Monday March 06, 2023
At 2023 CPAC, Bannon Trumps Trump
At least via this article from John Hendrickson in The Atlantic. I remember when I didn't even know CPAC existed. Fun times.
Hendrickson says Trump's two-hour, rambling and complaining speech gave off a “1 a.m. at the party” vibe rather than anything vibrant and angry, and he wondered if this wasn't “the last gasp of CPAC.” In the next sentence, he finally unburied his lede—or at least the most interesting fact about the event: Fox News wasn't there. It wasn't a sponsor. Instead, the thing was sponsored and attended by the grabbag of kooks and grifters that hope to fill Fox's void if Fox ever leaves a void: Newsmax, The Epoch Times, Right Side Broadcasting Network, America First, One America News, Lindell TV, blah blah blah.
According to Trump, the 2020 election was still stolen, the state is still deep, the U.S. is becoming a “crime-ridden, filthy communist nightmare,” and we put up illegal immigrants at the Waldorf Astoria. “My wonderful travel ban is gone,” he lamented at one point. That made me smile, remembering the horror of it. And remember how he always said he was the only one who could fix a seemingly unsolvable problem even though he couldn't solve 2+2? He's latest unsolvable only he can solve is Russia-Ukraine. One assumes by backing Russia:
“I stand here today, and I'm the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent—and very easily—World War III.” (Wild applause.) “And you're gonna have World War III, by the way.” (Confused applause.)
It was Bannon who attacked the true enemy:
Late Friday afternoon, he marched onto the stage in all black, three pens clipped to his shirt, and attacked Fox News for its alleged “soft ban” of Trump. He referred to the Murdoch family as “a bunch of foreigners” and said, “Note to Fox senior management: When Donald J. Trump talks, it's newsworthy.” He fired up the crowd: “We're not looking for unity. We're looking for victory!” He pounded his hand on the lectern, summing up the theme of the weekend: “MAGA! MAGA! MAGA!”
That's dipshit American for “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
Monday March 06, 2023
Dreaming of Clearing My Name in Esperanto
I am accused of something and there's a lot of innuendo in the accusation. I'm at a bar that's long and low-slung, with a lot of old, distressed wood—floor, walls, tables, benches. I pick up a magazine, and on the cover the accusations continue. In one subhed, an ex of mine apparently had defended me and the subhed is accusing her, or us, of collusion or something, some kind of plot, and it's so far afield as to be laughable, but if you don't know us you might believe it.
Then the accuser is actually there, talking into a microphone, regaling the crowd with more accusations, including studies he'd done, like of our toothbrushes, and why, for six of the seven, was the result this and yet only mine was the toothbrush with the plastic cover? Finally I got so fed up that I brandished my toothbrush, which still had toothpaste on it, and yelled, “HERE! Take it! Do your fucking study!” and the guy grabbed it greedily and did his test. And how long would the results be? Almost immediate? I was wondering if it had been smart to allow this to happen. The results were coming in, but in some obscure language like Esperanto. You had to go to a certain website and plug in the results in that language, and what you got back was an image, a gif, which was a metaphor for the result. A guy next to me at the bar was doing this on his phone. There was a race to be the first to do it, as if it was breaking news. The image I saw on his phone was of a dark blue bird with wings flapping, and he said that was a good sign and I was in the clear. Later, in the bar's backroom, my accuser appeared, apologetic, with a plate of cookies, sugar cookies with frosting, and he was as insistent in his apology as he'd been in his accusation. He kept hovering. I said nothing. I looked at him but revealed nothing. I took the plate of cookies but left them on the bar.
