erik lundegaard

Tuesday June 30, 2015

Quote of the Day: Three O'Clock in the Afternoon

Jerry: Don't you find the afternoon depressing?

Bill: Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Three o'clock in the afternoon is always too early or too late to do anything.”

Jerry [Laughs]: He should've done more stand-up.

-- postprandial conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, S6 E4

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Posted at 04:40 PM on Jun 30, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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The Battle for the Biggest Non-James Cameron Movie Ever

Earlier this month, I wondered which of the two spring blockbusters would be the first to surpass the original “Avengers” ($1.518 billion) for third place on the worldwide box office chart.

Would it be “Furious 7” (currently at $1.511 billion) or “Avengers/Ultron” (currently at $1. 371 billion)?

The answer is “Jurassic World,” which, after 10 days, is at $1.245 billion. The others have pretty much stopped making much progress, particularly “F7,” but “Jurassic” is roaring up the charts like a T-Rex coming after us in the rearview mirror. 

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Posted at 06:27 AM on Jun 30, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Monday June 29, 2015

More Quotes on SCOTUS' Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

“I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people's lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day...”

-- Andrew Sullivan, “It Is Accomplished,” The Daily Dish

“Ultimately, though, the case is pretty simple. The government confers a bundle of rights on individuals who choose to marry. The constitution's guarantee of equal protection forbids any state from withholding those rights from the class of people who happen to be gay. End of story.”

-- Jeffrey Toobin, “God and Marriage Equality,” The New Yorker. 

“Abbott, Jindal, and their allies are positing a right to discriminate—for local officials to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings, for photographers and bakers to refuse to do business with gay people, for wedding planners to advertise that no gay couples need apply. Their actions are the linear descendants of the Virginia officials who claimed divine guidance for their prohibition on interracial marriage. The First Amendment allows individuals to believe anything they want, but it does not allow them to use their beliefs as a license to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be limited by law. No one, at this late date, would claim a religious inspiration for a florist to refuse to sell flowers to an interracial wedding or for a magistrate to perform one; they should not have the right to refuse to do business for a same-sex wedding, either.”

-- Jeffrey Toobin, “God and Marriage Equality,” The New Yorker. 

“I think the main issue now will be protection of religious liberty. Many of us have no problem allowing religious institutions to run their own organizations as they see fit, as long as they are sincere and in good faith. I don't think they have anything to fear. What we need to express at this point is magnanimity. We've got to let people who genuinely find [same-sex marriage] disconcerting the space and time to deal with it. That's what I would caution and urge.”

-- Andrew Sullivan, “A Word With: Andrew Sullivan,” The New York Times

Confederate flag down, rainbow flag up

The week that was: This made the rounds early on Friday after the Obergefell decision was announced. I wish you could see the artist's name more prominently.  

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Posted at 04:45 PM on Jun 29, 2015 in category Law
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Sunday June 28, 2015

Box Office: 'Jurassic' Tears Stuffing Out of 'Ted'

Jurassic World

Just a second, Pixar. Yeah right, Ted. 

“Jurassic World” won the weekend for the third straight time, grossing $54.2 million for a tidy domestic total of $500.1 million. That makes it, after only 17 days, the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time, behind only the Camerons, “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight.” 

Adjust for inflation, by the way, and “J-Dub” drops to 54th place, just below “Finding Nemo” and just ahead of “The Towering Inferno.” But that ain’t bad. The latter was, after all, the No. 1 box-office hit of 1974.

Speaking of: “J-Dub” has now passed Avengers/Ultron to become this year’s No. 1 box-office hit. And climbing.

I thought “Inside Out” took a hit for a Pixar movie, dropping 42.4% in its second weekend and finishing second with $52 million; but that’s actually the lowest second-weekend Pixar drop since Pete Docter’s previous film, “Up,” which fell 35% in 2009.

Another by-the-way: Every Pixar movie but “Cars 2” in 2011 has earned more than three times its opening weekend tally, which puts “Inside Out” at least at a $270 million domestic gross. More likely it’ll gross between $320 and $360, which would make it the second or third highest-grossing Pixar movie of all time. (“Toy Story 3” is tops at $415.) 

Who didn’t have a good weekend? “Ted 2.” The original opened at $54.4 million in June 2012 on its way to $218 million domestic and $549 worldwide, and sequels should open better; but “Ted 2” opened with just $33 million. Why? Who knows? I don’t get why is opened so big three years ago and why it opened so relatively small this weekend. Maybe Seth MacFarlane fans figured he only had one really good talking teddy bear movie in him. Maybe they were put off by “A Million Ways to Die in the West” or “We Saw Your Boobs.” Maybe his 15 years are up. No clue.

“Spy” finished the weekend fourth ($7.8 million), then “San Andreas” ($5.2), then “Dope” ($2.8). 

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Posted at 04:23 PM on Jun 28, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday June 27, 2015

Quote of the Day: 'Scalia also took issue...'

“Scalia also took issue with the majority's view that marriage is about free expression, grumbling, 'Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.' Which is both a fiery dissent and the world's longest 'Lockhorns' comic.”

-- Stephen Colbert, “June Is a Lovely Time for a Wedding,” on SCOTUS' 5-4 decision yesterday making same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

the world's longest Lockhorns comic, via Stephen Colbert

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Posted at 07:15 AM on Jun 27, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Poster of the Year

Paolo Sorrentino Youth

It's Paolo Sorrentino's follow-up to “La Grande Bellezza,” which was Patricia's favorite movie of 2013. It played Cannes and got mostly raves. It's certainly got a great cast. You can see the trailer here.

I'm reminded of the wise old man in Richard Linklater's “Slacker”: “When young, we mourn for one woman... as we grow old, for women in general.” Although, yes, that's hardly a woman in general. 

FWIW, Sorrentino is still a young punk of 45 (he was born in May 1970). The movies opens in the U.S. in December.

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Posted at 06:14 AM on Jun 27, 2015 in category Movies - Posters
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Friday June 26, 2015

Tweet of the Day (So Far)

Thomas' undignified dissent on marriage equality here. My thoughts on my man Jeffrey Wright here

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Posted at 08:45 AM on Jun 26, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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How Same-Sex Marriage Went from Being Banned to a Constitutional Right in 10 Short Years

marriage equality

Seattle, December 9, 2012: Ahead of the curve, but not by much.

Q: The shift [to supporting marriage equality] is rather startling, isn’t it? States are approving or refusing to defend something that they banned less than 10 years ago.

Boies: I don’t think either one of us has ever seen, in our lifetime, where an issue as contentious as this, as much of a wedge issue as this, has changed as rapidly. When we started the case, there were two or three states, [representing] less than 5 percent of the population of the United States, that permitted marriage equality. Now, more than half of all American citizens live in a state that permits marriage equality. When we started, a substantial majority of American citizens opposed marriage equality; today, less than five years later, a substantial majority of American citizens favor marriage equality.

Q: So why now? What caused the change?

Boies: I think the single most important factor is that, starting in the ‘60s and ‘70s, gay and lesbian couples and individuals began to come out and be honest about their sexuality and their sexual orientation.

When I grew up, I didn’t know anybody who I knew was gay. I’m certain that I knew a lot of people who were gay, but you didn’t know they were gay because the extent of discrimination and hostility caused people—just as a matter of protectiveness—to try to deny, at least openly, their sexual orientation. What that meant was the field was wide open to caricature. [But] as more and more people had the courage, and it really took courage in those days, to acknowledge their sexual orientation openly, everybody else began to know people—members of their family, teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, engineers—who were gay. They realized that the myths they had grown up with just weren’t true. I think that as a whole new generation of people grew up knowing, sometimes from a fairly early age, people of differing sexual orientations, it became harder and harder, and for most people impossible, to use that as a basis for discrimination.

We’re both good at what we do, in part because we’re good at figuring out the argument the other side’s going to make so we can rebut them. This is a case in which we can’t figure out what the good argument is on the other side. The other side doesn’t have an argument.

Q: When you argued Prop 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Scalia asked you, “When did this become a federal constitutional right?” Is that still a legitimate question?

Olson: It’s a question. I said, “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit people from different races of getting married? When did it become unconstitutional to make children go to different schools based upon their race?” Well, the Supreme Court decides cases when they get there, and when they understand the damage that discrimination does when it’s against classes of our citizens based upon their characteristics—the color of their skin or, in this case, their sexual orientation—then the Supreme Court decides it. But it’s because we realize that there are a class of people that are distinguished because of who they are—their immutable characteristics.

We accepted slavery and we accepted discrimination and we accepted putting Japanese citizens in concentration camps in California. When did that become unconstitutional? That’s a rhetorical question that gets asked in Supreme Court arguments, and Justice Scalia, and I admire him enormously, is very good at it. But I think the answer is that it’s right now, here before your eyes, and you can declare it for the United States.

Q: Do you think your Virginia case, or another of the marriage equality cases, is going to wind up with this court? They seem to not want to decide the matter.

Olson: You never can predict which case the Supreme Court is going to take. We don’t know when it will come. But it’s going to come.

-- from my conversation with David Boies and Ted Olson in January 2014. Posted after today's momentous decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of HealthThe Q&A also includes the following, which, yes, is still true today: 

Q: And Justice Scalia? Can you win him over?

Olson: We try to win over everybody.

Boies: Some are harder than others.

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Posted at 08:29 AM on Jun 26, 2015 in category Law
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Quote of the Day: 'No union is more profound than marriage...'

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

-- Justice Anthony M. Kennedy ruling for the 5-4 majority in Obergefell v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, which was announced today.

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Posted at 07:12 AM on Jun 26, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Tuesday June 23, 2015

Book Review: 'Benchwarmer' by Josh Wilker

Josh Wilker is welcome respite in a culture where people constantly peddle certainty. He is the duke of doubt, the Caesar of the second-guess. His tagline, “voice of the mathematically eliminated,” is the best I've seen on the web. I think of him as a kindred spirit. 

His new book is called “Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood,” but it's really an encyclopedia of failure from A to Z, told in conjunction with the first troublesome year of his son's life. It's about attempts to order a disorderly world. 

The first entry, “Aardsma, David,” is about the problems inherent in this sisyphean task. When Wilker was young, baseball encyclopedias made sense to him since the first entry was one of the greatest players of all time: Aaron, Henry. “But at some point when I wasn't paying attention,” Wilker writes, “David Aardsma slouched toward a maor league mound for the first time.” Aardsma was the M's closer for a few dismal seasons (2009-10) when we led the Majors in the fewest runs scored. We made him our closer and made a big deal out of him because we didn't have much else. We emphasized the “Aar” in “Aardsma,” as if he were a Pirate, as if we were all pirates, and tough, even though we weren't. Even though we were the doormats of the American League.

BenchwarmerHere's how Wilker ends his section on Aardsma:  

He's never led the league in anything, never lasted anywhere. Not long after his name started appearing at the bottom of box scores like equivocating textual marginalia—an inning of relief work here, a third of an inning there—the unambiguous order-centering legend he supplanted at the head of the alphabet also had his home run record surpassed, acrimoniously, ingloriously (see asterisk). I was almost forty. I'd never led the league in anything, never lasted anywhere. My wife was a little younger. We'd been married for a while, and the years were starting to lurch by like ghostly freight cars. We talked sometimes about having a kid. I wanted to get everything sorted first. But the world just kept getting more unsortable. I no longer even knew where to begin.

