erik lundegaard

Friday December 15, 2017

Transformed

Here are the box office totals—domestic, international and worldwide—for the five “Transformers” movies. Pay attention in particular to the last column: each movie's rank in terms of worldwide box office the year it was released. The series rose and rose and rose, and then...

YEAR TITLE WORLD-WIDE DOMESTIC INTER WW RANK
2007 Transformers $709.70 $319.20 $390.50 5
2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen $836.30 $402.10 $434.20 4
2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon $1,123.80 $352.40 $771.40 2
2014 Transformers: Age of Extinction $1,104.10 $245.40 $858.60 1
2017 Transformers: The Last Knight $605.40 $130.20 $475.30 13*

* And counting (down)

Splat. The last was least.

No. 13 worldwide for the year (or #14 after “Last Jedi” gets rolling) would generally get you high-fives all around—unless the previous iteration was No. 1 worldwide and grossed half a billion more. 

I read somewhere that Mark Wahlberg says he's leaving the franchise, but, given the above, would they want him back? I wouldn't be surprised if Dwayne Johnson gets the call, but how many more of these stupid franchises can he save? Or maybe they meld it with the “Fast and Furious” franchise? Fast, Furious and Transformed. Dom rides around in Optimus Prime. Why not? Both turned from face to heel in their most recent movies. It's all WWE now—in the movies and in the White House. It's movies and democracy transformed into idiocracies. 

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Posted at 10:50 PM on Dec 15, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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Thursday December 14, 2017

2tupid

The bad news is the New York Yankees landed the biggest, strongest, loudest homerun hitter in all the fucking land, Giancarlo Stanton, 6' 6“, the guy who led the Majors with 59 last season, and who hit 'em out with insane exit velocities, and they got him for not much: a few mid-level prospects and a mid-level SS/2B, Starlin Castro (last season: .300/.338/.455; career OPS: .733; age next season: 28). Stanton is a near-duplicate of the Yanks' current wonderboy, Aaron Judge, 6' 7”, who led the American League last season with 52 homers, and who hit 'em out with insane exit velocities. Both play right field. Combine those two with catcher Gary Sanchez, who, for his career, has hit 53 homers in only 177 games, and, shit, it's bad news for Yankee haters out there. Teams always talk up a new Murderers Row but this is truly that. And they're all young: Sanchez just turned 25, Judge will turn 26 in April, Stanton just turned 28. 

The good news? Miami Marlins' co-owner and chief executive Derek Jeter is getting REEEEEEEAMED over this:

It does a heart good. 

I get the corner he's in. Kind of. The Marlins are in debt, they're trying to unload big, expensive talent, but they don't seem to be getting much for it. The Stanton trade was the worst. He had a no-trade clause in his 13-year, $285 million contract (of which 10 years remain), so he got to pick which teams he wanted to be sent to. And apparently he chose the four LCS teams: Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Cubs. And the other teams offered less. And so Jeter had no choice but to...

Nah. He had a choice. “Sorry, G., we're not getting good offers from those teams. See you in spring training.”

Stanton didn't want to stay with the Marlins; he wanted to go to a winner in his prime. So force his hand. Instead, Jeter just waved his. He waved Stanton on through. Also Dee Gordon (to us) and Marcell Ozuna (to St. Louis). In the last month, the Marlins have traded (and for not much) their two top guys in terms of 2017 WAR, and 3 of their top 5. The WAR total is 16.5 (wins), meaning instead of going 77-85, the Marlins would've wound up more like 61-101. I expect them to have that kind of season in 2018. All because of Jeter. 

Now there's a chance he's not incompetent. There's a chance that he's an undercover Yankees spy and using the Miami Marlins to be a kind of farm system for the Yankees, the way the '50s Yankees did with the Kansas City Athletics. But most people just think he's over his head. 

So. The Yankees are now poised for another dynastic run; they're ready to add to their already obscene advantage in pennants and rings; they're about to make my life miserable again. On the other side, Jeter looks like an idjit. I'm truly torn. 

Jeter criticized for Stanton, Ozuna trades

Jeter's last game in the Bronx: Me, me, me. 

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Posted at 08:56 AM on Dec 14, 2017 in category Baseball
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Monday December 11, 2017

The Seattle Film Critics Society's 10 Best of the Year

The nominees are out from the Seattle Film Critics Society, and they are ... 

Wait, nominees? Even the New York and LA film critics don't do nominees...do they? They just award.

Anyway, despite living in Seattle (First Hill, represent!), and being a film critic (of a kind), I've never been anywhere near this group. Maybe with good reason. These are their nominees for best picture:

Missing? “The Big Sick,” of course, which I watched again with friends last night and liked more than the first time I saw it—as the opening movie of the Seattle International Film Festival last May. And I loved it then. Right now, it's top 3 for me. With many more to see...

