2018 Mariners: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
It's the final day of the regular season, and shockingly two details remain unironed: Who wins the NL West (Dodgers or Rockies?) and who wins the NL Central (Cubs or Brewers)? Meaning we‘ll get not one but two Game 163s tomorrow. Free baseball!
As for who won’t be continuing? For the 17th season in a row? Yeah, our Seattle Mariners. As was indicated by the crowd at Safeco Field on a lovely night last Thursday:
I‘ve never seen our section that empty.
If the fans didn’t show, neither did the Ms. Facing a bunch of Texas pitchers with ERAs over 6.00, we managed three hits:
- a single in the 2nd by Vogelbach (stranded at 1st)
- a single in the 6th by Gamel (erased on a DP)
- a single by Haniger in the 9th (stranded at 1st)
The closest we got to scoring was a two-out, two-base error on a grounder by Haniger in the 6th (after the DP). We never made it to 3rd base. Without errors, we never made it to 2nd base. Final: 2-zip, Texas. No bangs, barely a whimper.
That said, it wasn't a bad year. It was the lesser version of those classic ‘90s M’s ads: You gotta like these guys. And I did. We had personality. We had fun. Think Dee Gordon's Griffeyesque homerun on a chilly April, and Big Maple remaining zen-calm as an American Eagle landed on his shoulder during pregames in Minnesota. Then that May he had: striking out 16 A's in one start and pitching a no-hitter against Toronto in his native Canada in the next. Albert Pujols got his 3,000 hit at Safeco for the visiting Angels. Ichiro retired but gave us a final great defensive play, then stayed on as a good will ambassador and even joked around with new superstar Shohei Ohtani. In May, I took a friend from Australia to see her first baseball game, and in June a friend from China. Through it all, the M's kept winning. Edwin Diaz kept mowing ‘em down.
Those were the best of times. But there were worst-of-times intimations. Since 2014, King Felix’s crown has been slipping. Here are his ERAs, year by year: 2.14, 3.53, 3.82, and last year, 4.36. This year's 5.55—one off the mark of the devil—got him exiled to the bullpen for a period. Robinson Cano started off hot, but in the off-season he'd tested positive for PEDs (or a banned diuretic that rids the body of evidence of PEDs), and eventually he took his punishment: We lost him for half the season. Plus our run differential remained in negative territory. I had a conversation with my friend Jim in June or July, hashing this out. He was saying, “I don't like it, it's not going to last.” I was saying, “I didn't expect it, so this is a gift.” Both of us were right. He was righter.
On July 3, after beating the Angels 4-1 at Safeco, the M's were 55-31, 24 games over .500 and just 1/2 game back of the division-leading Houston Astros. They were the second, solid team in the wild-card hunt. Our long, local, postseasonless nightmare seemed over, possibly.
Since? 34-42. In the second half, we did well against the Astros (8-5), and held our own against the hard-charging A's (4-6) but got killed by, of all teams, NL West teams: 1-5 against Colorado and 0-4 against San Diego. We dropped 3 of 4 to Toronto. Overall, we were 6-14 against NL teams. Reverse those numbers, do better than 1-5 against the Yankees, and I'd be shelling out for playoff tickets.
Our best played by WAR was Mitch Haniger (6.0), followed by Jean Segura (4.2). You know who was third? Believe it or not, Cano (3.2), who missed 80 games. There's a problem right there. Fourth was Diaz (3.2), our closer, who was probably the most dominant player at his position in Major League Baseball. Nice to have one of those.
M's final mark was 89-73. Normally, that's enough to get you in. Next year. Again.
Fun with Subtitles: The Mayor of Hell (1933), Cont.
OK, so last week I talked about the shitty, closed-caption transcription of the 1933 Cagney flick “The Mayor of Hell.” The characters were saying “Miss,” the transcription updated it to “Ms.” A Jewish kid called someone a “gonif,” the transcriber, gentile no doubt, went with “[INAUDIBLE].”
But this is the worst:
He's saying Fagin. As in the character from “Oliver Twist”—the corrupt man leading a group of Dickensian pickpockets. “Where's the Fagin that runs this joint.”
Look, I know how tough it is to transcribe. In the 1980s, I did it for a Taiwanese record company, which needed accompanying lyric sheets for their English and American records. I remember listening over and over to some songs and never figuring out certain words, and having to go with my best guess.
But this? This is embarrassing. For Warner Bros. and Filmstruck.
At the least, we're narrowing down the identity of the transcriber: progressive, gentile, not a big reader.
Temperament, temperament, Judge.
Regardless of the allegations against him, yesterday Kavanaugh revealed himself to be what his CV long implied he was: a partisan hack, without the temperament to earn a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is from his opening statement:
This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election; fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record; revenge on behalf of the Clintons; and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.
Really? The Clintons? Again? How long will the Republicans play that tune? I guess as long as their idiot supporters get up and dance.
Kavanaugh's exchanges with U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris—both former prosecutors—were particuarly bad. He was petulant, taunting. To Klobuchar, it was like the student asked about his homework who responds, “Where your homework?” Worse, perhaps, was the exchange with Harris. He just didn't answer. He didn't answer a basic question: Do you want an FBI investigation into these allegations? Generally, if someone makes allegations against you that you feel are BS, you want to shed as much light as possible. You tell others: Please investigate this. When the light is shed, you will see there is nothing there. His reaction was the opposite. He wouldn't even say whether he wanted it investigated. He didn't even want that on the record.
McConnell, Grassley, Graham, et al., are intent on pushing this through anyway. They will regret it. More, the country will regret it. It will further weaken our institutions. My god. How much damage is done by those wearing the flag and beating their chests.
Movie Review: Lady Killer (1933)
Whenever a new storytelling form comes around, it seems its early incarnations are often slap-dash and episodic: Here’s a guy, and things happen to him, and maybe it all means something in the end but probably not. It's more the province of hucksters than artists. Think TV, comic books, movies. The novel began as the picaresque, which Google describes thus:
... relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.
That’s this. A lot of the early Cagney is this, to be honest. It’s astonishing how much that description fits Cagney: rough, dishonest, but oh-so appealing.
At the start, Dan Quigley (Cagney) is a wise-ass, gum-chewing movie usher in NYC who gets canned outside an Edward G. Robinson gangster pic, is targeted by grifters, then gets wise to the grift and offers his services. He says he’ll show them how they can make a thousand bucks a week. Cut to: They’re making $10k a week and own their own nightclub. What did he show them? Who knows? The movie never says. It just happens.
Then they decided to rob houses. An odd move, considering the nightclub. Someone gets clumsy, of course, and a maid dies, or maybe it’s a butler—in conversation, the victim changes gender—so they go on the lam. In a train station in Chicago, Dan and Myra Gale (Mae Clark), the original grifter, pick LA., but she abandons him for the gang’s other leader, Spade (Douglass Dumbrille), leading to that typical mid-movie Cagney moment: our strong hero suddenly falls apart. We next see him in a bar, a mid-day drunk with five o’clock shadow.
Then he’s picked for the picture business. National Pictures wants tough guys. He’s making do as an extra—a prisoner here, Native American there—but wants stardom. So he writes his own fan mail and sends it to the studio. (Apparently, this is based on a real-life scheme by Russian exile Ivan Lebdeff, who became a minor star in the ’20s and ’30s.) Then the gang returns and wants Quigley to use his connections to get inside movie-star mansions so they can rob them. Yeah, despite what happened in New York, they still think this is the way to go. But the cops—who are either nonexistent or right on top of everything—get wise, the gang tries to throw them Quigley, but there’s a chase and everything turns out all right. The gang gets prison, Quigley gets the movie star wife, we get to leave.
A few thoughts after the ride.
Whenever I see a face in a modern movie that I can’t quite place, and none of their better-known projects ring a bell, invariably they were in an episode of “Seinfeld.” Oh, right, he played Bizarro Jerry. And whenever that happens with a face in a ’30s or ‘40s flick? Invariably they were in a Marx Brothers movie. That’s Douglass Dumbrille here. I’m like: How do I know this guy? IMDb suggests Jannes in “Ten Commandments” (nah), John Cedar in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (maybe?), and “Air Hawks” and “The World Changes” (never seen them). So I scan down. And there it is. Dumbrille played Morgan, the villain who beats Harpo in the beginning of “A Day at the Races,” and whose voice is the “Frau Blucher” for the ultimately winning race horse.
This is the first reteaming of Cagney and Mae Clark since they became a smash when he mashed a grapefruit in her face in “Public Enemy,” and the movie plays with it a bit. In that Chicago train station, they read a So Cal brochure, grapefruit is mentioned, and they both pause for just a second. Not bad. Later, he has to drag her across the floor by her hair. Cagney was defined now as a “woman slugger,” so this kind of thing was expected. It's the Hollywood credo: If a thing works, repeat it to death.
