NPR, Steve Inskeep, Pull Back from Tree to See Tree
On NPR this morning, Steve Inskeep promised that we would back away from all the blathering news stories for a moment “to see a theme many of them share.” He explained further: “It's like we‘re backing away from a tree to see the forest.”
That theme? That forest? “A conflict between core American values: religious freedom and equality.”
According to a back-and-forth with reporter Tom Gjelten, the most recent example of this conflict is a potential “draft executive order” coming out of the Trump White House that would bar the government from punishing people or institutions who hate the gays. No, Gjelten didn’t say that. He said: “... who support marriage exclusively between one man and one woman.”
So we‘re back to that. Ted Cruz is also offering up legislation on same. Being a reader of Orwell, he calls his bill “The First Amendment Defense Act.”
It’s a seven-minute piece. All about how to protect both equality and religious freedom.
And since, as Inskeep promised, we would get to see the forest, NPR backed up enough to see how this religious freedom argument factored in religions from all over the world. For example: What if a devout Muslim haberdasher didn't want to wait on an infidel?
No, sorry. NPR didn't mention Islam at all.
Oh right. But it did mention, say, the Jewish baker who didn't want to serve Catholics.
No. None of that.
Hinduism? Buddhists? Taoists? Sikhs? Mormans?
Yeah, no. It was exclusively about conservative Christians.
Helluva forest, NPR.
'Five Came Back' Is Back as Documentary
Available on Netflix on March 31. I am so there:
The book is by Mark Harris. I did quite a few posts about it back in 2014.
Movie Review: Get Out (2017)
Great premise: Using the tropes of the horror genre to tell the story of Chris Williams (Daniel Kaluuya), a black guy visiting the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), somewhere upstate. It’s racial awkwardness as the underlying horror of American society.
Good follow-through: Rose is the white girl who’s obtuse about race, thinking everyone’s cool with everything; the father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), keeps dropping racial references (“I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could have”) to show how cool and liberal he is. The brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), is a little weird and challenging, while the mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), is steely and distant, perpetually stirring her tea. They live in a big house, with a circular driveway, surrounded by woods. They have black servants (that’s a little embarrassing) and weird white neighbors who say inappropriate things. Think of the neighbors in “Rosemary’s Baby”: Everyone seems off. They seem like a coven. Like they’re all in on a shared secret they’re not telling our protagonist. Which they are.
The resolution? A little disappointing.
You ready? Turns out Rose is the lure to bring black men and women (mostly men) to the family estate, where the mother hypnotizes them and the father transplants someone else’s brains/consciousness into their body. (Sudden thought: This isn’t far removed from “The Thing with Two Heads,” is it?) The black people are still in there, but they’re trapped, unable to move or speak for themselves. It’s white people who control the body; who, you could say, own the body.
OK, as I write that out, it resonates more than I thought while watching. Could be I was watching through splayed fingers. I’m not particularly good with horror movies, and horror movies in which someone is trapped in their own body are super creepy to me.
Except ... No, there’s still a problem with the metaphor. Controlling the black body, owning the black body, sure, that’s in our history. But being the black body? Most white people don’t want that. Rachel Dolezal notwithstanding.
The two black servants, for example, are actually the Armitage grandparents—the people who started it all. They were about to die and now they’re middle-aged and black and ... servants? Or is that just for show when Rose brings another black kid around? If not, what do they normally do—just hang out at the estate reading magazines?
There’s a scene near the end that indicates why white people wouldn’t want to be the black body. Just before the operation, Chris breaks free, kills the father, mother, brother, grandmother, and, on a country road, covered in blood, near an upturned vehicle, he’s trying to choke the life out of Rose with his bare hands, when we see the flashing red lights of a police car. Right. Try to explain that. Chris slowly raises his hands in the air, but recent history would indicate he wouldn’t make it that far. He only does here because it’s not the cops but his friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent, arriving just after the nick of time. Another horror movie trope.
The resolution also diminishes the exquisite earlier awkwardness. So Rose isn't obtuse? The father isn't desperate for Chris' approval? They're faking. Only the mother and brother are what they seem.
Another problem: Why do the Armitages string Chris along the way they do? I get that they can’t operate after the first bout of hypnosis. They have to auction him off to the highest bidder—in this case, Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a local blind art dealer who likes his “eye” and wants to see again—and the best way to get the highest price is to parade him before the shoppers. But after that, why doesn’t the mother simply do her thing with the teacup? Why leave the photos in the closet? Why show Chris the VHS tape explaining what will happen to him? To terrorize him further? C’mon. The VHS is less to explain the process to Chris than to explain it to us.
The acting is great, by the way, particularly Kaluuya as Chris, Keeler as the steely mom, and Gabriel as the maid/grandmother. That tear coming out of her eye; that sense of a soul being trapped in its own body.
The movie was written and directed by Jordan Peele (of “Key and...”), and one wonders if he’s onto a new type of film here: placing awkward racial matters onto Hollywood genre films. How might it work with rom-coms, westerns, gangster flicks, musicals? Would be interesting to see the attempts, Hollywood.
Another Best Director/Picture Split Means...What?
“Moonlight” is the fourth best picture in five years to win without its director winning.
Lost in the controversy and just plain WTF shock of Oscar's best-picture envelope screw-up (Waterhoouuuse!) is the fact that this is the second best picture in a row with light at the end of its title: First “Spotlight,” now “Moonlight.” #OscarsSoLight.
I thought I was vaguely original with that hashtag, but when I began to tweet it this morning, #OscarsSoLight was already a thing. Thousands, tens of thousands, were ahead of me. That's what I get for hosting a party, then cleaning up after the party, then going to bed and not tweeting anything until like 12 hours later. Lazy.
No, what's really lost amid the envelope controversy is the fact that the connect between best picture and director may be broken forever.
A little history. I was born in 1963, and into my mid-30s best director and picture matched every year but four:
- 1967, when Mike Nichols won for “The Graduate” but best picture went to “In the Heat of the Night”
- 1972, when Bob Fosse won for “Cabaret” but best picture went to “The Godfather”
- 1981, when Warren Beatty won for “Reds” but best picture went to “Chariots of Fire”
- 1989, when Oliver Stone won for “Born on the Fourth of July” but best picture went to “Driving Miss Daisy”
In the 18 years since? We've had a director/picture split eight times:
- 1998, when Steven Spielberg won for “Saving Private Ryan” but best pic went to “Shakespeare in Love”
- 2000, when Steven Soderbergh won for “Traffic” but pic went to “Gladiator”
- 2002, when Roman Polanski won for “The Pianist” but “Chicago” won best pic
- 2005, when Ang Lee won for “Brokeback Mountain” but “Crash” won best pic
- 2012, when Ang Lee won for “Life of Pi” but “Argo” won best pic
- 2013, when Alfonso Cuaron won for “Gravity” but “12 Years a Slave” won best pic
- 2015, when Alejandro Innaritu won for “The Revenant” but “Spotlight” won best pic
- 2016, when Damien Chazalle won for “La La Land” but “Moonlight” won best pic
What's going on? Well, the recent splits may be the result of the preferential voting system for best picture, which the Academy adopted in 2009. Now you need 50 percent + 1 vote to win, and if no film has that after ballots are counted, then the film with the least top votes leaves the race and its votes are redistributed to the voter's second-place choice. And on and on until you get your 50+1.
The Academy used this system from 1934 to 1945 until it went with the more straightforward “Whoever has the most votes, wins” method from 1946 to 2008. During that period, which is most of the Academy's history, you had 13 director/picture splits over 62 years, or approximately 21% of the time. Since 2009, we've had four splits in eight years: 50/50.
The oddity is that in its first three years, the preferential system went with the same old director/picture combo, even with such middling fare as “The King's Speech.” Then something changed. Not sure what.
But I'm in favor of it. Makes the Oscar pools that much more interesting. It's also a small stick in the eye of the auteur theory, which I've never bought into.
The Oscars: Everyone's Getting It Wrong About Who Got It Wrong
“There's a mistake. 'Moonlight,' you guys won best picture.”
I admit it: I thought he was milking it.
I like presenters who get right down to it. “And the Oscar goes to Vinny for that piece of shit, 'Mad Max.'” Boom. Over, done. Don't hold the stage when the stage isn't yours; when we're all there for someone and something else.
But Warren Beatty seemed to be doing just that. The best picture winners were all announced, he opened the envelope, looked at the card, then looked back in the envelope. The fuck? He got some laughs for that. “Just announce it already,” I thought. He looked over at Faye Dunaway, his costar for “Bonnie and Clyde,” which was released 50 years ago and heralded a new (and shortlived) era in Hollywood, which was what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was honoring last night, Feb. 26, 2017, by having these two former big, big stars present the Oscar for best picture. But even as Beatty looked at her, Dunaway seemed impatient. He tried to right the ship. “And the Academy Award ... for best picture ...” Then he stopped again. She moved forward, as if to say, “Say it already!” and he shot her a look. No, not her. If you watch it again, he shot a look to the sides, to the wings of the stage, as if to say, “Is anyone going to help me here?”
Think about that. It's an unprecedented moment for anyone presenting at the Academy Awards. You're about to announce the most presitigious film award of the year and you know they've given you the wrong card. The card in your hand says, “Emma Stone, La La Land.” It's the card for best actress, which has already been announced. Apparently they have two envelopes for each award, one for either wing of the stage, and somehow Beatty wound up with the best actress envelope/card.
That's the real story. How did he wind up with the wrong card? Who gave it to him? Who wasn't paying attention? (UPDATE: The answer appears to be Brian Cullinan of PriceWaterhouseCooper.)
Nevertheless, it wound up in his hand. And he knew. And that's what that cutting look backstage meant. But he saw no help there. And everyone in front of him and around the world was impatient. Everyone, like me, thought the old man was milking it; that he was in his dotage and wanted the attention.
I think in his younger days Beatty would've said something. He would've announced, “We got the wrong card. Can someone give us the card for best picture, please?” Straightforward. He might’ve made a joke about it. “Emma Stone is great but she's hardly best picture.” But he's older now, a month from turning 80 years old, and he didn't quite know what to do. Backstage wasn’t helping. So he showed Faye Dunaway the card—probably to show her that it was effed up—and she simply read the bottom part. She announced “La La Land.” The orchestra played, and the producers, etc., got up in their finery and made their way to the stage. Like normal.
Meanwhile, Beatty had a slightly sick look on his face. Like he was trapped in a nightmare from which he couldn't wake.
The straightforwardness had to come from producer Jordan Horowitz, who was the first to thank everyone for the Oscar for best picture, and who, amid other speeches, realized the error. He came forward and said the following:
“I'm sorry, no. There's a mistake. 'Moonlight,' you guys won best picture.”
I love the “you guys.” Makes it sound like it’s a little league game or something.
The calm straightforwardness with which he said all of this made it seem even more surreal, but I love Horowitz's thoughts about it this morning to CNN:
“Hey, I won the Oscar for best picture. I got to thank my wife and kids. And then I got to present the Oscar for best picture. Not many people can say that.”
I would say zero other people can say that. He’s the first person in history to both present and accept the Oscar for best picture in the same evening. Good future Oscar trivia question.
Normally I would’ve liked this twist ending if but for the following reasons:
- It was a good show. Jimmy Kimmel was a great host. And all of that is forgotten now. No one’s mentioning it. Shame. He should be asked back.
- There’s already conspiracy theorists out there thinking the old Hollywood guard was trying to deny this black LGBTQ movie its rightful place in Oscar history. #envelopegate is currently trending on Twitter. Good god, people, go back to the moon landing or something.
- Beatty’s getting blamed for it. The one guy who knew it was wrong; the one who didn’t announce. It’s being called “The Warren Beatty Oscar screw-up.” Variety tweeted “Warren Beatty makes mistake.” Etc. etc.
Here's one of those tweets:
That’ll never go away, by the way. That will always be there. People will always get it wrong about who got it wrong. They'll crow about it.
The moment: Beatty looks angrily backstage for help, receives none.
