erik lundegaard

Wednesday October 26, 2016

Movie Review: A Bigger Splash (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“A Bigger Splash” got good notices (90% on Rotten Tomatoes) when it was released (barely: 378 theaters) in the U.S. this spring. It has a dream cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts; Dakota Johnson impresses. It’s well directed by Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love”). The movie promises, and delivers, sex—never a bad deal.

The problem? I got bored with the premise. It’s a Garden of Eden story where the snake is too obviously a snake. You watch and think, “You know, you really should get rid of that snake," and they don’t, and bad things happen, and who cares.

With a friend like Harry
A Bigger SplashSwinton plays Marianne Lane, a rock star temporarily reduced to whispers after a throat operation, and nursed and pampered by her younger husband, Paul De Smedt (Schoenaerts), a hunky documentarian, as they vacation in Pantelleria, a remote Italian island in the Mediterranean. They’re having a post-coital moment on the beach when her phone rings. It’s Harry Hawkes (Fiennes), music producer (Rolling Stones, etc.), and, it turns out, her former lover. He’s talking so much he doesn’t even realize he’s talking to Paul. He’s on a plane. To the island. He’s landing in five minutes “with a surprise.” Then the flight attendant forces him to hang up and the shadow of the plane passes over Paul and Marianne’s idyllic spot. Nice bit.

The surprise is his daughter, Penelope (Johnson), Pen for short, whom he didn’t know he had until a year earlier, and with whom he’s overly affectionate in a creepy, Donald Trumpian kind of way.

Who they are is revealed after a dinner in an absurd outdoor restaurant in the hills/graves of the island. Harry and Pen have no place to stay, so Marianne finally offers their rented villa. This is their reaction. 

Harry: Oh Christ, that took forever.
Pen: Is there a pool?

His reaction made me laugh, hers made me roll my eyes. It gets worse. Harry, with his boundless, narcissistic energy, takes over. He fills their refrigerator with booze—even though Paul is an alcoholic. He tries to get Marianne to sing—even though she’s not supposed to talk. Without asking, he invites over a mother and daughter, who aren’t exactly horrible, but they’re not worth anyone’s time. They’re actually perfectly done. They’re exactly the type of people Harry might invite, and exactly the type you wouldn’t want around. As viewer, too, sadly.

How snakey is Harry? He's trying to break them up. He fixed them up in the first place, six years earlier, but now he wants Marianne back. Is that why Pen? For a time, I wondered if she was a plant, meant to seduce Paul, or if that was her own idea. Mostly she walks ahead of everyone, self-contained, a smirk at the ready. I longed to see her age.

Halfway through the film, our foursome splits into two groups: Marianne and Harry go shopping (he seems to know the island better than she), while Paul and Pen go on a mindless, uninteresting hike. Do they do it? She strips for him and lays down on some rather uncomfortable-looking rocks, but the filmmakers leave it up in the air. Nothing subtle about Marianne and Harry, though, who are doing it standing up in the hallway off the kitchen, until, mid-coital, she tells him she’s not leaving Paul; she’s happy with Paul. Tensions mount at dinner (with all of them), and late that night by the pool (Harry and Paul).

Here’s a good little speech Harry gives Paul:

We were friends. Better than brothers. Better than all those shits in their lofts talking about who the fuck cares what, and now you just ... You just tolerate me. Do you know how offensive that is to me? Think what you want, judge the hell out of me, but don't fucking tolerate me.

It's half profound, half bullshit, and unfortunately no one is given rejoinders to Harry’s bullshit: As in: “Well, that’s what happens when you show up unnoticed, don’t give a shit about anyone else, and try to steal my wife.” Nobody says the obvious, but within the movie the obvious keeps happening. As in:

  • They’re going to fight here, aren’t they?
  • Harry is going to pull him in the pool, right?
  • I think one of them is going to die. Probably Harry.
  • Yep, Harry.

Is it an epiphany if others realize it first?
For the last half hour the tension in the movie is: “Does Paul get away with it?” but by then I'd stopped caring. Either he gets caught or this thing hangs over them forever. Eden is done; the snake has won. After Paul confesses his crime to Marianne, she frets and struggles and does what she can to protect him, but I kept thinking, “You do realize he’s still a murderer.” She realizes it, too: in the final shot of the film. She goes from the euphoria of Paul’s exoneration to this epiphany. The one I had 15 minutes earlier.

