Our Story So Far
“We know that the Russians launched a cyber campaign to help Trump win. We know that the Trump campaign was willing to entertain assistance from the Russian government because Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr., eagerly met with a Russian offering such assistance. This latest news suggests—though the reporting is still vague—what many people have long wondered: that Manafort may have been a crucial link between the Trump campaign and Russians seeking to defeat Hillary Clinton. If Mueller or congressional investigators unearth proof that Manafort colluded with the Russians, it will fortify the narrative that the Trump campaign worked with a foreign nation to alter the outcome of an American Presidential election—an unprecedented event in the country's history.”
-- from Ryan Lizza's “A Dizzying Week of Trump-Russia Revelations” on The New Yorker site
Movie Review: Mother! (2017)
Wouldn’t it have been cheaper for Darren Aronofsky to see a shrink?
The acclaimed writer-director (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”) has often dealt in dreamscapes, and nightmarish scenarios, but “Mother!” is like listening to a friend describe a dream to you. For two fucking hours.
Yes, there are glimmers of meaning. It’s a metaphor for Christianity, or America, or creativity mostly.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) creates, or recreates, the beautiful home where her poet-husband (Javier Bardem) writes his poetry. Except he’s writing nothing. He’s blocked. It’s all too perfect. He can't breathe. So he invites people in and ruins their home and their love and their life. Or her life anyway. He needs the love and structure, but he also needs something else—stories and chaos, fights and death and anarchy—to create.
Remember “New York Stories” from 1989? Three short films from Francis Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese? My favorite was always the Scorsese one, “Life Lessons,” written by Richard Price, in which Nick Nolte plays a painter who is living with his assistant/former lover Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), who seems to be using him. She’s living off him and giving nothing back; she’s sleeping around; she’s making him insanely jealous. Finally she leaves. And in the art exhibition of the works he created while insanely jealous, he meets another pretty young thing and takes her home; and you realize it was he who was using her; in order to create.
Like that. Except in a horror movie five times as long.
Mother doesn’t want anyone in the home. She seems to have a symbiotic relationship with the home. She feels its heartbeat.
But hubby keeps inviting people in. First, it’s Ed Harris, a doctor at the nearby university, who’s looking for a place to stay. Initially he seems nervous, cautious. Then he’s just an asshole. Against her wishes, he smokes in the house, he drinks too much, he gets sick, he monopolizes hubby’s time. Hubby cares way too much for him.
Then the wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and she’s even worse: drinking midday, making a mess of the kitchen, and the laundry room, and the toilet.
Then their kids arrive (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), and they’re fighting over who gets what from dad, who’s dying, and one thing leads to another, and, just like in the Book of Genesis, one brother (Domhnall) kills the other (Brian). Mother is left behind to mop up the blood. But she can’t get it all. And when she fiddles with it, poking at the floorboard, part of that floorboard gives way; and it’s like the blood is acid, seeping through to the basement to the furnace, where bad vibes await.
It was here, J-Law alone in the basement, when the movie was scariest for me.
It was also here, particularly with a few lines from Ed Harris or Michelle Pfeiffer (“We said we’re sorry”), or Javier Bardem (about inviting the parents back with some family and friends for a wake for the dead son), that the movie was funniest to me. But the wake becomes a party, almost a 70s-era party, and people aren’t treating the house correctly, and J-Law stumbles room to room, until things get so bad that she finally kicks everyone out. Then she and hubby argue, then make love, then she wakes up pregnant. And he suddenly has inspiration again. He’s writing.
Eight+ months later, ballooned out, she’s preparing an elaborate dinner for two when, uh oh, fans staring appearing at their door. And he loves it. And this is where it gets really, really weird. For a moment it seems like a metaphor for America. On one side there’s the violence of the fans, or the anarchists, or ... something; on the other it’s the violence of the forces of law and order. The house becomes a battle ground. For a long, fucking time.
And this is exactly where I began to get really, really bored. Before, I was absorbing Mother’s tensions, her anal fixations, which are mine: Don’t sit on the counter; don’t fuck up the house. But once the crazy shit goes down, and she’s just trying to escape the house, well, this tension is gone. And now it’s just silly. Now we’re 90 minutes into Darren Aronofsky telling us his dream from the night before.