What 'The Oscars Always Get It Wrong' Gets Wrong
My friends Andrew and Vinny alerted me to this piece in The Washington Post, titled “The Oscars always get it wrong. Here are the real Best Pictures of the past 41 years.” That's always a fun topic. It's written by Dan Zak and Amy Argetsinger, two Post journalists who talk knowledgably about movies, but the point of the piece is discussion. We're resolving nothing. The opposite, really.
And it turns out hindsight isn't always 20/20. More accurately, there is no 20/20 when we're talking favorite films. Or favorite anything.
Where do I disagree with Dan and Amy enough to say anything?
- 1976: I go with “All the President's Men,” which I can't stop watching. But something tells me if their choice, “Network,” had won the Oscar, they would've opted for “Rocky.” (See: 1981.) That said, this is such a strong year, before “Rocky” and “Star Wars” changed the way movies were made, that it's hard to make a wrong choice. Although “Bound for Glory,” a good/not great biopic of Woody Guthrie, would've been a wrong choice.
- 1978: “An Unmarried Woman”? Seriously? Maybe I have to watch it again. Mostly I remember the SCTV parody of this and “Norma Rae” called “My Factory, My Self,” in which the Michael Murphy character keeps breaking down and crying.
- 1979: “Apocalypse Now” is the obvious choice. I'd make the unobvious one: “Breaking Away.”
- 1980: I like the split here: “Raging Bull” vs. “The Shining.”
- 1981: At first I thought: “'Raiders of the Lost Ark'? Really?” Then I saw the competition. Hmmmm...
- 1983: I'd go “The Right Stuff.”
- 1985: I like the “Back to the Future” pivot. It's fun. Despite the movie's race-fulfillment fantasy: the white kid teaching the black pros how to rock.
- 1989: “Field of Dreams”? It's not even in my top 10 baseball movies. I believe “Do the Right Thing” came out that year.
- 1995: Agree with Amy here: “Apollo 13” is underrated.
- 1996: Again, with Amy: “Fargo.” Darn tootin'.
- 1997: Hey, they went with “Titanic”! I love that. I probably would've gone “L.A. Confidential” but I like the ballsy choice.
- 1998: “The Thin Red Line,” people. It's not even a question.
- 1999: “The Insider,” people. It's not even a question.
- 2002: Love me the musical, but not “Chicago.” Should be “The Pianist.”
- 2004: No mention of “Eternal Sunshine”? Surely that's in the running.
- 2006: “United 93.”
- 2007: Not “Michael Clayton.” Either “No Country” or “There Will Be Blood” (whose fans remind me of Bernie supporters: a little too rabid, and too willing to ignore the film's flaws).
- 2008: Amy loses it here: “Twilight”????????????????????????????????????????????? “The Wrestler”'s not a bad choice. But to me “Iron Man” > “The Dark Knight.”
- 2009: “Up.”
- 2010: With Amy again: “The Social Network.” Or maybe “True Grit”?
- 2011: “Moneyball”! Nice!!! I'm fine with that. My love of “The Tree of Life” is still there but dampened by Malick's recent output. 2011, btw, was a great year for American movies.
- 2012: “Skyfall”? Not a chance in hell. Boring Bond. 2012, btw, was a bad year for American movies.
- 2013: “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Take that, Vinny!
- 2014: Between the two Bs, “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” there is no wrong answer.
- 2016: They mention three movies but not “Manchester By the Sea”? That gets my vote.
Top 10 Movies of 2016
Yeah, I'm a little late to the party. What can I say? Busy year. The fall and early winter were particularly busy, and that's the time distributors release their best movies, all at once, blarghhhhhh, and if you're a regular person with a regular job in a regular city you're kind of screwed. No movies you want to see for months, then a dozen you want to see on Dec. 29. They save the best for last. Or never. I blinked and missed the weeks-long window for “Silence” and “Paterson.” I haven't been able to drag myself to see “Lion” or “Hidden Figures.” “The Salesman” still hasn't arrived in Seattle.
So this is a top 10 list with that caveat. Or several. Here's one more: God, 2016 was a sucky year, wasn't it? In every way. Bless these movies that gave us a glimmer of something better.
10. Love & Friendship
I was wary of this one, afraid of another proto-feminist British costumed drama based upon another 19th century novel, and this is that, but far from that madding crowd. It zipped rather than plodded. And the woman at its center was a Scarlett rather than a Melanie: a schemer, Machiavellian in her ability to twist the world, and men in particular, around her beautiful finger. Her lines are among the dishiest of the year: “He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give: his income.” Yes, her options are limited in Victorian England but she makes the most of those limits. Indeed, with her, they hardly seem limits. More Scarletts, please.
Inspired by a 2006 oral history in Texas Monthly, director Keith Maitland spent 10 years filming and then animating the ground's-eye viewpoint of the people who, on August 1, 1966, were trapped and shot at and killed by former U.S. Marine Charles Whitman on the University of Texas campus. It's truly “you are there” cinema. It's recreation and documentary and a revolutionary way of viewing history. In the '60s, that turbulent, violent decade, Whitman seemed an outlier since his violence was random. We now know he was a harbinger. On that day, a radio newman tried to tell his colleagues what was going on: “There’s a guy on top of the tower. He’s shooting.” Then he had to add for clarification: “Shooting at people.” We never need that clarification now.
It’s “My Dinner with Andre” if Andre were about to die, and the story were spread over four days in Madrid rather than one night in Manhattan. Death hovers close, but it’s handled with a wistful shrug. Death is the asshole in the room, and the other two combat it with a shared secret and a twinkle in the eye. I liked hanging with them—that's the main thing. I liked their conversations, and meals, and women. We anticipate a lot of the third-act plot twists but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's an inevitability to it, as in life. Watching, we feel our own inevitable deaths on a deeper level while being reminding of what makes life worth living.
7. La La Land
Throughout, there's a love of L.A., and the movies, and musicals. It's a modernist take on a classic, giving us a bittersweet ending rather than a Hollywood ending. Both of our protagonists actually get what they want—she becomes a movie star, he owns a jazz club—they just don't get each other. Is that bad or is it life? There's magic throughout: their first dance in the Hollywood hills; their first kiss floating amid the stars at the Griffith Observatory. I like her and her friends in different, primary-colored dresses strutting down the street on their way to a party. I like Sebastian on the dock with the fedora. Magic matters.
It's December 1945, and an intern with the French Red Cross in Poland—helping identify, treat and repatriate French citizens after World War II—is asked to go to a convent, where she finds a nun about to give birth. Then she discovers other nuns are pregnant. Six? Eight? Is it a miracle? The opposite. Backdate eight months and it's when the Soviet Army came through. These are women who hardly know their own bodies, whose bodies, they feel, belong to God. Some of them won't even let the intern examine them for the shame of it all. And Russians soldiers were at the convent for three days. That's the first horrific revelation. The second horrific revelation is worse.
A powerful rendering of one of the saddest weekends in American history, “Jackie” is interested in story-making and mythmaking and the difference between the two. As first lady, Jackie Kennedy tried to bring the history of the country to life. As first widow, she opted for myth because she knew myth resonated. Myth was remembered and she wantd her husband remembered. She politely stomped over the Johnsons, the Kennedys, and anyone else who got in her way to make this happen, then, with a priest, searched her soul and found a death wish. The movie does the opposite of what Jackie does: It reveals the human within the mythic.
4. O.J.: Made in America
I may have been the only person in America who didn't pay attention to the O.J. trial back in '95. There was just too much noise; it felt like tabloid fare to me. But it's actually a linchpin in the racial history of America, meaning the history of America. It's the story of a man who became famous for running, and who ran from his race and embraced his celebrity; and then when the chips were down, he ran to his race. He spent years being treated as a football celebrity, even by the L.A.P.D., and got away with so much because of it; and in the trial he may have gotten away with murder for the opposite reason. The ironies in this seven-plus-hour documentary pile up and overwhelm. O.J. is a subject worthy of Shakespeare.
How hard do sensitive men have to become to survive? How much of yourself do you have to lose? Early in the film, Juan, the drug dealer/mentor, tells our child protagonist, “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you.” But Little/Chiron/Black lets others make that decision for him. Or maybe he simply decides to survive and in doing so you become someone else. By the third act, he's unrecognizable from the skinny, sensitive kid he was. He's a drug dealer with a grill, who intimidates with his presence. But a line late in the film reveals that the sensitive kid is still there underneath it all. It's the most devastating line of the year.
Was a better movie less seen in 2016? And yet it's a film that so necessary for our time. It's 1979 but that was the tipping-point year. That was the year before the year we all opted for wish-fulfillment fantasy in our politics as well as our entertainment. We even get Carter's infamous “malaise” speech here, and in it he seems to be predicting the future if we go the wrong way. He's talking to us like adults but we were children. “20th Century Women” is about a single mom who enlists two other women to help raise and educate her teenage son. The kid comes of age just as our country decides not to.
So many people think this movie as depressing, but I was exhilirated. Yes, it's a movie about a tragedy so large that its protagonist is essentially a dead man walking. There's no “working though the unimaginable” here. It's about two types of male stoicism: one adult, and aware, and tragic, and the other young and blind, and how each shapes the other. We get large understandings and small redemptions. And the redemptions, for being small, for feeling truer than the life outside the theater, are poignant and exquisite. They are cathartic.
“Trump is rushing headlong into Muslim bans and mass deportations, wall building and Obamacare dismantling. Indeed, it feels like the campaign promises Trump is keeping have to do with cruelty and those he's flip-flopping on have to do with character.
”For instance, it is now abundantly clear that Trump had no intention whatsoever of draining the swamp in Washington. He is simply restocking it to his liking.
“This is why I have no patience for liberal talk of reaching out to Trump voters. There is no more a compromise point with those who accept, promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia than there is a designation of 'almost pregnant.'
”Trump is a cancer on this country and resistance is the remedy. The Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise. ... Fight, fight, fight. And when you are finished, fight some more. Victory is the only acceptable outcome when freedom, equality and inclusion are at stake.“
-- Charles M. Blow, ”The Death of Compassion," The New York Times
National Chili Day
Earlier this morning, J. Daniel, with whom I shoot the shit on Twitter about baseball, tweeted that today is National Chil Day (it is), and he included a photo of Chili Davis during his San Francisco Giants days. Made me think of the foul ball I caught off Chili in September 1995. Also made me think of that great Chili Davis story that Kirby Puckett told in his 1993 autobiography “I Love This Game!”
On a roaddtrip to Seattle, Kirby, Al Newman and Shane Mack went to their favorite seafood joint, and Mack ordered the Cajun Chicken Fettucine, which comes garnished with a large jalapeno pepper. Kirby had eaten the dish before but never the pepper. He didn't think anyone would be fool enough to eat it.
I warned Shane about this jalapeno but he said, “These things aren't hot. These aren't anything compared to the ones where I come from.” He grew up in Southern California. So he popped the entire pepper in his mouth and started chewing. His eyes exploded! He gulped his water, my water, Al's water, then signaled for more water. He was still on fire. He dranks some soda, ate some ice cream, nothing helped. ...
Now Chili Davis and the rest of the guys finally show up. We tell them the story of the pepper—Shane still can't talk—and Chili says, “Man, I'm used to hot food, bring me a bowl of those peppers.” Newman and I glance at each other. But then Chili eats the whole bowl. No problem. Doesn't even need water. Eats them like I eat oysters. Just amazing. They must have hot food in Jamaica, where Chili's from. Maybe his name is the tip-off.
Happy National Chili Day.
The following was published last week by long-time Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass under the headline “Whatever happened to liberal Democrats, anyway?” It was syndicated on the usual right-wing sites as well as more mainstream media like The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The bold-faced annotations are mine.
Whatever happened to liberal Democrats, with their concerns about civil liberties and government surveillance of American citizens? Out protesting Donald Trump's anti-refugee/immigration executive order, I guess.
Liberals once hated the CIA. And they loved the Russians. You can look it up. Where do you look that up? It's not really a thing that can be looked up, can it? Liberals are more diverse than you make them. The world is more complicated than you make it.
