Here's a great passsage from Josh Ostergaard's great book, “The Devil's Snake Curve,” which my friend Dave gave me a few years ago and I've only recently gotten around to reading:
When the United States was testing its first atomic bomb in the summer of 1945, a code system was created so its success or failure could be communicated back to Washington without worry of the news leaking.
“Cincinnati Reds” would mean the test had failed. “Brooklyn Dodgers” would mean the test had gone as planned.
After scientists tested the first nuclear weapon, and knew the war in the Pacific would end, and that all life on earth could end, the signal of unimagined triumph went back to Washington.
The message read: “New York Yankees.”
So now we have scientific proof. It's not just me; scientists say this.
“The Devil's Snake Curve” is part Midwest memoir, part Howard Zinn history of the U.S., and part baseball history from the perspective of a Yankees hater. So kinda up my alley.
Elsewhere, as if to underline the sentiment unnecessarily, this year's Yankees, dubbed the “Baby Bombers” by an lovestruck press, clinched a playoff berth this past weekend. They look to play the Twins in the wild card game on October 3. Their record against the Twins since 2002? 89-33.
I'd Like to Hear About Jerry After Seinfeld
I laughed hard at two jokes:
- cotton balls
Otherwise “Jerry Before Seinfeld,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a mixed experience. We get a sketchy documentary of Jerry's early years intermixed with mostly old routines (the ones he supposedly discarded in “I'm Telling You for the Last Time”) about childhood, sugar cereals, laundry, etc., done by the 60-something billionaire comedian on the stage of The Comic Strip, the small comedy club where he perfected his routine in the '70s.
Does he rush through the routines now? He doesn't seem as comfortable on stage as he used to. Stage actors need to own the stage, to pause as much as they want, to know the audience will wait for them. He doesn't have that anymore. Is he afraid that he's lost it? And by being afraid, has he lost it?
Really, the bigger problem for Seinfeld is that his was observational comedy, and observational comedy doesn't work too well if you're a billionaire. Sure, he tells the one joke about the first time he got a maid, and feeling bad about not picking up after himself (“I'm sorry, I...”), but that's about it. It has to be Jerry before “Seinfeld” because Jerry after “Seinfeld” is ... what? Just a rich asshole with too many cars? What can he tell us about how the .0001% lives? He would have to go beyond his polite observations and he can't even bring himself to rag on Trump. His bit about the insanity of anyone who wants to be president is good:
Who should be the most powerful person in America, the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, the leader of the free world? You know, actually, that sounds like me.
But it leaves open the question of why/how Trump is more insane than most. He's still tiptoeing around the controversial. I guess he always will.
Plus anything new in the culture? Twitter or binge-watching or what have you? He sounds like your grandpa talking about it. He sounds dismissive since he didn't grow up with it. Maybe there's comedy to mine there but right now he's using the wrong pick-axe. The diamond-encrusted kind.
Our Story So Far
“We know that the Russians launched a cyber campaign to help Trump win. We know that the Trump campaign was willing to entertain assistance from the Russian government because Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr., eagerly met with a Russian offering such assistance. This latest news suggests—though the reporting is still vague—what many people have long wondered: that Manafort may have been a crucial link between the Trump campaign and Russians seeking to defeat Hillary Clinton. If Mueller or congressional investigators unearth proof that Manafort colluded with the Russians, it will fortify the narrative that the Trump campaign worked with a foreign nation to alter the outcome of an American Presidential election—an unprecedented event in the country's history.”
-- from Ryan Lizza's “A Dizzying Week of Trump-Russia Revelations” on The New Yorker site
Movie Review: Mother! (2017)
Wouldn’t it have been cheaper for Darren Aronofsky to see a shrink?
The acclaimed writer-director (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”) has often dealt in dreamscapes, and nightmarish scenarios, but “Mother!” is like listening to a friend describe a dream to you. For two fucking hours.
Yes, there are glimmers of meaning. It’s a metaphor for Christianity, or America, or creativity mostly.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) creates, or recreates, the beautiful home where her poet-husband (Javier Bardem) writes his poetry. Except he’s writing nothing. He’s blocked. It’s all too perfect. He can't breathe. So he invites people in and ruins their home and their love and their life. Or her life anyway. He needs the love and structure, but he also needs something else—stories and chaos, fights and death and anarchy—to create.
Remember “New York Stories” from 1989? Three short films from Francis Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese? My favorite was always the Scorsese one, “Life Lessons,” written by Richard Price, in which Nick Nolte plays a painter who is living with his assistant/former lover Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), who seems to be using him. She’s living off him and giving nothing back; she’s sleeping around; she’s making him insanely jealous. Finally she leaves. And in the art exhibition of the works he created while insanely jealous, he meets another pretty young thing and takes her home; and you realize it was he who was using her; in order to create.
Like that. Except in a horror movie five times as long.
Mother doesn’t want anyone in the home. She seems to have a symbiotic relationship with the home. She feels its heartbeat.
But hubby keeps inviting people in. First, it’s Ed Harris, a doctor at the nearby university, who’s looking for a place to stay. Initially he seems nervous, cautious. Then he’s just an asshole. Against her wishes, he smokes in the house, he drinks too much, he gets sick, he monopolizes hubby’s time. Hubby cares way too much for him.
Then the wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and she’s even worse: drinking midday, making a mess of the kitchen, and the laundry room, and the toilet.
Then their kids arrive (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), and they’re fighting over who gets what from dad, who’s dying, and one thing leads to another, and, just like in the Book of Genesis, one brother (Domhnall) kills the other (Brian). Mother is left behind to mop up the blood. But she can’t get it all. And when she fiddles with it, poking at the floorboard, part of that floorboard gives way; and it’s like the blood is acid, seeping through to the basement to the furnace, where bad vibes await.
