erik lundegaard

Monday November 30, 2015

Why I Feel I'm Finally Becoming a Professional

“I often say the difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes everything they do.”

-- New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff in Sunday's New York Times. Read the whoe Q&A; wit in every sentence. 

No tagsPosted at 08:27 PM on Nov 30, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Saturday November 28, 2015

Tweet of the Year

From the man who said “Shit is fucked,” too. He was right then, he's right here. 

Further reading: “The Secret History of Guns,” Sept. 2011, in The Atlantic. 

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Posted at 10:47 AM on Nov 28, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Spectre (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Daniel Craig is still wearing a suit that’s too tight and an attitude that’s too tight. His James Bond still starts the movie disgraced and cut loose by MI6—despite all the times he’s saved the world. He still looks like he’s not having much fun.

Seriously, when was the last time James Bond had any fun? Before 9/11, I think. So I guess the terrorists won. Or the feminists.

To me, the quintessential Bond suffers through the fights to get to the girls. Craig’s Bond suffers through the girls to get to the fights. He seems to take no delight in women. Or in general.

James Bond Spectre Daniel CraigIn the last movie, “Skyfall,” we finally got the rebooted Q and Moneypenny, and this time we finally get the rebooted Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and SPECTRE, and everything is all finally tied together. The villains in the previous three movies—Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, Raoul Silva? All SPECTRE. Because SPECTRE is a dastardly, secret organization that is interested in...

Um, what is it interested in again? Besides world domination? And taunting James Bond?

Well, in this movie, it’s interested in Big Data. He who holds the most information wins. Sexy.

Ta da
Here’s my favorite aspect of the movie. SPECTRE is working behind the scenes to put online a global security network called Nine Eyes, which will be able to watch us everywhere, including going to the bathroom or something, but that’s not the point. The point is how SPECTRE gets governments to go along with this plan: It blows things up in those countries, terrorists are blamed, then those governments overreact and go along with the plan. Pushed, cultures abandon core values.

No lesson for us there, right?

My least-favorite part of the movie is related. Consolidating the world’s chaos under one secret global network is the kind of conspiratorial plot that leads, in our world, to talk of Freemasons and Illuminati. So be careful, Hollywood. The last thing we need is more paranoiacs.

“Spectre” opens in Mexico City on The Day of the Dead, as Bond abandons a beauty in a hotel room to track an assassin, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), who was planning on blowing up some building or other. Instead, Sciarra’s hotel room is blown up, but both he and Bond survive for: 1) a nonchalant pursuit through celebratory crowds (apparently the explosion didn’t deter the party atmosphere); and 2) a battle aboard a helicopter that swerves precariously above those crowds. Sciarra winds up dead, Bond pulls the helicopter out of its nose-dive, but the Guardian still blares a headline reading OUTRAGE IN MEXICO. Outrage? For the explosion? Or because people kept partying after the explosion? Or because of the helicopter? I’m confused.

M (Ralph Fiennes) is outraged anyway, because it looks like Bond went rogue. Later, Bond reveals to Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) that he’d been sent after Sciarra by the previous M (Judi Dench), via a prerecorded message he received after her death. Why didn’t she just send him after Blofeld? Did she know about Sciarra but not Blofeld? Isn’t that like knowing one of the 9/11 hijackers but not Osama bin Laden?

Anyway, with the help of Moneypenny and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond whizzes around the globe and fills in the blanks. In Rome, he schtups Sciarra’s widow (Monica Bellucci), infiltrates a secret SPECTRE meeting, witnesses the superstrong henchman, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, quite good), doing his “Game of Thrones” thing to another assassin’s eyeballs, and is then pursued through Rome’s streets, steps and along its canals before escaping to a mountain cabin in Austria, where he confronts the now dying and contrite founder of Quantum, a subdivision of SPECTRE. Did you know that Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) was in the first two Bond reboots? I’d forgotten, sadly. A lot of the movie is like this. The filmmakers assume small details from previous films will be fascinating to us. They go “Ta da!” and I just sit there, blinking.

In the cabin, White asks Bond to look after his supersmart, superhot daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), which is like asking a tiger to look after a T-bone, then he kills himself. Bond finds/rescues/beds Swann and continues his exotic globetrotting until he’s face-to-face with Blofeld, née Franz Oberhauser, who was supposed to have been killed in an avalanche when he was like 16. He’s also Bond’s half brother or something? I guess he’s the son of the man who adopted Bond? Or taught him to ski? So there’s a vague Cain and Abel rivalry. Consider it another “ta da!” moment that falls flat.

World without end
The second part of the story takes place in London, where C (Andrew Scott) is consolidating power and putting online Nine Eyes, that global security network that will watch all of us go the bathroom. We know within half a second that C is no good—and most likely SPECTRE—because: 1) Bond doesn’t like him, and 2) he’s played by the actor who plays Moriarity on the BBC TV show “Sherlock.” Apparently Iwan Rheon was unavailable.

You know the rest. In London, M, Q and Moneypenny square off against C, while Bond is captured, brutally tortured, then runs through a series of improbably designed labyrinths to save the girl and get the bad guy.

It’s implied that Bond retires at the end of the movie. Sure. The world might not need Bond but Eon Productions does. So, as the saying goes, James Bond will return, and go through the same hoops and hurdles, world without end. No wonder he’s uptight. Sisyphus wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs, either.

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Posted at 07:14 AM on Nov 28, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Friday November 27, 2015

Movie Review: Creed (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

It’s just a suggestion at first. Just a few musical notes here and there, reminding you of Bill Conti’s iconic “Rocky” soundtrack. And not just “Gonna Fly Now,” which, besides being a staple for high school bands everywhere, went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts back in 1977. No, I’m talking about glimmers of, say, “Philadelphia Morning” (the somber one, from Rocky’s first out-of-shape run), and “Alone in the Ring” (also somber, when he can’t sleep the night before the big fight), as well as “Going the Distance” (plodding for the fight montage, then rising and triumphant as Rocky is knocked down and gets back up in the 14th round—my favorite, to be honest). Throughout Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” as Adonis Johnson, or Donnie Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, tries to make a name for himself—tries to prove, as he says in the end, that he’s not a mistake—we keep getting suggestions of this music.

It’s not until the final round of the climactic boxing match (because the arc of the Rocky universe is long but it bends toward the final round), that we get more than just a suggestion: We get the full, triumphant monty. A.O. Scott reports that in his screening room, at that moment, critics erupted in spontaneous applause. As a veteran of screening rooms, I can let you know: That’s rather unusual. But then all of us have grown up on Rocky.

Together we fill gaps
I keep reading that “Creed” is the best Rocky movie since the original in 1976, but that’s not saying much. Creed poster, with Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester StalloneThe first was great, and, at the time, massively original in being a feel-good Capraesque throwback in an era of cinematic anti-heroes and anti-Christs. “Rocky Balboa,” a lion in winter tale from 2006, is pretty good, too. But the others? The less said, the better.

“Creed,” in fact, almost redeems one of the worst of them, “Rocky IV,” the cartoonish, jingoistic movie in which Apollo Creed is killed during a boxing exhibition with the Russian heavyweight Ivan Drago, setting up Rocky’s “World War III” battle in Russia. It gives Apollo’s final moments a seriousness, and a kind of dignity, they never had in the original. In a way, Coogler does to it what Coppola did to Mario Puzo’s trashy novel.

“Creed” begins with a fight in a juvenile detention facility in L.A. in 1998. A woman (Phylicia Rashad, the third actress to play Mary Anne Creed) comes to visit the troublesome boy, and lets him know she’s the wife of the father he never knew. “What was his name?” the boy eventually asks, and that’s when we cut to the title in big block letters, a la “Rocky.” But not scrolling across the screen. Just there. It’s a nice open. Then we get the equivalent of the Spider Rico fight: a now-adult Adonis in Tijuana, Mexico, clobbering a guy in one or two rounds. Twelve hours later, he’s back at work at a financial consulting firm; but when he gets promoted, he quits. He’s got fighting in his blood.

At this point I’m thinking, “Wait, why does Adonis need to travel to Philly to have Rocky train him? He’s Apollo Creed’s son—anyone would jump at the chance.” But his mom, in cahoots with the son of Apollo’s trainer, makes sure no one in LA will touch him. That’s why Philly.

As for why Rocky? It’s probably more than the fact that he’s the two-time heavyweight champ. Early on, we see Adonis watching the Bicentennial superfight, and mimicking the movements. But he’s mimicking Rocky; he’s beating on his father. The man who never married his mother and never knew him. His feelings about his father, as we say today, are complicated; and in Philly, Rocky becomes a father figure for him. He calls him “Unc.”

The key to a good Rocky movie is in the relationships, and “Creed” goes the distance here. Rocky, still running his restaurant, and now bereft of all of his supporting cast—Paulie, Adrian, Apollo and Mickey—is reluctant to take on Apollo’s son. He tried training in the past (“Rocky V”); didn’t work (both ways). But Adonis keeps at him, “like a woodpecker” Rocky says with a smile; and one day after visiting Paulie and Adrian’s graves, reading to them from the newspaper, he gets a look on his face, and returns to Mighty Mick’s Gym, where Adonis is training under the name Don Johnson. At first nobody gets it: Why does the champ care about this black kid, who calls him “Unc”? After his first professional fight, word gets out about who he really is.

Adonis’ other key relationship in the movie is with, Bianca (Tessa Thompson of “Dear White People”), the woman in the apartment downstairs, and it feels more than just the sidebar romance. Coogler handles these quiet moments so well. He makes them smart and tender. The way he shows you how people can get under each other’s skin gets under your skin. These scenes are also fun in a Lois and Clark kind of way: We’re waiting for Bianca to find out Don is not just another kid from the neighborhood. When she meets Adonis’ uncle, her first comment is “You’re white.” (“For a while now,” Rocky nods.) But she knows. To Adonis, she says, kind of starry-eyed, “When were you going to tell me your uncle was Rocky Balboa?”

Was you on a cruise or something?
Should we get into the race issue here? Coogler, who’s African-American, has stated over and over that he wanted to do this movie as an homage to his father, who loved the “Rocky” movies, particularly “Rocky II.” Then there’s Eddie Murphy’s take. You do wonder how much the success of the “Rocky” series owes to white audiences thrilling at a white man reclaiming territory long yielded to black men in real life. Coogler has to be aware of this, even as he sets about reclaiming that territory in fiction again. Because we are our fictions.

