How a Press Indictment in 'The Insider' Indicts the Press
There's a nice scene in Michael Mann's great 1999 movie, “The Insider,” which is about “60 Minutes,” the Big Tobacco lawsuit, and intrepid journalism. The movie is essentially “All the President's Men” for the '90s.
In the scene, the “60 Minutes” team, led by producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) and newsman Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), are trying to fathom what information their reluctant insider, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), might have against Brown & Williamson. Here's the quote that I keep coming back to:
What that is, is tobacco's standard defense. It's the “We don't know” litany. “Addiction? We believe not. Disease? We don't know. We just take a bunch of leaves, we roll 'em together, you smoke 'em. After that, you're on your own, we don't know.”
It's the media mocking the false innocence of Big Tobacco.
I keep coming back to this scene because it increasingly reminds me of the way the media presents its news to us:
Climate change? We don't know. We just quote these two scientists—one of whom believes and one who doesn't. After that, you're on your own, we don't know. Trump's latest claim? We're not sure. We're just repeating what people in power are saying. We don't know.
Objectivity is not stupidity but too often the media makes it so. There's often no attempt to follow up, not much of an attempt to even do what Jon Stewart did—see if the people in power are contradicting what they said 10 years ago, or five years ago, or last year or last week. It's stenography. And it has to stop if we're going to survive as a democracy.
Some of the press has gotten a little better at it: The “Trump Accuses Obama of Wiretapping, Cites No Evidence” kind of thing. Trump is actually helpful in this regard. He's such a psychopathic liar he's forcing the press to own up to what the facts are. But I don't think Trump would be where he is, destroying our country, if the media had simply done a better job covering the 2016 election.
DUN duh-nuh-nuh-nuh DUN DUN...
It was January 20, 2016, my birthday, and I was checking out social media, as we do, when I was distracted by a trending headline about director Spike Lee and #OscarsSoWhite. I kind of rolled my eyes. OK, what did he say now? Turns out Spike's thoughts on the controversy were similar to mine—that the lack of black artists up for awards is less an Academy problem than an industry problem. The roles needed to be there in the first place for the Academy to honor them. “We need to be in the room where it happens,” he said, and the writer helpfully added that this was an allusion to the new hit musical “Hamilton,” then even more helpfully included a link to a cast member singing that song on YouTube.
Me: Oh right. That hip-hop musical about the first treasury secretary, with people of color playing the founding fathers. Sounds dreadful.
But I clicked on the link.
First viewing: “Hey, this is pretty good.” Second viewing: “Holy crap, this is good.” I searched for more on “Hamilton,” then came across a 2009 White House video of some guy rapping about Hamilton and was blown away again. That guy, it turned out, was Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created it all. Did iTunes have the Broadway soundtrack? It did! I listened to several songs before downloading the entire thing as a birthday present to myself. I figured, while I probably wouldn't listen to all the songs, there was enough there to make it at least a little bit worthwhile.
Well, I did listen to all of the songs. Over and over again. Ask my wife. For six months it was about all I listened to. I listened to it like I was running out of time. My world would never be the same.
I searched for tickets to the Broadway show, too, but they didn't have anything for like a year. I probably should've tried harder. Then Miranda and other members of the original cast left the show in July. That door was closed now; it would never be open again.
But two weekends ago, in Chicago, I finally got to see the show.
My sister got tickets for her family and my wife made sure one of those was for me. So even though I'd just spent two and a half weeks in Europe, I packed up again and headed to Chicago.
I didn't expect to be blown away. It wasn't the original cast, it wasn't on Broadway, and I had the whole musical already in my head. What could they give me that I didn't already have? What could they tell me that I didn't already know? Mostly I was just interested in seeing how the tone of this one differed from the tone of the original.
But I was blown away. After the show, my sister reposted on social media Joe Posnanski's great essay about seeing “Hamilton” on Broadway last year with his daughter, and it includes this graf:
The thing about seeing Hamilton RIGHT NOW at its peak moment is that even before it begins, the entire theater is filled with wonder. Every single person would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. As a sportswriter, I often feel that sort of energy at the biggest events, at the Masters or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but it's even more pronounced in this theater. People look at each other with the same wide-eyed expression: “Can you believe we're here?”
That was the feeling in Chicago. The crowd was buzzing, smiling “I can't believe I'm here” smiles, and taking turns taking photos near the stage. As the house lights dimmed and the opening chords to the opening number played (DUN duh-nuh-nuh-nuh DUN DUN), unsuppressed squeals of delight were heard. And when Daniel Breaker as Burr asks “What's your name, man?” and Miguel Cervantes as Hamilton responds, “Alexander Hamilton,” the crowd burst into applause.
The talent on the stage was amazing. The dancers rocked. Alexander Gemignani took the familiar King George songs and made them funny again. He just owned the stage. He brought the house down multiple times and viewed us all with the disdain of an 18th century half-mad monarch. Loved Chris De'Sean Lee as Lafayette (less his Jefferson, which felt over-the-top), and Ari Afsar as Eliza. Meanwhile, the actress playing Angelica, Aubin Wise, has a combination of high cheekbones and dimples that seems decidedly unfair to the rest of us. You should get one or the other, not both. Plus she has the pipes. Get this: she was the understudy.
