The False Equivalence of Max Brod in the 'Go Set a Watchman' Debate
Last Friday I posted on Facebook what I thought was a rather straightforward Joe Nocera column on the publication of Harper Lee's long-held manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” the forerunner to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Nocera goes over the agreed-upon facts, connects the various Murdoch-Empire dots (the book is published by Murdoch's HarperCollins and was defended in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal), and reaches his conclusion (it's all a rather shoddy business).
Turns out, to some, the issue isn't that straightfoward.
I'm actually shocked by the number of people—writers even—who are pro-“Watchman” publication. One posted the same column and then wrote that what he finds offensive about columns like Nocera's is the notion that we should never make available unfinished or previously unpublished works of an artist. Which isn't Nocera's argument at all. His argument is specific to Lee's case.
But the main point pro-publication folks make is this:
What about Kafka?
Here's the short version of that story.
Franz Kakfa died in 1924 at the age of 40. On his deathbed he told his friend, contemporary and literary executor Max Brod to burn all of his previously unpublished works, which included the novels “The Trial,” “The Castle” and “Amerika,” as well as numerous short stories, letters, and diaries, but which did not include “Metamorphisis,” which was published in 1915. Brod didn't do as Kafka wished. For the next decade, Brod published most of Kafka's oeuvre and made him famous; in essence, he made him one of the great writers of the 20th century.
So if Brod hadn't ignored Kafka, no Kafka.
And if Tonja Carter, Lee's current literary executor and guardian, hadn't ignored Lee's lifelong wish to not publish anything after “Mockingbird,” then no ... Well, no “Go Set a Watchman.” A book that is getting mixed reviews and ringing up record sales.
Here's the difference. Brod preserved Kafka's work because he considered him an artist of the first rank. Carter, et al. are publishing “Watchman” because there's money to be made.
To put it in modern terms: Kakfa wasn't a brand before Brod; but Lee has been a brand since 1962. And now that Lee is incapacitated, the Powers that Be are monetizing her. That's why it's a shoddy business. There are ethical gray areas for Brod but none for Carter. There, it's all green.
Franz Kafka in 1905. We'll always have “Metamorphisis.”
'Blue Angels, Ugh'
I was biking into the Bellevue office today for a team-building event when I was stopped on the I-90 bridge by the police. Not for speeding (wucka) but because the bridge was closed to pedestrians and bicycles. Cars were still able to cross for another 15 minutes, then they too were banned for a few hours. The Blue Angels were in town and were practicing over Lake Washington.
This happens every year so I should have anticipated it.
Alternate routes? Cars can go the 520 bridge, or drive I-5 south to Renton. On a bike, you're kind of screwed. The 520 bridge doesn't allow for bikes and going north or south around the lake takes a good long while. So I missed the event.
Why don't they let traffic across I-90 during the Angels practice runs? I guess because they don't want drivers being startled and getting into accidents and suing the city and whatnot. As for how this applies to foot and bicycle traffic, I'm not sure. Wouldn't the lack of cars, for example, be a giveaway to anyone crossing the bridge? Couldn't the same police officers that told me I couldn't cross the bridge stop me and tell me to watch out for Blue Angels? Look! Here they come! FOOOOOOOSH!
When I texted my predicament to Patricia, she texted back the feeling of a lot of Seattlites at this time of year: “Blue Angels, ugh.”
It's very Seattle being Seattle. We have some of the worst traffic in the country, yet several times a year we close down this major thoroughfare in the middle of the day. We also have drawbridges over the ship canal, and we'll raise and lower these on a dime for boats going from Lake Washington to Puget Sound and back, stopping traffic in both directions. Except during rush hour, which we quaintly designate as something like 4:30-6 PM.
First world problems, I know. In some parts of the world, when similar jets scream overhead they drop things.
I did stick around for a bit today; and while everyone else was watching the Blue Angels I took photos of the bridge without any traffic on it. All that concrete.
Bike cops patrol the empty I-90 bridge before letting on foot traffic.
A view you don't normally get on foot.
'And here you are; and it's a beautiful day.'
Burnishing Cobb ... to a Fault?
Beyond baseball prowess, Ty Cobb is basically known for two things: being 1) a spikes-sharpening SOB who tore up opponents' legs, and 2) a virulent racist. In his bio “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” Charles Leerhsen attempts to burnish Cobb's tarnished image.
To exonerate him of the former charge, Leerhsen quotes contemporaries who said Cobb was a fighter within the basepaths but not beyond that. He was fierce and feared but a professional. He didn't take cheap shots. And he took as well as he gave.
It's a little tougher to exonerate him of the latter charge but Leerhsen gives it a go. Cobb was involved in many incidents, many brawls, that could be construed as race-related. Leerhsen argues, though, that either race wasn't a motivating force in the incident or it wasn't present at all. I.e., his combatant wasn't black.
It's an interesting angle and it would be easier to take if Leerhsen didn't occasionally slip up himself.
Example. In a game against the Red Sox in 1915, Cobb is facing Carl Mays, who would, of course, infamously kill a batter, Ray Chapman, with an inside pitch in 1920. Apparently there was bad blood between Cobb and Mays, too. Leerhsen writes:
Mays started him with a fastball very near his face. Cobb said nothing. But when the next pitch came just as close, Cobb yelled “Yellow dog!” and flung his bat, which flew over Mays and came down near second base.
Nothing much happens; Mays simply retrieves the bat and hands it to Cobb. Then Leerhsen writes:
With the count now 0–2 ...
I'm like, “Wait a minute. Two pitches near his face, and both strikes? Who's screwing up here: the ump or Leerhsen?”
He also takes cheap shots at Christy Mathewson for no reason I can fathom.
It's a minor thing. But if I don't have to leave Leerhsen's pages to find his own contradictions, why do I take the rest of it without at least some grains of salt?
Leerhsen does bring to life the lively, helter-skelter style of Cobb's playing and baserunning—what made him what he was. I'm near the end of the book now, and looking forward to seeing if—and if so, how—Leerhsen tears into the 1994 Ron Shelton bio, “Cobb,” and Ken Burns' “Baseball,” both of which, for modern fans, did great harm to Cobb's reputation.
- The Cecil the Lion story? Jimmy Kimmel's response was pretty good. I have newfound respect for him. I also like his use of “vomitous.”
- The Associated Press, along with MovieTone news, has made one million minutes of history available on YouTube. For some reason the piece is written in the future tense while the YouTube channel is already available. I guess AP might need a CE.
- In the wake of Lafayette, Adam Gopnik writes about Obama's evolving outrage on guns, but doesn't give quite the evidence I would've liked. But the piece does raise this thought: Do we have the right to not to have to bear arms? Not according to the NRA, which treats every innocent victim in every schoolyard, movie theater or recruitment center as if they were the saloon owner in “Unforgiven,” saying, essentially: Well, they should've armed themselves, so they got what's coming. Assholes.
- A video of Obama in Africa arguing for African leaders to step down after their term is over. He says the law is the law, and he himself is looking forward to serving in other ways and having a smaller security detail. But what made news? Saying if he ran again he thinks he could win. He'd have my vote.
- The more loutish Donald Trump gets, the more popular he becomes within the GOP. Tim Egan isn't sympathetic, saying: “The fault, dear Priebus, is not in your stars but in yourselves.”
- Speaking of fault: The New York Times really flubbed it with that Hilary story last week.
- Six years before the controversial publication of “Go Set a Watchman,” Malcolm Gladwell wrote a critique of Atticus Finch and the old style Southern liberalism he represented. In a way, it anticipates “Watchman.” Or it indicates how the hero of “Mockingbird” could become the tarnished father of “Watchman.”
- I agree with Jeff Wells on the one-sided debate on the way men and women look at (and reject) one another. It's one-sided because the way men reduce women (traditionally: into sex objects) has been a longtime cause for complaint, while the way women reduce men (by job, status, wealth, fame and/or looks) is hardly mentioned. Opportunity for someone, I suppose. Maybe me. Maybe you.
- Yesterday I posted my top 10 American movies in answer to the BBC's top 100. Jeff Wells did me one better. OK, 150 better.
How Two Men Connect the Battle of Fredericksburg with Today
The following quote is from Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.” I'm at the point in the book shortly after Ty Cobb is besmirched in a 1926 betting scandal on a 1919 baseball game, and thus forced out as player-manager of the Detroit Tigers, the only team he'd ever known, and shortly before he would play two years for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, where he would hit .357 and .323 (w/OPSes of .931 and .819), before retiring for good after the '28 season.
This is the quote:
Connie Mack, who was born a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg and who would live long enough to manage a game called by Vin Scully, had already been around a long time at that point.
I like these throwaways from Leerhsen that bend the mind a bit. Mack was Mr. Longevity as a baseball manager just as Scully was in the broadcast booth. Both exuded/exude class.
Mack was born in 1862, played professional baseball for 10 years (1886-1896), then managed the A's from 1901 to 1950. He died six years later at the age of 93. Essentially he managed from before the Wright Bros. to after breaking the sound barrier; from cannonballs to the atom bomb.
Scully, meanwhile, was born in 1927 and began broadcasting Dodgers games in 1950 when they were in Brooklyn. He's still doing so 65 years later.
But wait. Dodgers are NL, A's AL. Did Scully announce a game managed by Connie Mack?
Yes. Here's what he told Mariners' announcer Rick Rizzs about the first game he announced:
I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, “He made it sound so easy,” and I was scared to death.
Anyway, that's how we get from the Civil War to today, and from baseball in 1886 to today. Takes two men who were good at what they do and loved doing it.
My Top 10 American Movies, as of July 28, 2015
The dark side of the American dream: war, profits, and the death of the working class. None of these movies wound up on the BBC list.
I'll have a few more posts about that BBC list of the top 100 American movies as chosen by 62 international critics, but, as a reminder, each of the 62 chose their own top 10, with No. 1 being worth 10 points, 2 worth nine points, and so on. Since I'm a bit critical of the list, I thought I'd come up with my own Top 10. Haven't done it in a while. And never from a wholly American perspective.
It's not easy. This is what the BBC says about its process:
What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source. The directors of these films did not have to be born in the United States – in fact, 32 films on the list were directed by film-makers born elsewhere – nor did the films even have to be shot in the US. ... Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.
I went after movies that say something deep and real about life. And if they say something deep and real about American life, all the better. “The Godfather,” after all, is about the dark side of the American dream (first line: I believe in America) and so is “All the President's Men.” I guess most of these films are, now that I think about it. Even “Breaking Away.” It's lighthearted in tone but it's about the death of the blue-collar working class. It's about owning your epithet (nothing is more American than that), and, in a very funny way, it's about the American talent for reimagining yourself—in this case as a non-American; as an Italian.
I also tried to pick movies that I've watched at least five times and would like to watch again. Like right now.
|My Rank||Movie||Director||BBC Rank|
|1||The Thin Red Line (1998)||Terrence Malick||n/a|
|2||The Godfather (1972)||Francis Ford Coppola||2|
|3||The Insider (1999)||Michael Mann||n/a|
|4||Casablanca (1943)||Michael Curtiz||9|
|5||Annie Hall (1977)||Woody Allen||23|
|6||Breaking Away (1979)||Peter Yates||n/a|
|7||All the President's Men (1976)||Alan J. Pakula||n/a|
|8||Amadeus (1984)||Milos Forman||n/a|
|9||Singin' in the Rain (1952)||Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly||7|
|10||Monkey Business (1931)||Norman McLeod||n/a|
- It's a very '70s-centric list but it could have been more so: “Chinatown,” “Cuckoo's Nest,” “Love and Death,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather Part II.” The '70s were a good decade for American film and I was coming of age during it.
- Six of my 10 aren't on the BBC's top 100.
- When will “The Thin Red Line” get its due? When will “The Insider”? (I have no hope that “Breaking Away” will ever get its due.)
Feel free to post your Top 10 (or 5, or 3) below.
Box Office: 'Ant-Man' Wins Weekend, Game Over for "Pixels' (and Sandler?)
It's Jurassic's world but it's still Cameron's universe.
Several milestones this weekend:
- “Jurassic World” earned another $7 million domestically and surpassed “Marvel's The Avengers” for third place on the all-time domestic charts. It's at $624.08 million. Ahead is Cameron Country: “Titanic” at $658.6 and “Avatar” at $760.5. Has a shot at “Titanic.”
- Even if you adjust for inflation, “Jurassic” is at 27th all-time, just ahead of “Thunderball,” and just behind “Grease” and “Mary Poppins” and “The Godfather.” Good company.
- “J-World” also surpassed “Marvel's The Avengers” on the worldwide chart, with a $1.541 billion haul against “MTA”'s $1.519. Again, ahead of it is Cameron Country, but you can barely make it out it's so far ahead. “Titanic” is at $2.1 billion, “Avatar” at 2.7.
- “Inside Out” earned another $7.4 mil domestically and is now at $320. In pure domestic gross, it's the third-highest-grossing Pixar flick (after “Toy Story 3” and “Nemo”); adjust for inflation, it's seventh (but since 2004, only “TS3” is bigger); while worldwide it's eighth (but Pixar movies tend to open slowly abroad). All in all, a huge success. Moneywise. Quality-wise, it's already a success.
