Quote of the Day
“Gleeful Action Porn Provides Glimpse Into Hell”
-- Headline for Jeffrey Wells' scathing piece on the new action blockbuster, “Furious 7,” which opens Friday.
Other quotes from the review:
Furious 7 is odious, obnoxious corporate napalm on a scale that is better left undescribed. It is fast, flashy, thrompy crap that dispenses so much poison it feels like a kind of plague. Wan’s film is certainly a metaphor for a kind of plague that has been afflicting action films for a good 20-plus years.
I hated the first 65 minutes of Furious 7 so much that I was literally twitching and flinching in my seat and making little squeaky moaning sounds. I was checking my watch every five minutes, wondering how much more of this crap I could take. I was firing psychic hate grenades at the screen.
Haven't seen “Furious 7,” the sequel to “Fast & Furious 6,” which was the sequel to “Fast Five,” which began in 2001 as the reboot of “The Fast and the Furious” (definite articles long dropped), but I certainly know where Wells is coming from. I've felt that way about many films, including this, that and that. And this. And any of these. Adn there's no end in sight.
Furious 7, looking more bored than furious.
Movie Review: Listen Up Philip (2014)
Philip, indeed. The title graphics alone—using the font of Philip Roth’s early’70s bestsellers, particularly “Portnoy’s Complaint”—give it away, even if the story hadn’t.
A Jewish-American writer in New York City, with a unique voice and acerbic attitude, leaves his girl and the city to sit at the feet of the great man, who lives in a rustic cabin in the goyishe woods with a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty. But instead of short-story writer Nathan Zuckerman sidling up to E.I. Lonoff, who has a graduate student, Amy, staying with him and his wife (and who may or may not be Anne Frank!), as in “The Ghost Writer,” one of Roth’s best novels, we watch two-time novelist Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman), genuflecting before Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who has his daughter, Melanie (Krysten Ritter), staying with him.
Another difference: Roth is funny.
More than that. Roth’s characters, from Portnoy to Zuckerman, were nice Jewish boys for whom things (libido and ego, generally) got in the way. There was conflict there. This Philip? Writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s version? We first see him lambast an ex, who is 25 minutes late for a lunchdate at a corner coffeeshop; and rather than feel any sense of guilt, he feels free. He’s the literal “freed-man.” So he acts the dick again with another old friend—a contemporary who didn’t live up to the promise, and who (punchline) is in a wheelchair—and then spends most of the movie in this frame of mind. Zimmerman’s the same way, and initially seems to be warning Friedman in a better direction. I.e., “View the error of my ways,” as Lonoff essentially tried to warn Zuckerman. But Zimmerman is worse than Friedman. He’s cantankerous, his talents aren’t what they were, he rails at friends and family. Even as he basks in Friedman’s admiration, he has to take him down a peg. He and his friend Norm get the 25-year-old Scotch; Friedman gets the 10. Zimmerman is forever telling him, “I did it better.” Friedman, who abuses others’ niceties, accepts this abuse. It’s his idol, after all.
There’s a vague argument in the movie that for these writers to create their art they have to distance themselves from the rest of humanity, who are, more or less, chatter, interruptions, annoyances; and maybe in so doing (I’m extrapolating here), in distancing themselves, they plant the seeds of their own destruction, eventually losing the necessary elements, the necessary humanity, to continue to create their art. Actually, scratch that second part. It’s not here. And normally I’d like that. Our popular stories are full of comeuppance for men behaving badly when the real world shows us the opposite—that success almost requires ruthlessness. So it would be nice if our art owned up to that unpalatable observation, and “Listen Up Philip” kinda does. Zimmerman has his great successes, Friedman will have his.
But that leave us with ... what? Again, where is the conflict? Roth gives us the tension between nice and venal, and that drives his narratives, while Friedman is Zuckerman laced with Mickey Sabbath (sans the sex), and so never particularly interesting. He says little that’s witty or insightful. He doesn’t grow, doesn’t shrink. This is a great novelist? He seems more Hollywood/movies than New York/novelist. He ends the film as he began it, walking the streets of New York, alone, bumping into people, with successes ahead and a scowl on his face. I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with him, let alone 90.
'I Find the NRA to be Hard Work'
Earlier this year, Patricia and I watched the Frontline special, “Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA.” Here’s the trailer:
Actually, P only watched half of it. She didn’t need the rest. Neither did I, really. But it’s like when you’re on the losing team and you force yourself to watch the winning team celebrate on the field. To remind yourself.
The doc focuses on three shootings—Columbine in April 1999, Gabby Giffords in January 2011, Sandy Hook in December 2012—and how each renewed calls for gun control, and how after each the NRA emerged stronger. We all know how it goes by now: 1) People are killed by guns; 2) a majority of people say we need to do something about guns; 3) a minority of people buy more guns and strengthen their support for the NRA; 4) nothing happens. World without end.
It helps that the NRA has the entire history of Hollywood movies on its side. That’s why Wayne LaPierre’s line works. He says, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and we think of Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood or John Wayne or Tom Mix or William S. Hart. Cowboys without end.
Here are the NRA’s three basic arguments:
- The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
- Gun control regulations only stop good guys from getting guns; bad guys will get them any way they can.
- Second Amendment, yo.
That third argument? Yeah. Except an individual right to gun ownership is a relatively new concept. For more than 200 years, the U.S. Supreme Court read the Second Amendment as a collective right to gun ownership. Maybe someday we’ll go back to that. But we need to shut down the first two arguments first.
How? Public safety won’t do it. If Sandy Hook didn’t change things, nothing will. We’ve stopped caring. Or we only care about other people’s kids in bits and pieces, while gun lovers care about their guns 24/7. Plus they reframe the debate. They make it about personal freedom. And they co-opt the safety argument. (See #2, above.)
So what's left? One option is to unman them.
What are high-powered magazine clips but weapons for people who can’t shoot straight? Just how many rounds do you need to hit your target? And how many weapons do you have to strap on to make yourself feel like a man? At all times, Open Carry movement? How sad is that? How sad is your need for strap-ons. What is the NRA but a lobbying organization. Who is Wayne LaPierre but a lobbyist with a French name. You don't think FOX News couldn't grind him to dust if he were on the other side?
Or we can all just watch this Aussie comedian take them down. (Thanks for the link, Erika.) Love his matter-of-fact line, “I find the NRA to be hard work.”
Weekend Box Office: Moviegoers Want to Go 'Home'
Things on heads: a theme.
So is Lionsgate/Summit still going to split the final “Divergent” book into two parts, a la “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”? Because at least those movies were blockbusters. Most of the “Twilight” movies grossed between $400 and $800 worldwide, while the “Harry Potter” movies all grossed between $800 million and $1.3 billion worldwide. That last figure was for “Deathly Hallows Part 2”; and since “Deathly Hallows Part 1” also grossed $960 million worldwide, splitting the final book into two movies meant an extra billion smackers. Hardly chump change. Expecto Dollarum.
“Divergent”? More like Expecto doldrums. The studio, I’m sure, hoped for a “Hunger Games,” but the first movie only did $150 domestic, $137 foreign. The second, “Insurgent,” is doing worse domestically. It opened to $52 last weekend, then dropped 58% this weekend to $22. So after two weekends it’s at $86 as opposed to $94 for the first. Will there really be a clammer for an elongated version of the final lame book? I can’t imagine it.
The second weekend of “Insurgent” was the No. 3 movie this weekend, after two poorly reviewed movies, the animated “Home” (48% on RT) and the comedic “Get Hard” (32%), opened at $54 and $34 million, respectively. The latter is the third-best live-action opening of Will Ferrell’s career and the third-best of Kevin Hart’s career. So teaming them has at least made financial sense. Don’t know much about “Home,” other than the ad could read: “From the writers of ‘Get Smart,’ the director of ‘Sinbad: The Legend of the Seven Seas,’ and from the studio that brought you ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel.’”