I'd loved Wilker's first book, “Cardboard Gods,” and assumed that enough folks thought similarly that Wilker would be writing full-time. Nope. Not only does he have a day job, but he's constantly worried about losing his day job. “Cardboard Gods,” and any money from it, isn't even mentioned. How sad is that? To write that well and not make a living from it? Meanwhile, E.L. James feasts on caviar.

It's the day-job stuff where I most identified with Wilker. The awful commute:

My bus ride home seemed to go on and on, as it always does if I can't lose myself in a story. We rode past shopping centers and malls and Jiffy Lubes. Sometimes there were low dim homes at the fringe of the busy road, all of them looking like flawed repetitions. Some had American flags. They blinked in and out of sight in a homely, dragging rhythm. There's a conjugated chant of affirmation at the heart of the myth of America—yes, I can; yes, you can; yes, we can. The triumph defining the American Dream can be realized, but it is based wholly on your unwavering belief.

It's a belief Wilker doesn't (or can't) share. 

A little over halfway through my ride through the darkness I turned left off of Clark and slipped onto quieter streets for a while. By then my heart rate had risen, so I glided through the dark awake, feeling the day leave me, feeling by its absence how much it had been smothering me, how I go through most of my waking hours just partially alive.

So much of what we consume is wish-fullfillment fantasy but what we really want, what we certainly need, is identification. Is anyone else out there feeling like me? Anyone else feeling this hollow inside? I'd read passages like the above and my eyes would melt with gratitude. 

Wilker, who as a child made a hero out of Rudy Meoli, and as an adult made him resonate with meaning, makes this book a tribute to all the marginalia and failure in life and sports. He writes of “Snodgrass, Fred” and “Ehlo, Craig.” He writes of “Bust” and “Can't” and “Desperation Heave,” “Entropy” and “Error” and “Ex-.” He gives us the “Fold” and the “Fumble.” He gives us the “Goat.” 

I got bogged down a bit about 2/3 of the way through, as if Wilker's handwringing became too much even for me; but then he recovered nicely (or I did) and we finished strong. Buy the book. We might not be able to order the world, but we can release Josh Wilker from his day job. He deserves to be writing full-time. We deserve to be reading more of him.

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Posted at 07:38 AM on Jun 23, 2015 in category Books
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Sunday June 21, 2015

Pixar's Back, Baby, But It's Still Jurassic's World

Jurassic World gift shop

Please exit through the gift shop.

First some background: Only four movies have grossed more than $300 million domestically after 10 days of release. The first three are superhero movies, while the last (and biggest) is this weekend’s box-office winner:

“Jurassic World” fell off only 51% to take in $102 million in its second weekend. Now that it’s knocking on $400 million, where will it stop? Probably not before $600 million, which only three films have breached: “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “Avengers.” And might it hit the rare (just “Avatar”) $700 million mark?

Of course even then it wouldn’t match what “Jurassic Park” did in 1993—if you adjust for inflation. “Jurassic Park” is 16th all-time in that category with $746.4 million. Apparently we like our dinos.

Apparently we also like our Pixar. “Inside Out,” the new animated feature from writer-director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”), finished second for the week with $91 million. That’s the second-best Pixar opening ever, after “Toy Story 3.”

We were hungry for good Pixar. Earlier this century we’d been spoiled. In the nine years between 2001 and 2009, Pixar released seven original (that is, non-sequel) films, most of which were not only superlative, they were among the best animated movies ever made:

  • 2001: “Monsters, Inc.”
  • 2003: “Finding Nemo”
  • 2004: “The Incredibles”
  • 2006: “Cars” (a misfire)
  • 2007: “Ratatouille”
  • 2008: “Wall-E”
  • 2009: “Up”

And since the move to Disney? We’ve gotten a great sequel (“Toy Story 3”), two lackluster sequels (“Cars 2” and “Monsters University”), and a so-so original (“Brave”). But everyone’s loving “Inside Out”: 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, raves from everyone I know.

Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” keeps hanging on. It finished in third with $10 mil to bring the total up to $74. “San Andreas” shook out another $8 mil ($132 domestic, $414 worldwide), while the Sundance fave “Dope” opened in 2,000+ theaters and grossed $6 mil for fifth place.

Worldwide, “Jurassic World” is now at $981.3 million even as “Furious 7” and “Avengers/Ultron” have slowed to a crawl.

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Posted at 11:03 AM on Jun 21, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Melting Guns into Crosses

In the aftermath of the murders of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. this week, and the various Confederate flag/gun control debates that have followed, I've been reading an excellent New Yorker profile by Connie Bruck on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a cool, insider technocrat, doing battle with both the CIA and (sadly) the White House over the efficacy and morality of torture in our post-9/11 world. In the midst of that, we get this background:

In 1992, she ran for the Senate against an incumbent Republican, John Seymour. In their biggest debate, her political consultant Bill Carrick recalled, Seymour charged that Feinstein, a strong advocate of gun control, had owned a handgun. “Dianne explained that at one point the ['70s left-wing guerilla group] New World Liberation Front had planted a bomb in a flower box outside her daughter Katherine's bedroom window,” Carrick said. “And, yes, she had gotten a gun. But, she said, after a while she realized it would do no good. She launched a citywide campaign, urging San Franciscans to turn in their guns. And she concluded, 'The Pope was coming to town. So we melted down all these guns we'd collected and gave them to him, in the form of a cross.' ” Feinstein won easily.

Would that South Carolina had similar leaders.

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Posted at 07:15 AM on Jun 21, 2015 in category Politics
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Hit-By-Pitch Breaks Up Scherzer's Perfect Game: Blame Tabata, the Umps, or the Elbow Pad?

It's such a Baseball 101 moment that it came up in the first inning of the first baseball game my Lebanese friend Robert ever went to:

“So what if the ball is outside the strike zone and the batter swings and misses?” Robert asked. That's a strike, too, I said. “What if the ball hits the batter?” That's a hit-by-pitch, I said, and the batter goes to first base. “So how come the batter gets out of the way?” he asked. “Doesn't he want to go to first?” Well, I said, if the umpire thinks he didn't try to get out of the way, then he might not let him go to first base. Besides, it would hurt. The ball is small and hard and thrown between 85 and 100 miles per hour. “Yes,” Robert agreed. “That would hurt.”

I should have added: It's a rare call when a batter is hit and the ump doesn't award him first base. He has to be pretty blatant about not getting out of the way of the pitch.

Was José Tabata blatant about not only not getting out of the way of a 2-2 slider from Max Scherzer, who was working on a perfect game with two outs in the top of the ninth? In real time, it's tough to see what's going on but when you slow it down it's obvious that not only did Tabata not get out of the way, he kind of leaned into it. On purpose? To break up the perfect game? Or because we tend to meet conflict halfway?

Either way, he got first base. So instead of Max Scherzer becoming the 24th pitcher in baseball history to toss a perfect game, he became, a batter later, the 289th to throw a no-hitter.

Oh, and despite what I said to Robert, it didn't look like it hurt all that much, either. I've seen articles all over the place today, saying “Blame the umps” or “Don't blame Tabata” but maybe the argument should be “Blame the elbow pads.” Because if his elbow had been unprotected? Jose Tabata might've actually tried to get out of the way of that pitch. 

Jose Tabata breaks up Max Scherzer's perfect game

Jose Tabata, practicing what Sheryl Sandberg preaches.  

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Posted at 06:20 AM on Jun 21, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday June 20, 2015

Only a Pawn in Their Game: Reprise

It's amazing how relevant it all still is. It shouldn't be. We've had massive progress on many fronts, yet Bob Dylan's words about the assassination of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., on June 12, 1963, still ring true for the racially motivated church killings in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015:

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don't complain.
You're better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game

Reprise:

 One of the best first lines of any song, btw. 

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Posted at 10:13 AM on Jun 20, 2015 in category Music
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Lancelot Links

  • I've given Jeff Wells a lot of shit over the years (particularly his advice to Jackie Robinson on how to slide), but I like the bluntness of his blog; and I like this post in particular: Who deserves our truth and who doesn't? Who can we lie to? I'm 52 and still learning this lesson. 
  • What was it like to be the daughter of Josef Stalin? Olga Grushin on the new bio of Svetlana Alliluyeva.
  • Related: I know adding new subtitles to Hitler's near-bunker speech in “Downfall” has been done to death, but this version, about the St. Paul, Minn. Bike Plan, made me, as a cyclist, laugh out loud. 
  • Alex Rodriguez goes deep for No. 3,000. I'm genuinely happy for him. Good call, too: “Eighteen thousand men have played Major League Baseball! Only 29 of them have had 3,000 hits!” My other thoughts on A-Rod here
  • Related: Were you confused by newspaper and MLB accounts touting A-Rod passing Babe Ruth on the RBI list and then becoming only the second man in baseball history (after Hank Aaron) to drive in more 2,000+ runs, when Baseball Reference (not to mention Total Baseball) clearly states the case: Aaron: 2,297; Ruth: 2,214; Cap Anson: 2,075. Well, Cheat Sheet dissects it all. Seems the RBI wasn't an official stat until 1920; and though you can obviously go back into newspaper accounts, etc., to extract the correct number of RBIs for the Bambino, as statisticians have, to Major League Baseball it's not an “official” stat. To which they can blow me.  
  • A little video fun with Coen Bros. movies, from Steven Benedict. 
  • A lot of good dissections of the Rachel Dolezal matter. Jelani Cobb's is one of them. (And the only one that references John Howard Griffin, if not Lois Lane.) 
  • A lot of good dissections on the racially-motivated killings of nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church this week. David Remnick's is one of them
  • Jon Stewart's is another one. 
  • And Jelani Cobb's. He ends his piece with the truest words of all in our race-baiting age: “Even if [Dylann Roof] acted by himself, he was not alone.”

Dan Wasserman editorial cartoon on Charleston shooting

Via Dan Wasserman and the Boston Globe

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Posted at 07:29 AM on Jun 20, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday June 19, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The movie is an attack on itself but itself wins. It mocks what it is even as it gives us that thing, which we love mocking but even more having. We have our dinosaur and get eaten, too.

This is what Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard), an ice-queen corporate VP who doesn’t have time for her visiting nephews, says to a group of potential investors: “Let’s face it, no one’s impressed with a dinosaur anymore. Consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth.”

(Psst: We’re the consumers.)

And this is what the investors say: “We want to be thrilled.”

(Psst: We’re “we.”)

And this is what the evil scientist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), who creates the Indominus Rex—the bigger, louder, more toothsome dinosaur—says: “If I don’t innovate, someone else will.”

Jurassic WorldThis is the set-up: corporate hacks, interested in profit margins and protecting the asset (i.e., Indominus Rex), shortsightedly create the circumstances that allow disaster to happen. They’re the villains in the piece. Yet in our world they’re right. We came out in droves to see “Jurassic World”: more than $500 million worldwide opening weekend. In the movie, Claire learns her lesson and becomes a better, sweatier person, but her original frigid self actually nailed it. Bigger, louder, more teeth? Yes, please.

It’s Jurassic’s world; we just watch in it.

Everything’s amazing but nobody’s happy
Oddly, I didn’t think it was a bad movie. It has the above meta-message for people like me to chew over even as people get chewed over. It also zips. I found it more bearable than the other 2015 blockbusters: “Furious 7,” “Avengers/Ultron” and “Mad Max,” a critic’s darling which is hardly a blockbuster, domestically or worldwide. In more than a month, it’s grossed half of what “Jurassic” did opening weekend.

