Quote of the Day
“The second [reason I've decided to stop blogging in the near future] is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.”
Match César Nominees with IMDb Synopsis
The nominees for the 40th annual César Awards (the French Oscars, yo), were announced the other day, and the movies on the left are the choices for best film. On the right, the IMDb synopsis, shortened somewhat for space. See if you can match them.
|1. Les Combattants
||A. Benjamin is sure he will become a great doctor, but his first experience in his father's service does not turn out the way he hoped.|
|2. Eastern Boys
||B. An actress comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself when she takes part in a revival of the play that launched her career 20 years earlier.|
|3. La Famille Bélier
||C. A girl, who lives with her deaf-mute parents, discovers that she has the gift of singing.|
|4. Saint Laurent
||D. A cattle herder and his family find their quiet lives—typically free of Jihadists—abruptly disturbed.|
||E. Arnaud's summer looks set to be a peaceful one ... until he runs into Madeleine.|
|6. Sils Maria
||F. Yves Saint Laurent's life from 1967 to 1976, when the famed fashion designer was at the peak of his career.|
||G. Muller, a discreet man in his late fifties has his eye on Marek, but doesn't know he has fallen into a trap.|
Answers in the comments field.
Al Franken: 'To Me, That's What God Is'
This is from a speech in 2010 at June 27, 2010, to attendees of the 2010 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
He talks about his father, the death of his father, his kids, and his coneception of God. It's funny and beautiful:
'Seahawks Outlast Packers': A Look at the Dullest NY Times Headline for the Thrillingest NFL Game
I meant to post this last week but better late than never. It's the New York Times' Jan. 18 headline/blurb for one of the most thrilling/heartbreaking championship games in the history of the NFL. The one on the right:
Outlast? How about stun? Jujitsuflip? Mindboggle? Mindfuck?
I subscribe to and root for the Times, our paper of record, to make it through the digital times we're all stuck in. But c'mon, guys. Try a little. It's the dullest hed/synopsis imaginable for the most thrilling come-from-behind, unimaginable game I've seen. It actually makes me laugh.
With 3 minutes left in the game, the Hawks were down 19-7, hadn't scored on offense (only through special teams), and FootballReference.com put their win probability at 0.1%. That's not 1%; that's point 1 percent. Which was probably higher than the percentage I was giving them. It seemed all but over to me. If I had been watching at home, I probably would've turned the game off. Thankfully I was watching at Ben's house.
With 5 minutes left, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw to Jermaine Kearse over the middle, and the ball bounced off Kearse's hands and was picked off by Morgan Burnett who ran a few yards, and then, without a Seattle player nearby, slid to the ground. The Packers were thinking it was over, too. That's what you do when it's over. You cradle the ball like it's an NFC championship trophy and slide. Safe.
But not. The Packers went three and out and suddenly the Super-Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, absent for most of the game, showed up. From their own 31, they scored in four plays. Except Marshawn Lynch was ruled out of bounds at the 9 on the 35-yard pass and run. So many of these calls went against the Hawks. It was a good call but it seemed more of the same. We just couldn't score.
Then we did—three runs later.
Before the onside kick, Ben's teenage daughter asked about onside kicks and their probabilities, and we all agreed they were fairly improbable.
Which is when the improbable happened. Then the impossible happened: run, run, pass, run, touchdown. Out of nowhere, from the depths, we were suddenly ahead by 1. Then we coverted another improbable 2-point conversion to go ahead by 3. The Packers got their field goal but they must've been stunned. They should've been walking off the field in triumph rather than heading out into the middle of it for a coin toss. We won that one, too, and started on our own 13-yard line. Four plays later it was 3rd and 7 at our own 30. Two plays later the game was over: a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin and a 35-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse over the middle. And Seattle, and the sports world, went crazy. Everyone went crazy except the New York Times headline writer.
Outlast. I don't think I'll ever look at that word the same way again.
See you Sunday.
Another American war movie? Nope, a Danish one: “A War” by Tobias Lindholm, the director of “A Hijacking,” and concerning Danish troops in Afghanistan. It's No. 18 on IndieWire's list but higher up on mine.
- IndieWire has a list of the 20 most anticipated foreign films of 2015. We'll see how many wind up in Seattle. No. 7, “Erran,” because it's Jacques Audiard. Much more so than their No. 1, “Flashmob,” by Michael Haneke. (WARNING: Lots of ads on the site make scrolling difficult.)
- Related: FilmStage has the 25 most anticipated movies at Sundance. Interestingly, none are the same movies. (WARNING: ditto.)
- David Simon is making an HBO miniseries about a battle over low-income housing in 1980s Yonkers, starring Oscar Isaac. He expects no one to watch. I'm there.
- I've always been fascinated with statues. Specifically: Who we choose to honor this way and why, and where. But never “And how big.” But French photographer Fabrice Foullet is interested in this last, and has created a series, Colesses, on the biggest statues in the world.
- What your friends with cancer want you to know.
