erik lundegaard

Friday November 30, 2012

What Does the GOP Stand For?

The other day I went to Five Spot at the top of Queen Anne for lunch with a friend. I hadn't been there in a while but I always liked their various themes: Caribbean food this month, Portlandia food the next. For November? There was, of course, an election theme, with super-pork sandwiches and Super Pac entrees, and various election-themed artwork around the restaurant, including, my personal favorite, this painting of a to-do list (“MARRIAGE EQUALITY: HA HA HA HA”) and a list of “To Actually Do” (“Cry, Obstruct, Pander, Cry”), from the desk of John Boehner:

"From the desk of John Boehner" at Five Spot restaurant in Queen Anne, Seattle

I also noticed we were sitting beneath the Republican elephant, which is, in a sense, where all of us have been sitting for the past 30 years.

The Republican elephant never forgets and the Democrat donkey is stubborn. Old metaphors.

Republicans have recently been worrying about the growing minority population in the U.S., since they can no longer win presidential elections by demonizing minorities, but their concerns should go deeper. The GOP used to be good at, or at least known for, the following:

  • accountability
  • fiscal responsibility
  • a strong military

They're no longer accountable since they live in their own world; they balloon deficits via tax cuts for the rich while Dems are more likely to balance the budget; and they start unnecessary wars with false information and are unable to capture or kill our enemies, the people who truly attack us, leaving that mess for the Dems to clean up. Then they disparage the way the Dems clean it up.

What does the GOP currently stand for besides tax cuts for the rich and various petty hatreds of the weak and vulnerable?

GOP elephant

My view vis a vis the GOP: 1981-present.

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Posted at 03:33 PM on Nov 30, 2012 in category Politics
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Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

WARNING: SEV-2 SPOILERS

“Wreck-It Ralph” is about what happens to video-game characters after you leave the arcade. It’s “Toy Story” for the digital age.

Not as good, of course. It’s got some wit and laugh-out loud moments. If you’re a parent and your kid wants to go, I’m sure you’ll appreciate it. If you’re a gamer or computer geek, I’m sure you’ll appreciate it on a deeper level than I did. But I’m neither parent nor gamer so I thought it was merely … OK.

Bad-Anon
Wreck-It Ralph posterOur protagonist and title character is Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the low-brow, fist-heavy bad guy of the 30-year-old arcade game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” In pixilated low-def, Ralph wrecks a building and Felix (steered by the user, and voiced by Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock”) fixes it; then the residents of the building give Felix a medal, pick up Ralph, and throw him off the roof and into the mud below.

Problem? Ralph is tired of being the bad guy. Even at the end of the day, when the kids go home and the characters are free to do what they want, Felix is feted by the building’s residents while Ralph drags himself to the nearby dump and sleeps on a pile of rocks. He airs his complaints at Bad-Anon, a support group for video-game villains (including one of the ghosts from Pac-Man), who end each meeting with this affirmation:

I’m bad and that’s good.
I will never be good and that’s not bad.
There’s no one I’d rather be than me.

But he’s still lonely. When the building’s residents hold a 30th anniversary party, he crashes it, gets into an argument with Gene (Raymond S. Persi), the mustached fussbudget, and splatters the celebratory cake everywhere with his massive fists. Then he declares he’ll win a medal like Felix and show everyone.

Whither Q*bert?
A few rules of this universe. If a character dies outside their video game they die for good. No regeneration. And if they don’t make it back to their video game in time, they risk the dreaded “Out of Order” sign, which is a step away from being unplugged; then they’ll be forced to fend for themselves in a kind of video-game port authority, with surge protectors policing the area and unplugged characters, such as Q*bert, begging for handouts. Finally, if you try to insert yourself into someone else’s video game, that’s called “going Turbo,” after the character Turbo, who headed up the most popular racing game of the early ’80s. Then another game became more popular so he tried to take it over, which led to both games being unplugged. Lesson there.

Which Ralph, being Ralph, ignores. He learns a medal awaits the winner of “Hero’s Duty,” a high-def, first-person shooter game, and he immediately steals the dark-metal spacesuit of one of its soldiers, then mucks up the game. Worse, he rides, or is ridden by, a spaceship with a Cy-Bug attached, and they wind up in Sugar Rush, a brightly colored, girly, racing game, where the Cy-Bug begins to lay eggs and Ralph quickly loses the medal to a sassy sprite named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). She sees it as a coin with which she can enter a race, which she’s never done since she’s a glitch: fading in and out of view. But she feels racing is in her code.

For a time they team up. Ralph helps Vanellope train so she can win the race and get his medal back. But then the ruler of Sugar Rush, King Candy (Alan Tudyk doing Ed Wynn), warns him that if Vanellope wins or places, she’ll become a user choice; and when she glitches they’ll complain; and the game will be unplugged and everyone will be forced to leave. Except Vanellope, who, as a glitch, can’t leave the game. She’ll die with it.

Burdened with this news, Ralph, stricken, does what he does best: his big fists wreck Vanellope’s car. It’s his first heroic act of the movie but he’s never felt more like a bad guy.

Worse, when he returns to his own game, an “Out of Order” sign is taped to the window. His absence was noted by gamers, the sign affixed, and Felix Jr., a kind of gee-whiz good guy, went in search of him. Now everyone’s gone. Everyone but Gene, who fussily commends Ralph on his medal before leaving for good.

Cleverbot
This is about when the movie got interesting for me. Up to this point, Ralph has been an unsympathetic character in pursuit of a pathetic goal. But when he heaves his medal against the “Out of Order” sign on the opposite side of the glass, it tilts, and beyond it he sees Vanellope’s face on the “Sugar Rush” game. And a light goes on. If Vanellope was a glitch, why would she be pictured on the game? Now Ralph’s got a better motivation than getting a medal. He needs to find out what King Candy is up to and save Vanellope in the process.

Ready for the big spoilers? King Candy is really Turbo, Vanellope is really a princess, and during  the big race the Cy-Bugs hatch and attack. Sugar Rush is defended by Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the hard-ass fem-babe of “Hero’s Duty,” and, most of all, by Ralph, who, through the magic of coca-cola and Mentos, eliminates the Cy-Bugs and Turbo. Order is restored. Felix and Calhoun kiss. Everyone lives happily ever after.

But it’s not clever enough. It’s got clever bits but Pixar movies are steeped in it. This feels like a corporation, the Disney corporation, using its corporate mentality to try to ape the individualistic, artistic sensibility of a company like Pixar. A lot of what they come up with is derivative, a lot is broad, too many opportunities are missed.

The voicework, particularly by  Silver, Brayer, Lynch and Tudyk, is fantastic. But our main character? Ralph? And John C. Reilly’s voice that went with him? Annoyed me throughout. I never liked him. I never even felt sorry for him. And I’ve felt sorry for some pretty despicable characters in the movies.

In another lifetime I worked in the video-game industry. I was a software test engineer in the early days of Xbox, working on Xbox-specific sports games like “NFL Fever” and “NBA Inside Drive.” I was the non-gamer in the group, there by accident, a kind of glitch myself, and my job was to find bugs and label them according to severity or “sev.” Sev 1 bugs crash the game, sev 2 bugs halt it in some fashion, sev 3s are annoying, sev 4s are merely suggestions that tend to get ignored by the developer.

I’d label Ralph somewhere between a sev 2 and sev 3 bug. He’s annoying and he halts the movie for me. He’s bad and that’s not good.

I know. By Design.

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Posted at 07:22 AM on Nov 30, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Thursday November 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

“The notion of a pervasive constructed world of falsehood and illusion built on the fabrications of the press and the liberal establishment has long been central to the American far right. And since Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater before him, the knowledge that its supporters have their own truth, that they are forced to battle continually against an intensively propagandized false reality, has been a vital energizing trump of “movement” Republicans. It means that Republicans, whether in power or not, are always in opposition. Even when they hold the White House and Congress, still the great bulk of the news media in New York and Washington with its vaunted “objectivity”; the culture industry in New York and California with its Hollywood vulgarity and easy virtues; the permanent bureaucracy of unionized government employees and teachers with their sinecures and perks—all remain immovably liberal. Republicans, “in power” or not, are forced to struggle always to conquer false truth, and that constant struggle has been a source of great motivating mobilizing power ...

”Of course occasionally into these great self-sustaining master narratives comes a rude interruption from something…real.“

-- Mark Danner, ”How, and What, Obama Won," in The New York Review of Books, which is a delicious, delicious read.

9/12 tea party rally: we came unarmed this time

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Posted at 05:03 PM on Nov 29, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Bill O'Reilly's Real Nightmare

This came my way via Facebook, which is apparently still good for things beside copyright hoaxes. Every panel I was like, “Yes .. Yes ... YES!” Ruben Bolling has turned me into Molly Bloom.

Tom the Dancing Bug: Bill O'Reilly's Nightmare

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Posted at 03:25 PM on Nov 29, 2012 in category Politics
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Jordy's Reviews: Frankenweenie (2012)

From my nephew, Jordy, 11:

I may be writing about it late, but you should see “Frankenweenie,” Tim Burton’s recreation of his own film (something you don’t see every day.) It has great animation, a great story, and some problems.

“Frankenweenie” is the story of a boy and his dog, and for the sake of this movie, dog is man’s best friend. (I think it’s woman, but…) Anyway, the dog gets run over running after a baseball, which is ironic, since baseball is normally a young boy’s favorite thing. The kid is lonely, so his new crazy science teacher shows how electricity sparks life back in an animal for a few seconds. Frankenweenie (2012)The kid gets an idea, and the next thing you know, the boy’s dog is back. He’s happy, but then other people become involved and it gets out of hand. The story compelled me, mostly because I can relate to a dog passing on (R.I.P Seymour). It really touched me.

The animation is also crisp, with its black and white style to reference the original film. I have to say that this is being a lot more creative than a lot of other animated films. They seem to try to lure you in with color. Tim Burton brings us in with being old-school, to please adults more, it seems. Nice move, Tim Burton.

I also love the script. It references the past movie, it seems, and every line is well-written. The characters are well-made, and I feel like this movie’s story has stood the test of 28 years, judging by what my grandmother thought of the movie.

However, that seems like all it has to offer. It needs more. It hits some of the highest points, but misses the others. We need a little bit of comedy, we need a bit more drama, we just need more. The movie also doesn’t do too well with the action scenes in my opinion, not engaging me at all. However, this movie isn’t about action or drama or comedy. This is about the story, and it does so well there, along with the animation and script, that I can’t say, “This movie is terrible because it needs more.” It does so well with the high points that the low points feel less important because of the engaging story. See it when it comes to DVD with your family. You won’t regret it.

83%

Okay For 6+  (This movie has some violence in it, and with its topic of rising from the dead might scare some younger audiences.)

Next Review: Rise Of The Guardians

~Jordan Muschler

(Hi, everyone, I can’t thank you enough for all the suggestions and feedback you’ve given me. And now, I need another favor. If you live in the Minneapolis metro area, I would really appreciate you coming to the Riverview theatre November 29th, for I am judging in a film festival about Minnesota neighborhoods. All the money raised goes into a scholarship at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and I would really appreciate you coming. It starts at 5:30 PM, and if you come I will review anything you want me to review, within the limits of my reviewing abilities—like no M-rated games or R-rated movies. Thank you for reading this.)

(Please leave a comment suggesting what you want me to review or what you thought of “Frankenweenie.” Thanks!)

Ryan, Jordy and Seymour

Ryan, Jordy and Seymour.

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Posted at 05:50 AM on Nov 29, 2012 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Wednesday November 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

“The players must understand the owners aren't against them. But the owners are fed up with Miller. They simply aren't going to let Marvin Miller run over them anymore.”

--Paul Richards, vice-president of the Atlanta Braves, in 1972, just before Marvin Miller and the MLBPA ran over the owners big time. In the process, of course, the owners became richer than ever.

The quote comes from Red Smith's article, “Owners' Armor Has Its Chinks,” in the April 9, 1972, New York Times. Miller died yesterday at the age of 95.

It's an intersting article--available as .pdf on the NY Times site. Basically Smith lets the owners hoist themselves.  August A. Busch, Jr. (St. Louis Cardinals) talks about baseball being not a game but a business, and they need to treat it like a business. Then Bob Howsam, GM of the Cincinnati Reds, complains that to Miller “money seems to be his only concern,” as if that's not a business concern as well. In his autobiography, “A Whole Different Ball Game,” Miller cites Smith as one of the few scribes who didn't take cheap shots at the union, and who asked probing questions to get at the facts.

Here's the Times' obit.

Marvin Miller and Joe Torre at the end of the 1972 players strike

MLBPA rep Marvin Miller, and player rep (and 1971 NL MVP) Joe Torre, at the end of the April 1972 players strike.

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Posted at 11:43 AM on Nov 28, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Marvin Miller (1917-2012)

Marvin Miller, the labor lawyer who became Executive Director of the Major League Baseball's Players Association in 1966 at the age of 49 (my age), and who led the MLBPA out of the era of the reserve clause (a player bound to a team for llife) and into the era of free agency and riches, and thus revolutionized the game, died yesterday at the age of 95.

Most of the encomiums in the sports press come in the form of lamentations that Miller isn't in the Hall of Fame. Rob Neyer has a good piece on that as well: “Who Kept Marvin Miller out of the Hall of Fame, Anyway?” He suggests you cut back your anger at the owners; it was the players.

My favorite line about Miller, though, has always been Curt Flood's from Ken Burns' “Baseball” documentary: “The moment we found out that the owners didn't want Marvin Miller, he was our guy.” Would that every industry had its guy.

I read Miller's autobiography, “A Whole Different Ball Game,” in 1996 and wrote the following review, for no one, but I offer it here now. Rest in peace, Mr. Miller.

*  *  *

A Whole Different Ball Game

When discussing the history of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) my mind tends towards the Danis Moore skit from “Monty Python's Flying Circus.” Danis is a Robin Hood figure whose theme song goes something like this:

Danis Moore, Danis Moore
Riding through the land
He robs from the rich
And gives to the poor
Danis Moore, Danis Moore, Danis Moore...

After awhile the rich he steals from have nothing, and the poor, surrounded by wealth, reject his meagre offerings. The theme song is then amended:

He robs from the poor
And gives to the rich
What a bitch!

Confronted by this fact, Danis (John Cleese) looks confused. ”This economics thing is a bit more complicated than I thought,“ he says.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the MLBPA, and the man most responsible for ending the reserve clause and bringing free agency to baseball, admits no such thing—and with some reason. Yes, the poor of baseball (the players) became rich as a result of Miller's leadership, but the rich (the owners) did not suffer a subsequent loss in income. On the contrary, their industry and individual franchises grew at the same astronomical rates as player's salaries.

So who suffered? The fans, perhaps. Baseball is still one of the cheapest entertainments around, but owners' tendencies to squeeze every ounce of juice from baseball has led to some increasingly suspect innovations. The DH rule. Night-time World Series games. Expansion teams. More divisions and playoffs, so the post-season is extended, so all prime-time World Series games are played in the cold and dark of late October rather than the sun and warmth of early October. And now we have interleague play.

Miller may try to talk like a fan, he may whimsically mention growing up in the shadow of Ebbets' Field and loving the Dodgers, but his position as Executive Director of the MLBPA from 1966 to 1984 necessitates a different perspective than that of the average fan. Mention 1981 and what do most fans think of? A strike. An awful, botched season. Asterisks in the record book. What does Marvin Miller think of? ”It was the most principled strike I've ever been associated with; it was the Association's finest hour.“

Does Miller even write about the fans in this book? Only once that I can recall. In the 1960s, Pittsburgh owner Dan Galbreath was urging Pirate players to sign more autographs and make more public appearances: to be more appreciative of the fans. Pirate star Roberto Clemente then relayed a dream he had the night before, about the days when he would be too enfeebled to play the game, and how the fans, unable to let him go, would buy him a rocking chair and sit him between the stands and the right field foul line where he could rest easy during his retirement.

”You know, Mr. Galbreath, was that dream is?“
Galbreath hesitated. ”No, what?“
Clemente replied firmly, ”It is bool-sheet!“

Granted, fans can be fickle. Granted, fan support is nothing next to a good retirement package. But without fans there would be no Major League Baseball.

It's ironic that this great union man, famous for finagling owners out of their secured and exalted position as Lords of Baseball, should, in his autobiography, convince me that a third group, the fans, have been barred from the labor-management table.

His autobiography is almost a disservice to the man. He keeps taking cheap shots at Bowie Kuhn (”Bowie was in the clouds, all right, but it was cloud nine“) when the actions of the former commissioner speak, in petty, retarded fashion, for themselves. Every slight bothers Miller. At his Hall of Fame induction, Catfish Hunter thanked the owners without mentioning the Players Association. Mike Marshall, an iconoclast, was the only rep to vote against free agency in 1976 and he has yet to explain himself. Reggie Jackson's autobiography fails to mention the Union. Miller can't abide any of it.

There are some interesting and surprising takes on different baseball matters. He rails against agents and the players who are foolish enough to give them astronomical amounts of money for what Miller considers a few hours of phone work. He blames Don Fehr for letting players lose touch with their own labor history. He also admonishes current players, some of whom are making more by themselves than all professional baseball players were making when Miller took over in 1966, to periodically reflect on how it all came about. Ever the pragmatist, he admits, ”it's unlikely to happen.”

The book itself is structured poorly. A chapter on Bowie Kuhn takes us all the way up to 1984 when we haven't gotten out of the early days of the Union yet. Surely, a chronological approach would have been more effective.

