erik lundegaard

Saturday February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

First shot of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise: Sept. 8, 1966

Airdate: Sept. 8, 1966: Our first shot of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and Spock has the conn. 

I met him once. From February 27 through March 3, 1979, “Vincent,” a one-man play he wrote, directed and starred in, in which he mostly played the brother, Theo Van Gogh, rather than the title character, debuted at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For much of that spring, he toured the country with “Vincent”; then, as the program noted, “He will reprise the role of Spock in ‘Star Trek—The Motion Picture,’ scheduled for release in 1979.”

That’s why I was at the Guthrie, of course, solo like the man onstage. I was 16, and a Trekkie, or Trekker, and because of my father’s Star-Tribune connections I got to go backstage. There was a group there, all older and better-dressed than me—I think I had an ill-fitting brown suit on—and when Leonard Nimoy finally emerged everyone applauded and crowded around and asked questions about art and Van Gogh and not at all about Spock, who, reprised or not, was still the sore subject of Nimoy’s autobiography, “I Am Not Spock.” I was so quiet during all of this, so Minnesota Nice, that Nimoy signed everyone’s programs but mine. I had to be pointed out to him so he wouldn’t miss me. He didn’t. (See below.)

Most of what I know of TV shows, I know because of “Star Trek.” Once I became a fan, a true fan, I became aware of the following:

  1. episodes had titles
  2. production dates didn’t necessarily correlate to air dates
  3. what a pilot was.

Remember in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega asks that question? “What’s a pilot?” Obviously not a “Star Trek” fan. Every Trekkie knew it was “The Cage,” about Capt. Christopher Pike, which was remade into the two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in the first season, since ... why not? They had the footage. At one point, probably around 1978, I had a chart up on the wall of my bedroom running down the episodes. I remember being monumentally disappointed with the production date/air date thing. “Wait, you mean they showed ‘Man Trap’ first? And ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before?’ later? Wouldn’t that seem odd to people watching?” I tried to memorize all the episode titles. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. I learned Shakespeare because of “Star Trek.” I learned about Horatio Hornblower. In college, my humanities professor used “Star Trek” to exemplify the human dilemma between logic (Spock) and emotion (McCoy). I was always a McCoy; I aspired to Spock. 

“Star Trek” also made me realize this: 4) network executives are idiots. Among their notes after seeing the pilot: “Get rid of the guy with the ears.” When they promoted the show in the fall of 1966, they barely showed Spock at all. They thought America would reject him, this elf creature, this Satanic figure. Instead, l’opposite. He became the breakout star. Spock was the outsider of the crew, cooler than cool. In an emotional time, he was all about that logic. He was also the only one with superpowers: mind-melds and neck pinches. Much has been written about “Star Trek”’s optimistic vision of the future—that eventually, after some messy eugenics wars, we would all be united together in space: black, white, yellow, brown, green. The show debuted only a year after Selma, while we were fighting hot in Vietnam and cold across the Iron Curtain, so this was a far-seeing vision. At the same time—and this has been written to death, too—the show simply transposed many our problems into the future. Humans may have been united, but aliens, even half-aliens like Spock, were the new minority: forever mistrusted, first scapegoated. You don’t think Muslim-Americans don’t identify with Spock in the first-season “Balance of Terror” episode? The Enterprise has been attacked by people who look like Spock; so crewmembers blame Spock. They assume he’ll betray them; they want to incarcerate him. Even Stiles stops short of waterboarding, though.

Spock, Uhura, in Man Trap

In “The Man Trap,” Spock is the man not trapped, despite the flirtations of Lt. Uhura.

I was three when “Star Trek” debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, so I caught the show in syndicated reruns in the ’70s, weeknights at 6 PM on Channel 11 (MetroMedia Television, Minneapolis). At the same time, I listened to Nimoy narrate “In Search of ...” on ... was it Saturdays? I saw him in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It always seemed odd seeing him as not Spock, with his hair feathered and parted, with his ears rounded. Nimoy had his problems with the character, about being so identified with something he’d created, but what a world it opened for him. Before “Star Trek” he was the go-to ethnic guy on episodic TV; he never had an acting job that lasted longer than two weeks. Afterwards? From the “Vincent” program:

Actor Poet Student Husband
Writer Photographer Recording Artist Father
Director Lecturer Pilot  

Without Spock, would anyone have given a shit about his love poetry? Or his rendition of “I Walk the Line”? What must that be like, really? To be as ignored and marginalized as any actor, struggling to break though; and then you do, you break through, and become beloved on the earth. That must mess with your head a little. That must make you believe you should not only sing “Proud Mary” but record it.

I always assumed he was a reluctant participant in anything “Star Trek,” but he kept showing up, didn’t he? When NASA rolled out the space shuttle Enterprise in 1976, he was there on the tarmac along with most of the original cast; it was Shatner who was absent. Nimoy showed up in the first movie (barely, it turns out), and when he died in the second we heard it was because he wanted out. Not really. He wanted to direct. And he did: “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”; then he directed something completely different, “Three Men and a Baby,” which became the most popular movie of l987. Here’s the odd thing: he wasn’t able to cash in on it. Did any director of the biggest movie of the year have a shorter shelf life afterwards? Nimoy only gave us three more: “The Good Mother” (1988) with Diane Keaton; “Funny About Love” with Gene Wilder (one of his last starring roles); and “Holy Matrimony,” in which, in a Hutterite community, a 13-year-old boy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is forced to marry his late brother’s 26-year-old wife (played by Patricia Arquette). Oddly, the kid doesn’t seem happy about it. (My 13-year-old self would’ve passed out from happiness.) Then Nimoy directed one show in 1995 and no more.

But he kept acting. And he kept playing (or playing off) Spock. Despite “I Am Not Spock,” he was the last survivor of  the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew—part of J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, where, sadly, he became responsible for the destruction of the planet Vulcan. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get rebooted.

The usually reticent New York Times has a lovely obit, in which Virginia Heffernan not only translates Spock’s signature phrase, “Live long and prosper,” into Vulcan, but writes that Nimoy brought to life “one of the most indelible characters of the last half century.” Indeed. 

Vincent, starring Leonard Nimoy, program, Guthrie Theater, 1979, autographed

The autographed program: Click for a slightly bigger version. 

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Posted at 09:54 AM on Feb 28, 2015 in category TV
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Friday February 27, 2015

Top 25 Movies of the Decade So Far

Top 25 movies of the 2010s

Hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the decade. And you know what that means, don't you? Listomania.

Yesterday, The Film Stage came out with its list of the top 50 films of the half-decade, and it's ... um ... Well, let's just say their arthouse films (“Upstream Color,” “Before Midnight,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”) are not my arthouse films. Except when they are (“The Tree of Life,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Master”).

Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own list. 

Feelings about movies change, of course. Some grow in the mind with repeated viewings or simply through repeated thought; others diminish. Roger Ebert's favorite movie of 1980 was “The Black Stallion, with ”Raging Bull“ second; but when he did his ”Best of the '80s“ list 10 years later, ”Stallion“ didn't make the cut while ”Bull" was now No. 1 for the entire decade. 

Here's mine. Your mileage will vary.

  1. The Tree of Life (2011)
  2. Boyhood (2014
  3. De rouille et d'os (2012)
  4. Ida (2014)
  5. Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
  6. Birdman (2014)
  7. Restrepo (2010)
  8. Moneyball (2011)
  9. Le Passé (2013)
  10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  11. The Drop (2014)
  12. End of Watch (2012)
  13. The Social Network (2010)
  14. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
  15. La Grand Bellezza (2013)
  16. A Separation (2011)
  17. The Master (2012)
  18. A Film Unfinished (2010)
  19. Margin Call (2011)
  20. American Hustle (2013)
  21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
  22. Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
  23. Young Adult (2011)
  24. The Descendants (2011)
  25. Toy Story 3 (2010)
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Posted at 06:41 AM on Feb 27, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Wednesday February 25, 2015

Obama's Veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the Third of His Presidency; What Does That Mean Historically?

Via Senate.gov, which should know:

President Reg. Pocket Total
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) 372  263  635
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) 304  110  414
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) 180  70  250
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) 73  108  181
Grover Cleveland (1893-1897) 42  128  170
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) 45  48  93
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) 42  40  82
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) 39  39  78
Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977) 48  18  66
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) 20  30  50
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) 19  25  44
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
29  15  44
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) 33  11  44
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) 26  17  43
William McKinley (1897-1901) 36  42
William H. Taft (1909-1913) 30  39
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) 21  16  37
William J. Clinton (1993-2001) 36  37
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) 13  18  31
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) 16  14  30
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) 21  29
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) 12  21
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) 12  13
Andrew Jackson(1829-1837) 12
Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) 12
George W. Bush (2001-2009) 12  12
John Tyler (1841-1845) 10
Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) 9
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) 7
James Buchanan (1857-1861) 7
James Madison (1809-1817) 7
Warren G. Harding(1921-1923) 6
Barack H. Obama (2009-present) 3 3
James K. Polk (1845-1849) 3
George Washington (1789-1797) 2
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) 2
James Monroe (1817-1825) 1
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) 1
James A. Garfield (1881) 0
John Adams (1797-1801) 0
John Q. Adams (1825-1829) 0
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) 0
William H. Harrison (1841) 0
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) 0

May there be more. 

