Quote of the Day
“Did it hurt? No, it felt good. Of course it hurt. You get hit with a 90-something-mile-per-hour fastball, it's going to hurt.”
--Derek Jeter, Yankees shortstop, after being hit in the head by Indians pitcher Cory Kluber last Friday, Aug 24.
I know. Some of you are wondering if it's really me, the majority owner of the Yankees Suck page, writing this, but, you know, it's a good response. Made me laugh. Gotta tip your cap. Jayson Stark has more on the records Jeter, Mike Trout and Adam Dunn might break this September to remember.
Great Moments in Right-Wing Paranoia: Swinging Sixties Edition
The following examples of right-wing paranoia are all from the late 1950s and early 1960s as seen in the book, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Dream,” by Rick Perlstein. It's a good reminder that right-wing paranoia isn't new. It's been around a while. It's almost always wrong.
- “A private outfit, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, bankrolled by the conversative Richardson Foundation, was being retained by military bases worldwide... Among their teachings was that Defense Secretary McMamara's project to replace bombers with missiles as the centerpiece of American nuclear strategy was in fact a deliberate, covert plan for unilateral disarmament.” (pg. 146)
- “In Pensacola....the chief of naval air training set up a series of mandatory, weeklong seminars for officers that taught that the progressive income tax, the Federal Reserve, and increased business regulations were, just as Robert Welch believed, part of the Soviet takeover of the United States.” (pg. 147)
- “Day after day, fanatics pressed into [Nixon's] hand yet another copy of that damned little blue pamphlet with the United Nations insignia on the cover, Department of State Publication 7277, which they claimed was proof that the government was about to sign over America's armed forces to a Soviet colonel. (Actually it was a woolly UN report setting a course for atomic disarmament over something like a century...) (pg. 167)
- ”On May 10 , the same day as the Birmingham settlement-cum-riot, the far right returned to the news when Tom Kuchel stood up in the Senate to declare that 10 percent of the letters coming into his office—six thousand a month—were 'fright mail,' mostly centering on two astonishing, and astonishingly widespread, rumors: that Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an invasion of the United States through San Diego; and that 100,000 UN troops—16,000 of them 'African Negro Troops, who are cannibals' [sic]—were secretly rehearsing in the Georgia swamps under the command of a Russian colonel for a UN martial-law takeover of the United States.“ (pg. 210)
- ”[TV host Steve Allen] decided to get Goldwater's reaction to a far-right hotline, 'Let Freedom Ring.' ... The nation heard a frantic voice say: ... 'The pattern in this country is very closely following the events which took place during the internal takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1946. ... Keep yourself well-informed. Do not trust newspapers, radio, TV and newsmagazines for your information. These are the main weapons the enemy has to use against us.'“
- ”In Mississippi, vigilantes were setting upon black churches, tearing them apart for 'weapons' they assumed were being stockpiled as a prelude to the Communist takeover, then burning them to the ground at the rate of one a week when no weapons could be found.“ (pg. 363)
- ”Goldwater delegates were at the top of Nob Hill at the city's WPA-style Masonic Temple screamng their heads off when Michael Goldwater explained how his father had taught his children to 'be wary of any man who tries to take our land away from us or our God away from us,' and that Johnson's self-professed Great Society 'can only result in dictatorship.'“ (pg. 380)
The book contains some left-wing paranoia, too, such as this letter sent to John F. Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, on Nov. 19, 1963:
- ”Don't let the President come down here. I'm worried about him. I think something terrible will happen to him.“ (pg. 241)
Salinger tried to quiet the woman's fears: ”I appreciate your concern for the president,“ he wrote back, ”but it would be a sad day for this country if there were any city in the United States he could not visit without fear of violence. I am confident the people of Dallas will greet him warmly."
Quote of the Day
“What arrogance! Who do you think you are anyway? ... The movie colony may root for the Jews all they wish but don't think that the people of the United States are going to fall in with your plans. ... Those of us who know World History and the Bible know that the Jews have always been in trouble up to their ears. ... They are trouble makers.”
--a letter from a self-proclaimed “Bible Christian” in Minneapolis, Minn., to actor Edward G. Robinson, who, as part of an anti-Nazi organization in Hollywood in the 1930s, called for a boycott of Germany in early 1939. At the time, according to Steven J. Ross' “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” “nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that Jews as a group had 'objectionable traits' and over 50 percent thought that Nazi Germany's antisemitism stemmed partially or wholly from the actions of German Jews.” (pp. 97-102)
Photo of the Day
Pres. Barack Obama reacts to finding Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek among the crowd at a stopover in Charlottesville, Virginia. My evening with Sissy Spacek here. Other posts about Barack Obama here.
Your Liberal Media at Work: The Times' Awful Puff-Piece on the New Mitt RomneyAnnotated
The following is courtesy of that liberal rag, The New York Times, and its journalist Michael Barbaro:
From the moment that Mr. Romney ended his first bid for the Republican nomination, he complained to friends, advisers and family that he had felt cheated out of a chance to explain himself to the country. He had emerged from his debut on the national political stage, he told them, as a caricature he did not recognize: emotionally uncaring, intellectually inauthentic, ideologically malleable. As opposed to now?
Over the next three years, a little-examined period in his life, he sought to reclaim his public identity with the self-critical eye, marketing savvy and systematic rigor of the corporate consultant that he once was. Permission to throw up, please?
When Willard Mitt Romney, 65, delivers his acceptance speech Thursday night in Tampa, Fla., reveling in his success at winning over a fractious party and endeavoring to sell himself anew to Americans, he will owe the moment in no small measure to what he did during this time. Or in large measure to the fact that every other GOP nominee was a loon.
It was a restless period when he labored to persuade voters to see him as he saw himself: a man of deep convictions and big ideas, a credible party leader and inevitable presidential nominee. I see few convictions, old ideas, lots of money, and a man who desperately wants to be president.
He coolly (coolly, Gracie?) assessed the failings of his 2008 campaign and undertook an intensive yearlong tutorial on everything from the tax code to global jihadism. He wrote a book laying out his vision and values to answer conservative doubters and counter charges of flip-flopping, elbowing aside a ghost writer who he felt could not accurately channel his voice. Well, he does like firing people. He bought good will in his party by crisscrossing the country to raise money for hundreds of candidates, even cutting a check for one lawmaker’s portrait in the New Hampshire State House. The GOP: party of good will.
Mr. Romney returned as a far stronger candidate — a crisper debater, a more decisive manager, a better strategist and a stick-to-his-message campaigner whose chief selling point this time around, his business expertise, was well suited to the political moment. Didn't he just change his message again? Completely? And isn't his business expertise in taking over and breaking up businesses, and sending jobs overseas?
Etc. This is the biggest pile of horseshit I‘ve read in a long time. It’s typical of the genre, the lack of success that led to the present success, “the turnaround,” but it makes up for its lack of meat with a whole messa adjectives and adverbs. It's basically saying that after 2008, Romney, retrospective, changed himself from an emotionally uncaring, intellectually inauthentic, ideologically malleable losing candidate to the winning candidate we see today: who is emotionally uncaring, intellectually inauthentic, ideologically malleable. Thanks, Times.
The new Mitt Romney: Now with more whitener.
Counter-Programming: Movies to Watch During the GOP Convention
After Paul Ryan's genial lies at the GOP convention last night I took to heart what he'd said and contributed $500 to the Obama campaign. I suggest you give what you can ($15? $25? $50?) here. We're fighting liars and propagandists and more money that you can stick into an off-shore account, if that's your idea of a good time.
In the meantime, here's some counter-programming, and reminders, to propel you through the next months:
- “All the President's Men” (1976): One of my favorite films, and certainly the best political thriller ever made, but odd seeing it 35 years on. I'd forgotten the difficulty of tracking information pre-Internet: “There's someone out there by the name of Kenneth Dahlberg,” Bernstein tells Woodward from a pay phone in Miami Dade Country, “and we've got to find him before the Times does.” We had less information at our disposal then but also less misinformation. It was an era in which politicians had to issue non-denial denials to cover up misdeeds. Now they just lie. In the end, I felt nostalgic not only for the patient, gritty, 1970s-style in which the film is told, but for the fact that, back then, politicians who lied didn't get away with it. They got caught. It took a while but they got caught. Now they joke about their lies as if it's all part of the show.
- No End in Sight“ (2007): Charles Ferguson's award-winning documentary on the lies and misperceptions and wish-fulfillment fantasies that led to the Iraq War. We get the usual suspects—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bremmer—but what sticks out is a he said/he said between Col. Paul Hughes, who worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and who seemed to have a sense of what Iraq was and what we should do there, and Walter B. Slocombe, the Senior Advisor for Security and Defense to the CPA, who arrived for a week in May, got his boots a little dusty, and helped make all the wrong decisions. From the beginning, Hughes seems insistent and exasperated. Slocombe, meanwhile, starts off almost jaunty; then, as he's questioned about, or held accountable for, his actions and policies, his eyes retreat, his voice turns tinny, and he reveals himself a hollow man. One wonders what lies he tells himself to make it through the day.
- ”Taxi to the Dark Side“ (2007): Alex Gibney begins with the incarceration and subsequent death of an innocent Afghani taxi driver while in U.S. military custody as the starting point to examine our entire post-9/11 system of torture and humiliation — specifically at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It’s a good overview of what will surely be one of the blackest marks of the many black marks on the Bush administration.
- ”W.“ (2008): It’s a father-son film. “You disappoint me, Junior,” Herbert Walker tells him early on. He tells him, “You only get one bite at the apple,” but W. keeps biting and missing. He drinks, carouses, goes after girls. He can’t find himself. Even after he finds Laura, and Jesus, and helps his father get elected the 41st president of the United States, he’s disappointed. Greatness escapes him. Hell, mediocrity escapes him. You go in wondering if Stone’s portrait of W. will be different from our own image of W. and it isn’t. What you see is what you get. He’s that thick, that muddled, and yet that certain. It’s a tragedy, certainly, and the tragedy is that in trying to win his father’s love, or outdo what his father did, or make up for his father’s great loss, W. — aided and abetted by a motley crew — put us on a calamitous national and international path ... and he still can’t think of one thing he did wrong. That lack of introspection is his tragedy. The rest is ours.
- Standard Operating Procedure” (2008): Errol Morris trains his eye on Abu Ghraib, on what was done there, on the photos that were taken there, on what they say or don’t say and how they lie or don’t lie. He interviews, almost exclusively, the various “bad apples” who forced Iraqi prisoners to debase themselves. It’s beautifully shot, claustrophobic and so sad about human nature. What people can convince themselves to do — particularly when ordered to do so. How they justify it afterwards. A few small apples were scapegoated for our unethical system, and their main defense is the Nuremberg defense: I was just following orders. They also blame the photographs. They blame the evidence rather than the crime. It’s as if being scapegoated for the crime is keeping them from examining their role in the crime. The tawdriness of the enterprise is overwhelming. Maybe it says something that the talking head who is least culpable — who was not even a guard at Abu Ghraib, but who wound up in the background of some photographs and was prosecuted based on that evidence — blames himself the most. The way of the world.
- “Inside Job” (2010): How the global financial meltdown went down. One of the most telling incidents occurred at the 2005 Jackson Hole Symposium, where Greenspan, Bernanke, Summers, Geithner, et al., listened to IMF economist Raghuram Ragan deliver a paper, not on the nitty-gritty of subprime mortgage loans and CDOs, but on the larger topic of incentives and risk. “Rajan hit the nail on the head,” Prof. Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard says in the doc. “What he particularly said was: 'You guys have claimed you have found a way to make more profits with less risk. I say you've found a way to make more profits with more risk.'” Reaction? Larry Summers accused Ragan of being a Luddite. “He wanted to make sure that we didn’t bring a whole new set of regulations to the financial sector at this point,” Ragan says. It's all about the regulations, or lack thereof. Follow the regulations.
- “Fair Game” (2010): “Fair Game” is a movie about a series of lies perpetrated by the Bush administration, sometimes on itself, and certainly on us, from 2002 to 2005. They were lies with massive consequences, lies that got us into war, lies that led to the deaths of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe someone you knew. Maybe someone close to you is now dead because of what the Bush administration wanted to believe. They reconfigured the globe because of what they wanted to believe. The one time they told the truth, it was a treasonous act. But they got away with that, too, because they lied their way out of it. My god. Can we be incensed again?
- “A Film Unfinished” (2010): It's the Nazis here, not the GOP, but it's a lesson in the ultimate meaning in propaganda. The Nazis filmed the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, and staged shots of supposedly affluent Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, not to cover up what they were doing but to justify what they were about to do. The Nazis were documenting a race of people so indifferent to the suffering of others that they didn’t deserve to live. They were documenting an excuse for extermination. In that moment, one understands the true meaning of propaganda. It is the powerful blaming the powerless for the crimes of the powerful. The Nazis herded 600,000 Jews into a single zone of Warsaw. They gave them no way to live. They let them starve. They let them die by the hundreds of thousands. Then they staged scenes of Jewish indifference to the suffering of others. “The powerful blaming the powerless for the crimes of the powerful” is still going on. Every day, Daniel.
- “The Tillman Story” (2010): Not only did Pat Tillman, former professional football player and Army Ranger, not die the way they said, he didn’t live the way they said. He joined the Rangers in Sept. 2001 to fight al Qaeda but wound up in Iraq and wasn’t happy. “This war is so fucking illegal,” one of his brothers quotes him saying. He had an open curious mind at odds with the incurious absolutism of the time. There’s hilarious footage of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity refusing to believe that Tillman read linguist and conservative bete noire Noam Chomsky. (Because it didn’t fit into their notions of a football player? A soldier? A conservative hero? All of the above?) Fellow Ranger Bryan O’Neal, a Mormon, talks about coming across Tillman, a religious skeptic, possibly an atheist, reading “The Book of Mormon.” He wanted to see what was what.
- “Restrepo” (2010): “Restrepo” is the best thing I’ve seen or read about our presence in Afghanistan, and it’s not really about our presence in Afghanistan. It’s about, as the tagline says, one platoon, in one valley, for one year. It goes deep into these soldiers’ lives without telling us much about their actual lives (where they’re from, why they signed up, etc.). It’s an emotional movie precisely because its emotions are restrained. It’s artistic without being artistic. It’s artistic in the Dedalean sense. It doesn’t inspire kinetic emotions but static emotions. The mind is arrested. In this sense maybe Afghanistan itself is artistic. Our mind has been arrested there for almost 12 years.
- ”The Revisionaries“ (2012): Don McLeroy, the Bryan, Tex., dentist and young-Earth creationist who served on the Texas State Board of Education from 1998 to 2010, including a stint as its controversial chair from 2007 to 2009, is a genial, garrulous boob. Bald, moustached, and portly, he has a “gee whiz” quality to him. His face often resolves itself into a self-satisfied smile after he makes what he thinks is a telling point at BOE meetings, but mostly his smile is open and unaffected. He tends to preach his creationist doctrine to those who can’t answer back—dental patients with tubes in their mouths; Sunday School kids at Grace Bible Church—and he’s pretty darn enthusiastic about it. “Were there dinosaurs on the Ark?” he asks the kids, then answers his own question. “Sure there were!” He’s the kind of man who likes to answer his own questions. “The amount of power I have,” McLeroy says at one point, “boggles my mind.” Ours, too.
Other suggestions welcome.
'I gave it to Stans.”
“The truth is these are not very bright guys...and things got out of hand.”
Quote of the Day
“'We did build that,' has already been established as one of the more dishonest political memes in a campaign season undisturbed by shame. The Republicans took a clumsy phrase from an Obama speech in July, in which the president pointed out that most American business successes have been assisted by infrastructure, education or incentives underwritten by the government. The Republican spin-masters whipped this into a preposterous claim that Obama denied American entrepreneurs any credit for their creations. The fact that this slogan has been thoroughly debunked has not kept it from being the defining theme in Tampa.“
--Bill Keller, ”Lies, Damn Lies and GOP Video," on The New York Times site.
What's the mandate if Romney wins? What's the lesson? The GOP always contends that people get ahead by hard work; if Romney wins, it will be obvious to all but the most blinkered that he won with money and lies ... which at least will be a more honest appraisal of the way the world works.