But there are small moments. I enjoyed his report on the difference between two presidents of the United States: being impressed with John F. Kennedy's command of facts and intelligent, curious nature; and being dispappointed when Ronald Reagan read a general greeting “that a 10-year-old could have mouthed off the top of his head” on 3x5 index cards. He's good on owner arrogance, on the cheapness of Calvin Griffith, and how the media was often in lockstep with the owners, particularly in the early days. He writes: “I was mocked in print before I even had the job with facetious questions, such as 'Will managers be forced to seek Mr. Miller's permission to yank a pitcher or send a utility man back to the minors?'”

Then there's his takedown of Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn:

Kuhn must be singled out as the most important contributor to the successes of the Players Association. His moves consistently backfired; his attempts at leadership created divisions. His inability to distinguish between reality and his prejudices, his lack of concern for the rights of players, sections of the press, and even of the stray, unpopular owner—all combined to make Kuhn a vital ingredient in the growth and strength of the union.

In his book, Marvin Miller has made me realize what should have been obvious a long time ago: that the Commissioner of Baseball is selected and paid for by the owners, and thus looks out for owners' interests. It made me wonder how other industries are regulated (surely not by the owners of the industry). It also made me hope that someday Major League Baseball will get itself a real Commissioner: someone who will look after, not only owner and player interests, but fan interests as well.

--November 1, 1996

Marvin Miller and Curt Flood, testing the reserve clause

Marvin Miller and Curt Flood, testing the reserve clause.

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Nov 28, 2012 in category Baseball
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Tuesday November 27, 2012

Jackie Robinson: Yankees 'Got No Class"

“The Yankees always managed to emit an image of refinement but up close they could be nasty, and during the [1947] Series they'd been hurling some of the foulest racial epithets [Jackie] Robinson had heard all year. 'They got no class,' Robinson told one black reporter. 'They hide in the dugout and shout at me. If they weren't yellow, they'd come out in the open and saying something. What are they hollering? All kinds of filth. And race remarks. I wish I knew who they are. Nobody says anything when they get on base or out on the field. If they think they can upset my playing, they're crazy.'”

-- from Jonathan Eig's book, “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season,” pg. 254.

Jackie Robinson, 1947 World Series

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Posted at 02:10 PM on Nov 27, 2012 in category Yankees Suck
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Lincoln's Voice: at Gettysburg and (Hollywood) Elsewhere

I know Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsehwere, for one, objected to the way Daniel Day-Lewis voices Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” Even after Wells owned up to its historical accuracy, he objected. He called it “flat, undistinctive, unimpressive, Matthew Modine-ish.” It gave him the shivers.

I actually liked it, along with everything else about Day-Lewis' performance. More important, most important, it is historically accurate. Last night I was reading Garry Wills' “Lincoln at Gettsburg: The Words that Remade America,” and came across the passage below, in which Lincoln is contrasted with Edward Everett, teacher of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the main speaker at Gettysburg that day. He was considered the country's great orator after the death of Daniel Webster:

Everett's voice was sweet and expertly modulated; Lincoln's was high to the point of shrillness, and his Kentucky accent offended some Eastern sensibilities. But Lincoln derived an advantage from his high tenor voice—carrying power. If there is agreement on one aspect of Lincoln's delivery, at Gettysburg and elsewhere, it is his audibility. Modern impersonators of Lincoln, like Walter Huston, Raymond Massey, Henry Fonda, and the various actors who give voice to Disneyland animations of the President, bring him before us as a baritone, which is considred a more manly or heroic voice—though both Roosevelt presidents of this century were tenors. What should not be forgotten is that Lincoln was himself an actor, an expert raconteur and mimic, and one who spent hours reading speeches out of Shakespeare to any willing (and some unwilling) audiences. He knew a good deal about rhythmic delivery and meaningful inflections.

It's a shame that Wells' machismo, which he often wears like a Paul Fist-in-Your-Face, overrules his sensibilities regarding Hollywood bullshit: the ways that the movies have lied to us forever. After 100 years, a Hollywood movie finally gets something right and he attacks it for that very reason.

Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln, tenor

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Posted at 08:31 AM on Nov 27, 2012 in category Movies
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Monday November 26, 2012

The Most Brilliant and Necessary Thing You'll See All Day: 'Onion Talks' on Social Media

This is basically my thoughts about corporations and social media. My favorite part:

“Using your brains to think of an idea and your skills to implement it? Tha's the old model. And like anything that's old and requires effort, it's inefficient.”

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Posted at 02:10 PM on Nov 26, 2012 in category Culture
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Movie Review: Flight (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Flight” has an obvious double meaning: both Southjet flight #227, with 102 passengers on board, which Capt. Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) lands in a Georgia field after a mechanical failure, saving all but six people; and Whitaker’s subsequent flight from the knowledge, the lifelong knowledge, that he’s a drunk and an alcoholic, and that he landed the plane under the influence, and now people know.

The trailer really plays up the hero angle, doesn’t it? I went back and looked at it again. It implies that “Flight” is a movie about a heroic pilot who saves 100 lives in a derring-do, upside-down, crash landing—thrillingly filmed by director Robert Zemeckis and DP Don Burgess—and then runs into some bullshit. But the movie’s about the bullshit. And it’s not bullshit.

Feelin’ Alright
Poster for "Flight," starring Denzel WashingtonThe movie opens at 7:14 AM—an homage to Babe Ruth or “Dragnet”?—as Whitaker is awakened by his iPhone. His bed partner, flight attendant Nadine (Katerina Marquez ), is awakened, too; and while he staggers his way through a conversation with his ex-wife, she walks back and forth, stunning us with her nakedness. At one point she bends over. “I’ve been up since … the crack of dawn,” Whit says to his ex-wife. It’s his first lie in the movie. At least it’s a witty one. Is there a reason for this nakedness other than the “wow” factor? Is it designed to make us feel guilty? Distracted? We thought we were seeing a Denzel Washington character study and suddenly we’re waylaid by this naked beauty.

At which point Whip hangs up, finishes his beer, snorts some cocaine and gets ready to fly an airplane in bad weather. Yeah, “Flight” won’t be your in-flight movie anytime soon.

So we know his problem from the get-go. Would the movie have been better if, like the trailer, it had engaged in a little subterfuge? If it had begun with Capt. Whitman entering the cockpit, the conversation there, the cup of coffee? We think we’re watching the story of a hero and object when the railroading begins. Until we realize it isn’t railroading.

The straightforward approach has the advantage of being straightforward. It has the disadvantage of not surprising us much.

The soundtrack doesn’t help. Whip’s drunk/coked-up walk to the airplane is accompanied by Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright (Not feeling too good myself).” His first visitor in the hospital is Harling Mays (John Goodman), friend and drug dealer, whose entrance is accompanied by the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” As foreplay at Whip’s farm? Marvin Gaye.

Sympathy for the Devil
 Harling is an interesting character. He’s essentially a bad person, the man who keeps Whip on the wrong path, but we like him because he’s John Goodman. He bosses around the nurse, calls her “Nurse Ratched,” and, when she’s gone, leaves Whip some smokes and “stroke mags.” He would’ve left vodka, too, but Whip tells him to take it with him. He’s in shock at this point. He’s trying to change. Six people died on his watch, including Nadine. And now the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) knows about his problem. They took blood from the flight crew, including those, like Nadine, who didn’t survive, and they know about the booze and coke. What we don’t know, what we don’t find out until a late-morning meeting between the pilots’ union rep (Bruce Greenwood), Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), a quiet-but-tough Chicago lawyer, and Whip, is that Whip’s blood-alcohol level was .24. That’s three times the legal limit to drive. A car. He’s facing criminal negligence and manslaughter charges.

Pursued by the media, pursued by his demons, Whip tries to remove all evidence of his problem. At the family farm, where he learned to fly in a Cessna 172 crop duster, he gets rid of all the booze: beer, wine, hard liquor. He gets involved in a relationship with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a red-headed masseuse and heroin addict whom he met in the stairwell of the hospital, and whose story, pre-crash, had been intercut with his. She goes to AA meetings. He falls off the wagon in a bad way. If he was ever on it.

As bad as we thought he was? He’s worse. Denzel is amazing here. The overwhelming confidence he brings to his characters is cut in half, and laced with doubt and guilt. He’s overweight and out-of-shape but you see it more in the way his face crumbles. His mouth doesn’t work right and his chin recedes. Screenwriter John Gatins is an alcoholic himself and he gets all the excuses right. “What, you want to count the fucking beers?” he says to Nicole. “I choose to drink,” he says to everyone, particularly himself. Watching Denzel, I got flashbacks to the alcoholics I’ve known. It’s not like Goodman. There’s no charm here. There’s just sadness and disgust.

The movie builds toward a public hearing before the NTSB and we find ourselves in Whip’s shoes, rooting for him to get away with it. I caught myself doing this several times and consciously reversed course. No, get caught, motherfucker. For you and the people who know you.

The reckoning is predictable, and of Whip’s choosing. He has his “one too many lies” moment. He can’t tell another. In the end he can’t lie about Nadine, the girl he was with in the beginning, and who never made it out of Flight #227.

What’s Going On?
There are some great supporting performances here, particularly Goodman, Cheadle, Melissa Leo as the NTSB investigator and James Badge Dale as a cancer patient, and of course Denzel dominates, but the movie’s too long. 138 minutes? I would’ve cut Nicole’s whole backstory—shooting up, trouble with the scuzzy landlord, blah blah—as well as Whip’s final scene with his son, and ended it with him talking to his fellow prisoners: “For the first time in my life I’m free.” When he said it I thought: Good end. But the movie kept going.

The bigger problem? Stories about alcoholics are not that interesting. You either continue on your downward trajectory, hit bottom and struggle back up, or die. That’s it, and that’s not enough. Is there a way to make them better? Everyone carries around something that weighs on them, some shame, but most of us are able to live with it. We function in a way alcoholics can’t. Thus there’s no public reckoning or admission. Is another group of people involved in this kind of public confession? With like-minded people? It’s like coming out of the closet but without the celebration. Maybe there should be more celebration. There’s the shame of your life being controlled and consumed, but there’s courage in the confession.

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Posted at 07:16 AM on Nov 26, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday November 25, 2012

Hollywood B.O.: 'Twilight' Stumbles, 'Lincoln' Surges

The headlines are all about how “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” and “Skyfall” led the way during this record-setting Thanksgiving weekend. The previous overall record was $175.2 million, set three years ago, and the new record is $206.7 million, which, yes, is about what “The Avengers” grossed opening weekend in May.

Here are the headlines:

And here's the top 10:

  Movie Weekend Thtrs /Change Average Total Gross
1 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 $43,070,000 4,070 - $10,582 $226,951,000
2 Skyfall $36,000,000 3,526 21 $10,210 $221,720,000
3 Lincoln $25,020,000 2,018 243 $12,398 $62,178,000
4 Rise of the Guardians $24,025,000 3,653 - $6,577 $32,607,000
5 Life of Pi $22,000,000 2,902 - $7,581 $30,150,000
6 Wreck-It Ralph $16,760,000 3,259 -363 $5,143 $149,512,000
7 Red Dawn (2012) $14,600,000 2,724 - $5,360 $22,004,000
8 Flight $8,600,000 2,638 26 $3,260 $74,880,000
9 Silver Linings Playbook $4,623,000 367 351 $12,597 $6,451,000
10 Argo $3,875,000 1,255 -955 $3,088 $98,114,000

So the headlines are technically accurate.

The amazing thing is that during a record-breaking weekend, in which it was the No. 1 movie, the “Twilight” movie still fell off by nearly 70%:

  Movie Weekend
% Diff.
Average Total Gross
1 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $43,070,000 -69.50% $10,582 $226,951,000
2 Skyfall $36,000,000 -12.40% $10,210 $221,720,000
3 Lincoln $25,020,000 18.90% $12,398 $62,178,000
4 Rise of the Guardians $24,025,000 - $6,577 $32,607,000
5 Life of Pi $22,000,000 - $7,581 $30,150,000
6 Wreck-It Ralph $16,760,000 -9.80% $5,143 $149,512,000
7 Red Dawn (2012) $14,600,000 - $5,360 $22,004,000
8 Flight $8,600,000 -2.30% $3,260 $74,880,000
9 Silver Linings Playbook $4,623,000 943.60% $12,597 $6,451,000
10 Argo $3,875,000 -4.20% $3,088 $98,114,000

Look at the other films. “Silver Linings Playbook” went wider than its original dozen or so theaters and increased exponentially. “Lincoln” added 243 theaters in its third weekend and increased by nearly 20%. That indicates very good word-of-mouth. The others—“Argo,” “Flight,” “Wreck-It Ralph”—dropped single percentages. Again: impressive.

And “Twilight”? Or “TTS:BDP2”? It had the 12th-biggest second-weekend drop for any film opening in more than 3,000 theaters:

  Movie 1st Wknd $ Drop 2nd Wknd Thtrs
1 Friday the 13th (2009) $40,570,365 -80.40% $7,942,472 3,105
2 Doom $15,488,870 -72.70% $4,228,385 3,042
3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) $32,902,299 -72.30% $9,119,389 3,332
4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $169,189,427 -72.00% $47,422,212 4,375
5 Paranormal Activity 4 $29,003,866 -70.70% $8,510,186 3,412
6 Hellboy II: The Golden Army $34,539,115 -70.70% $10,117,815 3,212
7 Valentine's Day $56,260,707 -70.40% $16,665,299 3,665
8 The Twilight Saga: New Moon $142,839,137 -70.00% $42,870,031 4,042
9 Eragon $23,239,907 -69.90% $7,006,467 3,030
10 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 $138,122,261 -69.80% $41,683,574 4,066
11 Hulk $62,128,420 -69.70% $18,847,620 3,674
12 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $141,067,634 -69.50% $43,070,000 4,070

Among movies opening in more than 4,000 theaters? Fourth-biggest: the last “Harry Potter” and then two previous “Twilight” movies. So in a certain sense, it improved, right? A bit? At the same time, when seemingly everyone was going to the movies, “TTS:DBP2” still fell off nearly 70%.

In other good news, “Red Dawn” was finally released to a big yawn. It finished in 7th place. I guess American moviegoers have better things to do than indulge in the right-wing fantasy of North Korea, a tiny country that can barely feed itself, successfully attacking what is after all the strongest country in the history of the world. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick would have a better shot.

The numbers here.

Go see “Lincoln.” My nephew Jordy wants you to.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"

Lincoln: first in war, first in peace, and third at the box office.

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Posted at 02:09 PM on Nov 25, 2012 in category Movies - Box Office
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Pundit Shaming: Laura Ingraham

I came across this the other day. I think I started on YouTube with Louis CK and somehow wound up with Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P.) in 2008 defending then-candidate Barack Obama against Laura Ingraham on FOX-News. Here's the exchange that pricked up my ears:

Hitchens: The losers in this are not me, it's the MoveOn.org types. They're campaigning for someone who says if necessary he'll go straight across the border into Pakistan to root these guys out. And McCain has attacked Obama, saying, “How can you be so militant?”
Ingraham: That's bravado. That's campaign bravado, though.

The “bravado” she's talking about is Obama's militant stance toward Pakistan, which she favors, rather than McCain's objection to said stance. Later, when Hitchens says Obama is evolving toward his position, Ingraham interrupts again:

He's in a campaign. That's a big bet, though, is it not? That's a big bet on the War on Terror you're making.

A bet that paid off. Then she goes on to defend Sarah Palin. Fun!

The above starts at 2:00:

Any correction from Ms. Ingraham after the killing of Osama bin Laden? Any mea culpa? A sense of humility somewhere? Someone alert the pundit-shaming tumblr, which should be the busiest site on the Web.

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Posted at 07:32 AM on Nov 25, 2012 in category Politics
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Saturday November 24, 2012

Face Front, Dark Knight!

This is pretty funny. Could be funnier, but I like the basic premise: “The Avengers” (channeling Stan Lee) equals fun; “The Dark Knight” (channeling Frank Miller) not so much:

You could include James Bond in the mix now, too. He's gone Dark Knight on us.

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Posted at 12:55 PM on Nov 24, 2012 in category Superheroes
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Superman vs. Batman: Last Word

“The appeal of flight. I mean … Batman’s got a cool car. But flight is what really captures people’s imaginations. To take two or three running steps and to soar into the air. That’s everybody’s dream.”

--Christopher Reeve, being interviewed for the doc, “Making Superman: Filming the Legend,” near the end of his life.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

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Posted at 08:13 AM on Nov 24, 2012 in category Superheroes
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Thursday November 22, 2012

Jordy's Reviews: Lincoln (2012)

My nephew Jordy, 11, doesn't hold back in his review of Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln”...

And the Oscar goes to… “Lincoln”! For what? Well, first, Daniel Day-Lewis will win best actor, because if he killed the role anymore he would’ve been a zombie. Second, for the script, capturing the personalities of every single character. And last, Steven Spielberg, and I don’t even have to explain why. HE’S STEVEN SPIELBERG!!! Why is this movie amazing? Why is nobody going to care about the supporting cast? Why did they call this movie Lincoln? Find out below! (There’s no commercial break.)

Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012)“Lincoln” starts off with a civil war scene in which bayonets do their work and you see brutal war. Then we go to a part where some African-Americans have a conversation with Honest Abe. They talk about equality, and how maybe in the next 100 years, we could learn to have a black man be a colonel in the army. Than we see people who have memorized the Gettysburg Address. Sound boring? It’s not, unless you’re young or don’t like history. In this scene, you learn 3 things: A), Daniel Day-Lewis is off-his-rocker good; B), the writing is great; and C), Lincoln is a hero. We already knew that, but now we’re sure.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the writing, by Tony Kushner, is amazing. Seriously, anyone who can make Abraham Lincoln say “No sight can make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington” deserves an Oscar. The movie also has these comedy moments that are just hilarious but flow well and are believable.

After the opening scene, we learn about how Lincoln is trying to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in all its forms. We probably already know that’s why Lincoln is famous. However, Spielberg does this movie so well that even if I already know what’s going to happen, he can still make me nervous. I get nervous because the entire cast is excellent. Everybody. However, nobody will care. Why? Because Daniel Day-Lewis is too good. His performance might as well say, “I am the world’s biggest diva. Fear me, for I will outshadow all of you in every single way.” HE’S THAT GOOD!

The climax of the movie deserves its own paragraph. As I said, I don’t care if I know the history, I was on the edge of my seat while they were voting whether to pass the 13th Amendment or not. Lincoln isn’t even in the scene that much. It’s the Representatives, the speaker, the gallery and that’s it. It’s like a Clint Eastwood showdown, except there’s no action and everybody’s sitting. It’s that dramatic.

In the movie, there are also concerns involving family. Two of Lincoln’s sons have already died. However, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the eldest son, wants to join the army. Lincoln and his wife don’t want him to join. Lincoln also has to take care of his youngest son, Thomas, who is very entertaining and is truly a kid in the movie.

The movie has great attention to detail. From the war scene being scarily realistic to how Lincoln is much taller than his wife, everything is done extraordinarily well.

The only problems I had with the movie were that it starts off a little bit slow but then it speeds up quickly and also that the main focus of the movie is about the 13thAmendment, and while there is some about Lincoln’s family, it’s mainly about his cabinet and himself getting the votes they need, and therefore, I felt like the title of the movie was not the best choice. That’s it.

Before we went in the movie, I had a conversation with my mom that went a little something like this:

Mom: “Twilight” opened this weekend, and it’s playing in five theatres. “Lincoln” is in one.
Me: What has our world come to?

I meant it. Seriously? Daniel Day-Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, and SPIELBERG outmatched by Robert Pattison and his vampire friends? Does anybody care about Lincoln anymore? Do they care that the person who got rid of slavery is being outmatched by … Bleh? No, they don’t. Money is the only thing that matters in America now. Uggh!

Anyway, I think you get the point. “Lincoln” is great. It’s a great way to return to “everybody loves Spielberg” coming from the mixed reviews of “War Horse.” Although the movie had two problems, I think that we can all see the bigger picture: Lincoln is an amazingly-acted, well-written, beautiful film. Let’s hope that the rest of the year’s movies can learn a lesson.

94%

Okay For 12+ (The movie does have language, a pretty brutal war scene, and a lot of kids probably won’t even get it. It’s a parent’s kind of film.)

(Hi, everyone, I can’t thank you enough for all the suggestions and feedback you’ve given me. And now, I need another favor. If you live in the Minneapolis metro area, I would really appreciate you coming to the Riverview theatre November 29th, for I am judging in a film festival about Minnesota neighborhoods. All the money raised goes into a scholarship at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and I would really appreciate you coming. It starts at 5:30 PM, and if you come I will review anything you want me to review, within the limits of my reviewing abilities—like no M-rated games or R-rated movies. Thank you for reading this.)

(Please leave a comment suggesting what to review next or what you thought of “Lincoln.” Thanks!)

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Posted at 09:33 AM on Nov 22, 2012 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Wednesday November 21, 2012

The Movie You Could Watch A Million Times

I was thinking about this question, or something similar, the day I saw this link on NPR's site. Apparently it's a regular feature? They interview different folks, generally movie-industry people, and ask them which movie they could watch “a million times.” Here's how the recent interviewees answered:

  • Writer-director Peter Hedges: “Harold and Maude”
  • Director Simon West: “Withnail and I”
  • Actress Regina King: “The Sandlot”
  • Actress Kristen Bell: “Wet Hot American Summer”
  • Actor-writer-director Jon Favreau: “Mean Streets”
  • Actor Michael Pena: “Broadway Danny Rose”
  • Callie Khouri: “A Face in the Crowd”
  • Actress Susan Sarandon: “The Grapes of Wrath”
  • Producer Glen Mazaara: “Alien”
  • Director RZA: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Everyone's answer changes with time, of course. Here's how mine did. Let's start in adolesence: “Star Wars,” “Superman: The Movie,” “Duck Soup,” “Annie Hall,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca,” “Seven Samurai,” “All the President's Men,” “The Thin Red Line.”

Now? It's probably Michael Mann's “The Insider.”

It's a perfectly balanced film about two men, one of whom encourages the other to betray corporate confidentialities for a greater good, and who then has to betray his own corporation, CBS, for the greater good of airing the first story. It's the individual vs. the coporation, which is the story of all of us. It's about sacrifice, and how it takes sacrifice to make heroes, and how heroes aren't men and women with great powers. They're ordinary people under extraordinary pressure still doing the right thing.

Anyone know when it comes out on Blu-Ray?

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Nov 21, 2012 in category Movies
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Tuesday November 20, 2012

Supergirl Can't Get a Date

One of the things I came across while doing internet research for my review of “Supergirl” (1984) was this cover from Feb. 1973:

Supergirl No. 3 cover

It's a perfect example of why Supergirl never took off as a character. It's the third issue of her own pub. Is she fighting supervillains? No. She's crying. She's alone. Because she's not with the cool, handsome people inside. It's the cover of a “Young Love” comic. (I think I wound up owning that couch, btw, circa 1995.)

I like the cat licking her hand. It's her only comfort. She's a cat lady in the making. I like the self-pity and passivity inherent in Supergirl's thought balloon.

Then there's the costume. As feminism gained strength, DC Comics responded by cutting Supergirl's blouse lower and taking away her skirt for hot pants. Someone cue James Brown. Please please please.

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Posted at 06:27 AM on Nov 20, 2012 in category Superheroes
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Monday November 19, 2012

Quote of the Day

“I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class. That’s my mandate.”

--Pres. Barack Obama, last week in his first press conference since winning re-election.

"I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class. That’s my mandate."

Pres. Obama talks to the press, Nov. 14, 2012 (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

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Posted at 05:29 PM on Nov 19, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Chasing Ice (2012)

WARNING: IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, AND FOX-NEWS FEELS FINE (SPOILERS)

The great unasked question in the climate-change debate is at what point in the near-future do we string up Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and all of the other global-warming deniers from what’s left of the tallest tree? At what point will all of us, and not just scientists, know, with every fiber of our being, that the carbon emissions mankind has been adding to the atmosphere over the last 150 years is creating a greenhouse effect that is in fact, and not in theory, warming the planet, melting the glaciers, rising sea levels, and creating weather-related havoc around the globe? Before it’s too late? After it’s too late? And if the latter, how will we view those who have denied all along that it was ever occurring?

Last week, these same guys kept denying the poll numbers of statisticians like Nate Silver until Barack Obama, their bete noir both figuratively and literally, was reelected president of the United States. Silver has a book out called “The Signal and the Noise.” It’s about polls and poll numbers but the title could be about the greenhouse effect and global warming. For decades scientists have been listening to the signal and climate-change deniers have been providing the noise, but the question no one asks these guys, the Hannitys and Limbaughs, is this: If you’re wrong, and if we move too late, how will you not be viewed as the greatest villains in human history?

‘The story is in the ice somehow’
poster for "Chasing Ice" (2012)Forgive the screed but the other night I watched “Chasing Ice,” a documentary by Jeff Orlowski about National Geographic photographer James Balog, who, with a young, international team, has spent the last five years documenting, via time-lapse photography, the melting of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana. This melting is speeding up. What took 100 years in the 20th century is taking 8-10 in the 21st. They also record, through luck or patience, the “calving” of huge chunks of glaciers. The first time we see it, early in the film, we don’t quite get what we’re watching. The glacier is rumbling and shifting, almost as if it’s alive, as if it’s rousing itself, but in what direction? Then suddenly we understand. A monumental slab of ice breaks away, shifting forward at the bottom, and falling backward. It almost looks like it’s lying down for a nap. Then it just disappears. The last such slab we see disappearing in this manner is the size of Manhattan.

Balog began life as a scientist but didn’t like the fussy calculations, the stultifying lab-ness of it all, and at the age of 25 reinvented himself as a nature photographer. He didn’t know anything about photography, but, he says, “Youthful brashness can take you a long way.” He was particularly interested in how humans and nature intersected. For a time he focused on endangered wildlife. He liked taking shots at night for its absence of sheltering sky. The vastness of the night sky reminds us of what we are and where we are and what we’re on. It reminds us of the fragility of our existence.

He began as a climate-change skeptic. He couldn’t see how humans, despite their number, could have an impact on something as vast as the world. But he became interested in ice—in photographing it, in the beauty of it—and came to the story that way. “The story is in the ice somehow,” he says in the doc.

He was visiting one glacier, I believe the Solheim Glacier in Iceland, and noticed how much it had receded since the last time he was there: 100 feet per year, he estimated. That’s how he got the idea for the time-lapse photography. He created an organization, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), and he and his team set up 25 cameras, in hostile conditions, in March 2007. Six months later, in October, they returned to find … nothing. Some cameras were buried or damaged. Batteries exploded. There’s talk about voltage regulators. At one camera, Balog, who seems fairly even-keeled up to this point, lets loose with a burst of swearing. At another he begins to cry. “If I don’t have pictures,” he says, “I don’t have anything.”

Like watching La Sagrada Familia melt
I saw the doc with friends and some in the group, particularly the women, were put off by Balog. They felt the doc was too much about him when it should have been about it. They thought he took too many unnecessary risks for photographs that don’t have anything to do with global warming. For a time in the doc, the focus even becomes his knee. He’s had two surgeries on it, gets another, is told he can’t hike anymore. Yet there he is back in Greenland and Iceland and Alaska, traipsing through the snow to his cameras, and rappelling down ravines for that perfect shot. Until he can’t anymore. All of which is gloriously beside-the-point. If we’re talking about the end of the world as we know it, what’s James Balog’s knee in this equation? Nothing. The knee is only there for false drama. It doesn’t matter who goes to the cameras, as long as that evidence is got. If we have pictures, we have everything.

And we have pictures. We know we will. Otherwise why are we sitting in a theater watching this thing? The documentary wouldn’t have been distributed without them.

When we finally see the time-lapse photographs of the glaciers melting, it’s horrifying. It’s like watching beauty and grandeur melt away. One feels sick to one’s stomach. One wonders why it isn’t on the news and in the newspapers and on the web. But of course it is. It’s just not central to the news and the newspapers and the web. It’s not trending.

Global warming has always had trouble as a cause because it’s a completely abstract phenomenon. Every few months we’ll get a natural disaster, which may or may not be attributed to climate change, but that’s about it. It’s a slow process, whose ends are unknown, which we may or may not be causing. What Balog does is provide specific evidence. He makes it real. This is what’s being lost. These glaciers. This beauty. It’s like watching the Louvre and La Sagrada Familia and the Great Wall of China melting because of something we did, and do, and don’t care enough to stop.

‘We don’t have time
Here’s what I’ve never understood about climate-change deniers. Global warming came to us as a theory in the 1970s, or maybe as early as the 1950s, when scientists realized we were adding carbon to the atmosphere and wondered what that might do. From a New York Times editorial in 1982:

The greenhouse theory holds that carbon dioxide, the waste gas released by burning coal, oil and gas, does for the planet what glass does for a greenhouse - lets the sun's warmth in but not back out again. Until the industrial revolution, excess CO2 was absorbed in the oceans. Now the gas is accumulating rapidly in the atmosphere. The climatologists predict that present levels of CO2 will double in the next 50 to 70 years, raising global surface temperatures an average of three degrees.

This was the hypothesis but there was no evidence to back it up. In the above editorial, called “Waiting for the Greenhouse Effect,” the Times’ editorial board wrote, “There is no cause for panic, but there are plenty of reasons for prudence.” They wrote, “Until there is indubitable proof of a global warming caused by CO2, the greenhouse effect must remain a hypothesis.”

Now we have evidence that the planet is warming, but there’s still a contingent of denier who says, “Yes, but…” Yes, but the planet’s temperature has always fluctuated. Yes, but there’s no evidence that this warming is the result of increased C02 in the atmosphere. It’s like a game in which the rules keep changing. You tell us A and we’ll ask for B, and when B arrives, decades later, we’ll ask for C. “We’ll be arguing about this for centuries,” one of the talking heads in the doc says, citing our arguments about evolution. “We don’t have time,” he says.

For all its false drama (Balog’s knee, etc.), “Chasing Ice” is a worthy doc and worth seeing on the big screen. For the few people who see it, it will, for a moment anyway, move the issue of global warming into a more central part of their psyche, which is, at the least, what we need. Just as all of us have contributed to the problem, bit by bit, all of us must contribute to the solution, bit by bit. The first step is interest.

James Blalog, Chasing Ice

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Posted at 07:40 AM on Nov 19, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday November 18, 2012

Hollywood B.O.: Vampires Rule; Bond Holds: Lincoln Doesn't Die

Richard Brody, who writes about movies for The New Yorker, and whose work I genuinely admire—give or take a “Marnie” fixation—tweeted the following this morning in reaction to a NY Times Op-Ed on the preponderence and pointlessness of irony:

Richard Brody tweet on Lincoln, Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises. And irony.

Touché. But I didn't think “Lincoln,” belonged on his list. So I tweeted back talking up the, well, irony of a movie season in which Abraham Lincoln has a twinkle in his eye and James Bond doesn't. Brody was kind enough to respond. “Abe Lincoln always had a sublime twinkle in his eye, chez Griffith and chez Ford,” he wrote.

Me being me, I tweeted back a few more times, and Brody being Brody (that is: busy), he didn't respond; but the biggest argument against “Lincoln”'s inclusion in his original tweet is in the verb.

“Cleaning up” certainly applies to “The Dark Knight Rises” ($447 million domestic, $1.08 billion worldwide) and “Skyfall” ($161 domestic, $667 worldwide, both climbing fast). “Lincoln,” in contrast, opened in nine theaters Nov. 9, then roared up to 1,775 this weekend, where it finished in third place, behind the first weekend of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” ($141 million) and the second weekend of “Skyfall” ($41.5, down 53%). “Lincoln” grossed $21 million, which is a plesant surprise, since it's a serious film about passing a law, the 13th amendment, playing in half the theaters wide-releases do. But it's only cleaning up in the sense that a custodian following two circus elephants is cleaning up.

No.s 4-6 for the weekend are all good films hanging in there: “Wreck-It Ralph,” which grossed $18 million for a dometic total of $121 million; “Flight,” which grossed $8.6 for a total of $61; and “Argo,” which grossed $4 for a total of $92. Would be nice if this last made $100. And even then I wouldn't say it was cleaning up. I would say it was pushing itself toward box-office relevance.

The clean numbers.  

Daniel Day-Lewis, amazing, as Abrahamn Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"

As I've said elsewhere: No one will ever do a better Abe Lincoln.

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Posted at 07:06 PM on Nov 18, 2012 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday November 17, 2012

Movie Review: Supergirl (1984)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Near the end of “Supergirl,” after Selena the Witch (Faye Dunaway) has been defeated and the Omegahedron, which powers Argo City, the bubbled asteroid of Krypton, is back in Supergirl’s hands, Supergirl (Helen Slater) turns to her new friends, Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy) and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure, reprising his role), and begins to ask a favor. Jimmy interrupts:

Jimmy: It’s all right, Supergirl. We never saw you.
Lucy: We never even heard of you.

Jimmy’s turned out to be the truer prognostication. Barely anyone saw “Supergirl” in November 1984 but we all heard about it. We all heard it was awful.

It’s worse than awful. From my notes:

  • WTF?
  • Wow, this is bad.
  • Ouch ouch ouch.
  • It’s actually getting dumber.
  • OK, this is insanely bad.

It has to be one of the worst wide-release movies ever made.

After Krypto and Beppo, before Streaky and Comet
Supergirl (1984), starring Helen SlaterSupergirl, the character, was created in 1959 during a period of comic-book doldrums in which the rulers of DC nearly destroyed their most lucrative property, Superman, by surrounding him with super dogs, cats, horses, monkeys, and, yes, even a girl. Chronologically, Kara the Supergirl appeared after Krypto the Superdog and Beppo the Supermonkey but before Streaky the Supercat and Comet the Superhorse. Just so you know where she ranks.

The men at DC never quite knew what to do with her. They still don’t. She started out in a skirt, went to hot pants during the ’70s, was killed off in the ’80s. Two years after this movie. Coincidence?

Christopher Reeve was the seventh man to play Superman, including voice-only work from Bud Collyer, Bob Hastings and Danny Dark, but Helen Slater was the first ever to play Supergirl. Really? She never showed up in the “Superman/Aquaman Hour” in the 1960s? She was never a part of “Super Friends” in the 1970s and ’80s? Apparently nobody wanted her. She’s such a non-entity she doesn’t even have an arch-nemesis. No Lex Luthor, Brainiac or even a Mr. Mxyzptlk. Which is how we got Selena the Witch.