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Posted at 05:31 PM on Feb 25, 2015 in category Politics
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Monday February 23, 2015

Sweathog Again

“The disco music shifts to the Bee Gees, white men who have done this wonderful thing of making themselves sound like black women. 'Stay' Alive' comes on with all that amplified throbbleo and a strange nasal whining underneath: the John Travolta theme song. Rabbit still thinks of him as one of the Sweathogs from Mr. Kotter's class but for awhile back there last summer the U.S.A. was one hundred percent his, every twat under fifteen wanting to be humped by a former Sweathog in the back seat of a car parked in Brooklyn.”

-- part of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom's driving-home musings in the summer of '79, in John Updike's 1981 novel, “Rabbit is Rich.” I thought of this passage after last night's doubly odd showing from John Travolta: both on the red carpet with Scarlett Johansson (below), and on stage with Idina Menzel. I think John needs another talk with Quentin Tarantino. Maybe QT (who's got issues of his own) could at least get him to lose the rug. 

Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta: red carpet moment

Sweathog again.

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Posted at 05:40 PM on Feb 23, 2015 in category Books
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Sunday February 22, 2015

Best Picture Box Office: Yeah Yeah, 'American Sniper': But Which Film Did Best Overseas?

2014 best picture nominees

First, how great is it that the Oscar race is coming down to two artistic, independent and original movies like “Boyhood” and “Birdman”? I've been thinking about this all week and wanted to reiterate it here as a kind of thank you to the cinematic (or Academic) universe, before delving into the dirt of the numbers. 

Second, a mea culpa on my post-Oscar nomination, um, post, “The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees,” in which I worried over the low, low box office of the nominees, adding, “I could see 'Imitation Game' gaining some moviegoers.” (I was right.) “Will they expand 'Birdman'?” (They did, barely.) “Will they re-release 'Whiplash'?” (Dunno.) And finally:

“Are people psyched to see 'American Sniper' now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?”

Five days later, it had grossed more than $100 million and counting. It will probably be the biggest box-office hit of 2014. So ... culpa from mea.

Even with that sudden turnaround, though, the Oscar box office numbers are down. 2009 was the first year since World War II with more than five best picture nominees—when they Academy, trying to boost ratings, went from five nominees to 10. A few years later, they opted for 5 to 10. Here's what that b.o. has looked like:

Year No. Films Total Gross Avg. Gross High Low
2009 10 $1.7 billion $170 m Avatar: $749 A Serious Man: $9
2010 10 $1.3 billion $135 m Toy Story 3: $415 Winter's Bone: $6.5
2011 9 $628 million $69 m The Help: $169 The Tree of Life: $13
2012 9 $1 billion $111 m Lincoln: $182 Amour: $6.7
2013 9 $813 million $90 m Gravity: $274 Nebraska: $17
2014 8 $620 million $77 m American Sniper: $319 Whiplash: $11

Huge blockbusters the first few years with this format. Then a tapering off.

2014's numbers will continue to rise a bit, maybe another $30-$50 million, mostly on the back of “American Sniper.” So it won't be the worst total b.o. since 2009. But close. 

And it will certainly be the most lopsided. Even “Avatar,” the most dominant box-office hit of all time (unadjusted), didn't dominate its fellow nominees the way “Sniper” has done this year. Eastwood's flick has grossed $319 million domestically. The other seven movies combined? $301 million. 

Here are the numbers, with worldwide gross (domestic + foreign), along with the non-UK foreign market where it's made the most money:

Picture Domestic Worldwide Big Foreign Mkt.
American Sniper $319,607,000 $428,107,000 Italy
The Imitation Game $83,921,000 $160,840,682 Australia/ Italy
The Grand Budapest Hotel $59,100,318 $174,600,318 France/Australia
Selma $49,598,000 $53,598,000 Italy
Birdman $37,733,000 $73,333,000 Australia/ Italy
The Theory of Everything $34,145,000 $104,145,000 Italy/ S. Korea
Boyhood $25,295,600 $44,438,600 Germany/ Neth.
Whiplash $11,330,000 $12,231,092 Turkey

How great that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” did better abroad than any other best picture nominee—even “Sniper”? Little Wes Anderson and his quirky characters. Who knew? Bravo, too, Germany and the Netherlands for the “Boyhood” support. 

See you in a few hours. 

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Posted at 01:14 PM on Feb 22, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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GREAT 'Birdman' Spoof to Open Spirit Awards

Saw it via Jeff Wells' “Hollywood Elsewhere” site. Guy doesn't miss a beat. Except for the “Lincoln” debacle, in which he told Daniel Day-Lewis how to act. Plus his odd “42” poster defense, where he gave tips on baserunning to Jackie Robinson. But ... you know.

Here's another “Birdman” spoof, which is less exact but brings a bigger smile: “Big Birdman.”

There will be more of these spoofs. That's how iconic the movie already is. 

Oh, as for Spirit Award winners for best independent films? “Birdman,” Richard Linklater, Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, “Ida,” Dan Gilroy (screenplay). 

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Posted at 12:25 PM on Feb 22, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Box Office: 'Fifty Shades' Goes Down

Fifty Shades of Grey

Three new movies opened this weekend, grossing $11 million (“McFarland, USA”—nice '70s-era title), $11 million (“The DUFF”), and $5.8 million (“Hot Tub Time Machine 2”). The less said about this last the better, other than the usual “ad wizards” talk. Was any sequel less wanted? Clamored for nowhere?

As a result, the top three spots remained unchanged: 1) “Fifty Shades of Grey” with $23 (down 72.7%), 2) “Kingsman” at $17 (down 51%) and 3) “SpongeBob” at $15 (down 50%).

That 72.7% second-weekend drop for “Fifty Shades,” btw, is the 39th-biggest drop ever. If you discount movies that opened in fewer than 2,000 theaters, it's the 11th-biggest drop ever. For movies in more than 3,000 theaters? Tied for second worst. Only the 2009 “Friday the 13th” remake dropped faster (80.4%). The aptly named “Doom,” from 2005, dropped at the same rate as “Fifty Shades,” and it had the aptly named “Rock” to accompany its fall. Apparently we're done with Mr. Grey now. It was all over so fast, wasn't it?

Among the Oscar nominees, “American Sniper” grossed another $9.6 for a $319 domestic gross and a $406 worldwide gross, while “The Imitation Game” pulled in $2.5 for $83 domestic gross and $160 worldwide. More on Oscar box office in a moment. 

As for what should win the box-office headline sweepstakes this weekend?

  • “Fifty Shades” Goes Down
  • “Fifty Shades” Drops To Its Knees
  • “Fifty Shades” Shoots Wad
  • You Won't See Mr. Grey Now

You have my pick. 

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Posted at 09:39 AM on Feb 22, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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My Favorite Oscar Acceptance Speech

I thought I'd posted this before, maybe I have, but it never hurts to do it again. It's Dustin Hoffman winning for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979 (technically April 14, 1980). 

Keep in mind that this was a period of political and Academy controversy. During the previous decade, George C. Scott turned down his Oscar for “Patton,” Marlon Brando sent up Sacheen Littlefeather to protest the treatment of American Indians in Hollywood films, Bert Schenider said what he said after winning best doc for “Hearts and Minds,” Vanessa Redgrave said what she said after winning best supporting for “Julia.” Hell, only one of the other four nominees even bothered to show up that night.

Plus Hoffman, as he says, had been critical of the Academy. He was critical of the process, of the concept of “winners” and “losers.” So it appears when he gets onstage that he might ... protest. He might reject the award. He places it on the lectern as if it's something he doesn't want. He makes jokes about it, and about himself. 

The speech is a protest of a kind, but it's not sharp-edged and accusatory; it's humanistic and embracing. Particularly these words near the end:

We are part of an artistic family. There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy—pardon me, in the Screen Actors Guild—and probably one-hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don't work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you're a broke actor, you can't write, you can't paint; you have to practice accents while you're driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost.

 Here it is:

Plus, damn, Jane Fonda was hot. 