Being Fair to Hitler
“Making a film attacking Hitler ['The Great Dictator'] proved far more controversial than Chaplin anticipated.
”Producers who wished to turn out starkly anti-Nazi movies—such as Walter Wanger, and Harry and Jack Warner—were repeatedly constrained by Hollywood's self-censorship board, the Production Code Administration (PCA), and its anti-semitic head, Joseph Breen. Created in 1934 to forestall federal censorship of motion pictures, PCA rules prohibited filmmakers from attacking or mocking foreign governments and their leaders. When Hitler and Mussolini promised to ban the films of any studio that offended them, and all Hollywood films if necessary, Breen stepped up his efforts to stop producers from endangering the industry's highly profitable foreign revenues.
“Indeed, not everyone thought Hitler was so evil. As late as January 1939, PCA censors attempted to halt production of Warner Bros.' Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the nation's first explicitly anti-Nazi film, explaining that to 'reperesent Hitler only as a screaming madman and a bloodthirsty persecutor, and nothing else, is manifestly unfair, considering his phenomenal public career, his unchallenged political and social achievements, and his position as head of the most important continental European power.'”
--from “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” by Steven J. Ross
According to Hollywood's PCA, Hitler had “unchallenged political and social achievements.” Why pick on him? According the HUAC 10 years later, the star of the movie was a red, too.
Movie Review: Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
I wonder if it’s more fun making these things than watching them. I hope so.
Roarke, AKA the Devil, bestrides the Earth again in the guise of another actor (Ciarán Hinds, replacing Peter Fonda), and he wants his son, Danny (Fergus Riordan, the best thing in the movie), back from his mama, Nadya (Violante Placido), and thus sends a team or mercenaries, led by pretty-boy Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), to retrieve him.
In their way? Moreau (Idris Elba), a French, motorcycle-riding priest with a taste for wine, who, as the film opens, warns priests that Danny isn’t safe at their monastery. They dismiss his fears. They’re wrong, of course, get theirs, but Nadya and Danny, distrusting Moreau all the while, make their escape. Moreau decides he needs more help. He needs the Rider.
They always call him “The Rider” in these things. Is “Ghost” too silly? Did it not sample well? Is the term too associated with a ridiculous 1970s-era Marvel Comics character with a flaming skull and a flaming motorcycle who sells his soul to the Devil, then fights the Devil, even as he eats souls ostensibly for the Devil? I never did get this guy.
And where is the Rider, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), these days? The All-American white-trash hero is holed up in Europe, lingering in the shadows, and clutching his right hand to let us know he’s tortured. He offers lines like the following in tortured, sotto voce narration: “It likes the dark places. The Rider.”
When Moreau shows up, he and Johnny have the following conversation:
Moreau: You will save [Danny].
Johnny B: I don’t ... save ... people.
Until he does.
Just when Ray Carrigan and company have Danny and Nadya cornered in a junkyard, here comes the Rider, flying into action on his flaming motorcycle. But he’s distracted by eating again (souls), gets blasted, and the bad guys get Danny. The Rider wakes up in a hospital and Nic Cage gets to do crazy Nic Cage shit: asking for morphine and pills and yadda yaddas. When he and Nadya hook up, Nic Cage gets to say a few crazy Nic Cage lines: “No, I get it. You’re the devil’s baby mama.”
To be honest, there’s not enough of this. Nic Cage has built the second-half of his career around intentionally stupid shit (example), and some of that would’ve been preferable to the paint-by-numbers plotline we get here. At a diner, for example, after he and Nadya rescue Danny, and after seeing a father and son bonding at the diner for a few seconds, Johnny decides he wants to bond with Danny, too. His need is so palpable that Danny tells him, “Dude. You’re way cooler than the guys she hangs out with.” This, sadly, pleases Johnny. Is there anything worse than an adult who need the approval of a child? Who want to be cool in the eyes of children?
But then Danny is more grown-up than the overacting adults around him. He actually raises the question we’re all wondering. Aren’t I the Devil’s son? Isn’t that bad? To which Johnny tells him:
The power we have comes from a dark place. but it doesn’t mean we’re bad. We can do good. We can help people.
I thought the Rider didn’t ... help ... people? Oh right, that was a half-hour before.
“Ghost Rider 2” keeps doing this. We’re told that Roarke isn’t powerful walking the Earth; he only has the power of the deal. But we never see him make a good deal. He turns Johnny into the Rider to do his bidding, but the Rider never does his bidding. Ray actually reneges on his deal with the Devil, asking for more dough, and gets no comeuppance. Instead, after the Rider kills him, the Devil revives Ray as Blackout, a demon with the power of “de-CAY.” At the same time, at a far-out monastery with bald dudes with spirograph tattoos on their faces (head dude: Chris Lambert), the Devil is finally exorcised from Johnny. He’s himself again! Ah crap. Just when Danny needs him.
You see, the priests have this crazy idea to kill Danny, since he’s the Devil’s son; but then Blackout shows up, kills them, and takes Danny back to Roarke, who plans to transfer his soul into Danny’s body, effectively killing Danny and making himself stronger than ever.
So how do these three—the devil’s baby mama, a French alcoholic priest and a white-trash stunt rider without powers—save the boy from this coven of chanting yadda yaddas? Danny, who has the same power as his father, gives Johnny his power back, and, in a lengthy car-truck chase down European highways, Ghost Rider kills Blackout, growls “Road kill,” then lifts Roarke high in the air and sends him crashing through the earth. “Go home,” he growls.
It’s not cool, it’s not gloriously stupid. It’s just way, way tired.
So isn’t Johnny in the same place he was in the beginning? Clutching his right hand and bemoaning the dark places? You would think! But apparently the Rider was originally an angel named Blah-Blah and Johnny now feels that angel and so yadda yadda. He’s not yellow-flamed anymore but blue-flamed, and that’s good. Mother and Damien are reunited. The Rider is a hero. Or at least better. Or at least he doesn’t have to clutch his right hand.
“Ghost Rider 2” got made because the first, awful “Ghost Rider” grossed $115 million domestic, $228 worldwide, back in 2007. Never mind that in the U.S. it barely grossed twice its opening weekend total ($45 mil), indicating either a puny fanbase or lousy word-of-mouth. The studio thought it had a hit. It didn’t. This one grossed $22 million opening, $55 million total. Road kill.
Hollywood B.O.: The Growing Link Between Box Office and Rotten Tomato Scores
Last night on RottenTomatoes.com, while checking out a slideshow ranking 2012 summer movies by RT score, I noticed how much the rankings correlated with box office. In 2008, on Slate, I argued just that. I.e., quality (as seen by RT rating) tends to equal quantity (in box office $$), particularly when you attempt to sort out variables such as viewing opportunities.
Here's the list of the summer movies of 2012, with Rotten Tomatoes ratings and rankings, but ranked by summer box office. (A red RT rating means it's fresh: 60% or more critics liked it):
|RT rating||RT rank||BO Rank||Movie||Box Office||Thtrs||Open||Close|
|92%||2||1||Marvel's The Avengers||$617,814,000||4,349||4-May||-|
|87%||3||2||The Dark Knight Rises||$422,188,000||4,404||20-Jul||-|
|73%||10||3||The Amazing Spider-Man||$258,364,000||4,318||3-Jul||-|
|75%||9||6||Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted||$213,689,000||4,263||8-Jun||-|
|48%||25||8||Snow White and the Huntsman||$154,920,000||3,777||1-Jun||-|
|39%||30||9||Ice Age: Continental Drift||$153,409,000||3,886||13-Jul||-|
|55%||20||12||The Bourne Legacy||$85,500,000||3,753||10-Aug||-|
|21%||38||15||Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection||$65,044,500||2,161||29-Jun||-|
|31%||34||18||Total Recall (2012)||$55,263,000||3,601||3-Aug||-|
|66%||16||19||The Expendables 2||$52,314,000||3,355||17-Aug||-|
|48%||24||23||Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days||$42,863,000||3,401||3-Aug||-|
|23%||35||24||What to Expect When You're Expecting||$41,152,203||3,021||18-May||2-Aug|
|41%||28||25||Rock of Ages||$38,518,613||3,470||15-Jun||16-Aug|
|35%||32||26||Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter||$37,344,398||3,109||22-Jun||-|
|22%||36||27||That's My Boy||$36,931,089||3,030||15-Jun||22-Jul|
|43%||27||28||Step Up Revolution||$33,709,000||2,606||27-Jul||-|
|38%||31||31||The Odd Life of Timothy Green||$27,080,000||2,598||15-Aug||-|
|77%||7||32||Katy Perry: Part of Me||$25,311,000||2,732||5-Jul||-|
|57%||19||35||People Like Us||$12,422,529||2,055||29-Jun||-|
|52%||23||36||Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||$7,078,738||1,625||22-Jun||5-Jul|
|44%||26||38||Hit and Run||$5,868,000||2,870||22-Aug||-|
|16%||40||39||For Greater Glory||$5,672,846||757||1-Jun||16-Aug|
|7%||42||40||Nitro Circus the Movie 3D||$3,300,000||800||8-Aug||-|
Of the 43 summer movies listed, 17 were rated fresh. These include the seven highest-grossing films of the summer, and nine of the top 11. The highest-grossing film, “The Avengers,” had the second-highest RT score. The second highest-grossing film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” had the third-highest RT score.
Of the fresh films, the anomalies were the August releases (“Premium Rush,” “ParaNorman,” “Hope Springs,” “The Expendables 2”), which perhaps haven't had their box-office due yet; the auteur films (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “Cosmopolis”), which were distributed accordingly (i.e., parsimoniously); and “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” which, apparently, moviegoers just didn't care to see.
Of the rotten films, the true overperformers were “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which finished 8th for the summer; and “Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection,” which, as a Tyler Perry movie, is virtually critic-proof.
The other rotten films? Underperformers. “Ice Age” grossed the least of the “Ice Age” franchise, “The Bourne Legacy” grossed the least of the “Bourne” franchise, and potential tentpole films like “Battleship” and “Total Recall” folded up opening weekend.
Basically, if a movie was deemed good on RottenTomatoes, and was readily available, moviegoers went to see it. Exactly as I stated in 2008.
In fact, it's truer today than it was then. My article focused on 2007, a year in which box office was dominated by lame and generally rotten sequels such as “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third,” and the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Now box office is dominated by films RT has deemed fresh.
I don't know if this is part of a trend. I don't know if moviegoers are using sites such as RT, or social media, in order to figure out—possibly at the theater—which movies to go see. Would be cool if it were true.
Or could RT critics be tailoring their reviews for summer blockbusters? “These are the popular movies and so I must judge them accordingly?” Would be a drag if that were true.
But how else to explain 69% for “MIB 3,” 66% for “The Campaign” and, back in 2007, 62% for effin' “Spider-Man 3,” one of the worst superhero movies ever made? Could it be that, just as there's carryover in box office from a good film to a bad sequel, so there's carryover in RT numbers? Critics say, “Not as good as ... but you'll have a good time ...”? That would certainly explain the 87% rating for “Dark Knight Rises,” the third highest-ranked film of the summer, which had its share of problems. As even fanboys have admitted. (HISHE: Still waiting on “How 'Ted' Should Have Ended.”)
Bottom line: If you saw “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Avengers” this summer, you won.
And the children shall lead. The top three summer 2012 movies as ranked by Rotten Tomatoes: an adult's view of kids, and kids' views of adults.
Hollywood B.O.: Conservatives Turn Out for D'Souza Horror Film
The big news at the box office this weekend isn't that “Expendables 2” won its second weekend with a tepid $13 mil, followed by tepid turns from the new Bourne and Norman and The Campaign and Dark Knight and Timmy Green; nor that the highest-grossing new movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's “Premium Rush,” grossed only $6.3 mil for seventh place. The big news is the movie that wound up in eighth place.
I hadn't heard of “2016: Obama's America” until it wound up in eighth place. It was written and directed by John Sullivan (“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is Ben Stein's doc on how great Intelligent Design is), and co-directed right-wing ideologue Dinesh D'Souza, who stars, and whose books include the following:
- 1995: The End of Racism
- 1997: Ronald Reagan: How An Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader
- 2000: The Virtue of Prosperity
- 2007: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
- 2010: The Roots of Obama's Rage
- 2012: Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream
The documentary, such as it is, is based on the second-to-last book.
Meanwhile, the movie was released by Rocky Mountain Pictures, which tends to distribute little-seen movies with right-wing and/or Christian themes.
The doc, which examines the question “If Barack Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?,” opened in Houston in July, and has gone wider each week. It began August in 10 theaters, then 61, then 169, now 1,091.
What's the movie about? Obama bad. He's been bad from the get go. As per his father's dream, he's the anti-colonialist returned to inflict punishment on the colonizers. (Psst. That's us.) Yes, it hasn't happened yet, yes, Obama's first term has been remarkable for its centricity; but there's no arguing with the paranoid. There's too much of a thrill there. According to the Washington Post review, here's how D'Souza foresees a second Obama term:
...if the president is reelected, the world four years from now will be darkened by the clouds of economic collapse, World War III (thanks to the wholesale renunciation of our nuclear superiority) and a terrifyingly ascendant new “United States of Islam” in the Middle East. These assertions are accompanied by footage of actual dark clouds and horror-movie music.
I find the paranoia of the far right both amusing and sad. It's amusing because it's so preposterous and it's sad because it never goes away. They were paranoid in the early '60s, they were paranoid in the mid-80s, and they're paranoid now. It's as sure as the turning of the earth. The right-wing folks who want to be scared plunked down $6.2 million this weekend and got their scare.
I might have to get into that racket. Seems like easy money.
Among other claims, D'Souza asserted that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was due to the “sexual immodesty of liberal America” and that Abu Ghraib reflected “the values of a debauched liberalism run amok.”
How 'The Dark Knight Rises' Should Have Ended
“How 'The Dark Knight Rises' Should Have Ended,” by HISHE, is more like “Why 'The Dark Knight Rises' Sucks”: the deep, growly Batman voice; the fact that everyone knows Batman's identity, no one shoots Bane when he's ripe for shooting, and Comm. Gordon sends all of Gotham's police force underground at the same time. Not to mention Talia's death, which has to be one of the lamest death scenes by an actress who's won an Academy Award. (Come on, Marion. It's time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.)
Here it is:
My own review of “Dark Knight Rises” raises similar, if less humorous points.
That Right-Wing, Uncle Sam Billboard near Chehalis, Wash.
P and I, with our friend Ward, went to a friend's place along the Columbia river on Friday, stayed over, hiked, drove back Saturday.
On the way down, on I-5 near Chehalis, Wash., we saw a tattered Uncle Sam sign with these words spelled out:
VOTE FOR THE AMERICAN
Do they mean ...? I wondered. Of course they do.
On the way back it read:
WHY IS OBAMA SUPPRESSING THE MILITARY VOTE?
It's a well-known billboard, started by a farmer named Alfred Hamilton, who died in 2004. The messages keep going up even as they eminate from an image that grows ever-more faded. They're the usual loony paranoid crap. They're the usual, accuse-the-Dems-of-what-the-GOP-is-doing crap. Because voter suppression? Ain't nothing but a GOP thang.
Of course, now Romney is doing his version of the first sign mentioned above. It's his 1,001st sign of desperation.
Stay classy, America.
The Burden of the Secret Identity
Came to me by way of my friend Erika, who got it via George Takei, who apparently got it from a fan. It's the quick version of why the ending to “Iron Man” was so refreshing.
Jordy's Reviews: ParaNorman (2012)
Making way this morning for my movie-reviewing nephew, Jordan, 11, who has the latest Laika Entertainment Production (“Coraline”) in his sites...
“ParaNorman” succeeds in almost everything. Almost.
The plot of the movie is about a boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) who can see and speak to the dead, and is bullied for his gift. However, he finds out that he needs to stop the Witch’s Curse, which will raise the dead.
Did I tell you that Norman is obsessed with Zombies? And I mean OBSESSED. The first part of the movie is just him watching a bad Zombie movie. And don’t even get me started on his room. He only has Zombie stuff and nothing else. Not an Xbox 360, not Pokémon cards, just The Living Dead.