It was here, J-Law alone in the basement, when the movie was scariest for me.
It was also here, particularly with a few lines from Ed Harris or Michelle Pfeiffer (“We said we’re sorry”), or Javier Bardem (about inviting the parents back with some family and friends for a wake for the dead son), that the movie was funniest to me. But the wake becomes a party, almost a 70s-era party, and people aren’t treating the house correctly, and J-Law stumbles room to room, until things get so bad that she finally kicks everyone out. Then she and hubby argue, then make love, then she wakes up pregnant. And he suddenly has inspiration again. He’s writing.
Eight+ months later, ballooned out, she’s preparing an elaborate dinner for two when, uh oh, fans staring appearing at their door. And he loves it. And this is where it gets really, really weird. For a moment it seems like a metaphor for America. On one side there’s the violence of the fans, or the anarchists, or ... something; on the other it’s the violence of the forces of law and order. The house becomes a battle ground. For a long, fucking time.
And this is exactly where I began to get really, really bored. Before, I was absorbing Mother’s tensions, her anal fixations, which are mine: Don’t sit on the counter; don’t fuck up the house. But once the crazy shit goes down, and she’s just trying to escape the house, well, this tension is gone. And now it’s just silly. Now we’re 90 minutes into Darren Aronofsky telling us his dream from the night before.
Finally she gives birth upstairs. Hubby wants to hold it, but she doesn’t want him to. So he just stands there, with his long Javier Bardem face. (He reminded me of the Grinch a bit here, just as, earlier, Ed and Michelle reminded me of Thing 1 and Thing 2.) But eventually sleep overtakes her, and when she wakes up ... no baby. He’s showing it to the crowd. Then he’s giving it to the crowd. Then its blanket is taken and it’s naked. Then it stops making a noise. Then it’s dead. She looks around and sees they’re all eating it.
So Christian metaphor, right? Or metaphor for creativity? Or both?
I like it when she goes ballistic and starts slicing people. I liked it less when the crowd begins to punch her in the face and tear at her dress and show her tits. Why did Darren have to go there? In the end, she blows up the joint. She works her way into the basement and sets it afire with Ed Harris’ lighter that she hid in the first act. A lighter in the first act goes off in the third.
Oh, right. The big jewel.
There was also a big diamond-like jewel that hubby kept in his office, and which he says is the only thing that survived the fire that destroyed his family home when he was younger. And she, J-Law, helped put it together. But Ed and Michelle broke it.
Well, in the aftermath of the latest fire, which he survives and she doesn’t, he reaches into Mother’s chest and removes her heart; then he smooshes it in his hands like Superman with a piece of coal; and, just like Superman with a piece of coal, we get the big jewel again. And then, as in the beginning, the burnt hull of the house is remade, redone, swoosh, with CGI, as we make our way from room to room and then upstairs to a pretty young thing waking up and wondering about her husband. Except this time it’s not J Law; it’s another pretty young thing; it’s his new wife. And the cycle starts anew.
Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it?
So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?
50+ Homeruns in a Season: By Decade
Giancarlo: 54 and counting.
Giancarlo Stanton's pursuit of 60+ homeruns had me looking at the 50+ club all over again.
When I was growing up, it was a magical number that nobody could touch. Killebrew kept hitting 49. Hank Aaron's high was 48. The last guy to do it was Willie Mays in '65, and it seemed like no one would ever do it again—particularly when the Major League high in 1974 was Mike Schmidt's 36. But then George Foster did it in '77 (an expansion year) and ... that was it. Until Cecil Fielder in 1990. For a quarter-century, it was just one guy: George Foster.
Then suddenly it seemed like any old player could do it. By decade:
- 1920s (4): Babe Ruth (4)
- 1930s (4): Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx (2), Hank Greenberg
- 1940s (3): Ralph Kiner (2), Johnny Mize
- 1950s (2): Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle
- 1960s (3): Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays
- 1970s (1): George Foster
- 1980s (0):
- 1990s (12): Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, Mark McGwire (4), Brady Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr. (2), Sammy Sosa (2), Greg Vaughn
- 2000s (12): Sammy Sosa (2), Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (3), Luis Gonzalez, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder
- 2010s (3): Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Giancarlo Stanton
You know what's fascinating? The first eight guys to hit 50+ HRs in a season—all of whom did it before the leagues expanded in 1961—are in the Hall of Fame: Ruth, Hack Wilson, Foxx, Greenberg, Kiner, Mize, Mays, Mantle.
Since then, 29 other players have hit 50+ HRs in a season. You know how many of those 29 are in the Hall of Fame? One. Ken Griffey Jr.
Either they're career stats weren't good enough (Maris, Foster), or they're tainted by PEDs (McGwire, Bonds), or both (Greg Vaughn).
Other points of interest:
- The fewest career HRs were a 50-HR guy? No surprise: Brady Anderson with 210. A quarter of the homers in his 15-year career were in 1996. His next-highest single-season total is 24 in 1999.
- The Fielders bookended the great flurry of 50+ HR seasons: Cecil began it in 1990, Prince, his son, kinda/sorta ended it in 2007.
- The Fielders retired with the exact same number of career HRs: 319.
- Mickey Mantle is the only homegrown Yankee to hit 50+ HRs. The other three (Ruth, Maris, A-Rod) were acquired via trade.
Ironically, I now view the 50+ HR season the exact opposite of the way I did as a kid. I don't want to see them. I certainly don't want to see a string of them. I'll worry it's the bullshit of the '90s and '00s all over again.