But I was particularly impressed by Breaker as Burr. Right from the start, right from the “Aaron Burr, Sir” song, you not only heard him singing but saw him acting. His reactions to this pestering kid seemed just right: putting Hamilton at a distance, then being won over by him (kinda sorta), then the rivalry and the seeming constant betrayal—until the big one during the election of 1800. Also the pain of realizing he was, and would always be, the villain in our history.
That's the thing that was surprising in Chicago: feeling the pain of being Aaron Burr. In the original, Miranda plays a sympathetic, sensitive Hamilton who wears his heart on his sleeve the way Miranda often does. He's all big sensitive eyes and overwhelming dramatic emotion. Cervantes' Hamilton is colder and more ruthless. It feels truer to the historical man but also less dramatic. We care less for Hamilton here, and more for Burr. I didn't cry when Hamilton's son died or when they sang “It's Quiet Uptown,” as I had done numerous time at home listening to the soundtrack; but I nearly teared up when Burr realizes the tragedy of his life. “Was I supposed to care so much about Aaron Burr?” my sister asked after the show. It was the play turned upside down. It makes me wonder what other variations there might be to this story that has lived with me for 18 months, and that I thought I knew so well.
NPR: No Democratic Response Today, Boys
This morning on NPR, host Steve Inskeep interviewed right-wing advocate Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union on yesterday's news: Mitch McConnell delaying the vote on the GOP's horrendous bill to replace Obamacare with less insurance for fewer people and more tax breaks for the uber-wealthy. After Schlapp danced around him, Inskeep thanked him profusely (“really enjoyed talking with you”), and then Inskeep seemed to pivot toward getting the liberal or Democratic response.
Nope. There was no Democratic response. Instead Inskeep spoke with NPR correspondent Scott Horsley, who gave the straightforward approach to what's happening, and what's been happening, with the Senate bill.
Remember the old “Firing Line” dynamic: Liberal vs. Conservative? Apparently NPR has repealed and replaced that with: Right-wing bullshit vs. What's really happening.
Makes you wonder why they have the right-wing bullshit on in the first place.
NPR: I'd like the news, please, rather than people bullshitting over the news.
Dear 'Dear Evan Hansen'
I first heard about the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” from my hairdresser Todd, who returned from a trip to NYC a few months ago raving about it above all other Broadway musicals he'd seen there—including, believe it or not, “Hamilton.” Then he began posting videos from the show on social media. Then “Dear Evan” won the Tony for best musical and for Ben Platt, its young lead.
Here's Platt singing “Waving Through a Window” on “Late Night”:
This is how it begins:
I've learned to slam on the brakes
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistakes
Before I lead with the worst of me
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say
I totally identify. It feels like an update of Thoreau's “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It reminds me of this line from a “Mad Men” episode a few years back that hit home:
“I have been watching my life. It's right there. I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it.”
It's a lesson most of us have to keep relearning, apparently.
Quote of the Day
“There has never been a rollback of basic services to Americans like this ever in U.S. history. Let's not mince words. This bill will close hospitals. It will hammer rural hospitals, it will close nursing homes. It will lead to disabled children not getting services. . . . People will die.”
-- Bruce Siegel, president of America's Essential Hospitals, a coalition of about 300 hospitals that treat a large share of low-income patients, on the Senate GOP's bill to replace Obamacare. Today, the Congressional Budget Office released their findings on the secretive bill, stating that, under it, 22 million Americans will lose health insurance, including 15 million in the next year.
'Transformers' Transform Into Blah Box Office
I've got good news and bad news for people who hate the “Transformers” movies as much as I do.
The good news is that domestically the series peaked at the box office in 2009 with “Revenge of the Fallen.” It's tough to compare their opening weekends since the movies opened on different days—a Tuesday, a Friday and three Wednesdays—so I've compared opening days, as well as first five days, below:
|Movie||Opened||1st day||5 Days||Total|
|2007||Transformers||Tues., July 3||$36||107.3||$319|
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||Wed., June 24||$62||200.0||$402|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||Wed., June 29||$43||162.5||$352|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction||Fri., June 27||$42||120.9||$245|
|2014||Transformers: The Last Knight||Wed., June 21||$16||68.4||??|
As you can see, the shamelessly titled “Last Knight” is taking in a fraction of what “Fallen” did eight years ago—and that's unadjusted. Hell, it's taking in a fraction of what “Extinction” did in 2014. All of the sequels generally make half of their final total domestic gross in their first five days, and if this trend continues “Last Knight” is topping out at around $140, or $70 million short of its production budget. Bye bye, Optimus. Time to shut down this idiotfest.
Except, of yeah, there are other people in the world, and they seem to love this idiotfest.
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||$402||$434||48%|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||$352||$771||31%|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction||$245||$857||22%|
|2014||Transformers: The Last Knight||$69*||$196*||26%|
Other mechanized, sequelized heroes, Pixar's “Cars 3,” grossed $25 million in its second weekend to finish No. 2 at the box office. This sequel too is down from the heights of its predecessors. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, “Cars 2” was actually the second lowest-grossing film in Pixar history, after “The Good Dinosaur,” so you kind of wonder why “3” was made. Oh right. Worldwide, it grossed $562 million. Sigh.