They do an incredible job of cloning here, too. Not the dinos in Jurassic World, or even in the plot—swiped from all of the other “Jurassic” movies—but in the kids who play the brothers, Gray and Zach. The actors are named Ty Simpkins (“Iron Man 3”) and Nick Robinson (“Kings of Summer”), but they look like a young Patrick Fugit and a young James Franco. They also cloned a Viewmaster for Gray to use in his bedroom when he’s introduced. Because kids on computers are pains in the ass but kids with Viewmasters are nostalgically sweet. We also think for a moment we might be in the 1970s. We might think we’re about to watch a Steven Spielberg movie.

So Gray is the younger one who loves dinos, Zach is the bored teen who’s girl crazy, and Zach is supposed to look after Gray while they visit Aunt Claire for the weekend at Jurassic World, a kind of Sea World for dinos. Sadly, Aunt Claire is rarely around. She’s too busy with investors, and has sloughed off the boys onto a hot British assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath), who gets eaten when things go awry. Sorry, Zara. You should’ve been warm rather than hot.

There are laugh-out loud moments, some intentional, some not. Jurassic World should be amazing, right? It’s dinosaurs. How fucking cool is that? But we’re bored with it already. We get a scene where a goat is tied to a post and the T-Rex is summoned for the tourists, safe in their plastic tubes, all of them holding smartphones aloft to record the experience; and at that moment, as we hear the T-Rex tear into the goat, Zach gets a call, and answers it in his bored voice: “Hey, mom.” I burst out laughing. It’s basically Louis CK—everything’s amazing but nobody’s happy—and we’re the spoiled idiots, the noncontributing zeroes, that this amazingness is wasted on.

The unintentional laugh-out loud moments mostly relate to Owen (Chris Pratt), a kind of raptor whisperer, but it’s hardly Pratt’s fault. He’s the best thing in the movie, even as he seems trapped within the movie. It’s his job to train the raptors, so he’s supposed to have a special rapport with them, which, in the early going, amounts to holding them at bay for a few seconds to allow a doofus employee to escape being eaten; but once the shit hits the fan, it amounts to riding a motorcycle next to them, and turning them against the Indominus Rex, which, we find out in the third act, is part raptor. By the end, there’s an understanding between man and raptor. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it in the tilt of their head. It’s like “His master’s voice.” That made me laugh out loud, too, but for not-good reasons.

Watching, I began to wish for a more “Games of Thrones” universe, where we wouldn’t be able to tell who dies. Wouldn’t it be nice to suddenly lose Claire, or Owen, or—can you imagine?—Gray? My god, the outcry from parents. But they protect these assets even as the usual suspects buy it: dullwitted hardhat fatties and pompous soldiers of fortune. The Jurassic owner and innovator, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Hollywood’s go-to Indian for the global market), goes down in his stupid helicopter, while Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), the evil private military contractor who salivates at the idea of trained raptors in this man’s (or his man’s) army, thinks he can talk raptors down as Owen does. Ehhh! Sorry, Charlie. Chomp.

‘We’re safe now’
A trope Hollywood needs to give up on? The sigh of relief. The line “We’re safe now.” It no longer surprises. It’s a clear indication the characters aren’t safe. “Jurassic World” uses this trope over and over again.

But the corporate hacks were right, weren’t they? It all worked. We all came out. And as I watched Gray and Zach being reunited with their sobbing parents in the makeshift hospital at the end, with the terrified and wounded all around them, I had an idea the inevitable sequel: “Jurassic World: The Class-Action Lawsuit.”

Universal, call me. 

Jurassic World gift shop

Don't exit through the gift shop: the clones of Franco, Fugit and Harrson Ford amid the souvenirs. 

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Posted at 07:13 AM on Jun 19, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Thursday June 18, 2015

Spot the Difference Between the Mass Murderer and the GOP Candidate for President

Two quotes. Who's the mass murderer and who's the GOP candidate for president?

  • Person A: “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.”
  • Person B: “'I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country.”

Answer in the comments field.

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Posted at 01:13 PM on Jun 18, 2015 in category Culture
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Quote of the Day: 'But let's be clear...'

“But let's be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.

”And at some point it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively."

-- Pres. Barack Obama, speaking today in the aftermath of the racially motivated killing of nine people in a Charleston, S.C. churchThe Washington Post also provides a timeline of the times Pres. Obama has had to do this: speak in the aftermath of another tragic shooting

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Posted at 01:08 PM on Jun 18, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: The Overnight (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You’ve got to admire a sex comedy that can make Dan Savage squirm in his seat.

My main thought going into “The Overnight,” which closed the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival, was about the asterisk on the poster. I immediately thought it looked like Kurt Vonnegut’s illustration of an asshole from his novel “Breakfast of Champions.” But no way, right? I knew the movie was a sex comedy but I figured it wouldn’t reference Vonnegut (or assholes) so obliquely.

But that’s what it does. That’s what it is. (The poster has since gotten a sexier update: mouse over.)

The OvernightIt’s a simple premise. Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) have recently moved from Seattle to L.A. for her job, but they feel isolated. Or he feels isolated. She, at least, has a place to go every day; he just goes to the park with their young son, R.J. But it’s there that they meet another father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a porkpie-hat-wearing extrovert, who invites them to family pizza night, where, with wife Charlotte (French actress Judith Godreche), Kurt suggests they put the kids to sleep so they can continue their conversation like adults. But things get increasingly weird: They get stoned, he shows a breast-feeding video his wife starred in, he shows Alex his paintings of assholes, then he suggests they all go swimming in the pool and strips completely and dives in.

P.S. He’s hung like a horse.

Here’s the question: Is he just an extrovert interested in showing a Seattle couple a good time? Or is he interested in a good time?

It seems obvious he has ulterior motives but Alex doesn’t see them, even as Emily, and we, do. Alex’s continued naivete throughout the night is, in fact, the main false note in a movie predicated on delivering confessional truths. One assumes writer-director Patrick Brice needed to keep the show going, so he someone needed to be the naïve one, and Alex drew the short straw. So to speak.

That’s the part, I believe, that made Dan Savage—who moderated a Q&A after the screening—squirm. Not the fact that Kurt has a huge schlong and Alex has a little pee-pee; it’s Alex’s hot-tub admission that he has a small pee-pee—that his penis didn’t grow much after junior high, and that he and his wife have an unfulfilling sex life. That’s tough to admit. And baring your sexual soul to viritual strangers? Really? Although maybe it’s easier that way. Maybe that’s why we all go to priests and psychiatrists. A stranger is a buffer. Tell them anything and then continue with your normal, secretive life.

Still, Kurt and Charlotte are hardly pychiatrists, while the hot tub isn’t exactly a confessional.

Besides, you’d think with Alex’s particular secret, and with everyone stripping, he would be the first one to want to go, since staying would mean potential revelation. But he drew the short straw.

We wind up liking Kurt a lot more in the third act. For much of the movie, we assume he’s being nice to Alex to get to Emily; then we discover he likes Alex, meaning his motives aren't ulterior at all. Everyone, in fact, has a sexual secret or hangup. Alex has a small dick, Kurt likes Alex, Emily lusts after other men. Charlotte’s reveal is the oddest. She goes to Thai massage parlors and pays money so she can jack off fat men on tables. Really? In what world do hot French women need to pay money to give handjobs? And where do I volunteer for the experiment?

With its male full-frontal, and frank sexual discussions, “The Overnight” has potential as a cult movie. It’s certainly getting a lot of buzz. But I think there’s too many false notes on its path to the truth that we all have sexual hangups.

But I would love to take a poll of people exiting the film, particularly for gender reasons. After the SIFF screening, the women around me talked up how funny it was. That was their main thought: Funny. My main thought? Painful. But I seemed alone with this thought—and worried about what it said about me—until Dan Savage, with his first comment, set me free. Thanks, Dan. You’re right: It got better.

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Posted at 08:03 AM on Jun 18, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Wednesday June 17, 2015

Jelani Cobb on Rachel Dolezal

“On Monday, Dolezal resigned, in a statement that didn't answer questions about what she referred to as 'my personal identity,' though it did refer obliquely to 'challenging the construct of race.' That answer is clearly inadequate; many people have challenged the construct of race without lying about their lives. Black Like MeBut there is something more worth discussing here. ... In truth, Dolezal has been dressed precisely as we all are, in a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging. This doesn't mean that Dolezal wasn't lying about who she is. It means that she was lying about a lie.

”Rachel Dolezal is not black—by lineage or lifelong experience—yet I find her deceptions less troubling than the vexed criteria being used to exclude her. ... Dolezal was dishonest about an undertaking rooted in dishonesty, and no matter how absurd her fictional blackness may appear, it is worth recalling that the former lie is far more dangerous than the latter. Our means of defining ourselves are complex and contradictory—and could be nothing other than that. But if the rubric is faulty it remains vital. The great majority of Americans recognize slavery as a figment of history, interred in a receding past. But, for black people, that past remains at the surface—close at hand, indelible, a narrative as legible as skin.“

-- Jelani Cobb, ”Black Like Her," The New Yorker. Cobb's is the first article I've read that has referenced John Howard Griffin's seminal book of the 1960s, which I never read, but which was everywhere when I was growing up. And don't forget the Lois Lane version, as much as all of us have tried. 

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Posted at 03:46 PM on Jun 17, 2015 in category Culture
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Tuesday June 16, 2015

Trailer: Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Looking forward to this. Appears to be getting a limited release in New York and LA at the end of July. Apparently, too, it just played at SIFF but somehow I missed it. 

Here's Michiko Kakutani a few years ago reviewing the Brando biography, “Somebody”:

He was hailed as the “Byron from Brooklyn” (though he was from Nebraska, not New York), a “genius hunk,” “the Valentino of the bop generation” and the essence of “the primitive modern male.” John Huston said he was “like a furnace door opening” — so powerful was the heat he gave off. Eva Marie Saint said he had the ability “to see through you” and make you feel “like glass.” Jack Nicholson said he had a gift that “was enormous and flawless, like Picasso”: he “was the beginning and end of his own revolution.”

About “On the Waterfront,” Roger Ebert once wrote: “Brando cut through decades of screen mannerisms and provided a fresh, alert, quirky acting style that was not realism so much as a kind of heightened riff on reality.” Elia Kazan went further: “If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don't know what it is.”

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Posted at 01:05 PM on Jun 16, 2015 in category Trailers
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Movie Review: Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (2008)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Here’s a quote from “Cinemas of the World” by James Chapman that I’ve always found helpful in explaining the world:

Goebbels, for his part, was firmly of the opinion that feature films should provide escapist entertainment for the masses and that direct propaganda should be confined to the newsreels.

I expected more of that, or at least some of that, from the documentary “Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss.” Instead, Felix Moeller’s look at Veit Harlan, the Frank Capra of Nazi filmmakers who directed one of the most notorious anti-Semitic films of the era, a period drama called “Jew Süss” (1940), focuses almost exclusively on how Harlan’s family has dealt with its tarnished legacy.

Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew SussHis son Thomas led a fascinating life, although we get only glimpses of it here. He became a playwright, a poet, a filmmaker. In the 1960s, in Italy, he unearthed thousands of Nazi crimes, which helped with thousands of prosecutions. He became, in effect, a Nazi hunter. He also publicly condemned his father. “Once you’ve seen that the fruit of your work turns into a murder weapon, it is difficult to just say, ‘Well, I’m a filmmaker and I will carry on making films,’” he says. “That was the end for me.”

