erik lundegaard

Saturday September 24, 2016

Slur

From the DVD of the 1941 movie serial “The Green Hornet Strikes Again!” The reference is to the radio serial of 1936 to 1950:

Green Hornet FBI slur

Clint Eastwood should have done more with this aspect of Hoover in his biopic. Or maybe it could be its own movie? “J. Edgar in Hollywood.” OK, HBO movie.

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Posted at 07:21 AM on Sep 24, 2016 in category Superheroes
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Friday September 23, 2016

LA Times Endorses Clinton

Not exactly shocking, but I like their lede:

American voters have a clear choice on Nov. 8. We can elect an experienced, thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable public servant or a thin-skinned demagogue who is unqualified and unsuited to be president.

I probably won't do many of these since most newspapers will surely endorse Clinton. Even The Dallas Morning News, which hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president since 1940, endorsed Clinton last month. Think of that. Think of who they chose, and didn't, over the years. They opted against FDR in the middle of WWII, against LBJ in the middle of civil rights reforms, never Bill Clinton, never Barack Obama, but Nixon three times. Oy. Unless they went Wallace in '68. Or McCloskey in '72.

Despite all that, they know. They know more than NPR, which has had some of the worst “false equvilance” election coverage this season, knows. #NeverTrump.

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Posted at 06:01 AM on Sep 23, 2016 in category Politics
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Wednesday September 21, 2016

Why Felix is King

After today's game, in which Felix threw 2-hit ball and the M's won (finally!) in 12 innings, 2-1, in front of a mostly Toronto Blue Jays crowd at Safeco Field:

“I want to be there so bad. We still have a chance at the playoffs. I’m going to do my best to make sure we get there. My show of emotion (“It’s my house!”) has been building since two days ago when I saw all those (Toronto) fans in here (Safeco Field). You know what, it’s still my house!”

Cf., my post about the frustrations of Monday night's game. Love. This. Man. 

Felix: It's my hosue!

 His house. 

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Posted at 06:41 PM on Sep 21, 2016 in category Seattle Mariners
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Quote of the Day

“The bottom line is this: Donald Trump built his career on a racist lie because he is a racist and a liar.”

-- Seth Myers, giving us a closer look at Trump's Birtherism: the big fat lie of it, the big fat lie he's propagating now. 

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Posted at 09:39 AM on Sep 21, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Small World

From Neil Gabler's book on Walt Disney, about the man's work at the 1964 New York World's Fair:

The basic idea of the attraction, appropriate to UNICEF, was a large boat that would float on a canal through a universe of small animated dolls representing all the countries of the world and demonstrating the fundamental unity of mankind—a platitude given the archetypal Disney treatment. Originally Walt had thought to have the dolls “sing” their national anthems, but the result was cacophony. Instead he asked the Sherman brothers, who had written songs for various films at the studio, to write a composition that could be sung by all the children. Harriet Burns, who worked on the exhibit, remembered Walt telling the Shermans offhandedly, “It's a small world after all,” which became the title of their song and of the attraction.

I was like: “Oh, so that was Walt Disney.” That song. It's something that I kept thinking throughout the book. Oh, so we might not know “Three Little Pigs” if it wasn't for Disney. We wouldn't have “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” The Davy Crockett coonskin cap craze in the '50s. EPCOT. All Disney.

I've never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, but I still should've known about “Small World,” since it was so expertly parodied by “The Simpsons” when they went to Duff World and Lisa has that LSD-like experience during the knockoff “Small World” boat ride

The Simpsons: Small World parody in Duff World

Duff World ... Hoo-rah!

Other great takes of latter Disney include the last chapter in E.L. Doctorow's “The Book of Daniel” (for Disneyland) and the last part of George W.S. Trow's epic essay “Within the Context of No Context” (for '64 World's Fair). Both are required reading.

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Posted at 07:46 AM on Sep 21, 2016 in category Books
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Tuesday September 20, 2016

Stuck Inside Safeco with the Toronto Blue Jays Fans

(With apologies to Bob Dylan.)

I went to the Mariners game last night to show some support for the local team. I had tons of reasons for not going: I hadn't felt well all day, I couldn't get anyone to go with me (although I hadn't tried that hard), and it was hardly “Boys of Summer” weather: low 60s dropping into the 50s. But the team had won 9 of 11, we were 2 games back in the wild card hunt, Taijuan Walker was pitching. Plus around 4:00 the sun came out. So why not? It was the last of my season-ticket tickets. C'mon! Use it. Send them off. Show you care. 

Turned out to be one of the worst games I've been to. 

Seattle Mariners logoIt wasn't the M's fault—although, to be honest, they quickly fell behind 3-0 and didn't manage a hit until the 7th inning. No, it was the crowd at Safeco. It was loud, boistrous, involved. The stadium rang with cheers.

For the Blue Jays. The stands were packed with Canucks down from Vancouver, et al.

Walking to the park, I'd seen a lot of Blue Jays unis but hadn't thought much of it. You always have opposition fans. Besides, I didn't mind the BJs. I'd rooted for them vs. Texas in the ALDS last year, then rooted against them vs. Kansas City in the ALCS, and they were nice enough—Canadian enough, you might say—to grant both my wishes.

But this? This was awful. The fans were everywhere. They took over our house. They made it their stadium:  

“MVP! MVP” they chanted when Josh Donaldson came to the plate. 

“Ho-ZAY oh ZAY-oh ZAY-oh ZAY...” they chanted when Jose Bautista followed.

“Let's go, Blue Jays! [clap clap clapclapclap]” they chanted throughout.

All the time. It was awful. It felt like a home invasion by a Glee Club.

Afterwards I figured it out. Before last season, the BJs hadn't been to the postseason since '93, and winning seasons always create new fans. A lot of these were that. They had that kind of enthusiasm and cluelessness. 

I tried to make noise against them. I kept cheering on Taijuan, as I do; I cheered on Robby, and Nellie, and Kyle; but I felt drown out. 

