erik lundegaard

Tuesday September 30, 2014

The 2014 Postseason: My Rooting Interests

My Mariners aren't in it, My Twins (Au revoir, Gardy) aren't in it, Those Who Suck aren't in it, but that doesn't mean I don't have rooting interests. I'm a baseball fan: I always have rooting interests.

Yesterday, The New York Times, without a team in it, created its list of teams to root for. It's not a bad list but weighted way too heavily on how much the city suffers independent of baseball. Plus (per New York) they don't count World Series appearances, only championships. The Wall Street Journal actually outdid them, coming up with a list of teams to root against. Now we're talking! Its methodology is better, too, including not only pennants and payroll and $100 million-plus contracts, but “Excessive beards” (Sorry, SF) and “Are fans routinely labeled 'best in baseball'?” (Sorry, St.L.). 

Here's mine: from the root-root-rootiest to the go-home-alreadys:

  1. Kansas City Royals: Twenty-nine years without a postseason? You kidding me? How can you not root for these guys? Plus only two World Series apperances, and just one title in its history. But it's mostly those 29 years. Amazing they have any fans left.
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates: No title since 1979, “When Sid Slid,” then dregs for decades. First postseason since '92 last season. Plus the more McCutchen, the better. 
  3. Washington Nationals: Only one of two franchises that have never been to the World Series. If they make it, it might make the other one so embarrassed they'll do something about it. 
  4. Baltimore Orioles: Haven't won, or been, since '83. ALCS in '96 and '97 but got beat by Cleveland in the latter and Jeffrey Maier in the former.
  5. Detroit Tigers: Can someone please get Michael (sic) Cabrera a ring, please? (sic)
  6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Yeah, I know, they ended the Yankees 15-year streak as the team with the highest payroll in baseball. But who doesn't want to see Kershaw, Puig, et al., in the big game? Or Vin Scully for that matter. Haven't been, or won, since '88. 
  7. Oakland A's: Billy Beane. Scrappy. Low payroll. Haven't been since '90, when they lost in 4 to Lou's crew. Lou's other crew. 
  8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, West Coast, USA, North America, World, Universe. If you wanna get Stephen Dedalus about it. Last won in 2002. The only time they ever went. 
  9. San Francisco Giants: Last won in 2012. Time before that? 2010. Not exactly hurting. 
  10. St. Louis Cardinals: Last went? 2013. Last won? 2011. Before that? 2006. Before that? 2004. It's probably the best-run organization in baseball. Boooooooooo! 

So I guess my ideal Series would be KC-Pittsburgh. (Somewhere, network executives cringe.) But I wouldn't mind a Beltway Series, either. (Somewhere, network execs brighten.) Mostly, though, I want to see some Game 7s. (Somewhere, network execs smile.)

Who are you rooting for?

My AL rooting interests:

2014 American League teams in the postseason

My NL rooting interests:

2014 National League teams in the postseason

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Posted at 02:40 PM on Sep 30, 2014 in category Baseball
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Movie Review: Dolphin Tale 2 (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The beginning of “Dolphin Tale 2” startled me. The soporific style of the first movie was gone, replaced by a pulse-pounding, hand-held-camera jerkiness, and a torrent of marine biology lingo, as our team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) rescue another beached dolphin, quickly dubbed “Mandy,” off the coast of Florida.

“It’s almost like a documentary,” I thought.

Dolphin Tale 2It is, in fact, exactly like a documentary, because it’s part of a lecture that Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), the lead of the first film, and now staff at CMA, is giving to the new volunteers, including a pretty girl who has eyes for him. Meanwhile, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), his friend from the first film, stands off to the side giving worried looks. Isn’t he supposed to like her?

“Right,” I thought. “This.”

The original “Dolphin Tale” was so anodyne it felt like a 1950s TV series: episodic problems resolved in an ultra-safe atmosphere, often by parental, generally fatherly, advice. This is more of the same. Will Hazel’s dad (Harry Connick, Jr.) let Hazel take charge at the aquarium more often? Why is Rufus, the comic-relief pelican, obsessed with an injured tortoise? Will Sawyer go on the three-month-long Sea Semester or is he too worried about Winter, the real-life, tailless dolphin, with whom he has a bond?

That’s the main conflict. Winter’s companion dies in the first act, so she’s lonely. She refuses to wear her prosthetic tail, meaning she swims side-to-side rather than up and down, which is causing scoliosis. Plus she’s lashing out—even at Sawyer. Can they find a companion for her before the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture take her away?

Fans of the first film probably won’t mind the facile resolutions to these problems. The rest of us should swim elsewhere.

-- This review originally appeared in the Seattle Times.

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Posted at 05:46 AM on Sep 30, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday September 29, 2014

Churchillian Comeback

“A male colleague, in a debate on the ERA, addressed her on the House floor: 'I just don't like this amendment. I've always thought of women as kissable, cuddy and smelling good.' She replied, 'That's the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven't been disappointed as often as I have.'”

-- U.S. Rep. Millicent Fenwick (NJ-R), the model for Doonesbury's patrician politician Lacey Davenport, on the House floor in the mid-1970s; as reported in Rick Perlstein's “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

No tagsPosted at 11:47 AM on Sep 29, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: The Skeleton Twins (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The ending doesn’t quite work, does it? Too bad, because everything else does.

Craig Johnson’s “The Skeleton Twins” is a serious-sweet movie, a movie in which, as Jon Stewart said on “The Daily Show,” the humor is organic to the situation. It stars two SNL alums, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, but they’re not doing bits. They’re playing complex characters. Particularly him. Hader’s a revelation here. He’s the real deal.

Hader and Wiig have such good rapport here, and their characters, Milo and Maggie, estranged twins reunited in middle age, know each other so well, that you begin to wonder why they became estranged in the first place. The movie wonders it, too. “How did we go 10 years without talking?” Maggie says at one point. Milo mumbles a reply, and she, oh right, remembers, and they fumble their way back to a kind of rapport until the thing emerges again.But it’s not just the thing: it’s them. They get along because they know each other so well but that’s also what splits them up. They know where to cut.

Jesus, Maggie
Suicide permeates the film.The Skeleton Twins Long ago, their father, seen only in flashback in Halloween mask, killed himself, while the movie opens with a double suicide attempt: Milo slits his wrists in a bathtub while Maggie stares at a handful of pills at the bathroom sink. That’s where she gets word of Milo’s attempt. So she flies to L.A., visits him at his bedside. He calls himself a gay cliché and asks her to leave. She asks him to come back to New York. Upstate somewhere. She lives in a nice house with a nice man, Lance (Luke Wilson), and they’re trying to have nice kids. In his new room, he picks up a photo of her and Lance hunting. Under his breath: “Jesus, Maggie.”

Everything is in that two-word exclamation. Who is this person that I used to know so well and haven’t seen in 10 years? Who is she trying to be now? Who does she think she is?

At dinner, Lance, a sweet, forthright, unimaginative man with the patience of Job, says that he and Maggie are trying to have kids, and Milo’s response to Maggie, spoken with his fist resting on his cheek, is, “I thought you never wanted to have kids.” Maggie’s confused for a moment. No doubt she said this at one point, but she’s an adult now. Except Milo’s right. She doesn’t want kids. She’s actually taking birth-control pills to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant. She’s also sleeping around and hating herself for it. Later in the film, after she confesses all this to Milo, and tells him—and herself—that Lance is a good man and their relationship is good, this is Milo’s quiet, sympathetic response: “Maybe you don’t like good.”

If Maggie’s problem is too much sex and too little need, Milo’s is the opposite: too little sex and too much need. He slits his wrists because of a bad breakup in L.A., and in New York takes up again with Rich (Ty Burrell), his old English teacher, closeted, who seduced him when he was 15. That, it turns out, was the reason for Milo’s estrangement with Maggie: She saw it as wrong and ratted. He didn’t and resented.

Question: Is he trying to do the same to her here? Did he arrive in New York to break up Maggie and Lance? I didn’t think so watching, and I don’t think so now, but the point can be raised. Maggie raises it herself near the end, during her last big argument with Milo. He’s insinuated the information about the birth-control pills to Lance—Lance is worried he’s firing blanks, and Milo wants to ease his troubled mind—and when Lance confronts Maggie, she tells him, “I’m a sick person.” But she goes off on Milo. And we get this exchange:

Milo: Maybe I should try fucking all my problems away!
Maggie: Well, maybe next time you should cut deeper.

Families.

Someone to laugh at the squares with
What makes the movie work is their rapport, and the humor in their rapport, and even its claustrophobia. When they go out for Halloween, they don’t mingle. “Don’t they know anyone else?” I thought. Gore Vidal called Tennessee Williams, “Someone to laugh at the squares with,” and I guess that’s their relationship. Although they laugh less at the squares than at the absurdity of life and family and upbringing. “Well, at least she’s sending in the light,” he says after their new-age mom returns with a vengeance.

I also liked this aspect of the film: One of the two characters is gay, tragedies abound, but none is really tied to homophobia. Even closeted Rich seems an anachronism. Everyone’s pretty cool with it. It’s a non-issue. We’re onto other issues now.

One of Milo’s issues is his status in the world. He talks about a bully named Justin who used to pick on him in high school. Back then Milo was basically told, prefiguring Dan Savage, “It gets better.” It will get better for him and worse for Justin, because these are Justin’s best days. The universe will eventually make sense. Except Milo went to L.A. and nothing happened. His acting career didn’t take off, his writing career didn’t take off. Plus he’s alone. And one day he looked up Justin online. Justin had a pretty wife and two kids and a steady job. “It turns out I’m the one who peaked in high school,” he tells Maggie. To her credit, Maggie doesn’t try to buck him up. She basically says, “Welcome to the party, pal.” She says the line that should be imprinted on every mirror in every bathroom in the world. A few people are happy, sure, but:

The rest of us are just walking around, trying not to be disappointed with the way our lives turned out.

I was ready to say a hallelujah at this point. But then we got the ending.

After the birth-control revelations, and the “cut deeper” remark, Lance and Maggie break up, Milo leaves town, and Maggie goes to the scuba-diving center where she’s been sleeping with the instructor and hating herself for it. He’s not there. She’s alone. And attaches weights to the equipment. Suicide, as I said, permeates “The Skeleton Twins”: it begins with a suicide attempt and it ends with a suicide attempt. After she sinks to the bottom, she begins to struggle. She wants to live. But she’s done her job too well and can’t get free. And then suddenly Milo is there, freeing her, and they both ascend to the surface. For a moment I thought it was a dream. But it’s not. It’s the type of serendipitous rescue I didn’t expect in a serious movie. Call it a straight cliché. The man to the rescue. “Really?” I thought. “Really?” What would Milo make of this ending? He would have a cutting remark for it.

I’m glad he returned, though, I just wish it had been in less-dramatic fashion. There’s a line in Syd Straw’s song, “CBGBs”: “Abandonment like that was easier then.” When you’re young, friends are easy to be had—every school year, you’re tossed in with a new group—and that’s why abandonment is easy. But then you age, and opportunities narrow, and people drift. So you need to hold onto the people you have. Because we all still need someone to laugh at the squares with.

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Posted at 07:05 AM on Sep 29, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday September 28, 2014

SLIDESHOW: The Last Seattle Mariners Game of 2014


  • SLIDESHOW: A few weeks ago my friend Jeff contacted me to see if P and I wanted to go with his family to the last M's game of the year. The team was back and forth in the wild card race at the time so we thought, “Sure, why not? You never know.” (Pictured: Kyle Seager at the plate today.)

  • Earlier in the week, after a bad string of losses, it looked like the season was over. But then the M's began to win again and the Oakland A's began to falter. And after last night's 2-1 victory, we were only 1 game back with 1 to play. Meaning an Oakland loss and an M's victory today would force a one-game playoff with the A's tomorrow. Meaning today's game was the first meaningful Game 162 the M's had played since 2001. Hence the crowds. 

  • Of course the whole proposition was still iffy. If the A's lost and we won, we would still have that one-game playoff tomorrow. If we won that, we would face KC in the one-game wild-card playoff on Tuesday. If we won that, then and only then would we be in the best-of-5 playoffs. (Pictured: the view from our seats: Section 342, Row 3.)  

  • And here's the motley crew. People were sitting in P's and my seats when we arrived. Different people were sitting in the Sheas' seats when they arrived. There was great confusion about just where (or what) Section 342 was.  

  • On the plus side, we had King Felix on the mound. And for a time it looked good. We were up 1-0, then 2-0, then 4-0. Felix kept mowing 'em down: 7 strikeouts after 3 innings. 

  • Unfortunately, the only time I've ever wanted anyone in Texas to win anything, and they weren't helping. They were losing. Big. 

  • By the fifth inning it was official. Word spread around the stadium and there was polite applause for the M's good effort this season. The Seattle way. 

  • Then slowly, as if in a paegant, the M's exited to applause. First, Felix. He came out after 5 1/3, with the M's up 4-0, bowed all around, and was gone. 

  • Two batters later, it was Robinson Cano's turn. He went 1-3 and was replaced by Brad Miller at second base. Even Austin Jackson, who never really did much for us, was ceremoniously relieved after a single in the 6th. Which player stuck it out?

  • My man Kyle Seager played through the long shadows of the afternoon. Too bad he ended the season poorly: OPSes of .699 and .719 in the last two months. Even so, he's still the second-best position player on the team. 