Reeve’s Superman was an innocent who knew everything while Slater’s Supergirl is an innocent who knows nothing. She grew up as Kara on Argo City, a chunk of Krypton that looks like an adobe village drifting through space, and was apparently taught nothing by her parents Zor-El and Alura (Simon Ward and Mia Farrow). She says she’s bad at math. She says it like she’s hypnotized. That’s how she spends most of the movie.

Fighting over boys
As “Supergirl” opens, the Omegahedron, which powers Argo City, is borrowed by the well-meaning but tipsy Zaltar (Peter O’Toole). Kara comes upon him in the act of creation.

Kara: What is that going to be Zaltar?
Zaltar: I think, a tree.
Kara: A tree. What is a tree?
Zaltar: A lovely thing that grows on Earth.

It gets worse. Zaltar gives Kara the Omegahedron, with which she creates a dragonfly that flies out of Argo City, through a kind of transdimensionality, and toward Earth, where it plops, yes, into the orange dip of Selena, who is enjoying a picnic lunch with a warlock, Nigel (Peter Cook), while talking of her plans to take over the world. And now, with the Omegahedron, she can! Kara, hijacking a bubblecopter, follows, and emerges on Earth, through a lake, as Supergirl, costumed and everything.

OK: Argo City will die in a matter of days without the Omegahedron. So what does Kara do upon arrival? She smells flowers. She bounces around, testing her powers. She flies above horses. You know: girly things. She briefly goes to a city, where she’s menaced by two asshole truck drivers who get theirs, then returns to a more bucolic setting. She falls asleep, softly, in the woods, and wakes up, softly, near a bunny rabbit. I’m not kidding. Then a softball rolls by. Private school girls are playing a softball game and Kara decides to become one of them. She adopts the secret identity of Linda Lee, after Robert E., and winds up rooming with Lucy Lane, Lois’ cousin, and goes to classes, where she’s suddenly good at math. “Don’t go showing it off,” Lucy counsels, “because nobody’s going to like you.” There’s a mean girl who gets hers, and a studly landscaper, Ethan (Hart Bochner), whom all the girls coo over, including, it turns out, Selena. From her lair in an old amusement park, she kidnaps and casts a spell upon Ethan so he’ll fall in love with the first face he sees upon waking. Selena assumes it’ll be hers. But she’s occupied when he wakes, and he stumbles through a tunnel with his eyes closed, and into the town, where the kids from the school are at the local fast-food joint. He stumbles into traffic. Will he die? Will he open his eyes? Selena’s attempts to control the situation through magic make things worse, and Supergirl has to show up to save the day. All of this takes about 10 minutes of screentime. Meanwhile, Ethan still hasn’t opened his eyes. When he does? He sees Linda Lee. Big surprise. He kisses her. He makes her swoon. And boy does that make Selena mad.

Basically what we have here is a clash between two female super novices, Supergirl, who needs the Omegahedron to save everything she’s ever known, and Selena, who is using the Omegahedron to take over the world, and both are distracted from their primary task because of a crush on a boy. The filmmakers, writer David Odell and director Jeannot Szwarc, couldn’t have made it more insulting if they’d tried.

The triumph of someone else’s will
Eventually Selena, mastering her powers, sends Supergirl into the Phantom Zone, where she meets Zaltar, banished there for stealing the Omegahedron in the first place. He’s also given up. Not her. Her pep inspires him to find a way out, which involves climbing a kind of rockface against a kind of fierce wind. But it’s so difficult she’s ready to give up. “I can’t,” she says. “You can,” he replies. Then he dies. But she escapes and flies from the Phantom Zone right back into Selena’s lair. She stands there, arms akimbo, and declares, “You’ve had your fun, Selena. The game is finished.”

Ah, but it isn’t. Selena creates a monster, which kind of crushes or stretches Supergirl, who cries, again, “I can’t!” Can’t what? Die? Can’t bear the pain? Of the monster or the movie? When she hears Zaltar’s voice telling her, again “You can!,” like he’s Obi-wan Kenobi or something, this helps Supergirl, who’s just a girl after all and thus can’t find the strength and will on her own, find the strength and will to fight back. Then she uses her superspeed, as she should have from the start rather than standing around arms akimbo, to defeat Selena. The power of shadows turns on Selena and her henchwoman, the fairly innocent Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro), and takes both into a … vortex, I guess, where they suffer or die. Who knows? Who cares? We get Jimmy and Lucy’s lines above, and Supergirl flies off with the Omegahedron to finally, finally, deliver it to Argo City, which is surely dust by now.

“Supergirl” didn’t immediately die. It opened Thanksgiving weekend 1984 and was No. 1 at the box office with $5.7 million. Then word got out. It fell off 55% the following weekend, then 63%. Its final domestic gross was $14.2 million. Not even three times what it made opening weekend.

This was six years after “Superman: The Movie” (which opened at $7.4 million and grossed $134 million, to give you an idea of the legs good movies had back then); but despite a $35 million budget the special effects often recall the Superman TV show of the 1950s. The acting is horrible. Slater is all wide-eyed doeiness while Dunaway’s narrowed eyes perpetually flash malevolence. Peter Cook is wasted. Vaccaro is supposed to play comic support, like Ned Beatty in “Superman,” but she comes across as a voice of reason. “I think you’re blowing this out of proportion,” she tells Selena halfway through. “All I’m saying is you can’t go nuts over a landscape guy and a teenager in a blue suit.” It’s as if she’s critiquing the film from within the film. It’s like she’s trapped in her own kind of Phantom Zone. Maybe they all are. Poor bastards. They hurtle through time and space, trapped in this movie forever.

Supergirl (Helen Slater) trapped in the Phantom Zone

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Posted at 09:45 AM on Nov 17, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s
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Friday November 16, 2012

Jellybean on the Bookshelf

Jellybean on the bookshelf

Jellybean on the bookshelf

Jellybean on the bookshelf

Jellybean on the bookshelf

Jellybean on the bookshelf (close)

More Jellybean posts here.

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Posted at 06:36 AM on Nov 16, 2012 in category Jellybean
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Thursday November 15, 2012

Quote of the Day

Dec. 27: In an attempt to score more runs, the Mariners announce they are moving third base closer to home plate.”

--Jim Caple, “Off Base Predictions for the Rest of the Year,” on ESPN.com. I'm also a fan of Nov. 16, Nov. 17, Thanksgiving Day, and the various ways the Yankees try to get rid of A-Rod.

Safeco Field

Safeco Field, with its unfair location of third base.

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Posted at 04:04 PM on Nov 15, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Jordy's Reviews: Skyfall (2012)

My 11-year-old nephew, Jordy, disagreed with my review of “Skyfall.” Here's his take.

**

When I think about James Bond, I think guns, girls and awesome. Not emotional. In Skyfall, we get guns, awesome, emotional, but no main girl that he actually hooks up with for a little bit. Also, this isn’t James Bond’s story to tell. This is about M, and her mistakes, and what she did. It’s a revenge plot done so well, almost nobody could hate it.

The movie opens with Bond on a mission to get a hard-drive with a list of names of secret agents when he gets shot off a train. Then we go into the intro with no naked girls swimming in the background. That’s the first sign that this movie is different. By the way, compliments to the intro. In James Bond movies, they open with a very popular artist’s song with the title in it over a great animation. In Skyfall, the artist is ADELE, whom I’ve always liked, despite being more of a target for girls. She creates a great song that matches the tone of the movie. After this, without James Bond and the missing hard-drive, everything goes to hell for MI6. The headquarters gets attacked, MI6 gets hacked, and everything messes up. Without Bond, MI6 is nothing. Then Bond returns from the dead, because he’s James Bond, and because you can’t have a James Bond movie without James Bond. From here on out, it’s a mission to stop the person who’s doing this.

Along the way, he meets girls who don’t last. They come and go, and it’s probably because they don’t have any chemistry. Daniel Craig is great as James Bond. This isn’t everything’s-got-to-be-funny James Bond. This is gritty, tough, badass James Bond with a good sense of humor. There are some funny with Bond. Judi Dench is also good. However, it is Javier Bardem as the villain who steals the show. He is a smart, sinister, and kind of scary. Daniel Craig’s got his first amazing villain. (He had good ones before, just not amazing ones.)

Bardem’s character opens with a very scary story about how he got rats to eat each other, and then released those rats to kill all the other ones. It’s very well-written. Skyfall is written very well. From the conversations to the kill quotes, it’s all smart and original. Also, the action scenes are spectacular, especially the final action scene, in which Bond does awesome things, but the things he does make sense. I could go on with how amazing this movie is, but how about something bad about it? There are some things that nobody will understand until later in the movie. It’s pretty stupid. It’s foreshadowing done badly. Unfortunately, I’m a spoiler-free reviewer, so I can’t use it, but it doesn’t change the fact that this movie is amazing. I don’t understand how someone who will not be named (Uncle Erik) could not like it. Don’t even go to his review without knowing that this movie is amazing.

~Muschler. Jordan Muschler.

93%

Okay For 14+

(Hi, everyone, I can’t thank you enough for all the suggestions and feedback you’ve given me. And now, I need another favor. If you live in the Minneapolis metro area, I would really appreciate you coming to the Riverview theatre November 29th, for I am judging in a film festival about Minnesota neighborhoods. All the money raised goes into a scholarship at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and I would really appreciate you coming. It starts at 5:30 PM, and if you come I will review anything you want me to review, within the limits of my reviewing abilities—like no M-rated games or R-rated movies. Thank you for reading this. Next review: Frankenweenie)

Daniel Craig as James Bond, 007, in "Skyfall"

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Posted at 07:05 AM on Nov 15, 2012 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Wednesday November 14, 2012

Photo of the Day

Marion Cotillard answering questions for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I know. Any excuse to post a picture of Marion Cotillard.

This one came from the Facebook page of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I guess they have a regular feature there: ask such and such a star a question and maybe we'll use YOURS! Then they make a video of the star answering what turns out to be some pretty lame questions. (Ex.: “What advice do you have for someone starting out?”) By the way, Oscar, what's with the chirpy background music? Is silence too much to ask?

But the photo. Ah, the photo. All is forgiven.

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Posted at 01:20 PM on Nov 14, 2012 in category Photo of the Day
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Movie Review: 30 for 30: The House of Steinbrenner (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Anyone who knows me knows I’m no fan of the New York Yankees; but even they, the team named after a masturbatory gesture, that added “Suck” to the baseball lexicon, those overpaying, playing-field-tilting, star-grabbing 1% bastards of Major League Baseball, even they deserve a better documentary than this.

It’s a muddled movie. It was filmed in 2008, when the Yankees played their last game at Yankee Stadium, and in 2009, when they moved to New Yankee Stadium and won their 27th World Series title, and in 2010, when George Steinbrenner, the owner of the club since 1973, the Mouth that Roared, finally died after a long illness; and during these years the team is at a kind of crossroads. Is New Yankee Stadium for fans or corporations? Will the winning tradition continue? The old is dying and the new cannot yet be born, and in this interregnum Barbara Kopple filmed “The House of Steinbrenner.”

It doesn’t help that Kopple, a two-time Academy Award winner for “Harlan County U.S.A.” (1976) and “American Dream” (1990), is a Yankees fan. ESPN’s 30-for-30 docs begin with the filmmaker talking about why they were interested in the subject. Here’s Kopple:

When I was a kid I went to Yankee games with my brother and my parents and how could I not want to make a film about the Yankees? I mean, the Yankees are the biggest sports entity in the world. And I think what really made me want to do it is I was home and watching the All-Star Game. And I saw George Steinbrenner going around in a golf cart. He starts to cry. And I just thought, “This could be an amazing film.”

30 for 30: The House of SteinbrennerIt isn’t. It’s tough to tell the story of something you love. Love is about not seeing clearly. That’s its point.

The stupid shit Yankee fans say
“The House of Steinbrenner” begins in triumph with the Yankees’ 27th World Series title and a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan. We get shots of the Yankees on their floats: Nick Swisher rocking out like a rock star, Alex Rodriguez, as always, too self-aware, Derek Jeter looking up at buildings as if he’d never seen them. We get sound-bite interviews with fans whooping it up and saying the stupid shit Yankee fans say:

  • “The world is back to normal. Because the Yankees are champions of the World Series!”
  • “The Steinbrenner family is the greatest owners in sports! New York fans are the luckiest cause they’ve got the Steinbrenners, who spend money so we can have parades like this! Let’s do it again!

Then we get the sadness and nostalgia of the last game at Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, and the excitement and disappointment (expensive seats; obstructed views) of the first day at New Yankee Stadium. We get a lot about George but little from George, since, by this time, the illness that would take his life in 2010 had rendered him mute. We get a really nice line from one of the New York scribes:

He’s not George anymore. He’s a quiet man in his twilight and looks at the scene from afar now.

Meanwhile, Hal Steinbrenner, heir apparent, comes off as a tight-lipped, bristly CEO. He comes off as a numbers man. He’s someone desperate to make sure the mask doesn’t slip.

Fudging Yankee history
It doesn’t help that the doc fudges Yankees history. Early on, Kopple asks various folks, “What’s your favorite memory at Yankee Stadium?” and we hear three answers:

  • Louis Requena, official photographer at Yankee Stadium, says, “Maris hitting that big homerun. You know?”
  • Yogi Berra, catcher and philosopher, says, “I gotta say the no-hitter. That Don Larsen pitched.”
  • George Steinbrenner, circa 1998, says: “’77/’78, great teams. I can remember plays. I remember Piniella’s play in right field, one of the greatest defensive plays I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t see the ball. Stuck his glove out—boom. It hit. Against the Red Sox. The playoff.”

What’s wrong with these answers?

Perspective on the Maris homerun would’ve been nice: the fact that Yankee fans spent 1961 booing Maris because he wasn’t Mickey Mantle; the fact that hardly anyone showed up for the last game of the season when he was sitting on 60.

The Yogi thing is simply semantics. I can guarantee you that almost every baseball fan watching muttered underneath his breath, “Perfect game,” every time Berra said “No hitter.”

Then there’s Piniella’s catch. As soon as Steinbrenner mentioned it I saw it in my mind. Bottom of the ninth inning, Sox down 5-4. With one out, Rick Burleson draws a walk. Then Jerry Remy hits a line-drive to right field. What we don’t know is that Piniella has lost the ball in the late-afternoon sun. We don’t know it because he pretends he doesn’t. He pretends he’s about to catch it, and this keeps Burleson close to first. And then Lou’s lucky. The ball drops five feet away from him and he stabs at it with his glove and keeps Burleson from going to third. So it’s first and second, rather than second and third, when Jim Rice flies out to deep right. Burleson can only tag up to third rather than home. He doesn’t tie the game. Then the great Carl Yastrzemski pops up for the final out and the Yankees win and go on to win the ALCS and the World Series—their 22nd.

Except that’s not the highlight they show. The highlight they show is the catch in the bottom of the 6th when, with two on and two out, Piniella went into the corner to rob Fred Lynn of extra bases. It’s a nice catch. But I’ve never heard anyone say Piniella lost that one in the sun. So … did they show the wrong clip? In a documentary called “The House of Steinbrenner,” while relaying George Steinbrenner’s favorite moment at Yankee Stadium, did they show us the wrong moment?

Fudging Steinbrenner
But the history that’s mostly fudged isn’t from Steinbrenner; it’s about Steinbrenner.

Memories are short, the man is dying and then dead, so the encomiums come fast and furious. We get eulogies. Fans remember ’77 and ’78, and the late ‘90s dynasty, and forget the years in the wilderness. They forget that Steinbrenner’s desire to win got in the way of winning. He was too impatient, and, as a result, under his watch, the Yankees went pennant-less (15 years), and without a World Series title (18 years), for longer than at any time since the team bought Babe Ruth in 1919. And, it could be argued, and has been argued, that they only won then, in 1996, because Steinbrenner had been banned from Major League Baseball in 1990 for hiring a private detective to tail his superstar outfielder Dave Winfield. As a result, for two or three years, he wasn’t around to muck up the works. He wasn’t there to trade prospects like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite for an aging star or utility player. Thus Jeter, Rivera, Pettite stayed. And they became the core of that 1990s dynasty.

The fans blame Hal for the problems of New Yankee Stadium, but that was George’s baby. We get a clip of him in 2002, talking. “You hate to think about moving away from that great stadium,” he says. “But we do have problems: all the new stadiums coming. We have new generations of people coming. That maybe that stadium doesn’t mean as much to them.”

Right. Steinbrenner was more interested in the profits a new stadium and its corporate boxes could bring than in the grand tradition of Yankee Stadium. The Yankee organization put profits before tradition, then went out and bought a bunch of players and won in their first year at the new ballpark. Since? Bupkis.

Is this the new curse? Old Yankee Stadium cursing New Yankee Stadium? Let it be so.

There are people and there are assholes
At least the scribes get George right:

  • Bill Gallo of The New York Daily News: “He was vain. He was at times rude. He reminded me of a Prussian general: General von Steinbrenner.”
  • Maury Allen of The New York Post: “He thought the loss of a game in June was the end of a season. … He loved the ego gratification of what the Yankees is all about.”

George, too, gets George right. “There are major league ballplayers,” he says, “and there are Yankees.”

Man, that’s an asshole thing to say. “The House of Steinbrenner” is a documentary about such assholes, directed by a woman who loves them so.