Trump Bites Seshie
The enemy of my enemy is still my fucking enemy, but boy is this fun. I want this scene (courtesy of the good writers at The New York Times) in slow-mo. I want color commentary. I want Mitch McConnell in the on-deck circle:
In the middle of the [May 17] meeting, [White House counsel Donald F.] McGahn received a phone call from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been overseeing the Russia investigation since Mr. Sessions recused himself from the inquiry months earlier. ... Rosenstein said he had decided to appoint Mr. Mueller to be a special counsel for the investigation. ...
When the phone call ended, Mr. McGahn relayed the news to the president and his aides. Almost immediately, Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said that he should resign. ...
Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.
Quick question: How can anyone tell when Jeff Sessions is ashen?
Also Trump seems to be backpedaling on both the wall and DACA. He wants the dreamers to stay in the country, and he's like whatevs on the wall. Fine with me, of course, but his base is have a shit fit. That's also fun to behold, and I also want it in slow-mo, with color commentary, and with Alex Jones on deck.
Movie Review: The Circle (2017)
Here’s the biggest problem with this piece of crap.
We think our hero, Mae (Emma Watson), views The Circle, a Silicon Valley megacompany, with the same cynical eye we do. She even jokes with a savvy insider, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), about people who drink the Kool-Aid. They laugh about it together at a company event.
Then she not only drinks the Kool-Aid, she bathes in it. She becomes the Kool-Aid. She starts out reluctant to update her profile on True You, The Circle’s Facebook, then agrees to have her entire life recorded 24/7 (w/bathroom breaks). It’s called “going transparent.” And in this way she accumulates millions of followers and thus power. During her day, random comments waft around her like perfume. And she seems perfectly happy with it! She doesn’t see the danger! She agrees with CEO/guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) that transparency equals accountability and privacy is for losers!
Basically she becomes LonelyGirl15 2.0.
Even inadvertently broadcasting her parents having sex doesn’t make her rethink any of it! No, she doubles down. Eamon is working on a proposal that would allow voter registration through True You, but she goes further: She suggests every person be required to have a True You account. That it would be law. It’s an idiotic, illegal proposal but Bailey and Stenton nod like it’s wisdom, or at least strategy, and she puffs up, proud, at her little foray into petty tyranny and thought control.
Which means our hero is not only stupid, she's horrible.
Sure, she finally sees the light when she causes the death of her longtime friend, and gentle soul, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”). During one of The Circle’s “all hands” meetings—which are like a mix of pep rally and TED talk—she uses her tens of millions of followers, along with The Circle’s “SeeChange” camera devices stationed all over the world, to track down a British woman who locked her kids in a closet and went on vacation. (They starved to death.) But they do it—they track her down and she's brought to justice. Yay for The Circle! Yay for Mae! Then someone shouts out that they should track down Mercer, too, who sells chandeliers of antlers, and everyone agrees; and though Mae knows it’s wrong she goes along with it. Hey, guess where he is? In a cabin in the wilderness. But he’s found! And he flees from the attention! Into his truck! And onto a highway! And guess what happens? Yeah. Bye-bye, Mercer. And the movie turns somber, and quiet, and montage-y, as Mae rethinks her recent life choices.
And gradually she begins to see what we saw an hour ago, so she teams up with Ty to get back at The Circle. How? By suggesting that Bailey and Stenton go transparent. All of their emails, their IMs, their VMs, their corporate strategizing. On stage, the two men eye each other warily, then look angry, then Stenton stomps off.
But all I kept thinking was, “No one thought of this before? The hell?”
More, I’m curious what Eamon Bailey’s end-game is. We never really find out. I don’t think it’s particularly malicious, I just think he has a double-standard. He wants his privacy but no one else’s, since everyone else’s gets in the way of the data he wants to record and store and filter, which will get at the heart of, I don’t know, being human or something. But I never did figure out any specific end-game.
But Mae, our horrible, stupid protagonist, wins in the end. Kinda sorta. There’s a weird ambiguity in the final scene. Mae goes kayaking—always her one respite—and she’s surrounded by drones. And she doesn’t seem to mind. Because...? Because she's horrible or because she's smart or because she's a 21st century automaton inured to it all?
I like casting Hanks as the villain, but that’s about the only thing I liked with “The Circle.” Watson, or her character, isn’t particularly likeable even in the early going. And then of course she becomes a Circle jerk.
Here’s advice to anyone in Hollywood making a movie about Silicon Valley tech companies: We don’t like them. We don’t like them because...
- ...they have more interesting jobs than we do
- ...that pay way, way better
- ...and that make products that make us feel stupid
Keep all that in mind if you’re going to do one of these in the future. Oh, and don't turn your heroes into assholes, either.
It's the GOP, Stupid
I don't know which paragraph in Jonathan Chait's New York magazine essay, “The Only Problem in American Politics is the Republican Party,” to highlight, since they're all so relevant, and explain so much of the world.
This gets at it:
Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don't dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.
This is probably closer to it:
Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times' disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party's interests — its errors all run in the same direction.
The sad part is the mainstream news media—New York Times, NPR—still doesn't get it. They keep trying to find a middle ground as the Republican party moves gleefully, dangerously right. I think a lot of mainstream journalists think the truth lies on the other side of whatever the public image is, so they search for the lurid in Barack Obama and the respectable in Donald Trump. They keep searching for Trump's “pivot.” They think in contrarian terms. Peter Baker's recent “news analysis” in the Times, saying Trump upends “150 years of two-party rule,” calling him an independent and (in one subhed) a “Lone Ranger,” is an example. Lone Ranger? Jesus Christ. What's the difference? What's the fucking difference? The Lone Ranger is a hero for children in the 1930s and '50s, and Donald Trump is a present-day solipsistic monster, and the two have nothing to do with each other. Journalists, go back to your Orwell: “To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.” I.e., Quit trying to be so fucking clever. Quit damning both houses in order to try to appear objective. Here's your question: What is it? Here's another: How do they differ? Go from there.
