The ‘Go Back’ Tweet
It's tough to keep track of all the POTUS norms—let alone civic and civil norms—that Donald Trump is upending. Hope someone not me has a spreadsheet on all of it.
Sunday we got another egregious example. He tweeted about four women in Congress: “Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three were born in the U.S.; the fourth was born in Somalia but raised here. All are women of color.
Here's a good, quick response from Charles Pierce of Esquire that nails it:
The president* of the United States is the kind of racist you find in a neighborhood saloon in which everybody moves to the other end of the bar.— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) July 14, 2019
Then the lies about the tweet—of the “You didn't read what you just read” variety—began:
Anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying.— Matt Wolking (@MattWolking) July 14, 2019
He told them to “Then come back and show us how it is done.” pic.twitter.com/7pmb0DNz1c
The legit media have been their usual tepid selves, saying the tweet was “denounced as” racist rather than was racist—as if reality were a partisan issue. Longtime Fox idiot Brit Hume chimed in, saying while the tweet was xenophobic, et al., it wasn't racist, but he was quickly schooled by U.S. Rep Ted Lieu:
Dear @brithume: When people tell me to “go back” to China or Japan, that is racist because they are treating me differently based on race. Like you Brit Hume, my home is America. I don't have a different home because my skin color happens to be different from your skin color. https://t.co/8D0DAfipLm— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 15, 2019
And so it goes. Ad naseum. Hope someone's keeping track of it all.
Census and Sensibility
A good rundown by Charles Bethea on the past few week's between the courts, the DOJ and mostly our idiot president on whether to include a citizenship question on the 2020 cenus. But read the whole piece. It's about longtime GOP gerrymanderer Thomas Hofeller and his estranged daughter, Stephanie, who has real problems of her own, but who's fought her father much of her life. And the info she found on four of Hofeller's external harddrives and 18 of his thumb drives after his death helped the U.S. Supreme Court, or at least Chief Justice John Roberts, side with justice.
In late June, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rucho v. Common Cause, that the federal judiciary did not have the authority to stop legislators from drawing district maps in order to maximize partisan advantage. It was a 5–4 decision, split along ideological lines, with the conservative Justices all in support. Later that day, the Court issued its ruling on the census case. It was another 5–4 decision, but, this time, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion for both of the cases, sided with the liberal wing of the court, concluding that the Commerce Department's stated reason for adding a citizenship question—that it would help the department enforce the Voting Rights Act—“seems to have been contrived.” ...
It appears likely that Roberts's deciding vote was influenced by the evidence that Hofeller brought to light. “Chief Justice Roberts is somebody who is very concerned with the institutional reputation of the Court, and the Hofeller documents—which the Court was clearly aware of—cast so much doubt about the government's stated reasons for wanting a citizenship question,” Michael Li, the election-law specialist, told me. “It just smelled and felt like something was wrong.”
Then Bethea gets into what happened in the last week or so. Basics:
- The Commerce Department issued a statement that census forms would be printed without a citizenship question
- Hours later, Trump tweeted that reports mentioning this fact were “incorrect or, to state it differently, fake! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question”
- The DOJ then tried to replace its entire team of lawyers on the case
- Tuesday, a federal judge said no, saying the department's stated reasoning for the wholesale switch was “patently deficient.”
Which leads us to our finale:
Finally, on Thursday afternoon, in a press conference at the Rose Garden, Trump said that his Administration would no longer seek to add a citizenship question, and that he was issuing an executive order that called on the Commerce Department to comb through “all legally accessible records” related to citizenship. (The order appears to demand something that was already taking place.) Trump also said, when speaking of the need for citizenship data, “Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts, based upon the voter eligible population.” The comment reinforced the impression that adding the citizenship question was always an effort to strengthen the Republican Party's advantage in future redistricting by amplifying the representation of, as Thomas Hofeller put it, non-Hispanic Whites.
Here's to finding more external and zip drives.
Jim Bouton (1939-2019)
I was surprised that he was 80. He always seemed so young to me. He was young at heart—the perennial rebel.
Even so, he was hardly the iconoclast everyone made him out to be. If you read “Ball Four”—and you really should—you‘ll see that half the time he’s just a guy trying to fit in. “I don't like people to think terrible thoughts about me,” he writes early on. “Despite my efforts to be one of the boys,” he writes after his roommate Gary Bell is traded midseason, “the fact that I was Gary's roommate is what helped most.”