Did anyone pick “Pixels” in the summer box office sweepstakes? I hope not. It earned a mere $24 mil, not even enough to unseat “Ant-Man” from the top spot. The diminutive superhero grossed another $24.9 mil and is now at $106. Meanwhile, the third weekend of “Minions” finished in third place with $22.9 (for a $262 total), while the second weekend of “Trainwreck” earned another $17.2 (for $61 total).
Jake Gylenhaal's counter-programming boxing movie, “Southpaw,” opened in fifth place at $16 mil, which is better than I thought it would do, while another teen movie, “Paper Towns,” opened in sixth with $12.
BTW: In my search for box office predictions, I came across Entertainment Weekly's summer 2015 forecast, which ... whatever. The point is the pointed commentary by a guy named Andrew about their predictions:
A lot of these predictions are way off in my opinion. They're saying that Trainwreck will make over $100 million but Pixels and Tomorrowland won't? No chance. I also don't see Magic Mike doing quite that well and I think Ant-Man can crack $200 mil. Especially coming directly after Avengers 2. Never underestimate Marvel.
“Tomorrowland is at $92 and not budging while ”Pixels“ probably won't quadruple it's opening weekend. ”Trainwreck“? Still has a shot at 100. Women-centered movies tend to open more slowly than the male version. But Andrew did nail ”Magic Mike XXL," which EW had at $155 and is currently floundering in the 60s.
Movie Review: While We're Young (2015)
In Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” Josh, a struggling, 40-something documentarian and his wife Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) become friends with Jamie, a 20-something film student and his wife Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), and anxious humor and personal revelations result. Except the humor isn’t that humorous and the revelations aren’t that revelatory. Plus Baumbach confuses the generational (illegal downloads, et al.) with the universal (assholes get ahead).
At the start, Josh is in a rut. He’s been working on his next big documentary, “about America” and its class system, for nearly 10 years. He has 100 hours of footage, a six-hour doc, and hasn’t paid his assistant in years. His father-in-law, the great documentary filmmaker Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), actually watches the six-hour version and makes helpful comments, which Josh rejects violently. He’s 44 but remains as sensitive to criticism as a 22-year-old.
Then after one of his sparsely attended film lectures, an attendee, Jamie, compliments him, and talks up Josh’s first and painfully obscure documentary, which he says he found on eBay. He’s a true fan and Josh is enthralled. “I wanted to be admired,” he says near the end. “I wanted a protégé.”
The couples become friends, and tend to do what the younger couple does. They go to a street party, foodie restaurants (Josh always picks up the check), and an Ayahuasca ceremony (don’t ask). The older couple struggles to keep up. Josh wears a hipster fedora (w/o having read his George W.S. Trow), and rides a bike in the city (then discovers he has arthritis), while Cornelia is always a step behind in hip-hop dance class. They lose their older friends who don’t get what’s become of them. Neither do we, really. We suspect early that Josh is being played, that Jamie is an opportunist who is using any connection to get ahead, and that early sense is corroborated to the tenth degree. Jamie is a massive douche. But Josh is enamored. “I loved you,” he says to Jamie at the end. Meaning the story is a love story that makes no sense. Love stories that make no sense may feel true—we’ve all wondered over the bad partners of good friends—but they’re rarely interesting as stories.
Here. I’m 52, eight years older than Josh and much less successful, but the only thing of Jamie’s I covet is Amanda Seyfried, which is the one thing that Josh doesn’t covet. He likes Jamie’s energy, even if Jamie is all ironic energy. He wants to help him with his documentary, even though he thinks the concept is stupid.
Actually, let’s talk about that documentary for a second.
Jamie tells Josh, whom he keeps calling “Joshy” and “Yosh,” that he’s never been on Facebook, but he’s going to create an account and then visit in person whoever friends him. The first one to do so is a guy named Kent (Brady Corbet), a high school friend who had everything going for him. They all show up at his front door in Poughkeepsie, camera rolling, but Kent’s sister tells them he’s not there; he’s in a hospital because he tried to kill himself. Turns out he’d been a soldier in Afghanistan. He’d both fought there and fought against the U.S. being there. He’s a true hero who won a Purple Heart. Josh finds all of this information online. And suddenly the stupid documentary has life. More than life. There’s a poignant scene where Jamie tells Kent about his own mother dying of ovarian cancer, and, as Josh films him, Jamie, with a remote, zooms in on himself. Leslie even agrees to help out with the doc. Everything is falling into place and Joshy is getting passed by.
But it’s all a lie. Jamie knew about Kent’s Afghanistan service from the get-go; the Facebook thing was just a front. In fact, Kent was Darby’s friend, not his, and it was Darby’s mom who died of ovarian cancer. And Jamie finding Josh’s first documentary via eBay? Bullshit. Josh was just Jamie’s excuse to get to Leslie. Josh finds out all of this at the 11th hour and then rushes to a black-tie honorarium for Leslie, which Jamie is attending, with the evidence. Except, at Leslie’s table, no one gives a shit. Jamie fesses up, but in a way that minimizes the damage, while Josh is bursting at the seams with the indignity of it all, the lack of integrity. No one else cares. “I think he’s an asshole,” Cornelia says, “but the movie’s pretty good.”
Which is fine. Assholes get ahead. Way of the world.
Except later, outside, she parses it further:
It doesn’t matter if it was rigged. Because the movie isn’t about Afghanistan or Kent. It’s about Jamie.
This is backwards. If the doc is about Kent’s service in Afghanistan, which is real, then how Jamie found him is irrelevant. But if the doc is ultimately about Jamie, then Jamie’s lies do matter. He’s on film talking about his mother dying of ovarian cancer, yet his mother is still alive? He’ll be the James Frey of documentarians; he’ll take Leslie down with him.
“While We’re Young” has some good lines. “It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” I like a lot of the issues raised, particularly how cutthroat and opportunistic you have to be to succeed. Charles Grodin is wonderful, as is Naomi Watts in a small, thankless part. But Josh’s angst isn’t interesting angst. It’s obvious what’s wrong with him in the beginning, and it’s obvious his solution to what’s wrong with him (Jamie, youth) is the wrong solution, and the resolution to all of this is both muddied and untrue. I think Noah Baumbach’s a pretty good guy, but his movie’s an asshole.
Movie Review: Trainwreck (2015)
Everyone is calling “Trainwreck” an Amy Schumer film since she’s the hot new thing, but it really is a Judd Apatow film. It feels like a Judd Apatow film. It’s funny, avoids many of the obvious grooves and pitfalls of the genre, and gives us moments of genuine interaction between people. Not bad. Then it’ll push the envelope for comic effect. Characters will riff too long, and the movie itself will go on too long. This thing is 125 minutes, about a half hour longer than it should be, but not bad for Apatow. Cf., 134 minutes for “This is 40” and 146 minutes for “Funny People.”
Does Apatow even have an editor? Couldn’t you, for example, have cut the intervention scene with LeBron, Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Alpert and lost nothing? Couldn’t you have cut a lot of LeBron’s scenes? LeBron, playing himself, is good, startlingly so, and the line about watching “Downton Abbey” that night because “I’m not going to practice tomorrow and all the guys are talking about it and I’m left out,” well, that made me laugh out loud. But his character is two-note and the two notes are kind of contradictory: 1) He’s super-sensitive that his friend will be hurt—in the way of women looking after their friends—and, 2) his advice to his friend is always from LeBron’s rarefied realm. Meaning for multimillionaire celebrity-athletes who fend off groupies.
At the same time, “Trainwreck” is different from other Apatow films in two related ways. It’s the first movie he directed that he didn’t write (Schumer did), and its lead is a woman behaving badly rather than a man behaving badly. In this way it’s considered transgressive.
Woman behaving badly
Schumer plays Amy, a girl who sleeps around like a guy. She hates to cuddle, never stays over, and receives more than she gives.
She’s also a journalist at a lad mag called S’Nuff and a favorite of the Tina Browne-ish editor there, Dianna (Tilda Swinton, inspired and awful), even though she’s a lousy journalist. At an edit meeting, she comes up with no new ideas but is handed somebody else’s: a feature profile on a sports surgeon, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). When she finally visits him in his office, she’s done zero research. She doesn’t know that his client list includes the biggest names in the game, and when one of those names, LeBron James, steps in for a quick chat (about, among other things, “Downton Abbey”), she doesn’t know who he is.
Then she sleeps with her subject before she’s written the piece.
But journalistic ethics aren’t the point of the movie. The point is she changes. She likes Aaron. He makes her want to be a better woman. Wait, scratch that. She actually keeps trying to break it off. Plus there are subplots:
- She and her sister, Kim (Brie Larson), talk about moving their curmudgeon father (Colin Quinn), into a cheaper assisted living facility.
- Kim is more staid and goody-two-shoes, and the two sisters generally clash.
- Her editor doesn’t like the piece on Aaron because he’s boring.
Per the rom-com formula, Amy and Aaron have to break it off to set up the final act. So Amy leaves a ceremony where Aaron is receiving a “Doctors Without Borders” award for a phone call from Dianna; then she argues with Aaron all night even though he has to operate on Amar’e Stoudemire the next day. When Aaron asks for a temporary break in their relationship, she uses it as an excuse to exit the building completely. Cue: montage of each in their separate world.
Why does she get fired from S’Nuff again? Oh, right. She sleeps with an intern (Ezra Miller), who turns out to be 16. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s the formula. She has to leave the soul-destroying job in order to get back her soul. Then she rewrites the piece on Aaron and sells it to Vanity Fair. She fails up as a journalist in the digital age. Done and done. With the drinking, too. She cleans out bottles, and that’s that. Finally, she wins Aaron back by dancing with Aaron’s clients, the Knicks City dancers. Yes, she becomes a cheerleader, but an Amy version of a cheerleader.
That’s our happy ending. Because no one does “Annie Hall” anymore.
Slightly outside Amy Schumer
- Bill Hader, who might be the best actor to ever come off of “Saturday Night Live.” Yes. He was completely believable as the younger, gay brother in “The Skeleton Twins,” and he’s completely believable here as a staid, well-meaning celebrity surgeon. He feels like a doctor. I would go to him if I had pain in my knee. I don’t know how Hader does that.
- Tilda Swinton, who is virtually unrecognizable as Dianna.
- Amy’s eulogy for her father, which is more honest and heartfelt than 99 percent of anything you will see in the movies this year.
- Amy’s relationship with her sister, which seems real. Plus she and Brie actually look like sisters.
- Most of the familial relationships. Apatow does family well.
I saw “Trainwreck” with two women, both of whom loved it. For me it was mixed, for the reasons stated above, and because simply switching genders on the douche-guy role isn’t that interesting. It’s not as transgressive as Schumer’s own comedy, for example. Maybe eventually.
E.L. Doctorow: 1931-2015
He was one of my guys—the starting left fielder of my literary nine. Now only three are left. The bench is being depleted. My scouts are on hiatus.
I keep returning to three of his books: “The Book of Daniel,” “Ragtime” and “World's Fair.” They share qualities. Sometimes they even share scenes: a small boy seeing the aftermath of an accident—a woman carrying groceries hit by a car—and watching the milk mix with blood. That's in both “Daniel” and “World's Fair.” First it was Daniel's burden, then Edgar‘s. Both boys are small criminals of perception.
“Ragtime” begins with an epigraph, an admonition, from Scott Joplin: “Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast ...” I always felt guilty because “Ragtime” is such a breezy book, so dense and interesting and readable, that I could never not read it fast.
Here’s an example of the style of “Daniel.” It's a nothing moment, a nothing memory, made fascinating:
In a window an advertising cutout faded from the sun: a modern housewife, smartly turned out in a dress that reaches almost to her ankles. She has her hand on the knob of a radio and does not look at it but out at you, as she turns it on. She is smiling and wears a hairdo of the time. She is not bad looking, with nice straight teeth, and she obviously has a pair though not trying to jam them in your face. She is in green, faded green. Her dress, her face, her smile, all green. Her radio is orange...She is a slim, green woman for whom the act of turning on an orange radio is enormous pleasure. Maybe it was a defective radio and gave her a jolt. Maybe she was turning it off. I never thought of that.
A lot of his other books either seemed surprisingly lightweight (“Lives of the Poets,” “Waterworks”) or incomprehensibily heavy (“City of God”). The three above are his sweetspot. Or so it seems to me at the moment.
His words are part of my life:
- “And it's still going on, Danny. In today's newspaper, it's still going on. Right outside the door of this house it's going on.”
- “We should have talked, we should always have talked.”
- “I can live with anyone's death except my own, man.”
- “Most freelances are nervous craven creatures, it is such a tenuous living after all, but this one was prideful, he knew how well he wrote, and never deferred to my opinion.”
That last was a tagline of sorts on the first website I created back in 1998—until a friend suggested it seemed too combative, too prideful, and I took it off, nervous craven creature that I am.