There’s also an 11th-hour reveal that Pen is 17, not 22. Then she cries on the plane home. For Harry? For herself? What a shit she is?

The acting was great, locales beautiful, some subtle Hitchcockian/neo-realism touches throughout. The character of Harry is a nice stretch for Fiennes, who usually plays prim and reserved. But the Garden of Eden needs a subtler snake. 

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Posted at 05:42 AM on Oct 26, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Monday October 24, 2016

2016 World Series: Who Do You Root For?

If our team isn't in it, and we're not assholes, we tend to root for underdogs. The world is so unfair we want to add a little bit of balance to it, a little justice. We want something to come out right for once. 

This year's World Series is an embarrassment of riches in this regard. The two teams, Cubs and Indians, aren't just underdogs, they're the underdoggiest teams in baseball history: the two franchises that have waited the longest for a championship.

Chicago CubsSo who to root for? Let's count it out: 

  • Last World Series championship: The Cleveland Indians have the longest championship drought in the A.L. and the second-longest in the Majors: When they last won the World Series, in 1948, Harry S. Truman was president. The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, have the longest championship drought not only in the Majors but probably the known universe: When they last won the World Series, Roosevelt was president. No, not Franklin; Teddy. It was 1908. That's 108 years ago for those scoring at home. Advantage: Cubs.
  • Last previous pennant: For the Indians, relatively recent: 1997. For the Cubs, infamously not: 1945. Advantage: Cubs. 
  • Total pennants: If the Cubs haven't won one since 1945, they must be at a big disadvantage, right? Nope. They actually sweep the Indians in this category, 11-6. Cubbies won flags in: 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945 and 2016. That one in '45? At that time, they had the third-most pennants in baseball history—after the Yankees and Giants. Indians aren't even close: 1920, 1948, 1954, 1995, 1997 and 2016. They have the second-fewest pennants among original-16 teams, after the Chicago White Sox. Advantage: Indians.
  • Total championships: It's a wash, 2-2. The Cubs lost their first Series in '06 against the crosstown “hitless wonders” ChiSox, but then won the next two in '07 and '08. In fact, they became the first team in MLB to win two World Series. And there they stopped. The Indians also won their first two, 1920 and 1948, and then stopped. No advantage.
  • Opening Day payroll: Cubs: $186 million, fifth-most in baseball. Indians: $114 million, 22nd-most in baseball. No other team in the bottom half even made it to the postseason, let alone the World Series. Advantage: Indians. 
  • Injuries: The Indians made it this far despite injuries to half of their starting rotation. The Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber two games into the season and haven't missed a beat. The biggest injury for the Cubs, in a way, has been to Jason Heyward, he of the $180 million contract, who isn't injured; he just can't hit anymore. Advantage: Indians.
  • The 2004 Red Sox factor: The 2004 Red Sox helped change the world. It was a franchise with its own blighted history—no championship since 1918; oh so painfully close in 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003—and in the ALCS they were playing the biggest bastards in all of professional sports, the New York Yankees, who, at the time, had been to 39 World Series and won 26 of them. They'd been to six of the last eight Series and won four of them. They were massively efficient, corporate tyrants. And they were about to do it again: up 3 games to 0 in a best-of-seven series. No team in baseball history had ever come back from those odds—let alone against the winningest team in all of professional sports. But the 2004 Red Sox did. And it changed everything. And two of the architects of that team were manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein. Francona now manages the Indians, Epstein is now Grand Poobah of the Cubs. Whose magic will continue? Who knows? Either way, it's a wash. 
  • Cleveland Indians logoThe Ex-Yankees closer factor: If you'd told Yankees fan at the start of the year that both Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman would be in the Series, they would've been ecstatic, since both pitched for the Yanks in April. If you'd told them that they'd be pitching for opposite teams, they'd think, “Well, at least one of the teams is the Yankees.” Then you go for the kill. Fun! Advantage: us.
  • Movies about each team: The Indians' “Major League” trumps the Cubs in “Rookie of the Year” any day of the week. Do the Indians get dinged for all of those sequels? And for Charlie Sheen? Maybe. But not enough. Advantage: Indians.
  • The logo factor: This one isn't even close. One team has a cute cuddly animal as its logo, the other uses a caricature of a member of a wide swath of people who were systematically slaughtered by our country in its constant, manifest push west. In many ways I'm a traditionalist, but it's beyond time for the Cleveland organization to lose that logo and possible its nickname. Big advantage: Cubs.