  • After the 4-1 victory, the players tossed gifts to the fans. But as a loveable loser once said, “If only McCovey had hit the ball three feet higher!” I.e., If only Felix had won in Toronto last week. If only Fernando Rodney hadn't walked four A's in the 10th a few weeks back. If only we had more guys who could hit .300. Or .275. Or .250. 

  • But as more famous loveable losers once said: Wait till next year. *FIN*
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Posted at 05:20 PM on Sep 28, 2014 in category Seattle Mariners
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Weekend Box Office: Denzel Rocks, Liam Drops

Denzel Washington

Denzel gets the drop on the bad guys while doing his Bill Murray impersonation. 

Denzel Washington had the third-biggest opening of his career with “The Equalizer,” $35 million, behind only “American Gangster” ($43 million in 2007) and “Safe House” ($40 million in 2012), as the Antoine Fuqua-directed action film led the domestic box office this weekend.

If a $35 million open doesn’t seem like much for a star of Denzel’s magnitude, well, that was my thought yesterday when I wrote up a post on Denzel’s all-time box office numbers. His highest-grossing movie is still “American Gangster,” with Russell Crowe, at $130 million. Adjusted, it’s “The Pelican Brief,” with Julia Roberts, at $197 million. But folks still come out for him. Would I have seen “The Equalizer” if it had starred, say, Michael Caine? Not bloody likely. I barely saw it, as is. 

“The Maze Runner” dropped off only 46% to finish second, with $17.5 million. The animated “Box Trolls” opened at $17.2 million for third.

The big dropoff? There’s two: “Tusk,” which opened poorly and fell off 67.3% in its second weekend, to which I say good riddance; and “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” the more serious Liam Neeson thriller, which apparently isn’t thrilling fans of the genre too much. I guess they want more sugar in their bowl. Don’t we all?

Hanging on in the top 10? At No. 8, the ninth weekend of “Guardians of the Galaxy” (now at $317 million domestic); at No. 10, the eighth weekend of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (now at $187 million); and, surprisingly, at No. 9, the seventh weekend of “Let’s Be Cops,” which got abyssmal reviews (20%), opened at a not-exactly humorous moment for cops (Ferguson, et al.), and yet keeps on hanging on. It’s grossed $79 million domestic.

There are still good movies to see if you’re looking for one: “The Skeleton Twins” finished at No. 11 with $1.2 million, “The Drop” finished twelfth with $1.05 million, while “Boyhood” finished twentieth with another $279K. Further down, “The Trip to Italy” grossed $230K while “Love is Strange” bested “Hercules” for 27th place with $200K.

Let’s buoy some of these movies up, people. They’re the good ones. 

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Posted at 10:32 AM on Sep 28, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Lancelot Links

  • How did “The Shawshank Redemption” become one of the most beloved movies of all time? Margaret Heidenry gives us a fun, well-written account of the film from soup (Darabont's dollar) to nuts (Ted Turner).  
  • Here's a nice story: a 31-year-old minor-league journeyman with the Texas organization was called up from Double A recently and got his first Major League hit. Applause, standing o, tears from his parents in the crowd. David Shoenfield reports. Beats all the over-the-top Derek Jeter econimums, doesn't it? Speaking of ...
  • Keith Olbermann goes off on the Derek Jeter industry. He says a lot of what I say. But is he a little too insisent? Yeah, he is. He always is. 
  • This one's better: Author Dan Epstein in Rolling Stone: Derek Jeter: The Longest Goodbye. What other titles might we use for this topic? “Goodbye to All That”? “Goodbye, Farewell, Amen”? “Hello, You Must Be Going”? Work with me here, people. It's his last day in the Majors, after all.
  • You ever go to the Majestic Bay Theater in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and see the “Trip to the Movies” trailer beforehand? Basically dos and don'ts with two 1950sish kids named Russ and Ellen. Well, it's getting a 1970s-style update. Actors wanted.
  • This week, Dinesh D'Souza avoided prison time but was sentenced to five years probation, eight months of community confinement, one day a week of community service, and a $30,000 fine. No, not for his writing or his documentaries. For being stupid enough to violate our wide-open campaign finance laws
  • Apparently a Chinese rom-com riffing on (or ripping off) “Sleepless in Seattle” has inspired a real estate boom here. Even though, of course, the film was actually shot in Vanouver, B.C.
  • What was fake on the Internet this week. I was fooled by #1 and (via NPR) #3. I heard about the three-boobs thing but knew the background. Most of the others I didn't even hear about. I need to surf more often. Or maybe less. 
  • Finally, on the last day of the regular season, a New York Times photo essay by Ray Whitehouse of every Major League ballpark. Favorites? I like the shots of Wrigley Field, Comerica, Miller, Busch, Progressive/Jacobs, Nationals, AT&T, and PetCo (SD). My friend Erika was least impressed with the Safeco shot and I kind of agree. I've taken similar ones while waiting for friends at the Glove. Hey, why not the Glove? The Russ Davis Glove, as we called it back in the day. The glove with a hole in it. No matter. It's Game 162 and the M's are still alive—barely—and I'm going to the game with P and the Sheas and with Felix on the mound. 

Safeco Field

Here's my shot of the left-field Safeco Field entrance. It's B.C.: Before Cano. 

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Posted at 06:38 AM on Sep 28, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Saturday September 27, 2014

What's the Highest-Grossing Denzel Washington Movie of All Time?

Via Box Office Mojo, here are the top five:

Rank Movie Lifetime Gross Release
1 American Gangster $130,164,645 Nov '07
2 Safe House $126,373,434 Feb '12
3 Remember the Titans $115,654,751 Sept '00
4 The Pelican Brief $100,768,056 Dec '93
5 The Book of Eli $94,835,059 Jan '10

Is there someone as well-known as Denzel, with as long a career as Denzel, whose movies have never grossed more than $150 domestically? 

George Clooney? “Gravity” ($274), “Ocean's Eleven” ($183), “The Perfect Storm” ($182).

Brad Pitt? “World War Z” ($202) “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” ($186) “Ocean's Eleven” ($183).

Leo? Right, “Titanic.”

Russell Crowe? Close. But “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind” both topped $150.

How about Daniel Day-Lewis? Nope. “Lincoln” grossed $182.

The nearest example I could find is Matthew McConaughey, whose highest-grossing movie (“Wolf of Wall Street,” $116) isn't his, nor is his second-highest movie (“Magic Mike,” $113). Maybe a comparison is instructive. McConaughey made middling, forgettable rom-coms that grossed in the middling, forgettable range ($50 to $70 million) before shirking it recently to do good, serious work that doesn't make much money. Denzel started out doing a lot of good, serious work that didn't make much money, but he's shirked that recently to do middling, forgettable actioners that make middling, forgettable money ($60- $90 million). Well, he's reliable, I guess. 

Here are his top 10, adjusted for inflation:

Rank Movie Adjusted Gross Unadjusted Gross Release
1 The Pelican Brief $197,376,500 $100,768,056 Dec '93
2 Remember the Titans $174,704,700 $115,654,751 Sept '00
3 Crimson Tide $171,219,700 $91,387,195 May '95
4 American Gangster $154,120,800 $130,164,645 Nov '07
5 Philadelphia $151,009,600 $77,446,440 Dec '93
6 Safe House $129,960,400 $126,373,434 Feb '12
7 Training Day $110,344,500 $76,631,907 Oct '01
8 Inside Man $110,135,100 $88,513,495 March '06
9 Courage Under Fire $108,846,900 $59,031,057 July '96
10 The Bone Collector $106,428,800 $66,518,655 Nov '99

FURTHER READING:

Denzel Washington

Denzel, midflight.

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Posted at 10:38 AM on Sep 27, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Quote of the Day

“The drought wasn’t the thing. Yes, it had been 29 years since the Royals last reached the postseason—and baseball has completely turned upside down in those 29 years. The game has made the divisions smaller, added wildcards, rearranged the schedule, made it all but impossible for a team to NOT go to the postseason at least every now and again. Kansas City RoyalsThe Royals would not go. But the drought wasn’t the thing—it was the hopelessness surrounding the drought. The Royals did not come close to the postseason. The Royals did things so mind boggling that the postseason seemed as far away as flying cars and trips to another galaxy. ...

”I think of a Royals player falling off first base like a cut down tree, and I think of another climbing the centerfield wall only to see the ball bounce off the warning track in front of him, and I think of two Royals players jogging to the dugout, each thinking the other would catch the ball which landed softly and happily in the grassy area they had left behind. I think of a player not wearing sunglasses, losing a ball in the sun and having it hit him in the face — he wore sunglasses on the plane right home to cover the shiner. I think of a pitcher so frustrated that he complained to the press that he can’t even get no-decisions.“

--Joe Posnanski, longtime Kansas City Royals sufferer, in his post, ”A Royals Toast," remembering the bad, the worse and the ugly as his team prepares for its first postseason in 29 years.

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Posted at 09:22 AM on Sep 27, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: The Equalizer (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Watching “The Equalizer,” in which Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) helps stock characters (child prostitute, Latina restaurateur and son) with their various problems (beating back the pimps and gangsters and corrupt cops of the world), I began to think of this old Bob Dylan lyric:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Were riding down the line
Fixing everybody’s troubles
Everybody’s except mine
Someone musta told ’em I was doing fine

And I began to wonder if this wasn’t how our nation went wrong; how we changed from isolationists to what we are today: wannabe nation builders and whoopsiedaisy nation destroyers. Maybe it was good ol’ liberal Hollywood that set us on this path. Maybe the George W.’s of the world think that nation-building is as easy as riding into town, beating back the bad guys, and riding out again. Done and done. Maybe we all long to hear the phrase, “Who was that masked man?”

Something similar is said in “The Equalizer,” the modern, stylized adaptation of the 1980s TV series, but it’s generally said by the bad guys as they’re lying on the ground with fountains of blood leaking from their necks. Shock in their eyes, they manage to gurgle, “Who are you?”

Do we ever find out? Not really. Our heroes don’t need masks anymore to be masked men.

Hemingway and Cervantes
The beginning of the movie isn’t awful. Writer Richard Wenk (“The Mechanic”; “The Expendables 2”) and director Antoine Fuqua (“Olympus Has Fallen”; “Training Day”) build the tension slowly. The Equalizer with Denzel WashingtonMcCall is a man who dresses proper and helps everyone out at work, which is in a kind of fairy-tale Home Depotish warehouse where no manager is an asshole and the main source of entertainment is guessing what Robert did before this gig. (Cf. “Saving Private Ryan.”) At one point he gives a joke answer. “A pimp?” they say, laughing. “A Pip,” he corrects. Then he does the backing moves for Gladys Knight. Later, before the final battle, we get to hear a bit of “Midnight Train to Georgia” blaring over the loudspeaker. That’s a nice touch. It was nice to hear that.

But despite the smile and the charm, Robert is a haunted man who can’t sleep. So at 2 a.m. he takes his latest book—he’s reading the “100 books everyone should read before they die”—over to the local 24/7 diner, which is a shockingly clean, quiet place despite the fact that it’s open 24/7 and is a hangout for prostitutes. “Go make your living,” the counter-guy/owner tells the child prostitute solicitously when the limo with the fat man pulls up outside. Way of the world, right?

Her name is Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), and she and Robert develop a kind of rapport. She’s always interested in what he’s reading, and what he’s reading usually reflects on what’s about to happen. “The Old Man and the Sea”? The fish allowed the old man to test himself, to see if he could do what he’d always done. “Don Quixote”? It’s about a man who thinks he’s a knight in shining armor during a time when there are no more knights in shining armor. Etc.

This stuff ain’t bad, and Denzel’s usually fun to watch. He’s sort of the action-hero Bill Cosby here, forever giving advice to the younger, sloppier generation: pull up your pants, quit eating potato chips and processed sugars. “Doubt kills,” he tells Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), the fat Hispanic dude who wants to be security guard. “You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what,” he tells Teri.

Teri’s the reason for the slow build-up. Shit keeps happening to her at the local diner at 2 a.m. Another call from her pimp. (Cut to Denzel, brooding.) That car pulls up outside with the fat man in it. (Cut to Denzel, brooding.) The next night she has a bruise on her face, and Robert is walking her home when the bad guys, led by Slavi (David Meunier), a Russian pimp, cut them off and take her away. They give Robert their card: RUSSIAN DOLLS. Not that he needed it to find them. He finds everybody.

After that, she doesn’t show up. She’s in the hospital, beaten to within an inch of her life. Cut to Denzel, brooding no more.

How many white girls has Denzel saved over the last 15 years? When did this become his cinematic lot in life?

Anyway, that’s what starts it. He’s ex-CIA, or some such, and his skills are immense, and he cuts a swath through Slavi and his boys in that “Sherlock Holmes” style: seeing everything relevant in both quick and superslow-mo, then acting. Boom-boom-boom. Dead dead dead. He always offers them an out but they never take it. He does the same with some corrupt cops who are leaning on Ralphie’s mom. He solves everybody’s troubles ’cept mine.

Does this help him sleep? That would be a nice touch. That once he begins to kill again, and be who he is in this world, he can sleep; that it wasn’t past killings that kept him up but lack of killings. Like he’s a vampire who needs blood. But that would make “The Equalizer” a more complex movie than it is. Instead, it’s a sugar rush, a handful of potato chips. It’s a Big Mac. Before you eat it, you think, “Yeah, that sounds good”; afterwards you realize you really should’ve eaten something else. But we keep stuffing our faces with these things. If only Robert had warned us.