Yet there’s a great respect for the original movies. The references are everywhere: Mighty Mick’s, turtles, the chicken-catching thing, the one-armed push-ups, “Women weaken legs.” Seriously, has any movie series been as carefully catalogued and self-referenced as the “Rocky” series? Before this, though, it was a self-contained world. It felt too much in Stallone’s head and heart. Coogler opens the windows on this universe without knocking anything over; he just lets the fresh air in.

He lets the air into Stallone, too. Good god, maybe Sly just needed a better director all of these years. Rocky has a line in the locker room, where he’s talking about all that he’s lost (“Everything I got has moved on”), and his voice breaks, and it’s  just heartfelt and beautiful. Stallone is now the same age that Burgess Meredith was when he first played Mickey, for which he was then nominated best supporting actor. There’s talk, not unjustified, that Stallone might get the same treatment. He might even win. He’s certainly got sympathy on his side, and it would be a shocking turnaround after decades of Razi awards. The whole end of his career was a million-to-one shot.

There are mistakes. I would’ve abandoned the “12 O’Clock Boys” motorbike racers zipping alongside Adonis during his final run—as if they were the kids in “Rocky II.” Doesn’t work. Apparently Stallone also foisted the stars-and-stripes boxing trunks upon Coogler, and thus Adonis, for the final bout with “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (well-acted, by the way, by three-time ABA heavyweight champ Tony Bellew); but it muddies the thematic waters. Adonis is worried about embarrassing the name, and wearing the trunks would exacerbate that. Hell, his father died in those trunks—and his widow sends a facsimile version to her adopted son before his title match? Makes no sense. Plus Rocky urges Adonis to fight for the very reason Ivan Drago is vilified in “IV”: for himself.

Is there too much drama before the fight? Rocky is diagnosed with cancer, Adonis doesn’t like being called “Baby Creed” and decks Bianca’s headliner (she’s  a singer, of course). But I’ll take drama that creates the fight rather than drama that prevents the fight, as in “Rocky II” (he’ll go blind), “III” (he’s lost the eye of the tiger) and “V” (he’ll die).

Philadelphia morning
We don’t get the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum until the very end—after the title bout—when Adonis walks alongside a cancer-ridden Rocky Balboa up those steps again. Adonis urges them up those steps. It’s touching. What those steps mean and how often we’ve returned to them. Has any character, played by the same actor, and allowed to age, been with us as long as Rocky Balboa? 

Rocky Balboa looks in the mirror

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Posted at 08:43 AM on Nov 27, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Tuesday November 24, 2015

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Everything is good about “Bridge of Spies” but the pace. There’s drama but no real drive. Since director Steven Spielberg reinvented pulse-pounding with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” et al., one wonders if this isn’t a conscious choice (reminding us of the pace of life in the 1950s) or an unconscious one (he’s 69 now).

OK, I didn’t much think of the color scheme, either. Not a fan of those muted grays and blah blues that Spielberg and longtime DP Janusz Kaminski seem to prefer now. The past didn’t always look like a winter day in Seattle, guys.

But I recommend the film. Start with two words: Mark Rylance.

Nothing remarkable
Bridge of SpiesWhat makes an actor compelling? At one point, Rylance’s character, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, is talking with his lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in federal prison, and says the following:

Standing there like that, you reminded me of the man that used to come to our house when I was young. My father used to say, “Watch this man.” So I did. Every time he came. And never once did he do anything remarkable.

It leads to a good, self-effacing line from Donovan (“And I remind you of him?”), and then a story, typical of Hollywood films, about The Man Who Keeps Getting Back Up. I quote it here because it reminds me of Rylance’s Abel. Never once does he do anything remarkable, yet he’s always remarkable. We’re drawn to him. As an actor, Rylance is able to convey a humanity and a depth of understanding at odds with the flurry around him. He seems quietly, sadly amused by it all.

Here’s another quote—a good, repeated line in the movie:

Donovan: You don’t look worried.
Rylance: Would it help?

Think of all the ways to say this line. It could be delivered with a slight sneer, or an eyeroll, or a as an insidery joke. And Rylance says it, yes, as a kind of joke, but not insidery; there’s almost a small bubble of hope at the end. His lawyer is a smart lawyer, after all, so maybe he knows something about American jurisprudence that he does not? It’s a voice that knows the ways of the world yet remains open to possibility. How lovely is that?

A few words about Hanks’ performance. Over the past 10 years, as senior editor of a legal publication, I’ve interviewed upwards of 250 lawyers. And Hanks’ Donovan feels like one of the most lawyerly lawyers I’ve seen on a movie screen. He exudes the profession: the quiet, plodding advocacy; the toughness in negotiation without seeming tough. He makes his arguments with a friendly face even as he’s working levers behind the scenes.

The trailer plays up his ordinariness—“I’m just an insurance lawyer”—but, c’mon, he’s a top lawyer who also participated in the Nuremberg trials. That’s why he gets the gig. Also because everyone else turns it down. No one wants to represent a commie spy in the middle of the Cold War. Look at what happens to Donovan for repping Abel:

  1. Ostracism: Exemplified by a woman on the train who gives him a dirty look.
  2. Professional setback: His law firm partners grow weary of his advocacy and shut him out.
  3. Violence: Shots are fired through his living room window, where his teenage daughter is watching TV.

For most people, even the judge (particularly the judge), the trial isn’t a real trial. We’re giving the world a show trial. But Donovan isn’t part of that game; he goes all out. Was there a search warrant? How much of the evidence against Abel is admissible? What’s the difference between a criminal case and a national security case? He winds up taking Abel’s case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and makes a strong argument there. Of course, he loses. That’s the first part of the movie.

The second part is the titular part. Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a U2 pilot, is shot down over the Soviet Union and doesn’t have the decency to kill himself. So a trade: Powers for Abel, and Donovan is called in to negotiate things. Except it’s almost like “Mission: Impossible.” He’s not really representing the U.S. government, so if caught we’ll disavow any knowledge of his actions. Worse, Donovan is negotiating with both the Soviets and the East Germans, and each has their own agenda. He makes his situation more difficult by including in the negotiations an American economics student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who was caught on the wrong side during the building of the Berlin Wall.

I wonder about that impulse. Donovan is told repeatedly, by everyone, to forget about Pryor. He doesn’t. Why risk everything? That would be a good question to ask Hanks, or Spielberg, or screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen and Matt Charman. Is it that he senses an opening? A weakness? Is it ego? Or is it just something in his nature?

As a man who can negotiate nothing, I’m fascinated by this impulse.

Take a bite and end it
Endings are not a bright spot for Spielberg. He’s the anti-Hitchcock in this regard. Hitchcock cut the cord quickly, and often beautifully, but Spielberg usually can’t let go. He drags things on.

I should add that I liked each of his possible endings of “Bridge of Spies.” But they do contradict each other in subtle ways.

The first ending is on the bridge. Before the exchange is made, Donovan, solicitous about Abel, asks if he’ll be OK in the Soviet Union. Abel says that if he’s embraced on the other side by the Soviets he will be; if not, not. And he’s not embraced. And the camera pans up and out.

That’s how Hitchcock would’ve ended it. But Spielberg continues.

We wind up on the transport plane back home, in which Powers gets the first taste of the ostracism he would feel for the rest of his life. Everyone ignores his attempts to explain himself. Everyone but Donovan, who tells him: “It’s not what people think; it’s what you know.” Then they settle back, these two very different men, and head back home, where, to different degrees and for different reasons, both are ostracized.

That could’ve been a good ending. But it’s not a Spielberg ending.

Instead, he shows us Donovan returning to his family, who thought he was on a business trip in England. But as soon as he enters his home, it’s all over the TV news about Powers’ release, and who negotiated that release; and his wife and little girl look up at him with eyes full of wonder and admiration. Then he goes upstairs and collapses on the bed.

The end? Nope.

Cut to the next day as Donovan takes the train to work. His story, and photo, are all over the front page of The New York Times, and that same woman who sneered at him before, who regarded him as a traitor when he was defending Abel, now looks over at him with understanding ... and pride. Donovan acknowledges her with a little head nod, then looks out the window of the elevated train and sees boys climbing fences in backyards; and it reminds him of a horrific moment in Germany when, from a similar elevated train, he witnessed two people being gunned down trying to get to the West. It’s a reminder that it continues.

Then we get an afterword about what happened to each of our principles. In 1962, Donovan negotiated the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners from Cuba (sequel, Steven?), while Abel led a long and seemingly satisfying life in the Soviet Union. The End.

Me in the audience: Wait, Abel lived? What about the non-embrace? Wasn’t that supposed to imply danger? Possible death? Why give us that scene and this afterword?

Then there’s the lady on the train. Doesn’t that entire scene, the need of it, contradict Donovan’s advice to Powers? It’s not what people think; it’s what you know. This is the Spielbergian corollary: “It’s not what people think; but, c’mon, isn’t it nicer when people think highly of you?” 

I still recommend “Bridge of Spies.” It’s a movie about grown-ups and for grown-ups. There’s a certain propriety to everything, a set of expected manners. On some level, those expected manners are as vanished as the Cold War. 

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Posted at 06:36 AM on Nov 24, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Monday November 23, 2015

My Second Meme

Julius Rosenwald on the opinions of wealthy men

The rest of the quote: “Most large fortunes are made by men of mediocre ability, who tumbled into a lucky opportunity and couldn't help but get rich.”

My interview with the director of “Rosenwald,” Aviva Kempner, can be found here

Amy Davidson on the latest appeal to the worst devils of our nature from the Donald here

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Posted at 05:28 PM on Nov 23, 2015 in category Politics
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SLIDESHOW: The Suspect Training of Rocky Balboa


  • Slideshow: “Creed,” the latest installment in the 40-year cinematic history of Rocky Balboa, opens this week, and this time Rocky is the trainer. He's Mickey. (It's a living, not a waste of life.) The movie's been getting good notices, and so has Stallone reprising his iconic role. Some are even talking Oscar nomination for the former worldwide box office champ. But the following is a reminder that Rocky's training methods have never been what you'd call traditional. 

  • Yeah sure, running. That's easy.

  • But a raw egg diet? This led to a lot of dares in the 1970s. 

  • And pounding frozen slabs of beef in a meat locker can't be good for the hands. 

  • One-armed push-ups were big in the original, so for “Rocky II” they added one-armed pull-ups. 

  • Mick had Rock chasing chickens. 

  • And pounding junk at the junkyard. 

  • And doing whatever this is. 