Still Pushing 'The Big Sick'
Last week, my friend Evan reminded me of a conversation we had last spring. I'd seen “The Big Sick” opening night at the Seattle International Film Festival and told him that when it opened wider, in June or July, he had to see it. Had to.
Me: It's the funniest movie of the year.
Evan: [Mentions two recent movies he thought were funny.]
Me: I haven't seen those. This one's funnier.
I'm kind of bummed the movie didn't just kill it at the box office like a Melissa McCarthy comedy: It grossed $41 mil in the U.S. and (thus far) $8 mil abroad,but it deserves a wider audience. I think it'll get it. I think word-of-mouth will drag people to it eventually.
Another fan of the film? My man Joe Posnanski, with whom I apparently disagree on nothing. He recently tweeted this:
Then he wrote this.
Another fan? My man Mark Harris. He recently tweeted this:
Seriously: If laughs, generosity of spirit, a deep feeling for family, and actors working in perfect unison aren't your thing, DO NOT WATCH.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 11, 2017
I responded: Exactly. I'm almost tired of trying to get people to see this great film for which they'll thank me forever.
“The Big Sick” is currently streaming on iTunes, OnDemand and Amazon. Check it out. You know that funny movie you saw recently? This one's funnier.
Movie Review: It (2017)
Stephen King must’ve had one fucked-up childhood.
It’s not just the malevolent forces he conjures—his bread and butter—but the small-town bullies. They’re not exactly the kind to give you noogies and move on. They will literally cut you, or knock you unconscious, or, hell, kill you. His good kids, the nerdy kids like us, not only live in a world without rule of law but without any parental authority whatsoever—where every parent, every single one, is worth zero. Less than zero. There are no adults in the room. The kids have to be the adults in the room.
You get a sense of this right away. When Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) wants to go outside and play with a paper boat in the rain—like all kids did in the ’80s—and his big brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher of “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special”) can’t join him because of a cold, it’s Bill who stands worried by the window as Georgie goes splashing off. The mother that normally does this? She’s downstairs playing ominous music on the piano. (“Thanks, Mom!”) And when Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgaard), the malevolent spirit of Derry, Maine, who feeds on the fear of children, makes his appearance in the sewer, tempting Georgie, we cut to a woman on her porch, hanging out. Watching maybe? For a moment we think, “At the last minute, she’ll say something, or paddle over, and Georgie will be saved.” Nope. Chomp, scream, drag. And the woman simply watches the blood on the street drain away.
In fact, halfway through, I thought that was the point of Pennywise. He’s ... parental absence. Or created out of parental awfulness. Just go down the list. No adult does anything right:
- Eight months after Georgie goes missing, Bill is still trying to find him; but Bill’s dad yells at his son that Georgie is dead. DEAD.
- Mike’s parents are dead, killed in a fire before the movie began. So he stays with his uncle, who forces him to shoot livestock in the forehead with an airgun.
- Eddie’s mom makes her son a hypochondriac.
- The local cop is the son of the chief teenage bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton of “Captain Fantastic”), whom he bullies. That’s where Henry learned it in the first place.
- The local pharmacist flirts creepily with Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a 14-year-old girl.
- Beverly’s dad tries to rape her.
When Henry carves an H into the belly of Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, quite good), the other kids don’t take him to the hospital; they fix it themselves. After they discover where Pennywise lives, they tell no adult. Maybe there’s no adult to tell. These kids are forever navigating a world between teenage bullies, horrible grown-ups, and a malevolent evil spirit that appears in Derry every 27 years. It’s a wonder they all don’t stutter.
Casting for adults
A lot of loose ends here. I never really understood Derry’s original sin that led to the creation of Pennywise. Something about a well?
More, the whole adventure leads to a dilapidated mansion/crack house on the edge of Derry, which was built around that well. The kids, the self-styled Losers Club, rappel to its bottom and walk through a tunnel where they discover this garbage dump of childhood (toys, etc.) ascending upwards, and, around it, floating in space, the bodies and/or souls of the missing children. They’re just hanging there. It’s like an aria; it’s almost beautiful. And when Pennywise is finally defeated, those bodies begin to descend. The kids talk about it. I thought maybe the missing kids would come back to life the way Beverly did—pulled down and awakened, fairy tale-like, with a kiss from her secret admirer, Ben. But they don’t. Or, more to the point, we don’t see what happens. They say, “Hey look, they’re coming down,” and then we’re just outside and the Losers Club makes a pact amongst themselves about returning in 27 years if they need to. (And they’ll need to. This one broke all September box-office records.)
So maybe all those bodies just crumpled on the ground? Or disappeared? Shouldn’t someone tell the cops they can close some missing persons files? Or is Henry’s dad the only cop in town, and at that point he’s, what, lying in his easy chair covered in his own sticky blood.
And yeah, what about Beverly’s dad? Also dead. Is there going to be an investigation? Can everyone just get away with murder in Maine?
(BTW: For a crack house, it doesn’t have many crack addicts. OR any. Or did Pennywise take them, too?)
The movie is genuinely scary (to me anyway), and keeps upping the ante. At first, Pennywise is an outside force. He appears in the dark. Then he starts appearing outside during the day. Then in your basement, then in your bathroom, then seemingly any old where at any old time.