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Posted at 07:28 AM on Feb 22, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Saturday February 21, 2015

David Cone, the '98 Yankees, and the Rewards of Self-Delusion

Reading Buster Olney's “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty” (recommended), I came across this:

Before games [Tino Martinez] and [David] Cone would talk about reasons to dislike that day’s opponents, a method of manufacturing a mental edge. They might focus on a rival’s quote in the newspaper, translating benign remarks into inflammatory slights, or concentrate on an annoying mannerism. “If the opposing pitcher struck out one of our hitters,” Cone said, “and pimped around the mound a little bit, we were all over him—‘Who does this guy think he is?’ ‘Is he showing us up?’ It could be something completely innocuous.” It was an old-school way of competing, Cone thought, a method of tricking yourself into a competitive fury.

What did that remind me of? Tom Verducci and Joe Torre's bookk “The Yankee Years,” and this story from the start of the '98 season:

After five games, the 1998 Yankees were 1-4, in last place, already 3 1/2 games out of first, outscored 36-15, at risk of losing their manager and letting teams like the Mariners kick sand in their faces. ... Like Torre, Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the 8th inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-and-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Moyer had dusted [Paul] O'Neill with a pitch.  

So Cone led a team meeting in which he worked himself into an angry froth over the supposed slights by the Mariners: Edgar swinging on a 3-0 pitch when his team already had a massive 4-run lead, and Jamie Moyer plunking Paul O'Neill with either his 84-mph fastball or his 68-mph changeup. And it worked. They went out and beat the M's and changed things around. The two teams respective trajectories changed after that: the M's down, the Yanks up.

Not sure what the lesson is here. Other than the rewards of self-delusion.

David Cone Perfect Game

Cone: I can't believe Jamie Moyer would blister Paul O'Neill with that 68-mph change-up!

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Posted at 11:46 AM on Feb 21, 2015 in category Yankees Suck
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Friday February 20, 2015

Q&A with Eugene G. Iredale

Q: Over the course of your career, have the kinds of cases that come to you shifted? If so, does it represent a change in the larger culture?
A: You know what I’ve noticed? The mentality that you used to see only in drug cases is the same mentality that you see in many white-collar cases.

Q: Meaning?
A: Meaning that at some point, the people who do business in this country adopted the ethic of gangsters. Except that the drug dealers are far more honest and straightforward.

-- from my Q&A with San Diego criminal defense attorney Eugene G. Iredale. The whole interview is worth reading even if you don't care about the law but do care about any of the following: nuance, literature, battling against bullies, and “lessons of common human decency and politeness.”

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Posted at 07:27 AM on Feb 20, 2015 in category Law
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Thursday February 19, 2015

Movie Review: Hannah Arendt (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I knew the phrase “banality of evil” but I didn’t know it was controversial. I simply thought it said something meaningful about human nature generally and the Holocaust specifically. To kill six million, you need more than monsters; you need bureaucrats. You need people to keep the trains running.

I also knew Arendt’s reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem first appeared in William Shawn’s The New Yorker; but I didn’t know Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) was a friend of Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer), that she was a well-known political theorist/philosopher, and that she had been a student and lover of Martin Heidegger. I didn’t know Arendt’s various philosophies—nor Heidegger’s for that matter. I still don’t. I didn’t know Heidegger had Nazi issues.

Hannah Arendt filmSo I learned all of these things watching “Hannah Arendt,” a 2012 film with mixed pedigree (Germany, Luxemburg, France), directed by Margarethe von Trotta (“Rosenstrasse”), and written by von Trotta and Pamela Katz (ditto).

What I didn’t learn? Why Arendt’s articles were controversial in the first place. I get it ... but don’t.

Here are some of the complaints we hear in the film.

“Eichmann not an anti-Semite? That’s absurd!” says Arendt’s friend, Kurt Blumenfeld, living in Israel, where Eichmann is put on trial.

“You don’t need to be smart or powerful to behave like a monster,” says Hans Jonas, a German-born philosopher living in New York City, where Hannah lives.

“That’s Hannah Arendt: all cleverness and no feeling” says Norman, one of her many detractors, superciliously.

Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s editor in chief, William Shawn, is portrayed as a genial human doormat, while another editor, Francis Wells, is portrayed as a domineering harpy who can’t wait to get her claws into Hannah.

Obviously there’s some difficulty in making a movie (a visual presentation) about someone who thinks (a non-visual action). But Hannah doesn’t just think; she talks, and argues, and smokes, and the movie captures all of this, it’s just that the arguments themselves—the movie’s core element—aren’t that interesting. They’re repetitive. She states her case, the other side can’t believe she could feel that way, she’s shocked by their shock, retreats, regroups, states her case again ... and the other side can’t believe she could feel that way.

There are good supporting performances, particularly by Axel Milberg as her husband, Heinrich Blucher, and particularly in a scene where he has a brain aneurysm; it’s one of the most effective renditions of sudden, overwhelming pain I’ve seen on film. I also liked Julia Jentsch (“Sophie Scholl”) as Hannah’s sly, amused secretary. And of course I loved being in a milieu where everyone waited for the next The New Yorker to come out and then discussed it as if it mattered. Instead of, you know, what we have today.

But “Hannah Arendt” isn’t a deep movie. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that she won the argument so overwhelmingly. There’s not much for the opposition to say. 

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Posted at 06:54 AM on Feb 19, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Tuesday February 17, 2015

Lancelot Links

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Posted at 07:23 AM on Feb 17, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday February 16, 2015

#OscarsSoWhite Maybe, But #NotAsWhiteAsWGA

After the Screen Actors Guild, I compared and contrasted the SAG awards with the Oscars—mostly to see how accurate SAG was as predictor—and noticed that, in their recent disagreements, SAG tended to choose black actors more often. For what it was worth. 

I did the same for the Writers Guild of America Awards (and for the same reason: Oscar predictor) and noticed the opposite. Here are the only four differences between the WGA and Oscar, in both original and adapted screenplays, during the last 10 years:

Year WGA* Oscar
2013 Captain Phillips 12 Years a Slave
2012 Zero Dark Thirty Django Unchained
2010 Inception The King's Speech
2009 Up in the Air Precious

*The differences in 2013 and 2009 were over adapted screenplay, 2012 and 2010 over original.  

I'm not talking about black and white writers so much, although all of the WGA writers listed are white while the Oscar winners for both “Precious” and “12 Years a Slave” are black. No, I'm talking stories; and whose stories matter. 

2010 is a racial wash. But in 2009, instead of going for the story about the white man who fires people during the global financial meltdown, Oscar went for the story about the almost unbearable sadness of a black girl with an abusive mother in Harlem in the 1980s. In 2012, instead of the story about the search for Osama bin Laden, Oscar went for the revenge flick with the black hero and the white villain set in the Old West. And in 2013, the story with the white hero and the African pirates was thrown overboard in favor of a story about a black hero and his white tormentors in the 1840s. 

Now you could argue that the Academy, which tends toward the aged, simply likes stories set in the past while the WGA prefers more modern stories. And for what it's worth, I prefer most of the movies on the WGA side. I still found it interesting, given the amount of the shit the Academy received earlier this year on racial matters. 

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Posted at 05:08 PM on Feb 16, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Wes Anderson Wins Writers Guild Award for 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Wes Anderson WGA

Wes is more; Moore is less.

Last night in a crowded field, Wes Anderson won his first WGA (Writers Guild of America) for “The Grand Budapet Hotel.” (Click here to hear his speech.) 

The competion for original screenplay was stacked: Richard Linklater for “Boyhood,” E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman for “Foxcatcher,” Dan Gilroy for “Nightcrawler,” and Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash.” Tough room but a deserved win. One of Anderson's lines made No. 2 on my list of the top 10 movie quotes of 2014

Adapated screenplay was less packed and yet WGA gave it to the least-deserving candidate: Graham Moore for “The Imitation Game.” I’m still stunned by how well-received this movie is. All the things that feel untrue in “Imitation Game” are untrue: the reductive battles among the scientists, the big blow-up with Clark where she calls him a monster, naming the computer after his lost love. Alan Turing wasn’t really closeted and he wasn’t very Sherlockian. To me, Moore took a naturally powerful story—birth of computers and Enigma and gay—and made weak tea out of it. Me, I’d have voted for “Wild”’s Nick Hornby, who helped turn a diary about a woman walking and thinking for a thousand miles into a pretty fascinating movie.

As for what these awards mean for the Oscars next week? WGA and the Oscars have agreed on screenplays about two-thirds of the time since 1990 (16 of 24 for original; 17 of 24 for adapted) and 80% of the time in the last 10 years.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar goes the same way as WGA this year. I’d be happy for Wes Anderson anyway. 