Before the game even started I had a confrontation with the row of people behind me. One guy in particular. He yelled something against Robinson Cano and I shot him a look. He immediately backed off, which is funny since I'm about 100 miles from tough, but I think I already looked pissed off. I came to the game pissed off and none of this was helping. And the chants continued. 

I tried to ignore it. I tried to just be in my head. Between innings, I got out of the iPhone. I tweeted:

These Blue Jays fans have WAAAAYYY too much enthusiasm. It's like a high school pep rally. #GoMariners

Two innings later, I tweeted:

Wow, who knew Canadians were such assholes? #GoMariners

But my rage kept building. It was *I* who was the asshole. I shouted at odd times. I flipped off high-fiving Jays fans. You know the scene in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” where Steve Martin shouts impotently at the sky, “You're messing with the wrong guy!!!”? Like that, but at the ballpark. Finally, to prevent anything worse happening, I left after 5 innings. I left during a no-hitter (broken up by Robinson Cano in the 7th). I felt bad about leaving, about not sticking around for the team, but I was worried I would do real damage. To myself.

Some part of me wonders if the M's had trouble hitting because their stadium was filled with opposition fans, or if that's just water off their backs. Either way, we got our first extra-base hit with two outs in the bottom of the 9th: a 2-run homer by Leonys Martin to make it 3-2. But then Ben Gamel struck out. Right: Ben Gamel.

It's been a fun year. The M's power the ball, they hit walk-off homeruns, they are strong up in the middle. But that was not a fun game.

ADDENDUM: After 7 scoreless innings on Wednesday afternoon, leaving with a 1-0, Felix shouted at the Blue Jays and/or their fans, “It's my house!” Damn right. Could've used that spirit on Monday. Shut them up. 

Next year, we build a wall. 

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Posted at 05:09 PM on Sep 20, 2016 in category Seattle Mariners
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Monday September 19, 2016

Coming Soon: 'Wilmington on Fire'

From last week's “Talk of the Town” section in The New Yorker:

On November 10, 1898, a coup d’état took place on United States soil. It was perpetrated by a gang of white-supremacist Democrats in Wilmington, N.C., who were intent on reclaiming power from the recently elected, biracial Republican government, even if, as one of the leaders vowed, “we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.” They had a Colt machine gun capable of firing 420 .23-calibre bullets a minute. They had the local élite and the press on their side. By the end of the day, they had killed somewhere between 14 and 60 black men and banished 20 more, meanwhile forcing the mayor, the police chief, and the members of the board of aldermen to resign.

The new government remained in control, of both the town and the story. Subsequent generations of white residents knew about the events of 1898 as a “revolution” or a “race riot,” if they knew about them at all. In the black community, the episode remained a suppressed trauma. 

A new documentary about the masscare will be available (on Amazon) on its anniversary, Nov. 10, two days after the presidential election. 

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Posted at 01:30 PM on Sep 19, 2016 in category U.S. History
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Sunday September 18, 2016

Movie Review: Snowden (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I’ll give Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” this: It made me paranoid in a way that Laura Poitras’ documentary about Edward Snowden, “CitizenFour,” did not. Afterwards, I wanted to go home and cover up my computer camera.

A few things I learned from this biopic:

  1. Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was initially conservative. He was a gungho Bush-era patriot who dismissed the press as “the liberal media” as late as 2006.
  2. Far from being a low-level, temp tech, he was a boy genius, coveted in the halls of the NSA and CIA, who helped create entire backup programs in our cyber-security apparatus, even as he was questioning the morality and legality of that apparatus.
  3. The programs our intelligence agencies use to spy on us have really good interfaces.

We know 3) is bullshit. An anonymous Snowden colleague confirms 2) in this 2015 Forbes article. As for 1)? I haven’t found much on Snowden’s early political leanings, but aligns the character with classic Stone heroes: Charlie Sheen in “Platoon,” Tom Cruise in “Born on the Fourth of July” and Kevin Costner in “JFK.” Each is a patriot who believes he’s protecting his country; each discovers the immorality of that country and winds up believing the exact opposite of what he believed at the outset. Each is a true believer, but for both sides of the equation.

Big Bro
Oliver Stone's SnowdenStone isn’t big on the gray areas. His Snowden is such an innocent he’s nicknamed “Snow White” by a fellow cyber geek in Geneva, while Snowden’s CIA mentor, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans), is so obviously sinister he comes off at times like a “Scooby-Doo” villain—all but rubbing his hands together. At one point, he and Snowden walk through a DC park: Snowden in casual gray hoodie, O’Brian in dark overcoat and dark fedora pulled low. At another point, in the NSA facilities in Hawaii, O’Brian chastises Snowden via video feed; but the feed is the entire wall, and O’Brian is in close-up, making him appear like Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” (Apparently it’s no accident that O’Brian is named after Winston Smith’s antagonist.)

The movie is structured in flashback. As in “CitizenFour,” we’re once again stuck in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong with Snowden, Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), as they try to tell Snowden’s story before it’s snuffed out by U.S. intelligence. The room is claustrophobic, the atmosphere paranoid. Once again, Snowden’s clothes go from white to gray to dark.

So how did Snowden reach a point where he decides to blow the whistle? Several steps.

First he witnesses the spy apparatus in Geneva—the way we’re able to see into almost anyone’s home and watch pretty girls undress. Then there’s the mess with the Swiss banker—the CIA besmirching him to turn him informant. Then there’s Stone’s realization in Tokyo that the CIA and NSA are actually more interested in promoting American business interests abroad. “Terrorism is just an excuse,” Snowden says.

But the final straw may be that “1984” moment with O’Brian. Snowden is having troubles again with his girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), and so O’Brian assures him, in a way that feels both paternal and sleazy, that he doesn’t have to worry; that she’s not sleeping around on him. The assuredness with which he says this makes the other shoe drop. The scales fall from Snowden’s eyes.

In other words, the final straw is less the collection of meta-data than the fact that he and his girlfriend are being watched. Does this do a disservice to Snowden? Personalizing it this way? In “CitizenFour,” he feared the way the modern media would make it all about the personalities. “I’m not the story here,” he said.