There was a sporting event I was trying to drive my car into, and there were two lanes on the grass, taking turns, and eventually it was my turn. I thought I was taking a short cut like that other cooler, car before me had done, but it led to a dead end, areas too narrow to get through—all of this on the sidelines of a football-ish game—and at one point, unable to go forward, I simply picked up the car and moved it to the path where it should be and kept driving. I was driving onto the field. The car was a purple convertible with Minnesota Vikings logos, and, crap, I was actually driving on the field in the middle of the game. At the far end of the field, which is where I was driving, there were eight or nine athletes lined up, like in a swim meet, but it was for a kickoff. They were returning a kickoff and I was in the way. But then it was made better. A fair catch or something? The kick went out of the end zone? The play had stopped. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but hadn't affected the outcome. Then there was a kind of Native American ceremony hovering above the far sidelines and in the air above me, three warriors with tomahawks all lit up, and I wanted it to go away. It was highlighting the fact that me and my purple Vikings convertible were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Saturday March 04, 2023
Movie Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Here’s a good way to make sure a movie won’t last: put “Forever” in its title.
Sure, some of them aren’t bad:
- “Diamonds are Forever” (1971), with Connery returning to the James Bond role
- “Dragons Forever” (1987), a reteaming of Jackie Chan, Samo Hong and Yuen Biao
But most don’t exactly last forever. They’re romance movies you’ve never heard of and franchises on their last sad legs:
- “Forever Young” (1992), with Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis
- “Waiting for Forever” (2010), with Rachel Bilson and Tom Sturridge
- “Batman Forever” (1995), the one with Val Kilmer
- “Shrek Forever After” (2010), the fourth and final feature
- “Jackass Forever" (2022)
Add this one to the pile.
A moment of silence
Yes, the decks were stacked against “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” It lost its young star, Chadwick Boseman, shockingly and tragically, to colon cancer in 2020, and his absence is felt throughout the film. After the cold open, in which his character, T’Challa, the Black Panther, succumbs offscreen to an undisclosed illness despite the heroic efforts of his braniac sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), we get a grace note: The Marvel logos all feature Boseman and there’s nothing on the soundtrack. A moment of silence. That’s nice.
And then, sadly, the movie begins.
I guess at the end of the last movie in 2018, T’Challa revealed that Wakanda was an all-powerful nation and the only source of vibranium in the world; and though in the interim we had, you know, the Blip, where Thanos extinguished half the lives in the known universe, western countries still fear a Black planet more than a big purple dude. At the U.N., both the U.S. and France bitch to Wakanda’s new ruler, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), about not getting any of the promised vibranium. Elsewhere, they (or just France?) try to steal it but are beaten back by Wakanda’s baldheaded female security force.
Ah, but using a “vibranium detector,” the U.S. finds some on the bottom of the ocean. Take that! Except, whoops, there’s also an undersea kingdom there, ruled by the 500-year old Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta), whose superpowered people attack and kill the helpless Americans.
When I collected comics in the 1970s, Namor was also called the Sub-Mariner, and I remember him being angry, imperious, and forever kidnapping Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four. Here, he’s calm and seemingly reasonable—emphasis on seemingly. Bypassing Wakanda’s security, for example, he delivers an ultimatum to Ramonda and Shuri: Do what I say or I’ll destroy your kingdom.
And the thing he wants them to do? Find and kill the scientist who created the “vibranium detector” so both of their kingdoms will be safe again. Right. It should’ve led to a conversation like this:
Shuri: Um, you do know there’ll be notes, right? Spreadsheets? I’m sure the inventor had conversations with colleagues. How do you kill all that?
Ramonda: You can’t stop knowledge.
Shuri: Besides, doesn’t the U.S. military already know where your kingdom is? It’s the place where you attacked them.
Ramonda: You’ll be killing someone to prevent them from doing a job they’ve already done.