Finally she gives birth upstairs. Hubby wants to hold it, but she doesn’t want him to. So he just stands there, with his long Javier Bardem face. (He reminded me of the Grinch a bit here, just as, earlier, Ed and Michelle reminded me of Thing 1 and Thing 2.) But eventually sleep overtakes her, and when she wakes up ... no baby. He’s showing it to the crowd. Then he’s giving it to the crowd. Then its blanket is taken and it’s naked. Then it stops making a noise. Then it’s dead. She looks around and sees they’re all eating it.
So Christian metaphor, right? Or metaphor for creativity? Or both?
I like it when she goes ballistic and starts slicing people. I liked it less when the crowd begins to punch her in the face and tear at her dress and show her tits. Why did Darren have to go there? In the end, she blows up the joint. She works her way into the basement and sets it afire with Ed Harris’ lighter that she hid in the first act. A lighter in the first act goes off in the third.
Oh, right. The big jewel.
There was also a big diamond-like jewel that hubby kept in his office, and which he says is the only thing that survived the fire that destroyed his family home when he was younger. And she, J-Law, helped put it together. But Ed and Michelle broke it.
Well, in the aftermath of the latest fire, which he survives and she doesn’t, he reaches into Mother’s chest and removes her heart; then he smooshes it in his hands like Superman with a piece of coal; and, just like Superman with a piece of coal, we get the big jewel again. And then, as in the beginning, the burnt hull of the house is remade, redone, swoosh, with CGI, as we make our way from room to room and then upstairs to a pretty young thing waking up and wondering about her husband. Except this time it’s not J Law; it’s another pretty young thing; it’s his new wife. And the cycle starts anew.
Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it?
So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?
50+ Homeruns in a Season: By Decade
Giancarlo: 54 and counting.
Giancarlo Stanton's pursuit of 60+ homeruns had me looking at the 50+ club all over again.
When I was growing up, it was a magical number that nobody could touch. Killebrew kept hitting 49. Hank Aaron's high was 48. The last guy to do it was Willie Mays in '65, and it seemed like no one would ever do it again—particularly when the Major League high in 1974 was Mike Schmidt's 36. But then George Foster did it in '77 (an expansion year) and ... that was it. Until Cecil Fielder in 1990. For a quarter-century, it was just one guy: George Foster.
Then suddenly it seemed like any old player could do it. By decade:
- 1920s (4): Babe Ruth (4)
- 1930s (4): Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx (2), Hank Greenberg
- 1940s (3): Ralph Kiner (2), Johnny Mize
- 1950s (2): Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle
- 1960s (3): Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays
- 1970s (1): George Foster
- 1980s (0):
- 1990s (12): Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, Mark McGwire (4), Brady Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr. (2), Sammy Sosa (2), Greg Vaughn
- 2000s (12): Sammy Sosa (2), Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (3), Luis Gonzalez, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder
- 2010s (3): Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Giancarlo Stanton
You know what's fascinating? The first eight guys to hit 50+ HRs in a season—all of whom did it before the leagues expanded in 1961—are in the Hall of Fame: Ruth, Hack Wilson, Foxx, Greenberg, Kiner, Mize, Mays, Mantle.
Since then, 29 other players have hit 50+ HRs in a season. You know how many of those 29 are in the Hall of Fame? One. Ken Griffey Jr.
Either they're career stats weren't good enough (Maris, Foster), or they're tainted by PEDs (McGwire, Bonds), or both (Greg Vaughn).
Other points of interest:
- The fewest career HRs were a 50-HR guy? No surprise: Brady Anderson with 210. A quarter of the homers in his 15-year career were in 1996. His next-highest single-season total is 24 in 1999.
- The Fielders bookended the great flurry of 50+ HR seasons: Cecil began it in 1990, Prince, his son, kinda/sorta ended it in 2007.
- The Fielders retired with the exact same number of career HRs: 319.
- Mickey Mantle is the only homegrown Yankee to hit 50+ HRs. The other three (Ruth, Maris, A-Rod) were acquired via trade.
Ironically, I now view the 50+ HR season the exact opposite of the way I did as a kid. I don't want to see them. I certainly don't want to see a string of them. I'll worry it's the bullshit of the '90s and '00s all over again.
