This Might Make Me a Baltimore Orioles Fan
“Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.
”That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night's property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American's civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state."
-- Baltimore Orioles COO John Angelos, son of owner (and former labor lawyer) Peter Angelos, responding via Twitter to sports-radio broadcaster Brett Hollander's arguments that riots and demonstrations, such as those that have occurred in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, are counter-productive.
The Best Thing About the 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Trailer
I was away on business last week and didn't see the “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer until today:
Here's what I like about it: They're following the original line of thought David S. Goyer had when he came up with the concept for “Man of Steel”: If a super-powered alien actually came to Earth, people would freak.
Here are some of the things we hear from people in the beginning of the trailer. It's a lot of back-and-forth, in which, in the end, the detractors drown out more reasoned arguments:
- Charlie Rose: Is it really surprising that the most powerful man in the world should be a figure of controversy?
- We as a population on this planet have been looking for a savior.
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson: We're talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priorities in the universe. (Background: They're not telling us the truth.) (Chant: Our planet!)
- Lex Luthor: Human beings have a horrible track record of following people with great power.
- Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Maybe he's just a guy trying to do the right thing. (Background: We know better now, don't we?)
- Lex Luthor: Devils don't come from hell ... They come from the sky.
- Chant: Go home! Go home! Go home!
All of which leads to a confrontation between Superman, floating, and Batman, armored up, with Batman saying, “Tell me: Do you bleed?” And then, “You will.”
That confrontation is very “The Dark Knight Returns,” but the reasoning behind it has been updated. Frank Miller portrayed Superman as a tool of Big Government while this movie, or at least this trailer, portrays Batman as a dupe of a Fox-News-like propaganda campaign against Superman. In a way, Superman is like Pres. Obama here. He's doing good and being called the anti-Christ for it. I wouldn't be surprised if someone asks for Supes' birth certificate.
The thing is still in the hands of Zack Snyder, though, so most likely it'll be dumbed down by the time it arrives in theaters. Which, oddly, is next March. March? Isn't that a month for lesser films? And why does Batman get top billing? I'm also amused by the use of “v” for “vs” or “versus.” It's as if they're suing each other in court.
Savior: In the real world, this can't end well.
We are Groot: 'Furious 7' Sets B.O. Record in China
An absurdly moronic, biceps-heavy movie becomes absurdly popular at the box office, and for once it's not America's fault.
Yes, “Furious 7” topped the U.S. box office for the fourth weekend in a row—the first film to do that since “The Hunger Games” in the spring of 2012. And sure, it's already grossed $320 million here, which is by far the best performance of the year (second place: “Cinderella” at $190). But that $320 million is only the 36th-best domestic b.o. of all time. And if you adjust for inflation, “Furious 7” drops all the way down to 179th place.
No, where the movie is really killing is overseas.
It was the No. 1 movie last weekend in every country Box Office Mojo lists, and it's already become, at US$323 million, the highest-grossing film of all time in China. It's currently at $1.321 billion worldwide, which is fifth all time, and a mere $20 million away from passing the last “Harry Potter” flick for fourth place. After that, it's “The Avengers” ($1.518 billion), and then Cameron country (> $2 billion).
Keep in mind: This is for a movie starring muscle cars and muscleheads. Fifty years ago, it would've been relegated to drive-ins.
What changed? How did this series go from $158 million worldwide for 2006's “Tokyo Drift” to $788 million worldwide for 2013's “Furious 6” to $1.3 billion and counting now? Was it star Paul Walker's untimely death in 2013? The trailer shots of muscle cars parachuting from planes? The numerous and gratuitous shots of girls' asses? Or have we all suddenly become huge Vin Diesel fans? (We are Groot.)
Elsewhere in the domestic box office, “The Age of Adaline,” a Blake Lively romantic tragedy (rom-trag?), which looked awful from its trailer last November, opened in third place at $13 million, while the second weekend of “Paul Blart 2” fell off 35% for a $15.5 million showing: not bad, but overall it looks to do about half the business the original did in 2009 ($143 million).
Meanwhile, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” prepares to blow away everyone next weekend. In the states. Abroad, it's already opened, and has pulled in $201 million.
Before the Show at Pacific Place No. 9 for 'Furious 7'
I haven't done a “Before the Show” since Sept. 2009 but thought I'd trot one out again since I began taking notes before “Furious 7” Saturday afternoon. Blame “Friday,” or its 20th anniversary release, which semi-shocked me enough to reach for the notepad. Of all movies, “Friday,” starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, gets a 20th anniversary re-release? “Billy Madison” and “The Brady Bunch Movie” must feel slighted.
Quick note to AMC: Please make your PSAs shorter. We get the message without the round cows.
Not that the mucky-mucks are in a realm to pay attention. From AMC's Wikipedia's page:
AMC Theatres (often referred to as just AMC and previously known as AMC Cinemas) is an American movie theater chain owned and operated by AMC Entertainment Inc., which is itself owned by AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc., a majority-owned subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group.
I saw eight trailers, which is about four too many. Thoughts:
- “Southpaw,” the Jake Gyllenhaal boxer flick. Light heavyweight champ, wife (Rachel McAdams) wants him to retire for their young daughter. Instead, the No. 1 contender trashtalks him into a fight, gun goes off, wifey dies. Jake's boxing license is then revoked, daughter is taken by child custody services. It's like two 1910s melodramas in one. Of course he climbs his way back. He needs to 1) reclaim his daughter's love and 2) regain his title. Wish it were just the first. Forrest Whitaker, taking the Morgan Freeman role, has a good line in this regard: “Gotta let her hate you,” he says, “so she can get better.” July 31. 60% chance it's good.
- “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I like the notion that what we've created to make us safe comes back to haunt us. But what's missing is that “We have a Hulk” wit the first movie's trailers had. Saving it for the film? Please, God. Or Whedon. May 1. 49% chance it's good.