Another son, Kristian, wearing a trim beard and a severe look, takes the opposite tack. “The image of my father is mine,” he says without heat but with firmness. “And it’s nobody’s business what I think of my father or my mother,”

Caspar calls his father’s work “unforgivable,” while a daughter, Maria Körber, talks about how work-oriented their father was—to the exclusion of all else. She also mentions seeing “Jew Süss” late in life and wondering what the fuss was all about.

So do we, in a sense, since we only get glimpses of the movie here. No one even tells us the plot. We have to look that up for ourselves.

Basically, it’s a Nazi version of “Birth of a Nation.” In the 18th century, a Jewish merchant wiedles his way to power, taxes the people, takes a Christian woman by force, and is eventually executed for the crime. “May the citizens of other states never forget this lesson,” one character intones in the end. It was a huge box office success in both Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Overall, Harlan’s movies were seen by more than 100 million people during the war.

That's why it’s startling when we learn that earlier in life Harlan had married a Jewish woman—a cabaret singer named Dora Gerson, whom he divorced in 1924. (She died at Auschwitz.) The phrase “fellow traveler” comes up often to describe his politics. He wanted to make movies and went along with whatever regime was in power. For most of his career, that was the Nationalist Socialist Party. 

The Harlans are spread over Europe now. One grandchild, Alice, is French and beautiful; another, Caspar, is Italian and handsome. Harlan’s niece, Christiane, wound up living in England with her husband Stanley Kubrick (yes, that one), while her brother, Jan, produced Kubrick’s last four films: “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Overall, the doc includes too little history and too much handwringing. It’s video footage of what the Harlans think of Veit Harlan, and of being Harlan. The nature of propaganda is hardly explored.

The most telling moment may be when Maria admits that her father didn’t feel particularly guilty about any of it. “He’d always claimed that he’d been forced,” she says, “and that he’d been under such pressure that he couldn’t refuse.” This is then juxtaposed with the ending of “Jew Süss,” in which the Jewish merchant, on trial, says the same thing: 

The charges against me are due to the direct orders I received from my duke. I have the duke’s written orders. You can check. I am merely the faithful servant of my master!

It's not only ironic but unoriginal. It was the most tired defense of the era. Or any era. 

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Jun 16, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2000s
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Monday June 15, 2015

The Limits of Revenge: The Fifth Season Finale of 'Game of Thrones'

The fifth season finale of “Game of Thrones” was all about the hollowness of revenge (warning: spoilers ahead):

  • Arya Stark finally gets Meryn Trant alone, No. 1 on her hate parade (“You were the first person on my list, you know?” she says), and plucks out his eyes and slits his throat. For this she goes blind.
  • Brienne of Tarth finally gets revenge on Stannis Baratheon for the shadow-killing of his brother three seasons ago. But by then he's a defeated, wounded man, slumped against a tree. Worse, by taking a revenge that doesn't need taking, she misses her chance to help her charge, Sansa Stark, who is still imprisoned by her husband, Ramsay Bolton, and who instead jumps (seemingly) to her death.
  • And we finally get revenge on Cersei Lannister, who has wreaked havoc on the show with a small, contempuous smile for the past five seasons. After her son Joffrey died, and before Ramsay took over the slot, she was No. 1 on our hate parade. Oh, to see her humiliated by the people of King's Landing! Well, in this episode, we finally get to see it. And it's awful.

In some ways, this is the most underappreciated aspect of HBO's show. the characters change; they can be redeemed in our eyes. Who, for instance, didn't want Jamie Lannister dead after the very first episode? Over time, he's become a favorite. 

That said, the final death in the episode made me want to take revenge: on George R.R. Martin or the show's producers. Someone. It's not that I was a huge fan of Jon (“Winter is cooming”) Snow or his storyline. The opposite, really. But I endured his trials and tribulations because I figured it was going to lead somewhere. It seemed like it was important even as it bored me to death. I mean, what was all that “Kill the boy” talk a few weeks back? Maester Aemon essentially tells Jon to make the difficult decision, he does, he pushes it through (and surivives it: wildlings and white walkers, all), only to get the shiv for it. And this is what Sam wants to be? A maester who gives crappy advice? Shame. Shame. Shame. 

Cersei walk of shame

Cersei being prepped for the Walk of Shame. 

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Posted at 05:10 PM on Jun 15, 2015 in category TV
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Fred Wenz Update

Fred WenzI always forget to check the “other” IM inbox on Facebook. There's the main one (InBox) and then the other (“Others”), which usually contains Kickstarter requests and/or insults. But today I found this little gem, dated 5/19:

Where Have You Gone, Fred Wenz?

As of an hour ago, he was alive and well, passing through Lancaster County, PA. I met him in an Amish lantern shop where he has apparently had business dealings over the years. After he left, the shop owner showed me that very baseball card, signed by Fred himself. Fred is a lot heavier now, but a very jovial, easygoing guy. I think you may be right about him cutting up when he posed for that picture. He spoke of playing in the last game ever in Connie Mack Stadium as a thrill in his career. 

Here's my original post on Fred Wenz that led this gentleman to me. 

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Posted at 01:45 PM on Jun 15, 2015 in category Baseball
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The Real White Walker

From Dan Kaufman's must-read piece, “Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union,” which appeared in yesterday's New York Times: 

Last fall, [president of Local 139, Terry] McGowan met with Walker, who was seeking a contribution and another endorsement for governor, at a small campaign office in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee. “I looked across the table at him, and I said, 'We are both God-­fearing men,' ” McGowan told me. “ 'If you can tell me that right-to-work will not come on your desk, then I will take you for your word.' He looked me in the eyes, and he said, 'It will not make it to my desk.' He was looking for a contribution, and I was looking for a commitment. We both got what we came for. He kept his, and I lost mine.”

You can't read the piece without wondering whether Scott Walker is the worst person in the world. 

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Posted at 05:37 AM on Jun 15, 2015 in category Politics
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Sunday June 14, 2015

Judd Apatow's Five Favorite Books About Hollywood

From his “By the Book” Q&A in the New York Times Book Review:

  • “The Devil's Candy,” by Julie Salamon
  • “Five Came Back,” by Mark Harris
  • “The Disenchanted,” by Budd Schulberg
  • “Kazan on Directing”
  • “Not My Father's Son,” by Alan Cumming

I also like his answer on the book he was supposed to like but didn't:

The Bible. It's just not working for me. I wish it was. Wouldn't it be great if it did work for me and I had the peace one gets when knowing the universe is just and kind and guided by eternal intelligence? Maybe I'm reading it wrong. I am more of a “Why Good People Do Bad Things” by James Hollis, kind of guy.

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Posted at 02:37 PM on Jun 14, 2015 in category Books
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The Writing Advice I Needed 25 Years Ago

“Don't judge it. Just write it. Don't judge it. It's not for you to judge it.”

--Philip Roth, recalling the mantra he had pinned above his desk in his younger days. From a very good interview with Scott Raab in Esquire magazine, October 2010. I got lost in it. Then I got lost in IM-ing with my friend Larry Rosen, who co-hosts a podcast, “Is it Good for the Jews?” Then I got lost on this website. Then I reread this Q&A I did with entertainment attorney Eric Weissmann, who fled the Nazis, worked for MCA, was threatened by Burt Lancaster, repped Gene Wilder and greenlit “All the President's Men.” A beautiful man. (I should've titled the piece, “A Bolt of Lightning Comes in.”) Now it's 1:30 and I need to get outside for a bit.

Philip Roth in the late 1960s

Roth, circa 1969.

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Posted at 12:29 PM on Jun 14, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Did Anyone Predict a $204 Million Opening Weekend for 'Jurassic World'? Short Answer: No

Jurassic World box office record

204 million Jurassic dollars can't be wrong.

That's a T-Rex-sized opening all right.

“Jurassic World” had the second-biggest domestic opening of all time (unadjusted) when it pulled in $204 million this weekend. Only “Marvel's Avengers” in 2012 opened bigger: $207 million. Keep in mind: “Jurassic”'s are still estimates; there's a chance it can add another $4 mil on Sunday that wasn't anticipated. 

Did anyone see this coming? I certainly didn't. I was sideswiped by it as if by a huge T-Rex.

In its summer box-office predictions, Entertainment Weekly figured “Jurassic” as the No. 2 movie of the summer (after “Avengers/Ultron”), with a domestic total of $295 million. Which “Jurassic” will demolish by next weekend on its way north of $500 million.

Hitfix predicted $300 million and behind both “Avengers” and “Minions.” 

Vulture figured “Jurassic” for $240 million, behind “Avengers,” “Minions” and “Inside Out.” 

Bloomberg? “$85 million in its debut and $260 million in total in North America.” 

So no, no one saw this coming.

Even as late as Thursday, EW crossed its fingers for a $125 mil opener.   

What a difference a year makes. Last year we didn't get our first $100 million opening until November, and it seemed like the era of the “spectacle film” might be over. But it was just dormant. This year we've already had three $100 million openers and haven't officially hit summer yet. And “Star Wars VII” lies ahead. 

The No. 2 movie for the weekend, meanwhile, was Melissa McCarthy's “Spy,” which did OK given the circumstances: It fell by only 45% to pull in another $16 mil. But at $56.9 it looks to be the second McCarthy film (after “Tammy”) to not hit the $100 mil mark.

The other opener, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” took in $210K in 15 theaters.

“Jurassic” also did well internationally, pulling in another $307 million, for a worldwide total of $511 million. That's a big bite. 

ADDENDUM: I was right: “Jurassic” did better than anticipated Sunday and its Weekend Actuals made it the top box-office opener of all time with a $208 million weekend. Where she stops, nobody knows. 

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Posted at 09:10 AM on Jun 14, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday June 13, 2015

Quote of the Day

“The capitalist system is not designed to enable caring or to strengthen human bonds, but to generate profits for nonhuman entities beyond the control of any individual, even the few in positions of relatively massive power.”

-- Josh Wilker's father, as reported by his son in the book “Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood.” Those “nonhuman entities,” by the way, are known to the U.S. Supreme Court, and thus the American legal system, as “people,” while the profits they generate are known as “speech.” Fun.

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Posted at 05:01 PM on Jun 13, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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'Jurassic World' Rules World

I liked the first “Jurassic Park” well enough but not enough to see the sequels, and of this year's potential summer blockbusters this was the one I cared least about. Trailers didn't help. What do you do after all the “Jaws” movies? You make the shark super-smart as in “Deep Blue Sea.” What do you do after all the dinosaur-park movies? You make the new dino super-smart. As here. 

Anyway, it appears I'm alone in this sentiment. Early reports indicate “Jurassic World,” starring Chris Pratt and Ron Howard's daughter, will pull in $162 million in the U.S. this weekend, which would be the fifth-best opening of all time, unadjusted for inflation, behind the two Avengers flicks, the third “Iron Man,” and the last “Harry Potter.”

The movie also opened well abroad on Wednesday, pulling in $16 mil in a single day in China.

Anyone see it?

For summer slop, beats Transformers anyway.

Jurassic World

Pratt can't hold 'em back.

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Posted at 06:58 AM on Jun 13, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Lancelot Links

Secretariat at Belmont

Secretariat at Belmont: by a nose. 

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Posted at 06:37 AM on Jun 13, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday June 12, 2015

Ant-Man: No Shield. No _______. No Comment.