Pushkin
The movie quickly becomes ridiculous. Turns out Slavi wasn’t just a cackling, tattooed pimp; he was the Northeastern arm of a Russian oligarch/gangster named Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), who acts with impunity since he’s got corrupt Boston cops on his side (David Harbour, the poor man’s Peter Krause). So Pushkin sends his man, Teddy (Marton Csokas, the poor man’s Kevin Spacey), to assess and clean up.

Robert gets shot a bit here and there, but nothing that some home-remedy boiled honey or battlefield cauterizing won’t cure. Mostly, grim-faced, he mows guys down, leading to the inevitable showdown at the Home Depotish warehouse. My hope during? That Teddy, the main bad guy, rather than his various henchmen, would get it first. Wouldn’t that be fun? Just for a change? But “The Equalizer” plays it all without imagination. The further we go, the more stylized the violence becomes, until our eyes are as dead as Denzel’s.

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Posted at 08:10 AM on Sep 27, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday September 26, 2014

Movie Review: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Frank Costello, the Irish mob boss with FBI ties played by Jack Nicholson in Martin Scorsese’s Academy-Award-winning film “The Departed,” was based, in part, on James J. “Whitey” Bulger, who ran the Winter Hill gang in South Boston from the 1970s until his disappearance, just before indictment, in 1994. He was finally captured in southern California in 2011 and put on trial in 2013. The 33 charges against him included 19 murders.

Here’s something I began to ask myself as I watched Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”: Is this a better movie than Scorsese’s Academy-Award-winning film? Whitey: United States of America v. James J. BulgerAn argument can be made.

For one, there are more twists in the real-life version. Sure, “The Departed” was about a cop who infiltrates a gang and a gang member who infiltrates the cops, and how they meet and fight. But this?

This is nuts.

Was he or wasn’t he?
The doc opens with Stephen Rakes, a tough-looking, 50ish guy recounting his encounter with Whitey Bulger 30 years ago. Back then, Rakes opened a liquor store in south Boston and it was going good. Then two guys showed up at his doorstep, Bulger and Kevin Weeks; they said they were there to kill him. But he could save himself—in front of his young daughters, who were milling about, unaware of the situation—if they gave them a partnership in his liquor store. He refused. They got mad. Rakes could see the killer in Bulger’s eyes. “We’re taking the fucking liquor store!” Bulger told him. It unmanned Rakes, this encounter. It changed his view of the world and his place in it.

We meet more victims, and the families of victims. Tommy Donahue, whose father Michael was allegedly killed by Bulger, greets the press on the first day of Bulger’s trial: “I’ll see yas when I get out.” Steve Davis, friends with Rakes, talks to Berlinger about the death of his sister, Debra. “They took her teeth out,” he says quietly. “Her hands.”

So at this point we think the story is about whether justice will be done. But that’s not the story. Bulger isn’t even contesting some of the charges at the trial. In fact, the main thing he and his defense team are fighting isn’t even a charge, really. It’s background information: the fact that for years Bulger was an informant for the FBI.

Bulger says he was never an informant for the FBI.

So what, right? He has nothing left but his reputation so he’s trying to salvage that. Basically he’s doing the opposite of James Cagney’s Rocky Sullivan in “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Rocky pretended to be yellow so kids would stop looking up to him. He besmirched his rep for the greater good. Bulger is besmirching others for his greater good. Right? Because there’s a 700-page FBI file on him with all the info he gave to agent John Connolly. Facts are facts.

Until they’re not. Most of the info in his file you could have gathered 100 other ways, his defense team says; it’s not specific to Bulger’s insider knowledge. Plus an expert implies that 700 pages over 20 years is nothing; she expected it to be 60,000 pages or 100,000 pages.

Could Connolly be lying? He’s in jail now, convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice. Could Bulger’s partners have been the finks and Bulger’s name got mixed in because it made the FBI look good—that they landed this top guy? Could Bulger be lying?

So many fingers get pointed at so many different people it’s like a John Woo gun finale without the guns. Ultimately, one gets the sense that, yeah, there was a mutually beneficial relationship between the FBI and Bulger that didn’t produce much except smoke. One wonders what the FBI was hoping. That Bulger would help them bring down the Mafia? How much protection did they give him? How often did they look the other way? How many people would be alive today if they hadn’t?

One agent who tried to brush away the smoke, Bob Fitzpatrick, wound up getting canned in the early 1980s—and then besmirched by the prosecution in the 2013 trial. It’s implied that he was just looking to get ahead when the evidence suggests the opposite. The others were doing this. To quote “The Departed,” he was the guy doing his job.

Question marks
There are a lot of loose ends in “Whitey,” but none more bizarre than the fate of Stephen Rakes, who waited 30 years to confront Bulger in a courtroom but was dismissed as a prosecution witness before being called. A few days later he went missing. A few days after that, he was found dead in the woods: poisoned. Bulger? His friends? The Feds? The fuck?

For all the question marks we’re left with, though, Boston Globe columnist (and talking head) Kevin Cullen feels we’re not left with enough. He feels that Berlinger, and the doc, buy too readily Bulger’s protestations that he wasn’t an informant:

The film ignores much of the overwhelming evidence in the public record, and the resulting impression is so guileless and sympathetic to Whitey as to be disingenuous.

Sympathy? I think that’s overstating it. Your revulsion for Bulger never leaves you. In the case of United States of America v. James J. Bulger, there’s no doubt that the latter is guilty. What the doc reveals is that the former isn’t exactly innocent. 

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Sep 26, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Thursday September 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

“You can continue to defer your dreams in exchange for money and, you know, die without ever having done the thing you set out to do.”

-- Director Frank Darabont, who was offered $3 million by Rob Reiner who wanted to direct his script, “The Shawshank Redemption” (with Tom Cruise as Andy Dufresne); but Darabont wanted to direct it himself and held out, as recounted in Margaret Heidenry's excellent Vanity Fair piece, “The Little-Known Story of How The Shawshank Redemption Became One of the Most Beloved Films of All Time.” Sylvester Stallone actually has a similar story about “Rocky”: he would get big bucks for the script but they wanted Ryan O'Neal as the lead. He held out, too. 

The Shawshank Redemption

I actually hated this scene when I saw it in the theater. In my head I was yelling, “Quit emoting! Get out of there! You want to get caught again? Idiot!”

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Posted at 04:20 PM on Sep 25, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Box Office: a Tidy Little Oddity of 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

The only movie this year to bridge the $30 million/$100 million gap.

I noticed what I assumed was a tidy little oddity in this year’s box office numbers when I checked to see how the opening of last weekend’s “The Maze Runner” ($32.5 million) compared with other openings this year. It was 21st-best: between “Rio 2” ($39 million) and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” ($32.2 million). But that’s not the oddity.

Here’s the oddity: With the exception of “The Maze Runner,” which just opened, every movie that opened with more than $30 million this year grossed more than $100 million total domestically. And among the movies that opened with less than $30 million, only one (“Edge of Tomorrow,” which had great word-of-mouth), grossed more than $100 million—and it just barely sneaked over that mark: $100.2 million.

That’s a pretty clear demarkation, isn’t it?  It made me wonder if this year was an anomaly.

In 2013, five of the 30 movies that opened at greater than $30 million failed to reach $100 million: “Insidious Chapter 2,” “Oblivion,” “The Purge,” “Olympus Has Fallen” and “The Best Man Holiday.” Meanwhile, nine movies opened with less than $30 but grossed more than $100, including “We’re the Millers” and “Anchorman 2.”

In 2012, four movies that opened with more than $30 grossed less than $100, while seven movies that opened with less than $30 grossed more than $100.

In 2011, it’s four and six.

In 2010, eight and five.

This year, again, zero and one. So yes, a bit of an anomaly.

What inflates the first number, though, are horror movies, which open well and die fast, and we haven’t gotten the usual Halloween horror crap yet; and what inflates the second number are prestige pictures that open in NY and LA but catch on later with the general public, such as “American Hustle,” and we’re just entering prestige season. So I’m sure these numbers will change. 

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Posted at 05:31 AM on Sep 25, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Wednesday September 24, 2014

Quote of the Day

“In honor of the Jeter, maybe the Yankees should disband. How can they possibly go on?”

-- Jerry Grillo, writer, husband, father, and fan of Willie Mays, during a Facebook discussion on how Jetered-out we have all become in this, Jeter's final, interminble retirement year. I, of course, have been saying similar things for a while (in May, July, mid-July, later July, end of July, early September, and mid-September, to name a few) but it took a rant from Keith Olbermann to get everyone else talking about it. Now even Yankee fans are admitting, yeah, maybe it is a bit much. 

After another 0-fer today in the Yankees' elimination game, Jeter's got four left. Nobody pull any Denny McLain shit now. 

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Posted at 01:29 PM on Sep 24, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Sagrada: el misteri de la creació (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Of all the people Stefan Haupt interviews in his 2012 documentary on the history and majesty of La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Barcelonan basilica designed by one of the world’s great architects, Antonin Gaudi (1852-1926), the interviewee who lives up to the doc’s subtitle, “el misteri de la creació,” is Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese sculptor.

Early in the doc, Sotoo talks to us matter-of-factly, in accented Spanish, about his work on one of the basilica’s three grand facades, and keeps referencing “the master.” One assumes he means Gaudi. He doesn’t. He’s talking about the stone. He calls sculpting a conversation with the stone. “Without the permission of this stone, this master,” he says, “I can’t do anything.”

Much of the rest of the story of Sagrada's creation—its starts and stops—isn’t a mystery at all. It’s same old: war, politics and money.

What’s the hold-up?
The doc begins with hardhats working like any construction crew on any tall building in any metro area. But here they’re helping build beauty. You think, “Well, you can’t feel too shitty at the end of that day.”

Work on the structure actually began on March 19, 1882, with a different chief architect. Gaudi took over a year later with grander designs. Sagrada: el mistiri de la creacioBy the time he died, in a traffic accident in 1926, only one façade had been built. Then the Spanish Civil War intervened. Then Franco and fascism. There was a hiatus, or a near-hiatus, of 40 years: 1936 to 1976. The American part of me forgets that sometimes. “Oh right. That sort of thing does get in the way, doesn’t it?”

Lack of money was an even greater problem. Then there were the post-Franco controversies. Which was the greater insult to Gaudi: continuing the work even though his original designs had been burned in 1936; or leaving his great gift to God, and to us, unfinished? In a way, the Catalans split the difference: continuing with a chief sculptor, Josep Subirachs, who had sided with “unfinished.” In his sculptures, Subirachs acceded nothing to Gaudi. Where Gaudi opted for curves and flow and naturalism, Subirachs chose harsh, rigid right angles and blocky shapes. His depiction of the crucifixion on the Passion façade leaves Jesus nude and his head unsculpted. It’s just a block. It looks like the Son of God is wearing a bag over his head. He’s the Unknown Christ.

Sotoo, the new chief sculptor, is the opposite of all of this. He moved to Barcelona, learned Spanish, and even converted from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism in order to better see as Gaudi saw. That was his goal. By subsuming himself in this manner, interestingly, he stands out more. By not demanding his own individual artistic expression, he becomes the most memorable individual we meet.

What’s the rush?
Controversies continue. In 2010, for example, a tunnel for a high-speed AVE train between Barcelona and Paris began construction 30 feet beneath La Sagrada Familia. Is it a danger to the structure? Will it be over time? The tunnel seems incredibly short-sighted to me, given the disaster that could occur, but that didn’t give enough people pause. Of the pace of Sagrada's construction, Gaudi famously said, “God is not in a hurry.” Not true for the rest of us.

At least Sagrada is funding itself now. It’s a huge tourist destination: three million visitors a year, the doc tells us. For some reason, that didn’t sound like much to me until I did the math: eight thousand a day. Since Sagrada is open an average of 10 hours a day (nine in the winter, 11 in the summer), that’s 822 visitors per hour, or 13.6 per minute. Which means every five seconds it's open, someone from somewhere is entering La Sagrada Familia.

You enter the doc, “Sagrada,” hoping it soars as high as the basilica, Sagrada, but that’s a tall order. In the end, we get a fairly straightforward presentation. It gives us this foreman, that designer, this priest, that maker of stained glass. It’s not bad, but it’s all rather pedestrian.

Occasionally, though, it soars. It can’t help it. Just look. 

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Posted at 05:36 AM on Sep 24, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Tuesday September 23, 2014

OK, Better Quote of the Day

“I'm not sure, Mr. D'Souza, that you get it. And it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”

-- U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to right-wing pundit Dinesh D'Souza, who was then sentenced to eight months in a community confinement center for violating campaign finance laws by illegally reimbursing two “straw donors” (i.e., people who donated money on D'Souza's behalf and past his legal limit) in the ultimately unsucessful U.S. Senate candidancy of Republican Wendy Long, a longtime D'Souza friend. D'Souza was also fined $30,000, ordered to undergo therapy, and ordered to perform community service one day a week. He will get five years probation but avoided prison time. 

Dinesh D'Souza

Irresponsible, doesn't get it. 

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Posted at 05:52 PM on Sep 23, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Quote of the Day

“Where's the pony in all this horsehit? I worked for United Parcels once, and I don't want to have that feeling with my own craft—that it's just a job.”

-- Al Pacino talking about the kind of crappy paycheck movies he's made recently (among them: “Righteous Kill,” “The Son of No One,” “88 Minutes” and “Jack and Jill”) in John Lahr's profile, “Caught in the Act: What drives Al Pacino?” in the Sept. 14 issue of The New Yorker. 