The movie is pretty scary. There were some parts where my stomach would boil just because there was an eerie moment. It helps the scare factor that the movie is beautifully animated. The bark on the trees, the school, the characters, everything. Speaking of characters, the characters in this movie do an especially good job of making you care for them and hate them. I also love Norman’s relationship with his dead grandma, who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. They really are both funny and it's also kind of touching how he kind of has this guardian angel.
The story is great. It has a lot to say, and it says it really well. There’s even a really great plot twist I did not see coming.
The script is also good, except for a few bad lines, which is to be expected in most movies. (With very few exceptions.)
There are some funny parts. There are a few jokes that adults would only get and some that kids would just find hysterical. (Mostly crude humor jokes.)
I love the feel of this movie. It can feel lighthearted during one scene and during the next make you feel terrified. It works really well, and I absolutely love that feel.
The thing I hate about this movie is that the things that need to be realistic aren’t. For example, instead of learning about the pilgrims feast and putting on a play about that, they put on a play about this small little town’s Witches Curse. I don’t remember putting on plays about Minnesota.
Overall, though, this movie is great. With beautiful animation, a great plot twist, and a satisfying feel, I think that it will be up for an Oscar for best-animated movie. Go see it, or the dead will RISE! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Okay For 9+
What Liberal Hollywood? Refuting Jonathan Chait's New York Magazine Piece
Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine piece, “The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy is on Your Screen,” props up the very tired, and very dangerous, notion that the product of Hollywood is liberal. Here’s how you refute it:
Think of almost every movie you’ve ever seen.
Seriously. Once you do that, the product of Hollywood, i.e., the movies, is revealed to be as white as the Republican party, as violent as a neocon’s wet dream, and as monogamous as no one’s wet dream.
The GOP propagates an absolutist vision of good vs. evil? Hey, so do the movies! The GOP is dominated by white men? Most movies star white men! With guns! And when bad guys gather, there’s one thing Hollywood and the GOP agree on: Keep the diplomats out because they’ll just screw things up with their words. Stupid words. Who needs words when you can kick some ass!
Chait’s thesis is a textbook example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Here are some of his trees:
- “Margin Call,” which blames the global financial meltdown on Wall Street shenanigans.
- “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” which warns of global warming.
- “Avatar,” which is full of “tree-hugging mysticism.”
- “Veep” and “The Muppets” and “The Campaign,” whose villains are rich oilmen.
- “The Dark Knight Rises,” which, he writes, “submits the rather modest premise that, irritating though the rich may be, actually killing them and taking all their stuff might be excessive.”
I’ll give him rich villains. Most movies are about underdogs, which the rich are not, except in the fevered imaginations of FOX-News. Even Hollywood hasn’t gone far enough to make them heroes. Except, of course, when their names are Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.
I’ll give him “Avatar” ... except not on his grounds. Tree-hugging mysticism? How about a not-so-subtle attack on the military-industrial complex? How about a greater critique of the Iraq War (“shock and awe”) than its main opponent for best picture that year, “The Hurt Locker,” which was actually set in Baghdad in 2004?
But I won’t give him “Margin Call.” It was barely seen. Its widest release was a mere 199 theaters (1/20 of a summer blockbuster), it grossed $5 million (1/40 or 1/60 of a summer blockbuster), and it was hardly the blanket condemnation of Wall Street Chait makes it out to be. It was a complex, ambiguous movie. One of the nastier execs, who turns out to be more loyal than we suspect, makes this speech as he’s driving back from Brooklyn in his convertible:
The only reason that [most people] get to continue living like kings is cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really fuckin’ fair really fuckin’ quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them but they also want to, you know, play innocent and pretend they have know idea where it came from. Well, that’s more hypocrisy than I'm willing to swallow. So fuck ’em. Fuck normal people.
Meanwhile, “Veep” skewers everyone, and the Democratic incumbent in “The Campaign,” played by Will Ferrell, is a sleazy John Edwards type who screws any woman. Sometimes he does it in his campaign commercials. Chait’s readings of Hollywood movies turns out to be more reductive than the reductive movies he’s supposedly watching.
He thinks “Dirty Harry” is an anomaly and “Rambo” is forgotten. They’re not. They’ve been replaced by “300,” and “Taken,” and “G.I. Joe,” and the “Transformers” trilogy. He thinks “Syriana” shows us the dangers of our misbegotten wars. Maybe. But it, too, was complex, murky, and barely seen. Its widest release was 1,775 theaters, which was the 117th widest-release of 2005, and it grossed $50 million domestic, making it the 56th most popular movie that year. No. 2? “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I believe there’s a Christ analogy in there. No. 4? “War of the Worlds.” Beware of foreign invasions. No. 8? “Batman Begins.” Because when street violence happens, it’s best to take the law into your own hands. Because you are pure and the system is not.
Chait keeps doing this. He keeps bringing up the barely-seen to prove his point while ignoring movies that are disseminated everywhere. It’s as if, to prove that liberals dominate the airwaves, he talks up “Fresh Air” but ignores Rush Limbaugh. His is a cloistered viewpoint in which HBO’s “Girls” matters. Yet, for most of the country, “Girls” doesn’t even exist. As in most Hollywood movies, girls don’t exist.
Who are the heroes of most movies? Superheroes and soldiers, cops and cowboys. The movies haven’t progressed past the mind of an 8 year-old boy. Neither has the Republican party.
In the documentary “Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood,” Ben Stein, actor, conservative and Hawley-Smoot Tariff Bill advocate, actually crows about this:
In recent years, the obsession that young viewers have with the action movie has helped the political conservatives. Because it’s basically saying all you braino, pointy-headed intellectuals, you’re all wimps and losers. It’s the action guy, the military guy, the police guy—he’s the real hero of society, the real man, and he’s the kind of guy you should be like.
That’s the forest that Chait, obsessed with the trees, or with twigs he’s found on the ground, misses.
John Wayne, George W. Bush
Chait makes one good point. It’s about a twig he found on his short walk through the Hollywood trees:
When Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage in May, he cited Will & Grace as the single-most important driving force in transforming public opinion on the subject. In so doing he actually confirmed the long-standing fear of conservatives—that a coterie of Hollywood elites had undertaken an invidious and utterly successfully propaganda campaign, and had transmuted the cultural majority into a minority. Set aside the substance of the matter and consider the process of it—that is, think of it from the conservative point of view, if you don’t happen to be one. Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion.
You’d probably be angry, too.
I am angry, but for the opposite reason. Yes, the movies influence us. Yes, TV influences us. In my mind, everything affects everything, and if you’re seen on 4,000 screens or in millions of households you’re affecting things that much more.
So “Will and Grace” made us more tolerant of homosexuals? Good. I wonder if it makes up for the decades of sissies and perverts and suicidal sad sacks that were detailed in “The Celluloid Closet,” a documentary on Hollywood’s sad history with homosexual characters. Chait suggests that the portrayal of black presidents in movies like “Deep Impact” paved the way for Barack Obama? Good. I wonder if it makes up for decades of Stepin Fetchit roles, the lazy and the fearful and the laughable, which were the only black faces seen on movie screens for years.
More to the point: If “Will and Grace,” a singular phenomenon, is so influential, what about the aforementioned westerns and cop shows, war movies and superhero epics? What influence do they have on us?
Could Ronald Reagan have been elected president without John Wayne on the movie screen? Could George W. Bush? Both played up the cowboy angle. Both kept using the lines of Hollywood to further their political goals. “Go ahead, make my day,” Reagan said. “Wanted dead or alive,” Bush said of Osama bin Laden. “Bring it on,” Bush said to the Iraqi insurgents. One imagines that he saw himself as an action hero in an action movie. Most of America did, too. It went, “Fuck yeah!” Except the Iraq War didn’t end the way movies are supposed to end. It just kept going. It got messier and bloodier and more difficult to sort the good guys from the bad guys. The audience got restless. It thought it was watching something by John Ford or Clint Eastwood and it turned into “The Battle of Algiers.” It turned French on us. Fuck that. We walked out. We wanted a happy ending. Lesson unlearned.
And that’s my point: Not only is the product of Hollywood not liberal, but its playbook, its archetypes and storylines, have been stolen by the GOP to get their candidates elected.
What liberal Hollywood?
Chait begins with the culture wars of the early 1990s (“Murphy Brown,” “Cape Fear”) and wonders where they went. He argues that conservatives have given up. They haven’t. They bitched about “Million Dollar Baby” and its right-to-die ending. They bitched about “Avatar” and its trees. They bitched about “The Blind Side” and a photo of George W. Bush on the wall. They keep on bitching. Chait argues that liberals won the early’90s culture wars because these days homosexuals are sometimes depicted as human beings rather than demented perverts. I say conservatives won that war because they branded the product of Hollywood as liberal and the label stuck.
But it’s a false brand. Seriously. Just think of almost every movie you’ve ever seen.
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XX
On the day after the day Gore Vidal died, when I was compiling my 19 Gore Vidal quotes of the day--which led regular reader, Biblical Studies scholar, and frequent Happy Hour comrade Uncle Vinny to complain “What part of 'of the day' don't you understand?”--one of my Vidal books, “Rocking the Boat,” was on loan to a friend, so I couldn't go through it to search what I'd underlined and present it, wah-lah, here. Now I've got it back. On with the countdown.
“When John Crosby of The New York Herald Tribune went on vacation in the summer, he asked me to write a column for him. I wrote about The Unamericans. Well, sir, the Radical Right really hit the fan. The counterattack began. From ultra-foolish Fulton Lewis Jr. to the Committee's chairman, Francis Walter, the attack was suspiciously the same. The book should be completely discredited because Donner had been a Communist. None of the charges made against HUAC were answered. The smear-tactic, second nature to these patriots, is always the same: get your critic on some other ground; never answer a charge; never defend, attack!”
--Gore Vidal in “HUAC Revisited,” December 1961, from his book of essays, “Rocking the Boat.”
Plus ca change...
A Legitimate Choice
Until last weekend, whenever I heard the word 'legititmate' I thought of Kenneth Branagh doing Edmund's soliloquy in a Renaissance Theater Company recording of “King Lear”, which I listened to while schlepping in the University Book Store warehouse in the mid-1990s:
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word: legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
Now, thanks to Todd Akin, U.S. Rep from Missouri, current Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and professional douchebag, my association is somewhat more ... base:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
You see where it comes from. If you're pro-life, the tough question is “What about in instances of rape and incest? Do you demand that the woman, or girl, carry the fetus to term?” This is the wish-fulfillment answer. Oh, women don't get pregnant when they're REALLY raped. That's science. It's what I understand from doctors.
Or misunderstand from doctors.
I like that word: legitimate. I'd like to talk to the GOP about that word. Because in my lifetime, in U.S. elections, they've rarely given me a legitimate choice.
I shouldn't be that hard to win over. I have conservative elements in me. The mewing and whining of the left often bothers me. The political correctness of the left often bothers me. But in almost every election, increasingly so as I age, it's not even a contest. The choice is between the conservative, which is the Democrat, and the reactionary, who is the Republican. It's between those who want to hold the line and those who want to dismantle what we have, those who want to repair the social safety net and those who want to hack it to pieces, those who think government has a role and those who think it has virtually none.
In my lifetime, the GOP appeals to fear and retribution, paranoia and selfishness. Its candidates are chest-thumpingly stupid, and proudly so. They invoke God against the Constitution and the founding fathers as if they were gods. They are expert propagandists who spread their bullshit uniformly across the country. They accuse others of wanting to take what we have, then take what we have. Anyone who doesn't agree with their platform is a Socialist or a Communist or a Fascist—or all three. They are adept at the Big Lie. They accuse the opposition of being what they themselves are—again and again and again. They demonize the powerless and hold up the powerful as victims. They are always on the wrong side of history when it comes to the rights of others, and then, when it's convenient, they rewrite that history. They like to rewrite history. In this way, they are absolutists in rhetoric but relativists in strategy, relying on the relativity of truth to obfuscate that which doesn't favor them, which is most things. They undermine democracy by not giving me a legitimate choice.
I'd like one, one day.
My Weekend in iPhotos
After work Friday I walked from my office in lower Queen Anne to the new ferris wheel along the Seattle waterfront, envisioned by Hal Griffith, called “the Seattle Great Wheel,” and recently opened for business. Patricia wanted to ride on it for her birthday, which was over a month ago, but it took this long to get a Friday all her friends could attend.
On the way, I encountered more people than I'd anticipated. Lower Queen Anne, Belltown, the waterfront: they were everywhere. They were also ... how shall I say this? ... really stupid-looking. One woman in a bikini was topless. Most eyes were glazed. I assumed a concert was going on so I asked one of the passersby what the what. “Hempfest, dude,” I was told and he encouraged me to come along. It was a spirited crowd. But man did they look dumb. Not the best advertisement for their product. The Associated Press has a good article on the Hempfest crowds, some of whom, believe it or not, are against legalizing marijuana via I-502. I'm in favor of it—the crowds I encountered notwithstanding.
Finally I arrived. P was already there, with surreptitious margaritas, and we were soon joined by her brother and sister-in-law, Alex and Jayne, her brother Jack, his significant other, Tess, along with friends Laura, Paige, Vinny and Ward.
I was actually nervous about the Ferris Wheel. It goes way up and I'm kinda afraid of heights.
It turned out to be completely enclosed and incredibly smooth, and it was a beautiful night for a ride and a view. We had to split up—the max is eight to a compartment, and we had 10—and our group of five (Alex, Jayne, Patricia, Ward, me) enjoyed ourselves, although some thought that along with a HELP button (a red button on the top of the comparment) there should be some kind of ADULT BEVERAGE button. To better toast the city. And ourselves.
Ward and Patricia talking adult beverages.
Alex in his element.
The southern view: Smith Tower, stadia, Rainier, the Bainbridge ferry.
Then we went to Green Leaf in the ID for dinner—the place that is fast becoming my favorite restaurant in Seattle:
The next day, P, Alex, Jayne and I hiked Annette Lake. I did it last year and remember it being a breeze. This year was a little tougher. But it's been a tough year.
That night, my friend Tim and I took in a game at Safeco. The M's won their fourth in a row, 3-2, on a sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. Mid-game I bought some Ivar's fish-n-chips and a beer and realized that it cost the same as my portion of the fantastic meal at Green Leaf.
Sunday, as is the tradition, I rested.
How was your weekend?
Where on the All-Time Hits List Will Derek Jeter Suck?
The following poll is on the Baseball Nation site in a Rob Neyer article, riffing off a Joshua Prager piece, entitled: “Does Derek Jeter Have Pete Rose in His Sights”?:
Where on the all-time hits list will Derek Jeter finish?
They left out a 7th option:
Of course, if he breaks Rose's record, this ticket will be worth so much more.
Movie Review: Hancock (2008)
It’s the stupidity, stupid.
“Hancock” has a great premise. What if a superhero isn’t a super guy? What if he’s a bit of a drunk and a jerk? What if he causes as much damage as he tries to prevent?
It’s got a great star in Will Smith. You can almost see him turning down, or off, his usual cinematic charm. His Hancock stumbles around in perpetual hangover. He can barely keep his eyes open. What for? What does the world have to offer? What does he have to offer the world? More trouble. Better to shut it out with sleep or drink.
But the movie still fails because everyone in it is stupid. I mean everyone.
Presumably all of Los Angeles knows who Hancock is. He seems to be the only superhero in this universe. Yet everyone in the city acts as if they don’t know what this means. Gangbangers shoot him in the back of their car, prisoners surround him thinking 30-to-1 odds are in their favor, and civilians keep calling him an asshole even though they know this is his trigger word. That’s most of the movie, really: other characters acting surprised when the superhero turns out to be super.
Our main secondary character, Ray (Jason Bateman), is stupid. Sure, he decides to pay back Hancock, who saved his life with the stunt on the railroad tracks, by using his public-relations expertise, such as it is, to help Hancock’s image problem. And it works, more or less. He brings the two groups, Hancock and his public, closer together in mutual admiration. At the same time, he’s pitching an idea to corporations, that All-Heart thingy, that’s slightly insane. He’s offering corporations nothing for something: an unknown do-gooder symbol in exchange for profits. Somehow he gets into boardrooms to make this pitch. Given human nature, let alone corporate nature, there’s more Hollywood wish-fulfillment fantasy in his pitch than in any superhero movie ever made.
