miou Miou was already a star, had already been nominated four times for Meilleure actrice, and had won, once, for 1979's “Memoirs of a French Whore,” which she refused to accept for the usual reason that actors aren't in competition with one other. Huppert was already a star, too. She'd already been nominated five times for Cesars, but wouldn't be named Meilleure actrice until 1995's “La Ceremonie.” Her only Cesar.

I don't know about meilleure but I believe it's our nature to fall in love with what we can't have, which is part of the appeal of movie stars, and certainly part of the appeal of an actress like Isabelle Huppert, who looks beautiful but reveals little. Thus her performance in “Entre Nous” is now, what, triply attractive to me: she reveals little (1), in a movie (2), that is nearly 30 years old (3). I can't get at any of it. Must be love. C'est encore l'amour.

No tagsPosted at 07:38 AM on Apr 05, 2011 in category Photo of the Day
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Monday April 04, 2011

Batters on Pitchers: Schmidt on Ryan

Mike Schmidt was standing behind a batting cage, still as trim as during his playing days. A handsome, middle-aged man with swept-back, silvery hair and a thick mustache. I asked him what he thought of the four Phillies pitchers

“Well,” he said, “now when the Phillies come to town, the other team knows they’re being challenged by four No. 1 pitchers. They have to amp up their mental game. I used to see my at-bats the night before a game when I laid my head down on the pillow. Gibson, Seaver, Ryan. I had to have a plan. When I went to Houston, they had three good pitchers. The fourth was Nolan Ryan. I could go to sleep with the other three, but Ryan kept me awake. Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! My plan was, don’t miss his fastball if he threw it over the plate. If he got two strikes on me, I’d have to face his curveball.” He turned and looked at me with his small blue eyes, which had fear in them. “Ryan was scary!” he said. He shook his head, as if seeing Ryan on the mound. Ryan began his motion and fired the ball at his head. Schmidt had a split second to make a decision. Was it a 100 m.p.h. fastball that could kill him if it hit him in the head, or was it that wicked curveball? If he dove away from the plate and the pitch was a curveball that broke over the plate, he’d look like a fool and a coward. But if it wasn’t a curveball, if it was that 100 m.p.h. fastball, and he didn’t dive away from the plate . . . well, he didn’t even want to think about that.

“Ryan, Gibson, Seaver, they made you defensive,” he said. “Does that make sense? You were afraid of the ball. There’s no fear of the ball today with cutters, splitters and changeups.”

“What about the Phillies’ four pitchers?” I said.

“They’re not scary,” he said. “Even if they all win 20 games, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher who strikes fear in a hitter.”

----from “The Phillies Four Aces” by Pat Jordan in yesterday's New York Times Magazine

Nolan Ryan on the cover of Sports Illustrated

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Posted at 05:28 PM on Apr 04, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: “Sucker Punch” (2011)

WARNING: DON’T GO SEE THIS MOVIE. OH, SPOILERS, TOO.

“Sucker Punch” combines the worst aspects of American culture in one movie. Bravo. There’s violence without consequence, titillation without release, a gritty, comic-book surrealism masking as realism. The women are dolled up for sex, prone to violence, and treated as extras in their own story. The only thing more shabbily treated is the whole of human history, which is seen as a backdrop for cool stuff to happen.

We get a scene, for example, where the five female leads, with names like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, wearing fetishistic gear such as bustiers and fishnet stockings, walk in slow motion through the Allied trenches of WW I. In the air, bi-planes swoop and dirigibles soar. "Sucker Punch" theatrical posterOne of the girls has a bare midriff, another sucks on a lollipop. Around them, the doughboys stare with dead expressions. They’re not fighters, these soldiers, but the girls are, and they’re about to take on the Germans, who are zombies now, in order to retrieve a map, which is merely the first step in their journey. The fact that within the movie none of this is really happening—it’s all in the head of Baby Doll as she dances her erotic dance for customers, which, by the way, isn’t really happening, either—doesn’t excuse it. The insult to history is so overwhelming I wish someone had copywritten WWI and could sue.

