‘Only a Flesh Wound’
Earlier this summer, some idiot on Twitter thought they'd shut down John Cleese by calling him a snowflake. His response.
Yes I've heard this word. I think sociopaths use it in an attempt to discredit the notion of empathy https://t.co/6tKNUdRAJ5— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) July 8, 2018
Goodrum is Redrum for Yanks
Sometimes there's justice. For a day.
At New Yankee Stadium yesterday, that $1 billion boondoggle that swept aside great baseball history, the New York Yankees took a 7-5 lead into the 9th inning against the lowly Detroit Tigers, and had their $5.1 million set-up man, Dellin Betances, on the mound, because their $15 million closer, Aroldis Chapman, was on the DL. With one out, Betances gave up a 2-run homer to Victor Martinez—a line shot that just cleared the wall in right. The next batter was shortstop Niko Goodrum, 26, and earning $500k, which is a lot for you and me, but which is only about twice the Major League minimum, and of course 1/10 what Betances is making. Is that a spur for these guys? “Hey, you‘re not 10 times better than me!” Either way, Goodrum clobbered it to right, too, a long, towering shot that snaked just inside the right-field foul pole for the 8-7 Tigers lead.
Now the Tigers turned to their closer, one-time Yankee Shane Greene, earning $1.9 million. And he set them down in order: Gardner, who’s making $11 mil, Hicks at $2.8, and then the big bat, their key off-season acquisition, Giancarlo Stanton, all $25 million of him, who flied out to center. Game, set, match. And the Yankee faithful shuffled out in defeat.
The Yankees fell to 8.5 games behind the front-running Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but that's a bit deceiving. It makes it look like they‘re having a so-so year. They actually have the second-best record in the AL. Wait, scratch that. They have the second-best record in the Majors. That’s right. Despite all the injuries they‘ve had, despite the sense of gloom in the Bronx, they’re basically the second-best team in baseball. And then they picked up former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. And October's around the corner, where anything can happen.
But we'll always have yesterday.
Movie Review: The Island (2018)
Four people, all Chinese, watched a screening of “The Island” with me at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Seattle last Thursday. When it was over, I wanted to ask, “什么意思？” What does it mean? What’s that all about?
In the past, if I had such a question after watching a movie from China, it was invariably cultural in nature. This is more. “The Island” is a mix of “Lost,” “Lord of the Flies” and “Swept Away.” It’s the darkest comedy I’ve seen in a while and definitely the darkest comedy I’ve seen out of China.
It starts simple. Ma Jin (Huang Bo, “Lost in Thailand,” directing for the first time) is a down-on-his-luck dude with big dreams and big debts. He pines for ShanShan (Shu Qi of “The Assassin”), his way-too-beautiful co-worker, but she doesn’t give him a second glance. She’s way too beautiful.
One day, during reports that a meteor might strike the earth causing giant tsunamis, his company is on a team-building morale event—one of those “Ride the Ducks” things on the ocean—when Ma learns his latest lottery ticket has come in: $60 million! He can barely contain himself. He’s celebrating, singing karaoke in front of the bus, when they suddenly encounter a giant tsunami. Amid ocean liner wreckage and a frisky giant whale, the bus/boat is tossed and tumbled and winds up broken on the rocky shore of a small, deserted island. Everyone is stunned, horrified, in tears. Particularly Ma. All that money—gone.
Right away we get a bit of “Swept Away” (or is it “Lord of the Flies”?), as the busdriver, Wang (Wang Baoqiang, Tang Ren in the “Detective Chinatown” movies), figures out how to get food, water and shelter, then begins to lord it over everyone. The old boss, Lao Zhang (Yu Hewei), is humiliated.
Ma, still holding onto his winning lottery ticket, which must be redeemed within 90 days, plots to get away. He builds a raft with his agreeable, somewhat dim cousin, Xiao Xing (Zhang Yixing, AKA Lay of the hugely popular boy band EXO), and off they go. They find nothing but a dead polar bear floating in the water. When Ma wakes again he’s back on the island, and is beaten and humiliated by Wang, who, with everyone agreeing that the world has ended, and they’re all that’s left, now considers himself their absolute ruler. That’s the first stage.
The second stage is the comeback of the old boss. Lao Zhang has found an upended cruise ship on the other side of the island, with supplies and fishing nets, and half the group follow him there. His rule is more corporate than primitive. Playing cards become a form of barter used for goods and services—and he has all the cards. Meanwhile, Ma, who has exiled himself with Xing, counts down the days until the lottery ticket is worthless. On that day, fish fall with rain from the skies. Ma considers it a gift from God, a way of making up for the lost lottery ticket. That’s when he plot his own power move—trading the fish to his hungry colleagues for seemingly worthless devices like smartphones. After Xing repairs a generator, they’re able to charge up the phones, and Ma and Xing begin to sell hope in the form of old family images. I.e., As Wang was the primitive leader and Zhang the corporate one, Ma becomes the religious leader. He is revered.
The fact that all of this is happening during the aftermath of a team-building exercise is the film's great unstated joke.
Wo bu xihuan ni
Much of the movie is extreme and over-the-top. Everyone shouts, the people are sheep, security forces come and go.
How “Swept Away” does it get? A bit. A buxom woman becomes willing concubine to Wang, while a professor creates a system to spread out the gene pool by having the few women have babies with as many men as possible. He’s shouted down. Later, the buxom woman jumps rope, or some such, while men ogle her. The Chinese today are less like Italians in the 1970s, than Brits in the ’60s: cleavage crazy.
I did laugh out loud a few times. Early on, Ma finally comes clean to ShanShan. Back in the office, he was the one who was giving her those secret gifts. “Why didn’t you tell me you liked me?” she asks. There’s a long pause, he hems and haws, and paws at the dirt. Then he finally says it: 我喜欢妳： “I like you.” As he’s barely finishing the sentence, she immediately responds with: 我不喜欢你: “I don’t like you.” It’s click-boom. The timing is as perfect as in a Jackie Chan fight.
Of course, they wind up together, and Ma is happy. So happy that when he, Xing and Wang discover a cruise ship gliding through the water on the other side of the island, lights on, fireworks sparkling—meaning the world has not ended—he conspires with Xing to keep it all quiet. They tell the others Wang went crazy, imagining a ship, and thus when he returns, superexcited about the ship, no one believes him. They chase him and give him a primitive electro-shock treatment.
But Ma’s conscience gets the better of him, particularly after ShanShan talks up how truthful they are with each other. Except by now, his dim cousin, Xing, has learned the cold-blooded lessons of achieving power, plots to talk all of Lao Zhang’s wealth and then leave everyone on the island. So Ma conspires with Wang to light their broken cruise ship on fire as a signal. There’s this great moment when Ma, pursued through the woods, falls off a cliff. And as he’s floating down, he sees their broken ship on fire, and the new cruise ship, seeing this, diverting its course to come rescue them. He smiles. I expected that would be his end. I thought he would be dashed on the rocks. The movie might have been better for it.
Instead, he plunges into deep water, wakes on the shore with ShanShan nearby. Everyone else has been rescued. She stayed behind to find him. Sweet. The camera pulls back and the credits roll.
And that’s when it gets really weird.
Breakup Buddies assemble
During the first credits sequence, we see our company members, our team builders, post-rescue. Their story is now famous, and Zhang has already monetized it by making the island a tourist destination.
Except ... Ma has won the $60 million, Xing is in an asylum, and Ma sees its inmates walking in a circle wearing the same kind of striped clothing they wore on the island. So ... was it all just a fantasy? That would explain the fish from the sky. But if so, whose mind were we stuck in? Xing’s? All of them? And if it didn’t happen, how is Zhang monetizing it?
And then we get a second credit sequence, which, I’ll assume, takes place before anything we’ve watched. It’s Ma and Xing on the metro, dreaming of riches, while a bystander, played Xu Zhenng, Huang’s “Lost in Thailand” and “Breakup Buddies” co-star, listens, rolls his eyes, then makes a disparaging comment about them on his phone. That’s it. It seems to exist for the cameo. It certainly doesn’t clear anything up.
And maybe that’s the point. The Chinese movie title is not the Chinese version of “Island.” It’s《一出好戏》, which translates roughly as “A Good Show” or “A Good Play.” That last character, xi, also means “trick,” so one assumes a pun is involved—implying something fake: jiade. The question remains: Who’s doing the tricking? And on whom?
Facebook: We Own Who You Are
I'd recommend everyone watch “Last Week Tonight,” a comedy/informative joy that isn't on nearly enough. I remember in the past when bad shit happened, and I'd think, “Can't wait to hear what Jon Stewart has to say about this.” Now it's Oliver. Except he's not on nearly enough. The week Trump showed up in Europe and dissed NATO, and made kissy faces with Putin, and acted the ass in Britain with the Queen? Oliver was off that month. The fuck? Last week when Manafort was found guilty and Cohen declared himself (and Trump) guilty? Ditto. Dude! But he's worth it when he's on.