...such as “Call Me By Your Name,” which is winning awards up the wazoo but not here. For a second I thought it wasn't listed because it hadn't screened this far west, but the film is mentioned as part of “Best Ensemble Cast.” And that's it. No others. Neither best pic for “The Shape of Water.” Haven't seen yet so shouldn't say. Just ... surprising. 

What's included and probably shouldn't be? “Blade Runner 2049” for starters. Then on to “Dunkirk” and wrap up with “Logan.” I'd put “Spidey” before “Logan.”

I guess I like the head bob toward the popular, but then why ignore “Big Sick”? And why all the sci-fi? Fucking nerds.

At least “Baby Driver” didn't make the cut.  

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Posted at 06:28 PM on Dec 11, 2017 in category Movies - Awards
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Movie Review: Black Legion (1937)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In an early scene, a bunch of machine-shop guys are hanging outside eating their lunches, wearing dirty overalls and 1930s-era working caps—called whoopee caps, which I think of as Jughead caps—and giving each other shit. Mostly they’re giving shit to Ed Jackson (Dick Foran), a big, beefy sort, who’s nursing a hangover because the night before he drank too much with the wrong dame, Pearl Danvers (Helen Flint). It’s all good-natured fun until Cliff Moore (Joe Sawyer) opens his yap. His target isn’t Ed but Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon), a handsome kid who’s reading a book with a sliderule.

“What do you got there,” he asks. “A honyock backscratcher?”

Honyock—I had to look it up—is an ethnic slur for Eastern Europeans. Most likely a compound of “Hungarian” and “Polack.” 

Our hero, Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart), eventually tells Cliff to lay off, and we get this exchange: 

Cliff: He’s always got his nose in a book.
Frank: It’s his nose, ain’t it?
Cliff: And a plenty big one at that.

Black Legion movie reviewApparently Dombrowski was originally a Jewish character but got toned down in rewrites. The nose reference is all that’s left of that identity. Like Clementis’ fur hat.

Black Legion, White House
“Black Legion” is one of those Warner Bros. movies that were, as they used to say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” There really was a Black Legion, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, with estimated membership as large as 125,000 in the 1930s. It was the usual mix of all-American nastiness: anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-socialist and anti-black. Malcolm X believed the Black Legion was responsible for the death of his father, while this movie is loosely based on the kidnapping and murder of WPA worker Charles Poole in Detroit in May 1936.

It’s also ripped from our headlines, isn’t it? At one point, Frank hears the following on the radio from a Father Coughlin-type sermonizer. The sentiments would not be out of place in a speech by Pres. Donald Trump today:

... hordes of grasping, pushing foreigners, who are stealing jobs from American workmen and bread from American homes. It is to combat this peril, to preserve and protect standards of living which made American workmen the envy of the world, that we, the challengers, have raised our rallying cry, “America for Americans!”

Think of that. Despite all the progress we've made, an 80-year-old stock Hollywood villain doesn't sound much different than the current president of the United States.

As a movie, “Black Legion” is a cautionary tale. From that lunch scene above, you’d suspect Ed might get involved in the Legion, maybe via Pearl Danvers, but no. Ed sobers up and proposes to Betty (Ann Sheridan). It’s Frank, our hero, who goes down the wrong path. And stays down it.

A foreman position opens up, everyone thinks he’ll get it, but it goes to Joe Dombrowski. Incensed, Frank hears the above radio broadcast and joins the Black Legion. Together, they burn down Dombrowski’s home, and ride him and his dad out of town on a rail, then celebrate with beers all around. Frank gets the foreman gig but almost immediately loses it again because he’s too busy recruiting for the Legion. This time it goes to Mike Grogan (Clifford Soubier), so they attack him, too. Cause he's Irish? Or because Frank is feeling, as our current media terms it, “economic anxiety”? Your call. 

Remedial education
Yes, it’s a bit sanitized. The real Legion attacked Jews and blacks, rather than the Irish and Polish. Even so, what's fascinating about the film is that our hero isn't redeemed. Far from it. His wife and child leave him, he gets drunk with Pearl, then confesses all to Jim. When Jim demands Frank go to the police or he will, Frank panics, calls in the Legion, and they take Jim to the woods for a flogging. Instead, he’s shot trying to escape (by Frank), and the rest of the hooded Legion scatters.

Initially, at trial, they create a cockamamie story about how Jim was supposedly in love with Pearl, and that's what led to the tragedy. Odder still, they make Frank claim that he was in love with Pearl, too. It almost feels like this is the reason Frank finally breaks down on the stand and tells the truth. It's not the guilt at killing a pal, or the 11th-hour realization that xenophobia is bad; he just couldn’t stand anyone thinking he preferred the uglier woman.