The tally comes out 4-3 in favor of the Indians, but they win some squeakers, while the Cubs, well, the Cubs have 1908 and 1945. Hard to top that. Let alone the logo battle. I get the feeling I'll be rooting for the Cubs. 

But sometimes you never know until the game actually begins. That's Tuesday night, 5:08 Pacific time, on Fox. 

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Posted at 06:57 AM on Oct 24, 2016 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

“Washington had an extraordinary American life. I think the most extraordinary thing he did was step down from the presidency—ensuring that this American experiment would continue without him. By modeling a peaceful transition from president to president, he puts us eons ahead of every other fledgling democracy on earth.”

-- Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton's America,” which aired last night on PBS. It can be seen here in full until Nov. 18

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Posted at 09:35 AM on Oct 22, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Wednesday October 19, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The point of the Magnificent Seven, and the Seven Samurai before them—you might even say the beauty of these guys—is that they do the deed for the deed. They may have qualms about it, they may not always be the best men, and the villagers they protect aren’t exactly pure; but it’s still a noble, selfless act amid a (for them) pyrrhic victory.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)The 2016 update of “The Magnificent Seven” by Antoine Fuqua changes a few things—names, locale, victims, the ethnic makeup of the Seven—but the biggest and most uncommented-upon change is the motivation of team leader Chisolm (Denzel Washington), which isn’t revealed until the final act.

Turns out the villain they’re fighting? The rich, 19th-century industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, overacting by underacting), who rules the mining town of Rose Creek with a sadistic, powerful, and blasé finger? Chisolm knows him! In fact, ol’ Bartholomew killed Chisolm’s wife and kids way back when. He tried to kill Chisolm, too (cue: neck scar reveal) but our man didn’t die. Or maybe, a la certain Clint Eastwood heroes, he’s a vengeful ghost or something.

The point is, Chisolm doesn’t do the deed for the deed, as Chris and Shimada did before him. He does it for revenge. For him, it’s personal.

This changes everything about the story. Worse, he doesn’t even tell any of the rest of the Seven that he's got skin in the game. He gathers them, and gets them to do the deed for the deed, even as he’s doing it for the most personal reasons possible. He lies, essentially. Our hero lies.

I gotta ask: Who on the filmmaking team thought this was a good idea? Fuqua? Screenwriters Richard Wenk (“The Expendables 2”) or Nic Pizzolatto (HBO's “True Detective”)? Denzel? Some suit? Has anyone accepted credit? Or blame? 

Chisolm’s motivation also allows for one of the worst tropes in modern action movies: the slow, sadistic death of the villain. For decades now we’ve gone Old Testament; we want our eye for an eye. We want the villain to suffer as he made others suffer. “I seek righteousness, but I’ll take revenge,” says Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, forever spilling cleavage). That’s us. We want to be both moral and sadistic. We get it here. Slower. Slower. Make it last. We’re sick puppies.

Overall, Denzel is in fine form, the final battle is surprisingly well-orchestrated and well-told, and it’s always nice to see Vincent D’Onofrio. But most of the Seven aren’t interesting. Fuqua gives them race (the Mexican, the Native American, the Asian guy) but no personality. Personality is still for the white dudes (Pratt, Hawke, D'Onofrio).  

Most importantly, Chisolm's motivation fucks up the most beautiful part of the story.