The scientist turns out to be a 19-year-old Black female university student named Riri (Dominique Thorne), and, hoping to head off Namor, Shuri and security chief Okoye (Danai Gurira) visit her to bring her back to Wakanda. Riri loves Wakanda, is amazed that they’re there, but still fights to not go. But then the FBI come, blah blah, and Namor’s warrior forces attack them on a bridge (it’s always a bridge), and Shuri and Riri are taken to Namor’s undersea kingdom, Talokan, where we finally get their backstory. Seems way back when, they were all part of the Mayan civilization, but Europeans came with their death and disease, and a cure-all for both was vibranium. Side effects? Their skin turned blue and they could only live underwater. Namor, born shortly afterwards, was different: superstrong, with wings on his feet, and able to live in both worlds.
Vibranium always seems to find historically downtrodden people but never in a way that helps the whole. Other Africans are still enslaved, the Mayan civilization is still destroyed. It’s just the chosen few that sail along. What an odd dynamic. It’s like writer-director Ryan Coogler and his screenplay partner Joe Robert Cole want to uplift people, but in doing so they just create some really weird continuity issues.
In the end, Namor, et al., attack Wakanda and Queen Ramonda is killed. Then Shuri, after spending the movie saying there would be no more Black Panthers, becomes the Black Panther, and they take the battle to the Talokans. They dry up Namor to weaken him, and after defeating him, and despite the murder of her mother, Shuri/BP shows him mercy. Which totally makes sense. She’s BP, he’s IP.
Oh right. Subplots. The love interest I’d already forgotten about from the first movie, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), is hanging in Haiti these days. Why didn’t she make it back for T’Challa’s funeral? Because she and T’Challa had a child and I guess he didn’t want anyone to know. The boy’s name is Touissant, but his Wakandan name—revealed during the midcredits sequence with all the immensity of the “Rosebud” revelation—is …. wait for it … T’Challa!
OK. … And?
So much of the movie is this way. They want us to care about shit that … why? Who cares? The movie is overlong and bloated and we still get to know nobody. I’m beginning to wonder if Marvel thinks representation is enough—that you don’t have to make people of color interesting, that it’s enough that they’re people of color.
I guess I cared for Okoye—and didn’t like the way she was dismissed by Ramonda. I like M’Baku, all bluster and fun, but didn’t like that Namor took him out with one punch. Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows up as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, and you kind of wonder when they’re going to get around to her story—or if she’s just going to be like Viola Davis in the dipshit DC Universe: the evil bureaucrat behind the scenes who gets a few lines and nothing else. What a waste. We do find out that she’s the ex of Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), the anodyne CIA agent and FOW (Friend of Wakanda). Right. She would’ve eaten him alive.
Allow me a final rant.
Ross is the one who gives up the Riri intel to the Wakandans, and later, when Valentina calls him on it, this is his excuse:
The Wakandans saved my life! They’re a good people!
That’s a little me me for a CIA agent to be giving out state secrets, but sure, why not. Except they have him add this:
You ever thought for a second what they could be doing? Ever thought what we would be doing if the U.S. was the only country in the world with vibranium?
The implication is the U.S. would do awful, awful things. Because we’re an awful, awful people.
First, for centuries, Wakanda only cared about itself. They let the slave trade continue apace rather than give up their Edenic life.
More, the U.S. was the only country with vibranium … except it was called the atomic bomb. And what did we do with it? Sure, dropped it on two cities in Japan to end the war. And you can argue that Nagasaki was unnecessary and I wouldn’t disagree. But after that? What else did we do when only we had that power? Didn’t we work to resurrect the economies of our enemies, creating democracies that still thrive, while staving off Soviet aggression? I mean, I’m hardly the rah-rah America type, but I don’t think that’s nothing. Say what you want about Wakanda but it’s still a kingdom. They’ve had family rule for centuries. How is that good? How is that advanced?
Seriously, I’m surprised there wasn’t more pushback on that line.
Wednesday March 01, 2023
Posnanski's Cool Thing/Mea Culpa
Here's a cool thing Joe Posnanski is doing. He's got a book out in September, “Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments,” which, yes, I'm already there. The cool thing is that while it's available from the usual online locales, if you buy it through his favorite local bookstore in Kansas City, Rainy Day Books, he'll not only sign the book for you but inscribe whatever you want:
I will write “Derek Jeter is awesome.” I will write “I agree with Mike Schur on hot fruit.” I will write, “I learned everything I know about baseball from Steve” — assuming your name is Steve.