The title is a lie, by the way. “Lady Killer” isn’t true literally or metaphorically—and it’s particularly untrue metaphorically. Here’s how much Cagney isn’t a lady killer: He loses the first girl, Mae Clark, to Douglass Dumbrille. Wow. That’s like Brad Pitt losing a girl to James Cromwell or John C. Reilly. Then he tries to woo the second girl, movie star Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay), by sending two dozen monkeys to her birthday party. “You ask for monkeys, you get monkeys,” he says, giggling, even as her party is ruined. It’s part of that weird, sniggering, adolescent streak Cagney had in his early films. Glad it went away.
BTW: If anyone ever makes a documentary on all the versions of Minstrelsy and #YellowFace throughout Hollywood history, there’s a clip here worth using: white extra after white extra, as if on an assembly line, and including Cagney, getting spraypainted and fitted with Indian headdresses. It’s not just the appropriation. It’s the fact that the majority race is dressing up as a minority race, so that, in a heroic tale about a member of the majority, they can villainize the minority. And it was done without thought. It was repeated to death.
“Lady Killer” isn’t much of a movie, but it’s got Cagney front and center and that’s always good for a jolt. He's also using a lot of the disappeared vernacular that I love: “No squawk,” “Duck soup,” “I never rapped you.” Plus, when it comes down to it, I don’t mind a picaresque. I kind of like not knowing where I’m going even if at the end it’s not much of a journey.
They All Laughed
Yesterday, Trump gave a speech before the U.N. General Assembly. This is the line that's getting all the attention:
In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America is so thrilled.
It's getting attention because of what happened next:
For a moment, Trump actually looked embarrassed. Or angry? His face reddened. As did America‘s—if we could be embarrassed any further. What an idiot. What idiot people around him. He goes to the U.N. to upend longstanding American foreign policy, the basic agreements that have kept our world wars leveled off at II, that have prevented us from finishing and ruining that odious trilogy (cf., “Spider-Man 3”), but first he has to brag about what he thinks he’s done? He tries to get world diplomats to buy into the dumb buzz in his brain? The Bizarro world that he runs because the real world is too difficult? And he thinks they‘ll go along with him as if he’s talking to the dolts at CPAC?
Hence his next line:
I did not expect that reaction.
Of course not. Because you don't look at the world the way it might be.
But that wasn't the worst of his speech. The worst of it was the upending of long-standing U.S. and NATO policy.
For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America's sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from new forms of coercion and domination.
Vladimir Putin couldn't have created a more damaging American president if he'd built one from scratch.
It does seem the way to go, though. Laugh at the fucker. And vote.
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
Dark days. When I feel myself get down, I remind myself that's what Mitch McConnell wants.
Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how, during other recent dark days, in the aftermath of Trump firing FBI director James Comey, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire around Trump. Here's how it looked as the lede on their website:
How do they know this? Somebody said it. Who? They‘re not saying. Does he/she have an agenda? Who knows? All I can think of is Judith Miller in 2002. Her deep source on Iraq was Dick Cheney, she printed what he said without attribution, then he held up the Times and said, “Look, even the New York Times is saying so.” Was Miller obligated at that point to say, “Wait, that was you”? Obligated as a citizen, I mean. As someone who cares about truth, the country, where it’s going.
It feels like the Times got played again. Feels like, instead of getting us deeper into war, they‘re getting us deeper into a constitutional crisis. What I particularly dislike is the certainty in the above. This happened. This way. Not: According to an unnamed source... who may have an agenda... “ No, they planted their feet; they went provocative. They went third-person omniscient.
Rosenstein immediately denied the substance of the piece, and subsequent reports say that in the conversation Rosenstein was being sarcastic, joking. As in: ”What do you want me to do—wear a wire?“ But the above is the story. It will always be the story. I don’t know how you make it not the story.
Anyone who doesn't see where this is going didn't see Trump winning in the wake of Comey's 11th-hour reopening of the Hillary email case. The New York Times make it sound like there's partisan hackery in the DOJ. They make it sound like Rosenstein has an agenda, and that's why he hired Mueller. So it gives justification to fire Rosenstein, and for the new appointee to fire Mueller. And then where are we?
Read your David Simon. I like this graf in particular:
Given all this, I fear a good newspaper, and at times a great newspaper, has in this instance performed disastrously. The newspaper encountered a rational and inevitable process by which professionals, while balanced on a very real ethical precipice, are meeting and spitballing their status and options — as say a bunch of reporters or editors might contemplate all manner of option, express all possible concerns, evaluate all possible risk, and likely employ all forms of sarcasm or wit when addressing their ethical role and a complicated task at hand. And then, given some available shards of information about that process by interested parties — as all sources are interested parties — the Times foolishly made itself party to what amounts to a first-news-cycle justification for an authoritarian administration to fire a torpedo into the very idea that we are a nation of laws. Because this kind of journalistic malpractice isn't happening in a vacuum: These are perilous times. Much is no longer normal in our governance. The stakes are high.
No one mention ”liberal media" to me ever fucking again.
Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)
“You look ... well.”
It’s a line spoken halfway through “Juliet, Naked” by Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) to his ex-girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), and O’Dowd nails it. His character is an insufferable professor of cultural studies who’s jogging on the boardwalk with his new girlfriend, Gina (Denise Gough), in their small, sleepy, British seaside town, when he spots Annie with some dude and a kid on the beach. So he condescends to say hello. He literally descends to their level. And after they greet, and while Annie’s trying to explain something to him, he leads the conversation to where he wants to lead it, which includes the above line. It should be well-meaning but isn’t. The way O’Dowd says it, eyes showing a faux concern, it implies: You look well for someone who’s been through what you’ve been through. You look well for someone who no longer has me.
It’s both awful and delicious.
It’s delicious because we anticipate the fate that awaits him. Because the thing she’s been trying to tell him? The dude with her? That’s Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), the reclusive musician Duncan has been obsessed with since forever. Duncan has a rec room and a website devoted to Tucker and considers himself the world’s foremost Tucker Crowe expert. He’s his everything.
It’s the ex’s ultimate revenge. You leave, but I wind up with your greatest love.
The truth is banal
“Juliet, Naked” is that increasingly rare animal: a small, fun, funny and original movie made for adults.
That said, it felt a little less original when I found out it was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Hornby is like his own genre, isn’t he? He writes of fallible loves and overwhelming obsessions.
His obsessives have gotten less sympathetic over the years—at least in the movies I’ve seen. In “High Fidelity,” who doesn’t like John Cusack and his obsessive top 5 lists, which are really about obsessing over the girl he’s lost. BoSox fan Jimmy Fallon in “Fever Pitch” is a little less sympathetic simply because he’s played by Jimmy Fallon. And now here, with Duncan, we get the least sympathetic of all. Also the funniest. Most of the laughs in the movie come from O’Dowd’s line readings and reaction shots. He’s both absurd and relatable. So much so, that when Patricia and I were walking home, laughing about this or that bit, I had to ask.
“Do I remind you of him?”
“Who? Duncan? No! Why?”
“You know. Obsessive behavior. Like me with Lin-Manuel Miranda or Joe Henry.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, but maybe thinking deeper on it this time; maybe wondering if there wasn’t something there.
Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as the reclusive rock star who released an album of quiet love songs, “Juliet,” in 1993, then promptly disappeared. He was playing a gig in Minneapolis, took a break, never came back to the stage. He was a handsome young man on the indie rock scene who went poof, and back then Hawke was a handsome young man in the indie movie scene who didn’t. He kept working and growing and taking risks: “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Boyhood.” He let his looks sag. Everyone in Hollywood has superhero abs and he’s got a paunch. Hawke has a lived-in quality to him now, like the worn, musty sweaters he wears in this movie, and the air of a dude who finds life more perplexing as he ages.
Tucker and Annie are opposites. He took chances, she didn’t. He left messes. Duncan and the other fans parse the rumors about why Tucker left and what’s become of him, but the truth is banal. He fathered five children by four women, but was never much of a father. Some children didn’t even know about the others, which leads to this bit of dialogue with one of his eldest:
Tucker: Parenting. Sometimes I think I could use a manual.
Lizzie: Or tips such as, “Always tell your kids they have siblings.”
Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) is visiting him in ... is it New England? Pennsylvania? He lives with his son in a remodeled barn behind the house of his latest ex. We actually see him at his best. He’s raising a child rather than running from one. The child, Jackson (Azhy Robertson), is endearing. The actors work well together. Tucker seems both father and younger brother. He’s teaching the boy about life but also seems more broken. Maybe that’s the nature of Ethan Hawke now: to seem broken.