As awful as all this is, though, the most awful aspect of “Sucker Punch” may be its form rather than its content.

Since storytelling began, around whatever campfire or inside of whatever cave, our stories have tended to the horizontal: this happened then this happened then this happened. Recently, for a generation now, our most popular stories, video games, have tended to the vertical: you go to this place, then advance through four levels to get to the next place, where there are more levels. “Sucker Punch” is like a video game except we have no control over it. Alas.

Here’s the horizontal story: A girl is committed to a mental institution, where, after five days, she is lobotomized. The End.

Here’s the vertical story: Baby Doll (Emily Browning), petite and blonde, with big eyes and full lips, deals with her incarceration in a mental institution by escaping into a fantasy world, in which her doctor, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), is a Russian dance instructor, and an orderly, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac, in full throat), is a gangster who runs an erotic nightclub where all the girls are forced to dance. Why is this her fantasy—this odd mix of “Showgirls” and “White Nights”—rather than, I don’t know, the fantasy of writer-director Zack Snyder (“300”; “Watchmen”) and most of the fanboys in the audience? Sorry. Stupid question. I’m assuming Baby Doll is a three-dimensional character when she’s just a two-dimensional avatar for Snyder to move about to places where cool shit happens.

The cool shit, and most of the movie, doesn’t happen in the erotic nightclub, by the way. It happens in the fantasy world Baby Doll escapes into so she can perform her mesmerizing dances in the erotic nightclub. It’s the fantasy of her fantasy. And in this fantasy, she’s student to a wise man, known only as Wise Man, who is vaguely Oriental—she first meets him sitting in a temple in the lotus position and surrounded by Chinese characters and Japanese swords—but he’s played by Scott Glenn of Pittsburgh, Pa. Speaking in vaguely wise bromides with a tendency toward the American vulgar (e.g., “Don’t write a check with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass”), he sends her on a quest to find five items: a map, fire, a knife, and a key. And the fifth thing? “The fifth thing is a mystery,” he tells her. “It is the reason. It is the goal. It will be a deep sacrifice and a perfect victory.” Then he sends her off to fight three giant samurai warriors in slow-motion

The actions in this double fantasy world correspond, in some fashion, to the actions in the fantasy world. So while, in Fantasy II, the girls steal the map from the zombie German commandant, in Fantasy I, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) steals a map out of the office of Blue Jones. One assumes this map-stealing corresponds to actions in the real world, the world of the mental asylum, but we barely see that world. We’re mostly just trying to get to the next level: first, World War I (map), then medieval castle and dragon (fire), then high-speed train (carrying a bomb: codenamed, clumsily, “kitchen knife”). Mom! Don’t bug me about the real world! I’m trying to get to the next le-vel!

It’s on the highspeed train that the fantasies fall apart. Rocket (Jena Malone), scrappy kid sister to Sweet Pea, dies on the train, and so dies in the kitchen of the erotic nightclub, and so, one assumes, dies in the mental asylum. And that’s our last double fantasy. The nightclub owner—read: nasty orderly—is onto the girls’ escape plan, and kills two of them. But then Baby Doll sticks a kitchen knife in his neck, sets a fire as a diversion, and uses his master key to unlock the doors to freedom. Except—still in the nightclub fantasy—there are too many 1940s gangstery dudes hanging out front. Which is when Baby Doll realizes what the fifth thing is. It’s herself. So she uses herself as a diversion to allow Sweet Pea to escape. And the moment the biggest gangster dude is about to shoot her in the head is the moment the doctor (Jon Hamm, of all actors) gives her a lobotomy.

That’s pretty much it. There’s some comeuppance for the nasty orderly, and, through the blissful face of a lobotomized Baby Doll, we see, in an apparent mix of Fantasy I and Fantasy II, Sweet Pea trying to board a bus to freedom, being stopped by cops, but being saved by the bus driver, the Wise Man, who uses subterfuge (an old Jedi mind trick) to send them away.