More tech woes: We‘ve had trouble streaming HBO lately, via the HBO Now app. When I kind of solved that problem—a different method of entering HBO Now via the Amazon Firestick menu—for some reason it wanted to charge me $1.99 an episode for Oliver. Everything else on HBO was still part of the package but there was some glitch that asked payment for Oliver. As if it knew that’s what I most wanted to watch. Creepy.
I'm still on Facebook. For now.
Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
I was bored. Sorry.
I misread the title, too. I thought it meant “crazy and rich” rather than, you know, “super rich.” Although I’m sure the author of this series, Kevin Kwan, meant both.
Even so, there’s not nearly enough crazy in “Crazy Rich Asians.” There’s not enough unique crazy. It’s same-old. The matriarchs are steely and plotting, the married men philandering. The young women are catty and go on insane shopping sprees while the young men are loutish and rent expensive boats for booze- and bikini-clad-girl-filled parties.
And a perfect couple runs through them.
Essentially our titular Asians escape the confines of racial stereotypes only to get trapped in the rom-com kind. Progress, I guess.
Steely Matriarch 3
The perfect couple is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor, and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), the scion of a freakishly wealthy Singapore real estate/development family. In Singapore, he’s like JFK Jr., but with a financial rather than a political legacy. Oddly, after a year of dating him in NYC, Rachel doesn’t know any of this. Did she never Google him? She finds out, bit by bit, when they travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.
What else does she find out?
- Nearly every young woman in Singapore hates her—having imagined themselves as Mrs. Nick Young.
- Nick’s mom, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), hates her. She isn’t about to let her oldest child marry a mere economics professor.
- She didn’t bring the right clothes.
Thank god Rachel has her bestie, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose own family is rich—just not Young family rich—and who essentially plays the traditional rom-com black BFF: hipper, straight shooting, without a life of her own. We also get a gay confidante, Oliver (Nico Santos), who also doesn’t have a life on his own. Everyone exists to either impede or help Rachel.
I liked Wu but Rachel is that rom-com staple: the girl who’s pretty (but not threateningly so), who’s sometimes clumsy (so girls can identify), and who beats the odds with grit and determination. Really, the only thing new are the faces.
And they’re only new to Hollywood. “Crazy Rich” might be the first Hollywood movie with an all Asian-American cast since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 (an unforgivable stat), but it’s the third movie I’ve seen just this year involving the machinations of Chinese matriarchs. The others: “The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful,” which won won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan; and “Love Education,” which should have won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan. “Crazy Rich” isn’t nearly in their category, but I'm curious about the matriarchal theme. Why does it keep returning given the patriarchal nature of Confucian societies? Or is that why it keeps returning? Scheming is what's left.
Is it odd that the thought of rejecting Nick never comes into play? Once the other women are aligned against Rachel, the goal simply becomes fighting back and getting him. Sure, he’s handsome, but everything he’s hidden from her leaves her floundering. There’s a kind of obtuseness to his reticence, too—as if he’s glided along in this gilded world for so long he doesn’t know how difficult it might be for others without money to keep up. Or is he simply testing her? To see if she can keep up? That wouldn’t be bad. At least it would mean something’s whirring inside him. It would mean he inherited some of his mother’s nature. But I doubt it. He just seems bland and nice. And this is the guy who’s supposed to run the family business?
Wedding Singer 2
“Crazy Rich Asians” was directed by Jon M. Chu, whose other work includes the second “G.I. Joe,” the second “Now You See Me,” the second and third “Step Up”s, and the first and only “Jem and the Holograms”—all bottom dwellers on the Rotten Tomatoes charts. This one somehow landed a 93% rating. Because it was that much better? Or because everyone is ashamed of the “Joy Luck” stat and want it changed?
A few moments aren't bad. I liked the turnabout with Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). I liked the mah-jong scene, where Rachel gets the upper hand on Eleanor even as she concedes Nick. It’s a good winning-by-losing scene. But we know it’s not going to last. Hollywood has to have her win. So, yes, Nick chases her onto the plane, and there, amid luggage and crowds, he gets down on one knee and proposes and everyone applauds. Then they throw a party next to the insane infinity pool atop the insane Marina Bay Sands hotel; and everyone, all the crazy rich, party like it's 1929.
“'Trump is nuts,' said one former West Wing official. ‘This time really feels different.’ Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine has privately expressed concern, a source said, telling a friend that Trump's emotional state is ‘very tender.’ Even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are unsettled that Trump is so gleefully acting on his most self-destructive impulses as his legal peril grows. According to a source, Jared and Ivanka told Trump that stripping security clearances from former intelligence officials would backfire, but Trump ignored them. Kushner later told a friend Trump ‘got joy’ out of taking away John Brennan's clearance. His reaction to the death of John McCain—quashing a White House statement in praise of the senator, and restoring White House flags to full staff—falls into the same self-indulgent category.
”The news of Cohen's plea and Paul Manafort's conviction, which were followed by revelations that Trump Organization C.F.O. Allen Weisselberg and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker are cooperating with federal prosecutors, have rattled Trump like few other turns in the investigation have, sources said. ... 'He spent the weekend calling people and screaming,' one former White House official said.“
from Gabriel Sherman's Vanity Fair piece, ”Trump Goes It Alone." Read the whole thing.
Neil Simon (1927-2018)
He was ubiquitous when I was growing up—both the playwright and the screenwriter. Every week my brother and I watched the TV version of his hit movie which was based on his hit Broadway play, and which was called, in the opening TV credits, “Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.“ It was divorced men in New York City but my brother and I—kids in the Twin Cities—still identified. I was a Felix and my brother an Oscar. We had to live together. We had to share a room. Clean guys will be Felixes and messy guys Oscars for decades to come. He named us.
My father, eventually a divorced man, too, and doing a bad Walter Matthau, repeated the last line of this back-and-forth many times:
Oscar: Now kindly remove that spaghetti from my poker table.
Oscar: The hell's so funny?
Felix: It's not spaghetti, it's linguini.
[Oscar picks up the plate and hurls it against the kitchen wall]
Oscar: Now it's garbage.
Simon's first Broadway hit, “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1961, was about two brothers, and how the younger yearns for the playboy life that the older is realizing is empty. It was always about relationships with him. It was about yearning for what we don’t have—a lithe Cybill Shepherd suddenly appearing on your honeymoon. It was about opposites: sloppy vs. neat; conservative vs. liberal; east coast/west coast; calm and volcanic.
In just 10 years of hit plays, he went through the heterosexual relationship life cycle:
- before (“Come Blow Your Horn”)
- during (“Barefoot in the Park”)
- after (“The Odd Couple”)
- after the after (“The Sunshine Boys”)
I should revisit some of this. When was the last time I saw “The Goodbye Girl” or “The Cheap Detective”? A more recent watch, “California Suite,” I thought was half of a great movie, and again it was the opposites that attracted me: the calm men (Alan Alda, Michael Caine) and frenetic/worried women (Jane Fonda, Maggie Smith). One couple is divorced and bicoastal; the other is still at it even though he’s gay. It’s a moving, farsighted portrayal of a closeted gay man. These two great vignettes are sadly sandwiched among slapsticky bits.
I caught bits of him in the ’80s (“Max Dugan Returns”; “Biloxi Blues”) but lost track by the ’90s. I’ve heard “Broadway Bound” is particularly good; ditto “Lost in Yonkers.”
The following scene was shared on social media today. It's Oscar talking to Felix:
You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you 158 times I can't stand little notes on my pillow! ‘We are all out of Corn Flakes. -F.U.’ It took me three hours to figure out that ‘F.U.’ was Felix Ungar!
My father thought the line so good he wondered if Simon named the character that just for the joke. He always wanted to ask him.
The President's Statement on the Passing of John McCain
Our statement on the passing of Senator John McCain: pic.twitter.com/3GBjNYxoj5— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 26, 2018
John McCain (1936-2018)
I began this blog in February 2008 so a lot of my posts about John McCain were partisan backbiting during the 2008 election. Some of the backbiting he deserved. Not just in choosing Sarah Palin but in the way he attempted to use civil rights legend John Lewis in the final debate. A lot of it the press deserved, too. My complaints then are my complaints now. If they’d been taken seriously, we wouldn’t have Trump.
But John McCain also did this.
That scene showed up in the 2012 HBO film about the 2008 election, “Game Change,” which I rewatched in January 2016. Ed Harris, as McCain, refuses to go low in the way the GOP does, and says this to a campaign adviser:
There's a dark side to the American populace. Some people win elections by tapping into it. I'm not one of those people.
I doubt John McCain actually said that but he often acted as if he thought it. He had honor. Many of the encomia I’m seeing today, the day after he died of brain cancer at the age of 81, are coming from Democrats and liberals. We already miss him, an honorable Republican, who tried to remove dark money from politics. Sadly, he ran into Mitch McConnell and the modern GOP, who need dark money, and who need to tap into the dark side of the American populace. They want dark side and dark money to prevent dark people from voting. That’s who they are. McCain was much, much better.