Mary (Charlize Theron), Ray’s wife, is stupid. She doesn’t want Ray to find out that she too is super, and thousands of years old, and Hancock’s former wife/lover/whatever; so when Hancock, suffering amnesia but inevitably drawn to her, gets too close, she blasts him through the wall of their house. “If Ray finds out about me,” she tells him, “you’re dead.” Then she blames the subsequent gaping hole on Hancock’s sneeze. Subtle. Not to mention another white woman blaming a black man for something she did.
Hey, should we go there? Talk about the missing racial element? Talk about the stories we don’t tell when we whitewash our history?
For most of the movie, Hancock doesn’t know who he is. All he knows is he woke up in a hospital in Miami with tickets to see “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff, in his pocket. He had a concussion. There was no one there to claim him. This is supposedly why he acts the way he does—drinking and all. “What kind of bastard must I have been,” he says at one point, “that nobody was there to claim me?” He’s a super man feeling super sorry for himself.
Then Mary reveals herself and tells him who he is; who they are. “Gods, angels,” she says. “Different cultures call us by different names. Now all of a sudden it’s a ‘superhero.’” Which explains nothing, of course. Do they come from this planet or another? If this one, how are they the way they are? Hancock doesn’t ask. Instead, lonely, he asks, “Are there more of us?” “There used to be, “ she says.
You see, each god/angel/superhero has a partner, and he and Mary were partners. They were inevitably drawn to each other through millennia. But the more time you spend with your partner, the more mortal you become. It’s their kryptonite: togetherness.
At one point, she details the scars on his body. That one came in like 32 B.C., the other when they were attacked in 1850, and finally the blow-to-the-head as they were on their way to see “Frankenstein” in 1932. There, in the hospital, she decided he was better off not knowing, and without her, which is why she abandoned him there. At the same time, it hardly explains her anger now. “I have put up with your bullshit for the last 3,000 years!” she says. What bullshit? Weren’t they in love? Did they fight? Was he a drunk even then? We never find out.
More to the point: Were the two most recent scars the result of racially motivated attacks? How could they not be? An interracial couple in America in 1850? Going on a date in 1932? In Florida? Did they not know where they were and surrounded by whom? But the movie doesn’t raise the issue of race. Racism isn’t escapism. Our racial history is the nightmare from which we are trying to awake ... by going back to sleep.
Even more to the point: The filmmakers missed it: the real story.
The real story isn’t a broken-down Hancock in 2008 “finding himself.” The real story is Hancock, a black man in the American South in the 1930s, waking up in a hospital and wandering off to who knows what. Let’s say his powers return. Let’s say he’s attacked by a group of white men who don’t want this nigger on their streets. Does he kill them? Does word get out, in whispers, in the black community and the white community? When does he begin to identify as black? When white people keep calling him that? When they try to lynch him and castrate him? When black people take him in and feed him? Does he try to stop the lynchings? Does he take on Jim Crow? The Ku Klux Klan? Hitler? Does he know about Emmett Till or the Montgomery bus boycotts or the Nashville sit-ins or the Freedom Rides? Hollywood in 2008 wants to believe you can make any character black, yellow, red or white, and you can, but not if you’re getting deep into American history. That changes everything.
Instead, they ignore the history. Instead, they give us more stupidity. Three prisoners who have already had decisive run-ins with Hancock decide they weren’t decisive enough. They think they can still beat him. “He took your power,” Red (Eddie Marsan) tells the other two, “and now you’ve got to get your power back.” Guess what? They do this just as Hancock is losing his power. Great timing. And it leads to our final, decisive battle, in a hospital, where Hancock, superpowerless, fights back with the help of Mary (ditto), and Ray. The sprinkler system comes on, and we get slow-mo, and operatic music that suggests an ultimate sacrifice is being made.
It isn’t. Hancock isn’t a character but a property, and the people in charge need him alive for potential sequels. So in the end it’s suggested he winds up in New York, a continent away from Mary, who stays with Ray in Los Angeles. Hancock becomes the true superhero we need, or want, or think we want. Again and again and again and again. As if we were running from something.
Hollywood B.O.: Summer of Underperforming Sequels
In one of the last weekends of the movie summer, “The Expendables 2,” starring Stallone, et al., grossed $28 million at the domestic box office to lead the pack. That's indicative of the summer movie season. Not because stupid movies rule (although...) but because sequels and reboots have been underperforming against previous incarnations. Two year ago, the first “Expendables” opened with $34 million.
Other underpeforming sequels and reboots?
- “The Dark Knight Rises,” which will probably gross $100 million less than its predecessor, “The Dark Knight,” which topped out at $533 million in 2008.
- “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which will be the first cinematic Spidey movie to gross less than $300 million domestically. It's currently at $257 million and didn't make $1 million this weekend. The first Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” grossed $403 million in 2002, which, adjusted, would be $557 million today.
- “MIB 3,” which, unadjusted, is still the lowest-grossing of the “Men in Black” series. The first grossed $250 million back in the summer of '97. That's $438 million today.
- “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth in the series, and the fourth in terms of unadjusted domestic gross at $150 million. If you adjust for inflation, each incarnation has lost audience: $243, $239, $211, $150.
- “Total Recall,” which, at $51 million and fading, won't even gross what the original grossed ($119 million) in 1990.
- “The Bourne Legacy” The original kept growing in terms of B.O.: $121, $176, $227. This one will be lucky to gross $100 million.
The one sequel this summer that outpeformed its predecessors? “Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.” The first made $193 in '05, the second $180 in '08. This $212 in '12. But if you adjust, the third is still $30+ million shy of the first.
The numbers are stronger worldwide, but still down:
|The Amazing Spider-Man||$692||$890||-$198|
|The Dark Knight Rises||$897||$1,001||-$104|
|Ice Age: Continental Drift||$794||$886||-$92|
|Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted||$565||$603||-$38|
Meanwhile, “Battleship” sank ($65), “The Campaign” flopped ($51), “Rock of Ages” whined ($38), “That's My Boy” miscarried ($37), and “The Watch” went unwatched ($33).
So what were the big winners of the summer box office besides “The Avengers” ($617/$1.4 billion)? A few overperformers:
- “Ted,” the Mark Wahlberg/teddy bear comedy, which has grossed $213 million and counting. That's the summer's fifth-best.
- “Snow White and the Huntsman”: $155 million.
- “Magic Mike”: $112 million.
Then there's Wes Anderson's “Moonrise Kingdom,” whose widest release was 924 theaters, but which still grossed $43 million. The following is a list of movies with wider releases that grossed less:
|What to Expect When You're Expecting||$41,152,203||3,021|
|Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days||$38,762,000||3,401|
|Rock of Ages||$38,518,613||3,470|
|Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter||$37,233,819||3,109|
|That's My Boy||$36,931,089||3,030|
|Step Up Revolution||$32,853,000||2,606|
|Katy Perry: Part of Me||$25,239,000||2,732|
|People Like Us||$12,395,078||2,055|
|Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||$7,078,738||1,620|
So is this sequel fade an aberration? Or are we finally getting tired of seeing the same old story sped up and dumbed down? Who knows? But expect “Ted 2” in summer 2014.
TED talks: Only “Avengers,” “Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man” and “Brave” grossed more this summer.
Quote of the Day
“If they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”
--Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on the Republican party during the 1952 election.
First Mariner or 21st Ever: What's More Impressive?
There's an unnecessary line I keep coming across in all the articles and blog posts (including mine) about Felix Hernandez's perfect game yesterday. Here's ESPN.com's version:
Felix Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners' first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory on Wednesday.
Here's the subhed on the Seattle Times front page:
FELIX HERNANDEZ DOES WHAT NO MARINERS PITCHER HAS EVER DONE IN SHUTTING OUT TAMPA BAY 1-0
Wow, that's a bad subhed, isn't it? Makes it sound like no Mariners pitcher has ever shut out Tampa Bay 1-0. As if that were the feat.
But that's not it. What's bugging me is the whole “first perfect game in Mariners history” line. It's so true it deserves a “no duh.”
There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball and Felix's was the 23rd perfect game thrown21st, really, since I tend to draw the line at the 19th century, when foul balls caught on a bounce were outs and the two perfect-game teams were the Worcester Ruby Legs and Providence Grays. Some teams, too, the Yankees and White Sox in particular, have done it more than once. Basic math should tell you not every team has thrown a perfect game. So the fact that it's Seattle's first doesn't feel as newsworthy to me as it being the 21st overall.
In fact, assuming all teams being equal, it was more likely to be a team's first perfect game because only 13 teams (now 14) have seen pitchers pitch perfect games.
- Chicago White Sox: 3
- New York Yankees: 3
- Cleveland Indians: 2
- Oakland A‘s: 2
- Philadelphia Phillies: 2
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 1
- Boston Red Sox: 1
- California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels: 1
- Cincinnati Reds: 1
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 1
- Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: 1
- San Francisco Giants: 1
- Seattle Mariners: 1
- Texas Rangers: 1
Which teams don’t have one? In order of year established:
- Atlanta Braves (1871)
- Chicago Cubs (1876)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (1882) *
- St. Louis Cardinals (1882)
- Baltimore Orioles (1894)
- Detroit Tigers (1894) **
- Minnesota Twins (1894)
- New York Mets (1961)
- Houston Astros (1962)
- Kansas City Royals (1969)
- Milwaukee Brewers (1969)
- San Diego Padres (1969)
- Toronto Blue Jays (1977)
- Colorado Rockies (1993)
- Miami Marlins (1993)
- Tampa Bay Rays (1998)
* Sorry, Harvey
** Sorry, Armando.
In other words, seven of the original 16 MLB teams, all of whom have been in existence since the 19th century, still haven't seen one. The M's have only been around since ‘77. Yet here we are.
The Seattle Times also made a big deal out of the number of games the Seattle Mariners played before Felix’s perfecto:
1 Perfect Game
Imagine how Braves and Cubs fans feel.
Movie Review: The Campaign (2012)
“The Campaign” made me laugh out loud but so do cartoons.
There’s a scene where Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), the incumbent Democrat from the 14th district in North Carolina, and his Republican challenger Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), having just finished a televised debate, push and pull and shove one another on the path toward, in the political tradition, a baby ripe for kissing. As they get close, Marty improbably has the upper hand, which so infuriates Cam he decides to coldcock his opponent from behind. But Marty senses this, moves at the last instant, and, in slow-motion, with the horrified faces of everyone in the room reacting, Cam decks the baby instead. In the face, as they say.
I roared when I first saw this scene on “The Daily Show”—and again during the film—but afterwards I couldn’t shake a disquieting thought. Well, that’s the movie then, isn’t it. What candidate can recover from punching a baby in the face in front of the entire press corps?
This one can. Because we’re watching a cartoon. If Jerry drops a safe on Tom’s head, Tom doesn’t die. He just gets back up for the next round. Same here.
Cam, who usually runs unopposed, first gets into trouble when he leaves a sexually explicit message on a family’s answering machine, indicating frequent infidelities, and, rather than wreck him, his numbers simply plummet from 62% to 46%. That’s how Marty, backed by the Koch-inspired Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), joins the race. He’s tubby and fey, with a bad moustache, but he comes from a connected family (Brian Cox is his disappointed father), so he’s tapped for the campaign.
The two trade stupid insults for a few weeks (“He has Chinese dogs”/”He believes in Rainbowland”). Then the Motch brothers send a diabolical campaign manager, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), to shape up the Huggins family and sharpen Marty’s claws. We get tit for tat. Cam punches the baby, then Uggie the dog from “The Artist.” Marty gets Cam’s son, who never sees his father much, to call him “Daddy” on tape. In response, Cam screws Marty’s wife and builds a campaign commercial around it. In response, on a hunting trip, Marty shoots Cam in the leg. He gets Cam drunk then calls the cops. Cam steals the police car and crashes it. Etc.
Back and forth they go, Tom and Jerry, forever dropping safes on one another and surviving. Some of it is funny, most of it is dumb, but all of it bears only the slightest resemblance to any kind of political reality. Just as Tom approximates a cat, and Jerry a mouse, so Cam and Marty approximate modern American politicians.
Ferrell is basically filtering his W. shtick through a John Edwards filter and turning it up to 11. Galifianakis is reprising his fey “Due Date” character with a touch of sweetener. The Democrat sleeps around (you know), and the Republican is backed by powerful, moneyed interests (you know), who want to make the 14th district a province of China, import cheap Chinese labor, ignore environmental regulations, and thus save on transportation costs. That’s why they’re backing Marty. Of course they don’t tell him until the 11th hour, and of course he rejects their plan. Which means they shift their money and support to Cam. Because it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter. Dem, Repub, whatev. You know. Besides, the electronic voting machines are manufactured by the Motch brothers so they can’t lose. Unless Cam and Marty somehow team up for the greater good of the 14th district...
The movie can’t even get its epigraph right:
“War has rules, mud wrestling has rules—politics has no rules.”
--Ross Perot, presidential candidate, 1988
1988? Perot wasn’t a candidate in ’88. He ran in 1992 and 1996. Or are they suggesting he said it in 1988? That’s wrong, too. He said it in 1996. Besides, it’s hardly a quote worth repeating. War doesn’t have rules, for the victors, and politics does have rules, most of which are unwritten. You can’t slug a baby and keep going, for example. Unless you’re a cartoon.
“The Campaign,” directed by Jay Roach (“Austin Powers”; “Meet the Parents”), and written by Chris Henchy (“The Other Guys”) and Shawn Harwell (“Eastbound and Down”), is political comedy for morons. It wants to show us how dumb the political process is, but, in dumbing down everything, particularly Cam and Marty, they show us how dumb we are. We need characters this stupid in order to be able to laugh at them.
King Felix: Perfect
Felix Hernandez celebrates after throwing the first perfect game in Mariners history: August 15, 2012
In April, after Phil Humber pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, I posted the following chart of teams in the modern era who have thrown perfect games and those who have been perfected against. I‘ve since updated it for Matt Cain’s perfecto against Houston in June.
Today I updated it again. See if you can spot the addition:
|Perfect Game Teams||Wins||Losses|
|New York Yankees||3||0|
|Chicago White Sox||3||1|
|Boston Red Sox||1||0|
|San Francisco Giants||1||0|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||1||3|
|New York Mets||0||1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0||1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||0||3|
I was at work when my friend Ben shot me a text message about Felix Hernandez's no-no through 7 2/3. I checked on ESPN.com and realized rather quickly, no, not a no-no. A perfect game. Through 8. So I grabbed my sunglasses and wallet and walked/ran the two blocks down to Buckley‘s, the sport bars that doubled as McGinty’s, Martin Crane's favorite bar on “Frasier.” I wasn't the only guy to file in, either. There was a good dozen new folks there for the top of the ninth. I ordered a beer and before I could finish it, Felix had struck out the first batter, induced the second to ground out to short, and then, improbably, scrotum-tighteningly, went 2-0 on the Rays' No. 9 hitter. I was worried for a second. Then he nailed the guy with a slider (on 2-0!), and never threw another ball, and threw two more strikes, and it was over and the bar erupted. High fives all around.
Expect articles on what it all means. As many perfect games have now been thrown this season as were thrown in the nearly three-quarters of a century between 1882 and 1955. We‘ve now had seven perfect games in the 21st century. The 20th century didn’t see its seventh perfect game until Catfish Hunter did it against my Twins in May 1968. It's also the fifth perfect game this decade, which is more perfect games than have been thrown in any decade in baseball history. And we‘re not even three full years into it.
It’s the second perfect game this season at Safeco Field, which also saw a no-hitter in June. Its rep as a pitchers park is growing.
Bummer to be a Rays fan, though. 0-3 in perfect games? All of which happened in the last four years when the team was good.
For what it's worth, Felix's is the first perfect game pitched in August. His 12 Ks are the third-most in any perfect game, behind only Sandy Koufax (14) and Randy Johnson (13).
Most importantly, his is the first perfect game ever thrown by a Seattle Mariner. It's been a pretty shitty year, or 10 years, for the M's and their fans, but the team's rebuilding the right way finally; and this sunny Seattle afternoon at Safeco Field, August 15, 2012, was one helluva bright spot.