For those not in the know: 1) He hates Derek Jeter, or just finds him massively overrated (but also underrated at times—no MVPs); 2) He likes hot fruit, as in pies, though his podcast partner is agin with a vengeance; and 3) He knows a lot about baseball. Apparently Poz made this offer with his previous book, too, “The Baseball 100,” and the lesson he learned there is to put a character limit on the inscription: no more than 150 characters. “We had to do it,” he writes; “some of the inscriptions for The Baseball 100 were Russian novels.”
So it's fun + a good cause. So of course I preordered my copy via Rainy Day Books. And this is the inscription I requested:
How Harmon Killebrew went from #67 on my first top 100 list to not making the cut at all I'll never know. What was I thinking?
Nice mea culpa. I'm glad he finally came around on the matter.
Wednesday March 01, 2023
“I know it violates the sensibilities of the innocent and tender-minded, but in the real world you sometimes have to employ extreme and extralegal methods to preserve the very system whose laws you're violating.”
-- G. Gordon Liddy, in a Playboy magazine interview years ago, vis a vis his discussion with other operatives on how to assassinate journalist Jack Anderson. It's detailed in Mark Feldstein's recent article, “The Nixon White House plotted to assassinate a journalist 50 years ago,” in The Washington Post. I know a lot about Nixon, and Watergate, but I never knew this story. Seems insane, and Liddy seems more sociopath than I realized. Feldstein quotes the above after writing, “Liddy offered to stab Anderson to death and make it look like a routine robbery by stealing Anderson's watch and wallet.” Apparently a few days after Howard Hunt briefed Charles Colson on the matter, the hit was canceled, or at least put on pause, so they could bug Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. It's possible that Frank Wills not only helped expose the underbelly of the Nixon administration, he might've saved Jack Anderson's life, too.
Monday February 27, 2023
Movie Review: Triangle of Sadness (2022)
J.M. Barrie didn’t get a writing credit for this? What a rip.
Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan,” also wrote a 1902 play called “The Admirable Crichton,” in which a wealthy family and their butler, Crichton, are shipwrecked on an island, and since the butler knows how to do everything, and they know how to do nothing, the social roles reverse. He becomes powerful, they become servants. At the end, he’s about the marry the lord’s daughter when they’re rescued and social roles, as they say, regress to the mean. It’s what the “Swept Away” movies became but with rough sex. Barrie didn’t get a writing credit there, either.
That said, “Crichton” and “Swept Away” make more sense than this.
I was enjoying it for a bit, then kept not buying it. Writer-director Ruben Ostlund seems to be saying something important about class, race, gender roles; and then it just gets silly. He wants to make his points and makes them regardless of any kind of logic. Eventually I began thinking: “They gave this the Palme d’Or? And Oscar nominations for best picture and director?”
Carl and Yaya (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) are a beautiful supermodel couple who aren’t happy. Or they fight over silly things. Or … actually I like what they fight over—but, given the state of the world, it is silly. They fight over the fact that she never picks up the check. In the modeling world, she makes three times what he does, and yet gender roles still determine he’s the one who pays. Well, she determines it as well. The check comes and she stares into her phone, then absent-mindedly says “thank you” to Carl. I’m curious if it makes her feel more womanly to be pampered while it makes him feel more manly to take care of things. Either way, it is something I’ve noticed—women often seem gone when the check arrives—so I liked this opening.