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Posted at 06:37 AM on Nov 14, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2010
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Tuesday November 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

“Here is the real world in proportion:

”David Petraeus has had sex outside his marriage, as have many men and many women. Human sexuality and compulsion are not in any way related to intelligence.  It’s not that the dumb or powerful are more prone to fucking around, or that the intelligent and powerless do it to any greater degree.  It’s that men in general are hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate sex and furtive romance and, sometimes, to act on it.   The reasons they do so are crude, ordinary and inevitable.   Women are also hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate furtive romance and sex — and yes, I changed the order, I know — and the reasons they do so are only marginally less crude, ordinary and inevitable.

“Professionally, David Petraeus understood a helluva lot more than John McCain conveyed to Roger Simon in two minutes of conversation.  For one thing, if Mr. Simon wanted to be honest, he might acknowledge that it was Petraeus who saw the morass that was Iraq even as it began, who famously turned to a journalist on the march into Baghdad with the 101st Airborne and declared openly:  I know how this begins, but explain to me how this ends?  That alone makes the man more astute and more valuable than an entire White House, most of the Pentagon, and much of the American press corps, which itself failed to raise so much worry when war in Iraq was being debated, or rather, not seriously debated at all.  It certainly makes Petraeus smarter than most of America, which largely supported that disastrous intervention.”

--David Simon, “Stray Penises and Politicos,” from his own website, The Audacity of Despair. It describes my feeling about all of this better than anything I've read or even thought.

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Posted at 02:02 PM on Nov 13, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Why Obama Won; Why Romney Lost

Why Did Obama win?

  • “...the truth is that there are reasons why Obama is a phenomenon, and one of them is that his political intelligence is so keen that he knows when unreality best serves his ends.” — Adam Gopnik, “Obama's Political Intelligence,” in The New Yorker 
  • “...the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals. ... Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling.” — David Simon, “Barack Obama and the Death of Normal” on “The Audacity of Despair.”
  • “The president’s victory was a triumph of vision, not of demographics. He won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.” — Joel Benenson, “Obama Won on Values, Not Demographics,” in The New York Times.

Why Did Romney lose?

  • “In the final analysis, Mitt Romney lost simply because he ran a campaign that insulted large swaths of the American people.” --Kyle Curtis, “Mitt Romney Lost Because He Ran an Insulting Campaign,” on Blue Oregon.
  • “The GOP's most reliable supporters remain white, married couples who identify themselves as Christians , a group that continues its sharp decline in numbers.” — Joshua Holland, “What Propelled Obama to Victory?” on AlterNet.
  • “Mitt Romney lost because of the Republican brand and Republican policies. There are other reasons, of course, like Mitt being unlovable to anyone not named Ann Romney, but nothing trumps the idea that 2/3rds of America thinks the other 1/3 is a frightening conglomerate of Bible-thumpers, xenophobes, and vaginophobes. (Not a word, but should be.)” --Bill Mahr, “Why the Republicans Lost,” on HBO.com.
  • “Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. His campaign was adamant that public polls in the swing states were mistaken. They claimed the pollsters were over-estimating the number of Democrats who would turn out on Election Day. Romney’s campaign was certain that minorities would not show up for Obama in 2012 the way they did in 2008.” --John Dickerson, “Why Romney Never Saw It Coming,” on Slate.
  • “There is an attitude of contempt, derision and disrespect that permeates Republican politics and Republican and conservative media. There are attitudes that permeate Republican politics and Republican media that are outside of traditional Republicanism and outside of American discourse. Democrats are demonized and liberals are hated and alternate opinion is often treated as though it does not exist, and even worse, treated as though it is unpatriotic.” — Brent Budowski, “Why Obama Won,” on The Hill.

Who still doesn't get it? At all?

  • “A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform. Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division.” --Mary Matalin, “Mendacity and Malice Won,” on the National Review site.

Mary Matalin is just one of many, of course, who still don't get it. Look for their comments, past and future, on the new, crowd-pleasing (or at least Erik-pleasing) pundit-shaming tumblr.

Obama's Night

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Posted at 12:27 PM on Nov 13, 2012 in category Politics
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Monday November 12, 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Was I the only one who was bored by this? Who thought the slow bits weren’t intellectually engaging enough and the fast bits weren’t fun enough? We get the usual whiz-bang chase sequences in exotic locales around the world (and London and Scotland), and feints at soul searching (without much soul or searching), but it’s hardly fun. And what’s the point of being James Bond if there’s no fun in it?

Craig’s Bond has turned into a bore. He’s a drag. He has no twinkle in the eye, just a long, slow smolder. He lives in a post-9/11 world where he’s always on guard. He stands there, in his too-tight suit, ready to pop. In this movie he’s offered a new way of looking at the world and doesn’t take it. One gets the feeling he doesn’t have the imagination to take it. Or see it.

Skyfall posterYes, the pre-title motorcycle chase scene over the rooftops of Istanbul is glorious. Yes, the photography, particularly of the Scottish countryside, is beautiful. Yes, director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, give us one of the great villain introductions: the long, still shot of Silva (Javier Bardem) coming down the elevator and into frame as he tells his tale of a giant hole of rats eating each other until only two survive; and these two rats, who now have a taste for rat, are set free because they will keep the island free of other rats. It’s a horrific tale that resonates. Silva is speaking of himself and Bond. He obviously feels a kinship with Bond. He’s selling himself short.

M stands for Micromanager
Here’s the description of the movie on IMDb.com:

Bond's loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.

I would say it’s not tested enough. M, let’s face it, is a lousy boss. She’s a micromanager. Here are some of the decisions she makes during the course of the film:

  • During the pre-title sequence, M tells Bond to leave behind an injured MI6 agent, Ronson (Bill Buckhurst), knowing Ronson will die, to pursue Patrice (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s ex), who has a disc with every undercover and embedded agent on it. You get a flash of disagreement from Bond here but I’m with M. The disc is more important. The bigger question is who created the disc in the first place? Hey, let’s put all of our secrets in one place, where they’ll always be safe and no one will ever find them.
  • M continues to bark orders throughout the high-speed pursuit. She then tells Eve (Naomie Harris), a relatively new agent, to shoot Patrice as he fights with Bond atop a speeding train on a trestle high above what I assume is the Black Sea. Eve is worried she’ll shoot Bond but M orders her to “take the shot” anyway. Meaning M puts more trust in a new agent than in her best agent. Not smart.
  • When the MI6 network is hacked, and its headquarters bombed, she moves the agency underground, into caverns left over from … is it the Blitz? But this plays right into Silva’s hands.
  • When Bond returns from the dead, and from a self-imposed exile, she clears him for duty even though he fails every test. He’s not psychologically ready. He’s not physically ready. He can’t shoot straight. But what the hell. Apparently she doesn’t have anyone else.

We also learn of the horrible decision she made that led to the present circumstances.

Bond = Batman; Silva = the Joker
Silva, you see, is former MI6. Years back, during the Cold War, M traded him for six agents. Were there extenuating circumstances? Did she just like the numbers? I forget. Silva was tortured but divulged nothing. He tried to kill himself with a cyanide capsule but didn’t die. The cyanide ate away at his insides and turned him half-insane. He stayed alive for revenge. On M. So all of this, the entire movie, is about M. MI6 isn’t saving the world from bad guys anymore; they’re eating their own. The chickens have come home to roost.

Bond has his own issues with M. He didn’t like leaving Ronson behind and he didn’t appreciate M’s “Take the shot” directive. M didn’t trust him to finish the job and it nearly finished him. “Nearly.” It should have finished him. He’s shot twice and falls hundreds of feet into the Black Sea. M and MI6 actually think he’s dead. We know he’s not because it’s the beginning of the movie and he’s James Bond. He’s our plaything. We can drop him from the moon and he’ll survive.

So what does James Bond do, being thought dead?This may be the most disappointing part of the movie for me. He sulks. He hangs out on a tropical beach, has rough sex with a local beauty, plays rough drinking games with scorpions, and loses his edge. He only returns when he hears of the terrorist attack on MI6. It gives you an idea what he’ll be like in retirement. A drag.

At this point the question of the movie becomes: Can Bond regain his edge? He’s weaker now. His hand shakes when he shoots. Losing this, he loses everything. Until he gets it back, of course. Which he does later in the film. We knew he would. We can drop him from the moon, remember.

Bond could be Silva. That’s how Silva sees it anyway. But Bond couldn’t be Silva because Bond isn’t smart enough. Silva is not only a trained MI6 agent, in the Bond mold, but he outwits the new Q (Ben Whishaw). Even when Silva’s captured, halfway through the film, he’s not really captured. He’s in a glass booth in the middle of a guarded room, like Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs,” but we know he’ll escape. Hell, he wanted to be captured. It was part of his master plan. It took me a moment to realize why this scenario—the villain, incarcerated, holding all the cards—echoed. It’s the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He too felt an affinity with the hero, and the hero, Batman, was too dumb and humorless to see it. The dynamic is the same and it’s dull. It’s dull because the hero is dull and the villain has all the fun. Used to be the reverse for Bond. Used to be the villain humorlessly stroked cats while Bond stroked other things.

The real Bond girl
Speaking of: Where are the girls? All the movie’s pre-publicity trumpeted Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, but she’s killed halfway through the movie. The tropical, rough-sex beauty lasts about five seconds. There’s a fling with Eve, discreetly implied with old-fashioned fireworks, but by the end she’s a pal. By the end she’s Moneypenny. Literally.

No, the Bond girl in this movie is M. She’s the girl being fought over by hero and villain. Near the end, during the assault on Skyfall, the home in Scotland where Bond grew up and was orphaned, she’s injured and in pain, her hand is red with blood, but I felt nothing for her. Are we supposed to have sympathy? I think the filmmakers want us to. But all of this is because of her. The chickens are coming home to roost on her. There should be soul searching throughout London, and Great Britain, and the world. There isn’t. The enemy is us but we either don’t realize it or don’t care.

M dies but we get a new M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond could die but we’d just get a new Bond. We will get a new Bond, eventually, world without end. When we do, a request. Please make him a little less superseriously American, like Batman and Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne, and a little more British. Because: Please, he’s British.

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Posted at 08:49 AM on Nov 12, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday November 11, 2012

Roth Unbound

“At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ It’s exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.”

--Novelist Philip Roth, annoucing his retirement from writing at the age of 79.

My recommendations from the Roth oeuvre: ”Goodbye, Columbus,“ ”Portnoy's Complaint,“ ”Reading Myself and Others,“ ”The Ghost Writer,“ ”Zuckerman Unbound,“ ”The Anatomy Lesson,“ ”Patrimony.“ I think his best is ”The Ghost Writer." His novels in the '90s won numerous awards but I was not a fan. All the same, he was the right fielder of my starting nine of the literary world

Philip Roth Unbound

Philip Roth Unbound

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Posted at 09:25 PM on Nov 11, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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The Ultimate James Bond Quiz: The Answers

Welcome to … Universal Exports. Ninety-five percent of your class has already dropped out of our training program, but you, the top five percent, remain. There is, however, one test left. Take the quiz below and we’ll figure out where to place you: in administration, in the Q branch, in the secretarial pool, or scrubbing toilets. Get 100 percent and you’ll be given the most coveted position of all: double-oh secret agent.

1. Ian Fleming named his secret agent after who ... or what?

  • A: His favorite uncle
  • B: An American soldier who saved his life during World War II.
  • C: The author of the book, “Birds of the West Indies.“
  • D: It was a pun on Thames Bonds, of which he was a major shareholder.

The correct answer is C: Ian Fleming got the name James Bond from one of his favorite books, “Birds of the West Indies.” Fleming said he wanted “a really flat, quiet name” and James Bond fit the bill.

2. For the first three films, the man who appears in the “gun barrel sequence” was not Sean Connery. Who was he?

  • A: Stuntman Bob Simmons
  • B: Producer Albert Broccoli
  • C: Author Ian Fleming
  • D: Actor Jack Lord

The correct answer is A: Stuntman Bob Simmons was the man in the gun sites for the first three Bond films. He was a stunt double for Sean Connery and stayed with the franchise in various stunt capacities until “A View to a Kill” in 1985. He died in 1988.

"My name is Bond. James Bond."

3. In “Dr. No,” what prompts Bond to introduce himself as “Bond. James Bond” at the baccarat table?

  • A: The croupier is hard of hearing.
  • B: A woman at the table introduces herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench.”
  • C: Dr. No asks for his name — last name first.
  • D: That’s actually his name: Bond James Bond. His real first name, “Bond,” was dropped in subsequent movies as too confusing.

The correct answer is B: A woman introduces herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench.” Here’s the dialogue:

         Bond: I admire your courage, Miss...?
         Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr...?
         Bond: Bond. James Bond.

4. In “Goldfinger,” Bond tells Jill Masterson that drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above 38 degrees is as bad as...?

  • A: “Sex without foreplay.”
  • B: “Shirts without cufflinks.”
  • C: “Drinking Dom Perignon '38 below 53 degrees.”
  • D: “Listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

The correct answer is D: Bond felt it was as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs. This was when they were still “mop-tops” known for their “yeah yeah yeah” music. Before they became, well, bigger than Bond.

5. What is Bond’s response when Honor Blackman introduces herself as Pussy Galore?

  • A: “I must be dreaming.”
  • B: “I must talk to your parents.”
  • C: “High school must’ve been hell for you.”
  • D: “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

The correct answer is A: “I must be dreaming.”

6. Ernst Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE, is seen petting a cat in most early Bond films. In which film do we first see his face?

  • A: “From Russia with Love” (1963)
  • B: “Thunderball” (1965)
  • C: “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
  • D: “Spectre” (2015)

The correct answer is C: Blofeld’s face was first seen, with a scar down the eye, in “You Only Live Twice.” Donald Pleasance got the honor.

7. Which is the first movie where Bond does NOT wear a fedora during the gun barrel sequence?

  • A: “Goldfinger” (1964)
  • B: “Thunderball” (1965)
  • C: “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
  • D: “Live and Let Die” (1973)

The correct answer is D: Bond finally loses his fedora in the gun barrel sequence in “Live and Let Die,” the first Roger Moore film. A few times in the ‘80s, Moore carried a fedora into Miss Moneypenny’s office, but he never wore one. And that was that. 

8. At the end of the pre-title sequence in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Bond (George Lazenby) turns to the camera and says...what?

  • A: “This never happened to the other fellow.”
  • B: “I must be dreaming.”
  • C: “Instant karma’s gonna get you.”
  • D: “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

The correct answer is A: Lazenby said, “This never happened to the other fellow.” The “this,” by the way, is being ditched by a girl.

9. What is the name of the CIA agent who has appeared in numerous Bond movies?

  • A: Alex Bradbury
  • B: Smitty Wesson
  • C: Felix Leiter
  • D: Michael Busick

The correct answer is C: Felix Leiter is the CIA agent who helps Bond from time to time. For the record, he’s been played by eight different actors: Jack Lord (“Dr. No”), Cec Linder (“Goldfinger”), Rik Van Nutter (“Thunderball”), Norman Burton (“Diamonds are Forever”), David Hedison (“Live and Let Die” and “License to Kill”), Bernie Casey (“Never Say Never Again”), John Terry (“The Living Daylights”) and Jeffrey Wright (“Casino Royale” and ”Quantum of Solace“).

10. In what fundamental way were the producers going to change James Bond in 1970?

  • A: They were going to make him American, and star Adam West.
  • B: They were going to make him French, and star Jean Paul Belmondo.
  • C: They were going to make him a teenager, and star Kurt Russell.
  • D: They were going to make him a woman, and star Raquel Welch.

The correct answer is A: The Bond producers were contemplating making Bond an American, and considered both Adam West and Burt Reynolds for the part. At one point, TV actor John Gavin was even signed for “Diamonds are Forever” but was set aside when Connery agreed to return. Gavin had to settle for becoming U.S. ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration.

11. In the first Roger Moore movies, Bond does not smoke cigarettes. What does he do instead?

  • A: He smokes cigars.
  • B: He sucks lollipops.
  • C: He chews gum.
  • D: He chews tobacco.

The correct answer is A: He smokes cigars. Then he gives up all forms of oral fixation. Cough.

Roger Moore as 007

12. What characteristic does the villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun” share with a character on “The Simpsons”?

  • A: He sucks a pacifier — like Maggie.
  • B: He says “D’Oh!” – like Homer.
  • C: He has a third nipple – like Krusty the Klown.
  • D: He tastes like a peanut — like Hans Moleman.

The correct answer is C: He has a superfluous third nipple — just like Krusty the Klown.

13. What happens to Bond during the pre-title sequence in “Moonraker”?

  • A: He gets pushed out of a plane without a parachute.
  • B: He is pulled by a helicopter around Kuala Lumpur.
  • C: He gets teased by the other double-oh secret agents for the size of his gun.
  • D: He plays Pong.

The correct answer is A: He gets pushed out of a plane without a parachute. For my money, it’s the best Bond opening ever.

14. What future Academy Award-winning actor plays Dario, Sanchez’s sadistic henchman in “License to Kill” (1989)?

  • A: Alfred Molina
  • B: Kevin Spacey
  • C: Benicio del Toro
  • D: Marisa Tomei

The correct answer is C: Benicio del Toro plays Dario. “Don’t worry. We gave her a nice honeymoooooon.”

15. Which of the following does the new “M” (Judi Dench) NOT call Bond in “Goldeneye”?

  • A: Sexist and misogynistic
  • B: A dinosaur
  • C: A relic of the Cold War
  • D: A great piece of ass

The correct answer is D.

