erik lundegaard

Saturday August 27, 2016

The 300-Strikeout Pitchers

300 strikeout pitchers

Sandy, Randy, and He.

First, here's the bigger trivia question. It's the one baseball fans can really mull over and have fun with at a bar with a friend:

Name the 15 pitchers in the modern era (post-1900) who have struck out 300 or more batters in a season.

Some you'll get right away (Koufax, Ryan, Randy, Feller). Some take a while (Richard, Schilling). Some you might not get (Blue, Scott). 

Here are a few follow-up trivia questions that I think are a little more interesting:

  1. In which three decades of the modern era did no pitcher strike out 300 batters in a season?
  2. In which decade did the most pitchers strike out 300 batters?
  3. Who was the first pitcher to strike out 300 or more batters in different decades?

Answers? 

  1. 1920s, '30s, '50s
  2. 1970s: six pitchers, 11 times (no other decade is close)
  3. Sudden Sam McDowell: 1965, 1970

Here's the chart:

DECADE TIMES PITCHERS    
1900s 2 Rube Waddell (2)    
1910s 2 Walter Johnson (2)    
1920s 0      
1930s 0      
1940s 1 Bob Feller    
1950s 0      
1960s 4 Sandy Koufax (3) Sam McDowell  
1970s 11 Sam McDowell Mickey Lolich Vida Blue
    Steve Carlton Nolan Ryan (5) J.R. Richard (2)
1980s 2 Mike Scott Nolan Ryan  
1990s 7 Randy Johnson (3) Curt Schilling (2) Pedro Martinez (2)
2000s 4 Randy Johnson (3) Curt Schilling  
2010s 1 Clayton Kershaw    

What happened in the 1970s? I assume it's some combo of the easy targets from expansion franchises (four joined MLB in 1969) and starting ptichers going long into games; before the rise of relief specialists. In the '90s the whiffs went up all around baseball, and you had three dominant strikeout pitchers that tended to last long into games, but since then (despite all the Ks) we've entered a fallow 300-K period again.

The fallowest period was the first six decades of the 20th century, when only three pitchers managed to strike out 300+ in a season: Waddell, Johnson, Feller. Then expansion came, Koufax arrived, and we were off to the races. 

Last year we had Kershaw squeaking over with 301. This year, with a month to go, Max Scherzer, helped by a 20-strikeout perfromance against Detroit in July, leads the Majors with 227. That's 73 away. He averages about 8.4 Ks per game and looks to have another seven or so games to pitch. That's about 15 short. And the Nats have no more games scheduled against Detroit. 

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Posted at 07:19 AM on Aug 27, 2016 in category Baseball
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Tuesday August 23, 2016

BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century: Annotated

Llewyn Davis

Cheer up, bro. All the critics love you at the Beeb.

We're 16/17 years into this thing, depending, so I guess it's expected. This list comes from the BBC, who asked 177 film critics around the world to name the greatest movies of the century. Then they tabulated. Voila. Or Eww, depending. 

Links go to my reviews. Annotated thoughts in red. Your mileage will differ.  

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010) The only Assayas? It's like “Summer Hours” was never made. And wasn't this thing a mini-series anyway?
99. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
98. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
97. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009) 
96. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003) A little Pixar action. There will be more. 
95. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) Wes is named three times on this list, tied for most with P.T. Anderson and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. More on him later.
94. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) Deserved.
93. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007) This makes it but not “Up”? Huh. 
92. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007) Nice to see. 
91. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009) Overrated. 
90. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002) Yes.
89. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
88. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015) More screenwriter-driven than director-driven, and the critics love the latter; so probably won't be on here in another five years. 
87. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) So long ago. Seems like I saw this in another life. 
86. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002) Haynes has two. I get the appeal even if he doesn't appeal to me.  
85. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009) This should be much, much higher. Top 10. Criminally, it's the only Audiard. That's right: No “Rust and Bone.” 
84. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) No....
83. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001) No...
82. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009) Higher
81. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011) Hmm...
80. The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
79. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000) Kinda shocked to see it here, but I liked it well enough. Rest in peace, PSH.
78. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013) I'd like to see this again.
77. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007) Higher. Top 20.
76. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003) Did I watch the whole thing? We get one more von Trier.
75. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) Could see this again, too, but for now I'd leave off.
74. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012) Good god, no. Awful. 
73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004) Meh. But at least it's not “Before Midnight”...
72. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) Huh. Liked it. But ahead of “Un Prophete”?
71. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012) Good god, no.
70. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) Nice, but...
69. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015) Dreamy. Soporific. Like most Haynes. I need coffee after his movies. 
68. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) Rest in peace, Gene Hackman. Oh, he's just writing novels? Apologies. 
67. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008) 
66. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003) I hope more people see this underrated movie. 
65. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
64. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) Good. 
63. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011) Never did get around to seeing this. Did I?
62. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) Too high. Should it even be on? 
61. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) Not for me. Not close.
60. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
59. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005) Could see again. 
58. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène, 2004)
57. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) Iffy. Morally. I think. Need to see in 20 years to assess properly. 
56. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, director; Ágnes Hranitzky, co-director, 2000)
55. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013) Yep.
54. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
53. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) Hmm...
52. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
51. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) I liked it, but...
50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015) Wait, I DID see this, didn't I? Didn't stick. 
49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015) Really? Ahead of “Carol”? Surprising, given critics. 
47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) Saw it, didn't write about it. Came to me on waves of praise but didn't transcend or enlighten. 
46. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010) God, no. 
45. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013) Went on too long. 
44. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013) Not as good as I wanted it to be. Yes, I'm a bad person. 
43. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) Beautiful images; made me nauseous. Yes, I'm a bad critic. 
42. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) Devastating. 
41. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015) My friend Vinny is happy anyway. “Take her to the moon for me.”
40. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) This was transformative just 11 years ago. We've come far. 
39. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005) I keep trying to grasp onto this movie to like it but I can't get any toeholds. 
38. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002) From another life. 
37. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) One of the most miserable times I've had at the movies in the last 10 years. I'm still apologizing to Vinny for taking him to it. 
36. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014) I could see this again. 
35. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) Hypnotic 
34. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) Painful
33. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) Yeah, no. It saddens me that for most critics this is the pinnacle of superhero movies. 
32. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) Definitely
31. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
30. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003) Not this high. 
29. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) So nice to see you! (But still no “Up”? The fuck?)
28. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002) Yep.
27. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) Yep.
26. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) Probably not.
25. ​Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) Sure.
24. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) Powerfully made, I'm still trying to wrestle meaning out of it. 
23. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005) One of my favorite from Haneke, who's not one of my favorite directors. 
22. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) Oh, Bill. Oh, Scarlett. Whither Sofia?
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) The highest Wes.
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) Again, worth a re-view.
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) Please. Get this shit off here. It's a two-hour chase movie. 
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009) I could see again. Even though it's Haneke.
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012) Highest doc? Yes.
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) I thought I was the only one. 
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013) Ditto. 
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) 
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) Of course.
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000) Good to see you on here. Taiwan in the house!
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) Great movie but mixed feelings. 
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

 I stopped commenting near the end because I began to feel a little dispirited by the results. Is this the best we have? Shouldn't it be better? Of the top 25, I haven't seen “In the Mood for Love,” “Spirited Away,” “Holy Motors.” I still don't want to see “Holy Motors.” 

Of the movies not on the list that would be on my top 100 of the century? “United 93,” “Kung Fu Hustle,” “The Drop,” “Le Passé,” “Theeb,” “Restrepo,” “No End in Sight,” “Summer Hours,” “Rust and Bone,” “Moneyball,” “Young Adult,” “Des hommes et des dieux,” “American Hustle,” “The Revenant,” “Birdman.” No love for Inarritu here. Odd. 

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Posted at 05:55 AM on Aug 23, 2016 in category Movies - Lists
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Monday August 22, 2016

Quote of the Day: Poz on A-Rod

“But here's something about Rodriguez, something that even some of his foremost critics have said: He has been a different public person since returning from his suspension. He hasn't complained about his plight. He hasn't made excuses. He hasn't allowed himself to get embroiled in the controversies that, for him, are always ready to blossom.

”He has been, dare I say it, something like admirable. Even the way he handled the hacky retirement business with the Yankees — with the team forcing him out for roster spots that will be available in two weeks anyway — has been commendable. 'With all the screw-ups and how badly I acted,' he said, 'the fact that I'm walking out the door and Hal (Steinbrenner, Yankees owner) wants me (as) part of the family, that's hitting 800 home runs for me.'

“That's a pretty good statement filled with humbleness and regret.”

-- Joe Posnanski, “Why 696 is Better Than 700,” NBC Sports

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Posted at 12:52 PM on Aug 22, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Box Office: 'Ben-Hur' Crashes

Ben-Hur 2016

Scream all you want.

Well, that sucks. 

“Suicide Squad” dropped another 52% to $20 mil, which would've been third place two weekends ago and fourth place last weekend, but this weekend it's good enough for first. “Sausage Party,” the raunchy, anthropo-mocking animated film from Seth Rogen and company, came in second with $15 mil. In its second weekend, it dropped 55%.

None of the new big releases did well:

  • “War Dogs”: $14.3 mil, 3rd place
  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”: $12.6, 4th place
  • “Ben-Hur”: $11.3, 5th place*

This last is the shocker. The film got so-so reviews, but I heard the filmmakers heaped on the Christianity to get out the faithful. Didn't work. The movie that was the second-biggest box-office smash of the 1950s (after “Ten Commandments,” $848 million adjusted) couldn't even win its late-August opening weekend in 2016. It finished in fifth place.*  

I've said it before: a religious movie alone doesn't cut it (see: “The Nativity”). To become a hit, it has to become embroiled in the culture wars (“Passion of the Christ”; “God's Not Dead”). Being devout is all well and good, but the faithful want to rub someone's nose in it—Hollywood's, if it can. I suppose they just did. 