Trump Bites Seshie
The enemy of my enemy is still my fucking enemy, but boy is this fun. I want this scene (courtesy of the good writers at The New York Times) in slow-mo. I want color commentary. I want Mitch McConnell in the on-deck circle:
In the middle of the [May 17] meeting, [White House counsel Donald F.] McGahn received a phone call from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been overseeing the Russia investigation since Mr. Sessions recused himself from the inquiry months earlier. ... Rosenstein said he had decided to appoint Mr. Mueller to be a special counsel for the investigation. ...
When the phone call ended, Mr. McGahn relayed the news to the president and his aides. Almost immediately, Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said that he should resign. ...
Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.
Quick question: How can anyone tell when Jeff Sessions is ashen?
Also Trump seems to be backpedaling on both the wall and DACA. He wants the dreamers to stay in the country, and he's like whatevs on the wall. Fine with me, of course, but his base is have a shit fit. That's also fun to behold, and I also want it in slow-mo, with color commentary, and with Alex Jones on deck.
Movie Review: The Circle (2017)
Here’s the biggest problem with this piece of crap.
We think our hero, Mae (Emma Watson), views The Circle, a Silicon Valley megacompany, with the same cynical eye we do. She even jokes with a savvy insider, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), about people who drink the Kool-Aid. They laugh about it together at a company event.
Then she not only drinks the Kool-Aid, she bathes in it. She becomes the Kool-Aid. She starts out reluctant to update her profile on True You, The Circle’s Facebook, then agrees to have her entire life recorded 24/7 (w/bathroom breaks). It’s called “going transparent.” And in this way she accumulates millions of followers and thus power. During her day, random comments waft around her like perfume. And she seems perfectly happy with it! She doesn’t see the danger! She agrees with CEO/guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) that transparency equals accountability and privacy is for losers!
Basically she becomes LonelyGirl15 2.0.
Even inadvertently broadcasting her parents having sex doesn’t make her rethink any of it! No, she doubles down. Eamon is working on a proposal that would allow voter registration through True You, but she goes further: She suggests every person be required to have a True You account. That it would be law. It’s an idiotic, illegal proposal but Bailey and Stenton nod like it’s wisdom, or at least strategy, and she puffs up, proud, at her little foray into petty tyranny and thought control.
Which means our hero is not only stupid, she's horrible.
Sure, she finally sees the light when she causes the death of her longtime friend, and gentle soul, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”). During one of The Circle’s “all hands” meetings—which are like a mix of pep rally and TED talk—she uses her tens of millions of followers, along with The Circle’s “SeeChange” camera devices stationed all over the world, to track down a British woman who locked her kids in a closet and went on vacation. (They starved to death.) But they do it—they track her down and she's brought to justice. Yay for The Circle! Yay for Mae! Then someone shouts out that they should track down Mercer, too, who sells chandeliers of antlers, and everyone agrees; and though Mae knows it’s wrong she goes along with it. Hey, guess where he is? In a cabin in the wilderness. But he’s found! And he flees from the attention! Into his truck! And onto a highway! And guess what happens? Yeah. Bye-bye, Mercer. And the movie turns somber, and quiet, and montage-y, as Mae rethinks her recent life choices.
And gradually she begins to see what we saw an hour ago, so she teams up with Ty to get back at The Circle. How? By suggesting that Bailey and Stenton go transparent. All of their emails, their IMs, their VMs, their corporate strategizing. On stage, the two men eye each other warily, then look angry, then Stenton stomps off.
But all I kept thinking was, “No one thought of this before? The hell?”
More, I’m curious what Eamon Bailey’s end-game is. We never really find out. I don’t think it’s particularly malicious, I just think he has a double-standard. He wants his privacy but no one else’s, since everyone else’s gets in the way of the data he wants to record and store and filter, which will get at the heart of, I don’t know, being human or something. But I never did figure out any specific end-game.
But Mae, our horrible, stupid protagonist, wins in the end. Kinda sorta. There’s a weird ambiguity in the final scene. Mae goes kayaking—always her one respite—and she’s surrounded by drones. And she doesn’t seem to mind. Because...? Because she's horrible or because she's smart or because she's a 21st century automaton inured to it all?
I like casting Hanks as the villain, but that’s about the only thing I liked with “The Circle.” Watson, or her character, isn’t particularly likeable even in the early going. And then of course she becomes a Circle jerk.