- “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”: I like it when it's parodying your typical action movie, but with Kevin James' roly-poly bod rather than, say, the Rock's ridiculous version. But the rest looks lowest-common denominator. I didn't see the first, doubt I'll see this one. Sometime in April. 15% chance it's good.
- “Poltergeist”: After “The Way Way Back” I'll see Sam Rockwell in almost anything; and it's Sam Raimi, who can normally do horror even if he killed the first Spider-Man franchise with “Spider-Man 3.” And “They already know what scares you” is a good line. The original scared me back in '82. But do we want to encourage this? Reboots and yadda-yaddas? May 22. 51% chance it's good.
- “San Andreas”: Another reboot of a kind but basically more apocalyptic porn. Irwin Allen gave us “Earthquake” in 1974 so now we get the CGI version of California crumbling—complete with The Rock and impossible rescues of Carla Gugino. At least Paul Giamatti's around to say smartish things. May 29. 20% chance it'll be good.
- “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation”: First, Tom Cruise is too old for that haircut. Second, do people still want to see him—particularly after “Going Clear” aired on HBO? But they'll want to see that stunt with the plane. The girl, btw (Rebecca Ferguson), does nothing for me. Maybe I'm must not interested in any girl who's interested in that boy. July 31. 20%. But I think I'd rather see the apocalyptic porn. I think.
- “Ted 2”: Amanda Seyfried plays a lawyer. Sure. June 26. 33%.
- “Straight Outta Compton”: I hadn't even heard of this, but I guess music biopics, particularly of black artists, are on the rise, so why not NWA? The dude they got for Ice Cube seems pretty spot-on. It's Ice Cube's year, isn't it? 20th anniversary for “Friday” and this. August 14. 55% chance it's good.
The trailers lasted approximately 25 minutes. Tack it onto a 137-minute runtime of “Furious 7” and it's “Schindler's List” length.
People at Pacific Place were pleasant, btw, including the enthusiastic box-office dude. Theater itself was nearly empty for a 12:30 show.
Movie Review: Furious 7 (2015)
Muscle dudes + muscle cars + dumb dialogue + ass shots + well-done but impossible action sequences x 7th movie = $1 billion worldwide.
That’s the new math being taught by “Furious 7,” a low-rent car movie mixed with high-rent James Bond/Mission: Impossible action movies. The outlaws of 15 years ago are now in-laws and working for the government to track former British Special Forces soldier Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), whose little brother, former British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), was bested by the F&F team in the last movie.
As this one opens, Deckard is talking to his comatose brother in the hospital about getting vengies for him, and as he’s leaving we see the havoc he wreaked upon entering: bodies everywhere, smoldering wreckage. Question: Did someone try to prevent him from seeing his brother or is this just his way of saying hello?
No, we know. It’s the villainous intro. We’ll soon get two big action set pieces before the big-bang finale. Then we can all go home a little poorer in wallet and spirit.
But first, some soap.
The middle-aged and the restless
I always thought the WWE was like a soap opera for men, and the Fast/Furious franchise is a little like that, too. See if you can spot the soap opera elements below.
In the early going, our hero, Dom (Vin Diesel), tries to jog the memory of his amnesiac lady love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but she’s resisting, and, at her tombstone (she was declared dead in 2009), she leaves him to tinkly, sappy background music. Meanwhile, our only non-bald hero, Brian (Paul Walker), is having trouble adjusting to life as a suburban dad—so much so that his wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s sister, doesn’t tell him that she’s pregnant with his second child. She saves that for the final reel to give him the courage to go on. Because apparently she and the first kid aren’t enough.
So it’s almost a relief when their house is blown up by Deckard. Is that the key to these movies? Make the downtime so excruciating that we crave the action sequences? We’re like Brian in this regard. We need to get away from the domesticity and its greeting-card sentimentality. (Ex., Dom to Brian: “What’s real is family. Your family. Hold onto that, bra.”)
Deckard also kills old friend, and F&F regular, Han (Sung Kang), then shows up at Han’s funeral and is chased through the L.A. streets by Dom. There’s a car confrontation (vroom, vroom), and a head-on collision. Deckard is about to shoot Dom when U.S. Special Forces, led by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, enjoying himself), save Dom but let Deckard escape. Because everyone lets Deckard escape.
That’s how Dom, the bald, undershirt-wearing outlaw with the Groot voice, winds up working for the feds. Sadly, our government, which can normally track a fart on the other side of the universe, has no way of tracking a guy who is forever leaving smoldering wreckage in his wake. But a plan is hatched. A hacker known only as “Ramsey” (question mark in the middle of a blank face) has created a computer program called God’s Eye that can hack into ... well, anything: smartphone, surveillance camera, you name it. It basically uses face-recognition software while turning every smartphone in the world into surveillance cameras. The feds figure this would be a good way to track Deckard. (And us? Not raised. No Edward Snowdens here.) The bigger problem is that Ramsey has been kidnapped by a terrorist named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, to add to the bald) and no one knows where God’s Eye is. So the F&F team, including Letty, have to get through Jakande to get to Ramsey to track Deckard.
Except they really don’t. Because no matter where they go, Deckard follows. It’s kind of funny, actually. They go through hell—parachuting muscle cars out of transport planes to land in a remote region of Azerbaijan; launching hot rods from one skyscraper through another in Abu Dhabi—so they can get the hacker to get the hacking device to get Deckard. Except he’s always right there. Just shoot him for shit’s sake.
Ramsey, in a shocker, turns out to be a hot-looking chick (Nathalie Emmanuel of “Game of Thrones,”), and joins Angelina Jolie, Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth as your average Hollywood hackers. At one point, Dom and Ramsey are surrounded by bad men on one side and a cliff on the other. His solution? Drive off the cliff. It works. The car breaks apart but they don’t.
That’s the ultimate lesson of this movie: the flesh is willing but the metal is weak. Or mathematically: musclemen > musclecars.