Standing o
Despite a 134-minute runtime, “Snowden” moves quickly. We also get a stand-out performance from Gordon-Levitt. It just didn’t quite work for me. There’s too much on the girlfriend—he can’t tell her what he does, so he can’t explain what’s bothering him, so she gets upset, etc.—and not enough on the “Terrorism is just an excuse” angle. I wanted a more nuanced portrait of Snowden or a stronger argument for what he did.

Then there’s the end. Snowden, of course, winds up in Russia, where he’s giving a talk via web about privacy rights and civil liberties. And as we pan around his laptop, it’s suddenly him, the real Edward Snowden, not the actor Gordon-Levitt. And at the end of his talk, the audience stands and applauds. To thank him for his sacrifice.

And as signal to us? If so, we missed our cue.

I was at the opening night show at the SIFF Egyptian theater in Seattle, which is Liberal Central, and yet the crowd was sparse, and there was no applause. I may have heard one clap but that was it. More, I juxtaposed Stone’s ending with something that happened outside the theater before the movie started—something that to me feels more indicative of the American people for whom Edward Snowden sacrificed so much. I was standing there, waiting for Patricia, when two couples, 20s-ish, white, walked by, and one guy noticed what was playing. “The dude that revealed all those secrets?” he said in a sardonic voice. “Yeah, let’s make a movie of that.” Everyone laughed.

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Posted at 07:46 AM on Sep 18, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Wednesday September 14, 2016

Movie Review: The Green Hornet (1940)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Is there a better example of white privilege in the superhero world than the Green Hornet?

He’s got a superfast car ... that Kato built. He’s a got a gas gun ... that Kato invented. He’s got a mask ... that Kato made. What does the Hornet do exactly to earn top billing? Is he good in a fight? Well, at one point we see him trade blows with a 50-year-old dry cleaner, so not really. It’s Kato who has the moves. In one of the earliest depictions of Asian martial arts in Hollywood movies, he sneaks up behind guys, and, with one swift, silent blow, karate-chops them into unconsciousness. It’s so swift it almost feels like a forerunner to (or inspiration for?) Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch.

Each evening, Kato (Seattle’s own Keye Luke) is there to help Britt Reid (Gordon Jones) on with his trenchcoat, mask and hat; then he drives him to the scene of a crime. After the cliffhanger, he’s there with the car to speed the Hornet from inquiry and prison. He’s the gentleman handler of an incompetent.

Did no one see this disparity back then? Were we all that blind?

The Green Hornet 1940 serial

Not the brightest bulb
The Green Hornet was born on the radio. In 1932, George W. Trendle, a rapacious lawyer, was searching for content for his radio station WXYZ in Detroit, and he thought a cowboy version of Robin Hood/Zorro would work well for Depression-era audiences; so with Fran Striker, a prolific freelance writer, he created The Lone Ranger. The Hornet is their 1936 update—the Ranger, but in a modern, urban setting:

  • Tonto --> Kato
  • Silver --> The Black Beauty
  • Revolver--> gas gun
  • The William Tell Overture --> The Flight of the Bumblebee

Instead of leaving behind a silver bullet, the Green Hornet’s calling card is a button reading “The Green Hornet.” (Not clever, but a must-have, I’m sure, for kids in the fan clubs.) Oh, and instead of the hero being thought of as a hero, or even a vigilante, he’s considered just another racketeer by the people in the city. 

Battling rackets is actually perfect for the serial form. It allows for progress within the stasis necessary to keep the serial going. The big boss doesn’t get his until the final chapter, but with each episode, and each racket ended, the Hornet gets a little closer.

But it works oddly here. At the beginning of most chapters, in Reid’s office at The Daily Sentinel, someone—the police commissioner, reporter Jasper Jenks (Phillip Trent), Reid’s own bodyguard Mike Axford (played with an over-the-top brogue and vaudevillian befuddlement by Wade Boteler)—will inform him of a racket in town: shoddy equipment at a mine; insurance scam at a flying school; car thieves at a parking lot. And invariably Reid dismisses the idea in either a high-handed or a jokey/fratboy manner:

Mike: I just made an important discovery!
Reid: Don’t tell me you solved perpetual motion!
Mike: No, I ... [saddened] No, it’s about the Mortensen place over at the Westwood Pike.
Reid (still joking): Is it haunted?

This is from Chapter 6, “Highways of Peril,” and it’s not hard for viewers to connect the dots:

  1. Hey, the Mortensen place is where the syndicate has operated in the past, and...
  2. Mike says it’s been taken over by the Blue Streak Bus Co., which...
  3. A rival bus operator has just told Reid is trying to run him out of business!

But it takes further cajoling before Reid finally, sourly relents: “Alright, alright, put Lowry on the story.” Is this obstinacy an act? The way Clark Kent’s meekness is an act? I could never figure it out. Worse, Reid often investigates things himself in a hamhanded manner: He rides one of the buses that’s breaking down; he takes off in one of the airplanes that crashes; his own car gets stolen from a parking lot.

In the very first chapter, after Reid refuses to take a public stand against the rackets, we see, via stock footage, a local dam burst, which is tied to faulty construction. “I tried to give you that story the other day!” Jenks cries. In a later chapter, an old friend of Reid’s phones him with news about a racket in the transportation biz; then he’s cut off, and found dead. Jenks offhandedly refers to his friend’s company as “the Jinx company” because of all of its recent accidents, and Reid expresses surprise. Jenks: “Ever read your own paper?”

You get the feeling that if Britt Reid were simply a better editor, the Green Hornet wouldn’t be necessary at all.

Jenks, Axford, Reid in "The Green Hornet" (1940)

Jenks, Axford, Reid, slightly confused.

Raison d’été
That’s a good question, actually: Why does Britt Reid become the Green Hornet? This is an origin story so we should get a definitive answer. We don’t.

As the serial opens, Kato and Reid are in their garage testing a chemical; then we get some painful exposition, including why Kato, with World War II looming, is no longer Japanese, as he was in the radio serial:

Reid: That chemical has a powerful kick! You think the motor will stand it?
Kato: It’s the strongest motor ever built! And the fastest.
Reid: Thanks to your scientific knowledge.
Kato (subservient): I am satisfactory ... as a valet, too?
Reid: Perfectly. It was a lucky day for me when I rescued you from the native in Singapore.
Kato (affronted): He tried to kill me. Because I am a Korean.