Tucker and Annie get together for the same reason Duncan and Annie break up. Someone mails Duncan a demo of “Juliet” called “Juliet, Naked” (Cf., Paul’s “Let It Be ... Naked”), and she has the gall to: 1) listen to it first, and 2) not like it. When Duncan posts his glowing review, she, in the comments field, tears it down. Then she gets an email from someone agreeing with her. Tucker, of course.
Is it odd that Annie is the central character but we know the least about her? She curates at the local museum, and sees herself in a1964 photo of two couples on the beach. Specifically, she’s drawn to the face of one woman, who, she finds out later, regrets all the chances she didn’t take—the timidity with which she approached life. Not enough carpe diem, or seizing the day—if we want to back to “Dead Poets Society,” the movie that helped Hawke break out. But that’s about all we get of her. It’s a weakness in the film—and particularly odd since two of its three screenwriters are women: Tamara Jenkins and Evgenia Peretz. The director is Jesse Peretz, who also directed “Our Idiot Brother” and episodes of “Girls.”
I also didn’t buy why Tucker left the music scene in 1993. It’s the movie’s big reveal but it lands with no weight. It just glances off. It’s just, “Oh ... I guess?”
Is it a weakness that there’s a tonal difference between the two men? Duncan/O’Dowd is coming from a place of comedy while Tucker/Hawke is closer to drama, romance. Hawke is muted, O’Dowd broad. But I think that’s a plus. And it feels real. In any group you’ll find your broad-comedic types and your muted-romantic types. It’s particularly true with our perceptions of significant others. The one out the door is the clown, the new one is serious and vulnerable.
It’s a shame “Juliet, Naked” didn’t find a bigger audience. Roadside Attractions released it in mid-August, but in four theaters. It waited two weeks before expanding to 300/400+. I don’t get the delay. It’s adult romance. August is perfect and September too late. But it will find its audience after its theatrical run. It’s too funny and sweet not to.
ESPN's David Schoenfield has a nice piece on the top 10 stories in baseball this year, beginning with Shohei Ohtani (couldn't agree more), continuing through the remarkable rookie years of Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto (fun), and the second-half surges of the A's and Rays (yep), and ending, sadly, with this:
The Mariners were 55-31, a half-game out of first place and eight games ahead of the A's for the second wild card. The team with the longest playoff drought—that's 2001 for you non-Mariners fans—was playing over its head, but certainly appeared headed for a postseason trip. Alas, there was more season to play. To my fellow Mariners fans: Next year, my friends.
Indeed, there are only four teams who haven't made the postseason this decade:
- White Sox: last went 2008
- Padres: 2006
- Marlins: 2003
- Mariners: 2001
The M's have had the title since the Blue Jays made it back to the postseason in 2015. We‘re now part of a long tradition of ineptitude.
|TEAM W/ LONGEST POSTSEASON DROUGHT||PERIOD||YRS|
|St. Louis Browns||1903-1944||41|
|Chicago White Sox||1919-1959||40|
|Mon. Expos/Wash. Nats||1981-2012||31|
|Kansas City Royals||1985-2014||29|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1993-2015||22|
What’s the phrase? Wait till next year.
Fun with Subtitles: The Mayor of Hell (1933)
Watching Hollywood movies with the subtitles on can lead to some interesting discoveries.
The two images below are from the 1933 Warner Bros. flick “The Mayor of Hell,” nominally starring James Cagney, but really starring a group of ne‘er-do-well kids, led by Frankie Darro, who are somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re sent to a reform school, which is more prison than school, with a corrupt superintendent smoking a fat cigar. One of the few people in their corner, besides eventually Cagney, is the nurse, Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans), whom the boys always call Miss Griffith. Except the subtitles are more progressive than that.
I assumed that honorofic didn't even exist in 1933 but according to Wiki it was first used in the 17th century, derived from the title “Mistress.” It was also bandied about by reform-minded folks for the first six decades of the 20th century but never caught on until the women's movement of the late ‘60s and early ’70s. Anyway, it's a mistake here. The boys are saying “Miss.” It's actually spelled on her door that way. But the subtitles keep saying “Ms.”
If the subtitles are progressive with feminist honorofics, they‘re less so with languages other than Anglo-Saxon English. One of the gang kids is Jewish, and, per the time and the stereotype, focused on money and mercantilism more than the other kids. He even begins to run a store in the reform school. But one hungry kid steals a candy bar from him and this is how he responds.
He’s saying gonif, Yiddish for thief, ya schmucks. I'm a gentile kid from Minnesota and even I know that. But then I had Philip Roth to help raise me.
“Here's what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the U.S. Supreme Court. So my friends, keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all this. We‘re going to plow right through it and do our job.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Biggest Asshole in the World, at a summit for social conservatives earlier today. As many have noted, “plowing” a Supreme Court nominee through the process isn’t exactly the smartest language to use considering what Kavanaugh's been accussed of, but what's worse to me is McConnell's admission that due process doesn't matter. Right and wrong don't matter. It's all about power. He has it and he's going to use it as willfully and awfully as possible. As he's done in the past. As he will continue to do until the day he no longer has power. Let's make that day come sooner rather than later.
Movie Review: Jimmy the Gent (1934)
If the title sounds familiar, it may be because it's the nickname of Robert De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas.” He was called that because of this.
How is this? Well, it’s the first time Cagney is directed by Michael Curtiz—who would subsequently direct him in both “Angels with Dirty Faces” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”—but it’s basically another Warner Bros. quickie. It was made quick, the characters talk quick (Cagney wins), and its runtime is only 67 minutes long. Zip zip. People didn’t have time to waste during the Depression.
You also forget it quick. There’s not much there there.
It feels like a play. There’s a lot of static action. Essentially “Jimmy the Gent” is a comedy in three gags.
In the first gag, we see how Jimmy—who finds or “manufactures” heirs of the recently deceased—operates. It’s rough and tumble, slapping faces, particularly of his hapless subordinate/foil Lou (Allen Jenkins), but Jimmy’s got a humorous glint in his eyes. The usual Cagney, in other words. Some of the adolescent mannerisms in his early films are gone, thank god, but he also gave himself an insane buzzcut to stick it to the bosses at Warners. His co-star, Bette Davis, apparently didn’t appreciate it, either.
In the second gag, Jimmy sees how his competition, Wallingham (Alan Dinehart), operates: high class, with high tea, and impeccable manners. Wallingham keeps tossing out French phrases. “C’est la guerre,” he says at one point, and, to Jimmy, “Au revoir.” “Filet mignon,” Jimmy responds. Hopelessly and—per the Warner Bros. ethos—righteously low class, Jimmy nonetheless tries to pretty himself up. He does this less for the business than for Joan (Davis), the girl he’s sweet on but who doesn’t like his charlatan ways. She used to work for Jimmy, and maybe date him, but now works for Wallingham. She sees him as a gentleman with ethics. So Jimmy tries to get ethics, too.
Well, he doesn’t try that hard. The third gag, which eats up most of the movie, is the big swindle. A woman who eats out of garbage cans dies, and, in the hospital, searching for her identity, it’s discovered that the inside of her coat is lined with treasury bonds, jewels, gold. She’s worth like $200k—about $3.6 million today. Was this a trope in the 1930s? The rich hobo? (I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Jailbird,” too.) Either way, the search commences to find/manufacture heirs. Wallingham gets his, so Jimmy searches for one that will trump Wallingham’s. He finds him: Marty Barton, a gambler, who’s now going by the name Joe Rector (Arthur Hohl). Except he’s wanted for murder. He won’t show his face to collect the inheritance. What’s Jimmy to do?
His scheme is incredibly complex, with a lot of moving parts, but it ain’t bad. The fun part is trying to keep up with it.
First he gets Joe to marry Lou’s girl, Mabel (Alice White, who’s great as a sweet, sexy, gum-chewing ditz). Then he bribes the nightclub singer that witnessed the murder, Gladys (Mayo Methot), to marry Joe as well. Now she’s his wife and can’t testify against him in court. She’s also been promised $100k when it’s over. Of course, once Joe gets off, Cagney welches. Plus she’s not Joe’s wife since he already married Mable. Except Mabel isn’t his wife either since she married him under a fictitious name. So all the men get off with the dough and all the women get squat. It’s up to Joan to deliver the rebuke. “You can go down deeper, stay under longer, and come up dirtier than any man I’ve ever known,” she tells him. She also delivers the movie’s tagline: She calls Jimmy “the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo.” Good line.
Bette Davis eyes
That leaves about 10 minutes. So, via another scheme, Jimmy gets Wallingham to reveal he’s just as big a chiseler as he is—worse, actually—and without the Cagney brio. Wallingham flees and Jimmy the Gent gets the girl.