Al Pacino in "Jack and Jill"

Pacino in “Jack and Jill,” where the pony is the paycheck

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Posted at 02:38 PM on Sep 23, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links

  • Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one of the great, fearless men of my lifetime, a civil rights legend and speaker at the March on Washington in August 1963, denounces voter-suppression efforts in Georgia
  • Two of my faves: Jill LePore on Wonder Woman. I actually prefer the former. The latter did nothing for me in comic book form. Only in Lynda Carter form.
  • They've announced the longlist for the National Book Award for non-fiction. None of my guys. No Rick Perlstein, no Michael Lewis. On the other hand, a slew of books I wouldn't mind reading if I didn't have a day job.
  • What do Toni Morrison's “Song of Solomon” and Jeannette Walls' “The Glass Castle: A Memor” have in common? They've both been banned by the school system in Highland Park, Tex.
  • Hendrik Hertzberg on the death of “Stephen Colbert.” All very spot-on, and highlighting my point that no one's mentioning: to replace David Letterman, they've hired an unknown.
  • Nursery rhyme: Little John Boehner has lost his lawyer (in the lawsuit against Pres. Obama) but quickly got another.
  • An ump tossing a fan for repetitive, profane language? I like it! (Better watch yourself, Tim!)
  • You don't see enough of this kind of thing: Box Office Mojo's Ray Suber grades himself on his summer box office predictions. What did we think would take off and didn't? (“How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”) What didn't we and did? (“Guardians,” “Maleficent.”) The comments about July box office were particularly interesting. The studios' fault for putting the wrong movies there? I mean, “Hercules”?
  • Here are the awards from the 2014 Port Townsend Film Festival, which P and I attended with friends this weekend. The big winners seem to be the doc “Return of the River” (local) and the feature “Amira and Sam,” which played SIFF and which has been picked up for distribution. We saw our friend's doc “The Only Real Game” (about baseball in Manipur, India: Recommended!) and a showing of “Breaking Away” with a local author presenting. It wasn't a good print; the author didn't have much to say about the movie. So it goes. 
  • A couple of items from the Sept. 14 issue of The New Yorker, which I finally got around to reading while in Port Townsend for its film festival. First, Kalefa Sanneh's profile of Bill Cosby: “The Eternal Paternal.” It's not bad, and I always like reading about Cosby since he reminds me of my childhood (“Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” comedy LPs) and young adulthood (“The Cosby Show”); but the piece seems tied to Mark Whitaker's biography of Cosby without really being tied to it. It's mentioned and then ... poof! Does The New Yorker do what most media outlets do? Only write about pop cultural figures if it's tied to something being sold?
  • Then John Lahr, Bert's son, gives us a portrait of Al Pacino, which is pretty fascinating. I didn't know much about Pacino's life, inner or otherwise, so most of this was news to me. But how Lahr could write as much as he does, and mention as many of Pacino's roles as he does, without touching on “The Insider,” is a mystery. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, William Finnegan on unionizing fast-food workers and the struggle for a decent wage for a decent day's work. It's both personal (the story of Arisleyda Tapia, who works at a McDonald's in Washington Heights in New York) and panoramic (the fact, for example, that “52 percent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance,” or that McDonald's workers over 18 in Denmark “earn more than twenty dollars an hour ... and the price of a Big Mac is only thirty-five cents more than it is in the United States”).

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

The Lynda Carter incarnation. Good casting. More thoughts on Wonder Woman here.

No tagsPosted at 06:10 AM on Sep 23, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday September 22, 2014

Photo of the Day: Mount Townsend, Sunday

This weekend we had friends in from New York, visiting (and participating in) the Port Townsend Film Festival, and what's a visit to the Pac Northwest without a grueling hike? That's what we did yesterday. This is near the summit, along the Little Quilcene trail.

CLICK PHOTO FOR THE BIG VERSION:

Mount Townsend 2014

I really should've had them a bit more in the lower left, shouldn't I? Oh well. It's the immensity of it all that matters. 

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Posted at 08:06 PM on Sep 22, 2014 in category Hiking
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McAdvice to McWorkers Making McPay

Maybe old news but worth repeating. Its from William Finnegan's New Yorker piece on the unionization of fast-food workers and the struggle for $15 an hour (or at least more than $7 and change):

McDonald’s has tried to acknowledge the real lives of its workforce by providing counselling through a Web site (since taken down) and a help line called McResource. A sample personal budget was offered online last year. The budget was full of odd assumptions: that employees worked two full-time jobs, for instance, and that health insurance could be bought for twenty dollars a month. The gesture made the corporation look painfully out of touch. The same thing happened with a health-advice page. Workers were advised to break food into pieces to make it go farther, sing to relieve stress, and take at least two vacations a year, since vacations are known to “cut heart attack risk by 50%.” Swimming, one learned, is great exercise. Fresh fruit and vegetables are good for you, McDonald’s declared. A mother of two in Chicago, who had worked at McDonald’s for ten years, called the help line and found herself counselled to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. This was, at least, realistic.

Read the whole thing.

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Posted at 01:09 PM on Sep 22, 2014 in category Business
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Movie Review: Dom Hemingway (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The biggest problem for Dom Hemingway is Dom Hemingway—not the man but the name. Well, the man, too, but you have to start with the name. How can you not have a tendency toward grandiloquence and megalomania if you’re named Dom Hemingway?

Throughout the movie, Dom (Jude Law), an East End petty gangster and safe-cracker, keeps going through the same cycle. He’s so full of himself that he acts foolish, then he beats himself up for the foolish things he’s said and done while he was so full of himself. Rinse, repeat.

Put it this way: the movie opens with Dom singing a paean to his cock as he’s being blown in prison. Dom HemingwayHe compares his anatomy to a work of art—a Picasso, a Renoir, something that should hang in the Louvre. He says it should be studied by science, win a Nobel Peace Prize. He goes on and on. It’s a kind of masterwork, this soliloquy. It’s Hamlet as ass. More on this thought later.

A poor player
Shortly afterwards, Dom is let out of prison after 12 years. First thing he does? Finds a mechanic named Sandy Butterfield and, as he says, “makes Bolognese” out of his face. Was Sandy the dude that finked on him? No. He simply dated Dom’s ex before she died. He even paid for her tombstone. He’s an upstanding guy. But what do you expect from a guy who sings an extravagant paean to his cock?

The second place he goes is a pub, for a pint with his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), who also works for the gangster, Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), that Dom didn’t give up in prison. He lost 12 years because of Fontaine. It still rankles. How much? Even after being presented with two beautiful prostitutes and cocaine and going on a three-day binge with all three, and taking the TGV with Dickie to the south of France for a meeting, Dom resents it. So much so that he belittles Fontaine. To his face. Calls him Ivana. And worse. He gets James Taylor on his ass:

You don’t scare me. You don’t fucking scare me, Anal-toli. I’ve seen death. I’ve seen evil. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen lonely days I thought would never end. ... I eye-fuck you. I throat-fuck you!

For a moment I was vaguely intrigued. “Well, this can’t end well,” I thought. But it kind of does. If Fontaine is who everyone says he is, he’s not going to allow this—even after 12 years of loyalty. Particularly when Dom demands Ivan’s girlfriend, Paolina (model Madalina Diana Ghenea, who is so hot she’s nuclear), as partial payment. Instead, amid a few vague threats, Ivan forgives, then gives Dom three quarters of a million pounds for his 12 years, then is stupid enough to get into a car driven by a drunk/high Dom down a narrow winding road. In the aftermath, Dom has cost a life (Fontaine), has saved a life (Melody, Kerry Condon of HBO’s “Rome”), and has had his three-quarters of a million pounds stolen (by Paolina). So of course, despondent, he returns to London to try to win back his daughter (Emilia Clarke, Khaleesi from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) and get work from the son of the gangster he was fighting all of these years. The cycle continues. It gets old.

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
What doesn’t get old? The language. There’s a majesty to it, even if there isn’t to Dom. Before it all goes awry, Dom is in the pool with Melody. She tells him he has a noble chin and he says she has noble tits. She mentions her sister is an actress and he says he did a bit of acting, playing the apothecary in “Romeo and Juliet” at reform school. What I like is that by this point we realize Dom is a Shakespearean character. He even talks like one. “Misfortune befell me,” he says at one point. Look at the poster: He’s Macbeth with bad taste. He’s a low-end character with a high-end vocabulary.

That’s purposeful. Here’s writer-director Richard Shepard:

I do think there's something Shakespearean about Dom. He's a larger-than-life character, who by his very nature just shoots himself in the foot. He destroys himself at every turn. If the movie is about anything, it's about, “Dom, just don't destroy yourself any more.”

But we know he will. The movie ends, as it began, on an up-note, another soliloquy:

After much heartbreak and ruin, the pendulum of luck has finally swung back to Dom Hemingway. And I intend to enjoy each moment of its fickle pleasure—whether it lasts for a minute, a day or a lifetime.

I’m betting a minute. Dom’s life is a merry-go-round. Our step off seems arbitrary. 

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Posted at 05:41 AM on Sep 22, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday September 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

Maggie Renzi: You only get so many shots, so quit talking about yourself. Quit talking about what you know. 
John Sayles: I always say: Don't write what you know; write what you're interested in—and do the research.

-- During a Saturday afternoon Q&A at the Port Townsend Film Festival (PTFF) when the topic of socially conscious independent film came up. Sayles and Renzi were this year's guests of honor. 

John Sayles and Maggie Renzie during the Port Towsend Film Festival

Sayles and Renzi the night before at a screening of “The Secret of Roan Inish.”

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Posted at 06:53 PM on Sep 21, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday September 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The Italian horror/sex genre giallo, popularized by directors like Mario Bava in the 1960s and ’70s, uses elements of nightmare within its narrative but the narrative itself is fairly straightforward. “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” a French-language homage to the genre by Hélene Cattet and Bruno Forzani (“Amer”), is less narrative and more nightmare.

It’s also boring. The way other people’s dreams are boring.

As Dan (Klaus Tange) returns to Paris from a business trip, we see, intercut, a woman involved in kinky sex games gone awry. The Strange Color of Your Body's TearsAt home, Dan’s wife, Edwige (whose name is an homage to giallo actress Edwige Fenech), is missing, yet the apartment door is chained from inside. How?

Dan searches, obsessed, anxious. A detective shows up, suspicious. A older neighbor woman in apartment 7 sits in the shadows (with great legs) and talks of how her husband went missing. She blames the apartment above, but when Dan ascends the stairs he’s on the roof, where a naked woman stands on the ledge. They share a cigarette.

By this point, it’s almost a parody of a foreign movie: the sexuality, the incomprehensibility, the dreamscape.

It gets more confusing. Does Dan wake with his wife’s head in his bed? Doe he wake to get slashed in the back? Is he awake? Where does sleeping end and waking begin? Do we care?

Everyone has their own story, even the suspicious detective. We get his in flashback. When we came back to the apartment, Dan asks, straight-faced, “What has it got to do with my wife?” I laughed out loud.

The movie, suffused in reds and greens, is as repetitious as hell, and includes many closeups of male eyes in panic or desire, and women, losing clothes or encased in fetishistic gloves, forever out of reach. I found a few lines and images in the second half intellectually stimulating but it wasn’t enough, and the resolution was awful: clouding what felt like a rare insight.

Larger question: Why are we getting all of these arthouse versions of exploitation flicks? They were part of my “11 Worst Movies and Five Worst Trends of 2013,” and they still seem with us.

-- This review originally appeared in shorter form in the Seattle Times.

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Posted at 05:46 AM on Sep 19, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Thursday September 18, 2014

The AL Wild Card: Does Anyone Want to Win This Thing?

In the last week, the Kansas City Royals have vaulted past the Seattle Mariners and into a tie with the Oakland A's for the AL Wild Card lead, so in my mind they're on fire. Except they're not. In the last 10 games, KC has gone 4-6. To their advantage, both the M's and A's have gone 3-7. So “on fire.”

Which means Cleveland must be coming up on all of them, right? Yes and no. They've also gone 4-6 over the last 10 games. As have the Yankees. Toronto and Tampa Bay, in comparison, have been the '71 Orioles: 5-5 over their last 10.

Here's the AL Wild Card race as of today:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10
Kansas City 83 68 .550 - 4-6
Oakland 83 68 .550 - 3-7
Seattle 81 70 .536 2 3-7
Cleveland 78 73 .517 5 4-6
NY Yankees 77 74 .510 6 4-6
Toronto 77 74 .510 6 4-6
Tampa Bay 74 79 .484 10 4-6

Among non-division leaders, the winningest teams in the AL during this period have been the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers. Both are a scorching 6-4.

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Posted at 12:58 PM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Baseball
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Quote of the Day

“Minorities trampled on by the democratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law.”

-- Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in soundly rejecting the state's argument, in Baskin v. Bogan, that courts should defer to the democratic process in, for example, matters of gay marriage. Via Linda Greenhouse's Op-Ed, “The Moment at Hand,” which focuses on the journey of Judge Posner on marriage equality: from “no” to “maybe” to “yes, and now.”

Greenhouse goes on to comtemplate whether Baskin or one of the other same-sex marriage cases, overwhelming confirmed in the federal circuit, will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court this session. Overall, her article is celebratory—how far we've come, etc.—but there's a dark corollary of past decisions (from Plessy v. Ferguson to Bowers v. Hardwick) in that celebration: the rights of minorities are indeed protected by the U.S. Constitution from the democratic process ... as long as the minority in question isn't too despised. 