In 2010, Patricia I went to Hanoi, Vietnam, and on one of our first days we visited Hoa Lo Prison, or the “Hanoi Hilton,” where McCain was imprisoned for five years.
McCain, a Navy pilot, was shot down in Oct. 1967, parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, was pulled to shore and beaten by a crowd and then taken to a hospital, or “hospital,” for six weeks, before beginning two years of solitary confinement. Patricia and I took a taxi. The place cost John McCain five years of his life. It cost us 10,000 dong—or about 50 cents each. One feels guilty before even entering. One feels how time reveals the absurdity of the borders we construct.
I look back on the GOP presidential nominees of my lifetime and think: Who would’ve made a better president than McCain? Goldwater and his anti-civil rights stances? Nah. Nixon? Please. Reagan? Idiot. Bush I or II? Dole or Romney? None of them. It’s a shame McCain got the nomination when he did. It’s a shame Karl Rove and George W. push-polled him out of the 2000 race. Imagine McCain in charge during 9/11 rather than W. What we wouldn’t have wasted our time on.
Godspeed. God bless. If there’s anything to know, now he knows.
Box Office: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Sets Record for Non-Holiday Drop
Happy loving couples make it look so easy.
I hadn’t realized that last December “The Greatest Showman” broke the record for smallest second-weekend drop for super-saturated movies (3,000+ theaters). And it’s not even a drop: Its box office improved by 76% from weekend 1 to 2, which broke the old record—set by, of all films—“Cheaper By the Dozen 2,” which improved 55% in 2005. Both movies were released the weekend before Christmas, and that’s usually how you get on this list. You’re released the weekend before Christmas, when no one has time for movies, and your numbers skyrocket the weekend after Christmas, when everyone has time for movies. Of the 25 top movies with the lowest second-weekend drop, 18 of them, including “Jumanji” and “Avatar,” are weekend-before-Christmas releases.
I’m bringing all of this up in the dog days of August because “Crazy Rich Asians” dropped just 5.7% in its second weekend, grossing $25 mil for a total of $76. If the actuals hold, that would be the 26th-lowest drop since 1980.
And if you remove all those pre-Christmas releases? It’s eighth-lowest.
And four of those are pre-Thanksgiving releases like “The Blind Side.” Same principle: from no time for movies to tons of time for movies. Take out those and “Asians” is fourth.
Here are the others:
|RNK||MOVIE||WKND 1||WKND 2||% DROP||DATE|
|23||Puss in Boots||$34,077,439||$33,054,644||-3%||10/28/11|
|26||Crazy Rich Asians||$26,510,140||$25,010,000||-5.7%||8/15/18|
Now that I think about it, the three movies above it are also holiday-related in some fashion.
In its second weekend, “Mother’s Day” dropped 31% from the previous Friday, improved 5% Saturday to Saturday, and on Sunday did 150% better than the previous Sunday. Why such a jump? Because it was Mother’s Day, of course.
The first “Shrek” is interesting. It was released on a Wednesday so its first weekend numbers took a bit of a hit, while its second weekend numbers were boosted simply because it was Memorial Day weekend—when people do go to the movies. Plus the only other kids movie in theaters was “Spy Kids,” which had been out nine weeks. Plus word of mouth on “Shrek” was good.
“Puss in Boots”? It was simply misreleased—the week before Halloween, which is not a traditional time to go to a non-scary movie. It saw benefits the weekend after.
As for “Crazy Rich Asians”? It was also released on a Wednesday, so its first weekend numbers were a bit diluted, but that’s about it. Otherwise it’s just marketing and word of mouth. It got great reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes), a great CinemaScore (A), and it’s unique (first all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club”). Oh, and shitty competition. The only super-saturated movie released this weekend is Melissa McCarthy’s latest bomb, the R-rated Muppet comedy “The Happytime Murders,” which garnered a 23% rating on RT and managed to scare up $10 mil opening weekend.
I saw “Crazy Rich” yesterday. Review up soon.
In other box office news:
- “The Meg” grossed another $13 mil to pass the $100 million domestic mark. Worldwide, it’s grossed north of $400. China loves it even more than we do.
- “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” came in fourth with $8 mil. It’s at $194 domestic, $538 worldwide. (And that’s without China.)
- The latest Peter Berg-Mark Wahlberg collaboration, “Mile 22,” dropped 50% in its second weekend, adding just $6 mil. It continues their downward BO trajectory: “Lone Survivor” $125; “Deepwater Horizon” $61; “Patriots Day” $32; “Mile 22”: $25 and counting.
- “The Equalizer 2” shot down $2 mil more and is just $2 mil from crossing the $100 million mark
- “Incredibles 2” added $1.6 and it’s $3 mil from $600 million domestic. It’s already the ninth-highest grossing film in U.S. history (unadjusted).
I’m really interested in what happens if/when “Crazy Rich Asians” gets a mainland Chinese release. Does the box office blow up or do the mainlanders give the overseas Chinese a pass? The Chinese government is currently undecided on the matter.
Movie Review: Life of the Party (2018)
Since Melissa McCarthy broke big in “Bridesmaids,” three of her movies have been directed by husband Ben Falcone:
- Tammy (2014)
- The Boss (2016)
- Life of the Party (2018
And three of her movies have failed to gross more than $100 million domestic:
- Tammy: $84 million
- The Boss: $63 million
- Life of the Party: $52 million
Downward trajectory, too. Must be rough bedtime conversation.
I’ll give it this: The first half of “Life of the Party” isn’t supremely awful.
McCarthy plays Deanna, a chipper, “Fargo”esque, fortysomething mom whose daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is beginning her senior year of college. Then Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh of “VEEP”) drops a bomb: He wants a divorce to marry their bleach-blonde realtor, Marcie (Julie Bowen of “Modern Family”). What’s Deanna to do? Well, she got pregnant a year shy of her archeology degree so why not go back to school?
It’s fish out of water stuff but blithely out of water. That’s the comedy. She buys colorful rah-rah college gear but is stuck with a depressed shut-in (Heidi Gardner), for a dorm roommate. Maddie is freaked for about two seconds but then is surprisingly cool with sharing senior year with mom. So are her sorority sisters. Each has a shtick: Debbie (Jessie Ennis) always asks for permission before commenting; Helen (Gillian Jacobs) was in a coma for eight years and has 3 million Twitter followers; and Amanda (Adria Arjona) is just, I don’t know, really, really good-looking. Like shockingly, nobody-looks-that-good good-looking. So of course at one point Deanna has to make a speech to buck Amanda up and give her confidence. Because girls need confidence. Even the ones who are like crushingly, knee-bucklingly good-looking.
There’s also Mean Girls (Debi Ryan and Yani Simone), who can’t fathom why the old woman bothers and say nasty things to her. Indeed, for a movie in which a woman is dumped by a man, the true villains are often other women.
Early on, Maddie gives mom a makeover to make her look less mommish. And it works. Deanna winds up schtupping Jack (Luke Benward), a tall, handsome, supernice fratboy who becomes obsessed with her. The schtupping I’ll take, but the obsession? That’s tougher to buy. Tougher to watch is how Jack is used in the bitchy melodrama. At an expensive restaurant with her adult friends, including bestie Christine (Maya Rudolph), Deanna runs into Dan and Marcie, and Marcie acts all catty. Then their waiter arrives. It's Jack. More: Jack is Marcie’s son. So trump card for Deanna, right? Yes. But it quickly gets uncomfortable as Christine in particular rubs it in Marcie’s face as if Dan weren’t standing right there. That’s all he does, by the way: He doesn’t defend mom from Christine, doesn’t defend Deanna from mom. He just stands there, a stupid expression on his face, while the others improvise around him.
None of it is funny.
Much of the movie is like this: unfunny improv. Before a family law mediator, Rudolph and Bowen try to outdo each other in outrageousness. Nothing. The usually reliable Stephen Root (Deanna’s dad) doesn’t manage a good line. Everything Gillian Jacobs says lands with a thud.
But it’s even worse in the third act.
Third act, fourth film
So Deanna and the girls show up at Dan’s wedding, inadvertently high but with good intentions. They plan to make nice. Then they see the “wedding propaganda” in the lobby, including a posterboard in which Dan declares he is “upgrading” his wife, and they go off and trash the reception area. Confronted, they skulk out, and Marcie declares that Deanna is cut off financially.
Wait, what? How was Deanna relying on them financially anyway? What did the idiot mediator decide?
Whatever, it sets up our stupid problem/idiot resolution finale.
- STUPID PROBLEM: Now penniless, Deanna is ready to give up college again.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but the others aren’t ready to give up on her! Nope, they throw a fundraising party! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except, oh no, the party is on the same night as the Christina Aguilera concert, so no one is there.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but Helen, with her 3 million Twitter followers, tweets that Christina is coming to their party after the show! Now tons of people show up! Deanna is saved! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except some of these people are understandably upset when Christina Aguilera doesn't show and demand their money back.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Which is when the real Christina Aguilera shows up! Turns out she’s cousins with Deanna’s shut-in roomie! And she sings! And everyone parties! And Deanna is saved! Yay!