Anyway, I'm bummed “Suicide Squad” is still humming along. Two weeks ago I predicted it would top out at $270, but now it's at $262. Where will it stop? $300, more likely. Short of that, if we're lucky. Last week I had dinner with a friend who was a fan. Or at least he saw “Suicide Squad” and liked it enough. I brought up a few of the issues I had with the film, its overwhelming stupidity, that it's just chunks of story placed together without thought for what connects them. I brought up the scene where Deadshot has to prove himself to Flag by firing weapon after weapon at cardboard cutouts. Why does he have to prove himself? Isn't Flag an underling? Isn't Waller the boss? Why does nobody else have to prove himself? And isn't it a little dangerous to be giving all of these weapons to this stone-cold killer—particularly with the sadistic guard he wants to kill right next to him? “Sure,” my friend said. “When you think about this stuff afterwards.” “No,” I said. “I think about it during. That's why it's painful.”

* ADDENDUM: The actuals have come in, and “Ben-Hur” actually finished in sixth place. Same gross but “Pete's Dragon” surpassed it. 

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Posted at 06:49 AM on Aug 22, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday August 20, 2016

Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Imagine if after the boy shouted “The emperor has no clothes!” he’d been smacked by his mom and booed by the crowd, and the naked emperor was allowed to continue his promenade to cheers, safely within the delusion that he was wearing resplendent clothes.

That’s the obvious metaphor for “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Here’s the less-obvious one.

There’s a 1989 Jackie Chan movie called “Miracles—Mr. Canton and Lady Rose,” in which several friendly gangsters spend most of the movie in an elaborate scheme to pass off a poor flower lady as a rich Cantonese woman for the benefit of her daughter's rich, prospective in-laws. Florence Foster JenkinsIn the end her true identity is nearly revealed, and in a Hollywood picture it would have been revealed, and revealed to be meaningless, because aren’t we all the same, blah blah. That’s our kind of requisite happy ending. Not in China. There, the flower lady's disguise remained intact. The in-laws never know.

I.e., in the east: FACE > TRUTH. In the west, TRUTH > FACE. Within the requisite lies of cinema, that is.

I mention all this because for a moment in “Florence Foster Jenkins” I wondered if we weren’t becoming a little eastern in our sensibilities.

The three secrets of St. Clair Bayfield
Meryl Streep plays the title character, a real-life society matron and patron of the arts, circa 1944, who believes she has a splendid voice. She doesn’t. She has a horrible voice, a comically awful voice.

She also has a younger husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), with secrets. Three to be precise:

  1. He has his own village apartment, paid for by the Mrs., which he shares with his younger girlfriend Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) and her artsy friends. So a cad, right? Well....
  2. He’s spent the last 25 years keeping from Florence the knowledge that she can’t sing. As the movie progresses he pulls more and more people into this illusion to maintain it.
  3. The third secret is the one the movie keeps from us: he truly loves Florence.

Some portion of the movie is about maintaining the first secret. At one point, for example, Florence arrives in the morning to see party detritus on the floor—just missing the naked girl in the bed and the near-naked one in the bathroom.

But the movie is mostly about maintaining the second illusion, particularly as Florence, buoyed by applause and (paid-for) good reviews, takes her talents into 1) the recording studio; and 2) Carnegie Hall.

You’d think such a role would be perfect for Grant’s overly polite, befuddled comic sensibilities, but he’s not the one in the movie who makes us laugh; he’s actually the one who makes us cry. That death bed scene in the end? The depths of his affection for her? If Hugh Grant gets an Oscar nomination, it’ll be because of that scene. His eyes—cut more and more like Jack Kennedy’s as he ages—revealed worlds: the lies he keeps telling her (she can sing); the truth he can’t hide (he loves her).  

No, it’s Meryl, blissfully unaware and marvelously off-key, who makes us laugh. But I would add that even greater laughs are provided by Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”), who plays Cosmé McMoon, her soft-spoken accompanist, and who acts as our eyes and (mostly) ears throughout the movie. He first hears her voice when we first hear it, and some of his subtle reaction shots and line readings are close to comic perfection. With a glance, the kid upstages Streep.

The killing review
“Florence” is a movie about the worst kind of privilege—the illusions that the rich construct for themselves—so thumbs up to director Stephen Frears (“Philomena,” “The Queen,” “High Fidelity,” “Dangerous Liaisons”) and screenwriter Nicholas Martin (British TV), and, of course, the cast, for making us care. Occasionally my attention flagged, but then the movie would suck me back in—as when Florence, lonely with St. Clair on a “golfing excursion,” visits Cosmé in his small walk-up and does the dishes while he plays one of his own compositions. This inspires her to come up with lyrics on the spot, mumbled meaninglessly off-key, to his polite pain.

We also wonder how they’re going to make Carnegie Hall work. It’s one thing to fill a salon with the deaf and the bribed; how do you maintain the illusion when the place is filled with half-drunk soldiers who wolf-whistle Agnes, a brassy blonde trophy wife (Nina Arianda)? You don’t. The illusion crumbles. For a minute. Then the blonde stands up, tells the boys to show some respect, and everyone joins the fantasy. FACE > TRUTH.

The only one not joining the fantasy is Earl Wilson (Christian McKay of “Me and Orson Welles”), columnist for the Post, who can’t be bought. Florence eventually sees his scathing review, collapses, and, already sick (50 years of syphilis), lingers near death. Truth wins out, and it kills. A review kills. Man, those were the days.

Except truth doesn’t quite win out. Streep’s performance is both broadly comic and emotionally subtle, and in her eyes you see glimpses of the truth she knows is out there: that St. Clair cheats on her; that she can’t sing; that everyone is indulging her. But on her deathbed she again succumbs to the illusion; and her soul rises to the glorious aria she sees herself—that she remembers herself—singing.

Wonder how the movie will play in China? 

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Posted at 08:31 AM on Aug 20, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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The Naked Donald Statues

Here's Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere on the statues of a naked, teeny-penised Donald Trump that an anarchist group erected in New York, Seattle, et al., this week: 

It’s pretty easy to mold a humiliating likeness of a naked Presidential candidate. I’m hardly a Donald Trump supporter and yes, the guy could obviously stand to lose 20 or 30 pounds. (No more Kentucky Fried Chicken or taco bowls.) But what 70 year-old looks good naked? Yes, he deserves to be slapped down and voted down, but this is below the belt. What if somebody were to erect a nude statue of Hillary Clinton in Union Square? You know what the reaction would be.

My thoughts exactly. Also this one: Once again, the anarchists aren't helping. Help, or get off the stage.

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Posted at 06:57 AM on Aug 20, 2016 in category Politics
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Friday August 19, 2016

When You Wish Upon a Star

I'm reading Neal Gabler's bio of Walt Disney, and it's good if long; portions could've used an editor. But the preface is breezy, a synopsis/analysis on the ying-yang of Disney—his love of nostalgia and the future, for example—and it includes this thought from Gabler:

... the most powerful source of his appeal as well as his greatest legacy may be that Walt Disney, more than any other American artist, defined the terms of wish fulfillment and demonstrated on a grand scale to his fellow Americans, and ultimately to the entire world, how one could be empowered by fantasy—how one could learn, in effect, to live within one’s own illusions and even to transform the world into those illusions.

I think this is true and it's in now way a positive. It's the forerunner to Ronald Reagan and Karl Rove and now Donald J. Trump. How thin is the line between the Big Lie and Hollywood wish fulfillment? Isn't the Big Lie just wish fulfillment? Aren't politicians and moviemakers both giving the people what they want? To get over their troubles? The movies just do it for two hours; the politicians we're stuck with for four years.

The real problem is when people can't distinguish between the two. I think we're in that territory now. I think a portion of the populace has been in that territory all of my life.

George W. Bush flight suit: Mission Accomplished

Mission accomplished.

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Posted at 03:13 PM on Aug 19, 2016 in category Books
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Movie Review: Catwoman (2004)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You should never make a superhero out of a domesticated animal. Seriously. There is no Dog Man, no Gerbilboy, no “The Goldfish.” And if maybe you can get away with it, like maybe you can get away with it with Catwoman, you should never have the hero adopt the mannerisms of the domesticated animal.

In “Catwoman,” once Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) dies and is reborn because an Egyptian Mau kitty named Midnight sits on her chest and breathes into her face, we witness her do the following:

  • go crazy for catnip
  • order cream at a bar and slurp it
  • stare at fish in a fish tank with goggle eyes
  • gobble sushi/tuna
  • run from rain

I’m surprised one of the villains didn’t get out a piece of string.

Quiet or papa spank 
Catwoman with Halle BerryWho’s the villain in “Catwoman”? Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin, who wants power; Batman fights the Joker, who wants chaos. Catwoman fights Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone), former face of Hedare Beauty Products, who wants to stay younger-looking longer. OK.

Hedare is upset when she’s shunted aside for a younger model by her bitchy CEO husband George (Lambert Wilson). She’s a woman scorned. She’s also a tough executive. Her company is about to introduce a new product, Beau Line, pronounced bee-yew lean, which not only hides the effects of aging but actually removes them. Of course, women who use the cream complain of headaches and nausea, and its chief scientist warns that if someone stops using the product, their face kinda sorta disintegrates. So there are side-effects. For that bit of info, the scientist is killed—his death blamed on Catwoman—and Laurel pushes the product forward. Because they have millions invested in it? Won’t this side-effect be obvious eventually? Isn’t the FDA paying any attention?