That's what makes the book so good. It's that tension. Bouton wants to fit in but he can't because 1) he is different from most ballplayers (he reads, he writes) and 2) he has a low tolerance for stupidity. And within the 1969 Seattle Pilots organization he kept finding it.
Coaches question players for taking baseballs out of the ballbag: “What are you using them for?” they ask. The Yankee clubhouse manager refuses to stock orange juice because “If I get it, you guys just drink it up.” Bouton is interested in a new sports drink called Gatorade, and buys several cases for the team, but the Pilots’ GM not only won’t compensate him he launches an investigation into this so-called “Gatorade.”
My favorite example of managerial ineptitude is during a late April game against the Minnesota Twins when pitching coach Sal Maglie yells at pitcher Darrel Brandon not to worry about Rod Carew leading off third. “For crissakes, get the hitter,” he yells. “The runner isn’t going anywhere.” So of course Carew steals home. And of course there's no mea culpa from Maglie. “You know you’ve got to pitch in the stretch from that situation,” he tells Brandon.*
(*Should we forgive Maglie somewhat since, though Carew tied a Major League record that year by stealing home seven times, it is early in the season? Sure, somewhat. Except Carew had already stolen home twice. This was his third. He was off and running. And not just him. In this game, the Twins had four stolen bases—including one by Harmon Killebrew, who wasn't exactly Lou Brock. That was all Billy Martin, by the way. Up to this season, Killebrew had 7 career SBs with 8 CS. Under Martin? In 1969? Eight SBs and 2 CS.)
The Pilots were a bad team and management made them worse. During the course of the year, Seattle sends to the minors one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s (Mike Marshall), and they trade the future 1969 Rookie of the Year to Kansas City (Lou Piniella). “Lou wasn't their style,” Bouton says simply. Exactly. He wanted to win.
That's also part of the beauty of “Ball Four”: Bouton held a job most of us only dream about, yet his story is also ours: My boss is an idiot. Who can’t relate?
On Facebook, on the day Bouton died, I wrote this:
Rest in peace, Jim Bouton, lover of baseball and books and Mount Rainier. You were less iconoclast than a man with a low tolerance for stupidity; but that marked you in Major League Baseball. Hell, it‘ll mark you almost anywhere. The last line of BALL FOUR is as good as any last line of any book ever published: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
This is the Rainier reference. In “Ball Four,” it’s from the July 26 chapter—a few days before he's traded to Houston. He writes:
It's still hard to get used to playing baseball again after the All-Star break. Three days off reminds you how much tension you live under playing baseball every day. During the break Harmon Killebrew can't get you. Reggie Jackson can't get you. It's peaceful. Like looking up at Mt. Rainier. That's the great thing about our ballpark. When a home run hit off you disappears over the fence your eeys catches a glimpse of the majesty of Mt. Rainier and some of that bad feeling goes away.
Godspeed, Jim. Keep giving them the ol' Rufus Goofus.
Good-Bye To All That
“Choosing a single day that epitomizes Donald J. Trump's presidency — amid the endless tangle of jaw-dropping, reality-bending, norm-shattering days — is a fool's errand. But for a White House correspondent departing the beat after eight years, Thursday came awfully close.
”From Mr. Trump's morning Twitter rant (asking how anyone could vote for a Democrat over “what you have now, so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!”) to his social media summit (in which he praised a room of right-wing agitators for “the crap you think of”), to a news conference that ended with his merry band of provocateurs almost coming to blows with reporters, the White House finally surrendered itself to being a stage set for Mr. Trump's greatest reality show."
Mark Landler saying goodbye to all that in his farewell New York Times column covering the White House (he's becoming London bureau chief). Read the whole thing. It's brutal. And sad. For our country.
Arliss on Cagney
In 1931, Warner Bros. biggest star, George Arliss, who had played Disraeli in “Disraeli” (twice: silent and talkie), and who would soon resurrect his stage role as Alexander Hamilton in “Alexander Hamilton,” was casting his new comedy, “The Millionaire,” in which he, of course, played the title role. The following is from his autobiography:
There was a small but important part in The Millionaire, the part of an insurance agent. The scene was entirely with me and was the turning point in the story. I knew it depended largely on the actor of this small part whether my change of mental attitudes would appear convincing. I saw several promising young men without being much impressed one way or another, but there was one more waiting to be seen. He was a lithe, smallish man. I knew at once he was right. As I talked to him I was sure he could give me everything I wanted. He wasn't acting to me now. He wasn't trying to impress me. He was just being natural, and I thought, a trifle independent for a bit actor. There was a suggestion of here-I-am-take-me-or-leave-me, and hurry up. As I came to my decision, I remember saying, “Let him come just as he is. Those clothes and no makeup stuff. Just as he is.” The man was James Cagney. I was lucky.