As in the real Charles Poole case, all of them are sentences to life in prison. That's the end. Just that. So don’t join secret hooded hate groups, kids, or you’ll lose everything. 

It was a tidy-enough lesson in 1937, but one we have to keep relearning, apparently. Once more from the top.

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Posted at 09:34 AM on Dec 11, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Saturday December 09, 2017

'Man Shot, 1 West 72'

I should've posted this yesterday, on the ... which was it ... 37th anniversary. Almost as many years as he spent on Earth.

NY Daily News on the day John Lennon was killedWhat an inspired way to write the column, telling of the lives of the cops who picked up the body and brought it Roosevelt Hospital in New York. Part of it is brutal reading: another body, but not another body, in the violent country he desperately wanted to live in, on the cusp of our most violent year. He didn't even get an ambulance? Just cops picking him up and carrying him into the backseat of their patrol car? And still alive. And still aware. “Are you John Lennon?” A nod and a groan. The intersection of these cops' lives with the man they brought in. And that brilliant last line that feels more relevant than ever:

And Jim Moran and Tony Palma, older now, cops in a world with no fun, stood in the emergency room as John Lennon, whose music they knew, whose music was known everywhere on earth, became another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.

Rest in peace, John. Rest in peace, Jimmy Breslin, 52 when he wrote this, 88 when he died earlier this year. 

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Posted at 09:13 AM on Dec 09, 2017 in category Music
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Movie Review: Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Why is the fifth “Transformers” movie subtitled “The Last Knight“? Besides the obvious attempt to cash in on the Batman franchise?

Glad you asked! You see, back in 484 A.D., King Arthur and his knights were about to lose an epic “Game of Thrones”-inspired battle against the Saxons when the man whom Arthur trusted implicitly, the wizard Merlin (Stanley Tucci), a comic-relief drunk, stumbles upon a crashed spaceship with a transformer inside. Wait, 12 transformers? That’s what Wiki tells me but god help me if I remember more than one in this scene. Anyway, Merlin’s innate ... comedy? ... somehow convinces the transformers to back his side in the war (no Prime Directive for these fuckers), so they transform themselves into a giant three-head “Game of Thrones”-inspired dragon, give Merlin an alien staff, and warn him that “a great evil” will come for it one day; then off they go to battle and win the thing for Arthur and England.

Transformers: The Last Knight movie reviewCUT TO: Present-day, post-Transformers-III-or-IV Chicago, where, in the ruins, four “Stranger Things”-inspired nerd boys are saved by a fierce, Eleven-inspired girl, Izabella (Isabella Moner), and her transformer pals, who are, in turn, saved by our hero from the previous film: failed Texas inventor and all-around good-guy dad Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Cutting loose the nerds, they go off to some safe-ish haven/junkyard to wait out the next step in the inane journey.

Did you spot it? Yes, Yeager is our “last knight.” He’s the guy who will save the day. How? Well, this odd little transformer will attached itself to him, mostly to his arm but also move around his body sometimes, which gives him the opportunity to reveal his tight abs to the Oxbridge-educated but standoffish hottie Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), a direct descendant of Merlin. (Wahlberg here is like, say, Margot Robbie in the airport dressing/undressing in “Suicide Squad”: naively unaware of the effect his sexy body has on others.) Then, at a crucial moment, after Yeager and Wembley take a transformer-sub to the bottom of the ocean, and run from/fight the 12 guardian transformers there, not to mention Optimus Prime, who, like a WWE wrestler, has turned from face (hero) to heel (villain), because...

Fuck it. Enough to know that they resurface, there’s a battle, Megatron steals the staff, Optimus realizes the error of his ways because Bumblebee speaks, but he’s about to be executed anyway by the 12 guardian transformers when Cade shouts “NO!” and the odd little transform becomes ... EXCALIBUR! Yes! Arthur’s sword! And Cade stops the mighty blade of the guaridan transformer! And he saves Optimus! And now he’s ready for battle.

And so Cade takes Excalibur and ...

Actually, that’s pretty much it. That’s all he does with it. It doesn’t come into play ever again. 

Fuck me
Remember when you were like 9 or 10 and you’d play at “war,” or some kind of imaginary adventure game, and it was basically, “And then this happens, and then this happens,” and “No! Those guys are over there! No! That guy’s dead!” Remember that kind of thing? No logic, no sense of connecting the past with the now, just the hell-bent movement forward? That’s this. That's Michael Bay.