The final stupid problem Deanna had to overcome is her fear of public speaking so she can pass her archeology oral exam. She does. And then she graduates. And then ... that's it. The movie just kind of dribbles to an end. It skulks out before we can.
At least Melissa and Ben learned their lesson, right? After the poor reviews and poorer box office? No more movies directed by Ben, right?
Wrong. Falcone's “Superintelligence,” starring McCarthy, is scheduled to open Christmas Day 2019. Fourth time’s the charm?
All the President's Lies
1/12 - WH denies Stormy Daniels payment— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 23, 2018
2/13 - Cohen says he paid her out of pocket
3/7 - WH says Trump didn’t know about it
4/26 - Trump admits Cohen ‘represented him’ in it
5/2 - Giuliani says Trump repaid it
8/21 - Cohen implicates Trump
8/22 - Trump admits it ‘came from me’ pic.twitter.com/Amkc7Ij7qW
Kidding. That's not nearly all of them. The party's just getting started.
Q&A: NPR's David Greene Interviews ... Me
Wednesday morning, the morning after Pres. Trump's former campaign chair was convicted on eight counts of fraud, and his personal lawyer pled guilty to eight counts of violating federal election laws, which implicated Trump, I listened, in disbelief, to NPR's “Morning Edition” as David Greene asked the following questions to Sen. Richard Blumental (D-CT). Here are my answers to those questions.
GREENE: Two significant moments in the Trump presidency came at about the same time yesterday in courtrooms a few hundred miles apart. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of multiple federal crimes. And the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including violating campaign finance law by paying for the silence of two women. Both women said they had affairs with Trump. And Cohen said he was acting on Trump's direction. For more, we spoke a bit earlier this morning with [some schmo with a blog]. Good morning, [schmo].
ME: Yeah, fuck you, too.
GREENE: So I saw a tweet from you yesterday after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, saying President Trump is an unindicted criminal co-conspirator. And I just wonder, after months of seeming not to believe Michael Cohen when he denied wrongdoing himself, why are you ready to take his word now?
ME: Really? That's what you lead with? Are you running out of oxygen in this rarefied “objective” air you think you have to breathe? Have you leaned so far right in your attempt to objectify or legitimize a monster that you have BPV? But OK, I‘ll bite. Why didn’t I believe Cohen then? Because all the circumstantial evidence pointed toward wrongdoing. Why do I believe him now? Because all the circumstantial evidence points toward wrongdoing. It's not Cohen I believe or disbelieve, it‘s the evidence. We also know law officials have gathered more evidence, presented it to him, and he and his lawyer thought this was the best course of action. It used to be called “coming clean,” but I doubt this stain will ever be washed away. By the way: You’re part of that stain, David. You helped elect him. If Donald Trump were anyone but the president of the United States, he'd be behind bars.
GREENE: Are you saying that he's being treated differently because he's president because of Department of Justice rules that they cannot indict a sitting president? Because that certainly seems like it could be at play, but couldn't it also be that they just don't have evidence of President Trump doing clear wrongdoing yet?
ME: Let's try and be adults for a second. You‘ve got two main possibilities right now. The possibility that Michael Cohen acted on his own without checking with his boss first; and the fact that he checked with his boss. What do you know about Michael Cohen? Is he the type of person to just take charge? With the presidency on the line? The idea that little Michael Cohen did this all on his own is like claiming Watergate was the responsibility of little Don Segretti.
GREENE: I want to talk to you about the potential role of Congress because the question of impeachment has started to come up if Democrats were to take control of the House this fall. Given how many Democrats defended Bill Clinton and said lying about a relationship was not something that should be impeachable, would your party be in a pretty tough spot if the party tried this?
ME: Jesus, you suck. Clinton lied about a relationship. Did Trump lie about a relationship? Apparently yes. Did he offer hush money to keep that story from breaking before the election? Apparently yes. Did this violate federal election laws? Yes. That’s the difference. That's the immediate difference. And it doesn't even get into all of the other allegations brought by dozens of women of relationships and/or sexual harassment—which, by the way, correspond exactly with his own attitude about fame and sex and women. Do you remember that, David? “I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn't get there. And she was married.” Or more infamously: “I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you‘re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” You‘ve got to put it all together, David. You’re like a man staring at a grease stain, wondering if it's big enough, not realizing you‘re standing in the middle of a vast cesspool.
GREENE: But if you don’t mind addressing my political question, I guess I wonder if the focus of this investigation and if the conversation starts to be these alleged affairs—I guess I just wonder if your party might risk hypocrisy, given what we saw during the Bill Clinton years.
ME: This is why we are where we are. Questions like this. This is how a man who ran for president for a mean-spirited joke won. Because you guys aren't doing your jobs. You‘ve been so conditioned by the right-wing in this country, who keep accusing you of being liberal, that you strive for an idiot “balance” rather than attempt to dig out the truth. That’s all you have to do, David. Dig out the truth and report it. That's it. That's why it's called “reporting.”
GREENE: You keep using the term Watergate moment.
GREENE: I wonder if we‘re going to be hearing more and more of that type of language from the party heading into the fall. And are you convinced that that’s what American voters want to hear about as they consider who to vote for, or might there be other issues they want to be talking about and hearing from your party?
ME: Do the American people need to hear that their president is corrupt? Yes. Do they want to talk about other issues? Of course. And we‘ll talk about those issues. We’ll talk about how the right-wing is using deep pockets, dark money and incessant propaganda in order to take a bigger portion of their already huge piece or the American pie. They‘re ruthless, greedy sons of bitches, who don’t want you to have health care, who don't want you to make a decent wage, who don't want you to have safe working conditions. They‘ll attack anyone and anything that gets in the way of this. And you’ve helped them, David. Over the years, you and this program have helped the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. You listen to the noise and miss the signal. You've done such a poor job that democracy itself has been subverted.
GREENE: [Erik Lundegaard], [some schmo with a blog], we always appreciate you giving us the time. Thanks so much.
ME: Yeah, fuck you, too.
Not Both Sides Now
Journalists: rather than looking for “both sides,” I'd suggest covering Trump, now, more like a natural disaster than a courtroom drama.— Adam Davidson (@adamdavidson) August 23, 2018
We know he is damaged. Our reporting should be about the extent of the damage and the effectiveness of the response. https://t.co/zV1fuHLWic
Reading Marty Appel's new book, “Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character” and it's not the greatest. Appel's “Pinstripe Empire” is a must-read for baseball fans and Yankees haters (and their fans), but this one feels cobbled-together. It feels like Appel did a little research, stuck in liberal use of Casey's quotes, and sent to the publisher, who sent it on to us without a glance.
I keep running into “probably,” a red flag for any editor. “Charlie was probably named after...” “Casey and his dad probably saw more than that one game at...” “Casey probably had his tobacco card.” Know or don't know; there is no “probably.”
I really rolled my eyes at this graf:
Jennie Jordan, Casey's mom, was born in 1861, when Abraham Lincoln became president and the Civil War broke out.
It's like a kid trying to stretch out a book report.
Movie Review: Ip Man 3 (2015)
In the first two “Ip Man” movies, our hero (Donnie Yen) fights Chinese martial arts rivals for the first half, then a foreign devil (a Japanese general, a British boxer) for the second.
“3” seems like it’ll be more of the same. It’s 1959, Chinese gangsters are trying to take over the school where Ip Man’s son, X, goes, and the gang leader is played by Mike Tyson.
Ip Man also has a Wing Chun rival, Cheung (Zhang Jin), the father of a boy X fights then befriends. Cheung pulls a rickshaw but he’s training to be a martial arts master, and he’s got a massive chip on his shoulder. He wants what Ip Man has. At one point, the two talk about Wing Chun teachers and grandmasters. Ip Man is gracious. He says strengths and weaknesses in anyone are normal. Then Cheung ratchets it up:
Cheung [sharply]: How about you, Master Ip?
Ip [smiles]: I’m just a dabbler.
Cheung: If we have the chance, let’s have a friendly match.
Ip [nods]: Sure.
Actually he doesn’t just nod. First he shakes his head, then he nods. It’s like, “This again?” It’s a good, weary moment.
My assumption: Ip Man will fight Cheung in the first half, then they’ll team up to take on Mike Tyson and his gang in the second.
Scratch that. Reverse it.
Do they reverse it because Mike Tyson is more beloved in China than I realized? Here’s an excerpt from “Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China” by Peter Hessler (much recommended). Hessler and his cab driver, Yang, are talking sports in the spring of 2001, as China is vying for the 2008 Olympics:
He told me that Mike Tyson was his favorite American athlete, because the boxer has Chairman Mao’s face tattooed on his arm.
“Why do the Chinese people like Tai Sen?” Driver Yang asked rhetorically. “Because he likes China. If he likes China, China likes him. And he understands China.”
“Does Tyson really understand China?” I asked.