Kato then pushes the car horn, Reid says it sounds like the “giant green hornet” they encountered in Africa, and he anticipates springing it on the world. “It’ll prove to that skeptical old dad of mine that I’m not just a playboy!” he says.

As the Green Hornet? Slow down, Sally. Reid hasn’t thought that far ahead. (Which raises the question: What was the superfast car for? To tool around town?) He first gets the germ of the idea later that day, when a judge and police commissioner encourage The Sentinel to look into the rackets:

Reid (ultra serious): The Sentinel will back you, but it won’t take the lead. That’s for you to do. What are you waiting for—a modern Robin Hood to lead you out of the woods?
Comm.: Yes, Reid. That’s just what this city needs: a Robin Hood.
Reid (to secretary, amused): Miss Case, check the want ads and see if there’s a modern Robin Hood looking for a job.

But after they leave, he strokes his chin and muses aloud: “A modern Robin Hood...” So you could say the Green Hornet starts as a joke.

Except he still doesn’t start. First, the local dam bursts; then a foreman named Gorman is about to blow the lid off a tunnel-digging operation. “I’m hoping to get something from Gorman tonight,” Jenks says. (“I doubt if you will,” Reid responds helpfully.) Of course, Gorman is killed, and that turns out to be the last straw for Reid.

No, he still doesn’t become the Hornet. Instead, he writes editorials against corruption in the city—so many editorials, in fact, that the racketeers try to shut him up by buying his newspaper. Reid is suspicious; but when Axford tries to follow a potential buyer, his car is cut off and he’s roughed up by hoodlums.

And that appears to be the final straw. Kato develops the mask and gas gun, and off they go:

Reid: Funny isn’t it, Kato?
Kato: What, Mr. Britt?
Reid: When we built this secret garage to construct our super speedster, we never thought it would become the lair for a modern Robin Hood! 

Yes. Funny.

Green Hornet Strikes Again

The first superhero?
The most annoying thing in the serial may be the Hornet’s voice. At first, I thought Jones was doing the Bud Collyer/Superman thing—dropping a register to key the transformation—except his superhero voice sounds tremulous, almost desperate. Turns out, it’s not Jones. It’s Al Hodge, who voiced the Hornet on the radio. Apparently, the producers wanted continuity from radio to theatre, even if they couldn’t manage it from scene to scene.

The serial does do a few things well. There’s nice irony in the fact that Axford, Reid’s bodyguard, keeps trying to kill him (as the Hornet). I also like the resolution to the mysterious crime boss. In every episode, in a nondescript office, three crooks gather before a fourth, Curtis Monroe (Cy Kendall), the chief’s right-hand man, who invariably mentions that the chief is about to call. Then he turns on an intercom-like device and they get instructions. The only point to an unseen chief is that he’s one of the other characters. So who could it be? The Judge? Jenks? Kato? Nope. It’s Monroe himself. “Using a phonograph record to conceal from the rest of the gang that you were the chief!” the Green Hornet cries in the final chapter. I liked this twist because I didn’t guess it, but it does make the syndicate seem a bit small? Just these guys? Taking over nearly every industry in the city? From that office?

Another plus: The serial doesn’t overdo the standard cliffhanger resolution, which is to wait for the next chapter and then insert a shot of the hero falling off the thing about to explode before it explodes. Half the time, Reid survives simply because he’s ... thickheaded. He’s in a car that crashes into a gas station (knocked out, but fine), near a car that explodes (blown back, but fine), falls out a second-story window (no biggee), and near a gas tank that explodes (coolio). In a later chapter, a car goes over a cliff with him in it. “These armored cars are built for protection!” he tells Kato the following week.

Question: Was “The Green Hornet” the first modern superhero to hit the big screen? An argument can be made. The ones that came before were in the past (Zorro/Lone Ranger), the future (Flash Gordon), or in the jungle (Tarzan). So why didn’t the Hornet catch on like, say, Batman? The lack of a solid comic-book foundation probably didn’t help. More, I think it’s the white-privilege thing. The Hornet is a mix of cool (mask, car) and lame (everything else), and the lame trumps the cool. The minority does all the work and the rich white guy gets all the credit? For a fantasy, that’s a little too close to reality. 

Green Hornet and Kato, 1940

That's right, Kato, you got rooked. 

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Posted at 06:25 AM on Sep 14, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s
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Tuesday September 13, 2016

Bat-tastic Quiz: Who are Col. Gumm's Minions?

Notice anything about the screenshot below?

Batman credits

Yes, it's taken from the old 1960s “Batman” series. And yes, it's from the second-season episodes where the Green Hornet and Kato guest star. The episodes aren't great, to be honest. A tonal thing. Batman and Robin are obviously satirizing the superhero genre, but GH and Kato play it straight. Even odder is that Britt Reid (and Kato) shows up in Gotham City at the same time as The Green Hornet (and Kato), yet no one suspects Reid of being the Hornet; they suspect him of being Batman, and charge Bruce Wayne with being the Hornet. Even as a kid I thought that was stupid. You mean they switch cities every night? C'mon, people. 

But none of that is why I'm asking about the screenshot. Think actors. For example:

  • Though you can't see him (his face is covered by the “N” in “VAN”), the criminal ringleader in this episode, Col, Gumm, surely one of the lamest Batman villains, is played by Roger C. Carmel, who, around the same time, played Harcourt Fenton Mudd in two memorable episodes of “Star Trek.” Was there a lot of crossover between “Batman” and “Star Trek”? I'm sure someone's looked into it. Yes, someone has

But again, not that. I'm really talking about the two guys on the right. Recognize them?