The rest of the top 10 includes the third weekend of “Cinderella” (now at $150 domestic, $280 worldwide), the fourth weekeend of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” ($28 domestic, $62 worldwide) and the seventh weekend of “Kingsman” ($119 domestic, $302 worldwide).
Next weekend we get the seventh installment of “Fast and Furious,” called “Furious 7,” which star Vin Diesel thinks should win an Academy Award for best picture. Because he’s Vin Diesel.
The Eyes of Robert Durst
Too much has already been written about Andrew Jarecki’s “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary about Robert Durst, the scion of a New York real estate empire suspected of killing his first wife in New York after she went missing in January 1982; suspected of killing his friend and confidante in LA in December 2004; and charged with killing and dismemembering his neighbor in Galveston, TX in October 2001—for which Texas super lawyer Dick DeGuerin got him off (more or less) on a charge of (believe it or not) self-defense. Jarecki’s doc has led to Durst being arrested again, since, at the end, muttering to himself without knowing his microphone is still on, he seems to confess to the crimes. “Killed them all, of course,” he says, while lambasting himself for a poor performance before Jarecki’s cameras.
Among the many articles, I’m sure, are pieces on the ethics of dramatizations in documentaries, the ethics of Jarecki and company confronting Durst with incriminating handwriting evidence rather than going to the police, and the whole “did he/didn’t he” puzzle of it all. (Although I’m sure not many folks are falling on the “didn’t he” side by the end.)
What no one’s brought up? How much Durst’s eyes, with their creepy, overlarge pupils, look like the eyes of the villainnesses in the 1973 exploitation flick, “Invasion of the Bee Girls.” That’s why I’m here, I guess. You’re welcome.
B. Durst (top); Bee Girl (bottom).
A Nightmare of a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman
“The only thing that would've satisfied most people is if I jumped up and hit Rumsfeld with a cinder block. Barring that, there's very little I could've done. But it'd be very easy to make a documentary where you throw questions at him and he'd walk off stage or fail to answer. There's stuff that leaked out in that movie — a kind of narcissism, arrogance — that's very powerful in the movie. It scared me, actually. It still does. That this man could have so much power. I remember reading a New York Times article on him and people will forever remember how brilliant he is or how convincing he is, but I didn't find him to be either. To me he was like the kind of person who shows up at your front door selling aluminum siding or a new vacuum cleaner. He's like a nightmare.”
-- documentarian Errol Morris on his film “The Unknown Known,” in a very good conversation with Christopher Bell on “The Playlist,” a site which has way too many ads. My review here, in which I wrote, “Keeping Morris’ questions at bay doesn’t hide [Rumsfeld's] nature but reveals it. He wins the arguments but loses the war.”
Donald Rumsfeld wants to sell you something. Whoops, he already did.
Movie Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)
“Of Miracles and Men,” an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about the Soviet hockey team of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, with a particular focus on its upset defeat at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY (“USA! USA! USA!”), opens with a quiet walk through Central Park by Soviet hockey great Viacheslav Fetisov. Soon after, we see the end of that most famous hockey game, the “Miracle on Ice,” and we hear Al Michaels’ iconic countdown:
We’ve got 10 seconds! The countdown going on right now. Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!!!!
An hour later, after detailing the rise of the dominant Soviet hockey machine, replete with incredible black-and-white training footage, and getting the “Miracle on Ice” game in detail, we see its end again; but instead of Michaels’ countdown, we hear the Soviet announcer, who says the following in a matter-of-fact tone:
But it seems it is too late. Five seconds before the buzzer. [Game ends: place goes crazy.] Team USA wins over our hockey players and now is leading with three points in the table. With that, we are finishing our commentary. The reporter was Nikolai Ozerov.
The best docs I’ve seen, from “Paris is Burning” to “Restrepo” to “The Act of Killing,” reveal a perspective we haven’t seen before, or maybe even considered before, and that’s what director Jonathan Hock does here. The western voice is all but muted. Al Michaels isn’t interviewed, nor Mike Eruzione or Jim Craig. It’s Fetisov, and Vladislav Tretiak and Vladimir Myshkin. It’s Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Petrov and Boris Mikhailov. They’re older now, obviously, but generally quiet and unassuming. There is, though, an attempt by some, particularly Seva Kukushkin, a Soviet sportswriter for the Soviet news agency Tass, to dismiss the Miracle on Ice. At one point, Kukushkin is asked what he wrote about the game and its drama. His response:
What’s the drama? [Pause] Look, maybe it’s a problem of Americans. You see, once a crazy kid kissed Sophia Loren, for example. And he’s telling till the rest of his life, “Oh, I kissed Sophia Loren.” Ask Sophia Loren if she remembers. Different point of view.
Now I’m not much of a chest-beater when it comes to patriotism. One of the beautiful things about America is that you can afford not to be jingoistic. But I make an exception with the Miracle on Ice. I think it’s the greatest upset in international sports in the 20th century. A bunch of college kids beating the mighty Soviet machine? Amateurs who played together a couple of months beating professionals who’d played together since they were, what, 10? And practiced and lived together 24/7? In the 1980 medal rounds, the U.S.S.R. won by the following scores: 16-0, 17-4, 8-1, 4-2 and 6-4. Hell, a few weeks earlier, they beat the U.S. in a preliminary game 10-3. They shouldn’t have lost. Yet they did. To college kids.
Plus, it really was a seminal event in American history. It helped make the country safe for patriotism (and, sadly, jingoism) again. I grew up in the 1970s when patriotism was the province of scoundrels and fools—like Maj. Frank Burns on “M*A*S*H.” We went through Vietnam, Watergate, gas crises, hostage crisis. As a country, we either seemed impotent bullies or victims of small, petty nations. We had little to be proud of.
I came to this documentary, which is now streaming on Netflix, through Joe Posnanski, who ends his piece this way:
The Sophia Loren story is the greatest cold-water throwing I’ve ever seen. It’s utterly beautiful and brilliant. The Miracle on Ice was our seminal sports moment, the closest thing to Greek myth that we have. And he compares the U.S. to a kid kissing Sophia Loren. It’s beautiful. And it’s probably true too. The U.S. did kiss Sophia Loren. Only thing is: She remembers. She definitely remembers.
This is what makes muting the American voice in the doc so important. We are left to provide that voice. Because I would actually go further than Posnanski. Kukushkin’s line is great but the metaphor is all wrong. It was a battle, not a romantic act. But if you’re going to go there? As Kukushkin does? I would say we didn’t just kiss Sophia Loren; we went a little further than that.
Besides, all you have to do is watch the faces of the Russian players being interviewed. It’s 35 years later, but that loss still stings. It still hurts. It will always hurt.
Fetisov is the closest thing the doc has to a protagonist. We follow him not only into Central Park, but back to his childhood apartment in Moscow, and on a return visit to Lake Plaicd with his (gorgeous) daughter. “In America,” he says, early in the doc, “people always want to talk about the Miracle on Ice. But we made our own miracles.”
The doc gives us some of these. After an impossibly long bureaucratic battle in the 1980s, Fetisov became the first man to leave the Soviet Union for work in the states. He didn’t defect. The Soviet government just let him travel. That’s a kind of miracle, and it presaged the bigger one of walls coming down, governments changing, the world changing.