The bald and the beautiful
But don’t take my word for it. The characters themselves point out the absurdity of the movie. Tej and Roman (Ludracris and Tyrese Gibson) check out a bikini-clad Ramsey emerging in slow-mo from the Persian Gulf and say, “She don’t look like no hacker.” In the kitchen-sink finale in the streets of L.A., while Dom and Deckard square off on a rooftop parking garage and Jakande shoots missiles from a military helicopter, Brian and Roman perform a parallel 360 stunt to transfer Ramsey from one car to the other. Tej’s response: “She made it! Can’t believe we pulled that off!”
My favorite absurd moment may be when the hospitalized Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), realizing L.A.’s a war zone, stands and rips the cast off his massively pumped left arm, then tells his sassy daughter, “Daddy’s gotta go to work.” Or maybe it’s when Dom guns his muscle car through the air, barely missing Jakande’s helicopter, but manages to hang a bag of explosives off the end of it, which Hobbs—after driving an ambulance through a bridge barrier to stop a missile in flight—shoots to blow the helicopter up.
Sadly, Jakande killed, Deckard captured when a parking garage falls on him (yes), we’re back to the soap. Dom, who survived the drive off the cliff and through the Etihad Towers with hardly a scratch, is at death’s door after the parabola run at Jakande’s helicopter. Brian pounds on his chest, makes demands (“You breathe!”), until Letty takes over. She cradles Dom’s head, cries, tells him if he dies, she dies. She also tells him her memory is back. “I remember it all,” she says. To which, not nearly at death’s door (can no one on the Furious team take a pulse?), he opens his eyes and croaks in his Groot voice, “About time.” And everyone smiles with tears of relief in their eyes. Or something.
The tagline for “Furious 7” is “One Last Ride.” Promises.
Famous Last Words: Hedda Hopper
“Mr. Selznick was two years deciding on his Scarlett, and out of million of American women couldn't find one to suit him. ... Scarlett O'Hara is southern, old southern, with traditions and inborn instincts of the South. How in the name of common sense can an English actress possibly understand Scarlett, her times or the characterization is beyond a thinking American. ... I’m sure millions of Americans will stay away from the picture in a gesture of protest.”
--Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper on the casting of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. It's a quote I came across last week while visiting the Margaret Mitchell House in midtown Atlanta.
The picture did OK box office, despite Hopper's prediction.
Box Office: 'Furious 7' at $800 Million Worldwide
Gunning for Harry Potter.
The rule of the “Fast & Furious” movies, post-Tokyo Drift, is that no matter how well they do opening weekend they fall in the low 60s the second weekend. And as the first figure gets bigger, so does the second.
So “Fast and Furious” (2009) opened to $70.9 but fell 61.6% second weekend; “Fast Five” (2011) opened to $86 and fell 62.4%, while “Fast and Furious 6” (2013) opened to $97 and fell 63.9%.
“Furious 7” opened biggest of all, $147 million last weekend, the ninth-best domestic opening ever, so one expected a crashing to earth this weekend. Nope. The top-heavy movie parachuted in to a 58.8% drop. The franchise has reached the point where its box office alone is generating second-weekend interest, cushioning the fall.
Oh, and it's already hit $800 million worldwide. I thought it would creep to $1 billion but it looks like it's going to slam past it. The only question is how far. Top 5 all-time? Top 3 all-time? “Harry Potter” territory? “Avengers”? Cameron?
(I saw it in a mostly empty theater yesterday afternoon. Review up tomorrow.)
The big domestic opener, “The Longest Ride,” a sappy cowboy romance starring Scott Eastwood (Clint's son) and Britt Robertson (seventh cousin once removed of Elvis Presley), finished in third place with $13.3 million. Not good considering the 3,300+ theaters in which it debuted.
The movies I wanted to see, “Ex Machina” and “Clouds of Sils Maria,” opened this weekend in just NY and possibly L.A. (four and three theaters, respectively), and finished 15th and 30th domestically.
The worst statue in the world. Is it Steve Buscemi? Jerry O'Connell? Both?
- Via Adam Wahlberg, the worst statue in the world.
- Via Uncle Vinny: SNL does a great takeoff on the awful internal Scientology “We are the World” videos that Alex Gibney's recent must-see doc, “Going Clear,” showed us. Funny stuff. Also sad.
- Another recommendation from that show: Michael Keaton's opening monologue, in which castmembers serenade the “Birdman” star into playing Batman and/or Beetlejuice one more time.
- From “The Twlight Zone” to Mark Rothko to “Bye Bye Birdie” to “Born Free” and “Dark Shadows”: the '60s pop-cultural references of “Mad Men.”
- Related, and via my first cousin once removed, Zoe, about her favorite “Mad Men” character: The Complete Quips of Roger Sterling. I remember laughing at the “God opens a door” line but the “Napoleon/Beef Wellington” line is so, so good.
- I'm generally not a fan of College Humor (not to mention college humor), but this bit on Superman and Batman teaming up made me laugh. A lot.
- Gail Collins follows up her quiz on GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz with a quiz on GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul, but this one isn't interactive and it's less comprehensive. Just four questions. I missed two of them. The rest of the column charts the devolution of Paul from libertarian to, you know, UGC (Usual GOP Crap).
- Writer extraordinaire and FOE (Friend of Erik) Josh Karp has a new book out, “Orson Welles's Last Movie,” which gets a great review here. The reviewer is basically saying: Welles Schmelles, this Karp guy is genius. You can buy it here.
- Via Brenda Biernat: Another FOE, Jason Lamb, hosts “Movies in Black and White,” a series looking at race in film. This April 30, at Central Cinema in Seattle, he doesn't mean to cause you any trouble, he doesn't mean to cause you any pain. He only wants to see you watching Prince's “Purple Rain.”