Wait, there’s more. Because this is some magical beauty product.

Sure, if you stop using Beau Line your face disintegrates, but if you keep using it your skin turns into living marble. You become virtually invulnerable. And that’s what happens to Laurel, who I guess has been using it longer than anyone. And it finally gives the movie its requisite supervillain. A bit late, sure, about five minutes before the end, but it allows the usual WWE tide-turning in the final battle: 1) hero winning; 2) hero on ropes (clinging to top floor of skyscraper); 3) villain vanquished (falling from skyscraper).

Worse is why Laurel falls. She sees her reflection in the skyscraper’s glass, realizes her face is disintegrating, and can’t live in a world where she's not beautiful. It’s like the Green Goblin losing to Spider-Man because of shrinkage.

“I was everything they wanted me to be,” Laurel tells Catwoman. “I was never more beautiful, never more powerful. And then I turned 40 and they turned me away.” The movie is a metaphor for Sharon Stone’s entire shitty career. It's a metaphor for the shittiness of Hollywood. 

It’s also a primer for everything you shouldn’t do in a female superhero movie. Quickly: Don’t have your main character work at a cosmetic company. C’mon. The supervillain should be a man, I feel, but if it is a woman don’t pit youth against age; just leaves a bad taste. (Cf., “Supergirl”) And does any male character become hyper-sexualized when they develop powers? Does their sexuality become part of their power? Feels like the masturbatory dreams of boys who draw women well but interact with the real thing poorly.

There’s a way they might’ve justified Catwoman’s overt sexuality and slinking around. It’s in a line that Midnight’s owner, the crazy cat lady Ophelia (Frances Conroy), tells Patience as she’s explaining the history of her ancient Egyptian powers. “Catwomen are not contained by the rules of society,” she says. “You follow your own desires. This is both a blessing and a curse. ... But you will experience a freedom other women will never know.”

Many women I know are afraid to go out alone at night. They feel circumscribed by the constant, potential violence of men. This should’ve been Patience. Instead of a mousy, overly polite graphic designer who talks into her chest and whom nobody realizes is as beautiful as Halle Berry, she should’ve been someone who had experienced violence, possibly rape, or at least the threat of it. She was afraid to go out at night. Then she developed powers and owned the night. Hell, this could’ve been her raison d’etre. Spider-Man has the great power/responsibility line, Batman has revenge for the death of his parents, Catwoman could've had this. 

Instead, she licks Benjamin Bratt’s face, licks her lips after drinking cream, dances seductively at a club with a whip, struts on building parapets like she’s a model on a catwalk. She says meow.

To Wong Foo, thanks for everything
There’s such idiocy here: the sassy friend who becomes sick then gets the doctor of her dreams; the sets (industrial fan, etc.) like out of some shitty 1984 MTV video; the fact that Patience first displays her powers in a one-on-one basketball game. 

My favorite idiotic bit may be the rationale for why Patience becomes Catwoman in the first place. Seems Midnight the cat foresaw Patience’s fate, so she decided to see if she was worthy. How? By hanging out on Patience’s window ledge, three stories up, then climbing onto a higher ledge when Patience peeked out. And that’s how Patience proved her worth: by climbing out onto a ledge to save a cat that didn’t need saving. It's like jumping into the air to save a bird.

It didn’t have to be this way. “X-Men” had been released four years earlier, “Spider-Man” two years earlier. People knew how to do it. But Warner Bros. chose a one-named Frenchman, Pitof, who had directed exactly one feature, to helm it; they picked several journeyman screenwriters, John Brancato and Michael Ferris (“The Net”), to pen it; and we got this hot mess.

Hey, Halle Berry, you just became the first African-American actress to win an Oscar for acting in a lead role. What are you going to do now?

I’m gonna play Catwoman! 

Spilt milk.

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Posted at 06:55 AM on Aug 19, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2000s
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Thursday August 18, 2016

Lancelot Links

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Posted at 03:58 PM on Aug 18, 2016 in category Lancelot Links
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The Single Most Dominating Performance in American Sports History

In the wake of Katie Ledecky's dominating 12-second win in the 80m freestyle, Joe Posnanski has put together a top 10 list of the single most dominating performances in American sports: So Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series, Carli Lloyd hattrick, Bob Beamon's '68 long jump. Ledekcy herself comes in fourth. 

And No. 1? An EL favorite:

1. Secretariat, Belmont, 1973
It's probably not right to put a horse at the top of this list, but let's be honest: When you think of dominating American sports performances, the image is of Secretariat. The image is of jockey Ron Turcotte looking back and seeing all those horses a million miles behind him. The image is of the announcer Chic Anderson growling “he's moving like a tremendous machine!”

The extraordinary thing is that Secretariat was basically running for something we will never fully understand. He was all but guaranteed to win the Belmont. He was such a dominant horse that year that only three other horses even entered against him in that Belmont. Secretariat won the race by 31 lengths and so no other horses were pushing him. Turcotte was not pushing him either.

Still, Secretariat ran.

So what made Secretariat run so fast? His 2:24 Belmont time is not only the record, no horse has approached it. When American Pharoah finally won the Triple Crown in 2015, he ran it in 2:26 and change – meaning he would have finished some 12 or 13 lengths behind Secretariat. The amazing Seattle Slew won the Belmont by four lengths to finish off the Triple Crown in 1977. By time, he would have finished 25 lengths behind Secretariat.

“I have goals,” Ledecky said before she raced in the 800m freestyle, and afterward she admitted that her spectacular swim met those goals. One wonders if Secretariat met his goals.

The other day, I read this to my mother, who has loved horses all her life but isn't online. Made her happy.

Me, I'm all in with the pick. Have never seen the numbers on how far American Pharoah and Seattle Slew would've finished behind Secretariat. Amazing. 

Caveat: Chic Anderson growling, Poz? More like singing

Secretariat at Belmont

Secretariat, meeting goals

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Posted at 06:12 AM on Aug 18, 2016 in category Sports
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Wednesday August 17, 2016

Movie Review: Labyrinth of Lies (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

If you’re debating which movie to see on the 1950s investigations that led to the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963-65—and who isn’t?—you can always compare how each did at the German Film Awards. “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” in which Bauer captures Adolf Eichmann with the help of Mossad, was nominated for five Lolas and won four, including best film, direction and screenplay. A year earlier, this one, in which a prosecutor unsuccessfully pursues Josef Mengele, was nominated for four Lolas and won null.

Which seems about right to me.

Labryinth of Lies“Labyrinth of Lies” is a procedural, but for the first 40 minutes we wait for the young, handsome, by-the-book prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), working in Frankfurt in the late 1950s, to come up to speed. As in: He has to learn that the Holocaust happened.

That this generation of Germans didn’t know about the Holocaust, or Auschwitz, comes as a bit of a shock. It certainly demonstrates the necessity of the Auschwitz Trials; but it’s also dull. It’s like waiting for the hero to figure out the sky is blue.

The conflict, too, is by-the-book. Radmann’s colleagues mock his pursuit, but the bossman, Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss), is on his side so he keeps going. An American functionary ridicules his search but respects his diligence enough to bring him a cup of coffee. Ex-Nazis lurk everywhere, smirking in the shadows. A journalist, Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), hounds him to do more, then partners with him in doing more, then is dropped by him when it’s discovered that he, the journalist, was a 17-year-old guard at Auschwitz. Radmann winds up getting drunk and losing his way and losing his way-hot girlfriend (Friederike Becht). He goes from knowing nothing about the Holocaust to knowing nothing about forgiveness. He becomes unreasonable. We know he’ll come around.

We know too much because too many scenes are clichés. Radmann has a nightmare in which he pursues Mengele through creepy, lab hallways, spins him around, then wakes up before seeing his face. After he discovers his own father was a Nazi, he has the same dream, but this time, we know, it’s his father’s face he’ll see. We know that when he begs off after a bedridden friend, Simon (Johannes Krisch), asks him to say the kaddish at Auschwitz for his daughters, he’ll find time to do it in the end. He does, with Gnielka, whom he forgives, as we knew he would. And as they walk along the Auschwitz fences, away from the camera, we know Radmann will put his hand on Gnielka’s back as a sign of reconciliation.

One moment sticks with me. When Radmann has that nightmare, in quick shots, he sees his face in multiple mirrors as if it had been experimented on by Mengele: swollen eyes sewn shut, etc. The morning after I watched the film, I woke up thinking of that, and more, thinking of Simon’s twin girls: imagining their horror and helplessness. They knew little of this world before they were turned into human lab rats. The movie needed more of the horror I felt for them, and for us.

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Posted at 04:59 AM on Aug 17, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday August 16, 2016

Trump's Words are Music to Hezbollah's Ears

“When [Donald Trump's] homegrown American conspiracy theorizing intersects with its Middle Eastern cousin, the results can be damaging and dangerous to America's standing and interests. ... Just this weekend, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, publicly endorsed Mr. Trump's remarks [about Obama being the founder of ISIS]: 'This is an American presidential candidate. This was spoken on behalf of the Republican Party. He has data and documents.'”

-- Michael Wahid Hanna and Daniel Benaim in a NY Times Op-Ed, “How Do Trump's Conspiracy Theories Go Over in the Middle East? Dangerously.”