Third place is occupied by the third weekend of “Wonder Woman,” which fell off only 39% and is now at $319 million domestically. Worldwide, it's at $652. It's the crown jewel of the DC Extended Universe. Low bar, yes.
The weekend's best box office news? Word-of-mouth is apparently working for the summer's best comedy, “The Big Sick,” which opened in five theaters in NY and LA and grossed an average of $80k per. Those are good numbers. It opens at a theater near you on July 14.
UPDATE: The fourth weekend of “Wonder Woman” actually edged out the second weekend of “Cars 3” by about a million ($24.9 vs. $24.0). The estimates for “Transformers 5” were also a little optimistic: Its five-day total is down by half a million to $68.4. The above chart is corrected accordingly.
Trailer: Borg (2017)
My friend Adam, a huge tennis fan, alerted me to this trailer:
For a second I thought it was Alexandar Skarsgaard as Born, but it's his father Stellan playing Lennard Bergelin, Borg's coach. Borg, a shocking likeness, is played by Sverrir Gudnason, who's been around a while. (He's nearly 40.) Also Swedish, thank God. The movie is a joint Swedish/Danish/Finnish production, directed by a Dane, Janus Metz Pedersen. The trailer highlights the Borg-McEnroe rivalry but it'll be interesting to see if the film does, since the film is simply called “Borg.” For now.
It opens in Sweden in September. Resistance is futile.
M’s Game: Two Major League Debuts, two Grand Salamis, and Some Pride
Rye bread, mustard
Thursday night, even though the M’s were riding a 4-game win streak and the forecast called for low 70s and sunny, I couldn’t give away a ticket to the game against Detroit. As a result, my companion for the game was The Grand Salami, the alt program sold outside the stadium, which is published by Jon Wells and produced by my friend Tim, and for which, 15 years ago, I wrote the player profiles. Note to Jon: You need to update those suckers more regularly.
I did find out from the Salami that a biography of Dave Niehaus has been written: “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story,” by Billy Mac and edited by J. Michael Kenyon. Apparently it was crowdfunded? At least in part? It’s being excerpted in the Salami over the next few months. The part I read Thursday night, sitting with a beer in the sun in the right-field bleachers before the game, was informative but not exactly Robert Caro. But fingers crossed.
I moved to my regular seats, section 327 row 9, before the first pitch by M’s starter Andrew Moore. The kid was making his Major League debut, against a pretty good lineup, too. But Moore’s fastball had pop (it seemed faster than the 91-93 it registered), and he threw his mid-80s slider for strikes, and he kept getting ahead of hitters. The first five guys he faced, including future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, and two guys with OPSes over 1.000 (Alex Avila and J.D. Martinez), all saw first-pitch strikes, and all went down accordingly. It was the sixth guy, their tall, goony, white-shoed third baseman, Nicholas Castellanos, who normally can’t even buy a walk, that Moore lost: ball, ball, strike, ball, double in the gap. But he retired Alex Presley and the M’s scored 3 in the bottom of the 2nd, and all looked good.
Second time through the lineup is the tough part, and Moore got behind leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler; and on a 3-1 count, Kinsler deposited one into the left field bleachers. So it goes. Welcome to the Majors, kid.
I thought manager Scott Servais would pull Moore after five innings, particularly since the 5th was a bit nervewracking. By this point we had a 5-1 lead, but Moore gave up a leadoff single to—who else?—Castellanos, retired Presley, then John Hicks hit a rifle shot to third base. Handled cleanly, it might’ve been a double play. But it skipped past Kyle Seager and into left field for a double. Now it was 2nd and 3rd with one out. A grounder to Cano plated one, and a Kinsler plated another. But Moore got the final out and seemed done. Good game, kid.
Servais had other ideas. Moore came out for the 6th, where he faced Cabrera for a third time. Smart? Whatever, it worked. Moore kept ahead of the hitters and they went down 1, 2, 3. He came out for the 7th, too, and did the same. By now he’d thrown 101 pitches, which definitely signaled the end, and he left the game to a small ovation from the small, sparse crowd.
By this time I was sitting on the third-base side, near the seats we had when Safeco Field first opened, eating Ivar’s fish and chips. It was “Pride Night,” anticipating “Gay Pride Weekend.” I like that they do that. Between innings they flashed PSAs urging civility and tolerance. But not much pride—the M’s variety—was on display at the park.