Driver Yang said, “If he doesn’t understand China, why would he put a tattoo like that on his arm?” That was an excellent question and I had no response. Driver Yang smiled. “Tai Sen read four of Chairman Mao’s books while he was in prison,” he said. “I saw it on television.”
Sadly, the temporal switch makes for a worse movie.
Gangster Tyson demands that his lieutenant, Sang (Patrick Tam), take the school. Why do they need it? It’s never said. But Sang has two weeks to get it done.
(BTW: I used to think gangsterish eminent domain was just a facile plot device in Chinese movies but apparently it happens. The Chinese legal system is still in its infancy, and relationships (guanxi) generally trump rule of law—particularly if wheels are greased. People get tossed off their land all the time. Back then, too, Hong Kong was notoriously corrupt.)
Sang is kind of the comic-relief gangster—all red shirt and swagger and not much else. To get the school, he:
- tries to force the principal to sign over the property—but Ip Man intervenes
- chains up the school—but the chains are broken
- sets the school on fire and tries to kidnap the principal—but Ip Man and Cheung intervene
Finally, he and his gang actually kidnap the children and put them in cages (shades of Trump!), forcing Ip Man to arrive at their shipyard hideout and kowtow to save his son’s life. By this point, Cheung has been coopted—he’s taken money to beat up Sang’s former teacher, Master Tin (Hong Kong mainstay Leung Ka-Yan)—but Sang, stupidly, has also kidnapped Cheung’s son. Cheung arrives to free him, glances with apparent shame at Ip Man kowtowing, but is ready to leave. A look from his son forces him to return to help Ip Man battle dozens of gangsters in a battle royale, choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping, that almost makes the movie worth it. When it’s all done, the hapless Hong Kong police, personified by Inspector “Fatso” Po (Kent Cheung), finally arrive, as well as the Hong Kong press, personified by Editor Lee (Babyjohn Choi). The latter makes a hero out of Ip Man, exacerbating Cheung’s resentment. The former articulates the movie’s underlying theme: It’s all the foreigners’ fault.
Even as Sang has his corrupt foreign boss, Inspector Po has his. In fact Po’s boss is in league with Sang’s. The Chinese are just pawns in the game. “You know the foreign devils run Hong Kong,” he tells Ip Man. Ip Man does. But he provides the silver lining for China circa 2015: “All these things we do aren’t for today but for tomorrow.”
Anyway, Tyson now dismisses the incompetent Sang, brings in a Muay Thai fighter (Sarut Khanwilai), and we have a good elevator fight scene reminiscent of (or ripped off from) “Drive.” From there, Ip Man finally confronts Tyson, who, sporting man that he is, makes a deal: If Ip Man lasts three minutes with him, he’ll stop bothering him. He does. And that’s that. The school is now safe.
What’s the rest of the movie about? The rise of Cheung (aided by Editor Lee), and the fall of Ip Man’s wife, Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), who is usually an annoyance in these films—forever urging Ip Man away from the story we came to see. Here, too. She actually slaps him after he rescues their son—because he’s not putting family first. Well, also because she’s dying from cancer. Once he knows this, he takes care of her. As Cheung rises, and calls out Ip Man, Ip Man ignores it all to look after his wife.
Indeed, as “Ip Man 2” recalled “Rocky IV” (hero battles foreign giant after the giant kills colleague/friend), “Ip Man 3” recalls “Rocky II.” Wife doesn’t want husband to fight, she gets sick, he cares for her/sits by her bedside, then she says, in essence, “Hey, why don’t you fight?” Adrian says that All-American phrase: “Win!” Wing-sing is less succinct and sweeter:
Wing-sing: You spend every day with me. It makes me so happy. But I could be happier. ... If it weren’t for my sickness, would you have taken his challenge?
Ip Man [pause]: Yes.
Wing-sing: That’s the Ip Man I love. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a date with him. I haven’t heard you practice in ages. Can I hear that sound again? Just you and me?
So the final battle. How does Ip Man win? With a three-inch punch, which his disciple, Bruce Lee, will make famous throughout the world. Then his wife dies—as she did in real life.
Enter/exit the Dragon
You know who really gets short shrift in this movie? Bruce Lee. And they have the perfect actor to play him. Yes, Chan Kwok-Kwan (“Shaolin Soccer,” “Kung Fu Hustle”) was 40 at the time of filming, rather than 19, as Lee would’ve been in 1959, but just look. 你看：
Pretty amazing, right? And he was all but promised at the end of “2.” But we only see him twice: In the beginning, trying to join Ip Man’s Wing Chun school but seemingly rejected; and later, when Ip Man needs to learn the cha-cha so he can dance with his wife. (Lee, of course, was also the cha-cha king of Hong Kong.) That’s when we learn that Ip Man, holding the door for Lee, wasn’t ushering him out by letting him in. Lee misunderstood. But then so did I; so did everybody. To be honest, in the opening scene, Ip Man comes off as a bit of a dick. It starts the movie off on the wrong foot.
China TV did create a 50-part miniseries starring Chan as Lee—available for streaming, like the “Ip Man’ series, on Netflix—but it’s cheap by American standards, and often dull. What a shame. I can’t imagine another actor this good, whose kung fu is this good, and looking this much like Bruce Lee, coming down the pike anytime soon.
GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY
That's one guilty each for:
- Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, on eight counts of financial fraud in federal court today; the judge declared the other 10 counts to be a mistrial
- Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, on breaking campaign finance laws and other charges “at the direction of the candidate.”
- The candidate.
And that noise? It's the sound of the other shoe finally fucking dropping. Five to 10 Trump doesn't hear it.
Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) August 21, 2018
Trailer: Le Retour Du Heros (2018)
This looks fun. I‘ve been missing me some Jean Dujardin. It’s “Return of Martin Guerre” but funny—that double-take after spitting into the baby carriage is perfect—and will lead off SIFF's annual French fest on Sept. 27. On se voit le-bas.
Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)
In 2006, I wrote the following for a piece on Spike Lee:
Too many of Spike’s choices are political, not aesthetic. In a way Spike isn’t enough like Bleek [Denzel Washington’s character in “Mo’ Betta Blues”). Bleek’s loyalty was always to the music but Spike’s loyalty isn’t always to the story. If he can get in a little speechifying, he will.
“BlacKkKlansman”’s 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with various raves on social media, not to mention the six-minute standing ovation and Grand Prix it received at the Cannes Film Festival, made me think that maybe Spike was finally past all that.
Nope. Heavy-handed as ever.
But first, “Gone with the Wind”
The story is true. In the early 1970s, a black Colorado Springs cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), infiltrated the Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He contacted them via phone and used a fellow cop (Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver) for in-person appearances. During that first phone conversation, he mistakenly used his real name, which is why he got a KKK card with his real name on it. He still has it.
That’s a story worth telling. But Spike keeps blowing it. Did he blow it with casting? Stallworth is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel, and until 2015 a football player rather than actor, and he’s rather flat in the lead. He’s uneven. He seems respectful when applying to become the first black cop in Colorado Springs, then a bit of an ass when he’s assigned to the records department. I get it—no one wants that gig—but there’s not much there there.
The movie actually begins with a bang. OK, not so much the “Gone with the Wind” pullback shot of dead Southern soldiers, which I guess sets the scene. I guess for Spike, if you’re making a film about a 1970s Colorado cop and the KKK you begin with a 1939 film based on a 1936 novel about the fall of the South in 1865. In case people don’t know.
No, I’m talking Alec Baldwin’s turn as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. Wearing slicked hair and dark-framed glasses, he angrily stumbles through a filmed lecture on the racial superiority of white people. It’s got crackle and fire, and made me think of the jolt Baldwin gave “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “I wonder what else he does in this?” I thought. Turns out? Nothing. That was it. It’s another scene-setting but at least within the vicinity of the story.
After Stallworth becomes an undercover cop, his first assignment is attending a speech by Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), whose rallying cries contain the usual Black Power/Black is Beautiful pronouncements of the day. Stallworth finds himself nodding along—as apparently he did in real life. That’s a good bit: He’s inspired by the man he’s supposed to be spying on. Unfortunately, Spike can’t leave well enough alone: He intersperses this with shots of uplifted black faces mesmerized by the words. If Steven Spielberg tends to underline points, Spike underlines then three times; then he gets out the highlighter.
Stallworth winds up romancing Patrice (Laura Harrier, Liz Allen from “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), the black student organizer with the big, beautiful Angela Davis afro dwarfing her small beautiful face. Problem? They don’t have much chemistry and their conversations are uninteresting. Cops are pigs/No, they’re not. Hey, let’s talk about Blaxploitation films for 30 seconds. That first night, Kwame’s entourage is pulled over and harassed by cops, and she’s felt up by a racist cop named Landers (Frederick Weller), and she relays all this to Stallworth at a bar afterwards. His reaction? Almost a non-reaction. He doesn’t even seem angry. And he doesn’t do anything about it until the 11th hour. And then...
