erik lundegaard

Friday April 21, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I enjoyed it. The songs were catchy, the characters fun, and if you’re going to spend two hours watching something it helps to have Emma Watson in it. She’s just a pleasure to look at—even if, by the movie’s absurd light, she’s the village outcast. What an odd village! Everyone is obsessed with Belle (Watson) and Gaston (Luke Evans), but love him (the loudmouthed jerk) and hate her (the polite, studious one). It’s like the 2016 election all over again.

I like the feminist aspect of it. Belle is smart, courageous, proactive, isn’t looking to be rescued, and in the end upends the fairy tale trope: her kiss awakens the prince.

But I don’t quite get why the father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), keeps the mother’s death from her as if there was something shameful in it. It’s the plague; just tell her. And why is LeFou (Josh Gad) considered a positive character? He doesn’t help at all. He’s Smithers to Gaston’s Mr. Burns but without the true loyalty of Smithers. He’s willing to smear Maurice and Belle for the love of Gaston, but once Gaston dies it’s off to dance with the movie’s one other gay character. “Progress.”

And does anyone else have questions about fairy-tale versions of crime and punishment?

It began with hypertrychosis
Beauty and the Beast reviewThe movie is based, of course, on the hugely successful 1991 Disney animated movie, which was based on the 18th-century fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which was adapted from the original French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. She, supposedly, was inspired by the real-life story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a 16th-century courtier who suffered from hypertrychosis, or abnormal hair growth of the face and body, but managed to marry and have kids anyway.

So what is the Prince’s crime that he becomes a beast? It changes over time. Sometimes, it’s not even a crime:

  • Villeneuve: He resists the seductions of an evil fairy.
  • Beaumont: He refuses to let a fairy in from the rain.
  • 1946 Jean Cocteau film: His parents didn’t believe in spirits.
  • 1991 Disney film: He refuses a rose from a beggar/enchantress in exchange for shelter.

Here, it’s the rose again. Also excessive taxation of the villagers to fund his lavish, lipsticked lifestyle. That should really be the bigger crime. And is it? Did the beggar/enchantress pick him because of the taxes? After all, why would she need shelter? She’s an enchantress. How hard is it to conjure up an umbrella?

If she picked on him for a reason, if it wasn’t simply happenstance, that leads to another plothole: How does Gaston get away with what he does? It’s more than bugging Belle with the marriage proposals; he actually leaves Maurice in the woods to be eaten by wolves. And when Maurice is saved (by the beggar/enchantress) and tells his tale, Gaston convinces the villagers that the old man, with his tales of “magic castles” and “a beast,” is crazy, and arranges for him to be sent to an insane asylum. Moments later, Belle shows up with proof of the Beast, which would make you think the crowd would turn on Gaston—since he was obviously lying before. Nope. He gets the villagers to turn on her, then leads a charge on the castle to kill the Beast.

Yet no spell for him? Or the villagers, who are so easily swayed toward injustice? Just the prince for the thing with the rose? And why are the prince’s courtiers also punished? According to the film, it’s because they were complicit in the Prince’s assholedom. But ... Chip, the boy? Really? And the little dog, too? They’re at fault? And all the adults totally bought into the bullshit and weren’t just trying to survive in undemocratic times? Hell, the courtiers actually got it worse than the Prince did. I mean, what would you rather be—a magnificent beast or a clock?

Moving, and movement
The story is full of such oddities. If the Beast knows that he has to get a girl to fall in love with him, he’s doing a poor, grumpy job of it at the beginning. And though the living household items seem sweet, and in love with love, they have skin in the game. They have to get these two idiots to fall in love—or die. They should be on their game, and condemning every act of incompetence by Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) or Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). BTW: Since this whole thing originated with the French, couldn’t we have hired someone French to play Lumiere (Ewan McGregor)? Was Jean Dujardin busy or something? Could Romain Duris not sing?

I did like how Belle’s loyalty softens his heart, and Beast’s vulnerability softens hers. I like their mutual love of literature. That said, the most moving moment for me wasn’t in the love story but when the last rose petal fell and the clocks and candelabras disappeared into their form without a trace. Yet even here, even as my heart was cracking a bit, my head was saying: Yeah, but really the spell should’ve already been broken. They already love each other. It shouldn’t be a requirement that she say it aloud.

As for the big dance at the end? With the villagers? Those assholes who follow whatever idiotic scheme Gaston has and would probably vote for Trump if given the chance? Release the hounds.

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Posted at 07:22 AM on Apr 21, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday April 20, 2017

Bye Bye, Bill

Bill O'Reilly fired 

Yeah, you can shut up now.

And just like that, Bill O'Reilly's gone from Fox News. I assumed he would never go. Like asthma or acid reflux.

As Capone with taxes, O'Reilly was undone not by his deeper crimes (lying, bullying, using patriotism to bring out the worst in scoundrel America) but by his awful, loutish behavior around women. It was less than three weeks ago, April 1st of all days, that The New York Times ran their in-depth feature on O'Reilly “thriving” despite the numerous sexual harassments suits against him. They tallied up five, added details, and I seriously thought that would be the end of it. We elected a man president of the United States who's done worse. But then the calls for boycotts of his show. And they stuck. They worked. They actually worked. Alex Wagner has an interesting piece over at The Atlantic about how O'Reilly can blame Trump for all of this. If Trump hadn't arrived in the awful, lying, sexual harassing manner he did, classless and idiotic, stupeflyingly oblivious to how hated he is around the world, most folks would be carrying on as normal. Now they're riled up. Women especially. Thank god. 

There were calls for boycotts, they worked, and advertisers fled in droves. But I still thought he would stick. He was Fox's most popular guy. He was the John Wayne of their sad little studio: tall and craggy-faced and sometimes calm but mostly angry. He seethed with righteous, racist anger. He was less the benevolent Wayne in “Liberty Valance” than the awful Wayne in “The Searchers” or “Red River.” Now what do they got? Hannity? He's the Rory Calhoun of their sad little studio. Tucker Carlson? He's Jeffrey Hunter.  

So both O'Reilly and Ailes were undone the same way. Not really a shocker. You hire a bunch of ruthless, domineering, craggy-faced guys, pair them with hot young things, sprinkle over everything a sense that America's best days were pre-civil rights and pre-feminism, when white men were men and all women were sex objects, well, don't be surprised at what grows in that awful, backward experiment. 

According to Joe Muto in his insider look at Fox News, “An Atheist in the FOX Hole,” O'Reilly always asked, “So who's the villain in the story?” To get the outrage, you needed the target: “A name and preferably a photo that could be splashed onscreen for the host to point to and say, This is the bad guy. This is the guy hurting you.

So who's the villain in the story? The one Bill O'Reilly least expected. 

EXTRA CREDIT:

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Posted at 05:17 PM on Apr 20, 2017 in category Media
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Wednesday April 19, 2017

Desert Dreams: Did Tatooine Begin as a Film Project on the Set of 'Mackenna's Gold'?

There's a great little vignette near the end of Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” that doesn't have anything to do with “High Noon” or the blacklist but does have something to do with the making of an American classic. 

Carl Foreman, screenwriter/producer for “High Noon,” was blacklisted during its production for past communist ties and refusing to name names before HUAC. He wound up in England for a few years, then re-testified before HUAC in 1956 without naming names, and, with stops and stutters, rejuvinated his career. By 1967, he was writing/producing a film, “Mackenna's Gold,” with an early '60s cast to die for (Gregory Peck, Omar Shariff, Telly Savalas), all of whom were on the downhill slide by this point.

Foreman also funded several fellowships at USC film school, and in one he offered four students the opportunity to work on the “Mackenna's” set while producing a short film about how the movie was made. One of the students, Michael Ritchie, nailed it. Another was a problem: 

George Lucas had no interest in mainstream commercial movies—he saw himself either as a documentarian or creator of avant-garde underground films—and he proposed making his short film about the desert where much of Mackenna's Gold was filmed. “Carl had a fit, he got so angry with me,” Lucas would later recall. “And he said 'you can't do one about the desert, you're supposed to do it about the movie'... ”So we kind of butted heads ... I just thought of him as some big Hollywood producer, you know, had tons of money and had connections ... one of the establishment.“

The various layers of irony in that paragraph is so lovely: that Lucas thought the blacklisted Foreman one of ”the establishment“; that Lucas wasn't interested in mainstream commercial movies; and that Lucas got infatuated with the desert and wanted to film it. 

This kid, in the summer of love, who identified with what would become the ”Easy Rider" generation of filmmakers, would, in 10 years, destroy them with a massively mainstream commercial product that spent much of its time on a desert planet. 

You can see Lucas' student film here. You can buy Frankel's book here. I recommend the latter in particular. It's the best thing I've read on the Hollywood blacklist. 