All of which is kind of fun. The biggest problem I had with the movie? We have to pretend Bette Davis isn’t smart enough to see past Wallingham’s front. We have to believe she thinks he’s legit simply because of the tea and British sensibilities. We have to believe she chooses manners over sex.
Nah to any of that.
The Phrase that Unites the Country: ‘Yankees Suck’
A great moment of national unity occurred over the weekend. I‘ll let Boston Globe sportswriter Pete Abraham explain:
Our great country is divided. But the Red Sox and Mets fans at Fenway Park just joined together to chant “Yankees suck.”— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) September 15, 2018
Truly. You can see it here.
A reader recently asked me about my “team with the longest postseason drought” post from a few years back, and wondered about extra data on the subject. I sent him what I had, but it meant going through it again, and looking at all of those numbers again. It ain’t pretty:
- Of the 113 World Series in MLB history the Yankees have won 27. That's 23.9%. The second-most titles belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, who have 11, or 9.27%. It's not even close. It's not even half.
- The Yanks average a World Series championship ever 4.19 years. They average a pennant every 2.83 years. More than one in three World Series involves the Yankees. On the bottom end of the scale, the Phillies and Indians average a World Series championship every 56.5 years.
- It used to be worse. During the Yankees heyday, from 1921 to 1964, they won 20 World Series titles and 29 pennants. That's 66% (29/44) of the AL pennants available during those years. The second-most pennants during this time? The Tigers with 4. Then it went: Athletics and Senators: 3; Indians: 2; and White Sox, Red Sox and Browns/Orioles with one each. No wonder Joe Hardy was willing to sell his soul to the devil.
- If you‘re curious who’s got the most pennants and titles since the Yankees heyday, here's your answer: the Yankees. Since 1965, they‘ve won 11 pennants and 7 titles. Second is the Cardinals with 9 and 4. Yanks aren’t dominating as much, but they still dominate.
- OK. So what about flat-out postseason appearances throughout MLB history? Who has the most there? Well, the Cards finish third with 28. Dodgers have 31. Yankees? 53.
I was in Minneapolis over the weekend visiting family, and when I landed late Thursday night and was waiting for a taxi, I noticed the administrator behind the plastic-glass was wearing an all-black Twins cap. “Why all-black?” I asked. He said the company only allowed black caps, so he got an all-black Twins one. I nodded. “Tough year this year,” I said. He nodded. Then I added, “But thanks for beating the Yankees twice this week.” He smiled a bit, shook his head, said: “I hate the Yankees, man.”
All together now...
Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)
The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.
The article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”
The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news.
Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:
In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.
In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.
His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.
Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.
Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.
The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.
George Papadopoulos in Crime School
Last night I was watching the 1938 Warner Bros. movie “Crime School,” a remake of the 1933 Warner Bros. movie “The Mayor Hell,” which was remade again as the 1939 Warner Bros. flick “Hell's Kitchen.” They‘re all about a gang of tough kids sent to a draconian reform school, run by a corrupt superintendent, and the adult, a former tough guy, who helps them out. Since they’re Warner Bros. flicks, they‘re more about reforming the reform school system than the kids. In the last two movies, the gang is played by the Dead End Kids: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, et al.
Early in “Crime School,” after they’ve been caught in the midst of a serious crime—seriously injuring or possibly killing a corrupt pawn broker—and after they refuse to rat on the one kid who struck the blow, everyone is brought before a judge to explain themselves. Most of the kids have monickers: Squirt, Goofy, Fats, Spike, Bugs. But the judge calls them by their real names. This is the real name for Fats (Bernard Punsly):
I practically fell over. Afterwards I kept on the lookout for any Manaforts, Cohens, Flynns, Kushners or Trumps that might creep by. Crime school, indeed.
By the way, here are the stars who play the adult tough guy/social reformer in the various movies. See if you can spot the dropoff:
- The Mayor of Hell (1933): James Cagney
- Crime School (1938): Humphrey Bogart
- Hell's Kitchen (1939): Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan—social reformer? Of course, he was a Democrat then. And Jack Warner wasn't a rat.
Yes, George, it is.
A Housley Divided Against Herself
I spent last weekend in Minneapolis visiting my mother, who suffered a stroke two years ago and a bad bowel obstruction last year. This year she's in pretty good spirits. She's also well cared for at Jones Harrison nursing home near Cedar Lake, for which me, my sister and my brother are forever grateful.
Yesterday morning, just before heading to the airport, I read a few pieces on the front page of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune—where my father once worked and where my sister now works. The first piece, by Chrisopher Snowbeck, might hit home:
Anxiety, frustration and hints of exasperation are all in the mix as more than a quarter-million Minnesota seniors face the prospect of selecting new Medicare health plans in the coming months. An estimated 320,000 Minnesotans with Medicare Cost health plans must switch to a new policy because a federal law is eliminating the coverage next year across much of the state.
I asked my sister what coverage our mother had but she wasn't sure. We‘ll have to wait and see if she’s one of the 320k forced to do this because of a 2003 law stating that Medicare Cost can't be offered “in areas with significant competition from Medicare Advantage plans.” Why this was so, why it wasn't implemented until 2019, I'm not sure, and few of the news stories are telling. Anyway, it's worrisome.
More worrisome is what Congress might do to Medicare if the GOP maintains control of both houses in the mid-terms. They‘re already talking “reform.”
The other Strib story, featured more prominently, was the horse race for both U.S. Senate seats: Amy Klobuchar’s (good luck: she's got a 60-30 lead), and the seat formerly known as Al Franken‘s. After the #MeToo non-scandal last year, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith became the appointee, and now she’s running to fill out Franken's term, which ends in 2020. Her opponent is state rep Karin Housley. Smith has a much smaller lead—something like 44-36. According to the Strib poll, Housley does poorly with younger voters, but the highlighted is what really caught my eye:
Just 16 percent of those [younger] voters backed Housley, who did best among voters ages 50-64 and older. Housley has made senior citizen issues a focal point of her campaign. Smith could be the beneficiary of a national Democratic effort to mobilize young voters.
I would really like to know how Housley has made senior citizen issues a focal point of her campaign. Has she stated she won't go along with her party, the GOP, which wants to cut Social Security and Medicare? Which views them as “entitlements”? Which cuts taxes for the superrich and makes up the literal deficit by calling Medicare an “entitlement” and trying to slash it to the bone? There's a real disconnect in our news coverage in all of this.
Anyway, I hope the DFL and Smith make senior citizen issues a focal point of their campaign, too. I hope they hammer Housley on it.
Another Death of Superman
This was my favorite response to the news yesterday that DC and Warner Bros. were going in a different direction with their “extended universe” and Henry Cavill was out as Superman.
WB got rid of Henry Cavill? I'm fucking done with those imbeciles.— Swagatha Christie (@grantdlewis) September 12, 2018
If you'd asked me what was wrong with DC's universe, I would‘ve most emphatically begun with director Zack Snyder, who made the problematic “Man of Steel,” then the disastrous “Batman v. Superman,” and gone on from there. Most of the bad follows from the decision to hire him. Snyder’s not just form over content, he's vainglorious form over idiot content. The whole “Martha” thing will be a joke for decades to come—for as long as superhero movies are made. Introducing half of the Justice League in “Justice League,” before they had a movie of their own, or at least been in someone else's movie, wasn't smart, either. Hey, here's three origin stories along with the continuing story of the death of Superman in one movie. Have at.
But at the bottom of the list? I.e., What‘s right with the DC universe? Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Henry Cavill as Superman.
Many men have played the Man of Steel but only one has played him better—and even then it’s pretty close. Cavill was perfect in looks, form, content. There was a gentleness and quiet to his spirit as Superman, as if he knows he might break the world otherwise. But Snyder gave him an idiot world to act in. He didn't give him a reason for being. After the search for himself, for his origins, he had no motivation other than hanging with Lois and rescuing Lois and confronting Batman. His Clark Kent, reporter, was never grounded in anything—let alone J school. He seemed like Superman playing dress up—or dress down. They never addressed this: Why be Clark when the world was in such trouble? Their answer made it seem like he didn't want to be Superman. Helping people? What a drag. He seemed lost and no writer or director reached out to lend a hand.
The tweeter above also gave us this: “Besides being distressingly handsome, Cavill perfectly blended humanity and an ethereal otherworldliness that makes Supes Supes.” I love that “distressingly handsome” bit. So true. Every so often I'd call Patricia over to view some photo of Cavill and say, “My god, look at this.” For some reason, Patricia was less impressed—until she saw the photo montage with his dog, Kal; then she became a fan.
Remember the promise?
Superman: illegal alien. Unwelcome. Incarcerated. It had even greater meaning than we knew. Then it all got lost in Zack Snyder's noise.
My boy. Look what they did to my boy.