Movie Review: The Spirit (2008)
“Pardon me, but is there a point to this? I’m getting old just listening to you.”
That’s the riposte, and one of the wittier ones, of The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) to his arch-nemesis, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who, at this point, is in his underground lair dressed up like a Nazi and expounding on how death defines everything we are, and how he, and only he, has developed a serum that can cheat death. He’s already given this serum to beat cop Denny Cole, lying in the morgue, who becomes the Spirit. Now he’s given it to himself. He and the Spirit are “two of a kind,” as he likes to say throughout the movie, but soon there will only be him. Because he plans to chop up the Spirit, dispense his body parts globally so they cannot reform, and then drink the blood of Heracles, the greatest of the demi-gods, to become a god himself and rule the world. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!
It’s also what I thought throughout the movie: Pardon me, but is there a point to this?
Writer-director Frank Miller employs the slick, comic booky/digital background technology he and Robert Rodriguez used in “Sin City,” along with a vibe that’s both cartoony and unfunny, in order to showcase ... nothing. No wit, no humanity, not even a good story. Just a dead, stupid hero who doesn’t know why he is, and who, in numerous voiceovers, offers Mickey Spillaneish valentines to a city, Central City, that, because of the digital background technology, we never really see:
My city, I can not deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover, and I ... am her Spirit.
Your mother and your lover? Dude.
Does anyone else get claustrophobic in these digital-background movies? “Sin City,” “300,” this? The world isn’t the world. It’s reduced to this small, awful space where these small, awful things happen, which the filmmakers pump full of their hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual hyper-meaning. The men beat each other to pulps, the women, smart and sexy, watch and calculate, and everyone thinks themselves the center of the world. Because they are. Because the world has been reduced to this.
That’s the awfulness, isn’t it? Frank Miller doesn’t let us outside of his imagination and his imagination is small and dirty. It’s appropriate that our first set piece is the swampland outside Central City, because that’s what Miller’s imagination feels like to me. There, The Octopus clangs a toilet over The Spirit’s head and laughs, and when The Spirit doesn’t join in, when none of us join in, declares, in full Sam Jackson bore, “Come on! Toilets are always funny!”
Pardon me, but is there a point to this?
The Octopus has an egg phobia. He references it several times, and shoots one of his minions, the odd, bald creatures he and his partner, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), have created, because he talks himself into a situation in which he winds up with egg on his face, and—full Sam Jackson bore again—“I don't like egg on my face!”
Because I’m getting old just watching you.
“The Spirit” is a movie made by, and for, people who suffer a kind of cultural analgesia; who feel nothing. All the characters are that way: The Spirit, The Octopus, Silken Floss, Sand Serif (Eva Mendes). Many beautiful women fall in love for one beautiful man, the Spirit, but no one else feels anything. When The Spirit falls off a skyscraper but is saved when his coat catches on a gargoyle four stories up, a crowd gathers. They point out that he looks ridiculous. Then they mock and insult him. Then they encourage him to jump. They shout: “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Is this what human beings are like in Frank Miller’s mind? That even passersby are assholes wishing death upon strangers? Maybe that’s why you fall in love with cities rather than people. You can anthropomorphize the city into anything you want.
Throughout the movie, Denny is pursued by Death, whom he sees, in his mind or soul, as a beautiful woman (Jamie King) who longs to enfold him in her arms, a la “All That Jazz.” The story—cop returned from the dead, more powerful than ever—has strong elements of “Robocop,” while the plot hinges upon the oldest ruse in the book: switched packages. “Hey, I didn’t want this blood of Heracles!” “Hey, I didn’t want Jason’s Argonaut armor!” In this way the movie is derivative but apparently not of its source material. I never read Will Eisner’s “The Spirit,” either the Golden-Age version or the Harvey Comics 1960s update, but apparently it had some soul and wit. It had spirit. Miller’s movie doesn’t. Early on, the Octopus decapitates a cop and throws his head at the Spirit. Is this supposed to be funny? Like the toilet? Like the Nazi outfits? Like Sand Serif photocopying her ass as she’s blackmailing a man to kill himself? Which he does?
Pardon me, but is there a point to this?
I’ve felt that way about everything Frank Miller has done: the graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One; the movies Sin City and 300. Miller worships at the twin altars of cool and cruel. His cool heroes are cruel to the ones who are cruel to the weak, which means his heroes, and by extension his readers or viewers, get to be cruel and moral. That’s the point to him: revenge as moral imperative. “The Spirit” is the Harvey Comics version of this rain-splattered, blood-splattered ethos, which is why it rings particularly off-tune. But even in-tune I find this ethos reprehensible. I get old just thinking about it.
- Interesting Salon.com piece by Mitzi Trumbo, daughter of Dalton, one of the Hollywood 10, on why Kirk Douglas should not get credit for “breaking the blacklist” simply because her father's name appeared as a screen credit on “Spartacus.”
- From a few weeks back: Malcolm Gladwell on Alberto Salazar and the slack between “what is possible, under conditions of absolute effort, and actual performance.” How do men like Salazar keep pushing until they are almost dead? How do they come to like it?
- Whither the Oak Creek shootings? Why so little attention paid to such a slaughter? Naunihal Singh on the New Yorker site: “...it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers.”
- Speaking of Muslims, Sikhs and the Oak Creek shootings: My post on same, plus Spike Lee's “Inside Man” made the Daily Dish site. Last month, Andrew Sullivan's site linked to my post on Louis CK and Proust, and in one day I got as many hits as I normally get in a month. My Sikh/“Inside Man” post? As many hits as I normally get in... three days. Sikh schmeek, apparently.
- Scrabble anyone? The Word Cup Scrabble competition took place in St. Paul, Minn., this year, and, of course, the old man, my father, Bob Lundegaard, showed up. He's quoted at the end of the article. Give him seven letters, he'll give you a bingo.
- Nathaniel Rogers, noted actressexual and host of The Film Experience, posted the image below on his Facebook page and I had to laugh, particularly since Heath Ledger looks like he's totally joking around while JMG looks properly staid and orderly and “Holy class clown, Batman!” Me being me, I had to bring up the battle of the Gwen Stacys in 1960s Mississippi...
- Finally, this “What If?” ad, created by fans of the Cleveland Indians to attack their home team's front office, will make sense to any fan of the Seattle Mariners, who, let's face it, have had it worse. The Indians, remember, were a couple of games from the World Series in 2007. The M's haven't seen the postseason since 2001. They've never seen the inside of a World Series. Plus they got Omar from us:
Paul Ryan's Budget Attacked Left and Right
From the Left:
Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.
--Paul Krugman, Nobel-prize-winning economist, in his post “The Ryan Role,” on the Conscience of a Liberal blog.
From the Right:
The Ryan Plan boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — i.e. the superwealthy — to 25 percent and paying for it with an as-yet-undisclosed plan to broaden the tax base. Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like, not to mention low rates on capital gains and dividends. The crony capitalists of K Street already own more than enough Republican votes to stop that train before it leaves the station.
In short, Mr. Ryan’s plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. And it couldn’t pass even if Republicans were to take the presidency and both houses of Congress. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation’s fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity — just empty sermons.
--David Stockman, former director of Office of Management and Budget under Pres. Reagan, in his Op-Ed, “Paul Ryan's Fairy-Tale Budget Plan,” in The New York Times
Who knew the Right would be more brutal to him?
Why They're Making 'Grown-Ups 2'
This is how Adam Sandler's recent movies have done at the box office (sans the serious-ish films, such as “Funny People” and “Reign Over Me”):
|Release||Movie||Dist.||U.S. Box Office|
|5/27/05||The Longest Yard||Par.||$158,119,460|
|7/20/07||I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry||Uni.||$120,059,556|
|6/6/08||You Don't Mess with the Zohan||Sony||$100,018,837|
|2/11/11||Just Go With It||Sony||$103,028,109|
|11/11/11||Jack and Jill||Sony||$74,158,157|
|6/15/12||That's My Boy||Sony||$36,931,089|
The high point was “Grown Ups” in 2010. The low point is wherever “That's My Boy” winds up, which won't be much different than the above. It's been out since mid-June. Last weekend, it played in 84 theaters and grossed $74K.
The poor showing of “That's My Boy” is one of the many delights of the summer movie season. More delightful? “Moonrise Kingdom,” whose widest relief was fewer than 1,000 theaters, actually grossed more than Sandler's gross-out comedy. It's at $42 million. Last weekend it earned another half million. It's Wes Anderson's biggest hit since “Royal Tenenbaums” ($52 million in 2001).
That's our boy.
Granite Mountain Redux (Redux)
It was blue skies and 80s in the Pacific Northwest today so I did one of my favorite hikes, Granite Mountain, about 40 minutes east of Seattle on I-90. It's a pretty difficult hike—4 miles one way, 3800 feet elevation gain—and I‘ve had health issues recently, but it was a great day. Much of the hike is along southern exposure, so once you’re out of the woods, halfway through, you definitely get some heat. You also get a gradual view of Mt. Rainier. Going up, it's kind of like Rainier-rise: there's a bit of it, then more, then more. When you reach the cabin outpost at the top, on a good day, you‘ve got a clear view:
iPhone cameras don’t do it justice.
On the way down, it's Rainer-set: a little less, a little less. By that point, of course, you want it to go away so you‘ll be closer to the shade of the woods. Southern exposures can be brutal. At the same time, as with all loves, it’s tough to say good-bye to Rainier. And as with all loves, your love doesn't care.
The outpost, by the way, is a functioning outpost, run, this day, by Bob, a former Washington Trails Association member, who, five years ago, became a volunteer USFS member. He spends weekends, June to September, on Granite Mountain. This outpost is apparently the third one built on Granite Mt. The first was a cabin, built around 1912. The second was a cabin with a cupola for viewing in the 1920s. “Like a lighthouse?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. Then in the 1950s, they decided to combine cabin and cupola and put the entire thing on stilts. That's how we got what we got. Which I love. In the photos below, Bob is the right-most photo, the right-most person:
My first trip to Granite Mountain was two years ago.
Last year I did it again with video.
Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)
In the last “Bourne” footage we saw, from “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, a silhouetted figure floats in the water. We think he’s dead but he’s not. He’s Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and after a moment he swims away. The End.
In the first shots of “The Bourne Legacy” we see another silhouetted figure floating in the water. We think he’s Jason Bourne but he’s not. He’s the new guy, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in the midst of survival training in Alaska, and after a moment he swims away. The Beginning.
It was an interesting choice not to reboot the “Bourne” series (which admittedly would’ve been dull stuff), or simply tap Renner to play Bourne (a la the Bond series). Instead, writer-director Tony Gilroy, who wrote the entire “Bourne” trilogy and now gets to direct his first action movie, has his characters, in essence, “tag off” like in a wrestling match. As Jason Bourne tags off to Aaron Cross, above, so the douchebag government bureaucrats (heretofore: DGBs) tag off. We get reintroduced to such forgotten figures as Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), as well as the more familiar Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) and Pam Landy (Joan Allen), only to say good-bye to them. They’re replaced by Ret. Adm. Mark Turso, USN (Stacey Keach) and Ret. Col. Eric Byer, USAF (Ed Norton), who have to quell the repercussions of not only the CIA’s “Treadstone” program, which created Bourne, but also “Outcome,” a more sophisticated version of same under the auspices of the Dept. of Defense. And by “quell” I mean, yes, kill everyone involved. As with Watergate, the cover-up (killing U.S. agents) is much worse than the crime (creating U.S. agents to protect America).
The movies tag off, too. During the first half hour, as Cross battles snow and wolves and mountains in Alaska, and arrives at the checkpoint in record time, we get most of the previous movie from Byer’s perspective. He and his DGBs help kill that Guardian journalist in London. They’re up in arms when Bourne shows up in New York. And they’re busy killing their own creations before they too become little Bournes. Outcome #1 gets it in Pakistan, Outcome #4 in Seoul, Outcome #6 in D.C. They all take these pills as part of the program, blues and greens, and they’re simply given a new pill that causes them to bleed from the nose and die. That ends that. Noting more to worry about except our souls.
Except in Alaska. There, two agents, Outcome #s 3 and 5 (Oscar Isaac and Renner), hang in a cabin and warily watch one another. Our man Cross is a little more down-to-earth in his wariness, encouraging chatter, asking the other guy if he has any chems. Blues, specifically. He’s low. Apparently that’s bad.
Then they head outside. “You hearing that?” Cross asks. (We don’t.) “We should spread,” Cross says. A few seconds later, as he’s making his way toward higher ground, a missile obliterates the cabin. When the DOD kills someone in Alaska, they don’t have to be subtle about it.
At this point, all of Cross’ bio-engineered training clicks into place, and he runs, and blinds a drone airplane with a rifle shot, and covers up the tracking device in his hip; then he surgically removes it and force-feeds it to a wolf (I know), who is ultimately the one, poor critter, to go sky-high when the drones come calling.
The ‘Charly’ Legacy
What motivated Jason Bourne? He was a superagent who developed amnesia and needed to find out who he was, then tracked his creators to their lair. He’s basically Frankenstein. He’s the chickens coming home to roost.
What motivates Aaron Cross? He needs pills, man. It’s panic in pharmaceutical park. Apparently if he doesn’t get them, he’ll revert to his old self, which was a bit of a dim bulb. It’s “Charly” as action movie.
I.e., if the point of Bourne was to get closer to who he was, the point of Cross is to keep his old self at a distance.
So he heads back to the lab in D.C., where he got his pills, but which, he reads in the newspaper, has suffered a recent tragic event. One of the doctors there went nuts and killed every other scientist—save one. The pretty one, thankfully: Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Yes, this is Byer’s handiwork.
There’s a good scene, post-shooting, at the old home Marta is renovating in the isolated woods of Maryland. Federal agents show up, including Dr. Connie Dowd (Elizabeth Marvel), who mixes faux concern for Marta’s state of mind with real concern for the company’s bottom line, which will ring true to anyone who’s ever dealt with a corporate HR dept. That’s the brilliance of the scene. They’re planning on killing her but first they make her twist a bit. They invade her space mentally, then physically, then they’re forcing her gun to her temple and she’s crying out and we’re hoping for a savior. Hey! Here comes one. I mock now but it’s well-done. Aaron arrives and in lickety-split fashion takes out the agents. Then he burns down the house.
Now they’re on the lam together. He needs pills, she wants to live. They argue. He’s got some low-key working-class resentments, which I like. But Gilroy gives us way too much exposition here, which I don’t. Gilroy is the writer-director who can’t kill his little darlings. He needs us to hear them. So we get talk about “viral-reception mapping” and the like. We also get a bit of a lie—the idea that Marta has to stick with Aaron rather than go public with her story. “Could you ever sing it loud enough or fast enough to make sure they won’t kill you?” he asks. Me in the audience: Yes. Let’s face it: Marta, at this point, is not just anyone. She’s national news, the survivor of the lab shootings, and her house has just been burned to the ground. That alone should twitch any reporter’s antennae. If I were her I would walk in the front door of the Washington Post or Baltimore Sun or CNN. No, I would email Andrew Sullivan or upload a video onto YouTube. I would tweet or status update: U.S. government trying to kill me. Jennifer S.: “Doing your taxes? LOL.” Come on, Hollywood. It’s 2012. Get with it. Turn on, plug in, upload.
Instead we head to the Philippines. There are no more blue pills, apparently, but in the lab there, with the original virus, she can “viral off” Aaron’s need for blues and make the effect permanent. It’ll take nearly a day to get there, sure, but they have a headstart because the DGBs think both of them are dead.
Until they don’t. The DGBs figure it all out by combing through every surveillance cam in the Maryland/D.C. area, spotting her, and, eventually, in passenger manifests, they find... oh my god! Cross! Immediately they know where they are and why, and contact both the med-lab plant in Manila and a Bangkok assassin to fly there and take him out. Government agencies are never so frighteningly efficient as in Hollywood movies.