Yeah, let’s talk about that. Landers, we’re told, is also responsible for shooting/killing a black kid, and he only got away with it because cops don’t rat out cops. But he remains a thorn in Stallworth’s side, and at the end of the movie, Stallworth, Patrice and like half the force trick him into confessing on tape, and he loses his badge. So why did the cops entrap one of their own after letting him get away with literal murder? Who knows? It comes out of nowhere and smells of bullshit. In the memoir, there is an unnamed cop who got away with shooting/killing a kid, but the rest of it is made up for the movie. It feels like it.
Then there’s the KKK. Of the four main Colorado members we see, the leader, Walter (Ryan Eggold), is most interesting for being least stereotypical. It feels like he has some wheels turning up there. The others? Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen) is simply seething hatred, his wife (Ashlie Atkinson) is dull and mewling, while Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is so sleepy-eyed and brain-dead it’s a wonder he’s not drooling. The joke is these sad sacks believe in their own racial superiority; the problem is they’re uninteresting. Ivanhoes may exist but are they worth watching? How do you make them worth watching?
Who is interesting? Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman. Just the way he hangs at the police station feels real. It’s in his work as a cop, the way he holds a gun, the way he quietly informs Stallworth he never felt particularly Jewish until this assignment—when he was surrounded by anti-Semites. One of the better undercover scenes is when he shuts down Felix’s Holocaust denials by claiming they’re the weaker racist argument—that they should take pride in killing six million.
But the stuff with Nick Turturro ratting him out? Why is Turturro and his Queens accent hanging in Colorado Springs anyway? I’m sure New York guys live there but mostly it reminded me I’m watching a Spike Lee joint.
It’s like the “Birth of a Nation” scene. Spike intercuts civil rights legend Harry Belafonte telling the Black Student Union about a horrific, early 20th-century lynching with the Klan and David Duke (Topher Grace) watching “Birth of a Nation”—the movie that led to the resurrection of the Klan and that horrific lynching—and I didn’t buy either scene. The lynching I knew was true; I just didn’t buy the students being so respectfully rapt, and so uninformed that any of this came as news. And I didn’t buy the Klan watching a silent film in 1972. But guess what: That part was actually true. Those idiots did that. In a way, Spike’s like the pitcher who keeps missing the strike zone: Even when he gets it close, I don’t give him the call. To me, it felt like more of Spike’s pedanticism. He has to fit in “Birth” like he had to fit in “Gone with the Wind.” Because he has to educate so, so many of us.
The KKK took my country away
What I wouldn’t mind being educated on? What the KKK was like in 1972. According to Wiki, its membership was at historic lows. What made it rise in the late ’70s—when all of this was actually taking place? Did Reagan help? Did his “welfare queen” story? Why didn’t Spike probe that rather than sticking us back in ’72? Was it just for the afros?
At the end, after the Klan is routed and Landers kicked off the force, we get the most stirring scene of the movie: footage from the 2017 Charlottesville protests and counterprotests, and the subsequent comment by Trump that you have “some very fine people on both sides.” Throughout, the movie has reminded us where we were, where we are, and what a huge step backward it’s been. No truer words.
Let Me Into the Ballgame, Let Me In With the Crowd
What wonders awaited.
Here's a quick story about long, post-9/11 baseball lines.
My wife and I and a friend stayed over in southern Washington for an engagement party Saturday night. Since no one wanted the long slog up I-5 on a traffic-congested Sunday afternoon, and since I had tix to the Sunday afternoon Mariners/Dodgers game, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, I suggested leaving early. We did. And despite a brief jam in Tacoma—the land of the perpetual freeway construction project—it took us just three hours. We were back in Seattle at 10:30 AM—plenty of time for the 1:10 start.
But were the Mariners ready for us?
It didn't seem like it. The lines outside the gates were worse than around Tacoma. It was a mob scene. Recently I‘ve begun to use the Mariners Team Store entrance on 1st Avenue, and yes, that line was shorter—100, 150 people maybe—so we got in it. And waited. And waited. We arrived around 12:40 and didn’t get through the security checkpoint and into the building until after the game had started. Meaning it took us more time moving those 100 feet than it did driving from Tacoma to Seattle.
Thankfully, after all that hassle, we were able to buy $12.50 beers, and, surrounded by Dodgers fans, watch as the M's fell behind 5-0 in the 1st, on their way to losing 12-1, all beneath hazy, wildfire-ravaged skies and air quality unhealthier than Beijing.
Maybe that's why they kept us from trying to enter. Maybe they thought they were doing us a favor.
Trailer: Roma (2018)
Coming to select theaters and on Netflix. See it in theaters, people.
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
I was walking around lower Manhattan last week, focusing on Chinatown, then decided to visit Trinity Church again. We'd been there in 2015 before “Hamilton” broke big—with me or the country—and I was curious if it felt any different. It didn‘t. Not much. There were a few more people hanging around, and a lot more reverence, and more coins left on the tombs of Alexander and Eliza. But that was about it on a hot, muggy Monday afternoon in early August.
This time I was particularly struck by the inscription on Hamilton’s marble tomb. It touts his career as a PATRIOT, SOLDIER and STATESMAN...
Whose TALENTS and VIRTUES will be admired
Long after this MARBLE shall have mouldered into DUST
Except between these two lines there's an ornamental flourish and the lines “Grateful Posterity,” so you don't initially connect the second line with the first. It reads like Hamilton is a patriot, soldier and statesman “whose talents and virtures will be admired.” I.e., one day. I.e., in the future. I.e., maybe after Lin-Manuel Miranda picks up Ron Chernow's biography for vacation reading, sees his father in the story, and music begins to form in his head.
Quote of the Day
“[Citizens United] changed our political system from a democracy to an oligarchy. Money is now preeminent. I mean, it's just gone to hell now.”
(Former) Pres. Jimmy Carter, 93, in the Washington Post piece, “The Un-Celebrity President: Jimmy Carter shuns riches, lives modestly in his Georgia hometown,” by Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan. It's about simple living. He's not exactly kind to Trump, either, calling him a disaster, and saying there's an “attitude of ignorance toward the truth” with him. But his harshest words seem to be for this idiot SCOTUS decision.
Interesting tidbit: “Carter has been an ex-president for 37 years, longer than anyone else in history.”
- Via my friend Andy, the best Shakespeare movies of the 1990s. Agree with the top 3.
- Trevor Noah and Roy Wood Jr. on the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Franklin in “Peanuts”: its origins, breakthroughs and TV/movie oddities.
- Should this be in contention for greatest rock song ever? It's never mentioned. Nothing. It's not even mentioned among top 10 Elvis songs. Time to change that.
- What's your NPR name? According to Lianablog, you add your middle initial somewhere in your first name, then choose the smallest foreign town you‘ve visited for your last name. Don’t really know the smallest foreign town I‘ve visited, but how’s this: Erika Enkhuizen. I'm Erika Enkhuizen and this is “Fresh Air.” I'm Erika Enkhuizen and let me interview Wisconsin farmers who are hurt by Trump's trade war but still support the president “because he's the president” and not ask one decent follow-up question. Yeah. Works.
- Are Netflix movies from China actually helping American cinephiles appreciate Chinese cinema? Via China Film Insider.
- MLB.com gathers the coolest baseball cards every year from 1950 to today, with guest editors for every decade. Quibble: I love Joey Poz, but how was Josh “Cardboard Gods” Wilker not chosen for the ‘70s? Secondary quibble: I think the ’65 card, with the team name within a pennant, is the greatest card created. But guest editor and M's broadcast Dave Sims goes with a blurry Bob Gibson? I might go Tony Oliva. Because c‘mon. Or maybe I’d save Tony for the ‘68 “Manager’s Dream” card with Chico Cardenas and Roberto Clemente. It not only introduces the first great Latino players, it gets all of their first names wrong. Welcome to America, guys.
- Speaking of: Did you get see the A's Ramon Laureano's throw the other day? Shouldn't you?
- Amazing story by Jayson Jenks on everyone's favorite new Mariner, the continually upbeat Dee Gordon. Two things I didn't know: His father is former pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon, about whom Stephen King wrote a novel (which I reviewed for the Times); and his mother was shot to death by her boyfriend when Dee was only 7.
- My friend Jerry had a stroke and lived to write about it.
In the Trump era, you grab joy where you can, and this isn't a bad one for me today. It wasn't just that the Yankees lost, 3-1, it‘s how they lost:
That’s a thing of beauty. Yanks down by 2, get the bases loaded with nobody out ... and then can't get the ball in play: foul out, strike out, strike out. Better, the pitcher who did this to them is Adam Kolarek, who's 29, in only his second MLB season, came in with a 6.00 ERA, and somehow managed to nab the save. His first. In his career. Helluva way to start out, kid.
The win also gave the Rays their first series victory at Yankee Stadium since 2014, and, at 8-7, they‘re now one of two AL teams that have a winning record against the Baby Bombers. BoSox are 8-5.