I liked the kids—the camaraderie and the tensions between them. They fit archetypes but not completely. The brave one, Bill, looks like the nerdy kid in “Stand By Me,” Wil Wheaton, rather than that movie’s more traditional-looking brave kid, River Phoenix. Finn Wolfhard goes from nerdy lead in “Stranger Things” to, here, Richie, the mouthy, profane Jewish comic relief—a budding Lenny Bruce. The other Jewish kid, Stanley (Wyatt Olef), is more quiet, and the first to abandon the team. He’s not much, to be honest. Neither is Mike, the black kid. He’s just “the black kid.” But Jeremy Ray Taylor transcends the fat-kid role. He’s got secrets, and an inner toughness, and an inner self-worth that makes romance with Beverly seem plausible. To him. Would've been interesting if the movie allowed it.
In the novel, the terror spree and formation of the Losers Club was set in 1957-58—back when kids did play with paper boats in the rain, and white bullies told black kids to leave town. The ’80s was for the adult Losers. Now that’ll be 2016-17, and there’s already speculation on which actors will play the 40-something versions. To me, you’d be nuts not to offer Beverly to Amy Adams, since Sophia Lillis is already a dead ringer. Would Wil Wheaton make a good Bill? Is David Schwimmer too buttoned-up for Richie? I also wouldn’t mind some fun, original casting. Henry Cavill for Ben, for example. But then I haven’t read the novel. I don’t know what they’re supposed to become.
Or what Pennywise might become in the digital age? Does he have a website? Can he hypnotize you with a gif file? If he lives off fear, if it’s like “salting the meat” for him, then appearing in the Trump era should be quite the feast.
Box Office: Stephen King's 'It' Grosses A Lot
The Losers Club in “It”: losers no more.
On Friday afternoon, contemplating the release of “It,” the 2017 movie based on the 1986 Stephen King novel, and which almost assuredly got greenlit in April 2016 because of the huge buzz for Netflix's upcoming Stephen King-inspired TV series “Stranger Things,” I tweeted the following:
In the future, all movies will be about nerdy kids on stingray bikes who fend off bullies and find something amazing/horrifying.— Erik Lundegaard (@ErikLundegaard) September 8, 2017
It was a joke. But after the success of “It” this weekend, it feels like less of a joke.
Some background. There are only three months in the calendar year that have not seen a movie gross more than $100 million opening weekend: January (best: “American Sniper,” $86m), October (“Gravity,” $55m), and September (“Hotel Transylvania 2,” $48m). September is a month, generally, to premiere lesser animated films (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), Christian-y flicks (“Dolphin Tale”), and movies that have Oscar buzz until everyone sees them (“Black Mass”). It's a dumping ground.
Well, this weekend, “It” grossed $117 million.
That's the third-biggest opening this year, after “Beauty and the Beast” and “Guardians 2.” It's also—by far—the best opening for a movie based on a Stephen King novel. With a few exceptions (“The Shining,” “Shawshank,” “Stand By Me”), most of these have been schlock. More than 10 years ago, I had to do a piece for MSN ranking Stephen King movies and I thought my eyes were going to bleed from watching so much crap. Before “It,” only six King-based movies even grossed > $15 mil:
|The Dark Tower||Sony||3,451||$19,153,698||$48,903,461||2017|
|The Green Mile||WB||2,875||$18,017,152||$136,801,374||1999|
“It” got good reviews (86% on RT), and has talent behind it (Cary Fukunaga of “True Detective” season 1 was one of its screenwriters back in 2010), and its first teaser trailer got more than 197 million views within 24 hours—a record for a trailer. But it surely owes this success, and probably its existence, to “Stranger Things.” Someone needs to send the Duffer brothers a thank-you note.
So should we, now that I think about it. “It” has shown Hollywood that if it's good, and there's interest, we will show up. Even if you release it in September.
M's Game: a Jammin' Anthem, an Inauspicious Win
Play of the game: Rookie sensation Ben Gamel hits a two-out, two-strike, three-run homer to put the M's on top.
Every March, a group of us get together to divvy up the season tickets for section 327, row 9, seats 13 and 14, to watch the Seattle Mariners play baseball at Safeco Field. That meeting, with jokes, cynicism, and baseball trivia flying, is often the best part of the season. The rest of it, after all, is the Mariners. Plus our section isn't exactly full of diehards. I don't think I've seen the same face more than twice. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the 327 seats have been scooped up by the secondary market, StubHub or something, because too often we wind up sitting next to fans of the opposing team. Last night included.
From the start, it didn't look auspicious. For one, I hadn't really sought out anyone to go with. The only one I asked specifically was my friend Jeff, last minute, but he was a “Nah,” so instead I posted the following on my Facebook page:
Anyone interested in going to the Ms game with me tonight? 7 PM start. Forecast calls for high 60s, overcast, and with potential smoke from central Washington wildfires. The team has lost three in a row and is mostly out of the wildcard race, so we're fairly sure to extend our postseasonless streak to 16 years—best in the Majors. We're rooting just for pride now. On the plus side, you'll be w/me and my sunny personality. IM if interested. EOE.
Oh, and we're two games under .500.
Starting pitcher will be longtime fan favorite Mike Leake, whom we acquired eight days ago from St. Louis.
A career in sales doesn't await. No takers. Until Patricia was talking to Jeff's wife, Sullivan, and she said she'd go. Why not? So off we went, past the construction sites and homeless, through the wafts of ocassional marijuana smoke and the more pervasive wildfire variety, and down to Safeco. Sullivan turned out to be a great baseball game companion. I never had to worry about a lull in the conversation and I got to feel smart explaining how a slugging percentage is calculated.