  • At some point, it begins to feel cruel. 

  • To get back the eye of the tiger, Apollo made Rocky live with black people in LA in “Rocky III.” They also went for runs along the beach. 

  • And celebrated in the surf when Rocky's herky-jerky motions incomprehensibly beat Apollo's smooth strides.  

  • “Rocky IV' contrasts the suspect, chemically-engineered Ivan Drago with the naturalism of Rocky. It's the grandfatherly advice of training montages: Go outside and get some fresh air. 

  • And cut some wood while you're at it. 

  • Then do this. 

  • Mush.

  • A metaphor here. 

  • Rocky is the trainer in ”Rocky V,“ and, to his credit, he doesn't force his protege, Tommy ”The Machine“ Gunn, to pull him on a bicycle. Instead, they do the iconic run through Philly's Italian market. 

  • For ”Rocky Balboa“ in 2006, Stallone gives us the greatest hits. He chugs eggs again for the first time since ”Rocky." 

  • And he pounds meat in the meat locker. 

  • But there are innovations. 

  • What training methods will Rocky suggest for Adonis Creed? We'll soon find out.  

  • Absolutely. *FIN*
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Posted at 08:26 AM on Nov 23, 2015 in category Movies
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Sunday November 22, 2015

Why the Yankees Suck This Week

The same day Bryce Harper was the unanamious MVP in the National League for the Washington Nationals, I came across these tweets from Yankee fans:

Bryce Harper will look good in pinstripes

And this:

Bryce Harper will look good in pinstripes

Same old same old. See Reason No. 6 here.

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Posted at 05:50 PM on Nov 22, 2015 in category Yankees Suck
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Box Office: ‘Hunger Games’ Joins the Ranks of the Fallen

The Hunger Games Katniss salute

The odds were ever in its favor, but the final “Hunger Games” fell at the box office. 

Is it the “Part 2” or merely the “Mockingjay”?

The fourth and final “Hunger Games” was upon us this weekend, and, though the odds were ever in its favor, it disappointed at the box office.

Here are the opening weekends for each “THG”:

  • “The Hunger Games” (2012): $152 million
  • “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013): $158 million
  • “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014): $121 million
  • “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015): $101 million

So over two years, it lost a third of its opening weekend value.

What went wrong? Is it the fact that we’re tired of Hollywood stretching out these stories with all of these “Part 2”s? Except the final installment of “Harry Potter” broke records, while “Twilight”’s last go-round improved upon its “Part 1” box office.

Is it “The Hunger Games” itself? I’ve heard the later books aren’t as good as the earlier ones. Maybe the audience knew that and drifted away. Maybe they grew up.

Brad Brevert on “Box Office Mojo” has another suggestion: “Star Wars VII” anticipation. It’s sucking all the air out of the room.

Obviously it’s still a good weekend, but “Hunger Games” joined the ranks of the fallen less than triumphantly.

The latest James Bond, “Spectre,” dropping 56.7% in its third weekend, grossed antoher $14.6 for a domestic total of $153.7. That’s about half of what its predecessor did. Bond fatigue? More “Star Wars” anticipation?

“The Peanuts Movie” dropped 46% and grossed another $12 mil for a domestic take of $98 million. Not exaclty a warm puppy.

Two new movies, the R-rated Seth Rogen comedy “The Night Before,” and the U.S. remake of the Argentian award-winner “The Secrets in their Eyes,” finished fourth and fifth, with $10 and $6 mil respectively. 

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Posted at 01:39 PM on Nov 22, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday November 21, 2015

Office, Box Office

Skyfall poster

The highest-grossing Bond flick, unadjusted.

“Spectre,” which Patricia and I are going to see today, is the 25th incarnation of James Bond, not including the first two Casino Royales ('54 American TV; '67 movie spoof), and it's doing well enough at the box office. But apparently we've reached a saturation point. 

Here are the top 10 James Bond box office hits of all time—unadjusted. What do you notice? 

Rank Title Dom. Gross Year
1 Skyfall $304,360,277 2012
2 Quantum of Solace $168,368,427 2008
3 Casino Royale $167,445,960 2006
4 Die Another Day $160,942,139 2002
5 Spectre $143,387,879 2015
6 The World Is Not Enough $126,943,684 1999
7 Tomorrow Never Dies $125,304,276 1997
8 GoldenEye $106,429,941 1995
9 Moonraker $70,308,099 1979
10 Octopussy $67,893,619 1983

Since Pierce Brosnan took over the role in 1995, every James Bond flick has done better than the previous one. It was a stock that kept rising. “Spectre” is the market adjustment. It'll probably get to second place but won't get within $100 million of “Skyfall.”

Other observations: Bond didn't break the $100 million barrier until Brosnan. Kind of shocking, isn't it? And it didn't break the $200 million barrier until the last one, “Skyfall,” in 2012. So the original “Hunger Games” made more in three days than all but four James Bond movies did in their entire runs. 

That's unadjusted. If you adjust for inflation, things change. Big time:

Rank Title Adj. Gross Unadjusted  Year
1 Thunderball $623,832,000 $63,595,658 1965
2 Goldfinger $552,942,000 $51,081,062 1964
3 Skyfall $315,602,300 $304,360,277 2012
4 You Only Live Twice $299,439,300 $43,084,787 1967
5 Moonraker $233,613,400 $70,308,099 1979
6 Die Another Day $230,050,800 $160,942,139 2002
7 Tomorrow Never Dies $224,439,200 $125,304,276 1997
8 From Russia, with Love $222,371,000 $24,796,765 1963
9 Diamonds Are Forever $221,487,900 $43,819,547 1971
10 Casino Royale $212,075,200 $167,445,960 2006
11 The World Is Not Enough $207,280,700 $126,943,684 1999
12 GoldenEye $203,528,900 $106,429,941 1995
13 Quantum of Solace $195,570,000 $168,368,427 2008
14 Octopussy $179,756,400 $67,893,619 1983
15 The Spy Who Loved Me $175,172,400 $46,838,673 1977
16 Live and Let Die $166,695,600 $35,377,836 1973
17 For Your Eyes Only $164,438,400 $54,812,802 1981
18 Dr. No $157,646,000 $16,067,035 1963
19 Never Say Never Again $146,765,000 $55,432,841 1983
20 Spectre $138,891,400 $143,387,879 2015
21 On Her Majesty's Secret Service $133,760,000 $22,774,493 1969
22 A View to a Kill $118,235,300 $50,327,960 1985
23 The Living Daylights $109,179,100 $51,185,897 1989
24 The Man with the Golden Gun $93,532,900 $20,972,000 1974
25 License to Kill $72,826,900 $34,667,015 1987

If you adjust for inflation, “Thunderball” is the 29th biggest hit in U.S. box office history (although only the third biggest movie of 1965—behind “The Sound of Music” and “Dr. Zhivago,” both of which are in the top 10 all-time). 

In the early '60s, Bond was a stock that kept rising, too. Here are the adjusted domestic grosses of the first four movies: $157 million, $222, $552, $623. Bang zoom. Then two years off and a massive fall, back to $299. Then an even bigger fall to $133 in 1969. This last can be ascribed, in part, to a new actor, George Lazenby, taking over from Sean Connery, back when actors taking over iconic roles wasn't an everyday thing.

But what accounts for the drop between “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice”? Saturation? Too many Matt Helmish copies.

Or was it the difference between 1965 and 1967? 

In '65, it was all well and good to go see a movie about a British spy who travels the world and kills bad guys and sleeps with broads. By 1967, half the people who went to the previous one weren't interested anymore. Maybe they were a little more serious. They went to see “The Graduate” instead. Or “Bonnie and Clyde.” It was the beginning of the age of the ordinary hero or the anti-hero. And Bond was neither. 

No wonder for a time Bond's producers considered Adam West for the role. If West could turn Batman into a pop icon, surely he could ressurect Bond. 

As it was, with Roger Moore at the helm, it was still a long slow slog throughout the 1970s to reach the point where, in 1979, “Moonraker” eclipsed the adjusted box office of 1963's “From Russia with Love.” 

Then the '80s and a fall again. Then the casting of Brosnan and the steady rise. 

I'd like to think that the market adjustment of “Spectre” presages a more serious age for all of us, as “You Only Live Twice” seemed to. But then you look at the top of this year's domestic box office—“Jurassic World,” “Avengers/Ultron,” “Furious 7”—and you know, no, we're still not a serious country, Virginia. 

Thunderball poster James Bond

The highest-grossing Bond flick, adjusted. (A history of Bond posters can be found here.)

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Posted at 11:09 AM on Nov 21, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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My First Meme

I created this a few days ago because these types of memes seem the lingua franca of the internet. I'm forever a late adopter. 

Frank Sinatra, The House I Live In

It's a pretty simple message. It's actually a two-fold simple message: 1) Sinatra's, 2) How many steps backward some of us have taken since 1945. 

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Posted at 09:20 AM on Nov 21, 2015 in category Religion
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Critic Criticizes Critiquing of Critics

There are a zillion ways to lampoon a film critic, and sadly actor Jesse Eisenberg found exactly zero of them in his Shouts & Mumurs piece, “An Honest Film Review,” in the latest New Yorker. 

Apparently critics have been objecting to the piece (and are accused of being thin-skinned), but I question Eisenberg less than The New Yorker, which gave prime real estate to a non-writer. Yeah, I know, Eisenberg's got a book out. Read the piece. He's a non-writer. 

According to this post by Sam Adams on CriticWire, Eisenberg says he got the idea after reading a negative review of a Woody Allen movie:

The review said something along the lines of, “Woody Allen makes another movie. This one doesn't really work, but hey, he's doing one a year. Slow down, Wood-man.” And I realized the guy was not criticizing the movie. He was criticizing his own lack of productivity and laziness, vis-a-vis Woody Allen's productivity. But instead he was putting down the movie.

Interesting interpretation. But not mine. Mine goes like this:

  1. Woody Allen keeps making mediocre movies, year after year.
  2. Maybe if he took more time (say two years?) the movies might be better.

So not only is Eisenberg's piece lame, it's based upon an incorrect interpretation. 

On the bright side, he's got a fallback position.

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Posted at 08:41 AM on Nov 21, 2015 in category Movie Reviews
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Friday November 20, 2015

Apocalypse Again

Paul Krugman has a column, “The Face Awakens,” on the fear-mongering/panicky GOP response in the wake of the Paris attacks, and how it's been this way throughout the Obama years. Anything Obama suggests (health care), or anything that goes wrong in the world (Ebola), is met with all the courage of a Barney Fife.