- Is it better to lose outright or keep coming back again and again ... and then lose? The Yankees did the latter against the Red Sox last night. Down 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Chase Headley went deep to tie it. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the 16th, Mark Teixeira went deep to tie it. Down 5-4 in the 18th, Carlos Beltran doubled (helped by some sloppy fielding from Hanley Ramirez) to plate Brian McCann with one out, but the Yankees couldn't bring him in to win it. Then down 6-5 in the 19th, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single and it seemed like we might back where we started from. But with one out, the BoSox infield turned a nifty double play to end it at 2:13 a.m. One wonders if any Yankees fans (not to mention any Yankees) were cheesed at Headley for keeping it going in the first place. Here's your box score. Here's the NY Times report. I love this line from Billy Witz: “The game dragged on so long that Mark Teixeira, who was 34 when it began, had turned 35 by the time it was over.” Welcome to 2015 baseball.
This was my week to begin to work from home. It's been a steady increase—working from home. Ten percent of the time. Twenty percent of the time. But office space is now at a premium, particularly in downtown Bellevue, so Tuesday and Wednesday I moved the kit and kaboodle to my home office on First Hill, where I'll be working 90 percent of the time. I know: Nice if you can get it.
It necessitated making room, of course. That was something else I was doing Tuesday and Wednesday: clearing the detritutus off the bookshelves (books I'll never read, or read again), as well as cleaning and straightening up. A clean place, well-lighted or not, helps me think. There's still work to be done, but by Wednesday evening it wasn't looking bad, and Thursday morning I actually woke up with a sense of excitement. A new day!
And around 9 a.m. the internet went out. Really? I checked the router. Yellow light. I turned it off and on. I turned the whole thing off and on. I checked the cable TV—I get both through Comcast—and that was out, too. I called Comcast, and after about 10 minutes of various “press 1 for .../ press 2 for ...” hurdles, I talked to a poor customer rep—surely the lousiest job in the world. She told me there was an outage. In my building? I asked. In the neighborhood? In the world? She only knew “outage” but said it would most likely be fixed by 4 PM.
Wait, what? 4 PM? Most likely?
After this call, I went down to the basement of our condo building, where the cable-box is located, and lo and behold, a Comcast rep was already working on the problem. Nice! Except, no, he was trying to activate service for a new resident, and wasn't getting a signal. And knew less than I did. So I filled him in while he tried to reach somebody to confirm. It took a while. Apparently even Comcast technicians are put on hold forever when calling Comcast.
Eventually he found out that a colleague of his in Southwest Seattle was running into the same issue. Eventually I found out that a friend of ours, half a mile away, was also without internet. Soon, #ComcastOutage was trending on Twitter. But it wasn't until mid-afternoon that I got the full story via The Seattle Times:
An estimated 30,000 Comcast customers in the Seattle area were affected by an extensive outage Thursday caused by a construction crew cutting through a fiber-optic line in South Lake Union.
(That headline, by the way, used to read: DAMAGE TO FIBER-OPTICS CABLE CAUSES COMCAST OUTAGE. Now it reads: COMCAST SERVICE RESTORED TO THOUSANDS OF SEATTLE-AREA CUSTOMERS. The happy-ending approach to journalism.)
Anyway, that was my first exciting day working from home. Another reason—as if I needed one—why Charlie Brown is my patron saint.
Harvey's Ladies' and Gentlemen's Oyster Saloon
Here's a nice section from Ben Macintyre's “A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal”:
Harvey's Ladies' and Gentlemen's Oyster Saloon started serving steamed oysters, broiled lobster, and crab imperial in 1820 and had continued to do so, in colossal quantities, ever since. In 1863, notwithstanding the Civil War, Harvey’s diners were getting through five hundred wagonloads of oysters a week. Every president since Ulysses S. Grant had dined there, and the restaurant enjoyed an unrivaled reputation as the place to be seen for people of power and influence. The black waiters in pressed white uniforms were discreet, the martinis potent, the napkins stiff as cardboard, and the tables spaced far enough apart to ensure privacy for the most secret conversations. Ladies entered by a separate entrance and were not permitted in the main dining room. Most evenings, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could be seen at his corner table, eating with Clyde Tolson, his deputy and possibly his lover. Hoover was said to be addicted to Harvey’s oysters; he never paid for his meals.
Interesting: ladies get first billing but separate entrance and no main dining room.
Here's a little history of Harvey's, which “no longer exists in the city.” (That second photo of the exterior looks like something out of a Wes Anderson movie.) This piece suggests Harvey's does exist; it simply “relocated to the suburbs,” but it doesn't say which suburbs.
How the Great Soviet Spy was Undone by the Soviets
I recently finished Ben Macintyre's much-recommended and compelling piece of history, “A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal,” which focuses mostly on the friendship between Philby and MI6's Nicholas Elliott during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, as Britain fought World War II and then the Cold War, while Philby, a Soviet spy recruited at Cambridge, fought both war for the U.S.S.R.
First, this needs to be a movie, and soon, with Colin Firth as one of the two leads. The section in which Philby is stationed in Washington, D.C., and charming information out of compatriots from MI6, MI5, the CIA and the FBI at Harvey's Ladies' and Gentlemen's Oyster Saloon, while the information he's extracting leads to the deaths of numerous nationalists dropped in to combat communism at home, is already a heart-wrenching montage. Macintyre makes you see it: the drinking and laughter on the one hand, the sudden deaths on rocky cliffs on the other.
Second, you cringe a bit as you read the book, since our side is so badly duped. You think: How could the Soviets have been so much smarter than us?
Answer: They weren't. Macintyre doesn't say it outright, but the biggest blunder in this entire decades-long drama was a Soviet blunder.
That's saying something, by the way, since the West was completely schnookered here. Philby was so Etonian, so Cambridge, so properly British that no one suspected him. (Except for J. Edgar Hoover, but Hoover suspected everyone.) And even after they suspected him—this is the beauty of it—and suspended him, and thought of prosecuting him, he was able, years later, to worm his way back into the fold. In the mid-'50s he became an MI6 agent again in Beirut, with a journalist cover. He was only finally “caught” for B.S. reasons. Flora Solomon (who created the welfare dept. at Marks & Spencer, and whose son founded Amnesty International in 1961) fingered him less because he tried to recruit her to the Soviet side at Cambridge in the 1930s than because, as a Zionist, she thought his reporting from Beirut was too pro-Arab. And down he went.