Possible origins of Tatooine

Lucas' Gold.

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Posted at 06:30 PM on Apr 19, 2017 in category Books
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KUOW's Science Coverage Needs Peer Review

On Monday morning, my local NPR station, KUOW, ran a piece in which various scientists talked up the March for Science this Saturday. One is marching, she says, despite politics (“If there was a Democratic president who was doing the same things, I would feel the same way”), one feels marching reinforces partisan politics (i.e., “scientists have their own political agenda”), while a third gets into the squishy areas of liberal thought rather than the hard facts of science (“We are marching to defend an inclusive and diverse culture inside of science”). 

It was a kind of “meh” piece, to be honest. I wondered: Are these three supposed to be representative of the scientific community? Are they outliers? Does the media tend toward the outlier, which feels like a story, even when it's supposed to be doing a representative piece? 

But whatever. I was shaving. I was moving on with my day.

Then KUOW had to add a coda. 

The piece seemingly over, they suddenly introduced Alex Berezow, a Senior Fellow at the American Council of Science and Health, with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. For some reason, Mr. Berezow's thoughts aren't even part of the transcribed portion on KUOW's website. What were his thoughts?

Republicans, he said, may be known for denying climate change and evolution, but what about the left, which denies the benefits of GMO and the safety of nuclear power? “So I don't just buy that this is a one-sided war on science,” he said.

The he told a story of that infamous anti-vaccer, Barack Obama. 

Wait, what? 

Specifically, he talked about the vaccine shortage during the 2009 flu epidemic and the response by the Obama administration's FDA, which didn't use adjuvants to extend the vaccine, because some thought they increased the chance for autism. “The Obama administration's FDA had given in to a couple of very fringe ideas, and as a result we had a vaccine supply shortage,” he said. “So I don't buy this idea that the war on science comes from the right, I don't really buy that it comes from the left; I buy that politicians are politicians, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.”

That was the end of the piece. No follow-up, no fact-checking from KUOW. Although it did add this, cryptically, about the American Council of Science and Health:

On its website, the council says part of their mission is to fight back against activist groups that have targeted GMOs, vaccines, nuclear power and chemicals. 

Wikipedia is more explicit. The ACSH is a pro-industry group, often funded by the Scaifes and Exxons (and nearly the Phillip Morrises) of the world. I don't know why KUOW didn't just tell us this. Because this is my thought: Businesses are businesses, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them. 

As for Berezow's line about “the Obama administration's FDA” caving in to “a couple of very fringe ideas”? That leaves a little something out. This is from a New York Times piece on Senate hearings from Nov. 2009. Dr. Lurie is Nicole Lurie, chief of preparedness and response for the Health and Human Services Department:

Dr. Lurie said the adding of adjuvants had been discussed repeatedly but would have meant pulling doses off the production line. Also, she said, because anti-vaccine activists have expressed a fear of adjuvants, even though they are naturally occurring oils that have been used safely in Europe for a decade, public confidence in the vaccine was “not as robust as we'd like it to be” and officials feared some people would avoid shots.

I spent half a day researching for nothing what KUOW couldn't bother to tell us. Well, at least I learned how to spell “adjuvant.” 

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Posted at 10:07 AM on Apr 19, 2017 in category Media
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Tuesday April 18, 2017

Is There Anything Better than Ichiro Doing Junior's Swing at Junior's Statue?

The Seattle Mariners posted this pic today, which, if you're a Seattle baseball fan, or just a baseball fan in general, or just a human being in general, can't help but make you smile:

Ichiro doing Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing at Ken Griffey Jr.'s statue

My friend Andy and I went to the game last night, in the drizzle, under the roof, and it was bizarre: M's got an early lead, 3-0, on back-to-back homeruns by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the 1st inning, and never looked back. Ariel Miranda pitched 7 strong innings, we got good D, we added three more runs. Final: 6-1, good guys. Marlins and Ichiro never had a chance. It was our fourth win in a row. 

Tonight, we didn't have a chance, nearly get no-hit by Chen Wei-Yin. Actually we did get no-hit by Chen. But he was pulled after 7 innings and 100 pitches, and Mitch Haniger saved us from ignominy with a 1-out double in the 9th. Tomorrow is getaway day. Also Ichiro dual-bobblehead day. Think two Ichiros (M's/Marlins) rather than Ray Milland and Rosey Grier. 

Again: Nice pic. Our fist HOFer and (I hope) our third. 

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Posted at 09:06 PM on Apr 18, 2017 in category Seattle Mariners
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The Far Right is Sending Children to Lie to Us

On the #fakenews, far-right site mrcNewsBusters, there's a brief article condemning the HBO show “VEEP” for a Ronald Reagan/AIDS joke. The title character, Selena Meyers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), has a foundation, to which, on the spur of the TV moment, she adds another cause: AIDS. But the person who's doing the work tells her, “We can't do AIDS.” She reponds, “Who are you, Ronald Reagan?”

Someone on the site named Karen Townsend objected:

This is an old and discredited canard promoted by leftists in Hollywood because they still hate Reagan's very successful presidency. Reagan fought for AIDS funding in his home state of California and then again while he was President of the United States. It is very lazy for Hollywood writers to continue putting in such nonsense in dialogue.

The writing is at the first-grade level but it's the fake history that makes your head hurt. They can't even lie well anymore. Reagan's governorship ended in 1975. The AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. The CDC began tracking the first few cases in 1981, it was called GRID for a while in 1982 (“Gay Related”), and then AIDS later that year (“Acquired”). 

Suggestion for future liars of America: Try to lie within the borders of mathematical possibility.

Although for its rabid base, this suffices:

Think about real history for a moment. We have now as of Easter Evening 2017 sunk so low as a culture that an ostensibly grownass actress of Semitic origin named Dreyfus is allowed to lodge a turgidly “trumped up” charge of savagery against a dead President based on putative bigotry. And it's done for Comedy Value!

Yes, think about real history for a moment.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Apr 18, 2017 in category Politics
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Sunday April 16, 2017

'Fate of the Furious' Slows Down at U.S. Box Office But Sets Record Overseas

Furious 8

Ni kanguo ma?

The fascinating fact about the “Fast & Furious” franchise is how much it represents a kind of doofus All-Americanism (muscle cars + muscle men), and yet how much more popular it is abroad than in America. 

2015's entry, “Furious 7,” which was a rip-roaring pile of shit, is the 38th-biggest movie of all time domestically ($353 million), behind, among others, two “Hunger Games,” two “Spider-Man”s, two “Jurassic”s, and five “Star Wars.” Also “Secret Life of Pets” and “Despicable Me 2.” But worldwide (international + U.S.), it's the 6th highest-grossing film of all-time, at $1.5 billion. 

Indeed, if you look at the top 10 movies worldwide, none has a smaller percentage of its gross in the U.S. (23.3%) than “Furious 7.” To find a smaller percentage, you have to go down to No. 16, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” at 22.2%. That one isn't exactly Einstein, either, which indicates either there are more doofuses abroad (hard to believe after Trump), or the U.S. is the early driver of the franchise, and by the time the rest of the world picks up on it (during its sickly fourth or seventh incarnation), we've kinda moved on.

The eighth installment, “The Fate of the Furious,” looks to exacerbate this trend.

Domestically, it's off from “7,” which opened to $147 million on Easter weekend 2015. “Fate” grossed $100 mil.

But in other countries it's killed, setting both international ($432) and worldwide ($532) opening-weekend box-office records. Think of that. It had to do so well abroad that it made up for the relatively lackluster U.S. performance to top the worldwide charts. How did it do that? By swamping the international record (“Jurassic World”) by $116 million. That allowed it to edge “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” by $3 mil to set the worldwide mark.

What this really means is the rest of the world loves our junk waaaay more than we do. Sad thought for Americans, stuck with Trump, who hoped to find wisdom abroad. 

Elsewhere, “Beauty and the Beast” grossed another $13 mil to take over 12th place all-time domestically at $454 million. Vin's cars may go vroom vroom, but they won't be fast enough to catch Belle. Not in the U.S. anyway.

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Posted at 11:33 AM on Apr 16, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday April 15, 2017

Winston Churchill, Comsymp

Near the end of “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” the much-recommended new non-fiction book by Glenn Frankel, we get a bit of blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman's life in exile in London. Some bad stuff: He suffered writer's block, drank too much, slept around on his wife, felt angry all the time. He did do a few pictures for Columbia under a pseudonym, then became one of the first, if not the first, blacklisted writer to work openly again without having to name names before HUAC. He wrote and produced the lackluster “The Key,” starring William Holden and Sophia Loren, then struck it big by writing and producing “The Guns of Navarone” with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven.   