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Posted at 07:00 AM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Women in Cinema: SIFF Trailer

I don't know who created this trailer for the “Women in Cinema” series from SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) but they know what they're doing. I saw it the other night at a showing of “Sagrada” at SIFF Uptown and was blown away. It made me wish I was around this weekend (the series is from Sept. 18-21), but I'll be at the Port Townsend Film Festival with friends—one of whom, a woman in cinema, is showing her documentary “The Only Real Game,” about the popularity of baseball in Manipur, a border state in northeast India. 

Lynn Shelton's new movie, “Laggies,” is premiering tonight at the reborn Egyptian on Capitol Hill. Jeff Wells, who hasn't been a huge fan of Shelton's previous work (“Humpday,” etc.), thinks it's her breakout movie

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Posted at 05:25 AM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Trailers
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Wednesday September 17, 2014

Just How Bad are the 2014 Yankees?

The following stats are via Katie Sharp at “It's About the Money,” a Yankees blog:

  • For the first time in nearly 25 years, the Yankees will not have a player with more than 5.0 WAR, a mark that is considered the threshold for a “Superstar” player.
  • For the first time since 1968, the Yankees are not likely to have a player with 75 RBI.
  • For the first time since 1968, the Yankees probably won’t have a player with an average of .280 or better qualify for the batting title (Ellsbury is the leader at .273).
  • Entering this week the Yankees leader in OPS+ ... was Gardner at 118, meaning his OPS is 18 percent better than today’s average player. If that holds, it would be just the second season in the last 100 years that the Yankees did not have a player qualify for the batting title with an OPS+ of 120 or higher.

When you think about it, it's rather amazing the Yankees even have a winning record.

But don't worry, Katie, you'll get your superstar next year. A-Rod's due back, right?

Sad Yankees fan

2014: The year of the sad Yankees fan.

No tagsPosted at 12:16 PM on Sep 17, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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Movie Review: Love Is Strange (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Near the end of “Love Is Strange,” the slice-of-life indie directed by Ira Sachs, George (Alfred Molina), the longtime companion and new husband of Ben (John Lithgow), critiques a student’s classical music performance thus: “When a piece is that romantic, there’s no need to embellish it.”

He could be describing the movie.

Ben and George, a painter and a music instructor, have been living together for decades. As the movie opens (on a stockinged foot at the end of the bed), they are getting ready for another day. Ben slumps into the shower, they dress (necktie for George, bowtie for Ben), Ben can’t find his glasses. They talk to the housekeepers (Two of them? Are they preparing for a party?), then try to flag a cab on the streets of Manhattan. “We’ll have better luck on 6th,” George says. Love Is StrangeAnd off they go. To? A wedding. Theirs. It’s both another day and their wedding day. It’s a moment of triumph and celebration. Short-lived, it turns out.

George, you see, is a music instructor at Saint Grace Academy, where most folks, including Father Raymond (John Cullum), know he’s gay, know he lives with Ben, don’t care. But gay marriage? That’s toxic. Or political. And somehow (New York Times wedding page, maybe?) the Bishop finds out and George is fired. As a result, he and Ben can no longer afford to live where they live. As a result, they are forced to live apart.

The dramatist’s dilemma isn’t how to bring the lovers together but how to keep them apart for 90 minutes. Sachs’ approach here is novel. He keeps the lovers apart by marrying them.

No place
Question: Once it becomes apparent that the sale of their apartment won’t net them the income they need, why not just take the Poughkeepsie option? That’s where Ben’s niece, the brassy Mindy (Christina Kirk), lives, and she has room for both of them. But it’s not Manhattan. And the folks we saw at the wedding—friends and family—decide Ben and George need to live in Manhattan. So they divvy them up: George goes with the gay cops downstairs, Ben with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows of “Northern Exposure”), and his family—novelist wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan)—across town. Ben gets the bottom bunk in Joey’s room. Tensions quickly fester.

Joey no longer has space, Kate no longer has space. (Tomei is excellent at being just this side of awful.) At first Ben is oblivious—going on and on in the living room as Kate tries to work on her second novel—and then painfully aware. He walks on metaphoric tiptoes. He paints on the roof of the apartment building, using Joey’s friend, Vlad (Eric Tabach), as a model, but this only makes Joey angry. When he comes home at night, Elliot and Kate are talking quietly (privately) in the living room, so he ducks into the bedroom—where Joey, hanging with Vlad, yells at him for not knocking. He has no place.

Neither does George. He’s with the hunky cops who are always partying, and he’s not a partier. One night he turns up rain-soaked at Elliot and Kate’s. For a moment, everyone’s surprised. Then he falls into Ben’s arms and sobs. It’s a powerful beautiful scene, and, per the above quote, unembellished. It just happens. It reveals, retroactively, all the tension and loneliness he’s feeling.

The movie is full of this kind of humanity. Another scene I loved: Joey and Ben talking at night in the bunkbeds. Joey, a kid without many friends, is still slightly angry at Ben, and possibly feeling guilty, too. Before going to bed, trying better to understand him maybe, Ben asks Joey if he’s ever been in love. Joey talks of seeing this girl on vacation one summer. He never spoke with her, he just saw her. She saw him, too. That seems key for him: being seen. He knows she lives in the city, too. “You should say hello,” Ben says matter-of-factly. That’s it. No resolution, no obvious epiphany. Just an ordinary scene that feels like everything.

Every place
Sachs, who co-wrote the movie with Mauricio Zacharias (“Madame Satã”), has a nice habit of transitioning weeks or months ahead without explanation. We figure it out by and by. Oh, they’re going to their wedding. Oh, Ben is living with them. The ending is this way, too.

After George finds them a nice, rent-controlled apartment, he and Ben celebrate at a local bar. They talk, comfortably. They walk down the street, comfortably, until they’re out of sight. You think that might be the end, but no. They talk before Ben takes the subway home. Apparently they haven’t moved in yet. Then we fade to black. Is that the end?

No. We see Joey waiting outside their new apartment, and George takes him upstairs. Joey admires the place, then apologizes for not being at the service. Service? Yes. Ben’s. Joey brings out a painting, Ben’s last, the one with Vlad on the rooftop, and he helps George hang it. Then he leaves. On the stairs down, he breaks down. Is he thinking about how he wasn’t that nice to his Uncle Ben at the end? How he called Vlad “gay” for posing for him? Or maybe he’s just feeling all that he’s lost? After 30 seconds or so, an eternity of screentime, he starts walking again, and one assumes that’s the end. No. The final scenes are Joey riding his skateboard around the more picturesque, treelined streets of Manhattan with a girl. The girl? The vacation girl? Did he finally say hello? Who knows? But at least he’s finally said hello to someone. And maybe he wouldn’t have without Ben’s bunkbed conversation. The things we leave behind.

“Love Is Strange,” despite the title, contains no Mickey and Sylvia on the soundtrack. Chopin piano pieces instead. Played without embellishment.

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Posted at 06:30 AM on Sep 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday September 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I know Ronald Reagan’s public statements concerning the Panama Canal contained gross factual errors. ... He has clearly represented himself in an irresponsible manner on an issue which could affect the nation’s security.” 

-- Sen. Barry Goldwater, stumping for Pres. Gerald Ford during thre 1976 Nebraska GOP primary. Reagan won the state anyway while Goldwater eceived profanity-laden hate mail from right-wing conservatives. I know: Goldwater. As recounted in “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

The Invisible Bridge

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Posted at 11:38 AM on Sep 16, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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#2hole

How badly is Derek Jeter doing in the second half of this, his final, interminable, farewell season? I’m almost beginning to root for him.

Here are his numbers pre- and post-All-Star game:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Pre-All Star .272 .324 .322 .646
Post-All Star .211 .254 .256 .510

But even that doesn’t get at how poorly he’s done lately.

On August 28, New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff asked Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the efficacy of batting Jeter No. 2 for a team that, then, still had an outside shot of making the postseason.

“Yeah,” Girardi said. “But it’s not like we have a bunch of guys hitting .300.”

Which: 1) couldn’t have made the “bunch of guys” very happy; and 2) there’s bad and there’s bad. At that point, Jeter had the worst OPS among regular Yankees, but it wasn’t a stark difference. Basically Girardi was saying, “He’s not doing so poorly, nor is the rest of the team doing so well, to move someone like him down in the order.” And he was kind of right.

But those were the good old days.

Since then, Jeter’s gone 7 for 61, a .114 batting average. He’s got one extra-base hit (a double on Sept. 4), three walks, no stolen bases. He’s scored two runs.

He’s gone from having the worst OPS among qualifying Yankees to the third-worst OPS (.596) among the 150 qualifying players in Major League Baseball. Thank god for Houston’s Matt Dominguez (.593) and Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart (.570). Although at least Cozart is an apparent Mozart with the glove: his defensive WAR is 2.7, making his overall WAR 2.3 Jeter’s is -0.2. You could make the argument that Derek Jeter is the worst regular player in all of Major League Baseball right now.

Is this how he goes, toothless and hitless, a burdensome lightweight at the top of the Yankees lineup? He makes the rounds, accepts the gifts in opposing ballparks, smiles for the crowds. He plays gags with reporters’ phone. He gets written about again and again. Meanwhile, his team is dying on the vine. Jeter was always considered the ultimate team player but from a distance he’s never seemed like the ultimate team player to me. It was A-Rod, after all, who agreed to switch positions. Jeter, at 40, is still out there at short. I get the feeling he’ll show up next year, too, to everyone’s embarrassment. He’ll be the Bartleby the Scrivener of shortstops. Leave? “I prefer not to.”

As a longtime Jeter hater, I assume his hitlessness won’t last. I assume, shortly, Jeter will get hot again, or at least lukewarm, because he always does. As I said, I’m almost rooting for it.

Jeter with the Los Angeles Angels

Derek Jeter posing with the best team in baseball. 

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Posted at 06:25 AM on Sep 16, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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Monday September 15, 2014

Hey Kids, Help Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon! What's YOUR 2014 Mariners Lineup Look Like?

Yesterday I tweet-riffed (tweefed?) when I saw that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon had Kyle Seager, the second-best hitter on the team, batting sixth, behind such stalwarts as Chris Denorfia (.209), Kendrys Morales (.221) and Corey Hart (.197).

I wasn't the only one. From David Schoenfeld, a Seattle native, in his post, “Ten Questions for the Stretch Run”:

Look, Lloyd McClendon doesn't have a lot of great options once he gets past Cano and Kyle Seager, especially with the somewhat hot Dustin Ackley out with a sprained ankle. Seattle MarinersBut why was he hitting Seager sixth Sunday? OK, Jon Lester, lefty-lefty matchup, I see that. Seager is still one of his better hitters against left-handers (not that he's great with a .255/.306/.385 line). Plus, Lester is actually a reverse platoon, so batting Chris Denorfia (.203 with the Mariners) and Corey Hart (.201 on the season) in the second and fifth spots and moving Seager down is one of worst decisions I've seen all season. There is zero logic behind it. None. ...

M's lost 4-0. They're now a game back in the Wild Card hunt.

Schoenfeld's right: McClendon doesn't have a lot of great options, but he does have better ones. Example: I know he hasn't played long—35 games, 99 at-bats—but Chris Taylor may have the best batting eye on the team. At least, within this small sample size, he's leading the team in walks/at-bats ratio. Yep, better than Robinson Cano. When he plays, he's usually batting eighth or ninth. But why not second? Sure, righty/righty, lefty/lefty if you go Jackson, Taylor, Cano, Seager. But do you have to mix it up that much when you have so few options?

Go something like this maybe?

  1. Jackson, CF (R)
  2. Taylor, SS (R)
  3. Cano, 2B (L)
  4. Seager, 3B (L)
  5. Zunino, C (R)
  6. Saunders, RF (L)
  7. Ackley, LF (L)

Then pick your poison for DH and 1B—two positions, by the way, that should be batting much higher in the order. If we just had anyone good in them.

I don't know. What's your Sept. 2014 Mariners lineup look like?

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Posted at 02:15 PM on Sep 15, 2014 in category Seattle Mariners
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Movie Review: When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Winning is fun but relentless winning is hardly dramatic. There’s nothing to overcome. There’s no story there.

Neil Hayes’ book, “When the Game Stands Tall,” about the record-shattering 151-game win streak by De La Salle, a private Catholic high school football team in Concord, Cal., is mostly about its 2002 season; but Hayes includes an epilogue about the 2004 team that finally lost a game. (To Bellevue, by the way, at Qwest Field. Represent.)

When the Game Stands Tall

So that’s what this movie focuses on: losing, and how you recover from it.

There are some natural contradictions to mine here. Winning, for Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), is a byproduct of playing the game right (humility, teamwork, etc.); but glory, humility’s opposite, is a byproduct of winning all the time.So how do you keep egos in check when you never lose? When does the byproduct of playing the game right cause you to play the game wrong?

Sadly, the movie dramatizes all of this with reductive situations and stock characters: the me-first, team-last dude who is cured like that by a trip to a VA hospital; the glory-seeking father in the stands (Clancy Brown, the prison guard in “The Shawshank Redemption,” doomed to play such roles). Neither rabid fans nor the probing media help. And aren’t we, the movie audience, part of the problem, too? We want them to win as much as anyone.

First-half subplots—Ladouceur’s heart attack, a senseless murder—are more-or-less forgotten in the second. Caviezel’s Ladouceur is sourly inscrutable, his talks with his wife (Laura Dern) are dull business, and the grace moment at the end is hardly graceful.

The movie raises religious and philosophical questions (via Luke 6:38 and Matthew 23:12) about whether what we put out in the world is returned to us, but it sticks with the ultimate American answer: There is no problem so great that winning a football game won’t solve it.

-- This review originally appeared, in slightly different form, in The Seattle Times.