Another miracle is the rise of Soviet hockey in the first place. Before the Cold War, Russians didn’t play hockey; they played bandy, an ice game with shorter sticks, a ball, and eleven men per side. But bandy wasn’t an Olympic sport, and Stalin wanted dominance in the Olympics to prove to the world dominance in economic/political systems. And so it was ordered. And so it was done.
The Soviets began competing in Olympic hockey in 1956, and won six medals over the next six Olympiads: gold, bronze, gold, gold, gold and gold. But the big breakthrough was competing against, and beating, western professionals in the Canada Cup and against teams of NHL All-Stars.
Watching, we’re reminded that every enemy that seems like a monolith isn’t; it’s always fraught with internal strife. For Soviet hockey, that battle was between Anatolie Tarasov, who essentially invented the Soviet version of the game, and who is seen here with a poet’s spirit and a great love for the sport that he passed on to his players; and Viktor Tikhonov, who took over in 1977, and is called an accountant by his former players. They say he had little love for the game. He was the coach of the 1980 team. Meaning he was the coach who pulled Vladislav Tretiak, generally regarded as the best hockey goalie in the world, after Mark Johnson scored with one second left in the first period to tie the score.
“It was shocking,” Tretiak, now in his 50s, says matter-of-factly. Mikhailov adds, “For the Americans, it was like a life-saving gulp of air.”
There’s a great moment when Hock tries to dig deeper. Did the players object? Did the team captain object? “We’re Soviet people,” Petrov says. “[We] follow all the orders set by those in charge.” Even today, no one points a finger until Tatiana Tarasova, Anatolie’s daughter, and a figure-saking coach at the 1980 games, is prodded again and again by Hock and finally throws up her hands. “Yes, it was a mistake!” she says with almost a laugh. Tretiak, more serious, adds, “The situation never sat easy on my soul.”
Reminder: the Soviet team still went ahead in the second period, 3-2. It was in the third period that the U.S. scored twice in two minutes to go up 4-3. But there were 10 minutes left.
Alexei Kasatonov: “Everyone [on the team] still believed we would win. Nobody panicked or grew desperate.”
Mikhailov: “To the very end, we thought we’d tie the score.”
Tretiak: “It was like an out-of-body experience. Like I wasn’t there.”
Hock gives us the rise of the Soviet hockey machine but not its fall. Too bad; it’s interesting. Canada was the dominant force in Olympic hockey from 1920 to 1952, winning six gold and one silver in seven Olympiads. Then the USSR took over and won gold every year but 1960 and 1980 And now? Now, it’s Canada again. It’s like the Cold War was a housing bubble, or the PED era in baseball. It was a fevered period, but the fever is over, and normal life—Canadian hockey on top—resumes.
“Of Miracles and Men” is a much recommended and much humanizing movie. I remember our jokes in Minnesota after the “Miracle on Ice” victory. Me and my high school friends talked about how the first goalie, or maybe that second goalie, or certainly the coach, would wind up in Siberia. We thought that’s how things worked in the Soviet Union. But that didn’t happen. The coach strengthened his position, the team kept winning. The loss to the U.S. was the banishment; that was Siberia.
With that, we are finishing our commentary. The reporter was Erik Lundegaard.
Happy Anniversary, Mr. President
The President at the presser, joking and not.
Technically it was yesterday—five years for Obamacare. Here was my friend and colleague, freelance writer extraordinaire Candice Dyer, yesterday on Facebook:
Happy birthday to the Affordable Care Act. Without it, I still would be very sick and also mired deep in debt for the rest of my life in my efforts to get basic medical care. To those of you who want to take away the health insurance of me and millions of others, a pox—and I mean an unsightly, incurable, venereal one—upon your houses! (That's about as polite as I care to be on this subject.)
Here was Time Magazine:
Obama took the opportunity to take a few shots at Republican critics of the law, joking that “death panels, doom, [and] a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress” have all failed to materialize and challenging candidates campaigning for repeal to explain how “kicking millions of families off their insurance” will strengthen the country.
He also took the opportunity (video here) to say that before it was his plan it was a GOP plan—a Heritage Foundation idea supported by Republicans in Congress in the 1990s—which is why they've had a tough time coming up with an alternative. While trumpeting its success, he added, “If they want to take credit for this law, they can; I'm happy to share it.” Love that. Love him.
Oh, and Ted Cruz, who once shut down the federal government over Obamacare, will now be going on it. The hypocrisy boggles the mind.
How Many Teams Have Won More than One World Series in a Row?
First, a few tears for victims of high expectations: the early 1950s New York Yankees:
“You would think we would have had one of those ticker-tape parades after all those years,” said Whitey Ford. “But we never had a single one. People just expected us to win, and we did, and then it was on to next year. We had our victory celebrations, we got our rings, but there was never a parade. It would have been fun! I would have liked to have been in at least one!”
That's from Marty Appel's book, “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss.” Appel was PR for the Yanks, but there's still good stuff here. Ammunition, you might say.
So from 1949 to 1953, the Yankees won five World Series in a row, and only one time ('52, against Brooklyn) did it even go seven games. Otherwise: five and out, four and out, six and out and six and out.
That Yankees team was the only team to ever win five World Series in a row. But another team won four in a row. Can you name them?
Right, it's still the Yankees: the 1936-39 version. When DiMaggio was starting and Gehrig was finishing.
As for three in a row? Only two teams have ever done that:
- 1972-74 Oakland Athletics
- 1998-2000 New York Yankees
Even two in a row is rare:
- 1907-08 Chicago Cubs (dry patch since)
- 1910-11 Philadephlia Athletics
- 1915-16 Boston Red Sox
- 1921-22 New York Giants
- 1927-28 New York Yankees
- 1929-30 Philadephia Athletics
- 1961-62 New York Yankees
- 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds
- 1977-78 New York Yankees
- 1992-93 Toronto Blue Jays
That's it: only seven of the 30 franchises. And no team has gone back-to-back this century. The Giants have won three of five, but they keep spacing them out.
Interesting footnote: for all of their postseason triumphs (11 titles, most in the NL, and second-most in the Majors), the Cardinals have never gone back-to-back. My Cardinals friends blame Mickey Lolich.
The 1949-53 Yankees inspired Douglas Wallop's novel, which became the Broadway/movie musical “Damn Yankees”; the 1972-74 Oakland A's inspired the DC Comics story “The Kid Who Beat the Oakland A's,” which kind of inspired the Thomas Ian Nicholas movie “Rookie of the Year.” So far, the 1998-2000 Yankees have inspired nothing.
Movie Review: Violette (2013)
In 2008, Martin Provost directed and co-wrote “Séraphine,” a movie about an acclaimed but relatively obscure French female painter in the early part of the 20th century. It was nominated for nine Césars and won seven, including best picture, screenplay and actress. I thought it one of the best movies of the year.
In 2013, Martin Provost directed and co-wrote “Violette,” a movie about an acclaimed but relatively obscure French female writer in the middle part of the 20th century. It was nominated for zero Césars, and no, it won’t make my retroactive list of the best of that year. It's not bad but doesn't resonate.
Emmanuell Devos (“Kings & Queen,” “Read My Lips”) plays Violette Leduc, a novelist and memoirist who ... Here. This explains a lot of it. It’s the first time Leduc's name appears in The New York Times:
Fame Through Confession
Roger Straus Jr., president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, recently acquired in Paris the American rights to “La Batarde,” by Violette Leduc, an autobiography. The 57-year‐old author has previously written five novels that won her the approval of such literary people as Jean‐Paul Sartre and Albert Camus but brought small financial return. Then, with what Simone de Beauvoir describes in a foreward to the book as “intrepid sincerity,” she confessed her way to literary fame, to sales that have passed 50,000 copies and to contracts for publication in Britain as well as the United States.