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Posted at 11:48 AM on Aug 16, 2016 in category Politics
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What the Olympics Do To Us

From my man Joey Poz in Rio:

Monday, I watched a Chinese gymnast named You Hao grab two rings that were dangling from ropes, pull himself up, flip around, do a handstand, hold out his arms and turn himself into a human cross and them flip around some more and dismount with like two flips.

My jaw should have dropped to the floor like they do in cartoons.

Instead I thought: “Eh, he didn't keep his body straight enough.”

That is what the Olympics do to us.

This is his lead-in to a piece on the balance beam and how unforgiving it is. I know what he's talking about, above, even though I've barely watched any of the Olympics this year; I've just been following it through social media. The world at an even further remove. But I do try to refrain from the “Eh.” I do try to remind myself that the worst player in Major League Baseball is one of the best baseball players in the world. It's good to keep that in mind. It's fair to keep that in mind. 

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Posted at 10:25 AM on Aug 16, 2016 in category Sports
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Monday August 15, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The poster below is a hot pastel mess. Metaphor?

Here’s what I kept thinking throughout “Suicide Squad”: Some men aren’t looking for anything logical ... some men just want to watch the world burn.

The men in question are writer-writer David Ayer (normally good: “The Fury,” “End of Watch”), Warner Bros.’ CEO Kevin Tsujihara (lambasted in an open letter here), and Zack Snyder, the arrested adolescent behind the DC extended universe. Also anyone who’s a fan of this shit.

Suicide Squad reviewIt’s as if the filmmakers took chunks of story and lined them up without concern for what came before or after, and without the necessary connective tissue. Marvel gives us continuity between movies but DC can’t manage it between scenes.

We also keep getting the reason for the thing after the thing. What’s keeping the Suicide Squad in line? I guess they’ve got explosive implants in their necks and their handler, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, tiresome), can blow them up with a phone app, but it takes a while for the filmmakers to tell us (and the Squad) this. And even so, what’s to prevent the Squad, career criminals all, from destroying the phone and/or Flag? No answer on that one. I assume it’s because Flag’s boss, hard-ass government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), is watching via whatever. Or maybe Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a onna bugeisha warrior, whose husband’s soul is trapped in her vengeful sword (yes), is there to keep them in line. But then why does she show up late on the airport tarmac? And why does she hang out with the supervillains in the abandoned hotel bar? And can’t Deadshot (Will Smith) just shoot her anyway? Guns > swords. Cf., “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Pull back and the movie gets way stupider.

Gahhhhhh!
OK, so Waller puts together this team of supercriminals in case the next metahuman (Superman, temporarily dead in “BvS”) isn’t such a boy scout. Most people think it’s a crazy idea but she manages to convince everyone, or at least one guy. A general, I think. She gets him top secret Iranian files, which have nothing to do with metahumans (just the usual sad humans), but he’s all-in now, and that’s all the go-ahead she apparently needs.

That’s not the way stupider part, by the way. Here’s the way stupider part. The team she assembles? Suicide Squad? A malicious Superman could take them out in a second. It wouldn’t even be a battle. So their whole raison d’été is meaningless. No one bothers to mention any of this.

And the reason they’re finally called to action in this movie? One of their number, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a 6,000-year-old witch trapped in the body of a beautiful archeologist, goes rogue, teams with her brother, and turns Midway City into a swirling, black-magical chaos of death (funnel cloud into the sky, lightning, etc.). So Waller actually creates the crisis for her team to fix. And not on purpose, per 9/11 truthers, but by accident. No one in the movie mentions this, either.

Wait, someone does mention it. In a mid-credits scene between Waller and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), we get the following exchange:

Waller: People are asking questions about Midway City. The kind of people that can get answers, and if they get those answers my head will be on a pike.
Bruce Wayne: Consider yourself under my protection. If you deliver.

Did you get that? Waller is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of innocent people and Bruce Wayne helps her cover it up? Batman??? The hell??? Plus the files he wants that she has—details of metahumans like the Flash and Aquaman—give lie to the whole point of the movie. If she has this intel, why doesn’t she put together a team of superheroes as Bruce Wayne is doing, rather than going the supervillain route?

GAHHHHHHHH!!!!!! It’s all so stupid it makes my head hurt.

And I didn’t even mention the route they take into Midway City.

Enchantress and her brother are wreaking havoc of some kind, right? So the S.S. (unfortunate initials, btw) chopper in, the chopper gets shot down, then they battle these demon-soldiers that have seemingly come from nowhere. I mean, I figured Enchantress created them, and we find out later that she did—from civilians—but at this point our team doesn’t even know it’s fighting Enchantress. It probably would’ve made more dramatic sense if we were in the dark with the Squad, and then when the demon-soldiers arrived we would’ve thought, with them, “Oh, this is the threat”; and then, with them, we would’ve discovered, “Oh no, it’s Enchantress!” Instead, we just wait for them to get up-to-speed. Which is no fun at all.

But that’s not the point I wanted to make. Here’s the point I wanted to make: Why aren’t they sent toward the Enchantress? Why are they sent toward Waller?

Isn’t Waller in charge? And if you’re arresting her, as I think Flag is, why allow her to kill her own subordinates, who “know too much”? And isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that when you take her to the rooftop “for extraction,” at that very moment the Joker (Jared Leto, awful in a good role) arrives in a helicopter to get his gal pal, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, good in an awful role)? And why force us through the whole “Will Deadshot kill Harley before she boards the Joker’s copter” question? We know he won’t. He aims... and aims... and aims... There’s some subterfuge but we know. Seriously, Warner Bros., it was painful to watch.

I haven’t even mentioned the overt misogyny, the love of violence, the sad love of hard-ass cool. It's so awful it makes you want to reboot western civilization.

Undignified in August
“Suicide Squad” is supposed to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”—an early August release in which a team of alliterative criminals, led by a charismatic ne’er-do-well, saves the day to a soundtrack of kick-ass songs—but it’s so not.

“Guardians” found its charismatic lead in the bargain bin of TV sitcoms; “Suicide” bought the talents of the most established charismatic leading man of the 21st century ... whose charisma days are on the wane. “Guardians” found its soundtrack in the bargain bin of forgotten ’70s songs, and actually tied them to the storyline; “Suicide” bought the most established soundtrack songs and pasted them on: “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Spirit in the Sky,” “Super Freak,” “The House of the Rising Sun.”

“Guardians” was funny, “Suicide,” not. “Guardians” was good. “Suicide” is the second-worst movie I’ve seen this year—after “Batman v Superman." 

One of the first things we see in the movie is the DC Entertainment logo in those crazy Harley Quinn pastels; then the logo flickers and go out. Metaphor? 

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Posted at 07:26 AM on Aug 15, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday August 14, 2016

Box Office: 'Suicide Squad' Drops But Not Epically

Suicide Squad

This thing still. 

Last week I said I expected “Suicide Squad” to take a big fall, and it did, 67.3%, but it wasn't an epic fall. I wanted it to be record-breaking to break Zack Snyder's stranglehold on Warner Bros. To save us all from more of this.

“Squad” still won the weekend with another $43 mil, bringing its domestic total to $222 and its worldwide to $465. 

These are the biggest drops for movies that opened in > 4,000 theaters:

MOVIE 1ST WKND* 2ND WKND* DROP THTRS TOTAL*
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $169 $47 -72.00% 4,375 $381
The Twilight Saga: New Moon $142 $42 -70.00% 4,042 $296
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 $138 $41 -69.80% 4,066 $281
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $141 $43 -69.10% 4,070 $292
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice $166 $51 -69.10% 4,256 $330
X-Men Origins: Wolverine $85 $26 -69.00% 4,102 $179
Fantastic Four $25 $8 -68.20% 4,004 $56
Suicide Squad $133 $43 -67.30% 4,255 $222

* in millons

Mostly “Twilight” movies and shitty superhero flicks. Not a good crew to be associated with. And I still say it won't break $300 domestic. 

“Sausage Party,” the R-rated animated movie from Seth Rogen, et al., came in second with $33 mil. Trailer here. It's all about taking anthropomorphized kiddie cartoons to their logical end. Anyone see it? Looks good. And 82% on RT. 

“Pete's Dragon,” also well-reviewed (86%), came in third with $21 mil. 

The new August Meryl Streep movie, even better reviewed (87%), came in eighth with $6.5 mil (but in only 1,500 theaters). 

Good options, people chose shit. WOTW.

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Posted at 01:23 PM on Aug 14, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office
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That Open Letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara

Have you read it yet? It's supposedly from a former Warners employee, one of those who got laid off because Tsujihara's slate of movies hasn't been good, and because Tsujihara keeps rewarding the same people who keep making the same mistakes—chiefly, I would argue, Zack Snyder. But even if it's not from an ex-Warners employee, even if it's just from a disgruntled fan, it's spot-on. 

Favorite parts:

Zack Snyder is not delivering. Is he being punished? Assistants who were doing fantastic work certainly were. People in finance and in marketing and in IT. They had no say in a movie called Batman v Superman only having 8 minutes of Batman fighting Superman in it, that ends because their moms have the same name. Snyder is a producer on every DC movie. He is still directing Justice League. He is being rewarded with more opportunity to get more people laid off. I'm assuming you yourself haven't been financially affected in any real way. You and your studio are the biggest lesson about life one can learn: The top screws up and the bottom suffers. Peter Jackson phones it in and a marketing supervisor has to figure out a plan B for house payments.

Also this:

I wish to God you were forced to live out of a car until you made a #1 movie of the year. Maybe Wonder Woman wouldn't be such a mess. Don't try to hide behind the great trailer. People inside are already confirming it's another mess. It is almost impressive how you keep rewarding the same producers and executives for making the same mistakes, over and over.