Did I begin to study history because of him? I wanted to write, but I didn't know anything, and I figure I needed to know more. I think I got this into my head when I'd taken a break from college and was working at a bank near the university. I was 20 or 21 years old and re-reading “Ragtime” or “Daniel,” or maybe “Loon Lake” for the first time, in a rundown apartment in a sketchy part of Minneapolis.
Years later, I interviewed Frederic Silber, the general counsel at Paul Allen's Experience Music Project in Seattle, and he was describing his upbringing. In the ‘40s and ’50s, he and his parents went to hootenannies led by singers like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Pete Seeger used to come by their house, a “middle income cooperative apartment” on the lower east side of Manhattan:
Silber: So it was that kind of prototypical, Jewish, middle-class, urban New York upbringing. Jewish leftist intellectual background: that's what I claim.
Me: I immediately think of “The Book of Daniel” by E.L. Doctorow.
Silber: And you wouldn't be far wrong. [Smiles.] Although my parents were not atomic spies.
I wonder if I would even make that comment today. Or would I assume no literary knowledge on the other end of the conversation? I used to assume it; I assumed serious literature was central to the culture, as it kind of was, even into the 1970s, when Bill Veck, running the Chicago White Sox, held a “Ragtime Night” at old Comiskey Park, giving away copies of the novel to the first 10,000 people through the turnstiles. The digital world has set me straight. All the programmers and coders and hackers and businessmen.
He wrote one the sexiest scenes I‘ve ever read. It’s from “World's Fair” when Edgar goes to the 1939-40 World's Fair with his friend Meg and her mother Norma, and he discovers that Norma actually works there as an underwater bathing beauty. But more. It's a kind of peep show. He's not supposed to watch it, or know about it, but he's a small criminal of perception. She swims in a giant tank of water and has her bathing suit slowly removed by a man in an octopus suit. It's a fantasy come true. It also recalls Edgar's earlier thoughts on the idiocy of Lamont Cranston's Shadow. I'd give you a sample of the scene but I don't have my copy of “World's Fair.” I must‘ve loaned it to somebody.
He also wrote one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever read. It's early in “The Book of Daniel. Two of the central characters, Daniel and Susan Isaacson (nee Lewin), the children of a fictionalized Rosenberg couple, are being led by a well-meaning lawyer to a left-wing protest rally in New York City. But then Susan gets something in her eye and they have to stop. Daniel, with the lawyer muttering impatiently, leads Susan to a doorway, away from the wind, to try to remove the object. He cajoles her and teases her and promises to play with her. He's just a kid himself at his point, no more than 10 or 11, and Susan is younger, and both are beginning to feel ostracized because their parents are national traitors. And it suddenly becomes too much for her. She cries. But this is what's needed; her tears remove the object. At which point she looks back at Daniel and asks, ”Will you still play with me?“ That's the sentence that killed me. When I reread the book in the 1990s, I just stared at it and tears began to well up in my eyes, and I went to share it with my girlfriend at the time. I wanted to share it with the world.
I want to reread him all again now. I want to try the later books I didn’t get into. Surely there's something there for me. I feel guilty that I‘ve let it all sit, that I haven’t come back for more.
We should have talked. We should always have talked.
My guy. My books.
That BBC 100 Greatest Movies List, By Genre
In BBC's list, crime is strong, comedies are holding their own, but musicals are way over yonder in the minor key.
OK, another post about BBC's list of the 100 greatest American films, as chosen by 62 international critics.
First thing I noticed? Not a lot of musicals. Also not many animated movies: one, to be precise. A superhero movie made the list, which is new, plus two documentaries. And an experimental short from the 1940s? OK. I guess. But one wonders how.
Which genres did well? That most American of genres, the western, did OK. So did crime drama and film noir, both of which are wholly American, despite the latter's French nomenclature and the European pedigree of many of its most famous practitiioners.
(Side thought: How many of the directors on this auteur-heavy list of great American movies are foreign-born?)
Comedy did OK, with some interesting choices (ex: “Groundhog Day”), while horror got the usual nods (Hitchcock, Kubrick) plus one unusual one (“Night of the Living Dead”). The critics weren't loving the war movies. In fact, there's more of what I call “mystery thriller w/perverse sexuality” than there is of war.
This last comment indicates a problem with even attempting what I'm attempting. What genre is “The Tree of Life,” for example? Or “Casablanca”? Or “Crimes and Misdemeanors”? Is this last a crime drama? A crime drama with comedy? A comedy with crime and drama? What's the difference between a crime drama and a film noir? Entire books have been written on that subject. I can't help recalling James Baldwin's great line about how our passion for categorization, our attempt to order the world neatly, has “boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.” That's me, here. But I keep doing it. Or attempting it.
Proviso stated, here are the genre numbers. (I've added the “mystery thriller w/sex” subgenre into the “thriller” category):
- Drama: 31
- Comedy: 16
- Western: 10
- Film noir: 9
- Thriller: 7
- Musical: 5
- Sci-fi: 5
- Action: 3
- Horror: 3
- Romance: 3
- War: 3
- Documentary: 2
- Animated: 1
- Superhero: 1
- Short: 1
Essentially it's a dark brooding list with a few oddities, like “Forrest Gump” at No. 74. (I put that one in its own category: “drama, comedy.” It seems a drama to me first. You could go: “drama, fantasy” or “drama, history,” too.)
For a list that ends with “Citizen Kane” at No. 1 and “The Godfather” at No. 2, it's also a fairly hip list, which makes “Gump” an even odder inclusion. Maybe it's getting its hipster fans now, who are reacting to my generation's overall shrug on the subject.
In the meantime, for masochists, the list as sorted by genre (or its best approximation):
|84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)||action-adventure|
|82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)||action-adventure|
|38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)||action-adventure|
|86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)||animated|
|95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)||comedy|
|83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)||comedy|
|71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)||comedy|
|67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)||comedy|
|50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)||comedy|
|44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)||comedy|
|30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)||comedy|
|18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)||comedy|
|17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)||comedy|
|55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)||comedy, dark|
|42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)||comedy, dark|
|24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)||comedy, dark|
|58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)||comedy, romance|
|32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)||comedy, romance|
|23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)||comedy, romance|
|56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)||comedy, sci-fi|
|69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)||documentary|
|53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)||documentary|
|73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)||drama|
|63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)||drama|
|31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)||drama|
|26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)||drama|
|25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)||drama|
|14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)||drama|
|59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)||drama|
|29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)||drama|
|22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)||drama|
|74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)||drama, comedy|
|79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)||drama, coming of age|
|57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)||drama, crime|
|93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)||drama, crime|
|81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)||drama, crime|
|28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)||drama, crime|
|20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)||drama, crime|
|19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)||drama, crime|
|10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)||drama, crime|
|6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)||drama, crime|
|2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)||drama, crime|
|94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)||drama, crime|
|46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)||drama, fantasy|
|99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)||drama, history|
|97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)||drama, history|
|65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)||drama, history|
|39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)||drama, history|
|27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)||drama, history|
|11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)||drama, history|
|1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)||drama, history|
|47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)||drama, psychological|
|87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)||drama, sci-fi|
|48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)||film noir|
|100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)||film noir|
|92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)||film noir|
|89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)||film noir|
|72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)||film noir|
|54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)||film noir|
|51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)||film noir|
|35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)||film noir|
|12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)||film noir|
|85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)||horror|
|62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)||horror|
|8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)||horror|
|88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)||musical|
|80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)||musical|
|70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)||musical|
|7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)||musical|
|34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)||musical fantasy|
|61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)||mystery thriller w/sex|
|60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)||mystery thriller w/sex|
|21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)||mystery thriller w/sex|
|3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)||mystery thriller w/sex|
|43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)||romance, drama|
|9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)||romance, drama|
|37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)||romance, weepy|
|91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)||sci-fi|
|76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)||sci-fi|
|75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)||sci-fi|
|36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)||sci-fi|
|4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)||sci-fi|
|40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)||short, experimental|
|96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)||superhero|
|13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)||thriller|
|33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)||thriller, psychological|
|68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)||thriller, romance|
|90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)||war|
|78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)||war|
|15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)||war|
|98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)||western|
|77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)||western|
|66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)||western|
|64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)||western|
|52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)||western|
|49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)||western|
|45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)||western|
|41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)||western|
|16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)||western|
|5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)||western|
Wait, How Long Ago Did Ty Cobb Play Again?
From Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty”:
But for whatever reason the 1907 World Series went about as badly for Detroit as things would go for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid down in Bolivia a few weeks later.
I guess I knew this. I certainly knew Cobb began his career in 1905, and I knew that Butch and Sundance lasted into the 20th century, but the juxtaposition of the two (or three) is still somewhat startling.
That BBC 100 Greatest Movies List, Decade by Decade
The greatest year in American movie history, according to the 62.
The BBC recently published a list of the 100 greatest American films as chosen by 62 international critics. Why international? Why not American? Or since it's the BBC, why not British? We might learn something of what the Brits think of Americans or what Americans think of America. Instead, “international.” And “62.” OK.
I'll write more about what's there, what's missing, maybe why, but in the meantime here's something less (or maybe more) controversial: the numbers.
We'll start with the 62. Each of the 62 critics submitted a list of 10 favorites, ranked 1 to 10. Every 1 was worth 10 points, every 10 worth 1, meaning each list was worth 55 points total and the whole kit and kaboodle worth 3,410 points. Theoretically, “Citizen Kane” at No. 1 could have 620 points and then a big drop-off but like the Oscars we don't get the percentages.
Let's move onto 21. That's the number of movies from the 1970s that made the list. Next highest is a tie between the '40s and '50s with 15 each. Lowest is the 1900s with zero, then the 1910s with one, then the 2010s with two. As chart, this is our decade-by-decade movie cityscape:
Here's a handier chart:
|Decade||No. Films||High rank||Best Film|
|2010s||2||79||The Tree of Life|
|1980s||13||25||Do the Right Thing|
|1960s||10||4||2001: A Space Odyssey|
|1910s||1||39||Birth of a Nation|
There's definitely a sweet spot, and one wonders if it's because American movies had a sweet spot or if the critics do, relative to their age. Probably a little of both.
If there is a sweet spot you could say it's the Ford years. Gerald Ford. The year he took over from Nixon, 1974, has four films on the list, while his first full year in office, 1975, has five, the most for any single year. Meaning these two years have more movies than the entire 1930s, which was considered, when I was growing up in the 1970s, the golden age of moviemaking. I guess gold, like love, fades.
Here's another number: 5. It's the most movies any director has on the list, but five of them have it: Wilder, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, Scorsese. So between them they account for 1/4 of the 100 greatest American movies ever made. According to these 62.
Coppola and Hawks each have four, while Chaplin, Welles and Ford (behind Hawks for a change) each wind up with three spots. Many directors have two movies on the list, including Woody Allen, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Terrence Malick and Robert Zemeckis. That's right. Robert Zemeckis. He has two but the Coen brothers have zero. Michael Mann got bupkis as well. But now we're getting past numbers. I'll save arguments for another day.
How the Yankees Almost Got Ty Cobb 13 Years Before They Got Babe Ruth
From Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty”:
Clark Griffith of New York had hinted that [Tigers new manager Hughie Jennings] might want to make a swap. When Hughie heard back from the Highlanders the next day, however, they were offering only Frank Delahanty, a .238 hitter, a proposal that was either, as Hughie said, “a humorous effort,” or an indication of just how wary some people were of young Tyrus.
This was before the start of the 1907 season. Cobb, who at this point was 20 years old and had played 139 games over the two previous seasons (batting .293), would go untraded. There'd been strife on the team, according to Leerhsen, because some of the other players, northerners mostly, disliked Cobb, who kept to himself, had airs, read books, and was, you know, good. They hazed him for the better part of a season. To some, Jennings mostly, it would just be easier to get rid of the kid, but Tigers' business manager (and eventual owner) Frank Navin liked Cobb and squelched any deal.
Over the next 13 seasons, Cobb would win 12 batting titles, lead the league in OPS nine times, hits eight times, runs five times, RBIs four times, and stolen bases six times. The Tigers would also win three straight pennants (but no championships).
The Highlanders, soon to be the Yankees, would have to wait out those 13 seasons before they began their turnaround.
'Ant-Man' a Goliath at Weekend B.O.; Schumer Debuts Strong
“Even 'Ant-Man.'” That’s what Marvel can say.
No “Marvel Cinematic Universe” movie—meaning the Marvel Studios movies that began with “Iron Man” in 2008—has not debuted at No. 1, and now “Ant-Man,” one of its least-powerful and least-known characters, joins the list. It debuted with a $57.2 million haul, which is middling Marvel (Hulk, Fantastic Four), but not bad considering.
So how long before we get the movie version of Man-Wolf? Or Man-Thing? Or Forbush Man?
(For the record, the last movie featuring a Marvel character that didn’t debut at No. 1 was 2012’s “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” which was a horrible sequel to a horrible movie, and, for the purist in me, more action-horror than superhero. But it was made because the first movie, 2007’s “Ghost Rider,” did debut at No. 1: grossing $45 million and beating back “Bridge at Terabithia,” “Music and Lyrics” and “Norbit,” among others. It wound up grossing $228 million worldwide.)