That was from 1964 but the movie begins in the middle of World War II, when Leduc survives by selling goods on the black market. She’s enamored of and living with a writer, Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py), who, as portrayed here, is a bit precious with his talent. When she turns up days late after being imprisoned, he shushes her so he can finish a sentence. “Where did you get to?” he says finally. “I was worried sick.” He doesn’t sound like it.
She, on the other hand, is all id: pungent and needy. “To think I washed my hair for you,” she says, and when he doesn’t react, she leans forward and tells him, “Smell.” Later, she deals with his disinterest (he was gay) by showing even greater interest. “Take me in your arms. Touch me. Shut your eyes. Imagine I’m someone else.” It’s almost a relief when he’s out of the picture, since we think it’ll stop her from embarrassing herself so.
It won’t. Raised an orphan, and without a filter, she will always be recklessly needy. But she is also brutally honest, which is what you want in a writer. "Spit out on paper everything that makes you so miserable,” he tells her; and since he tells her, she does. We see her hold the pen over the page, and hold it, and then write, “Ma mère ne m'a jamais donné la main” (“My mother never gave me her hand”), which will be the first sentence of her first book, “L’Asphyxie.” Good first sentence. And very Violette.
In Paris, she thrusts the manuscript into the hands of Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), who is the opposite of Violette in most respects: successful, intellectual, cool to the point of chilliness. But she knows talent, and one evening sits Violette down and says the following:
First, I must apologize. I was expecting dull childhood memories by a frivolous snob. You’ve written a fine book. Powerful, intrepid. That’s what matters. Have you been writing long?
When Violette says Maurice Sachs is the real writer, de Beauvoir is blunt:
Sachs is the opposite of you. He hides his true self—behind words especially. But he urged you to write, that’s the main thing.
“He hides his true self—behind words especially” should be a warning issued to every writer.
With Sachs out of the picture (apparently he died at the end of World War II), de Beauvoir, in effect, replaces him, becoming both spur to Violette’s career and that unattainable thing that makes her needy. Violette wants into the inner sanctum of de Beauvoir, Sartre, et al., but gets only their distant encouragement. She wants their success but only achieves her own. She deals miserably with her mother. Eventually, per the above Times clip, she writes her way into popularity.
But it’s not a great movie. Why does “Séraphine” work and this not? Is it the difference between the art of the writer and painter? Painting is at least a visual medium, which suits the cinema better.
In the end, I think it comes down to personality. Seraphine was quiet, uncomplaining, and expected little; we were drawn forward to wonder over her. Violette is needy, loud, forever complaining. For all the art of the picture, and there is art, we can’t wait to get away from her.
How Many M's Team Records Will Fall to King Felix This Season?
Felix on the mound last September: It's good to be the King.
This weekend, I was doing the kind of thing you do while waiting for Opening Day—looking over the Mariners team records—and it occurred to me that King Felix is poised to break many of the M’s career pitching records this year.
He already owns two: ERA (3.07), which he could obviously lose with a string of bad seasons, and wild pitches (116), which I found surprising. I always thought of him as a control pitcher, yet he’s led the league in this category (in 2009), and already has more WPs than Randy Johnson did during his entire career: 109.
This year, and barring problems, four more M's team records should fall to him. In each, the number he needs to break the record is less than the number he put up last season:
|Stat||Pitcher||Record||Felix's #||To break||F's '14 #|
|Games started||Jamie Moyer||323||303||21||34|
|Hits allowed||Jamie Moyer||2,100||1839||262||170|
|Complete games||Mike Moore||56||23||34||0|
And could it be five records? He needs 21 wins to break Jamie Moyer's career mark. That doesn’t sound like an impossibility but would in fact tie Moyer for the M’s single-season record; 19 is Felix’s career high. But he could do it; he’s pitching for a better team now; wins should come easier. If the creek don’t rise.
Hits allowed will also be his by 2016. He’s crawling, not running, to walks, so that one may forever stay Randy’s. So will shutouts. Meanwhile Mike Moore gets to keep his name in the Mariners record books for all eternity, since no one in our current era will pitch 57 complete games again.
‘Insurgent’ Duplicates ‘Divergent’ Box Office; ‘Do You Believe?’ Converts Few; ‘Gunman’ Slain
Here's a thought: Let's give Shailene Woodley a haircut so she looks like a 38-year-old woman.
A year ago, “Divergent,” despite poor reviews (41% on Rotten Tomatoes), opened to $54.6 million domestic and topped out at $150 ($288 worldwide). This weekend, its sequel, “Insurgent,” despite poorer reviews (32%), opened to about the same: $54 million. That doesn’t exactly hurt but it doesn’t exactly help, either. Sequels to good products are supposed to do better than the original. But “Divergent” isn’t a good product.
Of note: the top four openers so far this year have all been women- or children-centered:
|Fifty Shades of Grey||$85.1||$163||$558||6|
|The SpongeBob Movie||$55.3||$158||$274||7|
(I know: $558 million worldwide for “Fifty Shades”? Don't we have a safe word to make it stop?)
“The Gunman,” with Sean Penn, Javier Bardem and Idris Elba, fared poorer at the box office than “Insurgent” ($5 million, fourth place), which was expected, but also poorer with the critics (14%), which wasn’t.
The other big opener, “Do You Believe?” which attempts to redo “God’s Not Dead” without the culture-war nastiness (pairing old TV stars with heavy religious themes, but with a focus on the positive works of Christ rather than the negative works of atheistic professors), didn’t exactly knock the socks off Christian moviegoers: It grossed $4 million in 1,320 theaters, which is worse than “GND” ($9 million) and “When the Game Stands Tall” ($8 million), but better than “Left Behind” and “The Identical” ($2 and $1.5). Question: How many of these crappy Christian movies have to open before Hollywood is no longer viewed as Sodom and Sodom by the Christian right? I’m guessing no amount will change that mindset.
Last week’s #1, “Cinderella,” dropped 50% but still grossed $34 million. The second weekend of “Run All Night” with Liam Neeson finished third with $5. It’s now at $19.7 and officially toast. “Kingsman” added a bit to its $114 domestic total ($295 worldwide), while the rest of the top 10 is the dregs of spring: “Marigold 2,” “Focus,” “Chappie,” “McFarland.”
Welcome to New York, Ya Schnook
A week ago Saturday I landed at JFK Airport after our flight circled for 45 minutes. Visibility issues. We didn’t come out of the clouds until we were maybe 40 feet from the ground.
Last time I landed at JFK—a year ago—I had to wait around for more than an hour before my luggage showed up, so on this flight I didn’t check baggage. Did the overhead compartment thing that everybody does.
(Sidenote: I don’t really get the economics of airlines. Why should passengers have to pay to check bags, which seems to inconvenience no one but yourself, but get to carry on big honking things, which inconveniences everyone? It makes boarding take longer, exiting take longer, requires more work from flight attendants. Shouldn’t airlines be doing the opposite of what they do?)
Anyway I was practically whistling a tune as I was wheeling my luggage through JFK. Before I knew it I was outside, spotted the taxi cabs, and was heading in that direction when a voice interrupted my thoughts. “You want a cab?” I looked over. “Yeah,” I said. “Follow me,” he said. I assumed we would head toward the yellow cabs, but we went past them toward the parking lot. Were there cabs there, too? I wondered. But we didn’t stop at a yellow cab. We stopped at an SUV-type vehicle.
“This isn’t a cab,” I said.
“It is a cab,” he insisted.
“Seventy-nine dollars plus tunnel fee.”
I was thinking, “I thought Patricia said there was like a flat fee of $50 for cabfare from JFK.” But for some reason I let the momentum carry me along.
