Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
Airdate: Sept. 8, 1966: Our first shot of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and Spock has the conn.
I met him once. From February 27 through March 3, 1979, “Vincent,” a one-man play he wrote, directed and starred in, in which he mostly played the brother, Theo Van Gogh, rather than the title character, debuted at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For much of that spring, he toured the country with “Vincent”; then, as the program noted, “He will reprise the role of Spock in ‘Star Trek—The Motion Picture,’ scheduled for release in 1979.”
That’s why I was at the Guthrie, of course, solo like the man onstage. I was 16, and a Trekkie, or Trekker, and because of my father’s Star-Tribune connections I got to go backstage. There was a group there, all older and better-dressed than me—I think I had an ill-fitting brown suit on—and when Leonard Nimoy finally emerged everyone applauded and crowded around and asked questions about art and Van Gogh and not at all about Spock, who, reprised or not, was still the sore subject of Nimoy’s autobiography, “I Am Not Spock.” I was so quiet during all of this, so Minnesota Nice, that Nimoy signed everyone’s programs but mine. I had to be pointed out to him so he wouldn’t miss me. He didn’t. (See below.)
Most of what I know of TV shows, I know because of “Star Trek.” Once I became a fan, a true fan, I became aware of the following: 1) episodes had titles; 2) production dates didn’t necessarily correlate to air dates; 3) what a pilot was. Remember in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega asks that question? “What’s a pilot?” Obviously not a “Star Trek” fan. Every Trekkie knew it was “The Cage,” about Capt. Christopher Pike, which was remade into the two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in the first season, since ... why not? They had the footage. At one point, probably around 1978, I had a chart up on the wall of my bedroom running down the episodes. I remember being monumentally disappointed with the production date/air date thing. “Wait, you mean they showed ‘Man Trap’ first? And ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before?’ later? Wouldn’t that seem odd to people watching?” I tried to memorize all the episode titles. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. I learned Shakespeare because of “Star Trek.” I learned about Horatio Hornblower. In college, my humanities professor used “Star Trek” to exemplify the human dilemma between logic (Spock) and emotion (McCoy). I was always a McCoy; I aspired to Spock.
“Star Trek” also made me realize this: 4) network executives are idiots. Among their notes after seeing the pilot: “Get rid of the guy with the ears.” When they promoted the show in the fall of 1966, they barely showed Spock at all. They thought America would reject him, this elf creature, this Satanic figure. Instead, l’opposite. He became the breakout star. Spock was the outsider of the crew, cooler than cool. In an emotional time, he was all about that logic. He was also the only one with superpowers: mind-melds and neck pinches. Much has been written about “Star Trek”’s optimistic vision of the future—that eventually, after some messy eugenics wars, we would all be united together in space: black, white, yellow, brown, green. The show debuted only a year after Selma, while we were fighting hot in Vietnam and cold across the Iron Curtain, so this was a far-seeing vision. At the same time—and this has been written to death, too—the show simply transposed many our problems into the future. Humans may have been united, but aliens, even half-aliens like Spock, were the new minority: forever mistrusted, first scapegoated. You don’t think Muslim-Americans don’t identify with Spock in the first-season “Balance of Terror” episode? The Enterprise has been attacked by people who look like Spock; so crewmembers blame Spock. They assume he’ll betray them; they want to incarcerate him. Even Stiles stops short of waterboarding, though.
In “The Man Trap,” Spock is the man not trapped, despite the flirtations of Lt. Uhura.
I was three when “Star Trek” debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, so I caught the show in syndicated reruns in the ’70s, weeknights at 6 PM on Channel 11 (MetroMedia Television, Minneapolis). At the same time, I listened to Nimoy narrate “In Search of ...” on ... was it Saturdays? I saw him in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It always seemed odd seeing him as not Spock, with his hair feathered and parted, with his ears rounded. Nimoy had his problems with the character, about being so identified with something he’d created, but what a world it opened for him. Before “Star Trek” he was the go-to ethnic guy on episodic TV; he never had an acting job that lasted longer than two weeks. Afterwards? From the “Vincent” program:
Without Spock, would anyone have given a shit about his shitty love poetry? Or his rendition of “I Walk the Line”? What must that be like, really? To be as ignored and marginalized as any actor, struggling to break though; and then you do, you break through, and become beloved on the earth. That must mess with your head a little. That must make you believe you should not only sing “Proud Mary” but record it.