One of the fans of “Navarone” was Winston Churchill, then 88, who set up a meeting with Foreman at his office to discuss the possibility of Foreman writing the movie adapatation of his memoir, “My Early Life: A Roving Commission.” (It finally became a movie in 1972, seven years after Churchill's death.) “In the interest of full disclosure,” Frankel writes, Foreman admitted to the former prime minister, and the man who had invented the term “The Iron Curtain,” that he had been blacklisted in the '50s for earlier Communist connections. This was Churchill's reply:

“Oh, I know all about you,” Churchill said. “But we don't like political blacklists in England. And speaking for myself, I don't care what a man believed in when he was a boy. My concern is whether or not he can do the job.”

Go fuck yourself, Hedda Hopper, Hedda Hopper. 

Carl Foreman and Winston Churchill

Carl Foreman with infamous fellow traveler Winston Churchill. 

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Posted at 03:48 PM on Apr 15, 2017 in category Books
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Marching Orders: Tax Day 2017

Tax Day March, April 15, 2017

This morning, by the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle.

It was a fraction of the people who were at the Jan. 21 Women's March but I kind of expected that. I didn't expect the speeches at the rally before the march to go on so long—to the point where people in the back, me among them, were chanting “March! March! March!,” and then just took off before waiting for the politicos to finish. The people in charge need to tighten that up.

They should also tighten the message. The focus is Trump. Too many speakers complained about Washington's unequal tax system, and the unconstitional lack of funding for public education as embodied in the McLeary decision. I get all that—but we were there to protest Trump. One speaker talked up how she never refered to Trump by name—since he's a narcissist and gets off on it. No, she called him “No. 45.” She thought she was reducing him in this manner, but, given what it means, I bet he gets off on that, too.

Worst of all? One speaker actually condemned Trump as another “in a long line of racist, sexist, colonialist presidents.” Yeah, no. I wasn't there to protest Taft, or Hoover, or Eistenhower, nor FDR, JFK, LBJ. Nor Obama. Not even W. I was there to protest Trump. Most of us were. Next time, please remember that.

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Posted at 03:17 PM on Apr 15, 2017 in category Politics
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Friday April 14, 2017

Movie Review: American Pastoral (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In May 1997, I gave “American Pastoral” by Philip Roth a mixed review for The Seattle Times and it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Oops? Nah. I still think I got it right. I think the Pulitzer and National Book Award committees do what the Academy does with the Fondas and Pacinos and Scorsese of the world: Here’s your award for the lesser thing because we forgot to give it to you for the greater thing. The greater thing for Roth was “Goodbye, Columbus,” “Portnoy,” and the Zuckerman trilogy, particularly “The Ghost Writer.”

The complaint I had about “Pastoral” is the complaint I would have about subsequent award-winning Roth novels, including “I Married a Communist,” “The Human Stain,” “The Plot Against America.” The subjects were fascinating: mid-century American puritanism/fascism. I just thought Roth’s writing talent had diminished. He replaced dialogue with diatribe. He got boring. Roth of all writers.

American Pastoral the movieBut shouldn’t that bode well for the movie version? The subject is still in place, after all, and the filmmakers—writer John Romano (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) and first-time feature director Ewan McGregor—can replace the diatribe with dialogue. In a way, they have to. It’s a movie.

But they blew it with the casting—particularly McGregor casting himself as Seymour “Swede” Levov. The towering, broad-shouldered, Jewish-American athlete of 1940's Weequahic High in Newark, New Jersey, was suddenly replaced with a tiny Scot. 

Patrimony
The story is pretty much the same. It’s the tension of generations and decades. It’s the story of the political  pendulum and how we keep swinging it, or on it, or getting cut by it.

The leftist corrections of the 1930s led to the McCarthyism of the early ’50s, which led to left-wing radicalism of the late ’60s and early '70s, which led to Reagan—who began to dismantle the leftist corrections of the 1930s. That’s my summation. Here, the ’50s is less Red Scare than idyll. It’s the American Eden from which we find ourselves banished. By both time and inclination, apparently.

In my review for The Times, I wrote:

The Swede seeks the American dream but gives birth to the American nightmare: a stuttering daughter who, in the counterculture ’60s, blows up their small-town postal station as a protest against the Vietnam War. It’s as if Mel Brooks sired Robert Redford, who sires Squeaky Fromme.

Or: It’s the first-generation American giving birth to the All-American giving birth to the anti-American.

In both novel and movie, the father, Lew (Pete Riegert), is loud, opinionated, very Jewish, and interesting; half the time I wanted to follow him around. The son is blond and bland, beautiful and dutiful. The daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning) starts out ultra-sensitive, becomes desensitized through politics, then, after all the trauma and tragedy, returns to the ultra-sensitivity of Jainism. She goes from crying about the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk half a world away, to killing her neighbors, to not wanting to harm microbes. So how did that second step occur? That’s the question the movie skirts. It just happens. She’s young and full of rage and easily indoctrinated into radical Weather Underground-style politics.

But this leads to a problem: We never really care about her, so we don’t really care about her father’s frantic search for her. He’s an innocent searching for innocence in a dirty world, and finding a dirty world. Shocking.

Letting go
Turns out all the women around the Swede are all horrible human beings. His daughter commits acts of terrorism. His beauty-queen wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), retreats into facelifts and blankness and affairs with lesser men. His daughter’s radical colleague, Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry, quite good), connives and taunts and spreads her legs for Swede. Meanwhile, his daughter’s shrink (Molly Parker—always playing someone you want to punch in the face) not only gives horrible advice but hides Merry and directs her to the underground ... where she is repeatedly raped and abused.

The only decent woman in the entire movie is Swede’s assistant at the Newark glove-making plant, Vicky (Uzo Aduba, “Crazy Eyes” from “Orange is the New Black”), who sticks by him through it all. But even she has that odd moment when they’re handing out coffee and nosh to National Guardsmen during the Newark riots and she lectures the teeniest soldier on his responsibilities. She replaces dialogue with diatribe.

The Swede’s story is bookended by the 45th class reunion of Weequahic High—where Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn), learns what happened to the idol of his youth—and the Swede’s funeral a day later. As Zuckerman is giving his thoughts via voiceover, a taxi pulls up, a blonde-haired woman gets out, and, as the camera follows her from behind, she slowly makes her way to the casket. Everyone stares. Is it or isn’t it?

Doesn’t matter. It doesn't resonate either way. If it's Merry, what does that mean? That she forgives her father? For what? That she forgives herself? Why? That she’s come to dance on his grave? One final act of self-renunciation? Who is she? In the end, a pawn in the game. Less the radical left’s than Roth’s.

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Posted at 05:45 AM on Apr 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Thursday April 13, 2017

Statue, Jr.

This was unveiled in front of Safeco Field today. Not as beautiful as Junior's real swing, of course, but that's tough to top. Actually, the more I look at this, the more I like it. It's got that cocksureness that Junior had post-swing. Kinda like: “Yep.” I'll see it in person on Monday night with Andy—if not sooner. 

Ken Griffey Jr. statue

The sculptor is Lou Cella, who's done quite a few bronze statues for various teams in the Midwest, including Ron Santo for the Cubs, and Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko for the ChiSox.

“It was nice,” Griffey said after the unveiling. “It looked like me.”

How many of Junior's homeruns did I see in person? Close to 50. Kiss it goodbye.

Extras: 

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Posted at 04:42 PM on Apr 13, 2017 in category Seattle Mariners
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The Brothers K

Joe Posnanaski has a nice piece on the early hot hand of the Rockies' Mark Reynolds without ignore Reynolds' more infamous letter: K. He writes about Reynolds in 2008 breaking Bobby Bonds' long-standing single-season strikeout mark of 189—long-standing because (and Poz fails to mention this) players who approached it generally sat out a few games at the end of the season so they didn't break it. Reynolds had more courage, struck out 204 times, then like a Bizarro Babe Ruth shattered his own mark the next season with 223. That's still the record—although Adam Dunn, Chris Davis and Chris Carter keep trying. Interestingly, Bonds' mark, so long unbreakable, isn't even in the top 20 anymore. It's a whole new ballgame. Whuff!

Reggie Jackson, career strikeout leaderAt one point in the piece, Poz tries to get you to statistically comprehend just how much of a strikeout artist Reynolds is, and he does this by comparing him to one of the greatest hitters of all time:

[Reynolds] has hit 255 career home runs, which is great. He has struck out a mind-boggling 1,638 times in about 5,300 plate appearances, roughly one time in three. Reynolds has struck out 250 more times than Henry Aaron — in 8,500 fewer plate appearances.

I might've done this, too, but I would've used Reggie Jackson—the man who holds the career strikeout mark with 2,597. How do they compare?