That could be the mantra (or lesson) of my life, by the way: For some reason I let the momentum carry me along.
To be honest, I didn’t fully realize what I’d done until we were in traffic. That’s when I looked around, noticed no meter, no official anything, and realized, “I just got into the car of a complete stranger at JFK Airport.”
The dude got me where I needed to go but for almost double what it should have cost me. I don’t know if he was a different branch of cabdriver or if I just got took like a schnook. I assume the latter. It was so disheartening it took me three days to share the story with Patricia.
The Final Poster for the Final Season of 'Mad Men'
I saw it while I was in New York last week:
Nice, no? The All-American man, with the All-American job, smoking a cigarette and driving the All-American car into the sunset. Because it's all about to go away, Don.
Quote of the Day
“The Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the survivors, the bulletproof, the fortunate ones who found themselves in the right place at the right time. Al Rosen is not in the Hall of Fame. He never got to be a young player. He never got to be an old player. The war, the team, the role of being a pioneer, the body shortened everything. But for five years, Al Rosen was about as good as anybody who ever played third base in the Major Leagues.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “R.I.P. Al Rosen”
Movie Review: The Salvation (2014)
“The Salvation,” a Danish film set in the American west of the 1870s, is a purer western than most Hollywood westerns.
An Easterner (way east: Denmark) and war veteran (the Second Schleswig War, 1864) winds up in the Old West, where he loses wife and child in brutal fashion and seeks revenge. The town is full of cowards, the mayor/undertaker and sheriff/minister are either weak or collaborators, and the villain who runs things is surrounded by henchmen, bullies and rapists.
Each trope is slightly skewed yet powerfully realized. The film’s foreign pedigree helps with both. Hollywood westerns are all about revenge but the work of prolific Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (“In a Better World”) is about the consequences of revenge; the consequences of standing up to a brutal world. What happens when you match the world’s brutality with your own? Doing so, in Hollywood’s version, is necessary and clean and usually the end of the movie; for Jensen, it’s necessary but never clean and usually the beginning of the movie. Sunsets are a Hollywood contrivance.
There’s a moment 60 minutes into this 90-minute film that’s indicative of why it works. Jon, the Dane (Mads Mikkelsen), has been strung up in the courtyard of the villain, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but rescued by his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), and both are pursued through the countryside by Delarue’s brutal men. Does Jon even know he’s been rescued? He’s out cold for most of it, and his brother has to leave him behind with a rifle. When Jon wakes, he crawls to a pond, drinks, then hears horses approaching. He crawls behind a rock again, grabs his rifle, waits in a panic. The horses go past. He sees that. He also sees they’re dragging something behind them. Peter. Dead.
At this point, the camera closes in on Jon’s face, and on the pain he feels. The music doesn’t well up; it’s quiet, soft. There’s no sudden determination in his eyes at the end, either. Just pain. The whole scene makes you wonder what our westerns would’ve been like if men like Clint Eastwood had been better actors, or had a touch of humanity in their performances.
The first 20 minutes are tough to take, by the way.
A prologue tells us that Jon and his brother Peter (Miakel Persbrandt), following the defeat of Denmark to Prussia/Austria in the Second Schleswig War, left for America, and created a life in the town of Black Creek. Then Jon sends for his wife and son. He first mistakes a woman alighting from the train as his wife but she’s actually behind him; we see her first. On the stagecoach, she tells him in Danish, “You not only look like them, you sound like them.” “You will, too,” he replies consolingly, but she doesn’t mean it as a compliment. And in the stagecoach, two men will prove her right. If John Ford’s stagecoach was a microcosm of civilized society, the version by Jensen and director Kristian Levring is the opposite.
Later in the movie, imprisoned in town, Jon will be chastised by the Sheriff/Minister of Black Creek, Mallick (Douglas Henshall), thus: “If you’d just shown a little compassion for Delarue’s brother instead of killing him, then Mrs. Borowski and Mr. Whisler and Joe No Leg, they’d still be here.” Except he does show compassion. That’s the problem. Even after the two men pull a gun on him and try to rape his wife in front of him (and her son), and Jon gets the upper hand on them, he doesn’t kill them immediately. He shows that little bit of compassion, little bit of civilized behavior. And because of that, it all goes wrong. Lester (Sean Cameron Michael) puts a knife to the boy’s neck, Paul (Michael Raymond-James) grabs the wife again, and Jon is forced to put down his gun. Then he’s kicked out of the stagecoach and into the black night.
He tries to catch the coach, but nobody can outrun horses. Even so, he’s able to follow its tracks to a deserted area, and finds bodies along the way: the stagecoach driver; his son. And there’s the coach next to the woods, with Lester standing guard, rocking back and forth.
Welcome to America.
The revenge is swift. That was unexpected. Lester gets it in the forehead, Paul runs out of the stagecoach, pants between his legs, is shot down. He pleads for what he didn’t truly appreciate before: mercy. “She’s not dead!” he cries. “She’ll be fine!” But Jon keeps pumping his rifle until there are no bullets, and no life, left; then he goes to the stagecoach. We don’t see what he sees; just that he sees it.
This should be the end, right? Twenty-five minutes in. Instead, there are consequences: As alluded, Paul is the brother of Delarue, who runs the town, and who exacts revenge (until the true killer can be found) by taking two lives for his brother’s life: an old woman and a drunk. Not content, he also kills Mr. Whisler, husband and father. The town elders simply watch. The Mayor/undertaker, Keane (Jonathan Pryce), is actually in collusion with Delarue, who, it turns out, isn’t bullying the town simply from pleasure; he’s driving people out so Standard Atlantic Oil Company can buy up all the land. There’s a reason the town’s called Black Creek: the stuff bubbles up from the ground. “It’s that sticky oil,” Jon says later in the movie, by way of explanation for all the bad that’s happened. “Delarue believes it’s gonna be worth thousands.”
I love that. Thousands.
It all plays out the way we expect but it’s really well-done. The sheriff/minister not only captures Jon for the murder of the two men, not only chastises him for his lack of mercy, but justifies his own collusion in the name of the Lord. “Your death is going to bring us some time,” he says. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice a single sheep to save the rest. I’m just a shepherd guarding the flock.” In an Eastwood movie, Mallick would’ve been brought low in some way; he would’ve realized the error of his ways; he would’ve embarrassed himself. Here, even to the end, he’s allowed to see himself as the shepherd, the hero. He’s even given the last line of the movie.
In the end, Jon leads an assault on Delarue’s place with the grandson of Mrs. Borowski. The kid tries, but he’s no soldier. But Jon has another partner: Madelaine (Eva Green), the mute widow of Delarue’s brother. Except despite all the fine feelings he has for his brother, Delarue rapes her, and after she tries to flee, he gives her to his men to rape and kill. That’s about when Jon begins his assault and kills everyone but (of course) Delarue. And he’s about to be (of course) killed by Delarue when (of course) Madelaine puts a big hole through Delarue. And in the smoldering aftermath, the Sheriff/Minister arrives to survey the damage and praise the survivors. Except he’s rebuffed, and so offers these parting words to our two heroes: “May the Lord have mercy on both your souls,” he says.
That’s the last line of the movie. Well, last spoken line. As the movie ends, the camera pulls back, and we see all the wooden oil wells on the property, looking like ancient ruins, or newfound gods.
Question: What exactly is the salvation of the title?
Asa Carter: The White Supremacist Behind the Eastwood Hero
I didn't know this about the original author of Clint Eastwood's “Outlaw Josey Wales,” but it figures. From Wikipedia:
The film was adapted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman from author Forrest Carter's 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished, as shown in the movie's opening credits, as Gone to Texas). Forrest Carter was an alias assumed by Asa Carter: a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a speechwriter for George Wallace, and later an opponent of Wallace for Governor of Alabama on a white supremacist platform.