  • The one closest to us, the blonde, is Seymour Cassel, who, a year later, would co-star in John Cassevettes' film “Faces,” and become an indie favorite forever after. He's been in everything from “Coogan's Bluff” to “The Last Tycoon” to “Tin Men” to “Honeymoon in Vegas” to “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic.” He's 81 and still making movies. 
  • And the other guy? That's Alex Rocco. In just five years, he'll have one of the more famous cinematic deaths as Moe Greene in “The Godfather.” Rocco will also have a long career. He died last year. 

I like the moment before the moment. Of course the biggest such moment is the episode's ASSISTANT VISITING HERO. Very soon he'd been one of the biggest movie stars in the world, assistant to no one.

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Posted at 05:57 AM on Sep 13, 2016 in category TV
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Monday September 12, 2016

Quote of the Day

“Nobody loves good, crafty escapism more than myself, but when a lazy wank-off flick like The Magnificent Seven comes along and makes you feel drained and nauseous, people like Denzel and critic Lewis Beale say 'Hey, relax...it's just a movie!' But there's no relaxing when a film is flagrantly empty except in terms of the photography (Mauro Fiore's lensing is first-rate), and has nothing in the way of cleverness or fresh attitude up its sleeve. There is nothing so detestable as people who dismiss the potential of cinema by saying 'it's just a movie.' Can you imagine Arthur Miller saying 'it's just a play' or a respected architect saying 'it's just a home' or a clothier saying 'it's just a suit' or a gourmet chef saying 'it's just a souflee'?”

-- Jeff Wells, “'Just' is Obviously a Dismissive Term”

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

From the director of “Olympus Has Fallen”

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Posted at 05:09 PM on Sep 12, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Disney v. La Nouvelle Vague

From Neal Gabler's extensive bio on Walt Disney (I'm finally nearing the end). The quotes are from the period in the early 1960s when Disney Studios began to do more live action fare, like “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “The Shaggy Dog,” and Haley Mills movies:

As for the increasingly mature competition in Hollywood that was tackling serious issues, Walt turned philistine. “These avant garde artists are adolescents,” he griped to a reporter. “It’s only a little noisy element that’s going that way, that’s creating this sick art. I don’t think the whole world is crazy!” Referring to a recent film about alcoholism, Days of Wine and Roses, he said, “I don’t want to see that kind of thing. If I did, I’d go down to the county nut ward, or something” ...

Yet even Walt, for all his belligerence toward Hollywood’s new frankness, seemed to have misgivings about being stuck making puerile movies. After watching To Kill a Mockingbird at a screening in his home, he lamented, “That’s the kind of film I wish I could make.”

You can sense the coming culture wars in this comment from Dr. Max Rafferty, the superintendent of public instruction in California: “[Disney's] live movies have become lone sanctuaries of decency and health in the jungle of sex and sadism created by the Hollywood producers of pornography.”

Sex, sadism, pornography. From 1962? Somewhere, “A Clockwork Orange” hangs out in the future, thinking, “Wait'll they get a load of me.”

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Posted at 05:07 PM on Sep 12, 2016 in category Movies
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Movie Review: Sully (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I get it. Director Clint Eastwood needs to frame the drama of US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency landing on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009—the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson”—around a larger drama in order to keep us riveted. And he chose well. We are riveted. But throughout we suspect the framing device is a lie.

“Wait, so government officials immediately attacked the actions of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the veteran pilot who managed to land the Airbus A320 onto the Hudson without making it: 1) break apart, and 2) sink? The world saw him as a hero who saved 155 lives but regulators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were giving him the stink eye? Causing him to wander around New York City full of doubt? Making him feel bad about himself?

“Really?”

No, not really.

Here’s a question: Is it a framing device in service to Clint Eastwood’s libertarian, small government point of view? I wonder sometimes. 

Sullying Sully
Sully: Clint Eastwood movie starring Tom HanksIn the movie, the NTSB argument against Capt. Sullenberger is this: Computer simulations, given the circumstances of Flight 1549—geese flying into both engines, knocking them out, as it was ascending after takeoff—were able to make it back to LaGuardia. Oh, and one of the engines wasn’t out anyway. Nice going, jerkface. 

The NTSB argument in real life is: That’s bullshit.

Yes, there was an NTSB inquiry into the forced landing but it occurred six months later, and they came to praise Sully not sully him. In fact, according to William Langewiesche’s book “Fly By Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson,” the hearing was rather dull business. What tensions there were, were mostly buried. The movie makes a passing reference to Sully’s website to drum up business but not really why he has to do that. It doesn’t mention that his salary had been cut drastically in the years before 2009. Nor does it mention that the salary of his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), had been cut so much—by 50 percent!—that he'd had to take a weekend job in Wisconsin.

Engineering vs. pilot experience was another buried issue at the actual hearing:

[The Airbus engineers] knew that the airplane’s flight-control computers had performed remarkably well, seamlessly integrating themselves into Sullenberger's solutions and intervening assertively at the very end to guarantee a survivable touchdown. The test pilots believed that the airplane's functioning was a vindication of its visionary design. But they were not going to bring it up. They were going to get through this hearing and be done.  

In the hearing, Sully did say the following: “No matter how much technology is available, an airplane is still ultimately an airplane. The physics are the same. And basic skills may ultimately be required when either the automation fails or it’s no longer appropriate to use it.” Some aspect of this is preserved in the movie. But in the movie it’s more of a knock against the computer simulators, and the government officials who expect pilots to act with computer precision. In the movie, it’s about adding the human element to allow for error, or delay, which is an interesting argument when you think about it.

I.e., You don’t get hit by birds and immediately head back to base. You assess. Then skills and experience come into play. And once the simulations are recalibrated to into account the human factor, everyone realizes that Sully’s instincts were right after all. The prosecutors become fans. Like the rest of us.

The movie ends oddly on a joke by Skiles. He's asked if, knowing what he now knows, would he would do any of it differently? Yes, he says; I’d do it in July. People laugh. Sullenberger laughs. You could freeze-frame on that shot and it would seem like the ending of a 1980s sitcom. Like “Bosom Buddies,” maybe.   

Thanking Hanks
Tom Hanks is great, by the way. He’s the show. He has to be both emotionless (cool under pressure) and full of emotion (caring about the passengers), and he pulls this off like the pro he is. He’s the man to play our complicated heroes.