The second weekend of “Minions” took second place, dropping 57% to $49 million. It’s now at $215 domestic, $625 worldwide. The new Judd Apatow-Amy Schumer comedy, “Trainwreck,” took third with $30 mil.
The highest-grossing marginal release (< 500 theaters) was “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” which grossed $2.6 million in 256 theaters, followed by “Mr. Holmes,” starring Ian McKellen, which grossed $2.4 mil in 363 theaters.
On the all-time worldwide charts, there’s a slim $8 million gap between “Marvel’s Avengers” in third place ($1.519.6 billion) and “Furious 7” in fourth ($1.511.7 billion), but “Jurassic World” managed to thread that gap. It’s now at $1.513.5 billion. By the end of this week, it’ll be in third place all-time, with only Cameron country (far, far) ahead.
Movie Review: Ant-Man (2015)
On the way to the theater, I wondered if Paul Rudd was the first person to ever play Ant-Man on screen. For the record, he’s about the 10th, but almost everyone else on IMDb’s list is animated and from the past decade.
On the way home from the theater, I realized that one of the movie’s cameos—which I’d mentally noted but hadn’t connected—was the actor who’d first played Ant-Man on screen, even if IMDb.com doesn’t list him. In March 1979, Margot Kidder, fresh off her “Superman” triumph, was the guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” and they did a skit in which Superman (Bill Murray) and Lois Lane (Kidder) throw a superhero party. It was kind of a revelation for me as a teenaged comic-book nerd. Other people knew about this stuff? Adults? The best gag, besides the Hulk bathroom bit, was watching Garrett Morris as Ant-Man being ridiculed for his less-than-super powers:
Flash: You can talk to the ants, is that it?
Ant-Man (childlike, trusting): Well, partly. But mainly I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.
At which point the Flash (Dan Aykroyd) calls over the Hulk (John Belushi) and they proceed to give Ant-Man shit:
Flash: Hey Hulk, check this guy out. He’s got the strength of a human.
Hulk: Hey, Ant-Man! Where’s your ants? [Laughs]
Ant-Man: They’re at home in the ant farm.
[Hulk and Flash stifle laughs.]
Ant-Man: I don’t see what’s so funny. Is there something wrong with being Ant-Man?
So it’s a brave cameo for the film. Morris’ turn as Ant-Man revealed exactly what was wrong with the character. He’s just not cool.
Now he is. Score another one for Marvel.
Wanted: SWM (Again)
It’s a fun movie, I’ll say that. It also demonstrates how kick-ass Ant-Man can be. (He fights Falcon to a standstill outside of Avengers HQ.) I mostly enjoyed it.
But first ...
OK, I know it’s wrong to talk plot holes in a movie in which a man can shrink down to the size of an ant, but here I go.
Rudd plays Scott Lang, a likeable guy (go figure) who just got out of San Quentin for hacking into some awful global financial meltdown corporation and redistributing its wealth. He’s basically Robin Hood as burglar/hacker. As he’s leaving prison with his friend Luis (Michael Peña, overacting for comic effect), he assumes he’ll be able to get a job with his engineering degree. Cut to: Scott working at Baskin Robbins. From which he then gets fired when his past is discovered.
The movie almost becomes a light version of the serious 1978 Dustin Hoffman movie “Straight Time.” Since Scott is unable to get a job, he is forced back into a life of crime—robbing an old rich dude who turns out to be Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the first Ant-Man, and who, of course, wanted him to break into his home, as a test, since he sees Scott as the new Ant-Man.
All of which is fine. The plot hole? That Scott wouldn’t be able to get a job once he got out of prison. That he wouldn’t be a celebrity. C’mon! He’s the one guy in the whole fucking world who made Wall Street pay. He’d be on every talk show in the country! He’d have book deals, opportunities. He wouldn’t be working at no Baskin Robbins.
The movie begins in 1989. Apparently Ant-Man was an under-the-radar superhero of the Cold War/Reagan era, and S.H.I.E.L.D.—represented by the good (Howard Stark and Peggy Carter) and the douchey (Martin Donovan as Mitchell Carson)—wants his shrinking tech; but Pym is too worried it’ll upset the balance of power. He’s worried it’ll destroy the world, so he keeps it to himself.
(Sidenote: The best CGI in the movie isn’t the shrinking and enlarging; it’s in this scene, where Michael Douglas looks 25 years younger than his 70-year-old self. And not in a fake or creepy way. He looks legitimately 25 years younger.)
Today, Pym Technologies, or whatever it’s called, is run by Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), as well as Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly, encased in a vampy black bob), both of whom never got enough affection/attention from the old man, and get back at him by booting him from his own company. Then Cross becomes obsessed with recreating the shrinking tech. He is to “Ant-Man” as Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stone was to the original “Iron Man”: the greedy CEO who recreates the hero’s powers in villainous form. He becomes Yellow Jacket.
Which is why Hope joins her father in helping train Scott, who will become the new Ant-Man.
The movie’s not particularly kind to women and minorities, is it? Peña and his cohorts, including T.I., are there for comic relief, while smart, cool-headed white men run things. Hope is smart, too, and a better athlete than Scott, and she keeps begging her father to let her become Ant-Man. Or the Wasp. But no go. Pym lost his wife that way—flashback to 1987 when she saved the world but went subatomic to do so—and he’s not going to lose his daughter as well. That’s sweet, but it means Hope is passed over for the less-qualified man. Given the discussion of the lack of female superheroes in the Marvel Age of Movies, it’s all a bit awkward.
Merry Marvel Marching Society
Scott has daughter issues as well, in that he’s prevented by his ex (Jude Greer, wasted), and her cop-fiancé (Bobby Cannavale, meatier), from even seeing his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, adorable). The final battle takes place in Cassie’s bedroom, where we get some humorous bits. We see the clash between Yellow Jacket and Ant-Man from their perspective (monumental, pitched) and then from Cassie’s perspective (a toy train falls over). At one point, a Thomas the Train is enlarged, bursts through the roof, and lands on the front lawn, its smiling eyes continuing to shift back and forth.
“Ant-Man” is directed by Peyton Reed, whose previous movies don’t exactly blown us away (“Yes Man,” “The Break-Up,” “Down with Love”), and written by a ton of comedic talent whose CVs are a little better: Edgar Wright (the Cornetto trilogy), Joe Cornish (“The Adventures of Tin Tin”), Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) and Rudd himself. Apparently the whole thing began with Wright, but he soon left the project because of the usual creative differences with Marvel Studios. Marvel has a history in this area, but at the least it isn’t making a shit product. (Cf. Fox.) Maybe the juice is in the clash? Marvel’s goal is to be clever within the feel-good formula; I’m sure its more artistic types want to break away a bit from the formula.
So do I. Example: In the end, when Scott goes subatomic to destroy Yellow Jacket and save his daughter, I wanted him to disappear forever in the void—like Leo’s face disappearing into the void in “Titanic”: a shot, I would argue, that made the movie an extra half a billion bucks worldwide. I wanted the sacrifice to have meaning. Yeah. Lotsa luck, Charlie. Rudd’s already signed up for next year’s “Captain America: Civil War”—one of 10 “Marvel Universe” movies we’re supposed to get before 2020. It’s the new Merry Marvel Marching Society. Try not to get stomped.
Other Things Donald Trump Likes
- Fireman who didn't die on 9/11.
- Soldiers who didn't die or get wounded in Afghanistan, Iraq, et al. Also captured, of course.
- Yankee teams that didn't lose the World Series. Not like those 2001 bums. And just when the city needed them, too.
- “Rocky II,” “Rocky III” and “Rocky IV.” Go the distance, my ass.
- Kreese. None of this wax-on/wax-off shit. I pay people for that.
- Old men in the sea who know how to land a fucking fish.
From his comments yesterday about John McCain's war hero status: “I like people who weren't captured.” Feel free to add your own.
ADDENDUM: Jon Stewart, of course, did it better. On his show Monday night, he played the above clip, and said, as Trump, “And if I may ... fuck cancer survivors, too. Hey, let me just say this. I like people who don't get cancer.”
Does a Change of Heart Change the Status Quo? Thoughts on Atticus, Gladwell and Dickens
A good read in the wake of the Atticus Finch revelations in “To Set a Watchman” is Malcolm Gladwell's 2009 article, “The Courthouse Ring,” about progressive moderates like Big Jim Folsom, a two-term governor of Alabama in the early 1950s, and how such moderates vanished from the stage in the strident aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Gladwell suggests that Atticus Finch was similar to Folsom in that he didn't want to change the system; he just wanted to change people's hearts.
“He's not Thurgood Marshall looking for racial salvation through the law,” Gladwell writes. “He's Jim Folsom, looking for racial salvation through hearts and minds.”
Gladwell's reading of the pro-jurisprudence Atticus of “Mockingbird,” in other words, anticipates the anti-Brown Atticus of “Watchman.”
All well and good. But I don't know how much I agree with Gladwell's criticism of moderates in general. He extrapolates beyond Atticus and Folsom, and brings in George Orwell's classic criticism of Charles Dickens. Orwell suggested that Dickens disapproved of “Dickensian” conditions without suggesting (or even desiring?) a change in the status quo. It's really one of the classic arguments of the left: Is the problem corrupt men or a corrupt system? And if you change the hearts of corrupt men, can that change the heart of a corrupt system?
Here's the quote I disagree with:
[Dickens] believed in the power of changing hearts, and that's what you believe in, Orwell says, if you “do not wish to endanger the status quo.”
I think that goes too far. Ten years ago, the issue of gay marriage was such a boon to the far right that the GOP put gay-marriage bans on state ballots to get out the vote for major elections; to get out their kind of people. And it worked. Folks in Oregon and Michigan and Georgia and Ohio voted to ban gay marriage. Ten years later? The opposite. From 2005 to 2015, there was a 20-percentage-point progressive shift in how Americans felt about gay marriage. Why? I would suggest that enough gay people came out to enough people who loved them that those people had a change of heart. And that change of heart changed the status quo. And that's why we are where we are.
But the above discussion also points out the danger we're in post-Obergefell. Progressives won that battle, just as, generations earlier, they won the battles over Brown, and Loving, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Progressives won all of those battles but they lost the war to Nixon, and then Reagan, as the politics of resentment trumped the politics of inclusion. Social progress couldn't be turned back but economic progress could. As a result, in my lifetime, we've had social progress (Brown, et al.) but economic regress (a movement toward oligarchy). And if that happened again now? After Obergefell? I doubt the middle class could take it.
The Best Defense of Atticus Finch Comes from a Lawyer Who Became a Lawyer Because of Atticus Finch
Call it the circle of law.
As soon as I heard the news about “Go Set a Watchman,” I wondered about all of those lawyers who became lawyers because of the example of Atticus Finch. So in my day job, we set about interviewing some of them about the revelations of Atticus' paternalistic racism in Harper Lee's new (and suspect) novel, “Go Set a Watchman.”
The best response so far comes form antitrust attorney Allan Van Fleet of Texas, who told us:
Just taking it at absolute face value that Atticus, at the time of To Kill a Mockingbird, was a racist underneath it all, I'm going to put it out there that in some ways that makes him more heroic.
If he was just innately a good person and he stood up and did what he knew was right, there it was; there are great people in the world who do things like that. But if there was ... prejudice in his heart, then in some ways he's more heroic to overcome that.
This might be the most beautiful part:
The other thing I think is especially important: he taught a very different message to his children. ... One can teach one's children to think and act differently from one's own generation.
Go Set a Lancelot Links
- The plaintive howl coming from the progressive South isn't about the Confederate flag; it's about what's happened to Atticus Finch. Georgia native Candice Dyer asks “Why, Atticus, Why?”
- The answer to her question seems to be: Because Harper Lee's sister and caretaker died and Harper can't speak for herself—but her lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, can.
- Wait! There's more! Another another Harper Lee book! So says Carter, who could be a good lawyer, and could be a decent person, but is most definitely a lousy writer. Here's the beginning of her Wall Street Journal Op-Ed trumpeting the new book and announcing there may be another: “Accidents of history sometimes place otherwise unknown people in historic spotlights. Such was my fate when last August curiosity got the best of me and I found a long-lost manuscript written by one of America’s most beloved authors.” Holy crap is that bad.
- Neely Tucker of The Washington Post goes in-depth on the ickiness of the publication of “To Set a Watchman.” What isn't answered? How Carter became the caretaker of Lee.
- In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik is more interested in whether the book is any good. The verdict? It has its incidental beauties, but...
- Others actually applaud the news, as a chance to rid ourselves of the white savior myth that Atticus embodies.
- But I still say the best reaction I've read, certainly the best defense of Atticus that takes into acccount all the facts of the case, comes from antitrust attorney Allan Van Fleet of Texas, who became a lawyer, in part, because of the great lesson of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He's a lawyer, in other words, because of the example of Atticus; and now, as that lawyer, he defends Atticus. And well.
