Krypton Lives! According to EW
Enter Henry Cavill, the 29-year-old dark-haired, blue-eyed Brit selected to don the red cape this time. In this iteration, Clark Kent's heroic tendencies would rise to the surface only when the threat was great enough. It would have to be a global menace — one that might also trigger an internal conflict about whether he belongs on Earth even as he yearns to be among his own kind. That's what pits him against General Zod (Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian tyrant who wants Clark to join him back on Krypton, which would mean abandoning his post as defender of the weaklings of Earth.
Please compare with my April 16th post suggesting same.
Thanks to reader Tony for alterting me to this development.
Ranking Baseball Movies with Jack Bradbury
After spending his early years in California and Arizona, Jack Bradbury arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 1960, at the age of 7, where the baseball cards he had begun collecting came to life with trips to Sick's Stadium in Rainier Valley. The Pacific Coast League Seattle Rainers had recently become a Boston Red Sox franchise, and Jack remembers watching the likes of Rico Petrocelli and Tony Conigliaro play ball. “Funny,” he says, “I still liked baseball cards better.”When the Seattle Mariners arrived in 1977 he went down to the Kingdome to watch, but it wasn't until the arrival of Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and company that the live game supplanted the thrill of baseball cards for him. “Sure wish my Mom hadn't chucked all my cards along with my comic books,” he adds. “Oh well.”
Jack's Baseball Movie Rankings
1. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
2. The Scout (1994)
3. Major League (1989)
4. Bull Durham (1988)
5. The Bad News Bears (1976)
6. The Rookie (2002)
7. The Natural (1984)
8. A League of Their Own (1992)
9. Eight Men Out (1988)
10. Bad News Bears (2005)
11. Mr. Baseball (1992)
12. The Sandlot (1993)
13. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
14. Little Big League (1994)
15. Angels in the Outfield (1994)
16. Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976)
17. Field of Dreams (1989)
Man! There are a lot of baseball movies I haven't seen!
Quote of the Day
“Obviously, there has been no shortage of news to cover over these past few weeks. ... But even when the days seemed darkest, we have seen humanity shine at its brightest. We’ve seen first responders and National Guardsmen who have dashed into danger, law enforcement officers who lived their oath to serve and to protect, and everyday Americans who are opening their homes and their hearts to perfect strangers.
”And we also saw journalists at their best — especially those who took the time to wade upstream through the torrent of digital rumors to chase down leads and verify facts and painstakingly put the pieces together to inform, and to educate, and to tell stories that demanded to be told.
“If anyone wonders, for example, whether newspapers are a thing of the past, all you needed to do was to pick up or log on to papers like the Boston Globe. When their communities and the wider world needed them most, they were there making sense of events that might at first blush seem beyond our comprehension. And that’s what great journalism is, and that¹s what great journalists do. ...
”And in these past few weeks, as I’ve gotten a chance to meet many of the first responders and the police officers and volunteers who raced to help when hardship hits, I was reminded, as I’m always reminded when I meet our men and women in uniform, whether they’re in war theater, or here back home, or at Walter Reed in Bethesda — I’m reminded that all these folks, they don’t do it to be honored, they don’t do it to be celebrated. They do it because they love their families and they love their neighborhoods and they love their country.
And so these men and women should inspire all of us in this room to live up to those same standards; to be worthy of their trust; to do our jobs with the same fidelity, and the same integrity, and the same sense of purpose, and the same love of country. Because if we’re only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now."
-- Pres. Barack Obama striking a serious note at the end of his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Sat. April 27, 2013. Particularly like the last line.
Movie Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)
I was 15 years old when I first saw “Superman: The Movie” and in some sense I still see it through the eyes of a 15-year-old. Most movies don’t do this to me. Most movies age poorly. I look at them 20 or 30 years later and blanch. But the pace of “Superman” is my pace. Its sense-of-wonder is my sense-of-wonder. Its balance of Biblical myth (Krypton), American myth (Smallville), comic relief (Lex Luthor) and heroic myth (Superman) seems exactly right to me. Give me the helicopter rescue backed by John Williams’ score and I turn to putty. I turn 15 again.
Yes, parts of the movie are dated. The Artctic icebergs look like styrofoam, the threatened California homes look like models, Jeff East’s wig looks like a wig. And so much is left unanswered. Why do Kryptonians, such an advanced civilization, cling to family crests and trial without counsel? Is Jor-El a prosecutor, a scientist, or both? Is there any furniture on Krypton? And when exactly does Clark fall for Lois? Immediately? By and by? The love is just assumed. Suddenly he’s sitting at his desk, staring.
There are chronological issues. We’re told Krypton exploded in 1948 when Kal-El was a baby, and at 18 Clark went north, where Jor-El taught him for 12 years. Which brings us to the present date: 1978. But that means Clark was in high school between 1964 and 1966. (In “Superman III,” we find out he was the Class of ’65.) So why are the kids listening to Bill Haley and the Comets, who last charted in 1956? Is Smallville really that backward?
Don’t even get me started on “Can you read my mind?”
Doesn’t matter. There’s something like pure joy in this movie. It’s the joy of doing what everyone thought couldn’t be done: make a superhero movie as an epic; make us believe, as the tagline said, that a man could fly.
It’s ballsy the way it begins. I’m not talking about the curtains opening, and the homage to June 1938 and Action Comics No. 1. That’s charming but a blip in screentime.
No, I’m talking Gen. Zod. For a movie that’s nearly two and a half hours long, and doesn’t show us a glimpse of its title character until nearly 50 minutes in, and doesn’t reveal this character to the world until nearly 70 minutes in, the filmmakers, including director Richard Donner, have the balls to begin with a sequence that has no real relevance until the sequel: the trial (such as it is), and judgment (“Guilty! Guil-tee! Guil-tay!”), and incarceration into the Phantom Zone, of the criminals Zod, Ursa and Non (Terrence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran). It’s a scene that affects nothing for the rest of our film. They could just as easily have begun with the Kryptonian Council not heeding Jor-El’s warnings about Krypton’s imminent destruction, then threatening him if he tells anyone his theories. To which Jor-El says, “Neither I, nor my wife, will leave the planet Krypton.” I always imagine Kryptonian Elder #2 countering with, “What about your son?” Jor-El: “Uhhh....”
The Christ metaphor is obvious and intended. The baby is delivered via a star-like spacecraft to a childless couple, Ma and Pa Kent (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford). His middle years are lost in the wilderness. “They only lack the light to show the way,” Jor-El says. “For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you: my only son.” Was the metaphor supposed to continue in “Superman II”? Is that what giving up his powers was supposed to be? Death and resurrection? If so, someone forgot to tell Richard Lester.
Back in the day, Brando got shit for playing Jor-El: too much money ($3 million for 11 days work), ridiculous hair, a role beneath his majesty. But he’s good. It’s a ludicrous role, wrapped in tin-foil suits and surrounded by special effects, and filmed in a rush to accommodate his schedule, but it still works. Besides, with both his signing and his performance he set the correct tone: Superman is serious business.
At the same time, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty are impeccable comic relief. (“Are we going to Addis Ababa, Mr. Luthor?”) Valerie Perrine is funny, too, and so lucious she should be rated “R” just for standing there. She’s also Superman’s first kiss, isn’t she? Who before her? Lana Lang? Too busy being dragged to parties by that doofus Brad. Lois? Too busy, period. Superman doesn’t even kiss Lois in this movie. Well, when she’s alive anyway. Spoiler alert.
Lois is funny. They searched everywhere for their Lois, went through some great possibilities—Deborah Raffin, Susan Blakely, Lesley Ann Warren—but Kidder has it all. Her Lois is silly, driven, in love. She’s a great career women. She’s also accident-prone. Superman saves her from death three times here: 1) he stops the mugger’s bullet; 2) he catches her in mid-air after she falls from the helicopter; 3) and he turns back time after she is buried alive in a California earthquake.One wonders how she managed before he came along.
Lois Lane: driven, silly, in love.
Superman from day one
But the movie flies or doesn’t on the title character’s back. Director Richard Donner’s catchword during production was “verisimilitude,” which begins and ends with Christopher Reeve. Signing Mario Puzo to write the first draft of the screenplay, then signing Marlon Brando to play Jor-El, were important points in getting the project off the ground; but it’s Reeve who matters. He’s the greatest superhero casting ever. He’s not only comic-book handsome, he’s an actor. He makes the worst secret identity ever—I’ll put on these glasses and no one will tell—believable. Imagine the disaster if one of the stars the project pushed for (Robert Redford, James Caan, Al Pacino), or one of the stars that pushed for the project (Sylvester Stallone), had gotten the role. Now, of course, everyone says they wanted an unknown. Producer Ilya Salkind blames DC Comics for pushing for a famous face, but casting director Lynn Stalmaster says Ilya and father Alexander kept putting Reeve’s portfolio on the bottom of the pile.
Here’s creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz on what happened when Reeve finally got his screen test:
He hopped off the balcony and said, “Good evening, Miss Lane.” And [cinematographer] Geoffrey Unsworth looked over at me and went [makes impressed face]. Because the tone was just right. He went through the test and we just knew we had him.
Donner: “He was Superman from day one.”
Reeve plays him straight. He plays him as the straight man in his own movie. He’s a boy scout in a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate world. “I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way,” he says, to which Lois Lane laughs in his face. “You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!” she says. He has a response to that, too. “I’m sure you don’t mean that, Lois.” Then he adds, “Lois, I never lie.” He is, as Miss Teschmacher says later in the film, too good to be true.
Superman: too good to be true.
Leaping over the ’60s in a single bound
His persona was actually viewed as one of the film’s biggest stumbling blocks. Here’s Christopher Reeve in the 1980 TV special, “The Making of Superman: The Movie”:
Making people believe that a man could fly wasn’t really the hardest part of making the film. I mean, we all know Superman can leap over tall buildings, but the question is: Could he leap over the generation gap into those early Siegel and Schuster days? We wanted to know if a man from the innocent ’30s could survive in the post-Watergate ’70s.
How do they do this? Follow the chronology. Clark was compelled north at 18 to create the Fortress of Solitude, where he spent 12 years listening to Jor-El drone on about the mysteries of the universe. What does this mean? It means he leapt over the ‘60s in a single bound. He missed LBJ and the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate. He missed the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the tragedies of My Lai and and Kent State, the mass murders of Richard Speck and Charles Manson. He missed the White Album. I’m sure Jor-El had a current-events class going (“My son … I believe ‘The walrus was Paul’ is misdirection on the part of Mr. Lennon”); but it’s one thing to study it and another thing to live through it. In the end, Superman is a product of both the planet Krypton and 1950s Smallville and he takes both with him to 1970s Metropolis, where crime is rampant, everyone moves fast, and no one says “Swell.” But rather than the city turning him cynical—he’s impervious in more ways than one—he helps the city turn innocent. He flies by and pulls the cynical masses in his wake. The tagline of the movie was, “You’ll believe a man can fly,” but for both Metropolis citizens and moviegoers around the world you could remove the last four words. Superman made us believe.
Yet the question keeps nagging: how does he remain so innocent? Surely he knows what’s going on in the world. Surely he can detect pulse-rates lying and hear crimes—public and private—being committed. Yet he remains who he is. He maintains his belief in the goodness of humanity who only lack the light to show them the way. Of course he’s got Pa Kent and his wisdom, and Jor-El and his wisdom, and maybe he doesn’t push beyond that. Or maybe he knows how dangerous it is to push beyond that. “Lois, I never lie.” Because if he did, where would he stop? If he gave in to one temptation, how many might he succumb to?
By the way: I never lie? Isn’t that what Clark Kent is—a lie? There’s nothing true about the persona. Quentin Tarantino has famously suggested that Clark Kent is Superman’s comment upon humanity—that he sees us as weak, cowardly and equivocating—but Christopher Reeve beat him to that analysis by 30 years. Back in 1978, Reeve told The New York Times: “I see Clark as a deliberate put-on by Superman. Clark’s a tongue-in-cheek impression of who we are.” But shouldn’t a secret identity be about fitting in? About blending into the background? Clark does not. He’s all aw-shucks and gee-whiz. He’s a young man wearing a fedora without irony in the 1970s. (Alert George W.S. Trow.) In his own way, Clark is as isolated as Superman.
“I never lie, Lois.” Right.
Kryptonian in its advancement
Five names share screenplay credit: Mario Puzo (“The Godfather”), David Newman (“Bonnie and Clyde”), Robert Benton (“Kramer vs. Kramer”), Leslie Newman (this) and Tom Mankiewicz (“Live and Let Die”). They give us so many good lines:
- “Why? You ask why? Why does the phone always ring when you’re in the bathtub?”
- “It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.”
- “Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.”
Apparently William Goldman, one of the biggest screenwriters of the day, turned down the gig. He told the Salkinds he didn’t see how it could be done. I don’t blame him. What was the greatest superhero adaptation before “Superman: The Movie”? The “Captain Marvel” serial from 1941? Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons from the same year? The Adam West “Batman” of the 1960s?
“Superman” wiped them all away. It was years ahead of its time. It was Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 years after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster and devil movies, didn’t think much of superhero movies. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
'Iron Man 3' Soars with $195 Million Opening Weekend ... In 42 Other Countries
“Iron Man 3” rocked like a hurricane this weekend with a $195 million opening weekend. Just not here. Forty-two other countries got to see it first.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
It saw its biggest gross in the U.K. ($21.5 million), followed by Korea ($19.2 million), Australia ($18.4 million), Mexico ($16.1 million), France ($14.7 million), Brazil ($12.3 million), Italy ($11.2 million), Taiwan ($8.4 million), Philippines ($7.4 million), Japan ($5.4 million), India ($5.2 million), Spain ($5 million), Hong Kong ($4.9 million), Malaysia ($4.6 million) and Indonesia ($4.5 million), among other markets.
The U.S.? Where it originated? Both in comic-book and movie form? We get to see it next weekend. Sloppy seconds.
Get used to it, America. Message from the studios: “That's how The Avengers did it. That's how Hollywood does it. And it's worked out pretty well so far.”
Here's the question from me. Will the three “Iron Man” movies be the best superhero trilogy ever?
What's the competition? “Superman: The Movie” was brilliant, but “II” was super uneven and “III” became a vehicle for Richard Pryor's lame bits. The Tim Burton “Batman” movies? OK, to worse, to worser. “X-Men”? Good, great, who gave Brett Ratner the reins? “Spider-Man”? Good, great, What the Fucking Fuck? There are, I'm sure, your “Dark Knight” fanboys out there, but I'm not one of them. But I'm hoping for “Iron Man.” I've got confidence in Robert Downey, Jr. if no one else.
By the way, that $195 million? Bested “The Avengers” foreign open last year by $10 mil. Hmmm...
Meanwhile, in the states, we nibbled at sloppy firsts. “Pain and Gain,” Michael Bay's attempt to undo his testosterone-laden barf-fests, or something, won the weekend with a $20 mil haul. “The Big Wedding,” that thing with everybody (DeNiro, Sarandon, Keaton, Heigl, Seyfried, Robin Williams and Topher Grace), was a bridesmaid with $7.5 million and 4th place. Tom Cruise's “Oblivion” dropped off 52.9% for second place, “42” dropped off 39.5% for third place. Will either make $100 million? Doubtful. They're both in the 60s. “Mud,” the well-received drama from Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”), which I hope to see this week, grossed $2.2 mil in 360 theaters.
A tepid weekend. The calm before the Iron Man.
Cold as ICE
“What is it with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]? Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern, studies unjust deportations and detentions. She has concluded that, on any given day, roughly one percent of ICE's tens of thousands of prisoners are U.S. citizens. Stevens has documented more than forty U.S. citizens who have been deported. The true number of cases, even recent ones, is unknown. ...
”[T]he FBI's vast database ... produced many records of Mark Daniel Lyttle as a U.S. citizen with a valid Social Security number. There was no record of a Jose Thomas being connected to Lyttle or to his prints. Why were the biometrics ignored? Evidently, the goal of these searches was not to discover who the detainee was but to deport Jose Thomas. Information that was consistent with deportation was treated as accurate. Information was that inconsistent was treated as false.“
-- William Finnegan, ”The Deportation Machine: A citizen trapped in the system," in the April 29, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.
See also: The War in Iraq.
Ranking Baseball Movies with Tim Harrison
Besides doing most of the dirty work on this site (with clean code), Tim Harrison draws a comic strip (“Cloud Five,” for when Cloud 9 isn't within reach), produces magazines (including “The Grand Salami,” the alternative Seattle Mariners program), and builds even more websites (examples). He has nuanced opinions on the virtues and failings of each iteration of “Star Trek.” He appreciates great indy comic books but his favorites are still Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. He prefers a double-steal to a home run and a squeeze-bunt to a sac fly.
Tim's Baseball Movie Rankings
1. Bull Durham (1988)
2. The Natural (1984)
3. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
4. Eight Men Out (1988)
5. Moneyball (2011)
6. A League of Their Own (1992)
7. Major League (1989)
8. 42 (2013)
9. Fever Pitch (2005)
10. Field of Dreams (1989)
11. Game 6 (2005)
12. Mr. Baseball (1992)
13. Sugar (2008)
14. The Perfect Game (2009)
15. For Love of the Game (1999)
16. American Pastime (2007)
17. The Bad News Bears (1976)
18. Major League II (1994)
19. The Sandlot (1993)
20. Mr. 3000 (2004)
21. Cobb (1994)
22. The Babe (1992)
23. The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)
“Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live... is it a live rooster? ... We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove. And nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.”
White House Correspondents Dinner: Obama with an Edge
I'm generally not a fan of this thing, at least not since Stephen Colbert skewered both George W. Bush and the press corps back in ... was it 2006? ... but Pres. Obama rocked it tonight with an edge. My favorite line:
I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. (Laughter.) Hello? Think of me as a trial run, you know? See how it goes.
My second-favorite came after this joke about the edifice Obama is building next to the George W. Bush Presidential Library:
That's good. But this is the one that stuck in it in there. It's not the easy joke. It's the sharp joke that follows the easy joke:
I'm also hard at work on plans for the Obama Library. And some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace but I'd rather keep it in the United States. (Laughter.) Did anybody not see that joke coming? Show of hands? Only Gallup? Maybe Dick Morris?