Krugman writes:

What explains the modern right's propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it's also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Except it's not just the Obama years. This is been SOP for the GOP for decades. Here's Nora Sayre in New Times magazine reporting on the mood at the 1976 Republican convention:

Never has our social fabric seemed so fragile; today, imperiled by demonic forces that may shatter it from outside or from within, the mere “survival of the nation” is at stake—along with its safety...

Ford himself seemed to have forgotten that he had actually been in office, while Goldwater talked as though Carter had been elected eight years ago...

On the final night, Reagan caught the mood of his party to perfection when he mused on the letter that he'd been asked to compose for a time capsule that will be unsealed in Los Angeles a hundred years hence. He wondered if “the erosion of freedom that has taken place under Democrat rule” would have prevailed by the Tricentennial, and if “horrible missiles of destruction” would have eliminated “the civilized world we live in.” His readers of the next century “might not even get to to read the letter at all” if the Republicans should fail to preserve the liberties that their enemies yearn to demolish. Ecstasy greeted his bleak message, and his followers cheered on having their fears confirmed.

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Posted at 12:09 PM on Nov 20, 2015 in category Politics
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Thursday November 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

An odd thing happens when Hugh Grant makes an appearance about four-fifths of the way through “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”: I smiled and laughed a bit. There was lightness and fun to what he was doing and saying. He gave off ... what’s the word again? ... charm. The very thing missing from the rest of the movie.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Guy Ritchie’s “U.N.C.L.E.” wants to be light but it’s oddly heavy and tone deaf. Bits that should float through the air clunk to the ground. The repartee is sluggish, the charm absent. One moment Gaby (Alicia Vikander) is exuding a kind of rage; the next she’s drunk and doing a bad Tom-Cruise-in-“Risky Business” dance in a hotel room. Then we get the sadistic Nazi, with quick flashes of his concentration camp background, torturing the lead. Nothing funnier than concentration camps.

I don’t have any skin in this game since I never watched the 1960s TV show—not five minutes of it. In a way I was rooting for the movie since I want Henry Cavill (Superman, after all) to succeed. And he’s not bad. But his Napoleon Solo is too blasé without the necessary twinkle, while Armie Hammer’s Ilya Kurakin is too intense without any other redeeming quality. It feels like it should work—the Lone Ranger and Superman!—but it doesn’t come close.

Is it because Cavill, the Brit, is playing the blasé American, while Hammer, the blasé American, is playing the uptight Ruskie? On the chick side, you have the Swede playing the East German and the French woman (Elizabeth Debicki) playing the Nazi. It’s like Twister with nationalities. Everyone falls down.

So it’s 1963 and Napoleon and Ilya are the two top agents for the CIA and KGB, respectively, and they need to team up to find Gaby’s father, a former German scientist, who is helping remnant Nazis build the most powerful bomb of all. One bomb to rule the world, as it were.

They start out hating each other, of course—or Ilya hating, Napoleon shrugging—but it builds into mutual respect. We get exotic locales, hotel suites, cars that go vroom, but it’s never particularly fun, smart or sexy. None of it. Rarely have such good-looking people in such fine-looking clothes given off so little.

Is director Guy Ritchie done? Should someone turn him off?

I knew something was wrong when this was the first thing I saw in the film. It's background detail for the morons in the crowd, but surely a contender for worst fake headline in any movie ever:

Man from UNCLE headline

As opposed to, you know, “PEACE!” or “WAR ENDS.” As if people in 1945 needed to be told which war. 

But my favorite part is the last word in the subhed: “Foe.” Not Germany or Japan. Foe. 

Guy? Uncle. 

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Posted at 07:22 AM on Nov 19, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Wednesday November 18, 2015

#Paris

I got the news bit by bit via social media last Friday. #Paris? Trending? Oh, a terrorist attack. I imagined the usual. But the scope of it kept rising. The numbers kept rising: 15, 30, 130. It wasn’t the usual.

ISIS or ISIL or IS is fighting for territory in a specific place. Then they switched battlefields. They went to a place where they were the only combatants and fought civilians not soldiers. They decided to slaughter civilians. 

No words. Well, some. Similar to what John Oliver said on his show

The aftershocks, sadly, and predictably, have been the usual: Islamophobia, chest thumping, anti-immigration talk, pro-gun talk, attacks on Pres. Obama, attacks on Pres. Bush. There was no grace period. There was little grace.

A few voices besides John Oliver helped this past week. I liked this thought from author Mark Harris because it’s similar to my attitude:

If you're saying “This is war” or “We have to get tough” or “We have to kill them all,” please pause for a moment and think about who you mean by “we.” Do you mean you? Or do you mean the 18- to 24-year-olds who “we” are going to send to do this? 

And my friend Jim Walsh wrote a nice piece called “The Force Awakens,” about heading toward the light in a time of darkness:

And as the military jingoism and xenophobia ramps up here and abroad, I take solace and guidance from “Rent” author Jonathan Larson, who wrote, “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” That’s for sure, and I know from experience that that helpless feeling deep in our guts can be mitigated by setting our intentions every day to make something beautiful and create our own weather and reality.

Here's to better weather. 

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Posted at 11:58 AM on Nov 18, 2015 in category Politics
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Thursday November 12, 2015

When is it OK for an Actor to Play Someone of Another Race?

When is it OK for an Actor to Play Someone of Another Race? Johnny Depp as Tonto

Crossing a line? On the one hand, without Depp's interest in playing Tonto, the movie wouldn't have been made; on the other hand, the movie wouldn't have been made.

In a recent New York Times piece called “On Acting, Race and Hollywood”  actor-comedian Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) recounts his first experience seeing an Indian actor on a movie screen; it had a profound effect on him. Years later, it had a more profound effect on him when he discovered the actor wasn't Indian. The movie was “Short Circuit 2,” and the actor was Fisher Stevens. So Ansari’s first movie encounter with his own kind was a fraud. It was a white guy in make-up using a funny accent. 

That’s his initial complaint about acting, race and Hollywood, and it’s two-fold:

  1. How come we don't see more Indian characters on screen?
  2. When we do, how come they’re not played by Indian actors?

Then things gets trickier.

At one point, Ansari wonders why Max Minghella, “a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor,” was chosen to play Indian-American Divya Narendra in “The Social Network.” If I were a struggling Indian actor I’d wonder that, too, but it raises a whole host of questions—the usual questions, to be honest—about acting and border crossings and what constitutes racial theft. 

Essentially: When is it OK for an actor to stretch and when is he/she engaging in a modern minstrel show?

Here are a few follow-ups to try to narrow things down:

  1. Is it OK for Chinese to play Japanese, and vice-versa?
  2. Can Italians play Spaniards, and Spaniards Mexicans, and Mexicans Iranians?
  3. Was it cool for Robert De Niro, an Italian-American, to play a Jewish gangster in ”Ca$ino,“ or Javier Bardem, a straight Spaniard, to play a gay Cuban poet in ”Before Night Falls,” or Al Pacino, an Italian-American, to play a Cuban gangster in “Scarface”?
  4. What about all the white actors and opera singers who have played Othello over the years?
  5. How South do you have to be to play someone from the South? How Boston do you have to be to play someone from Southie?

I’d be curious where Ansari puts up his own artistic border guards. It’s a trickier topic than people admit.

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Posted at 02:56 PM on Nov 12, 2015 in category Culture
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Wednesday November 11, 2015

Movie Review: 7 Chinese Brothers (2015)

In Bob Byington’s 2012 indie comedy “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” his main character, Max (Keith Poulson), fails up: he becomes rich, successful and loved without much effort. In this slice-of-life follow-up, Larry (Jason Schwartzman) fails the more normal way: down down down.

7 Chinese BrothersLarry shares a small apartment in Austin, Texas with his soporific French bulldog (Schwartzman’s own dog, Arrow), and occasionally visits his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis, a standout) at an assisted care facility. He drinks too much. Like Max, he’s disaffected and stuck in a dead-end job even as he eyes a potential inheritance. Unlike Max, he’s a tiny bit engagé. At the least, he’s trying to amuse himself.

After filling out a job application, for example, he declares, “A couple of spelling errors but I’m going to give it a B+.” He’s forever doing a bit called “fat guy getting out of pool” that requires slowly rolling over a countertop. Asked to help at the QuickLube garage where he works, he stares deeply into a computer while tapping furiously at the keyboard. “One second,” he declares, “my stocks are crashing.”

Much of the movie seems improvised, and Schwartzman is great at making Larry both sharply intelligent and not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. You also sense, in some lost look in his eye, a faint realization that life is passing him by.

The movie has interesting twists and quality secondary characters, but it doesn’t quite gel. It shows us a character with an obvious defect, then makes it apparent, to us and to him, that the defect is holding him back.

Still, there’s a gentleness here, and a greater maturity than Byington displayed in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” He gives us more to like. 

-- This review appeared in slightly different form in The Seattle Times. 

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Posted at 02:17 PM on Nov 11, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Quote of the Day

“In the G.O.P., there is nothing to be lost by picking a fight with the Fourth Estate, or by putting out political wish lists masquerading as economic plans. Throughout the debate, the candidates did a resolute job of sticking to their fantastical scripts about cutting the tax rate to ten per cent (Cruz and Carson), abolishing the payroll tax (Cruz and Paul), doubling the economic-growth rate (Bush), and somehow balancing the budget (everyone). At one point, a frustrated Bartiromo said to Cruz, “But you haven’t told us how to pay for it”—a remark that could have been directed at virtually any of the candidates.”

-- John Cassidy, “Policy Substance Intrudes on the Fourth G.O.P. Debate,” on the New Yorker site.

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Posted at 09:32 AM on Nov 11, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Tuesday November 10, 2015

Nathan Lane on the GOP Candidates

Times: If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Lane: It depends on who’s president. Based on the most recent group of candidates at the Republican debates I’d just be happy if I knew they could read. 

-- Nathan Lane, “By the Book,” in Sunday's New York Times. Another GOP debate tonight. Rah.