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Posted at 05:08 AM on Oct 19, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday October 16, 2016

Dream

Last night I dreamed we were watching a TV show or movie about drug wars or gang wars, and the setting was a rival gang in Mexico or Colombia or somewhere else in Latin America. An attack was imminent, we knew that much; the gangmembers were without character, unknown to us. They were just there to be eliminated as an element of the plot. The attack began at night when one man, maybe sleeping on a wooden table, with a tent-like canvas behind him, popped his head up and was shot in the head through the canvas. He was the first. Then the bullets started whizzing and winging. They just kept coming, and the camera with them, deeper and deeper into the gang's headquarters, toward its nominal leader, and men kept falling. We never saw the attackers, we just heard and felt their bullets. It was like a million other cheap massacres I'd seen on screen but it began to hurt, watching it. Each bullet was like a bee sting, and there were a lot of bullets. “I'm tired of this,” I said. 

Then we were watching the aftermath of the attack. It was the next morning and authorities were carting the bullet-riddled bodies away and trying to clean up the mess left behind. Two men were labeled with first names but the last name was sort of the Spanish equivalent of John Doe. “Right,” I thought, “because how would they know who these guys were? How could they identify them?” That seemed like an entire investigative arm of the police I hadn't considered before. The men and women who try to figure out the names and lives of nondescript dead men.

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Posted at 02:56 AM on Oct 16, 2016 in category Personal Pieces
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Saturday October 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

WARNING: SPOILERS

My main takeaway after watching “The Magnificent Seven” for only the second time in my life is that for all its faults Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen—as the leader, Chris, and his right-hand man, Vin—have fantastic chemistry, and what a shame they didn’t make another movie together. Then I read up on it and discovered why: They hated each other. Their chemistry onscreen may be cooler than cool, but it hid heat.

IMDb’s trivia on the movie is extensive but doesn’t bother to sort through the contradictions. Did Brynner own the rights to “Seven Samurai”? If so, why was Spencer Tracy considered for the lead? Why was Anthony Quinn?

Most answers are in the doc “Guns for Hire: The Making of ‘The Magnificent Seven’” (2000), which is also a good primer into the litigiousness, oneupsmanship and happy accidents of Hollywood moviemaking.

Starring Anthony Quinn
Apparently, by the mid-1950s, everyone in Hollywood had seen and loved Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” and everyone envisioned remaking it as a western. Brynner claimed to have bought the rights, but that distinction actually went to B-movie screenwriter Lou Morheim, who wanted to produce, and who got the rights for the princely sum of $250. Later, Brynner bought the rights from Morheim, and was looking to direct rather than star.

Here was the initial team:

Director: Yul Brynner
Writer: TBD
Star: Anthony Quinn

That package fell apart, and it became:

Director: Martin Ritt
Writer: Walter Bernstein
Star: Spencer Tracy

Independent producer Walter Mirisch then entered the picture, and he brought along John Sturgis, who had recently won acclaim for directing “Gunfight at the OK Coral” with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Sturgis tapped Walter Newman to write, then assembled the group of future stars—McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn—that made up the rest of the cast.

Newman, meanwhile, was the one who deviated from Kurosawa’s version, but Mexican censors didn’t help. A few years earlier, the Hollywood feature “Vera Cruz” had so upset Mexican audiences that they tore apart theaters; it led to the creation of a censor board, which watched over any production filmed in Mexico. They wanted to make sure Mexicans didn’t look bad in any Mexican-made movies. A good idea in theory. In practice? One censor objected to how dirty the peasants looked, so they were filmed in spotless whites even as the cool gringo gunslingers looked grimy. (Cf., McQueen’s stained hat.) Worse, the board objected to the very premise of the film: that these farmers needed outsiders to protect them. This wasn’t a big deal in Kurosawa’s version, since everyone was Japanese; but here it’s weak Mexicans and gringo heroes. Their solution? The three Mexican farmers seek guns rather than gunslingers. Even after encountering noble versions of the latter (Brynner, McQueen), the farmers don’t connect the dots. It’s up to Chris, the gringo, to do it for them.

In other words, because Mexican censors didn’t want Mexicans to look weak, they made them look stupid.

On to Brynner/McQueen.

Jiggling bullets
Is there an unwritten rule on movie sets that you don’t upstage the star? If so, McQueen ignored it. From the beginning, he was doing things in the background—jiggling bullets, adjusting his hat, dipping his hat into streams they crossed on horseback—that upstaged, and upset, Brynner. More, he actually badmouthed his lead. He told the other actors how Chris’ horse, and even his gun, were bigger than theirs, and made them look silly. He fomented discord.