Their liberal friends in Hollywood made movie after movie about the dangers of The Deep State and its awesome surveillance powers. One of the best was “Three Days of the Condor,” with liberal icon Robert Redford fighting the malevolent CIA boss John Houseman, who longed for the “clarity” of world war. That's ... just wrong. First, Houseman's character was talking about 10 years after the Great War, adding “Before we knew enough to number them,” which is more a critique of world wars than a longing for one. And the clarity he missed was for a simpler world in which we knew we were on the right side. We all longed for that clarity in the 1970s. You could say that such longing led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, who tried to fit such clarity onto a more complex world.
Years later, Edward Snowden became the liberal demigod and WikiLeaks their winged chariot of truth. Another overstatement, and never true for me. Some leftists still feel that way about Snowden.
Liberals fretted about the powers of the intelligence community being used on citizens for political reasons. Don't we all?
So what happened to the ideals of these liberal Democrats? Donald Trump was elected president, that's what. You're fucking kidding.
And now you can clearly see the change in them as Trump's now-former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has become feast for the crows. You're fucking kidding.
Flynn deserves his punishment. Make no mistake about that. He reportedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his phone conversations with a Russian ambassador that included discussion of the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia. As a former general officer, as a former Defense Intelligence Agency boss, Flynn understands the chain of command. There is no lying to a superior officer. That's the lesson you pull out of this? We have evidence of possible collusion between an incoming administration and a hostile foreign power, and you're concerned about chain of command?
Kass goes on. It's not worth detailing the rest of the overstatements and misreadings because they can be flicked aside with the following rejoinder: Circumstances matter. Also this: Where was Kass during the debate of the USA Patriot Act, which allows the type of wiretapping that caught Flynn? Also this: The hyprocrisy belongs to the GOP, who spent decades winning elections by claiming to be more patriotic than thou and are now turning a blind eye to an obscenely cozy relationship between the current Republican administration and the foreign power that helped elect them.
Let me repeat that: Between the current Republican administration and the foreign power that helped elect them.
That's serious shit, but it's completely bypassed by Kass. Then again, he can't even recall “Three Days of the Condor” correctly.
I don't know Kass, so I asked Chicago-area friends about him. I got this:
He's a joke. Basically a phony “regular guy” “man of the people” who isn't funny or clever or insightful but thinks he is. He's a pathetic Royko imitator with none of the talent or intelligence.
He's a troll. Shame the trib gives him a platform
He's a meatball that can type.
I miss greater clarity from The Chicago Tribune.
- I think I like Joe Posnanski's defense of “Field of Dreams” more than I like “Field of Dreams.”
- Nathaniel Rogers is bringing the Oscar trivia. Example: Can you name the 12 actors who have won both a lead and supporting Oscar? Six men, six women. I used to be really good at that.
- A woman at the Sante D'Or Adoption Center in L.A. gave the cats likes/dislikes to help them get adopted. Sylvia's dislike is classic.
- David Denby examines Steven Spielberg at 70. I was hoping for more insight, actually. Feels leaden. Maybe Molly Haskel's book is better?
- There's a great description of Michael Keaton's acting at the beginning of Anthony Lane's review of “The Founder.”
- The Yankees didn't make the playoffs last season but they still won 84 games, and they got a big boost from Gary Sanchez and his amazing two-month-callup. So a sunnier outlook this year? Thankfully, no, at least according to Fan Graphs, who project mediocrity for the Bronxers.
- John Oliver breaks down the horror of the Putin/Trump connection. Love the “La La Land”/“Human Centipede” analogy. Also the grizzly bear analogy. Also the dance number in the end. But the key line is this: “Trump is basically the propagandist of Putin's dreams.” So how do we stop him?
- Chris Vance, former Washington state GOP chair, on what the GOP can do to stop Trump.
- Michael Moore, filmmaker, on what you and I can do to stop Trump.
Movie Review: Sausage Party (2016)
The obvious one-word review of “Sausage Party”? Tasteless.
When he’s not doing stoner comedies, Seth Rogen has spent his career either buying into the tropes of Hollywood genre films (“Neighbors”), half buying into them (“The Green Hornet”), or mocking them mercilessly (“Observe and Report”). “Sausage Party” is in this last group.
It takes the Disney/Pixar love of anthropomorphism (animals, toys, and furniture), and asks, “What would happen if we did that with food?”
Great concept. When I first saw the trailer in early 2016, I roared with laughter. The food thinks it’s going to a special place, then horror ensues: the potato is painfully peeled, the iceberg lettuce torn apart, the baby carrots masticated. “They’re eating children! Fucking children!” a hot dog cries.
What makes it particularly funny is that, until that moment, all the scenes in the trailer buy into the Disney/Pixar tropes. The grocery store/kitchen is the happiest place on earth. It’s Disneyland, where everyone is clean, behaves, no one curses, and no one has genitalia or sexual urges.
That’s just the trailer, though. In the actual movie, our foodie protagonists act as horny and raunchy as dudes at a frat party. The hot dogs are all male, the buns female, the former want to get into the latter: “You know it, baby! Work those buns! ... Waiting to get filled with my meat!” Everyone’s tossing around F-bombs. It’s supposed to be shocking and funny but it’s shockingly unfunny. It’s pushing buttons that don’t produce laughter. By the time the kitchen knife comes out, the carnage is almost welcome.
Question: With the racially specific food (the Woody Allenish bagel, voiced by Ed Norton; the hard taco shell, voiced by Selma Hayek; the German mustard with the Hitler face), is this a satire of the now-embarrassing racial stereotypes of early cartoons? Or is it just an opportunity for Seth and his friends to be as politically incorrect as possible? I’m betting both. It feels like they’re enjoying it too much.
The movie was directed by animation vets Conrad Vernon (“Shrek”) and Greg Tiernan (“Thomas & Friends”), and written by the Rogen crew: Evan Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir, Kyle Hunter and Rogen, who all worked on “This Is The End.” Goldberg goes back with Rogen to “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” days. I’m beginning to think this is good as these guys get.
Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
It begins meta. We’re immersed in a dark screen—silent until we hear the guttural growl of Lego Batman (Will Arnett) commenting upon the thing we’re watching:
Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos. Warner Bros. Why not Warner Brothers? I dunno. DC: The house that Batman built. Yeah, what Superman? Come at me, bro. I’m your kryptonite.
I wanted a little more here—particularly with all the logos of all the production companies necessary to make movies now—but it’s doing a good job of satirizing the genre: superhero movies generally, Batman movies specifically. I’m laughing. The fact that they’re Legos helps. Batman acts as superimportant as he always does but he’s a Lego.
The Joker (Zach Galifanakas) has concocted a needlessly elaborate plan to blow up Gotham City but nobody is particularly scared. The pilot whose plane full of explosives is hijacked kind of shrugs and says Batman will save the day, as he has in the past. He references “the two boats” (“The Dark Knight,” 2008) and “the parade with the Prince music” (“Batman,” 1989) as examples. The Joker’s incensed, or maybe petulant—the way a first grader might be—but with his team of criminals he takes over an event in Gotham headed by Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo), and this brings out the Batman, who is unstoppable and full of himself. And a Lego. He’s about to capture the escaping Joker (rope ladder, helicopter) when the Joker reminds him of the bomb ready to blow up his city. He crows: “It’s got to be one or the other, Batman! Save the city or catch your greatest enemy. You can’t do both!”
It’s that classic hero dilemma—but with a twist. Batman looks confused for a moment, and we get the following dialogue:
Batman: You think you’re my greatest enemy?
Joker: Yes, you’re obsessed with me.
Batman: No, I’m not.
Joker: Yes, your are.
Batman: No, I’m not.
Joker: Yes, you are! Who else drives you crazy the way I do?
Joker: No he doesn’t.
Joker: Superman’s not a bad guy!
Again, I’m laughing. The absurdity of it all, the first-grader dialogue, the idiocy of a Batman who considers Superman his enemy. We get a close-up of Lego Joker’s face turning sad, his painted mouth beginning to quiver, as he realizes he means so little to the enemy who means so much to him.
“This is good,” I thought.
About a half hour later I realized I wasn’t laughing anymore. What happened? The plot kicked in, of course. The movie stopped being a satire and became the thing it was satirizing. It tried to give us meaning.
The meaning is in the above dialogue. Batman has never gotten over his parent’s murder—the incident that made him Batman—so he keeps everybody, including the Joker, at a distance, while he watches sappy romances such as “Jerry Maguire” and “Serendipity” on his big-screen HDTV in his voluminous mansion. (I liked him on the couch, searching for the right HDMI input. Us, finally.)
But keeping yourself at a remove isn’t healthy personally. Here, it’s also not healthy professionally. Batman winds up needing others. Not the Justice League of America, who make a cameo appearance partying in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Instead, it’s the usual Batman crew: Robin (Michael Cera), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). Initially he pushes them away, because Batman doesn’t do “ships,” as in “relationships,” but finally he realizes he can’t save the day without them. So he has to change from a solo Batman to one surrounded by bat-friends. Basically, he’s changing from Christopher Nolan’s growling, solo Dark Knight to the Adam West version. By the end, everything is bats: Batgirl, Night-wing, Alfred dressed as 1960s-era Batman. We get shark repellent and Pow! and Sock!
Normally I would’ve liked all of this, since I’m a fan of the 1966 “Batman”: I think it’s the best superhero satire ever made. This is probably second now, but a distant second, because it has to give us not just a happy ending but a cozy ending: Batman rejoining the family of men/women. The ’66 version gave us a happy ending (Batman saves the day) but Batman himself never changes: he remains as pompous in the end as he was at the beginning. U.N. leaders are reduced to dust by the Penguin, and when Batman rehydrates them they continue arguing without skipping a beat—except now they’re arguing in someone else’s language. Robin is worried but Batman gets that far-off “Father Knows Best” look of wisdom in his eyes, and says, “Who knows, Robin: This strange mixing of the minds may be ... the greatest single service ever performed for humanity.” It’s a perfect take on post-World War II American pomposity. We save the day and can’t stop patting ourselves on the back for it.
So what would be the perfect satire for post-Reagan American pomposity? I don’t know. Not this. If you have your hero change, you need to mock the change. It can’t be the right move, just another move fraught with inadequacies and human doubt. Batman could, for example, go from pompous and stoic to pompous and empathetic. He couldn’t stop hugging people and asking about their feelings: “Believe me, I’m the least stoic person out there. Just ask anyone.”
Worse, “The LEGO Batman Movie” goes beyond the bounds of the Batman/superhero universe to include other Warner Bros. properties: Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong. You can almost feel business executives (LEGO, Warner Bros., DC Comics) rubbing their hands together at the synergy.
Maybe that’s what you mock. You go meta on that. Those guys. Sadly, they’re the ones still in control. More than ever now.
The Most Frightening Thing about 'Last Night in Sweden'
Last night Donald Trump held a rally in Melbourne, Florida to make himself feel better for being such a lousy president. There, he referenced what sounded like an immigration-related or refugee-related terror attack in Sweden:
You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.
This led to confusion for ... everyone. Particularly those in Sweden.
Turns out he wasn't referencing a terror attack:
My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2017
Brian Stelter of CNN posted the Fox segment on Twitter, so I watched it earlier today. It's interesting to watch. Host Tucker Carlson had the right-wing filmmaker Ari Horowitz on the show, and Ami talked about the rise of crime in Sweden as it relates to that country's liberal refugee policy. Horowitz says that the stats clearly indicate that violent crime, particularly rape, has been on the rise since Sweden began letting in refugees, but that the Swedish government won't acknowledge this. The people won't either. You know why? They're too politically correct. Bad things are happening, and the stats show why, but the people won't own up to it because they want to be, in Carlson's word, “virtuous.”
It's interesting because it's obvious what the segment is about. It's not about Sweden. Sweden is a stand-in for liberals and Democrats, and rape and murder is what happens to good Americans when you follow Democratic policies. So vote Republican.
It's not news, it's propaganda.
At the same time, I was curious: Is violent crime going up in Sweden?
According to this piece on The Local, a European news site, and dated in January (so before Tucker and Ari politicized everything), “the number of rapes reported in Sweden increased by 13 percent in 2016 to 6,560.” Except that number is slightly less than the number of reported rapes in 2014. In other words, the number dipped, then returned to the previous level.