I wish they'd cut to Nate Silver at that point. If he was there.
I haven't even gotten into the whole Daniel Day-Lewis starring in Steven Spielberg's “Obama,” or the beautifully serious way with which he ended it, but the whole thing made me think, once again, I'm glad I'm living in a country where Barack Hussein Obama is my president.
Ranking Baseball Movies with Uncle Vinny
Uncle Vinny is mostly a dilettante, but also a software tester, a chess enthusiast, an erstwhile Starcraft noob, a sometime tap dancer, a man who will talk your ear off about early Christian history and taxi deregulation, but not much of a fan of baseball movies. As per below. But he's still game. That's a great compliment in this life: someone who's game. Plus, girls, he knows how to fold a fitted sheet.
Vinny's Baseball Movie Rankings
1. Moneyball (2011)
2. Bull Durham (1988)
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
4. The Natural (1984)
5. Damn Yankees! (1958)
6. A League of Their Own (1992)
7. The Bad News Bears (1976)
This is like asking Pope Francis to rank the nightclubs in San Francisco. I have little data and not much interest. But I will say that Moneyball was by far the most interesting baseball movie I ever did see, followed at a respectful distance by #2-#4, with the last two roiling around fighting it out in the gutter.
I've been paying so little attention to the news this week that I didn't know why the five living presidents got together, why George H.W. Bush was wearing pink socks (which I liked), and why George W., his ne'er-do-well son (and a truer compound adjective was never used), was the center of attention. Then I read past the headlines: The George W. Bush Presidential Library. Cue “The Pet Goat” jokes.
Seeing W. with H.W., and surrounded by Dems, and hearing echoes of the usual bullshit from the far right, who seem to know nothing but the smell of their own bullshit these days (I'm talking the FOX-News/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck triumverate), I flashed back to a good early 1990s R.E.M. song called “Drive.” Great opening lyrics. Back then, it really fit H.W. and the War on Drugs. Now it fits W. and his War on Terror. Astonishly so.
Smack, crack, bushwhacked
Tie another one to the racks, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby
The smack/crack is for the first Bush, tying another one to the racks for the second.
There are about two dozen videos of the song on YouTube, none particularly good, but the song's genius. Love the dead way Michael Stipe sings, “Nobody tells you where to go. Baby.”
Ollie Ollie in come free.
Hey kids, shake a leg/ Maybe you're crazy in the head, baby
Quote of the Day
“Writing is of use to the psyche only if the writer discovers something he did not know he knew in the act itself of writing.”
-- Norman Mailer, “Death, the 11th Presidential Paper,” in his book, “The Presidential Papers of Norman Mailer,” 1963, pg. 219
Why is IMDb Spreading Lies About Stan Lee?
On IMDb's trivia page for “Superman” (1948) we get the following info:
In Chapter one of this classic serial, Ed Cassidy (Eben Kent) advises Clark that “With great power comes great responsibility,” the line which Stan Lee has always claimed as his own, and spoken by Uncle Ben Parker in the SpiderMan stories (including the first movie). Not saying he stole the line, but he didn't originate it either.
I'd just watched Chapter One again, and particularly this scene, because it's also the scene in which Eben (eventually Jonathan) Kent tells not-so-young Clark (Kirk Alyn) that he must use his powers “in the interest of truth, tolerance and justice.” It was this scene, in fact, with “tolerance” subbing for the eventual “... and the American way,” that led to my 2006 New York Times Op-Ed on the tangled history of the phrase: “Truth, Justice and (Fill in the Blank).”
But I hadn't heard Eben say “with great power comes great responsibility.” That would‘ve leapt out at me.
So I watched it again. Here’s how the conversation goes:
Pa Kent: Your unique abilities make you a kind of superman. And because of these great powers, your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and supersensitive hearing, you have a great responsibilty.
Clark: I know what you’re going to say, Dad. I must use my powers justly and wisely.
Pa Kent: Yes, you might use them all in the interest of truth, tolerance and justice.
It's hardly the same. I'm sorry. There's just no music to it the way there is with Stan's line.
Do major websites issue corrections? Apologies? Should they? How did the above bit of trivia get on IMDb anyway? And why was it written that way? “...the line which Stan Lee has always claimed was his own... Not saying he stole the line...”? [Emphasis mine.]
Justice is always hard to come by but we should be able to expect a little truth from our major online reference sources. IMDb?
The dialogue of the 1948 ‘Superman’ serial is hardly Stan Lee material.
Ranking Baseball Movies with Jerry Grillo
Jerry Grillo is an editor at Georgia Trend magazine, a freelance writer, a husband and father and son and baseball fan and all-around mensch. His blog is “Notes from the Grillo Pad.” He is the creator and chronicler of “Joe on the Go,” an ongoing community-engagement project created by his wife, Jane, about their son. Here's Jerry's post on meeting Hank Aaron. He's been trying to get me to see “Long Gone,” his No. 1 pick, for a while now, but I can't do VHS anymore. I'll need to wait until the DVD. Or streaming. Netflix?
Jerry's Baseball Movie Rankings
1. Long Gone (1987)
2. Bull Durham (1988)
3. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
4. The Natural (1984)
5. 61* (2001)
6. Eight Men Out (1988)
7. Moneyball (2011)
8. 42 (2013)
9. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
10. Field of Dreams (1989)
11. The Rookie (2002)
12. A League of Their Own (1992)
13. Major League (1989)
14. The Bad News Bears (1976)
15. For Love of the Game (1999)
16. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
17. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
18. Sugar (2008)
19. Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010)
20. The Perfect Game (2009)
21. Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976)
22. Fear Strikes Out (1957)
23. Cobb (1994)
24. Damn Yankees! (1958)
25. The Final Season (2007)
26. Pastime (1990)
27. The Scout (1994)
28. Talent for the Game (1991)
29. Angels in the Outfield (1994)
30. Mr. 3000 (2004)
31. Fever Pitch (2005)
32. It Happens Every Spring (1949)
33. Bad News Bears (2005)
34. Little Big League (1994)
35. The Sandlot (1993)
36. Rookie of the Year (1993)
37. Calvin Marshall (2010)
38. The Pride of St. Louis (1952)
39. The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
40. The Stratton Story (1948)
41. Mr. Baseball (1992)
42. The Babe (1992)
43. The Babe Ruth Story (1948)
My list gets really fuzzy after the first 15 or 20, a lot of also-rans. For example, I might actually enjoy watching “The Babe Ruth Story” for the unintentional humor factor (45-year-old William Bendix playing 19-year-old Babe Ruth always makes me laugh), and that might elevate it from last place, depending on mood. “Pride of the Yankees” gets a good billing here because I'm feeling nostalgic, and it was always my dad's favorite. Some of the also-rans I barely remember. Also, loved the “When It Was a Game” documentaries, but not sure where I'd rank those. I like this baseball invention better than the aluminum bat. Way better.
The 1987 HBO movie, “Long Gone,” with William Peterson and Virginia Madsen, about players who never made it to the bigs, has never made it to DVD.
When Christopher Reeve Knew 'Superman' Would Work
“Once I had to appear on Fifty-seventh Street in New York in my costume. We were filming a scene in which Superman catches a burglar climbing up a building with suction cups and brings him down to the street. The burglar and I both hung from wires below a construction crane about ten stories above the sidewalk. ... As the crew prepared for the scene, I waited in a trailer on Fifty-eighth Street with a couple of enormous bodyguards. (I wondered who they worked for when they weren't needed on a movie set. And I thought it was sort of funny that Superman would need bodyguards, but [director Richard] Donner was worried about my safety.)
”Finally they were ready to shoot, and I came out of my trailer with my two guardians. There was nobody there—absolutely no one in sight. I thought: We're a flop. Nobody cares. We walked through a passageway to the front of the building on Fifty-seventh Street. As I came around the corner, I suddenly saw several thousand people jamming the sidewalks on both sides of the steet. When the crowd spotted me in my Superman costume, a huge cheer went up. I was stunned relieved, and suddenly quite nervous.
“The wires were lowered from the construction crane. I shook hands with the burglar and was hooked up to the harness underneath my costume. Donner called for a rehearsal. I double-checked that the hooks were closed and locked, then gave the thumbs-up to indicate I was ready. As I was hoisted up, the crowd roared their approval. They didn't care about the crane or the wires; they were willing to look past all of it. There was Superman, flying up the side of the building. That's when I knew the movie would work.”
--Christopher Reeve, “Still Me,” pp. 194-95
Ranking Baseball Movies with Josh Wilker
Josh Wilker is the proprieter of the Cardboard Gods website (“Voice of the Mathematically Eliminated”: best website tagline ever), in which he searches for meaning, both personal and historical, and often finds it, from his mostly 1970s baseball card collection. He's also the author of “Cardboard Gods: An American Tale,” one of the my favorite recent books, and a short, smart analysis of the movie “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training,” part of the “Novel Approach to Cinema” series. His defense of the second, horrible “Bears” movie, his No. 1 pick below, is something close to a work of art.
Josh's Baseball Movie Rankings
1. The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)
2. The Bad News Bears (1976)
3. Sugar (2008)
4. The Natural (1984)
5. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
6. Bull Durham (1988)
7. Major League (1989)
8. Eight Men Out (1988)
9. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
10. Field of Dreams (1989)
11. A League of Their Own (1992)
12. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
13. Fever Pitch (2005)
14. The Rookie (2002)
15. Fear Strikes Out (1957)
16. Bad News Bears (2005)
17. The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)
Let them play.
Further comment via email
My #1 film is surely unique, but think about this--if all the full casts of all the movies (not counting documentaries) had to play a tournament, my film would coast to a championship (picture Kevin Costner trying to hit against JR Richard).
As for why “Breaking Training” is first on his list and “Go to Japan” last?
My memory of “Go to Japan” is pretty vague, but I remember it was the worst movie ever made. There was very little baseball, for one thing—it was mostly focused on a waxen Tony Curtis, who seemed to have very little connection whatsoever with the team. Tanner and Ogilvie were missing, as was “Breaking Training” catalyst Carmen Ronzonni, and Kelly was horribly neutered by a weak romantic subplot. I saw an interview with David Pollack (Rudi Stein) somewhere where he talks about how the first two movies were a blast to make, but the third movie was a joyless, pointless chore. It shows.
Gregory Peck in Second Grade
Once you see something it's easy to see it, and it's tough to forget how hard it was to see it in the first place.
I thought my “Find the Future Movie Star” post was easy, for example, because, once I knew, my eyes always went right to this kid, and he looked a lot like his future movie-star self.
But I linked to the post via Facebook and immediately got the following guesses:
- Jack Nicholson, bottom row
- Jimmy Stewart, middle?
- James Cagney, first row, third from left
- Marilyn Monroe, somewhere
- Clint Eastwood, front row, third from left
- Jack Nicholson, second row, far right
- Clark Gable, back row, first on left
- Spencer Tracy, third row middle
- John Wayne? Up towards the top? Blondie?
- Got it. Paul Newman.
- Gary Cooper, top left for the block
Eventually Sasha Stone of Awards Daily got it. It's Gregory Peck. (Click on pic for bigger version.)
Sasha guessed wrong several times, too, but once she saw it she really saw it. “He looks the same!!” she wrote. My friend Colleen added, “Lots of little boys scowling, but not Peck!” Peck's good boy, I guess.
It is startling. Everyone around him looks like one of the dead-end kids, and there he is in the back row, about the handsomest second-grader ever.
Quote of the Day
“Anybody who wants a quick solution for a permanent problem is a lowgrade totalitarian.”
-- Norman Mailer, “An Impolite Interview,” in “The Presidential Papers of Norman Mailer.”
Find the Future Movie Star
This is a second-grade class photo of a family friend. One of his classmates became one of the biggest movie stars of the 20th century. Can you find him? Click on the photo for a bigger version.
'42' Is Safe, Sadly
Jonathan Eig, author of “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season,” was nice enough to read my review of “42” and tweet the following:
@eriklundegaard You nailed it. Couldn't have said it better myself. I'll probably write a short column next day or two. But this is perfect.— Jonathan Eig (@jonathaneig) April 14, 2013
The short column is his “Nine-inning Review of '42'” for Chicago Sports Side. He liked the movie more than I did, left the theater happier than I did, but we're not far off. I agree in particular with his 8th and 9th points:
8. “42” tries too hard to please. It wants the endorsement of the Robinson family, Major League Baseball, historians, and fans young and old. It wants to educate and entertain. It wants black fans to feel pride and white fans to appreciate how far we’ve come. It succeeds in almost every one of those ways. It makes for a good movie, but not a great one. “42” plays it safe, something Jackie Robinson never did. Robinson was a complicated man, full of fear and fury. I wish more of his complexity made it to the screen.
9. I left the theater smiling. I enjoyed the movie, and so did my kids. But I found myself wondering how it would have turned out if Spike Lee had directed. He might not have done better, but I don’t think he would have played it safe.
Safe. The right kind.
Rank the Baseball Movies!
Baseball fans! And movie fans! And fans of baseball movies!
As I promised yesterday, you can now rank your favorite and least-favorite baseball movies with our new interactive feature. Just several easy steps:
- Drag the movies you haven't seen into the box in the lower right.
- Drag your favorite movies into the first column and your least-favorite into the last column.
Once you hit the “Share your rankings” button you can send them to me. Or you can simply cut-and-paste your list and share it with friends.
I'll probably post a few of the lists, as I did with the best-picture Oscar rankings, particularly if there's a good comment attached.
The greater the player, the worse the movie. At the bottom of my pile, you'll find these titles: The Babe Ruth Story (1948), The Babe (1992), Cobb (1994), The Jackie Robinson Story (1950). I.e., The greatest players to play the game. Apparently we make our worst movies about them. Which is the best baseball biopic about a great star? Probably Billy Crystal's “61*,” about Mantle and Maris and the 1961 season. “42,” mostly about the '47 season, is second. Stick to seasons, kids.
The best baseball movies are about losing: “Bull Durham,” “Moneyball,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Catching Hell,” “Sugar.” Read your Roger Angell: “You may glory in a team triumphant but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” It's a lesson Hollywood never seems to learn.
Don't incude the word “Mr.” in the title. Both “Mr. Baseball” (with Tom Selleck) and “Mr. 3000” (with Bernie Mac) are sad, obvious stories about egotistical assholes who learn the value of teammwork in middle age, and who, on the last day of the season, with self-aggrandizement on the line, sacrifice-bunt their team to victory. Spoiler alert.
Keep the kids away from the Majors. Movies about a kid coaching a big-league team (“Angels in the Outfield”), owning a big-league team (“Little Big League”) or playing for a big-league team (“Rookie of the Year”), are just godawful. Kids should be with kids (“The Sandlot”). Even better if you make them foul-mouthed (“The Bad News Bears” (1976)). Even better if you include Walter Matthau. And best? “Hey Yankees! You can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your ass!” Tanner Boyle for Hall of Fame.
Keep the Bad News Bears in Van Nuys, Calif. If you send them to Texas, or, worse, Japan, or even into 2005, you do so at your own risk. But if you have to go somewhere with them, make sure you take your Josh Wilker with you.
Now rank ball!
The Bad News Bears, North Valley League, 1976
Why Do IMDb Users Dislike 'Bull Durham'?
I posted my rankings for the best (and worst) baseball movies the other day, and shortly you'll have a chance to do so yourself, but in the meantime I thought I'd list how baseball movies fare on IMDb.com.
I know i've done this kind of thing before, mostly with best-picture winners, but what caught my eye this time was the IMDb rating for Ron Shelton's “Bull Durham”—regarded by baseball fans as the best baseball movie ever made.
On IMDb it's got a 7.0 rating. Which isn't great. Here's how it ranks among baseball movies:
|Title||IMDb Rating||IMDb Rank||My Rank||Difference|
|Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)||8.6||1||2||-1|
|Catching Hell (2011)||7.8||3||8||-5|
|The Pride of the Yankees (1942)||7.7||4||23||-19|
|The Sandlot (1993)||7.6||6||30||-24|
|Field of Dreams (1989)||7.5||8||14||-6|
|Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010)||7.4||9||18||-9|
|Long Gone (1987)||7.4||9||n/a|
|The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)||7.4||9||5||4|
|The Natural (1984)||7.4||9||7||2|
|Eight Men Out (1988)||7.2||13||9||4|
|The Bad News Bears (1976)||7.1||14||6||8|
|A League of Their Own (1992)||7.0||16||13||3|
|Bull Durham (1988)||7.0||16||1||15|
|Damn Yankees! (1958)||7.0||16||21||-5|
|Major League (1989)||7.0||16||11||5|
|The Stratton Story (1948)||7.0||16||24||-8|
|Angels in the Outfield (1951)||6.9||21||26||-5|
|Fear Strikes Out (1957)||6.9||21||33||-12|
|It Happens Every Spring (1949)||6.9||21||n/a|
|The Rookie (2002)||6.9||21||12||9|
|Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)||6.8||26||17||9|
|Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)||6.7||27||27||0|
|Trouble with the Curve (2012)||6.7||27||40||-13|
|The Perfect Game (2009)||6.6||29||n/a|
|Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)||6.5||30||22||8|
|The Pride of St. Louis (1952)||6.5||30||n/a|
|American Pastime (2007)||6.4||32||n/a|
|The Final Season (2007)||6.4||32||n/a|
|For Love of the Game (1999)||6.3||35||19||16|
|The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)||6.3||35||38||-3|
|Fever Pitch (2005)||6.1||38||20||18|
|Hard Ball (2001)||6.1||38||45||-7|
|The House of Steinbrenner (2010)||6.1||38||28||10|
|It Happened in Flatbush (1942)||6.0||41||n/a|
|Bad News Bears (2005)||5.8||42||n/a|
|Game 6 (2005)||5.8||42||25||17|
|Little Big League (1994)||5.8||42||31||11|
|Angels in the Outfield (1994)||5.7||45||36||9|
|Talent for the Game (1991)||5.7||45||n/a|
|The Babe (1992)||5.7||45||39||6|
|Calvin Marshall (2010)||5.6||48||n/a|
|Mr. Baseball (1992)||5.6||48||29||19|
|Rookie of the Year (1993)||5.6||48||34||14|
|Mr. 3000 (2004)||5.5||51||35||16|
|The Babe Ruth Story (1948)||5.5||51||44||7|
|Major League II (1994)||5.2||53||32||21|
|The Scout (1994)||5.2||53||41||12|
|The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)||5.1||55||47||8|
|Safe at Home! (1962)||5.0||56||n/a|
|Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998)||4.2||57||43||14|
|The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)||3.1||58||46||12|
To be fair, most of the movies above it are good (“61*”) or considered to be good (“Pride of the Yankees”).