This movie is so bad I kept flashing to that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season in which Larry David is cast in “The Producers” because Mel Brooks wants it to fail. He’s sick of his creation and wants to destroy it and move on. Is Bay doing the same? Is he sick of his creation and wants to end it? Or is he simply boundary-testing how stupid we are? “Can they take something this dumb? Cuz I’ve about reached my limit. I can't make it any dumber. I canna dumb it down any further, Captain.

The plot is basically: Optimus and army men chase our heroes, who are on a hellbent journey to find a MacGuffin (alien staff) that could lead to the end of the world, and which only they can gather. Once they find the MacGuffin, and once the bad guys immediately steal it and try to use it to destroy the Earth, Optimus and the military guys join our heroes for the final battle, which takes place, with a nod toward the movie's King Arthur opening, over England’s moun-tains green. And the good guys win. 

Plus Anthony Hopkins as Sir Edmund Burton, the one who knows the backstory. 

Plus Tony Hale (“Arrested Development,” “VEEP”) as the government scientist apparently in charge of everything who orders generals to use nukes against the Decepticons because ”magic isn’t real."  

I kept wondering: In these movies, isn’t there always something that’s been left behind by centuries-ago transformers that today's transformers need to get a hold of to rule the world? Or save it? Shouldn’t someone do a study on this?

[Smaller voice] Oh no, I don’t have to do it, do I?

No, thank god. Or thank Rob Bricken at io9, a better man than I, who has already done it. Read his synopsis. He tears apart the movie, the series, and Michael Bay, with the necessary humor.

Final reminder: This is all about a toy robot that can turn into a car. Have we gone mad?

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Posted at 08:18 AM on Dec 09, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Friday December 08, 2017

Quote of the Day

“If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be — and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, ”How does someone else's marriage affect me?“ and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core ”live and let live“ argument. ...

”Nonetheless, here we are. And it is a hard case constitutionally. It pits religious and artistic freedom against civil equality and nondiscrimination. Anyone on either side who claims this is an easy call are fanatics of one kind or other. ...

“In other words, if the liberals were more liberal, and the Christians more Christian, this case would never have existed.”

-- Andrew Sullivan, on the Masterpiece Cake v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, “Let Him Have His Cake,” on the New York magazine website. He also has sharp takes on other big events this week: Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; Al Franken announcing his resignation from the U.S. Senate.  

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Posted at 09:36 AM on Dec 08, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Ms Get 2B Dee Gordon for CF

2B or not 2B? Apparently not, as yesterday Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto acquired second baseman (and perennial NL stolen-base leader) Dee Gordon from the Miami Marlins, with plans to move him to center field. Sure, why not? He'll cover ground anyway, and he's got a glove. What did we give up? I'll let ESPN's David Schoenfield talk:

Jerry Dipoto has said he wanted to acquire a center fielder for the Mariners ... so he acquired Dee Gordon from the Marlins. ... He's signed for three more seasons plus an option so he could be a long-term solution there. They did give up Nick Neidert, their top pitching prospect. He's not a flamethrower, but immediately becomes one of the Marlins' top prospects as well and Derek Jeter has dealt away his first major chunk of salary.

Man, I hate helping effin' Jeter.

Gordon will turn 30 in April, which generally isn't a good age for a speedster ... until we remember (because surely we remember) that Lou Brock set the single-season stolen base record in 1974 at age 34/35.

Gordon can also hit: He's got a .293 career average. What he doesn't do is walk (.329 career OBP) or hit for power (.367 career slugging). He's got 11 HRs in his career, 40 triples and only 90 doubles. That last is shocking. His best doubles season is 24: twice. I imagine we'll place him at the top of the lineup. But if he slumps at Safeco, as players have been known to do, we're in trouble. 

That said, his WAR last season was 3.1, which is equal to Jean Segura's. And it'll be nice to have some speed on the basepaths. Here's a highlight reel from a few years ago:

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Posted at 07:08 AM on Dec 08, 2017 in category Seattle Mariners
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Thursday December 07, 2017