The article adds this:
Seen over a ten-year period, the number of reported rapes has gone up from 4,208 in 2006, partly because of legislative changes in the previous year and in 2013 broadening the definition, according to Brå.
Reuters' article mentions this:
Sweden's crime rate has fallen since 2005, official statistics show, even as the country has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.
So on a Friday night on FOX, Carlson and Horowitz act 100 percent certain of a rise in violent crime in Sweden, even though the stats are inconclusive, as a means to smear liberals, Democrats, and (let's face it) long-standing U.S. policy on immigration. Pres. Trump watches this and repeats it as if it were 100 percent true.
The most frightening thing to me? The way our president phrased his comment: “You look at what's happening last night in Sweden.” Last night? It's one thing to buy the bullshit on Fox, but surely Trump knows that, in reference to his comment, nothing happened last night in Sweden. That the only thing that happened was he watched TV. And surely he understands the difference between the two. Right? Reince? Someone? Anyone? Please tell me he knows the difference between the two.
A Weekend Catching Up on Old Magazines
Well, “old.” February.
First Vanity Fair, the one with Chris Pratt on the cover. I read a bit of that profile but only after I read two articles on Donald Trump. That's where the mind goes these days.
The first, by Nick Bilton, is about the search for salacious Apprentice material in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Disclosure: They don't find it. Bilton wonders if it would've mattered if they had. They already had him on tape in 2005 bragging about trying to bang a married woman: “I did try to fuck her,” he says. “I moved on her like a bitch,” he says. And then, most infamously, “When you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” The whole piece was interesting, but sad, of course, and two lines stood out. This one for obvious reasons:
Two days before the election, one entertainment executive with ties to Clinton contacted someone in the industry who had said he had a copy of a tape depicting Trump that could create problems for the then candidate. Would this person be willing to pass him the footage to give to the Clinton campaign? Since the latest poll numbers indicated it was clear Clinton would win the election—likely in a landslide—this person didn't want to risk it.
But this one even more:
(People who had worked with Trump on The Apprentice had heard that he would be in the 2016 race for two months at the most, then he'd be back on reality TV.)
The mess we're in: It wasn't supposed to be.
Michael Lewis has a piece in the same mag on creating his own Trump board game. The germ of that idea began the day after the election when he was volunteering at his kid's high school in L.A., and the kids staged a peaceful walkout to protest Trump's victory. Then the phone began to ring. Right-wing sites had written about the protest and Lewis was hearing sound and fury from Trump supporters who expected the world to fall in line now that their candidate had won the election—by having 3 million fewer votes. Offhandedly, Lewis wondered how Trump would keep up their vitriol once Hillary left the stage. (I think the answer is Don't let her leave the stage. Or: Find other scapegoats: the media, the courts. There's always something.) I forget the other type of mental game Lewis came up with before deciding on his new, imaginary board game—I lost interest, rare for a Lewis piece—but one line stood out for me. It was about kids he met when he went to talk in a high school in Oakland. He wrote:
The election had taught these kids that a large part of their country no longer holds political candidates to the standards of behavior enforced by their own high school.
Much recommended is the Feb. 13 & 20 issue of The New Yorker, the one with the Statue of Liberty's flame being snuffed out, where there's a great, long piece by Patrick Radden Keefe on chef, author and globetrotter Anthony Bourdain, and it includes his meeting with Pres. Obama in Hanoi last year for bun cha. After the encounter, after Pres. Obama had left, Bourdain said the following about Obama to Keefe:
I believe what's important to him is this notion that otherness is not bad, that Americans should aspire to walk in other people's shoes.
Agreed. And also sad. Given everything.
I particularly loved this later observation by Philippe Lajaunie, one of the owners of Les Halles, where Bourdain had been excecutive chef in the 1990s, about Bourdain. No politics in this one, just universal truths:
He has accepted that everyone has broken springs here and there. That's what most of us lack—the acceptance that others are as broken as we are.
Hold onto it.
Finally, definitely read James Surowiecki's financial page column, this one entitled “Trump's Budget Bluff,” in which Surowiecki crunches the numbers of Trump's budget proposals and promises (cut taxes, cut waste, get rid of PBS and the NEA, balance the budget) and what'll happen if he gets his way (we'll go into deeper debt). Why don't his supporters know this? Because they assume things like the NEA and aid to foreign countries make up a greater portion of the federal budget than they do. Surowiecki quotes from sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who has written a book on working-class Republicans in Louisiana:
Many of the people she talked to believe that the federal government employs forty per cent of American workers; it's closer to two per cent. “They think that the government is full of waste and freeloaders,” Hochschild told me. “And they believe that most government money is going to programs—welfare, foreign aid, the arts, even environmental protection—that aren't for them but for the people they feel superseded by.”
They think this because right-wing media lies to them (in HEADLINES!) and mainstream media corrects it (in the 12th graf). If they even correct it. If it's even seen.
The Science of Stopping Trump
John Holdren, the top science adviser to Pres. Barack Obama, spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Friday, in Boston, and among other things offered up this advice to his fellow scientists for navigating the anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-fact-based administration of Donald Trump. It's good advice for all of us:
- Don't be discouraged or intimidated.
- Keep doing your science ... don't change what you do or how you think about what you do or its importance.
- Become more broadly informed about science and scientific issues.
- Tithe at least 10 percent of your time to public service ... including activism.
- We as a community need to think carefully about how to focus and utilize our activities to try to insure the continuation, momentum, and the integrity of science in this new era.
I like “tithe.”
Quote of the Day
“I'm worried—based on early indications—that we can be in for a major shift in the culture around science and technology and its eminence in government. We appear to have a president now that resists facts that do not comport to his preferences. And that bodes ill on the Obama Administration's emphases on scientific integrity, transparency, and public access.”
--John Holdren, the top science adviser to Pres. Barack Obama, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Boston, on Friday.
Some comments from the White House press corps to each other after Pres. Trump's first disastrous press conference on Thursday, as reported in Andrew Marantz's piece, “Inside Trump's Surreal Press Conference,” on The New Yorker site:
- “Did he literally say the words 'Russia is fake news'?”
- “Surreal. Surreal. Surreal.”
- “Who's the banana republic now?”*
- “April, I have a black friend in Cleveland—could you send him a message for me?”**
- “I mean, I can't even.”***
* from a reporter who's covered Latin American dictatorships
** to April Ryan, an African-American reporter, whom Donald Trump assumed would know the Congressional Black Caucus
*** from April Ryan
Review of the movie here. I think it's one of our great, underrated movies.
Mike, Cyril, Dave, Moocher: The epithet they're called is the job they can't get.
Quote of the Day
“Four weeks into its first term, the Obama Administration had already passed the biggest economic stimulus since the Great Depression and a sweeping fair-pay act. It had also announced a troop surge in Afghanistan. By comparison, Trump has achieved virtually nothing, except scaring the bejeezus out of the world.
”In his mind, of course, things are very different. For more than an hour on Thursday, he stood at a White House lectern, the yellowness of his hair accentuated by the gold drapes hanging behind him, and demonstrated, again, that he long ago escaped the bounds of reality that restrict most mortals.“
-- John Cassidy, ”Donald Trump's Alternative-Reality Press Conference,“ The New Yorker.
”In his mind“ ... ”Bound of reality." Reminder: This is a man with the power to blow up the world.
Movie Review: The Founder (2016)
How often does the hero of the story become the villain of the story?
“The Founder” is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a down-on-his-luck, 53-year-old salesman hawking milkshake mixers from the back of his car, who teams up with two California brothers to franchise a new concept, a fast-food restaurant called McDonald’s, and, through pluck, persistence and determination, turns it into a global phenomenon that on any given day feeds one percent of the world’s population.
“The Founder” is also the story of a man who steals someone else’s concept, steals someone else’s wife, breaks rules and contracts and vows and friendships, and because of his ruthless and unethical behavior becomes impossibly successful and an American icon.
Both stories are true.
A rose by any other
Before I get into the turning point of the story—how the hero becomes the villain—I’m curious if this dichotomy was the result of its filmmaking team.
There’s a scene late in “The Founder” when, after all the legal battles, one of the McDonald brothers asks Kroc why he just didn’t reproduce the concept. On the very first day, the brothers showed him everything they knew. He had the template. So why not just reproduce it elsewhere? Why franchise what they started? His answer? Their name: McDonald’s. It spoke of America, he said. It could be anything for anybody. Nobody, he added, is going to buy anything from Kroc.
In a way, I think of the filmmaking team this way, too. The movie’s screenwriter is Robert Siegel, former editor in chief of The Onion, who tends to write about the underside of the American dream (“The Wrestler”), and whose name sounds like the underside of things. Its director is John Lee Hancock, whose movies tend to have a sheen of Americana shellacked over them (“The Alamo,” “The Blind Side,” “Saving Mr. Banks”), and whose name, let’s face it, couldn’t sound more fucking All-American if it had been George Washington Crockett Boone. Hancock’s face fits the bill, too. He could be a movie star himself: jaw out to here. I admit, I’m a total bigot in this area. On some level, I doubt any film directed by someone as handsome as Hancock can be truly exceptional, since the handsome have no clue what life is like.
Anyway, to the turning point of the story.
Kroc starts out a hero because he’s an underdog. He’s going town to town, taking rejection after rejection, and buoying himself with a flask of courage and an LP on success that he listens to in cheap hotels at night. One day, his secretary tells him they received an order of six mixmasters from some outfit in San Bernardino but he figures that can’t be right. That would mean 30 milkshakes a minute. Nobody needs that many. So he calls them and indeed he’s corrected. They need eight.
For years I had a postcard of that original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, and when Ray drives there to see what’s up, and we get it recreated on the big screen, it’s like seeing, I don’t know, Ebbets Field or something: something iconic and American and long gone. But now here again.
Kroc, who is used to drive-ins, which thrived in the years immediately after World War II, and which tended to attracted teenagers generally and juvenile delinquents specifically, is initially confused by the place. By the time he pays, his food is there. In a paper bag rather than a tray. With no silverware. How does he eat? Where does he eat?
It was a system created by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) after decades of failures and experimentation. They reduced the menu to its most popular items: burgers, fries, soft drinks, shakes. They set up the kitchen to maximize efficiency. They got rid of waitresses and silverware. They called it the “speed-ee system.” We call it fast food.
Kroc’s brilliant idea, to franchise what they’ve created, was actually attempted by them first. Sadly, the franchisees didn’t keep up the McDonald brothers’ standards and so they decided to abandon it rather than ruin their good name. Their name meant all. But they agree to let Ray have a go in the Midwest.
He runs into the same problems: franchisees, bankrolled by country club types, add items to the menu, don’t keep the place clean, and it becomes a J.D. hangout rather than a family-friendly hangout. So Kroc starts tapping up-and-comers like himself; people with gumption. Things take off. Except the initial contract with the McDonald brothers gives him such a small percentage of the profits (and them even less) that he’s still in danger of falling into bankruptcy. Until he runs into Harry J. Sonneborn (B.J. Novak, doomed to play smart, slick characters), who gives him a way out: buy the property where the restaurant will stand, then lease it to the franchisee. A different corporation is created for this revenue stream (initially Franchise Realty Corporation, eventually the McDonald’s Corporation), so Kroc doesn’t have to run things by the brothers. Eventually he becomes rich and powerful enough to defy them—at first in small ways, then in bigger ones—and the movie begins to focus on them more.
Which is when our hero, Ray Kroc, becomes the villain.
He is truly awful. He lawyers up—he has the money now—and he buys out their contract for a lump sum of $2.7 million and a handshake promise for one percent of the annual profits, which he reneges on. They get to keep their place but get this: They have to remove the McDonald’s name. Their name. Then, out of spite, Ray opens a McDonald’s right across the street from them and puts the original McDonald’s out of business. He also divorces his long-suffering wife (Laura Dern) and marries Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), the wife of one of his franchisees (Patrick Wilson). We last see our hero in 1970, practicing a speech he’ll give before Gov. Reagan, in which he extols the virtues of his All-American success story; in which he tells the Hancock side of things.