Outside the park, I bought a Grand Salami with Ben Gamel on the cover. My friend Tim is production designer/art director for the magazine, and earlier he and me and some friends had wondered over cover lines. “Gamel's Got Game”? “Gamel's a Gamer”? “Hey Yankees: Thanks for Ben Gamel”? The publisher wound up going with the simpler “Ben Gamel: Rookie Sensation,” although, to be frank, Gamel hadn't been of late. Before the midseason All-Star break, he hit .323 with an .828 OPS; post break, it was .214 with a .586 OPS.
The game began inauspiciously: Single, double, single. We're down 2-0, nobody out, Justin Upton on first and Albert Pujols at the plate. “This guy,” I told Sullivan, “used to be the best hitter in baseball, and now he's one of the worst.” “Why is he still playing?” Sullivan wondered. As I was about to explain his rep, and his long-term deal, and the fact that even last year he was good, and there was hope he would still be, you know, Albert Pujols, he hit a grounder to third. Over to second and back to first for an easy double play. Albert was chugging barely halfway up the first-base line by the time it was complete.
“He also has the all-time record for grounding into double plays,” I added. “Set it this year. Broke Cal Ripken's mark.”
That DP turned out to be huge. In the top of the 5th, with two outs, the Angels' first baseman C.J. Cron hit a single, and I noticed it was only their fourth hit of the night. Meaning it was their first hit since the first three guys. After his initial yips, as Sullivan called them, Leake had settled down considerably.
By this point we were also ahead, 4-2, on a two-out, three-run homer by Ben Gamel, our cover guy, in the 2nd; and a two-out, bases-loaded single by Mitch Haniger in the 3rd. That proved to be enough. Angels added a run in the 6th when Pujols hit a two-out single (a deep single) to plate Justin Upton. Pujols again started the 9th with a deep single to left. All of his deep singles looked like doubles to me, but then you'd see him chugging along the basepaths and knew he couldn't make it to second. (How he has 14 doubles on the season, I don't know.) In the 9th, he was replaced, of course, for a pinch runner, who stole second, but Edwin Diaz closed it out for us. A sudden win for my last scheduled game of the season.
These are the M's pitchers I've seen start for us this year:
- Ariel Miranda (2)
- Yovani Gallardo (2)
- Andrew Moore (2)
- Dillon Overton
- Sam Gaviglio
- Marco Gonzales
- Mike Leake
It's amazing they went 6-4 when I was there.
A highlight of the night for me was the National Anthem, performed by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam in rockin' Jimi Hendrix/electric guitar fashion, which apparently he does semi-regularly. Seattle may not have any pennants above the right-field bleachers but we got that.
'Wolf Warrior II' Kicks Ass in China
Leng Feng: Wearing the flag on his sleeve.
I have another piece up on Salon. Apologies in advance for all the ads on the site—there's a story in there somewhere.
The story is the massive box-office success of “Wolf Warrior II,” a Chinese production that opened July 27 and has thus far grossed more than $850 million worldwide—good enough to become the first non-Hollywood movie to break into the top 100 movies in terms of worldwide box office. It's 57th with a bullet. And almost all of it ($848) from China alone. It hasn't traveled well but it hasn't needed to.
My piece is about why it might have gone into the box-office stratosphere the way it did. Was it word of mouth or was it a presidential loud mouth? Our president, not theirs. It's actually fairly intriguing and required a bit of digging.
I'll have a review of the film up in the next week. Basically “Wolf II” is a not-bad version of a kind of movie I don't like: It's “Rambo”ish. Its slams at America are interesting to watch but its portrayal of local Africans is beyond problematic. You have work to do, China, particularly if you want to rake in the money internationally.
Movie Review: Columbus (2017)
I first saw the trailer for “Columbus” on an evening when I was agonizing over whether to spend another $300 to travel to Minneapolis 1 1/2 days ahead of schedule so I could be with my mother who was having trouble recovering in the hospital. Would that day and a half matter? Would I just be throwing money away? I felt guilty enough just being in a movie theater in Seattle, but I was still on the fence. Then the trailer to “Columbus” began with these words:
There’s this belief that if you’re not there when a family member dies, their spirit will roam aimlessly and become a ghost.
Yeah. I was in Minneapolis within 24 hours.
“Columbus” reminds me a little of last year’s “Paterson.” Both are quiet, thoughtful movies about scattered characters in an unfamous American town that is still known for something: poetry for “Paterson,” modern architecture here. “Paterson” was more acclaimed but I think “Columbus” is better.
That said, I wasn’t overwhelmed. I appreciated more than loved it.
Should I stay or should I go
Both main characters are trapped in Columbus, Indiana by a parent. Jin (John Cho), is forced to travel from Seoul, South Korea to be with his famous architect father, who collapses before a lecture and never really recovers. Cassandra, or Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, a find), is a bright 19-year-old who has eschewed college to look after her working-class mother (Michelle Forbes), recently recovered from meth addiction.
Casey is clearly chafing and keeps pursuing the nearest interesting thing, and once Jin arrives that’s him. I like their first conversation, sharing cigarettes on opposite sides of a wrought-iron fence. She first hears him speaking Korean on the phone (he’s a translator, expected to work while caring for his father), and expresses surprise that he speaks English so well. Like an American, really. But he is an American—born there, raised here, now living there—and I’m glad first-time writer-director Kogonada added this bit of complexity and didn’t try to pass off the obviously American Cho as Korean. Jin even engages in a bit of PC gamesmanship like an American—giving her a hard time for assuming he didn’t speak English. I like when he immediately expresses regret over this: “You offered me a cigarette and a I give you a hard time.” I like the twinkle in his eye when he corrects her on his name: Jin with an n. I like how their conversation ends at a break in the fence, but they each stay on their own side.