- Via my father: A sharp review of “The Theory of Everything,” the Stephen Hawking biopic, by Stephen Bachman, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
- Via Adam: People reading books on subways. I like the woman in the hajib reading Tobias Wolff's “Barracks Thief.” Everyone else likes the Strunk & White dude.
- Nicholas Kristof on the early death of his high school buddy and the empathy gap in America. For me, that gap is tied to this question: What causes success? The FOX-News answer is hard work, which means that anyone who isn't successful (including, one can argue, most of FOX News' viewers) just didn't work hard enough and thus are undeserving of our empathy. But that answer ignores so much.
- Speaking of the empathy gap: The New York Times reports that the political network overseen by the Koch brothers plans to spend $900 million in the next election, putting them on par, moneywise, with the Republican party and the Democratic party. Thank you, Justice Kennedy.
- Long read of the week: Jill LePore (again) on attempts to archive this unruly, forever disappearing beast of the Internet. Follow-up: Do we blame Tim Berners-Lee?
- Warren Sharp gets into the New England Patriots deflation scandal “Ballghazi” by looking at the team's prevention-of-fumble ratio. Guess what? It's nearly impossible.
- Josh Wilker of “Cardboard Gods” fame is posting again. Here's one on the immortality of Mario Mendoza. Wilker also has a book coming out in May on newfound father. I'm already there.
- We have a new commissioner of Major League Baseball! Yay! And on his first day in office, he mentions banning defensive shifts! Wait, what?
- From Tim Egan: With Obama, and the Seahawks last Sunday, it's how you finish.
Movie Review: Belle (2014)
Here’s how our concerns for the title character—what we and she worry about—keep shifting in “Belle.”
It’s 1761, and an impossible pretty black girl named Dido (initially Lauren Julien-Box, eventually Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is brought by her white father, Capt. Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), to his uncle’s estate in England. Her African mother has died and Lindsay is about to go to sea again. Someone needs to care for the girl.
That’s our initial concern: Will this impossibly pretty black girl find a place to live in superwhite England, or will she be left to the wolves?
She finds a place to live. (Whew.) The reluctant aunt and uncle, Lady and Lord Mansfield (Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson), agree to bring her up on their estate—along with her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Maden), whose mother has also died, and whose father has abandoned her for some Italian wench. So these two girls, one black and one white, grow up together—laughing and chasing each other around trees, as girls in period pieces are wont to do.
But then the increasingly engaged grandaunt and uncle worry: What happens when we die? Dido will be penniless (and left to the wolves)!
Except Capt. Sir John dies first. And leaves Dido his fortune. Second problem solved.
Except, of course, it’s England in the 1770s, and Dido, while impossibly pretty, is still black. No one, certainly no one in society, will be interested in her as a wife. So that’s the next worry: She’ll wind up an old maid like Lady Mary! Lady Mary, by the way, is played by Penelope Wilton, the annoying Isobel Crawley of “Downton Abbey,” whom no one ever wants to be like.
Except ... aha! ... a handsome man, John Davinier (Sam Reid), arrives on the estate, and he and Dido meet cute. She’s polite to everyone but him, which means, in movie terms, that she totally likes him. Plus he’s interested in the Zong case—about the destruction of property (slaves) aboard a ship, and what it means for insurance law, not to mention English law. Dido’s grand uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the Lord Chief Justice, is the man deciding the case. Even if he is taking his own sweet time about it. (Cf. Wilkinson’s LBJ in “Selma.”)
Not only that, but cousin Elizabeth, who can’t play the piano as well as Dido, is being pursued by James Ashford (Tom Felton, forever Draco Malfoy), and he’s got a taller, handsomer brother, Oliver (James Norton), who’s totally interested in Dido, and not in a creepy way, either. Which is good because Davinier impetuously blows it with Dido’s granduncle and has to leave the estate forthwith. Plus Davinier a mere vicar’s son. It would never have worked.
And there’s no need! In London, Oliver proposes marriage! So this problem is now solved. She won’t wind up an old maid like Lady Mary.
Except ... does she truly love him? Like with John Davinier? Which leads to our next and final worry: Will she wind up with the right man? Also known as: Will she find TRUE LOVE?
You can guess the ending. Oh, and the Lord Chief Justice rules properly on the Zong case, paving the way for the eventual abolition of slavery (or at least the slave trade) in England in 1807.
I was bored throughout. The movie is glorified BBC: the heroine ascending the ladder of worries until she winds up with it all. It’s “Masterpiece Theater” with a tan.
SAG Divvies Up the 2014 Acting Awards
The second industy award has spoken. The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, has given out its awards for, among others, film actor, actress, supporting actor and actress, as well as—unique to SAG—the cast award.
The cast award is seen as SAG's best picture, and it's often used to try to predict Oscar winners for best picture. It shouldn't. It's the least accurate: only 50 percent over 18 years. Past recepients have included “The Help,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Full Monty.” It's a whole other category.
Where SAG and the Academy agree most? Lead actor: 16 of 20, and the last 10 in a row.
Indeed, over the last five years, SAG and the Academy have matched up almost exactly:
|Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
Only 2012 supporting actor (Oscar: Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained”) and 2011 lead actress (Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady”) haven't matched, and I'd have to give it to SAG on both of them.