Even so: Tied for 16th? With “The Stratton Story”? Six points behind “The Sandlot”?
I get most of the early discrepancies between myself and the general IMDb user. “42” is still riding its newness; “Pride of the Yankees” was long-considered the best baseball movie ever made and still has its fans, who apparently vote; and “The Sandlot” gets a big push from the youngsters, who most assuredly vote. The younger you are, the more you like “The Sandlot.”
But whither “Bull Durham”? Thoughts?
Talkin' baseball/ Wrigley and Camden
Talkin' baseball/ Costner and Sarandon
2500 Channels and Nothing On
“The [Hengdian World Studios] lot is 27 times larger than Universal and Paramount combined, but it's still not enough: on average, there are 20 movies or television dramas being filmed simultaneously, and many more directors are waiting to begin shooting. Filmmakers are eager to to tap into China's box office, which last year totalled $2.7 billion, surpassing Japan to become the world's second largest. Others come to supply China's gargantuan television industry: the country has more than 2500 stations.”
From Ian Johnson's article, “Studio City: In a remote spot in China, the world's biggest movie lost is getting even bigger,” in the April 22 New Yorker. It's a fascinating bit of contemporary history even if the article itself is so-so.
One of the many sets, expertly built, on the Hengdian World Studios lot, which makes it feel like one of the Hollywood studios during its glory days.
Change You Can Count On
Here's a bureaucratic adventure from this morning.
Patricia and I visited her family on the peninsula this weekend and were fairly lucky with the WA state ferry to and from Bainbridge Island. We had to wait maybe 10 minutes on the way out and no minutes on the way back. This morning it was waiting at the dock for us like it was trained. Like it cared.
On ferry boat rides, Patricia tends to read magazines inside, in the front seats, while I, with a history of motion sickness, often stand on the prow of the boat and take in the Sound. Lately I've been switching up my routine, walking back and forth, up and down the steps, generally staying outside. I did this for half the trip.
Back inside I passed a “Seattle's Best Coffee” vending machine, which, on the way out, had been plastered with OUT OF ORDER signs. Not now. Maybe we were on the other ferry (the WENATCHEE rather than the TACOMA). Maybe it was fixed. Either way, I decided a cup of coffee sounded good right then. But the machine wouldn't accept my $5 bill. Didn't even whir at it. A sign flashed that it wasn't accepting credit cards, while another sign flashed something like “Insert Mug.” Was it out of cups? Were we supposed to bring our own mugs now? Like canvas bags at the grocery store?
Next to the coffee machine stood a change machine and I thought, “Maybe coins will work.” So in went my $5 bill. And out came four $1 gold coins and a fifth gold coin reading NO CASH VALUE.
What do you do? You look around. There's no one around. I tried a $1 gold coin in the Seattle's Best coffee machine. Spit it right out. Tried the NO CASH VALUE coin. Ditto.
You feel like a schmuck. You wonder: Is it worth it to try to get a buck back? Of course not. But you shrug and think, What the hell.
So I talked to the guy at the convenience store at the front of the ferry.
“Hey. I put a $5 bill in the change machine...?”
Dryly: “Those things work great, don't they?”
“Right. Four $1 coins and a coin that says NO CASH VALUE.”
“That's not us. Talk to the second mate. He can help you.”
“Around that corner. Right before the women's restroom. Dutch doors.”
I found him, explained.
“Yeah,” he said, “that's not us. But there's a number on the machine. Call that number and they can help you.”
It was a Sodexo coin machine, from Sodexo, Inc.: “World Leader in Quality of Daily Life Solutions.” The woman I spoke with asked for the CV number on the machine. For a second I wondered if they had the capability to remotely discharge another $1 coin from the machine. Nope. She took my name, phone number, address. I assumed they would mail me a buck. Nope again. They're mailing me a $1 check.
A $1 check? I have $50 checks I haven't cashed.
Anyway that was my ferryboat ride this morning. I wanted a cup of coffee and got no coffee, four $1 gold coins, a NO CASH VALUE coin, and a $1 check coming in the mail.
Fight the power.
Quote of the Year
“Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets.”
-- former U.S. Representative and gun victim Gabrielle Giffords in the NY Times Op-Ed, “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” April 17, 2013, after a group of senators (below: 41 Republicans, four Democrats, one procedural) blocked passage of mild gun-control reforms including background checks.
Winter Box Office: Hasta la Vista, Arnie
The year is nearly a third over so time for a little perspective on domestic box office 2013.
What surprised me, looking at the numbers, wasn't how well “Oz, the Great and Powerful” did. I kinda knew that. It was how poorly the '80s action stars performed. Our pumped-up heroes basically stood there, arms akimbo, faces sagging, and wheezed.
“The Last Stand,” Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to the big screen after mixed-reviews playing governor of California, opened Jan. 18th to weak reviews (59%/41% on Rotten Tomatoes) and a weaker opening weekend ($6 million). Its finally tally? $12 million. How bad is that? Since the “Conan” movies, even unadjusted—even, in other words, when the hyper-inflated 2013 dollars are battling puny 1987 dollars—that's Arnold's worst box-office showing. Ever. Put it this way: “Red Heat,” that flick he made with Jim Belushi that nobody cared about, still grossed $35 million. In 1988. I guess “The Last Stand” was a prescient title.
Two weeks later, Sylvester Stallone's “Bullet to the Head” opened to worse reviews (48%/41% on RT) and worser box office ($4 million). It wound up grossing $9 million. More prescience.
In comparison, their one-time rival Bruce Willis rode a franchise pic, “A Good Day to Die Hard” to a $67-million haul: 8th-best for the year. But in the “Die Hard” franchise, $67 mil is dying. The previous lowest-grossing “Die Hard,” adjusted, is “Live Free or Die Hard,” at $157 million. This thing always make money. Until this year. It took a couple of decades but it finally fucking died.
Another pleasant surprise? No one went to see the crappy comedies. “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd worked a 42%/29% on RT and just $16 mil at the box office. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” with Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey, did 37%/22% on RT and only $22 million.
But it was a bad winter. How bad? A decent flick will generally make three times its opening-weekend gross, but of the 32 movies that opened in more than 2,000 theaters from January to March, only seven managed that. The movie with the longest legs? “Identify Thief.” The movies with the shortest legs? 1) Texas Chainsaw 3D (horror, of course); 2) Movie 43 (abyssmal); and 3) The Last Stand.
Here are our 32 movies ranked by legs. Some of the March releases will climb slightly, such as “Olympus Has Hallen,” which was released March 22nd, and which last week made another $10 million.
Others wil not. Hasta la vista, Arnie.
|Rank||Movie||Total Gross / Theaters||Opening / Theaters||Legs
|2||Escape From Planet Earth||$54,682,621||3,353||$15,891,055||3,288||3.44|
|3||Side Effects (2013)||$31,490,921||2,605||$9,303,145||2,605||3.38|
|8||21 and Over||$25,439,878||2,771||$8,754,168||2,771||2.91|
|10||Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters||$55,604,178||3,375||$19,690,956||3,372||2.82|
|11||Oz The Great and Powerful||$220,090,740||3,912||$79,110,453||3,912||2.78|
|13||Olympus Has Fallen||$83,147,707||3,106||$30,373,794||3,098||2.74|
|14||A Good Day to Die Hard||$67,032,705||3,555||$24,834,845||3,553||2.70|
|16||G.I. Joe: Retaliation||$104,112,433||3,734||$40,501,814||3,719||2.57|
|17||Beautiful Creatures (2013)||$19,452,138||2,950||$7,582,595||2,950||2.57|
|21||Jack the Giant Slayer||$63,009,150||3,525||$27,202,226||3,525||2.32|
|22||The Host (2013)||$23,820,419||3,202||$10,600,112||3,202||2.25|
|23||A Haunted House||$40,041,683||2,160||$18,101,682||2,160||2.21|
|24||The Incredible Burt Wonderstone||$22,157,931||3,160||$10,177,257||3,160||2.18|
|25||Tyler Perry's Temptation||$46,114,300||2,047||$21,641,679||2,047||2.13|
|27||Bullet to the Head||$9,489,829||2,404||$4,548,201||2,404||2.09|
|28||Dead Man Down||$10,888,069||2,188||$5,345,250||2,188||2.04|
|29||The Last Exorcism Part II||$15,179,302||2,700||$7,728,354||2,700||1.96|
|30||The Last Stand||$12,050,299||2,913||$6,281,433||2,913||1.92|
|32||Texas Chainsaw 3D||$34,341,945||2,659||$21,744,470||2,654||1.58|
Movie Review: Oz, The Great and Powerful (2013)
I’ll never be able to watch “The Wizard of Oz” again without thinking that the Wicked Witch of the West (here Mila Kunis, there Margaret Hamilton) only became that way—ugly, green, and evil—because Oz, the great and powerful (here James Franco, there Frank Morgan) fucked her and then dumped her.
Way to shit all over a classic, Disney.
What a sad thing this is. And yet it grossed half a billion dollars worldwide? Way to go, moviegoers.
Too bad. The trailer looked fun and James Franco seemed perfectly cast as Oscar “Oz” Diggs, the charlatan/magician who travels by balloon and tornado to reach the Emerald City in the Land of Oz (no relation). Franco is a good hollow man but here he overdoes it. He hits hard on jokes that need softness and kills them. They fall flat. The movie is littered with dead jokes the way “Magnolia” was littered with dead frogs. Wasn’t director Sam Raimi able to reign him in? Or was Raimi the problem?
The man who loved women
At the beginning of the movie, set in Kansas in 1905, and filmed in black-and-white with the classic 4:3 aspect ratio, Oz is trying to sweet-talk yet another girl, his new magician’s assistant May (Abigail Spencer), by giving her a music box he claims belonged to his grandmother in the old country. He’ll use this routine several times in the movie. Cad. Then he performs his Baum Bros. Circus magic act, which a few locals try to ruin by pointing out the wires holding up the girl. But he silences them. He cuts the wires and the girl still hangs in mid-air. Ta-da! Bad news, actually. A little girl in a wheelchair (Joey King), with wonder and hope and belief in her eyes, asks him to make her walk again. Surely he, a magician, can do it. Everyone encourages him—“Yeah, make the kid walk!”—but he backs off with a few feeble lies rather than one honest bit of truth: I can’t do that kind of magic.
As storms brew in Kansas, as they are wont to do, Oz has more problems with women. The girl, Annie (Michelle Williams), shows up at his trailer but with the news that she’s getting married to John Gale—which, one assumes, is some eventual relation to Dorothy. “He’s a good man,” says Oz, taken aback. Annie says the same thing of him but Oz waves her off. He says he doesn’t even want to be a good man, like the other men of Kansas, and like his father, who died young from hard work. No, he wants to be a great man—like Harry Houdini or Thomas Alva Edison. At the moment, of course, he’s neither. He’s a hollow man.
At this point, the Strong Man’s girl, crying, and with a music box of her own, fingers Oz, and the Strong Man comes gunning for him (grrrr). Oz gets away, barely, with top hat and valise, in his balloon, but right into the path of a tornado. As he goes down, he makes a promise, a kind of foxhole promise, to change, to do great things, although one could argue this is hardly a change. He should’ve promised to become a good man like his father.
Face heel turn
It’s in the land of Oz, of course, that the screen widens and everything turns colorful, and Oz, the man, meets a beautiful girl in a wide-brimmed hat. Her name is Theodora (Kunis). When he tells her his name is Oz, and he’s a magician, she realizes he’s the man her father prophesied: the wizard who would fall from the sky to save them all. He hems and haws but doesn’t deny it much if it’ll get him stuff: a kingdom, riches, Theodora. He gives her a music box. She gives him … well, the camera pans away discreetly.
In Emerald City, Oz meets Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who seems paranoid, then suspicious. She shows Oz the vault of riches meant for the King. But before he can claim it, he has to kill the Wicked Witch. And off he goes, kicking the dirt, petulant. A drag to be around.
Question: When did the character switcheroo become such a movie staple? Your ally is really your enemy, your enemy your ally. Imagine if, in the classic “Wizard of Oz,” the Witch was secretly allied with … the Scarecrow! Or Glinda! Or the Lollipop Guild! That’s how they’d do it now. Your enemy is who you least suspect! Here, even before Oz leaves on his quest to kill the Wicked Witch, we’re wondering if Evanora, or even Theodora, whose heart is breaking from Oz’s callousness, is the real wicked witch. (Psst. It’s Theodora.)
On the Yellow Brick Road, as often happens, Oz gathers partners who are reminiscent of people in Kansas. Early on, we heard him berate his assistant, Frank (Zach Braff), thus: “You’re just a trained monkey!” So in Oz, he saves the life of a bellhop monkey (Braff), who pledges unending support, but who is perpetually disappointed by Oz’s shallow self-interest. The girl in the wheelchair? She pops up as a girl made of china, whose legs Oz glues back together. The magic he can’t do in Kansas he can do here. And Annie? The girl? She’s Glinda, the witch he has to kill. But just as he realizes she’s not the wicked one, Evanora’s forces, those flying baboons, arrive, and they escape, via Glinda’s bubbles, to Munchkinland.
Believe it or not
There, everyone views him as a savior, and Glinda, who knows he’s no savior, encourages him to make them believe. That’s the theme, really: If people believe in the phony, it might become real. But Oz is having trouble. He doesn’t believe in himself. He knows he’s a phony.
That turns out to be his strength. Years ago, a friend told me I needed to write more “from my power.” Whatever it was that I was, good or bad, that’s what I should focus on. This, essentially, is what Oz does as he readies for battle. He realizes he’s not a great man, nor a good man; he’s a cad and a charlatan and a fake. So he uses these attributes to take on Evanora and Theodora, the latter of whom, in the interim, has eaten a poisoned apple, lost her heart, and gained green skin, a cackle and a broom. We first see the transmogrification in shadow. Smart move, because the makeup doesn’t make Kunis look scary, merely odd. Take away the hook nose and pointed chin and she’s ready for the cover of Esquire’s “Green Women We Love” issue.
But even as the people believe in Oz, Oz asks the Master Tinker (Bill Cobbs) to make a balloon with which to escape. Because he’s still a cad and a charlatan and a fake. And after they’ve lured the flying monkeys into the poppy fields, and after they’ve surreptitiously entered the Emerald City, and even as a captured Glinda is chained up like Faye Wray in “King Kong,” Oz fills his balloon with coin and abandons his newfound friends. From a distance we see the balloon floating away. From a distance the Wicked Witch, the woman scorned, destroys it with a fireball. Down it goes. Out pops his top hat, charred. Everyone mourns. Everyone mourns the passing of the traitorous man: their last, worst hope.
Can you see it coming? Can you see the wires? Of course you can.
Manufacturing his own death was part of Oz’s plan. And using the magic of early cinema—an invention of his idol, Thomas Alva Edison—Oz projects his image amidst flames, a la “The Wizard of Oz,” and spooks the Wicked Witch right out of Emerald City. It’s Oz’s now. And there he’ll stay. And there he’ll rule.
Brains, courage, heart
Question: Why does “The Wizard of Oz” work so well? What’s it about?
It’s about a girl who wants to get away from her family farm then realizes there’s no place like home. It’s about people who think they lack certain positive qualities—brains, heart, courage—but who, when the chips are down, demonstrate those very qualities. And it’s about uncovering the deceit of an all-powerful charlatan.
“Oz, the Great and Powerful,” in comparison, is about creating, and propping up, the deceit of an all-powerful charlatan. It’s about getting people to believe in the fake.
That’s the point of Hollywood, too, isn’t it? Getting people to believe in, and spend money on, what’s fake. But to make it truly work, to make moviegoing truly worthwhile, you need a few things “Oz, the Great and Powerful” lacks: brains, courage, and heart.
The True Vice of Vice: Advertisers with Editorial Input
Besides selling banner displays and short ads that play before its videos, Vice offers its advertisers the option of funding an entire project in exchange for being listed as co-creator and having editorial input. Advertisers can pay for a single video, or, for a higher price—one to five million dollars for twelve episodes, according to Vice—they can pay for an entire series, on a topic that dovetails with the company’s image. (The North Face, the outdoors company, recently sponsored a series called “Far Out,” in which Vice staffers visit people living in “the most remote places on Earth.”)
At the highest end of the sponsorship spectrum are verticals, in which companies can sponsor entire Web sites. If you go to Vice’s main site, Vice.com, you’ll see the weird, ribald material that defines its brand (“New York Fashion Week . . . On Acid!,” “India’s Street Doctors Will Bleed the Sickness Right Out of You”). Tabs at the top connect to Web sites on single subjects: Motherboard, which focusses on technology; Fightland (ultimate fighting); and Noisey (music). The content on these sites is sponsored by companies such as Garnier, Toshiba, and Scion. Vice’s sponsored verticals tend to be in softer areas, like music and art. As Smith said, “Crest doesn’t want to be next to severed heads.”
Smith describes sponsored content as a return to the soap-opera model of early television: “It’s ‘As the World Turns,’ sponsored by Procter & Gamble. And you’re going to do that show anyway. And Procter & Gamble just sort of fits in.” But when I spoke to Spencer Baim, Vice’s chief strategic officer and the head of Virtue, its in-house advertising agency, he pointed out that mere sponsorship has become “a dirty word” among advertisers. “Being a sponsor is just slapping your logo on something and not being strategic about it,” he said. Instead, he added, sponsored content should represent something “fresh”—a true creative collaboration between Vice and its advertiser.
Almost nothing about Vice appeals to me. I'm not their demographic (male: 18-34), but even when I was their demographic I wasn't, because I hated this kind of shit. Widdicombe accurately calls the sensibility “adolescent, male and proudly boorish.” It's actually worse. It's part of the downfall.
It's not hip. It's sponsored.
Quick Quiz: Who is This Baby?
And don't say Bert Lahr's kid.
First clue: It was a first on the silver screen.
Second clue: It's from a movie in the 1940s.