Marvel has been promoting its new “Ant-Man” movie, opening next month, with posters associating the pint-sized protagonist with the larger-than-life heroes of the Avengers, even though, of course, none of them will be in the movie:

Ant-Man posters with Avengers' artifacts

It's a good bit. The posters say things like "No shield. No hammer. No problem.

Then one fan got inventive with an Avenger they inexplicably left off the campaign:

Ant-Man/Black Widow poster

No comment. 

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Posted at 07:13 AM on Jun 12, 2015 in category Movies - Posters
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Movie Review: Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Oh, Peter Greenaway. What might you give us is you cared just a little about narrative and a little less about vomit and other forms of bodily excretion?

“Eisenstein in Guanajuato” is set in 1931 in, yes, Guanajuato, Mexico, where Sergei M. Eisenstein (Elmer Bäck of Finland, who’s good), the acclaimed Soviet director behind “Battleship Potemkin” as well as “Strike” and “October” (or “10 Days That Shook the World”), is at work on his next great project. But it’s the one that undoes him. Why does it undo him? From Greenaway you get a sense that maybe Eisenstein didn’t work hard enough (or at all), maybe he had too much sex (for a change), maybe his producers—Upton Sinclair’s wife, Mary (Lisa Owen) and her brother, Hunter S. Kimbrough (Stelio Savante, attempting an atrocious Southern accent)—were philistines who didn’t appreciate great art.

Eisenstein in GuanajuatoWhat is the project? According to this article, it’s meant to be “a six-part avant garde film spanning Mexican history and culture from pre-Conquest times through the 1910-20 revolution.” I hardly got that from Greenaway. I thought maybe it was on the recent Mexican revolution. Maybe.

There’s a lot of historical stuff Greenaway seems to bypass. You get a sense, for example, that the Mexican trip is part of a long, worldwide tour Eisenstein has been on, but I didn’t get he'd been on it for three years. I didn’t get that the original purpose was not only to show off Eisenstein to the world but for Eisenstein to learn how the rest of the world was making sound pictures. I didn’t get that Eisenstein was in trouble with Soviet filmmakers before he went on the trip—for not adhering to “socialist realism”—and not just because he seemed to be delaying his return.

Here are the film’s basics:

  • In grand, white-suited pomposity, Eisenstein arrives at his five-star hotel and showers in front of the staff, including his Mexican guide Palamino Cañedo (Luis Alberti). He talks to his penis, telling it to behave. (Per Greenaway, lots of male full-frontal.)
  • Eisenstein wanders the city but falls victim to Montezuma’s revenge; Cañedo cleans him up and puts him to bed. (More full-frontal.)
  • Talk and flirtation between Eisenstein and Cañedo, who finally go to bed, with Cañedo taking the lead and Eisenstein suddenly shy. It turns out he’s a virgin. (Ditto.)
  • The two in and out of bed, with various annoying people, particularly Sinclair and Kimbrough, interrupting, and with increasing talk about death and the Day of the Dead.
  • Eisenstein forced to leave Guanajuato, and to leave his 250 miles of film footage in the hands of the philistines. It’s the 10 days that shook Eisenstein.

The movie is visually striking with beautiful sets and clever split-screens and triptychs, but it’s narratively limp. It’s mostly dialogue, and most of that is so-so—although I did love a line of Eisenstein’s on money: how it’s a new phenomenon; how idiots have a lot of it and great men have little, so what good is it? That made me smile. 

Not enough. All play and no work makes “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” a dull film. 

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Posted at 06:44 AM on Jun 12, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Thursday June 11, 2015

Movie Review: Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Love, Theft and Other Entanglements” is a dark comedy about Palestine and Israel, but sadly it’s neither comedy enough nor dark enough. Still, you’ve got to give writer-director Muayad Alayan credit for trying. Tough to make comedy out of ongoing tragedy.

Mousa (Sami Metwasi) is a petty thief who gets enmeshed in more powerful forces when he steals a car not knowing an Israeli soldier—barter for the release of Palestinian prisoners—is bound and gagged in the trunk. Suddenly his hot car, a Volkswagen Passat, is superhot. No fence will touch the stripped items he offers, and both the Palestinian militia in their white van and the Israeli cops, led by a tall, bald official, are after him.

Love, Theft and Other EntanglementsAll his life, Mousa was someone who ran away. When we first see him, he’s at a construction job, angry and outraged with boredom; then he bolts. Years earlier, he got a girl, Manal (Maya Abu al-Hayyat), pregnant, and he bolted then, too, even though he now returns to bang her and stare moony-eyed at her/his daughter from a distance. (She married someone else, a rich man, so his daughter is now daughter to someone else.) Beofre this latest screw-up, Mousa was getting ready to run away anyway—to Italy, via a fake passport—but fake passports cost. The plan was to use the money from the Passat to pay for the passport. Now he can't. Now he’s trapped.

There’s some good bits. I like the nervous dance Mousa does, gun drawn, when he first releases the soldier, Avi Cohen (Riyad Silman), from the trunk. Metwasi and Silman have good chemistry as they go on the run, sleep on the ground, are discovered by a goat and a blind woman. Mousa isn’t much of a thief and Cohen isn’t much a soldier—a cook, I believe—and some of their back-and-forth is mildly amusing, but that’s about it. It’s all presented matter of factly. It feels like it needs a slight Coenesque push toward something broader, or more poignant, or both, but Alayan doesn’t give it that push. He also seems to care too much about Mousa without giving us reason to.

So if the essence of Mousa is to run away from responsibility, what will the ending be? Right. He stays to take responsibility for something he didn’t do. In a sense, the ending is the most tortured part of the movie.

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Jun 11, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Wednesday June 10, 2015

Movie Review: Excuse My French (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

They say comedies don’t travel, and “Excuse My French,” a controversial, coming-of-age comedy that did well at the Egyptian box office last year, is an example of how this is true. And how it isn’t.

It’s true because a lot of the jokes don’t translate (Ex: the “No Offense” nickname), or western audiences won’t find them funny (ogling the hot teacher, Miss Nelly, along with her subsequent offscreen molestation).

It isn’t true because Hani’s situation is universal. I related anyway. 

In 1975, the year after my parents divorced, I graduated from the safe confines of Burroughs Elementary School and was bussed across town to Bryant Junior High, where I got picked on mostly because I was 1) smart, 2) small, and 3) white.

Excuse My FrenchHani Adel (Abdallah Peter, who has a Fred Savage thing going on) switches schools because his father dies suddenly and his mother can no longer afford private school. So he attends a public middle school for boys, where he is picked on mostly because he is 1) smart, 2) small, and 3) Christian.

Actually scratch that third one. It doesn’t come into play until the third act. Besides, as boys around the world know, the first two are bad enough.

The wolf and the sheep
The film has a mild Wes Anderson vibe to it: a lot of head-on shots for comic effect; a lot of small figures at the center of the frame.  

Hani’s school has a mild anarchic vibe to it. As his mom drops him off, the first thing he hears—from a passing kid—is how hot his mom is. At assembly, the school bully, Aly, keeps shouting down the adult speakers. He rules from the back of the classroom, while Hani can’t find a seat until he has to settle for front and center with another small kid, Mo’men, who becomes his friend.

(Sidenote: Do the kids stay in the same classroom all day while the teachers rotate? I got that sense. It’s the opposite in the states.)

Every early step for Hani is a misstep. He begins an answer with “No offense, but ...” and gets nicknamed “No Offense.” (I still don’t get it.) He thinks he can win over the kids with wordplay, then with science experiments, then by reciting the Koran. He’s elected class president but only because he’s perceived as controllable. (“May God help you,” Mo’men tells him after the election.) In the schoolyard, he’s constantly given the Darwinian lessons of life by a small, moustache-wearing teaching assistant: there are wolves and sheep and he is a sheep. The assistant shows him the room of the damned, which includes a kid who ratted on his classmates to his mom. Hani feels trapped.

But he’s nothing if not determined and resourceful. For a moment, he wins some measure of popularity with futbol and rapping prowess. But after Miss Nelly’s molestation, he’s determined to stand up to at least one bully—Ally—and does. For that, he gets beaten up, and for that his mom drags him back to school to accuse and complain. Since she’s wearing a cross, his cover is blown; and since his mom ratted, he winds up in the room of the damned. Even Mo’men abandons him. 

But even here he’s determined. His mom wants to immigrate to Canada but he refuses. He gives up tennis for judo, then, during Ramadan, takes a Nutella sandwich to school to provoke classmates who are fasting. It works. He and Aly get into a fight, he gets his ass kicked, but the other kids seem turned off by Aly’s triumphalism. For a moment I thought the movie was going to go “Cool Hand Luke” on us in a way that didn’t sense here. (Hadn’t Aly always been a chest-beating doofus? Why turn away from him now?) But that’s not the way it goes. Hani stands up again, throws dirt in Aly’s eyes, and pummels him. The kids cheer. They put Hani on their shoulders and a half dozen surround the defeated Aly and kick him. Both boys are punished by standing in the schoolyard and holding their hands in the air for an extended period. “Part of Hani was happy for being punished,” the narrator tells us. Those are the last words we hear.

If all of this seems odd and vaguely brutal, well, it is. I liked that part of it.

Spotting one a mile away
“Excuse My French” is based upon the middle-school experiences of writer-director Amr Salama—who also wrote and directed the award-winning “Asmaa,” about an Egyptian woman suffering from AIDS—and the appeal to me isn’t in what’s familiar but what’s not; in what feels particularly foreign.

It’s basically a feel-good comedy but there’s not a lot to feel good about. Yes, Hani triumphs. But not before one teacher is molested, another has his face slashed, and all joy is drained from Hani’s initially exuberant face. By the end, he’s constantly on guard, his face screwed up into a wary scowl. There’s something that feels true about that. The joys you have to give up in order to simply survive. Salama doesn’t sugarcoat it the way Hollywood would.

He also doesn’t sugarcoat the Muslim/Christian dynamic. “I can spot one a mile away,” Mo’men says of Christians, not knowing he’s saying it to one who’s a foot away. Even better is how Hani is treated once his cover is blown: as a nonentity by most, and with condescending kindness by the administration. How great is that? Somewhere, we’re all victims of both discrimination and its flip side—political correctness. Another universal.

If anyone from Egypt has seen the movie, I would love to hear your thoughts. And your translations of the jokes I missed. Also, why is it called “Excuse My French”?

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Jun 10, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday June 09, 2015

My 2015 SIFF Awards

The Seattle International Film Festival is finally over (whew) and on Sunday it announced its awards. I don't agree with it all but that's the nature of the beast.

Here's mine—from best to worst—limited, of course, to the movies I saw:

  1. Theeb (Jordan)
  2. Meeting Dr. Sun (Taiwan)
  3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (USA)
  4. The End of the Tour (USA)
  5. Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll (Cambodia)
  6. The Connection (France)
  7. Love & Mercy (USA)
  8. Excuse My French (Egypt)
  9. People, Places, Things (USA)
  10. Being Evel (USA)
  11. Mr. Holmes (GB)
  12. Slow West (USA)
  13. The Overnight (USA)
  14. The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor (USA)
  15. Spy (USA)
  16. Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains (Kyrgyzstan)
  17. Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Palestine)
  18. Vincent (France)
  19. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (GB)

I'm a little ashamed that there's not greater (or any?) Seattle buzz for “Theeb.” I think it's a great film: an art film with a strong narrative thrust.