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Posted at 02:53 PM on Nov 10, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Monday November 09, 2015

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Well, at least it gets a lot of the details right. In its 90-minute runtime, we see/hear:

  • Vince Guaraldi music
  • Crack the whip on a frozen pond
  • The kite-eating tree
  • The little red-haired girl, and the teeth marks on her pencil
  • Miss Othmar
  • Adult voices going wah wah, wah wawa wah
  • “No Dogs Allowed”
  • “It was a dark and stormy night”
  • Joe Cool
  • Psychiatric Help: 5 cents

Charlie Brown is called a blockhead, Frieda calls out her naturally curly hair, and Sally calls Linus, who carries around his security blanket, her “Sweet Baboo.” The Peanuts MovieThey're not even concerned about updating anything for the 21st century. Kids still talk on land lines, Snoopy still writes on a typewriter, and he still fights “the Great War” versus “The Red Baron” in his “Sopwith Camel.”

No surprise that the details are right. The movie was written by Charles M. Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan Schulz, along with family friend Cornelius Uliano. It’s directed by Steve Martino (“Horton Hears a Who!”).

But they still missed it.

Beagel
Question: What is the essence of Charlie Brown?

It’s more than just losing. In the best of the movies and TV specials, the essence of Charlie Brown is to lose and to get over the sting of that loss through the wisdom of Linus, his right-hand man and personal priest. In a sense, Charlie Brown represents the rise and fall of man while Linus articulates the redemptive impulse of God.

The most obvious example of this is in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” After Charlie Brown is made director of the school paegant, he tries to counteract its overt commercialism with a tiny tree. That tree is really a version of himself, isn't it: overlooked and unloved. And, true to form, everyone hates it. But then Linus tells Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, and Charlie Brown, momentarily happy, puts a bulb on the tree. It falls over, apparently dead. So Linus to the rescue again. He declares that the tree just needs a little love. The tree is resurrected, Charlie Brown is redeemed, the spirit of Christmas is saved.

Here’s an even more interesting example. In Schulz's first feature-length movie, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” Charlie Brown winds up in a national spelling bee and seems on the verge of winning, but then misspells, of all words, “beagle,” and is crushed. He actually sinks into depression: in bed all day, shades drawn. It’s Linus who gets him out of it. He comes over, raises the shades, tells him all the kids at school miss him. But Charlie Brown is adamant: He’ll never go to school again, never play baseball again, never do anything again. So Linus offers this:

I suppose you feel you let everyone down, and you made a fool out of yourself and everything. But did you notice something, Charlie Brown? The world didn’t come to an end.

The world didn’t come to an end. That’s some cold comfort right there. But it gets Charlie Brown out of bed. And he sees girls skipping rope and boys playing marbles. Linus was right. Then he sees Lucy with the football. He thinks she doesn’t see him but she does; so when he tries to sneak a kick, she pulls the ball away (again) and he winds up flat on his back (again). “Welcome home, Charlie Brown,” she says with a smile, while he remains on his back, face turned with chagrin toward the camera.

That’s the ending. It’s amazing to me that that’s the ending. Here’s the lesson of that first “Peanuts” movie: in a world of gut-wrenching defeats like the spelling bee, you should be grateful for your everyday defeats, like Lucy pulling away the football. That’s how you know the world didn’t end: When you’re defeated in warm, familiar ways. That's how you know you're home. 

100%
Now let’s compare this to the new movie, in which Charlie Brown tries to impress the new girl in town, the little red-haired girl, whom he’s too tongue-tied to talk to. Among his schemes:

  1. Win the talent show
  2. Dance exceptionally at the dance
  3. Write a great book report

What happens?

  1. He has to choose between peforming his magic act and helping Sally, and he chooses the latter.
  2. He begins to dance well, which means he’ll get to dance with the little red-haired girl; but then he slips on some punch and the sprinkler system is activated. Party over
  3. He’s partnered with the little red-haired girl for the book report, but she’s away for the weekend and the report is due on Monday; so he reads the entirety of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” (which he initially thinks is a book called “Leo’s Toy Store” by Warren Peace), and writes a 1,000-word report, which is subsequently, literally, cut to shreds by a toy “Red Baron” fighter plane that keeps buzzing through town—a running gag.

The kids also take a standardized test, and Charlie Brown, initially flummoxed, scores an unprecedented 100%. For this, he’s celebrated, since we all know how popular brainy kids are at school. Other kids even start wearing Charlie Brown’s trademark yellow shirt with the black stripe. (Sally, the merchandiser, has a line that reverberates less with irony than the corporate chutzpah of Fox Studios: “You have to cash in while you can,” she says.) And the school holds an assembly in his honor. But there, on stage, he realizes the test isn’t his; it’s Peppermint Patty’s. Once again, he’s faced with a moral dilemma. Once again, he does the right thing.

Which sets up our ending.

In the final school assignment, kids are asked to choose a summer pen pal, and the little red-haired girl chooses Charlie Brown. Why? He needs to ask her! But circumstances intervene, and soon she’s about to board a bus for summer camp; so he rushes to see her before she can leave. At one point, it all seems hopeless. There are too many kids between him and her. But now the world, in the form of the kite-eating tree, intervenes on his behalf, and he’s lifted above the crowd and set back down to earth. (Kite ex machina.) And there, with everyone gathered around, he talks to the little red-haired girl for the first time. For the first time, we get to see her. And she talks about the various things he’s done in this movie; and she tells him why she chose him as a pen pal. 

“You have all the qualities I admire,” she says.

Which is sweet. But it’s not exactly “The world didn’t come to an end, Charlie Brown.”

Mittens
“The Peanuts Movie” is OK. They do a good job with the voices, and with some of the characters—Lucy in particular. We also get some funny lines. At the library when Charlie Brown searches for Tolstoy, for example: “He’s going into the grown-up section? Is that legal?”

But they screw up Charlie Brown. They make him someone who would succeed if he weren't so moral and/or didn't have some temporary setbacks. He does write a good book report, he is a good dancer, he does have a good magic act. Why, with his pluck, he'll go far in life. And that's just not Charlie Brown.

This is Charlie Brown. It’s from 1988. At the age of 25, I cut it out and saved it because I had my own unrequited love at the time. Seeing the strip made me happy. It told me that someone, somewhere, understood:

Charles M. Schulz Peanuts strip 

The one character given short shrift in the new movie is Linus, and you can guess why. When the ending is happy, when the girl you like tells you that you have all the qualities she admires, you don’t need a redemption song. But a quick note to Hollywood about happy endings: They don’t always make us happy.

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Posted at 07:13 AM on Nov 09, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Saturday November 07, 2015

Movie Review: San Andreas (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Last year it was Godzilla. This year it’s an earthquake. What shitty thing will Hollywood do to San Francisco next year?

Maybe show us “San Andreas” again.

This is a movie to watch only when you’re surrounded by a lot of friends, and a lot of booze, and you take turns lobbing insults at the screen since the screen spends so much time lobbing insults at you. We watched it because Patricia loves the Rock, and I like the Rock—he was the best part of the WWF in the late ’90s by a long shot—but Rock, dude, get a better agent. I don’t know how someone with so much charisma keeps making such godawful movies.

It’s a shame about Ray
San AndreasThe Rock is Ray, a helicopter rescue guy in L.A., and in the cold open we see him rescue a pretty blonde with cleavage whose car goes off an embankment because she’s not paying attention. A local news crew, headed by super pretty Serena (Archie Panjabi), films it all. But then Ray comes home to divorce papers from wife Emma (Carla Gugino), a pretty brunette with cleavage who is now engaged to an architect named Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd, poor bastard, taking a paycheck to be a cowardly asshole.). Ray and Emma also have a daughter named Blake (Alexandra Daddario), a pretty brunette with fantastic cleavage, as anyone who’s seen the first season of “True Detective” can attest. That HBO show was Ms. Daddrio’s “Uma Thurman in 'Dangerous Liaisons'” moment; the moment every exec in Hollywood stood up and took notice. As it were.

Elsewhere, there’s a brainiac named Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), who, with his Asian colleague Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee), figures out how to predict when big earthquakes hit. They do this right before a big earthquake hits, but not with enough lead time for Dr. Park to actually survive it. OK, he would have survived if that shitty little girl hadn’t been too frightened to get off the bridge. He had to rescue her and then die, leaving us Asianless. Unless you count Serena, who returns to film Lawrence warning everyone that an even bigger earthquake is about to hit. How big? The biggest ever. The Rock’s biceps big.

So what happens besides the shaking? What's the plot?

  • The Rock rescues Emma from the top of some swanky LA building where she’s having lunch with an inexplicably bitchy woman played for two seconds by Kylie Minogue.
  • Blake takes herself and her breasts to San Francisco and waits in the lobby of Daniel’s building, where she meets an endearingly nervous job applicant named Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), who’s also endearingly Bri’ish. Which is even beh-ah. Plus he’s brought along his kid brother named ... wait for it ... Oliver! (Art Parkinson). Apparently they’re saving Artful Dodger for the sequel.
  • When the quake hits in SF, Daniel totally abandons Blake like the douche we knew he was, but like 10 times worse. But he gets his later. Splat!

For some reason, director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”), screenwriter Carlton Cuse (“Nash Bridges,” “Lost,” “Bates Motel”), and the fine folks at New Line Cinema decided to make almost everyone in California assholes. I get Daniel; he’s a longtime movie cliché. But Kylie? The chick in the car? Hey, what’s the first thing you do during an earthquake? How about loot? Even better: with a hot-wired truck. And if someone like the Rock tries to take the truck to save his daughter in San Francisco? All five-foot-nothing of you should totally pull a gun on him. Because that’ll work.

Everyone’s shitty but the Rock, who, in the midst of rescuing half of California by helicopter, plane and boat, admits to wifey that he didn’t let her in after their other daughter died in a river-rafting expedition. That’s the backstory we get as people die below. And it sets up our ending in which Blake and her boobs are trapped underwater and the Rock and his mighty biceps finally get to her. But too late? In the safety of the speed boat, with wifey and Brits watching, he tries CPR. He pumps her chest again and again and again and again and again and again and again and...

She’ll live, but she’ll be flat-chested.

It’s a shame about us
And in the end, as an American flag unfurls in magic-hour light over what’s left of the Golden Gate bridge, we get the following conversation:

Wifey: What now?
Rock: Now ... we rebuild.*
Wifey: But Daniel’s dead. Who’s going to design the buildings? You? Don't make me laugh.
Rock: Just ... look at the flag. We need a happy ending.
Wifey: With millions of people dead?
Rock: Right, but millions of shitty people. The best survived. My biceps, our daughter’s boobs, and Oliver and Pip over there. And the camera will pan up as the music wells up and everyone in the audience with any lick of sense will throw up a little in their mouths. But they’ll be back next summer. Because they’re the people. The shitty people.