I saw the trailer for “Wonder Woman” yesterday, and it reminded me of “Sucker Punch,” Zack Snyder's idiot homage to hot girls in teddies impervious to the mud and slaughter of World War I. I think it's one of the worst movies of the century. Does Kim Morgan still think you're “feminist”? God, I'm getting mad all over again just thinking about it. 

The writer makes it clear it's not just the DC movies but Warners' entire slate of movies that suck; then he/she lists them off: Jupiter Ascending. Get Hard. Hot Pursuit. Max. Vacation. Pan. Point Break. “Fucking PAN, you jerk. People lost their jobs and you decided Pan was a good idea.”

So has Warners made any good movies recently? Well, they distributed “Nice Guys” (which should've been better) and “Midnight Special” (liked, but) and “Creed” (good). Was it Warners that screwed up “Black Mass” and “In the Heart of the Sea”? And I can't believe this letter-writer didn't tag Tsujihara for “Magic Mike XXL” and “Entourage.” 

The movie I saw after the “Wonder Woman” trailer was the movie that supposedly instigated this letter, “Suicide Squad,” which begins with the Warner Bros. logo in crazy, Harley Quinn pastels; then it flickers and goes out. Not a bad metaphor.

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Aug 14, 2016 in category Movies - Studios
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Saturday August 13, 2016

Patti Davis' Open Letter to Donald Trump

“To Donald Trump: I am the daughter of a man who was shot by someone who got his inspiration from a movie, someone who believed if he killed the President the actress from that movie would notice him. Your glib and horrifying comment about 'Second Amendment people' was heard around the world. It was heard by sane and decent people who shudder at your fondness for verbal violence. It was heard by your supporters, many of whom gleefully and angrily yell, 'Lock her up!' at your rallies. It was heard by the person sitting alone in a room, locked in his own dark fantasies, who sees unbridled violence as a way to make his mark in the world, and is just looking for ideas. Yes, Mr. Trump, words matter. But then you know that, which makes this all even more horrifying.”

-- Patti Davis, daughter on Pres. Ronald Reagan, on Facebook

Reagan shot in 1981

Reagan hearing from “a Second Amendment person,” 1981.

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Posted at 08:29 AM on Aug 13, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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A-Rod's Last Game...in Pinstripes Anyway

A-Rod's Last Game

Storm clouds 

Will the last player retiring from Major League Baseball please turn out the lights? 

Seriously, suddenly it seems like everyone's going like that. It's not Derek Jeter's farewell tour, which seemed to last for-fucking-ever. This month it's: Mark Teixeira is done in September. Prince Fielder is done now. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez is done now, too. So sayeth the Yankees.

There's a story with A-Rod that we're not hearing yet—the way the Yankees forced him out so quickly, with so little fanfare, with such disrespect, four homeruns shy of a mythical 700. It's not befitting the way one of the best goes out. Or maybe the best do go out this way: Both Babe Ruth (after age and owner lies and a trade to the Boston Braves) and Ken Griffey Jr. (after age and rumors and negative reports) retired on the same day, June 2, exactly 75 years apart. They were here and then they were gone. Not everybody gets the year-long birthday party Jeter got.    

In the first plate appearance of his last game, Alex hit a line-drive RBI double in the gap; then a few 6-3s, a K, and Joe Girardi let him play third for one ceremonial out in the 9th. I'm glad he got the double. Suddenly I wanted better for him. Suddenly I was rooting for him. But even the weather was against him. It literally rained on his parade—his pregame ceremony. It got cut short. People had to run for cover. Words were left unsaid. 

A-Rod's last game: grabbing dirt from the infield

Grabbing dirt, post-game: a fan again.

At the start of the year, per my annual slideshow, A-Rod was the active leader in nine batting categories. Who's taking over? Mostly Albert, with a little bit of Adrian, and an Ichiro and a Ryan tossed in:

  • Games: Adrian Beltre (2676)
  • At-Bats: Adrian Beltre (10,134)
  • Hits: Ichiro (3,002)
  • Home runs: Albert Pujols (581)
  • RBIs: Albert Pujols (1785)
  • Runs: Albert Pujols (1647)
  • Strikeouts: Ryan Howard (1810)
  • Walks: David Oritz (1299) --> Albert Pujols (1208)
  • Career WAR: Albert Pujols (100.7)

A-Rod retires 3rd all-time in RBIs, 4th all-time in homeruns, 5th in strikeouts, 6th in total bases, 6th in extra-base hits, 8th in runs, 14th in HBP, 20th in hits, 25th in games played, 25th in slugging percentage, 30th in doubles, 35th in walks, and 37th in OPS. He won three MVP awards, and should've won five. He's got a ring. There were two PED scandals. He was booed forever and even before the PEDs. It was the $252 million contract, the Slap Heard 'Round the World, the aura. He seemed to love himself too much but it was probably the opposite. He always seemed aware of himself in the moment. Part of himself seemed outside himself, watching. How did he play at that level that way? He actually seemed vulnerable. I've never seen a great baseball player so poorly outfitted with “fuck you” armor.

A-Rod last game: tears

So much coulda woulda shoulda. 

Even his retirement is in quotes. He's gone from the Yankees but maybe some other team will take him, and give him a shot at 700. We've got a month and a half of the season to go. I think that would be a great farewell: making noise, and gate receipts, for some team other than the Yankees.

A-Rod's last game: lucky 13

Lucky 13

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Aug 13, 2016 in category Baseball
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Friday August 12, 2016

Stay Rod: How Alex Rodriguez Finally Became Us

Alex Rodriguez

Jeter gets feted for a year, A-Rod doesn't even get a two-week notice. 

I find myself late in life rooting for Alex Rodriguez. That's how awful the Yankees are; that's how much they suck. They make A-Rod sympathetic. 

I still don't get his quick, easy dismissal from the Yankees and possibly from Major League Baseball. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz, all of these guys go on season-long farewell tours; they're feted and gifted in opposition ballparks. We're forced to listen to encomium after encomium. A-Rod, four homers shy of 700, gets a Sunday presser in which the Yankees announce with as little fanfare as possible that his last game is Friday. See ya, don't wanna be ya. They're on a youth movement, sure, but even Mark Teixeira gets to last the year. So what happened behind the scenes? I'm not the only one wondering this. 

It makes you feel a little sorry for the guy. It shouldn't have been like this. 

I remember when teenaged girls screamed for him—the summer of '96. They brought placards to the Kingdome that read “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel.” Sometimes when he came to bat it was like Sinatra in '43, the Beatles in '64. 

Here's the profile I wrote about him back for the April 1999 issue of The Grand Salami, the Mariners alternative fan magazine. I've highlighted a few things that feel a little ironic and sad now:

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez (3)
Nickname: A-Rod; Young Buck
Height: 6'3“
Weight: 195
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Born: 7-27-75 in New York, NY
Family: Don’t worry, he’s still single
Signed thru: 2000 season
Agent: Scott Boras
Acquired: M's first pick (first pick overall) of 1993 draft
Major League Debut: July 8, 1994
Quote: “I think that character is what proves out over a long season.” 

He’s Kid Dynamite, Superman, the Flash. He goes 40-40 from the middle infield and lunges sinking stuff over the opposite field wall. Wherever he travels opposition managers scowl, pitchers worry, and teenage girls squeal. He’s one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World and the most protected great hitter in the game. He was so good, so young, that it seems he’s even managed to stay younger longer than the rest of us. And he’s all ours for another two years. Then? That’s been the great guessing game in the sports press lately. Seattle can’t afford both Griffey and A-Rod, the reasoning goes, and Griffey seems a likelier candidate to stick around. So whither A-Rod? Cubbies? Dodger Blue? The latest rumor swirls around the Mets—so he and Jeter can pal around New York together. Think they’ll get any dates? 

Yeah yeah, I had a bad encounter with him. Yeah yeah, the way he left us for all that dough, then whined about being on a losing team, then finagled a trade to the team that kept winning, the Yankees, then didn't win with them for a number of years. I guess that was just desserts. His first year with them was the year they did what no team had never done: lose a 7-game series after being up 3 games to none. A-Rod contributed with the slap heard 'round the world. He hit 2 HRs in that series, with an .895 OPS, after crushing the Twins with a 1.213 OPS in the ALDS, but Yankee fans are spoiled shits, and he got a rep for choking. He didn't for the Ms in the postseason but he subsequently did for the Yankees. He sucked in the ALDSes in 2005 and '06 and was only so-so in 2007. Quick exits, all. Good times. Then the revelations of PEDs. The banishment. The boos. They didn't like him much in the Bronx. They cheered him a bit in 2009, sure, when they helped them win the World Series again, but that was an anomaly. He kept trying to win their hearts but their hearts were with Jeter, the man who wouldn't move over for the better shortstop. That was Yankee fans' ”team player.“ Is it A-Rod's lot in life to leave where he's beloved and stay where he's booed? There's tragedy there; he feels Shakespearean.

If you go by Baseball Reference's WAR, Alex Rodriguez is the 12th-greatest position player to ever play the game, sandwiched between Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. He should be a legend, but he's leaving as a footnote. Jeter left as a spoiled child, with parties everywhere, with his childish antics about getting a game-winning hit in his last, meaningless game in the Bronx. Alex just feels like he's been downsized. They didn't even have the courtesy to give him a two-week notice. He's the company man the company doesn't give a shit about. He's finally us.  