16. When Bond visits Q in “Die Another Day,” what gadget from a previous Bond film does he toy with?

  • A: Ursula Andress’ bikini from “Dr. No”
  • B: The jet pack from “Thunderball”
  • C: A crocodile from “Live and Let Die”
  • D: Sean Connery’s toupee from “Diamonds are Forever”

The correct answer is B: Besides the jet pack from “Thunderball,” he also picks up Rosa Klebb’s deadly shoe from “From Russia with Love.” Meanwhile, in Cuba, he also flipped through the book “Birds of the West Indies,” which we all know, if we’ve been reading these answers, was one of Ian Fleming’s favorite books, and the inspiration for the name “James Bond.”

17. In 2006’s “Casino Royale,” Danish actor Mads Mikkelson plays Bond’s baccarat nemesis Le Chiffre. What other two actors have played Le Chiffre?

  • A: Peter Lorre and Orson Welles
  • B: Peter Sellers and Woody Allen
  • C: Vincent Price and Dean Martin
  • D: Danny Bonaduce and Christopher Knight

The correct answer is A: In a 1954 TV version of “Casino Royale” with American Barry Nelson playing Jimmy Bond, Peter Lorre was cast as Le Chiffre; and in the 1967 “Casino Royale” send-up starring David Niven, Orson Welles played Le Chiffre.

18. Which country has produced the most Bond girls in the 24 official Bond films?

  • A: America
  • B: Japan
  • C: France
  • D: Sweden

The correct answer is A: America. Although the first American Bond girl, Jill St. John, didn’t come along until 1971, there have now been more American-born actresses cast in the part than actresses from any other country. The international rundown:

  • America: 7
  • France: 5
  • England: 4
  • Sweden: 2
  • Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Malaysia, Ukraine: 1 each

Bérénice Marlohe in SKYFALLL

19. Which of the following actors has NOT had a famous ”emerging from the surf“ scene in a Bond movie?

  • A: Ursula Andress
  • B: Halle Berry
  • C: Daniel Craig
  • D: Judi Dench

The correct answer is D: Judi Dench. Although she totally could've pulled it off.

20. Which of the following singers did NOT sing a James Bond title song?

  • A: Tom Jones
  • B: A-Ha
  • C: Sheryl Crow
  • D: Justin Bieber

The correct answer is D: Justin Bieber. 

21. Which of the following actors has NOT played a Bond villain?

  • A: Telly Savalas
  • B: Yaphet Kotto
  • C: Rutger Hauer
  • D: Sean Bean

The correct answer is C: Rutger Hauer has never played a Bond villain.

22. Which is NOT the name of a Bond girl?

  • A: Honey Ryder
  • B: Mary Goodnight
  • C: Taku Klozoff
  • D: Holly Goodhead

The correct answer is C: Taku Klozoff. Honey Ryder is from “Dr. No,” Mary Goodnight is from “The Man with the Golden Gun,” and Holly Goodhead (Dr. Holly Goodhead) is from “Moonraker.”

23. Which of the following puns does Bond NOT use after killing someone?

  • A: “I think he got the point.”
  • B: “Bon appetit.”
  • C: “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.”
  • D: ”Ouch Wiedersehen.“

The correct answer is D: ”Ouch Wiedersehen." “I think he got the point” is from “Thunderball,” “Bon appetit” is from “You Only Live Twice” (and “The Living Daylights”), and “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself” is from “Live and Let Die.”

The gun barrel sequence of James Bond

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Posted at 04:18 PM on Nov 11, 2012 in category Movies
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Saturday November 10, 2012

The Ultimate James Bond Quiz

Welcome to Universal Exports. Ninety-five percent of your class has already dropped out of our training program, but you, the top five percent, remain. There is, however, one test left. Take the quiz below and we’ll figure out where to place you: in administration, in the Q branch, in the secretarial pool, or scrubbing toilets. Get 100 percent and you’ll be given the most coveted positoin of all: double-oh secret agent.

1. Ian Fleming named his secret agent after ...?

  • A: His favorite uncle
  • B: An American soldier who saved his life during World War II.
  • C: The author of the book, “Birds of the West Indies.“
  • D: It was a pun on Thames Bonds, of which he was a major shareholder.

2. For the first three films, the man who appears in the “gun barrel sequence” was not Sean Connery. Who was he?

  • A: Stuntman Bob Simmons
  • B: Producer Albert Broccoli
  • C: Author Ian Fleming
  • D: Actor Jack Lord

"My name is Bond. James Bond."

3. In “Dr. No,” what prompts Bond to introduce himself as “Bond. James Bond” at the baccarat table?

  • A: The croupier is hard of hearing.
  • B: A woman at the table introduces herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench.”
  • C: Dr. No asks for his name — last name first.
  • D: That’s actually his name: Bond James Bond. His real first name, “Bond,” was dropped in subsequent movies as too confusing.

4. In “Goldfinger,” Bond tells Jill Masterson that drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above 38 degrees is as bad as...?

  • A: “Sex without foreplay.”
  • B: “Shirts without cufflinks.”
  • C: “Drinking Dom Perignon '38 below 53 degrees.”
  • D: “Listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

5. What is Bond’s response when Honor Blackman introduces herself as Pussy Galore?

  • A: “I must be dreaming.”
  • B: “I must talk to your parents.”
  • C: “High school must’ve been hell for you.”
  • D: “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

6. Ernst Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE, is seen petting a cat in most early Bond films. In which film do we first see his face?

  • A: “From Russia with Love” (1963)
  • B: “Thunderball” (1965)
  • C: “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
  • D: “Spectre” (2015)

7. Which is the first movie where Bond does NOT wear a fedora during the gun barrel sequence?

  • A: “Goldfinger” (1964)
  • B: “Thunderball” (1965)
  • C: “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
  • D: “Live and Let Die” (1973)

8. At the end of the pre-title sequence in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Bond (George Lazenby) turns to the camera and says...what?

  • A: “This never happened to the other fellow.”
  • B: “I must be dreaming.”
  • C: “Instant karma’s gonna get you.”
  • D: “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

9. What is the name of the CIA agent who has appeared in numerous Bond movies?

  • A: Alex Bradbury
  • B: Smitty Wesson
  • C: Felix Leiter
  • D: Michael Busick

10. In what fundamental way were the producers going to change James Bond in 1970?

  • A: They were going to make him American, and star Adam West.
  • B: They were going to make him French, and star Jean Paul Belmondo.
  • C: They were going to make him a teenager, and star Kurt Russell.
  • D: They were going to make him a woman, and star Raquel Welch.

11. In the first Roger Moore movies, Bond does not smoke cigarettes. What does he do instead?

  • A: He smokes cigars.
  • B: He sucks lollipops.
  • C: He chews gum.
  • D: He chews tobacco.

Roger Moore as 007

12. What characteristic does the villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun” share with a character on “The Simpsons”?

  • A: He sucks a pacifier — like Maggie.
  • B: He says “D’Oh!” – like Homer.
  • C: He has a third nipple – like Krusty the Klown.
  • D: He tastes like a peanut — like Hans Moleman.

13. What happens to Bond during the pre-title sequence in “Moonraker”?

  • A: He gets pushed out of a plane without a parachute.
  • B: He is pulled by a helicopter around Kuala Lumpur.
  • C: He gets teased by the other double-oh secret agents for the size of his gun.
  • D: He plays Pong.

14. What future Academy Award-winning actor plays Dario, Sanchez’s sadistic henchman in “License to Kill” (1989)?

  • A: Alfred Molina
  • B: Kevin Spacey
  • C: Benicio del Toro
  • D: Marisa Tomei

15. Which of the following does the new “M” (Judi Dench) NOT call Bond in “Goldeneye”?

  • A: Sexist and misogynistic
  • B: A dinosaur
  • C: A relic of the Cold War
  • D: A great piece of ass

16. When Bond visits Q in “Die Another Day,” what gadget from a previous Bond film does he toy with?

  • A: Ursula Andress’ bikini from “Dr. No”
  • B: The jet pack from “Thunderball”
  • C: A crocodile from “Live and Let Die”
  • D: Sean Connery’s toupee from “Diamonds are Forever”

17. In 2006’s “Casino Royale,” Danish actor Mads Mikkelson plays Bond’s baccarat nemesis Le Chiffre. What other two actors have played Le Chiffre?

  • A: Peter Lorre and Orson Welles
  • B: Peter Sellers and Woody Allen
  • C: Vincent Price and Dean Martin
  • D: Danny Bonaduce and Christopher Knight

18. Which country has produced the most ”Bond girls“ in the 24 official Bond films?

  • A: America
  • B: Japan
  • C: France
  • D: Sweden

Bérénice Marlohe in SKYFALLL

19. Which of the following actors has NOT had a famous ”emerging from the surf“ scene in a Bond movie?

  • A: Ursula Andress
  • B: Halle Berry
  • C: Daniel Craig
  • D: Judi Dench

20. Which of the following singers did NOT sing a James Bond title song?

  • A: Tom Jones
  • B: A-Ha
  • C: Sheryl Crow
  • D: Justin Bieber

21. Which of the following actors has NOT played a Bond villain?

  • A: Telly Savalas
  • B: Yaphet Kotto
  • C: Rutger Hauer
  • D: Sean Bean

22. Which is NOT the name of a Bond girl?

  • A: Honey Ryder
  • B: Mary Goodnight
  • C: Taku Klozoff
  • D: Holly Goodhead

23. Which of the following puns does Bond NOT use after killing someone?

  • A: “I think he got the point.”
  • B: “Bon appetit.”
  • C: “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.”
  • D: ”Ouch Wiedersehen."

The gun barrel sequence of James Bond

The answers.

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Posted at 08:17 AM on Nov 10, 2012 in category Movies
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Friday November 09, 2012

The Men Who Played James Bond, 007

Today is the U.S. release of “Skyfall,” the 23rd James Bond film. Below is a retrospective on the men who have played Bond, James Bond, over the years. Sans one-timers. Sorry, George Lazenby.

Sean Connery
What’s startling about watching the first Bond movies is how tepid they are. Since each Bond must inevitably trump the Bond before it — bigger stunts, wilder gadgets, crazier villains — it makes sense that each preceding Bond is trumped. We’re used to Bond whizzing all over the planet, but in the first film, “Dr. No,” Bond flies to Kingston, Jamaica, boats to Crab Key island ... and that’s it. The fights are early 1960s judo flips, the “stunt” a car chase along a mountain road. When a tarantula is unleashed in Bond’s hotel room, he kills it with his dress shoe, seeming more frightened husband than secret agent.

But these Bond films quickly established a formula and kept to it. In the pre-title sequence we watch the end of Bond’s previous adventure or the beginning of his new opponent’s villainy. After the titles, Bond is given his assignment and gadgets. In an exotic locale, he meets his local contact, usually ethnic, who usually dies halfway through the picture. There are chases, attempts on Bond’s life, meetings with the new villain and the new villain’s super-powered henchman. He beds three women: The inconsequential one at the beginning, an enemy agent in the middle, then “the Bond girl,” with whom he shares the final assault on the enemy’s fortress. There, captured, he learns the villain’s diabolical plot to a) blackmail the West, b) start World War III, or c) both. Left to die, he escapes, kills the henchman, blows everything up, and winds up with the girl on a raft in the middle of the ocean, a double entendre on his lips, sex on his mind. Cue credits and “James Bond will return in...”

Nobody had seen anything like it. Imitators popped up everywhere. Most were American and forgettable. The best was British and anti-Bond: Michael Caine as the bespectacled gourmand Harry Palmer in “The Ipcress File” and “Funeral in Berlin.”

Sean Connery as James Bond, 007, in "Dr. No"

Roger Moore
Bond was an establishment figure, given to fine clothes and fine champagne, while the heroes of the early 1970s tended to be anti-establishment and rumpled. As a result, even when the producers coaxed Connery back for one more turn, Bond lost some of his polish. He didn’t play baccarat in Monte Carlo wearing a tux; he played craps in Vegas in his shirt sleeves. Jill St. John became the first American Bond girl, and she was dumber than the other Bond girls. Bond calls her a twit and slaps her. He rides a three-wheeler through the desert and leads police on a car chase through Vegas. The cops keep crashing into each other. Yee-ha.

So it would be throughout the Roger Moore ’70s. SPECTRE, cigarettes and the baccarat table all disappeared, while car chases (a la “Bullitt”) and car jumps (a la Evel Knievel) became essential. Bond was now less imitated, more imitator. “Live and Let Die” was the blaxploitation Bond; “The Man with the Golden Gun” contained elements of “Enter the Dragon.” Bond fought a henchman named Jaws two years after “Jaws.” After “Star Wars,” Bond went into outer space.

He repeated himself. In “The Spy Who Loved Me,” a megalomaniac is bent on destroying our corrupt civilization and building a better one undersea. In “Moonraker,” a megalomaniac is bent on destroying our corrupt civilization and building a better one in outer space. In “Golden Gun,” a car becomes a plane; in “Spy,” a car becomes a boat; in “Moonraker,” a boat (a gondola) becomes a car and Bond drives it through St. Mark’s Square, where the pigeons do double-takes. It's all fairly cartoonish.

Roger Moore as James Bond, 007

Timothy Dalton
In the 1980s, movies were increasingly filled with action heroes in the Bond mould — Indiana Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McClane — and Timothy Dalton’s Bond responded by becoming more like them rather than like himself. His tastes were pedestrian. He favors leather jackets rather than tuxes. In “License to Kill,” a girl orders a Bud with a lime and Bond, the man who thinks it’s a crime to drink Dom Perignon ’53 above 38 degrees, tells the waitress: “Same.” He made headlines by becoming, in the age of AIDS, monogamous (one or two girls per film, instead of three), but the bigger story was missed: this Bond hardly flirted anymore. Dalton has a shy smile, and he employed it with women in his films. He seems almost ... puppyish.

And how does this new, bashful Bond bring the beautiful enemy agent over to his side? In “The Living Daylights” he tells the girl the truth. And in “License to Kill” he’s just, well, a nice guy. Nice guys and truth-tellers around the world rolled their eyes.

Timothy Dalton as James Bond, 007

Pierce Brosnan
In 1995, Pierce Brosnan brought back the true cinematic Bond. In the first 20 minutes of “Goldeneye,” he 1) seduces a reluctant girl, 2) wears a tux, 3) plays baccarat in a French casino, 4) says “Vodka martini, shaken, not stirred” and 5) tells a lovely enemy agent his name is “Bond. James Bond.” No pussy-footing around here.

Arguments can be made that Brosnan is the most quintessentially Bond of all the Bonds. He has the intensity of Connery and Dalton, and the light comedic touch (although drier and more muted) of Moore. He’s even given a rationale for Bond’s playboy ways. This is a Bond who tries not to love, who tries not to care, because loving and caring get in the way of work. “How can you be so cold?” Natalya Simonova asks him in “Goldeneye.” “It’s what keeps me alive,” he responds, almost helplessly.

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, 007

Daniel Craig
With “Casino Royale,” they’ve bitch-slapped the series. Bond, originally borne of WWII, and long steeped in the Cold War, is here remade as a post-9/11 secret agent who never knew the Cold War. Craig's Bond is physical and relentless. He bulldozes past everything. Sometimes literally. In Craig, the series has something it hasn’t had since Connery: a Bond believable as both roughneck and sophisticate. He doesn’t quite have the “wicked twinkle” that Honor Blackman attributed to Connery, but he does give good smoulder.

“Casino Royale” isn’t just grittier and bloodier than previous Bond movies; it’s deeper. All of those elements lampooned in “Austin Powers” (“All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism”) are gone. It’s an origin movie, and there’s small pleasures when familiar elements are introduced: Oh, so that’s why the Aston-Martin. Ah, so that’s why the vodka martini. These small pleasures, coupled with the new-found grittiness, actually make the movie feel like the reality upon which all of those other, more cartoonish Bond movies are based. It feels like they took the adventures of this guy, the Craig Bond, and gave us those crazy Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan flicks.

Daniel Craig as James Bond, 007

All of the above was taken from “Buying Bonds: a Cinematic History of James Bond, 007,” which I wrote for MSNBC in 2006.

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Posted at 08:20 AM on Nov 09, 2012 in category Movies
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Thursday November 08, 2012

My President

Obama addresses campaign supporters in Chicago.

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Posted at 08:59 PM on Nov 08, 2012 in category Politics
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Quote of the Day

“I think of this as an election where we stuck to our values: Make sure Social Security and Medicare benefits are protected, and millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share. To me, that’s the heart of it. That’s really where the basic social contract is reaffirmed.”

--Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator-elect (D-MA), in the article, “Is Elizabeth Warren's Victory the End of the Tea Party?,” on AlterNet

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Posted at 02:48 PM on Nov 08, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Jordy's Reviews: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Another movie review from my 11-year-old, video-game-playing, Alfred-Hitchcock-admiring nephew, Jordy...

Video-game movies have a tendency to suck. They normally have a terribly written script, horrendous acting, and just are not appealing to most people. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World changed all this with its great acting, comic book elements, and just blew “Video game movies stink!” out of the water. The question was then could another movie about video games with its main story not stink?

poster for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph (2012)Wreck-It Ralph says yes, with Mario Kart and Donkey Kong on top of the cake. It is like a documentary on what video games go through, except less stupid and more original.