Also unlucky. Arliss had had a nice run, but Cagney's naturalistic acting helped put an end to his more theatrical version. Within a year, it was Cagney who was Warner Bros.' big star—even if he wasn't treated as such by Jack Warner. He's been the longer-lasting, too. Arliss kept going, playing Voltaire in “Voltaire,” and Cardinal Richelieu in “Cardinal Richelieu,” but increasingly America wanted to see less of these guys and more of Tom Powers and Rocky Sullivan.
‘Tucker Carlson Has Failed to Assimilate’
“While I favor granting citizenship automatically to children born in the United States, I was reminded of birthright citizenship's biggest downside Tuesday while listening to Tucker Carlson on his Fox News show.
”Unlike immigrants, natural-born citizens such as Carlson are neither screened nor forced to pass a citizenship test nor made to swear an oath. And when they stray from the American way, no one thinks to tell them that they‘re failing to assimilate.
“But isn’t ‘failure to assimilate’ an accurate way to characterize Carlson's angry identitarianism? Carlson, who broadcasts to millions of viewers on national television, keeps fueling xenophobia and needless social strife by singling out people who weren't born in America for special ire, then attributing negative qualities to whole groups. He just can't get with the program of the American experiment.”
Conor Friedersdorf, “Tucker Carlson Has Failed to Assimilate,” on The Atlantic site
Movie Review: Hard to Handle (1933)
It’s a movie of its time. We see dance marathons and holes in dress shoes. We hear about Walter Winchell, Clark Gable and Hoover collars. There are even references to long-forgotten ad slogans, such as “Four out of five have it,” which, it turns out—I had to look it up—was a 1920s campaign to warn against gum disease while promoting Forhan’s Toothpaste. According to a 2007 New York Times article, it was “one of the decade’s most popular advertising slogans.”
It’s also a movie ahead of its time. Is “Lefty” Merrill (James Cagney) the first publicist-hero in Hollywood movies? Publicists, PR and propaganda were relatively new concepts back then—with Edward Bernays publishing “Propaganda” just five years earlier. And, hey, is Lefty also the last publicist-hero in Hollywood movies? It’s kind of giving away the game, isn’t it? If you show a man manipulating the public to buy a product, the audience might wonder whether they were manipulated to buy this product.
“Hard to Handle,” written by Robert Lord (“Black Legion”) and Wilson Mizner (“One Way Passage”), and directed by Mervyn LeRoy (whom Cagney couldn’t stand), has no compunction about letting the public in on the scam. It lays it all out for the yaps/saps to see.
Early on, Lefty has this conversation with his partner Mac (John Sheehan):
Lefty: Listen, Mac ... where did all this money come from?
Mac: A lot of yaps.
Lefty: Sure, yaps, suckers, chumps, anything you want to call them—the public. And how do you get ’em? Publicity. Listen, Mac, here’s the idea: You take the bankroll, open a publicity agency. Exploitation, advertising, ballyhoo, bull, hot air—the greatest force in modern-day civilization. ... Look at the guy who added halitosis to the national vocabulary—and a million bucks to his own payroll. Look at Ivy League, Rockefeller’s press agent. Look at the guy who coined the expression “four out of five have it.” Made more out of that than Shakespeare made out of “Hamlet.”
Mac: Ah, it’s a lot of hooey!
Lefty: Sure, it’s hooey. The most profitable hooey in the world. I’m telling you, Mac, the public is like a cow bellowing, bellowing to be milked.
Again, this is the movie's hero.
Fall and rise
It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally realized the formula for these early Cagney flicks:
- Working class job, often on the shady side
- Blonde girl
Here, he’s a publicist, the blonde is Mary Brian (who has a Christina Applegate thing about her), and he’s got two catchphrases. The main one is: “You stick with me and I’ll put a gold spoon right in your kisser.” And whenever he kisses his girl, Ruth Waters (Brian), invariably she pulls back and says, “That hurts.” To which he responds: “That’s love.”