“The set was fraught with testosterone,” McQueen’s ex says in the doc. “Here were these young Turks, all on the brink, you know, and they were all trying to get attention on the screen. Especially Steve.”

I’ll say one thing: It worked. You notice him straight away. I’ll say another thing: It improves the movie. It’s like Brando picking up Edie’s glove and trying it on in the playground scene in “On the Waterfront.”

The best scene in the movie for me is the one where McQueen/Brynner take a horse-and-carriage hearse up to Boot Hill despite the local racists in town who don’t want an Indian buried there—and that’s the jiggling the bullets/adjusting the cap scene. The dialogue is terse as they keep an eye out for snipers:

Vin: New in town?
Chris: Yeah
Vin: Where you from?
Chris: Dodge. You?
Vin: Tombstone. See any action up there?
Chris: Uh-uh. Tombstone?
Vin: Same. People all settled down like.
Chris: Same all over.

But the best dialogue may be no dialogue. Afterwards, the salesman who paid for the burial is impressed with Chris and asks him where he’s from. Brynner points a thumb back. He asks him where he’s going. Yep: a finger forward.

Samurai > Cowboys
So why doesn’t the movie work? Or why isn’t it close to “Samurai”’s stratosphere? A few thoughts:

  • Chico, Horst Buchholz’s role, collapses two characters from “Samurai”: Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), the comic-relief, would-be samurai, and Katsuhiro (Isao Kimura), the young, handsome romantic, and the two characters don’t work together. They particularly don’t work when the Mexican farmer is played by the German James Dean.
  • Oh, about that: still too much Stella Adler-style emoting going on, from both Buchholz and Robert Vaughn, recently nominated for an Academy Award for “Young Philadelphians.” You guys are tearing me apart.
  • The story is truncated. It doesn’t take the time, or have the silences, that Kurosawa’s version does. The villagers, in particular, are given short shrift. No equivalent of Rikichi, for example, so we have less of an idea what the heroes are fighting for.
  • Guns ain’t swords. Guns are the great levelers. You can kill a superior gunman from behind, or from a distance, in a way you can’t with swords.

But this is the most important reason: Sturgis ain’t Kurosawa. There’s a tinny quality to the movie. It feels cheap, like something out of television. Kurosawa has depth in every frame; Sturgis’ stuff is two-dimensional in comparison. You can push over his sets and his characters.

Shimada (Takashi Shimura) is the leader of the samurai because he’s both psychologist and strategist. He actually plans how to survive the bandit assault. The bandits attack three times, the last in the rain, and four of the samurai die; but the bandits are slaughtered. The farmers win.

Chris? He’s cool, and a good draw, and he has the same moral center Shimada has, but that’s about it. The Hollywood version relies on less planning and fewer attacks: just two, and in the second one the Seven are betrayed, and have their guns taken from them, and are then slaughtered in the village square.

Kidding. The bandit leader (a delightful Eli Wallach) just lets them go. So they get stupidly caught and he stupidly lets them go. But then they stupidly return to stupidly save the day.

Even so, you’ve got the great Elmer Bernstein score, and you’ve Brynner and McQueen. They may have hated each other but they had personality. And as Jules said, personality goes a long way. 

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in "The Magnificent Seven"

New in town?

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Oct 15, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 1960s
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Friday October 14, 2016

And Then There Were Four

Cubs Indians Dodgers Blue Jays: 2016 MLB LCS

A year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were the team with the longest postseason drought. 

Today they're the remaining 2016 team with the most recent World Series title:

TEAM  LAST PENNANT LAST TITLE
Toronto Blue Jays 1993 1993
LA Dodgers 1988 1988
Cleveland Indians 1997 1948
Chicago Cubs 1945   1908 

That's good news for baseball fans. For the World Series, we are at least going to get a team that hasn't won a pennant since '97 or a World Series since '93. Those are worst-case scenarios. 