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Posted at 01:47 PM on Feb 16, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The disconnect in this film between main character and creator is so wide as to be schizophrenic.

Harry Hart/Galahad (Colin Firth), the protagonist of “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” counsels class: knocking before entering, asking before sitting, dressing appropriately (bespoke suit) before kicking ass. I enjoyed almost every moment Firth was on screen.

The movie, meanwhile, plays in the usual lowest-common-denominator mud: highly-stylized, slow-mo/sped up martial arts sequences with too much gore and too little wit. Worse, writer-director Matthew Vaughn doubles down. He pushes boundaries, as he has a tendency to do (see Chloë Grace Moretz in “Kick Ass”), but what lies on the other side of those boundaries isn’t exactly, well, classy.

Kingsman: The Secret ServiceTake the Kentucky church massacre. The film’s villain, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a multibillionaire with a lisp and a penchant for single-colored New York Yankee caps (like Vaughn himself), can’t get politicians to confront global warming. But he has a plan. It’s basically “Moonraker” with a phone app—kill most, leave the best—and he first tries it out in a backwoods Kentucky church full of racists and homophobes. The orgy of highly-stylized violence goes on interminably. To Vaughn, no part of the human body can’t be pierced for a laugh.

Then there’s the Obama factor. For someone who has difficulty getting politicians to pay attention, Valentine oddly recruits many of them to restart the human race. These include the corrupt Swedish prime minister, who looks generically Swedish, and the president of the United States, who looks very specifically like Pres. Obama. Each recruit has a transmitter surgically implanted behind his/her ear, allowing Valentine to blow off their heads if necessary; and at the end, backed by Bizet’s “Carmen,” this happens to all of them, one after the other, like fireworks or fountains. And there goes Pres. Obama’s head. Vaughn kills off the President of the United States after implying he would betray the world.

Then there’s the butt sex. Apparently only one world leader, when contacted, refuses to go along with Valentine’s scheme to kill the rest of us: Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hannah Alström), whom Valentine locks up, transmitter-less, in a dungeon in his mountain hideout. She’s still there when Harry Hart’s protégé, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), arrives in his own bespoke suit to save the day. But first, a quid-pro-quo is agreed upon. This is a takeoff on the double entendres of Bond films (as is the mountain hideout ... as is the scheme ...), but Vaughn pushes boundaries. He blurts where Bond suggested. This can be funny, but not here, not to me anyway. If Eggsy saves the world? Princess Tilde will let him take her anally.

So instead of the final make-out shot on the raft in the middle of the ocean, we get a final close-up of her ass about to be entered.

After this, Vaughn dedicates the movie to his recently deceased mother.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Vaughn says, per “Spinal Tap,” that he’s “trying to find 11 with every scene,” which is maybe part of the problem. Each scene shouldn’t have an 11. In the church scene, I was bored, with the Obama assassination I was insulted. Butt sex, I just rolled my eyes. You can parody Bond well (see “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” starring Jean Dujardin), but Vaughn simply takes the trappings of a Roger Mooreish Bond flick and gets cruder. Imagine the movie if he pushed boundaries toward the witty rather than the scatological.

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Feb 16, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Sunday February 15, 2015

Box Office: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Earns 81 Million in Green

Fifty Shades of Grey

Money shot.

Remind me never to become the head of a movie studio.

I assumed nothing much would happen with Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” and it blew away all competition. This weekend, on only its 31st day of wide release, it earned another $16 million to pass the $300 million mark. The current No. 1 movie of 2014, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” took 36 days to reach that mark, so unless “Sniper” stumbles badly near the finish, it will soon take over that mantle. I’m guessing before the end of the month.

I also assumed “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the movie based upon the scandalous (or scandalously written) novel, wouldn’t do much business. Soft porn is all well and fine when it’s on your Kindle, but showing up in theaters for it? I could imagine the movie bombing after all that hype. 

Instead, it’s grossed $81 million over three days, which is the second-highest-grossing February release ever, after “The Passion of the Christ” ($83 million in 2004)—with which, you could say, it shares certain thematic elements: bondage, whipping, a hint of redemption. So studio heads take note. Maybe this will be our regular February fare in the future.

The other wide-release opener, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a kind of teenage James Bond reimagined through a “Mad Men” lens, grossed $35 million in 3,204 theaters to finish second. The second weekend of “SpongeBob” finished third, with $30 million. “Sniper” was fourth, while “Jupiter Ascending” continued to descend, grossing $9 million for a total gross of $32.

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Posted at 11:09 AM on Feb 15, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday February 14, 2015

David Carr (1956-2015)

David Carr

Carr: The alt-weekly guy from Minneapolis that made it big. Earl Wilson/The New York Times

What a shitty week for journalism: Brian Williams, Bob Simon, Jon Stewart. But this one hurts the most. 

Patricia and I had just finished the second-to-last episode of the first season of “Fargo” when she got the news via iPhone. That seems fitting. We were immersed in Minnesota, where David Carr began his career, then read all about it via digital technology, which was the great, last battle of Carr's career: how to keep the news relevant despite our tendencies toward the free and easy within this technology.

The 19 David Carr links on this blog are indicative. The majority are from the first years, 2008 and '09, when I read Carr, and The New York Times, regularly. Here's how I kept introducing him:

  • One of my favorite New York Times writers ...
  • Carr, whom I love ...
  • Leave it to David Carr ...
  • One of the best journalists working ...

And then it stopped. In the Social Media age, I got directed to places and went. I got complacent. Somehow I kept bypassing him.

I was probably most admiring in this March 2012 intro to the 2011 documentary, “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which featured Carr:

I was talking about this documentary with Evan, the friend who recommended it, and admitted it made me realize why I never became a true journalist. ...

In the doc you watch David Carr, media columnist forThe New York Times, take on various bombastic elements and shut them up. He stares them down, calls them on their bullshit, then moves on. Even when I’m able to do the first two things, I don’t move on. I allow the first two actions to linger and infect the surroundings. Carr, who looks like nothing much, Bilbo Baggins’ after a bad night, with a hoarse voice and a skinny neck and a wide middle and a face that seems permanently bent toward the ground, is able to cut so surgically through situations that there’s little bleeding. It’s like those scenes where Zorro takes a swipe at a candle and it doesn’t move, causing the villain to laugh at Zorro’s ineptitude and anticipate his demise. Which is when Zorro holds up the tip of the candle, or pushes the tip off with his sword, or stomps on the ground and the candle crumbles to bits.

That’s what Carr is like. The other guy laughs at his ineptitude and then David stomps on the ground and the dude’s argument crumbles to bits.

As both Evan and I admired this ability of Carr’s, and lamented our own ability to cry bullshit in social situations, he added, “You know what I could use? A David-Carr-in-the-box. So when I get in those situations, I can take out my David-Carr-in-the-box, and just, you know, pop. Let him loose.”

I agreed. We could all use a David-Carr-in-the-box. 

This scene from the doc, “David Carr vs. Some guys from VICE,” has been making the rounds again since Carr's death:

Visually it's a no-brainer: Carr, balding and dimunitive and typing away, engaging hipster-douches who seem to be trying on journalism like ironic fedoras. I have a visceral reaction to these guys. And they don't disappoint. But that's not the point. I think the key to Carr's strength, as journalist and man, is his ability to both engage them, call them on bullshit, and then keep engaging them. He doesn't dismiss them as I do. Even when Shane Smith, the founder and CEO of VICE, talks about the cannibalism in Liberia, then takes the Times to task for not covering the war “properly,” Carr simply interrupts:

Before you ever went there? We've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet, doesn't give you the right to insult what we do. So continue, continue. 

“So continue, continue,” should be the mantra for journalists everywhere.

I never met Carr but I knew tons of people who knew him well. We were on different paths. While I was living in Taiwan and studying Chinese, he was in a north Minneapolis crackhouse. He aspired to the journalistic, I aspired to the literary. Jelani Cobb, in his New Yorker tribute, writes about how Carr, editor of the D.C. alt-weekly City Paper, gave him his first job, adding, “I started at the paper very much afflicted with the insufferable omniscience of many twenty-something writers.” That was me, too. Cobb also has this line about Carr: “ ... he didn’t confuse his unwillingness to judge with an absence of standards,” which is something like what I'm trying to describe above. Carr doesn't judge the VICE guys by their beards and homburgs, but he doesn't let them get away with shit, either.

In her tribute, Sasha Stone calls Carr, her friend and mentor, “Journalism's True North.” I don't think that's hyperbole.