Third clue: The baby, in the movie, is looking up at his parents, who are about to die.
Fourth clue: The real name of the baby isn't famous. It isn't even known. It's who the baby is playing.
UPDATE: Longtime reader Reed got it below. It's the first, live-action, screen incarnation of Kal-El, or Superman, in the 1948 serial “Superman,” starring Kirk Alyn. If anyone knows who played the baby, let me know. IMDb.com doesn't have it.
I will now update the tags, etc.
- Writers from “The Simpsons”—Conan O'Brien, Al Jean, Jeff Martin, Jay Kogen, and Mike Reiss—sit around a table and talk about the early years of the show. We get anecdotes about James L. Brooks, Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson. They talk about the awful place they worked, how Conan came on board, who their favorite characters were. It's 80 minutes and I watched the whole damn thing. Most revealing? These guys are funny but hardly Mel Brooks.
- My friend Jerry Grillo has a nice piece on “42,” Jackie Robinson and the secrets of the universe.
- Flavorwire lists the 10 best books by filmmakers. I've read the Lumet, Truffaut, Mamet; want the Bogdonavich and Friedkin. But Robert Rodriguez? Really?
- A look at the new documentary, “Which Way Is the Frontline From Here: The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington,” by Hetherington's “Restrepo” co-director Sebastian Junger. The doc airs on April 18. Tomorrow? Tomorrow.
- Alan Zweibel (“North”) with a charming story about receiving tough criticism from Roger Ebert.
- How about Ebert & Scorsese At The Movies? The famed director sat opposite Roger after Gene Siskel's death to talk about the best movies of the 1990s. Love Scorsese's #2 pick.
- You ready? The crime isn't mistreating animals on factory farms; it's taping the mistreatment of animals on factory farms in order to try to stop it. Richard Oppel Jr. reports on this mistreatment of our government by right-wing lobbyists.
- Speaking of mistreatment: Apparently we can use the word “torture” now.
- My friend Stephen Manes' biography of Bill Gates, published in 1993, is now available on the Kindle. Gates and Bezos? Wouldn't that cause technology whiplash? Or would it be World's Finest #1?
- The guy who bought the domain name BostonMarathonConspiracy.com and why. It has a happy ending.
- Here's Stephen Colbert's take on Boston. Just the right touch.
- The Saudi national, who was a suspect, then a person of interest, and then maybe a double victim? Amy Davidson has the story on the New Yorker site. It's not pretty.
- Finally, Dennis Lehane on Boston, the city where he grew up, and the city where he lives, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. It's amazing what you get when you give a real writer a forum.
My favorite Boston moment.
Quote of the Day
“A twenty-year-old man who had been watching the Boston Marathon had his body torn into by the force of a bomb. He wasn’t alone; a hundred and seventy-six people were injured and three were killed. But he was the only one who, while in the hospital being treated for his wounds, had his apartment searched in 'a startling show of force,' as his fellow-tenants described it to the Boston Herald, with a 'phalanx' of officers and agents and two K9 units. He was the one whose belongings were carried out in paper bags as his neighbors watched; whose roommate, also a student, was questioned for five hours ('I was scared') before coming out to say that he didn’t think his friend was someone who’d plant a bomb—that he was a nice guy who liked sports. 'Let me go to school, dude,' the roommate said later in the day, covering his face with his hands and almost crying, as a Fox News producer followed him and asked him, again and again, if he was sure he hadn’t been living with a killer.”
-- Amy Davidson, in the New Yorker piece, “The Saudi Marathon Man,” on the Saudi national who, this Monday, went from bombing victim, to bombing suspect, to person of interest, to double victim.
Ranking the Best and Worst Baseball Movies of All-Time
I first posted this a year and a half ago. Here's the update. “42,” “Trouble with the Curve” and “The House of Steinbrenner” have been added and a few movies rejiggered. A lot of the rejiggering is based upon whether I want to watch the movie again now. You can tinker with this stuff all day if you're not careful.
Comments, feel free.
- Bull Durham (1988): Still the smartest. Still the sexiest. Oh my.
- Ken Burns' Baseball (2004): It's nearly a day long (22+ hours) and I think I've watched it four or five times. That's nearly a week of my life. Burns includes too many New Yorkers, not enough Pittsburghers (see 1960), and Stan Musial gets short shrift while Harmon Killebrew isn't even mentioned. It's the official baseball history now, which makes these ommissions more glaring.
- +1 61* (2001): Isn't it time for Billy Crystal to make his great Mickey Mantle documentary?
- +1 Moneyball (2011): I was turned off by the falsehoods but was won over by the poignancy. And if you want to read more, well, 3,500 words await.
- -2 The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998): An unabashed paean and a joy to watch. Should be required viewing for all modern athletes who disregard their role-model status.
- The Bad News Bears (1976): Should this movie have been in the Hall of Fame seven years ago? Should it be now? Haven't watched it in five years but I have fond feelings for it. Maybe I was the right age when it came out.
- The Natural (1984): It's tough to transfer Bernard Malamud's Old Testament morality onto a Hollywood screen and give it a Hollywood ending, but Barry Levinson and Robert Redford (appearing in his first movie in four years) managed it in 1984. With caveats. Many caveats. Still, that homerun in the middle of the movie that stops time at Wrigley Field? Stops me every time.
- +2 Catching Hell (2011): Alex Gibney has directed docs on torture (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) and failure (“Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room”), so it's only natural that he turns his attention to the Chicago Cub—in the person of Steve Bartman, the unluckiest fan of the unluckiest franchise. Bartman is the Chicago Cubs of Cub fans. In the end, that's pretty impressive.
- -1 Eight Men Out (1988): “The written rules were rigid and righteous, while the real rules were often wide open and dirty.” That's from the book by Eliot Asinof on which the movie is based, and to which the movie pales. So is this: “America expected higher morals from ballplayers than they expected from businessmen.” Am I giving John Sayles and the movie too hard a time? Maybe I need to see it again. Maybe it's better than I remember.
- -1 Sugar (2008): The Dominican players who saw this all said, “Yep. That's the way it is.” Always enlightening seeing our country through the eyes of others.
- Major League (1989): The bottom-of-the-ninth-inning bunt to win the championship has since been stolen by enough movies (“Mr. Baseball”; “Mr. 3000”) that it's become as much a cliche as the bottom-of-the-ninth-inning home run to win the championship. But all-around dopey fun.
- The Rookie (2002): In 1999, when I first read on ESPN.com about Jim Morris, a high school teacher in Texas who improbably made the bigs at the age of 35+, I said aloud to my Microsoft officemates, “Wonder how long before it's a movie?” But I assumed made-for-TV. Hollywood did better. Too much estranged father crap, of course, but otherwise a fairly straightforward narrative.
- +1 A League of their Own (1992): Geena Davis can't play. Rosie O'Donnell can.
- -1 Field of Dreams (1989): Speaking of estranged father crap... Most fans would put this top 10 or 5 or 3, but too much magic realism for me. In the original story, “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, the author retrieved from New England and taken to Fenway Park is ... J.D. Salinger. That's one way the movie improved upon the source material.
- NEW! 42 (2013): Better than “The Jackie Robinson Story” but not as good as Jackie, or we, deserve. It's fairly accurate, but when writer-director Brian Helgeland tends to take dramatic license he does so undramatically. He takes undramatic license. Great Ben Chapman scene, though.
- Pastime (1990): I saw this in the mid-1990s, liked it, and now remember nothing about it. Racial stuff, right?
- Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): The second appearance in the countdown by Michael Moriarty. He was also a talking head in “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” since his grandfather was a Major League umpire in the 1930s.
- Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010): Suffers in comparsion to “Greenberg.” But it means well.
- For Love of the Game (1999): A fading pitcher thinks about his imperfect life between innings of the last game of the year ... then gradually realizes he's pitching a perfect game. Overlong, but I think the reaction against it was a reaction against Costner, which I'm tired of.
- Fever Pitch (2005): How could Major League Baseball allow Drew and Jimmy on the field for the final out of the 2004 World Series?? How?????
- Damn Yankees! (1958): Not much a baseball movie, more of a 1950s Broadway musical, but Ray Walston as the Devil livens things up. It's also the best titled baseball movie ever. Yankee haters everywhere unite!
- Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976): Oh, the movie this might have been. There’s incredible talent here (Billy Dee, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Stan Shaw), there’s a budget, there’s direction from John Badham. But the tensions within the film are puerile. The evil is overwhelmingly evil; the good is happy-go-lucky. The story meanders and then tucks its tail between its legs and heads home. Shame. Great title, though.
- The Pride of the Yankees (1942): When I was a kid in the 1970s, this was regularly cited as the greatest baseball movie ever made. How far we've come. How far it's fallen.
- -3 The Stratton Story (1948): I'm not sure why this made it into my “Majors” section in the MSN piece. When I think of it now, I think of it with slight distaste.
- Game 6 (2005): The title game refers to the 1986 World Series. But there's no “going to see about a girl” for Michael Keaton.
- Angels in the Outfield (1951): When the remake was released in '94 I didn't even know there'd been an original--and with the Pirates of all teams. Not a bad baseball movie for the period.
- Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949): Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra sing and dance and pretend to play.
- NEW! The House of Steinbrenner (2010): Even the effin' NY Yankees deserve a better documentary than this.
- Mr. Baseball (1992): Tom Selleck is an American asshole who must learn to be a team player in Japan. Doesn't suck.
- The Sandlot (1993): And you thought “The Wonder Years” was nostalgic. For people who like sugar. (Not “Sugar.”)
- Little Big League (1994): Kid becomes owner of the Minnesota Twins and makes the moves that put them in contention for the pennant. Ah, but the big, bad Seattle Mariners—with guest appearances by Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson!—block their way...
- Major League II (1994): I don't remember much about this one (and I didn't see the third), but, hey, gang's getting back together. Except for Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes. He's doing too well so they pull a Darrin-from-Bewitched on him and replace him with Omar Epps. Would be lower if not for Bob Ueker.
- Fear Strikes Out (1957): I'll quote my father: “If Tony Perkins had handled a knife the way he handled a baseball bat, Janet Leigh would still be alive.”
- Rookie of the Year (1993): Magic arm, annoying kid.
- Mr. 3000 (2004): You are missed, Bernie Mac, but not for this.
- Angels in the Outfield (1994): A clear violation of the 25-man roster.
- -11 Cobb (1994): A hagiography would've felt like less of a lie.
- The Jackie Robinson Story (1950): Dreary baseball shots accompanied by heavy-handed pronouncements about equal opportunity. The movie reveals how far we've come by showing us the inanities that passed for racial enlightenment in 1950.
- The Babe (1992): At least Goodman has the charisma of the Babe. That's what makes it better than the other.
- NEW! Trouble with the Curve (2012): My worst movie of 2012 isn't even in the bottom five? Yeesh. That's how bad baseball movies generally are.
- The Scout (1994): I don't think I even made it through this one.
- BASEketball (1998): Overwhelming juvenile. Whatever happened to these guys anyway?
- Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998): Is there a sadder title?
- The Babe Ruth Story (1948): The greatest player of all time in one of the worst movies of all time. Thanks, Hollywood.
- Hard Ball (2001): This one's so low because the book on which it's based, “Hardball: A Season in the Projects,” written by Daniel Coyle, is fantastic.
- The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977): Josh Wilker has written an entire book out about this movie? Which he loves? Or something? Well, he made poetry out of Rudy Meoli popping up so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I'll probably even buy it. (I did: It's short and great.)
- The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978): But Josh, don't push your luck.
Three of my top-10 baseball movies were never theatrically released.
Theory: In 'Man of Steel,' Krypton Lives
I wrote about this just a few days ago but the new trailer reinforces the notion: In the new Superman movie, Krypton, Kal-El's homeworld, lives. It doesn't blow up.
- “I’ll be honest with you, there’s no Kryptonite in the movie,” says director Zack Snyder. (Source: Entertainment Weekly cover story.)
- “This film reveals that even on Krypton, young Kal-El was a special child, whose birth was cause for alarm on his home planet.” Which gives Jor-El a reason, besides the destruction of Krypton, to send his baby son away in a rocket ship. (Source: Entertainment Weekly cover story.)
- In “Superman II” Gen. Zod tried to take over the Earth, since there was no longer a Krypton to take over. In the new teaser, he doesn't try to take over Earth. He simply asks for Kal-El back. But back where? (Source: “Man of Steel” teaser.)
- Zod also refers to Kal-El as “one of my citizens.” But citizen of what? (Source: “Man of Steel” teaser.)
And now we have the new trailer, trailer #3, in which:
- We see a battle on Krypton, not Krypton exploding.
- We see Zod berating a woman thus: “You believe your son is safe?!” It's obviously Lara he's talking to. But how? Isn't this after Kal-El is shot into space? And isn't that generally when Krypton blows up? Yet there they are, talking.
- We see Zod shouting, “I will find him!” amdist a Kryptonian backdrop.
Here's the new trailer:
This trailer, by the way, is the one that most recalls “Superman: The Movie”: from the dialgoue between Jor-El and Lara about their child's place on Earth, to Lois naming Kal-El, from the S-like Kryptonian symbol on his chest, “Superman.”
As for Krypton living, what do you think? Am I missing something? I just can't get around Zod extracting Kal-El from Earth rather than battling him for it. The only reason you don't battle someone for a planet is if you already have one.
ADDENDUM: More speculation in the comments field.
That's Jor-El. But that doesn't seem like a planet blowing up. It seems like soneone's attacking.
And this is Zod yelling, “I will find him!” Seems like the same place. Seems like Krypton.
Quote of the Day
“I had a late hockey game last night, which means about an hour in the car listening to late-night talk radio call-in shows. There's nothing like late-night talk radio call-in shows to restore your confidence in the portions of the media that are NOT late-night talk radio call-in shows.”
-- my friend Dave during a Facebook discussion of my previous post on the Boston Marathon bombings.
Catch of the Day: Ben Revere
Yesterday I heard Ben Revere made a great catch and I went to MLB.com to check it out. My search led to this catch, screen-captured below, which is a great catch but it's not yesterday's catch. The one below took place during a spring training game in March. The ads on the outfield wall should've been a giveaway.
I think MLB.com needs to work on its search queries.
No, yesterday's catch was more spectacular—aided by the reaction it got from Cliff Lee and the doubling of the dude off first. Here's a .gif of the catch:
Not sure why the Minnesota Twins traded Ben Revere in December. His numbers last year were certainly respectable, he was young and cheap, and he kept making great catches in center field. Seriously, there's nothing like a great catch in center field.
Going About My Business After Boston
I have no insight, no wisdom, about the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I heard about it relatively early, followed it for about an hour, then did what we all have to do: I went back to work. I continued to write. I did the laundry. I changed those two light bulbs in the kitchen. I fed Jellybean at 6 and again at 8. I read my friend John Rosengren's biography of Hank Greenberg.
Monica Guzman, columnist with The Seattle Times, tweeted about the bombings yesterday at 2 pm. She'd just heard. She was horrified. An hour and fifteen minutes later, she tweeted this:
No answers from the president's briefing. We still don't know who, we still don't why...— Monica Guzman (@moniguzman) April 15, 2013
“Still.” We want zip-zip in this culture. The future is now and now is so 10 minutes ago. We keep trying to keep up with the nothing that's yet to happen.
But there are obvious dangers in rushing to answer. Here's the initial report from The New York Post:
The Post ran other headlines: “Authorities ID suspect as Saudi national...” They kept these headlines up long after we knew that 2 (later 3) were dead and the Saudi national wasn't a suspect.
For a time, people thought the JFK Library had been attacked, too. That was an electrical fire, apparently.
I tend to slow down in moments like these. It seems like the rest of the world gets frantic and angry and demands answers while I just slow down and get sad. I know I'm far away from the scene. I know I'm just experiencing all of it through media. I know real tragedy is happening to real people, as it does every day, but I'm here, viewing it through a screen, and can't help. Wringing my hands doesn't help. So I go back to work. I follow the directive of the cop at the scene: I go about my business.
I know the answer to the question that everyone is asking, WHY?, a word the Reno paper splashed across its front page, will come to us eventually. I also know, as we all know, that that answer will be sad, and small, and stupid. We're just waiting to find out what kind of sad, and small, and stupid.
Five Facts about Terrence Malick
All 39 facts, written when “The Tree of Life” was in theaters, are interesting, particularly to Malick fans I suppose (Malick interviewed Che Guevara?), but for those confused by, or disappointed in, “To the Wonder,” these facts are helpful:
- During his “sabbatical,” home base was an apartment in Paris and later two apartments (one for living, one for writing) in a prefabricated building in Austin, Texas.
- In the early 80s, Malick fell in love with Michèle, a Parisienne who lived in his same building in Paris and had a daughter, Alex. After a few years the three of them moved to Austin, Texas
- Malick married Michèle in 1985, but they divorced in 1998.
- Malick married Alexandra “Ecky” Wallace in 1998 (his rumored high school sweetheart from his days at St. Stephen’s). They are still married and currently reside in Austin, Texas.
So Michele is Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Alexandra is Jane (Rachel McAdams). My review of “To the Wonder” will be up later.
The most interesting fact on McCracken's list?
- Zoolander is one of Malick’s all time favorite films.
I don't know whether to be disappointed or monumentally impressed.
Neil and Jane or Terrence and Alexandra?
Quote of the Day: 'That was for Jackie'
“When Jackie Robinson went to the Major Leagues, that was the beginning of the modern-day civil rights movement. That was before Rosa Parks said, ‘I don’t feel like going to the back of the damn bus today.’ That was before Brown vs. Board of Education. Martin Luther King was a sophomore at Morehouse College at the time. Jackie Robinson went to the Major Leagues and that’s what started the ball rolling. That was the start, man! Are you listening?”
-- Buck O'Neill to two ignorant NY shock jocks in the 1990s, as recounted in Joe Posnanski's book, “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,“ and on his blog today. It takes place just before the incident with the woman in the red dress, which is one of my favorite stories. I also like this bit Joe adds: ”I once asked Buck if he could have been the first black man play in the Major Leagues. He said no. He said that task needed someone extraordinary, someone fierce, someone who would not stand for injustice, someone who would not bend to ease of inaction or the force of hatred. I said, 'You could have done it.' He said, “No, that was for Jackie. I had a different role.'”