The bigger news is we're on the verge of a potentially historic underdog series, Indians vs. Cubs, or a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1948 (longest AL drought) vs. a team that hasn't won since 1908 (longest MLB drought by far). That would be something. Let's see both of them lose that

That said, the Cubs aren't as historically bad as people think. They were the first team to go to the World Series twice (1906, 1907) and to win it twice (1907, 1908). And that pennant in 1945? It was their 10th overall. At that point, only the Yankees (14) and the Giants (12) had captured more flags.

Hell, despite this historic drought, they still average one pennant every 11 years, which is a better average than both the Blue Jays and Indians. It's only when you look at average years between titles that their historic ineptitude becomes obvious:

MajorLeagueTeam  Years* Posts Pennts Titles Yrs/Penn Yrs/Title
LA Dodgers 110 30 18 6 6.11 18.3
Toronto Blue Jays 37 7 2 2 18.5 18.5
Cleveland Indians 110 12 5 2 22 55
Chicago Cubs 110 18 10 2 11 55

* Since advent of World Series in 1903, excluding 1904, 1994 and this year.

(And if you're curious, yes, the Yankees slaughter everyone in each of these categories. They have 52 postseason appearances (Dodgers are second), 40 pennants (Giants are second w/20), 27 titles (Cards: 11). They average a pennant once every 2.75 years, and a championship once every 4.07 years. It's why we hate them.)

(BTW: For the above, I did not factor in the number of overall MLB teams during every given year of each team's existence. In other words, it was statistically easier to win a pennant/title from 1903 to 1960 when there were only 16 teams, rather than the 18 teams in 1961, the 20 teams from 1962 to 1968, the 24 teams from 1969 to 1976, the 26 teams until '92, and 28/30 teams in the '90s. This kind of calculation goes beyond my decidedly amateur stats brain. Others are welcome to have at.) 

So how likely is Cubs vs. Indians, the ultimate historic underdog showdown?

The 2016 numbers don't look bad. Cleveland was 4-3 against Toronto this year, while Cubs went 4-3 against LA. 

More, the Cubs had the best run differential in baseball (+256), while the Indians were 4th-best (+101). Jays were 5th (+93), Dodgers 6th (+87).

But it's October, they're short series, and anything can happen. We find out starting tonight at 5 PM PST.

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Posted at 07:34 AM on Oct 14, 2016 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

 Bob Dylan

Well, that was unexpected. 

It was the final story of NPR's top-of-the-hour news report as I shaved and showered this morning, but it would've been my lede. Because, c'mon. Has any songwriter ever won this? American songwriter? Minnesota songwriter?

And deserved. Wholly deserved.

About a decade ago, I was in an online discussion with a group of friends, some very smart people, including screenwriters and songwriters, and we were parsing the good and bad of a song when one guy, probably the smartest in the group, wrote something like, “Dylan would never do anything like that.” I wrote back, “No Dylan comparisons. Unfair. It's another plane.”

I mentioned that story in another post in which I listed off some favorite Dylan lyrics but I hardly scratched the surface of those songs. Listening to him this morning in celebration, the early '60s song “With God On Our Side,” about the wars we conduct in God's name, came on; and I got to this verse, which stunned me all over again:

Through many a dark hour
I've been thinking about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
Now I can't think for ya
You'll have to decide
Whether Judias Iscariot
Had God on his side

But it's almost any Dylan song, really. If you listen to it, you'll find it: brilliance. 

In Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, “No Direction Home,” you get a real sense of what a conduit to genius he became at such a young age; how it flowed out of him; how he tapped into something bigger than himself. Scorsese's doc is one of the best arguments for the collective unconscious I've come across.

It's also one of the best arguments for a true artistic life. Dylan kept ramblin', and folks who celebrated ramblin' in folk songs didn't want it in their heroes; they wanted him to stay put. He betrayed folkies with rock 'n' roll, then betrayed rockers with country, then betrayed youth with breakup and middle age. He had the nerve to find religion. And at every stage he kept producing great music. His loyalty was to that. 