By this point she’s already viraled him off (cough); but there’s a fever, and by the time it subsides the assassin, LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), is blocks away, sniffing, even as the Manila police, alerted by the U.S. government, close in. We get rooftop chases and footraces and zipping motorcycles through Manila traffic. I’m not much of a fan of the car chase but this one’s done well. The surprise? It’s the end. LARX buys it, they are bruised and shot, but they chart a boat for open waters. There, safe, Marta suddenly acts flirtatious. “Are we lost?” she asks. “No,” I was looking at our options,” Aaron says, suddenly serious with maps. “I was kinda hoping we were lost,” she responds with a smile. Camera pullback. Gorgeous scenery. The end.
It’s a shock because nothing’s been resolved. OK, one thing: Cross won’t revert back. But that’s it. It’s open-ended.
The Bourne weight
I should say, again, that I like Renner. He’s got verve, and snap, and a human face; I wouldn’t mind seeing him in some Jimmy Cagney roles. There’s a good supporting cast, too: Isaac in the Alaskan cabin, Marvel as the agent/HR director, Corey Stoll (last seen as Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris”) on Byer’s team. I like what Shane Jacobons, pungently Aussie, did with his throwaway role as the lab foreman in the Philippines.
But there’s too much weight from the previous trilogy, and Gilroy, as good as he is, loves his expository darlings too much. And where do we go from here? Will the next movie involve more amoral, relentless pursuit, a la Javert, or will Cross turn and attack his creators, a la Frankenstein, or will we get both? And would any of this be new?
Here’s a way to make it new. The movie’s tagline is “There was never just one,” and that’s true at the end. Jason Bourne still lives. Time to team up. Either that or have Cross email Andrew Sullivan. Get the fucking story out already. See if anyone gives a shit.
That’s what I’m waiting for, actually. These types of movies hinge on the notion that immoral government acts must be hidden, swept away, before the press, and thus the American public, find out. But what if a scandal broke and nobody cared? Is it still a scandal? That’s the cinematic moment I want: When the Byers of the world realize the carte blanche given them by the American public’s boundless ability for distraction and apathy.
7 Quotes of the Day on Paul Ryan
- “Many millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance. And the richest Americans would get a huge tax cut.”This is the America that Paul Ryan envisions. And now we know that it is the America Mitt Romney envisions.“ --Jonathan Cohn, ”Six Things to Know About Ryan (And Romney),“ The New Republic
- ”Ryan does a good job of cloaking his radicalism in unthreatening everyday language. He doesn’t foam at the mouth or get too academic. He doesn’t blather on about Friedrich Hayek or Saul Alinsky. As he was standing up there saying, “we won’t replace the founding principles, we’ll reapply them,” he looked more like the youthful general manager of a baseball team—a Theo Epstein or a Brian Cashman—than a committed ideologue.“ --John Cassidy, ”Why Romney Picked Ryan: Let's Change the Subject from Me,“ The New Yorker
- ”People love that Paul Ryan! The only downside, with Paul Ryan, is everything he believes.“ --Alex Pareene, ”Romney’s running mate distraction campaign reaches its zenith,“ Salon.com
- ”Ryan’s views are crystallized in the budget he produced for House Republicans last March as chairman of the House Budget committee. That budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs over the next decade. The biggest cuts would be in Medicaid, which provides healthcare for the nation’s poor – forcing states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million low-income people, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. ... In all, 62 percent of the budget cuts proposed by Ryan would come from low-income programs. ... The Ryan plan would also turn Medicare into vouchers whose value won’t possibly keep up with rising health-care costs – thereby shifting those costs on to seniors. At the same time, Ryan would provide a substantial tax cut to the very rich – who are already taking home an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s total income. Today’s 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.“ --Robert Reich, ”The Ryan Choice,“ RobertReich.org
- ”Ryan and other conservative leaders, among them Senator John Sununu, of New Hampshire, wanted to be sure that Bush returned to [Social Security privatization] in 2005. Under Ryan’s initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan’s plan was clear.“ --Ryan Lizza, ”Fussbudget: How Paul Ryan Captured the GOP,“ The New Yorker
- ”... anyone who believes in Ryan’s carefully cultivated image as a brave, honest policy wonk has been snookered. Mark Thoma reviews selected pieces I’ve written about Ryan; he is, in fact, a big fraud, who doesn’t care at all about fiscal responsibility, and whose policy proposals are sloppy as well as dishonest. Of course, this means that he’ll fit in to the Romney campaign just fine. ... As I said, I have no idea how this will play politically. But it does look like a move from weakness, rather than strength; Romney obviously felt he needed a VP who will get people to stop talking about him.“ --Paul Krugman, ”Galt/Gekko 2012,“ The New York Times
- ”Mr. Ryan is a national figure of some repute — before Saturday morning, his national name recognition was about 50 percent — but he has never been elected to anything larger than his Congressional district of about 700,000 people. Members of the House of Representatives have only occasionally been selected as running mates. The last one on a winning ticket was John Nance Garner, the speaker of the House, in 1932. The last time an ordinary member of the House was elected vice president, and the last Republican, was more than 100 years ago: in 1908, when William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, a New York congressman, were chosen by voters. (Coincidentally, that fall was also the last time that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.)“ --Nate Silver, ”A Risky Rationale Behind Romney's Choice of Ryan," Five Thirty Eight
For me? The key to taking down Ryan is not what he'd do to Medicaid and food-stamp programs, because, for most people, if it doesn't affect them, they don't care. The key to taking down Ryan is in his overhaul of Medicare and his attempted overhaul of Social Security. The social safety net that is holding you up, or might hold you up one day? He wants it down. Money that the government already has, for the few tattered programs it has, Paul Ryan wants to give away, in the form of tax breaks, to the richest people in this country. More for those who have more; less for we who have less. The health of the country, in essence, be damned.
Selling the Fright of Pretty Women
Last night, at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, I came across this triumverate of fall movie posters and got depressed:
And I thought this was the year of the strong, independent woman. Whither Katniss Everdeen?
Ah, there she is, on the right. For a second I thought this Jennifer Lawrence vehicle was some remake of “Last House on the Left” but apparently it's just another ghost story. Its tagline: “Fear reaches out... for the girl next door.”
Last poster on the left? An evil spirit takes over a young girl. Tagline: “Fear The Demon That Doesn't Fear God.” Fear again. The only thing Hollywood has to fear is that fear doesn't sell.
The middle poster is the most disturbing of all for its shot of big-haired helplessness and implied gang rape, but it's basically the same story. Supernatural presence haunts couple after college experiment. Tagline: “Once you believe, you die.”
The dark is coming, Halloween's coming, and it's time to make money off the fright of pretty women. Katniss is for spring.
But they wouldn't sell if we wouldn't buy.
2012: Good for the Movies?
Here's Jeff Wells earlier today:
Some guy with a glass of wine said the other night that 2012 has been a weak year for movies. I stopped him right there and said “wait a minute” and got out the iPhone and read off the following titles: Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, Magic Mike, Miss Bala, Haywire, Arbitrage, Bernie, Moonrise Kingdom, God Bless America, Side by Side, Trishna, The Three Stooges, The Sessions, Liberal Arts, Michael (Austrian child-molesting movie), Rampart, 21 Jump Street and The Grey. Okay, some of these aren't out yet but that's 18 movies. Add the films I liked or admired in Cannes — Holy Motors, On The Road, No, Killing Them Softly, Amour, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir and Rust and Bone — and that's a total of 25.
I like that “Some guy with a glass of wine” comment. As if anyone drinking a glass of wine is readymade for dismissal. As if Jeff Wells were Woody Allen dismissing Michael Sheen in “Midnight in Paris.”
I've felt Wells' objection before—people skewering movie years that I liked (see: 2009, 2010, 2011)—but...2012? Those 18 movies? I'd recommend “The Dark Knight Rises” for fans of Batman and Chris Nolan, “Moonrise Kingdom” for fans of Wes Anderson, and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” for fans of Manohla Dargis. Thought “Haywire” died in the second act. Same with “21 Jump Street,” which becomes what it pretends to be skewering. Haven't seen the others. “The Three Stooges” isn't even on my DVD list.
At SIFF, I liked “Starbuck,” “The Woman in the Fifth” and “Goodbye” but those are all 2011 movies. As is “Monsieur Lazhar” and “Footnote,” both of which I recommend highly. Is “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” 2012? If not, my recommendations for 2012 movies come down to “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Under African Skies,” and “The Avengers.” Oh, and “John Carter.” Poor forgotten bastard.
Wells, in defending the year thus far, made me realize it's been pretty shitty. Thus far.
'Sikh, Arab, What's the Difference?' The Sikh Temple Killings and Spike Lee's 'Inside Man'
When I first heard of the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., last Sunday, and the identity, such as it is, of the neo-Nazi shooter, my thoughts turned to filmmaker Spike Lee—specifically his 2006 action-film “Inside Man.”
The movie is about hostages and a bank heist, in the manner of “Dog Day Afternoon,” and there's a scene halfway through where a Sikh hostage is released by the robbers only to be ordered by New York cops, with itchy, post-9/11 trigger fingers, onto the ground. They call him an Arab and take away his turban.
Here's a later scene where the cops (Denzel Washingon, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor) question the Sikh, Vikram, about the hostage situation, while he questions them about his turban situation:
“I bet you can get a cab, though,” is a good line, but it's a shame Vikram didn't get the last word. He deserved it.
I also thought of Anthony Lane, the great critic for The New Yorker, and his review of “Inside Man,” and the way he contrasted Spike Lee's vision of the world with that of Jean Renior in “The Grand Illusion”:
“Inside Man” needs to be seen. The more it sags as a thriller, the more it jabs and jangles as a study of racial abrasion. A hostage is released, and an armed cop shouts, “He’s an Arab!” The hostage replies, “I’m a Sikh,” and you can hear the weariness at the edges of his fear. Another hostage is quizzed by Frazier about his name: “Is that Albanian?” “It’s Armenian,” the man explains. “What’s the difference?” Frazier asks, not that he cares either way. It is these small, peppery incidents of strife—far more than the stridency of recent Lee projects like “Bamboozled” and “She Hate Me”—that show the director at his least abashed and most tuned to current anxieties, and that mark him out, for all the fluency of his camera, as the anti-Renoir of our time. “Grand Illusion” offered the ennobling suggestion that national divisions were delusory, and that our common humanity can throw bridges across any social gulf. To which Lee would reply, Nice idea. Go tell it to the guy who just had his turban pulled off by the cops.
Or to the folks who lost loved ones in south Milwaukee last Sunday.
If I didn't have a day job, I would've written something about Dustin Hoffman, who turned 75 today, because he means a lot to me. I used to be compared to him. As a teenager, I was self-conscious about my teeth, among other things, and tended to smile with my mouth closed in the Dustin Hoffman manner. I identify with, or love, characters he plays. I've grown up and grown middle-aged with the man.
Since I do have a day job, however, I simply offer this snippet from my review of “Barney's Version, along with his 90-minute appearance as the 200th guest on ”Inside the Actors Studio.“
First, the snippet:
Can I pause for a moment to say how much I love Dustin Hoffman? I don’t know if he lights up the screen but he lights up me. He shows up and I beam.
He seems to be playing more overtly Jewish these days. Here, at a dinner gathering with the rich family of Barney’s fiancée, he’s all smiles and good will and blunt charm. He says to Barney’s fiancée, “You are one sweet casserole,” and encourages them to “get to schtupping.” The father of the bride doesn’t think much of this working class man, and says something vaguely and unnecessarily insulting, which he doesn’t think Izzy will understand. But Izzy gives him a look. It’s a look I’ve seen Dustin give in other movies. It’s as if both injury and civility are competing for control of his face. It’s a look that says: “I am smart enough to recognize your insult, I am sensitive enough to be injured by your insult, but I am strong enough to look you in the face and civil enough to keep smiling.” It’s the most human of faces. It’s why Dusty is my guy. Long may he act.
What's fascinating about his appareance on ”Inside the Actors Studio“ is how much he talks to the students rather than to the TV audience. Also, how many of his iconic scenes were less character-driven than Hoffman-driven. They were his feelings: banging his head against the wall in ”The Graduate“ (to keep from laughing); the ”I'm walkin' here!“ scene, which, in his head was, ”We're filming here!“ The polite ending of ”Kramer vs. Kramer“ originally came from Hoffman and Streep and Robert Benton was shrewd enough to see it. The constant ”Yeah“ of Raymond in ”Rain Man" was Hoffman's inability to improvise, which Barry Levinson, whom Hoffman calls as close to an actors' director as possible, suggested he use as Raymond's signature line. He's aware of the mistakes that led to accolades. He tells the acting students to use them. He tells them acting is very hard and he tells them it's not hard: that they don't have to feel everything their character is feeling. He says this even as he, Dustin Hoffman, seems to feel everything. He displays, throughout the long, long interview, the most human of faces.
Your YANKEES SUCK Historical Moment of the Day
“As an outfielder with the Yankees in the 1930s [Ben] Chapman had made a specialty of baiting Jewish ballplayers, and he'd been in a huge brawl with one of them, Buddy Myer of the Senators.”
--from Jonathan Eig's “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season,” pg. 76. Later Chapman became infamous as the race-baiting manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, who ordered his club to lob racial taunts and epithets at Jackie Robinson during a three-game series at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in April 1947. It backfired. Some credit the Phillies' behavior with helping the Dodgers finally rally around Robinson. Eig suggests it also encouraged fans to get off the fence.
I knew all of this. But I didn't know Chapman had been a Yankee. I wonder if he was the “leather-lung” Hank Greenberg referred to in Aviva Kempner's documentary, “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” who was brought up to hurl insults at hm. I certainly didn't know, until I looked it up on BaseballReference.com, that Chapman had been a four-time All-Star, who retired with a .302/.383/.440 line. Apparently he also wore No.s 6 and 7 for the Yankees. I assume there was only one other guy to do that.
Movie Review: Haywire (2012)
“You like her?”
“I love her.”
That was Patricia on Gina Carano, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist from Dallas, Tex., playing Mallory Kane, a black ops specialist and soldier-for-hire in Steven Soderbergh’s indie-actioner “Haywire.”
Question: Has any leading lady, in one movie, kicked the ass of so many handsome leading men? Carano goes off on Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor. Antonio Banderas is implied.
Further: Has any low-budget actioner had such an acclaimed director working with such a stellar cast? Too bad the results are mixed martial arts. We wind up with the slow pace, jumbled chronology, and general murkiness of an indie combined with the dull tropes of an actioner.
It begins well. Kane, sporting fetching scars on her beautiful face, crosses a winter road in upstate New York and into a roadside diner. She takes a back booth, orders tea, sips. Then she sees Aaron (Tatum) pull up. “Shit,” she says. He joins her, orders coffee, and the two talk in vague terms about him being on vacation, and Barcelona, and what went wrong there. Basically: she’s accused (of something), he’s there to bring her in, but she doesn’t want to go. So we get our first fight. Not only does she win but she takes a hostage, Scott (Michael Angarano). As they drive, she tells him her story, or backstory. We get to watch.
She’s a soldier-for-hire, working for Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), who is often contracted by State (Michael Douglas). She and her team, including Aaron, extract a Chinese journalist from Barcelona for Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), who has a relationship with State. Or is he with State? It’s all rather murky. As it’s supposed to be.
The job goes well enough. She chases down one loose end because she doesn’t like loose ends, and because it gives us a good footchase through Las Ramblas, then beds Aaron and returns home. But Kenneth is there, too, with another assignment. Something about accompanying Paul (Michael Fassbender) on a job in... is it Dublin? It’s an easy gig. The job requires a power couple and Paul needs a better half. Despite her assets, she’s there for looks. “I don't even know how to play that,” she says. “I don't wear the dress. Make Paul wear the dress.”
But she acquiesces, shows up, gets suspicious. Why? Not sure. Maybe she’s always suspicious. She plays the tipsy wife but tracks Paul’s cell and discovers, under a bed in a stable near a swanky hotel, our Chinese journalist. Dead.
Then Paul tries to kill her. Then she’s on the run.
Some not-bad chase scenes. Chance and serendipity play a bigger role than usual. At one point, she winds up in a blind alley and waits to attack her pursuers (hapless garda), when the back door of a nearby restaurant opens, a bus boy with trash, and she bolts inside. At another point, as she and Scott, her upstate New York hostage, are in the midst of escaping the police, she runs into a deer, which is how she’s caught.