The New 'Man of Steel' Teaser: Zod Damn
Here's the new teaser trailer for “Man of Steel,” featuring the voice of Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon) requesting the return of Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) from Earth:
Thoughts? I'm sure fanboys are loving it.
Me, I'm not sure. I still don't trust Zack Snyder, director of the worst movie of 2011, as well as this new gloomier Superman. Last week, in Entertainment Weekly, we learned that the new movie would have no kryptonite (good); and that Cavill “plays a Superman who isn’t fully comfortable with that god-like title. This film reveals that even on Krypton, young Kal-El was a special child, whose birth was cause for alarm on his home planet.”
That, along with this teaser, is cause for alarm for me. If Zod is requesting the return of Kal-El from Earth, the immediate thought is, “Requesting from where? To return to where?”
Does it live? Does Jor-El send Kal-El to Earth not because Krypton is about to die but because Kal-El is a special child? The One? Please don't make it about The One. I really don't need that story again.
“My name is General Zod. For some time your world has sheltered one of my citizens. I request that you return this individual to my custody. To Kal-El, I say this: Surrender within 24 hours or watch this world suffer the consequences.”
That Ben Chapman Scene in '42'
For once I'm in complete agreement with Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells. He has a good one-paragraph synopsis of “42”—why it's not particuarly good but why one scene is powerful—amidst his analysis of Marshall Fine's review:
42 is okay if you like your movies to be tidy and primary-colored and unfettered to a fault, but it’s a very simplistic film in which every narrative or emotional point is served with the chops and stylings that I associate with 1950s Disney films. The actors conspicuously “act” every line, every emotional moment. It’s one slice of cake after another. Sugar, icing, familiar, sanctified. One exception: that scene in which Jackie Robinson is taunted by a Philadelphia Phillies manager with racial epithets. I’m not likely to forget this scene ever. It’s extremely ugly.
Agreed. Alan Tudyk, who plays Ben Chapman, the taunting Phillies manager, should get some special kind of award for his performance. It's unblinking.
- My review of “42”.
- Alan Tudyk on playing Ben Chapman.
- My disagreement with Wells about the “42” poster and “Lincoln.”
Alan Tudyk: A good actor acting ugly.
Quote of the Day
“All of life is futile and pointless. I'm so unhappy.”
-- Dave White at the end of his scathing review of “Scary Movie 5” on Movies.com.
Hollywood B.O.: '42' is More Than '5'
“42,” the Jackie Robinson biopic written and directed by Brian Helgeland, grossed more than $27 million at the weekend box office for the top spot. It's the biggest opening weekend for a baseball movie ever, beating out (believe it or not) “Benchwarmers,” the Rob Schneider comedy, which opened at $19.6m in 2006 (on its way to $59.8m), and “Moneyball,” which opened at $19.5 in 2011 (on its way to $75.6m). Even if you adjust for inflation “42” is still the biggest baseball opener. “A League of Their Own,” now No. 2, opened at an adjusted $26.6m in 1992.
Though I had my problems with “42,” word-of-mouth is pretty good, so it might have a shot of breaking the all-time box-office record for a baseball movie: “A League of Their Own” at $107m. (“Moneyball” is No. 2). Adjusted, it has no shot. It's “League” with $208m.
The other movie opening wide was “Scary Movie V.” Here's the top 10 for the weekend:
||% Change||Thtrs||Average||Total Gross||Week
|2||Scary Movie 5||$15,153,000||-||3,402||$4,454||$15,153,000||1|
|4||G.I. Joe: Retaliation||$10,800,000||-48%||3,535||$3,055||$102,426,000||3|
|6||Jurassic Park 3D||$8,820,000||-53%||2,778||$3,175||$31,929,000||2|
|7||Olympus Has Fallen||$7,283,000||-28%||2,935||$2,481||$81,890,000||4|
|8||Oz The Great and Powerful||$4,923,000||-39%||2,504||$1,966||$219,444,000||6|
|9||Tyler Perry's Temptation||$4,500,000||-55%||1,805||$2,493||$45,422,000||3|
|10||The Place Beyond the Pines||$4,080,000||480%||514||$7,938||$5,455,000||3|
Source: Box Office Mojo
Quick poll. What's the scariest thing about the above list?
- “Scary Movie V” still grossed $15 million despite a 5% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 0% Top-Critics RT rating, with sentiments from critics such as these:
- If I ever have to watch another Scary Movie film, I'll give up on writing, cinema, and society forever. --Matt Donato
- I have been to funerals a LOT less sad than this laughless 85 minutes. --Teddy Durgin
- This is the sort of movie where you feel bad for Sheen and Lohan, because they hadn't actually hit rock bottom until they agreed to appear in it. --Alonso Duralde
- “GI Joe: Retaliation” has now grossed more than $100 million at the box office.
- There's not one movie in the top 10 you want to see.
I am happy for “42,” Jackie, and baseball movies in general. Will more be greenlit? Or one? May I put in a vote for a screen adaptation of Jane Leavy's Mickey Mantle bio?
Pick your baseball metaphor: “42” hits homerun, scores, beats competition, gets patted on the ass by American moviegoers.
Movie Review: 42 (2013)
I was wrong about “42.”
I thought Chadwick Boseman was too soft to play Jackie but he often exudes Jackie’s frowning intensity and competitive spirit. When I saw Christopher Meloni playing Leo Durocher I assumed they were going to ignore Durocher getting banned for the ’47 season. Nope, that’s in there. They mention, in a prologue for people who don’t know U.S. history, that World War II ended in 1945 and great ballplayers like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Stan Musial returned to the game, leading me to think, “Wait, Stan Musial wasn’t drafted.” He was. Barely. He served from January 1945 to March 1946. Finally, when racist fans start digging at Jackie, I thought it all sounded a bit tepid considering everything the real Jackie went through. I assumed in our PC times they were sugarcoating this bit of history and keeping the racial epithets to a minimum. Instead, they were saving it all for Ben Chapman.
I was also right about “42.” It looked OK and it is OK. Given its source material, it had a chance for greatness.
Am I the wrong audience for this movie? I know too much about the subject and nitpick. I’m also the right audience: I’m excited just to see someone playing Clyde Sukeforth onscreen.
I almost predicted it. In April 2007, I wrote the following in a piece about baseball movies for MSNBC.com:
Great baseball biopics are waiting to be made if studio execs only get off the schneid. You’re telling me you can’t make an interesting movie out of the life of Satchel Paige or Hank Greenberg or Roberto Clemente? Why not ignore the career for the season? Give us Jackie Robinson from the time he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the fall of 1945, through the ’46 season with the Montreal Royals, and end the film on April 15, 1947, the day he broke the color barrier. Talk about extraordinary pressure! There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland nearly follows my parameters. He takes us from just before Jackie signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to the end of the ’47 season. In some ways that’s smarter. In another way, a big way, it’s not. And they don’t fix that other way.
What’s the drama? In most baseball movies it’s about winning. In this baseball movie, it’s about overcoming centuries of prejudice in order to have the chance to win. No one, after all, goes to “42” to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers win the ’47 pennant. Spoiler alert.
We get spring training in Florida in ’46 and a few of the problems there. Apparently there were WHITES ONLY signs. Jackie has to stay with a black family in town rather than with the team. He has to deal with the press, including Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier (Andre Holland), who traveled and roomed with Jackie in ’46 and ’47.
Does he have doubts? Is he worried he might fail? Who knows? Do we get resentment from other Negro League ballplayers that this rookie, this upstart, this guy who wasn’t even among their best, gets to break the color barrier? There’s an early scene with Dodgers president and part-owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), his assistant Harold Parrott (T.R. Knight), and head scout Clyde Sukeforth (Toby Huss), in which they go over the options. Roy Campanella? Too nice. Satchel Paige? Too old. Jackie Robinson? Just right. It’s a Goldilocks moment.
When Rickey makes his intentions known, he also extracts a promise from Jackie to control his temper, which was imperial, and not fight back for three years. “Your enemy will be out in force and you can’t meet him on his own low ground,” Rickey says, in one of the movie’s many good lines.
But in Florida he’s an isolated man. He wears no. 9 for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, and does what he does: hits, runs, fields, distracts on the basepaths. He gets in the heads of pitchers. His manager Clay Hopper (Brett Cullen), from Porterville, Mississippi, is delighted. But when Rickey calls Robinson “superhuman,” Hopper tells him not to get carried away. “He’s still a nigger out there,” he says. This leads to chastisement and threat of dismissal and Hopper comes around, as he did in real life, but the scene smells slightly of B.S. And isn’t Rickey’s comment dangerously close to the other side of the racist spectrum? You can’t integrate because blacks are inferior: lazy, shuffling, lacking in mental toughness. No, you can’t integrate because blacks are superior: Their physiques are geared toward athletics. They’re superhuman.
Old white men show up in Sanford, Fla., to shout racist epithets, and a cop interrupts the action because Sanford doesn’t allow integration on the ballfield. He, a cop, actually kicks Jackie out of the game. Afterwards, a redneck-looking guy walks up to Jackie and tells him he’s rooting for him. More bullshit? Maybe it happened. But it feels like it’s in there to soothe Southern white audiences. There were good whites, too.
Whither the ’46 season with the Royals? It’s passed over quickly. We see Jackie hit a homerun in his first game, but please read “Baseball’s Great Experiment” by Jules Tygiel. In five at-bats, with the pressure of the world on him, this is what Jackie did: 1) grounder to short; 2) homerun; 3) bunt single, stolen base, bluff to third, and balk home; 4) single and stolen base; 5) bunt single and another balk home. He went 4-5, with four runs scored and 3 RBIs in a 14-1 Montreal win. Wow. Helgeland actually puts our attention off the field, where Jackie’s wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie of “Shame”), sitting in the stands, suddenly feels sick and has to excuse herself. In the bathroom, a lady in a nice hat suggests the obvious: pregnant? Cue title graphic: “Eight months later…”
So no Montreal Royals championship. No fans chasing Jackie down the street. No line from Sam Maltin of The Pittsburgh Courier: “It was the first time that a white mob chased a black man down the street, not out of hate, but because of love.”
For spring training 1947, Rickey and the Dodgers eschew Florida for Havana, Cuba, to get away from the small minds in small towns, but a few of the Dodgers begin to chafe. A petition goes around, led by Kirby Higbe and Dixie Walker (Brad Beyer and Ryan Merriman), saying they refuse to play with Robinson. Others, notably Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, who deserves a bigger role one of these days), refuse to sign. It’s all pretty clean stuff. This brand of American racism should be like bugs crawling beneath a wet rock but Helgeland divides everyone into three neat groups: 1) the loudmouth racists; 2) the guys who say “Give him a chance”; 3) the people who come around to this second point-of-view.
Durocher puts a stop to the petition (“You can wipe your ass with it!”) but then baseball commissioner Happy Chandler (Peter Mackenzie), here seen getting a manicure at his desk, puts a stop to Durocher by banning him for the season for an extramarital affair. It’s an odd cameo for Chandler, without whom, it can be argued, none of this would have happened. (The previous commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, supposedly helped maintain the color line.)
The big day, April 15, 1947, arrives. Hey, there’s Ebbets Field! Hey, there’s Jackie going into the locker room. He doesn’t have a locker yet but he’s got a uniform and a number on it, 42, and off he goes, through the tunnel and onto the field, where the press surrounds him, and where some fans boo and others cheer. The national anthem is sung in its entirety. We get his first at-bat, a sharper grounder to third, which the third baseman stabs and turns into a nice play, aided, it’s suggested, by a questionable call from the racist ump. True? Was Jackie’s first hit taken away from him? Here’s Jonathan Eig in his book “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season”:
Elliott grabbed it and tossed to first for the easy out.
I know: dramatic license. But Helgeland keeps taking dramatic license in ways that are decidedly undramatic. He takes undramatic license. He’s nonconfrontative about the greatest confrontation in baseball history.
Later in the movie, for example, we get a good scene in which Pee Wee Reese visits Branch Rickey’s office—which, in this movie, the Dodger players seem to visit as often as they take showers. The team is about to travel to Crosley Field for a series against the Reds, and Reese, a Kentuckian, has received a hate letter. He’s called a nigger-lover and a carpetbagger, and he’s wondering what to do about it. Rickey smiles. He explains the Greek origins of the word “sympathy.” Then he goes to a file cabinet and removes several thick file folders full of hate letters—all addressed to Jackie Robinson. We’re going to kill you, Nigger. We’re going to kill your son. We’re going to kill your wife. Reese takes in the enormity of it all, and, of course, it leads to the famous incident, perhaps apocryphal, in which, at Crosley, Reese puts his arm around Jackie to quiet the racists.
It’s a good scene. At the same time, one wonders if the hate mail, and the various threats on Jackie’s life, couldn’t have been used to better dramatic advantage. When Jackie walked onto the field, he was risking his life. Every day. The other players knew this. Everyone knew it. According to Eig, when Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater in the movie) stood next to Jackie on Opening Day, his brother chastised him. “What if some sharpshooter missed him by three feet and got you instead?” he asked. Tension was high. But we don’t feel much of that tension in “42.”
Until the Chapman scene.
The famous Reese/Robinson scene. Apocryphal?
Ben Chapman, Alabama born and bred, was a four-time All-Star who led the league in stolen bases four times in the 1930s and retired in 1946 with a .302 batting average and a .823 OPS. He was also baseball’s most infamous race baiter. And his most infamous incident occurred in April 1947 when the Philadelphia Phillies, and its new manager, Chapman, traveled to Brooklyn to meet the Dodgers.
Here’s David Falkner in his book “Great Time Coming”:
From the moment Robinson set foot on the field, Chapman, joined by a number of players, directed an almost unprintable barrage of verbal abuse at him that continued for the rest of the series …
The movie details this abuse. It sets Chapman (Alan Tudyk, in a great performance) on the playing field, where he shouts the following:
- Hey nigger! Why don’t you go back to the cotton fields where you belong?
- Which one of these white boys’ wives you dating tonight?
- We don’t want you here, nigger!
- Nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger!
It’s unrelenting. The tension is thick. You’re waiting for something to explode.
In reality this continued for the entire series, with Phillies players leveling their bats like machine guns at Jackie and rat-a-tat-tatting. Finally, in the third game, Eddie Stanky, the Dodgers’ second baseman, returned volley. He called them all cowards. “Why don’t you pick on somebody who can answer back!” he shouted.
“It was then that I began to feel better,” Jackie says in his book, “I Never Had It Made.” “I remembered Mr. Rickey’s prediction. If I won the respect of the team and got them solidly behind me, there would be no question about the success of the experiment.”
Helgeland condenses this, as he should, into one game, the first game, which the Dodgers won 1-0. The lone run comes in the bottom of the 8th when Jackie leads off with a single, steals second and goes to third on the errant throw, then scores easily on a one-out single. That shuts up Chapman. In the movie. In reality, he kept on. Racism keeps on. That’s what it does.
Worse, Helgeland cuts the tension by having Jackie leave the field after his second at-bat to rage and fume and break his bat in the tunnel to the locker room. “I have to admit that this day, of all the unpleasant days in my life, brought me nearer to cracking up than I ever had been,” Jackie wrote, and that’s what Helgeland is trying to dramatize. Except, again, he undramatizes it. With Jackie slouched against a wall, Branch Rickey shows up like a deus ex machina and gives him another pep talk. He brings up the way Jesus was tested: 40 days in the wilderness, etc. He metaphorically pulls Jackie up, dusts him off, and sets him out into the world again. And only then do we get Eddie Stanky coming to Jackie’s defense. Not by shouting back but by walking over to the Phillies dugout and getting in Chapman’s face.
But it’s still a powerful scene. So powerful even Brian Helgeland couldn’t undramatize it.
Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman: unrelenting.
Falling in love with a team in defeat
But back to my original question. What do you do about the ’47 season? The Brooklyn Dodgers, against all odds, won the NL pennant. That’s good. In the World Series, though, they faced the New York Yankees, who screwed up our story by winning in seven games. So how do you end the movie?
I had similar thoughts while watching “Moneyball.” I knew Billy Beane’s grand sabermetric experiment resulted in no pennant or World Series for the 2002 A’s. But writer-director Bennett Miller makes not-winning the point. He gives us the Jeremy Brown footage: “He hit a homerun and didn’t even realize it.” He gives us the job offer from the Red Sox. He gives us Beane’s moment of indecision, and his daughter singing for him on CD:
I can't figure it out
It's bringing me down I know
I've got to let it go
And just enjoy the show
Miller gives us something difficult and beautiful to carry with us from the theater. He knows the truth in the Roger Kahn line: “You may glory in team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” That line, of course, was written about the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Helgeland doesn’t do this. He tries to end on a moment of false glory: a homerun Jackie hit in late September against a Pirates pitcher, Fritz Ostermueller (Linc Hand), who had beaned him earlier in the season, and which sends the Dodgers into the World Series. Cue celebrations in Brooklyn as Rachel Robinson walks with baby carriage. Cue Jackie, in slow motion, rounding third. Cue uplifting music. But it feels like bullshit even as we watch it. And it is. They try to pass it off as a walkoff homerun when it was a homerun in the top of the 4th. Did this game lead to the pennant? I don’t know. Did Ostermueller really bean Jackie earlier in the season? He did, but with a rising fastball that hit Jackie’s arm, not his head. But it rallied the Dodgers around him. Which it does in the movie. Kind of. Sort of. In Helgeland’s undramatic way.
“42” gets some things right. But Jackie, as a person, is more complex, and more competitive, than his portrayal here. His story is also more important. It’s not about retiring No. 42 in 1997. That’s a bullshit honor anyway. No, his story is important because it’s a prelude to the civil rights movement. It’s almost a blueprint. You turn the other cheek, you act nonviolent in the face of violence, you gain the sympathy of the world. Ben Chapman is Bull Connor, and the rest of us, or the best of us, are Eddie Stanky, fed up, and finally shouting from the dugout.
Maybe next time.