From me, too? These days, I tend to be a “leave early” guy, and was leaning in that direction when Detroit went to their bullpen in the 7th. They brought in Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, a beloved Yankee killer from 2002 who currently has the fourth-most saves in baseball history (437), but who came in sporting a devilish 6.66 ERA. He hit Heredia with his fifth pitch, then got Mike Zunino to pop out. That’s enough, I thought. Time to head home, I thought. But by the time I made my way down to the 100 level, the M’s had loaded the bases on a single and a walk, so I hung with a group of people at the top of the stairs on the third-base side as Cano batted. He’d hit a 2-run homer earlier in the game, a shot that barely went over the right-center-field wall, and I was hoping for anything but a double play. His swing on the second pitch looked at least like a sac fly. I couldn’t see its arc—the overhang from the second deck got in the way—but I heard the cheers and I saw Cano nonchalantly rounding the bases, blowing bubbles, and everyone in our group, all strangers, were whooping it up and high-fiving one other. A grand slam! When was the last time I saw a Mariner hit a grand slam? I thought of Niehaus, of course, and his ringing rye-bread-and-mustard call, and I decided to stay for the rest of the game. Why not? 100 level was open. Every half inning, I moved closer to home.
Gotta say, Servais made it interesting. To relieve Moore, he brought in 23-year-old Max Povse, another pitcher making his Major League debut. Maybe Servais thought newbies were good luck that night? Sorry. After two quick outs Povse lost Avila on a ringing double, then lost Miggy on a more-ringing homer to center (No. 454). Martinez doubled and Justin Upton singled him in, and suddenly the blow-out was 9-6. That was it for Povse, whose career ERA is now 40.50. The Bengals actually brought the tying run to the plate before we escaped. In the 9th, they went down 1, 2, 3, and another game was in the books. My season record is 3-1.
Twenty-five years ago, thanks to my friend Mr. B, I saw Nolan Ryan’s last game in the Majors, in which, at the Kingdome in September, he didn’t get an out and gave up a grand slam to Dann Howitt. Did I see K-Rod’s last game, too? Afterwards, the Tigers released him. Is that how all pitchers careers end—not with a whimper but a grand slam? I’m sure he’ll get picked up, though. There’s always a need, always hope.
Same with the M’s? They won again last night, 13-3, against Houston, the best team in the A.L., and our win-streak is now at 6. It’s the right direction anyway. A little bit of pride as we head into Pride weekend.
UPDATE: Yes, the Nationals signed K-Rod to a minor league deal a few days later. But June 22 is still his last official game as of early July.
Quote of the Day
“It would be a big mistake to call the legislation Senate Republicans released on Thursday a health care bill. It is, plain and simple, a plan to cut taxes for the wealthy by destroying critical federal programs that help provide health care to tens of millions of people.”
-- the beginning of The New York Times' devastating editorial, “The Senate's Unaffordable Care Act,” on the anti-Obamacare bill unveiled by Senate Republicans yesterday. Sarah Binder then weighs on why Mitch McConnell thinks he can get away with it.
Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)
Given the negatives the movie had to work with, it wasn’t bad. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine saved it. But it wasn’t all that.
What are the negatives, you ask?
- Wonder Woman’s idiot origin story—that Amazon island out in the middle of nowhere, with bows, arrows, ancient architecture, flouncy togas, and references to Greek gods.
- The fact that writer-director Zack Snyder—that idiot—already stuck Wonder Woman back in World War I (in “Batman v Superman”), then had her not do anything for 100 years. That had to be explained. We have to find out why she was committed enough to fight in the Great War, then disillusioned enough to lay down her arms for a century—including during some of the worst crimes in human history: the Holocaust, the rape of Nanjing, the killing fields of Cambodia—only to pick them up again because Superman was too stupid to stop Lex Luthor from creating Doomsday.
Director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (“Party of Five,” “Sex and the City,” “The OC,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) don’t solve the negatives. They just kind of smudge them a little.
I was in Europe when “Wonder Woman” opened, but of course I was aware of the buzz, the positive reviews, the 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Friends on social media raved: More like this! I took it all with a grain of salt but I still took it. Are high expectations problematic? If they are, let me temper yours.
First, the island. At least the Amazon warriors feel like real warriors rather than pretty girls walking around in flouncy outfits. At least the casting isn’t bad: Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen. But it’s still boring. Doesn’t help that Diana’s mom (Nielsen) knows only extremes. “No, Diana, you can’t train to be a warrior.” “OK, sure, train her, but train her harder than anyone’s ever been trained.” “No, Diana, you and Steve Trevor (Pine) can’t leave the island.” “OK, sure, go ahead, but you can never, ever return.”
For some reason, Mom also keeps Diana’s origin—that she’s the daughter of Zeus—from her. She’s a demigod like Hercules. Why the secret?
The answer requires backstory. Way back when, Zeus created humans. Then Ares, the God of War, made them, you know, the fuckups that we are, forever fighting. In response, Zeus created Amazons, warrior women to police the idiocies of man, but in response Ares killed all the other gods. So Zeus battled Ares himself—a bit late, really—and somehow “struck him down” without killing him. In the process, Zeus died, but he left the Amazons a “God Killer” to slay Ares when he returns. Throughout the movie, Diana (Gadot) assumes the God Killer is the sword housed in a temple on the island. Nope. It’s her. She’s the God Killer. And that’s why...