Shallow Deep Background
One thing's for sure about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump In the White House”: Steven Bannon was one of his “deep background” sources.
It's not just that he comes off well. We actually know what he's thinking. As in this scene between Bannon and Gov. Chris Christie after the “Access Hollywood” story broke in Oct. 2016 and Bannon urged Trump to follow his instincts and play offense (“that's in the past,” “locker room talk,” “Bill Clinton was way worse”) rather than defense (“I'm sorry, so sorry”):
“You‘re the fucking problem,” Christie said to Bannon. “You’ve been the problem since the beginning.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You‘re the enabler. You play to every one of his worst instincts. This thing’s over, and you‘re going to be blamed. Every time he’s got terrible instincts for these things, and all you do is get him all worked up. This is going to be humiliating.” Christie was in Bannon's face, looming large. Bannon half-wanted to say, You fat fuck, let's throw down right here.
The only way Bannon isn't a source is if Bannon told several people this story, including his thoughts, and they relayed it to Woodward.
You can pretty much tell when someone is a source. At one point, Sen. Lindsey Graham makes an appearance and it's suddenly all about him. That's actually when they book gets dull: When Graham enters the room, dispenses wisdom, and saves the world to—one imagines—the applause that's only going on in his head.
His Own Asshole
I‘ve said if often: Trump supporters think Donald Trump is their asshole—the guy who will tear down the opposition—but he’s not. He's his own asshole. It's always been about him; the rest of us are merely flunkies. Bob Woodward's book, “Fear,” which I began last night, is confirmation. As if we needed it.
Here's an excerpt. It's not anything that anyone's written about really. It's not “orange jumpsuit” or “fucking moron” or any of that. It's something no one's denied.
It takes place the weekend after the Access Hollywood story broke in early October 2016, when all of the Donald's political cover began to run from him. Everybody. There was talk of dropping him fromthe ticket and running Pence with Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Pence/Rice 2016.
There was also internal debate about what to how to respond to the tape. Most wanted an apology tour. Kellyanne Conway arranged for ABC News to do an interview. But Trump, buoyed by Steve Bannon—who is an obvious source for Woodward—went on the attack. He talked “locker room talk” and “Bill Clinton actually did worse things.” He trotted all that out in the first debate. But before then, there were the Sunday morning news shows. Who would go on to defend Trump? Nobody. Priebus, Christie, and Conway had all been scheduled; they all canceled. Only one guy agreed to do it: Rudy Giuliani. And not just one news show—he went on all five, completing, Woodward writes, “what is called a full Ginsburg—a term in honor of William H. Ginsburg, the attorney for Monica Lewinsky, who appeared on all five network Sunday programs on February 1, 1998.”
I'm reading this, and some part of me is thinking, “Well, no wonder Giuliani is where he currently is. Trump is rewarding his loyalty.”
Giuliani was exhausted, practically bled out, but he had proved his devotion and friendship. He had pulled out every stop, leaning frequently and heavily on his Catholicism: “You confess your sins and you make a firm resolution not to commit that sin again. And then, the priest gives you absolution and then, hopefully you‘re a changed person. I mean, we believe the people in this country can change.”
Giuliani, seeming punch-drunk, made it to the plane for the departure to the St. Louis debate. He took a seat next to Trump, who was at his table in his reading glasses. He peered over at the former mayor.
“Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump said loudly. “I‘ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?” Trump turned to the others, particularly Bannon. “Why did you put him on? He can't defend me. I need somebody to defend me. Where are my people?”
“What are you talking about?” Bannon asked. “This guy's the only guy that went on.”
“I don't want to hear it,” Trump replied. “It was a mistake. He shouldn't have gone on. He's weak. You‘re weak, Rudy. You’ve lost it.”
To be continued.
Last night, my friend Nick IMed me about recent deaths. For Burt Reynolds, he said, “My fave of his is Breaking In, directed by Bill Forsyth (Local Hero &) , written by J Sayles (that guy). A little jewel.” I said I'd just gotten a Filmstruck subscription (Criterion, Warner Bros.: expect a lot of Cagney reviews) and had come across my own forgotten Forsyth jewel: the once beloved “Gregory's Girl.” A few years back I'd been looking for good movies about adolesence/growing up for my nephew, got a few good ones (“Dazed and Confused”), couldn't find others (“Twist and Shout”), and had completely spaced on “Gregory‘s.” For shame.
“Whatever happened to Forstyth?” I wondered. “Is he still making movies?”
Nope. Done before 2000, according to IMDb. This quote in his bio may explain:
And so the passion ultimately fizzles out because of the limitations of the goal; because movies are really not that important. At the very end of the day you’re sitting with an audience of four or five hundred people and all they want is to be entertained. You see we‘re dealing with a medium which really only wants to involve itself in the superficial manipulation of emotions.
That’s one of two “personal quotes” IMDb lists. As much as it jibes with my own experience, I think I like the second quote better. It's actually a lot like the first, it just sounds more Forsythian. I‘ve put it in dialogue form:
Reporter: Why aren’t there any bad guys in your films?
Forsyth: Everybody has reasons.
Stingy for Bernie
David Denby's recent New Yorker piece, “A Great Writer at the 1968 Democratic Disaster,” about how Norman Mailer's “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” contains lessons for our time, sent me back to the book to read it, or skim it, again. It's great writing. Unbelievably so. Norman, with just his memory, notes and a typewriter, created this document, which is complex, existential, political; then went on talk shows to talk aobut it. People listened. Enough people. That was the world we lived in back then.
Of course, that world still elected Richard Nixon president, and then again in a landslide four years later.
One thing Denby doesn't call out? Mailer's description of the “Clean for Gene” students who backed McCarthy for the Democratic ticket in 1968 over more establishment candidates. Who does it remind you of?
No, like all crusaders, their stinginess could be found in a ferocious lack of tolerance or liaison to their left or right—the search for Grail seems invariably to lead in a straight line.
It's the Bernie Bros. And they‘re still out there, Daniel. I’d underlined the sentence back in the '90s when I first read it. Not sure why. But it packs a whallop in 2018.
Movie Review: Picture Snatcher (1933)
“Picture Snatcher” is less about the rise of a photographer than the kind of rise of a kind of photographer. Here’s what we see him do:
- Steal a photo off the wall of a bereaved husband
- Sneak a photo of a woman being electrocuted at Sing Sing (after Ruth Snyder, 1928) via ankle camera
- Get the money shot of a gangster—a former friend—as he’s being shot by the cops
If they made the movie today, he’d have to have a real eye for photography. A photo editor would tell him that. They’d give him a second glance, surprised by all his talent. The photos would matter. Here? They’re just selling tabloids, honey. It’s the Warner Bros. motto personified: talent schmalent, give me gumption. It’s all about Depression-era survival.
But it’s not a good movie.
16 going on 17
James Cagney plays Danny, who, as the movie opens, is getting out of Sing Sing after three years. His gang picks him up, but he soon tells them he’s out. He’ll take the dough for taking the fall but he’s going legit. He says something about never wanting to return to prison but the real explanation is behind the scenes. Cagney became a star playing a gangster in “Public Enemy,” but there was a corresponding outcry about glamorizing gangsters, and the Production Code began to grow teeth. So Warners searched for other jobs for Cagney: boxer; taxi driver; G-Man. Here, tabloid photog.
The movie is episodic. It’s a series of complications and resolutions, and then new complications. As in:
- Situation: Danny wants a job at the Graphic News.
- Complication: Its city editor, Mac (Ralph Bellamy), is reluctant to hire him.
- Resolution: The big story of the day is a fireman who barricaded himself inside his burned-out building after finding his wife and her lover dead there, but nobody can get a photo of him; so Danny pretends to be an insurance adjuster and wins his trust. Then he steals the aforementioned photo off the wall and gets the job.
Some of the resolutions are dicey if you think about them for two seconds:
- Situation: Danny likes Patricia (Patricia Ellis), a journalism student.
- Complication: Her father is Nolan (Robert Emmett O’Connor), the Irish cop who put Danny away, and he doesn’t want his daughter near that “yegg” (burglar).
- Resolution: Mac gets the Graphic News to write a puff piece on Nolan that gets him promoted; then he’s fine with Danny.
Father of the year.
Not sure why the filmmakers (director Lloyd Bacon, five screenwriters) were so quick to resolve things since it simply forces them to create yet another complication. How can Danny get a photo of the Sing Sing electrocution? How can Danny get said photo to Graphic News before the cops catch him? How can Danny fend off the amorous advances of “sob sister” Allison (Alice White), who’s Mac’s girl?
It’s not just Allison, either; all the women in the film throw themselves at Cagney. I like him but he’s hardly Gary Cooper. It’s as if Hollywood folks have already forgotten what it’s like to be a man in the real world.