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Posted at 05:14 AM on Sep 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday September 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

“We are in real danger of being out-organized by a small number of highly motivated right wing nuts.”

-- from a Pres. Ford campaign memo written about the Reagan camp shortly after Gov. Ronald Reagan's landslide victory (66% to 33%) in the 1976 Texas primary—the greatest defeat ever for a sitting president according to author Rick Perlstein in his book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.” 

Ronald Reagan campaign button

Some of the groups who were funding Reagan at this juncture, and in the future, included the following:

  • George Wallace’s old American Independence Party 
  • The National Conservative Political Action Committee
  • The National Right to Work Committee
  • The American Medical Association’s PAC
  • The NRA
  • The American Conservative Union
  • The Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress
  • The Heritage Foundation. 

“Many of the members of these groups are not loyal Republicans or Democrats,“ the memo also noted. ”They are alienated from both parties because neither takes a sympathetic view toward their issues. Particularly those groups controlled by Vigurie [sic] hold a ‘rule or ruin’ attitude toward the GOP.” Perlstein then lambasts the Republican establishment, who didn't even know enough in 1976 to spell Richard Viguerie's name correctly. 

More on Viguerie here

Read the book.

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Posted at 04:44 PM on Sep 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Box Office: It's Idris; 'Guardians' Passes $300 Million; and Breitbart Predictions Continue to Be Wrong

Remember this prediction from Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” last March?

Breitbart gets predictions wrong again 

Like a lot of analyses on the right-wing site, this turned out to be not exactly ... right.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” opened Memorial Day weekend and promptly finished third at the box office: $16.8 million. It wound up with a domestic total of $42.7 million—one of the biggest box-office bombs in a summer of box-office bombs.

So 0-1 for Breitbart.

This weekend, “Dolphin Tale 2” opened. I reviewed it for The Seattle Times. And?

And it finished second, $16.5 million, or about $3 million less than the original took in three years ago.

So 0-2 for Breitbart.

I’m not sure if this is good news for “Big Hero 6” or not. I mean, how many movies can Breitbart get wrong?

Despite lousy reviews (12% on Rotten Tomatoes), Idris Elba’s “No Good Deed” came in first with $24 million.

The bigger news, I suppose, is that “Guardians of the Galaxy” became the first movie this year to pass the $300 million mark. It fell only 22%, grossed another $8 million (good for third place), and has now grossed $305.9 domestically and another $305 overseas.

I thought the events in Ferguson would kill the comedy “Let’s Be Cops” at the box office, but it keeps schlepping along. It finished in a near-tie with “Ninja Turtles” (around $4 million) for fourth place, and has now grossed $72 million, which is more than ... well, I guess a lot of bad movies. Including “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

“Boyhood” took in another $1 million (14th place). It’s at $22 million domestic. See it. 

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Posted at 10:24 AM on Sep 14, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday September 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

I read this last Sunday, eating lunch outside at Cafe Presse on 12th, as has been my habit this long summer; then I reread it to Patricia when she arrived (that's also my habit). It's from Rick Perlstein's book ”The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.“ We're in 1975/76, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, and a Senate committee run by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID, back when Ds could be from ID) is investigating what exactly the CIA had been doing with our tax dollars in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Some of the stuff—assassinations of foreign leaders, opening mail of U.S. citizens—isn't particularly palatable, but you get the feeling Americans were more upset by the latter than the former. 

This is the part I reread to Patricia:

It never became any kind of campaign issue; in public opinion polls slightly more citizens disapproved than approved of the Pike and Church committees, and a majority feared they'd harmed national security.

That's why Jason Bourne is the perfect American hero. He's a CIA supersoldier who does the dirty work, then develops amnesia. He's keeps us both safe and innocent.

READ ALSO:

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Posted at 11:59 AM on Sep 13, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday September 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

“How could anyone hate the Royals? It’s like hating Charlie Brown.”

-- Joe Posnanski, in his post, “Yo Joe! Unanimity, Stadium Names and Field Goals,” responding to a Cleveland reader who says over and over how much he hates the Royals.

Peanuts McCovey

Why couldn't Brett have hit just one more triple?!?

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Posted at 11:22 AM on Sep 12, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Red State (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

For an hour I was impressed. Unfortunately, this thing lasts an hour and a half.

I didn’t pay much attention to “Red State” and its surrounding controversy when it arrived in 2011. Maybe because the controversy arrived and the movie didn’t. After so-so reviews at Sundance, writer-director Kevin Smith created his own company, SModcast Pictures, to distribute it. Kinda sorta. “Red State,” according to Box Office Mojo, played in five theaters in March, one in August, and one at the end of September. Then it went to VOD. Then it disappeared. Blip.

Part of the problem is the one Philip Roth identified in 1961—the difficulty of making the absurdity of American life credible—but at least in one area Smith doesn’t do poorly. He gives us a version of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, but with guns guns guns. He puts us in their church. He forces us to hear their sermon. Then he gets trigger-happy. He dramatizes not only a version of Westboro but a version of Waco. Equal time, I suppose. Doesn’t work. Falls flat. Feels false.

Plus, for a movie that makes a homophobic group the enemy, it feels a little homophobic.

A vengeful God
Three teenage boys are hanging out, bored and horny, in a small Southern town. One, Travis (Michael Angarano), late for school, sees a protest by the Five Points Trinity Church and its leader, Rev. Abin Cooper (a stellar Michael Parks), at the funeral of a homosexual kid who was recently murdered. Kevin Smith's Red StateIt’s Westboro’s “God Hates Fags” package with one exception: Five Points Church actually murdered this kid. We find that out later.

One of Travis’ friends, Jarod (Kyle Gallner), has found an older woman on the Internet (Melissa Leo) willing to put out. Since boys will be boys, they visit her at her trailer—sidewiping a car en route. There, they drink beer, get undressed, pass out. Drugged. A trap. When Jarod awakes, he’s in a covered cage, inside the Five Points Trinity Church, where Abin Cooper begins his sermon.

Cooper talks about the horrors of modern American society and its homosexual agenda. He preaches on Noah and the Flood: how God killed everyone but one family. He mocks softer churches that talk of a loving God. Does the Noah story sound like a loving God, he asks? God, he says, demands fear. Then he and the members of his church, nice, middle-aged folks, reveal a homosexual kid shrinkwrapped to the cross, whom they kill. Then they push him through a trap door and into the basement, where Travis and the third friend, Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), are tied up. Then they begin to shrinkwrap Jarod to the cross.

These are intense scenes—the best part of the movie—and Parks completely sells them. He’s awful and charismatic and in some sense logical. If you believe in the Flood, why would you believe in a loving God? Jesus’ corrective notwithstanding.

The kind of preaching Cooper does is actually in Kevin Smith’s wheelhouse. I don’t think I’ve seen a Kevin Smith movie as interesting as Kevin Smith talking. YouTube has tons of these videos. He’s a racounteur. So it makes sense he’s at his best when he lets one of his characters speechify.

But then we get into the Waco portion of the story. From wacko to Waco.

A vengeful government
Remember the sideswiped car? Turns out the local Sheriff (Stephen Root) was inside, where he was giving head to another guy. Back at the office, cowardly, shaking, he tells his deputy, Pete (Matt Jones, Badger from “Breaking Bad”), to track down the other car. Pete, it turns out, is pretty good at his job. He does it. It’s at the Five Points Church, where Pete is in the process of being mollified by Abin Cooper until a gunfight breaks out between one of the parishioners and an escaped Billy-Ray, both of whom buy it. Pete buys it, too, but not before calling in the gunfight to the cowardly gay Sheriff. At which point the cowardly gay Sheriff calls in ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman).

Keenan first has to convince his superior to get involved; then he has to convince him to get involved in a measured way. Apparently, the superior, whom, like God, we never see, wants to kill everyone inside—women and children included. It's the story of Noah all over again. But this is about the time my attention began to waver. I didn’t buy it. Seemed like bullshit. And why does Keenan have to convince another agent to follow these orders when he doesn’t?

It’s all scattershot and the body count mounts up. There goes Travis, who gets it in the head—ironically, from the cowardly gay Sheriff. There goes Agent Brooks (Kevin Pollack), who’s barely in this thing. He says a couple of witty lines and is gone. Shame. There goes the cowardly gay Sheriff.

We’ve got one guy left: Can Caleb survive? Do we care? There’s an odd scene, or several scenes, between Caleb and Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé), the cute, blonde Five Pointser, who is trying to bargain for the lives of the babies in contradiction to the “blaze of glory” end demanded by Cooper. Both she and Caleb wind up getting killed in cold blood by ATF agents. As always happens. Then the trumpet sounds, announcing the return of God to the world. Or so Cooper believes. It’s actually pot growers next door, playing a joke on him with a huge horn, a huge amplifier, and an iPod. (Not a bad bit, but couldn’t they hear the automatic weapons fire?) Keenan explains all of this at an inquiry that really isn’t an inquiry, where he’s both suspended and promoted. It’s supposed to be a cynical end but the cynicism is immature. There’s nothing subtle about it.

That’s always been Smith’s problem: a lack of maturity and subtlety. I get it with “Clerks”; Smith was only 24 then. Now he’s into his 40s. Time to grow up a bit.  

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Posted at 06:05 AM on Sep 12, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Thursday September 11, 2014

Washington State Supreme Court Cites Washington State Legislature for Contempt

The big story in Washington state today:

The Washington state Supreme Court is holding the Legislature in contempt for not making enough progress toward fully funding public education but, for now, is holding off on sanctions.

Here's some background on the contempt charge. Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution reads: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” The paramount duty. Washington's is one of only two state constitutions to use the word “paramount” in this regard, and the other, Florida, declares it “a paramount duty,” not the paramount duty.

However, the Washington Legislature is still not making it its paramount duty to fund education despite supreme court decisions in 1978 and 2012 to do just that. Two years ago, I interviewed Thomas Ahearne, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the more recent case, McCleary v. State of Washington, who has an amused side when it comes to himself and a combative side when it comes to almost everything else. This case is part of his combative side.

The new today made me read over the piece. I'd forgotten how colorful he is. He has great stories. 

More, I seemed to remember a prediction he made about whether or not the Legislature would live up to its paramount duty. This is how the piece ends:

“Our Supreme Court has ordered our Legislature to do something that’s hard, very hard, with their public schools, and we’ll see if they do it promptly or if they drag their feet and stall,” Ahearne says. He smiles but his eyes remain combative. “I have a good guess as to what they’re going to do.”

He sounds more optimistic in the Seattle Times' link above. 

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Posted at 03:02 PM on Sep 11, 2014 in category Politics
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28 Pages

I didn't even know about this.

Apparently there are 28 pages that the Bush administration redacted from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, citing national security reasons. Congressmen who have seen these pages say the redaction has less to do with national security and more to do with protecting Saudi Arabia. Both North Carolina Republicans and Massachusetts Democrats says this. They want it to go public.

You know who also wants it to go public? Saudio Arabia. “Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide,” the former Saudi ambassador says. “We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages.”

Lawrence Wright reports what he knows: about the first two hijackers, the Saudi community in San Diego circa 2000, and who helped who. And why? The why is still iffy. Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, thinks the ”ton of stuff“ that's still classified, let alone the 28 pages, should go public. So do many officials. Wright quotes Timothy Roemer, saying, ”The more the American people know about what happened thirteen years ago, the more we can have a credible, open debate.”

That's if the American people want to know. I have increasing doubts about this.

The World Trade Center from the documentary "The Cruise"

The twin towers in the 1998 Bennett Miller documentary “The Cruise.”

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Posted at 07:09 AM on Sep 11, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Wednesday September 10, 2014

Screenshot of the Day

Just an ordinary shot from “The Immigrant,” which isn't a particularly good movie even if Ms. Cotillard is excellent in it. I post it midweek for anyone with sore eyes.  

Marion Cotillard in "The Immigrant"

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Sep 10, 2014 in category Photo of the Day
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Tuesday September 09, 2014

Lancelot Links

  • Via The Independent and Karen Tischler: “Abbey Road zebra crossing live feed lets you watch Beatles fans piss off motorists 24/7.” Two things: Infamous cover, Independent? And, yes, sorry Brits, but I would totally be doing this if I were there. Barefoot. With Dave and Doug in front and Pete behind. 
  • Via Ken Levine: a 2010 LA Times piece by the writer of the “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumped the shark. Sadly, the dude doesn't quite get it. He insists the episode wasn't the moment when “Happy Days” began to decline since the show went on for six more popular and profitable years. But we're not talking popularity; we're talking about when real fans knew it was over; when the show bought into its own ridiculousness. That's why “jump the shark” is perfect. Sure, we'll buy that Fonzie can start jukeboxes with his fist and get girls with the snap of a finger. We'll buy him jumping 14 trash cans on his motorcycle. But jumping a shark? On water skis? In southern California? Wearing a leather jacket? Now you're just being silly.
  • Via my friend Vinny: Three Reasons to watch (or buy) Criterion Collection movies. I have issues with Criterion. They tend to focus on the style-over-substance movies that I can barely watch, let alone rewatch (see: most of Jean-Luc Godard). But I did just buy three CCs recently—“Nashville,” “All That Jazz,” and “Anatomy of a Murder”—to add to the usual suspects: “On the Waterfront,” “Seven Samurai,” “Children of Paradise,” “Yi Yi,” Summer Hours.” Plus these “Three Reasons” videos, which Vinny equates to popcorn, have already made me want to watch Steven Soderbergh's doc, “And Everything is Going Fine,” about Spalding Gray.
  • Actor Idris Elba on playing Stringer Bell, the lack of diversity at the BBC, and what's so funny about his crotch.
  • Bill Gates wants to change history by changing the way it is taught
  • What radical, left-wing site has the headline, “Obama Outperforms Reagan on Jobs, Growth and Investing”? Forbes magazine. So add that to the list of media outlets the wingnuts dismiss. Is The Wall Street Journal next?