The story is about a guy named Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), a video game villain that is underappreciated by his fellow video game crew and goes on a quest for a medal so he can prove that he’s a good guy. However, it turns into an adventure on its own, LIKE a video game. He first goes to Hero’s Duty, a First-Person Shooter (FPS) where he questions, “When did games become so violent?” I agree. We don’t need BFG’s or Spartan Lasers. Heck, Mario only needs his feet. Anyway, in Hero’s Duty, he meets Sue Sylvester- I mean, Jane Lynch. Sorry, she just basically has Sue’s personality. She plays Sergeant Calhoun, in a Sue-riffic role. He gets a medal in it, but then accidentally enters a racing game, Sugar Rush, which is basically Mario Kart with candy! Hooray!

I’m not going to spoil anymore, but the story is good. It's also very funny, with some jokes that hardcore gamers will get (The password to a video game’s code is the contra code.) There is also a joke about a new game in the arcade, where the good guy, Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer), says, “Look at the high-definition on your face.” I think it’s a great line. The movie is very well-written. Little kids might not get some of the words, like glitches or code, just some stuff that makes up a game. What intrigues me about the story is that it takes a very unoriginal approach—an outcast becomes the hero—but puts it in this video game world that is so colorful (Sugar Rush) so bland (Hero’s Duty) and just plain old school (Fix-It Felix), and puts these worlds together perfectly. Only a great movie can do that. It also gets some shots of the real world, us, in the arcade. How we take advantage of the video game world and kill the video game people when they do not please us. I guess hippies were right when they said, “There’s a world in all of us.” Video Games have souls, too. Think about that the next time you shoot an alien in the face in Halo

~Jordan Muschler

89%

Okay For 7+

(Leave a comment for ideas of a review. If you have any feedback, please tell me. I love feedback! The next review is the new Frankenweenie from Tim Burton.)

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Nov 08, 2012 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Wednesday November 07, 2012

My Election Day: November 6, 2012

For the past three weekends, whenever I was helping with Pres. Obama's Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts in Seattle and Washington state, either by knocking on doors or making phone calls, I'd write the following on my script:

This isn't about you.

It was just a reminder in case an irate or harried or impatient person got me down. You're not doing this for you, Erik. This isn't about you. Let it go.

It's also an echo of something Pres. Obama has himself said over and over again: “This is not about me; this is about you.” He said it at his 2008 convention speech and in his 2012 convention speech. He said it while stumping for a jobs bill in Raleigh, N.C., in 2011. He said it while trying to unblock judicial nominees in 2012 and during the health case battles of 2009. “This is not about me; this is about you.”

According to his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” it was his college friend Regina who first said it. And she said it to him:

“Let me tell you something, Mr. Obama. It’s not just about you. It’s never just about you. It’s about people who need your help. Children who are depending on you. They’re not interested in your irony or your sophistication or your ego getting bruised. And neither am I.”

It's a helpful thing, not having it be about you. It allows you to do things you wouldn't normally do. It's a freeing message.

For example, in mid-October, when the election seemed to be slipping away from us, and again yesterday, when it felt better, I went door-to-door in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, in the Pike-Pine corridor, getting out the vote. I'm not an extrovert. I don't gain energy from interactions. But you do it anyway. Because it's not about you.

Most of the residences I was assigned were security buildings with intercoms, often old, so there was little face-to-face contact. One building was an assisted living and Alzheimer's facility, at which I didn't stay long. The people I talked to were too confused. It felt wrong. At a security building on Pike, the intercom was waist high, so I got down on one knee, then both knees, as I buzzed the voters on my sheet. It felt like I was literally begging for votes. Please, come out and vote. I was on my knees on the dirty Pike sidewalk. But it wasn't about me.

Building managers were helpful. They wouldn't let me roam their buildings but at least they told me who had moved. The last manager I spoke with ran an apartment building across from Sitka and Spruce, and we talked a good 10 minutes, about the same-sex marraige amendment, Referendum 74, and about how she had supported Hillary in 2008, and hadn't even voted for Obama back then because she was still pissed that Hillary didn't win. Not this time. This time it was Barack all the way. She's got her fingers crossed for Hillary in 2016.

Afterwards I walked past all the thin, fashionable ladies shopping at the ritzy downtown department stores at noon on a weekday, returned my sheets to the Democratic Headquarters on 2nd and Cherry, then returned home to get ready for a party. I was nervous but not too nervous. I had Nate Silver on my side.

Ward was the first guest to arrive. Throughout the night, he kept urging us to change the channel to FOX. He wanted to see the bastards squirm. We did once or twice but missed their biggest meltdowns: Karl Rove arguing over Ohio; Megyn Kelly fact-checking her own stats people.

It was over quickly. Not as quickly as in 2008, it seemed, but all of a sudden. MSNBC just declared. We didn't even see the graphic for Obama winning Ohio; just ”Barack Obama re-elected 44th President of the United States.“ Which state did they declare for him? we wondered. They weren't saying. So we did math: 18 meant Ohio. So it was Ohio. So it was over.

Except on FOX-News and in the Romney camp, which waited a bit. Rove wanted a replay of 2000 and Florida. I'm sure the thinking went: Surely we've suppressed enough votes in Ohio to make a difference; to screw up the exit polls. Surely, if there's a God in heaven, we did that. The nice thing? It wouldn't have mattered anyway. It turned out that Obama got Ohio but didn't need it. He got Virginia but didn't need it. It looks like he'll get Florida but doesn't need it. All the pundits today, so wrong yesterday, are wrong again today. They're saying that in the end the auto bailout won the day; that Obama saved Detroit and so Detroit saved Obama back. Maybe. But he would've won Michigan anyway and he didn't need Ohio. Because he got Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado. And that was enough. We knew that going in.

If the popular vote holds, and it looks like it will, Barack Obama will be only the third Democrat to win the U.S. presidency twice with clear majorities. The others? FDR (four times) and Andrew Jackson (twice). That's it. Clinton never did it (third-party candidates), Carter once, LBJ once, JFK never, Truman never, Wilson never. Just: Obama, FDR and Andrew Jackson. That's the company he now keeps.

This was my first Twitter election, my first Facebook election, and, smartphones in hand, we kept trading comments and information from our Twitter feeds. We drank a lot, ate too much, laughed a lot. It wasn't just the Obama victory. It was same-sex marriage referendums in Maine and Maryland and Washington state that passed. It was pot legalizaton initiatives in Colorado and Washington state that passed. It felt like, at long last, after 30+ years,  the world, or at least the United States, was finally turning our way.

On Facebook I wrote something intelligent like, ”YES!!!!!!!!!!!!" Everyone knew what that meant. One friend, who had been hugely involved in GOTV efforts in 2008, and who knew of my donations and GOTV efforts this year, wrote:

I raise my beer to you Erik for all your hard work and donations. You helped make it happen.

It was a nice thought but felt so beside the point. Because it wasn't about me. Not even a little bit.

Barack Obama re-elected 44th President of the United States

Our friend Erika's view of our TV, election night.

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Posted at 05:03 PM on Nov 07, 2012 in category Politics
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James Baldwin's Message to Bill O'Reilly

Fifty years ago, at the end of his book-length essay “The Fire Next Time,” which became a best-seller the year I was born, James Baldwin wrote the following:

“The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. . . . It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

Bill O'Reilly and FOX-News still haven't gotten the message:

Have there been more veiled, racist comments in a 60-second span? Let's count them off:

  • “It's a changing country and it's not a traditional America anymore.”
  • “There is 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. Who want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. ”
  • “The white establishment is now the minority.”
  • “You're going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel they are entitled to things, and which candidate between the two is going to give them things.

As always with FOX-News, this stuff is full of half-truths.

It is a changing country but it always is. It's not a traditional America but what does that mean? Are we losing core values or surface values? O'Reilly is implying the former but I know the latter. Because in a certain sense, no president is more traditionally American in his rhetoric and in his beliefs than Pres. Obama. He just doesn't look like the other 43.

Fifty percent of the people want things. (Like health insurance. We're greedy that way.) Then O'Reilly ties this 50 percent to Hispanics, blacks and women. It's the welfare argument all over again. It's Reagan's politics of resentment all over again. There are welfare queens (read: minorities) who want stuff (read: your tax dollars). Meanwhile, hard-working white people do things the honorable way: by selling insurance on bundled sercurities that were created from subprime mortgage loans, which poor and working-class owners were guaranteed to default on.

It's interesting that O'Reilly calls it ”the white establishment,“ that he owns up to it. ”White“ certainly isn't a minority, so he must be talking ”white“ and ”conservative“ and maybe ”rich.“ In which case: yes, yes, and yes. And thank God.

There are so many lessons you can draw from yesterday's election. For example: ”Continually mentioning rape in a positive way tends to be a losing strategy.“ You can go to literature, too, with this paraphrase of e.e. cummings' Olaf, glad and big, whose warmest heart recoiled at war: ”There is some shit we will not eat.“

Then there's Baldwin, above, paraphrased:

America is white no longer, and it will never be again.

To O'Reilly, this spells America's doom. To the rest of us, the opposite. It's the very reason our country is exceptional.

James Baldwin

”It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today." --James Baldwin, 1963

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Posted at 02:22 PM on Nov 07, 2012 in category Politics
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Quote of the Day II

“The president's oration was almost a summation of his core belief: that against the odds, human beings can actually better ourselves, morally, ethically, materially, and we can do so more powerfully together than alone, and that nowhere exemplifies that endeavor more than America. It was Lincolnian in its cadences, and in some ways, was the final, impassioned, heart-felt rebuke to all those, including his opponent, who tried to portray him as somehow un-American. How deeply that must have cut. How emphatically did he rebut the charge.

”What he reminded me of was how deeply American he actually is - how this country's experiment truly is in diversity as well as democracy. And his diversity is not some cringe-worthy 1990s variety. It is about being both white and black, both mid-Western and Hawaiian, both proudly American and yet also attuned to the opinion of mankind.

“As for the next four years, there is time enough for that. But I stand by these words. And one felt something tectonic shift tonight. America crossed the Rubicon of every citizen's access to healthcare, and re-elected a black president in a truly tough economic climate. The shift toward gay equality is now irreversible. The end of prohibition of marijuana is in sight. Women, in particular, moved this nation forward - pragmatically, provisionally, sensibly. They did so alongside the young whose dedication to voting was actually greater this time than in 2008, the Latino voters who have made the current GOP irrelevant, and African-Americans, who turned up in vast numbers, as in 2008, to put a period at the end of an important sentence.

”That sentence will never now be unwritten. By anyone.“

--Andrew Sullivan, ”The American President," on The Dish

Obama, Election Night, 2012

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Posted at 01:05 PM on Nov 07, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Quote of the Day

“I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym or — or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

”You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home. You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

“That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter — the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

-- Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States (and still heavyweight champion of the world), in his victory speech last night in Chicago.

This was my favorite part of a very good speech. It encourages us not to give in to cynicism, which is the easiest thing to do. So why do it? Why not try to do the hard thing? He seems like the adult in the room. Again.

There was also this moment at the end, when he redefined the word by which he is most known, and which, to many, has become a cynical punchline since 2009:

“I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

Four more years. Thank God.

Obama's victory speech, 2012

“That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important.”

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Posted at 10:28 AM on Nov 07, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Status Updates from the 2012 Election

ELECTION DAY

  • “Does anybody else spend a silly amount of time trying to fill in the ovals perfectly? I have an irrational fear that that any white speck will discount my vote.” --Ross P., Minneapolis
  • “I almost got into a fist fight with a Republican poll watcher who's trying to intimidate minority voters.” --Ben S., Seattle, getting out the vote in Newton, Florida
  • “'If Romney wins, I worry less about any policies his administration may enact (although I worry a lot about those, too) than I do about the long-term implications of the fact that it will have been proven that you can just straight-up fucking lie your way to the Presidency. That's not good for anyone.' Seen on metafilter. Totally agree.” --Roger L., Clinton, WA

ELECTION NIGHT

  • “Barack is going to take every single swing state, with the possible exception of North Carolina.” --Ben S., Seattle
  • “Mitt and his minions waged a dirty, dishonest campaign — perhaps the most dishonest in history — and now the proverbial chickens have come home to roost.” --Ben, S., Seattle
  • “YES!!!!! 4 more years!!!!” — Karen T., Minneapolis
  • “Oh. Thank. God.” — David G., Seattle
  • “This was to be the Republicans’ night. They had the most money—more than a billion dollars. The anemic economy was an albatross around Obama’s neck. The public hated Obamacare. The President fumbled the first debate. Romney was surging. Benghazi proved that Obama’s foreign policy was unraveling. The Democrats were defending the vast majority of the open Senate seats. The spectre of gay marriage was rousing the religious right. The jockeying for positions in the Romney cabinet had begun. ... Then we had an election.” — Kim F., Seattle
  • “When I was living with my ex- in Virginia from 1990-1995, we went to a wedding in the chambers of Chief Judge Abner Mikva. We talked with him about gay rights, and he said 'The bigots know that they are fighting a battle that they will lose, and we have to remember that we are fighting a battle that we will win. Don't lose hope. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it inevitably will in yours because this is America, and we're better than hatred.'” --Chris N., Seattle
  • “Thanks, America.” — Andy E., Nanoi, Viet Nam

THE MORNING AFTER

  • “In Minnesota the Republicans took the State House and Senate for the first time in ages in 2010. Result? A state shutdown, a Senate leader demoted for conduct unbecoming, her bulldog of an illicit paramour threatening to sue the state about his subsequent firing (another white male filing for gender discrimination), an ill-advised Governor's race recount request, and a financial bankrupting of their party. And cynically put voter ID and anti-gay referenda on the ballot to increase turnout. Well, that worked, but it turned out the wrong people. Referenda defeated; House and Senate back in Dem hands. Don't let the Capitol door slam you in the ass on your way out. Doorknobs.” — Joe G., Minneapolis
  • “election's over. time to unblock a bunch of fb friends.” --Brenda B., Seattle

Obama's Night on the New York Times site

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Posted at 09:28 AM on Nov 07, 2012 in category Politics
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Tuesday November 06, 2012

270 to Win: Vote

I leaned heavily on Nate Silver this past month. While the right-wing had their narratives of 'Mittmentum,' and Gallup was claiming a national six-point Romney advantage, Silver gave Romney, on Oct. 12, only a 38.9% chance of winning the electoral college. And that was his best showing. Since then, downhill. This morning's numbers give Romney a 9.1% chance of winning the electoral college. But that's still a chance. At some point, maybe this evening, all the possibilities and probabilities will be reality. We want that reality to be good. So get out there and vote.

Why do I follow Silver? Why do I believe him? Because he got every state right in the 2008 election except for Indiana, which went for Obama. He also predicted the correct outcome of every Senate race that year. In 2010, he predicted 34 of the 36 Senate races correctly, missing only Colorado and Nevada, both of which went Democrat. So: 1) he's usually right, and 2) hardly leans left in his prediction model. Plus he's a sabremetrician. He's a Jamesian. He's a baseball guy. If he were a football guy, no chance.

According to both Silver and this great interactive feature on the NY Times site, there are nine potential swing states, with 95 electoral votes: New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Wisconsin (10), Virginia (13) North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and Florida (29).

With the states Obama's presumed to win, including Pennsylvania, he starts with 236 electoral votes.

These are Silver's probabilities for each of these states (sans North Carolina, which I didn't bother to track) over the last week and a half:

  Oct 26 Oct 28 Oct 29 Oct 30 Oct 31 Nov. 1 Nov. 4 Nov. 6
WI 85.7% 86.8% 85.7% 88.1% 88.0% 91.2% 94.5% 96.7%
NV 78.8% 80.5% 79.7% 82.8% 85.2% 87.7% 90.0% 93.4%
OH 76.3% 74.9% 73.3% 77.6% 79.9% 80.5% 86.8% 90.6%
IA 72.1% 72.7% 70.9% 74.4% 78.4% 78.8% 81.2% 84.3%
NH 69.7% 71.5% 70.3% 75.4% 75.2% 77.8% 80.0% 84.6%
CO 57.3% 58.2% 55.4% 60.7% 62.6% 64.6% 69.7% 79.7%
VA 54.1% 59.9% 57.8% 61.8% 61.3% 66.4% 72.6% 79.4%
FL 37.1% 37.5% 35.3% 40.7% 41.2% 44.6% 44.5% 50.3%

And here are Obama's electoral college chances. It's 270 to win, kids:

  Oct 26 Oct 28 Oct 29 Oct 30 Oct 31 Nov. 1 Nov. 4 Nov. 6
>90 236 236 236 236 236 246 252 270
>80 246 252 246 252 252 270 280 280
>70 276 280 280 280 280 280 293 302
>60 280 280 280 302 302 302 302 302
>50 302 302 302 302 302 302 302 331

A lot of it falls upon Ohio again. There's a kind of “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation” tendency even as the state has shed electoral votes as it's shed population. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, and, since 1900, only two Democrats have: FDR (once) and JFK (in 1960).

But Obama can still win without winning Ohio. He can still win without winning Ohio and Florida. And Virginia. He just needs Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.

I'm nervous, of course. But I'm less nervous than I was a week ago; and a week ago I was less nervous than I was two weeks ago. Back to that first debate.

I'm expending my nervous energy by helping get out the vote in First Hill, Seattle. My neighborhood. Washington state is a mail-in only state now, which is a bit of a bummer. I like the community act of voting. I like the civic-ness of it. I like talking to the old ladies at the church or school. I like talking to people in line.

But at this point it's GOTV. Gotta be postmarked today, kids. So if you haven't mailed it in yet, bring it to the post office. Watch them postmark it. Or bring it to a drop box. Here's a list of ballot drop boxes in King County.