Meanwhile, the narrator (still Scott Glenn, I believe), asks the audience a series of questions about who holds what key to where, then gives us the answer that Baby Doll figured out for herself. “It’s you,” he says. “You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!” Cue: blast of hard rock/rap and the words “Directed by Zack Snyder.”

You know the guy at school who thinks he’s cool but is just ridiculous? Like Mike Damone, the ticket scalper, in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”? That’s “Sucker Punch.” “Sucker Punch” is the Mike Damone of movies.

What’s with this final message anyway? Yes, kids. Be like this movie. Go home, turn on your video game console, and fight.

Me, I went home, took a shower, and tried to wash this shit off me.

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Posted at 06:32 AM on Apr 04, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Sunday April 03, 2011

Pitchers on Batters: Cliff Lee on Ichiro

I asked [Cliff Lee] which batters gave him the most trouble. Punchy hitters, he said, who foul off a lot of pitches, then slap the ball the other way. “Like Ichiro,” he said. “Sometimes you just want to let him hit his ground ball and hope someone catches it. He’s gonna get his hits. The quicker he does, the better for me. The more pitches a batter sees, the better hitters they become.”

--from “The Phillies Four Aces” by Pat Jordan in today's New York Times Magazine

Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners

Ichiro, who set the Mariners club record for hits, with 2248,
surpassing Edgar Martinez, Saturday night.

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Posted at 06:27 PM on Apr 03, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Hollywood B.O.: “Hop” Hops, “Sucker Punch” Drops

The three movies that opened in more than 2,000 theaters this weekend finished (big surprise) first, second and third. “Hop,” from Universal, a mix of animation and live-action that didn't do well with the critics (25% on RT) nor, it seems, with audiences (5.5 on IMDb.com), came in first, way first, with $38.1 million. “Source Code,” from Summit Entertainment, garnered good reviews (85%) and $15 million, while “Insidious” got mixed reviews (56%) and $13.4 mil.

I doubt I'll see any of these movies.

But because I'm interested in the upcoming movie, “Superman: Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder, and due out in ... 2013?, I went to see Snyder's “Sucker Punch,” wondering if it was as bad as it seemed. It was. And people know. The movie grossed $19.1 million last weekend (2nd place) but only an estimated $6 million this weekend (7th place), which is a 68.1% drop. How bad is that? For super-saturated movies (3,000+ theaters), it's the 15th worst drop in movie history. And guess what's in 16th place? “Watchmen,” also by Zack Snyder. So we have something of a trend.

Poor Superman. That's worse than being in the hands of Lex Luthor.

Here's the list, from Box Office Mojo, of horrible films that “Sucker Punch” is most deservedly joining. My review up soon:

Rank Title (click to view) Opening
Weekend
% Change 2nd Weekend Theaters* Total Gross^ Release
Date**
507 Friday the 13th (2009) $40,570,365 -80.4% $7,942,472 3,105 $65,002,019 2/13/09
506 Doom $15,488,870 -72.7% $4,228,385 3,042 $28,212,337 10/21/05
505 A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) $32,902,299 -72.3% $9,119,389 3,332 $63,075,011 4/30/10
504 Hellboy II: The Golden Army $34,539,115 -70.7% $10,117,815 3,212 $75,986,503 7/11/08
503 Valentine's Day $56,260,707 -70.4% $16,665,299 3,665 $110,485,654 2/12/10
502 The Twilight Saga: New Moon $142,839,137 -70.0% $42,870,031 4,042 $296,623,634 11/20/09
501 Eragon $23,239,907 -69.9% $7,006,467 3,030 $75,030,163 12/15/06
500 Hulk $62,128,420 -69.7% $18,847,620 3,674 $132,177,234 6/20/03
499 Year One $19,610,304 -69.3% $6,022,444 3,024 $43,337,279 6/19/09
498 Elektra $12,804,793 -69.0% $3,964,598 3,203 $24,409,722 1/14/05
497 X-Men Origins: Wolverine $85,058,003 -69.0% $26,408,288 4,102 $179,883,157 5/01/09
496 The Wolfman $31,479,235 -68.6% $9,895,105 3,223 $61,979,680 2/12/10
495 Meet Dave $5,251,918 -68.4% $1,659,424 3,011 $11,803,254 7/11/08
494 Cloverfield $40,058,229 -68.3% $12,712,134 3,411 $80,048,433 1/18/08
493 Sucker Punch $19,058,199 -68.1% $6,085,000 3,033 $29,876,000 3/25/11
492 Watchmen $55,214,334 -67.7% $17,817,301 3,611 $107,509,799 3/06/09
No tagsPosted at 11:09 AM on Apr 03, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday April 02, 2011

