'The Surreal Being Normalized'
“As outrageous as Trump's victory is, the media covering the GOP convention have become so acclimated to it that they are acclimating us, too. Watching the convention was watching the spectacle of the surreal being normalized: the parade of 1980s retreads like Scott ”Chachi“ Baio and underwear model-turned-actor Antonio Sabato Jr. given prime speaking real estate; the chants of ”Lock Her Up!“ out of some dystopian sci-fi film where the public runs amok; the spittle-spewing mania of Rudy Giuliani, like some crazed villain from a Marvel picture; the WWE confrontation between Ted Cruz and Trump as the latter entered the arena to step on Cruz's peroration; the disjunction of a convention with all of 18 black delegates (yes, 18!) while a caravan of black speakers made it seem like the NAACP convention; and, last but by no means least, Trump himself, looking like a grumpy potentate.
”None of this is normal ... “
-- Neil Gabler, ”The media went AWOL: Members of the press shied away from doing their jobs during RNC coverage," on BillMoyers.com
Movie Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)
Interesting movie. Very unique.
For those who haven’t seen it: Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is the patriarch of six kids raised deep in the Pacific Northwest woods, and one of the things he counsels them on—besides hunting, climbing, surviving—is grammar: that the word “unique,” for example, doesn’t take a modifier, and “interesting” is a limp word that hides more than it illuminates. No wonder I was happy watching it. It’s a movie that cares about words, and books, and scholarship. It’s a movie that actually made me think, “I haven’t tried hard enough in life.” How rare is that?
Then we got to the last act.
Miles from nowhere
“Captain Fantastic” opens as eldest son Bo (George McKay) kills a deer with a hunting knife and is anointed by his father with the deer’s blood before eating its heart; then the carcass is transported back to camp, where all of its parts are put to use. That night, around the campfire, Ben and Bo strum guitars, while perpetually scowling middle child Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) begins to bang an angry drumbeat. Everyone joins in. It’s like summer camp that never stops. It’s a white family living as they imagine Native Americans lived.
It's also boot camp for Noam Chomsky scholars. Ben is essentially a left-wing martinet—leading the kids on dawn runs, demanding excellence, and handing out Nabokov and Chomsky assignments. When they climb a sheer cliff that would give Ethan Hunt of “Mission: Impossible” pause, and Rellian slips and breaks his hand, Ben tells him to shake it off since there’s no one to help him. The boy’s resentment burns the screen.
A question that came to me after the family heads out in a beat-up bus for the funeral of their mother in New Mexico: What is all of this training for? To what end? His kids are superfit but unfit for modern life. They can recite and interpret the Bill of Rights, which is more than their dopey cousins can do, but they don’t know how most people live. Have they seen a web browser? Can they turn on a computer? “How did you kill those chickens—with an axe or a knife?” the youngest asks her aunt at a family dinner. At a trailer camp, after a make-out session with a pretty blonde, Bo gets down on one knee like a 19th-century balladeer and proposes; he's laughed at. “Unless it comes out of a book I don’t know anything!” Bo later cries to his stunned father.
(Some of this seems a reach. Is there no modern literature in Bo's curriculum? No Doctorow, Irving, Kundera, Roth? Surely the Nabokov helped.)
Ben’s bête noir, his father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella), annunciates the dilemma. “Even if they make it through whatever it is you’re doing to them,” he says, “they’re going to be totally unprepared for the real world.”
He’s right. But I was still rooting for Ben. Then Rellian decides to remain with his grandparents, Ben sends one of the girls to kidnap him, the girl falls off the roof and nearly dies, and Ben, mortified, does what any loving parent would do: He gives up his kids and drives back home alone.
I suppose it’s the other side of the same coin of Ben’s intolerant perfectionism. He raised his kids away from what he viewed as the impurity of society; but when he saw himself as part of that impurity, he removed himself from the equation, too. Thus:
- Thesis: modern culture bad (so we live away from it)
- Antithesis: me bad (so I live away from them)
- Synthesis: living together in the little house near the woods (where we borrow from the best of both cultures)
This ending is way too neat for me, but the movie truly slipped away when Ben gave up his kids. (They return as stowaways on the bus.) I just couldn’t care about a man who would abandon his family that way.
I still recommend the movie, though. From the opening shot, writer-director Matt Ross (Gavin Belson of “Silicon Valley,” ironically) gives it the weight and randomness of cinema vérité; he gets great performances out of everyone, particularly the children; and he delves into an important issue: how to raise kids in an era of unrelenting consumerism and screens. His ending may be facile but his questions aren’t.
It Can't Happen Here
From Jonathan Chait on New York magazine's website:
Amazingly, even as Democrats painted Trump as an authoritarian menace, he continued to confirm the point on the ground. Weeks earlier, Trump's campaign had banned the Washington Post, whose coverage it found objectionable, from campaign events. The ban had only symbolic meaning, though. ... But yesterday, the Trump campaign extended its ban from the symbolic to the real by preventing Post reporter Jose DelReal from entering a public speech by Trump's vice-presidential nominee, Mike Pence. Private security first told DelReal he could not enter the rally with his laptop and phone. DelReal asked if other attendees were allowed to bring phones and was told, “Not if they work for the Washington Post.” DelReal placed the items in his car, returned, was patted down by security, and then still told he could not enter. Later, Pence's staffers insisted it had all been a mistake, blaming overzealous local staffers. This sort of iterative, inconsistent, and even chaotic sequence of events fits a common pattern of how political authoritarians break down rules and norms.