- In other news, Joe Posnanski goes over baseball fans' votes for “the four greatest living players” (Aaron, Bench, Koufax, Mays) and asks, essentially, What about the last 30 years?
- Almost everyone has some comparison to make about the idiotic and insulting presidential campaign of Donald Trump. But Jelani Cobb has the most innovative angle: Donald Trump is a rapper.
- Via Rick Perlstein: Bloomberg Business has a good piece on how quickly the U.S. changes its mind—usually in a progressive direction. It tracks the number of states the legalized same sex marriage, interracial marriage, women's suffrage, prohibition and abortion before they became laws of the land. It happens all of a sudden. Yes, Malcolm, like a tipping point.
- Is the Iran nuclear deal a good deal? A nuke expert says yes.
- Why is the New York Post writing scathing front-page stories with banner headlines about a homeless man? Apparently because he lives (resides/hangs out) in the same upper west side neighborhood as the Post editor, Col Allen.
- Dear U.S. Post Office: The day you give us a Harmon Killebrew stamp is the day I buy 100 stamps. Maybe 200. Maybe more.
Trailer: The Revenant
OK, I'm looking forward to this:
Starring Leo and Tom Hardy. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”). Via Hollywood Elsewhere. Jeff Wells is obviously on board.
The trailer says a December release while IMDb says December 25 (limited) and January 2016 wide. (Or wider.) Box Office Mojo says Fox will distribute, which is a bit odd. The last presitge picture they distributed was “Gone Girl,” if you even count that. Before that, “The Book Thief” in 2013. Before that, “Life of Pi.”
Louis C.K. Prefigures the Lesson of 'Inside Out' by Two Years
The lesson is in the final third of the video, but the whole thing is worth it:
My review of “Inside Out.”
Comparing Louis C.K. to Proust.
Why the Love for Bryan Cranston's 'Your Mom' Slam?
I do not understand all the love “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston is getting for his “your mother” joke at the San Diego Comic-Con this past week.
Here's the video.
And here's the conversation:
Nervous teen: How was [Albuquerque]? Cuz it's ... my hometown, So I just want to know, how'd you like it? Did you have fun there?
Cranston: Yeah, I'd go and visit your mother once in a while!
The audience erupts in laughter and applause, and Cranston basks in it before feigning a mic-drop.
Is there a context I'm missing? Is it Bryan being Walt or Bryan being Cranston? More importantly: Why does the kid deserves this slam?
Since then, the applause has continued on most major (or at least ad-heavy) web sites. It's as if Cranston has just delivered an Oscar Wilde-ian bon mot instead of the most adolescent of comebacks. It's a line worth of apology, not a mic-drop.
This culture sometimes, I swear.
Best Paragraph I've Read This Week
From Jelani Cobb's innovative takedown, “Donald Trump is a Rapper,” on The New Yorker site:
Measured against the probability of, say, the Chicago Cubs winning the Super Bowl, the Presidential campaign of Donald John Trump, real-estate baron, clothier, and firer of faux employees, has a degree of plausibility. Considered by more conventional measures—and recent polling data notwithstanding—Trump stands almost no chance of gaining the Republican nomination, or ascending to the Presidency if he did. His is a campaign of vanity, of the sort that suggests an inversion of Sherman's dictum: if he campaigns he shall not be nominated, if nominated he shall not win. This does not mean that his campaign is without significance. Trump has attacked a number of targets in his embryonic candidacy—China, Mexican immigrants, Hillary Clinton—but his most personal grudge appears to be against euphemism. He does not bother to sheath his protectionist urges in pablum about competitiveness, preferring prosecutorial accusation of trade infringement. His gaseous bigotry toward Mexicans who cross the border illegally traffics in unrefined stereotypes, not the language of “fairness” to those immigrants who wait their turn. In launching his campaign he openly stated the underlying rationale of his candidacy: “I'm rich.”
The rest of the piece is good, too.
Movie Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)
The last great mystery in the great career of Sherlock Holmes results from his own senescence—his inability to remember his last great mystery. That's both smart and sad. In moments when Holmes (Ian McKellen) looks slack-jawed and dumbfounded, I kept thinking of Ophelia’s line in “Hamlet”: Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
Even smarter is the casting. You know how people used to say they’d pay to hear John Houseman read the phone book? I think I’d pay to hear Ian McKellen say one word. In “Mr. Holmes” that word is “Portsmouth,” the coastal village to which his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney, doing Bri’ish), is thinking of moving with her son, Roger. Holmes doesn’t want them to go, so he dismisses it out of hand. McKellen can convey so much with a glance or a tone, and he says “Portsmouth” as if it were a small, sad place that’s fine enough for, you know, them, but not really for people like you and me. I got such joy from his reading of that one word.
Good casting as well for Roger, a whipsmart boy from working-class parents who idolizes Holmes and his smarts. “Are you going to do the thing?” he says early on, and we know immediately what he means: how Holmes can extract a person’s story from seemingly inconsequential details. It’s Holmes’ superpower. In this story, Roger is essentially Holmes’ Watson, and Milo Parker, who looks like a dark-haired cousin to Thomas Brodie-Sangster (“Love, Actually,” “Game of Thrones”), is perfect for the role: curious with Holmes but not above being bratty with his mum.
It’s 1947, and Holmes, 93 and living on the coast of England, is trying to recall and write about the case that ended his career 35 years earlier. He’s trying to set the record straight—a record that his companion, the long-departed Dr. John Watson, bent out of shape with heroics and deerstalker caps. Except Holmes doesn’t remember how that case ended. He doesn’t remember a lot of things, so he’s forever writing notes to himself on his French cuffs.
The movie is split into three parts:
- A recent trip to post-war Japan to purchase “prickly ash,” which is supposed to help him with his fading memory.
- Present day, 1947, in which Roger helps Holmes with his apiary, while Holmes tries to write the story of his last case.
- That last case.
The present-day story is the best, Japan the weakest. Holmes’ reason for going to Japan is far-fetched, and the mystery behind his host there, Mr. Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), doesn’t make much sense once it’s revealed. If Umezaki has ulterior motives, why is it up to Holmes to reveal those ulterior motives? The resolution to the pre-WWI case is also weak—hinging, as it does, upon sentiment, and a heretofore unrevealed talent of Holmes to understand absolutely nothing about human nature.
The whole movie, in fact, turns on this notion. It suggests that while Holmes was good at “doing the thing,” he didn’t know people. It further suggests that at the age of 93, he finally kinda gets it. And he uses what he’d forgotten about his last case to make things right in the present day—both in England and in Japan. Essentially he realizes that a soft lie is better than the hard truth.
The plot thins.
The movie is directed by Bill Condon, who directed McKellen in “Gods and Monsters” nearly 20 years ago, and who has since directed other reasonably good movies: “Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Fifth Estate.” This one, too, is reasonably good. But just that.
But we’ll always have Portsmouth.
Can’t Get Theah from Heah
Last night I drove to Sea-Tac airport to pick up Patricia, who had spent a week in Chicago helping relatives with their new baby. It was 10:30 PM so traffic was light on I-5, but I noticed when I got onto 518 that the opposite lane was slowed by construction. I couldn’t tell if it was moving construction or not. I also couldn’t think of a better route home—other than 99—so I hoped it would clear.
There were the usual delays associated with picking someone up at the airport. The cell phone lot was crowded, then the traffic to arrivals was backed up; so I texted P to meet me in departures after she’d picked up her bag. We got out of there around 11, later than anticipated, but still feeling lucky and rather sneaky.
Then we hit the constuction.
On 518, four lanes narrow to three, but they’d blocked off one lane to narrow it to two. It was the left lane that led to the I-5 North exit, and home. Even after all the cars merged, traffic was still at a crawl. Because? Because construction, or “construction,” eventually narrowed 518 to one lane. Meanwhile, orange cones actually prevented us from taking our I-5 exit to Seattle. Was that the construction project? The exits onto I-5? Regardless, we had no choice but to keep going. So instead of heading north and home, we wound up driving east, to Renton.
The whole thing seemed nuts to me. They cut off I-5? You could pick up someone at Sea-Tac but you couldn’t take them back to Seattle?
“Shouldn’t we have heard something about this?” I asked Patricia.
“When they close I-90 for repairs, they mention it all the time,” Patricia said helpfully.
That’s how we wound up on the other side of Lake Washington, taking 405 to Bellevue, then the I-90 bridge back to Seattle. I was still half-fuming, half-amused by it all; but at least we were nearly home.
Then I saw the orange cones blocking our Rainier Avenue exit.
Except, no, there was an opening that allowed us to actually exit onto Rainier. A minute later, orange cones prevented us from merging from Rainier onto Boren. Ever feel like the city’s against you? Even after we did the detour—down Jackson to 12th, then up 12th to Boren—I was now on the lookout for orange cones. I figured they would be around every corner, blocking me. Or warning me? Don’t go home!
Here’s the big news on the I-5 constuction. Apparently I should need to read the SeaTac blog more often.
UPDATE: I told the above story to my friend Evan, who responded, “The real question is: What did you do to piss off Chris Christie?”
Movie Review: Blackhat (2015)
Two early reaction shots sum up my feelings about “Blackhat,” the cyber/hacking thriller by Michael Mann that was released (and bombed) in January. The first one gave me hope for the film; the second gave me the opposite of hope.
Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is a hero in the Michael Mann mold: working class background, taciturn, expert at what he does—which, in his case, is coding and hacking. In an interconnected world, he pretty much gets into and out of anywhere he wants. Well, sort of. As the movie opens, he’s in prison: USP Canaan in Waymart, Pa. (The details of the details are a hallmark of Mann.) There, he’s visited by an DOJ agent. A blackhat hacker has caused 1) a nuke meltdown in China, and 2) a run on soy futures in the stock market, and the FBI, in the person of Carol Barrett (Viola Davis, brilliant), is working with the Chinese army, in the person of Capt. Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom), to find him and neutralize him. The U.S., in other words, has to work with its rival, and a country that hacks us, to bring down the bad guy. Tough enough. But then Chen insists on working with Hathaway, his former college roommate, since the blackhat used code he and Hathaway wrote in college. Barrett reluctantly agrees. Hathaway unreluctantly doesn’t. He’s offered a contract, a temporary furlough, and returns it unsigned:
Hathway: Both you and the Assistant U.S. Attorney can take that document and stick it up your ass.
Agent: I'm sorry?
Hathaway: Why are you sorry? I insulted you. What are you sorry for? I'm not sorry.
That’s a nice line and Hemsworth says it well. Apparently Mann steeped him in his character for months before shooting began. He took him to prison, to midwest steel mills, he told him the voluminous background of his character. They hung with coders and hackers and learned the lingo until it was second nature. All of that work is onscreen.
Eventually, Barrett agrees to Hathaway’s terms—a pardon, basically, if they catch the guy—but there’s initial tension between the two. Hathway calls her “chica,” she dresses him down, he stays amused. Tracking the stock market hack, they find the mole on surveillance cameras cleaning up in the company washroom, and Barrett immediately identifies one of his tattoos belonging to a West Texas prison gang. She calls up the NCIC database and finds their man. It’s a dead-end, since he’s now dead, but in that moment, as Barrett is working, we get Hathaway’s reaction shot. He’s impressed. He knows he’s working with a professional here. He sees a kindred spirit.
The second reaction shot
The team that’s assembled is in fact a professional team: not just Barrett, Hathaway and Chen, but U.S. Marshall Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany), who, yes, gets played by Hathaway, but he’s still another classic Mann character: taciturn, brave, expert at what he does.
The reaction shot that bummed me out belongs to the fifth member of the team, Chen’s sister, Lien (Wei Tang, yowsah), who is also a computer expert. At one point, she and Hathaway are in a Koreatown restaurant hoping for a meeting with the blackhat. They sit, wait, talk. I like the moment where, on a backroom computer, Hathaway opens a line of communication with the hacker, telling him, “I am onto you.” “Who are you?” the hacker types back. Hathaway pauses. He’s a name, after all, in the hacking world. He’s been in prison for what he’s done. So he thinks for a moment before revealing the goods: “ghostman,” he types. Does he think it still means something? Because it doesn’t. “Piss off and die, ghostman,” his rival types dismissively. Ghostman has been away too long. He’s now a ghost.
Great bit. But then the fight. In the same restaurant, the blackhat sends three big Koreans to mess up Hathaway. Except in prison, Hathaway not only worked on his mind but his body. I mean, look at him: He’s Thor. And he takes down all three in what seems like realistic fashion. And from Lien? A look of admiration. That’s when I went, “Uh oh.”
Of the five core members of the team, Lien is the most unnecessary. They say her talent is computer networks but her real talent is beauty. Wei Tang has a simple unadorned beauty that’s stunning to behold, and Mann lets us behold it. Of course she and Hathaway fall in love, or something similar, but I could’ve cared less. With that reaction shot from Lien, I felt the movie shifting in a much less interesting direction.