Lancelot Links

  • This is fun: A video countdown of the 25 best movies of 2017 according to David Ehrlich. We only match up a bit. I move “The Big Sick” way up and stuff like “Dunkirk” way back. I like story.
  • The 10 best books of the year, according to The New York Times. 
  • Why, in China, did Pixar's “CoCo” underperform on its first day, then begin to kick ass? Apparently the translated title was poorly named.
  • “CoCo” is so not underperforming in China now that Forbes has a piece on how well it's done there. And what does all of this say about our global box-office assumptions? That they ain't worth the quai they're based on.
  • Speaking of: Can China go sci-fi? And can Sino sci-fi go global? 
  • Joe Posnanski has a new dude he's lobbying to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame: the Yankee-killing, bloody-socked, crazy-in-a-bad-way Curt Schilling. Here's Poz's opening argument.
  • A day later, he added an entire column about Schilling. It's persuasive.
  • Poz ain't exactly lobbying for Steve Garvey for the Hall, but he does tell a great story about him and a female reporter back in the '80s. It's classy, for a change.
  • The Aaron Boone/managerial hiring continues to perplex baseball/Yankees fans. My main thought: He may be laid-back and affable now; but if the Yankees start with a losing record in April, I expect Yankee fans will remind him what his surname is.
  • The arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission case before the U.S. Supreme Court didn't go well, says Ian Millhiser—if, that is, you think you shouldn't be able to turn away customers based on religious convictions. There are way broader questions here, though, that are fascinating, and haven't been explored enough. Overall, though, this feels like a fight both sides wanted. The Christian baker could've just told the gay couple, “I'm too busy”; and once he stated his case, the gay couple could've just said, “Fuck you, we're never coming back here, and we're telling all of our friends—gay and straight—not to come here, and see this money? It's not yours. And fuck you again.” Instead, this. 
  • Although Jennifer Rubin at the Post dismisses that argument and reminds us that once again the right's absurd culture wars are overtaking its business sensibilities: “It's odd that conservatives, of all people, want to politicize commerce. The glory of the marketplace is that anyone with money, regardless of religion or race or ethnicity, gets to partake in commerce.”
  • “Art of the Deal” ghostwriter Tony Schwartz reminds us that if Trump lashes out it means he feels cornered. So here's to him lashing out. 
  • We may ask ourselves: How did we get here? In that spirit, Swedemason offers us Donald Trump channeling the Talking Heads
  • I've been saying this for a while: Republicans are interested in power, Democrats in purity, and that's why Republicans win and we have the shitty world we have. Dahlia Lithwick, in a piece about the sexual harassment wars, says it better. 
  • Is this my favorite story of the year? A neighborhood cat so likes to patrol around the library at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. (my sister's alma mater), they've barred him. As one tweeter states, the warning on the door reads like half a children's book. 
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Posted at 06:11 AM on Dec 07, 2017 in category Lancelot Links
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Wednesday December 06, 2017

Movie Review: Snatched (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Based on reviews (37% on Rotten Tomatoes), box office ($45.8 million, a 60% drop from Amy Schumer’s previous film), and word-of-mouth (crickets), not to mention the awful double entendre of the title, I expected “Snatched” to suuuuuuuuck.

It doesn’t. Mind you, it’s not good, but it’s not bottom-of-the-barrel.

It’s good enough, in fact, to make me wonder why it didn’t do better. And I hate myself for the answer I’m about to give: I think it has a little something to do with Goldie Hawn’s face.

It’s not that she looks old; that would be fine. She just looks like she’s had too much plastic surgery.

Murray not Murray
Snatched movie reviewSchumer plays a classic Schumer character, a spoiled, solipsistic American girl named Emily Middleton. We first see her talking endlessly to a retailing clothing clerk about an upcoming trip to Ecuador with her boyfriend—who’s in a rock band. Except the clerk turns out to be the customer, Emily is the clerk, and a second later she’s fired for being, you know, awful. Then her boyfriend (Randall Park, “VEEP”) dumps her for pretty much the same reason. Schumer opens the movie like a classic Bill Murray character—losing everything in the first five minutes—except she’s less funny, and less endearing, doing it. It was always a neat trick how Murray managed it.

Anyway, the plane tickets are nonrefundable, nobody likes her, and that’s why she winds up traveling with her mom, Linda (Hawn), who is in her 60s, lives alone with cats, and assumes all strangers are potential criminals.

I have to admit: This seems like great casting. One era’s kookie blonde giving birth to the next. I just wish Goldie had let herself age as ungracefully as the rest of us. Instead, she went the Hollywood route, and her face has that stretched, vaguely platypus look. They also have her playing against type: instead of dingbatty, wide-eyed and inviting, she’s suspicious and closed off. (Or maybe that’s what happens to the wide-eyed and inviting over time?) Either way, she’s the straight person here.

In Quito, Ecuador’s capital, Emily just wants to drink and meet a cute guy, while Linda assumes the worst. Both get what they want. The cute guy takes them on an excursion and they’re rammed by a white van and kidnapped by Colombians. For ransom? Doesn't anyone know they have no money? But at least it answers the question: Why Ecuador? Initially I thought it was because they’d wind up in the Galapagos.

Deepest cuts
A few things I liked: In their various attempts to escape the clutches of Hector Morgado (Óscar Jaenada, who played Catinflas in a 2014 Mexican biopic), they accidently kill his henchmen ... who turn out to be 1) his nephew, and 2) his only son. The neophytes who—oops—cause the deepest cuts always makes me laugh. I also like the interplay between Linda’s frenetic, spoiled, stay-at-home son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz, “The Mindy Project”), and the laconic, career State Dept. official Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin). Oh, and all the various saviors/rescuers that aren’t: Christopher Meloni’s jungle adventurer; the lesbian team-up of Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who make the leap but leave Emily hanging. 