Here’s advice to anyone in Hollywood making a movie about Silicon Valley tech companies: We don’t like them. We don’t like them because...
- ...they have more interesting jobs than we do
- ...that pay way, way better
- ...and that make products that make us feel stupid
Keep all that in mind if you’re going to do one of these in the future. Oh, and don't turn your heroes into assholes, either.
It's the GOP, Stupid
I don't know which paragraph in Jonathan Chait's New York magazine essay, “The Only Problem in American Politics is the Republican Party,” to highlight, since they're all so relevant, and explain so much of the world.
This gets at it:
Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don't dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.
This is probably closer to it:
Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times' disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party's interests — its errors all run in the same direction.
The sad part is the mainstream news media—New York Times, NPR—still doesn't get it. They keep trying to find a middle ground as the Republican party moves gleefully, dangerously right. I think a lot of mainstream journalists think the truth lies on the other side of whatever the public image is, so they search for the lurid in Barack Obama and the respectable in Donald Trump. They keep searching for Trump's “pivot.” They think in contrarian terms. Peter Baker's recent “news analysis” in the Times, saying Trump upends “150 years of two-party rule,” calling him an independent and (in one subhed) a “Lone Ranger,” is an example. Lone Ranger? Jesus Christ. What's the difference? What's the fucking difference? The Lone Ranger is a hero for children in the 1930s and '50s, and Donald Trump is a present-day solipsistic monster, and the two have nothing to do with each other. Journalists, go back to your Orwell: “To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.” I.e., Quit trying to be so fucking clever. Quit damning both houses in order to try to appear objective. Here's your question: What is it? Here's another: How do they differ? Go from there.
Still Pushing 'The Big Sick'
Last week, my friend Evan reminded me of a conversation we had last spring. I'd seen “The Big Sick” opening night at the Seattle International Film Festival and told him that when it opened wider, in June or July, he had to see it. Had to.
Me: It's the funniest movie of the year.
Evan: [Mentions two recent movies he thought were funny.]
Me: I haven't seen those. This one's funnier.
I'm kind of bummed the movie didn't just kill it at the box office like a Melissa McCarthy comedy: It grossed $41 mil in the U.S. and (thus far) $8 mil abroad,but it deserves a wider audience. I think it'll get it. I think word-of-mouth will drag people to it eventually.
Another fan of the film? My man Joe Posnanski, with whom I apparently disagree on nothing. He recently tweeted this:
Then he wrote this.
Another fan? My man Mark Harris. He recently tweeted this:
Seriously: If laughs, generosity of spirit, a deep feeling for family, and actors working in perfect unison aren't your thing, DO NOT WATCH.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 11, 2017
I responded: Exactly. I'm almost tired of trying to get people to see this great film for which they'll thank me forever.
“The Big Sick” is currently streaming on iTunes, OnDemand and Amazon. Check it out. You know that funny movie you saw recently? This one's funnier.
Movie Review: It (2017)
Stephen King must’ve had one fucked-up childhood.
It’s not just the malevolent forces he conjures—his bread and butter—but the small-town bullies. They’re not exactly the kind to give you noogies and move on. They will literally cut you, or knock you unconscious, or, hell, kill you. His good kids, the nerdy kids like us, not only live in a world without rule of law but without any parental authority whatsoever—where every parent, every single one, is worth zero. Less than zero. There are no adults in the room. The kids have to be the adults in the room.
You get a sense of this right away. When Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) wants to go outside and play with a paper boat in the rain—like all kids did in the ’80s—and his big brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher of “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special”) can’t join him because of a cold, it’s Bill who stands worried by the window as Georgie goes splashing off. The mother that normally does this? She’s downstairs playing ominous music on the piano. (“Thanks, Mom!”) And when Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgaard), the malevolent spirit of Derry, Maine, who feeds on the fear of children, makes his appearance in the sewer, tempting Georgie, we cut to a woman on her porch, hanging out. Watching maybe? For a moment we think, “At the last minute, she’ll say something, or paddle over, and Georgie will be saved.” Nope. Chomp, scream, drag. And the woman simply watches the blood on the street drain away.
In fact, halfway through, I thought that was the point of Pennywise. He’s ... parental absence. Or created out of parental awfulness. Just go down the list. No adult does anything right:
- Eight months after Georgie goes missing, Bill is still trying to find him; but Bill’s dad yells at his son that Georgie is dead. DEAD.