“Handle” opens with a dance marathon that’s treated with mirth more than concern. We’re told that after 1,412 hours (which would be 58 straight days), there are two couples left, both of whom have had one fall. They’re only allowed one more. One of the couples is led by Sterling Holloway, soon to be the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh. The other is a short squat guy and a stunning blonde—Ruth. Her mother, Lil (Ruth Donnelly), is introduced as well: “A widow, folks! A widow!” says the radio announcer, played by Cagney pal Allen Jenkins, who gets third-billing for this slim role.
When the other couple finally falls, Lefty goes back to the office to bring Ruth and her partner their winnings ($1,000). Except Mac has absconded with all the dough. Bravely Lefty returns to the stage, says he’s concerned they might get robbed, says he’ll give them the dough tomorrow. At which point, Lil storms the stage—and the movie. She gets all the good lines:
Lefty: But Mrs. Waters, there’s a crime wave!
Lil: Yeah, and it looks like you’re it.
Lefty: Now, now, do I look like a thief?
Lil: You look like you’d steal two left shoes.
She works the mob against Lefty and he barely escapes with his life. Turns out Lefty is Ruth’s guy, though Lil is against it. She also says she’s tired of being on the receiving end: “I’m going to do something to somebody.” That somebody is the very Jewish Mr. Goldstein (William H. Strauss*), to whom she sells the furniture in her apartment. Except it’s not her apartment nor her furniture. By the time Goldstein figures it out, she and Ruth have scrammed back to New York. You could do that back then.
(*Strauss acted in movies from 1920 to 1939, starting out with several starring roles, but mostly cast as a supporting Jewish character. He played five different bergs (Gins, Gold, Silver, Fein, Tim), three tailors and three pawnbrokers. A study of his career would be fascinating.)
Lefty, meanwhile, has another scheme in mind. He sells the owner of “Sea Breeze” amusement parks on a treasure hunt: Hide $5,000 on the premises and let the public try to find it. Problem? The owner hides only $10 and the public tears the park apart trying to find the rest. So Lefty, too, scrams for New York.
He’s down to his last 30 cents when Ruth complains that her “Velvet Bar Milk Cream” won’t rub in, and—snap!—he’s got it. He sells the Velvet company on the idea of pushing their crappy product as a “reducing cream” and winds up with a check for $3500.
Lefty: I always knew the public was dumb but they panned out even dumber than I thought.
Again, that’s our hero.
In this way, his fortunes rise. He convinces society dame Mrs. Weston Parks (Louise Mackintosh, who died later that year at 68) to promote the product, it becomes an even bigger hit, and suddenly he’s a big shot with a team of receptionists. Problem? Ruth doesn’t know if she wants to marry him now that he’s a big shot. Cue her mother’s exasperation.
Donnelly is one of the joys of the movie: grasping for money, gasping at her daughter, shifting 180 degrees depending on the shifting fortunes of Ruth’s pursuers. Initially, she talks up nice-guy photographer John Hayden (Gavin Gordon) and his $25,000-a-year business. But when Lefty comes into his own, Hayden suddenly becomes a “cheap, $25,000 a year man.” She constantly uses the first-person plural for herself and her daughter. After the dance marathon: “Ruth, we won it!” After Lefty comes into his own: “We don’t love that mug. We love you.” Halfway through the movie, and without comment, mother and daughter begin wearing the same outfits. It’s a glorious performance.
Fall and rise, part II
The drama for the second half is all about whether Ruth will come around, and whether Lefty’s publicity schemes will pan out. He’s able to raise $1 million for Bedford College by turning their “hot, skip and jump champ” into a movie star, and by talking up the college’s beautiful co-eds—one of whom is Marlene Reeves (Claire Dodd), who has pre-code eyes for Lefty. She introduces him to her father, Charles, who runs grapefruit farms, and Lefty agrees to handle the advertising.
Bad move. Arlene’s attentions land him in hot water with Ruth, while the ad campaign’s outlandish promises land him in hot water with the feds. The solution comes in jail, when Lefty meets up again with his old crony Mac, who’s lost weight. How? Grapefruit. So Lefty conjures up the 18-day grapefruit diet: “American women will beg, borrow, steal, torture herself, for one thing: a slender figure,” he says. Soon grapefruit prices skyrocket, Lefty’s outlandish promises are no longer outlandish, and the fraud charges are dropped. And with ma’s help, he gets the girl and puts a gold spoon right in her kisser.