There are several showdowns. Basically she moves up the ladder of murky accountability. Paul gets it in Dublin, Kenneth in South America, and Rodrigo, the true mastermind, back in Spain. “Shit,” he says when he sees her. Which is how the movie ends. Using the word with which it began.
But what’s the unraveled story again? Someone wanted the Chinese journalist dead; Kenneth feared Mallory leaving his company and taking his clients with her. So two birds. The Chinaman gets it (making who happy?), and the crime can be blamed on Mallory. But, in the tradition of actioners, she fights back.
The dialogue from Lem Dobbs, who has worked with Soderbergh before (“Kafka” (1991) and “The Limey” (1999), is David-Mamet minimalist with a tendency toward smartness. “I like the idea of me doing my job,” Rodrigo says, “more than the idea of someone else doing my job.” Later in the movie, when talking motivations, Kenneth says, “It’s always about money.”
But there are loose ends and I don’t like loose ends. Why is Mallory telling Scott her story? Why does he seem to care about her? And why is the Chinese journalist killed in Dublin? Why not do it in Barcelona and take her out there as well? Why the necessity of bringing her along on a second mission to blame her for the first?
And why call it “Haywire”?
Miss Carano, whose voice was lowered post-production, is enough of a hit to get Patricia’s appreciation, but there are just too many misses. The movie’s first word is “Shit,” its last word is “Shit,” and there’s too much shit in between.
Anne Hathaway: Woman Surrounded by Bat-Crap
“...the film is redeemed—rescued from itself, ironically, by another mouth. Rimmed in scarlet, it belongs to Anne Hathaway. She plays Selina Kyle, a Catwoman in the making, though really just a jewel thief. Deft and purring, she seems to pounce in from another land entirely, a Hitchcockian pleasure ground of light fingers and matching repartee, and her expression is that of a grown woman who surveys all these sombre boys, plus their whizzing toys, and sees only Bat-crap. When Bruce dances with her at a costume party, the music behind them is Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” which must be Nolan’s idea of a waltz; yet still she smiles. Her silver heels are like knives, her working costume is tauter than a second skin, and, when she straddles the Pod, as if planning to have kittens with it, the only one not to notice is poor old Batman. What can you expect? This is a fellow whose permanent frown is ready-carved between the brows of his black rubber mask, and who was warned by Alfred not to take up Gotham’s cause, because “there is nothing here for you but pain and tragedy.” Christopher Nolan, for all his visionary flair, wants to suck the comic out of comic books; Anne Hathaway wants to put it back in. Take your pick.”
--Anthony Lane in his review of Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight Rises.” I agree with a lot of this. Hathaway was my favorite part of the movie, and Lane's line about kittens kills. Plus comic book movies need to be fun again--as “The Avengers' was. On the other hand, Batman should be humorless and tunnel-visioned. Otherwise, why be Batman? My review here.
Lane: ”When Bruce dances with her at a costume party, the music behind them is Ravel’s 'Pavane for a Dead Princess,' which must be Nolan’s idea of a waltz; yet still she smiles.“
- Do you have a subscription to The New Yorker yet? Don't you think it's about time? Case in point: David Remnick on Bruce Springsteen at 62, which I recommended last time, too. I could've done a whole post on the memories it dredged up. I could've written a book on this article.
- If you subscribed to The New Yorker, for example, you could read Mark Singer's great piece on Kip Litton, a Michigan dentist who turned to marathons in his late thirties and began recording sub 3-hour races. He began winning races in his own age group. Or did he? Instead, you have to be satisfied with this abstract.
- They also have their online only stuff, such as New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, a successful writer (“Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under,” “Girls,”) on why he wrote the “Seinfeld” episode about the inscrutable New Yorker cartoon.
- And here's Richardy Brody's take on Sight & Sound's 10 greatest (or 50 greatest) films. I like the commentary, and the personal mea culpas; but, as much as I disagree with the S&S list, I like it more than Brody's. “Marnie,” Brody?
- Elsewhere, The Onion does it again: Olympics gymnastics this time.
- Meanwhile, Mitt Romney keeps sticking his foot in it: Here's the NY Times Op-Ed blowback from Jared Diamond, author of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which Romney quoted in defending his comments in Israel. Diamond writes that Romney's interpretation of his book is so wrong “that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it.”
- That kind of thing, which is becoming a daily occurrence, didn't keep Clint Eastwood from endorsing Romney; but then Eastwood's characters have always had a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. For all the critical success of his later films, Eastwood has always been a simple-minded absolutist. That's what people want. That's what Hollywood and the Republican party give them.
- Good news! An Ohio family cleaning out its grandfather's attic discovered 700 baseball cards from more than 100 years ago—rare Ty Cobbs and Honus Wagners in mint condition—which fetched more than $500K at an auction.
- Funnier news! Apparently the Facebook pages of various MLB teams was hacked the other day. Deadspin has the results. My favorite, of course, is from the New York Yankees FB page: “We regret to inform our fans that Derek Jeter will miss the rest of the season with sexual reassignment surgery. He promises to come back stronger than ever in 2013 as Minnie Mantlez.
- Did you see Jimmy Fallon doing Jim Morrison doing ”Reading Rainbow“? Nice. Suddenly, there's Oscar-hosting talk. Poor bastard.
- Need more Gore Vidal? PBS.org is streaming an ”American Masters“ portrait of the author, ”The Education of Gore Vidal," until midnight, August 9.
- Finally, a little Usain on the membrane: The New York Times gives us a video/infographic on every 100 meter sprinter from 1896 to 2012. How much faster are we now? Three seconds faster. But in the Olympics, three seconds is the world.
Bob Allison on Camera Day, Met Stadium, 1962. This is a shot from a friend of a friend, someone I don't even know, but it reminds me of my childhood. The bleachers behind Allison? That's the left-field side. Cheap seats. $1.50. Our primary digs on game days. I could write a whole post on this photo.
Movie Review: The Shadow (1994)
WARNING: WHO KNOWS WHAT SPOILERS LURK IN THIS REVIEW?
Of all the pulpy predecessors that Hollywood tried to turn into franchises in the wake of “Superman” (1978) and “Batman” (1989)—e.g., “Flash Gordon” (1980), “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” (1981), “Tarzan, the Ape Man” (1981), and “The Phantom” (1996)—the Shadow actually had a shot. For one, he’s cool. He’s got the long, dark trenchcoat flapping in the breeze, the fedora pulled low, the tendency, as with post-Eastwood action heroes, to shoot first and ask questions later. Plus his catchphrase is one of the greatest of the era: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows, ah ha ha ha ha!”
“The Shadow” (1994), written by David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”; “Spider-Man”) and directed by Russell Mulcahy (Spandau Ballet’s “True”), has a shot, too. It opens the way of Tim Burton’s “Batman”: Bad guys are doing evil—in this case, throwing a Chinese scientist, who witnessed a crime, off a bridge—when a dark avenger appears, scares/kills the bad guys, announces himself, and then, as the music wells, poof, he’s gone.
Except, oh right, that’s not the way “The Shadow” begins. It begins in the opium fields of Tibet, where a man is being dragged into an opium den by two guys, who, a shot later, from inside the den, become two different guys (so much for continuity), and place the hapless man before an evil, shadowed warlord. We think the bad guy is being introduced here but it’s actually our hero, Lamont Cranston, played by a bare-chested Alec Baldwin wearing a long, straggly wig. An American doughboy during World War I, he stayed behind, turned to dope, and became this. He quickly demonstrates his evil ways by shooting both prisoner and trusted aid and leading his minions in laughter. But in the next scene he’s dragged from his bed and taken before a Tulku, or a Tibetan teacher, who says he will turn him into a hero. “You know what evil lurks in the hearts of men,” the Tulku says, “for you have seen that evil in your own heart.”
That’s not a bad idea—the Shadow knows because the Shadow’s been there—but it’s all so poorly handled. Alec is already getting a bit doughy here, the wig looks ridiculous, and, most important, Cranston’s shift from doing evil to preventing it is handled off-stage. After Cranston battles a knife that comes to life, with a fierce, fanged face on the handle, he asks the Tulku if he’s in Hell. “Not yet,” the Tulku replies as the music wells. Then these words appear on the screen:
The price of redemption for Cranston was to take up man’s struggle against evil. The Tulku taught him to cloud men’s minds, to fog their vision through force of concentration, leaving visible the only thing he can never hide—his Shadow.
Thus armed, Cranston returned to his homeland, that most wretched lair of villainy we know as ....
New York City
Seven Years Later
Which leads to the scene on the bridge.
So how did the Tulku change him? Who knows? Why did the Tulku pick him? Who knows? The Shadow may know what evil lurks ... but we know shit about the Shadow. And we never find out.
Some of it still works. Each man the Shadow saves becomes part of his team, and each is giving a glowing red ring and a secret password (The sun is shining/But the ice is slippery); then they communicate through a Rube Goldberg system of pneumatic tubes crisscrossing the city. The whole thing has a secret-club/treehouse vibe to it. It’s appeals to the 8-year-old boy in all of us. “Kids, you can help ‘the Shadow,’ too!”
Plus: “clouding men’s minds” is basically the Jedi mind trick. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it was ultimately pitched: “It’s Batman, dressed like Darkman, who can do the Jedi mind trick! Can’t miss!”
“It’s Batman, dressed like Darkman, who can do the Jedi mind trick! Can’t miss!”
It does. After the scene on the bridge, Cranston has dinner with his Uncle Wainwright (Jonathan Winters), the chief of police, at a swanky nightclub. Wainwright, echoing or foreshadowing complaints about Don Diego Vega, Bruce Wayne, et al., worries, without much sympathy, that his rich playboy nephew is wasting his life; then he gets word of another Shadow sighting and decides to appoint a task force to the vigilante. At this point, Cranston immediately retreats into the shadows, save for a strip of light across his eyes, and we hear the following:
Lamont: You’re not going to appoint a task force.
Uncle Wainwright: No. I’m not going to appoint a task force.
Lamont: You’re not going to pay any attention to these reports of The Shadow.
Uncle Wainwright: Ignore them entirely.
This might’ve been cool if it hadn’t already been done better 17 years earlier by Alec Guinness; if Cranston wasn’t doing it both family and the law; and if Winters’ line readings didn’t veer naturally toward the comedic.
A second later, Cranston meets Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), who isn’t bad with the ESP thing, either, which is why he decides to steer clear of her. Ah, but fate. Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the last descendant of Genghis Khan, shows up in New York, via museum exhibit, and, determined to become the Emperor of the World, takes over the mind of Margo’s father, Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen, wasted), who works for the Dept. of Defense on a top-secret mission. Cranston pieces it all together, later, with the help of the Chinese scientist, Dr. Tam (Sab Simono), he saved on the bridge:
Tam: I guess you’d call it an implosive-explosive molecular device.
Lamont: Or an ... atomic bomb.
Tam: Hey, that’s catchy.
As with the above, tones are off throughout the movie. Opportunities are wasted. Shiwan Khan is evil with a capital “E.” At one point, he takes a cab, can’t pay, so he clouds the taxi driver’s mind to drive his cab into a gas tank, which explodes while Khan stands there laughing. Mwa-ha-ha-ha! It’s 1930s pulp villainy—right down to the race of the bad guy.
So the atom bomb is built, six years before the real thing, two years before we even entered the war, and Khan uses it to blackmail NYC for ... millions? Billions?
Why the blackmail ruse? He’s just going to blow it up anyway. And why America? It’s 1939. Nazi Germany is on the march with its “master race” and lebensraum talk. Isn’t Hitler your true competition at this point?
The most laughable moment in the movie may be when Lane’s ne’er-do-well and randy assistant, Farley Claymore (Tim Curry), traps The Shadow in a water tank and fills it up with water. Cranston then communicates with Margo, over a distance of miles, to come to his rescue, but when she finally shows up and he’s completely underwater, he still needs to mouth, through the glass window of the door, the words “Open the door.” That should’ve been obvious without the ESP.
Baldwin coasts here. Lone overacts. Ultimately the movie comes down to a battle of minds, but who wants to watch minds battling? Even George Lucas was smart enough to give his Jedis, with their mind tricks, light sabres.
“The Shadow” isn’t horrific but it’s hardly good. In the end, Lamont kisses Margo, then walks off.
Lamont: I’ll see you later.
Margo: Hey, how will you know where I am?
Lamont (smiles): I’ll know...
God, that’s lame. The Shadow may know, but “The Shadow” knows shit.
“The sun is shining.” “But the ice is slippery.”
Nice writing: Zach Schonbrun on Felix Hernandez
“Tucked away in Seattle, Hernandez has won a Cy Young Award and made three All-Star teams, but he continues pitching against the Yankees as if he has a chip on his shoulder, as if their entitled lineup needs a stir.
”The last time he faced them, he hit three batters. This time, on Saturday afternoon, the Yankees could hardly hit him, as he utterly mystified their offense with a two-hit shutout in the Mariners’ 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium. ...
“There was no sign of hesitation from the Yankees’ hitters Saturday, but Hernandez can be an intimidating presence. He is a hulking right-hander with an expressionless focus and superb athleticism balanced on thighs the approximate size and shape of fire hydrants.”
--Zach Schonbrun, writing for The New York Times, on the Seattle Mariners 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees yesterday. Is Schonbrun, a 2011 j-school grad, now covering the Yankees for the Times? His online resume still lists him as a freelancer. He's certainly writing like he has something to prove. I'd say he's writing as if the entitled lineup at the Times needs a stir ... except no one in print journalism is entitled anymore, not even the folks at the Times.
What the Olympics Needs
A ninth lane, where someone like me swims.
Seriously. Here, for example, are the results from the Men's 50m Freestyle on Friday:
|7||02||BOVELL George Richard||21.82||+0.48||+|
First place was 21.34. Eighth place was 21.98. Not even a second's difference. A sixth of a second. Boom.
There's no perspective to that. We may sense, a bit, how fast they're going, but we don't see it because they're all racing against the other seven fastest swimmers in the world.
People at home, slumping on their couches, look at Eamon Sulivan and think he's the worst when he's the 8th best in the world. And he'd be the best, the fastest in the world, but for .65 of a second.
With me in lane 9, probably doing the sidestroke, suggesting, as George Orwell once wrote of an outdated missile, “nothing so much as a man riding along on a bicycle and whistling,”you'd see how fast all of these athletes really are. You'd get results like this:
|7||02||BOVELL George Richard||21.82||+0.48||+|
We'll all have a greater appreciation for Eamon Sullivan in lane 1.
Words I Learned While Reading Gore Vidal
The day after Gore Vidal died I went a little crazy with Gore Vidal quotes; but they were just sitting there, in the Vidal books I owned, marked and underlined, ready to be disseminated.
I also came across about two dozen words that I didn't know when I first read the book. Back then, being the good student, I looked them up and wrote the definition in the margins. These are just sitting there, too. Here's a sampling:
- l'espirit de l'escalier: the wit of the staircase; any witticism or cleverness that comes too late, as on the staircase away from the debate
- ex cathedra: with the authority derived from one's office or position: esp. of the pope's infallibility as defined in Roman Catholic doctrine
- collyrium: an eye lotion
- bibulous: fond of alcoholic beverages; highly absorbent
- recondite: hidden from sight; deep
- vatic: prophetic; oracular
- velleities: inclinations; slight wishes or tendencies; the lowest degree of volition
- quotidian: occurring every day
- caveat lector: let the reader beware
- manqué: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations or talents — used postpositively
- faute de mieux: for lack of something better or more desirable
- plangent: having a loud reverberating sound; having an expressive and especially plaintive quality
Of these, only 'quotidian' became part of my regular writing vocabulary. Shame. I could've used l'espirit de l'escalier, since, like most (but unlike Vidal, one imagines), it's generally the only wit I know. It might even make a good tagline for this site. Or I could always go with: ErikLundegaard.com: Faute de mieux. Or: Caveat lector. Or: Movie critic manqué.
Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
As it begins, one thinks “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is about deprivation but it’s actually about defiance and celebration. One thinks, “How sad that people have to live like that,” when they battle everything—governmental agencies, sickness, global warming, and, yes, prehistoric beasts unleashed by global warming—to keep living like that. This is our home, they’re saying. We shall not be moved.