The ruthless gene
That’s the how. Another question: why did our hero become the villain?
I would argue it’s because Ray Kroc is what all hugely successful businessmen are: ruthless. Kroc was so desperate for so long that once he got his chance he let nothing, particularly ethics and morality, stand in his way. The McDonald brothers, meanwhile, are simply hard-working innovators who don’t carry the ruthless gene. You can see it in Lynch’s eyes in the last third of the movie: He’s amazed and sickened by the way Kroc acts, but helpless. As a result, the innovators get steamrolled by Kroc and by history. Their name goes global but it’s not theirs.
Ironically, “The Founder” itself got steamrolled by its distributors, the Weinstein Company, which initially planned on a Nov. 25 rollout (prime box office real estate) then shifted it to August (so so), before dumping it in the least-fertile box-office month of the year: January. It actually opened on one of our darkest days: January 20, 2017; Donald Trump’s inauguration day.
I assume then Weinsteins dumped it because they felt the movie has too much Siegel and not enough Hancock. It wasn’t feel-good enough. A shame. It may not be the movie America wants, but it’s certainly the movie America needs.
What Liberal Hollywood? Part 9
“If you don't understand money in the movie business, it's like an artist who doesn't understand paint.”
-- Jack Nicholson, “Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” (2011)
The Shape of Things to Comey
“Comey believed that the entire country needed to know that a presidential candidate might be connected to information on a laptop that she didn't own, but the vice president did not need to be told privately that a key presidential adviser was definitely lying about his relationship with a foreign government. The inconsistency leaves one speechless.”
-- James Downie, “James Comey's behavior looks worse and worse,” Washington Post, after Gen. Michael Flynn's resignation yesterday.
Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
The subtitle of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is like a warning to Hollywood execs not to resurrect franchises that did OK at the box office but hardly gangbusters; that were, as a fan might say to friends the morning after watching it on PPV, “not bad.”
Because this? This sequel to the “not bad”? It’s awful.
That doesn’t happen much with Tom Cruise movies. Say what you will about him—and we have—but he usually doesn’t pick lame projects. Usually.
So much in “Never Go Back” depends upon the sexuality of a star who seems to have little of it onscreen, and whose offscreen sexuality has been the subject of decades of rumors.
As the movie opens, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is solving cases for Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), then hitchhiking his way to the next town, a classic American drifter-hero in the mold of The Lone Ranger or Kwai Chang Caine. But with each case, and call back to Turner, the flirtation deepens, until he arrives in D.C. ready to take her to dinner and maybe back to her place. Except, darn the luck, she’s been arrested for espionage. It’s cell block as cock block.
(Question: Has Reacher ever seen Maj. Turner or did he just luck out? Did he know, for example, that she wasn’t 54 and dumpy but 34 and so smokin’ hot she should have her own adjective? I’d suggest smuldering, after the actress. You’re welcome.)
Another soupçon of sexuality comes from his classified file. Apparently Reacher is a dad. At least there was a paternity lawsuit a few years back. I assumed this, like the espionage charge against Maj. Turner, was trumped up, since the military never contacted him about it, and because he claims he remembers all the women he’s slept with. (All zero of them?) Even so, he checks out the potential offspring, a bratty 15-year-old named Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and even talks to her outside of a convenience store where she’s been shoplifting. It’s the one time in the movie when Reacher is being followed and doesn’t know he’s being followed. Photos are then taken that will come back to haunt him. Or us.
Because of course Reacher is pulled into the web. He’s accused of murdering Turner’s JAG attorney, which gets him into the same prison as Turner, which allows him to bust her loose. Sadly, when they get more intel, he realizes the bad guys know about Samantha (those photos), and they all have to go on the lam together: the aging drifter-hero, the smuldering Major, and this blonde brat who doesn’t know enough not to use a cellphone or credit card when being tracked by the NSA. Could the movie have worked without her? I don’t know. But with her it was a painful slog. I never cared for the character, the actress, any of it.
There’s a nemesis, of course, another top agent-y guy known only as “The Hunter” (Patrick Huesinger); and while Huesinger is good, the back-and-forth between the two, the taunting on the phone, tries to be McClane/Hans in “Die Hard” and fails. It also tries to be vaguely Batman/Jokerish. Hunter sees himself in Reacher: two hugely effective solo operatives. The movie undercuts this by giving Hunter henchmen: two more guys for Reacher to kill. The odds have to be further stacked against our hero.
The maguffin is Parasource, a private military contractor that’s bleeding money, so it’s smuggling opiates into the U.S. with the help of top military brass. That's right: top military brass. The movie is another gung-ho action flick with a decidedly mixed message if moviegoers ever thought about it for two seconds after the popcorn was gone.
Cruise is beginning to show his age, by the way, which is mine, 54. He still looks good, but he’s got a new puffiness around the eyes and cheeks. He’s also so slight in those skintight outfits that when he was brought into prison by a burly guard, I flashed on tiny Luke being led before the Emperor by Darth Vader. I’d suggest he try for more adult roles but in today’s Hollywood they’re hard to come by. And maybe he doesn’t want them? Maybe he wants to return to his pre-couch-jumping glory days of movie stardom? Seems so. Here’s what he has lined up for the next few years: another “M:I” sequel, a “Top Gun” sequel, and a reboot of “The Mummy.”
In “Never Go Back,” it all ends on the rooftops of New Orleans. Reacher kills The Hunter, learns the daughter isn’t his, and he and Turner don’t have sex. Then he hits the road again—the last hitchhiker in America. Sexless once more.
Tweet of the Day
It is kinda funny that the GOP is ignoring Russian leverage on the president because they think too many people have health care.— Timothy Simons (@timothycsimons) February 15, 2017
Lancelot Links Goes Shopping at Nordstrom
- Trump aide (& abet) Kellyanne Conway told Fox & Friends viewers to buy Ivanka Trump's clothing line, apparently breaking federal law. (“An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise,”) Why nothing, most likely, will happen to her.
- Unless it's California's AG Xavier Becerra. Fingers crossed. What isn't in doubt, according to the Post, is that “the president and his aides are inviting corruption.”
- Jason Chaffetz went to a town hall of his constituents, and all he got was some major flak. Which he totally deserved. Because he's a major douche who's helping bring down the country.
- Bye-bye National Security Adviser Mike Flynn after only 24 days. A new record.
- Dueling protests at a Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, Minn., drew an estimated 6,000 people total: 500 pro-lifers and 5,500 pink-clad pro-choicers.
- How does SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch seem to you? Scott Turow, the best-selling novelist as well as a highly regarded practicing attorney in Illinois, suggests he's to the right of Antonin Scalia. Also, how the Dems can block his nomination.
- For those nostalic for a POTUS with class, Obama's official photog, Pete Souza is posting great shots on Instagram.
- Speaking of: The Atlantic lays out the winners of the 2017 World Press Photo Contest. Not to get all click-baity, but I particularly liked No. 7 from Jonathan Bachman: the upright calm of the woman in the dress offering herself up for arrest; the seeming panic of the armor-clad officers confronting her. It's otherworldly but it's our world.
- Great piece by Lili Anolik of Vanity Fair on Pauline Kael in LaLa Land.
- Nathaniel Rogers on the BAFTA winners.
- Joe Posnanski is knocking down judgmental baseball stats, starting with the pitcher's win.
- Via my cousin Kristin, 101 websites that pay writers.
- From CJR, how The Washington Post is turning newspapers around.
- What the fuck just happened? Day 26.
NPR Uncovers Three Trump Supporters Still Supporting Trump
I was listening to NPR Sunday morning when Lulu Garcia-Navarro interviewed three Trump supporters to see how they were doing three weeks into his presidency. Had they changed their minds about their man yet?
This was pre-Flynn resignation but judging from the talk I doubt today's national security crisis would've had an impact, either.
Sure, there were reservations, and a few down-home chuckles. But mostly they thought: Fasten your seatbelts, cuz he's going to make things happen. Direct quote: “He comes off as offensive, but I voted for him to get the job done, not to protect people's feelings.” How about to protect their lives? Or the American experiment? Or American values? Nothing.
The most offensive part was probably at the end when Garcia-Navarro asked sum-up questions. This is the exchange she had with Becky Ravenkamp, a farmer and educator from Hugo, Colorado:
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Becky, what are you worried about more broadly or what are you hopeful about?
RAVENKAMP: Well, I'm hopeful that when the administration is all in place and when the decisions are being made, that we can really get back to the heart of what makes us America. And I think for me this election was not just Republicans versus Democrats. It was the people versus Washington D.C. And I'm hopeful that, you know, maybe we sent a message with this election saying we are putting Washington, D.C., on notice, you need to start working for us instead of yourselves and that they're going to start behaving like the representatives that we elected and start compromising and working together to make this country move forward. If that happens, I think we're going to see the temperament turn around and Americans start joining together and coexisting, like Kevin said. I hope for that because I have children in this country.
I don't know where to begin. How do you parse delusions? That the last eight years wasn't what “made us America”? That she thought this last election wasn't “Republicans vs. Democrats”? That “the people” finally spoke? And that the message was to “start compromising and working together”? That's probably the most offensive of all. She and other voters just rewarded eight years of Republican obstructionism by electing more Republicans. If we can't co-exist, this is why: a great percentage of the country lives in a world devoid of logic and facts.
Much of the above also feels like code for “We finally got a white guy in the White House again.”
Follow-ups from Garcia-Navarro? None.
Movie Review: Morris From America (2016)
Unique concept, poor execution.
The titular Morris (Markees Christmas), a 13-year-old, pudgy African-American kid, lives in Germany with his father, Curtis (Craig Robinson of “The Office”), a former soccer player turned coach, and navigates adolescence as a stranger in a strange land. He battles racial stereotypes (that he plays basketball well, dances well, has a big ---), pursues Katrin, a cute Geman girl two years his senior (Lina Keller), and tries his hand writing hip-hop. He visits a castle and learns German.
But mostly it’s the girl and hip-hop.
- I didn’t buy Robinson as an international soccer player. Maybe former football player or wrestler? I also didn’t buy him as a coach. He didn’t occupy the field the way coaches do. He looked like he was a visitor; like he was trying to be inconspicuous as possible rather than standing and demanding and owning the space.
- I didn’t like our main character at all. There wasn’t enough interesting about him, probably because he wasn’t interested in enough things. Of his two great pursuits, he wasn’t particularly good with hip-hop (until he was), and the girl was both: 1) out of his league (physically), and 2) not worth his time (she’s kind of awful). Dude, you’re in Germany. Learn, absorb, appreciate. Which of course is the lesson of the movie at the end.
- I hated Katrin. Her prank at the party, with the fake kiss and the squirt gun to the crotch, was unforgiveable, and she never really redeemed herself. She got away with too much. What does she believe in? What does she care about? Besides her own looks and the effect it has on men/boys?
- I didn’t like Morris’ German teacher, Inka (Carla Juri), who seems both too close/chummy with him during lessons, then reads his personal notebook and freaks at the misogynistic rap lyrics.
- I didn’t like any of the Germans. How awful is that? Not one character is worth our time in this country? C’mon.
- The Yankee caps don't help.
When I rented it, I thought it was written and/or directed by Robinson, but it’s actually the work of Chad Hartigan, who was born in Cyprus, and who fetishized Katrin a little too much for my comfort level.
The last 15 minutes almost made up for the first 75, but not enough. If you haven’t bothered, don’t bother.
The Boys of 'Girls': Why Feminist Filmmakers ♥ Men
Season 1, Jessa's wedding. The horror, the horror.
I've got a piece up on Salon about the male characters in women-helmed TV shows and movies, including “Girls,” “Enough Said,” “Laggies” and “Obvious Child,” and how the women in these stories are often awful, while the men are often supportive. I called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”
The positive portrayal of men from Lena Dunham and female filmmakers
Someone at Salon called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”: On “Girls” men get better treatment than they deserve
I guess they wanted to work “Girls” into the title.
At the end of the piece, I speculate that the titular characters of “Girls” might finally be maturing. Are they? The first episode premiered last night. Thoughts:
- Hannah is in a better spot. She published an article in The New York Times and received another goofy assignment, which she went after with her usual brand of laziness and quirkiness.