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Posted at 08:25 AM on Feb 14, 2015 in category Media
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Thursday February 12, 2015

Review of the Day

“Much of the novel's fixation with style, or with the barrage of stuff that a sense of style can buy, is carried onto the screen. Where the money shots should be, we get shots of what money can provide. ... The only viewer, in fact, who may feel shortchanged by 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is Liam Helmer, who is listed in the credits as 'BDSM Technical Consultant.' Check out the Red Room: rack upon rack of cutting-edge bullwhips, a variety of high-end ass paddles, and more restraining cuffs than you can shake a stick at. And how much of this kit gets used? A mere fraction, and even then Christian, supposedly the maestro of pain, can do little more than brush his cat-o’-nine-tails over Ana’s flesh with a feathery backhand. He looks like Roger Federer, practicing gentle cross-court lobs at the net.

”And there you have the problem with this film. It is gray with good taste—shade upon shade of muted naughtiness, daubed within the limits of the R rating. Think of it as the 'Downton Abbey' of bondage, designed neither to menace nor to offend but purely to cosset the fatigued imagination. You get dirtier talk in most action movies, and more genitalia in a TED talk on Renaissance sculpture.“

-- Anthony Lane, in ”No Pain, No Gain,“ his review of ”Fifty Shades of Grey," released tomorrow.

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Posted at 07:00 PM on Feb 12, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Disliking the Latimers: A Few Thoughts on BBC's 'Broadchurch'

Broadchurch

The father, Mark, a wanker. 

I assume we’re supposed to dislike the Latimers.

In most detective procedurals, such a family would have nothing but our sympathy—they’ve lost a child, after all—but in “Broadchurch,” a BBC one-off which won the BAFTA for best dramatic series in 2013, they’re just awful. All of them. Not in grubby ways but petty ways. So the town of Broadchurch, too. Everyone has their secrets, and most have nothing to do with the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer, found strangled on the beach beneath the town’s picturesque cliffs in the first episode; but they all hide their secrets from the detectives, Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller (David Tenant and Olivia Colman), and thus impede the investigation. Everyone demands the detectives fix the problem but everyone gets in their way.

Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) is the first and most unforgivable. He’s the father of Danny, who went missing one night/early morning. And where was Mark? With a um ... er... uh ... mate, he says. Story doesn’t check. The detectives come back to him and he obfuscates, schemes, lies. He’s so inept, he actually lets himself get arrested for the murder of his own son. And to protect what? An affair, of course. What a wanker.

The daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), isn’t much better. She’s 15, has a boyfriend she’s kept secret from her parents (because he’s 17 or because he’s black?), and, with cops all around, she’s too stupid to throw away the cocaine in her room. Then she stupidly rallies the town against the second murder suspect, Jack Marshall (David Bradley of “Red Wedding” infamy), who runs a local newsstand, and is headmaster for a boy-scouts-on-the-water program, even though ... wait for it ... he has sex abuse charges against him in his past. But is it peodphilia? It was sex with a student, yes, but a 15-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, and the two eventually married. Marshall’s indescretion, adjusted for his age, is actually similar to Chloe’s boyfriend’s (also with a 15-year-old) not to mention Mark himself, who impregnated Beth (Jodie Whittaker), his future wife, and mother to Chloe and Danny, when she was 15.

Even the mother, Beth, semi-sympathetic in the first episode, is awful—but it’s less what she does than the way she does it. Her pain feels ... shallow. It’s not bone-deep. And here’s the thing: I can’t figure out if this was part of the show’s plan—to make Beth unlikeable—or if Jodie Whittaker just isn’t a very good actress. (Cf., Colman in the final episode, who won a BAFTA for  her performance.)

Either way, there they are.

I like this aspect of the show—disliking the Latimers—and I like the problems that everyone in town has, and tries to hide, and how the two detectives, the cynical outsider (Hardy) and the empathetic insider (Miller), don’t mesh, initially, but as the show progresses become more like each other: she tougher, he nicer. Or at least less of an ass.

What I got tired of? How almost everyone in town wasn’t asleep the night Danny was killed. That got old. “I couldn’t sleep that night ... “ begins how many flashbacks? And everyone who can't sleep witnesses something.

“Broadchurch” isn’t bad. It’s a police procedural that is less interested in whodunnit than in what we do about it. It’s less about the murder than how the murder affects us. Do we band together? Does it make us stronger? No, generally.  

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Posted at 05:05 AM on Feb 12, 2015 in category TV
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Wednesday February 11, 2015

Quote of the Day

“One of the key elements of 'The Daily Show'’s perspective has been this emphasis on deriding politicians’ decisiveness, hastiness, and machismo, as well as the voters who admire them for it. In doing so, it defends empathy and complex thinking. Because people who value such things often get crushed under the boots of people who value power, much of 'The Daily Show'’s humor is a form of relief. That relief restores us, and becomes a form of strength. Stewart’s work on the show has been so central, so essential, that it’s hard to imagine American political and comedic culture without it.”

-- Sarah Larson, “Jon Stewart's Big Announcement,” The New Yorker. I tend to think, as with his jokes, Stewart's timing here is perfect. You could tell he was getting increasingly frustrated at the continued idiocy of the far-right in this country and FOX-News in particular. But God I will miss him. He was our voice of sanity. Just watch the first 10 minutes of last night's episode

Jon Stewart, Barack Obama, "The Daily Show"

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Posted at 05:04 PM on Feb 11, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Tuesday February 10, 2015

'Fargo' + Anton Chigurh = TV's 'Fargo'

TV’s “Fargo” is basically the Coens’ “Fargo” with Anton Chigurh roaming through it. Same bad haircut, same slow, deliberate manner, same sense of death permeating him. He just has a better sense of humor.

In the pilot episode, this Chigurh, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), says the following to Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the William H. Macyish schlemiel of the TV series:

Your problem is you've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t. We used to be gorillas. All we had is what we could take and defend ... It’s a red tide, Lester, this life of ours. The shit they make us eat day after day—the boss, the wife, wearing us down. If you don't stand up to it, let ’em know you’re an ape, deep down where it counts, you're just going to get washed away.

So Malvo is not only Death but Truth. He’s what you get when you scrape away all the Minnesota Nice.

I watched it on a day I felt washed away. 

Lorne Malvo Fargo

“You've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren't.”

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Posted at 06:41 AM on Feb 10, 2015 in category TV
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Monday February 09, 2015

Quote of the Day

“For some this latest Birdman win has already prompted wailing and gnashing of teeth. The people who dislike this film really dislike it. I still scratch my head wondering why so many respectable critics who normally value inventive, risky and technically complex work hate it so much. Even if you dislike the film it's bad form to pretend that it's a blight on the cinemascape. It's the opposite of safe conventional hack-work and frankly we need more movies as insane and odd as it is.”

Nathaniel Rogers, “DGA Chooses Birdman. But Who Wins BAFTA?” Amen.

Michael Keaton, living the underwear nightmare, in "Birdman"

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Posted at 02:33 PM on Feb 09, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links

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Posted at 06:31 AM on Feb 09, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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Sunday February 08, 2015

'Boyhood' Wins BAFTA

Boyhood BAFTA

Richard Linklater's “Boyhood,” the beautiful, resonant odyssey of a boy aging from 6 to 18, played by an actor aging from 7 to 19, won Britain's highest honor, the BAFTA, for best film tonight.

The award comes 24 hours after “Boyhood”'s chief rival, “Birdman,” won its third consecutive industry award, the DGA, following wins from the PGA and SAG-Cast. No film has ever won all three and not won the Oscar for best picture. 

Initially I didn't think the BAFTA for “Boyhood” would change that much. Besides, didn't BAFTA and Oscar disagree a lot?

Yes and no:

Year DGA Oscar
2014 Boyhood ???
2013 12 Year a Slave 12 Years a Slave
2012 Argo Argo
2011 The Artist The Artist
2010 The King's Speech The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire
2007 Atonement No Country for Old Men
2006 The Queen The Departed
2005 Brokeback Mountain Crash
2004 The Aviator Million Dollar Baby
2003 The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
2002 The Pianist Chicago
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A Beautiful Mind
2000 Gladiator Gladiator
1999 American Beauty American Beauty
1998 Shakespeare in Love Shakespeare in Love
1997 The Full Monty Titanic
1996 The English Patient The English Patient
1995 Sense and Sensibility Braveheart
1994 Four Weddings and a Funeral Forrest Gump
1993 Schindler's List Schindler's List
1992 Howard's End Unforgiven
1991 The Commitments Silence of the Lambs
1990 Goodfellas Dances with Wolves

Historically, yes, BAFTA and Oscar disagree. The Brits, given the chance, get veddy, veddy British in their voting: “Commitments,” “Howard's End,” “Four Weddings,” “Sense & Sensibility,” “Full Monty,” “Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Queen,” “Atonement.” 

But recently, it's been Blair/Bush all over again. There hasn't been a disagreement since 2007.