Overall, though, I had a pretty good year at SIFF. I'd recommend my top 15 films to almost anyone. 

SIFF 2015 movies

Yes, yes, yes, eh.

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Posted at 05:23 AM on Jun 09, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Monday June 08, 2015

Movie Review: The End of the Tour (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

After the screening at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival there was a party at the Rainier Chapter House, a Mount Vernon replica home built in 1925, with open bar and hors d’oeuvres and Dilettante chocolates; and it was there, in this lovely building on a lovely evening surrounded by lovely and beautiful people, that I realized that I liked “The End of the Tour” more than everyone around me.

Then again, I’m about its perfect audience.

Like David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), I was a struggling writer in the 1990s who was envious of, and blown away by, the massive talent of David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel, cast against type), who, in 1996, became a household name—in households that cared about serious literature anyway—with the publication of the 1,000-page novel, “Infinite Jest.” (He killed himself 12 years later.) In the film, Lipsky has just published his own novel, “The Art Fair,” which is greeted with the indifference we greet most things, when he hears about the accolades for “Jest” and dismisses them out of hand. Popular equals shitty, right? But his girlfriend, Sarah (Anna Chlumsky), suggests he actually read the book. He does, in silence, for about 10 seconds of screentime. Followed by a quiet, envious: “Shit.”

The End of the Tour with Jason Segel and Jesse EisenbergLike Lipsky, I’ve also interviewed a lot of people—although not for five days while living in their homes or going on tour with them. At best, I get a few hours in the office. But I know the tension between opening them up, wanting to be their friends, and potentially betraying them. “You’re not his best buddy,” Lipsky’s editor tells him, “you’re a reporter.”

Even an innocuous scene reminded me of me. At one point, Lipsky is sleeping in Wallace’s spare bedroom, with extra stacks of Wallace’s books towering over him and threatening to crush him, and I immediately flashed on one of the first short stories I ever wrote. A middle-aged writer, obsessed with great writers, with not adding litter to literature, is made small and insignificant by the huge book cases along one of the walls of his apartment, and winds up being crushed beneath one of them. (I'm not saying it was good.)

Plus half the movie takes place in Minneapolis, which is where I was born and raised.

So I get why “The End of the Tour” appeals to me more than most people. It’s “My Dinner with David Foster Wallace”: philosophical discussions about writing, fame, self-awareness and all that crap. It’s Salieri interviewing Mozart for Rolling Stone, and Salieri is my patron saint.

It’s about why we feel as empty as we do, having as much as we do.

People who do not love us but want our money
But I’m not unsympathetic to the complaints I heard at the Rainier Chapter House:

  • It went on too long.
  • Foster Wallace’s sudden jealousy by the refrigerator was odd.
  • Eisenberg’s jittery acting is off-putting.

Once I began talking about the film, though, people invariably admitted, “Oh yeah, that part was great. Yeah, that, too.”

Example. Foster Wallace says this, or something similar, at one point:

As the Internet grows, and as our ability to be linked up [grows] ... at a certain point, we’re gonna have to build some machinery, inside our guts, to help us deal with this. Because the technology is just gonna get better and better and better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. Which is all right. In low doses, right? But if that’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die. In a meaningful way, you’re going to die.

This quote is taken from Lipsky’s book, “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” which is the basis for the movie. It’s an amazing quote. In 1996, I wasn’t even online; yet David Foster Wallace had already figured out what was already dangerous about it.

We get a lot of regular guy talk in the film: “Die Hard” (they both like), the empty calories of junk food (Wallace is an addict), the empty calories of television (ditto). Part of the tension is that Lipsky expects a genius while Wallace keeps retreating into regular guyness. Wallace has what Lipsky wants, is who Lipsky wants to be, but keeps denying that part of himself. Or so it seems to Lipsky.

Wallace is portrayed as a child of Holden Caulfield, worried about being a phony, and fame has simply added to that worry. The better-praised he is, the more he feels like a fraud. Popular equals shitty, right? He’s a hipster child of the ’70s, when you were never supposed to want fame. He’s a child of the Midwest, too, which is almost Amish in its reserve. You’re not supposed to stand out. All of these tensions make him a wreck. He’s trying to stay on the right path and it feels like success keeps pushing him off.

He’s weird about his privacy (“How did you get this number?” he asks when Lipsky first phones) and even weirder about women. In Minneapolis, Lipsky flirts subtly with Wallace’s college girlfriend, Betsy (Mickey Sumner), who flirts back less subtly, and that evening Wallace suddenly hijacks Lipsky’s conversation with Sarah for about 30 minutes. It’s payback. The next day, Lipsky gets Betsy’s email address, ostensibly for quotes about Wallace for the article, but Wallace sees something else, and demands Lipsky be a stand-up guy. Question: Is Wallace “too sensitive” here? Or is he simply “ultra sensitive”—picking up on what is happening all around us?

It’s the conversation, stupid
That moment leads to accusations, bad feelings, silent treatments, further arguments. It’s the story’s “arc” and it feels a little false. It feels like both men are expecting way too much of the other, that no one is being professional here. Is it even true? I can’t find anything about it in Lipsky’s book.

For me, “The End of the Tour,” written by Donald Marguiles (Pulitzer Prize for “Dinner with Friends”), and directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), would’ve been better served finding a subtler arc; or none at all and going the full “My Dinner with Andre.” Its conversations are good enough.

Ironically, the one conversation Wallace and Lipsky don’t have is about the death of serious literature as a force in the larger culture. Meaning both men were both worried about a kind of fame—Wallace having too much of it, Lipsky not enough—that was going away anyway. 

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Posted at 06:13 AM on Jun 08, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Sunday June 07, 2015

SIFF 2015 Awards

The 2015 Seattle International Film Festival ends this evening, and this morning its awards were announced:

Golden Space Needle Awards (voted by moviegoers)

  • Best Film: “The Dark Horse” (New Zealand)
  • Best Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
  • Best Actor: Cliff Curtis, “The Dark Horse”
  • Best Actress: Nina Hoss, “Phoenix”
  • Best Documentary: “Romeo is Bleeding,” Jason Zeldes 
  • Best Short: “Even the Walls”

Grand Jury

  • New Directors Competition: Károly Ujj-Mészáros, “Liza, The Fox-Fairy”
  • New American Cinema Award: “Chatty Catties”
  • Documentary: “The Great Alone”

Youth Jury

  • Futurewave: “Seoul Searching”
  • Films4Family: “When Marnie Was There”
  • Futurewave shorts: “Minimum Max”

The trailer for the big winner is below. I was aware of “Dark Horse”—my friend Vinny is a big chess guy—but wasn't much interested in seeing it. (Which is why I didn't.) Seemed like one of those Michelle Pfeiffer teacher/pupil movies. The teacher is redeemed by inspiring the students. The audience is supposed to be inspired. We're supposed to want to “stand up and cheer.” 

Anyone see it? Any good? 

Here's a list of past Golden Space Needle awards. Not a bad group: “Boyhood,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Sex and Lucia,” “The Usual Suspects,” “The Wedding Banquet,” “My Life as a Dog.” But some recent head-scratchers, too. I wasn't a “Beasts of the Southern Wild” fan. And “The Whistleblower” seems a particularly weak choice. Feels like a lot of bad politics in these decisions. I also heard not-complimentary things about two of this year's award winners: “Chatty Catties” and “Seoul Searching.”

That said, this was probably my best SIFF ever. Maybe they had better movies this year; maybe I'm just getting better at picking them.

I'll post my SIFF awards tomorrow. 

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Posted at 03:09 PM on Jun 07, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Box Office: Say Goodbye to Vinne Chase, Hello to Melissa McCarthy

Before its characters became self-centered and douchey, and the show celebrated this self-centeredness and douchiness with an obtuseness that was dispiriting, there was a good episode of “Entourage” in which the boys worried over the opening weekend box-office totals of Vinnie Chase's tentpole “Aquaman” movie. Would blackouts on the west coast kill its chances to beat the then-recordholder “Spider-Man”? In the end, it triumphed. Cue: celebration. 

I assume “Entourage”'s real-life counterparts aren't doing much celebrating today.

“Entourage” finished in fourth place this weekend with $10.4 million. That's the 33rd-best opening this year (a little below what “The DUFF” did in February) and the 50th-best opening for a TV adaptation ever (a little below what “Dragnet,” starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, grossed in 1987, unadjusted). So ... not good. 

Ah! But didn't “Entourage” really open on Wednesday? So wasn't its opening weekend totals diluted? Wouldn't the Wednesday/Thursday crowd have gone to see it this weekend?

Sure, why not. Let's assume that everyone who saw it those days would've seen it this weekend. That makes its (five-day) weekend box office total $17.8 million. Which is good for ... yeah, the same fourth-place finish.

Either way: So long, Vinnie Chase. We knew ye too well.

The No. 1 box-office hit this weekend was Melissa McCarthy's “Spy,” which grossed $30 million on the strength of a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a general love for McCarthy. I wasn't blown away by it, but liked it well enough when it opened the Seattle International Film Festival last month. Of the movies she's headlined, it's a better opening that “Tammy” ($21 mil) but worse than “Identity Thief” ($34). I assume word-of-mouth will be good, the audience will be female-centric, so it will have a long shelf-life. $150 maybe? We'll see. 

The second weekend of “San Andreas” slipped 51% to $26 mil for second place. The horror flick “Insidious Chapter 3” finished third with $23 after the usual strong open for horror flicks ($10 mil Friday night). It's also down from the $40 mil opening of the second movie in Sept. 2013. But that one was closer to Halloween. 

In limited release (483 theaters), the Brian Wilson biopic, “Love & Mercy,” finished in 11th place, grossing $2.2 million. Of the top 11 movies, that's the one I'd recommend seeing. In case anyone's listening. In case it's playing at a theater near you. 

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Posted at 01:54 PM on Jun 07, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday June 06, 2015

Movie Review: Being Evel (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

About two-thirds of the way through “Being Evel,” Daniel Junge’s fun, straightforward documentary on Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil who became part of the wider culture in the 1970s, we’re suddenly watching 8-milimeter footage of nondescript boys emulating his stunts on their bicycles: building ramps and jumping things on the sidewalks in front of their homes.

“Hey,” I thought. “Just like Chris.”

My older brother Chris was 10 in 1971 when we saw the B-movie “Evel Knievel” starring George Hamilton at the Boulevard Theater near our home. Inspired, he dragged an old toy refrigerator out on the front sidewalk, laid it flat, placed a sturdy board on top, and had at. Pedaling his banana-seat bicycle furiously, he jumped over stuffed animals, then real animals, then neighborhood kids. His daredevil career abruptly ended when parents got wind of the danger he was putting their kids in, but I’d always thought Chris had been an anomaly. Nope.

Part of the point of the doc, in fact, is how many young boys Evel Knievel influenced. As his son Robbie says with a smile, “We all have a little Evel in us.”

From Butte to Snake River
Being EvelRobert Craig Knievel was a major asshole. Might as well say that up front. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he became a major asshole. Could’ve been the fame, could’ve been the painkillers/booze, maybe he landed on his head too much. The human body is a delicate machine and he didn’t exactly treat it delicately.

His life was a lot like the parabola of his jumps: rise, fall, crash.

He was born and raised in Butte, Montana by his grandparents. (It’s almost a cliché: another guy driven to success to make up for a lost father.) Butte was a tough town where you stood your ground, and that’s what he did. A relative remembers hitting Bobby, who promptly ran head-first into a door and told him point-blank: “You can’t hurt me.”