So get ready if you're in any Oscar pools. Here are this year's winners:
|Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2014||Eddie Redmayne||Julianne Moore||J.K. Simmons||Patricia Arquette|
Cast went to “Birdman.”
All are frontrunners with maybe the exception of Redmayne (many are predicting Keaton) so I could see the Academy matching this exactly. We'll know in a month.
Box Office: 'American Sniper' at $200 Million, Sets Sights on Katniss and Biggest Hit of the Year
Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to buy and buy.
We’ve been asking the wrong question with “American Sniper.” Instead of asking “Can it win best picture?” we should be asking, “Can it be the biggest box office hit of 2014”?
This weekend, Eastwood’s superpatriotic flick dropped only 27.9% for a $64 million haul. That’s the 8th-best second weekend (or “second” weekend, since “AS” opened in four theaters in late December) in movie history, behind such movies as “The Avengers,” “Avatar,” and “The Dark Knight.” In fact, with the exception of “Iron Man 3,” every one of the movies with a better second weekend went on to become the biggest box office hit of its respective year.
According to Box Office Mojo, “American Sniper” is now at $200 million. The No. 1 movie of 2014, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” which just surpassed “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” is at $334 million. By its second weekend, “THGMP1” was at $225 million, but it had fallen by 53%, then fell another 61% in the third weekend. So if “American Sniper” can keep from falling at those levels, it'll do it.
Pretty stunning. I didn’t think “AS” would do $50 million and now it’s going to be the biggest hit of Clint Eastwood’s career. Actually it already is. Some day I’d like to read how Warner Bros. handled the rollout strategy. There’s a story there beyond showing people what they want to see.
I should be happy about this, by the way. A serious film will be the biggest hit of the year! When was the last time that happened? Something, in other words, that isn’t superheroes or cartoons or sci-fi fantasy? You’d have to go back all the way to 1998 when another war film, Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” was the biggest hit of the year.
So I should be happy. Except how serious is “American Sniper”? I’d argue that it overlays a reductive Hollywood formula upon our most serious subject: the war on terror. I’d argue it’s doing as well as it is because it’s giving people the Iraq War they (and Pres. Bush) always imagined they’d fight, rather than the complicated one we wound up fighting. In “Saving Private Ryan,” one of the characters ironically recites Tennyson: “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,” but in “American Sniper” that’s actually the movie—unironically. “American Sniper” doesn’t reason why. (My review here.)
Even so, what a fascinating few weeks at the box office. You can’t tell me Clint Eastwood isn’t hanging somewhere grinning over this. His late entry has stirred the pot again.
In other box office news, Jennifer Lopez had her best opening since “Monster in Law” in 2005, as “The Boy Next Door” (hot sex leads to stalking, per Hollywood) opened to $15 million and second place. The George Lucas-written cartoon “Strange Magic” had none, managing only $5 million in 3,020 theaters, while Johnny Depp’s latest foppish adventure, “Mortdecai,” flopped, grossing just $4 million. His reign is over.
Quote of the Day
“All these films have a believable voice and would not exist if there were not an [individual] expression behind them. And only the people who made it could have made it; they were not designed as products but as real expressions of human emotions.”
--Alejandro G. Iñárritu, accepting the Producers Guild of America award for best film of 2014, and talking about the other talent in the room—specifically, one imagines, Richard Linklater's “Boyhood,” Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Bennet Miller's “Foxcatcher,” Damien Chazelle's “Whiplash” and Dan Gilroy's “Nightcrawler.” Pretty much my feelings. Some have complained that 2014 was a weak year for movies but I think the opposite. Even better, those films have been recognized not just by critics but by the industry, which tends to recognize and reward corporate products.
And the Producers Guild of America Award Goes to ...
Most of the pundits assumed “Boyood.” Maybe because the critics awards generally went to “Boyhood.”
The PGAs, for what it's worth, often presage Oscar's best picture winner. At least they have 17.5 times out of 25:
|Year||PGA: Best Picture|
|2013||Gravity/12 Years a Slave|
|2010||The King's Speech|
|2009||The Hurt Locker|
|2007||No Country for Old Men|
|2006||Little Miss Sunshine|
|2003||Lord of the Rings: Return of the King|
|1998||Saving Private Ryan|
|1996||The English Patient|
|1992||The Crying Game|
|1991||The Silence of the Lambs|
|1990||Dances with Wolves|
|1989||Driving Miss Daisy|
SAG is tomorrow night, the DGAs take place on February 7. And if you're wondering if a film has ever won the PGA and DGA and not the Oscar, the answer is yes: three times. In 1995, the GAs went for “Apollo 13” (instead of “Braveheart”), in '98 for “Saving Private Ryan” (instead of “Shakespeare in Love”) and in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain” (instead of You Know What.) Each time, I'd argue, Oscar blew it.
The PGAs went a different route than the Academy in two other movie categories this year. For best animated feature, it chose “The LEGO Movie,” which the Academy failed to nominate. And in best documentary, it went with “Life Itself,” about the life and times of Roger Ebert, which ditto.