I always assumed he was a reluctant participant in anything “Star Trek,” but he kept showing up, didn’t he? When NASA rolled out the space shuttle Enterprise in 1976, he was there on the tarmac along with most of the original cast; it was Shatner who was absent. Nimoy showed up in the first movie (barely, it turns out), and when he died in the second we heard it was because he wanted out. Not really. He wanted to direct. And he did: “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”; then he directed something completely different, “Three Men and a Baby,” which became the most popular movie of l987. Here’s the odd thing: he wasn’t able to cash in on it. Did any director of the biggest movie of the year have a shorter shelf life afterwards? Nimoy only gave us three more: “The Good Mother” (1988) with Diane Keaton; “Funny About Love” with Gene Wilder (one of his last starring roles); and “Holy Matrimony,” in which, in a Hutterite community, a 13-year-old boy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is forced to marry his late brother’s 26-year-old wife (played by Patricia Arquette). Oddly, the doesn’t seem happy about it. (My 13-year-old self would’ve passed out from happiness.) Then Nimoy directed one show in 1995 and no more.
But he kept acting. And he kept playing (or playing off) Spock. Despite “I Am Not Spock,” he was the last survivor of the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew—part of J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, where, sadly, he became responsible for the destruction of the planet Vulcan. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get rebooted.
The usually reticent New York Times has a lovely obit, in which Virginia Heffernan not only translates Spock’s signature phrase, “Live long and prosper,” into Vulcan, but writes that Nimoy brought to life “one of the most indelible characters of the last half century.” Indeed.
The autographed program: Click for a slightly bigger version.
Top 25 Movies of the Decade So Far
Hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the decade. And you know what that means, don't you? Listomania.
Yesterday, The Film Stage came out with its list of the top 50 films of the half-decade, and it's ... um ... Well, let's just say their arthouse films (“Upstream Color,” “Before Midnight,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”) are not my arthouse films. Except when they are (“The Tree of Life,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Master”).
Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own list.
Feelings about movies change, of course. Some grow in the mind with repeated viewings or simply through repeated thought; others diminish. Roger Ebert's favorite movie of 1980 was “The Black Stallion, with ”Raging Bull“ second; but when he did his ”Best of the '80s“ list 10 years later, ”Stallion“ didn't make the cut while ”Bull" was now No. 1 for the entire decade.
Here's mine. Your mileage will vary.
- The Tree of Life (2011)
- Boyhood (2014
- De rouille et d'os (2012)
- Ida (2014)
- Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
- Birdman (2014)
- Restrepo (2010)
- Moneyball (2011)
- Le Passé (2013)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- The Drop (2014)
- End of Watch (2012)
- The Social Network (2010)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
- La Grand Bellezza (2013)
- A Separation (2011)
- The Master (2012)
- A Film Unfinished (2010)
- Margin Call (2011)
- American Hustle (2013)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
- Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
- Young Adult (2011)
- The Descendants (2011)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
Obama's Veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the Third of His Presidency; What Does That Mean Historically?
Via Senate.gov, which should know:
|Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)||372||263||635|
|Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)||304||110||414|
|Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)||180||70||250|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)||73||108||181|
|Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)||42||128||170|
|Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)||45||48||93|
|Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)||42||40||82|
|Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)||39||39||78|
|Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)||48||18||66|
|Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)||20||30||50|
|Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)||19||25||44|
|George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
|Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)||33||11||44|
|Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)||26||17||43|
|William McKinley (1897-1901)||6||36||42|
|William H. Taft (1909-1913)||30||9||39|
|Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)||21||16||37|
|William J. Clinton (1993-2001)||36||1||37|
|Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)||13||18||31|
|Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)||16||14||30|
|Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)||21||8||29|
|John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)||12||9||21|
|Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)||12||1||13|
|Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)||4||8||12|
|George W. Bush (2001-2009)||12||0||12|
|John Tyler (1841-1845)||6||4||10|
|Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)||9||0||9|
|Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)||2||5||7|
|James Buchanan (1857-1861)||4||3||7|
|James Madison (1809-1817)||5||2||7|
|Warren G. Harding(1921-1923)||5||1||6|
|Barack H. Obama (2009-present)||3||0||3|
|James K. Polk (1845-1849)||2||1||3|
|George Washington (1789-1797)||2||0||2|
|Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)||0||0||2|
|James Monroe (1817-1825)||1||0||1|
|Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)||0||1||1|
|James A. Garfield (1881)||0||0||0|
|John Adams (1797-1801)||0||0||0|
|John Q. Adams (1825-1829)||0||0||0|
|Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)||0||0||0|
|William H. Harrison (1841)||0||0||0|
|Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)||0||0||0|
May there be more.
“The disco music shifts to the Bee Gees, white men who have done this wonderful thing of making themselves sound like black women. 'Stay' Alive' comes on with all that amplified throbbleo and a strange nasal whining underneath: the John Travolta theme song. Rabbit still thinks of him as one of the Sweathogs from Mr. Kotter's class but for awhile back there last summer the U.S.A. was one hundred percent his, every twat under fifteen wanting to be humped by a former Sweathog in the back seat of a car parked in Brooklyn.”