Even so, even in ths tragicomedy of errors, the Soviets committed the biggest error of all.
By 1951, one of their agents, British diplomat Donald Maclean, had been fingered by the West as a Soviet spy, and to spirit him out of the country they used another British spy, Guy Burgess, who was, according to Macintryre, gay, a heavy drinker, and rarely diplomatic. Two for one, they thought. Bring in Maclean, whom the West was about to pounce on, and Burgess, who, given his lifestyle, could only last so long.
The problem? Maclean had only tangential connection to Philby, their best spy. But Burgess had actually lived in Philby's house in D.C. So when Burgess defected with Maclean, all eyes turned inevitably toward Philby.
Think of it. You had Philby stationed at the epicenter of western power, and being groomed for high rank in MI6. Some thought he might lead MI6 someday. He was a star. And the Soviets turned him into a suspect. And his career was never the same.
BTW: If anyone knows a good book on the Venona code-breaking operation, let me know.
John Oliver Lets Edward Snowden Know He Ruined His Life for Nothing
This is what I wrote at the end of my review of “CitizenFour,” Laura Poitras's Oscar-winning documentary on Edward Snowden:
We visit Snowden briefly in Moscow, where he’s now living with his girlfriend. ... But the questions I’d like to ask Edward Snowden aren’t asked. What’s it like being so plugged in—as he was at the NSA—and then being completely unplugged, as he is now? Did he think the reaction of the world was commensurate with the problem as he saw it? I’d ask “The Insider” questions: Was it worth it? If he could go back, would he still come forward? Would he still blow the whistle?
Are we worth it?
On Sunday, John Oliver aired his interview with Edward Snowden on “Last Week Tonight,” and we got the following exchange:
Oliver in voiceover: While the risks were significant, Snowden himself has made it clear that he feels that the rewards have been worth it.
Oliver to Snowden: You said yourself in your letter to Brazil, “I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the world in which they live. My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong.” How did that feel?
Snowden: I was initially terrified that this was gonna be a three-day story and everyone was going to forget about it. But when I saw that everybody around the world said, “Whoa, this is a problem; we have to do something about this,” it felt like vindication. ... I think we're seeing something amazing, which is: If you ask the American people to make tough decisions, to confront tough issues, to think about hard problems, they'll actually surprise you.
Then Oliver surprises Snowden by showing him footage in which New Yorkers are asked who Edward Snowden is. Many don't know. One woman thinks he “sold some information to people.” Others confuse him with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
Are we worth it? Snowden thought we were. Oliver traveled all the way to Moscow to disabuse him of that notion. It's worth watching, partly for that sad theater, but mostly for the questions raised throughout.
Are we worth it? Oliver releases crucial data to Snowden.
Opening Day 2015: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! OK, so technically it was yesterday, at least for two teams (Cards/Cubs), but I'm a Monday traditionalist, not to mention a Mariners fan, which is why this annual look into the active leaders in the major (and a few minor) categories appears today. The big retiree is, of course, Whatshisface. Dejer Something. Minka Kelly's ex. Shortstuff for the Highlanders. I think he runs a website now? A shame his team didn't appreciate him more when they had him. I mean, can't a brother get a proper goodbye? Or a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins or something? Anyway, he's gone, but the following guys are still bringing it ...
BATTING AVERAGE: A year ago, the active batting champion was Joe Mauer, and for several years before that it was Albert Pujols, and even earlier it was Ichiro. All of those guys are still playing, but their batting averages keep dropping: Mauer hit .277 last year, Albert .272 and Ichiro .284. That's why Miguel Cabrera's on top of this category with a .320 career mark.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's lifetime .417 OBP is the 21st-best in baseball history, sandwiched between Halll-of-Famer Stan Musial (.416) and future Veterans Committee Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez (.418). But it, too, is dropping. For the first time since 2008, Votto's OBP last year was below .400 (.390) and for the first time since 2010 he didn't lead the league in the category (Andrew McCutchen, at .410, did). But barring disaster he's got this category for a while: only two other active players have OBPs over .400: Uncle Albert, whose OBP in the past five years has dropped nearly 25 points (.426 to .403); and Joe Mauer, at .401 and falling.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Albert has led this one since 2005, when his career slugging percentage was .621. It topped out a year later at .629—which would have been behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. Now it's down to .588 (T-7th all-time). Expect lower: for the last two years he's slugged in the .400s. Miggy is currently second at .563, A-Rod (welcome back!) is third at .558. Then Braun, Ortiz, Votto, Howard.
OPS: Albert again, way in front with .991; then Miggy (.950), Joey (.949) and A-Rod (.942). Albert's is 9th-best all-time.
GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: And now onto the counting categories. Last year, games, at-bats and hits all belonged to Dejer the Munificent, but now they‘re the province of his one-time teammate, and even more one-time pal, A-Rod, who has 2,939 hits in 9,818 at-bats in 2,568 games. The top three in hits, by the way, are all former Mariners: Ichiro with 2,844 and Adrian Beltre with 2,604. A lot of longevity there. Just not in Seattle.
SINGLES: Speaking of: Jeber led in this category last year, too, and retired with 2,595 one-baggers—fifth on the all-time list. Now it’s Ichiro's turn to lead: He's at 2,311 and counting. (And you know he's counting.) No active player is close. A-Rod is second with 1,736, Beltre is third with 1,650, and Jimmy Rollins fourth with an even 1500.
DOUBLES: It's Uncle Albert with 561, followed by David Ortiz (547), A-Belt (528) and A-Rod (519). In a year or two, Albert should become the 15th man in baseball history to hit 600+ doubles. Only four men have done 700+: Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb. Craig Biggio (5th) came close at 668.