Be afraid. Or better: Keep Calm and Fucking Vote.
Andrew Sullivan, Speaking for Me
“10:54 p.m. I've never felt this way about a president, so I might as well admit it. Against hideously graceless opposition, in the face of extraordinary odds, facing immense crises, he stayed the course and changed this country. This election is, at its core, about not letting a bigot and a madman take that away from all of us.”
My Thoughts Exactly
Jeffrey Toobin on the email hack/scandal at the DNC, potentially orchestrated by the Russians to benefit Donald Trump, which led to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schutlz:
What was so terrible about the e-mails? In one, a D.N.C. staffer raised the possibility of Sanders being asked about his religious views, though it appears nothing came of the suggestion. In another, D.W.S. referred to a Sanders campaign official who had criticized her as a “damn liar.” A third showed her explicitly criticizing Sanders himself, saying he had “no understanding” of the Democratic Party. (This might be because Sanders has never been elected as a Democrat but, rather, always as an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.)
Do these e-mails strike anyone as appalling and outrageous? Not me. They strike me as . . . e-mails. The idea that people might speak casually or caustically via e-mail has been portrayed as a shocking breach of civilized discourse. Imagine! People bullshitting on e-mail!
Savaging the Green Party
“A vote for Jill Stein in 2016 is a vote for Donald Trump. Stein knows it, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar knows it, and the Green Party knows it and doesn't care.”
-- Dan Savage, “How Green Is Her Bullshit: An Uncharacteristically Brief Response to the Green Party Spokesperson's Dishonest Response to My Podcast Rant,” July 22. Gives a good background on the battle between Savage and the Greens. His main argument is the Greens don't do enough grassroots stuff. Instead, they trot out presidential candidates every four years to screw with the Dems. Stein touted their grassroots work but Savage runs the numbers and finds them lacking.
10 Quick Thoughts on the Wonder Woman Trailer
- “You're a man.” Um, yeah. This is a little too close to the hot-but-innocent alien chick saying things like “What is love?” (See: TOS, “Gamesters of Triskelion”), but Gal Gadot saves it a little by stating it, and then Chris Pine helps with his comic response.
- But let's face it: The origin of Wonder Woman, the Amazon island thing, was always fairly idiotic/boring and the movie doesn't seem to make it any smarter/more interesting.
- Chick with the cracked mask: “Boardwalk Empire” did it better.
- “I was brought to life by... ” Juice? Jews? Oh, Zeus. Whew.
- So why WWI instead of WWII? The argument from io9 is that her character becomes disgusted with humanity and stays away for 100 years, and the Great War was a bad war (resolving nothing), while WWII had a clear villain and absolute atrocities. Me, I think the Holocaust is reason enough to steer clear of humanity, but whatever. Do what you need to do.
- Her fighting scenes look good.
- “I can't let you do this.”/“What I do is not up to you.” Good line.
- Same with “I like her.”
- The muted grays: Zack Snyder's sucky pallette. Can't we ever get away from this, DC?
- Fingers crossed.
'Star Trek,' 'Ice Age' Continue Summer of Sequel Sag
For box office, you should probably be looking down, Montgomery Scotty.
The fifth “Ice Age” movie, “Collision Course,” opened to shitty reviews (13% RT) and shitty box office ($21 mil, fifth place), which is the weakest opening for an “Ice Age” by far. The others opened between $41 and $68, and grossed between $161 and $196. “CC” will be lucky to top out at $100.
The third rebooted “Star Trek” movie, “Beyond,” opened to good reviews (84%) but so-so box office ($59 mil, first place), which is the weakest opening for a rebooted “Trek.” The others opened at $75 and $70.
Oddly, this is probably worse news for “Trek.”
The “Ice Age”s make most of its money abroad. Chronologically: $206, $465, $690, and $715 million. So the bigger question for “Collision Course” is: How will it play in Bonn or Beijing? The answer, so far, is: not bad: $178 and counting.
I remember seeing the original “Star Trek” in reruns in Taiwan in the late 1980s (Spock's dubbed voice sounded like it was recorded in a big empty metal box), so it's obviously disseminated abroad. It's just not big abroad—grossing, internationally, $128 and $238 for “Star Trek” and “Into Darkness” respectively. It needs those U.S. dollars more.
The poor opening of “IA” and “ST” continues a summer trend. Yes, the two top movies of the summer, “Finding Dory” and “Captain America: Civil War,” are both sequels, but after that it's originals or reboots. Most sequels are grossing only a fraction of what the previous film grossed:
|Franchise||2016 B.O.||Previous B.O.||%|
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||$81||$191||42.4%|
|Now You See Me||$64||$117||54.7%|
* Believe it or not, that's unadjusted, so it's actually much, much worse.
I hope Hollywood execs are paying attention. Probably not.