The tension in a Michael Mann movie is between the professional and anything that gets in the way of his independence. Sometimes it’s women and love. More often it’s suspect groups: Leo’s gang in “Thief,” Brown & Williamson and CBS in “The Insider,” the U.S. Army in “Ali.” But small, professional teams can be assembled. You lose the Waingros of the world, the emotional and talkative ones, you can work within a group. That’s what happens in “Blackhat.” We get our team. But then we lose them.
Two things happen. In China, to pick up the blackhat’s trail, our team needs access to a piece of NSA software called Black Widow; but there’s no way the NSA is going to let Hathaway, let alone China, get access to it. So, with Barrett’s tacit approval, Hathaway hacks the access. Of course he’s immediately discovered and Barrett is ordered to bring him back to USP Canaan. But she knows it’s more important to bring in the blackhat, so she looks the other way as Hathaway plans his escape.
At the same time, the bad guys they’ve been trailing, led by professional mercenary Elias Kassar (Ritchie Coster), are now trailing them. And at the moment by the side of the road when Hathaway is saying goodbye to Lien, who has gotten emotional, and has blamed both Hathaway and her brother for all that she’s feeling; at that moment when she decides to forgive her brother, and waves to him in the car, that’s when the car blows up and Kassar and his men attack.
Question: Is it a good thing I knew the car would blow up before it did? Is that foreshadowing or predictability? It feels predictable. It doesn't feel right. Worse, every member of the team dies except Hathaway and Lien, who carry on alone for the last 45 minutes of the movie. But I already felt done with it. I wanted the team not the couple.
I do like how pedestrian the blackhat’s plot turns out to be. All of this work? It’s set-up for the real hack: flooding tin mines in Malaysia, and getting rich when tin prices soar. It isn’t “taking over the world.” It isn’t even gold or silver. It's tin. Good in-joke.
But then it’s back to bang bang. In Jakarta, there’s a cat-and-mouse final battle with guns and knives amid a big, celebratory crowd. It’s back to one guy, our hero, and we’re supposed to give him the look Lien gave him earlier. But we’ve seen this movie before.
“Blackhat” is more moody poetry from Mann, meaning it’s better than most movies out there; but it’s lesser than most of his movies. If I could I would take Mann’s guns away from him. Force him to play with something else for a change. Look at “The Insider.” The pressures there are corporate pressures. They’re about how to stay honest in the world, which is run by corporations, and still support your family. In what ways does a man compromise to live in the world? What value is a code in a world that seems to have none?
Weekend Box Office: Minions Minions, La La La
If the numbers hold, “Minions,” a spinoff of the “Despicable Me” movies, will have the second-highest opening ever for an animated movie, with a $115 million haul. And if the numbers go up just a little? To $121.7? It’ll surpass “Shrek 3” for biggest animated opening ever.
But “Shrek 3” is indicative. Let’s never confuse big openings with lasting impact. Sometimes we all go to a movie and we all regret it and later we all mock it. See: “Spider-Man 3,” the last “Indiana Jones,” and most of the “Star Wars” prequels. To be honest, see most of the top box-office attractions in any given year.
Even so, “Minions” is another coup for Universal, which is already rolling in the dough from its other 2015 fare: “Furious 7,” “Jurassic World,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “Ted 2” was its one misfire, and even that is at $71 domestic, $107 worldwide.
For the weekend, “Jurassic” finished second, dropping a respectable 38% to gross another $18.1. It’s now up to $590 million domestic (4th all-time) and $1.43 billion worldwide (5th all-time).
Pixar’s “Inside Out” finished third with $17 mil. It’s now at $283 domestic and $400 worldwide.
Of the other openers, the horror film “The Gallows” finished fifth with $10 mil, while Ryan Reynolds once again struck dirt as his “Self/Less” grossed $5.3 for eighth place.
On My World, the 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Trailer Means Hope
Here's what I wrote in June 2013 at the end of my review of “Man of Steel”:
“Man of Steel” raises interesting questions only to abandon them to spectacle. ... One can hope, in the next movie, it’s not business as usual in Metropolis, that there are people still freaked by what happened, and that, even as some view Superman as a god-like figure, others blame him for bringing near destruction to the planet, for bringing the Kryptonian warriors here in the first place, and search for ways to destroy him or control him. There should be a vocal element again him. The more decent he is, the more vocal they should become. He should be perplexed by this. He should always look at us and wonder whether we’re worth saving.
It looks like I get my wish:
In this trailer, we finally get a sense of why the Batman animus toward Superman. One of those tall buildings that crumbled in Superman's battle with Zod in “Man of Steel” belonged to Wayne Enterprises, and people died, his people, and that's why Batman is pissed; that's why he comes back; that's why he fights Superman.
Better, the world is still freaked. Powerful forces (Holly Hunter, Lex Luthor, et al.) still want to control what they can't control. Those in need view Superman as a Godlike figure.
I still have causes for concern: 1) Why is Wonder Woman in this? 2) Zack Snyder, auteur for the doofus generation, is still directing it.
But this trailer gives me hope. You know: hope.
FOX News watchers protest the Man of Steel.
Superman's good deeds, about to go punished.
Ranking Michael Mann's Movies
I just saw “Blackhat” this week so I'm a Michael Mann completeist again—although, to be fair, I don't remember much of “Manhunter” and probably less of “Miami Vice.” I remember most of “The Insider.” I've probably seen that movie 10 times now.
Here's my ranking if you're looking for a good Michael Mann movie this week. Or next:
- The Insider (1999)
- Thief (1981)
- Collateral (2004)
- Heat (1995)
- The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- Manhunter (1986)
- Public Enemies (2009)
- Ali (2002)
- Blackhat (2015)
- Miami Vice (2007)
Whoops, not a completeist: I haven't seen “The Keep” (1983). Sorry. Sloppy work. In a Michael Mann movie, I'm Waingro.
None of these movies are bad, by the way. There's always something of value in them. There are beautiful scenes; they are beautifully photographed.
I could see, for example, a great double-feature of “Public Enemies” and “Blackhat.” In the former, in the beginning, John Dillinger has ultimate freedom; he can go anywhere he wants to go. He even tells that to Billie. Where are you going? she asks. Anywhere I want, he replies. But unbeknownst, the world is shifting beneath his feet. Modern technology is creating forces that will so impede his freedom he won't even be able to go to the movies.
In “Blackhat” it's the opposite. The expert in the modern digital world can go almost anywhere again—virtually. There are no borders anymore. As long as you're not physically caught.
The contrast isn't 100 perecent, but there's something there. The freedom of the thief impeded by technology in the beginning of the 20th century, then freed again by digital technology in the beginning of the 21st.
“Stop talking, OK Slick?”
How to Get Ahead: Pad Your Resumé
The following excerpt is from Charles Leerhsen's “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty”:
On off days in Anniston, [Ty Cobb] spent hours at the counter of Scarborough's store writing postcards and letters to Grantland Rice, trying to trick the columnist into doing for him what Rice had done for Happy Harry Hale—that is, tout him as the Next Big Thing. Each note Cobb wrote contained a rave review of his abilities over a fictitious signature. “Ty Cobb is really tearing up the horsehide in the Tennessee-Alabama League—Jack Smith.” Instead of sending off these pieces right away, Ty would drop them in mailboxes at various points along the Steelers' circuit, the better to create the impression of a grassroots movement. In The Tumult and the Shouting, Rice recalled getting dozens of such counterfeit testimonials. Although Cobb's pseudonyms—Brown, Jackson, Jones, Smith—were suspiciously common, Rice fell for the ruse, and feeling “under pressure” from his readers, finally inserted a note into his column saying “a new wonder had arrived, the darling of the fans, Ty Cobb.”
Of course, Cobb had to back it up, and did, in a big way. But it's another reminder that having scruples can be a burden. It's a reminder that with some people, the drive to succeed overwhelms everything, including what the middle class might call scruples.
#KnowHope: Augusta, Ga., 1904
The following excerpt is from Charles Leerhsen's “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.” It's Opening Day, 1904, for the Augusta Tourists, one of Cobb's first professional teams:
Two thousand was a decent crowd even for a midweek major league game in those days, and it certified the Tourists as the most popular attraction in town since a traveling show reenacting scenes from the Boer War had passed through a month earlier. In a matter of months, [Tourists' manager] Con Strouthers would be begging for an umpiring job in a lesser league, and the skipper of the opposing Skyscrapers, Jack Grim, declared legally insane. But for now, hope reigned.
I'm enjoying this. Con Strouthers, by the way, seemed to deserve his fate, since, two games into the season, he cut Cobb from the squad, despite the kid going 2-4 with a double and homer on Opening Day. A year and some months later, Cobb would be in the Majors. By the time he retired in 1928, he would be considered the greatest player to play the game.
Lancelot Links in Cars Getting 'Right Stuff' References
- The latest “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is with Stephen Colbert, who, while squeezing into Jerry's 1964 Moregan Plus 4, says, “I want to ask you for a stick of Beemans before I strap in here.” Made me smile. If you don't get it, see No. 3 on this list.
- What is Greece teaching the EU and the rest of the world? All about capitalism, according to Business Insider's Jim Edwards.
- What's the matter with Seattle's insane rate of growth? A lot, says Jeff Reitman, including traffic, lack of public transportation, and the single, white male phenomenon that is amazon.com.
- MCN's David Poland lists off the landmark events for theatrical revenue models during the past 50 years. Well, *I* was interested.
- Is Ted Cruz, or someone associated with him, attempting to buy his way onto The New York Times best-seller list? The NY Times thinks so. Conservatives, no surprise, are up in arms.
- Milan Kundera has a new book out but no Kindle version. For a reason.
- Jeffrey Wells, who is sick to death of superhero movies, actually loves “Ant-Man.” “Yes,” he writes, “Ant-Man is 'silly' but it embraces that. It's sharp and fast and disciplined as a Marine. It takes itself seriously in terms of its own efficiency and (I'm serious) its own emotional undercurrents.”
- I've interviewed a lot of lawyers who became lawyers because of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Now the much-debated sequel, “Go Set a Watchman”—which was actually written before “Mockingbird”—is about to go on sale. And how is the ur-Atticus in that one? An Atticus of the 1950s as opposed to the 1930s? According to The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, this Atticus is a bit of a racist bastard. He attends Klan rallies. He rails against the NAACP and its lawyers. If it helps, Scout is disappointed, too.
- Someone who might be happy about this awful turn of literary events? Indiana Jones.
- Jayson Stark doles out his first-half award winners for the MLB season. Yeah, Harper and Trout. Yep, Max Scherzer. Also Robinson Cano for LVP. Yes, “L” stands for what you think it stands for.
- Donald Trump is an easy target. But whose fault is that?
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, Scout. Take the Klan, for instance."
Two Getaway Games, 20 Years Apart
Twenty years ago on July 18th I went to an afternoon getaway game against the Detroit Tigers at the Kingdome in Seattle. It was the Mariners “Refuse to Lose” season, but of course we didn’t know that yet. Griffey, Jr. was out with his infamous wrist injury, and the team was playing .500 ball, but we still had so much promise and personality: Edgar, Jay, Tino, Randy. We had Joey Cora and Dan Wilson. Our bench guys were good: Rich Amaral, Alex Diaz, Doug Strange. We still remember their names.
In that game, the Tigers went up 5-1 in the top of the 4th, but the M’s answered with 5 in the bottom of the 4th. No big blow: single, single, single, double, popout, single, groundout, double. Tino added a 3-run homer in the 6th but the main guy I remember is Jeff Nelson. He relieved Tim Belcher in the 6th with the M’s up by only a run, and over the next three innings he faced 10 guys. He walked one, got two groundouts, and struck out seven. Seven. I was behind homeplate and could see the ball darting and dancing every which way. It was overpowering. It was magical.
Today, July 8, I went to an afternoon getaway game against the Tigers at Safeco Field and ... it was a little less magical. It was outdoors. But something about a weekday afternoon game under the sun feels a little lazy to me. Maybe I’m projecting.
The Tigers scored first in the second. With two strikes, J.D. Martinez singled. With two strikes, Nick Castellanos singled. Then a one-strike double by Jefry Marte—his first Major League hit in only his second Major League at-bat. Then a two-strike double by Iglesias. It was a theme. Every time the Tigers went two strikes on M’s pitcher J.A. Happ, I imagined them touching fingertips like Mr. Burns. Excellent.
The M’s did manage a comeback. A run here, a run there, then a two-run homer by Dustin Ackley—a no-doubt, line shot into the right field bleachers. But otherwise we couldn’t capitalize. In the 4th, we got Brad Miller on second with one out and couldn’t bring him in. In the 5th, we got Nelson Cruz on second with out one and couldn’t bring him in. In the 6th, Miller was on third with one out. Bupkis. In the 7th, Cruz, second, nada. Chris Taylor, pinch-running for Cruz in the 9th, got to that very well-worn second base with two outs and stood there as Mark Trumbo struck out swinging and the M's lost 5-4. “Today’s attendance...”
The two games are a study in contrasts. In the ’95 game, eight of our nine starters were hitting over .260, six had OBPs north of .330, while three were slugging over .500—with one (Edgar) slugging over .600. And all this without the superstar, Junior, in the lineup.