TRIPLES: Last year, it went Carl Crawford (117), then Jose Reyes (111) and Jimmy Rollins (107). Last season, Crawford hit 3 triples, Reyes 4, Rollins 3. So not much change. Crawford's 120 is tied for 97th all-time.
HOMERUNS: Can A-Lex come back after a year away, at the age of nearly 40, with new hips and thinner biceps, and started hitting homeruns and driving in runs again? He last went deep on Sept. 20, 2013 with a grand slam, his 24th, breaking Lou Gehrig's longtime career mark. I wrote about it here. With 654 career dingers, he needs just seven to pass Willie Mays for fourth all-time.
RBIs: A lousy season and A-Rut could still move from 6th all-time in ribbies (1969), past Gehrig in fifth place (1995), and past Barry Bonds (1996) to claim fourth place. He just needs 28. Third place is a fer piece ahead: Cap Ansen with 2,075. Then Ruth, second, Aaron, first. Actively, A-Puj is second with 1,603, then D-Ort with 1533 and A-Belt with 1384.
BASES ON BALLS: Last year, this was Jason Giambi, followed by Adam Dunn. Both retired, A-Rude returned, so now it's his. He's at 1,240. Tapping him on the shoulder is David Ortiz with 1,162, then Uncle Albert with 1,115. That's it for the over-1,000 crowd. No young bucks yet. The 20-something player with the most lifetime walks is Andrew McCutchen. With 445.
INTENTIONAL BASES ON BALLS: Albert rules. He's at 286—third all-time—and he needs only eight more free passes to move past Hank Aaron into second place. But it's a long climb to first. Someone named Barry Bonds has the all-time record with ... wait for it ... 688. That's right. More than twice the amount of Hank Aaron. Roids or not, that's pretty amazing. On the active list, second-place Miggy is nearly 100 behind Albert at 190.
STRIKEOUTS: What a shame Adam Dunn retired before he could break Reggie's all-time mark. Dunn left us with 2,379 whiffs (third all-time), while A-Yuk, the active leader, is currently fifth all-time with 2,075. Torii Hunter, returned to Minnesota, is second on the active list with 1,636, while Ryan Howard, stuck in Philly with the overpaid blues again, is third with 1,591.
STOLEN BASES: Can Ichiro get 500 this year? He's at 487 and last year stole 15 bases, so he's got a good shot. He's followed by Carl Crawford (470, 23 last year), José Reyes (455, 30), and Jimmy Rollins (453, 28). Ichiro or Crawford would be the 38th man in baseball history with 500+ steals.
SACRIFICE HITS: Elvis Andrus is the youngest active leader in any of these categories (he's only 26) but he's already slowing down in this one. From 2010 to 2013 he averaged 16.5 sacs a season; last year, he was down to 9. Of course, last year, who did he have to sacrifice? Elvis has 87 SHs lifetime, which is one more than 37-year-old platoon player Endy Chavez. The all-time leader? Hall-of-Famer Eddie Collins has 512, which is 120 more than second-place finisher Jake Daubert. The closest recent player is Omar Vizquel, tied for 35th with 256. We don't sacrifice like we used to. Blame Babe.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: This is the GDP you don't want, and Albert rules. Last year he led the league with 28, bringing his career total to 297. That's 10th all-time. Another 28 and he's fourth all-time. if he does it again he's first: Cal Ripken holds the record with 350. Second place on the active list is Torii Hunter with 248, followed by A-Rat with 240.
WINS: A year ago, this category was a tie, at 205, between Tim Hudson and C.C. Sabathia. Neither went the full Chesbro, or even a quarter Chesbro. Hudson had a 9-13 mark for the Gints, while Sabathia went 3-4 for the Yankees Suck; so it's now Hudson alone at 214. Bartolo Colon won 15 games last year to join them in the 2000 club: He's got 204. Mark Buehrle's at 199.
LOSSES: A year ago, this read Mark Buehrle (142), A.J. Burnett (132), and Bartolo Colon (128). But Buehrle went 13-10 for the Blue Jays while Burnett went 8-18 for the Phillies. So now it's neck and neck. If you‘re a betting man, you might go Burnett ... except he’s with the Pirates now. He actually gave up $4.25 million to play with them rather than the Phils. Ouch. That's a W.C. Fields-sized insult.
STRIKEOUTS: C.C.'s still got it with 2,437, followed by Burnett (2,370) and Colon (2,101). The up-and-comer here? King Felix, at 29, has 1,951 strikeouts, sixth-best on the active list.
BASES ON BALLS: Burnett, at 1,051, is the only active pitcher with more than 1,000 BBs. That's 96th all-time. Odd, isn't it? In an era when it seems more guys are walking, there are fewer pitchers with massive amounts of walks.
ERA: It's Clayton Kershaw and then everyone else. He's at 2.48, followed by Adam Wainwright at 3.00, followed by King Felix at 3.07. Their numbers are getting lower, by the way. Post PEDs, pitchers are partying like it's 1968.
INNINGS PITCHED: Buehrle is the active leader with 3,084, followed by Tim Hudson (3,003) and C.C. (2,821). Where do they rank all time? 121st, 134th, and 166th, respectively. Career leader is Cy Young with 7,356. Bon chance. No pitcher in baseball history is within 1,350 IP of him.
COMPLETE GAMES: Last year C.C. had 37, Bartolo 35 and Mark Buehrle 29. This year? The same three lead with the same numbers. Stick a fork in this stat. If C.C. manages one more C.G., he‘ll wind up in a six-way tie ... for 997th on the all-time list.
SHUTOUTS: Same deal. Active leader Roger Clemens retired in 2007 with 46 shutouts, active leader Randy Johnson retired two years later with 37, then active leader Roy Halladay left us with 20. Now the active leader is Tim Hudson with 13. But there’s hope: both King Felix and Kaiser Clayton have 9 apiece. We might see 20 again. All-time leader: the Big Train with 110.