If it almost feels over for the Yanks, it’s not. Yes, they‘re an astonishing 10.5 games back of Boston in the AL East, but they still have the second-best record in baseball. How nuts is that? It means that unless the A’s and Mariners can both steamroll past NYY for the two wildcard spots, and they're 3 and 5.5 games back respectively, Yanks are in the postseason again, where almost anything can happen.
But in the meantime: FO, K, K. Mm-wah.
Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)
How isolated was I as a kid in the ‘70s? How segregated are we as a society and a culture even though we had national meeting places like the three big networks back then? I saw “The Blues Brothers” in 1980, age 17, with some little knowledge of the world and music; and when Jake and Ellwood, on a mission from God, are putting together their band again, and recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy at the diner, and his wife, a waitress, tries to stop him, singing “Think,” this was my thought halfway through that song:
Wow, that waitress sure can sing.
I’d heard Aretha's name, of course, I just didn't know what she looked like. Of the big-name singers from that movie, Aretha, James Brown, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway, I only knew Ray. This was my intro to the others. So at least it gave us that.
The Queen of Soul died this morning at the age of 76. Other remembrances here. The greatest remembrance of all is the music, which everyone is listening to this morning, and which lives on and on and on.
The other day, when news broke that Aretha was sick, my friend David, a good Southern boy, posted this clip from the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” to social media. It's a reminder that even with all that talent, even with all that power, it didn't have to happen. It's not just talent and hard work. You need people who know what they're doing. And even if you have all that, sometimes you need the right piano riff.
‘One of the Best Things We’ll See All Year'
“In baseball's odd parlance, we say that Laureano has a hose on him. In less euphemistic terms, we dub that a cannon. Either way, it's an absurd throw—321 feet on the fly, perfectly on target, dumbfounding everyone involved. It's not just the best thing you or I or anyone else saw this week; it's one of the best things we‘ll see all year. It makes you want to rush home and tell your friends.”
SI’s Jon Tayler on rookie Ramon Laureano's throw from center field that doubled up Eric Young Saturday night. I like the little cap tip Young gives him afterward. I assumed Laureano had been up all year and I just hadn't heard of him but it's only his fifth game in the Majors. No matter. We'll be talking about it for years.
Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
I was bored.
I know: 97% RT rating, good word-of-mouth, “greatest action movie ever.” People I know and respect liked it.
Was it the sense of déjà vu? The fact that no one seems to remember the previous movies so they get repeated, again and again, world without end? It’s the same roller coaster ride, people:
- Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and IMF begin the movie under suspicion
- Introduce new IMF/CIA agent played by handsome B-lister (Dougray Scott, Billy Cruddup, Henry Cavill), who is the real traitor
- Introduce crazy man and his crazy terrorist plans
- Crazy man makes it personal with Ethan
- Include scene of Ethan running through foreign city in his super upright, arm slicing motion
- Include crazy stunt everyone will talk about: outside skyscraper, outside airplane, in helicopter
- Don’t worry about making sense
It’s the “under suspicion” thing that bugs me most. In every movie, Ethan saves the world, and every new movie begins with him back at square one. At some point, Ethan should wonder if it’s all worth it. He should get drunk at a bar and just ramble.
I saved you ... and you and you. And you didn’t even know it. You don’t know shit. I saved you from Chimera, I saved you from Rabbit’s Foot, I saved you from the Syndicate and the Apostles. I stopped San Francisco from getting nuked, motherfucker. That was me. And what did I get for it? Did I get a medal? Do you see any medals on me? Helloooo, medals! No. I got blamed. They blamed me. I went blam blam blam and they went blame blame blame.
I’d pay to see that. Maybe I'd be less bored.
Needs of the many
In the past, Ethan was distrusted for being reckless—blowing up the Kremlin, etc.—but here he’s too caring. In a bit of a “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” ripoff, he’d rather spare the life of one member of his team, the useless Luther (Ving Rhames), even if it means plutonium getting into the hands of terrorists and risking billions. Me, I would’ve taken the plutonium and run. Sorry, Luther, but you were only on the team anyway because “M:I” was made a year after your big splash in “Pulp Fiction.” You’re doing straight-to-video piranha movies now. Time to cut you loose.
I'd forgotten a lot of the last movie. I’d forgotten that the new CIA director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), subsumed IMF into his org. Now he’s such an Ethan fan he’s demoted himself to director of IMF. Except, oops, the new CIA chief, Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett), like all new CIA directors, doesn’t trust Ethan and IMF, so she crashes their party with her own heavy hitter, Walker (Cavill). Ethan is the scalpel, she says, and Walker is the hammer. He’s the real man. He’s the Superman.
He’s also the traitor. The mustache is a dead giveaway.
Last movie’s villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), all whispering brogue, is back, too. His organization, The Syndicate, has morphed into “the Apostles,” and there’s another dude, John Lark, who’s trying to acquire plutonium from an arms dealer, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, Princess Margaret on “The Crown”). Ethan gets all this intel in the usual tape-recorded message that self-destructs in five seconds. What made me laugh? Lark and the 12 apostles are all represented by blank avatars. U.S. intelligence knows there’s 13 guys, knows their codenames, and can’t get one decent photo? Not even a blurry Bigfoot shot?
As writer-director Christopher McQuarrie moves the pieces around the board, from Belfast to Berlin to Paris to London to Kashmir, I kept losing the thread. Like why did Ethan and Walker need to parachute into that Paris party rather than, you know, walk in the front door? IMF can fake faces but not invites? And how odd was that Eiffel Tower meeting between Walker and Sloane? It’s just kinda stuck there. And what was the White Widow’s game anyway? Just money? She’s giving plutonium to fundamentalist terrorists without a second thought? Does she wind up in prison? Shouldn’t she? Where’s the accountability?
Speaking of: Let’s talk about the movie’s 11th-hour save of Sloane. As CIA director, she forces her right-hand man onto IMF’s search for a terrorist ... when he’s the terrorist. Then after IMF tricks him into confessing that he’s the terrorist, she still insists on sending in her agents ... except half are Apostles, Walker escapes and Hunley is killed. Imagine that. She’s responsible for the death of the former director of the CIA. Her right-hand man is a terrorist ready to kill billions. Yet because she sends a helicopter for Ethan in the end, we’re supposed to forgive and forget?
And, for a change, could the shadowy villain not be one of the five people in the room? There’s seven billion people on the planet. Spread the wealth.
Meet your second wife
This is McQuarrie’s second “M:I” movie. No “M:I” director has ever done that:
- I: Brian De Palma
- II: John Woo
- III: J.J. Abrams
- Ghost Protocol: Brad Bird
- Rogue Nation: McQuarrie
- Fallout: McQuarrie
BTW: What a shame they didn’t stick with the numerals. This one could’ve been called “MI6” rather than subtitled “Fallout,” which is a little flaccid and forgettable.
Cruise? He gives it his all, and he looks great for 56, but his face is getting oddly puffy. An injury? Bad plastic surgery? Age? Is it time for him to hang up Ethan? He won‘t, of course, it’s his only true moneymaker these days, but maybe he should. Consider what Ethan's “Fallout” love interests and nemeses were doing when the first “M:I” was released back in '96:
- Michelle Monaghan was studying college journalism
- Henry Cavill was 13
- Rebecca Ferguson was 13
- Vanessa Kirby was 8
Dear Academy: Lose ‘Popular Film’ for ‘Best Sequel’
When news broke last week that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was adding a new award, Achievement in Popular Film, this was my first reaction:
Does this mean Best Picture is now Best Unpopular Picture? #Oscars— Erik Lundegaard (@ErikLundegaard) August 8, 2018
OK, so my first reaction was probably to roll my eyes and think something along the lines of: “I guess expanding the best picture category to 10 pictures back in 2009, and then up to 10 a few years later, didn't work out so well.” Which I already knew. After nominating five top 10 box office hits in the first two years after the change, we‘ve had just three since: “Gravity,” “American Sniper” and “The Martian.” More people have been tuning out the broadcast. Last year had record low ratings. I wrote about all that last March and in the end threw up my hands. I didn’t know how to fix the problem.
This new category, by the way, is not a way to fix the problem.
To the Academy, and ABC-TV, which demanded the change, the problem is ratings and relevancy. To me it's deeper. The problem is that art and commerce used to mesh in our most popular storytelling form. Popular but hardly profound films like “Love Story” and “Airport” used to get nominated for best picture, while tough, profound films like “Five Easy Pieces” and “M*A*S*H” used to rake in the bucks at the box office. Now, rarely the twain meet. It comes closest with smart adventure films like “Lord or the Rings” and “Avatar,” or smart animated movies like “Toy Story 3” and “Up,” or rightwing movies that get Hollywood-hating conservatives off the couch like “American Sniper.” But otherwise, not much.
Recent box office hits that maybe should have gotten more consideration include “Beauty and the Beast” and some of the better superhero movies that now rule Hollywood. If the Academy could nominate “Airport,” why not “The Avengers”?