*We do get the first two lines. Which are bad enough to qualify for worst ending of the year. 

See you next summer, San Francisco!

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Posted at 06:48 AM on Nov 07, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Friday November 06, 2015

Movie Review: Truth (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“You haven’t got it.”

That’s what Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) tells Woodward and Bernstein (Redford and Hoffman) about an early Watergate story in “All the President’s Men.” So he slashes huge chunks out of it, sticks in the back pages, tells his reporters to get better stuff next time.

It’s probably what should have been said to Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), the “60 Minutes II” producer, who, like a lot of the press, had been digging into a story about the activities of Pres. George W. Bush when he was with the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973. How did he get in? Was he AWOL in 1972? How did he get out almost a year early? It’s the middle question that’s the humdinger, of course, and in September 2004 she finally gets a source and a document, the so-called Killian memo, that indicates Bush had been working on political campaigns rather than doing his duty in the early ’70s. POTUS had been AWOL. In the middle of a presidential campaign, this was a potential bomb. But it blew up in her face. Ours, too, you could say.

Truth with Robert Redford and Cate BlanchettBradlee’s line is also what should have been said to the national media in 2004, which focused myopically on the forged Killian memo and ignored the rest of the story, which is a story about good ol’ boy Texas privilege. The memo was forged, in other words, but its contents were true. This means that during the 2004 presidential campaign, the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, who served in Vietnam and earned a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts, was questioned relentlessly over his service (see: swiftboating), while the Republican president, who labeled himself a “wartime president,” and who fought the Vietnam War from the safety of Texas with time off for bad behavior, sailed through unaffected. The coward was seen as a hero and the hero smeared as a coward. And all of this from a media that Republicans continue to label “liberal.”

Finally, sadly, Bradlee’s line needs to be repeated to James Vanderbilt, the writer-director of “Truth.” He made a pretty good movie from Mapes’ book. But he didn’t get it.  

Corporate has some questions
The first half isn’t bad. Mapes and her team, including Mike Smith (Topher Grace), Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and Lt. Col. Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), go over the evidence, gather new evidence, including the Killian memo from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), and finally air the story behind Dan Rather (Robert Redford, perfectly suggesting rather than imitating the news anchor). That’s fun. We get a good shorthand on the issues and a nice dynamic among the players. True, Lucy gets short shrift, and the Lt. Col. calls the short-haired-but-bearded Smith “hippy” several times; but there’s snap and crackle.

Then pop. The story airs and Vanderbilt shows us people around the country, in various public spaces (airport, etc.), watching the episode with faces uplifted and serious, while transcendent music wells in the background. It’s not only wrong—since part of the story will be recanted—it’s a ripoff of Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” when Lowell Bergman’s “60 Minutes” piece on tobacco insider Jeffrey Wigand finally aired. That moment was truly transcendent, since it justified all the shit Wigand (and Bergman) went through to air it. And this isn’t that. So that put me off straightaway.

Then it got worse.

Once questions arise about whether the Killian memo was a forgery—see: fonts, spacing, superscript—our team does the following:

  • Searches for evidence to refute those charges (and finds some)
  • Re-interviews Lt. Col. Burkett and finds out he’s kind of nuts
  • Follows CBS Corporate’s directives
  • Wallows
  • Speechifies

The bigger problem: The way Mapes struggles on the way down isn’t interesting to me. She breaks too easily, and lashes out when she shouldn’t. She keeps fighting the wrong fight—mostly with her father, a conservative who beat her as a child. At one point, she reads blog comments where she’s called “a witch,” and crumples. I’m like: Really? Rule No. 1 of the Internet age: Never read the comments section. It’s our “Never get off the boat.”

Fuck it
Here are two more quotes from the aforementioned better movies about journalism:

  • “Corporate has some questions.” – The Insider
  • “Fuck it, let’s stand by our boys.” – All the President’s Men

The first quote is the opening salvo in CBS’s move to squelch the Wigand story in “The Insider.” This was in the mid-1990s. Bergman had a story that was completely solid and he still had to fight to get it on the air because of concerns over litigation and corporate profits and possible mergers. Mapes should’ve known the entity she was dealing with.

The second quote is again from Jason Robards’ Ben Bradlee, and it’s after Woodstein screws up. They write an article stating that, in an FBI investigation into the Watergate break-in, Hugh Sloan named White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman as the third man to control the slush fund of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). It was and wasn’t true. Haldeman was the third man to control the fund but Sloan hadn’t named him because he’d never been asked. The quote is Bradlee’s solution: he issues his own non-denial denial. He and publisher Katherine Graham stand by their reporters, who, over time, uncover the rest of it. And it brings down a corrupt president.

That’s the key difference between Mapes/Rather and Woodward/Bernstein: CBS didn’t stand by their boys. They made a corporate decision to avoid risk and ensure profit because they are a corporation, while Bradlee/Graham made a human decision to stand by their boys because they’re, well, human beings. You could say this is the key difference between the world I grew up in and the world as it’s run now.

It’s a downward cycle:

  • 1970s: the company stands by its reporters and the story gets out.
  • 1990s: the company betrays its reporters but the story gets out.
  • 2000s: the company betrays its reporters and the story doesn’t get out.

You get an inkling of all this in Rather’s speech about when networks realized news divisions could make profit—ironically, because of “60 Minutes”—but it’s not enough. You need to dramatize it, not speechify it. I don’t know how you do that, but that’s what needs to be done. 

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Posted at 07:48 AM on Nov 06, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Thursday November 05, 2015

Quote of the Day

“Baseball is meant to break our hearts, as Bart Giamatti kept telling us, but he never said what to do with the pieces.”

-- Roger Angell, Mets fan, in his piece, “Gonezo,” on the New Yorker site. He's mostly talking about this year's World Series but he realizes other teams have it worse (cf., Pirates). I would argue other teams have it worser (cf., Mariners). But I suppose what I felt with the M's this year was less heartbreak than ennui. Heartbreak was last year's World Series or this year's Super Bowl. The closer you get, the greater the heartbreak. Fans of the Mariners, who haven't been close since 2001, are lucky in this regard. Super lucky.

Elsewhere, the New York Times sports staff collects its World Series memories to forget. 

Kansas City Royals: World Series Champions 2015

A Royal flush of hearbreak for Mets fans. 

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Posted at 03:38 PM on Nov 05, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Rocky V (1990)

WARNING: SPOILERS

If “Rocky IV” was one of the most absurdly patriotic movies ever made—the taciturn and teeny American stoically avenging the death of his friend by taking on the huge Russian machine, Ivan Drago, in a boxing match in the U.S.S.R., and winning, and winning over the Russian crowd, including the Politburo—then “Rocky V” is one of the most subtly subversive, anti-patriotic movies ever made.

It begins, as with most “Rocky” movies, with the end of the previous “Rocky” movie: that moment of physical triumph and spiritual diplomacy: You can change, I can change, we can all change. Moments later, in the grimy Soviet shower, Rocky can’t stop his hands from shaking; then he calls Adrian “Mick,” even though Mickey died years earlier. At home, the doctors discover he’s suffering from cavum septum pellucidum. Basically, the Russian drove his brain to a spot where it shouldn’t be—not a bad metaphor for the Cold War, actually—but it means he can never box again.

Rocky VThen he finds out he’s broke. All that prize money through the years? The mansion? The robot servant? Gone. While in Russia, Paulie gave power of attorney to their accountant, who used the money for his own real estate deals that fell through. Now Rocky has to return to the same old stinkin’ Philly neighborhood he fled after “Rocky II.”

In other words, because he fought for his country, Rocky 1) loses all of his money, and 2) loses his means to make money.

The obvious lesson from Sylvester Stallone? Never fight for your country.

Worst of the Rockys
Here’s how bad “Rocky V” is: Stallone’s son, Sage, who plays Rocky’s son, Robert, is the best thing in it.

In a scathing piece in The New York Times in 1985, Vincent Canby anticipated Stallone’s problems with a “Rocky IV” sequel:

The actor, who refought and won the Vietnam War in “Rambo,” has taken it upon himself to fight and win a war that hasn’t yet been declared—World War III. There’s nothing left for a “Rocky V” except a Miltonian confrontation with Satan. 

So Stallone did the opposite. He did with “Rocky” what the Beatles did with “The White Album”: returned to basics. Except the Beatles made music out of it, and Stallone makes crap.

Let’s start with the notion that Rocky couldn’t make money off his name. Yes yes yes, in “Rocky II” he couldn’t act in a TV commercial with a nasty director. So what? Get a better director. Or do print ads. Or just monetize your brand, as they say today. Christ, he’s the two-time heavyweight champion of the world...and he’s white! Every doofus in the world knows you can monetize that shit. Instead, the movie pretends otherwise for the entire movie.

But at least Rocky starts up Mick’s Boxing Gym. That’s not a bad idea. Rock becomes Mick. It’s a livin’, not a waste of life. Then he takes on a brash kid from Oklahoma, absurdly named Tommy Gunn (real-life boxer Tommy Morrison), and then more absurdly nicknamed Tommy “The Machine” Gunn, because the real name isn’t perfect enough already. (It’s like giving a nickname to Coco Crisp.) And Rocky trains Tommy to be champ.

This is the centerpiece of the film. All of the movie’s remaining conflicts arise from this simple fact: Rocky trains Tommy. From that, we get this:

  1. Rocky ignores his own son, Robert Jr. (Sage), in favor of his adopted son, Tommy, in a way that everyone sees except Rocky.
  2. In the press, Rocky is given all of the credit for Tommy’s rise, and Tommy becomes resentful in a way that everyone sees except Rocky.
  3. A Don King-like boxing promoter, George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), steals Tommy away by plying him with something that famous professional athletes never encounter: women willing to sleep with them.
  4. Duke’s ultimate goal is to get Rocky back into the ring because he’s the only boxer that any boxing fan cares about. Apparently not enough to buy anything with his name on it, mind you, but certainly enough to watch him die in the ring. Because that’s entertainment.

Adrian (Talia Shire), who sees all of this happening, doesn’t say anything until the 11th hour, in an argument outside on Christmas Eve, in which Rocky talks up the smell of the neighborhood and yells, “I see where we are! I don’t want this no more!” within earshot of everyone who actually lives there. Classy, Rocko.

But eventually Rocky sees the light, and makes it up with Adrian, and Robert Jr., and Paulie, and they all go home happy. The end.

Oh right. The fight.