The Goddamn Movies
Here's the cast list for the upcoming Shane Salerno documentary, “Salinger,” set for a Sept. 6, 2013 release. See if you notice anything about it.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Edward Norton
- John Cusack
- Martin Sheen
- Tom Wolfe
- Gore Vidal
And the rest of cast listed alphabetically:
- Judd Apatow
- Danny DeVito
- Robert Towne
- David Milch
- Stephen Adly Guirgis
- John Guare
- E.L. Doctorow
- A. Scott Berg
- Elizabeth Frank
Right, a lot of actors. As talking heads? Talking about Salinger? We get a few writers, certainly (Vidal, Wolfe, Towne, Doctorow, Berg, Guigis), but where are the non-actor readers? Particularly for a documentary about a writer who famously refused to sell his stuff to Hollywood? Whose most famous character talks disparagingly of the movies? Here's the end of the first paragraph of “The Catcher in the Rye”:
If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me.
Here's what the L.A. Times is saying about it:
Reps for the film said that “Salinger” will feature well over 100 interviews with the author’s inner circle about his life and career, as well as include talks with entertainment personalities such as David Milch and Philip Seymour Hoffman about the influence Salinger had on their work. In a statement, Harvey Weinstein called the movie “a haunting piece of documentary filmmaking.”
The goddamn movies.
Movie Review: The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
“The Jackie Robinson Story”is a cheap production filled with movie clichés. The young black boy who happens upon an error-prone group of white kids playing ball; he demonstrates what he can do bare-handed, and, as a reward, the white coach gives him a beat-up old glove. This glove follows him through his life. His brother comments upon it: “You always have that glove with you, Jackie.” Baseball is presented as Jackie's favorite sport, when, in reality, among the college sports he played, it was probably his least-favorite. Jackie himself, played by Jackie himself, is presented as dutiful son to a mammy-type (Louise Beavers), sexless suitor to a pretty, light-skinned girl (Ruby Dee), and almost without personality on the ballfield.
At only one point do you get the idea of the volcano simmering beneath the polite facade: When Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Minor Watson) gets in Jackie's face about what kind of abuse he'll face in the Majors; the abuse he'll have to take in order to make it in the Majors. The rest of the film is dreary, long-distance baseball shots, and heavy-handed back-patting pronouncements about equal opportunity. “The Jackie Robinson Story” is supposed to enlighten us and it does. It makes us realize how far we've come by showing us the inanities that passed for racial enlightenment in 1950.
-- November 22, 1995
Merit Pay in a Meritocracy
From Ken Auletta's profile of Henry Blodget in the April 8, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:
Not long after the 2000 merger of AOL and Time Warner, Blodget predicted that within two years the resulting enterprise would become the world's most valuable company. It turned out to be the most disastrous merger in corporate history. Meanwhile, Blodget's compensation at Merrill Lynch rose from three million dollars, in 1999, to twelve million, in 2001.
Consumption Written with Lightning
I saw Pablo Larrain's movie “No” Saturday afternoon. It was humorous and yet disquieting in a way I couldn't put my finger on. Its hero, René, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, was basically selling pablum and we were cheering him on to do so. He achieved a greater good in doing so. Patricia and I spoke about it during coffee afterwards.
But it wasn't until the next day, writing my review, that I wrote to a place where I realized this may have been the point. René believed in Hollywood endings but he was in an arthouse movie. In a sense, he wouldn't approve of the movie he was in—with its boxy aspect ratio and old-school, unflattering video format. The movie was about a group of people who said “No” to a dictator, which was a great event, a furthering of democracy; but the way they got there, through the cold machinations of an ad man appealing to the lowest-common denominator, indicated the direction democracy would go. We would wind up where we are. To use the Neil Postman paradigm, Chile overthrew “1984” to wind up in “Brave New World.” The people said “No” to Pinochet but they can't say “No” to René.
For a second I thought, “How brilliant.”
A second later, I thought, “How sad.” For Larrain. For filmmakers. They spend years on something that most people consume in hours and quickly forget. If I hadn't written my review, I would've thought “No” was simply a good, funny movie about the '88 election. I might have said there was something disquieting about it but I couldn't have told you why. Because I only would have spent two hours and change on it.
A novelist may spend years on a book, sure, but it takes most people days, or weeks, to consume that book. And in that time they're in the novelist's world. They're immersed in it. They have time to think on it. It's an entirely different experience. One that generally doesn't involve other people munching popcorn and checking their cellphones.
That must be tough for filmmakers. Their medium defies analysis for the mass. It leads to the ascendancy of people like René.
On the other hand, it's easier to rewatch a movie than it is to reread a book.
Road to democracy or road to nowhere?
How Roger Ebert is Wrong in that Sundance Clip
The clip below has been making the rounds in the wake of Roger Ebert's death last week.
At Sundance in 2003, during the Q&A after a screening of Justin Lin's “Better Luck Tomorrow,” an audience member stands up, talks about the talent on screen and on the stage, then asks, or demands, “But why, with the talent up there, and yourself, make a movie that's so empty and amoral for Asian-Americans and for Americans?”
That's when Roger Ebert stands up. Among other things, he says, “What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is that nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, ‘How could you do this to your people?’ ... Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be!”
Everybody loves this clip. The presumption of the one guy, the lusty defense by the other. It's a Hollywood movie in microcosm. We have our villain (the presumptuous bastard), our hero (Roger Ebert, RIP), our stance (moral).
Question: In what way is the villain right? And in what way is the hero wrong?
Roger asks why white filmmakers don't have to justify their choices. They do, of course, but not as white filmmakers. Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese had to defend their choices as Italian-American filmmakers. Philip Roth spent a career defending his choices as a Jewish writer. Of course Coppola and Scorsese had to defend themselves from other Italian-Americans, or at least Italian-American groups, while Roth had to defend himself from Jewish groups. That's the presumption in the above clip. The questioner steps outside the racial lines we‘ve all drawn. He’s a chastising outsider in what is, at best, an internecine affair.
In a perfect world, yes, no artist, no person, is asked to embody their race, even though, in other contexts, such as the big screen on Friday (Jackie Robinson in “42”), and in the book I'm currently reading (“Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes”), we celebrate this. But we don't live in a perfect world.
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., Scandinavian descent. After college I lived for two years in Taipei, Taiwan, where I quickly realized that if I acted in such a way it wouldn't just be me acting this way. I wouldn't just be an asshole, in other words, I would be an American asshole.
Or would I? I suppose the greater question is this: Do majorities suffer from this type of myopia (seeing the one as representative of the whole) or do minorities only fear that they do? And is this fear its own form of myopia (seeing the majority as one entity) or merely common sense (people are the way they are)? This conversation isn't limited to racial matters, by the way. See: Cars/bicyclists, for example. See anything.
In the above, Roger is mostly correct. Asian-American characters do have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. But the other dude is right, too. Justin Lin made his characters shallow and empty in a world that's already full of the shallow and empty. For that, Lin has been rewarded mightily by Hollywood. His new movie, “Fast & Furious 6,” opens in May.
Who Knew Prof. X was a Slacker?
Director Bryan Singer tweeted this photo today, from, one asssumes, the set of his 2014 film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”:
At first you think: Cool! How fun to be able to play with stuff like that.
Then I caught the date at the bottom. Wait. 1973? Really? Wasn't Xavier at Oxford in the early 1960s in the first prequel? The events all took place before the Cuban Missile Crisis in Oct. 1962, which is when Prof. X lost the use of his legs. So it took him more than 10 years to finish his thesis? Charles Xavier? Was he moping or something? Did he take time off to fight crime with his brain? Who knew Prof. X was such a slacker?
Quote of the Day
“The myth — and it is a myth — that the 1970s were Britain’s lowest point persists mainly because 'winners' of Thatcher’s upward wealth redistribution are more likely to write books and newspapers columns and host television shows than former miners are.”
-- Alex Pareene, “The Woman Who Wrecked Great Britain: Margaret Thatcher earned every single cheer that greeted her death,” on Salon.com
Movie Review: No (2012)
What does the title refer to?
That should be a no-brainer. In 1988, international pressure led the Chilean leader, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had come to power in a CIA-backed coup in 1973, to agree to hold a plebiscite, on Oct. 5, on whether or not he should remain in power. Vote YES for Pinochet, vote NO and real elections follow.
René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is a former exile, the son of a leftist and ex-husband of a leftist, who now works in advertising, and who agrees to advise the NO campaign.
For the 30 days leading up to the vote, both sides, YES and NO, are given 15 minutes to make their case each night on state-run television, and most of the NO folks, including Patricio Alywin, who will become the first president of Chile after Pinochet, want to focus on Pinochet’s past crimes: the hundreds of thousands exiled; the tens of thousands tortured; the thousands executed and disappeared. Saavedra sees this and says “Is that all?” He says, “This … this doesn’t sell.” So he and his team set about crafting a product that might win the election. They create a campaign that is sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, and almost always about the happiness that a true democracy will bring. Because, he asks, what’s happier than happiness? Nada, he answers.
“This is the true story,” the international trailer tells us, “of a marketing campaign that sparked a revolution!”
So it’s obvious what “No” refers to. It refers to the moment when a people told a dictator, “No!”
But might it also be referring to René Saavedra? Is the movie actually saying “No!” to its hero?
What’s happier than happiness?
We first see René, in the movie’s old-school video format, making a pitch to the makers of a cola, “Free,” which involves MTVish dancing girls and mimes and silly stuff. “What you’re going to see now is in line with the current social context,” he says. It’s a sentence he will repeat twice more in the movie.
In the middle of this meeting he gets a visitor: José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco). “The communist?” he’s asked. “Do you know him?” He shrugs it off but is clearly uncomfortable, or at least annoyed, by the presence of Urrutia. Maybe he doesn’t like having a pitch interrupted? But then Urrutia makes a pitch to him: Would he help with the NO campaign? René gives it a moment and then says, “No.”
What changes his mind? We’re not quite sure. After work, he visits the police station, where Veronica (Antonia Zegers), his ex-wife, is being jailed after another political protest. He watches as she gets punched in the face by the cops. Is that what changes his mind? That’s what we assume. But what happens next? He heads home to make dinner for his son, Simon (Pascal Montero), and to work on a campaign for a microwave oven. The wife, who lives elsewhere, comes home later, as he’s taking the boy to bed. They talk in muffled tones, she asks to kiss Simon, and as she leans close, René almost breathes her in. You can see pain of lost love on his face. Look closely. It’s one of the last times you’ll get any emotion out of René.
The NO campaign comes together bit by bit. Initially, there’s an almost “Barton Fink”-like joke, since René’s first pitch is remarkably similar to his pitch for Free Cola. It’s as if he has just one pitch in him. But he’s more adaptable than that. At one point he’s conversing with his mentor, who arrives with the CIA-like phrase, “I’m not here,” and they’re talking in muffled tones, trying to suss out the answer. How do you win this? What sells? “We need to have a product that is sufficiently attractive,” they say. They ask René’s maid why she’s on the YES side. She shrugs. I’m fine, she says. My kids are fine, she says. So how do you combat “fine”? Not with fear. With happiness.
Someone suggests folk songs? He counters with jingles. Veronica tells him his campaign is a joke? He changes the subject. The opposition talks up the wealth of the supposedly impoverished characters in the NO campaign? He brushes it aside. He knows it doesn’t matter. He tells his people to add more jokes. He makes the campaign fun and dazzling.
Sure, he gets pressured by Pinochet’s goons. Graffiti is spraypainted on his home and car. His housekeeper is threatened by soldiers on the streets. The ad team is watched, followed. He receives a late-night phone call. “How are you, René? How is Simon? I like your train.” Click.
His boss, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro), is working on the YES campaign, and the two square off numerous times. Guzman tells government ministers, “We’re going to fuck them up,” and he says it to René, too. René says it back. Guzman implies he’ll fire him and René dares him. “Go ahead, fire me,” he says. The tension between the two men feels personal and political but it’s neither. We’re surprised, for example, when halfway through the movie René is still working for Guzman. He’s working for him in the end as well. So if it’s not personal or political, what is it?
It’s competition. They both want to win. Maybe that’s all René ever wanted.
The tension between form and content
From the beginning, most of those involved in the NO campaign think the entire referendum is a sham, since, no matter the vote, Pinochet won’t let go of power. We assume the opposite, since the movie has been made. But we’re still on the edge of our seats.
The key event, really, occurs election night, Oct. 5, when the generals of the various armed forces don’t back Pinochet’s attempt to rig the election. They keep it fair. That’s really how that dictatorship crumbles. The NO campaign helped, certainly, but without the generals the rigged vote would’ve simply been one more lie during 15 years of lies.
Instead, NO wins: 55 to 45 percent. For a moment, they’re all stunned. Then they begin to celebrate. And as politicians make speeches and people shout and dance and sing, René picks up Simon and weaves his way through the crowds. At one point his eyes get a little misty. Does he smile? I don’t recall. Is he happy? One assumes so but we have no evidence. Does he celebrate with everyone? With anyone? No. He just walks through the crowd, holds onto his son, and thinks. It’s what he’s been doing for the entire movie, really. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lead character think so much onscreen.
This is the movie’s high point but it doesn’t end here. It continues. We watch René, on his skateboard again, on his way to work again, where he makes a pitch to a soap opera using the same language he used before: “the current social context,” etc. And that’s our end.
What’s changed from the beginning of the movie? Nada. Todo y nada. So why end like this? Why focus on René? Why make him the way he is? Without seeming motivation? Without seeming emotion? Why film the movie in video with its ugly, boxy (1.33:1) aspect ratio?
Throughout, I felt a tension between the movie’s form and its content. What René pitches, what he sells, is the opposite of what writer-director Pablo Larraín is saying and selling.
“No” is an art flick but its hero is selling Hollywood endings. He’s selling glamour even though he’s filmed in unglamorous locations using unglamorous video. The movie has a right to be happy—“a marketing campaign that sparked a revolution!”—but it doesn’t indulge in its happiness. It’s dour. It’s gray. René would not approve. He would look at the movie and say, “Is that all?” He would look at Larraín and say, “This … this doesn’t sell.”
So what is Pablo Larraín selling?
The current social context
In 1985, cultural critic Neil Postman wrote “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” in which he argued that of the two dystopian novels of the first half of the 20th century, George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” it was the latter, not the former, that is the more accurate depiction of the modern western world. Our problem isn’t totalitarianism but capitalism. We don’t suffer from a lack of choices but an abundance of them. We haven’t become a captive culture but a trivial one. We aren’t controlled by the threat of pain but by the promise of pleasure. We keep voting for happiness.
Pablo Larraín’s “No” is about the return of democracy to Chile, and that’s a glorious event, but the movie doesn’t indulge in the glory. It recognizes that even as one tyrant is overthrown, a lesser tyrant emerges. Chile loses “1984” and gains “Brave New World.” It says “No” to Pinochet. But saying “No” to René? Well, why would we even do that? Why would we say “No” to the promise of happiness?
“What you’re going to see now,” René says at the beginning of the movie, “is in line with the current social context.” Yes. Yes, it is.
Movie Review: The Intouchables (2011)
There’s a scene 30 minutes into “The Intouchables,” the second-highest-grossing film in French history (after “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis”), in which a family friend of French aristocrat and paraplegic, Philippe (Francois Cluzet), warns him about his new North African caretaker, Driss (Omar Sy).
By this point in the movie we’ve seen Driss: 1) barge into the job interview for the caretaker position by pretending to be someone else; 2) proposition Philippe’s red-headed assistant, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) at the job interview; 3) steal a Faberge egg from same; 4) still get the job; 5) object to the most basic elements of the job, such as fitting Philippe with support hose; 6) pour boiling water on Philippe’s legs because he has trouble comprehending that Philippe feels nothing below the neck; 7) poke Philippe in the eye with a forkful of food because he’s watching Magalie’s ass; 8) refuse to give Philippe chocolates (M&Ms), saying “No handy, no candy”; and 9) disparage the artwork Philippe buys.
So by this point, the family, and the family friend, are justifiably concerned. “These street guys,” the family friend says at an expensive café, “they have no pity.”
“Exactly,” Philippe responds. “And that’s what I want. No pity.”
It’s the first true moment in the movie. It’s practically the last.
What to make of the appeal of this film? Google “the intouchables” and “magic negro” and you get 1,200 results from critics in America, where the film grossed $10 million. What must the French, with their tendency toward philosophizing, be saying? That Philippe is representative of modern France, a once-strong entity now reduced to wriggling its head helplessly? That the old, crippled France needs younger, more brash immigrants to revive it? That France, made immobile by centuries of crippling civilization, needs to find its brash voice again?
Who are the intouchables of the title? Both men, one assumes: the North African immigrant and the paraplegic. French society doesn’t want to touch either. They don’t know how to deal with either. If that’s the idea, we don’t get enough of it in the movie. No one stares awkwardly at Philippe. They tend to react with fear to Driss only when he physically threatens them.
Are we supposed to like Driss? He’s an asshole but the movie stacks the decks in his favor. At the job interview, the other applicants, with their degrees and knowledge and empathy, can’t answer the actorly question, “What’s your motivation?” Money, one says. The men, says another. I like crippled people, says a third. The question is never asked of Driss because we know the answer. He wanted the signature that showed he was looking for a job so he could continue to receive unemployment benefits.
There’s a jerk, a businessman, nouveau riche (you know), who parks his sports car in front of Philippe’s gated driveway, talking on his cellphone all the while, so Driss strongarms him, threatens him, to the smiles of the servant, Yvonne (Anne Le Ny) inside. Philippe’s daughter goes out with a boy with swooshy hair, who dumps her and calls her “a whore,” so Driss strongarms him, too. Demands croissant pour la famille tous le matin. The boy is dutiful. He even puts his hair in a barrette as Driss suggests. Driss may be an asshole, but he’s our asshole.
We get a bonding scene. One night Philippe wakes in a panic with labored breath, barely able to talk, and Driss put a warm compress on his face and talks him through it. He brings him outside in the night air. They stroll along the Seine. “It’s been ages since I’ve seen Paris at night,” Philippe says. Good, sad line. They talk about girls, sex. “How do you …?” Driss asks. “You adapt,” Philippe says. “You find pleasure elsewhere.” The ears, for example. Odd that he doesn’t talk about giving pleasure. He can still do that, yes? The two smoke pot. Philippe barely seems to know what it is, what it does. Assume Philippe is Cluzet’s age. That means he was born in 1955. That also means he was 18 in 1973, 21 in 1976. And he doesn’t know from pot? Please.