Yaya is not just a fashion model but an “influencer,” with however many millions of followers on Instagram, and she gets free shit to promote all the time. That’s how they wind up on the luxury cruise, where class issues are immediately underlined. In one scene, Paula (Vicki Berlin), the short-haired blonde cruise director, exults her team with a rah-rah speech to cater to the whims of every guest. You’re feeling sorry for them, and maybe her, when Ostlund cuts to the mostly brown cleaning staff working a lower deck. There’s always a lower deck. (Cf. “Parasite.”) One thing people on all decks have in common? They spend a lot of time staring dumbly into smartphones.
The guests on the cruise are the worst people in the world: a Russian oligarch named Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), who made his fortune with fertilizer and introduces himself with the well-worn, self-amused line “I sell shit”; his idiot wife Vera (Sunnyi Melles); an old British couple, Winston and Clementine, who talk up the great work they did for world peace—which turns out to be selling grenades. Meanwhile, Paula can’t get the drunk captain out of his quarters. For a while I wondered if it’d be a Carlton the Doorman thing and we’d never see him. I also wondered if it was a comment on the Trump era (no one’s running the ship) or just our current awful internet era (no one’s minding the store).
The rah-rah speech comes to haunt the staff, and ultimately the guests, when the oligarch’s wife insists that one staff member, Alicia (Alicia Eriksson), get into the jacuzzi with her. Then she insists all staff partake in the fun. She wants to make some grand point about how they’re all equal, and everyone has to go along because they’re not. Worse, when the kitchen help leave for their mandatory, joyless slide into the ocean, the chef fears the food will turn. Which seems to be what happens. That night, as the Captain (Woody Harrelson) makes a first reluctant appearance at dinner, and the boat is pitched in a storm, most guests get sick. And there's much dysentery.
How much of the dialogue was improv? It feels real—both natural and not particularly interesting. The drunken debate between the socialist captain (Woody Harrelson) and the capitalist Russian oligarch did nothing for me. Pulling out a Noam Chomsky book to make your points feels like a Woody Harrelson move rather than whoever this captain is supposed to be. It took me out of the movie rather than deeper into it.
Then we get a distant shot of the ship while Somali pirates gather in the foreground. That’s what happens when no one is running the ship. Your vulnerabilities are exacerbated. Question: Why do the pirates toss the grenade? Isn’t the point to take over the ship rather than destroy it? Instead, Winston and Clementine pick up the grenade, slowly recognize what it is, boom. I confess: I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t enough that Ostlund named the couple after the Churchills, we had to get this idiot moment of karma.
Anyway, that’s why a handful of people wind up on a deserted island, and Abigail (Dolly De Leon), a cleaning woman, takes over like the admirable Crichton. She’s the only one with survival skills. Via IMDb:
In a podcast interview, De Leon said her character Abigail was supposed to be a male mechanic of the yacht, but when Ostlund pitched the film to his students, one suggested that it would be more interesting if the character was a woman.
Give that student an F. There’s a lot I found unbelievable on the island. These are privileged people who would be looking at their watches, wondering why they weren’t already rescued, and I don’t remember any of that. More, when you lose social constructs and class distinctions, you don’t just revert to survival of the fittest but the strongest. Abigail may have known how to catch fish, and start fires, but she was little. She needed to team up with someone to enforce the new hierarchy. We don’t get that. There wasn’t even a shift when Jarmo (Henrik Dorson), the computer coder, kills an animal with a rock, creating his own food source. Hey, we can do this now. Hey, we don’t need you now.
And I know these people are useless, but no one thinks to rub two sticks together? Has no one watched cartoons? It doesn’t have to work; I just wanted the attempt.
The final joke
Interplay between class and sex comes up a lot. There’s Carl’s jealousy of the shirtless Greek worker—and inadvertently getting him fired because he was shirtless on deck. There’s also the role-playing sex game (laborer, housewife) Carl and Yaya play in their cabin. Finally, on the island, Carl becomes concubine to Abigail. He leaves the supermodel for the cleaning woman. Sure, Ruben.