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Posted at 06:36 AM on Oct 13, 2016 in category Music
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Monday October 10, 2016

Killebrew Goes Deep in '71 All-Star Game

Mouse over for the follow-through:

Harmon Killebrew goes deep

In the early '90s I was living in a group home near Green Lake, with, among others, Alex, Parker and my good friend Mike Busick, Mr. B, who had a VHS recording of the '71 All-Star Game. One night, one hot stove league, I watched it. I knew it was the Reggie AS game (as opposed to the Pete Rose/Ray Fosse game from the previous year): the game in which Reggie, still in Oakland greens and without the pornstar 'stache he would wear in the Bronx, launched a monster homer off the transom in Tiger Stadium—one of the longest homeruns anyone's ever hit in the All-Star Game. Or anywhere, really. 

What I didn't know? Five other players, all future Hall of Famers, went deep in that game: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and the man above. The wind was blowing strongly to right, and most of the homers went there. Not Killer's. His was launched into the wind and landed in the left-field bleachers. In Mr. B's room, when I saw it go out, I began to cheer like I was watching a live game. I cracked up Mr. B. “You do know this happened 20 years ago,” he said. It felt new all the same. I felt like a kid again. 

But just look at that list. When these guys retired, they were, on the all-time homerun list, No.s 1 (Aaron), 4 (F. Robinson), 5 (Killebrew), and 6 (Jackson), while Bench had the most HRs for a catcher ever, and Clemente was a few months away from World Series glory, and 18 months away from his death flying relief supplies to earthquake victimes in Managua, Nicaragua.  

Have six greater players ever hit homeruns in the same game? How could that even be possible?

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Oct 10, 2016 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 08, 2016

Movie Review: The Lobster (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

With apologies to my nephew Jordan.

Imagine a dystopian sci-fi flick told by Wes Anderson, with a soundtrack out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and you have “The Lobster” from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”).

If that sounds intriguing, hang on.

The Lobster

Junior high mixer
As the movie opens, the recently cuckolded David (a paunchy, moustached Colin Farrell) is checking into The Hotel, an elegant-but-starched residence on the coast, where he has 45 days to find a mate before being turned into the animal of his choice. In an early interview, he opts for lobster. He likes the sea, he says.

He’s so dispirited I assumed he wanted such a fate, even as the others around him desperately search for a partner. But their problem is twofold:

  1. They need to find someone with a similar “distinguishing characteristic,” such as nearsightedness, nosebleeds or emotionlessness
  2. They’re all inept at socializing. They’re adults but sound like kids at a junior high mixer.

The people in charge are equally inept. The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman of “Broadchurch”) puts on deadpan playlets that show the benefits of coupling (preventing choking, rape), while, to encourage mingling, maids, or one maid anyway (Ariane Labed, Lanthimos’ wife), goes room-to-room and grinds her buttocks perfunctorily into the laps of heterosexual men. She leaves before they finish and self-finishing isn’t allowed. One guest, Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), is found guilty of this infraction and has his hand burned in a toaster as a result. What encourages the female guests to mingle, and how, and by whom, the movie doesn’t bother to answer.

Other rules: Your stay at the Hotel is extended for every “loner”—single people who live in the woods—you bag during “loner hunts.” A heartless woman, known only as The Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), is so good at this she’s got 150+ days before transformation. But for the rest, including David, the days wind down.

The bureaucracy is inept, too. The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) pretends to get nosebleeds to win over the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), and somehow gets away with it. Eventually, David follows his example: he pretends to be as heartless as The Heartless Woman. It works, for a time, until she kills his dog, Bob (his brother transformed), and he cries. But with the help of the Maid, he escapes, and runs off to join the Loners.

Unfortunately, their rules are just as absurd and draconian. No coupling. No flirting even. Punishment for kissing is Ellen Jamesian. Of course it’s here, where coupling is discouraged, that a real romance blossoms between David and Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who is also our narrator.

Long story short, the Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) blinds Short Sighted Woman, making her an inappropriate mate for David. The movie ends at a diner in the City, where Short Sighted (now Blind) Woman sits waiting for David, who is attempting to blind himself in the bathroom. Does he? Will he? The camera holds on her, waiting, waiting, waiting, then blinks out. 

Love is blind
“The Lobster” is beloved by critics. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and won its Jury Prize. It’s got a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Guy Lodge calls is “a brilliant allegory for the increasingly superficial systems of contemporary courtship, including the like-for-like algorithms of online dating sites and the hot-or-not snap judgments of Tinder.”