Here's what I wrote about him in August 2000:

Is there a publication that isn't writing about Alex? Even the Wall Street Journal (August 11th) got into the act. Freelancer Allen Barra gushed, ”Simply put, he is the most irreplaceable player in the major leagues. He is a more effective hitter than Mr. Griffey and a much better fielder and base-runner than Mr. Piazza. He hits with more power than Mr. Jeter...“ Love all that ”Mr." talk. One thing that the fact-checking Journal got wrong, though, was its assertion that Mr. Rodriguez might stay in Seattle because Safeco Field is a hitter's park. Um, no. But winning's #1 with Mr. Rodriguez and the Mariners are winning. And Mr. Gillick's smart enough to keep signing the players that can keep us winning, and Mr. Rodriguez is smart enough to know that. And who knows? Maybe M's owners (Messrs. all) are smart enough to move in the fences a little if it means keeping our Mr. Rodriguez. I.e., Stay Rod.

Not to be. Godspeed, Alex. 

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Posted at 05:42 AM on Aug 12, 2016 in category Baseball
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Thursday August 11, 2016

3,000 for Ichiro

Ichiro sleeve tug

An icon, with an iconic gesture.

This is the first thing I ever wrote about Ichiro Suzuki. It was in the April 2001 issue of The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners fan magazine, for which I was in charge of player profiles: 

Hey, when did we pick up this guy? Just kidding. Ichiro comes to the M's with quite a bit of fanfare, and a playing record whose numerological significance seems something out of folklore: He won 7 straight batting titles with the Orix Blue Wave, 7 straight Gold Gloves, and was named to 7 straight “Best Nine” All-Star teams. And he's only 27. He has a .353 lifetime batting average and Michael Jordan stature in Japan. Yet he's given it all up to try to become the first Japanese position player to make it big in the bigs. Can he do it? That's the question. The U.S. players he's been compared to keeps leveling off: from Johnny Damon (hitting plus power) to Rod Carew (hitting with no power) to Brett Butler (hitting, but not Rod Carew-type hitting). How does .353 translate into English? We hope well.

This is the second thing I wrote about Ichiro Suzuki. It was in the May 2001 issue of The Grand Salami:  

Well, that didn't take long. In his first game he looked a little overmatched against Oakland's Tim Hudson—and admitted as much in a post-game interview—but that didn't stop him from dropping a key bunt-hit to help win the game. Four days later against Texas (and You-Know-Who), Ichiro went deep in the 10th inning for the game-winner. The following week against Oakland, he made a throw from right field (now capitalized: The Throw) which defied physics, nailing Terrence Long at third. A week later he robbed Raffy Palmeiro of a homerun at Safeco. What's next? Lightning shooting from his fingertips? Ridding the universe of evil-doers—or at least Scott Boras? And we haven't even mentioned the way he slaps that sweet single between third and short, his speed on the basepaths, and his quiet efficiency in an age of blowhard swagger. To paraphrase an old ad slogan: You Gotta Love This Guy.

On Sunday, the guy we were wondering about in March 2001 and were so amazed by in April 2001, became just the 30th player in Major League Baseball history to join the 3,000-hit club. He did it with a triple—only the second guy to ever do that.

My favorite stat comes via BaseballReference.com, and needs no embellishment from me:

3,000 hit club by age 26 

My oh my. 

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Posted at 09:27 AM on Aug 11, 2016 in category Baseball
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Monday August 08, 2016

Box Office: 'Suicide Squad' Blasts Through Negative Reviews to Gross $135 Million

 Suicide Squad: Harley Quinn

Last laugh? Maybe not.

*Sigh.*

“Suicide Squad” was so universally panned that fanboys wanted to shut down the Rotten Tomatoes site, where its shame, its 26% rating, was visible for all to see. But the American moviegoer, or at least those fanboys, still came out in droves. The David Ayer-directed supervillain slash-em-up/blow-em-away grossed $135 million domestically (and $132 abroad), which, if it holds, is our 19th-biggest opener ever.

So the critics lose again, right? Haw haw on us?

Yes and no. 

As I was pondering “Suicide”'s numbers, I casually wondered whether any movie that had grossed more on opening weekend had a lower RT rating. Yes, it turns out: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,” which grossed $138 million domestically during its Nov. 2011 opening weekend despite a 24% rating. 

As I was putting together this info, I also noticed something that should be obvious to everyone by now: Blockbusters with low RT ratings tend to have shorter legs than blockbusters with high RT ratings. 

Here's a chart of the 20 highest-grossing openers of all time (sans “Suicide”) sorted by their Rotten Tomatoes rating:

Rnk  Movie Opening $$ RT% Open % 
7 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $169,189,427 96% 44.4%
10 The Dark Knight $158,411,483 94% 29.7%
20 Finding Dory $135,060,273 94% 28.5%
1 Star Wars: The Force Awakens $247,966,675 92% 26.5%
3 Marvel's The Avengers $207,438,708 92% 33.3%
5 Captain America: Civil War $179,139,142 90% 44.0%
11 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire $158,074,286 89% 37.2%
9 The Dark Knight Rises $160,887,295 87% 35.9%
12 The Hunger Games $152,535,747 84% 37.4%
6 Iron Man 3 $174,144,585 79% 42.6%
14 Furious 7 $147,187,040 79% 41.7%
4 Avengers: Age of Ultron $191,271,109 75% 41.7%
2 Jurassic World $208,806,270 71% 32.0%
13 Spider-Man 3 $151,116,516 63%* 44.9%
18 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest $135,634,554 54% 32.0%
16 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $141,067,634 49% 48.3%
15 The Twilight Saga: New Moon $142,839,137 28% 48.2%
8 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice $166,007,347 27% 50.3%
17 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 $138,122,261 24% 49.1%

* Yeah, I can't believe “Spider-Man 3” got a fresh rating, either.

That last column is the percentage a movie's opening gross contributed to its overall gross. You want a low number there; it means your movie lasted. It didn't nova and then die. And generally, the lower the RT rating, the higher that percentage.

A fresh blockbuster (> 60%) makes an average of 37% of its total gross during its opening weekend; a rotten one, 45.5%. The extremes are even more extreme. A blockbuster in the 90s makes about one-third of its total gross in the first three days; a blockbuster in the 20s like “Suicide Squad”? Half. They make noise for three days, then crickets. 

Here are two recent examples. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the biggest opener ever: $247 million. But it got great reviews, great word-of-mouth, and grossed nearly four times that: $936 million. “Batman v Superman” is the eighth-biggest opener ever: $166 million. But it got shitty reviews, shittier word of mouth, and grossed just twice that: $330.

If “Star Wars” had grossed just twice its opening, it would've stopped shy of half a billion rather than bumping up against a billion. The difference between a good and bad blockbuster can be half a billion dollars. And that's just domestically. 

So for “Suicide” and its shitty 26% rating, I expect to see a big dropoff next weekend, and a total domestic gross of around $270 million. Which ain't victory for critics; but it ain't exactly victory for Warner Bros. either. 

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Posted at 05:39 AM on Aug 08, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office
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Sunday August 07, 2016

No. 24

Yesterday afternoon, heading west down James Street under the I-5 bridge, which was litter-strewn and smelled of urine, I saw an elderly couple in matching blue “Griffey 24” T-shirts shuffling in the same direction. “I bet I can guess where you guys are going,” I said as I passed them. They agreed happily, particularly when my own blue “Griffey 24” T-shirt came into view. A block later, I saw a guy wearing the '95-era teal-green Mariners jersey with “Griffey 24” on the back. I would see a lot of “Griffey 24”s on my way to Safeco Field, where, before the Seattle Mariners played the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Mariners organization woud retire its first home-grown number: 24. Griffey. 

About time. 

Ken Griffey Jr. Day Seattle

All the Griffeys with nowhere to go. 

They could've done it any time since June 2010 but for some reason waited until Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with the highest vote percentage ever (99.3%). They waited for the bestowing of the national honor before allowing the local one.

The morning had been overcast and cool, but it was mostly blue skies and around 70 degrees by the time I hit Safeco at 4:30 for the scheduled 5:30 ceremony. Even before then, I noticed an oddity along Occidental: folks lined up next to Century Link Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, a good 500 feet from Safeco. Were people buying Seahawks gear on Griffey Day? Nope. It was the line to get into Safeco. It stretched back that far. I couldn't believe it. The area around Safeco was a mass of people and snaking lines trying to get in to pay their respects. Had the gates not opened in time? Did the Mariners organization not anticipate the crowd? Couldn't they even get this right on Griffey Day? 

I was meeting my nephew Jake. A sculpture of a baseball glove with a hole in it, what we once called “the Russ Davis glove” but is now just “The Glove,” is a common meeting spot, and thus a kind of crappy one, since everyone meets there, and since everyone else wants to get their pictures taken there. It attracts a crowd, in other words, and we already had a crowd. We also had a saxophonist sitting nearby, playing jazz, and a religious nut with a gigantic sign, carrying his own amplification system and speaking into a mike about how we were all doomed to hell for coming here on this sunny day to pay respects to a man who had given us so much joy. I assume this man feeds off indignation, because otherwise he would've withered beneath the gaze of half the people passing him; many were plugging their ears less because of his content than its volume.  I asked a stadium official if something couldn't be done but he threw up his hands. But the volume? I asked. Surely there were limits. He threw up his hands.

By the time Jake arrived some of the chaos had diminished but we still stood in line a good 15 minutes to get in through the Team Store, which was also packed. Standing in lines would be part of the evening. After the ceremony but before the game, Jake stood in the line for the men's room while I stood in the beer line, which were conveniently located next to each other. When Jake emerged he looked for me at the front; I had to wave to him from the back. I'd moved maybe 10 feet. By the time we found our seats again the Mariners were behind 3-0 on a three-run homer by Mike Trout, the current best player/centerfielder in the game. 