Me? I’d move in a second. All that garbage and mud? Those shacks? That sickness and drunken nothingness? As a result, I was at odds with the movie’s emotional core. I’m way too fastidious. I wanted to flee the very place they embraced.
The heart of the movie is Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a fierce, independent, six-year-old girl living on the wrong side of the levee in a bayou about to be swept away by global warming; but she is inculcated by her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), to keep living there. At one point Wink takes Hushpuppy out in a homemade boat, patched together from what others have thrown away, and they gaze at factories and smokestacks on the other side of the levee. They’re outsiders but not envious. “Ain’t that ugly over there,” he says, adding, “We got the prettiest place on Earth.”
Left unspoken is the fact that those ugly factories and smoke stacks are contributing to the global warming that’s about to wash away their home, which is the prettiest place on Earth.
We get their story by and by. Writer-director Benh Zeitlin tells us little, shows us more. Here’s Hushpuppy, walking around in white rubber boots, and listening to the heartbeats of the animals they keep in their ramshackle home. Here’s Wink, drinking and talking with neighbors about a storm coming and waters rising. Here’s another harsh lesson from Wink to Hushpuppy: “Every animal is made out of meat,” he says. “I’m meat. Y’all ass is meat.” Hushpuppy tries to make sense of this. She tries to balance sympathy and survival. She knows, without the protections she’s had from her father, “I wouldn’t even be Hushpuppy. I’d just be breakfast.”
Then Wink disappears. Has he fled? Has he been killed or incarcerated? When he shows up again, angry and stumbling, he’s in a blue hospital gown with a plastic ID bracelet around his wrist. He’s sick but doesn’t want their cure. He doesn’t want Hushpuppy’s help. The fierce independence he drums into her—that he feels she needs to survive—comes from him. “Who’s the man!” he yells at her at one point. “I’m the man!” she shouts back.
When the storms come, and Hushpuppy is scared, Wink goes outside to rage against it—to show her there’s nothing to be scared of. The waters rise. Some survive. Against the instincts of a maternal teacher in the bayou, Wink and others, using an alligator stuffed with dynamite, lead a nighttime assault that blows up a portion of the levee. The waters recede. We see the residents sort through what’s left. We see Hushpuppy find medicine for her father, which she dribbles onto his mouth while he’s sick and sleeping. Then the authorities come and suddenly we’re in a clean hospital. Hushpuppy is wearing a little blue dress and her beautiful wild hair is tamed. “It didn’t look like a prison,” she says in voiceover. “It looked like a fish tank with no water.” Prison or not, they still need to break out, and do. They still need to make their way back home.
Early on, from the maternal teacher, we hear a story of prehistoric beasts called aurochs, and as the polar ice cap melts we see these beasts, looking like giant warthogs, trapped in the ice, then free and roaming, and snuffling, and thundering closer and closer. At first I thought it was a metaphor for all the bad shit going down and coming down. It’s not. As Hushpuppy and three other girls make their way back to the bayou, the thundering gets louder, they look behind them, scream and run. All but Hushpuppy. She stands her ground. She faces down these beasts, to whom she knows she’s breakfast, and tells them, in essence, she’s Hushpuppy, daughter of Wink, and will not be moved. It’s a great scene: this tiny fierce face against this vast monstrosity. You can still call it a metaphor—it certainly works as a metaphor—but it’s most obviously wish fulfillment: ours and Wink’s. It’s also the film’s climax: Wink’s work is done. He can die now, knowing Hushpuppy can survive without him.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” arrived in Seattle with a kind of thunder of its own, Manohla Dargis’, who declared in The New York Times that the film was “among the best films to play at Sundance in two decades.” I went in hoping to be blown away. I wasn’t.
Quvenzhané Wallis is stunning and should hear Oscar talk. Dwight Henry is good. The filmmakers mix elements of both Katrina and global warming into a “We shall not be moved” ethos. But I wasn’t moved. I wanted the movie to crack me open, like a levee, but it didn’t. I remained an outsider. I looked at the muddy, ramshackle place they loved, the prettiest place on earth, and thought, “Ain’t that ugly over there.”
Gore Vidal (1925-2012)
My friend Mark F. used to tell the following story during our days working in the University Book Store warehouse in the 1990s.
Apparently Gore Vidal was on the Phil Donahue Show one time (according to IMDb.com, it would have to be this episode from 1974), and the discussion got around to God and Jesus and yadda yadda, and someone from the audience, a kindly woman, stood up and asked Mr. Vidal, author of “Myra Breckenridge” and eventually “Live from Golgotha,” whether he had ever read the Bible. He responded that, yes, he had read it many times. An even more sincere look crossed her face and she asked, “Yes, but have you ever read it with your heart?” Mark, who bears a slight resemblance in appearance and manner to Dr. Niles Crane, Frasier's brother on “Frasier,” would then do his masterful Gore Vidal response. “My dear,” Mark would say, “I'm afraid that that is hardly the proper organ with which to read.”
As Gore Vidal did with the Bible, so I've done with Gore Vidal. Over the years, reading his books, I've found myself highlighting this or that sentence, or paragraph, or page, which I felt was funny, or sharp, or helped explain some part of the world. That's what I've peppered the blog with today: the stuff I've highlighted over the years. These aren't his most famous quotes; they're probably not his best. But they're the ones that struck me or tickled me as I happened to read with pen or pencil in hand.
I disagreed with him a lot, too, of course, more so as he aged. He came to believe that Pearl Harbor had been a vast conspiracy to get us involved in World War II. I.e., FDR knew the attack was coming and did nothing. Post-9/11, same thing. Bush knew. He became one of those guys. In a 1998 piece for Vanity Fair, Vidal revealed too much sympathy for Timothy McVeigh and not enough for his victims. For years, Vidal suggested a new constitutional convention to replace the worn-out one we've been using.
My disagreements with him even reached my subconscious. From my 1996 dream journal:
Gore Vidal and I are talking in my apartment, and he picks up a book of his essays that I'm reading. Initially I worry I might have scribbled offensive lines in the margins but he doesn't find anything. We talk of other authors and other books, and he asks if I have them, but I worry about the notes scribbled in the margins of those books, too, and don't bother to show him.
I felt bad that I didn't read more of his novels, but the ones I did read (“Lincoln,” “Washington, D.C.,” “Burr”) I didn't like much. His personality didn't come through. I know he railed against the state of the modern novel, its smallness, to go along with the size of its audience. He kept argung that the literature that lasts tends to focus on great men and great events, which is why he wrote about ancient Rome, and Jesus, and the United States of America: from the founding fathers to Washington, D.C., post-World War II, when, as he reminded us again and again, the great Republic died and was replaced by the National Security State. He even gave us an exact date for this replacement: February 27, 1947.
I wound up interviewing him, by fax, and meeting him, at Town Hall, and reviewing for The Seattle Times a few of his later books, none of which thrilled. But the essays remain necessary reading. A final quote, from “How I Do What I Do If Not Why,” which appeared in The New York Review of Books in 1988:
Writers and writing no longer matter much anywhere in freedom's land. Mistuh Emerson, he dead. Our writers are just entertainers, and not all that entertaining either. We have lost the traditonal explainer, examiner, prophet.
Yes, we have.
Gore Vidal (1925-2012)
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XIX
“Once, in candid mood, she confessed that rage mader her orgasmic. I forgot to ask her if sex ever did. But I did enjoy her candor about herself.”
--Gore Vidal on his mother, Nina Gore, in “Palimpsest,” 1995
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XVIII
“...Clinton seems almost in the Kennedy class of innummerable brief encounters with that majority of the electorate which, appreciatively, favors him by an astonishing 24 percent over Dole, while with the male minority he barely holds his own. Women like men who like women, no matter how exasperating.”
--Gore Vidal, “Clinton-Gore II,” GQ, October 1996
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XVII
“Mr. Manchester has written a book [Death of a President, 1967, on the JFK assassination] hard to resist reading, despite its inordinate length. The narrative is compelling even though one knows in advance everything that is going to happen. Breakfast in Fort Worth. Flight to Dallas. Governor Connally. The roses. The sun. The friendly crowds. The Governor's wife: 'Well, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you, Mr. President.' And then one hopes that for once the story will be different—the car swerves, the bullets miss, and the splendid progress continues. But each time, like a recurrent nightmare, the handsome head is shattered. It is probably the only story that everyone in the world knows by heart. Therefore it is, in the truest sense, legend, and like all legends it can bear much repetition and reinterpretation.”
--Gore Vidal, “The Manchester Book,” Book Week, April 9, 1967
“Like all legends it can bear much repetition and reinterpretation.” And has.
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XVI
“To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.”
--Gore Vidal, “Screening History,” 1992. This may be the Vidal quote I quote most often. Two pages later, Vidal writes, “Today, where literature was movies are.” I read it at age of 30, a budding, flailing writer, and it was news to me. It shouldn't have been. Do we amend it yet? Do we write: “Today, where movies were...” What? Video games? Are we there yet? Can we get there from here?
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XV
“... this does not mean, as I am said to have said and did not say, that history is fiction. I only suggest that much of what we take to be true is often seriously wrong, and the way it is wrong is often more worthy of investigation than the often trivial disagreed-upon facts of the case.”
--Gore Vidal, “Screening History,” 1992
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XIV
“I would make history the spine of the mandatory twelve years of state-imposed indoctrination. ... By the last year of high school, the young adult would know pretty much where the human race (as well as his tribe) had been in time and space; and where it now is. So much general knowledge might even inspire him to show interest in where we are going or could go. During the twelve years, those of a scientific bent would be encouraged and various additional courses made available to them. Those interested in the arts would be sternly discouraged from pursuing any of the arts. This will save many people from lifelong disappointments while limiting production, in the most Darwinian way, to the born artist who cannot be discouraged.”
-- Gore Vidal, “Screening History,” 1992, on how he would remake the U.S. education system.
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XIII
“I was born eight years after the end of the First World War. As I was growing up, it was well remembered that we had got nothing out of that war in Europe except an attack on the Bill of Rights at home and, of course, the noble experiment, Prohibition. Young people often ask me, with wonder, why so many of us enlisted in 1943. I tell them that since we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, we were obliged to defend our country. But I should note that where, in 1917, millions of boys were eager to go fight the Hun, we were not eager. We were fatalistic. In the three years that I spent in the army, I heard no soldier express a patriotic sentiment, rather the reverse when we saw the likes of Errol Flynn on the screen winning freedom's war, or even worse, John Wayne, known to us by his real name, Marion, the archetypal draft-dodging actor who, to rub it in, impersonated a Flying Tiger in the movies.”
--Gore Vidal, “How We Missed the Saturday Dance,” Newsweek, January 11, 1993
John Wayne and Paul Kelly in “Flying Tigers” (1942)
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XII
“Put bluntly, who collects what money from whom in order to spend on what is all there is to politics, and in a serious country should be the central preoccupation of the media.”
--Gore Vidal, “Hersh's JFK,” The New Yorker, December 1, 1997
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day XI
“On June 3, 1996, The Nation showed in a foldout chart how most of the U.S. media was now owned by a handful of corporations ... As I studied this beast, I felt a litle like Rip Van Winkle. When last I nodded off, there was something called the Sherman Antitrust Act. Whatever happened to it?”
--Gore Vidal, “Mickey Mouse, Historian,” The Nation, September 30, 1996
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day X
“The media constantly deplore the drug culture and, variously, blame foreign countries like Colombia for obeying the iron law of supply and demand to which we have, as a notion and as a nation, sworn eternal allegiance...
”Although drugs are immoral and must be kept from the young, thousands of schools pressure parents to give the drug Ritalin to any lively child who may, sensibly, show signs of boredom in his classroom. Ritalin renders the child docile if not comatose. Side effects? 'Stunted growth, facial tics, agitation and aggression, insomnia, appetite loss, headaches, stomach pains and seizures.' Marijuana would be far less harmful.“
--Gore Vidal, ”Shredding the Bill of Rights," Vanity Fair, November 1998
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day IX
“While filming With Honors in Chicago, I was told that since the star, Joe Pesci, had a degree of control over the cast, the producer proposed five names to him for the part of the villainous Harvard professor. Four English actors and me. Alec [Guinness]'s name headed the list. Pesci is supposed to have said, 'Why do we always have to go for an English asshole for this sort of part when we have one of our own?' Thus, I was hired.”
Gore Vidal, Palimpsest, 1995
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day VIII
“I also came out for federal aid to education, a sign that I was a pro- or crypto- Red. The incumbent made much of this. He finally debated me in his county of Scoharie. The dairy interests were powerful in that section, and I had to learn, rather quickly, all about milk marketing orders, a subject far from my heart. As the milk producers were few though passionate—and rich—I responded to threats that they would do me in if milk was not properly subsidized by saying that I was essentially the consumers' candidate and consumers outnumber dairymen by a vast number. Then, innocently, I wondered aloud whether or not these subsidies were—well, socialist? If so, we had achieved socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.”
--Gore Vidal on his 1960 run for U.S. Congress (NY-29th), in his memoir, Palimpsest, 1995. He lost, of course, but began a tradition of writers with a political bent (Mailer, Buckley, Mailer again, Vidal again) running for political office and losing. In this 1960 New York Times profile on the 34-year-old candidate, the newspaper or record describes Vidal as slender, sharp, sophisticated, and (and despite the publication of The City and the Pillar 13 years earlier) “a bachelor.”
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day VII
“This morning, Jackie [Kennedy]'s will was described in the Italian press. Lee [Radziwill] was left out of it on the grounds that Jackie had done quite enough for her in life, which was certainly true. I wonder if, at the end, Jackie had come to dislike Lee as much as everyone else did. Happily, Lee's malice is mitigated by her slowness of mind.”
--Gore Vidal, Palimpsest, 1995
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day VI
“'Whenever there's a Republican president, I'm a Democrat, and when there's a Democratic one, I'm out of step.'”
--Gore Vidal, quoting his grandfather, Sen. Thomas Pryor Gore (D-OK), in the chapter, “Dah,” from his memoir Palimpsest, 1995. Gore, we're told by his grandson, thought no foreign war worth the life of an American, and when wired by the Oklahoma City chamber of commerce to vote for war in 1917, he wired back, “How many of your members are of draft age?”
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day V
“Without the idea of free will, the human race is of no interest at all; certainly, without the idea of free will there can be no literature. To watch Milton's Lucifer serenely overthrow the controlling intelligence of his writerly creator is an awesome thing.”
--Gore Vidal, “Lessing's Science Fiction,” The New York Review of Books, December 20, 1979
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day IV
“In any case, write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect: that is the only way out of the dead end of the Serious Novel which so many ambitious people want to write and no one on earth—or even on campus—wants to read.”
--Gore Vidal, “Thomas Love Peacock: The Novel of Ideas,” The New York Review of Books, December 4, 1980
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day III
“Most men—homo or hetero—given the opportunity to have sex with 500 different people would do so, gladly; but most men are not going to be given the opportunity by a society that wants them safely married so they will be docile workers and loyal consumers. It does not suit our rulers to have the proles tomcatting around the way that our rulers do.”
--Gore Vidal, “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star,” The Nation, November 14, 1981
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day II
“When Confucius was asked what would be the first thing that he would do if he were to lead the state—his never-to-be-fulfilled dream—he said rectify the language. This is wise. This is subtle. As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: You liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
--Gore Vidal, “The Day the American Empire Ran Out of Gas,” The Nation, January 11, 1986
Gore Vidal Quote of the Day I
“I had seen [Ronald Reagan] in the flesh for a decade or so as each of us earned his mite in the Hollyjungle. Ronnie was already notorious for his speeches for General Electric, excoriating communists who were, apparently, everywhere. I had never actually spoken to him at a party because I knew—as who did not?—that although he was the soul of amiability when not excoriating the international monolithic menace of atheistic godless communism, he was, far and away, Hollywood's most grinding bore—Chester Chatterbox, in fact. Ronnie never stopped talking, even though he never had anything to say except what he had just read in the Reader's Digest, which he studied the way Jefferson studied Montesquieu.”
--Gore Vidal, “Ron and Nancy: A Life in Pictures,” from The New York Review of Books, September 29, 1983