Today? Only one starter was hitting above .260 (Cruz, at .300), only two had OBPs over .330 (Cruz and Seth Smith), and only one was slugging over .500 (yes, Cruz). Our starting first baseman was hitting below .200 (although he had a good day: 3-5) while our starting catcher, Jesus Sucre, was hitting below .100. To be precise, he was hitting .040. That's right. He was 1 for 25 going into the game, and damn if he nearly got a hit his first time up, but the scorer went against him. E-3. I was bummed. In a way that was the big excitement of the game for me. I should've shaken a fist at the official scorer.
The real excitement of the game belonged to the Tigers. Marte, their replacement first baseman for injured Miguel Cabrera, not only doubled but homered in his first Major League start. Imagine rooting for a team like that. With possibilities.
Maybe I'm projecting.
It’s the main topic of conversation these days in Seattle. Not just the heat but the sun. It's always there. We’re not used to that.
I’ve lived in Seattle since 1991 and I don’t remember a calendar year in which we’ve had as many nice, sunny days as this one—and we’re just halfway through it. And the majority of nice days, traditionally, don’t begin until now. July 5th is traditionally the beginning of the Seattle summer. This year it came earlier. Way earlier. Because we’re Seattleites we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. If it’s nice in April, we thought, it'll be awful in May. If it’s nice in May, we thought, it'll be horrible in June. If it’s nice in June ...
The other shoe we kept waiting to drop may simply be this: the perpetual sunshine, with the Evergreen City baking to a dry, brittle yellow, and forest fires to the east and west.
These past months, I've assumed the cloudless skies and high temps were caused by some aspect of global warming, but according to Tim Egan in the Times, quoting various scientists, including Prof. Cliff Mass (great scientist name), our current unrelenting weather niceness has less to do with climate change than “a huge dome of high pressure to the west and warm ocean temperatures."
At the same time, Egan says the perpetual sunshine is indicative of what we'll get when the world warms by a few degrees. He bemoans the possibility:
I love my little patch of the planet. Love the glaciers in August, the rivers at full flush, carpets of evergreen trees and a predominant breeze from Puget Sound that provides natural air-conditioning for more than three million people in the Seattle metro area.
I’m with him. If I wanted this much sun I would’ve moved to Arizona.
Why Is Robinson Cano Slumping? Because He's Got What I Got
It's been a hot year in Seattle but a cold one for the Seattle Mariners.
The team that was predicted to be among the best in the A.L. is one game away from being its worst, despite a great first half from free-agent pickup Nelson Cruz, and a great June turnaround from rookie pitcher Taijuan Walker, and a where-did-that-come-from performance by 25-year-old rookie pitcher Mike Montgomery, who was expected to do not much and after seven starts has a 1.62 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00.
If you'd told me all that at the beginning of the year, I would've thought the M's would indeed be in control of the A.L. West. Instead, we're in danger of dropping through its cellar doors.
Closer Fernando Rodney lost the closing role after 3 blown saves, 3 losses and an ERA near 7.00. Dustin Ackley has only recently passed the Mendoza line (.200 BA), while Mike Zunino is looking up at it from a deep, deep hole (.159). Basically the brunt of the team is a massive mediocrity not being helped by even worse platoon players. Willie Bloomquist, with 69 at-bats (and now off the team), is a member of the .100/.100/.100 club: .159 BA/.194 OBP/.174 SLG. Midseason pickup Mark Trumbo might join him soon. He's hitting .157 with a .186 OBP and a .205 SLG. These are mice numbers. You think no one in Major League Baseball can get lower until you see that we've given Jesus Sucre 25 at-bats with which he's managed one hit, a single on May 10, for a .040/.040/.040 line.
Despite all that, the real worry has been Robinson Cano. Last year we signed him to a 10-year, $240 million contract and he responded well: .314/.382/.454. This year? .252/.291/.365. He's got 5 homers and 27 RBIs. Most people, most Seattleites anyway, assumed he'd break out of this slump soon but here we are, halfway through, and it's still there. I was against the signing from the beginning—no longterm deals, and particularly for a player in his 30s—but even I thought we'd get a few good years out of him. Instead it seems we got one; the rest is albatross.
Then suddenly this explanation in an interview with the Spanish language USA Today:
Cano was in the midst of his sixth All-Star season last year when he started experiencing stomach discomfort in August. With the Mariners in the playoff chase, he didn't get it checked until their season was over, in October. Cano said he was told he had a common parasite, which was treated with antibiotics, but he was left with acid reflux to this day.
“It still affects me,'' Cano said. ”Sometimes you drink water and it makes you feel like vomiting. I can't eat the same way I did. It's hard to deal with, especially being the first time this has happened to me. Sometimes I eat only once a day before playing, because I feel full. And you just don't have the same energy.''
He did have a lousy September last year: .265/.333/.398. And he's describing acid reflux exactly. I know because I have it. I got it about the same time. I began to feel mine, badly, in December, and have been working to get rid of it since. It's a constant annoyance. It's what he says. Even water sometimes burns. You eat barely anything and you're suddenly full. Your stomach feels bloated all the time. You don't have as much energy as you used to. And I sit for a living.
I'd always thought that if I had money, if I was important, there would be another option besides omeprazole. Maybe there isn't. Or maybe the Mariners aren't paying enough attention to their $240-million asset. They should. Then they should tell me what the secret is.
Here's to better health, Robby.
Lucky hats won't do it. Lucky bats won't do it. But some omeprazole might help.
Why I Never Got in the Door of My Bank
“Point of No Return, by John Marquand, would seem to me to be the important book in the postwar O'Hara-Marquand oeuvre. It tells the story of a man from the milieu I am describing whose values are in conflict. He has taken his liberal arts education (the one owned by the upper class) seriously; on the other hand, he is in compettition for high office at his bank. Which way will he go? The story is poignant from the point of view of this moment. No one who showed the mildest suggestion of the kind of conflictedness Marquand's hero was feeling could get in the door of his bank now.”
-- George W.S. Trow, from the essay, “Collapsing Dominant,” the 1997 intro to his essay (and book), “Within the Context of No Context.” I reread it over the 4th of July weekend. I'll never understand it but I'll always get something hugely valuable out of it.
BTW, has anyone read “Point of No Return”? Or any Marquand?
Movie Review: Yves Saint Laurent (2014)
In the entire history of film and television, according to IMDb.com, French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent has only been portrayed three times: Ian McKellen in an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 2002; then two feature-length French biopics in 2014. After years of famine, in other words, the feast. A model’s diet—but more purge than binge. Basically “Truman Capote writing ‘In Cold Blood’ in two 2005 feature films” all over again.
The other YSL movie, “Saint Laurent” starring Gaspard Ulliel, focuses on the designer during his jet-set heyday from 1967 to 1976. This one, starring Pierre Niney, starts in ’57 in Oran, Algeria, where Laurent was born and raised, and it ends about the same time as the other, 1976, when Laurent pulled himself out of his coke-addled stupor to reimagine Russian peasant garb—ushanka hats, linen dresses, and shawls and scarves—as haute couture. How he did this we don’t know. As with most of his creations in the movie, they’re just there. Then there’s applause. Then someone says he’s a genius. Répéter.
A lot of knowledge is assumed here so it’s good I watched it with Patricia, who knows something about fashion and design. I didn’t know, for example, that the Russian fashion show was a watershed event for Laurent—his 61st home run, so to speak. P hadn’t heard of his first model-muse, Victoire Doutreleau (Charlotte Le Bon, César nominee, and hot), but definitely knew the second, Betty Catroux (Marie de Villepin), who has a smaller and more meaningless role. Does she even speak a line of dialogue? She’s haught instead of hot.
This “Yves Saint Laurent” was nominated for seven Césars, winning one (best actor for Niney), and it’s nicely photographed (by Thomas Hardmeier), but it’s not a particularly good movie. When we first see YSL he’s already the heir apparent at Dior. How did he get there? Then Dior dies and YSL takes over. Then he’s conscripted into the French military, but the movie keeps things vague. The Wikipedia entry on YSL gives us more drama:
Saint Laurent was in the military for 20 days before the stress of hazing by fellow soldiers led to him being admitted to a military hospital, where he received news that he had been fired by Dior. This exasperated his condition, and he was transferred to Val-de-Grâce military hospital, where he was given large doses of sedatives and psychoactive drugs, and subjected to electroshock therapy. Saint Laurent himself traced the history of both his mental problems and his drug addictions to this time in hospital.
Most of the movie is about his relationship with longtime companion and business partner Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who helps him set up his own fashion house. In fact, the movie becomes more about Bergé than Laurent. We see events through his eyes. As Laurent grows from timid genius to outlandish jet-setter, Bergé displays the patience of Job. He tries to protect Laurent and is accused of controlling him. Laurent cheats on him incessantly, and falls in love with another man, but Bergé takes it all with preternatural calm (and some connivance). Does Bergé ever go with Laurent to the clubs? Does he want to? Meanwhile, the reason YSL is relevant—fashion—gets short shrift in favor of nightclubbing and descent into addiction, which is never (never ever, screenwriters) interesting.
How about a conversation on the basics of fashion? Why this dress is beautiful and that one isn't? Why this fashion show succeeded and that one didn't? “Yves Saint Laurent” is the second French movie I’ve seen in a month where I wanted a little philosophical discussion from the French and didn’t get it. What's going on here? Are they trying to overcome their stereotype by offering its opposite? Come back to the boulangerie, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Paul Sartre.
It's Still Jurassic's World, as 'Magic Mike' Suffers Shrinkage and 'Terminator: Genisys' Goes Hasta La Vista, Baby
A few fun facts about this weekend's box office:
- “Jurassic World” grossed another $30.9 million and has now passed “The Dark Knight” for 4th place on the all-time domestic box-office chart, with $558.1 million. Next up is “The Avengers” at $623.3. Then it's Cameron country: “Titanic” at $658.6 and “Avatar” at $760.5. “J-Dub” won't get that far. I doubt it'll get past “The Avengers” even.
- Adjust for inflation, and “Jurassic World” is currently in 38th place, between “Home Alone” ($550) and “Independence Day” ($562). Nothing to sneeze at.
- This weekend, “J World” and “Inside Out” are currently within $1 million of each other for first place. If “Jurassic” winds up winning, it'll be the first movie to win the weekend box office four times in a row since ... well, since “Furious 7” in April. But before that, you have to go back to “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Then the first “Hunger Games” in 2012. Then “Avatar” in 2009. Then “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004. So it's not a common occurence. And two in one calendar year? That hasn't happened since both “Meet the Parents” and “The Grinch” lasted four weekends in 2000.
- “Terminator: Genisys” finished in third place for the weekend with a $28.7 million debut. It's the weakest debut for any “Terminator” movie since the first, which grossed $4 mil in 1984.
- Of course “T:G” did officially open on Wednesday, so if you add Wed. and Thurs. to the mix, that makes a $44 mil debut. But even that would just equal the debut of “T3” back in 2003. Unadjusted.
- Adjust for inflation and the “T” movies have been on a downward trajectory since “T2,” which grossed $395 adjusted. Then it's “T3” with $202 and “TS” with $136. You get the feeling that “TG” will be less than that. I.e., TS for “TG.”
- “Magic Mike XXL” also debuted poorly, grossing $26.6 since Wednesday and only $11 for the weekend. Cf. “Magic Mike,” which opened to $39 mil three years ago.
- But I think “Ted 2” is hurting even more. After debuting poorly last weekend, it fell off a whopping 67% for an $11 mil weekend. After 10 days, it has now grossed $58; after three days, the original “Ted” grossed $54.
Here are the rest of the numbers.
UPDATE: OK, here are the rest of the numbers. As I mentioned above, less than $1 mil separated “Jurassic” from “Inside Out,” and in the adjustment (down), the latter came out on top: $29.7 to $29.2. So “Jurassic” didn't join that rare breed of modern movie to stay on top four weekends in a row. Worldwide, though, it is at $1.383 billion, which is sixth all-time. Interestingly, No.s 4, 5 and 6 are all still in theaters: “Furious,” “Avengers/Ultron” and “J-Dub.”
Is 3.5 Years of Mike Trout > 12 Years of Yadier Molina?
It began as a cheeky stats hunt.
I noticed that Mike Trout's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) during his first three full seasons, plus half of this one, was astronomical: 33.3. Knowing WAR numbers were cumulative, and that they go can backwards (you can get negative WAR numbers), I wondered which veteran players Trout has already passed on the WAR charts. That was the cheeky question.
Here's the cheeky answer. Currently, Trout, all of 23 and 11/12, is tied for 32nd among active players. In other words, his 3.5 years in Major League baseball are, by this measure, already worth more than Adam Jones' 10 years (26.6 WAR), J.J. Hardy's 11 (27.3) and Jayson Werth's 13 (30.0).