(Sidenote: not much Brit love for Clint is there? Much more for Marty. BTW: In the disagreeable years, I'd side with the Brits in 1990, 1994, 1995, 2002, 2005 and 2006, with several other years being washes.)

(Another sidenote: This year's BAFTA acting awards played out like I assume Oscar's will: Redmayne, Moore, Simmons and Arquette. As for Best British Film (a sad, seperate, BAFTA category), the Brits chose “The Theory of Everything.” Doesn't say much for British film, does it?)

Anyway, this opens a bit of a window for “Boyhood.” But I'd still bet on “Birdman.”

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Posted at 06:06 PM on Feb 08, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Box Office: 'SpongeBob' Soaks It in; 'Sniper' Has Plenty of Bullets Left

The new SpongeBob movie, “Sponge Out of Water,” won the weekend with a $56 million haul, which is the 25th-biggest opening for an animated feature, and the fifth-biggest opening for any February release, but the story continues to be Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper.” It fell only 21%, grossed another $24 million domestic (good for second place), and is now ahead of where 2014’s biggest box office hit, “The Hunger Games—Mockingjay: Part 1” was at the same time during its run. 

Here’s how:

Wknds THG—Mockingjay American Sniper
1st $121 million $89 million
2nd $57 (-53%) $64 (-27%)
3rd $22 (-61%) $30 (-52%)
4th $12 (-42%) $24 (-21%)

“Mockingjay” started out hot and cooled fast. “Sniper” started out less hot but is taking longer to cool. On its 24th day of release, “Mockingjay” stood at $276 million. “Sniper,” on its 24th day of wide release, stands at $282 million. Given these number, it would take a lot for it not to surpass “Mockingjay”’s tally ($335 million and counting) to become the biggest hit of 2014. 

So when was the last time Clint Eastwood had the No. 1 movie for the year? He’s never had the No. 1 movie for the year. Now he’s done it. At age 84.

Elsewhere, the Wachowski’s so-bad-it’s-supposed-to-be-good-but-I-doubt-it sci-fi flick “Jupiter Ascending” managed to ascend to only third place, grossing $19 million. That’s similar to what the Wachowski’s “Speed Racer” did in 2008. “Seventh Son,” another sci-fi fantasy flick that managed even worse reviews (10% on RT, to “Jupiter”’s 22%), finished in fourth place with $7 million.

Did you make it to the movies this weekend? What did you see? 

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Posted at 10:29 AM on Feb 08, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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The Oscar Race is Over: 'Birdman' for Best Pic

Alejandro Inarritu and Michael Keaton on the Birdman set

The Oscar race for best picture is over.

Last night, the Directors Guild awarded its DGA for feature film to “Birdman”'s Alejandro Inarritu. This follows on the heels of the Producers Guild awarding “Birdman” and SAG-Cast awarding “Birdman.” And if all of these industry awards go “Birdman,” how likely is it that the Academy won't go “Birdman”?

Very, very unlikely. Since SAG-Cast's inception in 1996, no film has won all three and not gone on to win the Oscar:

  DGA PGA SAG - CAST
2014 Birdman Birdman Birdman
2013 Gravity Gravity/12 Years a Slave American Hustle
2012 Argo Argo Argo
2011 The Artist The Artist The Help
2010 The King's Speech The King's Speech The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker Inglourious Bastards
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men
2006 The Departed Little Miss Sunshine Little Miss Sunshine
2005 Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Crash
2004 Million Dollar Baby The Aviator Sideways
2003 Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings
2002 Chicago Chicago Chicago
2001 A Beautiful Mind Moulin Rouge! Gosford Park
2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator Traffic
1999 American Beauty American Beauty American Beauty
1998 Saving Private Ryan Saving Private Ryan Shakespeare in Love
1997 Titanic Titanic The Full Monty
1996 The English Patient The English Patient The Birdcage

Caveat: It's still possible for Richard Linklater of “Boyhood” to win best director, since Roman Polanski won best director in 2002 for “The Pianist” despite the guild sweep for “Chicago.” But it doesn't seem too likely. 

To be honest, I think we're almost done for the major Oscar awards: “Birdman,” Inarritu, Redmayne, Moore, Simmons, Arquette. We'll know in a few weeks. 

In some ways, the bigger news from DGA was the number of female winners in that mostly white male body. Lesli Linka Glatter won outstanding direcdting for a dramatic series (“Homeland”), Jill Soloway won for comedy series (“Transparent”), Lisa Cholodenko for best TV movie/miniseries (“Olive Kitteridge”) and Laura Poitras won for best documentary (“Citizenfour”). The men were relegated to the lesser platforms: variety, sports, reality, children's, and commercials.

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Posted at 07:06 AM on Feb 08, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Saturday February 07, 2015

John Oliver's Advice to Seahawks Fans: 'It Will Always Hurt'

That, and “walk it off.” Literally. 

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Posted at 09:25 AM on Feb 07, 2015 in category Sports
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Well-Regulated? Security? Free?

Gail Collins had a good piece on “American Sniper” and gun culture in The New York Times a few days ago. The headshaking takeaways:

  • In recent years, [U.S. Congress has] not only refused to pass an extremely modest bill on background checks, they’ve failed to ban the sale of guns to people on the terrorism watch list.
  • Mike Huckabee, a big “American Sniper” fan, recently published a book called “God, Guts, Grits and Gravy,” which is so wildly opposed to any weapon regulation that Huckabee opens his chapter on modern education by complaining that public schools are anti-gun. 
  • ... visitors can bring concealed handguns into the [Texas] State Capitol. Some people definitely do not think this goes far enough, and, on opening day of the Legislature last month, they demanded new laws making it legal to carry handguns in the open, preferably without a license.
  • One particularly bouncy group, Open Carry Tarrant County, flooded the office of Representative Poncho Nevárez, a non-supportive Democrat. ... The leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, Kory Watkins, then posted another video in which he claimed that the resistant lawmakers were forgetting their duty was “to protect the Constitution. And let me remind you: Going against the Constitution is treason. And treason is punishable by death.”

 The apes are winning. 

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Posted at 08:53 AM on Feb 07, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Nowhere Boy (2009)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I kept waiting for it. Aunt Mimi’s line. One of the most famous in rock ‘n’ roll history. All together now:

The guitar’s all right, John, but you’ll never make a living from it.

The question is when. Will she say it after John's been suspended from school and she punishes him by selling his guitar? Nope. OK, what about after he buys it back again? Or when he's just playing it too loudly? Hey, maybe they’ll end with it! That would make sense. Good last line, since we know he’ll not only make a living with it, he’ll make history with it. But they don’t end that way, either. They end with John (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) telling Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) that he’s off to Hamburg with the lads and he’ll call her when he arrives. Nowhere BoyThen he’s out the door and down the street, and the soundtrack picks up on John Lennon’s “Mother” (“You had me/ But I never had you”), and ... credits.

Bloody hell.

Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (“Control”) and director Sam Taylor-Wood get a lot right, but I don’t know how they could’ve missed that one.

Actually they get a lot wrong, too.

Doesn’t have a point of view
Start with Paul. Please.

I like Thomas Brodie-Sangster. I liked him in “Love Actually” and “Game of Thrones.” He’s a good young actor. Cute, too. But he’s kind of spooky cute, while Paul was the epitome of cute: puppy-dog eyes, rosebud lips, a bit of an overbite. Plus Brodie-Sangster’s Paul is much too slight next to Taylor-Johnson’s John. Brodie-Sanster is actually a month older than Taylor-Johnson but he looks about five years younger. Paul was the most accomplished singer of the group, and they make him seem the least here. They make George (Sam Bell) seem more confident and outgoing than Paul. George.

But they get a lot right: Paul meeting John after a Quarrymen (skiffle) concert and impressing everyone because he knows the music and lyrics to Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock.” George doing something similar on the back of the bus. They also do their best to make such moments seem ordinary rather than freighted with meaning. They’re not triumphant; they’re just another day.

Taylor-Johnson is a good actor, and there are times, particularly once he begins wearing the Clark Kent glasses with the leather jacket, where, boy, he looks a lot like John in that period: the rock ‘n’ roll John. At the same time, he won’t make anyone forget Ian Hart. And don’t they make him too nice for much of the movie? John was a tough SOB, and often a prick, and you get a bit of that at the end. You get the silly drawings and the silly wordplay (later described as “Joycean” by reviewers around the world), and you get a reference to Stu, as in Sutcliffe, John’s art student friend who died of a brain aneuryism in 1962. There’s a real effort to be historically accurate to John’s life in the years between 1955 and 1960. But too much is missing. 