Brain and brain, what is brain?
It’s a “Rocky” movie so there’s gotta be a fight. But in all “Rocky” movies there has to be a reason that prevents the fight so we don’t get it until the end.

In “Rocky II” what prevents the fight is he might go blind if he fights; plus Adrian doesn’t want him to fight. But then he learns to fight right-handed and Adrian says “Win” and off we go.

In “III” he loses the eye of the tiger. But then Apollo Creed makes him live with black people so he gets it back.

In “IV,” I guess nothing really prevents the fight. He’s determined to beat the Russian as soon as Apollo is killed.

And in “V”? What prevents the fight is he might die if he fights. So how does Stallone overcome this dilemma? Well, Rocky just doesn’t die. He fights Tommy in the street because Tommy’s a little shit, and Duke doesn’t make any money off it. Of course, neither does Rocky. But he’s got family. Plus the old neighborhood. Which stinks.

Here’s the real resolution to that dilemma: Apparently Stallone gave Rocky cavum septum pellucidum because he planned to actually kill him off. But then everyone said, “No, you can’t kill him off.” So he didn’t. So Rocky fights with cavum septum pellucidum but his brain is cool with it. He doesn’t die.

But “Rocky” fans did a little bit. “Rocky V” drove our brains to a spot where it shouldn’t be.

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Posted at 06:38 AM on Nov 05, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 1990s
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Wednesday November 04, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Shit is big in “The Martian.”

We first see the crew of Ares III, a manned mission to Mars, giving each other shit as they do their various tasks just before a massive storm hits, forcing them to abandon the planet.

But, oops, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is clubbed by a kind of satellite dish, assumed dead, and left behind. Except he’s not dead. He’s the last man on Mars, our titular Martian, and with the remaining equipment and diminishing resources he has to figure out a way to grow food on a planet that doesn’t grow anything. As he says, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

Which he does. By using his own shit.

So three shits: two figurative, one literal.

Ridley Scott's THE MARTIANLet me add another: I enjoyed the shit out of it.

The needs of the many
I got echoes of other movies watching this one. Let’s start with the obvious:

  • For much of the movie, there’s just one man on the stage, and by the end he’s a thin, ragged, bearded figure—like Tom Hanks in “Castaway.”

Then the Matt Damon-specific echoes:

Director Ridley Scott added this echo as an homage to a great film and filmmaker:

  • Ares III crewmember Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) runs on a treadmill as a portion of the ship revolves in space, reminding anyone who’s seen Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” of Gary Lockwood seemingly running sideways (and uspide down) around his ship.

Here’s an intellectual echo:

  • The second and third “Star Trek” movies raise the question of when you risk many to save one. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is not only Mr. Spock’s line but his philosophy, his logic, but it gets turned on its head when the U.S.S. Enterprise risks everything to save, or resurrect, him. “The Martian,” which never really raises the question, actually has a better answer for it: In risking a few to save the one they unite the all; they unite the world.

But the movie that echoes most strongly here is Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13.” Once more, a NASA mission goes awry and once more  a team of scientists and technicians back on Earth work around the clock to figure out how to fix it and bring the men, or man, back. In doing this, they unite the world.

As a result, “The Martian” is both futuristic and nostalgic. It’s about a mission to Mars in the 2030s but it reminds us of when we all had a common purpose in the 1960s; when we all gathered in big squares (Times, Trafalgar) to watch how space missions turned out, if we ever even did that. To be honest, when we got the huge crowds in Times Square, the cynic in me thought, “Really? We’re not all watching it on our smartphones? We’re not just watching it in the air as in ‘Minority Report’? We’re physically united?” But the sentimentalist in me still teared up.

Hey there
I’ve tried to figure out why I liked “The Martian.” I think it’s the “Apollo 13” thing—which is an underrated movie, by the way. It’s that combination of smarts and teamwork and humanity. Most movies are about a hero, who’s strong, and who goes it alone even if he has to save something that’s not him: a town or a building; a family or a woman. Intelligence? Eh. Science? The science he needs is what makes a gun go boom. Questions? The only question he wants answered is this one: Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya? Punk?

This is not that. The landscapes are beautiful and desolate, the first green shoot poking through Watley’s makeshift greenhouse is beautiful and delicate, the movie’s pace is my pace. It’s well-acted. Damon rocks. Watley is often ahead of us rather than behind us. He's smarter than we are.

Yes, certain characters are given short shrift. Didn’t we need more of the rest of the Ares III crew? Didn’t you want to see more of Chiwetel Ejiofor? And what exactly is Kristen Wiig doing here? With so many interesting characters, it almost feels like it should be a miniseries rather than a movie.

Which is a compliment. Its 140-minute runtime zips. When was the last time I wanted more after a two-and-a-half hour film? 

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Posted at 06:36 AM on Nov 04, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Tuesday November 03, 2015

Mariners/Mediocrity

“...the Seattle Mariners now possess the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. They haven’t seen October since their historic, 116-win campaign back in 2001. ...

”Perhaps the saddest note of this whole affair, is that this isn't even the longest drought in the franchise's history.... the team began its life with 18 straight postseason-less years, and a .432 team winning percentage. What this means is that 1995 to 2001 is their only productive period in franchise history, in which they made the playoffs four out of seven seasons, with a .552 winning percentage. Even their period of dominance wasn't all that dominant, especially when you remember that 116 of those wins came in a single season.“

-- J.J. Keller, ”The Seattle Mariners: A History of Mediocrity," on baseballmagazine.net.

Most of Keller's post isn't exactly news. I knew the M's have the longest current playoff drought, and I knew the M's began as one of the most woebegone franchises in baseball history. (Unmentioned by Keller: It took 15 years before they even had a winning season, let alone a playoff berth.) I just didn't connect the dots as he does in the graf above. It was just '95-'01. Since '77, it was just those seven years. And not really '98 or '99, either. So five years out of 38. Ouch.

In some ways, it's actually worse than Keller makes it out to be. The amount of talent on the '90s Mariners squads should've been enough to take us to the moon, let alone the World Series, but the front office kept making the wrong play at the wrong time (Omar for Felix and moola; Tino and Nellie for Sterling and Russ), and eventually the shot we had, which was about the easiest shot any franchise ever had (Griffey, Randy, A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner), went away. Specifically, it went to the Bronx. 

Griffey '95 Mariners

Those ... were ... the days, my friend.

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Posted at 05:23 PM on Nov 03, 2015 in category Seattle Mariners
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Monday November 02, 2015

No Rights in the Matter: Basking in the Kansas City Royals’ World Series Victory

2015 Kansas City Royals: World Champions

I’m basking. I’ve been basking since last night at approximately 9:30 Pacific Time. In some ways I have no right to bask, since the 2015 Kansas City Royals aren’t my team. Cf., Theodore Roethke’s great poem, “Elegy for Jane (My Student, Thrown by a Horse),” which ends with a profession of love and then this:

I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover

That’s me with the Royals. I didn’t suffer with this team for games and seasons and decades. I was always aware of them but in an offhand way. My team kept swapping Raul Ibanez with them. He’d do good over there and I’d think, “Well, that’s a waste. We could use him.” Because we had a chance in hell back then, and everyone knew the Royals didn’t have a chance in hell. They were the most chanceless team in baseball. I’d see a guy with a Royals cap and think, “Now there’s a fan, poor bastard.”

It’s an odd thing, choosing a team in the postseason when your team doesn’t make it, and most years mine doesn’t so I’ve had practice. Sometimes you know going in, sometimes your rooting interests develop during a game. Most of the time I root for underdogs or teams that have long been denied. Like most people do.

This year in the American League I wanted Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Rangers, then Royals over Blue Jays in the ALCS. I got all of that. In the NL, I wanted Cubs over St. Louis and was mixed on Mets/Dodgers. The underdog impulse should’ve had me rooting for the Mets, but I knew the Dodgers, for all its money, were in some ways more hapless than the Mets, who had at least been to the World Series in the last 25 years. So I found myself rooting for the Dodgers, who lost, then I found myself rooting for the Cubs over the Mets, and lost that one, too. And that set up this World Series.

I have to say, even if it had been Royals vs. Cubs, the most long-denied team of all, I still would’ve rooted for the Royals. Part of it is they should’ve won last year. Last October, the Royals were the story, and the San Francisco Giants got in the way of that story, and I wanted a better ending. I hoped to get that this year.

The other part is that I liked them; they were an easy team to like. I liked the way they played: speed, defense, putting the ball in play, not striking out. I liked the players themselves: the calm of Gordon, the fieriness of Hosmer, the smile and joy and “climb on my shoulders” leadership of Perez; the moosiness of Moustakas and the beautiful all-aroundness of Lorenzo Cain. Oh, and in the bullpen, the implacable Wade Davis. The one constant in life is change, but Wade Davis was a bulwark against change. He made sure the score stayed the same. For all the fans who could never root for Mariano Rivera because he represented the team that represented everything wrong with baseball, we now had Wade Davis. Late innings were volatile for a lot of teams but not the Royals. The Royals cured volatility with Wade Davis.

I followed them out of the corner of my eye all year. They were 90 feet from winning it all last year yet hardly anyone picked them to repeat this year. Most pundits didn’t even pick them as a wild card. Last year was seen as a fluke. They thought my Mariners were the team to beat.

Oops.

By the end of May, the M’s seemed done, and when I checked the box scores I’d do this:

  • Did the M’s win? No, crap.
  • Did the Yankees win? Shit, yes.
  • Are any other AL East teams threatening them? C’mon, losers.
  • Oh, and how did the Royals do?

They turned out to be better than everyone thought. Then the playoffs began and they seemed worse than everyone thought. To the Houston Astros, they lost once, twice, and were losing a third game in a best of five series.

Then they seemed amazing.

On Monday, Oct. 12, three weeks ago, I was beginning to reconcile myself with the idea of rooting for the Astros the rest of the way. Or maybe the Blue Jays if they could come back against the Rangers. We wouldn’t get an all-Texas ALCS, would we? Uck.

I was working but had ESPN.com’s gamecast up and kept looking over. Oh, the Royals have a baserunner? Huh, another? Wait, are the bases loaded? Wait, do they have a shot at this?

Here are five postseason games the Royals won this year:

  • ALDS Game 4: Down 6-2 in the 8th inning.
  • ALCS Game 2: Down 3-0 in the 7th inning. 
  • World Series Game 1: Down 4-3 in the 9th inning.
  • World Series Game 4: Down 3-2 in the 8th inning.
  • World Series Game 5: Down 2-0 in the 9th inning.