There are laughs in “Snatched.” I laughed. But not enough.

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Posted at 07:47 AM on Dec 06, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Tuesday December 05, 2017

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Afterwards, I asked Patricia if she could think of an actor who could play the lead besides Frances McDormand. Because I couldn’t. Allison Janney, maybe? Annette Bening? McDormand is perfect for the part. Chin up, working class, beyond world-weary but tough as nails, with an undercut of the maternal that might reveal itself at an odd moment—like when the cancer-ridden sheriff, in the midst of interrogating her, coughs blood into her face, and as she goes for help, she comforts him, calling him baby. It just slips out: that baby. That tenderness.

No surprise that writer-director Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) wrote Mildred for her. The punchline? She had to be convinced by husband Joel Coen:

“At the time he gave it to me I was 58 ... I was concerned that women from this socioeconomic strata did not wait until 38 to have their first child. So we went back and forth and we debated that for quite a while, and then finally my husband said, ‘Just shut up and do it.’”

One more thing to thank him for.

Mildred is less Marge Gunderson in “Fargo” than Elaine Miller in “Almost Famous”—berating Russell Hammond, then counseling him, then reminding him of his responsibilities. She’s Olive Kitteridge. She’s McDormand herself winning the Oscar for “Fargo”: that tough stride she took on her way across the stage.

I expected “Three Billboards” to be good but an eat-your-vegetables movie: the kind of dull indie that sacrifices plot for local Midwest detail. It’s not that kind of movie at all. 

Burn after reading
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri movie reviewNo time is wasted getting to the billboards. Opening credits, they’re there in the morning fog, run down and dilapidated, their original messages a checkerboard of illegibility. So: a movie about a small Midwest town struggling to survive in the digital age?

Nope. A freeway was put in, not many drive this two-lane highway anymore, but Mildred, who lives nearby, has an idea. She contracts the local company for all three billboards and puts up this message in the manner of the old Burma Shave ads:

RAPED WHILE DYING

AND STILL NO ARRESTS?

HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

So: a movie about small-town police corruption and one woman’s battle to bring the truth to light?

That’s how it seems, particularly when we meet Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a dim, small-town bully known for racial profiling. But then Mildred has a tete-a-tete with Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), he asks her advice, and after each of her suggestions he tells her of the civil rights violations involved. The further the scene progresses, the more you can feel your sympathies shifting away from her and toward him.

The movie keeps doing this; it keeps shifting on us. Willoughby is dying of cancer, Mildred knows and doesn’t care. Or she doesn’t let caring get in the way of her quest. Her teenage son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges, “Manchester By the Sea”), is embarrassed; she doesn’t care. And there’s Willoughby revisiting the scene of the crime, looking for clues. At the same time, the cops use what power they have. Mildred is hauled in, while her friend and coworker, Denise (Amanda Warren), is arrested to put pressure on her. Don’t forget how good Woody Harrelson is here. The scene after he coughs up blood, when he’s in the hospital room joshing with his wife (Abbie Cornish), and then alone, and the myriad of emotions that cross his face? The fear, mostly, and bone-deep sadness? Damn.

The crowning achievement in the battle with Mildred is his: He commits suicide. He has a perfect day with his wife and kids, and he wants them to hold onto that memory of him—not the one of him slowly wasting away—so out by the stable he puts a bag over his head and shoots himself. Watching, you know everyone will blame Mildred, and he knows it, too. He tells her so in a farewell letter. Plus the mysterious donor who paid for the billboards for another month? Him. So people will continue to blame her. The beauty of this is it’s not really malicious. His tone is amused, and she laughs, reading it. You can tell she already misses him. So do we.

Maybe too much. In the wake of his suicide, either the characters become unmoored or the movie does. The one-upmanship goes a bit over-the-top:

  1. Dixon throws Red, the local billboard owner (Caleb Landry Jones, “Get Out”), out his second-story window. In full view of everyone.
  2. Dixon is then fired by the new police chief  (Clarke Peters of “The Wire”).
  3. The billboards are burned down—and Dixon is suspected.
  4. In retaliation, Mildred throws Molotov cocktails into the police station, but unbeknownst to her Dixon is inside.

Dixon winds up with third-degree burns on his body and face, and in the same hospital room as Red—the man he put there. He doesn’t get away with his crime; Mildred does. As does the murderer/rapist who set everything in motion.

Blood simple
If the second act seems like excess, and it did a bit to me, the movie rights itself. The third act is basically redemption. Dixon’s is the Colin Farrell/“In Bruges” role: the dim man who’s done bad things but whose moral compass is, or becomes, true. 