The final joke is it’s not a deserted island; there’s a luxury resort on the other side, which Yaya and Abigail find when they go hiking. Great news for Yaya, less so for Abigail. Away from the island, she’s a cleaning woman. Before they take the elevator up, Abigail says she has to go to the bathroom. Why does Yaya wait? Stockholm syndrome? This woman made you beg for fish, and took your man. I’d be running for that elevator. Instead, Yaya sits down, talks about how Abigail can become her assistant, while, behind her, Abigail picks up a large rock. Cut to Carl running breathlessly through the woods. And that’s the end of the movie.
Is it the lady or the tiger? How about who cares.
This is a poor follow-up for Ostlund after “Force Majeure” and “The Square,” his great takes on male cowardice and courage in modern society. Much honored, though. Do we all get our due after we deserve it?
Sunday February 26, 2023
'Everything Everywhere' Gets Every Guild Award Everywhere
Last weekend, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won the DGA, or Directors Guild Award, and this weekend it won the PGA (Producers) and SAG (Screen Actors) cast award. (As well as actress for Michelle Yeoh, supporting actress for Jamie Lee Curtis, and supporting actor for Ke Huy Quan.) That's a lot of guild awards. So is the Oscar race over already?
Put it another way: Has any movie won all three guild awards and not won the Oscar for best picture?
We can only go back to '96, when SAG cast awards began, but these are the only movies that won all three guilds:
- 1999: American Beauty
- 2002: Chicago
- 2003: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
- 2007: No Country for Old Men
- 2008: Slumdog Millionaire
- 2010: The King's Speech
- 2012: Argo
- 2014: Birdman
And yes, they all wound up winning the Oscar for best picture—though two directors did not win director. In 2002, best director didn't go to Rob Marshall for “Chicago” but Roman Polanski for “The Pianist” (a much better movie anyway), while in 2012 Ben Affleck wasn't even nom'ed so they went with Ang Li for “Life of Pi.” Interesting we went abroad both times.
Point being: Don't pick against “Everything Everywhere” in your Oscar pool.
Another point worth mentioning is how divisive “EEAAO” is turning out to be. Some people love it, some hate hate hate it, while I'm more of a shrug. It went a few universes too far for me, and didn't know when to end, but ultimately I don't have a dog in the hunt so ... [shrug].
Saturday February 25, 2023
After counting down the top 100 players in baseball history and writing about the 50 greatest moments in baseball history (to be published in Sept.), Joe Posnanski is now in the midst of creating his very own Hall of Fame, the JoeBlogs Hall of Fame, where the goal is to honor the best and most legendary.
On the latter quality, he spills a few words. Legendary, he says, is...
...something that transcends the field, something that goes beyond the stats, something that isn't always easy to put into words or analysis. Our first class of 13 does not necessarily feature the players who are highest in WAR, though they are certainly all great players. Instead, I'm trying to choose people who in my view best represent that word, “legendary.” These are the players we still tell stories about, the players we will always tell stories about, the players who not only played the game at an exalted level but left us as fans feeling lucky to have seen them play the game.
As for his first class?
* Beyond the starting eight and three pitchers, Poz chooses two wild cards. Doesn't have to be a player, either. Could be a nonplayer who had a big impact on the game—like Branch Rickey. Oddly, though, if a player, Joe isn't letting us know who the starter is and who the WC is. This first class has four outfielders, including two right fielders. So is Aaron the wild card? Or Ruth? Or Teddy Ballgame, and you move Ruth to left? Feels like a cheat.
It's a good list, but his most recent player (Schmidt) also feels the least legendary. And it made me wonder if you need time and distance to create a legend. I mean, does “legend” work for contemporaries? Well, Ichiro a bit. Or Griffey. Or Pujols. Then I thought of a guy you could really tell a tall tale around and wrote the following in the comments section:
“You askin' about Randy Johnson? [Spit] Well, he was as tall as Paul Bunyan, with hair like a waterfall and a fastball that could kill birds in flight. One moment there would be a creature of God, and poof! Just a puff of feathers. His arms was so long he once tagged out a feller on first without leaving the pitching mound. Entire left-handed lineups sat on the bench when he pitched, and half of them retired from baseball rather than face him. Those that did trembled at the plate when they came across his fearsome visage.”