SAVES: The story isn't the top 3 in this category—Joe Nathan (376), Francisco Rodriguez (348) and Jonathan Papelbon (325)—but the man in ninth place, Craig Kimbrel, who, at 26, already has 186 saves. For the past four seasons, he's averaged 46.25 saves. If he does that for another 10 years, he‘ll be only 4 away from mighty Mo.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Buehrle, Hudson and Sabathia are the curent leaders (58.2, 56.9, 53.9), but in fourth it’s the young buck, King Felix, at 45.4. Kershaw, two years younger, is at 39.7. This could get interesting in a few years.
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (116), then Albert (97.0), then Beltre (77.8). Wait, Beltre? Right, because he gains 23.2 in defensive WAR while Miggy loses 13.2. Based on bat alone, it goes A-Rod, Albert, Miggy.
DEFENSIVE WAR: Quick quiz: On the all-time defensive WAR list, who is the only player in the top 10 who didn't play on the left side of the infield? The active leader in this category is another left-side guy, Beltre at 23.2 (24th all-time), followed by Yadier Molina (18.7), Chase Utley (17.6), and then Clint Barnes, J.J. Hardy and Brendan Ryan. As for the all-time list? It goes Ozzie Smith (43.4), followed by three Orioles (Belanger, Brooks, Cal). The only non-SS/3B in the top 10 is Ivan Rodriguez tied for 8th place at 28.7.
EXIT MUSIC FOR A SLIDESHOW: Damn right. ¿Por qué no nosotros? *FIN*
Easter Weekend Box Office: 'Fast & Furious' Franchise Has Risen to $143 Million Opening
18. And “Furious 7” came and spake unto them, saying, All money is given unto me in America and abroad.
19. Go ye therefore, and take from all nations, schnookering them in the name of the Diesel, and of the Rock, and of the Holy Ghost (Paul Walker).
— The Gospel According to Hollywood, Chapter 28
Yesterday I wrote about the box office of “Furious 7” based upon Friday's one-day totals, which ranked 10th all-time in terms of one-day moviegoing moola: $67 million.
Now the weekend estimates are in, and the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious franchise has more than doubled that Friday number, pulling in $143.6 million.
Where does that rank? It's the best April opening by far, besting “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which grossed $95 million during the first weekend of April 2014. It's also the 9th-best opening weekend in history, behind only superheroes (Avengers, Iron Man, Batman and Spider-Man), Harry Potter (last installment) and Katniss (first two installments).
This for a franchise that seemed dead (or at least Tokyo-drifting) in 2006. What happened?
As I mentioned yesterday, it got its original stars back (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez), piled on popular and pumped-up bald men (The Rock, Jason Stratham), gave us plenty of hot international chicks (Gal Gadot, Israel; Nathalie Emmanuel, UK), and kept the cars moving and things getting blowed up. It also kept veering from reality into an almost superhero realm—for car dudes rather than nerds.
As a result, its opening weekends kept rising: from $71 million for “Fast and Furious” in 2009, to $86 million for “Fast Five” in 2011, to $97 for “Fast and Furious 6” in 2013.
But why the gigantic leap into superhero territory for this one?
A couple of guesses:
- The publicity surrounding the death of star Paul Walker. This is the last “Fast and Furious” with him in it.
- The insane stunt of parachuting cars out of a plane to attack a prison transport vehicle. It's idiotic but generated buzz akin to the “blowing up the White House” in the trailers for “Independence Day.”
- The shitty year in movies so far.
So far, 2015 box office has been like the old Elvis Presley song: girls girls girls. The popular movies have been “Cinderella,” “Fifty Shades,” “Divergent.” The testosterone-y films haven't exactly pumped America up. “Kingsman”? Skinny Brits in skinny suits. And sure, Liam Neeson, but how many times are people going to attack his family before they get smart about it? There was nothing to get dudes off the couch and into the theaters. Until this.
And it's not just an American phenomenon. “Furious 7” has already grossed $240 million abroad for a worldwide total of $384 million. Can this gearhead flick do $1 billion worldwide before it's done? Very likely. “Fast and Furious 6” grossed $788 worldwide, and wasn't jumpstarted as this one was.
Elsewhere, “Cinderella” passed “Fifty Shades” as the most popular domestic movie of 2015 ($167 to $165), but “Furious 7” will leave both in the dust by Friday, if not sooner.
20. And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The Decline and Fall of the New York Yankees ... Kinda Sorta
When I was reading Marty Appel's history of the New York Yankees, “Pinstripe Empire: From the Babe to the Boss,” I was really looking forward to 1965. You know why.
From 1921 to 1964, a span of 43 years, the Yankees won 29 pennants and 20 world championships. Essentially they were in two out of every three World Series (67% of them), while winning nearly half of all Series titles in those years (46% of them). No wonder author Douglass Wallop had to enlist Satan to stop them. (And of course, Satan is really a Yankees fan, so he wasn't much help.)
Their run ended in '64, the year after I was born. For 10 years, they sucked. Then Steinbrenner instigated their rise (late '70s), fall (the '80s), rise again ('96-'03) and fall again (post-'09). Since '64, the Yankees have won 11 pennants (22%) and seven titles (14%)—paltry numbers compared to what they did before.
That's why I was so looking forward to 1965.
But I wondered: Sure, the Yankees in my lifetime have paled compared to the dynasty years. But how do their numbers stack up again the rest of Major League Baseball?
Yeah. Still on top. And in terms of World Series titles, it's not even close:
MLB Pennants and Titles Since 1964
|Team||Pennants||World Series titles|
This is why I root against them. Even after their fall, they're still the most successful team in baseball.
This 1966 Topps card displays the previous year's sixth-place finish of the former World Champions. The '66 team would do it better, finishing in last place in the A.L. for the first time since 1908. Can you name the only other year the Yankees finished in last place?
Virginia is for Yankee Lovers?