- Marnie backslid. With Desi. Eww. I imagine people around the country screaming “Noooooo!” at their TV sets.
- Why was Marnie so happy reading Hannah's piece, btw? In it, she calls Jessa her “best friend.” Would Marnie really let that go by?
- How do Adam and Jessa live? Is he still working? He's backsliding as well. He's much less interesting with Jessa than he was with Hannah. She's draining the artist out of him.
- I didn't buy Ray and Shosh's breakfast conversation about Paul Krugman. Put it this way: It was definitely a pre-Trump convo. And even then, it seemed cheaper/snarkier than Ray, and “Girls,” would normally allow.
A Modest Proposal
I went to an anti-Trump, pro-LGBTQ rally at Cal Anderson Park yesterday morning, because that's what we do nowadays (sign spotted there: PROTEST IS THE NEW BRUNCH). Turned out it was put on by the Socialist Alternative of Seattle. It was a good crowd for a Saturday morning, and I'm all in favor of unity, and I'm hardly a public speaker myself so who am I to make suggestions? Yet here I go:
- Lay off the blanket attacks on capitalism. Attack the billionaire class, the .1%, Wall Street, Trump and his cabinet, dark money, Citizens United. But capitalism itself? I certainly have my problems with capitalism (it benefits the ruthless and unethical to a degree it shouldn't), but a blanket attack can only backfire. Focus on what we can do.
- Don't attack “corporate Democrats.” In the fight against Trump, we're all allies. Remember that. Don't shoot at your flank while the enemy is still on the rampage.
- Avoid “toppling the tsar” analogies. A rally on March 8 was mentioned. It was also mentioned that this was the day the so-called February Revolution began in 1917, which eventually led to the toppling of the Russian tsar. A friend looked at me and rolled her eyes, and I said, “Yeah, I don't think that ended well.”
It always makes me laugh when Republicans—most recently Jason Chaffetz of Utah, overwhelmed by his own constituents at his own town hall—claim that left-wing protesters are bought, they're paid for, since this would imply a kind of cohesive, united attack that the left has never displayed in my lifetime. We're usually all over the place. Everyone's got their pet cause, and many can't see the forest for their particular beloved twig. We can't afford that any longer. We need to focus. Trump is the reason we're out there in droves. Remember that. The future of the country depends upon it.
This weekend was one of my first free weekends in a while (sans going to an anti-Trump, pro-LGBTQ rally at Cal Anderson Park this morning), and I was planning on seeing a few of the better-reviewed films of 2016 that I missed. Namely:
Both of them, I believe, opened in Seattle the second week of January. I was particularly interested in seeing Martin Scorsese's “Silence.” The story intrigued. And it's Scorsese. And attention must be paid.
Guess what? They're no longer playing in Seattle.
Two weeks ago Thursday, “Silence,” distributed by Paramount, was playing in more than 1500 theaters nationwide. Last weekend it was playing in 152, including downtown Seattle. This weekend, 55, and none in Seattle. None in Tacoma, either. It is playing at the Academy Theater in Portland. That may be the closest.
Don't know how many theaters “Paterson” (dist.: Weinsteins) is playing in—two days ago it was in 58—but it is showing in Tacoma. There's that. If I want to travel there. Which I don't.
I guess both of these movies—along with “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Founder”—got displaced in Seattle to make room for the likes of “John Wick Chapter 2” (3,113 theaters), “50 Shades Darker” (3,710) and “The LEGO Batman Movie” (4,088). Those three are taking up more than 10,000 screens nationwide, and more than 30 screens within a five-mile radius of me.
Carew v. Ryan Express
I've been re-reading some of Joe Posnanski's thoughts on his top 100 baseball players of all time (he stopped at No. 32, Grover Cleveland Alexander, but promises to get back to it some day: right), and I came across this nice little stat about his No. 54 pick, Rod Carew, who is just ahead of Ernie Banks and just behind Steve Carlton on his list:
Twenty five batters got 75-plus plate appearances against Nolan Ryan. Only one hit .300. Yeah. Rod Carew.
Carew hit .301/.398/.441 off Ryan. The next three in the 75+ group are: Pete Rose (.296), Steven Braun, also of the Twins (also .296) and George Brett (.287). Not a bad group of hitters.
We get some good background on Carew in the mini-bio. I knew about the train birth, didn't know it was a segregated train, knew about the doctor but not the nurse. I didn't know about the abusive father, nor the high school baseball coach. I knew about the seven batting titles, of course. No mention of Rod Carew trying on my glove. Geez, Poz, dig deeper next time.
Camera Day, Met Stadium, 1970
Quote of the Day: The Madness of King Donald
“How are we to respond to a president who in the same week declared that the ”murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 45 to 47 years,“ when, of course, despite some recent, troubling spikes in cities, it's nationally near a low not seen since the late 1960s, and half what it was in 1980. What are we supposed to do when a president says that two people were shot dead in Chicago during President Obama's farewell address — when this is directly contradicted by the Chicago police? None of this, moreover, is ever corrected. No error is ever admitted. Any lie is usually doubled down by another lie — along with an ad hominem attack. ...
”I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president's agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.
“There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.”
-- Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” in New York magazine, where Sullivan will be doing a weekly piece every Friday. Welcome back.
'Oh No, Not Court'
After the unanimous decision yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold the stay on Pres. Trump's ban on refugees and all immigrants from seven countries, and after Pres. Trump angrily tweeted, using (yes) all caps, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!,” this was my favorite response:
“oh no, not court” —judges— both are equally bad (@caseyjohnston) February 10, 2017
That said, some part of this still plays into Trump's small hands. I'm still worried about the Reichstag fire. Any attack on U.S. soil now, and Trump can say, “See? But the courts wouldn't listen to me!” A big enough attack and who knows what he'll get.
The discussion is still in the details. He talks “extreme vetting.” The current vetting process takes 18-24 months, and involves eight government agencies, six security databases, etc. etc. I'm sure it can be improved, but how? The blanket ban on both refugees and seven countries that haven't been involved in any recent attack is a shitty answer to that question. Give us a less shitty answer.
Movie Review: La La Land (2016)
Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” has a romantic view of love and L.A. but not necessarily life. It knows there are barriers between where we are and where we want to be, and to cross those barriers sacrifices have to be made. That’s why the dream sequence. In the end, we get a 10-minute version of the story we’ve just watched in which all the endings are Hollywood endings. Then it cuts back to reality.
Well, “reality.” Both of our protagonists actually get what they want. Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista who wants to become a movie star, and she becomes a movie star. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling jazz musician who wants to open his own jazz club, and he opens his own jazz club. They just don’t get each other.
Here’s a question: Why don’t they get each other? Why do they break up? Beyond the barriers, I mean.
You could say it’s because of a stain on the ceiling. Or because Mia is kind of a jerk.
Mia = My
Am I the only one who feels this way? I love me some Emma Stone but Mia bugged me throughout.
The movie is about the four seasons of a relationship. Our lovers start out cold to each other (winter), then thaw (spring), then it’s hot (summer), then, no, things begin to go cool off, and small things break apart (fall). Then winter again: It’s five years later and she’s married to someone else with a 2-year-old daughter.
It’s a movie steeped in movie lore. Our protagonists can’t walk a block without encountering another giant mural of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and Charlie Chaplin. Never thought how odd this must be for struggling actors. Everywhere you go is a reminder of what you aren’t. It would be like me living in a city dominated by giant portraits of Hemingway, Mailer and Doctorow. But at least I’d live among people who knew who Hemingway, Mailer and Doctorow were.
The opening number takes place in that most L.A. of locales—a traffic jam on the freeway. We’re subjected to a cacophony of horns, curses, and different radio stations, and then, boom, it’s magical, Hollywood magical, and everyone is singing with and dancing to the same song, “Another Day of Sun.” Then as quickly as it started, it ends, and we’re back to the cacophony, and we meet our future lovers. She’s reading lines and doesn’t notice cars moving forward; he’s behind her and lays on the horn, then peels around and stares at her. She gives him a “God” look and flips him off. That’s our meet cute.
I like that but I didn’t like her. She’s put off that someone expects her to move forward in a traffic jam? How about a mea culpa?
She keeps doing this. She’s open-mouthed astonished that:
- she can’t leave work at a coffeeshop at the drop of a hat
- customers expect her to report complaints
- the world doesn’t recognize her talent
- the seats to her one-woman show aren’t filled
The real world keeps intruding upon the magical one. Just before our lovers are about to kiss for the first time, they’re stopped when: 1) a cellphone rings, and 2) a movie projector breaks down. (Interesting solution to the dramatist’s eternal question: How do you keep the lovers apart? Technology!) The movie they’re watching is “Rebel Without a Cause,” also set in L.A., with a big scene at the Griffith Observatory, which is where they head afterwards. It’s night, the place is closed, but they get in. We don’t even see them breaking in; they simply wander its hallways and exhibits alone, then magically, musically, ascend to the stars and dance there. Great scene.
That leads to summer of happy, bustling activity, during which he teaches her about jazz and encourages her to write her own one-woman play. Then trouble: Sebastian overhears Mia trying to placate her mother about his career. He’s talented but uncompromising, and he stares at the ceiling, at a stain there, and decides to compromise. He signs on to be the keyboardist with the band “The Messengers,” led by his former classmate, Keith (John Legend), whose music he doesn’t like. But it beats the Christmas jingles he’s been playing, right? And A-Ha and Flock of Seagulls? Anyway, the band takes off, they have money, she quits her barista job and gets ready for her one-woman show, and is forever grateful for the sacrifice Sebastian made for her and them.
Kidding. She never acknowledges the sacrifice. She attends one of their concerts and is stunned that he’s happily playing music he knows isn’t great. And when he makes time between tour dates to surprise her with a home-cooked meal, she brings it up—the crap music of The Messengers—and they get into an argument, and he accuses her of being jealous because her own career is going nowhere. And that’s it. She leaves him.
She leaves L.A., too, when her one-woman show tanks, to lick her wounds and think about a new career in her hometown of Boulder City, Nev.
Ah, but he gets a call from a casting director who saw her one-woman show, and wants to talk to her about a part in a major film. So he calls her. Kidding. He drives all the way out to Boulder City—300 miles away—to convince her to come back and read for the part. She does. She gets it. And on a bench overlooking L.A. she tells him how grateful she is. Kidding. She asks, “Where are we?,” meaning in their relationship, and he tells her she needs to concentrate on her career. They say they will always love each other but it already feels over. Because of the argument during the romantic dinner? They can’t get past that? They can’t have a little bit of fall in their summer? Or is it because the movie’s nearly over and we need a resolution?
We need the eggs
I still liked “La La Land.” I like its mix of quotidian and magical—our lovers’ first dance in the Hollywood hills; their dance and first kiss at the Griffith Observatory. I like her and her friends in different, primary-colored dresses strutting down the street on their way to a party. I like Sebastian on the dock with the fedora.
Gosling and Stone aren’t great singers. That’s one of the oddities of the concert scene, which is supposed to be tacky but still includes John Legend’s great voice belting it out. You think, “We could use more of that.” I liked their dancing more, particularly his, and I love how L.A.-drenched it is. It’s a love letter to sunny L.A. with a touch of Woody Allen at the end. Sebastian and Mia wind up like Alvy and Annie: two adults in love who have gone separate ways. It just made more sense in “Annie Hall.”
I hate how much of the news I have to unpack every morning. It seems I always have to fight through the clutter to get to the story.
- Wait: Mitch McConnell prevented Elizabeth Warren from ... what exactly?
- From reading a 1986 letter Corretta Scott King wrote against Jeff Sessions, who back then was up for a federal judgeship, and who's now up for U.S. Attorney General. King wrote that Sessions “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
- So why was Warren silenced? Is there a rule against reading letters?
- It's Rule No. 19, which prohibits senators from insulting each other on the Senate floor.
- You're kidding. How long has that been around?
- Since 1902. It was adopted after a fistfight on the Senate floor.
- And how often has it been used?