Except this Sully isn’t that complicated. There’s doubt in his eyes, sure, but about what? That he did screw up? Or that they’ll try to pin something on him? It seems the latter. Once he gets in front of the NTSB he’s as cool as a cucumber. Doubt? Gone. Which is a shame. I liked the doubt.

We never see him truly interact with his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney, in her third Clint Eastwood movie), who remains stuck to a wall phone in California while he is feted in NYC. Isn’t she younger than him? Isn’t he a bit old to have pre-teen kids? What’s the story there? There’s no story there. Not here.

One of my favorite bits is when the crew winds up on “Letterman,” and Hanks, who has obviously been on “Letterman” and television forever, makes Sully seem more awkward on camera than the real Sully actually was. Good acting by both men.

That’s the kind of hero we want to believe in: the one who does the job but isn’t comfortable in the spotlight. And that’s the hero that Eastwood gives us. But Capt. Sullenberger is apparently comfortable in both arenas. Good for him. The airlines cut his pay but he got a $3 million advance from HarperCollins for his story. Good for him. But you can’t frame a movie around a man hiring a powerful west-coast publicity firm. Someone has to be the villain. 

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Posted at 06:26 AM on Sep 12, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Saturday September 10, 2016

The History of Clint Eastwood's Box Office

Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks

Harry and Woody make a movie.

The new Clint Eastwood movie, “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks, grossed $12 mil domestically on Friday and is heading for a $34 million opening, according to Box Office Mojo. That would make it the fourth-best open of Tom Hanks' career, unadjusted.

And Eastwood's?

It would be his biggest opening ever. By almost double.

Really? But what about as an actor? A star.

The same. By almost double.

This should've been a trivia question, really. Before “Sully,” the biggest opener of Clint Eastwood's career, as both actor and director, was ... wait for it ... “Space Cowboys,” which grossed $18 mil in 2000. Second as actor is “In the Line of Fire,” with $15.2 in 1993. Second as director (and third as actor) is “Unforgiven,” which opened to $15 mil in 1992.

It's all a little scrimpy and stunning. That's his best? Clint Eastwood? 

But when you step back a bit, it makes sense. 

Eastwood's heyday as a box office star really occurred in the 1970s (and a bit in the early 1990s), when ticket prices were a fraction of what they are now, and opening weekend wasn't the thing it is now. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, he's made more prestige pictures, which open in a handful of theaters in NY and LA and then build and find an audience. Even “Gran Torino,” which grossed a total of $148 mil in 2008, and was, by all accounts, a classic revenge flick (Dirty Harry's “get off my lawn” movie), opened in only six theaters before finally expanding.

So if you look at total gross, I'm sure you'll find some bigger numbers. 

Not really. As an actor, Eastwood's biggest box office hit is that same old “Gran Torino” and its $148 mil. Which is “Kung Fu Panda 3” territory. 

Right. Unadjusted. But if you adjust for inflation, I'm sure it'll be something huge. 

Yes and no. Even when you adjust for inflation, Eastwood's biggest hit as an actor is “Every Which Way But Loose,” his first orangutan movie, which made $85 mil in '78 or $315 today. And $315 is about what “Suicide Squad” will end up making this year. So Eastwood's biggest hit is on par with a very, very lame superhero flick. I thought he was way bigger than that. But I guess he just kept going. And he had a loyal audience. They just kept returning. 

Here are his top 10 highest-grossing movies as an actor, adjusted for inflation: 

Rank Movie Studio Adjusted Gross Unadjusted Gross Release
1 Every Which Way But Loose WB $315,299,800 $85,196,485 12/20/78
2 Any Which Way You Can WB $227,565,900 $70,687,344 12/17/80
3 In the Line of Fire Col. $214,020,900 $102,314,823 7/9/93
4 Unforgiven WB $211,221,800 $101,157,447 8/7/92
5 Magnum Force WB $194,571,100 $39,768,000 12/25/73
6 Dirty Harry WB $188,819,500 $35,976,000 12/22/71
7 The Enforcer WB $187,983,000 $46,236,000 12/22/76
8 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly UA $181,138,300 $25,100,000 12/29/67
9 Sudden Impact WB $180,201,300 $67,642,693 12/9/83
10 Gran Torino WB $172,003,500 $148,095,302 12/12/08

As director, his biggest hit is a little more recent: “American Sniper,” which opened in four theaters in late December 2014 before absolutely killing it at the box office, and suprassing the last “Hunger Games” to become the biggest movie of 2014: $350 million. It's the only movie Eastwood has directed or starred in that was the No. 1 movie of the year.  

That was at age 84. And “Sully” is at age 86. To me, that makes Clint Eastwood more of a hero than anything he ever did as Dirty Harry.

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Posted at 11:24 AM on Sep 10, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office
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Friday September 09, 2016

'Astute Summary'

I came across the quote below while doing background for my review of “Jason Bourne” last month. It's a Google Books find: “The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television” by Tricia Jenkins. It's from her intro, and references an MSNBC article I wrote, “You're Not Reading This: The CIA in Hollywood Movies,” which was tied to the opening of Robert De Niro's “The Good Shepherd”:

Providing an astute summary in 2006, Erik Lundegaard argues that since its inception in 1947, the CIA has rarely been “front and center” in Hollywood films, and when it does appear on-screen, its representatives generally “skulk along the edges and in the shadows.” Yet even in this capacity, the CIA is primarily depicted as keeping tabs on famous citizens (Malcolm X), using innocent people as pawns (Ishtar), hanging its own agents out to dry (Spy Game), assassinating foreign and military leaders (Syriana and Apocalypse Now) and possibly the president of the United States (JFK) (see Table 1.1). “They can be blazingly efficient” or “buffoonishly incompetent,” Lundegaard writes, but either way, “they are always dangerous.”

That was kind of the heyday of my MSNBC time. I think I was allowed 2700 words on that subject. The following year I was cut back to 1500, then 1000. Then I was doing Top 5 pieces. Then they cut freelance altogether. Slow rise, quick death.