That said, I could totally see a revisionist take focusing on Allison. She’s called a “sob sister”—a female reporter who uses too much sentimentality—but she’s probably the best writer on staff. After the Sing Sing scoop, Danny relays her the story in his usual patter (“and in walks the two screws...”) and it’s Allison who turns it into readable prose. Afterwards:
Mac: Great stuff, Danny!
Danny: Ah, I always knew I could write.
It’s played for laughs but there’s a social undercurrent there. I mean, why is the movie dismissive of Allison? Because she uses sex to get what she wants—even if what she wants is sex—and because she’s pushy. She’s pushy enough that Cagney has to slug her. That’s actually why she’s pushy: to justify the violence. Smashing a grapefruit in Mae Clark’s face in “Public Enemy” caused such a sensation that Cagney had to repeat variations of it in subsequent movies—“I now had a reputation as a woman slugger,” he writes, somewhat helplessly, in his 1976 autobiography, “Cagney By Cagney.” Here, it’s Alice White’s turn.
White, by the way, was supposed to be Warner’s answer to Clara Bowe—she has a bubbly, humorous presence—but scandal sidelined her career in ’33 and she was more or less done in pictures by 1940. Ditto Patricia Ellis, whose last picture was released in 1939. The men kept acting. Cagney was brought out for “Ragtime” in 1981, while Bellamy’s last picture, “Pretty Woman” in 1990, was released more than 50 years after Ellis’. If her IMDb birthdate can be believed, she was only 23 at the time of her retirement. Wait, which means she was only 17 when playing Cagney’s love interest in “Picture Snatcher”? Scratch that: She turned 17 two weeks after the film was released. She’s 16. To Cagney’s 33.
Wow. So to sum up: Cagney wins the hand of a 16-year-old girl because her father is bought off with a puff piece; and two men are promoted over a better female writer who in the end literally gets socked in the face.
Women were put on such pedestals in those days.
15 days, 77 minutes
Is it contractual that Cagney go down-and-out (drunk, 5 o’clock shadow) before every third act? I see it a lot. Here, the Sing Sing photo leads to Nolan’s demotion—since he let Danny into the prison—so he loses Patricia. Then Mac finds Allison making a pass at Danny, assumes it’s the other way around, and slugs him. So Danny loses Mac, too. Thus the bender. But Mac finds Danny and lets him know:
- He knows what a two-timer Allison is now
- He’s stopped drinking
- He quit the tabloid, and
- If they can get a scoop on Danny’s old gangmate, Jerry the Mug (Ralf Harolde), who’s hiding out after killing two cops, then they can get a job with a legitimate newspaper
He explains all this in about five seconds.
“Picture Snatcher” has snap but that’s it. It took only 15 days to make and ran 77 minutes long. It was one of five movies Cagney starred in that year, one of five pictures Lloyd Bacon directed that year, and one of 12 movies Bellamy appeared in that year. Wasn’t just Danny; everyone was scrambling back then.
Burt Reynolds (1936-2018)
Reynolds hosting “The Tonight Show” in 1976, with his guest, “Gator” co-star Lauren Hutton.
Here's a not-bad trivia question: The year “Star Wars” was released and remade the movies as we know them, what was the No. 2 box-office hit of the year?
According to Box Office Mojo, “Smokey and the Bandit,” which grossed the equivalent of $526 million during its summer run. Yep, that much. Adjusted for inflation, it's the 75th biggest movie of all time, just behind “Superman: The Movie,” and just ahead of “Finding Dory” and “West Side Story.” That's how big Burt Reynolds was.
According to Quigley Publishing, Reynolds was a top 10 box-office star every year between 1973 and 1984, and was No. 1 for five years straight: 1978-82. (Since then, no one has topped that chart for more than two years in a row.) He was on talk shows all the time. He was so good—funny and self-deprecating—he was a regular guest host for Johnny Carson. He was sexy. Women loved him and men wanted to be him—or at least hang with him. He was the first movie star I knew who wore a toupee and probably the last white movie star who regularly wore a mustache.
He was also the first big movie star I saw fall from grace. He went from being ubiquitous to being nowhere. To my young self, it felt like an object lesson—Louis XVI for the celebrity age.
In 1973, after breaking through with “Deliverance” and the Cosmo centerfold (which he came to regret, since he felt it kept him away from more serious roles), he alternated between good ol' boy car-chase movies (“White Lightning,” “Gator,” “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings”) and attempts at respectability (co-starring with Gene Hackman and Catherine Deneuve). He starred in Peter Bogdanovich's 1975 bomb “At Long Last Love,” with Ryan O‘Neal, and the next year, lesson unlearned, they all made the inside-Hollywood period piece, “Nickelodeon.” It bombed, too.
Then Reynolds did “Smokey and the Bandit.” What made it break out the way it did? How did he get people like me to see it? I think I saw it three times in the theater. (It’s the only Burt Reynolds-starring movie I ever saw in the theater.) Was it the whole C.B. radio fad? Maybe his romance with Sally Field? Jackie Gleason chewing scenery as Sheriff Buford T. Justice? I loved Jerry Reed as the good ol' boy sidekick with his basset hound Fred and his great soundtrack song, “East Bound and Down”? The movie had endless car chases and an Evel Knievel-esque jump over the swamp. It had Reynolds breaking the fourth wall—smiling at the camera as Superman would a year later. It was just fun.
But Reynolds still kept trying for respectability. He shaved the ‘stache and played sensitive in Alan J. Pakula’s divorce rom-com “Starting Over.” He was in the Broadway hit, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with Dolly. He played off his image—Burt Reynolds wants to have your baby in “Paternity”—and played off of Hollywood top leading ladies: Field, Jill Clayburgh, Goldie Hawn. After that, he'd go and do another Hal Needham-directed car chase flick.
It all worked until it didn‘t.
|Year||Movie||Box Office*||Ann. Rnk**|
|1977||Smokey and the Bandit||$126||2|
|1980||Smokey and the Bandit II||$66||8|
|1981||The Cannonball Run||$72||6|
|1982||The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas||$70||9|
|The Man Who Loved Women||$11||65|
|1984||Cannonball Run II||$28||32|
* in millions, unadjusted
** all top 20 films highlighted in yellow
Joe Posnanski has written about the end for athletes—how they seem to be doing OK and then the bottom falls out. This was that for a movie star. He had top 10 hits every year until 1983, then never again. Even teaming with Clint Eastwood in “City Heat” in 1984 didn't take. He was never my guy but it was weird coming back from Taiwan in the late 1980s and seeing him on TV, or seeing his films in the straight-to-video bin of the nearest Blockbuster. Where did his fan base go? I guess inside, to watch “Evening Shade.”
Reynolds finally got the Oscar nomination he coveted in 1997, playing a porn director in Paul Thomas Anderson's “Boogie Nights,” but he probably shouldn't have. Over, say, Philip Seymour Hoffman from the same movie? Reynolds was the name and everybody likes a comeback tale. What he didn't come back with, at least in the movies I saw, was the gleam in the eye and the devil-may-care grin. He probably didn't appreciate that part of him. He probably didn't appreciate the parts that come easy. Who does?
Bill Daily (1927-2018)
Most obit headlines mention “I Dream of Jeannie,” but I‘ll always think of him as Howard Borden, the neighbor of the Hartleys on “The Bob Newhart Show,” who did the pop-in at least once an episode. “Hey Bob, Hey Emily, what’s for supper?” He was one of my favorites on that show—the quintessential, classic, sitcom neighbor. In his case, daft sweetheart version.
Here's Bob Newhart's tribute.
Bill Daily & I go back to Chicago in the 50‘s. He and I were both trying to get into standup. Later, he joined the Bob Newhart Show. He was our bullpen guy - you could always go to him. He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known. I will miss him dearly— Bob Newhart (@BobNewhart) September 8, 2018
Here's the bit I most remember. Howard was a bachelor, or had just become one, and he was ironing a shirt. Was it for the first time? I forget. I don't really remember the why, just the what. He had the shirt all laid out on the ironing board just so, and he picked up the iron. Wetting his finger, and almost cringing in anticipation, he tested it to see if it was hot enough. Then he tested it again, more slowly. Then again. He let his fingertip stay on the iron, then pressed his entire palm against it. Then, deadpan, he pressed the iron against his cheek.
Somewhere back there in the 1970s, on a Saturday night in a basement in south Minneapolis, my older brother and I are laughing our asses off.