Apparently The New York Times uncovered this information in 1976, even as “Forrest” continued to deny it. It gets worse. From PBS:
Carter, a right-wing radio announcer and founder of his own Ku Klux Klan organization, was a man with a dark, troubling past. “He had a long history of violence, in fact, it's not an exaggeration to call him something of a kind of psychopath,” says Wallace biographer Dan Carter. Asa Carter had shot two men in a dispute over money just a few years before joining Wallace's campaign, and his Klan group shared his volatile temperament. “In one eighteen-month period,” recounts Dan Carter in his George Wallace biography, “his followers joined in the stoning of Autherine Lucy on the University of Alabama campus, assaulted black singer Nat King Cole on a Birmingham stage, beat Birmingham civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth and stabbed his wife, and, in what was billed as a warning to potential black 'trouble-makers,' castrated a randomly-chosen, slightly retarded black handyman.”
Carter became one of Wallace's main speechwriters, and thought up the now-infamous line, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” When Wallace softened, he didn't, and ran (dead last) on a white supremacist platform in 1970. Then he took up the Forrest Carter mantle, and wrote “Josey Wales,” in which the heroic Southerner's family is butchered and raped by Union forces, survives by his wits and guns, and delivers anti-government sentiments to a receptive audience: Native Americans. Then he wrote a book purported to be the true-life tale of a Native American.
There's a recent documentary on him here.
I might need to revisit Eastwood's movies some time.
Asa Carter, full bore.
Quote of the Day
“She had property rights and we were trespassing on her property, and she forgave us our trespasses even though we went on trespassing. I would say now that she was a woman of rare inner grace who had gathered wisdom from potatoes and hollyhocks.”
-- Carl Sandburg, in his 1953 autobiography, “Always the Young Strangers,” which contains several pages on playing neighborhood ball in the 19th century. The above is a paean to a woman whose yard the boys traipsed through to retrieve their ball.
- A documentary by Eric Chase Anderson on the making of Wes Anderson's “Rushmore.” How cool is that?
- Are we really still talking about Sean Penn's green card joke at the Oscars? Good for him for his response.
- Via i09, the superheroines of the Golden Age of Comics not named Wonder Woman: from Phantom Liberty to Lady Satan to (personal favorite) Betty Bates, Lady at Law, who socks the bad guys in the jaw. (See: right.)
- It's old, but you gotta love the Old Spock vs. New Spock Audi car commercial. I laughed out loud. Thanks to Karen Tischler for reminding me.
- I'm not a “Big Bang Theory” guy (my nephews are), but this tribute to Leonard Nimoy is touching.
- I'm not a huge fan of Bill Maher, either, but he's exactly right in his takedown of what a liar Bill O'Reilly is.
- Via Criterion, Roger Ebert's favorite Criterion films. It's a helluva list. And for all the movies I've seen in my life, I haven't seen half of these. Time to get cracking.
- This is kind of fun for hoops fans: Two guys from Grantland argue over the greatest fictional basketball player in movie history.
- BTW, it made me recall this 1975 bit from SNL, which I tracked down on Vimeo: Paul Simon (yes, “Me and Julio” Paul Simon) going one on one with NBA great Connie Hawkins. Still funny after all these years.
- It also led to this: Sigourney Weaver on the set of “Alien: Resurrection” nailing the 3.
- Here's a hilarious “Talk of the Town” piece on the abysmal New York Knicks, and one fan who chose the wrong year to see every one of their games.
- I like the way Jeff Wells describes Abel Ferrera's “Welcome to New York” losing its cultural moment (“It feels like cold dumplings in the fridge”), but I have to admit I've never been a Ferrera fan. “Bad Lieutenant”? No. “King of New York”? No. None of it. Then I went to his IMDb page and realized I had barely even heard of any of his movies for the last 20 years. Talk about losing your cultural moment.
- As is his wont, Pultizer-Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey is out on the road, retracing the steps of the civil rights movement in time for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
- May U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) be forever known at “The Senator with the Snowball.”
- Grantland weighs in on the coming baseball season by ranking teams from 30 (Phillies) to 1 (Nats). They got the Twins 27th (“Squint hard and you can see the start of something good here”), the Yankees 20th (“Right now, the Yanks look like the worst team in the AL East”) and the hapless Seattle Mariners ... third? Yes, third. “They might be the best team in the American League,” Jonah Keri writes. Play ball.
- Long read of the week: Via Adam Wahlberg, this excellent ESPN Magazine piece on the Problems of Being A-Rod, by J.R. Moehringer. Incredible stuff. Should win awards.
- Finally, that's right: I made TIME Magazine last week.
Quote of the Day
“Forty-seven senators, all of them Republicans, have sent a letter to Tehran that might be summarized this way: Dear Iran, Please don't agree to halt your nuclear-weapons program, because we don't like Barack Obama and, anyway, he'll be gone soon. That may be shorthand, but it is not an exaggeration of either the tone or the intent of the letter, which was signed by the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as well as John McCain, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. The signature drive was organized by Senator Tom Cotton. He is a thirty-seven-year-old Republican, who entered the Senate two months ago, from the state of Arkansas. ...
”As with the invitation that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, extended to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to speak before Congress, it is not clear whether the primary impetus has to do with foreign policy or with partisan theatrics. Is the intention to scuttle the nuclear negotiations, without regard for the ugliness that it brings to our politics? Or is it to humiliate and insult President Obama, no matter the cost to the goal of nuclear nonproliferation—even if it means another bomb in the world?“
-- Amy Davidson, ”Congress's Poison-Pen Letter to Iran," on The New Yorker site.
Look! On TV! It's Melissa Benoist as the 21st ... or Seventh ... or Is She Just the Second Supergirl?
Add Melissa Benoist to the list of ... um ... Well, gee (and Great Scott), how many actresses have played Supergirl?
IMDb lists 21 appearances of Supergirl as character (cf.: 248 appearances for Superman, 301 for Batman, 54 for Aquaman), but many are duplicates, or cartoons, or essentially fan fiction. So who really counts?
Helen Slater appears on the list twice, for example: from the abysmal 1984 theatrical movie, and in a 2010 documentary called “Heroic Ambition,” all about Metropolis, Ill., and its annual Superman celebration. The second actress to play Supergirl was Nicholle Tom, who voiced the Girl of Steel in five episodes of “Superman: The Animated Series,” one episode of “Batman: The New Adventures,” and seven episodes of “Justice League.” Other cartoon Supergirls include Nicole Sullivan (of “Mad TV” fame) in the short-lived “Super Best Friends Forever,” Summer Glau in “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse,” and Molly Quinn in “Superman: Unbound.”
For live-action Supergirls after Slater? There's Laura Vandervoort, who had a recurring role as Kara/Supergirl on “Smallville”; but IMDb also counts Michelle Prenez, who did a comic turn as the Girl of Steel on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Lissy Smith in Max Landis' straight-to-YouTube hit “The Death and Return of Superman,” Kristen Bell as “Fake Supergirl” in “Movie 43,” and various forms of fan fiction (Briana Stancer; Jaclyn DeDoux).
If you eliminate the fan fiction, short comic turns, and dupes, you wind up with only six previous Supergirls: Slater, Vandervoort, Tom, Sullivan, Glau and Quinn.
If you eliminate the cartoons, you wind up with only two previous Supergirls: Slater and Vandervoort.
But if you only count actresses who have played Supergirl in movies or TV shows about Supergirl? Then it only happened once before. And that one sucked.