I'm glad Ms. Jenkins wrote the book (U Texas). Researching in 2006, I kept thinking, “There needs to be more on this. Someone needs to write a book.” For a time I thought about doing it myself. I still do. 

The CIA, which hid from Hollywood for so long, is now doing the J. Edgar Hoover thing. No, not dresses. Since the '90s, they've had marketing people in Hollywood putting a better face on the agency. But it only works so well.

Take this with the usual SPOILER ALERTs, but in the new Netflix series “Stranger Things,” a much recommended amalgamation of the Steven/Stephens (Spielberg/King), a key reveal is that the CIA, or at least a CIA agent who goes off the reservation, 1) kidnaps a girl from her mother; 2) raises her in a lab to spy on the Russians; 3) accidentally contacts an alternate dimension; 4) rips a whole in the fabric of space, creating a portal to this other, decidedly sticky dimension; and, 5) murders civilians willy-nilly to keep all of this secret. So the PR only works so well. Still, the fact that in our entertainment we demonize the agency designed to keep us safe, to me says something pretty positive about our democracy.

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Posted at 05:42 AM on Sep 09, 2016 in category Books
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Thursday September 08, 2016

Movie Review: Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009)

Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?

WARNING: SPOILERS

This is the doc Donald Trump supporters need to watch.

Yes, Trump has done worse things, but killing a pro football league is something his supporters might pay attention to. Look at the people he hurt: beefy, blue collar white dudes. Chuck Pitcock, guard for the Tampa Bay Bandits, talks about crying for joy when he looked around the stadium before his first professional game in the league’s 1984 inaugural season. “I was living my dream,” he says.

Compare that with Trump’s 2009 dismissal of the entire league. “Small potatoes,” he says.

As you watch, that dismissive quote keeps going through your head. And you think: You know, it wasn’t small potatoes to a lot of these guys. To a lot of these guys, it was everything.

And by the end, we know who’s small potatoes.

Hold onto your wallet
I stopped paying attention to pro football in the early 1980s—four Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses will do that to you—so I hardly remember the USFL. Apparently they were born out of a combination of the 1982 NFL strike, the rise of cable TV, and the sense that the American appetite for football was insatiable. So why not try a spring league?

They did—12 teams the first year, 18 after that—and immediately started signing college stars. Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Doug Flutie all went to the USFL. The league was young and fun. “All the fun the law will allow” was a Tampa Bay Bandits slogan. They allowed imaginative touchdown celebrations. They invented the two-point conversion. They came up with the instant replay/ref challenge.

And in the first year they did better than expected: 25,000 a game, TV share over 6.0.

And in the second year they got Trump.

He bought the New Jersey Generals and started pushing to move the league into the fall; to compete directly with the NFL. “I’d like to move now,” he said back then. “I’d like to challenge for a couple of years: keep challenging, challenging.”

What did the guys in the league think of the Donald?

  • USFL announcer Keith Jackson: “He was a dynamic figure—but he was dynamic in behalf of the Donald Trump interests, not the whole league.”
  • Burt Reynolds, general partner of the Bandits: “I hold onto my wallet when I shake hands, but I like him.”
  • NJ General announcer Charley Steiner: “I’ve always felt that the USFL in Trump’s mind was all about Donald.”

What did they think about his push to move the league to the fall?

  • Jackson: “The silliest thing I ever heard.”
  • Reynolds: “To go head to head with them was insane.”
  • QB Steve Young: “Everybody sensed that that was not going to go well.”

Trump’s main opponent in moving the league was Bandits’ owner John Bassett, who was more of a stay-the-course guy. He’d been an owner in the World Football League in the 1970s and didn’t want to fail twice. Start small, build slowly, then maybe compete directly with the behemoth that was the NFL in seven or eight years: that was the plan. Others respected him. It was him vs. Donald.

So what happened? Bassett was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors. Then his body weakened.  Then Donald took over. “He was like a shark,” someone says. “Just ate up everything around him.”

Here’s Pitcock: “He manipulated [the other owners]. At that point, there was four or five owners that were broke, that didn’t have the power or the money. And they figured if they rode with Donald, they might end up with some. [But] you ain’t going to end up with none. He gonna throw your ass to the street, too.”

In 1986, the drama moved from the gridiron to the courtroom, where the USFL sued the NFL for monopolistic practices. The hope was to win, get a big settlement, use it as a springboard to launch the league in autumn.

Well, they won. But the settlement wasn’t exactly what they wanted. When teams spend millions for players, it’s hard to cry poverty. Plus the Donald was there all the time, and everyone knew how much money he had. So the jury offered a slim settlement: $1 to be exact.

The USFL died. Who killed it?

  • Burt Reynolds: “I still feel, and will always feel, that [Trump’s] ambitions—his personal ambitions—were what sunk the league.”
  • Chuck Pitcock: “I think that the USFL three-year activity was similar to his ‘Apprenticeship’ show, you know? He went in it, and he orchestrated it, then when he was done with them and he didn’t win his lawsuit and get the NFL, he just fired everybody and cleaned house. ‘I’m done. That’s good. Y’all have a nice day.’”

Steve Young says he still feels bad about the demise of the league. “It provided hundreds of jobs for guys that had a tremendous passion for football. And those jobs went away and they didn’t need to.”

And Donald? The guy who killed the league? Who lost all of those jobs? He’s not exactly contrite.

“I actually think I got the league to go as far as it went,” he says in a 2009 interview. “Without me, this league would have folded a lot sooner.”

A great lawsuit
I’ve got to bring up the Charley Steiner thing. It’s so creepy. It’s so Trump.

The documentary was made by Michael Tollin, who, as a 20-something in the 1980s, put together the USFL equivalent of “NFL Films”: the self-promotional weekly highlights. Trump liked him. So he agreed to be interviewed by him in 2009. But he didn’t like him in 2009. Tollin kept asking tough questions, and Trump didn’t like that.

Worse, Tollin starts quoting other people about Trump to Trump. One of them was former Trump employee Charley Steiner. And the quote goes like this: “Donald wanted to become a bigshot, and his entrée into being a big shot was buying himself a football team.”