Final thought. For the longest time I've heard from right-wing blabbermouths about how Obama's supporters are less enthusiastic than they once were. How he's got an enthusiasm gap, whlie all the right-wingers are crazy, yes crazy, for Mitt. Here. Here's how I've demonstated my lack of enthusiasm: I've given him $3,000 and the last three weekends of my life in GOTV efforts. Plus this morning.

Let's do this.

I've got his back: Obama 2012

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Posted at 08:49 AM on Nov 06, 2012 in category Politics
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Monday November 05, 2012

Quote of the Day

“Every now and then, I run across the stray Romney supporter. I’ve been instructed to wish them a nice day and move on. 

”I’m not good at following instructions.“

--my friend Ben Stocking, ”The Obamanator,“ helping to get out the vote for Pres. Obama in the projects of Newton, Florida, as recounted in his post, ”Greetings from the Campaign Trail."

Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate. I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.

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Posted at 03:19 PM on Nov 05, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday November 04, 2012

Hollywood B.O.: 'Skyfall" Will Shatter Worldwide Record for James Bond Movies

“Skyfall,” the 23rd James Bond film, already opened abroad and it's raking 'em in. Here's Box Office Mojo's list of the top 10 worldwide James Bond releases (unadjusted):

Rank Title (click to view) Studio Worldwide Domestic / % Overseas / % Year
1 Casino Royale Sony $594.2 $167.4 28.2% $426.8 71.8% 2006
2 Quantum of Solace Sony $586.1 $168.4 28.7% $417.7 71.3% 2008
3 Die Another Day MGM $432.0 $160.9 37.3% $271.0 62.7% 2002
4 The World Is Not Enough MGM $361.8 $126.9 35.1% $234.9 64.9% 1999
5 GoldenEye MGM $352.2 $106.4 30.2% $245.8 69.8% 1995
6 Tomorrow Never Dies MGM $333.0 $125.3 37.6% $207.7 62.4% 1997
7 Skyfall Sony $287.0 n/a 0% $287.0 100% 2012
8 Moonraker MGM $210.3 $70.3 33.4% $140.0 66.6% 1979
9 License to Kill UA $156.2 $34.7 22.2% $121.5 77.8% 1989

“Skyfall” is already in 7th place. And it doesn't open in the U.S. until Friday.

Again, that's unadjusted. Adjust, and you assume the winner has to be “Thunderball,” which grossed $63 million in the U.S. in 1965, which is nearly $600 million today. That's 28th all-time, domestic. It would've been the No. 1 box-office hit of 1965 but that was also the year of “The Sound of Music.”

In the U.S. this weekend, “Wreck-It Ralph,” which Uncle Vinny recommends, finished first with $49 million, “The Flight,” with Denzel Washington, finished a strong second with $25 million, and “Argo,” dropping only 15 percent, finished third in its fourth weekend with $10 million. The word-of-mouth on Affleck's flick is great. Glad people are going. My review.

I saw nothing this weekend. GOTV. #Obama2012

Here's my history of James Bond from 2006. See you Friday, 007.

Daniel Craig is James Bond in "Skyfall" (2012)

Skyfall's the limit.

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Posted at 01:22 PM on Nov 04, 2012 in category Movies - Box Office
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Jordy's Reviews: 'Pokemon Black and White 2'

A video-game review by my 11-year-old nephew Jordan...

Pokemon Black And White 2 is the sequel to Pokemon Black And White. It takes place two years after the events of Black And White and is superior in almost every way to its predecessor.

You start off as a new character in a new town. As always, you get a Pokemon and decide to go on an adventure. The main story is always the same, basically, but now you get to see everything that happened after the first game. It’s very cool, and it’s a Pokemon first that’s welcome.

I also love the graphics. If you take a quick look, you might think they’re the same, but they’re not. They have basically taken the same kind of style for Black And White but improved everything and redesigned some places to make them look better.

Some areas are gone because they have been replaced by new areas, like the Pokemon World Tournament which I love. Also, Pokemon from other regions are available from the get-go.

However, the same downsides to Pokemon are there again. Sometimes, when you’re in a battle, you’ll lose, and then do that battle again, the same way, and you win. DON’T GET THIS. RESULTS ARE RANDOM??

Another thing I don’t like about the game is that there are not enough training areas. I underleveled my Pokemon the ENTIRE game, which was annoying.

However, those are basically the only things I don’t like. That’s pretty impressive. Also, it has VERY LONG replay value. The replay value only stops when you’ve beaten every single trainer, caught every single Pokemon, and gotten your main party to Lv. 100, the highest level, and it goes on with replayable trainers and things like Black Tower and White Treehollow. That’s a long time playing this game.

The music is great. However, my favorite music will always be in Heartgold and Soulsilver. (Recommendation: Get music from those games.)

Finally, this game is really, really fun. I mean it. This RPG (Role-Playing-Game) is probably one of the best ones ever made. It’s that amazing, especially if your Pokemon are awesome. Pokemon also makes you love your Pokemon like you love your dog or cat. I mean, not as much, but it’s kind of like a spiritual bond. Not many games do that with me, or with anybody, for that matter. It’s awesome. This game is just appealing from every single standard. Get it.

Story: 7.2
Graphics: 7.9
Sound: 8.1
Gameplay: 9.9
Replay Value: 10
Overall Score: 91

Pokemon Black and White 2

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Posted at 12:30 PM on Nov 04, 2012 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Hans von Spakovsky and the Voter-Fraud Myth

“You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged by a qualified elector. The Hamilton County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing regarding your right to vote on Monday, September 10th, 2012, at 8:30 A.M. . . . You have the right to appear and testify, call witnesses and be represented by counsel.”

--Notice that Teresa Sharp, 53, received from The Hamilton County Board of Elections, as recounted in the article ”The Voter-Fraud Myth: The man who has stoked fear about imposters at the polls“ by Jane Mayer, in the Oct. 29 issue of The New Yorker.

Mayer's piece is scary and worth reading. The Voter ID laws are the new Jim Crow. They target African-Americans and the elderly without saying they target African-Americans and elderly. Meanwhile, the man behind this targeting, Republican lawyer Hans von Spakovsky of Atlanta, Ga., can't cite much evidence of voter fraud given his almost preternatural interest in the subject.

A recent study by the Pew Center found that more than 1.8 million dead people were registered to vote, and 2.5 million people were registered to vote in more than one state (I might be one of those, since I voted in Minnesota in 2006 and in Washington state since 2008), but von Spakovsky has no idea how many of these cases led to actual voter fraud. He cites a 2000 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which, in the previous two decades, 5400 dead people were recorded as voting; but he doesn't cite the limp follow-up in which the Georgia Secretary of State's office indicated that most of these were clerical errors. ”Upon closer inspection, the paper admitted, its only specific example of a deceased voter casting a ballot didn’t hold up. The ballot of a living voter had been attributed to a dead man whose name was nearly identical,“ Mayer writes.

So from 1.8 million potential cases of voter fraud to 5400 actual cases of voter fraud in Georgia to ... zero actual cases of voter fraud in Georgia.

Later von Spakovsky gives Mayer the names of two experts who would confirm the peril of voter fraud: Robert Pastor, the director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University, and Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia. Neither did. The opposite. “I don’t think that voter-impersonation fraud is a serious problem,” Pastor said. 

Yet since 2011, pushed by von Spakovsky and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-sponsored, right-wing organization, 37 states have enacted or proposed some form of voter ID law.

Other quotes from the piece:

  • “This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” — Pres. Bill Clinton
  • “[Von Spakovsky] is trying to create a cure where there is no sickness.” — Rep. John Lewis, (D-GA)
  • “You can't steal an election one person at a time. You can by stuffing ballot boxes—but voter I.D. won't stop that.” — Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network
  • “It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It's like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome.” — Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers professor and author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud”
  • “I think they are trying to stop as many black people as they can from voting. I won't even know until Election Day if I got the right to vote. But if they tell me I can't vote—it is over. They are going to have to call the police.” — Teresa Sharp, citizen, Ohio

Voter ID demographics: Who doesn't have a government issued ID?

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Posted at 11:15 AM on Nov 04, 2012 in category Politics
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Saturday November 03, 2012

Movie Review: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Searching for Sugar Man” is a good documentary about a great story.

In the 1970s in South Africa, so the story goes, there were three albums in every white, liberal (read: anti-Apartheid) home: “Abbey Road” by the Beatles; “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel; and “Cold Fact” by Rodriguez. Everyone listened to Rodriguez. “He was the soundtrack to our lives,” says record-shop owner Steve Segerman, known to his friends as “Sugarman” after Rodriguez’s signature song. It just took awhile for South Africans to realize that they were the only ones listening. It took them awhile to realize that while everyone knew the Beatles, nobody anywhere knew anything about Rodriguez.

Legends about the man grew. Creation stories were perpetuated. Apparently an American girl with a South African boyfriend brought the first Rodriguez cassette tape into the country in the early 1970s. End times were debated. Apparently in an early 1970s concert he’d poured gasoline on himself and lit himself on fire. No no, he’d greeted the indifference of a tepid crowd by putting a gun to his head and blowing his brains out.

Searching for Rodriguez
Searching for Sugar Man RodriguezDecades later, in 1996, Segerman wrote the CD liner notes to Rodriguez’s second album, 1971’s “Coming from Reality,” and, after owning up to the complete lack of information about the man, asked, “Any musicologist detectives out there?” There was: journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, who had his own list of stories to pursue, the fourth of which was: How Rodriguez died.

This is what he had to go on: a dead record label; a few grainy photos; lyrics. They assumed Rodriguez was American but didn’t know which city. “Inner City Blues” contains the line, “Going down a dusty Georgian side road.” So maybe the South? “Can’t Get Away” referenced being born “in the shadow of the tallest building.” So maybe New York? Bartholomew-Strydom follows the money, like Woodward and Bernstein, but it dead-ends in southern California.

He was about to give up when he honed in on another line from “Inner City Blues”:

Met a girl from Dearborn, early six o'clock this morn

The sad thing isn’t that Bartholomew-Strydom had to look up Dearborn in an atlas when almost any American could have told him it’s in Michigan; the sad thing is that that the documentary has already told us that Rodriguez is in Michigan. Early on, we hear interviews with his Detroit record producers, who lament what happened to him. We talk with people who knew him from the streets of Detroit. They say he was kind of a wandering mystic: a cross between a poet, a shaman and a hobo.

So why does Malik Bendjelloul begin his doc this way? It leaves the audience in the awkward position of waiting for its heroes, Segerman and Bartholomew-Strydom, to come up to speed.

Maybe Bendjelloul begins this way because the lamentations of colleagues reinforce the notion that Rodriguez is dead. Because that’s the big reveal halfway through the doc: He’s not dead. He’s alive. He’s been working construction and renovation in Detroit never knowing he’d become a music legend halfway around the world.

For South Africa, it’s as if Elvis has turned up alive. Most refuse to believe it. Most think it’s a hoax. Because how can Elvis and Jim Morrison and John Lennon still be alive? The world doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t give us that gift.

In subsequent interviews with the documentarian, Rodriguez, born Sixto, reminds me of artistic types I’ve known who have an ethereal matter-of-factness about them. He’s not there but amazingly present. He seems disconnected but connected to something bigger. Asked if he enjoys construction work, he says, “It keeps the blood circulating.” Asked if he knows that in South Africa he’s bigger than Elvis or the Beatles, he replies, “I don’t know how to respond to that.”

The rest of the doc is, in a sense, recognition, at long last recognition, as well as reunion, or, more accurately, union, since he and South Africa have never known each other. In 1998, he travels there with his daughters for a concert. At the airport, limos pull up and the Rodriguezes stand aside for the VIPs before realizing they are the VIPs. They expect small venues and play to rapt, screaming crowds in sold-out arenas. He goes from being a loopy, wandering guy who does construction (in America) to being a music legend (in South Africa). But he stays in America. He keeps working construction. He keeps the blood circulating.

Searching for why
That’s the story, and it’s a great story, a powerful story, a story that couldn’t exist today. South Africa needed to be isolated from the rest of the world, via Apartheid, and the world needed to be not-yet-connected, via the Internet, for the story to work: for a legend to grow in isolation.

But here’s what the doc doesn’t answer:

  • What happened to all the money South Africans spent on Rodriguez’s albums? He never saw a cent of it.
  • Why did Rodriguez catch on in South Africa? Some of his lyrics are mentioned, particularly “I wonder/How many times you had sex” as an eye-opening notion. Yet South Africa did have the Beatles. They had the Stones. Weren’t their eyes already open?
  • Why didn’t Rodriguez catch on in black South Africa? A consequence of Apartheid? A consequence of his music?
  • Why did he never catch on in the States?

This last one is the main one for me. The doc, focusing on South Africans, and created by a Swede, isn’t curious enough about the lack of curiosity in America about Rodriguez. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for a solid month now and love it. It’s kept me going through the ups and downs of the 2012 presidential election. It feels more relevant than most contemporary music.

At times Rodriguez comes off like a soulful Bob Dylan, and, in 1970, that should’ve worked in his favor. That’s what everyone was looking for. John Prine, Steve Forbert, Bruce Springsteen: they were all new Bob Dylans. Rodriguez is so obscure he’s not even mentioned in Loudon Wainwright’s song, “New Bob Dylans.”

OK, let me admit that, yes, there’s no better lyricist than Dylan. He’s at another level, and Rodriguez, while good, is several levels below. But Rodriguez has his moments. The awfulness of war and the thanklessness of medals has been batted about by artists for a century. In Dylan’s “John Brown,” it’s the protagonist’s mother who urges her son off to war to get medals. There, he realizes he’s a puppet in a play and when he returns, injured, he tells her so. This is the last stanza:

When he turned away to go, his mother acting slow,
As she saw that metal brace that helped him stand.
But as they turned to leave, he pulled his mother close,
And he dropped his medals down into her hand.

Rodriguez’s take, from “Cause,” is also about mothers and sons, but feels truer and more poignant:

Oh but they’ll play those token games
On Willie Thompson
And give a medal to replace the son
Of Mrs. Annie Johnson

I keep thinking of these lines, too, from “Crucify Your Mind.” Any artist does. Any person does:

And you claim you got something going
Something you call “unique”

Thirty years later, Rodriguez still sounds vibrant and true. In “Searching for Sugar Man,” the people who knew, his record producers, still rack their brains about why he didn’t catch on. Should have I added more strings here? Less there?

But at one point, someone, I forget who, mentions his name: Rodriguez. They wonder if that’s the issue. They wonder if people dismissed him as Latin music. There’s no way to measure this, of course, or prove such a negative, but that’s my bet. I bet Americans thought that if they listened to someone called “Rodriguez” they would get Jose Feliciano, so they didn’t bother. But halfway around the world, people with less options had more open ears.

Dues
To me, that’s the great irony of the story of Rodriguez that “Searching for Sugar Man” doesn’t underline enough. A kind of veiled racism doomed Rodriguez in his home country; but talent and circumstances allowed him to prosper in a country that had the one of the most racist governments, and one of the most segregated societies, in the world.

From “Cause”:

Cause they told me everyone’s got to pay their dues
And I explained that I had overpaid them

Indeed. But the ending is happy, for both Rodriguez and South Africa. And for us.

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Posted at 09:20 AM on Nov 03, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Friday November 02, 2012

Stayin' Alive with Rita Hayworth

Watching this YouTube mash-up of Rita Hayworth's dance numbers and the Bee Gee's 1977 hit “Stayin' Alive,” I kept flashing back to Morgan Freeman's great smile when he sees Ms. Hayworth on the big screen in “Shawshank Redemption”: “This is the part I really like, when she does that shit with her hair.” It also made me think of a time when America danced and the world watched:

I was alerted to the above via Roger Ebert, who writes:

I've seen a lot of editing feats like this, but there seems to be an uncanny match here between the music and the action. It consumes me with the desire to see a Rita Hayworth musical right away.

Favorite moment? Begins at 2:18 with Fred Astaire.

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Posted at 01:07 PM on Nov 02, 2012 in category Movies
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Thursday November 01, 2012

Quote of the Day

“I confess that as a liberal Democrat I'm amazed that Obama isn't 20 points ahead in the race. Yes, he had that one lousy debate, but what a truly vapid, uninspired candidate Mitt Romney is, standing for nothing, a glistening shrine to hackitude. Romney's been compared to Nixon in his mendacious duplicitous insincerity but Romney's actually worse: Nixon knew stuff, he did his homework, not like Romney, who has a vacancy sign on his brow whenever he's forced to discuss an issue--usually foreign-policy related--that he's had six or seven years to study up on if he hadn't been such a complacent, incurious sumbitch too busy admiring his fucking hair and winning smile in the mirror. I really thought he'd be smart enough not to glue himself to Tea Party positions that become a mite uncomfortable in the general election, such as hey let's send disaster relief back to the states or better yet privatize it, but no, he pandered like a fan dancer. His shape-shifting about the Detroit bailout couldn't be more spazzy. And he's the best the Republicans had!”

--James Wolcott, “The Good, the Bad, and the Soggy” on the Vanity Fair site.

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Posted at 01:38 PM on Nov 01, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links

VOTE NO sign in Minneapolis

A different kind of rainbow sign, in Minneapolis this fall. GOTV.

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Posted at 05:47 AM on Nov 01, 2012 in category Lancelot Links
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