The movie is essentially a battle for John’s soul, or some such, between two sisters—the rowdy biological mother and the strict, steadfast aunt who raised him—and the big reveal is how and why Mimi wound up caring for him back in the early '40s, which is hardly a reveal at all. The movie’s great lesson is, “There’s just no point hating someone you love,” which is spoken by an 18-year-old John, wise before his years, but that wasn’t him. Not then anyway.

The real winner in the battle for John? Director Sam Taylor-Wood, who wound up marrying her leading man, 23 years her junior, and changing her name to Sam Taylor-Johnson. She's now directing “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Knows not where it’s going to
To be fair, I would’ve killed for this movie 35 years ago. I was latching onto anything Beatlesish back then. Classmates were all into REO Speedwagon or the Knack, and I was all about the Beatles. I remember how excited I was when “The Birth of the Beatles” came to TV one Friday night. My first SIFF movie was “The Hours and Times,” a short, almost experimental film positing what might’ve happened between John and Brian Epstein during their Barcelona trip in ’63, and I saw “Backbeat,” a 1994 birth movie focusing on Stu Sutcliffe, in the theaters.

They're still not getting it right. “Nowhere Boy” is another forgettable movie about our most unforgettable band.

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Posted at 07:34 AM on Feb 07, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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Thursday February 05, 2015

Valentine's Day Movie: The More the Merrier (1943)

Back in the MSNBC days I wrote a piece on the Hollywood kiss, and included classic kissing scenes split into various categories: the desperate kiss (lovers kept apart, then not), the kiss in the rain, the manhandle, the woman takes charge, the wow kiss (the kiss that changes the trajectory of the story). 

If I were writing it today I would include this one from George Stevens' “The More the Merrier” starring Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur. It's a combination of wow kiss (Connie changes her mind about Joe) and a manhandle kiss (that takes its sweet time):

My path to the movie: Mark Harris' book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” —> which led to the documentary “George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey” by George Stevens, Jr. —> which included the above scene from “The More the Merrier” —> which I rented from Netflix. 

Watch it with someone you can't keep your hands off of. 

The More the Merrier (1943)

Publicists had trouble coming up with a good poster for “The More the Merrier,” a romantic comedy set during D.C. in wartime, when the girl-guy ratio was 8 to 1. It was director George Stevens' last film before he went to war and filmed the liberation of both Paris and Dachau; he never made a light romantic comedy again.

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Posted at 07:28 AM on Feb 05, 2015 in category Movies
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Wednesday February 04, 2015

Quote of the Day

“Each year, contaminated food sickens forty-eight million Americans, of whom a hundred and twenty-eight thousand are hospitalized, and three thousand die. Many of the deadliest pathogens, such as E. coli and listeria, are comparatively rare; many of the most widespread, such as norovirus, are mercifully mild. Salmonella is both common and potentially lethal. It infects more than a million Americans each year, sending nineteen thousand victims to the hospital, and killing more people than any other food-borne pathogen. A recent U.S.D.A study found that twenty-four per cent of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by some form of salmonella. Another study, by Consumer Reports, found that more than a third of chicken breasts tainted with salmonella carried a drug-resistant strain.”

-- Wil S. Hylton, in the Feb. 2 New Yorker piece, “A Bug in the System: Why last night's chicken made you sick.” The article is also a profile of Seattle food-safety attorney Bill Marler, whose blog can be found here. Related: Pres. Obama has proposed a new government agency to focus on food safety, rather than dividing it between many different government agencies, to increase efficiency and accountability. Many Republicans are already opposed. Freshman Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) counters that the feds shouldn't even require restaurant employees to wash their hands.

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Posted at 01:29 PM on Feb 04, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“The Internet’s Own Boy” has the advantage of a good title and a great subject.

Aaron Swartz (no “ch”?) was born in 1986 and was 10 when the Internet took off; as a prodigy, he took off with it. He co-founded Reddit, helped develop RSS, founded Demand Progress. By the time he was 15 he counted among his friends Lawrence Lessig, Harvard professor and social activist, and Timothy Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web. He was part of the open source movement and helped stop SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” which could have shut down websites charged with copyright infringement and thus had a chilling effect on the Internet as we know it. In 2008, he downloaded millions of court documents from PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges 8 cents per page, but ultimately wasn’t charged himself, since the documents were supposed to be free. In 2010, he did the same with academic journals from JSTOR, a digital repository, via an unguarded network switch at MIT. That act was more problematic. He was charged and indicted on wire fraud and computer fraud, among the 13 charges eventually leveled against him. After plea deals fell through, he took his life on Jan. 11, 2013. He was 26.

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron SwartzThe doc is a good primer on who Swartz was and what he stood for, but it fails for me in its final third because of one word:

Government

That word keeps getting tossed around—in the “... so the government cracked down on Swartz” sense—but its meaning is vague. Are we talking about: 1) Stephen Heymann, assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, who was apparently interested in a career-making case against Swartz; 2) various fed departments, such as Homeland Security, which were determined to make an example of Swartz, a benevolent figure, in its losing battle against digital terrorism; 3) corporate-governmental collusion, which didn’t appreciate Swartz’s SOPA work; or 4) Pres. Obama himself, whose administration has looked less kindly upon whistleblowers than even the Bush administration?

All of the above are either said or implied. Mostly implied. There’s no attempt to parse out who exactly is doing or saying what. It’s sloppy work. Talking head and Salon columnist David Sirota implicates Pres. Obama, but shortly after the Obama administration stands with Swartz against SOPA; dramatically, it makes little sense.

I actually found myself wanting to engage with the people on the screen, or at least writer-director Ben Knappenberger (“We Are Legion”), over both hacktivism and the open source movement. A wide-open Internet is all well and good for those who can write code, and make a million dollars off of sites like Reddit, as Swartz did. At the same time, entire professions are being wiped out via digitization and the “free” exchange of ideas. At least be aware that this is happening.

I also don’t get hacktivists who are shocked, shocked when their hacking inspires fear and retribution. For most people, they are wizards. Whether they are good or bad wizards is irrelevant to those who don’t have the power, and who suddenly feel very, very vulnerable.

Again, “The Internet’s Own Boy” is a good title and a not-bad primer. I just wanted less romanticization of hactivism, and less demonization (or at least more clarification) of something called “government,” which, after all, started the internet in the first place.

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Posted at 07:26 AM on Feb 04, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday February 02, 2015

Rats XLIX

Why couldn't they hand off to Marshawn Lynch just one more time?

There's been nothing but reaction to the Seahawks loss in Super Bowl XLIX. Generally the immediate reaction—“What the FUCK!?!”—is still the reaction; but anger leads to ache, and ache lead to soul-searching (as a way to remove the ache), and you wind up with thoughts like these from my friends.

From Ben S.:

I woke up at 4 a.m. thinking about yesterday's nightmare Super Bowl. ... I spent the first 18 years of my life in Boston, the last five in Seattle. Would I trade the Emerald City for Beantown? The Olympics for the White Mountains? Top Pot Donuts for Dunkin' Donuts? Carroll for Belichick? Brady for Wilson? Blount for Beast Mode? Revis for Sherman? The Legion of Boom for whatever you call the Patriots' secondary? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no. The Seahawks are the most entertaining, rugged, soulful team I've ever rooted for. We'll be back.

From Chris K.:

I'm going to go out on a limb and not criticize last night's final play call. I don't think I'm alone in loving when the Seahawk's play calls have gotten creative, and the risks they take have worked out in their favor. ... If we start running Marshawn up the middle every time next year as a result I will be very disappointed - that is not a good lesson learned and I don't think it will work out for us. Go for the fake field goal, launch the wild 2-point conversion, throw the long bomb to the guy who hasn't caught a ball the whole season - those are exciting risks that winners take when they have faith in themselves and I love to watch it happen.

Here's Mr. B, longtime, long-suffering fan:

14-5. Back-to-back NFC Conference Championships. Gave the Patriots one hell of a game. I'll take that. I think 30 other NFL teams would, too. Thank you, Seahawks. See you in six months.

But my reaction is closer to Joe Posnanski's, who is both more empathetic and less forgiving:

The loneliest man in football was shell-shocked and disoriented, but he already knew what everyone thought. Pete Carroll had just lost the Super Bowl. He just had lost the Super Bowl with a decision that he could never explain well enough, a decision that even his players didn’t really understand, a decision that sports fans will talk about for as long as Super Bowls are played. ...

In the heat of one of the hottest Super Bowls, he had made an instinctual decision. Coaches are trained to take advantage of matchups. They are primed to counter their opponent’s moves. What seemed so obvious to more or less everyone else on earth – you HAVE to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line – was in Carroll’s mind clouded by the moment, by the complications of football strategy, by the natural tendency every coach has to be just a little bit smarter. The Patriots dared him to pass. He passed. He lost.