Happy Days: Fonzie jumps the shark

Nothing silly about this. 

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Posted at 06:14 AM on Sep 09, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday September 08, 2014

A Blah Baseball Year Everywhere, Roger? Or Just in New York?

The New Yorker put Derek Jeter on its cover last week with a nice illustration by longtime contributor Mark Ulriksen. It's the classic, from-behind, baseball farewell shot. It's how we've done it ever since Nat Fein of The New York Herald Tribune captured this shot of Babe Ruth, dying, in 1948. It's also, not coincidentally, the look they give us as they exit the field: their back, their number, then gone.

Derek Jeter on the cover of the New YorkerRoger Angell also has a piece on Jeter in the issue and so I saved it for the weekend, assuming it was a feature. It's not. It's a “Talk of the Town” piece. Maybe Angell, in his 90s now, ready for his own farewell photo, doesn't do features anymore. Maybe The New Yorker had already done enough features on Jeter. Whatever the reason, it's short, an easy read. Angell describes Jeter's pre-batting ritual well (“the cop-at-a-crossing right hand ritually lifted astern ...”) and the extent of his celebrity. But then he gives us this:

He's not having a great year, but then neither are the Yanks, who trail the Orioles ... It's been a blah baseball year almost everywhere, and, come to think of it, watching Derek finish might be the best thing around.

A blah baseball year everywhere? I don't know, Roger. Tell it to fans in Baltimore. Tell it to fans in Washington, D.C., or Anaheim or LA. Tell it to me and my friends in Seattle, who are discussing the Mariners in August and September for the first time in more than a decade. Tell it to the long-suffering Kansas City Royals fan, whose team, Tyler Kepner reminds us today, hasn't been in the postseason since Derek Jeter was in sixth grade. Tell it to Joe Posnanski

In fact, I think you've got it backwards. Any year in which the Yankees flounder and don't make the playoffs is an exceptional baseball year almost everywhere else.

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Posted at 01:58 PM on Sep 08, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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New York Jeters Honor Jeter at Jeter Stadium

Yesterday was Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium. There was a pregame farewell. It went long. Fans kept applauding. Then the Yankees went out and lost to the Kansas City Royals 2-0.

In his piece on the day (“Yankees Honor Derek Jeter as an Icon of his Generation” according to the URL; “Celebrating Glory, with Little Hope to Add to It,” according to the headline), Tyler Kepner gives us this startling bit of math: “The Royals have not reached the postseason since Jeter was in sixth grade, but they shut out the Yankees twice in three games.”

Sixth grade? Can that be right? That was in 1985 and Jeter started in the Yankees minor league system in 1992. Can only seven years separate sixth graders from minor leaguers? I guess.

The line that made me laugh out loud, though, was this:

The Yankees removed the Royals’ flag — and the flag of every other major league team — from atop Yankee Stadium, ringing their imperial palace with Jeter flags. His No. 2 flapped overhead while adorning the Yankees’ sleeves and caps down below, as it will for the rest of the season.

If this all seems a bit much, the players would never complain.

Removing the rest of Major League Baseball from your stadium? To honor one 40-year-old man? Why would anyone complain? 

Indeed, maybe flags and patches aren't enough. Maybe the Yankees should rename the team for Jeter. Maybe they should rename the stadium for Jeter. Here's the question you need to ask yourselves: What have *you* done for Derek Jeter lately? Because he's retiring you know.

Derek Jeter, George W. Bush

Jeter (left) with another retiree last month in Texas.

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Posted at 07:27 AM on Sep 08, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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Movie Review: Dolphin Tale (2011)

My review of “Dolphin Tale 2” will be in The Seattle Times on Friday ...

WARNING: SPOILERS

Picking on “Dolphin Tale” is like picking on the polite kid at school with the combed hair and the shirt buttoned to the top. Only a jerk would do it.

Here I go.

Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) is a quiet kid in the small, coastal town of Clearwater, Fla. His dad ran off five years ago, his mom (Ashley Judd, everyone’s mom now) is a busy nurse, while his favorite cousin, the hunky state swimming champion Kyle (Austin Stowell), has joined the Army to save money to train for the Olympics. Because that’s how it’s done these days. State swimming champions don’t go to college, and Olympic hopefuls don’t get funding; they just go off to war in their athletic prime and hope to return whole. Since the movie is about a dolphin without a tail, you kind of know where this subplot is going.

Besides being a Mr. Fix-It in the garage, Sawyer is also dumb. Or at least he’s flunking school: Ds and Fs. That’s why he has to go to summer school. And that’s where he’s biking one morning when the Old Jewish Fisherman on the beach (‘70s sitcom staple Richard Libertini) tells him to call 911 because a dolphin has washed ashore tangled in ropes and nets. Dolphin TaleSawyer, with the trusty Swiss Army knife his cousin gave him (“Family is Forever” inscribed on the side), cuts the worst of the ropes off and talks to the dolphin until a rescue unit arrives. This unit is led by ultra-serious dad, Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.), chatty daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), and the usual background contingent of buff dudes and fit girls.

Sawyer slowly gets immersed in their world. He shows up uninvited, meets a comic-relief pelican, Rufus, and discovers that the dolphin he rescued, named “Winter” by Hazel, is slowly dying. Ah, but Winter revives when she hears Sawyer’s voice! She starts trilling. She starts caring. So Sawyer is allowed to stay.

Except wait, isn’t he supposed to be going to summer school? Ah, but his mom decides, after one line of dialogue from Kyle’s father (who knows best), that this is a better experience for Sawyer than diagramming stupid old sentences in a classroom.

Except then Winter loses her tail; it was just too damaged by the crab trap. Ah, but with Sawyer’s help, she learns to swim side to side rather than up and down!

Except this damages her spine. And the spine is everything. Ah, but at the local VA hospital, where Kyle is recuperating from damaging his leg in one of America’s many unnamed wars, Sawyer meets a prosthetist, Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman, on loan from Bruce Wayne), and convinces him to create a prosthetic for Winter!

Except Winter won’t wear the prosthetic. Ah, but ...

And thus the movie stutters along in this episodic manner: from “Except” to “Ah, but!” From handwringing conflict to facile resolution.

By the end, the major conflicts are three-fold: 1) Will Kyle get out of his funk?; 2) Can Morgan Freeman create a prosthetic Winter will wear?; and 3) Can they save Mr. Clay’s aquarium from being shut down? The resolution to this last is particularly facile. The aquarium and land, without government funding, is bought by a rich developer, Philip J. Hordern (Tom Nowicki, looking like Richard Branson), who plans to turn it into seaside resorts. Except the kids do an Andy Hardy number and put on a show that’s hugely successful, particularly with amputees, and it melts the developer’s heart; and he lets them keep the aquarium and do whatever they want with it. Cue cheers.

“Dolphin Tale,” written by Karen Janszen (“Free Willy 2,” “Duma”) and directed by Charles Martin Smith (my man from “American Graffiti,” “Starman,” and “The Untouchables”), is based on a true story. Winter exists, the prosthetic exists, she’s an inspiration to amputees. So you feel like a shit saying anything bad about it. But the story they’ve constructed around this true story is steeped in an anodyne 1950s TV sensibility, where fathers know best, women and girls have clumsy enthusiasm, and everything is telegraphed so we won’t be worried for long. I imagine the real story is much more interesting. 

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Posted at 05:43 AM on Sep 08, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Sunday September 07, 2014

How Ronald Reagan Helped Integrate Baseball, or the Birth of Truthiness

Here's a quote from Ronald Reagan on why he was against the 1964 Civil Rights Act not only in 1964, but as late as 1975, when he began running for president against GOP incumbent Gerald Ford. Basically it's the idea that the American people are so decent they don't need the U.S. government telling them what to do. His example?

“I have called attention to the fact that when I was a sports announcer, broadcasting major-league baseball, most Americans had forgotten that at the time the opening lines of the official baseball guide read, ‘Baseball is a game for Caucasian gentlemen,’ and in organized baseball no one but Caucasians were allowed. Well, there were many of us when I was broadcasting, sportswriters, sportscasters, myself included, [who] began editorializing about what a ridiculous thing this was and why it should be changed. And one day it was changed.”

And here's Rick Perlstein's response in his book ”The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan“:

And indeed, he had called attention to that, in 1967, in a televised debate with Robert Kennedy, when he told the same story about baseball. In the interim, if anyone had bothered to point out to him that there was no line in the official baseball guide asserting that “baseball is a game for Caucasian gentlemen,” or had pointed out to him that he stopped broadcasting baseball in 1937 and the sport wasn’t integrated until 1947, the intervention clearly didn’t take. He was still telling the story in the White House nine years later.

I'd say Reagan's ”one day" allows for the 10-year difference, but not for the fact that the official baseball guide never said the words he said they said. Reagan's whole story feels like B.S. to me. Is there any evidence that he editorialized in this manner on the radio? Does he ever say what he said? And even if he could provide any evidence, what does it matter to his argument? What does it mean to Montgomery, Ala., or Birmingham, Ala., or Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, were murdered in 1964, and where Ronald Reagan, his party's nominee, gave a states' rights speech in August 1980, on his way to the presidency?

Ick, ick, ick. Every time I read about Reagan, I can't get the ick off. 

Ronald Reagan and Jackie Robinson

Right.

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Posted at 02:35 PM on Sep 07, 2014 in category Books
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Box Office: Faith-Based Elvis Parable, 'The Identical,' Checks Into Heartbreak Hotel

How do we know we’re stuck in the box-office dregs of early September? Because the top movies of the weekend are not only not openers, they’re not even second-weekenders.

Here are the top four movies, along with how many weeks they’ve been released:

Rank Movie Weekend Gross  Wk #
1 Guardians of the Galaxy $10,160,000 6
2 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) $6,500,000 5
3 If I Stay $5,750,000 3
4 Let's Be Cops $5,400,000 4

When was the last time the top four movies didn’t include a release from the previous two weeks?

Here’s a hint. It’s the first time it’s happened in 2014.

It didn’t happen last September, either. Or even last year.

No, the last time the top four movies weren’t from the previous two weeks was December 7-9, 2012, when, after offering us movies like “Killing Them Softly” and “Playing for Keeps” in early December, we went to see the November holdovers:

Rank Movie Weekend Gross Wk #
1 Skyfall $10,780,201 5
2 Rise of the Guardians $10,400,618 3
3 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $9,156,265 4
4 Lincoln $8,916,813 5

That’s what happened here, too. Among September releases, “The November Man” with Pierce Brosnan did best, finishing in fifth place with $5.4 million, while “As Above/So Below” finished sixth with $3.7 million.

The weekend’s sole new release, “The Identical,” a faith-based take on Elvis-like twins that got trashed by the critics (4% on RT), was returned to sender (or was lonesome tonight, or got stuck in the ghetto, or ...), finishing in 11th place with $1.9 million in 1,956 theaters.

How bad is that? It’s the lowest gross of the year for a movie opening in more than 1,500 theaters. By far:

Rank Movie Studio Total Gross Opening Gross Thtrs
1 The Identical Free $1,911,000 $1,911,000 1,956
2 Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return CE $8,462,027 $3,747,780 2,658
3 The Quiet Ones LGF $8,509,867 $3,880,053 2,027
4 Vampire Academy Wein. $7,791,979 $3,921,742 2,676
5 Moms' Night Out TriS $10,429,707 $4,311,083 1,044
6 And So It Goes CE $14,932,905 $4,642,329 1,762
7 Bears BV $17,780,194 $4,776,267 1,720
8 Labor Day Par. $13,371,528 $5,175,282 2,584
9 Sabotage (2014) ORF $10,508,518 $5,272,444 2,486
10 Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For W/Dim. $12,906,000 $6,317,683 2,894

You have to go back to “The Fifth Estate” last year to find a movie that opened in more than 1,500 theaters and grossed less opening weekend: $1.6 million. And even it opened in fewer theaters than “The Identical” (1,769).

So what’s the rationale for Freestyle Releasing (the group behind “God’s Not Dead”) choosing 1,956 theaters for “The Identical”? Because of 1956? The year Elvis broke? Cute, but probably not a good strategy. I don’t want to be cruel, but lawdy, Miss Clawdy.

The Identical bombs at box office

For some reason, Cabbage-Patch Elvis didn't click with moviegoers. 

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Posted at 09:45 AM on Sep 07, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday September 06, 2014

Quote of the Day

“Should studios be worried [about the weak summer box office]? I think they should be, a little. It’s probably not a complete coincidence that the year’s biggest surprise hit, The Lego Movie, is a self-aware fable predicting an eventual revolt by a captive audience that’s tired of being told that everything is awesome when everything isn’t. Accordingly, this summer provided a jolting reminder that there are some things even unstoppable systematized marketing can’t overcome: American moviegoers tend to get bored with a franchise by the fourth installment (Transformers), there is such a thing as rebooting too soon (Amazing Spider-Man 2), stars can lose their star power (BlendedEdge of Tomorrow), audiences can smell a cheap knockoff a mile away (Into the Storm), a sense of same-iness can turn a seemingly guaranteed home run into a mere triple (X-Men: Days of Future Past), and sometimes an idea is exactly as bad as it sounds (Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys). Yes, huge overseas grosses pulled a number of domestic shortfallers into very solid profit, but nobody believes that level of international enthusiasm is going to last forever. Historically, audiences in other countries tend to tire of the same stuff that Americans do; they just do it two or three years (or one sequel) later. On the bright side, the greater-than-predicted success of MaleficentLucy, and The Fault in Our Stars suggests that there might possibly be some money to be made in pursuing a demographic that … what’s it called … not “men,” but … I’m blanking. Forget I mentioned it.”