Wait, couldn’t her mother tell her she’s the daughter of Zeus without letting her know she’s the God Killer? And since she is the God Killer, why object to warrior training? Because Mom doesn’t want to lose her baby? Doesn’t that defeat Diana’s purpose? Not to mention the Amazonian one? Seriously, if the Amazons are supposed to police the idiocies of man, why the hidden island where they spend day after day, year after year, century after century, training? For what exactly? And if Steve Trevor can crash-land near the island, and the Germans can storm the beach, what exactly is preventing Diana from returning? Worse is the fact that this origin story proves to be true; Ares confirms it. Which means in the DC extended universe—the movies with Batman, Superman and the Flash—human beings are the literal creations of Zeus. Our origin story isn’t Judeo-Christian, it’s not evolutionary Darwinism; it’s ancient Greek. Shouldn’t the usual right-wing nutjobs be out protesting this? Martin Scorsese gets shit but Zack Snyder gets off scot-free?
Seriously, every attempt at solving the negatives in Wonder Woman’s origin just seems to lead to more negatives.
Here’s another reason why Diana’s mom shouldn’t have kept her in the dark, but it requires another backstory—a cinematic one.
In certain ways, “Wonder Woman” is similar to the 1978 superhero movie that started them all, “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve, in that our title character is both an innocent abroad and straight man/woman for the duration. In “Superman” the humor comes from Lex Luthor and his minions, and the cynicism from Lois Lane. It’s 1978 but Superman believes in our institutions; he believes in truth, justice and the American way. He also knows everything; he’s been educated. He’s innocent but smart.
Diana is the straight woman here—Pine provides the laughs—and she’s innocent, like Supes, but she’s not smart, she’s not educated. Sure, she knows every language but nothing of cultural mores or history. This leads to humorous bits—she doesn’t know flashing leg in post-Victorian England ain’t cool, for example—but doesn’t it diminish our hero? And what does it say of Amazon’s schooling? Are they paying any attention to the outside world?
The movie does improve considerably once Chris Pine shows up for beefcake/comic relief. Even better when we get to London and add his secretary Etta (Lucy Davis, Dawn of the original “Office”). They have good interplay. Of Capt. Trevor’s sidekicks, I liked Sameer (Said Taghmaoui of “La Haine”), could’ve done without the drinking, singing, unable-to-shoot Scotsman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and kind of rolled my eyes when the Native American, The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), shows up. But this is the team that goes to the front to confront the movie’s villains, Gen. Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), whom Diana suspects of being Ares, and the supercreepy poison-gas specialist Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), who, in the midst of an Armistice promoted by England’s Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), is developing a poison gas that will win the war for Germany.
I’ll cut to the chase. Wonder Woman kills Ludendorff with the God Killer sword but it doesn’t stop the war. Everything continues. Man is corrupt, and for a moment she looks like an idiot. But then the real Ares appears—shock, Sir Patrick Morgan!—who crushes the sword, taunts Diana with revelations, toys with her as they battle, but ultimately is destroyed. The weapon we see in the first act—the powerful force generated when Diana clangs her bracelets together—goes off in the third, and it saves the day. This doesn’t stop man’s warlike tendencies either, though it goes unremarked all the same. I guess Diana is less innocent by this point.
The ending is mushy. Not as in “romantic,” as in “without clarity.” Throughout, Diana’s raison d’été is clear-eyed: Kill Ares, stop all wars. Capt. Trevor is good, the Germans are bad. By the end—even though Trevor is good and the Germans are bad—she realizes Steve, and the U.S. and its allies, are part of humanity’s problem, too. For a time she rejects him. But when he sacrifices himself to save thousands, she cries to the skies—like Supes in ’78—and then tears Ares a new one.
And her philosophy after all this? That’s the mushy part. The movie has to thread an impossible needle: give her a reason to be inactive throughout a horrible century without condemning all of humanity in the process. Here’s what they come up with: She decides that fighting doesn’t stop wars; only love stops wars. So she stops fighting to do something else. Like work a desk job in a secret room in the Louvre.
Here’s the exact voiceover:
I used to want to save the world: to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them there will always be both—the choice each must make for themselves—something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.
Or at least until “Batman v Superman.”
As I said, Gadot makes a fantastic Wonder Woman. She’s just a glory to behold even when she’s standing there: strong and tough and lovely. I laughed-out-loud when she threw a bully across a tavern and Sameer said, “I am frightened and at the same time aroused.” Raise a glass.
I also like her sprint across “No Man’s Land”—and the obvious pun therein—and her battle in the small European village, including 1) that slow-mo moment when she crashes with a German soldier through a second-story window, and 2) when she appears atop a demolished town-square clocktower, to cheers, after taking out a German sharpshooter.
But the above problems. Wonder Woman was created by a man with a bondage fetish (William Marston, Ph.D.), and her cinematic origin was switched to WWI by a man with a Great War/bustier fetish (Zack Snyder), and it’s tough for Jenkins and company to overcome all of this. In a way, Jenkins’ task is similar to Wonder Woman’s. Men created this shitfest and now a woman has to clean it up. Given that, Jenkins doesn’t do poorly.
Tweet of the Day
There is a suppression of information going on at this WH that would not be tolerated at a city council mtg or press conf with a state gov.— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
'One of the Cruelest Pieces of Legislation': An Update
From Paul Krugman's column today:
Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.