What I didn’t particularly like? Them, sadly. I found her both self-satisfied and needy—an annoying combination—while he still harbors resentments toward his father at the age of .... what? 40? (Cho is 45.) Shouldn’t he be over this by now? Shouldn’t he have forgiven his father his faults and himself his choices? The fact that he’s still working through these issues made him less interesting to me.
We don’t see him working on translations much, or even at the hospital at his father's bedside. Mostly we get them in conversation, and slowly, sometimes awkwardly, truths are revealed. She talks the meth problem in Columbus, he says meth is a problem everywhere: Korea, China. Then, based on where she takes the conversation, he asks if her mother did meth. She laughs oddly at this. “Did you mother do meth?”: How funny that sounds. She’s right, it does sound funny, but he keeps asking. Eventually she owns up. That’s why she’s still in town, caring for her. But during the course of the movie her mother appears to be doing it again. Mom's got a night-shift job but not answering her phone, and Cassie discovers a friend is covering for her. (Horrible friend.) It’s never stated out loud, and Jin never realizes it, but we do. We know why Casey's acting the way she’s acting. And we know why she leaves Columbus. Because staying hasn’t helped.
Don’t let’s start
Throughout, she, and sometimes he, talk up the modernist architecture of the city, some of which I loved (Second Street Bridge), some of which I found so-so (the 1954 purposely unimposing bank building). I think my favorite is the low-level modernist city hall, built in 1981, particularly its cantilevered brick walls that extend from left and right but don’t quite meet in the center. That’s a good metaphor for politics, particularly these days, and a good metaphor for Jin and Casey. They go all that way but don’t quite ... meet. Or consummate. There’s the age difference, mostly, and the mixed feelings. Is his concern for her fatherly, big brotherly, more? I like that it remains ambiguous, probably even to him.
It's a quiet, studied film, and the ending is poignant. From the beginning he’s wanted to leave and she’s wanted to stay. So, of course, she leaves and he stays. It’s like that They Might Be Giants line: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.” She goes but neither is free; both have work to do. His is with his father, hers is with herself.
Movie Review: Logan Lucky (2017)
The opening has charm. Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, of the West Virginia Logan clan, a grizzled, former high school football star working on the engine of his truck while bantering with his young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) about an upcoming beauty pageant she'll be in and the John Denver song he loves: “Country Roads” with its paean to his home state. As he’s finishing, he asks to see her guns and she makes muscles and kisses one of them like a Schwarzenegger wannabe. Who’s not going to smile at that? It’s sweet and feels real.
The movie lost some of its charm, sadly, with two casting miscues.
Stevie Two Tones
After Jimmy loses his construction job at a NASCAR track in North Carolina, he visits his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War vet who lost his arm and makes do with a prosthetic as he mixes drinks at the Duck Tape bar. I love Driver but here his West Virginia/Southern accent fades in and out like a radio with bad reception. Sometimes it sounds normal. Sometahms he slows it da-own like he dumb or somethin’. I couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be.
The greater miscue is casting Seth MacFarlane as asshole British race-car driver Max Chilblain. Somehow he and his posse wind up at the Duck Tape in the middle of nowhere. Then he’s a major asshole, mocking Clyde for the prosthetic limb. Leads to a fight, etc. Throughout the movie, MacFarlane is this gigantic false note in the proceedings.
But it’s not just Driver and MacFarlane. Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh’s tone is off. Specifically, it’s two-toned. When it’s just Channing Tatum and another woman, or women, the movie feels quiet and down-to-earth and real. When the NASCAR heist comes into play, and we see not only Driver and MacFarlane but the Bang brothers (Daniel Craig, Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), it becomes comic and campy. The accents and characterizations go over-the-top.
The heist itself is fine. It’s smart. It took me a while to figure out all the elements—like the deal with the cake in the bank vault and the painted cockroaches. And since we care about these guys, and not at all about NASCAR, we want them to get away. Which they do. But then Jimmy, on his own, lets the authorities find the money. Joe Bang (Craig) isn’t happy about that. But by and by, he, and we, realize that that's not all the money, Jimmy kept some. If they’d managed to steal millions from NASCAR, the hunt wouldn’t have ended. This way, they stole just enough to let the authorities forget about it. With one exception: an FBI agent played by Hillary Swank. But even that loose end remains nicely loose.
Kin to the King
Question: Are Southerners tired yet of Hollywood actors playing them? I’m curious. There’s hashtag protests whenever Caucasians get cast as Asians (as there should be), and when light-skinned African-Americans are cast as dark-skinned African-Americans (well...), and when, you know, this half-British, half-Chinese guy plays an Indian; but apparently any old Brit (Craig and Gleeson here) can go Southern. Tatum, who's from Alabama, gets it right.
BTW: There’s a lot of famous offspring in this movie. Of the lesser Bang brothers, Gleeson is the son of Brendan, while Quaid is the son of Dennis and Meg Ryan. Meanwhile, the Logan sister, Mellie, is played by Riley Keough, daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and thus granddaughter to the King. Not surprisingly, she gets Southern right, too. Plus she's seriously smokin’.
I enjoyed the film enough; but a less campy tone for the heist, and for the Bangs, and some better casting elsewhere, would’ve elevated it beyond a not-bad-for-late-summer fare into something worth watching in 20 or 50 years.