There's actually some odd similarities between Jackson and Reynolds. Both led the league in strikeouts their first four full seasons in the majors—and then never again for Reynolds (so far) and only once more for Jackson (1982). Jackson was obviously the better player—leading the league in RBIs once, runs scored twice, OPS twice, slugging three times and HRs four times. Reynolds has led the league in nothing but Ks. 

As for the Ks? Reynolds currently has 1,638 Ks in 5,285 plate appearances. When Jackson was at 5,285 plate appearances—about July 5, 1976 by my rudimentary calculations—he had 1,174 Ks, or 71% of Reynolds' total. Which would mean if Reynolds has the kind of career longevity Jackson had, and if he continues to strike out at the same pace he's at now, he'll set the mark with more than 3,600 career strikeouts. Yowsah!

Don't hold your breath. Like so many before him, Reynolds seems to be finding new life in Colorado: hitting for a higher batting average (.280 last year), striking out less often (112 whiffs). So if he stays at Coors, he might not strike out enough. If he leaves Coors, and has the kind of seasons he had in, say, Milwaukee in 2014 (.196 BA, .696 OPS), he probably won't stay in the bigs long enough. Old saying: You've got to be really, really good to strike out as much as Jackson did.

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Posted at 06:21 AM on Apr 13, 2017 in category Baseball
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Wednesday April 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

From The Washington Post

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page's communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump's favor.

Stay tuned. 

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Posted at 01:55 PM on Apr 12, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Wintrich of Our Discontent

Lucian Wintrich is a name worthy of Dickens—or maybe George Lucas. He's one of the least-qualified journalists to ever attend White House briefings. Which fits with this White House since it's least-qualified in everything else.

Last month, The New Yorker's Andrew Marantz wrote about him, and the outfit he does whatever he does for, Gateway Pundit, a site for right-wing idiots who find Breitbart too staid. They're a fake news org that propeled the “Hillary is near death” narrative last fall. If you care at all about journalism, and truth, and facts, if you still hope we live in something vaguely resembling a meritocracy, it's an infuriating read:

Wintrich, who is twenty-eight and has no professional training in journalism, was on his way to Washington to join the White House press corps. “I can only imagine what they're going to make of me,” he said, smiling impishly and rolling his eyes. A few weeks earlier, at a pre-Inauguration party called the DeploraBall, I had spent a portion of the evening chatting with Wintrich, one of several far-right social-media stars in attendance. At one point, he excused himself to make an announcement from the stage: “We've had eight miserable years of people in the White House press corps—CNN, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post—writing articles” about President Obama, such as “'The Best 80 Times That I Wanted to Jerk Off to Our President.'” This bias would soon be rectified. “We've been in contact with people in the new Administration, and . . . I'm going to be . . . the youngest, gayest correspondent in the White House in history!” A cheer went up from the crowd as the announcement was made, followed by a chant: “Real news! Real news!”

Gateway Pundit's creator is a dude called Jim Hoft, and near the end of the piece, after a briefing in which a different right-wing blogger didn't ask about the potential resignation of Michael Flynn, the big news story that day, Hoft is having a lemonade at a politico bar called Off the Record. Marantz writes:

That night, Flynn resigned, resulting in a blizzard of banner headlines. Neither Hoft nor Wintrich noticed right away—Hoft was on a flight back to St. Louis, and Wintrich was engaged in a social-media battle with a progressive blogger. Before Hoft left for the airport, I told him that he should expect to hear from a member of The New Yorker's fact-checking staff. “Oh yeah, just like at the Gateway Pundit,” Hoft said. “We've got a huge department of full-time fact-checkers.” He laughed so hard that he nearly spilled his lemonade.

The piece is called “Trolls of Trump,” which may be all that Trump has left these days. Since the piece was published, Wintrich has claimed he was assaulted by White House correspondent Jon Decker of Fox News. If so, it's the best thing Fox News has ever done.

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Posted at 12:00 PM on Apr 12, 2017 in category Politics
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Mariners 40th-Anniversary Season Tickets Honor Darnell Coles, Spike Owen, Not Alex Rodriguez

A week ago I got together with our Mariners season ticket group to divvy up the 2017 tickets: two seats in section 327, row 9. There was one game everyone wanted: Saturday, Aug. 12, the night the Mariners do what they should've done 10 years ago—retire Edgar Martinez's #11. That went with the No. 1 pick. I got the eighth pick (out of eight guys) but I still got good games spread out over the season. When I picked last night's game, I made a joke about the second game of the season being when true fans showed up, and our host, without missing a beat, said, “Say hello to the other guy for me.” Laughter all around. Good group.

This being the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Mariners futility, each season ticket is decorated, not with one of six current decent players repeated ad nauseum throughout the season as we usually get, but one-shots of current and historic players. So Ken Griffey Jr. appears once (on Ken Griffey Jr. replica statue night this Friday) and Edgar appears once (on Aug. 12) and Robinson Cano once (last night), and so on. I got 10 tickets total and wound up with a pretty solid 3/4 of an infield:

  • Robinson Cano - 2B
  • Omar Vizquel - SS
  • Adrian Beltre - 3B

I also got Jeff Nelson, Mike Jackson, James Paxton, Dave Henderson, Kenji Johjima, Darnell Coles, Danny Meyer. 

Who wasn't on any of the tickets? One of the greatest players of all time: Alex Rodriguez. 

The next day, I searched to see if any of the Mariners blogs or The Seattle Times or somebody had commented upon this snub but I couldn't find anything. Nobody cared. Last night, I found one guy who did: Jon Wells, publisher of The Grand Salami, the Mariners fan magazine sold outside the stadium. In this month's issue, he's got a short column on the topic, titled “Was Spike Owen a Better Player than Alex Rodriguez?” Here's its sweet spot:

I get it. His departure was messy. Most Mariners fans hate him. He was suspended for steroids. But really? Celebrating lousy players like Mickey Brantley and Spike Owen but ignoring A-Rod? It makes the franchise look rather petty. 

I'd be curious to hear a rationale from a Mariners official.

On the first pitch of the game last night—my first game of the season, and that game for true fans—Houston's George Springer homered to left off the M's Ariel Miranda. Not a good omen for the year. But Miranda pulled himself together. The M's were actually leading 3-2 in the 6th, when, with two outs and nobody on, he seemed to tire. He walked one guy, then another. He was pulled for reliever James Pazos, who gave up a high infield chopper. Based juiced. Houston went with pinch-hitter Evan Gattis, who looped a fading fly ball to right, Mitch Haniger slid to catch it, and ... the ball bounced off his glove. Three runs scored. The Astros added another that same inning. M's lost 7-5, to go to 2-7, the second-worst record in baseball. Announced attendance: 18,527. Hello, other guy.

A-Rod's 1994 Upper Deck trading card

A-Rod in '94: the cleanest of slates. 

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Posted at 07:41 AM on Apr 12, 2017 in category Seattle Mariners
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Tuesday April 11, 2017

WWADD? Ask a Republican

“Does it get anyone a job? Does it save money? Does it do anything conservatism is supposed to be about? No. It's just about some warped idea that the way to show strength is by being a dick.”

Maher is taking no prisoners on this one. 

Other favorite bits:

  • “Is [hunting] really a sport? Is it a sport if one team doesn't know the game is going on?”
  • “Finally, what possible reason, other than spite, could they have for killing the agreement that Obama made with the car companies to get all cars up to an average of 55 miles a gallon in eight years. This was a done deal. ... It makes the air cleaner. It makes us more energy independent. It saves people money that they can spend on other things. It was a win-win-win-win. That's called a no-brainer—which would lead you to think even Republicans could get it right. All they had to do was nothing. Their specialty.”
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Posted at 05:22 AM on Apr 11, 2017 in category Politics
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Monday April 10, 2017

Movie Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

History may be written by the winners but art is usually written by the losers: the guys who don’t score touchdowns, don’t hit homeruns, don’t get the girls. The guys who do these things? They usually terrorize the guys who don’t throughout junior high and high school, then wind up the one-note villains in their stories. Art is the ultimate revenge of the nerds.

With “Everybody Wants Some!!,” writer-director Richard Linklater offers a slight corrective.

The movie has been labeled a kind of spiritual sequel to Linklater’s classic “Dazed and Confused” (1993), which was about kids on the last day of school searching for a place amid mid-1970s anarchy and Texas testosterone. It’s got jocks, nerds, and everyone in between. This one is mostly just the jocks: a Texas university baseball team during the four days before the start of school in 1980. Remember Mitch, Linklater’s surrogate, the long-haired scrawny pitcher? Well, he’s back, more or less, in the form of Jake (Blake Jenner), our eyes and ears throughout “Everybody Wants Some!!”

Good news: He looks way more like a jock than Mitch ever did. Bad news: He’s boring.