He was a rebel in the 1950s mode; he did petty crimes, skirted the law. Was he a safecracker? “He broke into my place,” says one resident. “He ran a racket,” says another.

The turning point almost seems like a joke. Evel Knievel, insurance salesman? But he was good at it—a natural salesman. And when he felt the boss screwed him over, he got a job selling motorcycles. That led to a stunt in Moses Lake, Wash., jumping his motorcycle over rattlesnakes. Then he was part of a team, “Evel Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils.” Throughout, he kept selling himself.

The big break came in March 1967 when he jumped 15 cars at a motorcycle race in Gardenia, Calif., which just happened to be aired on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Afterwards no one talked about the race; everyone talked about this crazy motorcycle jumper, this real-life Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” He got even more attention for the fountain jump at Caesar’s Palace later that year, but it only happened because 1) he thought it up, and 2) pushed and lied to make it happen. He kept phoning the owner of Caesar’s Palace and pretended to be different reporters asking about the event that hadn’t even been scheduled. He crashed—famously, in slow mo—but his career soared: Carson, Cavett, Sports Illustrated, Ideal Toys. All kids wanted to be Evel Knievel. Cue that 8-mm footage.

His most famous jump was a bust. At the end of the Hamilton movie, he talks about wanting to jump the Grand Canyon but the Dept. of the Interior said no. So he bought property next to the Snake River Canyon in Idaho and prepared to jump that. It was the excess of the period in microcosm. There was anarchy on the grounds (fights, rapes); the press saw him up close and didn’t like what they saw; and the jump itself was ridiculous. I was 9 when it happened and even I thought it absurd. Wait, he’s not on a motorcycle? Wait, he’s in a little rocket ship? Well, what’s the point of that? That’s not Evel Knievel. You see him being lowered into the rocket ship here and he looks like spam in a can. Worse, the parachute deployed early, and it was suggested that he did it himself; that he was scared. The press was brutal, even if it paid attention. For once, bad timing: That same day, Pres. Ford pardoned Nixon for crimes surrounding the Watergate cover-up. Evel Who?

He kept going—Wembley, Ohio, “Viva Knievel”—but he was increasingly paranoid and in pain, and his career crashed for good in 1977 when he assaulted his former publicist, Shelly Saltman, after the publication of Saltman’s book, “Evel Knievel on Tour.” There’s a good bit in the doc when various talking heads say, more or less, the book seemed fine to them; but Knievel took exception and went after Saltman with a baseball bat. At trial he was unapologetic, serving time even more so. The negative publicity hurt sales of the Evel Knievel toy and the Ideal company pulled out. His excessive lifestyle meant he’d saved little. He lost it all.

The sole, clean, clear leap
For some reason, Knievel’s influence on pop culture goes unmentioned here. There’s no Super Dave Osborne, Fonzie jumping 14 garbage cans (and a shark), nor Captain Lance Murdock inspiring Bart to jump Springfield Gorge on “The Simpsons.” Instead, Junge focuses on how influential Knievel was with, you know, the jackasses of the world. Johnny Knoxville is one of the doc’s main talking heads. We also hear from Knievel’s descendants, either literal (Robbie) or metaphoric (Tony Hawk, Robbie Maddison). We get footage of Maddison jumping an entire football field in 2007, which seems insane to me. It set the world record, but I first learned about it here.

That’s the thing: These guys are niche while Knievel seeped into the broader culture. His times allowed it. Back then, we had three channels and national meeting places, and Knievel broke through because he was crazy, original and a showman. He created and sold himself as a combo of Elvis, Gorgeous George, and Steve McQueen. The doc shows footage of him on “The Tonight Show” wearing a white fur coat and carrying a white cane on hands heavy with gaudy rings. What fun.

There’s also a rather forced attempt to redeem Knievel in the end. Junge wants rise, fall, crash and resurrection. There’s talk of needing heroes, of a man on a white horse, and somehow that’s applied to Knievel. C'mon. He was just a balls-out crazy showman who arrived at the right time. If Knievel means more than that—the way Muhammad Ali means more, the way Bobby Thomson’s homerun in “Underworld” means more—Junge doesn’t find it.

Maybe the beauty of Evel Knievel is simply the beauty Archibald MacLeish wrote poems about: the sole, clean, clear leap that has disappeared.

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Posted at 07:25 AM on Jun 06, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Friday June 05, 2015

Quote: 'The Young, Bikini-Clad or Topless Women of Entourage: Who Are They?'

“The young, bikini-clad or topless women partying aboard the yacht where the movie's first scene occurs—who are they? What do they do for a living? What are their aspirations? Who invited them to the party? And why did they go? Is that what it takes for a young woman to succeed in Hollywood? To attend parties run by men with money and power in the hope of appealing to one of them enough to get cast in a role or hired for a job? The men at the center of the movie have repellent attitudes, but there's nothing to suggest that they're violent or coercive. What do they say or do to induce young women to have sex with them?—or, rather, what's in it for the women? What motivates them to have one-night or one-morning or one-afternoon stands with the likes of E.? Why does Emily Ratajkowski (the character) want to be with Vince? For the business? For perceived advantage? To satisfy her own desires? It's the subject of the film—and the movie's director, Doug Ellin (who's also the creator of the TV series on which it's based), doesn't get anywhere near it. ... 

”How do the kinds of people seen in 'Entourage' manage to make movies that, by and large, make money—i.e., how do they make movies that large numbers of 'civilians' pay to see? It's a mystery, but it's a mystery that gets to the very essence of life at large and the demonic forces that lurk within most people's hearts. ... In a sense, to damn the fictional world of 'Entourage' is to damn the real world, and to review a popular movie is to review its viewers.

-- Richard Brody, “The Silent Women of 'Entourage,'” on the New Yorker site. For once I agree with almost everything Brody writes. “Entourage” currently has an RT score of 30% all/24% top critics

the silent women of Entourage

Demonic forces? Just a girl trying to get ahead? Both?

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Posted at 11:29 AM on Jun 05, 2015 in category Movie Reviews
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Movie Review: People, Places, Things (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Here’s the main problem with the movie: The ex is too obviously awful.

In the middle of their daughters’ 5th birthday party, Will Henry (Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”), a graphic novelist and teacher, finds his longtime partner Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) cheating on him in the upstairs bedroom with Gary (Michael Chernus), an overweight “monologueist.” A year later, after they’ve split up, and after he asks to spend more time with the girls, she shows up on his doorstep with the girls and just drops them off. No word in advance. A few days after that, he expresses concern that this impromptu shift doesn’t give the girls the proper structure, and Charlie practically throws their schedule—including cello and French lessons—at him. She claims, perhaps legitimately, that she spent too many years taking care of him, and then the girls, so she never had time for herself. Which is what she’s doing now. She’s taking improv classes. Gary thinks she has “hidden talents.” She’s obviously a spoiled nothing but Will is still in love with her. Worse, when he begins a relationship with someone else, Diane (Regina Hall), Charlie begins to covet him again. She kisses him. And he kisses her back.

People, Places, ThingsAt the SIFF Uptown theater where I saw “People, Places, Things,” a cry of despair literally went up from the audience at that moment. Particularly the women in the audience.

Will then tells Diane about the kiss. He’s confused, he says. He doesn’t know which way to go, he says. But we do. It’s so fucking obvious.

That’s the main problem with the film. If Charlie had been less awful, we might have felt Will’s dilemma—that sense of being pulled in two equal directions—but we don’t. Because they’re not equal. We not only know he shouldn’t wind up with Charlie but won’t. He’ll wind up with Diane. That’s how these movies go.

Otherwise, “People, Places, Things,” written and directed by James C. Strouse (“Grace is Gone,” “The Winning Season”), is a small, organically funny movie that makes great use of the dry humor and shaggy charm of Clement. An example from when he tells Diane about the kiss with Charlie:

Will: You should slap me or something.
[Diane slaps him]
Will: Ow!
Diane: You told me to do it!
Will (quietly, hurt): I said “or something.”

The comic-book art in the movie comes from Scott McCloud of “Understanding Comics” fame, and gives us a quick window into Will’s emotions: panels of growing up surrounded by family and thinking “I want to be alone,” leading to the final admission of loneliness; drawings of he and Charlie building something together, which turns out to be the wall separating them.

We also see the work of Kat (Jessica Williams of “The Daily Show,” good in a small role), Will’s brightest student, whose graphic novel is called “Mother Fuckers.” It’s about the men who entered (and exited) the life of her mom, an English literature professor at Columbia. Since her mom is Diane, this is particularly resonant for Will. He is the latest in a long line of mother fuckers.

Again, most of the movie works. The daughters in the film (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) are supercute, while Clement’s interactions with them feel real enough. The back-and-forth between Will and Gary is always funny, and we get another of those sloppy, anti-Hollywood fight scenes that amounts to bad wrestling. Plus someone finally explained “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” to me.

A lot of the movie is about small validations. Everyone’s struggling, everyone’s juggling, and it’s nice to hear, directly or indirectly, that you’re doing OK; that you’re not incompetent. Basically, that you’re not Charlie. Sorry, Charlie. 

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Posted at 06:33 AM on Jun 05, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Thursday June 04, 2015

Is 'Entourage' Creator Doug Ellin Right About Anything?

An excerpt from the LA Times article, “'Entourage' bros and their high jinks might not be so welcome anymore,” by Amy Kaufman:

“At that stage,” [Kevin] Dillon said, “we were thinking, 'Hey, if [Sex and the City] can do this well, why wouldn't we be able to?'”

“If we did half as well,” [Kevin] Connolly said, “we'd be...”

“Yeah, I would love to stop talking about 'Sex and the City,' ” [Doug] Ellin interjected. “It's one of the most successful movies of all time. I think it's the No. 3 R-rated comedy of all time.”

“Really?” [Jerry] Ferrara asked. “I just got scared.”

Overall, “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin comes off a bit douche-y here, calling critics of the film “little, bitter guys sitting on their Twitter accounts,” and saying the “Entourage” dynamic appeals to real guys he knows. Like LeBron James. 

He's also wrong on the above. “Sex and the City” isn't the third highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. It's 11th. Unadjusted. 

Entourage

Entourage XII: So Very Tired.

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Posted at 01:37 PM on Jun 04, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Trailer: Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

I saw this yesterday at the Seattle International Film Festival and recommend it highly:

It's recent Cambodian history—from independence in 1953, to constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk, to the 1970 coup by Gen. Lon Nol, to the bloody takeover by the Khmer Rouge in 1975—as seen through popular music. The history is tragic, the music energetic. Interestingly, Cambodia was initially more influenced by European rock and roll stars such as Johnny Hallyday and Cliff Richard rather than the American progenitors: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly. U.S. rock became more prevalent once U.S. armed forces arrived in South Vietnam and the radio began playing Wilson Pickett and James Brown.  

A key line in the doc (and in the trailer: 2:05) is about life under the Khmer Rouge:

If you want to eliminate values from past societies, you have to elminate the artists. 

It's a line that resonates beyond its tragic meaning in Cambodia. You wonder, in fact, if we've done something similar in the U.S. but via the free market. What's popular now isn't generally artistic and what's artistic isn't generally popular.

Wednesday's showing was its last at SIFF but look for it in the usual places. Saturday, for those interested, I'll be seeing a documentary on Cambodia's Dr. Haing S. Noir who won an Academy Award in “The Killing Fields” and who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1996.