My Father Rails Against the Dog Days of Late-Summer Moviegoing ... in 1975
In early Sept. 1975, my father, movie critic for The Minneapolis Tribune in the '70s, and inspiration for the William H. Macy character in “Fargo,” wrote the below. Things haven't exactly changed. And if they have, it's in the wrong direction. Just look at that list of movies one could've seen in theaters in late-summer 1975: “Nashville,” “Love and Death,” “Jaws,” and a re-release of “Gone with the Wind.” Not to mention one of the Python movies. Wow. These days, we're happy if we're not too insulted by a late-summer movie.
I never did understand studio temerity during late summer and Labor Day, but according to the below it originated because the movies didn't want to compete with the new fall TV lineups. Yet with Netflix, amazon, et al., and a 365-day schedule, that's mostly a thing of the past. Isn't it? Surely a fun, interesting movie could clean up this weekend. But what did we get? A much-panned historical epic (“Tulip Fever”), a comedy from Mexico (“Hazlo con Hombre”) and various forgettable indies in limited releases. The result, according to the Box Office Mojo headline, is “the Worst Labor Day Weekend in 17 Years.” The highest grosser among new releases is indicative: The 40th anniversary re-release of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Which came out two years after Dad wrote the below.
Sep 11 1975
For years I thought that the term “dog days” owed its origin to the fact that the Dog Star was in its ascendancy in August. Nonsense. The phrase was coined by an irate moviegoer leafing through the amusement pages of his newspaper in a futile search for new, first-run movies in late summer. I haven’t seen such a profusion of canines since “1,001 Dalmations.” Most of them are such bombs they can’t be shown on airliners.
If you’ve already seen “Nashville,” “Love and Death” and “Monty Python,” and you don’t want to wait in line an hour to see “Jaws,” and you don’t want to see “Gone with the Wind” or “Clockwork Orange” for the umpteenth time, you’re out of luck these days. Unless, that is, you’re turned on by such turkeys as “White Line Fever,” “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Bucktown.” Or an Elliot Guould vehicle, aptly named “Who?,” that slipped into town last weekend, unheralded, and is departing today the same way.
Why is it that, with summer over for most of us, the kids back in school and a new television season starting, the film industry is still heavy on reruns and schlock? A local film distributor, who doesn’t agree with the policy but is at its mercy, says that the major companies prefer to wait “until the impetus of the new televion season has died down.”
And the prospects for the next month or so can be summed up by the name of one of the “stars” of “White Line Fever”: Slim Pickens. ....
“That's funny ... but it's not Noel Coward funny.”
After finishing David Thomson's new book on the Warner Bros. (much recommended), I've been having fun with Frank Langella's 2012 memoir, “Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them,” in which each short chapter is a famous person and he describes his encounter(s) with them. It's like candy. Lee Strasberg is a dick, Yul Brynner is imperious (and a dick), Rita Hayworth is touching (and touched), Dolores Del Rio remains untouched. This is from his “John F. Kennedy” chapter, whom he met unexpectedly at a friend's house as he was just starting out. It makes me long for a real president. But then, almost everything does these days:
As the afternoon progressed our napkins would grow increasingly damp with tears of laughter as Noel Coward reached into his bottomless hamper of stories, jokes, one-liners, and character assassinations. And the sight of my President pounding on the table with one hand and holding the other out, palm up, to Coward, begging him to wait while he caught his breath, has never left my memory. To see the leader of the free world so hopelessly convulsed with laughter, wiping his eyes continuously, and to watch his wife genuinely delighted to see him so happy, made a profound impression on me. How glorious it must have been for him. Not a single subject of importance discussed all afternoon. No current affairs, political views, or social commentary. ...
We all trouped out to the lawn to say our good-byes, and before boarding the helicopter the President said to me: “What do you think, Frank? Should I keep my day job?”
JFK also asked Langella, then in his early 20s, if he was going to attempt to make a living as an actor. Imagine if he could've seen what happened: Langella not only would do just that, but he would wind up playing JFK's 1960 presidential rival in the 2008 movie “Frost/Nixon.” “You see, Mr. President, you'll get assassinated next year, Nixon will win in '68, then he'll discredit himself with the cover-up of a burglarly at Democratic National Headquarters, all of which was inspired in part by his political fear of your brother. No, not Bobby. Teddy. Bobby will be assassinated in June '68, paving the way for Nixon.”
Yeah, it really did go south about the time I was born, didn't it?
What's the best movie about a writer? Not a journalist but a real writer, a poet or novelist, and someone who actually existed. “Capote” maybe? Even there, it's Capote's investigation, and the drama surrounding that investigation, that intrigues us. It's not Capote at the typewriter. Rewrites are drag enough to do on your own; imagine watching someone do them.
Despite all that, Hollywood's having a go this fall with three new biopics of writers.
On Sept. 8, in “Rebel in the Rye,” Nicholas Houte plays J.D. Salinger, who escapes the horrors of his World War II experiences by writing “The Catcher in the Rye.”
On Oct. 13, in “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” Domhnall Gleeson plays A.A. Milne, who escapes the horrors of his World War I experiences by writing the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
And also on Oct. 13, in “Professor Marston & The Wonder Women,” Luke Evans, our new go-to handsome scumbag, plays the titular (and titilated) professor, whose bondage fetishism, extramarital living arrangements and desire for submissive women, lead him to create the greatest female superhero of all time.
I think the last has the best shot of being good, but it's the Salinger that's closest to my heart. I'll probably see all of them anyway.
Random thought: Why are all three writers played by British actors when only one of them (Milne) is British? Scratch that. We know why. Americans never seem artist enough for Hollywood. Shame.
Random trivia: Marston died in 1947 in Rye, New York.
Non-random question: If you could see any author's life on film, whose would you choose?
Holding out hope that this will be the epigraph for the Salinger biopic:
“The goddamn movies. They can ruin you. I'm not kidding.”
– Holden Caulfield