Indeed, for a moment, you think he’s going to be the hero: the one to solve the crime through extreme sacrifice—getting beat up to get DNA. Thankfully, things aren’t so clean in McDonagh’s world. But the act unites Dixon and Mildred, who set out on their own quest. For justice? For further injustice? Who knows? They don’t even know. It’s a beautifully ambiguous ending. The world is rotten, but amidst all that there’s forgiveness. The movie feints toward giving us what we want (justice) only to give us what we need. What we truly, desperately need.

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Posted at 08:17 AM on Dec 05, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday December 04, 2017

Is There a Shelf Life to the Effectiveness of a MLB Manager?

Aaron Boone pennant-winning homerun

Boone's pennant winner in 2003. 

The New York Yankees have a new manager: Aaron Boone.

Apparently some people in Boston call him Aaron “Effin'” Boone, after Bucky “Effin'” Dent, since both hit homeruns that won, or helped win, games for the Bronx Bombers over the BoSox in do-or-die situations. Me, I think Dent deserves the epithet; his was the decisive blow in the one-game playoff in '78. Boone? Once the Yankees came back against Pedro in the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS in the Bronx, it was just a matter of time. If it hadn't been Boone, it would've been someone else. So, nah. He doesn't deserve the epithet.  

Does he deserve the managerial post? Many are wondering. He's never managed before—at any level. He's never coached before—at any level. Andrew Marchand at ESPN asks the right question:

Boone is personable and well-liked, but even with those qualities, it's not hard to wonder: If he didn't hit that walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to extend the Red Sox's curse, would he have even been considered for the job?

Here's a question that not many aren't asking anymore: Why didn't the Yanks re-sign manager Joe Girardi, who took the team to within one game of the 2017 World Series? Was it his decision to not contest a HBP against the Indians that wound up costing them the game in the ALDS—a series the Yankees eventually won? Was it the discrepancy between the Yankees 2017 run differential (+198, second-best in the Majors), and their won-loss record (91-71, 8th-best)?

Or did they just decide that 10 years as skipper was enough? 

That last question got me thinking about whether managers with long tenures win pennants and World Series. And this led me to spending way too much time crunching the numbers. Here they are. 

Of the 96 potential pennants since the beginning of the playoff era in 1969 (48 AL, 48 NL), only five have been won with a manager with more than 10 years experience. Most are in the NL: Walter Alston, a 20-year man in 1974; his successor Tommy Lasorda, with 13 years in 1988; and Tony La  Russa twice, in 2006 and 2011, with 11 and 16 years tenure, respectively. In the AL, you just have Earl Weaver in '79. He's the only one. 

As for winning the World Series? It's just Lasorda and La Russa. The longest-tenured AL manager to win the World Series in the playoff era is a three-way tie between Sparky Anderson in '84, Tom Kelly in '91 and Ned Yost in 2015. Each was just in his sixth year of management for that team. 

Here's how the tenures break down for World Series-winning managers:

Tenure w/team Total
First year 10
Second year 8
Third year 9
Fourth year 7
Fifth year 2
Sixth year 7
Seventh year 1
Eighth year 1
9 + 3

Basically if you don't win in your first four years, good luck. That's 71% of the titles right there. The Tony La Russas of the world are rare, rare beasts. 

The obvious follow-up: Well, sure, but isn't this a result of the short shelf-life of managers in general? La Russa is a rare beast because most managers get canned sooner rather than later. They get blamed for everything—as you're doing right now. For the 2017 season, for example, only two of the 30 MLB managers had more than 10 years with his current team: Mike Scioscia (18 years) and Bruce Bochy (11 years). The average tenure was 4.8 years, and the World Series wound up as a battle between second-year (Dave Roberts) and third-year (A.J. Hinch) managers. 

Even so, let's take a look at Mike Scioscia. He won it all with the Angels in his third year, 2002, then won five more AL West titles between 2004 and 2009. Since then? With a fairly fat payroll? In one of the weakest divisions in baseball? And with the best player in baseball on his team? The Angels have won just one division title, in 2014, then lost three straight games to the wild card KC Royals. Mike Trout has never been on a team that won a postseason game. In that series, which went into extra innings twice, his team held a lead for all of 1/2 an inning. 

Or how about the winningest manager of the last 20 years? Joe Torre's Yankees won four World Series titles in his first five years at the helm. The next four years, despite better regular-season records, they won just two pennants and no titles—and these seasons are best remembered, and bookended by, excruciating losses to the D-Backs in the '01 World Series and to the BoSox in the '04 ALCS. (Good times.) And in his final three years, despite being stocked with a virtual All-Star team of talent, the Yanks couldn't make it past the ALDS. (Also good times.)