But I was there for the ceremony. I share in a season ticket package with a group of guys, and when we'd divvied them up last March, this was the first game I'd chosen. I wanted to be there for this. 

Ken Griffey Jr. emerging from center field as he gets his number retired

The Kid, no longer The Kid, emerges from center field. 

The two MCs had a tonal problem. The main one, play-by-play man Rick Rizzs, tends to spoonfeed his audience with a little too much sugar; the other, new Mariners president Kevin Mather, had all the warmth and charm of a drill sergeant. Befitting his demeanor, he dropped a bombshell, but a welcome one: a statue to Junior would be unveiled next year outside Safeco. Nice. And about time.

Junior emerged from center field. That was cool. We saw videos that the team had already posted on social media. People kept referring to Safeco as The House that Griffey Built. “And then abandoned,” I added.

There was a crescent of folding chairs between home plate and the pitcher's mound, and on the right-hand side (from the hitter's perspective) sat baseball executives, along with Griffey's wife and daughter and eventually Junior; and on the left, former players, wearing better suits than the suits. The executives tended to bring formality and boredom, the players spontanaeity. They gave each other shit. On the big screen, Willie Mays honored the junior #24 in Jewish mother terms: he wondered why he never called anymore. Junior promptly got out his phone and dialed up the Say Hey Kid.

Ken Griffey Jr. speech

Suits on the right; athletes in better suits on the left.

The athletes were an odd mix of the expected (Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner) and the unexpected (Hall of Fame members from other Seattle sports teams). When I think Junior I don't necessarily think Steve Largent. Two other #24s showed up as well: Junior's first idol, Rickey Henderson, and his dad's old teammate Tony Perez. No Sr., though. No Randy or Lou Piniella. The latter two sent him wishes via the big screen, as did Henry Aaron. 

Junior's speech was relatively short. He talked up his minor league days—Bellingham and San Bernadino—then making the Major League team out of spring training in '89, and the joke the manager and players played on him (the organization, they said, had traded for Dale Murphy so were sending him down). He talked up the joys of Seattle, which were mostly personal: meeting his wife; the birth of his first two kids. He gave Rickey Henderson shit. When Henderson broke Lou Brock's stolen base record, Henderson infamously said—with Brock standing next to him—“Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today, I am the greatest.” So Junior told Rickey that he, Rickey, was great “but today I am the greatest.” 

Ken Griffey Jr. speech

Junior: phoning the Say Hey Kid, giving shit to Rickey. 

He also talked up the current players, watching from the dugout with their caps on backwards in homage; he told us to come out and support them. He was kind of insistent on it. This rang a little off to me. I get what he's saying. But we're dealing with a team that has the longest current postseason drought in baseball, and it's neither the fault of the players (most of whom have been here a short while) nor the fans (who can only do so much). If anything, the fans should've supported the team less over the years—particularly in the dead days of the early 2010s when falling behind 2-zip meant the game.

On the plus side, that team is no longer this team, and it turned out to be a helluva game—a Refuse to Lose game. The M's were down 3-0, then 6-2 in the 5th, and came back and made it 6-4 on a Gutierrez homer in the bottom of the 5th. We left the bases loaded in the 6th but then the Angels left the bases loaded in the top of the 7th. We got them loaded again in the bottom half with three straight one-out walks, and eked across a run on a sac fly. That seemed like our nibble until Sean O'Malley suddenly launched a homer to right field to put the M's on top for good. As if adhering to Junior's admonition, after the homer, fans began chanting the journeyman's name—Sean Oh-Mal-Yi (clap clap clapclapclap). Sean Oh-Mal-Yi (clap clap clapclapclap)—and again in the 8th when he made a great defensive play at short. People chanted it on the way home, too. I heard it ringing along Occidental.

It could be seen by some as a “torch passed” moment—to the team if not the journeyman—but we know better: this torch doesn't pass. We'll always care a little more for #24. He was the best I ever saw.

Ken Griffey Jr.

His like. 

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Posted at 10:33 AM on Aug 07, 2016 in category Seattle Mariners
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Saturday August 06, 2016

Quote of the Day

“Vulnerability is a counterproductive trait for a famous person to have, but [Jonah] Hill is funniest on-screen when he plays characters thumping up against their feeble natures, and he is most affecting in dramatic roles doing the same. It makes you wonder whether the kind of person most suited to being an actor—sensitive, expressive, slightly weird—is the kind of person least suited to being a celebrity.”

--Molly Young in her thoughtful profile, “Jonah Hill is No Joke,” in The New York Times Magazine 

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Posted at 11:07 AM on Aug 06, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Everything Wrong with 'Batman v Superman'

Not a huge fan of these “Everything Wrong with...” videos but agree 100% with this one. What's the highest sin total they've had? Surely, this is near the record—even though they forgot the idiocy of the U.S. government nuking Doomsday/Supes in space when Supes was taking Doomsday away from Earth. Worth a few more sins:

I had a lot of the same complaints last March.

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Posted at 10:58 AM on Aug 06, 2016 in category Superman
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Friday August 05, 2016

Quote of the Day

“On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president.

”Two strongly held beliefs have brought me to this decision. First, Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president — keeping our nation safe. Second, Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security."

-- Michael J. Morell, former acting director and deputy director of the CIA, in an Op-Ed in today's New York Times

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Posted at 02:11 PM on Aug 05, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Your Olympic Moment

From George W.S. Trow's “Within the Context of No Context,” about American culture/pop culture, which was originally published in The New Yorker in November 1980:

The most important programming deals with people with a serious problem who make it to the Olympics. It is the powerful metaphor of our time—babies given up for dead who struggle toward national life and make it just for a minute. It's a long distance to come. People feel it very deeply and cheer the babies on.

That's dead on, prescient even, since coverage of the Olympics was fairly straightforward back in 1980. One wonders, though, if this Olympic moment is still the most powerful metaphor of our time. In some ways, it's been usurped by Simon Cowell and the “X's Got Talent” showrunners, who play down their talent, let it stand before Cowell's withering gaze, and then let it shine (and watch Cowell melt, with dollar signs in his eyes). The most famous of these is Susan Boyle. The most extreme version is probably from “Korea's Got Talent”: the homeless boy, abandoned at an orphanage at 3, who fled the beatings there at the age of 5 and lived on the streets, selling gum, and now doing manual labor; he makes the pretty lady judge cry with his western opera. It's a long distance to come.

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Posted at 07:49 AM on Aug 05, 2016 in category Culture
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Thursday August 04, 2016

Rotten Tomatoes Ranks the DC Superhero Movies

DC comics superhero movies ranked

“Ranks” is key there, since only two movies (“The Dark Knight,” “Superman”) are above 90% and half of them are rotten, and that's a generous reading by RT and critics. I mean, “Swamp Thing” is fresh? Because of Adrienne Barbeau? C'mon, boys, grow up. 

Here's their list with RT numbers and any thoughts I might have. (Links go to my reviews.)

  1. The Dark Knight (94%): My No. 2.
  2. Superman (93%): My number one. With a faster-than-a-speeding bullet
  3. Superman II (89%): Way too high. Please see the Donner cut.
  4. The Dark Knight Rises (87%): Too high.
  5. Batman Begins (84%): About right. Has problems, but it's not bloated the way “Rises” is bloated. 
  6. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (82%): Haven't seen it. 
  7. Batman (1966) (80%): I'm so glad this is way up here. I'd probably have it higher but I'm shocked critics/fanboys love it as much as I do.
  8. Batman Returns (80%): Really? Have people seen this recently? It's absurd. You hardly see the title character for the first 45 minutes. It's all Penguin/Catwoman origin. Per Tim Burton, it's a movie of misfit toys. 
  9. Superman Returns (76%): Has its faults but has charms, too. It's not made by louts, for one.
  10. Batman (1989) (72%): Higher. I know post-Nolan it looks chincey, but it remade supehero movies for a decade. Respect your elders, kids. 
  11. Watchmen (65%): Blech. Dock it even more for abusing Leonard Cohen.
  12. Swamp Thing (64%): Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage ain't all that.
  13. Man of Steel (55%): I'm not exactly a Zack Snyder fan, but I'd have it higher for: 1) the reimagined origin; 2) the fear a superpowered alien would inspire; 3) Henry Cavill.
  14. Constantine (46%): Never seen it.
  15. Batman Forever (40%): About right.
  16. The Return of the Swamp Thing (33%): DC should be embarrassed that this is even on the list. 
  17. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (27%): Below both Swamp Things!! Take that, Zack.
  18. Green Lantern (26%): There are six DC movies worse than “Green Lantern”: ouch.
  19. Superman III (26%): This sucks but it's better than “Green Lantern.”
  20. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (12%): This should be lower. Possibly basement. Look what they did to my boy. More than the “Death Wish” movies, Golan and Globus have this to answer at the pearly gates. 
  21. Steel (12%): Never seen.
  22. Batman & Robin (11%): Ice to see you.
  23. Catwoman (9%): Never seen. Should I?
  24. Supergirl (7%): The list ends with the two girl/woman movies, and I'd like to think that's sexism, but... no.

RT put the list together because a new DC movie, “Suicide Squad,” DC's attempt to do a kind of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is opening tonight. Even the early August release date is the same as “Guardians,” but (unlike “Guardians”) it's getting slaughtered by the critics. I'm no fan of the Post's Kyle Smith but he has a good line in his review:

The question isn't whether “Suicide Squad” is as good as “The Avengers,” but whether it's as bad as “Green Lantern.”