We don’t mean to brag, we don’t mean to boast
Everybody Wants Some!! reviewThe movie opens with Jake driving his muscle car, albums in the backseat, “My Sharona” blaring from the tape deck, to the off-campus housing where the baseball team lives. These guys spend their afternoons in perpetual competition with each other—playing Nerf basketball and ping pong, flicking each other’s knuckles—and their nights in search of booze and girls. Each night it’s a new place: first a disco, then a country bar, then a punk rock show, finally a theater gathering. For all their faults, they’re equal opportunity party animals.

And it’s not just Mitch/Jake. We get echoes of other “Dazed” characters:

  • Mitch’s mentor, Randy “Pink” Floyd, is split into two characters: McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the top jock, who can cut a lobbed baseball in two with an axe, and Finnegan (Glen Powell), the witty, cynical soul of the team, who, if he doesn’t exactly take Jake under his wing, at least recognizes in him someone who gets the joke.
  • Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the California stoner, hooks up with Slater (Rory Cochran), the Texas stoner. And just as the latter delivered a famous monologue about how Martha Washington was “a hip, hip lady” and the weird shit going on with a dollar bill, so Willoughby talks up how humans used to be telepathic and attempts to reclaim that skill with his stoned teammates. (Doesn’t work.)
  • Jay (Juston Street), the weird, full of himself Detroiter, is a bit like Ben Affleck’s O’Bannion. Except here he’s eventually welcomed into the fold.

That’s one of the things I liked about the movie: the camaraderie of it all. These guys are ultra-competitive assholes but there’s a bond there. You’re on the team, you’re on the team.

Jay starts a bar fight, the others back him up, even though they can’t stand him. (There’s a nice touch when McReynolds moves to join the brawl and one of his teammates yells, “No, you fucking stay!” You protect your stars.) During batting practice, Jay is acting an asshole and tossing laser beams—until Reynolds takes him deep. Afterwards, Jay attempts to apologize (“Uh... nice hit”), and McReynolds tells Jay, “We’re cool.” And they are. After practice, Jay is with them at the creek, one of the team.

Some of the funniest lines comes from freshman catcher Plummer (Temple Baker), sleepy-eyed and slope-shouldered. At one point, he and three other guys are walking around campus, and he’s wondering who these guys are with their backpacks:

I know what we’re doing here. We’re playing baseball. ... All of these people. Never being more than some dude doing some job. Just like everybody else.

For some reason, that line has a “Diner” feel to me. It’s Kevin Bacon’s Fenwick saying, “You ever get the feeling that there’s something going on we don’t know about?”—but it’s the single-celled version of that. Fenwick knows he doesn’t know, and would like to know. Plummer knows he doesn’t know ... and can’t fathom. He’s repulsed. Repulsed, I should add, by the life he’ll eventually lead: some dude doing some job.

I also like this from the first day of class:

Plummer: Who’s this fuck?
Jake: I think that’s our professor.
Plummer: This guy?
Jake: Yeah.
Plummer: No shit.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these lines become as oft-quoted as those in “Dazed and Confused.”

But we like hot butter on our breakfast toast
What grinds the movie to a halt, sadly, is the romance between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), the theater major. They have a few OK conversations, and I like her line about theater being “Having the guts to look fucking stupid”; but overall I found both of them pretentious in a way the dumb jocks weren’t. Don’t know if that was Linklater’s goal or if it just turned out that way.

Linklater, being Linklater, gets the details right—from “My Sharona” to “Rapper’s Delight” to Space Invaders to pinball machines. He makes stupid jock language fun: “Play like you got some fucking semen in your sack, brum. 

The movie even ends similarly to “Dazed.” There, Mitch puts on the headphones (against the drone of his parents) and drifts off after an all-night party. Here, Jake puts his head on his desk (against the drone of the professor) and drifts off after a four-night bender. It just doesn’t resonate as much. We care about Mitch, and Mike, and Slater, and Randy. They have vulnerabilities. These guys? They’re cocks of the walk. And a cock is only interesting for so long.

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Posted at 06:37 AM on Apr 10, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday April 09, 2017

First Farce, Then Tragedy

A few weeks back, I wrote a piece for Salon satirically slamming conservatives in Hollywood who claimed they had to keep their opinions to themselves these days, that there was a new McCarthyism from the left and a kind of blacklist to keep conservatives from working. “If you are even lukewarm to Republicans,” one unnamed conservative actor said, “you are excommunicated from the church of tolerance.”

Glenn Frankel: High Noon

My point: there's nothing happening today like the confluence of forces (FBI, HUAC, Red Channels, et al.) that made up McCarthyism. Sure, it's a bummer that if you shoot your mouth off about how great Trump is, people might not like you—but that's true if you talk up Obama in parts of Georgia, Mississippi, California, et al. More, the government won't subpoena you to answer charges before a committee in which your choices boil down to: 1) inform on your right-wing friends; 2) never work again.

What I didn't know when I wrote the piece? But I know now since I'm reading Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic”? “The blacklist of the left” was actually an argument utilized by the right before they instituted their version in '47. What they imagined happening to them by their enemies, they created against their enemies. It's politics as projection again.

This is from the original HUAC hearings in September 1947:

[“Friendly” witness] Adolphe Menjou called Hollywood “one of the main centers of Communist activity in America.” ... “Communists in the film industry,” Menjou added, “are so powerful that many little people in the industry—innocent people—are afraid to move or speak out against them.”

Sound familiar? Frankel, an author based in Arlington, Va., then sums up the early hearings: 

Over five days [the “friendly” witnesses] painted a portrait of a Hollywood under siege by Communists and their allies. All of them agreed that the Reds had sought to create labor strife in order to seize control of the unions, tried to infect movies with their twisted ideology, and created a reverse blacklist in which Reds and their supporters got jobs while non-Communists were excluded.

I thought today's conservatives were playing the victim because there's a kind of power in it. But they've actually played this exact same victim before; right before they became the worst victimizers in Hollywood history.

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Posted at 08:51 AM on Apr 09, 2017 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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Saturday April 08, 2017

Tweet of the Day

It's not from today or even this week, but it has historic resonance this week:

Here's the oddity: Since Donald Trump has been president—since Trump has been a candidate—I don't think there anything he's said or done that I've agreed with. Nothing. Not one thing. I've found him, in word, deed and manner, to be one of the most reprehensible men I've seen. Everything about him stinks. But the missile strikes on the Syrian airbase? I'm like 40/60 on it. Don't know how you deal with the Assads of the world. All I know is I'm not immediately and completely disgusted by the bullshit douchebaggery of it all, as with every other thing Donald Trump has ever done.

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Posted at 08:53 AM on Apr 08, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday April 07, 2017

Movie Review: Silence (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is long, beautifully photographed, often silent, and mostly pointless.

Two 17th-century Jesuits from Portugal, Rodrigues and Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), hear about the torture and killing of their fellow priests in Shogun-era Japan—which is resisting the conversion of its people by any means necessary—as well as the supposed apostasy of their mentor, Father Ferriera (Liam Neeson), who, it is rumored, has not only renounced Christ but taken a Japanese wife, and ... they don’t buy it. They demand to travel to Japan to see and possibly rescue their mentor.

Everyone in the audience: “Bad idea.”

The rest of the movie, 2 hours and 40 minutes worth, is about what a bad idea it is. 

Fire and water
SilenceWe’ve already seen some of the torture—the modern-day crucifixions at the hot springs, in which scalding water, drip by drip, is poured onto the priests—but our guys haven’t, and they’re somewhat naïve. They’ll soon lose that. Along with everything else.

They’re guided to the coast of Japan by Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a begrimed, half-mad Japanese they meet in Hong Kong, who lost his wife and family years earlier. In flashback, and in a test we see repeated throughout the movie, officials demand that they prove they’re not Christians by stepping on an image of Christ. Kichijiro does, the rest of his family doesn’t; so he goes free and they’re wrapped in hay and burned alive on the beach. For all that tragedy, Kichijiro winds up almost a comical figure in the movie: ready to traduce the priests and renounce Christ one moment, then unable to live with himself and scurrying back for absolution.

In Japan, the Jesuits are greeted gratefully and reverently by the villagers, who, it turns out, are often better Christians than they are: feeding, sheltering, sacrificing. But word gets out, and officials, led by the grunting Mokichi (Shin’ya Tsukamoto) and the initially silent, increasingly creepy Inoue (Issei Ogata), descend. Rodrigues has already counseled the village elders to step on the image of Christ to save themselves, and they do. But it’s all so easy. So Inoue changes the rules: They must spit on the image and curse the Virgin Mary as a whore. This they cannot do—except for Kichijiro, of course. The other three are tied to crosses and left to die of exposure and/or drowning with the coming tide That’s basically most of the movie: die by fire or water. Pick your poison.