How often did they do this? This often: I actually began to laugh during last night’s comeback because it was so absurd that it was happening again. But it was. And this is all it took to tie it:

  • A walk
  • A double
  • An infield groundout
  • An infield groundout

Oh, and this too:

  • One of the ballsiest baserunning moves in World Series history

That’s my general image of the 2015 Royals: sprawled all over homeplate in a ballsy baserunning move. I remember as a kid reading about Enos “Country” Slaughter scoring from first on a single in the 1946 World Series and wondering, “How is that even possible? You can’t do that.” Well, Lorenzo Cain did it twice this postseason, the second time to score the go-ahead run in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the ALCS and put the Royals in the World Series. Pundits, or at least Joe Buck, keep saying that Jose Bautista threw to the wrong bag, second, rather than home to prevent Cain from scoring, but he didn’t. If he’d thrown home, Cain wouldn’t have gone and Hosmer would’ve wound up on second, and when Morales singled to center both would’ve scored. It was lose-lose for Bautista, and he chose the right lose. It wasn’t his fault Royals were on the basepaths.

Was that the game I was watching at Six Arms with the dude from Kansas City? No, that was ALCS Game 4. He bought me a shot in the 7th for good luck because that’s what he and his friends would do in the 7th, and you have to keep traditions alive even when you’re on a business trip in Seattle. It seemed to work. His team, our team, scored 4 that inning, 3 in the next, 2 in the 9th. We fist-bumped. After the game, I wished him luck.

Joe Posnanski has a great post-World Series piece on luck and the Kansas City Royals. He writes about James Bond’s luck in the movies and says the Kansas City Royals are James Bond. He leaves out “After years of being Don Knotts,” but that’s implied. That’s known. We all knew that. That’s part of the charm of this Royals team: everything they’ve overcome. Yeah, sure, that history didn’t belong to these players to overcome but it still did. When you get drafted/signed by the Kansas City Royals/Seattle Mariners it means something different than getting drafted/signed by the New York Yankees. It’s like moving into a crumbling apartment building with a low ceiling and no light rather than some upper west side penthouse with great views. It’s gonna effect you. 

But somehow it all worked out. And now it’s mid-day of Day 1 of the Hot Stove League and I’m still basking even though I have no rights in the matter. I just like this team. What can I say? For any team that was never my team, this is one helluva team.

FURTHER READING:

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Posted at 06:23 PM on Nov 02, 2015 in category Baseball
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Quote of the Day

“We wanted to acquire players that we loved watch play.”

-- Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, in Joe Posnanski's post-World Series post, “Long May They Reign: After three decades, the Royals are the champions of baseball.”

 Eric Hosmer scores tying run in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series

Eric Hosmer scores the tying run in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. 

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Posted at 11:35 AM on Nov 02, 2015 in category Baseball
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Years Without a Title

WS # TEAM W L REC W REC APP BORN YRS WO TTL
4 Kansas City Royals 2 2 2015 2015 1969 0
20 San Francisco Giants 8 12 2014 2014 1883 1
12 Boston Red Sox  8 4 2013 2013 1901 2
19 St. Louis Cardinals 11 8 2011 2013 1882 4
40 New York Yankees 27 13 2009 2009 1903 6
7 Philadelphia Phillies 2 5 2008 2009 1883 7
5 Chicago White Sox 3 2 2005 2005 1901 10
2 Miami Marlins 2 0 2003 2003 1993 12
1 Los Angeles Angels 1 0 2002 2002 1961 13
1 Arizona Diamondbacks 1 0 2001 2001 1998 14
1 Tampa Bay Rays* 0 1 n/a 2008 1998 17
9 Atlanta Braves 3 6 1995 1999 1871 20
2 Toronto Blue Jays 2 0 1993 1993 1977 22
1 Colorado Rockies* 0 1 n/a 2007 1993 22
6 Minnesota Twins 3 3 1991 1991 1901 24
9 Cincinnati Reds 5 4 1990 1990 1882 25
14 Oakland Athletics 9 5 1989 1990 1901 26
18 Los Angeles Dodgers 6 12 1988 1988 1884 27
5 New York Mets 2 3 1986 2015 1962 29
11 Detroit Tigers 4 7 1984 2012 1901 31
7 Baltimore Orioles 3 4 1983 1983 1900 32
7 Pittsburgh Pirates 5 2 1979 1979 1882 36
0 Seattle Mariners* 0 0 n/a n/a 1977 38
1 Milwaukee Brewers* 0 1 n/a 1982 1969 46
2 San Diego Padres* 0 2 n/a 1998 1969 46
0 Washington Nationals* 0 0 n/a n/a 1969 46
1 Houston Astros* 0 1 n/a 2005 1962 53
2 Texas Rangers* 0 2 n/a 2011 1961 54
5 Cleveland Indians 2 3 1948 1997 1901 67
10 Chicago Cubs 2 8 1908 1945 1874 107

* Have never won a title.

More later. 

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Posted at 07:27 AM on Nov 02, 2015 in category Baseball
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Sunday November 01, 2015

Earlier This Evening IV

I'll leave the last tweet for the long suffering and immensely talented Joe Posnanski:

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Posted at 10:41 PM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Baseball
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Earlier This Evening III

Kansas City Royals World Champions 2015

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Posted at 10:37 PM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Baseball
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Earlier This Evening II

Kansas City Royals World Champions 2015

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Posted at 10:33 PM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Baseball
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Earlier This Evening I

Kansas City Royals World Series Champions 2015

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Posted at 10:29 PM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Baseball
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Box Office: The Bombs of October Continue

Jem and the Holograms: Box Office

Jem and the holographic box office.

Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” dropped only 27.5% to gross another $11.4 million and win the weekend for the fourth time in five weeks. The last film to win four weekends was “Furious 7” this spring. Before that? The first “Hunger Games” in the spring of 2012. So a rarity.

Even so, it was the worst weekend of the year for box office.

Plus the story for me continues to be the fierce battle between “Jem and the Holograms” and “Rock the Kasbah” to see whose box office sucks more.

As mentioned last week, the two movies finished 4th (Jem) and 5th (Kasbah) for worst per-theater average ever for movies that opened in more than 2,000 theaters. 

Neither redeemed itself this weekend. “Kasbah” dropped 76%, which is the 26th-worst second-weekend drop ever. It made $353,000. It finished in 19th place.

Universal, the distributor for “Jem,” dealt with its horrific opening by actually adding four theaters.  And “Jem” repaid its confidence by dropping 78.9%, which is the 10th-worst second-weekend drop ever. It grossed $290K. It finished in 21st place.

But I shouldn’t be picking too much on these two. No movie is kicking it. In the last six weeks, “The Martian” has grossed $182.8 million and “Hotel Transylvania 2” $156. Otherwise, it’s hard to keep up with all the bombs:

  • “The Last Witch Hunter,” which was supposed to be the next Vin Diesel franchise, has grossed all of $18 mil in two weekends.
  • “Goosebumps,” which married spooky kids story with Jack Black, has grossed $57 mil in three weekends.
  • “Bridge of Spies,” which got great reviews, continues the downward trend of Spielberg/Hanks box office: from $216 mil (“Saving Private Ryan”) to $164 (“Catch Me If You Can”) to $77 (“The Terminal”) to $45 so far for this. It’s in its third weekend.

“Steve Jobs”? Nah ($14.5). “Pan”? Grow up ($31.7). “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”? No activity ($13.5).

This weekend’s openers were more of the same: Bradley Cooper’s “Burnt” is toast ($5 mil in 3,000 theaters), Sandra Bullock’s “Our Brand is Crisis” is in crisis ($3 mil in 2,200 theaters) and “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” showed up dead on arrival ($1.7 mil in 1,500 theaters).

One assumes things will change next weekend when “Spectre” and “The Peanuts Movie” open.

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Posted at 03:49 PM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Why You Should Be Rooting for the 2015 KC Royals*

In June 2003, when Michael Lewis visited University Book Store on his “Moneyball” book tour, I listened from the back row during the Q&A and didn’t ask questions. Two reasons: 1)  I’m somewhat shy in a non-work mode, and 2) I figured I’d already had my say in my review of the book for The Seattle Times.

But if I had asked a question, it would’ve gone something like this:

  • Stats guru Bill James argued for OBP over batting average, since you win with runs, and you get runs by getting guys on base and driving them in. In this way, a walk is as good as a single. In some ways, a walk is better than a single since they’re more consistent and undervalued. Which is the point of “Moneyball”: find what is undervalued and buy it; find what is overvalued and sell it.
  • As a result, the “Moneyball” formula for success is something like this: more walks = more wins; more wins = more fans. 
  • The rub: walks are kind of boring. So could a team be so boringly competent that it would actually lose fans as it won?

I guess there was a third reason I didn’t ask this question: a bit long.

But that question has stuck with me. Walks are fine but the opposite of drama. And don’t you want more excitement on the field? Isn’t that what baseball needs?

The answer from stats heads has been a shrug. It’s not how you win. You win with walks and power. You win with OBP and SLG.

Cue the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals.

This Royals team, which came 90 feet from winning it all last year, and are now one game from winning it all this year, is the opposite of a traditional “Moneyball” team. Among the 15 teams in the American League, this is where the 2015 Royals ranked in the “Moneyball” categories:

  • Walks: 15
  • Home runs: 14

So how do they do it?

By finishing third in batting, third in doubles, second in stolen bases and third in stolen base percentage. They hit, they run, they field, they have a great bullpen. Somewhere John McGraw smiles. Somewhere, he and Ty Cobb high-five each other.

And the Royals don’t strike out. They finished last in the American League by a huge margin here: 973 Ks vs. 1,119 for next-to-last Oakland. Houston led the A.L. with 1,392 Ks—or 419 more than KC. That’s like watching 15 and a half entire games worth of strikeouts. That’s what Astros fans had to endure and Royals fans didn’t.

Strikeouts are boring. Walks are boring. I like homeruns as much as the next guy but they can be boring, too. The Royals put the ball in play. They force the other team to execute again and again. It’s not only a form of pressure that leads to success, it’s fun to watch.

So that’s why you should root for the Kansas City Royals: So other teams might try to copy their formula for success, and we’ll all be able to watch a more exciting game. 

* Yes, Tim, this means you.

Lorenzo Cain

Just another Royals 8th inning.

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Posted at 10:27 AM on Nov 01, 2015 in category Baseball
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