Trump’s on-camera response? Attack, belittlement, threats. “Charley Steiner was nobody. Charley Steiner couldn’t get a job, and we put him on the USFL, so I hope he said that in a friendly way. Because if he didn’t I’d love to take him on just like I take everybody else on.”

Trump adds: “I hope he remains loyal. And if he doesn’t let me know and I’ll attack him.”

Think about all of this for a second. Donald Trump is known for his business sense. But how dumb—or vain, or pigheaded, or blinkered—do you have to be to sink an entire professional football league. In America.

Of course, he walked away from it unscathed. It was others who suffered. Him, he didn’t even suffer a pang of guilt.

“Honestly,” he says in 2009, “I don’t even think about the USFL anymore. It was a nice experience. It was fun. We had a great lawsuit.”

“Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it before the 2016 election. 

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Posted at 06:06 AM on Sep 08, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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Wednesday September 07, 2016

Quote of the Day

“The wind will do with it as it does. All you can do is throw the kite in the air.”

-- Lin-Manuel Miranda on the success of “Hamilton” and art in general, in an interview with The Chicago Tribune, anticipating the Chicago opening of “Hamilton.”

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Posted at 06:58 PM on Sep 07, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday September 04, 2016

Quote of the Day

“[Suicide Squad] does not care. It's just a commercial for itself and for the sequel. ... It plays like someone fast-forwarding something, stopping and starting but never actually arriving at a scene that they feel like watching. It's not unlike watching commercials for a movie strung together for an entire movie's length. Yes, Suicide Squad is even worse than Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which was an actual movie, albeit a very very bad one.”

-- Nathaniel Rogers of Film Experience in his breakdown of the summer movies. Great takedown of a truly awful movie ... that is now at $300 million domestic. People will be ashamed about this someday. 

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Posted at 04:37 PM on Sep 04, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Box Office: Laborious Weekend

Morgan movie

Want some alone-time? See “Morgan” this weekend!

I don't get why more people don't go to the movies on Labor Day weekend. How is it different than any other three-day weekend, which can draw big bucks? MLK has “American Sniper”* ($107 mil), President's Day “Deadpool” ($152), Memorial Day “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” ($139). And Labor Day? The 2007, extremely forgetable version of “Halloween” ($30).

(*BTW: Am I the only one who finds it hugely embarrassing that the biggest movie to play on MLK weekend was called “American Sniper”?)

I assume Hollywood doesn't open shit during this time for a reason. They must know we're tapped out or something, but I'm not sure why that is. Why not one last fling before school (traditionally) starts? Weather often cooperates. 

Well, here we are again. Brad Brevet over at Box Office Mojo says the top 12 films this weekend grossed $75 mil, which is 24% less than last weekend, and even 13% less than last year's Labor Day weekend. So this is one of our most laborious Labor Day weekends. It's also the stinkiest box office of the year by about $8 mil.

Last weekend's horror flick “Don't Breathe” won the weekend again with $15.7, followed by the fifth weekend of “Suicide Squad” with $10, and the fourth weekend of “Pete's Dragon” with $6.

Of the openers, the 1920s-era melodrama, “The Light Between Oceans,” did best, finishing in sixth place with $4.9 mil in 1500 theaters, followed by the Mexican comedy “No Manches Frida” ($3.6 mil in 362 thtrs, 12th place), followed by the sci-fi horror film “Morgan” ($1.9 mil in 2,020 thtrs, 17th place). 

Wait. $1.9 in 2,020? That's pretty bad. 

How bad? This bad. It's a chart of the lowest opening grosses for any film that opened in more than 2,000 theaters:

  MOVIE Opening Gross Thtrs  Date
1 Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure $443,901 2,160 8/29/12
2 Delgo $511,920 2,160 12/12/08
3 Saw (10th Anniversary) $650,051 2,063 10/31/14
4 Jem and the Holograms $1,375,320 2,413 10/23/15
5 Rock The Kasbah $1,470,592 2,012 10/23/15
6 We Are Your Friends $1,767,308 2,333 8/28/15
7 Morgan $1,960,000 2,020  9/2/16

Not the company you want to keep. Why? It got negative reviews on RT, but I assume it's something else. I assume people who wanted to watch a sci-fi/horror story about a girl-figure with great powers simply turned to Netflix. 

Patricia and I watched “Stranger Things” during the week, and yesterday went to see “Hell or High Water” at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle. It's currently at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while it's not 98% good, it's pretty damn good. Particularly given the options. But I don't think much of it will stick with me.  

Next weekend, Clint Eastwood's “Sully” arrives, followed a week later by Oliver Stone's “Snowden.” Too bad they're not going head to head.

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Posted at 11:56 AM on Sep 04, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office
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Friday September 02, 2016

The Sayings of Chairman Roger (NSFW)

That's former Fox president Roger Ailes, of course, as reported by Gabriel Sherman in his New York magazine cover article, “The Revenge of Roger's Angels: How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.” The first half of the piece, as Roger goes down, as he twists in the wind, as he tries to TURN THOSE MACHINES BACK ON, is delicious. The second half, detailing his long career of sexually harassing women, gets pretty damned icky. Be forewarned.

Among the quotes attributed to him:

“If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you're going to have to fuck me, and you're going to do that with anyone I tell you to.”

“You look like the women in [Maxim]. You have great legs. If you sleep with me, you could be a model or a newscaster.”

“For a man in my position, [drinks] would have to be alone at a hotel. Do you know how to play the game?”

“I am going to put [this compromising videotape] in a safe-deposit box just so we understand each other.”

His reward? A $40 million parachute, and a temporary non-compete clause that didn't include presidential campaigns. So now Ailes is on Trump's team, making American grate again. 

Read Sherman's whole article. Please. Then pass along to the Fox News watcher in your family.  

Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch

“The feeling I got in the interview was repulsion, power-hungriness, contempt, violence, and the need to subjugate and humiliate,” says a woman who auditioned for Ailes.

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Posted at 12:40 PM on Sep 02, 2016 in category Politics
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