This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they're trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won't be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”
Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they're voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.
Not exactly news, but a reminder that we should all be more incensed than we are, and working as hard as possible to help elect a Democratic congress.
‘The Hots for Uncle Hymie’
Even though he wasn't highlighted, I thought about Philip Roth as I walked through the first room at the newly created American Writers Museum in Chicago on Saturday. It was because of this photo—a portrait of Arthur Miller as a young playwright:
Quite the looker. And it made me recall a passage in Roth's “Portnoy's Complaint,” but I recalled it wrong. It's where Portnoy is talking about his lust for “the bland blond exotics called shikses” and his corresponding observation that these exotic creatures actually craved them—the nice Jewish boys who underneath it all weren't so nice. Miller and Monroe are mentioned, yes, but only in passing:
...for every Eddie yearning for a Debbie, there is a Debbie yearning for an Eddie — a Marilyn Monroe yearning for her Arthur Miller...
No, the punchline is about another ‘50s celebrity couple:
Who knew, you see, who knew back when we were watching National Velvet, that this stupendous purple-eyed girl who had the supreme goyische gift of all, the courage and know-how to get up and ride around on a horse (as opposed to having one pull your wagon, like the rag-seller for whom I am named) — who would have believed that this girl on the horse with the riding breeches and the perfect enunciation was lusting for our kind no less than we for hers? Because you know what Mike Todd was — a cheap facsimile of my Uncle Hymie upstairs! And who in his right mind would ever have believed that Elizabeth Taylor had the hots for Uncle Hymie?
That’s the line that made me laugh out loud when I first read “Portnoy's Complaint” all those years ago. On Saturday, some part of me was thinking Roth linked Miller to Uncle Hymie, but Roth knew better. So did Monroe, apparently.
Box Office: 'Wonder Woman' Has Legs
See if you can spot the pattern.
- In its first weekend, “Wonder Woman” grossed $103 million, which is the 40th-best opening weekend of all time.
- In its second weekend, “Wonder Woman” grossed $58.5 million, which is the 24th-best second weekend of all time.
- This weekend, its third, “Wonder Woman” has grossed $40 million, which is the 11th-best third weekend of all time.
It's called word-of-mouth. It's called legs. “Wonder Woman” has them.
It also means the “DC Extended Universe” finally has a winner.
True, “Man of Steel” was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 2013, with $290 million, which some might consider a winner; but it left a slightly sour taste in mouths with Superman killing folks and all, so ... no. And true, “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” finished eighth and ninth respectively for 2016, but those films left a positively shitty taste in mouths because they were just beyond dumb. They opened big and died quickly. Everyone said, “Nah.”
For comparison's sake:
|Man of Steel||$116||$41||$20||$291||55%|
|Batman v. Superman||$166||$51||$23||$330||27%|
Of the four, “Wonder Woman” had the weakest opener, the best second weekend, and the best third weekend by almost 2-to-1. It also had good reviews and positive word-of-mouth. That's how you do it. Sad that it's taken DC this long to realize it. Hell, maybe they still haven't. Wouldn't be surprised.
Where will “Wonder Woman” stop? Certainly atop “BvS” for the best of this extended universe. But with the way it's holding, I'm wondering if it can top $400 mil. The superhero movies that have done that? Three Avengers (“Avengers,” “Ultron” and “Civil War”), two Batmans (“Dark Knight” and “Rises”), an Iron Man (“3”) and a “Spider-Man” (1, back in 2002). That's it. Rarefied company.
“WW”'s $40 mil actually finished second for the weekend. The top spot went to “Cars 3” at $53 mil, a box-office total that's actually a comedown for both the “Cars” franchise (1 and 2 opened in the 60s, unadjusted), and for Pixar, which hasn't opened a widely distributed sequel this poorly since ... ever.
The Tupac biopic, “All Eyez On Me,” finished third with $27 mil. That's the second-best opening for a music biopic, after “Straight Outta Compton,” which opened to $60 mil back in August 2015.
“Rough Night,” the ladies' version of “The Hangover,” starring Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon, had a rough time, grossing $8 mil in more than 3,000 theaters.
The last few days I was in Chicago to see “Hamilton” at the PrivateBank Theater (more later, obviously), and yesterday, at the recommendation of a family friend, and before the CTA slog to the airport (and it was a slog), I visited the American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue. Haven't heard of it? It's relatively new. “One month and one day old,” the woman at the reception desk told me, as she was taking my money and checking my bag.
How was it? A bit small but very interactive and very, very diverse. I'd probably say it's diverse to a fault. In the first room you go into, there's a long line of writers, including statesmen from the founding of the republic such as Franklin and Jefferson (but not the man who wrote “like he was running out of time”), and up to the present day. But my wheelhouse is post-WWII Jewish-American writers, and while there were individual posts for Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer, there was nothing in that room for Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth or E.L. Doctorow. Was Salinger there? He must‘ve been. But I don’t recall seeing him.