It began to annoy me a bit when I noticed that Yadier Molina, one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and a man who turned himself into a fine hitter as well—with a .305 batting average and a .803 OPS since the start of the 2011 season—is also on this lesser Trout list. His WAR is 30.3, 40th among active players, and that seems wrong. And I wondered: Does WAR undervalue Yadi or all catchers, whose careers, after all, tend to be shorter, and thus less cumulative, than the careers of other positions?
I think it's the latter. The highest-ranked catcher on the career WAR chart is Johnny Bench at No. 48 with a 75.0 WAR. He's one-tenth of a percentage point better than Lou Whitaker at No. 49.
Here are the top 8 catchers ranked by WAR. Yogi Berra fans, get ready to be angry:
I will say this: Given the choice between 3.5 years of Mike Trout and 12 of Yadier, I think I'd take Yadi for 12, Alex.
The U.S. County that Sentences the Most People to Death is a Parish
Recommended reading: Rachel Aviv's latest New Yorker piece, “Revenge Killing,” about Rodricus Crawford, a young black man in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is part of Caddo Parish, who was charged, convicted and sentenced to death for the death of his own 1-year old son. It includes this paragraph:
Juries in Caddo Parish, which has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand, now sentence more people to death per capita than juries in any other county in America. Seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.
The assistant D.A. (and now D.A.) who prosecuted the case, Dale Cox, “has been responsible for more than a third of the death penalties in Louisiana,” Aviv writes. She interviews him. He seems straightforward. He is a very effective lawyer who used to be against the death penalty and is now, in his 60s, in favor of it in Biblical proportions.
Reading, I wondered if the last sentence in the above quote meant that no white person had been executed for killing a black person in Shreveport or in the whole of the United States, but it must be the former because I've found evidence of the latter —although it's exceedingly rare. Some numbers from the Death Penalty Information Center:
Persons Executed for Interracial Murders in the U.S. Since 1976
- White Defendant / Black Victim (31)
- Black Defendant / White Victim (294)
As for Crawford? Much of the evidence that convicted him was determined by the Parish's forensic pathologist, but that evidence has been refuted by others around the country. One coroner says he finds the autopsy results so wrong he's “horrified”; another pathologist thinks Shreveport's pathologist "did not seem willing to consider the facts of the case. From the article, it seems a monumental injustice is taking place.
Welcome to Obsolescence, Everyone
Amen, Joe Posnanski. From his piece, “The Asheville Pinball Museum Turns Everyone into an Arcade Wizard,” in Our State magazine:
One of the daunting things about getting old is how quietly stuff — your stuff — becomes outdated and obsolete and, most of all, forgotten.
Take phone booths. They don't really exist anymore except as photo props in London. This hit me hard recently when, as a family, we watched the old Christopher Reeve Superman movie. There's a little joke in the movie — a killer joke when I was young — where Clark Kent is looking for a phone booth to change in, and he comes upon one of those newfangled 1970s half phone booths without a door. He grimaces and searches for another place to become Superman. I remember the theater when I first saw it: screams of laughter.
To my daughters, 10 and 13, this joke might as well have been a Sanskrit retelling of the fable “Of Crows and Owls.” They got absolutely none of it. They didn't get that Superman used to change in phone booths. They didn't get why there were new phone booths. They didn't even get the basic concept of phone booths. To them, the time before cell phones is a time before understanding.
There is too much stuff like that, stuff that was such a big part of my life, stuff that I expected would last forever — Saturday morning cartoons, taping songs off the radio, video stores, electric football, actual paper letters that came in mailboxes. That stuff, to my daughters, isn't just gone, but ancient and silly and lost in the dumpster of pointless history.“
Here are some thoughts I had about those actual paper letters that came in actual mailboxes, after I saw the 2009 film ”Bright Star," a biopic of John Keats:
Keats travels to the Isle of Wight to write, to try to make a living, and Fanny is left behind. Ah, but the letters. He writes, says he wishes they could be butterflies, living three perfect summer days and expiring, and she and her siblings collect butterflies and fill her room. “When I don’t hear from him,” she confesses to her mother, “it’s as if I’d die.” I remember those feelings. I remember those letters. My own doomed first love took place in the late 1980s, and though 170 years had passed between me and Keats the means of communication, give or take a telephone, were more or less the same. Twenty years later it’s not. Do today’s young lovers still send letters? How does one clutch an e-mail to one’s chest? There is no more daily waiting for the postman. Now the wait is 24/7. Has she written? Has she written? I think I’d go mad.
Excerpt from 'Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty'
One of about three books I'm reading at the moment is Charles Leerhsen's “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” about the man who, for most of his career, was considered the greatest baseball player of all time. Now? He's a bit down on the list: still first in batting average but twenty-fifth in OPS, behind, among others, Johnny Mize and Joey Votto. On the other hand, Cobb is fourth all-time in position-player WAR. Of course, for the man who once said that baseball was “something like a war,” he probably wouldn't take kindly to being behind Babe Ruth in this category, since, for Ruth, baseball was something like a helluva lotta fun, kid.
Anyway, Leerhsen is involved in what seems like a monumental task: rehabilitating Cobb's rep. Over the years, Tyrus Raymond went from “greatest player of all time” to “one of the best” to “kind of a racist bastard” to “the worst man ever to put on a baseball uniform,” and Leerhsen, and he's probably right, thinks Cobb doesn't deserve this last honorific. Leerhsen will in fact be arguing that Cobb, for his time, wasn't particularly racist. We'll see.
In the meantime, I loved this bit. And not just because it was against the Yankees:
The Yankees were in town on that unseasonably warm Friday. In the seventh inning, with his team down 5–3, Cobb came to bat with runners on first and second—and hit a line drive off “Slim” Caldwell that smacked against the wall of the left field bleachers for an opposite field double. (Cobb, though naturally right-handed, always batted left.) The man on second, Tex Covington, scored easily, but Donie Bush, the trailing runner, barely slid in safely under catcher Ed Sweeney's tag. Not surprisingly, given the closeness of the play, Sweeney turned to the umpire and, said the New York Times, “began a protest” while “all the members of the infield flocked to the plate to help.” In other words, in the heat of the moment the Yankees forgot that Cobb was standing on second. Under such circumstances it is the custom of the base runner to sit down on the sack and wait for something to turn up [the Times continued]. But Cobb, observing that third base was unguarded, trotted amiably up there. No one saw him. So he tiptoed gingerly along toward the group at the plate. He did not come under the observation of the public until he was about ten feet from the goal all base runners seek, where for a few seconds he stood practically still, peering into the cluster of disputants before him, looking for an opening to slide through. He found one and skated across the plate with the winning run under the noses of almost the entire New York team, Sweeney touching him with the ball when it was too late.
Opportunities everywhere, kids. For the taking.
Here's my take on the awful 1994 movie “Cobb,” of which I wrote “A hagiography would've felt less like a lie.”
- On the 40th anniversary of the release of “Jaws,” The New Yorker gives us a three-year old look at Michael Sragow's take on “The Unnassuming Greatness of 'Jaws.'” It ain't new but it's good.
- Remember the cat who attacked the dog who was attacking the kid? The kid's name is Jeremy, his cat's name is Tara, and Tara just won the “Top Dog” award because no dog was cooler than she was. It's still one of my favorite YouTube moment. (At the same time, I wonder why they had so much footage of all this. Do they live in a maximum security building or something?)
- With the Obergefell ruling? Now all these servicemembers can marry. Support the troops, Fox News! (Ya bastards.)
- My friends say I've been crazy to worry, but we're nearly halfway through the season and the New York Yankees are poised to make the playoffs yet again.
- On the plus side? Those post-Robinson Cano signings.
- “You don't have an edge of hostility; you have a giant iceberg of smugness” — Bill Maher to Jerry Seinfeld in their “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” episode. I think this is one of the best conversations in the series, but with each episode I find myself liking Jerry Seinfeld less. When it started, I mostly liked him but the episodes kind of bored me; now the episodes don't bore me but I don't particularly like him. He was once everyman; now he's rich man. No wonder he's no longer funny.
- Joe Posnanski teaches his daughters how to play pinball. He also teaches us a bit of the history of pinball.
- Long read of the week: Connie Bruck on Dianne Feinsein's battle to stop the CIA from torturing in our name. Or are we just too scared of shadows to make them stop?
Movie Review: Inside Out (2015)
In the end, it’s about the dangers of micromanagement.
Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco, where the house is a fixer-upper, the furniture hasn’t arrived yet, and the pizza has broccoli on it. Where are her friends? How does she fit in? She feels sad. She needs to feel sad. But Joy (voice: Amy Poehler) is her controlling emotion, and doesn’t let Sadness (Phyllis Smith of “The Office”) do her job, which, in this instance, is turning certain core memories—represented by transluscent balls—blue with the blues. In the ensuing tussle over the balls, Joy and Sadness disappear up a pneumatic tube and wind up in long-term memory, from which they begin the epic journey back, through the subconscious, the imagination, and abstract thought—even attempting, like Depression-era hobos, to hop onto the train of thought—while the remaining emoticons, Anger, Disgust and Fear (Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader), take turns gumming up the works and the pillars of Riley’s existence (friends, hockey, honesty) crumble and fall away. Without Joy and Sadness, Riley’s blocked, and retreats into sarcasm and temper tantrums. Eventually she decides to run away. It’s only when Joy and Sadness return to the control room, and Joy lets Sadness do her job, that Riley breaks down into tears, the family reconciles, and life, in all of its complexity, can move forward again.
Essentially it’s the Rosey Grier lesson from “Free to Be You and Me”: It’s alright to cry ... It just might make you feel better!
It’s also a movie that could be shown in a Management 101 class: Beware of micromanaging; let everyone do their job.
Or maybe the lesson is the tongue-in-cheek one posited by my friend Jeff afterwards: Never leave Minnesota.
The journey back
I expected great things going in, since the buzz and the reviews were amazing.
But I wasn’t feeling it. Not at first. The various core memories make Riley who she is, affix her unique personality, but what we see on the screen is hardly unique. Instead it feels universal, purposely designed, so we can all see ourselves or our daughters in Riley.
Then Joy and Sadness get lost and begin the epic journey back. How many of our favorite movies, particularly kids movies, are about epic journeys back? Start with the granddaddy, “The Wizard of Oz,” where the tornado acts as pneumatic tube, lifting our main character from home to someplace far away. A lot of the Pixar movies share this motif: “Toy Story 2,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story 3.” We’re spun out, and we want to return whole, and generally we return damaged but better for the damage.
That’s the narrative structure, the anxious thing that drives the movie, but what really matters, kids (and grups), is the journey. It’s not about Dorothy returning to Kansas; it’s about meeting the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, and the battle with the Wicked Witch. Here, it’s about meeting Bing Bong (the inimitable Richard Kind), Riley’s long-ago imaginary friend, a pink, portly creature with a bowtie, an elephant trunk and the tail of a cat, found milling about the long-term memories and plotting his return into Riley’s life. Of course, the opposite is happening. Riley is now 11, and the rocket-fueled wagon with which Bing Bong wants to propel Riley to the moon, is being unceremoniously discarded into the Memory Dump, the vast expanse of Riley’s mind, where most things just disappear. Bing Bong, most likely, is next. That’s why he sits down and cries. That’s why Sadness consoles him. And that’s when Joy has her epiphany—and we ours. We realize the movie’s resolution.
More or less. But I didn’t anticipate the sacrifice. Through a series of misadventures, both Bing Bong and Joy wind up in the Memory Dump, where he begins to disappear, and where she may be stuck forever—condemning Riley to a joyless life. But then Bing Bong finds his rocket-powered wagon, and the two attempt to ride it out of the Dump: once, twice, and on the third try, realizing he was weighing them down, realizing that Riley needs Joy more than she needs him, he sacrifices himself: He leaps off at the last second. Joy escapes, he begins to disappear, and with his final words, “Take her to the moon for me,” spoken in Richard Kind’s kind voice, I felt something in my chest shift. I literally stifled a sob. I can’t remember the last time I literally stifled a sob.
Damn Pixar. Damn Richard Kind and his kind voice. (Cf. “Obvious Child.”)
Anyway, that’s the moment I knew everyone was right and Pixar had done it again after a five-year drought. Or “drought.”
So is it odd that all of the emoticons want Riley to feel joy? Shouldn’t Anger want her to feel angry, and Disgust disgust? Don’t they want to imprint themselves on her?
More, isn’t the movie a kids movie for adults rather than for kids? Are kids bored with it? My nephew Jordy wasn’t, but he’s 14 going on 30.
Regardless, it should provoke interesting discussions. Patricia and I saw “Inside Out” with our friends Jeff and Sullivan, and their kids Reilly, 11, and Beckett, 6, and afterwards these are some of the things we talked about:
- Which of the five is your controlling emotion? (For me, sadly, fear. No offense, Fear.)
- What are your core memories?
- What are your childhood earworms? (First thought: “Me and My RC.” Second thought: “I love my Mounds/Lots of juicy coconut ...”)
I like that there was reconciliation, that everyone admitted missing Minnesota even as they stayed in San Francisco. That’s the adult message from the film’s writer-director, Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.” “Up”), who grew up in Minnesota and should know.