Question: Did he sleep with Marlene? I think he did. But the movie makes him seem somehow traduced. Ditto with Grapefruit Farms. It was his ad campaign that concocted the fraud; yet the movie blames Reeves, who skedaddles to Rio.
I like the in-joke about the grapefruit, given its association with Cagney. Particularly when Lefty proclaims to the feds, “What do I know about grapefruit! I never even saw a grapefruit!”
Cagney, with his rat-a-tat delivery, makes a great pitch man, and it’s interesting that Warners thought a man suckering the masses would appeal to the masses. Maybe, to them, it seemed a harmless step up from Cagney’s grifter role in “Blonde Crazy.” It isn’t. Grifters make suckers out of those guys; propagandists make suckers out of us all. Or worse—as Josef Goebbels was beginning to demonstrate.
The full line is: “I'm telling you, Mac, the public is like a cow, bellowing, bellowing to be milked.” Plus ça change. We‘re still a bunch of yaps.
Cagney, wary of the mother; Brian, with a touch of Christina Applegate about her.
“There is no Depression”: I think the Republicans tried that one, too.
What happens when you include only $10 in a $5,000 treasure hunt; they might tear down your place looking for the rest.
If the product doesn’t work? Rebrand. This movie could still be shown in business classes.
Lefty with honorary degree in hand about to go into the grapefruit business.
Claire Dodd displaying pre-code interest in Lefty.
Did he or didn't he? Mother and daughter are standouts, never more so than when wearing the same thing.
The movie's great inside gag.
“You stick with me and I'll put a gold spoon right in your” “Kiss her!” *FIN*
Movie Review: Rocketman (2019)
When I first became aware of the radio, of rock ‘n’ roll as a current thing, it was about 1973, I was 10, and Elton John reigned supreme. He was what the cool older kids of maybe 14 or 16 listened to. They had his albums with the odd titles: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” Except ... I’ve already screwed up the chronology, haven’t I? “Captain Fantastic” wasn’t released until 1975, which is when I became a regular radio listener, every Sunday night writing down the top 40 songs in the nation along with Casey Kasum like it mattered. Like I do with box office today. I did that for about a year.
So no, I guess I never really learned Elton’s discography or history—not like with the Beatles. I was a completist with the Beatles but as a kid I owned just one Elton album: “Elton John’s Greatest Hits.” I wanted to be the Beatles—or Paul—but never Elton. Feather boas and glitter and those crazy glasses? Who wears glasses? Nerds. Who wants to be a nerd?
It’s astonishing that he was ever a rock star, really. Rock stars were lithe, sexual beasts with long hair who went crazy on guitars and microphones and drums. Elton was a vaguely pudgy, balding dude in glasses and feather boa tinkling on piano keys. But there he was. Everywhere. Even—it was rumored—wearing 10-foot-tall platform shoes in the movie “Tommy.” Bigger kids saw “Tommy.”
There were rumors about Elton but not necessarily about that. “Bennie and the Jets” was about drugs, doofus, don’t you know anything? I also misheard the lyrics: “She’s got electric boobs/Her ma has, too.” Were there rumors of his sexuality? That wasn’t talked about much back then. It was just a playground insult, or something you might see on an episode of “Barney Miller.” Besides, how could he be gay? He was obviously obsessed with electric boobs.
The way he broke in the U.S. also had its own weird path. He didn’t get big in Britain and then ride that wave across the Atlantic. He didn’t keep playing bigger and bigger venues until he wowed us all on American TV. Instead, it was some club in LA. He started there.
Interesting thing about not knowing Elton’s chronology: “Rocketman” doesn’t know it, either. Or it doesn’t care about it. In fact, it doesn’t care more than I don’t know.
The movie is essentially a jukebox musical, a biopic told via music videos, so it uses what it wants when it wants. The first song he sings at The Troubadour, for example, is “Crocodile Rock,” which is like three years early. Worse, after that show, he meets superhunky John Reid (Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones”), there’ a flurry of headlines about Elton’s success, then he’s back in a London studio recording “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” with Kiki Dee. Reid shows up there, and they become lovers, and Reid becomes his manager, setting himself up to be the villain of the piece. But to me it was like: Wait, the Troubadour in 1970 was the beginning, and “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” in 1977 was near the end—Elton’s last big hit before the MTV-era comeback—so what about the rest? When he reigned supreme? I get jukebox musical; I get truncate as you need; but if you lose too much chronology, you lose the thread and the story.