After the two priests split up, we follow Rodrigues, who is betrayed by Kichijiro, captured, and broken down over months and years. Rather than kill him, and thus martyr him, the officials kill helpless Japanese because he’s not submitting to their will. At one point, from a distance, Rodrigues sees Garupe on the beach sacrifice himself for his flock, who are wrapped in hay, rowed into the ocean, and tossed overboard to drown. Garupe swims to save them but is drowned himself. Rodrigues cries to the heavens at the injustice.

That’s one of the oddities for me. Given the alternatives, Garupe’s death isn’t bad: It’s for a cause and doesn’t involve bodily torture. Yet there’s Rodrigues, crying to the heavens. This happens often. Rodrigues’ emotional reactions don’t quite mesh. At one point he seems to go mad—briefly—and I’m not sure why. Were scenes cut?

Eventually, Rodrigues comes face to face with Father Ferriera and learns that all the rumors are true: a wife taken, Christ renounced. Then Ferriera tries to convince Rodrigues to follow the same path of apostasy. We get more torture of others. Meanwhile, despite Rodrigues’ fervent prayers, God is silent.

But God, or at least Scorsese, gets in the last quiet word.

Silence vs. Waiting
At the very end, after Rodrigues’ conversion, and after he and Ferriera become, in essence, border agents for the officials—ensuring that no Christian icons, not to mention Christians, make it into the country—and after Ferriera’s death, and while Rodrigues himself is dying, once again we hear Rodrigues’ complaint about God’s silence. But then we hear another voice telling Rodrigues what he can’t hear: That He was never silent; that He was always next to him; that He suffered along with him. It’s the voice of God.

That’s an answer to the dilemma, I suppose: God hears, we can’t. It’s not a bad answer for someone like Scorsese, who once considered becoming a priest, and who has grappled with religious issues in both life and on film (“The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Kundun”). It may even be true. But it’s not particularly satisfying to a secularist like me.

A more satisfying rationale comes from someone I know, Craig Wright, a playwright, Hollywood screenwriter, and minister, who, 20 years ago, wrote a song called “Heaven,” in which the singer asks the same question Rodrigues does. Except the metaphor is different: not silence but waiting:

All we would like to know
Is why you kept all of us waiting
When you knew
That you would never be coming at all

The answer, an alley-oop, doesn’t come via an 11th-hour deus ex machina, as Scorsese’s does, but through the singer’s own thought processes: 

Or is this waiting
What you meant
When you said
Heaven

That thought turns the bad into the blissful. “Silence” doesn’t do that for me. The final shot of Rodrigues, dead and stuffed into a barrel-sized Japanese coffin, but still, unseen, clutching the homemade crucifix in his hand, is that ... redemption? It indicates the Japanese didn’t break his spirit. Just everything else.

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Posted at 05:51 AM on Apr 07, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Thursday April 06, 2017

Miracle Marlon

Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic” includes a great story about Marlon Brando during his prep for “The Men,” which is about a WWII soldier who is paralyzed from the waist down. It's not only Brando's first film role but the first movie to unite the team that would make “High Noon” two years later: producer Stanley Kramer, writer Carl Foreman, and director Fred Zinneman:

A devout believer in Method acting, Brando immediately immersed himself in patient life at the Birmingham hospital. He confined himself to a wheelchair and drove a car specially fitted with hand controls like the vets themselves used. Brando spent four weeks living in a ward with thirty-one wary, frustrated, and often angry men. He dealt with them without a teaspoon of pity or condescension. Soon he became their leader. In the most famous tale, Brando went drinking one night with his new friends from the ward, and when a woman at a bar started praying aloud for their recovery, Brando listened for a spell, then rose up haltingly. “I can walk! I can walk!” he cried. Then he broke into a soft shoe and danced his way to the sidewalk, his paraplegic buddies trailing after him in full mirth.

Another good Brando story can be found in our recent feature on entertainment attorney Bonnie Eskenazi

Marlon Brando in "The Men"

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Posted at 07:41 AM on Apr 06, 2017 in category Books
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Wednesday April 05, 2017

'Tension Between Immigrants and...?'

Can no one on NPR talk straight? Just say what is

Shaving this morning, I listened to a segment on “The Takeaway,” out of NYC, about designing the public library of the future, and how they're community centers and what have you; and at one point host John Hockenberry began to ask this question:

There's been so much talk about the tension between immigrants and...

He paused, and I'm thinking: Pres. Trump? The Trump administration? The GOP? America Firsters? Reactionary SOBs? What's he going to say? I'm trying to help him along in my head. And he finally gets it out:

... and ... uh ... the, uh, authorities, the people who want to deport them...

The message of the piece is ultimately pro-immigrant, but c'mon, people. Call a Trump a Trump.

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Posted at 09:09 AM on Apr 05, 2017 in category Media
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Movie Review: Frantz (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

At first I thought he’d killed her fiancé (and their son) during the Great War, and that’s why this almond-eyed, sensitive Frenchman was visiting the grave of Frantz Hoffmeister in Quedlinburg, Germany in the spring of 1919. But after he told them the story about meeting Frantz in Paris before the war—seeing the Louvre together, and Manet’s painting of the man “with his head back”—and you realize the grief he’s feeling and the secret he still seems to be keeping, I wondered “Maybe they were lovers?”

Turns out it’s Door #1.

Fainting, fleeing
I liked “Frantz” a lot but didn’t quite love it. The French academy seems to feel the same way. It was nominated for 11 Césars and won one: cinematography.

FrantzIt’s based on the 1932 Hollywood movie “Broken Lullabye,” directed by Ernst Lubitsch, which was based on the 1925 play by Maurice Rostand, L'homme que j'ai tué, or The Man I Killed. Both earlier versions focus on the French soldier seeking absolution, Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney, “Yves Saint Laurent”), but “Frantz,” written and directed by François Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Femme”), and filmed in black and white, makes the smarter decision, I believe, to focus on the girl, Anna (Paula Beer), the fiancée to the dead soldier. It adds mystery. It makes us wonder what the Frenchman is up to.

I was pulled into the post-Great War world right away. Anna buys flowers, looks at the new dresses in the shop window but walks away, down the street, past the two former soldiers who comment on how pretty she is, and into the cemetery ... where she finds flowers already on the grave of her fiancé. She asks a caretaker about them, and he says they were placed there by a Frenchman. Then he spits in contempt. “Right,” I thought. “That hatred doesn’t go away.”

Anna is still living with Frantz’s parents, Dr. and Frauline Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner and Marie Gruber), and being pursued by Kreutz (Johann von Bulow), who offers little but financial stability. Like much of the world at this point, she’s engaged to the dead.

The mystery of the Frenchman, and his connection to Frantz, wakes her up. She opens up, particularly to him, even as he seems wary of her, forever backing off. We get a beautiful scene where he agrees to play Frantz’s old violin for the family, Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20, and Ozon allows color to creep back into the film. It’s a bold move but it works. When Adrien faints, the world goes to black-and-white again. Eventually he tells Anna the truth: He was the French soldier who killed Frantz; he’d come to Quedlinburg to ask forgiveness. In the wake of this revelation, she turns cold, refuses to forgive him, but maintains the illusion of “Frantz’s friend” for the Hoffmeisters. He returns to France.

The second half is all Ozon—it wasn’t in the play or the original movie—and it doesn’t quite work.

Anna’s despair is so great—the man she was falling in love with killed the man she loved—that she tries to drown herself. A local saves her. Bedridden, she begins to contemplate settling for Kreutz when Mrs. Hoffmeister dismisses the notion. They had hoped, she says quietly, that Anna might wind up with Adrien. Caught in the illusion of “Frantz’s friend,” maybe even beginning to believe it herself, Anna travels to Paris to find him.

Some good moments. Manet’s painting in the Louvre turns out to be “Le Suicide,” and she worries Adrien has taken his own life. Through the hospitals she discovers the suicide-death of Rivoire. At this point I thought the movie would be bookended by Anna’s graveyard visits: first her fiancé, then the man who killed her fiancé. But that Rivoire turns out to be a colonel who lost his legs. She finds her Rivoire living in a country estate, with a prim mother and a fiancée of his own, Fanny (Alice de Lencquesaing, looking like Marion Cotillard’s not-as-pretty younger sister). Anna agrees to stay but, mirroring his fainting spell, she flees an evening piano recital. The next day at the train station, Anna forgives Adrien for Frantz’s death, while Adrien reveals that he’s getting married mostly for his mother, and Fanny, but not himself. They finally kiss, and for a moment he tries to change the course of events but she tells him it’s too late. We last see her back in the Louvre, at the Manet painting, telling another young mustached man that she likes the painting because it makes her want to live.