Me, I barely got through it.

It could be that I haven’t been on the dating scene for 16 years. It could be that I’m in my 50s and want energy rather than enervation from my art. It could be more.

It’s absurdist but I didn’t laugh. I also didn’t find much meaning in it. If you extend Lodge’s allegory, what is the point of the animal transformation? What is the point of the title? I do like this aspect of the ending: Our lovers are now outside the realm of society, but continue to play by its rules. Rather than just pretending to be blind (as he pretended to be cold-hearted), David physically tries to blind himself. We’re always trying to fit in.

It’s a unique movie, certainly. But overall my reaction mirrored the expression of most of the movie’s characters: deadpan.

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Posted at 09:29 AM on Oct 08, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Friday October 07, 2016

Quote of the Day

How would you handle Trump as a guest now?

If I had a show, I would have gone right after him. I would have said something like, “Hey, nice to see you. Now, let me ask you: what gives you the right to make fun of a human who is less fortunate, physically, than you are?” And maybe that's where it would have ended. Because I don't know anything about politics. I don't know anything about trade agreements. I don't know anything about China devaluing the yuan. But if you see somebody who's not behaving like any other human you've known, that means something. They need an appointment with a psychiatrist. They need a diagnosis and they need a prescription.

-- David Letterman, “Letterman Has No Love for 'Damaged' Trump,” in the New York Times.

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Posted at 07:30 AM on Oct 07, 2016 in category Quote of the Day
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Thursday October 06, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There are actually three girls, but only one of them is on a train. None of them are likeable.

The Girl on the Train filmCount ‘em:

  • Rachel (Emily Blunt), the lonely alcoholic, is obsessed with Megan (Haley Bennett), the aloof sexpot, whom she watches from the titular train. She spies on Megan; she all but stalks her.
  • Rachel is lonely because Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the condescending former real estate agent, stole Rachel’s husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), with whom she now has a baby.
  • Megan nannies this baby, but she is also having an affair with Tom.
  • Because Rachel idealizes Megan’s marriage to Scott (Luke Evans) from the train, she becomes enraged when she thinks Megan is having an affair—not with Tom, which she doesn’t know about, but with a third man, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).
  • When Megan goes missing, Rachel gives false information to Scott about Megan’s affairs.
  • After Megan is murdered, Anna finds evidence implicating Tom but does nothing about it until Rachel forces her hand.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the final theme of the movie:

  • Sisterhood.

I shit you not.

After all that careless, bitchy, tabloid behavior, the movie has the nerve to get Feminist 101 on us. As the camera swirls around the statue of the three dancing maidens at the Untermyer Fountain in Central Park, it talks about how united they are, how right and righteous. Even though Tom made Rachel think she was bad and mean, he was the bad, mean one. She had been right all along. Someone even says that. “Rachel had been right all along. About everything.”

Right. Except for the drinking.

And the obsessive stalking.

And implicating Dr. Abdic.

And insinuating herself into the crime narrative.

And choosing Tom in the first place.

Seriously, is New York so bereft of options that each of these women choose/sleep with the abusive Tom, who—sorry, Justin—is no Brad Pitt?

“The Girl on the Train,” directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), and written by Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”), from the novel by Paula Hawkins, has a chance at the beginning. When we first see Rachel commuting, forever commuting, neither leaving nor arriving, I was somewhat intrigued. It felt like limbo. I also liked it when she starts drunk-talking to the stranger’s baby. I’m a fan of the unreliable narrator.

Then it swirls away into a putrid vision of the worst tabloid fantasies of bored, privileged white girls. And a train runs through it.

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Posted at 11:44 AM on Oct 06, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Wednesday October 05, 2016

A Belated 'See Ya' to the Benighted 2016 NY Yankees

I'm not exactly spreading the news here—the Yankees finally bought it for the 2016 season more than a week ago. Still, good to kick them to the curb. A shame they didn't have a losing record (they wound up 84-78) but as the man said: There's always next year. 

Take 'em home, Carey:

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Posted at 05:39 PM on Oct 05, 2016 in category Yankees Suck
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