I'm not much of a football fan. It's another 8x11 sport. You turn a piece of paper horizontally and that's your field: Team A on one side, Team B on the other, an object of some kind. The point of the game is to get that object into your opponent's goal more often than they get it in yours before time expires. That's hockey, soccer, basketball, football. They're all fundamentally the same. Metaphors for war.

I'd been a fan of football, in the 1970s in Minnesota, but that's enough to cure almost anyone. Three Super Bowls in four years, and blowout losses in each of them. Pain, over something I couldn't control. Eventually I thought, “Why care?” This thought coincided with both the decline of the Vikings and the rise of dealing with asshole football players in high school. “You mean these guys grow to be those guys?” So I got out. By the early 1980s, I caught a Super Bowl now and again but that was it. And every time I checked it out, I was confused or turned off. Wait, isn't that intentional grounding? Wait, defensive lineman now celebrate after every sack? Classy. Football was background noise for me. Deep background.

Seattle's love affair with the Seahawks finally won me over again. I'd talk to colleagues about the games, the team, the hopes. I'd see the city lit up—literally—a big “12” everywhere on the sides of downtown skyscrapers. It was fun. They were fun: a trash-talking, mostly black team in a staid, mostly white city. I began to learn player names. I began to care again. I began to feel—particularly after the Green Bay game—that I was putting all of those horrible Vikings Super Bowl losses behind me. Two Mondays ago, I even talked about the possibility of catharsis. It was finally going to be good.

Recently I've been reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's book, “Too Big to Fail” on the busride to work, so I've been thinking a little about risk lately. I admit that I don't risk enough in life. I'm too cautious: a worst-case-scenario guy. Which is why I never would've run a debt-to-equity ratio of 60-1 like Lehman Brothers, nor would I have done what Pete Carroll and the Seahawks did at the 1-yard line, down by 4, with seconds to go in Super Bowl XLIX; but then I never would never have been in a position to be there in the first place.

I disagreed with the play during the play. Wait, they're not handing off to Marshawn? They're throwing? It better .... And then it happened, and the reality of it sunk in, the unchangeable, awful reality, and I knew, immediately, that it would always be this way. Nothing could ever change that. And this ending would be talked about as long as people talked about football. That thought echoed inside of me until I began to ache from it. And as with my friends above, I searched for some way to remove the ache.

On the ride home from Ben's, I thought of the Peanuts comic strip above. (Also here and here.) They were famous comic strips. I remember reading them in “Peanuts” books long before I knew what game they referred to. Initially, I thought Charlie Brown was talking about any old game. But he wasn't. 

It was the 1962 World Series, and the San Francisco Giants were facing the defending champion New York Yankees. In the bottom of the 9th of Game 7, the Giants were losing 1-0, as Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry worked on a two-hit shutout. But Matty Alou led off with a bunt single. Felipe Alou tried to bunt him over, missed, and struck out, as did Chuck Hiller. But the next man up was Willie Mays, and he was thinking homer. Instead, he crushed a ball to right, which died in the wet outfield grass, allowing right fielder Roger Maris to cut it off. Mays wound up on second with a double but Alou only made it to third: third-base coach Whitey Lockman held him up. He thought the play at the plate would've been too close, and besides, Willie McCovey, the second-best hitter on the team, was coming up. Give him a chance, he thought. McCovey delivered. He rocketed another ball to right, but right at second baseman Bobby Richardson, who gloved it for the final out. Three feet higher and both Alou and Mays would've scored and the Giants would've won. Instead ...

Instead we got Charles Schulz's series of heartbreaking strips about the game. He published them throughout the long, cold offseason: Charlie Brown and Linus looking glum for three panels, and then in the last panel Charlie Brown cursing the heavens: “If only McCovey had hit the ball just three feet higher!” In the second, it's two feet higher. In the final one, one. The difference between victory and defeat.

That's what I was thinking about on the ride home. If only we'd handed off to Marshawn three more times. Two more times. One more time.

I get what my friends are saying above. I get the wisdom of it all. I get the “Bronx Tale” wisdom I posted about earlier today, too. Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson and Kam Chancellor make millions of dollars. They don't know about me, or care about me, so why should I care about them? I remind myself I'm a fair-weather fan, and fair-weather fans are supposed to go elsewhere when the weather turns foul. I think about Roger Kahn's great line about the Brooklyn Dodgers—how you glory in a team triumphant but you fall in love with a team in defeat—and wonder if this defeat will lead to something positive. Most of life is losing, I tell myself. You learn more from losing, I tell myself.

But in my mind I keep handing off to Marshawn Lynch.

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Posted at 01:16 PM on Feb 02, 2015 in category Sports
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Rats II

The Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX loss as reinterpretted through classic Peanuts

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Posted at 08:50 AM on Feb 02, 2015 in category Sports
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Quote of the Day for Seattle Seahawks Fans Still Reeling from the Most Insane Playcall in the History of the Super Bowl

Sonny: So you must be pretty upset after the Yankees lost.

Calogero (age 9): Bill Mazeroski, I hate him. He made Mickey Mantle cry. The papers said the Mick was crying.

Sonny: Mickey Mantle—that what you're upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don't know? Well, see if your father can't pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don't care about you, so why should you care about him? 

-- from “A Bronx Tale” (1993), starring Chazz Palminteri and Robert De Niro

 

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Posted at 06:48 AM on Feb 02, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday February 01, 2015

Rats

Marshawn Lynch Super Bowl XLIX Peanuts

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Posted at 08:18 PM on Feb 01, 2015 in category Sports
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Lancelot Links: Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX Edition

Seahawks victory, NFC championship game 2015

12s in downtown Seattle

Seattle lit up over the Hawks. Saw this last night coming home from the Olympic peninsula.

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Posted at 11:57 AM on Feb 01, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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'American Sniper' Is Still Picking Them Off at the Box Office

American Sniper: No. 1 movie of 2014?

Still on target to be the No. 1 box-office hit of 2014.

Here are the first three weekend box-office totals for “The Hunger Games; Mockingjay—Part 1,” which is currently the No. 1 movie of 2014:

  • $121 million
  • $56 million (-53.3%)
  • $22 million (-61.3%)

Here are the first three wide-release weekend totals for Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” which is currently the sixth-highest grossing film of 2014:

  • $89 million
  • $64 million (-27.6%)
  • $31 million (-50.7%)

“THGMP1” opened big, stumbled; “Sniper” opened less big but lost less ground, day to day, andweekend to weekend.

So can “Sniper” over take “Mockingjay” to become the No. 1 movie of 2014? It’s only $10 million behind where “Mockingjay” was after its third weekend ($258 million to $248), so it’s got a real shot. “Mockingjay,” though, got a big boost from the Christmas/holidays season. “Sniper” won’t get that, unless it wins big at the Oscars, or unless folks think of “Sniper” as a nice Valetine’s Day movie. And it’s still about $90 million away ($335 to $248). But the odds right now are in its favor.

I wouldn’t mind. While I think the movie is problematic, it would still be the first serious film to attain that height since “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998. There are issues to discuss with the film that you don’t get from a discussion of “Mockingjay” or “Spider-Man 3” or “Shrek 2.” But is it repeatable? That’s the question for Hollywood. They tried to repeat Mel Gibson’s success with “The Passion of the Christ” (ex: “The Nativity Story”) with less luck ($37 million, as opposed to $370 million). You need more than God and patriotism to propel folks off their couch and into the theaters; you need a sense of outrage. Sadly, for Hollywood, Hollywood is one of the things these folks are outraged about.

For the rest of this Super Bowl weekend, “Paddington,” the kindertransport bear, finished second with $8.505 million, “Project Almanac” (teenaged time-travel/found footage flick) opened to $8.5 million and third place, and the Kevin Costner/Octavia Spencer/“Not without my grandchild” legal drama, “Black or White,” opened to $6.4 million and fourth place.

Rounding out the top 10: J Lo’s “The Boy Next Door” dropped 59% to $6 million, Kevin Hart’s “The Wedding Ringer” grossed another $5.7 million, the Oscar-nominated “The Imitation Game” grossed another $5 million for seventh place, followed by “Taken 3,” “Strange Magic” and “The Loft.”

Are we finally tired of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movies? The first grossed $145 in 2009, the second $139 in 2012, and this one $81 so far in 2015. Maybe “Sniper” is picking off its audience?

BTW: Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” has been all-but-pulled from theaters after only two weekends: it’s down from 2,568 theaters on Thursday to 236 today. Johnny Depp’s “Mortdecai” fared even worse. It remained in 2,648 theaters and still fell by 66.1% to gross only $1.4 million in its second weekend.

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Posted at 09:57 AM on Feb 01, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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