Shape of things to come
“Frantz” is gorgeously photographed, and has a deliberate pace and seeming simplicity. Another scene I loved is when Dr. Hoffmeister confronts Kreutz’s pro-German meeting group, who condemn his friendship with the Frenchman, saying: We celebrated when we slaughtered them and they celebrated when they slaughtered us. We cheered the death of children.

Stotzner is magnificent as the doctor—his bedrock gravitas, his searching eyes—and Beer is quite lovely as Anna: her neck; the way she moves. But the ending doesn’t resonate. More, what drives the plot, Adrien’s need for forgiveness from the family of the man he killed, is, to me, so monstrously selfish that I lost interest in the character. When it turns out he’s living on a country estate, my contempt doubled.

It’s worth seeing, though. I'd like to see more movies like it. Hovering in the background throughout is not only Frantz (as palpable a presence as Rebecca in “Rebecca”) but the war to come. Even if “Le Suicide” makes Anna want to live, we know she will live long enough to see more death than she can imagine. 

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Posted at 05:52 AM on Apr 05, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Tuesday April 04, 2017

Lancelot Links

  • The L.A. Times editorial board slams Trump in a must-read editorial, “Our Dishonest President.” I agree with it all. First in a series. No joke. They dive deep.
  • This may be the best freelancer “hire me” site I've ever seen. It's for a copywriter. If you go there and think, “Yeah, so?,” just, you know, do as Eliza said: Look around, look around. 
  • Nathaniel at Film Experience, still list-crazy from 2016 and the Oscars, gives us the best movies so far in 2017. Big winners: Frantz, Get Out, Personal Shopper, Logan. So foreign art-house and smart Hollywood genre. 
  • Breakfast at Tiffany'sBill O'Reilly, poor bastard, keeps getting sued for sexual harassment. And Fox News keeps settling the matters for big bucks just to keep things on the down low. There's certainly nothing to the claims—or so he says. And that's certainly not part of the culture at Fox News. Heavens, no. 
  • A portrait of the artist as an old man: Robert McGinnis, 91, who drew the movie posters for “Breakfast at Tiffany's,” “Barbarella,” “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” and all the early James Bonds.
  • Hell might not be freezing over but it's definitely getting a cool breeze: The New York Yankees not only don't have the highest payroll in baseball, they're third—behind both the Dodgers and (barely) the Tigers.
  • Adrian Cárdenas, no relation to Leo that I know of, who got a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2012 before quitting baseball for good, on the mental stress of the game, and the toll it takes on players. 
  • How unfair is baseball? SF Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner pitch 7 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day, gave up 3 earned runs, no walks, struck out 11, and, at the plate, became the first pitcher in baseball history to hit 2 Opening Day homeruns ... and he got a no decision. Diamondbacks' reliever Fernando Rodney, late of the Mariners, pitched the top of the 9th after the D-Backs had tied the game 4-4, and gave up: triple, sac fly, single, wild pitch, walk, wild pitch, walk, fly out, ground out. But since the D-backs came back in the bottom of the 9th, he gets the victory. Nothing you can do for MadBum, but that “W” should go somewhere else. 
  • From my friend Linda, via 538.com, 10 burning questions about MLB. No, none of them are about Rodney getting that “W.”
  • But this is: My man Joe Posnanski is going to track pitcher wins this year, and see how many seem legit, and how many are of the Fernando Rodney “are you effin' kiddin' me?” variety. 
  • Madison Bumgarner, by the way, is already the active leader in homeruns by a pitcher: He has 16. The all-time record is 37 by Wes Ferrell. Reminder: MadBum is only 27.
  • Joey Poz writes about MadBum's power, too. Because he writes about everything.  
  • The Times gives us quick shots on 14 new baseball books that just got published. Last week, I read Jason Turbow's “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic” about the 1970s three-time champion Oakland A's, the “Moustache Gang,” and recommend it. A lot of fun. 
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Posted at 03:37 PM on Apr 04, 2017 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday April 03, 2017

NPR Reduces Nunes' Actions to 'Partisan Bickering'

NPR's reporting pissed me off again this morning. I've come to expect it now. I expect them to display rotten journalistic instincts; to lean way too far to accommodate the right.

This morning the discussion between host David Greene and national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly was supposed to be clarify (“take a deep breath here” Greene said at the outset) the congressional investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump administration. But Greene and Kelly shot themselves in the foot immediately:

GREENE: Let's start with this House investigation. They had the director of the FBI come testify. It seemed like they were making a whole lot of progress, then they just descended into partisan bickering. Is that a...

KELLY: A partisan bar brawl, as I've taken to calling it...

GREENE: Partisan bar brawl. Yeah.

KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.

GREENE: I mean, can that committee actually credibly get back on track?

Partisan bickering. Partisan bar brawl. 

Are you effin' kidding me?

The Republican head of the intelligence committee, Devin Nunes, acts in an unprecedented and unethical manner by working with the Trump adminstration rather than his own committee, by sharing intel with the people he's supposedly investigating, and by holding a press conference at the White House that toes the Trump line ... and this is reduced to “partisan bickering”? Even though members of his own party, including John McCain, are perplexed by, and have condemned him for, his actions? 

Man, am I sick of this. The GOP knows that if they gum up the works, it's generally reported as “partisan squabble,” and readers/listeners wind up with a “plague on both yer houses” attitude. It allows the GOP to be bad actors, as Nunes is here, and get away with it. 

What's worse is the knowing smirk in Greene's and Kelly's voices. Looks like those clowns in Congress did it again. What-a-bunch-of-clowns. It's so lazy. And it never gets at what the story is. 

Yes, eventually Kelly mentioned Nunes, but that aspect of the story was couched in the usual language of false equivalence. Almost everyone agrees that Nunes acted unethically,  and that his counterpart, Adam Schiff (D-CA) acted honorably, but, on NPR, the White House says this is a “witch hunt” and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a moderate Republican, says the whole thing is too “politicized,” so ... that's that.

What a bunch of clowns. 

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Posted at 01:26 PM on Apr 03, 2017 in category Media
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Sunday April 02, 2017

The 500 Homerun Club by Decade

500 homerun club by decade

Foxx, second from left, was only the second man to join the 500-HR Club

It was a relatively sunny day today in Seattle, so I went for a bikeride this morning out to Seward Park, came back, ate lunch, and watched the last four innings of the first baseball game of the 2017 season, in which the Tampa Bay Rays beats the New York Yankees 7-3. 

Meaning, as I write this, the Yankees are in last place in all of Major League Baseball. 

Fun!

So last week I posted about the 3,000 hit club by decade. Today, on the ride, I thought about the 500 homerun club by decade. I remember that when Killbrew did it he was the 10th man to ever do it, and he was more or less on the heels of Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle. So it must not have been that common back then. 

It wasn't. Here you go.  

  • 1920s (1): Babe Ruth, August 11, 1929
  • 1930s (0)
  • 1940s (2): Jimmie Foxx, Sept. 24, 1940; Mel Ott, August 1, 1945
  • 1950s (0)
  • 1960s (5): Ted Williams, June 17, 1960; Willie Mays, Sept. 13, 1965; Mickey Mantle, May 14, 1967; Eddie Matthews, July 14, 1967; Hank Aaron, July 14, 1968 (How about that! Aaron and Matthews, former teammates, reached the mark exactly one year from each other.)
  • 1970s (4): Ernie Banks, May 12, 1970; Harmon Killebrew, August 10, 1971; Frank Robinson, September 13, 1971; Willie McCovey, June 30, 1978
  • 1980s (2): Reggie Jackson, Sept. 17, 1984; Mike Schmidt, April 18, 1987
  • 1990s (2): Eddie Murray, Sept. 6, 1996; Mark McGwire, August 5, 1999
  • 2000s (9): Barry Bonds, April 17, 2001; Sammy Sosa, April 4, 2003; Rafael Palmeiro, May 11, 2003; Ken Griffey Jr., June 20, 2004; Frank Thomas, June 28, 2007; Alex Rodriguez, August 4, 2007; Jim Thome, Sept. 16, 2007; Manny Ramirez, May 31, 2008; Gary Sheffield, April 17, 2009
  • 2010s (2): Albert Pujols, April 22, 2014; David Ortiz, Sept. 12, 2015

A total of 27. We'll have one or two more this decade (Miggy, Beltre). 

How about that six-year period between Sept. 13, 1965 and Sept. 13, 1971, when seven guys joined, after only four the previous entire history of baseball? That's partly Branch Rickey's legacy.  

And how about all those roided guys doing it in the 2000s? That's partly Bud Selig's legacy. 

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Posted at 02:17 PM on Apr 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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Opening Day 2017: Your Active Leaders


  • SLIDESHOW: Another Major League Baseball Opening Day, and another slideshow of our active leaders. Expect turnover. Last year, David Ortiz was the active leader in doubles, for example, while A-Rod was the active leader in ... almost everything else: games, at-bats, hits, runs, homers, RBIs, Ks, BBs and WAR. In case you didn't hear, both guys are no longer playing. So who will replace them on the active leaderboard? It's generally one of three of the above guys. But, yeah, mostly one guy.