We wind up at Le Deux Magots at dawn and get some of Philippe’s backstory. He always liked extreme sports, he says. He liked speed. He went paragliding in heavy winds, crashed, broke his 3rd and 4th vertebrae. Et voila. At the same time his wife contracted an illness and died. “My real handicap,” he says, “is living without her.” Another nice line.
But at the moment he’s corresponding by mail with a woman named Eléonore (Dorothée Brière), who lives in Dunkirk. He dictates purplish prose to Magalie, who sends off the letters. When Driss listens to the awful dictations, when he finds out this has been going on for six long months, he takes matters into his own hands, as he is wont to do. He snatches one of the letters off the lap of the helpless Philippe, finds Eléonore’s number, calls, puts Philippe on. Magalie does nothing. In this moment she’s as helpless as Philippe. Of course Philippe loves it. Of course this is what he wanted all along. Photos are then exchanged. (Turns out Eléonore is gorgeous.) A meeting is set up. But Philippe is nervous, too nervous, and leaves just as Eléonore is entering. We see, he doesn’t. La tragedie.
The movie keeps doing this. Driss will act the asshole, but he’s either our asshole or he’s doing something the characters wanted all along. So it’s good. We were just too uptight, see? We were paralyzed with inaction. Thank God we hired this asshole. He’s making everything right.
Buying into the bullshit
Eventually Driss’ own life, in the form of a cousin being enticed and/or harassed by a drug-dealing gang, shows up, and Driss must return to it. This doesn’t ring true, either. Driss finally has a good job, with good pay, but he’s going to leave it in order to help his family? Really? We see him and his cousin meet the hard-working family matriarch (aunt/mother, respectively) at the train station and carry her bags. I liked that scene. We see Driss talk to the gang members in their black SUV. I didn’t like that scene. Because apparently that took care of the problem. Just that.
Meanwhile, Philippe is lapsing. None of the other caretakers work out. They’re too polite, no fun, don’t get it. When Philippe asks for a massage, the caretaker brings in a dude, for God’s sake, rather than two Asian babes who will massage both men while they smoke pot, as Driss had done. And Philippe can’t ask for himself. Because while some of Philippe’s culture rubbed off on Driss, none of Driss’ matter-of-fact brashness rubbed off on Philippe. So in the end, after a bad episode, they have to call Driss back, and he takes Philippe first on a joyride, then on a carride to a seaside town, where they go to lunch. That’s where Driss abandons him. Why? Guess. Right. Eléonore. And she and Philippe meet and fall in love. And Yvonne winds up dating one of Philippe’s relatives, and Magalie’s girlfriend (ah ha!) moves in with her, and we get a final shot of the real Philippe and Driss looking out to sea—because apparently this bullshit is based on a true story—and all is right with the world.
France loved it: $166 million at the box office in 2011. (Perspective: The No. 1 box office hit in France in 2012, “Skyfall,” grossed $60 million.) It was nominated for nine Césars, including best film, best director, best original screenplay, and two nominations for best actor. It won one: best actor for Omar Sy. Over Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.”
Me, I felt trapped 10 minutes in. I felt paralyzed, helpless, forced to endure the movie’s odd form of race fantasy and wish-fulfillment fantasy. Philippe isn’t representative of the problems of modern France; the success of “The Intouchables” is. Even France buys into the bullshit.
Mad Men Myself
That's supposed to be me in the center there. A couple of things wrong with it. The clothing options at the “Mad Men Yourself” site didn't really include anything I would wear (bike gear, T-shirts, etc.), so I'm stuck with this. They did have a kind of suit-vest thing, and I often wear sweater vests at work, even post-Rick Santorum, so that probably would've been the best choice; but I was putting this together with Patricia, who, I believe, is anti-sweater vest and chose the outfit she preferred on me rather than what I would wear. Men everywhere, mad or not, nod in understanding.
I'm also not that tall (although maybe on a Hollywood set?), and I don't drink much soda anymore (coffee, beer), and I mostly read the newspaper online.
But the biggest problem? I'm facing the wrong way. Joan's behind me. That's just wrong. To quote Truman Capote in “The Muses Are Heard”:
A tall, striking blonde, Miss Ryan was wearing a low strapless dress that hugged her curves cleverly; and as she swayed down the aisle, masculine eyes swerved in her direction like flowers turning toward the sun.
I'm a flower that's turned away from the sun.
The new season begins tonight. It's 1968 apparently. Wonder when Don's going to stop using Vitalis. Wonder when he's going to get muttonchop sideburns and a flowered shirt with wide collars. Wonder how he's going to try to hang on as the world, particularly the advertising world, gets younger.
That's been the appeal of “Mad Men” for me since the second season. We know what's going to happen but we don't know what's going to happen to them. We want to warn them about the future because we can't warn ourselves about our own.
Remaining Stationary is the New Freedom
Did you see this story the other day?
With the Senate set to debate gun control this month, a National Rifle Association task force released a 225-page report on Tuesday that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every American school, and urged states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.
The report is fodder for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. But the second graf became fodder for me:
Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas who led the task force, unveiled the report at a packed news conference with unusually heavy security, including a bomb-sniffing yellow Labrador retriever. A dozen officers in plain clothes and uniforms stood watch as he spoke; one warned photographers to “remain stationary” during the event. (Italics mine.)
It immediately sparked this idea for a Tom Toles-like editorial cartoon:
- Panel 1: Show the news conference, use Hutchison's quote, and have one of the armed security officers telling the photographers: “Remain stationary.” Include: “*Actual quote.” Photogs look scared.
- Panel 2: Similar scene in our new, NRA-approved schools, where an armed guard tells students: “Remain stationary.” Students and teacher look scared.
- Panel 3: Similar scene at mall. Armed guards telling shoppers, “Remain stationary.” Shoppers look scared.
- Panel 4: Then in Congress during arm-control legislation debate. NRA to Congress: “Remain stationary.”
- Panel 5: Then in front of the thousands who have died because of gun violence since Newtown. NRA to the dead: “Remain stationary.”
- Denouement: Little Oliphant or Toles figure at bottom with hands raised before NRA guard. Oliphant figure says: “Remaining stationary is the new freedom.”
Guns guns guns.
Quote of the Day
So how did Woody Allen approach you [about being in his movie]?
It just came out of nowhere. I got this e-mail: Woody Allen wants you to come in for something. I’ve been waiting for that e-mail my whole life.
-- Louis C.K., in the David Itzkoff Q&A, “For Louis C.K., the Joke's on Him,” in The New York Times.
Eulogies for Roger
I found out yesterday after lunch. I'd known, vaguely, about his “leave of presence” from The Chicago Sun-Times, because I'd heard, via his Facebook page, about the return of the cancer, the new radiation treatments, the hospitalization. We get this sometimes. It's like a harbinger that takes the edge off the worse news. Someone shot at Reagan and missed? OK. Wait, they hit him? Oh. Kurt Cobain OD'ed in Italy but he's OK? OK. Wait,he killed himself? Oh.
This harbinger didn't take the edge off yesterday. Roger was a voice in my life since 1978. He'd actually gotten louder in more recent years thanks to all this. He felt closer.
For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive ...
-- Pres. Barack Obama
We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.
-- Chaz Ebert, “Roger Ebert Dead at 70 After Battle with Cancer,” Chicago Sun-Times
It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.
-- Douglas Martin, “A Critic for the Common Man,” New York Times
He saw, and felt, and described the movies more effectively, more cinematically, and more warmly than just about anyone writing about anything. Even his pans had a warmth to them. Even when you disagreed with Roger you found yourself imagining the movie he saw, and loved (or hated) more than you did. ... I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others.
-- Michael Phillips, “Farewell to a Generous Colleague and Friend,” Chicago Tribune
If not for them, I don't know what would have happened to me. I often tell Roger, “No Gene Siskel, no Roger Ebert, no film career.”
--Errol Morris, “Errol Morris on Ebert and Siskel,” on YouTube
But Roger made everything feel personal, didn't he? That's why we're seeing such grief upon the news of his death. We all felt as if we knew him. He turned the discussion of films that might've seemed too artsy or intimidatingly intellectual into comfortable conversations. At the same time, he remained capable of walking into a movie – any movie, in any genre – with an open mind after decades as a towering force in this business. He always wanted to be dazzled, just as he did when he was a kid.
--Christy Lemire, “AP Critic Remembers Colleague, Friend, Roger Ebert.”
Ebert argues that writing criticism is about expressing your values, so why not be honest about where you stand on the issues of the day? I didn't tell Ebert, 67, how I admired his productivity in the face of his serious health issues. He has already shrugged off comments like that in print, saying that the energy that once went into speech now is channeled into writing. He has written that he's not dying any faster than you or I, so why should he get special attention for doing what he loves?
-- Colin Covert, “My Afternoon with Ebert,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
In a wonderful mutual interview Ebert and Siskel did for the Chicago Tribune in 1998, Ebert responds to Siskel’s criticism that he tends to go too easy on “cheap exploitative schlock” like The Players Club with this telling reply: “I also have the greatest respect for you, Gene, but if you have a flaw, it is that you are parsimonious with your enjoyment, parceling it out as if you are afraid you will prematurely expend your lifetime share.” Joy—in movies, in conversation, in language, in life—was not something that Roger Ebert meted out parsimoniously. He had more than enough to last a lifetime ...
--Dana Stevens, “Roger Ebert,” on Slate
Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted — at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. ... Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple. Few people I've known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. "We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn't make the loss any less wrenching.
--Martin Scorsese, in a statement reprinted in USA Today
Feel free to post your own below.
Quote of the Day
“When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.”
-- Roger Ebert, after cancer took away his lower jaw and his ability to speak, in Chris Jones' 2010 Esquire piece, “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man.” Roger died yesterday at the age of 70.
No One Walks Off the Island
This was waiting for me, on a sad, rainy day in which death was in the air, when I got home. It's called “Hitting Forty” by Mark Ulriksen. Anyone who knows me knows it leaves nothing but joy in my heart. It made my day. Even with Ichiro in there. And Mo, I suppose. But Mo has his rings.
It helps that the Yanks, so named for a particular form of onanism (yank ye dildo -> yankee doodle -> yankee), have started the season 0-2.
Oh, and subscribe to the New Yorker already, people. Jesus.
Quote of the Day
“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris ...
”Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. 'Faith' is neutral. All depends on what is believed in.“
-- Roger Ebert, who died today at the age of 70, from his book, ”Life Itself: A Memoir."
I couldn't agree more with this last part. Roger had faith that there's nothing on the other side and thus nothing to fear in dying. I wish I had that kind of faith.
Roger Ebert in 1987, mid-explanation.
Q&A with Aviva Kempner about Hank Greenberg – Part III
In March 2000, in a hotel lobby in downtown Seattle, I interviewed director Aviva Kempner, who was visiting Seattle to promote her documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” which was showing at the Jewish Film Festival of Seattle.
This month, Ms. Kempner will be appearing with a friend, John Rosengren, author of “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes,” at events in Washington, D.C. on April 4; in New York April 25; at the Yogi Berra Museum on April 26; and at the Jewish Community Center in New York on the evening of April 26. John’s full schedule can be found here. Here’s a link to his book. Here’s a link to her DVD. And here’s my review of the documentary from back 2000.
How was the film funded?
A charitable foundation made the film. I think it’s how Dominici used to fund the great statues.
I could have made this entire film in three years. [But] it is ten years of fundraising. It’s just what it is. Because I wanted to make it my way. I’m still raising money for the music rights. I’m raising money for the P and A. I’m … You don’t want to know. I’m married to Hank.
My form of fundraising is based on a line from “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I depend upon the kindness of strangers.” It was really wonderful people who thought the world of Hank, and some state humanities boards, that helped me. But I recently re-saw the movie version of “Streetcar Named Desire.” You know when Blanche says that line? At the end of the film. Carted off to the looney bin. So I keep telling my friends, “I hope that’s not going to happen to me.”
You made “Partisans of Vilna” with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Why not again? I mean I would’ve think you’d established your credentials.
It’s called timing. When I was applying for the National Endowment for the Humanities on my Hank Greenberg film, which I would argue had some real humanities issues in it, there was a man named Ken Burns applying for his baseball movie. Need I say more? To this day I’ve never seen [Burns’ baseball documentary].
Was it a help or hindrance, the fact that he made it?
I think it’s two-pronged. I think I was the single filmmaker in the country most affected, funding wise, by Ken Burns. Because NEH went for him. When it went to PBS, they said, “Why do we need any more on baseball?”
On the other hand, I think he helped open up the door that, you know, baseball is a wonderful, glorious, American pastime, and there’s enough material there to make credible documentaries.
How did you get Walter Matthau?
Walter Matthau joined the Beverly Hills tennis club just to meet Hank Greenberg—is that great?
I had once seen a Walter Matthau movie, where, in the middle of the end credits, they have him in the bathtub. Funniest scene I ever saw. I thought, “I’m going to do that too.”
Then I realized the theme was what Hank still meant to these people: the kids, Arn Tellem, Maury Povitch, who comes out of nowhere...
And who screws up the history.
Oh, he got it all wrong! But that’s what’s so great. The three things Jews most say to me about Hank is: 1) he didn’t play on Yom Kippur; 2) they didn’t give him good balls [to hit when challenging Babe Ruth’s HR record] because he’s Jewish; and 3) he married a Gimbel. I try to give both sides.
Do you think they didn’t pitch to him that final week in ‘38?
Ira [Berkow] has done the math. It isn’t that way in terms of … I mean, maybe there was one pitcher … Actually, what hurt him most was the rain in Cleveland. And Bob Feller. Oh, who knows? But Jews totally believe it.
I come from a family that emphasized the arts and working hard. It was my awakening 20 years ago to first do a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis and then do a film about Hank. And sort of my M.O. with my foundation is to counter negative stereotypes against Jews. I just feel like that’s what I’ve been put on earth to do. Don’t ever underestimate how important it is, the kind of childhoods we grew up with. My mother’s an artist, my stepfather’s a professor and my Dad was very political. And it formulated me. Where did you grow up?
Minnesota Twins? You stole them from my city! Did you see my dedication in the film? Dedicated to the return of Major League Baseball to Washington.
Well, you got another team right away. Then you lost them to Texas.
We can’t vote in Congress, we don’t have a baseball team. We’re a colony! I live in a colony. I’m third world.
You know, Camden Yards is just a train ride away.
Oh, don’t give me that.
What surprised you the most while making the doc?
Probably what a good person [Hank] is. I get criticized for making a love letter, so called, or that I don’t have any dirt or scandal? Guess what? There isn’t a lot of scandal. The worst things you can say about Hank is that in his managing years he’s really tough. But if fate gives me a story where Hank meets Jackie Robinson at the end of his career, you think I’m going to go beyond that? That’s the greatest ending. It’s what fate gave me.
Documentaries have beginnnings and middles and ends. I have this really dear friend who just saw the film in LA, and he comes out and says, “Act one was this, Act Two was this and Act Three was this,” and I just ate it up, because that’s what we were trying to do, my editor and I. Him being a theater person, he got it.
The other thing that gripes me: Where is it written that every documentary has to give a balanced report? Mine is a flaming love letter that’s humorous and makes you cry and that’s what I wanted to do. People loved Hank, there was a lot to love, and I want to make fun of it but I also want to tribute it. Exposes? Go watch “20/20.”
I was talking with Ken Holtzman who was with me last Saturday …
Ken Holtzman, the pitcher?
Here. Because you know baseball. The night before I opened in New York I’m with Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. Want me to tell you a Yogi Berra story? Yogi’s sitting there watching the film and I’m waiting for him to say something. I thought, “God, this great line I’m going to have from Yogi Berra! I’ll be able to quote it for days.” He gets up, and he says to Dave Kaplan, who runs the Yogi Berra Museum, “Boy, those seats are hard.” Doesn’t say one thing to me about the movie.
What did Yogi think of your film? The seats were hard. I mean, did you ever?
Q&A with Aviva Kempner about Hank Greenberg – Part II
In March 2000, in a hotel lobby in downtown Seattle, I interviewed director Aviva Kempner, who was visiting Seattle to promote her documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” which was showing at the Jewish Film Festival of Seattle. Here’s my review of the documentary and my profile of Ms. Kempner from back then.
This month, Ms. Kempner will be appearing with a friend, John Rosengren, author of “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes,” at events in Washington, D.C. on April 4; in New York April 25; at the Yogi Berra Museum on April 26; and at the Jewish Community Center in New York on the evening of April 26. John’s full schedule can be found here.
This is part II of my three-part interview with Ms. Kempner, edited and condensed. You can read part I here.
Where did you grow up?
In Detroit. I grew up always hearing about Hank Greenberg. My father was an immigrant—took my brother and I to games—he was crazy about baseball. I remember my father either watching baseball or listening on the transistor radio. Later when he moved to Isreal he always said he was going to miss two things: his children and baseball. But I was never sure of the order.
I recently made that joke to someone and they looked at me and said “Oh, that’s awful. You think he missed baseball more?” And I thought: This woman has no sense of humor.
I think it’s pretty obvious from my film that having a sense of humor is a primary matter. People ask me who my influences are in making this film. The single most voice that was behind my head in making “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” style-wise, is Barry Levinson’s “Diner.” I think it is the perfect comedy. It so identifies how men love sports. He wouldn’t marry her until she knew the Colts. That’s what I wanted to capture. That wonderful obsession, adoration, involvement …
It’s pride, too. When I decided to do the film, I was opening up my first movie, which I produced, called “The Partisans of Vilna,” about Jewish resistance to Nazis, and I heard Hank died. And I’m obsessed with the thirties and forties. I was born in Berlin after the war, ‘46, and Fascism obviously had a very negative affect on ... my family dynamics. I never knew a grandparent, I never knew an aunt, they were all killed by the Nazis.
But the day I heard Hank died, I knew I had to do it, because I wanted to deal with the anti-Semitism in America. My father talked about not being able to get into medical school, he talked about the anti-Semitism he faced in...
Your father is ... American?
No. My father was originally from Lithuania but he came here in the 20s.
Joined the U.S. Army and was sent first to the Pacific and then to Berlin after the war, where he met my mother, who—I’m going to have a bagel, I hope you don’t mind—who’s ... My mother’s Jewish but passed as a Polish Catholic in [Nazi] Germany. Her parents and sister perished in Auschwitz. Then she was liberated by Americans and brought to Berlin. My Dad wrote a story about a brother and sister being reunited, and it was my uncle surviving Auschwitz and my mother surviving passing as a Polish Catholic.