I also don’t get why music biopics don’t ride the crest of the wave longer. That’s the fascinating part, but here it’s just dealt with in a flurry of headlines. He wows at the Troubadour and then he’s selling 4% of songs worldwide. Give me the steps in between. I’m sure tons of performers wowed at the Troubadour and were never heard from again.
And what do writer Lee Hall (“Billy Elliott,” “War Horse”) and director Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”) focus on instead? The dullest story there is: addiction. Booze, drugs, sex—anything to fill the void where love should be. (Cue: “I Want Love.”) The void is interesting, the addiction isn’t. It’s always a long slow fall, and the only question is if there’s a bottom.
Maybe all post-rock ‘n’ roll success is dull. Here’s what biopics tend to give us:
- Band tensions/breakups
“Rocketman” has all of it. Elton is addicted to drugs and booze, he’s overworked by John Reid, at one point he’s slapped by John Reid (which supposedly didn’t happen), and he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) suffer tensions and break up. Success never looked so sucky.
You know the real disconnect? The movie is about Elton’s life as represented by his songs ... yet it’s Bernie who writes the lyrics. We see Bernie writing the lyrics. So how do Bernie’s lyrics correlate to Elton’s life? I guess I’m asking. Because sometimes they do. Look at “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Lyrics by Bernie but they describe a moment in 1968 when Elton tried to commit suicide because he felt trapped by his engagement to Linda Woodrow, whom he didn’t love, and by society’s expectations of who he was supposed to be. So he tried to asphyxiate himself in a gas oven. The “someone” who saved him is bandmate Long John Baldry, from whom Elton took his rock surname—the John Lennon bit in the movie is fiction. Meanwhile, the relationship with Woodrow in the movie is treated comically—clothes chucked out from a second-floor window as if he were a 1950s husband. You wouldn’t suspect he nearly killed himself because of her.
According to the movie, their songrwiting partnership went like this: Bernie wrote the lyrics independently, and Elton read them at the piano and, bam, came up with music on the spot. C’mon. Let’s dig into it. Who’s Daniel? Who was the young man in the 22nd row? Whose farm metaphor keeps popping up in every other song? Is “Rocket Man” a takeoff on Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or is it how Elton felt skyrocketing to fame, with the line “I’m not the man they think I am at home” an obvious allusion to his homosexuality? If so, how was this communicated to Bernie? I wanted more of that in the movie.
And do they really suggest the line is “I miss the earth so much/I miss my life?” To be PC? Watching, I felt a little like Alvy Singer. “You heard, right? It’s wife. I’m not crazy here.”
That said ...
I thought Taron Egerton fucking nailed it. New respect. “Robin Hood” is now forgiven. It’s a shame last year’s Oscar went to an actor playing a ’70s Brit pop star managed by John Reid and directed by Fletcher because there’s no way they’re going to go there two years in a row, yet Egerton is the more deserving. He sings, for one, and his transformation is more spot on. At times I wondered if they were showing us clips of the real Elton. Just look at that LA concert when he comes out in the glitter Dodger uniform—the way Egerton stands, poses, etc. Perfect.
You know who else I liked? Kit Connor, the preteen Elton who winds up at the Royal Academy of Music and then plays early rock ‘n’ roll at honky tonks with his swept-up red-haired pompadour. He was the first one to get to me. Maybe because he reminded me a bit of my nephew at that age. Or maybe that’s the age when true vulnerability shows.
New respect for Bryce Dallas Howard, too, playing his mom, Sheila. “Jurassic World: Forbidden Kingdom” is now forgiven. (Kidding. Nothing forgives it.) I couldn’t figure out who the actress was for the longest time. I assumed British; she’s that good. Howard should play disdainful more, too.
I’d still recommend the movie. If I was on “Sneak Previews,” my thumb would be a titch above 90 degrees. But I keep thinking of all they missed. The Beatles conquering America in 1964—meaning rock ‘n’ roll could travel westward, too: What impact did that have on a 16-year-old Elton? How about AIDS and the work he did there? Singing at Lady Di’s funeral and rewriting “Candle in the Wind” and turning it into the biggest single ever? The movie pretends that in the early 1980s Elton pushed away the baggage (addiction, Reid) and stormed back with “I’m Still Standing”; but rehab was in the early ’90s, Reid managed him until ’98, and “I’m Still Standing” only reached No. 12 on the U.S. charts. There’s a better story here.