-- Mark Harris, “Hollywood’s Horrid Summer: Why the Box Office Has Been Worse Than It Looks (and Won’t Get Better Soon),” on the Grantland site. BTW: If we are tiring of being told that everything is awesome when it isn't? That's really, really good. See this.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Whistling past the graveyard? “Amazing Spider-Man 2” grossed half of what “Spider-Man” grossed in 2002. Adjust for the inflation and it's one-third. 

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Posted at 05:58 AM on Sep 06, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday September 05, 2014

Rick Perlstein at Seattle Town Hall

Rick Perlstein at Seattle Town Hall

Perlstein and friend. 

Wednesday night we went to hear author Rick Perlstein speak at Seattle Town Hall about Nixon and Reagan, the fall of adulthood and the rise of a blinkered, willful innocence. That’s the theme, more or less, of Perlstein’s book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” which I’ve been reading for the last 2-3 weeks.

I agree with this theme, by the way. It’s in my wheelhouse. I remember reading the James Baldwin essay “Stranger in a Village” while living in Taiwan in the late 1980s, and thinking that this sentence, despite being written in the 1950s, fit the decade I’d just lived through but exactly:

Anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

That, to me, is America in the 1980s. It’s Reagan’s America. You could argue that it’s still the GOP's America, although they’ve given up on the twinkly-eyed thing Reagan had and just roar incomprehensibly to us now. They’re just monsters.

I’ve thought about Perlstein’s theme vis a vis the movies, too. A lot of mainstream, popular movies in the 1970s were for grown-ups (“The Godfather,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), even as I, a child, collected comic books. Now the movies are for children and feature those very superheroes I put away in the late 1970s. When I was a child I read as a child: but when I became a man, they gave me back these childish things.

Why the shift? That’s what I keep wondering. Perlstein has answers. America, in “The Invisible Bridge” period of 1973 to 1976, found out things about itself it didn’t want to know: we were corrupt (Watergate), losers (Vietnam), bankrupt (NYC), criminal (CIA). So we strove to not know them. We manufactured innocence long after that innocence was dead. That’s what Reagan was good at. According to Perlstein, he’d been doing it his whole life. He took the chaos of his early years—alcoholic father, itinerant life—and gave it a shine from within. He pretended what was unstable was stable. He projected certitude in doubt, moral absolutism amid the gray. That’s what he sold to America. We bought it. In spades. We’re still buying it.

So I was ready for Perlstein’s talk, excited for the talk. Except the talk wasn’t in the main part of Town Hall but basically its basement. Couldn’t we do better? Plus Perstein didn’t really talk to us; he read to us from the preface of the book. Couldn’t he do better? Plus I didn’t have a book for him to sign—I’m reading it on a Kindle—so I missed that part of the evening. Instead, Patricia and Vinny and I, as they say, repaired to the Sorrento for drinks. It was the best part of the evening.

Even so, I recommend the book highly. It’s always good to question what we’re buying, and why. Particularly when we’ve been buying it for 30 years. 

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Posted at 08:08 AM on Sep 05, 2014 in category Books
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Lancelot Links

Forrest Gump

Angry over the movie version of his novel, author Winston Groom wrote a sequel in which Forrest loses his fortune, creates New Coke and crashes the Exxon Valdez. “Shockingly,” Nicholson writes, “it was never green-lit.”

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Posted at 06:10 AM on Sep 05, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Thursday September 04, 2014

Quote of the Day

“It is in the nature of photographs to haunt. Even Instagram can capture only what’s passed, the gone moment. The logo for Snapchat is a white ghost, sticking out his pink tongue: a smiley face, blowing a raspberry. I once visited a man in New Hampshire, a collector who had turned his garage into a museum for more than five thousand daguerreotypes, all portraits. He’d picked them up at yard sales. He had no idea who any of the sitters were, no names for five thousand faces of people loved only by the long dead. His garage was like a morgue crammed with unclaimed bodies, like the cloud of dust where crumpled old Facebook pages end their days.”

-- Jill LePore, in her New Yorker piece “Watching the Killing,” about the three photographs of summer that most haunted her.

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Posted at 01:25 PM on Sep 04, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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SLIDESHOW: The Late, Great, 2014 Minnesota State Fair


  • SLIDESHOW: It's dollars to donuts (or french fries ... or pronto pups ... or all-you-can-drink milk ...) that our state fair/ Is the best state fair in our state. P and I slipped out of Washington last week to visit family in Minnesota and attend the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday. We wound up being part of a record-setting crowd that day: 252,092

  • Why do I love the Minnesota State Fair so much, less so the Washington version? Is it nostalgia? Giant Slide? Pronto Pup? Root beer? I'm guessing nostalgia has a lot to do with it but the Minnesota version simply could be better. 

  • One of my first stops. You call it corn dog; we call it pronto pup.

  • In the Agriculture Building, P and I were won over less by the corn art than by the artistry of old feedbags.

  • P and Jordy rock out to “Twist and Shout” at the Giant Singalong, a new (perhaps “Glee”-inspired?) addition. Cost? Nuttin.

  • You know the Paul Westerberg song “Skyway”? That kept playing in my head as we stood in line to board the Skyride. Except my version went “I'll take the Skyride/ High above the Twinkies being deep-fried ...” That's one thing I didn't get, by the way: something deep-fried. I wanted something really, really bad for me. Next time. 

  • The best part of the Skyride was less the view than just getting away from the crowds for 60 seconds. 

  • Yeah, these guys. 

  • Here's the Giant Slide from the Skyride ...

  • ... and here it is after my dismount. 

  • P, who will go on any roller coaster in the world, the crazier the better, refused to enter this fairly sedate maze/treasure hunt. She says they scare her. 

  • Milk is big in the Midwest.

  • The Dairy Building girls. Oh, and 1 boy. I recommend the chocolate malt.

  • We also saw one of the dairy queens being sculpted in butter.

  • Ye Old Mill is a ride in the dark in a rickety little boat that takes you past decades-old dioramas that don't make much sense anymore (leprechans; three little pigs). So it's appropriate that the Minnesota GOP (rebranded “Growth & Opportunity Party”) is right next door.

  • Just a reminder where all of those french fries go.

  • The Midway at 5 pm. Still packed. When are these people going to leave?

  • That's about the time we arrived at the Grandstand for Music-on-a-stick. The music? Eh. But it was nice to sit down for a while

  • The view from the Grandstand.

  • Whirly girly gig, who can stop this kid?

  • I mean this one. Ryan's 11th-hour attempt at winning stuffed animals came to naught. So did my attempts to win something for him. I did blast two of the three superheavy milk bottles down with a baseball, but the only consolation prize I got was the fact that the ticket taker/barker immediately shooed me away. As if I were a threat. In my mind it was a kind of victory.

  • *FIN*
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Posted at 06:06 AM on Sep 04, 2014 in category Travels
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Wednesday September 03, 2014

A Personal Journey Through Martin Scorsese's Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

It was fun comparing and contrasting Siskel and Ebert's top 10 love for Woody Allen recently, so I thought I'd try it with other directors. 

One of the most startling revelations in the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times and films of Roger Ebert, comes from Martin Scorsese. He admits he was depressed in the 1980s, but we all knew that. He also admits he was suicidal, and what helped bring him back from the edge was an award he won at the Toronto Film Festival, instigated by Siskel and Ebert. He basically says they helped save his life. Pretty cool. Then they panned “The Color of Money,” which is even cooler.

That said, how much top 10 love did Marty get from S&E? 

A lot. Here's a list of all of Marty's movies from 1973 to 1999, when Gene died.

Scorsese's Movies Siskel  Ebert
Mean Streets (1973) #5 #8
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)   #3
Taxi Driver (1976) #7 #2
New York, New York (1977)    
The Last Waltz (1978)    
Raging Bull (1980) #1 #2
The King of Comedy (1982)    
After Hours (1985)   #2
The Color of Money (1986)    
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) #1  
Goodfellas (1990) #1 #1
Cape Fear (1991)    
The Age of Innocence (1993) #7 #2
Casino (1995)   #5
Kundun (1997)    

He got more love from Roger (8-6) but ... a higher degree of it from Gene? In an 11-year period, 1980 to 1990, Scorsese directed Siskel's #1 movie of the year three times. He also directed one of Siskel's top 10 movies of the 1970s (“Mean Streets”) and his top movie of the 1980s (“Raging Bull”). “Goodfellas” probably wouldn't have been Gene's top film of the 1990s, not with “Fargo” and “Hoop Dreams” around, but it would've made the cut. Third or fourth, I'd guess.

Interesting that Roger has “Alice” in there at #3 for 1974, then “Age of Innocence” at #2 in 1993. These are the more womencentric Scorsese flicks, which tend to get dismissed. Certainly not rewatched. Maybe I should rewatch them.

I also like their big, mid-1980s Scorsese battle. Roger chose “After Hours” as his #2 movie of 1985 while it didn't make Gene's list; Gene chose “Last Temptation” as his #1 movie of 1988 while it didn't make Roger's list. I think the former has the bigger cult following, but “Last Temptation” got lost amid all the fundamentalist handwringing. Another movie worth revisiting. 

Which of Marty's movies would have made my top 10 list? I don't know. All I know is the greatest double feature I've ever seen happened at the Neptune Theater in 1992, when I saw—both for the first time—“Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Doesn't get much better than that.

Raging Bull

They didn't agree in 1980, when it was Gene's #1 and Roger's #2 movie of the year, but by 1990 they both agreed “Raging Bull” was the #1 movie of the decade.

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Posted at 12:21 PM on Sep 03, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Tuesday September 02, 2014

Box Office: How 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Became the No. 1 Movie of the Year

Guardians of the Galaxy — number one movie of the year

Come and get your love.

Here are portraits of three summer blockbusters:

Movie A

Week Rank Wknd Box Office % Drop
1 1 $91,608,337  
2 2 $35,501,212 -61.2%
3 3 $16,803,227 -52.7%
4 5 $7,823,388 -53.4%
5 7 $3,778,605 -51.7%

 Movie B

Week Rank Wknd Box Office % Drop
1 1 $100,038,390 -
2 1 $37,050,185 -63.0%
3 2 $16,302,415 -56.0%
4 5 $9,845,720 -39.6%
5 7 $4,702,553 -52.2%

Movie C

Week Rank Wknd Box Office % Drop
1 1 $94,320,883 -
2 2 $42,124,922 -55.3%
3 2 $25,115,564 -40.4%
4 1 $17,202,212 -31.5%
5 1 $17,077,000 -0.70%

They all start out about the same place but different things happen. Movie A drops off fast, and keeps dropping at the same heavy pace until it’s irrelevant. Movie B starts out a little higher, drops off a little faster, bounces around a bit; but by the fifth weekend, it, too, is yesterday’s news.

Movie C? It drops off marginally, but then shores itself up. Each weekend it drops off less and less until by the fourth and fifth weekends it reclaims the No. 1 spot.

Movie A is “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which, domestically, grossed barely half of its opening weekend total ($202 million, currently 8th for the year). Movie B is “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which ... ditto ($244 million, 4th).

And Movie C? “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which has now grossed $280 million and is currently the No. 1 movie of the year. It also looks to save Hollywood from the ignominy of the first summer without a $300 million movie since 2001. It’s also the first August release to be the No. 1 movie of the summer since ... I don’t know when. Probably B.J. (Before “Jaws”).

How did it happen? Here are the Rotten Tomatoes scores (critics/audience) for all three:

Movie Critics Audience
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 53% 69%
Transformers: Age of Extinction 18% 54%
Guardians of the Galaxy 92% 95%

It’s called word of mouth, kids.

It helped that the new wide releases were nothing to take your family to over Labor Day weekend. “As Above/So Below,” a thriller with a 39% RT rating, debuted in fourth with $8.6 million, while “The November Man,” starring Pierce Brosnan (37% RT), debuted in sixth with $7.8 million.

“Frank Miller’s Sin City 2,” meanwhile, continued to fall like a rock. It debuted horribly and still fell off 65% in its second weekend. After 11 days, it's grossed a total of $11 million, which the first “Sin City,” back in 2005, grossed in one day.

It’s called word of mouth, kids.

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Posted at 06:20 AM on Sep 02, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Monday September 01, 2014

Quote of the Day

From David Carr's review of Nick Davies' book, “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch”:

While Davies is a populist and a partisan who loves catching out the rich and punishing elites, he clearly believes that the common folk of Britain have gotten exactly the government and media they deserve.

This is my feeling about the U.S. as well—particularly the folks who voted for Reagan then wondered where the middle class went.

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Posted at 06:20 PM on Sep 01, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Ronald Reagan's Message to George Clooney, Matt Damon, Et al.

“Some people think an actor should keep his mouth shut. I think that is wrong. An actor should be careful to know that no group is using him for a selfish purpose, but if he sincerely believes in something he should use his voice.”

-- Ronald Reagan, Democrat, in an AP column in 1945, as reported in Rick Perlstein's “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

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Posted at 01:59 PM on Sep 01, 2014 in category Books
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