-- part of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom's driving-home musings in the summer of '79, in John Updike's 1981 novel, “Rabbit is Rich.” I thought of this passage after last night's doubly odd showing from John Travolta: both on the red carpet with Scarlett Johansson (below), and on stage with Idina Menzel. I think John needs another talk with Quentin Tarantino. Maybe QT (who's got issues of his own) could at least get him to lose the rug.
Best Picture Box Office: Yeah Yeah, 'American Sniper': But Which Film Did Best Overseas?
First, how great is it that the Oscar race is coming down to two artistic, independent and original movies like “Boyhood” and “Birdman”? I've been thinking about this all week and wanted to reiterate it here as a kind of thank you to the cinematic (or Academic) universe, before delving into the dirt of the numbers.
Second, a mea culpa on my post-Oscar nomination, um, post, “The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees,” in which I worried over the low, low box office of the nominees, adding, “I could see 'Imitation Game' gaining some moviegoers.” (I was right.) “Will they expand 'Birdman'?” (They did, barely.) “Will they re-release 'Whiplash'?” (Dunno.) And finally:
“Are people psyched to see 'American Sniper' now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?”
Five days later, it had grossed more than $100 million and counting. It will probably be the biggest box-office hit of 2014. So ... culpa from mea.
Even with that sudden turnaround, though, the Oscar box office numbers are down. 2009 was the first year since World War II with more than five best picture nominees—when they Academy, trying to boost ratings, went from five nominees to 10. A few years later, they opted for 5 to 10. Here's what that b.o. has looked like:
|Year||No. Films||Total Gross||Avg. Gross||High||Low|
|2009||10||$1.7 billion||$170 m||Avatar: $749||A Serious Man: $9|
|2010||10||$1.3 billion||$135 m||Toy Story 3: $415||Winter's Bone: $6.5|
|2011||9||$628 million||$69 m||The Help: $169||The Tree of Life: $13|
|2012||9||$1 billion||$111 m||Lincoln: $182||Amour: $6.7|
|2013||9||$813 million||$90 m||Gravity: $274||Nebraska: $17|
|2014||8||$620 million||$77 m||American Sniper: $319||Whiplash: $11|
Huge blockbusters the first few years with this format. Then a tapering off.
2014's numbers will continue to rise a bit, maybe another $30-$50 million, mostly on the back of “American Sniper.” So it won't be the worst total b.o. since 2009. But close.
And it will certainly be the most lopsided. Even “Avatar,” the most dominant box-office hit of all time (unadjusted), didn't dominate its fellow nominees the way “Sniper” has done this year. Eastwood's flick has grossed $319 million domestically. The other seven movies combined? $301 million.
Here are the numbers, with worldwide gross (domestic + foreign), along with the non-UK foreign market where it's made the most money:
|Picture||Domestic||Worldwide||Big Foreign Mkt.|
|The Imitation Game||$83,921,000||$160,840,682||Australia/ Italy|
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||$59,100,318||$174,600,318||France/Australia|
|The Theory of Everything||$34,145,000||$104,145,000||Italy/ S. Korea|
How great that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” did better abroad than any other best picture nominee—even “Sniper”? Little Wes Anderson and his quirky characters. Who knew? Bravo, too, Germany and the Netherlands for the “Boyhood” support.
See you in a few hours.
GREAT 'Birdman' Spoof to Open Spirit Awards
Saw it via Jeff Wells' “Hollywood Elsewhere” site. Guy doesn't miss a beat. Except for the “Lincoln” debacle, in which he told Daniel Day-Lewis how to act. Plus his odd “42” poster defense, where he gave tips on baserunning to Jackie Robinson. But ... you know.
Here's another “Birdman” spoof, which is less exact but brings a bigger smile: “Big Birdman.”
There will be more of these spoofs. That's how iconic the movie already is.
Oh, as for Spirit Award winners for best independent films? “Birdman,” Richard Linklater, Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, “Ida,” Dan Gilroy (screenplay).
Box Office: 'Fifty Shades' Goes Down
Three new movies opened this weekend, grossing $11 million (“McFarland, USA”—nice '70s-era title), $11 million (“The DUFF”), and $5.8 million (“Hot Tub Time Machine 2”). The less said about this last the better, other than the usual “ad wizards” talk. Was any sequel less wanted? Clamored for nowhere?
As a result, the top three spots remained unchanged: 1) “Fifty Shades of Grey” with $23 (down 72.7%), 2) “Kingsman” at $17 (down 51%) and 3) “SpongeBob” at $15 (down 50%).