According to the consensus, nearly. It's at 29%, which puts it between “The Return of the Swamp Thing” and “Batman v Superman.” But that's bad enough for fanboys who are circulating an online petition urging that RT be shut down because it's mean to bad movies like “Suicide Squad.” Talk about shooting the messenger. 

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Posted at 06:07 AM on Aug 04, 2016 in category Superheroes
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Wednesday August 03, 2016

Lancelot Links

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Posted at 05:47 AM on Aug 03, 2016 in category Lancelot Links
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Tuesday August 02, 2016

Quote of the Day

“I do not expect perfection, but I do require more than the embodiment of at least a short list of the seven deadly sins.”

-- U.S. Rep Richard Hanna (R-NY), in an Op-Ed, breaking with party to announce his support for Hillary Clinton for president over Donald Trump. He's the first U.S. Congressman to cross the aisle to vote for the Democrat; may there be many more. May the rest of the GOP recognize that, politics aside, no man is less temperamentally suited for the office than Trump. 

In other news, Trump ordered a crying baby from a rally today. I shit you not.  

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Posted at 03:28 PM on Aug 02, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Moments v Scenes: Dusk of Zack

My nephew Jordy sent me this, and I think it's about the best critique of Zack Snyder's “Batman v. Superman,” not to mention Zack Snyder's entire career, that I've seen. Evan Puschak, the nerdwriter, gets at why Snyder's movies are so monumentally, fundamentally stupid: “his preoccupation, his obsession, with moments at the expense of scenes”:

Even better—and I was so caught up in all the other idiocies of BVS I didn't think to mention this in my review—Snyder has zero sense of place. The Daily Planet is meaningless. Ditto the Batcave. The Batcave! C'mon. Metropolis and Gotham City are interchangeable. I think it goes back to Snyder's love of green screens. There's literally no there there in his movies. Cf. my 2012 review of “The Spirit”:

Does anyone else get claustrophobic in these digital-background movies? “Sin City,” “300,” this? The world isn't the world. It's reduced to this small, awful space where these small, awful things happen, which the filmmakers pump full of their hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual hyper-meaning. The men beat each other to pulps, the women, smart and sexy, watch and calculate, and everyone thinks themselves the center of the world. Because they are. Because the world has been reduced to this.

Directors with a great sense of place? Think the Coens or John Sayles. Check out “A Serious Man.” For good or ill, we are products of place and upbringing. The character of the place leads to the character of the individual leads to the character of the story. Sndyer's movies die on the vine because green screen is not a place. “'Batman v Superman' runs for two and a half hours,” Puschak says, “with a heaping helping of big moments; and yet I don't quite feel like I've been ... anywhere.”

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Aug 02, 2016 in category Superheroes
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Monday August 01, 2016

Quote of the Day

“Within the Grand Old Party, open racism is extremely rare. Far more common is denial of the persistence of racism in American life, a willingness to pursue policies that disadvantage nonwhites, and a refusal to jeopardize the party's support among racists. Donald Trump has pulled the cloak away, leaving the party's alliance with racism exposed for all to see.”

-- Joanthan Chait, “Donald Trump Gave Republicans the Choice of Racism or Defeat. They Chose Racism.”

Fox News: Not racist, but #1 with racists

“... perfectly describes most of the elite of the Republican Party.”

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Posted at 01:32 PM on Aug 01, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) the ultimate American hero? He certainly encompasses all of the themes in movies about America’s ultimate spy agency, the CIA. He is:

  • an action hero (per the Jack Ryan films)
  • an agent hung out to dry (“Three Days of the Condor,” “Spy Game” and “Syriana”)
  • a chicken come home to roost (“Hopscotch,” “In the Line of Fire”)
  • and—as an amnesiac—an innocent caught in a CIA plot (“Charade,” “The In-Laws,” “The Man with One Red Shoe”)

This last is the most important. Americans want safety, particularly post-9/11, but we don’t like being underhanded. This dilemma was first articulated by Alan Ladd in the first movie about America’s first spy agency, “O.S.S.,” in 1946:

“Americans aren’t brought up to fight the way the enemy fights. We can learn to become intelligence agents and saboteurs if we have to. But we’re too sentimental, too trusting, too easy-going....”

We want safety and innocence. David Bowie once asked of young Americans: “Do you remember the bills you have to pay? Or even yesterday?” Nope and nope, America says over and over again. Iran? Guatemala? Chile? Iraq? Whatevs.

Jason Bourne 2016Which is why Jason Bourne is America’s ultimate hero. He keeps America safe by killing our enemies; then he keeps us innocent by forgetting all about it. 

What a tangled Webb we weave
So after nine years, he’s back, directed by the same guy (Paul Greengrass), and involved in the same kind of storyline.

A top CIA director wants him dead (Tommy Lee Jones, replacing David Straithairn from “Ultimatum,” who replaced Brian Cox in “Supremacy,” who replaced Chris Cooper in “Identity”), and, to this end, dispatches a top CIA assassin (Vincent Cassel, replacing 3) Edgar Ramirez, 2) Karl Urban, 1) Clive Owen), while Bourne gets a little internal help, or at least sympathy, from a good female CIA officer (Alicia Vikander, essentially in the Joan Allen role).

As the assassin, in the first act of “Supremacy,” killed Franka Potente while aiming for Bourne, so, in the first act here, the assassin aims for Bourne and kills longtime Bourne ally Nicky Parsons (Julie Stiles). Bourne’s raison d’été has always been to find himself, and last time around he did: Hello, David Webb! This time? Yeah, he’s still trying to find himself. Just more of himself.

That’s why he meets with Parsons. As the movie opens, she hacks into the CIA’s mainframe computer and downloads intel on various CIA black ops, including: Operation Treadstone, which created Bourne; Blackbriar, which replaced it; and Iron Hand, the new one, which turns out to be a mass surveillance program: spying on everyone, everywhere. She plans to go public with this, but sentimental, or maybe in love (the movie doesn’t pursue her motivation), she also downloads extra intel on Bourne—about his past, about his pops—and delivers that first. Bad move. Pow! Nicky, we hardly knew ye.  

If there’s a new thing in the movie, that’s it. The last time we saw Jason Bourne, in 2007, Facebook had only 50 million users, barely anyone knew Julian Assange, and no one had heard of Edward Snowden. Here, Snowden is name-checked twice, Assange gets a Berlin counterpart, while Facebook is fictionalized into “Deep Dream,” a social media site run by Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who—oops—got his initial funding from the CIA. (Would that our spy agencies were so farsighted.) Now the CIA, or at least Tommy Lee Jones, wants the data, but Kalloor is having second thoughts. He wants to do the right thing, which is protecting individual privacy against government intrusion. The corporate right to monetize our private data goes unmentioned.

We get three set pieces—Athens, London, and, to class up the joint, Vegas. In each, CIA techs track everything from Langley, with Tommy Lee or Alicia standing around issuing commands (“Back up a frame ... Enhance ... That’s her!”), and awaiting the imminent arrival of Bourne so he can be killed once and for all. So Bourne has to slip in undetected, do what needs doing—via fights, chases, quick cuts and shaky cams—and slip out undetected. Sadly, we’ve seen it all before. Rarely has an adrenaline rush been so yawn-worthy.

And what’s the big personal reveal? The intel that Nicky sacrificed her life for? Seems Bourne’s pops started Treadstone, but was killed by terrorists right in front of Bourne, which is why Bourne joined Treadstone. But guess what? It wasn’t terrorists that killed Daddyo, it was the CIA—specifically the Asset—because the son was the perfect candidate and the father was a doubting Thomas. So two birds with one CIA stone.

Which is pretty despicable. It also means the tiny bit of culpability Bourne felt at the end of “Ultimatum”? Gone. He’s innocent once more.

Happiness is a warm puppy
Yeah, it’s tired, and so is Bourne. His face looks like it’s seen too many fights or too many movies. Tommy Lee is in fine form, tight smiles and evil grins, but he could do this shit with his eyes closed. Vikander is lovely to look at, but she made me wonder whatever happened to the other foreign girl of the moment, Franka Potente. Bit parts in movies and TV, apparently. Hollywood slurps up and spits out.

Truly the saddest thing for me about the return of Jason Bourne is what Greengrass has him doing since 2007. He has to stay off the grid, right, so he can’t get a regular job with an SSN. So ... day labor in Ghana? Construction in Mongolia? Or using his mind somewhere in private? Nope. Greengrass went with bare-knuckled brawling in Greece. Before jeering crowds, Bourne takes out foreign monstrosities with one punch, then celebrates with booze and broads. Kidding. No booze and broads. He has the demeanor of a man on death row. There’s not an ounce of joy there.

Question: With Tommy Lee, et al., vanquished, isn’t he back to doing this? Off the grid and joyless? C’mon, Greengrass, he’s America’s ultimate hero. Get him a puppy at least.

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Posted at 10:37 AM on Aug 01, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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'Donald Trump ... A Danger to the Republic'

Over the weekend, the conservative Houston Chronicle issued an early endorsement for Hillary Clinton along with a slew of warnings about the Republican candidate:

Any one of Trump's less-than-sterling qualities—his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance—is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

That's key. It's not politics, or not just politics. Temperamentally, Trump is the most ill-equipped man to get this close to the presidency. Let's hope other Republicans, as well as griping, Bernie-or-bust folks, wake the fuck up and ensure that he doesn't get any closer.

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Posted at 07:29 AM on Aug 01, 2016 in category Politics
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

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