SLIDESHOW: A HISTORY OF SUPERGIRL ON SCREEN
It was hardly a Betty Friedan-like impulse that led DC Comics to create Kara (Supergirl), cousin of Kal-El (Superman), in Action Comics #252 in May 1959. This was an anodyne era (pre-Marvel, yo) in which Super Everythings were created so Superman would have something to do. Chronologically, Kara came after Krypto the Superdog and Beppo the Super Monkey, but before Streaky the Super Horse and Comet the Supercat. Just so you know where girls stood in the DC universe. But she quickly made it into the cinematic universe ...
... 25 years later. Here's a review of the painful 1984 movie produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Poor Helen Slater. She never had a chance. Neither did Supergirl. She was #1 at the box office for a week, then bellyflopped. It was 14 years before she showed up again.
Here: In “Superman: The Animated Series,” voiced by Nicholle Tom. Apparently they thought bare midriff and short-shorts equaled girl power in the age of the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. Why does this image make me think of Pink's song “Stupid Girls”? “They travel in packs of 2 or 3s/ With their itsy-bitsy doggies and their teeny-weeny tees.”
This is Michelle Prenez on “Jimmy Kimmel.” She's got comic timing anyway; but Kimmel and anything female is suspect.
Our second true live-action Supergirl: It's Laura Vandervoort of Ontario, Canada as Kara, cousin of Kal-El, in the long-running series “Smallville.” As a Lundegaard, forever dealing with the double-a, I love her last name, but I checked out of that series long before she showed up.
Yes, Lissy Smith's comic-y turn in Max Landis' straight-to-YouTube video “The Death and Return of Superman” made the cut on IMDb. Does anyone know what the rules are here? A certain number of hits maybe?
This direct-to-home-video production is all about the origin of Supergirl (Summer Glau) and yet it's called “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.” No respect. On the plus side, she saves Superman from Darkseid even though she's been treated as a suspect alien by Batman for the entire movie.
Still with the midriff. This is Molly Quinn's Supergirl from the animated movie “Superman: Unbound.” In the Wikipedia synopsis, her character is called “unpredictable” and “fear-filled.”
Kristen Bell is described as “fake Supergirl” in the abysmal “Movie 43” because she's really the Riddler. Robin (Justin Long), you see, is speed dating, Batman (Jason Sudekis) keeps showing up to mess things up, and the Penguin (John Hodgman) has a bomb somewhere. Penguin even straps a bomb to Supergirl (as if) but Robin saves her (as if), and then of course it's revealed that the girl he kissed is really the Riddler (Will Carlough). Joke's on him. Or on us if we saw the movie.
Jaclyn LeDoux. Seriously, I don't quite get why this is on IMDb.
So for the first time in 30 years, and only the second time in her long, sad history, Supergirl is the star of her own live-action movie. And who is Melissa Benoist? You probably know her from “Glee,” but I've only seen her as Nicole, the cute ticket-taker that Miles Teller is dumb enough to dump after two dates in “Whiplash.” That's a good sign, no? That she was in something of that quality? Fingers crossed. *FIN*
An Open Letter to Brian Cashman: Addendum
Here's a couple of dueling quotes. I wrote about the first yesterday in an open letter to Brian Cashman. The second I read last night in Marty Appel's book, “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss”:
- “As far as I’m concerned — and I’m not the decision-maker on this — that captaincy should be retired with No. 2. I wouldn’t give up another captain’s title to anyone else.” — Yankees GM Brian Cashman, last week.
- “[The position of captain] has died with Lou [Gehrig]. There will never be another one on the Yankees.” — Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, in 1941.
McCarthy was close, by the way. After Gehrig retired in 1939, there wasn't another Yankee captain until 1976, when Thurman Munson was annointed. Then he died suddenly, too, 40 years after Gehrig's farewell speech. Was there ever talk of a curse following Yankee captains? If so, it died with the next few—Nettles, Randolph, Guidry, Mattingly—all of whom stayed with us.
McCarthy said his line because Gehrig was a great man and teammate who died suddenly and tragically. Cashman said his about Jeter because ... ? Jeter's fine, living his life. It's the Yankees who've died.
An Open Letter to Brian Cashman: 'You Don't Go Far Enough in Honoring Derek Jeter'
Dear Brian Cashman:
I agree with you about Derek Jeter. He was such a fine example of man, ballplayer and Yankee, that I can’t imagine anyone else being named Captain of the New York Yankees—the title Mr. Jeter has held for the last 11 years. And for that reason, you’re right, Derek Jeter should be the 16th and last Captain in New York Yankees history. You shall have no other captains after he.
But I don’t think you go far enough.
Just look at Jeter’s legacy: four World Series championships in his first five years in the Majors. Think of that! True, without O’Neill, Tino, and Coney, the Yankees and Jeter, who officially became Captain in 2003, managed only one more title over the next 14 years. But he was obviously the impetus for the first four. Well, him and Jeffrey Maier.
More, look at the record books! Seventh all-time in at-bats! Sixth all-time in hits! Fifth all-time in singles! He’s also 30th in doubles and 189th in homeruns! Tied for 112th in batting average, 190th in OBP and 514th in slugging! Can you imagine? Only 513 players in Major League history slugged better than Derek Jeter. We shall never see his like again.
And that’s why I don’t think you go far enough. You don’t truly honor what Derek Jeter has meant to the Yankees and the city of New York.
It’s not enough to retire his number. It’s not enough to retire the Captaincy. It’s time for you and the Steinbrenners to retire the Yankees themselves.
Look at your current lineup. Sagging bags of bones like Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia. Blatant cheaters like Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda. Aging lumps like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Skinny disappointments like Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Do you think any of these guys are fit to wear the same uniform as Derek Jeter? Mr. November? Captain Clutch? Captain Crunch?
And can you imagine anyone in the future having the same kind of guts, glory, flair for the dramatic, and numerous bloops singles that Derek Jeter had?
I can’t. It’s all downhill from here for the Yankees. So why not go out on top? Or, you know, 12 games back in the A.L. East.
I understand this might leave Major League Baseball in a bit of a quandry, with only 29 teams rather than 30, meaning not every team could play every day.
But “Is this decision right for Major League Baseball?” is the wrong question to ask. It’s not even a matter of “Is this right for the New York Yankees?” No, the only proper question to ask is, “Is this the right decision for Derek Jeter?”
I think you know the answer to that one. And I think Mr. Jeter would agree with you.
Smells like team spirit: Derek Jeter celebrates the walk-off single in his last home game that put the Yankees only 12 games back of the first-place Baltimore Orioles.
Better to Kill than Die at the Box Office: ‘American Sniper’ Becomes #1 Hit of 2014; Blomkamp, Vaughn Wounded
The story is less the first-place finisher than the 11th. But it’s also the first.
The 11th-place finisher was the 11th weekend of “American Sniper,” which grossed another $4.5 million and strolled past “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1” to become the #1 box-office hit of 2014. It’s the first time a Clint Eastwood movie has finished first in the box office, and he did it in his 84th year. That’s beyond impressive. It also means that Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” got another thing wrong with its 2014 box-office predictions.
The first-place finisher was “Chappie,” a sci-fi drama written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, whose “District 9” opened to critical acclaim and $37 million in August 2009, and whose “Elysium” opened to more criticism and less acclaim, as well as $29 million, in August 2013. This one won the weekend with a mere $13.3 million. It was also skewered by critics. So ... wrong direction for Blomkamp. But I was never a huge fan.
A bigger story might be the 10th-place finisher, the first weekend of “Unfinished Business,” the new Vince Vaughn comedy, which earned just $4.8 million in more than 2,700 theaters. Vaughn has been a fairly sure box-office winner since “Wedding Crashers” in 2005, but he’s on a downward trajectory, too. Since 2006, his movies have opened at: $39, $18, $31, $34, $17, $12, $17, and $7.9 before this one. A wide-release Vince Vaughn movie hasn’t opened this low since ... never.