That 72.7% second-weekend drop for “Fifty Shades,” btw, is the 39th-biggest drop ever. If you discount movies that opened in fewer than 2,000 theaters, it's the 11th-biggest drop ever. For movies in more than 3,000 theaters? Tied for second worst. Only the 2009 “Friday the 13th” remake dropped faster (80.4%). The aptly named “Doom,” from 2005, dropped at the same rate as “Fifty Shades,” and it had the aptly named “Rock” to accompany its fall. Apparently we're done with Mr. Grey now. It was all over so fast, wasn't it?
Among the Oscar nominees, “American Sniper” grossed another $9.6 for a $319 domestic gross and a $406 worldwide gross, while “The Imitation Game” pulled in $2.5 for $83 domestic gross and $160 worldwide. More on Oscar box office in a moment.
As for what should win the box-office headline sweepstakes this weekend?
- “Fifty Shades” Goes Down
- “Fifty Shades” Drops To Its Knees
- “Fifty Shades” Shoots Wad
- You Won't See Mr. Grey Now
You have my pick.
My Favorite Oscar Acceptance Speech
I thought I'd posted this before, maybe I have, but it never hurts to do it again. It's Dustin Hoffman winning for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979 (technically April 14, 1980).
Keep in mind that this was a period of political and Academy controversy. During the previous decade, George C. Scott turned down his Oscar for “Patton,” Marlon Brando sent up Sacheen Littlefeather to protest the treatment of American Indians in Hollywood films, Bert Schenider said what he said after winning best doc for “Hearts and Minds,” Vanessa Redgrave said what she said after winning best supporting for “Julia.” Hell, only one of the other four nominees even bothered to show up that night.
Plus Hoffman, as he says, had been critical of the Academy. He was critical of the process, of the concept of “winners” and “losers.” So it appears when he gets onstage that he might ... protest. He might reject the award. He places it on the lectern as if it's something he doesn't want. He makes jokes about it, and about himself.
The speech is a protest of a kind, but it's not sharp-edged and accusatory; it's humanistic and embracing. Particularly these words near the end:
We are part of an artistic family. There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy—pardon me, in the Screen Actors Guild—and probably one-hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don't work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you're a broke actor, you can't write, you can't paint; you have to practice accents while you're driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost.
Here it is:
Plus, damn, Jane Fonda was hot.
David Cone, the '98 Yankees, and the Rewards of Self-Delusion
Reading Buster Olney's “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty” (recommended), I came across this:
Before games [Tino Martinez] and [David] Cone would talk about reasons to dislike that day’s opponents, a method of manufacturing a mental edge. They might focus on a rival’s quote in the newspaper, translating benign remarks into inflammatory slights, or concentrate on an annoying mannerism. “If the opposing pitcher struck out one of our hitters,” Cone said, “and pimped around the mound a little bit, we were all over him—‘Who does this guy think he is?’ ‘Is he showing us up?’ It could be something completely innocuous.” It was an old-school way of competing, Cone thought, a method of tricking yourself into a competitive fury.
What did that remind me of? Tom Verducci and Joe Torre's bookk “The Yankee Years,” and this story from the start of the '98 season:
After five games, the 1998 Yankees were 1-4, in last place, already 3 1/2 games out of first, outscored 36-15, at risk of losing their manager and letting teams like the Mariners kick sand in their faces. ... Like Torre, Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the 8th inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-and-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Moyer had dusted [Paul] O'Neill with a pitch.
So Cone led a team meeting in which he worked himself into an angry froth over the supposed slights by the Mariners: Edgar swinging on a 3-0 pitch when his team already had a massive 4-run lead, and Jamie Moyer plunking Paul O'Neill with either his 84-mph fastball or his 68-mph changeup. And it worked. They went out and beat the M's and changed things around. The two teams respective trajectories changed after that: the M's down, the Yanks up.
Not sure what the lesson is here. Other than the rewards of self-delusion.
Cone: I can't believe Jamie Moyer would blister Paul O'Neill with that 68-mph change-up!
Q&A with Eugene G. Iredale
Q: Over the course of your career, have the kinds of cases that come to you shifted? If so, does it represent a change in the larger culture?
A: You know what I’ve noticed? The mentality that you used to see only in drug cases is the same mentality that you see in many white-collar cases.
A: Meaning that at some point, the people who do business in this country adopted the ethic of gangsters. Except that the drug dealers are far more honest and straightforward.
-- from my Q&A with San Diego criminal defense attorney Eugene G. Iredale. The whole interview is worth reading even if you don't care about the law but do care about any of the following: nuance, literature, battling against bullies, and “lessons of common human decency and politeness.”