Quote of the Day

“If it had been my call, I wouldn't have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust him, and I still do.

”For now, anyway. But I wouldn't have intervened in Libya and he did. I sure hope his judgment really does turn out to have been better than mine.“

—Kevin Drum, ”Obama, Libya and Me," in Mother Jones

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Posted at 06:38 PM on Apr 02, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links

Robert Redford in "All the President's Men" (1976)

When journalists were the heroes.

No tagsPosted at 07:36 AM on Apr 02, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday April 01, 2011

Quote of the Day

“For airmen [in the Pacific Theater in WWII], the risks were impossible to shrug off. The dead weren't numbers on a page. They were their roommates, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrandtheir drinking buddies, the crew that had been flying off their wing ten seconds ago. Men didn't go one by one. A quarter of the barracks were lost at once. There were rarely funerals, for there were rarely bodies. Men were just gone, and that was the end of it. ...

”In the early days of 1943, as men died one after another, every man dealt with the losses in a different way. Somewhere along the way, a ritual sprang up. If a man didn't return, the others would open his foot-locker, take out his liquor, and have a drink in his honor. In a war without funerals, it was the best they could do.“

—pp. 89-90 of ”Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand

No tagsPosted at 06:26 PM on Apr 01, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: “Red Hollywood” (1996)

WARNING: FELLOW SPOILERS

During the inevitable Q&A after a Northwest Film Forum screening of the 1996 documentary, “Red Hollywood,” with one of the two documentarians, Thom Andersen, in attendance, an audience member, perhaps equally inevitably, objected to the documentary’s very existence.

“Red Hollywood” examines the work of those screenwriters and directors who were blacklisted during the late 1940s and early 1950s. These artists, Andersen and Noel Burch contend, are increasingly portrayed as mere victims of the blacklist, when, as Andersen said in his brief introduction to the film, “They had done something .. working within the confines of the Hollywood system.”

Poster for the films "Song of Russia" and "The Red Menace"That’s what bothered this audience member, a Jewish woman in her sixties. She thought that that something was accusatory; that the doc made a hero out of Joe McCarthy.

“Why would you think that?” Andersen responded matter-of-factly. “What, in the documentary, would make you think that?”

She admitted there was nothing in there per se. Her objection was more of the “Why give ammunition to the opposition?” variety. She asked, “Why make the documentary in the first place?”

Andersen, in his 70s now, with unruly white hair, is a quiet, contemplative, occasionally apologetic man. He thought, viewing the doc again, that parts could’ve been cut. (I agree.) He admitted, yes, maybe they should’ve talked about the anti-Semitic undertones of the blacklist. But in his response to this question, he wasn’t apologetic. Why did he make the doc? He alluded to the last scene we see: Abraham Polonksy reading, charmingly, from his script to “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here“ (1969), the first film he directed, or got credit for directing, after decades on the blacklist. It’s a scene between the hunted Indian, Willie Boy (Robert Blake), and a woman, Lola (Katherine Ross):

Lola: Willie, are you going to kill them?
Willie Boy: If I have to.
Lola: What do you mean, ”If you have to?“
Willie Boy: I mean if they keep comin'.
Lola: But they're white, Willie. They'll shoot forever.
Willie Boy: How long is that? Less than you think.
Lola: It's crazy, Willie! You can't win. You can't beat them, Willie, ever.
Willie Boy: Maybe... maybe. But they'll know I was here.