Is that the current state of Hollywood? Sci-fi flicks and sure-fire comedies die at the box office, while national tragedies remade into personal, bittersweet dramas kill at the box office? And is this a bad thing? For all its faults, at least “American Sniper” was about recent tragic events. It also reminded us that in war, as well as the box office, it’s better to kill than die. I’m sure Blomkamp and Vaughn, deeply wounded at this point, agree.
Is “American Sniper” also a good counterpoint to ageism? When, after all, was the last time the #1 box-office hit of the year was directed by someone in their 80s? I’m guessing ... never.
The weekend numbers from Box Office Mojo.
Pres. Obama's Speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday
Via Ezra Klein's piece on Vox, these two grafs (at 16:26):
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing's changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation's racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.
My Gay Talese Story
A friend pointed me toward Gay Talese's article in the New York Times today about Selma and its aftermaths, and it led me to relay my Gay Talese story, which has nothing to do with Selma (I was 2 at the time), but which some might find interesting nonetheless.
I think it was 1991 or '92. I'd just moved to Seattle and was working part-time as a cashier at University Book Store when a dapper man walked in and asked to see the store manager. I said I didn't know who that was. I think I was thinking, “General books manager? Personnel manager? Overall store manager?” He started to tease me. “You work here and you don't know who your manager is?” As he was saying this, though, I realized who he was, and he realized I realized. “You're Gay Talese,” I said. “Yes, I'm here to sign some books.” As I led him back to where the managers' offices were, I told him, “I just read your piece in [some university review I've since forgotten]. I liked it.” Then I blushed. Not because he was famous but because I was lying. I hadn't really thought much of the piece. But I delivered him to the General Books manager and walked back to my post, admonishing myself about blushing. I told myself never to blush again. About 10 minutes later, he came back out, and, before leaving, made a point of stopping by my post to shake my hand. Which, of course, made me blush all over again. Lesson unlearned.
Actually there are lessons from this story:
- Always tell the truth, kids.
- If you work in a bookstore and don't know the managers, at least know visiting authors on sight.
Quote of the Day
“It's really almost criminal what they do with our President. There seems to be no shame or anything. They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he's doing certain things that he's not. It's just a big old political game that I don't want to be part of. There are people spending their lives putting him down. I'm sure some of it's true and some of it's not. I was very surprised to find the man very humble and he had a nice handshake. His wife was very cordial to the guests and especially me. They made a special effort to make me feel welcome. It was not at all the way the media described him to be. ...
”He's very humble about being the President of the United States, especially in comparison to some presidents we've had who come across like they don't need anybody's help. I think he knows he's in over his head. Anybody with any sense who takes that job and thinks they can handle it must be an idiot."
Crazy What You Could've Had
This came on iTunes the other day. Hadn't heard it in years. So powerful. And Michael Stipe's favorite? I think he's stated so in the past.
I think something like this every other day, particularly the “wear me out” part:
You come to me with positionsYou come to me with excuses
Ducked out in a row
You wear me out
You wear me out
Not to mention:
Crazy what you could've had
I think this on a maddening loop.
Quote of the Day
“I am disappointed that many of my colleagues chose to put the security of Americans at stake and waste time playing politics. Congress has a solemn responsibility. As a body, we should never hold America's safety hostage simply for political gamesmanship ... With recent terror threats to the Mall of America hitting so close to home and the potential need for natural disaster relief in Minnesota during the winter months, it is imperative we approve the funding the DHS needs.”
-- U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, (R-MN), who took over Michele Bachmann's seat in the House, on the recent and ongoing Republican threat to defund the Dept. of Homeland Security unless Pres. Obama's executive order protecting 4 million immigrants from deportation is reversed. So at least Minnesota's 6th District is better represented than it was a few months ago. (FWIW, Emmer doesn't agree with Obama's immigration plan.)
The Utter Smallness of King v. Burwell
If Keith Olbermann still did his schtick he might make Michael Greve today's “worst person in the world.” From Jeffrey Toobin's “Hard Cases,” about King v. Burwell, which is being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday:
Shortly after the A.C.A. passed, in 2010, a group of conservative lawyers met at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, and scoured the nine-hundred-page text of the law, looking for grist for possible lawsuits. Michael Greve, a board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian outfit funded by, among others, the Koch brothers, said, of the law, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”
I've heard nothing but arguments against King v. Burwell, and the arguments are getting more blistering. The Editorial Board at the New York Times, which doesn't exactly make waves, calls the lawsuit “a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity” and its central claim “baloney.” Others, including in the Wall Street Journal, have argued that the plaintiffs don't even have legal standing in the matter—they haven't proven they were injured by the ACA—so the case should be dismissed on those grounds. An Indiana law professor suggests it would be “embarrassing” if the court didn't dismiss King v. Burwell.
Toobin, in his piece, mostly argues against the smallness of the lawsuit: the four words in dispute (“established by the state”), and how, in better times, the confusion over the four words (if it's even confusion) would be dealt with. Which is to say: not this way.
As for who would be harmed if the ACA is upended? Toobin doesn't exactly mince words:
If the Justices rule for the plaintiffs, the seven and a half million people on the federal exchange who receive tax subsidies will lose them immediately, which means that most of them will also lose their insurance, because they can no longer afford it. Insurance companies will then likely raise rates for the remaining policyholders, many of whom would drop their coverage, leading to even higher rates, and so on; this sequence is known as the A.C.A. death spiral. A remarkable coalition of state officials, insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, and nurses—many among them less than friendly to the Obama Administration—have filed briefs in the case warning of the consequences if the subsidies are withdrawn. A brief written by the deans of nineteen leading schools of public health states with bracing directness that, if the plaintiffs win this case, nearly ten thousand Americans will die unnecessary deaths each year.
Critics of the ACA have always railed on about Obama and his “death panels” but this may be another case of GOP projection.
Box Office: Moviegoers Not Conned (Much) By 'Focus'
Smith's movie career is lacking focus.
Here’s how Will Smith’s mass-release (3,000+ theaters) openers have done since 2007:
|2007||I Am Legend||$77,211,321||3,606|
Remember the “falling star” joke that kept Eddie Murphy off “SNL” for 20 years? Like that.
Even so, “Focus” won the weekend with $19.1, followed by the third weekend of “Kingsman” at $11.7, the fourth weekend of “SpongeBob” at $11.2, and the third weekend of “Fifty Shades” at $10.9. The opening weekend of “The Lazarus Effect” was in fifth place with $10.6.
“Fifty Shades” has plunged, boy. It dropped 50 percent on top of the near-record 72 percent drop the week before. It’s the highest-grossing movie of the year so far (at $147) but looks like it’ll have trouble even doubling its opening weekend total of $85. There’s a sexual metaphor here I’ll ignore out of politeness.
A lot of movies—most Oscar winners—increased theater count, including “Birdman” (+806) and “Still Alice (+553); but the oddest increase came from Paramount, whose “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” died in its debut last weekend, receiving abysmal reviews (15% RT) and garnering abysmal box office ($5.9, seventh place). So what does Paramount do? Adds 21 theaters. Result? Movie drops 59.8 percent to 10th place. Ad wizards.
Meanwhile, “American Sniper” keeps on. It dropped only 23.4 percent for another $7.7 million. It’s now grossed $331.1 million. Next weekend it looks set to surpass “Mockingjay–Part 1” ($336.7) as the highest-grossing film of 2014.
Weekend numbers here.