- I'd say. Besides, Warren isn't exactly attacking a “fellow Senator” here. Sessions may soon be the chief law enforcement officer in the land. He has to be vetted, right? Extremely vetted. What if you have something negative to say? Can't you say it?
- Haven't seen anything on this yet.
Anyway, it's easy to see what happened. It was an obscure rule of procedure, McConnell is hugely knowledgable in obscure rules of procedure that benefit him and his party. He's also a major asshole. So he did what he did. He stifled her. And the right-wing propaganda machine fell in lock-step. It added insult to injury.
Except, beautifully, McConnell's words have been used against him. Here's what he said in justifying his actions:
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Faster than you can say, “Fuck you, Mitch,” #ShePersisted was trending on social media, and memes—with Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Harriet Tubman, et al.—were popping up against the backdrop of McConnell's words. In trying to shut up Warren, he handed her a microphone to the world. He gave the movement a slogan.
Meanwhile, our president tweeted an attack on an American business, Nordstrom, because it dropped his daughter's clothing line. That one I don't need to unpack.
From “Jill Stein is a Right-Wing Tool,” by Dan Savage, in The Stranger:
There are 46 Democrats in the United States Senate. Every single Senate Democrat voted against Betsy “Potential Grizzlies” DeVos, Trump's newly confirmed education secretary. Senate Dems “held the floor” overnight to protest the DeVos nomination. They peeled two Republican senators off DeVos, coming within a single vote of blocking DeVos and creating a 50-50 tie in the Senate that Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, had to break, making Pence “the first vice president ever to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nominee.”
You'll never guess who Jill Stein blames for DeVos's confirmation.
Here's his answer:
Why would we have a tie on such an egregious nominee? Because Democrats serve corporate interests. https://t.co/66rpL1ifik— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) February 7, 2017
He's right. What a tool.
Movie Review: Central Intelligence (2016)
Early in the movie, Bob Stone, nee Robbie Wheirdicht (Dwayne Johnson), the former fat kid turned CIA agent, and Calvin “The Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart), the former BMOC turned accountant, return to their old high school, which, for Bob, was the scene of countless humiliations. The deepest was probably the one that opened the movie—when bullies toss Robbie stark naked into the middle of a school assembly. Everyone laughs. Except Calvin. He’s sympathetic and gives him his letterman’s jacket to cover himself up. Robbie/Bob never forgot that small act of kindness. He also never gave the jacket back.
Anyway, back in the old hallways, Calvin tries to bring this up—the humiliations—but Bob dismisses them, saying he doesn’t even think about them anymore.
Bob: Here’s the secret. You know what I did, Jet? I took all that stuff and I balled it up real tight and then I shoved it way down deep. And I just pretty much ignore it.
Calvin: That sounds ... really unhealthy, Bob.
The movie has a few such laugh-out-loud moments, and this was my favorite. I’ve loved The Rock since late ’90s WWF (I actually watched that shit for awhile), and Hart since seeing “The Z Shirt” sketch on SNL, and the two have great chemistry together. They’re the reason the movie works as well as it does. Plus we get a few choice cameos—particularly Jason Bateman as the former high school bully who may or may not have found religion.
But overall? Meh.
It’s another opposites-attract buddy action-comedy, with Hart playing the staid guy and Johnson the well-meaning but potential crazy CIA agent who may have gone rogue. This last bit is supposed to provide tension throughout—is Bob really a traitor?—when it does no such thing. Might as well ask: Is The Rock a traitor? No. So why bother? Because it gives Calvin no way out since even the CIA is after their asses? I guess. But the way the filmmakers prolonged the tension into the last reel was insulting.
Not to mention this: In the end, Bob gets his redemption at the high school reunion while Calvin gives up his staid job for a life of action in the CIA. I.e., he leaves behind the job most of us have (if we're lucky) for something that, when I was growing up, was morally suspect. Cf., Col. Flagg. Of course, since 1995, the CIA has had liaisons in Hollywood and have looked better as a result. Maybe accountants need a liaison.
The screenplay was written by two “Mindy Project” dudes, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, with an assist from director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also wrote-directed “Dodgeball” and “We’re the Millers.” His next project is “We’re the Millers 2.” Yes. Sadly, we are.
Movie Review: 20th Century Women (2016)
“20th Century Women” is a coming-of-age movie set in 1979—the year before we elected Reagan and everything began to go to hell.
It’s bittersweet, as all true coming-of-age movies are. The sweet is youth and discovery; the bitter is all that’s left unsaid and undone. It’s about the moment that’s gone forever and can never be reclaimed except through art.
I’d call the movie a character study but it’s really a characters study. The 15-year-old protagonist, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), lives with his iconoclastic mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), in a big, drafty, fixer-upper in Santa Barbara populated by two renters: the mellow, ex-hippie handyman William (Billy Crudup), and the 25-year-old cancer survivor/photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig), who teaches Jamie about punk rock and encourages him to get out. Meanwhile, his best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), two years older, is half an adolescent boy’s wet dream. She’s the pretty girl who climbs through his bedroom window to sleep with him. Except it’s just that: sleep. No fooling around. She fools around with other guys, but with him it’s “just friends.” He handles this with more equanimity than I would have.
Still, his mother is worried. She was born in 1924 (I love that the movie tells us when every character was born), came of age during the Depression and World War II, and, while generally liberal in outlook, doesn’t get what the world is coming to. She doesn’t get punk music and its fashions, and can’t understand why teenage boys would engage in something as stupid as “the fainting game,” in which another kid pushes on your diaphragm and you keep breathing out until you faint. Jamie’s faint lasts a half hour and includes a trip to the hospital. After that, Dorothea decides she needs help raising him. She turns to Abbie and Julie, who question her choice. “What about William?” they ask. But Jamie doesn’t connect to men, says the mother; he connects with women.
It takes a village
Let me add: I love this movie. It’s almost tailor-made for me.
In 1979, I was about Jamie’s age, 16, and the product of divorce, as he was. Except my family split up along gender lines. I stayed with my father and older brother in south Minneapolis, while my mother and younger sister moved to Timonium, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. We saw each other twice a year. Our side was all testosterone: the liberal, bookish, short-tempered version.
You know what I needed back then? This movie. Its matter-of-fact sexual lessons. Mine came from the usual wrong sources—Hugh Hefner, Hollywood, the shadowy intel of peers—while Jamie is helped out by a houseful of women. Abbie gives him two books, “Our Bodies, Our Selves” and “Sisterhood is Powerful,” a 1970 collection of feminist essays. There’s a great scene at the skate park when another kid brags about his sexual prowess and Jamie attempts to educate him about how women have orgasms. That, and the Talking Heads shirt Jamie is wearing (instead of true punk like Black Flag), leads to a fight, and a great moment when Dorothea is doctoring Jamie’s wounds back home:
Dorothea: What was the fight about?
Jamie [after a pause]: Clitoral stimulation.
It’s a crime Bening didn’t get an Oscar nomination for lead actress. Dorothea has this piercing look as she tries to fathom the world, and even though she comes away dumbfounded she keeps doing it. She keeps trying. But at 55, the world keeps getting away from her.
She’s there, all the time, whether inviting the fire chief to her house for dinner without a hint of flirtation, or with face scrunched as she tries to figure out what Black Flag is singing about. It’s a great homage to that generation of women—the ones who went to work during World War II and never lost the taste for it; who didn’t go quietly back into the home. Apparently it’s an homage to writer-director Mike Mills' own mother, just as his previous work, “Beginners,” from 2011, with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, was an homage to his father. I think this movie is better. A lot better. There’s more life in it. There’s wisdom.
Here’s Abbie to Jamie:
Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know it’s not going to be anything like that.
Here’s Jamie and Julie discussing women’s orgasms. She admits neither she nor her friends have them. So why have sex? he asks.
There’s other reasons. The way they look at me, the way they all get a little desperate at some point. The little sounds they make. [She imitates.] And their bodies. You don’t know exactly how they’re gonna look or smell or feel or whatever until you do it.
Julie, at this point, is worried she’s pregnant but she isn’t. Abbie is worried that the cancer will prevent her from having kids, but she has them. We keep finding out where our characters will wind up, and it helps heighten the current moment. Seeing Abbie in her early 30s, with her husband, house and two kids, which is everything she wanted in 1979, it’s nice but melancholy. We’re happy for her but she’s become someone else. Who is this guy she's with? Where’s the girl we knew?
I’ve always had a problem with Greta Gerwig but I love her here. Crudup gives one of his best performances, as does Bening in a career of great performances. Is Mills some kind of genius? It’s beyond the dialogue. If you take the original meaning of director—one who directs actors—who was better in 2016?
Longing for meaning
Some of the movie’s wisdom is even presidential. There’s a scene at one of Dorothea’s dinner parties where everyone gathers around the TV to watch Jimmy Carter giving his infamous “malaise” speech. Afterwards, the men in the room all declare him dead in the water, while Dorothea calls the speech beautiful. Both are right. Telling people they have no confidence isn’t a great way to give people confidence. At the same time, Carter nails what’s wrong with us:
There is a growing disrespect for government, the schools, the news media, and other institutions. ... Too many of us now tend to worship self indulgence and consumption. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself, involved in the search for freedom. We are at a turning point in our history. The path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest, down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom. It is a certain route to failure.
And we went that route. It’s kind of astonishing to listen to today. Carter was treating us as adults but we weren’t. “20th Century Women” is about a boy progressing just as the country was regressing. That second part isn’t bittersweet; these days, it's just bitter.
- Love this comic strip (Friendly Atheist?), which someone posted to Facebook recently: the hypocrisy of a religious conservative in nine panels.
- The New York Times reports on the turmoil inside the Trump White House. The shocker: Trump didn't know he was signing an order that put Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.
- A New York Times sportswriter ran into Steven Bannon at the airport after the election in November, and guess what he was reading? I doubt he learned the right lessons from it. Maybe he thought it meant Trump needed to hire the worst and the dimmest?
- Longtime WA state Republican Chris Vance on why he's marching against Trump. He also has a good rundown of the anti-immigration executive order, its dog whistles, and its longterm potential consequences.
- Trump displays autocratic tendencies (dismissing voters and protesters), while his media mouthpiece, KAC, insists he deserves better coverage no matter how much he (or she) lies. Jonathan Chait is on it.
- Adam Gopnik on Trump's anti-Americanism, and how Trump's incompetence is a feature not a bug. Gopnik also tosses in some necessary words from James Madison: Federalist No. 51 rather than “We are engaged in a battle for our nation's very soul/ Can you get us out of the mess we're in?” Although that works, too.
- An oral history of Lena Dunham's “Girls.”
- My former editor for book reviews at The Seattle Times, Mary Ann Gwinn, bids farewell to the newsroom.
- Great exchange between my man Ricky Gervais and my man Stephen Colbert about religion. Stephen's Catholic, Ricky's atheist/agnoistic. I'm with Ricky. It's always posited as not believing in God but that's not the issue; it's people I don't believe.
- Another year, another Patriots victory in the Super Bowl. Blech. Thankfully, The Onion is on our side.
- It's no longer Democrats vs. Republicans but people in the reality-based community vs. propagandists and liars. For the former group, here's Randy Rainbow singing “Fact-checker, Fact-checker” to KAC but for us.
- My name is Erik and I work from home.
Trump's Incompetence is Feature, not Bug
“Some choose to find comfort in the belief that [the Trump administration's] incompetence will undermine [its] anti-Americanism. Don't bet on it. Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organization work smoothly. The chaos is characteristic. Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card—or, no, now we won't take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.”
The Question Journalists Should be Asking Trump About His Anti-Refugee Ban
There was a key moment on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning when host Lulu Garcia-Navarro inteviewed William Lacey Swing, of the International Organization for Migration, which, according to NPR's website, oversees the travel plans of most refugees resettling in the U.S. They were talking about Pres. Trump's recent excecutive order, of course, banning refugees along with all immigrants from seven specific countries:
Can the vetting [of immigrants] be improved? This is all, fundamentally, according to the adminstration, about keeping Americans safe.