That’s why he made the doc, Andersen said. So people will know they were there.

Great response.

My response to the woman’s concerns, her fear that the doc was right-wing, was essentially: “You’re kidding.” Because my response to Andersen’s contention that the doc shows the political propaganda of the Hollywood communists is essentially: “That’s it?”

There’s just not much there there.

Sure, we see the upbeat, smiling tractor lessons of “Song of Russia” (1943), co-written by Paul Jarrico, who, in 1950, was named before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), before which he himself refused to testify; but the movie was essentially American war propaganda, since it put our wartime ally in a good light.

Yes, we see “Mission to Moscow” (1943), made at the behest of FDR, and co-written by Howard Koch, who was blacklisted by Red Channels in the 1950s. Koch’s other credits include such communist propaganda as “The Sea Hawk” (1940), “Sergeant York” (1941) and “Casablanca” (1942).

Sure, we get scenes where female factory workers pool their resources to rent one fancy place rather than four crappy ones (“Tender Comrade” (1943), by Dalton Trumbo and Edward Dmytryk, two of the Hollywood 10), and, yes, we get scenes that mock business (“We Who Are Young” (1940), written by Trumbo), or show female independence (“I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” from 1951, co-written by Abraham Polonsky), but there’s nothing inherently communist or socialist about any of it. If anything, the tepidity of these scenes demonstrates how overwhelmingly conservative Hollywood in the studio era was—and, I would argue, remains.

No, the real propaganda, the propaganda so powerful we don’t recognize it as propaganda, isn’t from the left at all. It’s this: love leads to marriage which leads to a happy ending; good and evil are absolute and obvious; and the best way for a lone man to achieve justice, for himself and others, is through the use of violence. These are the main messages we’ve been getting from Hollywood for the past 100 years. They are, for all the attacks on Hollywood from the right, essentially conservative messages.

The bigger problem with “Red Hollywood,” though, is structural. If the intention of the documentarians is to restore artistic integrity to the artists by owning up to their political viewpoints, why not focus on those artists? Give us sections on Lardner, Trumbo, Polonksy, and Lawson. Make it clear which films they worked on, and what, if anything, could be read into these films, and what, if anything, got cut. Give us a sense of their lives in Hollywood. Give us a sense of the strength of the left in 1930s Hollywood, and of the strength of socialism among 1930s Jewish communities, and how anti-Semitic all the 1940s and 1950s red-baiting ultimately was.

Instead, the movie is divided into sections, WAR, CLASS, SEX, HATE, CRIME, which is less illuminating than confusing. It causes us to veer between the early 1930s and early 1950s, vastly different periods in American culture. The writers and directors—who they are and what they believed—are mere afterthoughts in this process.

I like Polonsky and ”Willie Boy“ but I might've ended the doc with “Salt of the Earth,” a 1954 film, written, directed and produced by blacklisted artists, which showed, for the first time in any film, a strike from the worker’s point of view. As interesting to me as the film itself, which is available for streaming online, is the critical reaction from Bowsley Crowther, the generally conservative  movie reviewer for The New York Times. After delineating the troubled people behind the production, and the troubled production itself, he wrote:

In the light of this agitated history, it is somewhat surprising to find that “Salt of the Earth” is, in substance, simply a strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals ...

The real dramatic crux of the picture is the stern and bitter conflict within the membership of the union. It is the issue of whether the women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men. And it is along this line of contention that Michael Wilson's tautly muscled script develops considerable personal drama, raw emotion and power.

Even let loose outside the studio system, these blacklisted writers, directors and producers, commie bastards all, simply wanted to tell a good story.

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Posted at 07:35 AM on Apr 01, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 1990s
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