The Enemy Within
“The right will always invoke an enemy within. They will insist on a distinction between real Americans and those who say they are but aren‘t. This latter group is your basic nativist amalgam of people of the wrong color, recent immigration, or incorrect religious persuasion. At the beginning of the cold war, ”fellow travelers“ and ”pinkos“ were added to the list. (Communists being historically beyond the pale.) Mr. Nixon contributed ”effete intellectuals“; Mr. Reagan’s secretary of the interior, James Watt, threw ”cripples“ into the pot with Jews and blacks, and this president [H.W. Bush] and his men have consigned to perdition single parents, gays and lesbians, and a ”cultural elite,“ by which they mean not only the college-educated, cosmopolitan (Jewish and their fellow-traveling) residents of both coasts who write or work in publishing, films, or television but really any person in any region of the country who is articulate enough to compose a sentence telling them what a disgrace they are.”
E.L. Doctorow, “The Character of Presidents,” 1992
Movie Review: The Tao of Steve (2000)
“The Tao of Steve,” a romantic comedy about relationships, sounds great anyway.
Dex (Donal Logue), a part-time kindergarten teacher, has distilled the wisdom of the great philosophers into a sure-fire way to get laid, the essence of which (I‘ll relay for all guys who’ve suddenly pricked up their ears) revolves around the Heideggerian proverb, “We pursue that which retreats from us.”
Fine, right? But how does a guy who doesn't exactly look like Robert Redford get women to pursue him?
Three precepts, according to Dex.
- Be desireless. This is especially effective for guys like Dex who are not Mel Gibson. As a result, women think, “Why isn't he interested in me? I'm such a step up for him.” They become intrigued.
- Be excellent (in her presence). Otherwise you‘re just some desireless schmoe in danger of becoming that modern eunuch, “the friend.”
- Be gone. And let the pursuit begin.
The titular Steve, by the way, is not a character in the film but an ideal. He is the prototypical American male, who, as one of Dex’s poker-playing buddies says, “Never tries to impress women but always gets the girl.” He is embodied in two TV characters, Steve Austin (the bionic one, not the Stone Cold one), and Steve McGarett of “Hawaii Five-0” fame. The ultimate ideal, though, is a movie star: Steve McQueen. Dex and his poker-playing buddies all want to be Steve McQueen.
All of which, as I said, sounds great. What's the problem then?
As unique as this discussion of relationships is, it still takes place within a conventional romantic comedy where, five minutes in, we pretty much know who the Love Interest will be (Syd, played by co-writer Greer Goodman, sister to first-time director Jenniphr Goodman), and how she and Dex will battle one another into a relationship. The bigger problem, though, is Donal Logue's Dex. While the unlikelihood of his success with women is a key component of the film, I never believed in it because he never seemed to let go of his desire. His desire is always there, masked imperfectly into a kind of bad jokiness.
He's like a stand-up comic who's taken Philosophy 101 and preys on weaker minds. His character is actually based on a real person, Duncan North, with whom director Jenniphr Goodman and her husband roomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Goodman, an NYU Film grad, was amazed by North's success with women and became intrigued by his “highly individual ideas about life and dating,” according to the press kit. A possible documentary on North eventually turned into this film, which North helped write, and which was a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
There are hip conversations about relationships (Male Insanity Syndrome: the desire to “trade up” or do better than the woman you‘re with) but these come off like luke-warm “Seinfeld” episodes. At one point Syd even gives Dex an Elaine Benes-style “get out of here” push before the two engage in a very Seinfeldian conversation about not being “naked people”: those who enjoy getting naked in front of others.
The movie has its light, sweet moments, and occasional laugh-out-loud moments; and it’s not a bad film to see with a good mixed-gender crowd and then wrangle over the whole man/woman thing at a coffee shop afterwards. Just don't expect anything like enlightenment.
originally published in The Seattle Times, August 11, 2000
Putin's Leaky Krysha
Joshua Yaffe's piece about Bill Browder, “Russia's Most Wanted: How a hedge-fund manager became Putin's greatest obsession,” from the August 20th New Yorker, is much recommended. It also gives us a lot of dots to connect.
In Dec. 2012, Pres. Obama signed into law The Magnitsky Act, named after Browder's former attorney, who was arrested in Moscow, transferred from one shitty prison to the next, and died/was murdered in prison in Nov. 2009. Not a pretty story. The Act authorizes the U.S. government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban violators from entering the country. Why does it bother Putin so? Yaffe writes:
The Magnitsky Act threatened the unspoken pact that governs Putin's relations with those who enforce his power, whether they are interior-ministry officials or bureaucrats in the tax agency. “It means his krysha doesn't work,” Celeste Wallander explained. Krysha is Russian for “roof,” and in criminal jargon means the protection that a powerful figure can offer others. “It screws up his social contract with those inside the system,” she said.
Indeed, in September 2013, the U.S. Attorney's office in New York brought a case against a Russian company called Prevezon and its sole shareholder, Denis Katsyv, under the Act. How did Prevezon come to the fed's attention? Browder brought them the intel.
Anyway, here's a dot. See if you can connect it:
The Prevezon case provided the platform for an ever-expanding Russian campaign against the Magnitsky Act, largely overseen by Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had been the lawyer for the Katsyv family for a decade.
If Veselnitskaya sounds familiar, it's because she's the Russian attorney who was at the infamous June 9th Trump Tower meeting with Donald, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
Read the piece.
“You can normally only do 10 percent of what he tells you to do. Ninety percent is fucking crazy.”
a former West Wing official talking about Donald Trump, in Gabriel Sherman's Vanity Fair piece, “Everybody on the Inside Knows It's True”: Woodward's Reality Bomb Is Blowing Up the West Wing,“ about White House reactions to Bob Woodward's upcoming book, ”Fear." Yesterday, Trump tweeted fervent denials (from Sec. of Defense James Mattis and WH Chief of Staff John Kelly) to some of the scenes/quotes from the book that were previewed in The Washington Post.
The Short, Unhappy Film Career of Dinesh D'Souza
You can fool some of the people some of the time, but eventually even fools stay away. Or maybe a better liar emerges who gives it away for free on Twitter.
Chronologically, for D‘Souza:
|7/13/12||2016 Obama’s America||RM||27%||$33,449,086|
|6/27/14||America: Imagine the World Without Her||LGF||8%||$14,444,502|
|7/15/16||Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party||QF||4%||$13,099,931|
|8/3/18||Death of a Nation||QF||0%||$5,757,849|
Going down, down, down, down. $5.7 mil is nothing to sneeze at ... unless your docs previously earned six times that.
Is it that most people have figured out the con? Or is it that Trump is in the White House? I'm beginning to lean toward the latter. We seem to go to the movies not just to escape but to escape “the face of our sky,” as E.L. Doctorow put it in 1992 when referering to POTUS. With Obama in the White House, conservatives flocked to D‘Souza, “American Sniper,” “God’s Not Dead,” etc. Now those films make a fraction of what they did, while “Wonder Woman,” “Get Out,” “Black Panther” and the doc “RBG” ($13.9 and counting) rule during the Trump era. The movies are our counter-programming.
Just came across this. From a week ago Monday. Classy tribute.
Neil Simon was a clutch hitter. When we needed the punchline on Your Show of Shows he delivered. He also delivered 32 plays and over 20 movies. He was one of the sweetest & least jealous writers you could ever work with. For all who knew him, this is a truly sad day.— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 27, 2018
“Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
attorney John Dowd advising his client, Pres. Trump, to not testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to a Washington Post account of Bob Woodward's upcoming book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” The Post story is startling both for Trump's vindictiveness and the amount of fear/contempt his advisers have for him and what he might do to the country. Put it this way: I‘ve long thought Trump is a disaster but (if this holds up) it’s worse than I imagined.
Movie Review: Big Brother (2018)
It sounded like fun. The new teacher for ne’er-do-well kids in a poor Hong Kong neighborhood is Donnie Yen, Ip Man himself, who, when the kids act up, or when gangs threaten the school, breaks out the gongfu. It’s “To Sir, With Love” meets “Iron Monkey.”
I was also intrigued by what ne’er-do-well kids in a Chinese movie are like. Turns out:
- Two brothers have an alcoholic dad, so one escapes into video games, the other into Ritalin
- One girl feels like her dad doesn’t love her so she wants to race cars
- A Pakistani kid wants to sing but remembers when others kids laughed at him because his Cantonese was good even though his face was dark, so he can’t
- One boy schleps for a local gang
There’s also a fat kid but he’s just fat; he gets no backstory.
As worse as all that sounds? It's worse than that.
When Henry Chen (Yen) first shows up in class, none of the kids pay attention. So he pays attention to them. Individually, he asks after their interests. They don’t care. To be honest, they seemed more spoiled than underprivileged. 他们不是乖孩子。 So he activates the fire-safety sprinklers, dousing them all, while he smiles, self-satisfied, beneath an umbrella.