I grew up in Berlin and I came to America when I was four. To Detroit, where my uncle lived.
Do you remember Europe at all?
Totally blanked. Even the language.
I grew up in Detroit, going to games with my father, and every time we passed “The Shrine of the Little Flower”—that’s Charles Coughlin’s Church—my father would point his finger and say, “That anti-Semite!” And every Yom Kippur I would hear about Hank Greenberg. I thought it was part of the Yom Kippur liturgy.
So you’re wondering why at age 40 when I heard Hank died that I didn’t know this was my next film? It was the culmination of everything that I had grown up with. And it’s my love letter to Detroit.
But I didn’t know when I started how far-spread Hank’s adoration was in the Jewish community. I thought maybe it was more a Detroit phenomena? But time and time again, older Jewish men, older Jewish women, say to me, “This is what Hank meant to me.” And then you have that guy who gets married with the Hank Greenberg card? Arn Tellem grew up in Philly. When I met Arn—he’s a big sports agent, his wife’s the VP of CBS—and he told me his stories, and how he joined his law firm because Steve Greenberg was there, I realized that I wasn’t the only second-generation [American] brought up like I was, that Hank was as powerful a figure to the Jewish community as Jackie Robinson was to the black community. And I’m just proud that I was able to bring it to the screen.
Look, if you look at the image of the Jewish male on the screen you think he’s a nebbish, you think he’s a nerd; and hopefully Hank, thirty feet tall in the movie theater, is going to counter that.
There’s a lot of heavy agendas I have in making my movie.
Did you ever think of using a narrator? You did in “Partisans.”
I never wanted a narrator, it’s just not my style. I think we took an extra six months to a year to edit just because I didn’t want to use a narrator.
But I do think there’s a narrator in the film, and that’s Hank’s voice. For his biography, “The Story of My Life” by Hank Greenberg, edited by Ira Berkow—hopefully it will be re-released very soon—Hank talks with the microphone. And if you look again at the film you’ll see that throughout the movie he really tells his own story. And I love that New York accent. And I love... He talks about “Some broad would come up to me...” I have a young assistant editor, who’s a woman, and she said, “You can’t use that!” And I said, “What are you talking about? That’s how the man talked.” And later on, after the film was finished, his widow said to me, “I love that you used ‘broad,’ because that’s how Hank talked.” I’m a flaming feminist but I’m not going to censor something that’s so much the nature of that period.
What else can I talk about?
Were there other talking heads you couldn’t get?
One that didn’t work out was Joe DiMaggio. He just declined. I don’t know why.
How about Ted Williams?
I approached Ted. I could not get an on-camera interview, I did it over the phone, and it didn’t work. But he did come out for my opening at the Yogi Berra Museum the night before I opened in New York. He loved, loved Hank, and he just gave the best quotes for the film.
Where did you get some of these other guys—like Bert Gordon?
As I said, I wanted to replicate “Diner,” but it’s really replicating my father. My father died in ‘76, I could never get him; but I grew up with his humor about being Jewish and being a fan. So I had to seek out fans. I think the everyday fan can be as funny as Walter Matthau.
Since I grew up in Detroit I had an advantage, I wasn’t going in cold. Bert Gordon is a family friend of my mother and my step-father’s best friends. So I knew about Bert right away and I went to him.
Bert Gordon is no longer with us; he never saw the end of the film. But Bert was the funniest man alive. There are two men that when I was filming I literally had to keep my mouth like this [clamps hand over mouth] so I wouldn’t start laughing? Walter Matthau and Bert Gordon. The day Bert said, “We were all five-foot-four, buzzing around … I never saw a Jew so big,” I thought I was going to piss in my pants.
And he said, “Well, you gotta interview the other people I used to go to games with, who Roger Angell has written about,” so…
In one of his New Yorker essays.
Wait, those are those guys? The Tiger fans in “Five Seasons”?
Oh, you’re good. Yeah, those are the fans: Max and Bert and Don. I started interviewing 10 years ago. I had to stop because I didn’t have the money. Bert had the horrible habit of smoking, and he had emphazema, so he died. He’s under the dedication. Actually most of the people in my film have died, three-fourths of them, all the old players.
It also helped opening up the film after America’s re-love affair with baseball. I think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped me a lot, too. The adoration of Sammy Sosa by Dominicans is a total repeat of Jackie and Hank. Driving around New York, these gypsy cabdrivers, who are Dominican, soap their cars with how many homeruns he had. The big, big difference is I didn’t hear any negative catcalling because Sammy was black or Latin. We’ve come a long way as a nation. John Rocker aside. And even the way Rocker was pounced on really shows how much growth there is.
But my film shows you how insidious [racism] was. Can you imagine going to work everyday and get that catcalling? Based on how you were born? I just can’t imagine that. Joe Falls says there were Irish, there were Italians, but there was only one Jew. But as Hank said, it made him do better.
It was like all those rejection letters [I got, asking for money]. Today, I’m really having fun thinking, “All those guys who said no to me...” Actually one man wrote me and said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t send you money, you’re getting all this coverage, congratulations, you deserve it,” and I wrote him back, “But you did give me money.” It was so cute. He was feeling guilty he hadn’t—he was an older man—and he’d forgotten he had.
Part III of the three-part Q&A tomorrow ...
Don Shapiro and Bert Cohen in “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (2000): “You talk about the chosen people.”
Quote of the Day
“Ebbets Field was a whole different thing. It took a lot of character to be a Dodger fan and none to be a Yankees fan.”
--Robert L. Ostertag, lawyer and Mets fan, in Ken Belson's piece, ”A Fan’s Ballpark Routine Outlasting the Park" in The New York Times, April 2, 2013. Ostertag has been going to Mets' home openers for 50 years now. He's 81.
So Let's Root, Root, Root for a Kind of Licensing Fee to Secure All the Rights to Market a Commercial Boon
Here are two paragraphs from David Waldstein's well-researched, front-page story, “Hitched to an Aging Star: The Anatomy of a Deal, and Doubts,” about how the 10-year deal between the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez was struck during the 2007 off-season:
Ultimately, the terms of the deal would include $265 million in guaranteed salary, a $10 million signing bonus and an additional $30 million in marketing bonuses tied to landmark home runs.
For each of the five milestones — tying Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Bonds and breaking the record — Rodriguez would receive $6 million. The Yankees looked at the bonuses as a kind of licensing fee they would pay to Rodriguez to secure all the rights to market the home run chase, which would presumably become a commercial boon.
Licensing fee ... to secure all the rights to market ... a commercial boon. That's business-speak for setting the all-time HR record. Makes you want to throw up. Makes you want to stop watching the national pastime altogether.
But for a Yankee hater like myself, there's great, great joy in the article. What's the greatest joy? This: The Yankees and their fans are saddled with their most-hated player, A-Rod, and his albatross of a contract, which still involves more than $100 million, because one of their most beloved players, Mariano Rivera, convinced A-Rod to stay. Ha! Talk about a cutter.
Meanwhile, many pundits, including Tyler Kepner in the Times' print edition, are predicting that the Yankees won't just finish out of the post-season; they'll finished last in the A.L. East.
I'll believe it when I see it but for now it's a possibility. Because it's the start of baseball season, when hope springs eternal. And when every fan of every baseball team thinks that this might be the year, this might finally be the year, when the New York Yankees eat the shit of the rest of the league.
Alex Rodriguez making the second-to-last out of the 2012 ALCS. It will be his last at-bat until at least July.
Q&A with Aviva Kempner about Hank Greenberg – Part I
In March 2000, in a hotel lobby in downtown Seattle, I interviewed director Aviva Kempner, who was visiting Seattle to promote her documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” which was showing at the Jewish Film Festival of Seattle. Here’s my review of the documentary and my profile of Ms. Kempner from back then.
This month, Ms. Kempner will be appearing with a friend, John Rosengren, author of “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes,” at events in Washington, D.C. on April 4; in New York April 25; at the Yogi Berra Museum on April 26; and at the Jewish Community Center in New York on the evening of April 26. John’s full schedule can be found here.
What follows is the full Q&A with Ms. Kempner, edited and condensed.
There’s a scene in “Portnoy’s Complaint” that reminds me of what you do with immigrant parents and baseball in “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.” As a boy, Alexander Portnoy is at the park playing baseball with his father, who is calling out to him, “Okay, Big Shot Ballplayer.” But he’s gripping the bat with his hands reversed, and Alexander is overcome with sadness at how little his father, the great man in his life, knows. I’m curious if you tried to get Philip Roth for the documentary?
I wanted to but he said he wouldn’t be filmed. He’s very reclusive. [Notices a man at a nearby table lighting a cigarette.] Is that a smoking area? I may have to move.
What Roth writes about, which is the one thing I wanted on film, was how his grandfather, who was an Orthodox Jew, would get up every morning and pray. Do you know what tefillin is? Well, it’s a very Jewish thing. Orthodox Jews put on leather straps every morning. [Roth's] grandfather would lay tefillin every morning and pray and smell the leather straps. He would get up every morning, take his baseball mitt [smacks palm], and go like that.
That’s when I knew I was onto something. I had already been working on the film five years and when I read Philip Roth I realized that for the children of immigrants, and some immigrants themselves, baseball was the way you became American. It became a new religion.
Not just for Jews. This was true for Italian immigrants, Irish immigrants. That’s why I wanted the beginning of the film to be what baseball was to immigrants. Our parents spoke with accents, they could hardly understand the game. The scene in “The Pride of the Yankees” where Lou Gehrig’s mother, says “What are those pillows doing there?” with an accent.
A German accent.
It’s close enough to Yiddish. That and “Gentleman’s Agreement” were the first Hollywood clips I decided to use, and then after that it became a structure of my film.
Why use such clips?
Well, look it. I’m of the view that the most important source of footage in my film is the archival shots that were shown in the movie theaters: the MovieTone footage of the World Series and things. I paid an arm and a leg to get it and worked with my editor to craft it into the film.
But I’m also under the belief that feature films can be archival—can also connote an era or a feeling. When I’m talking about domestic anti-Semitism, well, I think “Gentleman’s Agreement” is the best and only great film out of Hollywood on domestic anti-Semitism [at the time]. That scene of checking into the hotel is a incredible personification of the social discrimination against Jews. There are other scenes where the Gregory Peck character uses the name Green or Greenberg to get access. Well, no one can tell me that when Laura Hobson wrote that book she wasn’t thinking of Hank.
Plus I can say that I have Gregory Peck in my film.
Any footage you heard about but couldn’t get?
We don’t know what we didn’t get. What I’m waiting to hear is … I’m going to be on this tour [for the documentary], and the film’s going to be out for the next year, and somebody’s going to come to me and say, “You know what I just found in my grandfather’s attic?”
There are a lot of stills I didn’t use. I love black-and-white. I just had to limit how much I had—there was once a three-hour version of the film—but I’m hoping to do a photo essay that accompanies the movie.
There’s a three-hour version?
A three-hour rough cut that will never be seen. I’m afraid to say that out loud. When I say it publicly someone always asks, “Can I buy the three-hour version?” Unlike a lot of new Hollywood movies, which are three hours, I think people have a capacity [for how much they can watch].
I’m fighting something greater: getting people in to see a documentary. I just had to make it quick and strong and fast, and that’s why it’s 95 minutes.
What did you hate to cut?
A lot of things. Hank’s first date. He was in North Carolina and he got fixed up and went on a date and we had footage—guy going into a shop with a girl—I mean it was an adorable scene. I tend, because I’m a female and very romantic, that’s why I have so much romance in my film. I think it’s part of baseball. I think women fans have big crushes on baseball players. Harriet Colman is me.
Men fans too.
Well, gay men probably...
Or even straight men. Little boys.
Well, that’s actually interesting … Although I think the heroism is a little different. For us, it’s a real, romantic...
Actually there’s two first basemen--
You cut yourself off there.
This is a family movie, I don’t want to be quoted otherwise.
But the important thing is that crushes have always existed in sports. The single most-asked question I get is “Where did you find [Harriet Colman]? Where did you find the groupie?” The reason I met her is that someone came up to me in my synagogue seven years ago and said I know you’re doing a film on Hank Greenberg—you know I’ve been working on this for over 15 years—and says to me, “If you’re going to make a film about Hank Greenberg, you have to interview my mother. Hank was everything for her.” Luckily I listened.
The second-most asked question is, “Why isn’t Sandy Koufax isn’t in the film?”
Steve Greenberg, Hank’s son, who is so eloquent and knowledgable in the film, I asked him about interviewing Sandy. He said he’d met Sandy through the years, and Sandy wasn’t really influenced [by Hank]—you know, it’s really 30 years difference. I also know Sandy’s a recluse so I never approached him. However, my month has been made because I recently received a message that Sandy saw the film and loved it. A lot of things are making me float lately but that’s a top floater.
Part II of the three-part Q&A tomorrow ...
“Where did you find the groupie?” Harriet Colman in “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”
On the IMDb.com site today:
- If the script was written years ago and real-life events now mimic it, that means it is prescient. I think that's the dictionary definition of “prescient.”
- Yet “Olympus” is still hardly prescient. In terms of global villains, who's left for Hollywood? Russian yadda-yaddas, Middle Eastern badaboobs, and the North Koreans. You certainly can't use the Chinese. You see the box office there these days? Look, even “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” with its moronic villains, still uses North Korea for its cold open.
Movie Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Beware the peacemakers, for they will try to blow up the world.
Could there be a better message for Easter weekend?
Here’s how it happens. In “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” after Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal almost gets into the hands of terrorists, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) encourages the nations of the world toward nuclear disarmament, and meets said leaders at Fort Sumter, which most Americans, or at least a couple dozen, will recognize as the place where the first shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired. There, he demands obedience and nuclear disarmament. The other leaders balk. So he launches his nukes. They launch theirs. All of them? Apparently. The missiles are flying. Hallelujah, hallelujah.
Ah, but it’s all a ruse! He blows up his, they blow up theirs, disarmament (and, one assumes, fallout and nuclear winter) is thus achieved, which is when POTUS reveals his new secret weapon, the ZEUS somethingorother! Seven of them orbit the earth and don’t launch weapons so much as drop them. To start the fun, he drops one on London. We watch it blown to smithereens. All of London. Gone. Poof.
I think we’ve finally entered the post post-9/11 movie world. Blowing up landmarks and cities is fun again.
This president, of course, is not the real president. He’s Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), an agent of COBRA, which is the organization that the G.I. Joes fight.
Who are the G.I. Joes? Complicated question for such simple things.
I had a G.I. Joe when I was a kid but it was just called, you know, G.I. Joe. He was a soldier. He had a fuzzy head and a fuzzy beard and no genitalia. Hasbro got clever soon after my childhood, for they came up with a whole slew of G.I. Joes that had little to do with either “General Issue” or World War II. They got names like Ripcord and Roadblock and Heavy Duty and Snake Eyes. Each had a different power and a different backstory, and like “Transformers” they were a TV cartoon in the 1980s (when I was in college), and after the success of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” in 2007, they made the crossover to movies, too, with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which didn’t do “Transformers” business but did OK despite horrible reviews.
Most of the Joes from the first movie aren’t back for the second. Here’s who they returned to the manufacturer:
- Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)
- General Hawk (Dennis Quaid)
- Scarlett (Rachel Nichols)
- Breaker (Said Taghmaoui)
- Ripcord (Marlon Wayans)
Here’s who they took out of the box:
- Roadblock (Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson)
- General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis)
- Flint (D.J. Cotrona)
- Jaye (Adrianne Palicki)
- Jinx (Elodie Yung)
Is The Rock supposed to rescue every insipid franchise now? That “Fast and Furious” crap was stagnating; then he showed up in “Fast Five” and its international box office zoomed from $363 million to $626 million. “Fast Six” opens Memorial Day weekend.
Bruce Willis’ General Joe Colton is supposed to be the original Joe, the reason this team, such as it is, is named G.I. Joes. But he’s retired now, as he always is in the movies now, even though he keeps an arsenal in the drawers and closets of his home. Because a well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, etc.
Palicki? Apparently she played Wonder Woman on TV. Controna? Flotsam. Yung? Jetsam.
But Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) are back, as is, of course, Duke (Channing Tatum), the star, our hero. Who gets killed after 20 minutes. Tatum had better things to do. Smart boy.
Big biceps, big guns, no brains
Each character, or toy, gets a simulacrum of backstory. Roadblock is from “the hood,” to which they return to hide out. Jaye joined the military despite her G.I.-issue father, who didn’t think women were good enough. She showed him. Storm Shadow was betrayed as a child into joining the bad guys even though the betrayal was orchestrated by the bad guys. Etc.
There’s a nice fight scene in the, I guess, Asian mountains, involving ziplines and wires and running along mountainsides like Spider-Man. I thought: “That’s kinda fun.” Bruce Willis gets off a good line about cholesterol.
Otherwise it’s big biceps and big guns and no brains. It’s Ray Stevenson’s awful, awful Southern accent, which is apparently payback (served cold) for Kevin Costner’s British accent in “Robin Hood.” It’s the President of the United States, and the rest of the world, as pawns in a game between two military organizations. The bad guys get the upper hand but the good guys win—even if tens of thousands of nukes detonate in the atmosphere and London is wiped off the face of the Earth. It’s playing Army. Except it’s the filmmakers, including producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (“Transformers”) and director Jon M. Chu (“Step Up 2: The Streets”), who do the playing while we do the paying. In more ways than dollars.
It’s capture-the-flag again, as it was in “Olympus Has Fallen.” The Joes enter the DMZ and raise a G.I. Joe flag. Ha! When London falls, Cobra raises the Cobra flag above the White House. Bastards! Ah, but when the Joes are triumphant, the G.I. Joe flag is raised above the White House. Sorry, the American flag. Old glory. Stars and stripes.
It’s dialogue for toys:
- “Soon the world will cower in the face of Zeus!”
- “Let’s move! The world ain’t saving itself!”
- “We’re going to find the men who did this to Duke and our brothers. And we’re going to kill them.”
It’s another liberal message from liberal Hollywood.
Beware the toymakers, for they are taking over the movies.