The exhibit is constructed on a circle, and halfway through there's a room where, among other interactive options, you can choose your five favorite works. It's a way for the museum to gather information: not only what people like but who they are and where they live. (If you want a bookmark decorated with your favorites, you include your email address.) For my top 5, I went with books that amazed and that I kept returning to. The five I came up with are to the right: “The Great Gatsby,” “My Antonia,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “The World According to Garp” and The Ghost Writer.“ No, I don't know why they don't have a book cover yet for ”My Antonia,“ other than the fact that the museum is, you know, just one month and one day old.
The bigger problem was when I tried to include one of E.L. Doctorow's novels on my list. You do this by typing the name of the author into the computer terminal and then go from there.
This is what it looked like:
I think I stared at that final screen for a while, wondering what I was doing wrong. Do I include, ”E.L.“ at the end? I tried that. Nothing. I backed up, tried it again. I kept thinking, ”It's not getting me to...“
Then it hit me. They didn't have E.L. Doctorow in their database. They had Cory, who, I'm sure is a fine upstanding citizen of the world, and poet Maureen Doallas, as well as Muriel Dobbin and all of those Doanes. And you certainly can't open a museum to American writers without Margo Dockendorf. But the author of ”Book of Daniel,“ ”Ragtime“ or ”World's Fair“? The National Book Award winner, PEN/Faulkner award winner, three-time National Book Critics Circle Award winner, as well as Library of Congress prize winner? Bupkis.
At this point, some part of me assumed that maybe the Doctorow estate didn't want to be included. You know how you couldn't get his books for the longest time on Kindle? Like that. But when I brought up the glitch with the receptionist, she said, no, that's probably not it. They‘re just missing some. But they are making a list of writers they need to add, so she took down his name.
”Doctorow,“ I said, ”E.L. He’s kind of a big deal."
Quote of the Day
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee was very unsettling. We know that a hostile foreign power—Russia—sought to undermine our democracy by meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But our attorney general, who is the top law enforcement official in the country, and the rest of the Trump administration seem unconcerned by that disturbing truth. They seem to have collective amnesia about meeting with Russian officials during and after the campaign and only remember when they have been caught. They are not acting like a group of people with nothing to hide.”
-- Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Adam West (1928-2017)
He was the Batman when I was growing up, the only real Batman, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized just how funny Adam West was. His '66-'68 take is still the best superhero satire we've ever had. He's lampooning not only superheroes, not ony the movie serials of the 1940s, but our post-war cultural pomposity. What I wrote 10 years ago about the '66 movie is still true:
Batman, who started out as a vigilante, is here not only an establishment figure but the establishment figure. Cops put their hats over their hearts when the batcopter flies by. During a press conference Batman feeds the press misinformation as easily as any politician. The disappearing yacht? “Nonsense. How can a yacht simply disappear?” The exploding shark? “Doubtless an unfortunate animal who chanced to swallow a floating mine.” He and Robin are, according to Commissioner Gordon during that same press conference, “fully deputized agents of the law,” to which Robin responds, fist pounding palm, “Support your police! That's our message!” Batman has access to federal agencies as well, not only phoning the Pentagon but chastising an Admiral (seen playing tiddly-winks with his secretary) for “disposing of a pre-atomic submarine to people who don't leave their addresses.”
A few years ago, in another look at the '66 movie, I wrote, “Donald Trump wishes he were as self-important as Adam West’s Batman,” but that was before the former ran for president, and won, so I guess I have to take that back. But West's Batman is still the funniest in his self-importance. Trump stopped being funny ... OK, he was never funny.
It must be odd to have the world at your feet and then not. West was supposedly type-cast after “Batman” but I remember seeing him as a junior villain/schnook in the 1973 TV movie “Poor Devil,” starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Klugman, and being shocked. Batman? The bad guy? How could that be? I felt the same seeing William Shatner as the bad guy in an episode of “Mission: Impossible.” No one typecasts more than kids—or those who can't grow up.
I still like that slogan: “Be Yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.” West got to do that. And inspired so many others in the process.
Me in the middle of mid-1960s Batmania.
Movie Review: The Fabulous Allan Carr (2017)
Yeah, this doesn’t quite work.
The titular Allan Carr (née Alan Solomon of Highland Park, Ill.) was a sweet, portly, caftan-wearing gay man known for throwing wild disco parties in the 1970s. He made a mint producing “Grease” in Hollywood and won a Tony producing “La Cage Aux Folles” on Broadway, but these were his hifalutin exceptions. Everything else he touched was either so-bad-it’s-good, plain bad, or kill-me-now bad.
Among his works:
- “Grease 2,” the sequel that bombed
- “Where the Boys Are ’84,” the remake that bombed
- “C.C. & Company,” Joe Namath’s biker-flick bomb
It gets worse. Riding high after “Grease” became the No. 1 movie of 1978, grossing the equivalent of $680 million domestic, Carr could do whatever he wanted. And what he wanted to do, apparently, was make a pseudo-biopic of the chart-topping disco group the Village People. That wish became, of course, “Can’t Stop the Music,” starring the Village People, Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Jenner, and—when Carr couldn’t get Olivia Newton-John—Valerie Perrine. Then Carr tapped Rhoda’s mom, Nancy Walker, who had directed nothing but a few sitcom episodes, to direct. It’s a movie so bad it actually inspired the birth of the Razzie Awards.