The next day they try to get him back with the water-bucket-over-the-doorway trick. It’s like they’re the Katzenjammer kids. And of course it doesn’t work. He kicks the bucket across the room, dousing them all in the process. They’re amazed but not particuarly curious. They should be saying “Wow. Who the fuck is this guy?” But no.
Oh, then he solves all of their problems. All of them. Like that.
He gets the Pakistani kid up on stage. He gets the girl to race go-karts with her dad; and when she crashes, Dad, thinking she’s dead, breaks down, sobbing, saying how much he always loved her, and she overhears. 当然。The most clichéd problem and insulting resolution is the alcoholic dad. He comes homes from what little work he does and demands the kids buy him booze. Then one day Mr. Chen sends the class on a field trip to a rehab center. And guess who’s speaking? Dad! Not sure when he decided to give up drink—the night before?—and if this is what the Chinese do instead of AA meetings. Is it supposed to help addicts? Bare your soul to some high school kids who don’t know shit. What step is that—lucky 13th?
The gang kid story is the most convoluted. He lives in a shack with his sweet, obtuse grandma who sells things on the streets. When he steals the gold lighter of a gang boss (Yu Kang), he’s beaten up and then forced to join the gang. His first test? To drug an ultimate fighter who refuses to take a fall for the money. But the kid isn’t sly about it, the fighter’s manager catches him in the act, and all of them force the kid to drink a lot of water (????), and then shove him in a locker. They’re high-fiving each other in the loutish way of foreign villains in Hong Kong movies when Chen shows up, figures everything out, and takes them all on. He’s defeating 5, 10 of them, including eventually an ultimate fighting champion, and when he momentarily loses the upper hand, they do that loutish high-five thing again. Really? As with the kids, none of them wonder, “Hey, who the fuck is this guy?” Wouldn’t that be more interesting? That curiosity?
Anyway, Mr. Chen solves the kids’ problems (“The White Shadow” wishes he were this involved in his students' lives) and we’re about 30-45 minutes in. So what’s going to happen now? Well, we finally find out who the fuck this guy is.
The incident with the ultimate fighter leads to a news story, and the journalists do the due diligence the school didn’t. They get Chen’s backstory. Turns out he’s a former U.S. Marine.
Chinese movies have an odd love for the Marines, don’t they? At one point in “Wolf Warrior II,” Leng Feng, its jingoistic hero, admits U.S. Marines may be the best fighting force in the world before adding, “But where are they now?” The implication is that America cuts and runs. The implication here is the exact opposite: America fights forever. Our wars never end. That’s why Chen—in a not-good flashback—leaves the Marines; he gets worn down. Then he walks the earth, as Jules said of Kwai-chang Caine. He tries to find a purpose again. He’s also being followed by an eagle—to which, sure—and he remembers eagles always return home to nest. So that’s what he does. He returns to the secondary school he was kicked out of so he can teach kids like he was back then. It’s “Welcome Back, Kotter” meets “Restrepo.” Except awful.
What are the movie’s other conflicts?
- The school needs to do well in the national exams or fold
- Gangsters want to demolish the school for a development deal
All of this comes to a head on the same day. The gangsters take the students hostage so they can’t attend exams. But Mr. Chen to the rescue. 当然。Turns out the gang leader is the kid Chen beat up back in the day, hurting his hand and making it impossible for him to play the piano. That’s why he's a gangster. As we all know, the fallback position for any classical pianist is a life of crime.
But it all ends well for him and for everyone else onscreen. Just not for me. By the end, I was exhausted by how stupid it was.
Here's Jeff Wells on it. No word on when/if/where it arrives.
The Face of Our Sky
“The President we get is the country we get. With each new President the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into, and get us into, is his characteristic trouble. Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail.”
E.L. Doctorow, “The Character of Presidents,” 1992
Portion of “MORNING TRUMP!” by Herr Seele and Kamagurka, seen last year in Haarlem, Netherlands. Yes, my shadow.
Box Office: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Has Crazy Good Labor Day Weekend
Most movies stayed afloat this weekend—particularly “Crazy Rich Asians,” which dropped only 10% to pull in another $22 million. Four-day estimates are around $28 mil. A sequel is in the works.
I’d say movies were buoyed by the holiday, but Labor Day weekend is an historically bad weekend for moviegoing. We have four established three-day holiday weekends in the U.S., and this is the best domestic box office for each:
- MLK: “American Sniper,” $107 million *
- President’s Day: “Black Panther,” $242 million
- Memorial Day: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” $139 million **
- Labor Day: “Halloween” (2007), $30 million
*Yes, it’s embarrassing that a movie with this title did so well over MLK weekend.
** This was way back in 2007 and no recent movie has come close. Is Memorial Day not the great movie weekend I thought it was? This decade only four Memorial openers have even crossed the $100 mil mark: “Hangover Part II” in 2011, “Fast & Furious 6” in 2013, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” in 2014, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story." “F&F6” did best, $117, so not even within $20 mil of “POTC3.” Interesting.
That’s quite a drop-off from the other holiday weekends. Even so, this weekend they came out for “Crazy Rich Asians.” If the estimates hold, it’ll be the third-best box office ever during Labor Day weekend—after the aforementioned 2007 reboot of “Halloween” and the fourth weekend of “The Sixth Sense” back in 1999. If it does just a little better than estimates (another $2 mil), it’ll break the record. Stay tuned. (I think only I am excited by this possibility.)
In other news, “The Meg” dropped 17% to gross another $10 for $120 total. “M:I-F” added $7 for $204. “Searching,” starring Jon Cho, came in fourth: $6 mil in only 1207 theaters.
The two biggest new releases were “Operation Finale,” about extradicting Adolf Eichmann for trial in Israel, which got so-so notices (62%), and earned $6 mil in 1818 theaters; and “KIN,” a supposed “crime thriller with a sci-fi twist,” which got shitty notices (34%), and did shittier box office: $3 mil in 2141 theaters. It finished 12th.
Despite the holidayish weekend, a few movies did drop big. “The HappyTime Murders” fell 53% in its second weekend, earning $4.4, for a total of just $17; and “Mile 22,” the latest Berg/Wahlberg military adventure, fell 43% in its third weekend and has grossed just $31 total.
P and I went to see “Juliet, Naked,” which is a funny, original story for adults. I guess that’s why it’s only playing in 318 theaters. It grossed $804k.
The lowest screen-average for the weekend? Dinesh D’Souza’s idiot right-wing documentary, “Death of a Nation,” which earned just $375 per theater. That's 375 dollars. Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow.
A poem for our age:
Here I sit
Tried to quit
They keep arriving
Orbitz is one of my latest attempts. When I did, I got this response:
That was August 8. They keep arriving.
Quote of the Day
“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born of fear.”
Barack Obama, speaking at the funeral of Sen. John McCain, and referencing the absent man who keeps up his petty pace from day to day.
In “Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China” (much recommended), Peter Hessler not only gives us a great boots-on-the-ground perspective of a burgeoning China in the late 1990s and early ‘00s, he explains what I’ve long wondered: Why did Communist China simplify Chinese characters? What was that about?
It was about losing face. Apparently many in 19th-century China felt that part of the reason it had been overwhelmed by the western powers was its language. Even Lu Xun, regarded as one of China's greatest authors, recommended a shift to the Latin alphabet.
“If we are to go on living, Chinese characters cannot.... The characters are a precious legacy handed down by our ancestors, I know. But we can sacrifice our inheritance or ourselves: which is it to be?”
Once Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, he issued an edict to reform the Chinese language—but not necessarily by going Latin. He wanted the new Chinese alphabet to be phonetic, national, and based on existing Chinese characters.
Didn't turn out that way. From Hessler:
In 1955, the reform committee narrowed the field to six alphabetic finalists. One system used Cyrillic letters, and another used the Latin alphabet. The other four finalists were completely new “Chinese” alphabets that were based on the shapes of characters. But a year later, Mao and other leaders decided that the Chinese alphabets weren't yet usable. They sanctioned the Latin system—the one known as Pinyin—for use in early education and other special purposes, but it wasn't granted legal status. Meanwhile, they decided to simplify a number of Chinese characters, reducing the stroke counts. ... A total of 515 characters were simplified, as well as a number of radicals. At the level of individual characters, it was a significant change, but the basic writing system remained intact.
Rather than revamp the whole system, they nipped and tucked. That's why we got what we got.
Some of the changes make sense to me. In the past, if you wanted to write “a few,” jige, it would be this:
Now it's this:
Not prettier but a helluva lot quicker.
But I still can't get over dong: “east.” It used to be balanced and indicative of what it represented: a rising sun:
Now it's this:
What is that? Looks like the Fantastic Four signal got caught in a strong crosswind. I never remember how to write it. It's just ugly.
I know: I with no rights in this matter: Neither Chinese nor living in China.