But of course it's more than the genre. Sequels rarely get nominated, too. In the entire history of the Academy, it's just been these:
- The Bells of St. Mary's
- The Godfather Part II *
- The Godfather Part III
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King *
- Toy Story 3
* Won best picture
But sequels, prequels and continuing-universe movies are what we go see now. Last year, the only original film in the top 10 was “It.” In 2016, it was “Deadpool” and three animated movies. In 2015, just “The Martian,” “Cinderella” and “Inside Out.”
In fact, rather than create a new category for “popular” film, which can lead to a host of problems—the least of which is the definition of “popular”—maybe the Academy should go with what I‘ve outlined above: Best sequel, prequel or continuing-universe movie.
Hey, is that the answer?
Look: The real problem with “Popular Film” is its mushiness. All 24 of Oscar’s current categories are definite; you don't have to wait and see if your movie will fit into one of them. Is it a feature-length film released in an American movie theater in 2018? OK, it can be considered. As can that actor, that actress, and that adapted screenplay. Your editor, production designer, sound editing and sound mixing, we know where they fit once the movie is done and released. “Popular Film” would be the only Oscar category where we'd have to wait and see which movies could even be considered. And that's after the parameters are figured out. Should it be the $100 million domestic threshold? Should it be top 10 or 20 or 30 for the year? And is the 30th-biggest hit of the year truly “popular”?
“Popular” is a constantly moving target. When Clint Eastwood's “American Sniper” was nominated for best picture in January 2015, it was sitting on about $3 million after a limited release. That's not popular by any parameters we can imagine. Then the movie went wide and raked in the bucks. It did so well it wound up as the No. 1 box office hit of 2014. Get that? If the No. 1 movie of 2014 wouldn't have qualified—by any sane measure—as “popular” in time for the Oscars, what good is the category?
But sequel, prequel or continuing-universe movie? It‘s specific.
I’m trying to figure out the downside of going this route and I can‘t. I’m also trying to figure out why the Academy didn't go this way in the first place. If you go sequel, you‘re going to get popular, since unpopular films rarely get sequels. Indeed, part of me is beginning to wonder if the Academy floated “Popular Film” to set the stage for “Best Sequel.” Float the horrendous idea to allow easier passage of the vaguely unpalatable one.
What might an “Achievement in Sequel, Prequel or Continuing Universe” look like? Here are films from 2018 that would fit that bill, along with their current box-office ranking:
|2||Avengers: Infinity War|
|4||Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom|
|6||Solo: A Star Wars Story|
|7||Ant-Man and the Wasp|
|9||Mission: Impossible - Fallout|
|10||Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation|
|15||Fifty Shades Freed|
|16||Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again|
|18||The Equalizer 2|
|22||The First Purge|
|23||Insidious: The Last Key|
|26||Pacific Rim Uprising|
|27||Maze Runner: The Death Cure|
|32||Sicario: Day of the Soldado|
|52||Super Troopers 2|
|84||God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness|
Is the Academy, and ABC/Disney, worried that more prestigious sequels like “Sicario” could upset or upend the Marvel/Disney blockbusters like “Avengers” and “Incredibles 2”? Well, that's a risk. You can't have a rigged game, ABC/Disney. People get a vote.
The bigger roll of the dice is the idea that “Best Sequel” or “Popular Film” will get people to watch. I assume either one will be seen as a secondary award, like animated film, and dismissed as such, and might not draw much of a crowd on Oscar night. It's sad. The Academy keeps doing what Major League Baseball does: It's trying to appeal to people who don't much like their product while ignoring the people who do. Time to stop that shit.
That said, if something needs to be done, “Sequel” is better than “Popular Film,” for all the reasons listed above.
All Mixed Up and Baked in a Beautiful Pie
Row AA, Seat 7
After Rehoboth, Patricia and I went up to New York for a few days and a few adventures. This was one of them.
We arrived Saturday afternoon, had dinner plans every evening, so the only chance for a Broadway show was a Sunday matinee. For a moment I considered a baseball game instead, but the Yankees were in Boston (getting their asses kicked), and the Mets were the Mets. I went Great White Way.
My nephew recommended the tkts app but P and I are old and had trouble making it work for us. More specifically: For the shows we wanted to see, the Times Square tkts booth wasn't available on the app. Other ones were: Brooklyn, etc. But we were staying near Union Square; we wanted Times Square.
The TS booth opened at 11 AM and last time we did this, January a few years ago, we wound up way back in line and got slim pickings. This time we arrived early: 9 AM. How early were we? There was no line yet, and no indication of where the line even began. There was just a lugubrious security guard in the glass booth, who looked at us, kind of shook his head, got up slowly, came to the door, and, somewhere between saddened and amused, let us know: “You guys are way too early. You can go get a good breakfast, take a walk around, and you‘d still be too early.” But he indicated the bench where the line began, and Patricia, who had blisters on her feet from a hike in Rehoboth, manned the position while I walked up to Central Park.
It was early but already getting hot and muggy. I wandered past a run, 5K or 10K, in the park. I walked past Trump Tower on 5th Avenue, shuddered, then walked past St. Patrick’s, Rockefeller Center. You can walk anywhere in New York and find something interesting or iconic. It's the best way to see the city. Then I picked up an iced coffee for Patricia and joined her on the bench. It was now 10 AM and the line was about 20 deep. We were at the front. We kept hearing the gossip from more seasoned theatergoers. We were leaning toward “The Band's Visit” but many were down on it. Others recommended “Come from Away” but when the booth finally opened, and we asked about it, only single seats were available. We asked about “Hello, Dolly!” but Bette Midler was off for the afternoon. So we went with “Waitress.” Mostly for this reason. I never even saw the film and I barely looked at the tickets. For some reason, I assumed we were in one of the balconies.
We weren‘t. We were in the front row. Way over to the left as you faced the stage, but front row. Right next to the stage. This close.
Those seats used to be mine.
The show was fine but “She Used to Be Mine” is the showstopper and it’s not close. Second-best song is way down there. Plus the story is kinda meh. It's good things happen to good people. It's the magic of baking. It's “Why is she putting up with this?” and then “Ah, at the 11th hour, she grows a spleen. OK.” Katharine McPhee played the lead, and she's got pipes, but is a little emotionally unavailable. Adam Shapiro as Ogie, and Erich Bergen as Dr. Pomatter, were audience faves. Mine was understudy Anastacia McCleskey as Becky. She fit into the scheme of things but also seemed like a real person. Some of the others weren‘t. Earl had no redeeming value whatsoever. He was a man’s dream: Every man looks good in comparison.
I still loved it. I love those snug Broadway theaters. And now I'll have an answer when someone asks me how close I got to the Broadway stage. Just a foot away.
Literary Quote of the Day
“Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. He was the most boring child I ever met.”
Scout talking about her cousin in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. What a great, original metaphor. It's so good I'm shocked it's not more widespread.
I took this shot a week ago on our last full day in Rehoboth Beach, Del., a few hours before they closed the beaches for thunderstorms. I know: You don't exactly see storm clouds brewing. Nor was it particularly dark when they closed the beaches. But it was raining hard in Lewes, lightning had struck (or flashed?) nearby, and so, though we were merely feeling a nice schpritz under otherwise sunny skies, everyone was herded off the sand and the beach umbrellas were folded. For a few hours anyway. We had one last go at the waves.
This was my first trip back to Rehoboth—my childhood vacation spot—since 2010, and I wrote about it enough back then. I don't have much to add. It's mostly the same. Funland's still fun. There's still only one mini-golf course, where, either in homage or warning, the animal remnants of the old circus-themed mini-golf course litter its fairways. Most of the customer service people are still from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. Even one Asian girl I talked to turned out to be from Kazakhstan. The anti-immigrant “Tea-shirts” (see here and here) are oddly toned down in the Trump era—although one on offer depicted a silhouette of a soldier crouching and taking aim in front of an American flag, emblazoned with the words: THIS IS HOW AMERICANS TAKE A KNEE. Grotto Pizza and Kohr Bros. prospers. Gus & Gus still does its thing. The Whitson and Bob's Bikes are still there, as is Lingo's grocery store, where my comic collecting began in the summer of ‘73. The week still goes by too fast.
We stayed in a big house three long blocks from the ocean, on Sussex Avenue, and set up camp on the north part of the beach, past where the boardwalk ends. Early on it looked like we would get thunderstorms every day but Monday was our only non-beach day. Normally we’d show up about high noon—stupidly for folks wary of getting too much sun—and stayed until the lifeguards left at 5 PM. Then drinks and dinner. We often ate out. We went to Funland twice. You get prizes now at Skee-Ball. Was that always the way?
There were injuries. The second day, after the lifeguards left, Patricia and I went in one last time. I ran in, like the kids do, but the sand was uneven and I hit a dropoff and went down hard. For a day it hurt to walk, and I worried I'd sprained my ankle, but it wasn't that bad: just a bad bruise on the top of my foot. Patricia got it worse. She kept hiking in the mornings in the Gordon Pond Wildlife Area and wound up with blisters. The ocean helped there. The ocean taketh away and giveth.
I think that's what I'll mostly remember: the waves and the density of the water, looking like mercury in the late afternoon sun.