But “Can’t Stop the Music” didn’t kill his career. What killed his career was the 1989 Oscar telecast. Yeah, the Snow White one. For the opening number, for 15 agonizing minutes, an actress dressed as Snow White serenaded the celebrity crowd, Merv Griffin (for some reason) sang “Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," and then Rob Lowe (of all people) joined Snow White onstage for a “date” and a duet of the Ike and Tina Tuner classic “Proud Mary.” Hollywood was incensed and Carr never recovered. He survived “Can’t Stop the Music” only to be stopped by his music.
A doc that dealt more honestly with its subject, that maybe tried to delve into Carr’s nostalgia for ’50s America (not exactly a gay-friendly time), might have been worthwhile. But throughout “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” I felt director Jeffrey Schwartz propping up his subject. For “Can’t Stop the Music,” Walker gets the brunt of the blame; for the Oscar fiasco, it’s the critics—and the subsequent Disney lawsuit against the Academy goes completely unmentioned. The doc also implies that John Travolta was just a sitcom actor before “Grease,” when there was a little thing called “Saturday Night Fever” between the two, and Michelle Pfeiffer was “discovered” in a grocery store for “Grease 2,” when, c’mon, she’d been on TV and in B-movies for years. Read your Nathaniel Rogers.
Schwartz, who directed two admirable docs, “Tab Hunter Confidential” and HBO’s “Vito,” does have a tendency to gravitate toward schlock. Besides Tab, he gave us “I Am Divine” in 2013, and is currently working on “Goddess: The Showgirls Chronicles.” Is that why he seems to forgive Carr's schlock? Because he sees nothing to forgive?
There's due diligence. Schwartz interviews family friends, tracks down Valerie Perrine, gives us “Mad Men”-style animation to fill in the gaps in Carr's story. But he’s too soft around his subject. He wants us to like him too much. I think of a Franz Kafka line, “A writer is not a nice person.” Documentarian, too.
Our Denmark/Netherlands Trip: By the Numbers
- Days gone: 18
- Countries visited: 2. Three if you count the Charles de Gaulle Airport.
- Lonely Planet guidebooks brought: 2. But we really could've used one for the Charles de Gaulle Airport.
- Minutes to make our connecting flight at CDG: 70
- Minutes by which we missed our connecting flight: 5
- Minutes subsequently spent at CDG: 480
- Museums visited in 18 days: 17
- Museums visited alongside field trips of howling school kids: 16
- Churches/kirkes/kerks entered: 20
- Towers climbed: 6
- Paintings by Dutch masters gazed at: 142
- Van Goghs seen: 69
- Canal tours taken: 1. Copenhagen.
- Visits to the Little Mermaid: 2. Once from the canal side.
- Visits to Tivoli: 2. Once in the evening.
- Visits to castles: 8
- Visits to Shakespearean castles: 1. Hamlet's, yo.
- Number of Yankee caps seen on the heads of Europeans who think “NY” is “like the rebel image”: 99
- Number who know the Yankees are the richest team in baseball: 0
- Polish Carlsberg workers with whom we debated whose country's president was the more embarrassing while sharing an outdoor table at a charming pizza place in the former meatpacking district of Copenhagen: 3
- Number of nodded concessions that, while the Polish president was an embarrassment, his idiocy didn't affect the world: 5
- Number of times I crossed the street in advance of looming bikes, cars or trams, or just before the light turned red, and Patricia missed the cue, and we wound up staring at each other from opposite sides of the street: 212
- Number of times we consulted Google Maps and then went in the wrong direction anyway: 53
- Times we visited Hope in Copenhagen for breakfast in our five mornings there: 2
- Mornings when we thought, “You know, we really should've just gone to Hope again”: 3
- Number of times in the morning I thought, “Wow, Danish people are really good-looking”: 4
- Number of times in the late afternoon I thought, “OK, maybe not”: 4
- Number of times I was absolutely turned on by women in Amsterdam: 24
- Number of times this happened in the red light district: 0
- Number of scheduled cyling days on our bike-barge trip along the IJsselmeer in the Netherlands: 6
- Actual days spent biking due to weather: 3
- Number of times we had more trouble finding the boat in the new port than we did making the actual journey: 3
- Number of cyclists on the trip: 19
- Number of Pacific Northwesterners: 8
- Old-style windmills seen: 8
- Wind-energy turbines seen: 211
- Times I thought of Trump because of this: 211
- Pannekoeken eaten: 5
- Cappuccinos drunk: 27
- Frites: 8
- Netherlanders impressed that I pronounced “bedankt” with the “t” at the end: 15
- Number of tickets we tried to buy with credit cards/debit cards in train-station kiosks: 12
- Number of times the credit card/debit card was rejected: 12
- Number of times the cards were rejected elsewhere: 0
- Postcards sent: 36
- Postcards bought but never sent: 111
- Refrigerator magnets bought: 12
- Text messages warning us that we were about to exceed, or had already exceeded, or were hopelessly in excess of, our international data package: 4
- Plane hours home: 9
- Money spent: TBA