  • BATTING AVERAGE: Miggy is one of the three, but no, not him. He is our active leader in batting average, though, with a .320 mark. Then it goes Ichiro (.312), Joey Votto (.312), Joe Altuve (.311). Only 13 active players in the Majors (min.: 3,000 plate appearances) have a career batting average north of .300. 

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Yeah, not him, either. Joey Votto kills in this category. He's at .424 (and climbing) and Mike Trout is at .405 (and ditto), and they're the only actives over .400. Then it's Miggy (.398) and Paul Goldschmidt (.398). Last year, Trout led the Majors with a .441 mark. 

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Yeah, this is the guy taking over for most of the A-Rod slots. Uncle Albert's been the active leader in this particular category since 2005, when it was a soaring .621. Since then, gravity has taken hold, but his current .573 is still 11th all time. Two other actives are in the career top 20: Miggy (.562, 14th), and newcomer Mike Trout (.557, 19th).

  • OPS: Same story. Albert has ruled OPS since his 1.049 in 2008 even though he's now down to .965. On his heels: teammate Mike Trout (.962) and Miggy and Joey Votto (both w/.960). After that, it's a 40-point drop to Paul Goldschmidt.

  • GAMES, AT-BATS: Top three for both of these categories is the same: 1) Adrian Beltre, 2) Ichiro, 3) Carlos Beltran. Interesting tidbit: Only eight players have ever played in 3,000 games (Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr.). Can Beltre be the ninth? He's only 280 away. Of course, I said the same thing last year about A-Rod, who was 281 away, and he managed only another 65 before the Yanks pulled his plug in mid-August.

  • HITS: Ichiro is on top with 3,030, and Beltre is second with 2,942—so he should become the 31st man to join the 3,000-hit club some time in ... June? Albert, third with 2,825, will have to wait until next year. If both make it that'll be five for the decade. Trivia: Half the members of the 3,000-hit club (14) joined in one of two decades: the '70s and '90s.

  • DOUBLES: Only four players (Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb) have ever hit 700+ doubles and Albert is sitting on 602. Can he be the fifth? Well, he's 37 and averaging about 20 per year. Beltre may be the better bet. He's nine months older and 11 behind, but he's hit 30+ doubles each of the last six years. That said, cliffs come fast.  

  • TRIPLES: For a category that requires speed, this one has been poking along for years. Reigning champ Carl Crawford managed one triple in 2016 to make it 123, while Jose Reyes hit four to nip at his heels at 121. The all-time record, of course, is Wahoo Sam Crawford's 309. No one's touching that. When was the last time the active leader had even 200+ triples? 1928, Ty Cobb. How about 150+? Roberto Clemente in 1972. 140+? Willie Wilson in '94. 130+? Brett Butler, 1997. 

  • HOMERUNS: Albert leads with 591, so he should reach 600 by May or June. No.2 is Miggy, waaaayyy back at 446. Beltre has 445, Beltran 421. Then a bigger dropoff. After Miggy and maybe Beltre, no 500-HR guys for a while. 

  • RBIs: Pujols is 20th all-time with 1,817, and he added an impressive 119 last season. Only four players have ever driven in 2,000+: Aaron, Ruth, A-Rod and Cap Anson. Don't see how Albert doesn't make it five. No one active is close to him: Beltre has 1571, Miggy 1553. BTW: 8th on the active list? Robinson Cano. Not a guy you think of when you think RBIs. 

  • RUNS: Pujols again, with 1,670, but the top 10 is a slightly different crew than RBIs, including more speedsters: Jimmy Rollins (4th), Ichiro (5th), Jose Reyes (8th), and Ian Kinsler (10th). Who's top 10 for both RBIs and Runs Scored? Pujols, Beltran, Beltre, Miggy, Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano.

  • BBs, Ks: The fact that Pujols is first in active walks with 1,214 isn't what's impressive; it's that he's way back at 41st in active strikeouts (1,053). So he could be one of those guys who walks more than Ks during his career. Beltran is second in walks with 1,051, Miggy third with 1,011. The active leader in Ks? Depends on your definition of “active.” Ryan Howard hasn't officially retired yet, and he's got 1843 (13th all-time). If it's not him, then it's Beltran at 1,693, with Mark Reynolds second at 1,631.

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: Maybe this is a consequence of Albert's few Ks? He's not only the active leader with 336 GDPs, he's third all-time in that category and likely to be No. 1 by the end of the year. He's only 14 away: Cal Ripken is atop w/ 350.   

  • STOLEN BASES: Ichiro is still first with 508, followed by Jose Reyes (488), Carl Crawford (480) and Jimmy Rollins (470). After that, it's a big drop to Rajai Davis' 365. We seem to be going down, down, down, as Bruce once sang. No one's stolen 70 this decade. (The high is Juan Pierre's 68 in 2010.) No one's stolen 75+ since Reyes' in 2007, and no one's stolen 80+ since both Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman did it in '88.

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: The surprise isn't Beltre on top with 27.3 points after 19 years, nor Yadier Molina second with 21 points in 13 years; it's the Angels' Andrelton Simmons in third place with 17.8 after five years. Meaning according to WAR, five years of Simmons is worth more defensively than 14 years of Chase Utley (17.7), 17 years of Jimmy Rollins (13.6) or 15 years of Brandon Phillips (9.4). Still a few bugs in the system. 

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: 10 active players have WARs over 50, but only two have WARs over 75: Adrian Beltre at 90.2 and Albert Pujols at 101.1. Career, four guys have 150+ WARs: Ruth, Bonds, Mays and Cobb. 

  • WINS: Talk about your comebacks. From 2006 to 2011, Bartolo Colon went 22-31 with a 4.72 ERA for four different teams. He was 38 and seemed done. Since then, he's gone 72-49 for two (now three) teams, with a 3.57 ERA, and has become a folk legend. He's got 233 wins, 10 ahead of C.C. Sabathia. John Lackey is a distant third with 176. 

  • ERA: Only two active players, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, have career ERAs under 3.00, but there's a bit of a difference: MadBum is at 2.98 while Kershaw is at ... wait for it ... keep waiting ... 2.36. That's good enough for 24th all-time. He's surrounded by deadball pitchers, and Mariano Rivera. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: CC Sabathia is 22nd all-time in Ks with 2,726, Colon is 44th with 2,365, and King Felix is 52nd with 2,264. They're 1-2-3 on the active list, but slowing down. If there's an up-and-comer in this category it's Justin Verlander, fifth among actives with 2,197. Last year, his 254 Ks was second in the Majors. Of the other three, only Sabathia cracked the top 50: at No. 50.

  • BASES ON BALLS: In career Ks it goes Sabathia, Colon, King Felix. In career walks it goes Sabathia, Colon ... Jiminez, Lackey, Perez, Peavy, Verlander and THEN King Felix. It's good to be the King.

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Colon actually went ahead of CC in this category in his last start of the season, Oct. 1, when he pitched 5 innings. He's now 4 ahead. But he truly went ahead of him during the last three years, when he's amassed 588 IPs while CC, eight years his junior, managed only 393. Colon now has 3172.1 to CC's 3168.1. Only one other active player has more than 2500: Lackey at 2,669. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: None of our top 3, CC (38), Bartolo (36) and King Felix (25), managed a complete game last year. The No. 4 guy, Clayton Kershaw, pitched three. He has 24. Chris Sale led the Majors last year with 6; he's at 14 career. The all-time leader is Cy Young with 749. It's a wonder we still count this stat. 

  • SHUTOUTS: All three of Kershaw's complete games last year were shutouts, which led the Majors, and which vaulted him to No. 1 on this hit parade with 15. Bartolo has 13, CC 12, Felix 11. The record is 110, Walter Johnson, but in the top 10 all-time you have relatively recent players: 7. Nolan Ryan (61) and Tom Seaver (61); 9. Bert Blyleven (60) and 10. Don Sutton (58). 

  • SAVES: F-Rod, who just turned 35, is not only No.1 here but No. 4 all-time with 430. He's a lock for third. He's averaged 42 over the last three seasons and is 48 away from Lee Smith (478). Then there's a bit of a gap: Trevor Hoffman is second with 601; Mo is first with 652. 

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: I can't believe CC is still on top of this thing, but he is, with 57.9. Kershaw is second with 52.7, then King Felix (dethroned a bit last year) with 51.4. After that, Greinke (50.9) and Verlander (50.4).  

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Enjoy the season. It's baseball: anything can happen. Even this. *FIN*
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Posted at 06:49 AM on Apr 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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