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Posted at 01:01 PM on Jun 04, 2015 in category Trailers
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Quote: 'It'd Be Nice to Get Excited About a Trade Like This...'

“It'd be nice to get excited about a trade like this. After all, the offense has been terrible, the rotation is banged up, and these two players do fill needs. But after a series of Mariner games that just felt so exhaustingly Mariners, this trade feels the same. Exhausting. It embodies everything about this current front office that hasn't worked over the past several years, and yet here we are, trying it again. Jack Zduriencik has a blueprint that he believes will result in success, but it never really has.”
-- Scott Weber, “Mariners trade for Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno,” on the LookoutLanding site.

Seattle MarinersI was at one of those exhausting games, Tuesday night, with my friend Jim, who predicted the outcome. We had a 25-year-old pitcher making his Major League debut, Mike Montgomery, and when the M's put him ahead 2-1 in the sixth, Jim mused about the wonderful possibility that we would see this kid get a “W.” For a second. Then he said, “But we need more runs. Because you know who is waiting for us in the 9th.” Right, our closer with the 6.75 ERA, Fernando Rodney. Sure enough, facing a weak Yankees squad, Rodney gave up a walk, a fly out, a strikeout, a single, a double to tie it, then a ground out. But we didn't see the groundout. As soon as the Yankees tied it we left the park. Yanks won 5-3 in 11 innings. Thanks for the Kyle Seager bobblehead, M's.

Anyway, I'm done with Zduriencik. He keeps giving up something (Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda) to net us nothing (Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero). I like Seager but we overpaid for him. We overpaid for and oversigned Robinson Cano. That signing is looking like a disaster sooner that I thought it would. With Zdurienck I keep going back to that great exchange from “Apocalypse Now.”

Zduriencik: Are my methods unsound?
Me: I don't see ... any method ... at all, sir.

In other news, The New York Times, of all papers, tracks the most cursed cities in Major League sports. Seattle is 13th but only because the Seahawks won the Super Bowl a year ago. The Mariners? They're one of only two MLB franchises to never go to the World Series.

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Posted at 07:53 AM on Jun 04, 2015 in category Seattle Mariners
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Wednesday June 03, 2015

Old Actor, Young Actress

The Wrap recently featured a slideshow of old actors and young actresses starring together in rom-coms, etc., which indicates—according to its headline—that “Ageism Still Plagues Hollywood.”

A few points:

  • I think they mean sexism. Since the reverse isn't true. Jane Fonda isn't bedding Channing Tatum.
  • Of the 17 films listed, fewer than half (eight) are from the last 10 years. Just as many are from the 1990s, so you wonder about the “still plagues” hed. Or the amount of effort they put into the piece.
  • What's it all about, Alfie?

Seriously, any discussion of this topic needs to address what it means. Why are men in their 50s and 60s still considered romantic leads while women the same age can hardly get work? Put another way: Why are men valued for experience and position while women are valued for youth and beauty?

Put still another way: We know how men reduce women (cads). But how do women reduce men?

Silver Linings Playbook

This one didn't make The Wrap's cut even though Bradley Cooper is 15 years older than Jennifer Lawrence. Is that OK? What's the cut-off? Do we do half+7?

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Posted at 07:03 AM on Jun 03, 2015 in category Movies
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Tuesday June 02, 2015

A.O. Scott Doesn't Hug It Out with 'Entourage'

“There really isn't much more to say. By the time it reached the end of its HBO run in 2011, 'Entourage' had grown staler than last night's Axe body spray. The passing of a few more years has not improved the aroma. Watching the movie is like finding an ancient issue of a second-tier lad mag — not even Maxim, but Loaded or Nuts — in a friend's guest bathroom. You wonder how it got there. You wonder how you got there.”

-- A.O. Scott in his review of the “Entourage” movie. On Twitter he wrote: “No. Not gonna hug it out.” Here's my similar thoughts on the last episode of “Entourage” back in 2011. This thing is so over. 

Entourage

Ick.

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Posted at 02:11 PM on Jun 02, 2015 in category Movie Reviews
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Movie Review: Vincent (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Among my favorite scenes in the recent Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” were the ones where a bearded Clark Kent acted the itinerant laborer in search of answers to his true, Kryptonian identity. He worked on a ship, in a restaurant, in the Arctic. He remained quiet and hung in the background—as much as someone who looks like Henry Cavill can hang in the background. I wanted more of these scenes. I wanted a whole movie of them.

French writer-director Thomas Salvador has now given me that.

And? Ehh. I wanted more: more dialogue, more fun, more purpose.

Caché
Vincent n’a pas d’écailles“Vincent” is about a quiet, unassuming, itinerant laborer (Salvador), who has superpowers when he’s wet. He can swim superfast, punch walls, lift 300 kilograms (661.387 pounds). Essentially his powers are only limited by the film’s budget; but since we’re talking French/indie, that means they’re fairly limited. There’s no CGI here, it’s all hydraulics and wires. It’s doesn’t look bad but it’s not exactly “The Avengers.”

I saw it during the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival, with Salvador in attendance, and during the Q&A one audience member asked a rude but pertinent question: “Is there something in the French character that prevents Vincent from doing what most superheroes do—fight evil?”

Salvador, who struggles with English, answered mostly about Vincent’s character. Essentially: Vincent was someone who lived day to day.

I might’ve asked that question without disparaging an entire people. Something like: Why doesn’t Vincent do something worthwhile with his powers? Why hide them? What’s his fear?

The movie is full of unanswered questions like this. Is Vincent human? Where did his powers come from? When did he first notice them? If he stays in water longer, will he grow that much stronger? If he is out of water longer, does he grow that much weaker? Does dust make him weaker? Does sunlight?

The first quarter of the film is Vincent doing his job, then going to a nearby lake or stream to soak and bask and—when no one’s looking—swim like crazy.

Thank goodness Lucie (Vimala Pons) shows up. She’s hiking with a friend, sees Vincent in the stream, nods. That night, she sees him in the town square. They drink, listen to music, talk a bit. Their first kiss is rather charming: She all but pounces. In the relationship, she does most of the heavy lifting. A little ironic, given the movie’s theme.

For a lifelong loner, Vincent decides rather quickly to tell her his secret. I like the scene afterward when she checks between his toes for webs. And they have a  good rapport. Her character is lively, and she brings out a bit of life in Vincent.

Then trouble. At work, his friend and employer, Driss (Youseef Hajdi), gets into a fight. He’s getting pummeled, so Vincent grabs a bucket of water, pours it over his head, then lifts a cement mixer (the 300 kg. item referenced above) and tosses it onto a car. Everything and everyone stops. But as they’re leaving, one dude attacks Vincent. Whomp! Against the wall. He crumples and his friends call the cops.

Questions: Did the dude die? We never find out. And why didn’t Vincent just try to help Driss without dousing himself with water? Why get all super to stop a simple fight?

Most of the rest of the movie is chase, which is fun, but I almost wanted him caught. I wanted exposure and revelation. At one point, yes, the cops do catch up with Vincent; but then they take him outside in the rain and ... Bang, zing, boom. 

Z
“Vincent” (in French: “Vincent n’a pas d’écailles”—“Vincent without the cape”) is not an unenjoyable film; there’s just not much there. It's peculiarly empty. Most of us struggle to find a purpose in life, something we’re super in, and Vincent has this ready-made. But he does nothing with it. Why? And how come Lucie doesn’t ask? Shouldn’t they talk about this? I know it’s odd asking this of a French filmmaker, but how about giving us a little philosophical discussion now and again?

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Posted at 08:20 AM on Jun 02, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Monday June 01, 2015

Movie Review: Theeb (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Theeb” (“wolf” in Arabic) is a rare beast: an art film that is also a harrowing adventure story. You think its joys will be in the small details, in how tactile it feels, and in the fact that it’s about a Bedouin boy named Theeb learning the ways of men in the Arabian peninsula in 1916. One assumes slice-of-life, episodic and educational. Then you’re on the edge of your seat. The movie contains foreshadowing even though it all comes as a surprise. There’s an assuredness in every frame even though it’s writer-director Naji Abu Nowar’s first feature.

We start in voiceover, with life advice that mixes the idealistic and the realistic:

In questions of brotherhood
Never refuse a guest
Be the right hand of the right
When men make their stand

And if the wolves offer friendship
Do not count on success
They will not stand beside you
When you are facing death

These words echo as the movie plays out. We know Theeb means wolf, but we know Theeb isn't the wolf. So who is?

Is that Lawrence?
TheebTheeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, extremely effective in his first role) has a mass of curly black hair atop an adorable face that is often furrowed with curiosity and concentration. When we first see him he’s being schooled by his older brother, Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Eid’s cousin), on how to shoot a rifle, and later, when two strangers come to their father’s home, on how to slit the throat of a lamb. The strangers are an Arabian guide named Marji (Marji Audeh), and a British officer, who is blonde, bearded and taciturn (Jack Fox). For a time we wonder: Is this Lawrence? Are we getting the Arabian side of the “Lawrence of Arabia” story?

Our view is Theeb’s view, which is the child’s-eye view. He knows things are happening but not why. He knows Hussein is to lead the two men to the “Roman Well” but nothing beyond that. He tags along anyway. The men are a day’s journey out before they realize the boy has followed them.

There are subtle tensions. The Brit, Edward (for Thomas Edward Lawrence?), gets angry when Theeb plays with a small box he’s carrying, and the three men are constantly looking for thieves and enemies. But which enemies? What’s the mission? And seriously, is that Lawrence?

We relax slightly when we get to the Roman Well—a hole in the ground surrounded by rock and sand. “Where are they?” Edward wonders, as he pulls up the well bucket. “They’re coming,” his guide says. But he’s wrong. Edward drinks, then starts back. The water is red with blood. The men they were to meet are at the bottom of the well. In a second, everything is charged. “We’re being watched,” Marji says. 

“Lawrence of Arabia” wasn’t the only movie on my mind as I watched this one. I wondered whether Theeb would be like Zushio in Kenji Mizoguchi’s  “Sansho Dayu”: the privileged son who falls from grace into the harsh realm of men. I thought of  “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Shane”: movies where violent sounds, particularly gunfire, explode off the screen. Here, it’s the lamb’s bleat as Hussein cuts its throat; it’s the gunshot that tears through Edward’s chest as he’s drinking from a bota bag. Guess he’s not T.E. Lawrence after all.

Even then we don’t even know who the enemy is. Germans? Ottoman officials? Thieves? But we keep calculating. With Edward and Marji shot, how will they get back? If their camels are stolen, how will they get back? The lowest point is after Hussein is shot and Theeb runs and falls into the well. Even if he escapes, what then? He’s a small boy in the middle of the desert in violent times; and as we hear several times in the film: the strong eat the weak.

Is that home?
“Theeb” deserves to be seen, and it deserves to be seen in a theater. Cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler (Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise” movies) makes the desert a force in the film. One shot of the night sky makes you mourn for the loss of all of your city stars.

It’s a movie that’s not just about the loss of life; it’s about the loss of a way of life. Hussein is a pilgrim guide—taking worshippers through the desert to Mecca. But he’s being replaced by the “iron donkey,” the railway that cuts through the desert. So even if Theeb gets back, what is back? What is home to a Bedouin? What is the point of a pilgrim guide in a world of the iron donkey?

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Posted at 05:12 AM on Jun 01, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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