Well, it's hard to imagine a more strict vetting than we have now—this came in after the 9/11 attack in 2001. You have eight U.S. government agencies who are vetting them, they are looking at six different security databases, they are doing five different background checks, they have three separate in-person interviews and then two interagency security reviews of that. So part of the problem has been that since 9/11 security vetting has been so strict that you're talking about at least 18 months until you can travel.
Since a week ago Friday, I've been waiting for a journalist, any journalist, to ask that question of the Trump administration—with this tweak: What about current vetting worries you? What needs fixing? Once again, though, the press is letting Trump get away with ignoring the details, even though it's the details that matter. We are safe, or not, in the details. That should be the focus.
I've been waiting for this, in part, because in my day job we've interviewed and featured quite a few immigration lawyers over the years, so I'm at least aware of the arduous vetting process for immigrants. I know it's arduous. I know immigration attorneys want it impproved. I doubt Trump's EO is the improvement it needs.
That EO, of course, has been temporarily struck down by a federal judge (in Seattle!), but even this, I fear, plays into Trump's hands. Imagine if we now get attacked from within—by Muslims or refugees, rather than the usual crazy white Christian men with guns. This would play right into his and Bannon's hands: “We tried to keep you safe but they stopped us. Now give us the power we need.” It could be Trump's Reichstag fire.
Anyway, bravo to Garcia-Navarro for asking the question and kudos to Mr. Swing for his answer. To the rest of the press: Follow the details.
My All-Time Seattle Mariners Team
The other day, via social media the Seattle Mariners organization encouraged fans to vote for their all-time Mariners team as the 40th anniversary of the team that has never been to the World Series nears.
So I bit.
Right away it was tougher than I thought. We got four options for 1B and none were overwhelming choices:
- Bruce Bochte
- Alvin Davis
- Tino Martinez
- John Olerud
I suppose if I was going off the Mariners-only record, I would go with Davis, since he was with the team the longest. He was also before my time. I arrived in Seattle in '91. I might also go with Tino for his fierce determination to win—a determination which wound up benefiting our enemies. But in the end I went for the calm grace, good glove and high OBP of Washington's own Johnny O.
Second base wasn't any easier:
- Bret Boone
- Robinson Cano
- Joey Cora
- Harold Reynolds
Reynolds was with the team the longest, Boone had that suspect Rogers Hornsby-esque year, but I had to go Cano. I figure he'll make up any difference in a year or two.
I'll cut to the chase: Here's my lineup:
- Ichiro Suzuki (LF)
- Robinson Cano (2B)
- Alex Rodriguez (SS)
- Ken Griffey Jr. (CF)
- Edgar Martinez (DH)
- John Olerud (1B)
- Jay Buhner (RF)
- Kyle Seager (3B)
- Dan Wilson (C)
- Randy Johnson (LHP)
- Felix Hernandez (RHP)
The biggest internal debate was third base: Seager vs. Adrian Beltre. Adrian's going in the Hall, Seager most likely no; but Adrian had his worst years here. Couldn't do it.
Then I got to closer. Good god. The options:
- Norm Charlton
- J.J. Putz
- Kasuhiro Sasaki
- Mike Schooler
I wound up tossing in the towel. I couldn't in all conscience choose any of them.
Closer nothwithstanding, I'd put this all-time team up against many. That one-two punch on the mound? The top five in that lineup? That's impressive. And makes the zero pennants flapping in right field all the more dispiriting.
Shoutout to all the Trump fans who are never sure when it's *you're* vs. *your* but who are now suddenly constitutional law scholars.— Dab Aggin (@DabAggin) February 4, 2017
Rob Brydon Imitating Jagger Imitating Caine
New clip from the “Trip” BBC series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, which get turned into movies for us on this side of the pond:
My review of their previous, “The Trip to Italy.”
Quote of the Day
“Ending Dodd-Frank would be deeply misguided and likely to recreate the very conditions that led to the 2008 financial crisis, shuttered American businesses, and cost millions of Americans their jobs. The financial sector will get a nice sugar high for a few years, and then crash the economy.”
-- Michael S. Barr, professor of law and public policy at the University of Michigan, nonresident senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and former assistant treasury secretary for financial institutions, in Fortune, Dec. 2016
It's put here today because Dodd-Frank is today's Trumpian crisis. We get at least one a day. Some are based on campaign promises Trump made, including this one, although I don't think he made it often, or loud, particularly when speaking before working class Americans. Other moves that Trump and the GOP have made that weren't based on stump speeches? Adding coal to water, allowing mentally disturbed people access to guns, finally standing up to Australia.
Tweet of the Day
Sen. Marco Rubio, the man whose spineless condition apparently causes excessive dehydration in the salivary glands, tweeted today about how Democrats tell him that “left wing radicals” are ordering them to oppose everything, and that's why we're getting Democratic obstruction. Right. It's not the previous eight years of unprecedented obstructionism by the GOP in general and Mitch McConnell in particular; it's not the blatant idiocy of our current illegitimate president, who can't get past himself long enough to offer up a few kind words at a National Prayer Breakfast, nor make a decent phone call to the prime minister of Australia; it's “left wing radicals.”
This was one response to his tweet. It's currently at 12k retweets and 34k likes. Add to those numbers, please.
I AM NOT A RADICAL. I AM A SUBURBAN CHESS CLUB MOM WHO JUST WANTS TO SPEND HER FREE TIME CROSS STITCHING. FIX THIS YOU ASSHOLES. https://t.co/OglEZVmdix— Jan in the Pan ☕ (@mswhatsit) February 1, 2017
Pres. Trump Holds Meeting Honoring Easter Sunday*
* 'Inspired' by his speech yesterday at a meeting honoring Black History Month.
“I think Jesus is doing an amazing job, an amazing job. I've heard his numbers are very high. Arnold wishes he had numbers like that. A total disaster, am I right? A big, big movie star but he couldn't fill my shoes. My ratings were amazing, really, really amazing, and now Mark misses me. I've heard from hundreds of people about what a disaster Arnold is. I have good friends in the TV business who say that. But CNN won't say that because they're fake news, and so is the failing New York Times. A total embarrassment.
”But Jesus is very important to me, OK? Always has been. The money changers, I wouldn't have done that. I'm not saying I'm better than Jesus, I just support small business. Also, the hippie hair. Wasn't he Jewish? Where's Jared? My son-in-law. Where is he? Over there? He doesn't work Fridays and Saturdays, but like most Jews he's smart, and Jesus was smart, and that's why I'd hire him, because I really, really love these people. And they love me. But the Holocaust thing, the way that was covered, that was just awful to me. I'm the least anti-Semitic person out there. Believe me.“
”This is the day we celebrate the day Jesus rose from the dead. Remember how I rose from the dead? All the pundits, on all the shows, they were saying that Texas might turn blue. Oh, Texas! It's going to be a landslide against Trump. Never happened. Never. Happened. Instead I won by more electoral votes than anyone in history.
“This is a great, great group. This is a group that's been so special to me. Jared, George, my daughter Ivanka, who converted. Either way, a beautiful girl, a beautiful girl. That's another area where I disagree with Jesus. If they're just offering it up, what are you supposed to do? I know it's not politically correct to say it but I've never been politically correct.
”Anyway, this is a very, very special day, the resurrection of the Christ, and no one is a bigger fan than me. Biggest. Fan. Just ask anyone."
Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
A British girl, born to a Danish and Irish couple, and raised by an African-American man, teams up with a cute Mexican dude, two Chinese guys, and a Brit-Pakistani, not to mention a straightforwardly rude American droid, to steal the Death Star plans that wind up in R2-D2 in “Stars Wars IV: A New Hope.” You’d think with this kind of casting, which is so international it makes the U.N. seem monochromatic, that the movie would’ve done better abroad. It did fine: $500 mil and counting. But “Star Wars” movies tend to make 52%-56% of their gross overseas, while “Rogue One,” despite the cast, has managed just 49 percent.
If this doesn’t change, what does that say about all of the carefully constructed international casts Hollywood keeps putting together?
It's almost enough to make you want to go back to just white dudes.
Y Tu Rebellion Tambien
The one intriguing aspect of “Rogue One” for me is that instead of thinking, “OK, how are they going to get out of this one?”—as we normally do—here, if you know the backstory, if you know this is essentially “Star Wars 3.5,” you’re thinking: “OK, how are they going to die?”
None of these rebels are going to make it into other stories. We know that. Wasn’t there even a line in “Star Wars” about the rebels who sacrificed for the Death Star plans? So that’s what we anticipate: sacrifice rather than triumph. Which I found mildly interesting. For a few minutes.
But director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”), and screenwriters Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (Bourne movies), still blow it. For the sacrifice of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to have meaning, you have to care about them, and I didn’t. Not the way I cared about Obi-wan Kenobi in 1977. Not the way I cared about Rey and Finn last year. I’m not sure why this is. Because I like Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones leaves me cold? Because Rey’s background is mysterious and Jyn’s is not? Because Jyn seems petulant throughout and Rey is determined? All of the above?
As for Cassian, well, it’s nice that Luna finally gets his blockbuster close-up nearly 15 years after “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” but ... a rebel leader? I didn’t buy it. He’s too pretty, too slight. His backstory is opaque—he lets Jyn know that he lost family, too, so she’ll stop thinking the galaxy revolves around her—but it’s not intriguing. His great dilemma is whether or not to assassinate Jyn’s father. We know which way he’ll go. His morality is our universe’s rather than his.
The filmmakers want to give us a slightly more complex world but within the same whooshy roller-coaster ride, and the combo isn’t great. Just once I’d like to see the heroes get out of a scrape by a mile rather than inches. I’d like them to look at their watches and go, “Oh yeah, we’ve got plenty of time.”
The entire movie is an attempt to explain away a “Star Wars” plot hole: Why did the Empire design a Death Star with such an obvious flaw as this exhaust port? Turns out it’s a feature not a bug. The architect, Jyn’s father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), designed the flaw so the weapon could be destroyed. Except ... if that's the case, couldn’t he have made it more accessible? You need the Force to make it work. You need a young Jedi making a million-to-one shot. Plus it raises more plot holes. Why didn’t Galen talk about the design flaw in the message he leaked out? Or why didn’t he simply leak the Death Star schematics? In some ways, the attempted correction is worse than the plot hole—particularly if, per this video, you didn’t think it was much of a plot hole.
We get to visit three new “Star Wars” planets in the sand/ice/swamp mode:
- The Tibet one
- The rainy one
- Palm Beach
The Tibet one is where they receive the message from Galen. The rainy one is where Galen isn’t assassinated by Cassian (but dies anyway). The Palm Beach one is where the Empire’s records, including the Death Star plans, are stored. The Empire blows it up anyway. Records, schmecords. It blows up Tibet, too. It keeps testing the Death Star on a city-wide scale. Alderaan was never the first. Once again, each new “Star Wars” movie adds incongruity to the original.
The Jedi's anger translator
I like Mads but he bored me here. Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera with his respirator comes off as either C-grade Darth or Frank Booth in the making. I was happy to see a real martial artist (Donnie Yen) playing a Jedi, Chirrit Imwe, and he gets off the best line in the film (“Are you kidding me? I’m blind.”); and I liked the Buddhist mantra he chants, a variation of “Star Wars”’ most famous line (“I am one with the Force, the Force is with me”); but having the gun-toting Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) behind him is a little like having Obama’s anger translator along for the ride.
The parallels to our world used to be vague but now they’re more explicit, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Chirrit is too much Tibetan Buddhist; the rebels on the final assault are too much like U.S. troops before Normandy. The fanboys’ love for Darth Vader is also made more explicit—disturbingly so. In the end, when he takes on all the pasty-faced rebel forces, tossing them around like so many rag dolls, the film revels in it. It thrills at it. It’s saying: “We know this is what you really want. And so do we.”
Two dead actors make appearances: Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher. Both look fake and video-gamey. CG hasn’t been able to recreate the life in the eye yet, so we’re safe for the moment. I think of John Ford’s line about what to shoot on a rainy day in Monument Valley: “The most interesting and exciting thing in the whole world: the human face.” That’s still there, if enough of us are interested; if too many of us haven’t already gone over to the dark side.