Tomorrow is Opening Day (or Night), so everyone's talkin' baseball while their team is in first place. I've seen the map below several times today. It's Facebook's map of baseball fandom: “Each county is color-coded based on which Facebook team pages has the most likes from people who live in that county”:
You can see a bigger version here, courtesy of The Atlantic.
A couple of things about the map:
- That little notation in the lower left? It says: “There are no U.S. counties where a plurality of fans like the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, or Oakland Athletics.” Almost makes you want to root for those teams.
- I get that the Yankees have fans in places other than New York. “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” Gen. George S. Patton. But ... in the South?
So which Southern states root for the Yankees? Most of Virginia, West Virginia, and Louisiana. Half of Florida. And parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi.
I get Florida (spring training, Steinbrenner home), and my friend Mr. B lets me know the Yankees had a farm team in Greensboro, NC from 1990 to 2002. But c'mon, Southern states. Yankees? Really?
I just got back from a quick trip to Atlanta, where I stayed in midtown and during a free moment walked over to the Margaret Mitchell house, where I participated in a tour, etc., and watched a film on the making of “Gone with the Wind.” I came in on the film when all of those actresses were trying out for the character originally known as Pansy O'Hara before she got an 11th-hour name change to “Scarlett.” When the film role finally went to Vivien Leigh, the reaction among the Southern was disappointment tempered by worst case scenarios: sad, yes, that an English girl got the part, but at least it was better than a Yankee.
Now look at you. That old attitude is gone with the wind.
Box Office: Jesus Died So We Could All See 'Furious 7'
Americans celebrated Good Friday by making the seventh installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, which long ago dropped its definite articles, along with any semblance to reality, the No. 1 box office hit in the country. This was expected. Slightly unexpected? “Furious 7” pulled in $67 million yesterday. That's the 10th-highest-grossing opening day total ever. Only superheroes, vampires and Katniss are above it, and most of them not by much. In fact, that $67 million one-day total is better than any 2014 movie, including, it should be added, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” a franchise that seems to think elongated titles, not to mention definite articles, are a positive thing. “Furious 7” respectfully disagrees. It goes “Buh.”
So how did we get here? The following is a chart of all seven “F&F” movies:
|Year||Title||Opening Day||Opening Wknd.||Domestic Gross|
|2001||The Fast and the Furious||$15,214,995||$40,089,015||$144,533,925|
|2003||2 Fast 2 Furious||$19,664,160||$50,472,480||$127,154,901|
|2006||The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift||$9,731,805||$23,973,840||$62,514,415|
|2009||Fast and Furious||$30,560,630||$70,950,500||$155,064,265|
|2013||Fast & Furious 6||$38,737,505||$97,375,245||$238,679,850|
Look at the evolution (devolution?) of those opening day numbers. We nearly killed the thing in 2006, when it lost both original stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and went with Lucas Black and Bow Wow. But then the originals came back in '09, added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in '11, and, not content with two balded-head musclemen, brought in Jason Stratham for this installment. Do we count Tyrese Gibson (“2 Fast,” and since “Fast Five”) as well? Or is he just black comic relief for white folks? Almost all of these guys, by the way, are literal representations of erect penises: bald, perpetually tumescent and not very smart. Add fast cars + hot chicks + things gettin' blowed up and you get vroom vroom at the box office.
The tagline for the movie is “One Last Ride.” Wishful thinking.
Chicks dig bald and tumescent.
Tinker Tailor, Elliott Philby
“Over-suspicion can sometimes have more tragic results than over-credulity. His tragedy was that he was so often deceived by his own ingenuity, and the consequences were disastrous.”
-- MI6's Nicholas Elliott on CIA counterpart James Angleton, who became paranoid and trusted no one after it was revealed that their mutual friend, Kim Philby, had, for the entire length of their friendship, been a Soviet spy, as recounted in Ben Macintyre's excellent book, “A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Greaty Betrayal,” which I finished this morning. More later. In the meantime, I realized, after reading the afterword by John Le Carré, that the two parts of the main relationship in the book (Elliott and Philby) have been played, more or less, by Colin Firth. He was (SPOILER ALERT) the Philbyesque traitor in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”; and he played a supercharged version of Elliott, the Etonian, well-mannered, well-tailored MI6 agent, in this year's “Kingsman.”
- Gail Collins gives us The Ted Cruz Pop Quiz. I got 8 out of 9.
- The GOP, progenitor of the phrase “class warfare,” suddenly cares about income inequality? John Cassidy puts on his Deep Throat mask and urges us to follow the money.
- Putting together two of my favorite guys—David Simon of “The Wire” and Barack Obama of the White House—would, you'd think, be a slamdunk for me. But the conversation between the two isn't as interesting as I'd hoped. Maybe because they agree with each other too much? Maybe because I agree with both of them too much? But I like: “It's draconian and it doesn't work,” from Simon on the drug wars. I like Simon's story about the real Omar, Donnie Andrews. I like Pres. Obama talking about humanizing both drug dealers and cops—particularly against (and he doesn't say this) our tendency to demonize others. But I would've liked a conversation less about the drug trade than the central theme of “The Wire,” which was “the numbers game,” and its appearance in police departments, schools, newspapers, and politics; and the ways the numbers game is not benefiting society.
- Extra credit: The title of Simon's website, “The Audacity of Despair” is a takeoff, obviously, on Obama's book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Maybe they should've duked it out over which was in fact more audacious. Or talked over the advantages of each. Why each is necessary. Where each gets us.
- How change happens: Joe Posnanski on the hard-earned generosity of spirit of 1940s Dodgers backup catcher Bobby Bragan.
- Why did it take so long for Eddie Mathews to make the Hall of Fame in the 1970s? Was it his disposition? His lack of MVPs? Being overlooked as the teammate of Henry Aaron? Did the BBWAA just not like white people? Joey Pos investigates.
- David Schoenfield on the most underrated player in baseball today. (Psst: He plays for the Mariners.)
- Long read of the week: Seymour Hersh's Letter from My Lai. Horrifying and uplifting, both.