YEARS W (AVG) L (AVG) PCT TITLES
1996-2000 97 64 .602 4 pennants, 4 WS titles
2001-2004 100 61 .621 2 pennants
2005-2007 95 67 .586  

Obviously a lot of factors go into a team's decline and failure. I'm just wondering if one of those factors might be the longevity of the manager. And I'm wondering if Yankees GM Brian Cashman is wondering the same thing.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Dec 04, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday December 03, 2017

NY and LA Film Critics Weigh In (For a Change)

NY and LA Film Critics weigh in

Armie Hammer (foreground), and Chalamet, in “Call Me By My Name”

In the last few days, on the heels of the National Board of Review, both the NY and the LA Film Critics Associations announced their winners for the year. Both bodies, I believe, get together in person and duke it out. I don't know why they don't film it. Best short feature, yo. 

Anyway, here they are:

Category LA Film Critics NY Film Critics
Picture “Call Me By Your Name” “Lady Bird”
Director Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me By Your Name,” Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water” (tie) Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Actor Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name” Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Actress Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Supporting Actress Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird” Tiffany Haddish, “Girls Trip”
Supporting Actor  Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Screenplay Jordan Peele, “Get Out” Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
Cinematography Dan Lautsen, “The Shape of Water” Rachel Morrison, “Mudbound”
Editing Lee Smith, “Dunkirk  
Best Documentary ”Faces Places“ ”Faces Places“
Foreign Language ”BPM“ and ”Loveless“ ”BPM“ 
Animated Feature ”The Breadwinner“ ”Coco“

Not tons of agreement. Just on the dudes, the doc and the foreigners. Really looking forward to ”BPM,“ AKA ”120 battements par minute,“ which is about love during the AIDS crisis. French, bien sur. 

Interesting that in NY, where they gave picture and actress to ”Lady Bird,“ the film's surest bet, Laurie Metcalf in supporting, went to Tiffany Haddish in ”Girls Trip.“ I'm all for awarding outright comedies but this doesn't feel like the year. Particularly with Holly Hunter in ”The Big Sick“ hanging in the wings.

”Call Me By Your Name“ and ”The Shape of Water" open in Seattle later this month.  

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Posted at 04:39 PM on Dec 03, 2017 in category Movies - Awards
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Saturday December 02, 2017

Last Guy to Throw 300+ Innings in a Season, and Other IP Milestones

This post was inspired by my pitcher WAR/IP trivia question earlier in the week. Well, “inspired.” It's the table scraps of that post. It's the countdown to our present via the diminishing returns on innings pitched.

Here you go:

  • The all-time record for IP: Will White, 680 (1879) 
  • Last guy to throw 650+ IP: Old Hoss Radbourn, 678 (1884)
  • Last guy to throw 500+, 550+ or 600+ IP: Bill Hutchinson, 622 (1892) 
  • Last guy to throw 400+ or 450+ IP: Big Ed Walsh, 464 (1908)
  • Last guy to throw 350+ IP: Wilbur Wood, 359.1 (1973)
  • Last guy to throw 300+ IP: Steve Carlton, 304 (1980)
  • Last guy to throw 200+ IP: Justin Verlander, 251 (2011)

Look at that drop after Bill Hutchinson. He threw 622 innings in 1892 and no one ever threw 500+, let alone 600+, again. 

And look how long we held onto 350+ innings: 65 years! From 1908 to 1973, which is partly explained by the jump to the 162-game schedule in 1961. IPs were dying in the late '50s, the top numbers already consistently below 300, but they resurged into the solid 300s again with the extra eight games. The raising of the pitcher's mound in '62 didn't hurt, either. Then they really resurged in the early '70s. Why is that? Does anyone know? If it hadn't been for Mickey Lolich ('71) and Wood ('72 and '73), the last 350+ dude would've been Bob Feller in '46.

Of course, five-man rotations and the stratification of relief pitchers into set-up men and closers finally put an end to that, as well as to 300+. Steve Carlton was the last to manage that feat. 

Is Justin Verlander the last of the 250+ guys? To get over that hump, you'd have to average 7 innings for 36 starts (that's 252 IP), and no one's started 36 games in a season since 2003 (Halladay, Maddux). The top-tier norm is now 34 starts, which requires 7 1/3 per. In 2011, Verlander made 34 starts, averaging 7.38 IP per. That's how he did it. Last year's league leader in IP, Chris Sale, with 214.1, started 32 games for an average of 6.69 per. 

Last year only 15 guys managed 200+, but most, as indicated by Sales' league-leading stats, just eked over. Soon we won't even see 200+ anymore.

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Posted at 09:44 AM on Dec 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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