- Mike’s parents are dead, killed in a fire before the movie began. So he stays with his uncle, who forces him to shoot livestock in the forehead with an airgun.
- Eddie’s mom makes her son a hypochondriac.
- The local cop is the son of the chief teenage bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton of “Captain Fantastic”), whom he bullies. That’s where Henry learned it in the first place.
- The local pharmacist flirts creepily with Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a 14-year-old girl.
- Beverly’s dad tries to rape her.
When Henry carves an H into the belly of Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, quite good), the other kids don’t take him to the hospital; they fix it themselves. After they discover where Pennywise lives, they tell no adult. Maybe there’s no adult to tell. These kids are forever navigating a world between teenage bullies, horrible grown-ups, and a malevolent evil spirit that appears in Derry every 27 years. It’s a wonder they all don’t stutter.
Casting for adults
A lot of loose ends here. I never really understood Derry’s original sin that led to the creation of Pennywise. Something about a well?
More, the whole adventure leads to a dilapidated mansion/crack house on the edge of Derry, which was built around that well. The kids, the self-styled Losers Club, rappel to its bottom and walk through a tunnel where they discover this garbage dump of childhood (toys, etc.) ascending upwards, and, around it, floating in space, the bodies and/or souls of the missing children. They’re just hanging there. It’s like an aria; it’s almost beautiful. And when Pennywise is finally defeated, those bodies begin to descend. The kids talk about it. I thought maybe the missing kids would come back to life the way Beverly did—pulled down and awakened, fairy tale-like, with a kiss from her secret admirer, Ben. But they don’t. Or, more to the point, we don’t see what happens. They say, “Hey look, they’re coming down,” and then we’re just outside and the Losers Club makes a pact amongst themselves about returning in 27 years if they need to. (And they’ll need to. This one broke all September box-office records.)
So maybe all those bodies just crumpled on the ground? Or disappeared? Shouldn’t someone tell the cops they can close some missing persons files? Or is Henry’s dad the only cop in town, and at that point he’s, what, lying in his easy chair covered in his own sticky blood.
And yeah, what about Beverly’s dad? Also dead. Is there going to be an investigation? Can everyone just get away with murder in Maine?
(BTW: For a crack house, it doesn’t have many crack addicts. OR any. Or did Pennywise take them, too?)
The movie is genuinely scary (to me anyway), and keeps upping the ante. At first, Pennywise is an outside force. He appears in the dark. Then he starts appearing outside during the day. Then in your basement, then in your bathroom, then seemingly any old where at any old time.
I liked the kids—the camaraderie and the tensions between them. They fit archetypes but not completely. The brave one, Bill, looks like the nerdy kid in “Stand By Me,” Wil Wheaton, rather than that movie’s more traditional-looking brave kid, River Phoenix. Finn Wolfhard goes from nerdy lead in “Stranger Things” to, here, Richie, the mouthy, profane Jewish comic relief—a budding Lenny Bruce. The other Jewish kid, Stanley (Wyatt Olef), is more quiet, and the first to abandon the team. He’s not much, to be honest. Neither is Mike, the black kid. He’s just “the black kid.” But Jeremy Ray Taylor transcends the fat-kid role. He’s got secrets, and an inner toughness, and an inner self-worth that makes romance with Beverly seem plausible. To him. Would've been interesting if the movie allowed it.
In the novel, the terror spree and formation of the Losers Club was set in 1957-58—back when kids did play with paper boats in the rain, and white bullies told black kids to leave town. The ’80s was for the adult Losers. Now that’ll be 2016-17, and there’s already speculation on which actors will play the 40-something versions. To me, you’d be nuts not to offer Beverly to Amy Adams, since Sophia Lillis is already a dead ringer. Would Wil Wheaton make a good Bill? Is David Schwimmer too buttoned-up for Richie? I also wouldn’t mind some fun, original casting. Henry Cavill for Ben, for example. But then I haven’t read the novel. I don’t know what they’re supposed to become.
Or what Pennywise might become in the digital age? Does he have a website? Can he hypnotize you with a gif file? If he lives off fear, if it’s like “salting the meat” for him, then appearing in the Trump era should be quite the feast.