I added: “I mean, only half that stuff is untrue.”
Another reader, piggybacking on that comment, did the same with Nolan Ryan. His recitation was more stats-conscious, less tall tale. I didn't disagree with him, but I responded with the line about Randy I should've used in the first place: Did birds explode when he pitched?
He really does seem out of an American fable: Pecos Bill, John Henry and Randy Johnson.
Saturday February 25, 2023
“Abughazaleh is skeptical of the conventional wisdom that [Tucker] Carlson is one of the most powerful people in the United States. She and the other Media Matters researchers all seemed convinced that it was more the 8 p.m. Fox time slot that bestowed power. For millions of viewers, 'it's just a Pavlovian response to put on Fox News at eight o'clock,' [deputy director Andrew] Lawrence said. 'Tucker needs the eight-o'clock hour on Fox News way more than Fox News needs Tucker.'”
-- from “Watching Tucker Carlson for Work,” by Clare Malone, in The New Yorker
This has long been my feeling. In the parlance of “The Wire,” Tucker Carlson is a corner kid. He's eminently expendable and replaceable. If a scandal washes him away to Bill O'Reilly-land tomorrow, they'll just find somebody else to do similar schtick to keep the 1.6 million in a perpetual state of anger and fear. It's Rupert Murdoch you need to focus on. It's always been Rupert Murdoch. Follow the money, as the man said.
Thursday February 23, 2023
Movie Review: It (1927)
I got to see this on the big screen, with my wife Patricia and our friend Becky, surrounded by girls dressed as flappers. It was Silent Movie Monday at the Paramount in Seattle, and, despite the weather (nasty) and the pandemic (ongoing), the place was fairly packed. I pointed out one woman looking great in a rounded 1920s brimless hat. “What do you call those?” I asked Patricia. “Cloche,” she said. “They should bring those back,” I said.
Patricia went with me reluctantly. She’ll watch old movies but tends to draw the line at silents. But she enjoyed “It” and loved Clara Bow.
These days it’s more of a famous phrase than a famous movie—some people even mistakenly call the movie “The It Girl”—but what’s interesting is how the phrase became famous.
In a sense, the true “It” Girl was Elinor Glyn, a matriarchal Brit and racy novelist of the day, who came to Hollywood in 1919, age 55, already famous or infamous for writing about female sexuality, and made deals to write articles for Hearst publications and screenplays for Famous Players-Lasky, which became Paramount.
In a 1935 Sunday Sun article on Glyn, they say she first used the term in the early 1920s for Wallace Reid, a silent movie heartthrob.
Glyn: You’re wonderful to look at. Besides, you have IT.
Reid: It? What?
Glyn: That’s the word. Don’t you see that it expresses everything? Either you have IT or you haven’t IT.
Reid: And I have, eh?
She then critiques his hair and shoes, which I love. Even the man who gave birth to IT needs fixing.
I think the term caught on because of its simplicity and vagueness, but that didn’t stop Glynn from constantly trying to define it—or at least hold off the very popular notion that it just meant sex appeal. A losing battle. Here’s IMDb’s current synopsis of the movie:
A salesgirl with plenty of “it” (sex appeal) pursues a handsome playboy.
Quick critique: Yes, she’s a salesgirl, yes, she has plenty of “it,” but “pursues” is iffy and “playboy” is totally off. If anything Cyrus T. Waltham (Antonio Moreno) is a wonk. He owns and runs the department store where Betty Lou (Bow) is a salesgirl. He’s almost always at his desk.
As for what “It” means, the movie keeps giving it a go. We get two intertitles that say about the same thing: IT is a quality which “draws all others with its magnetic force” or “attracts others of the opposite sex.” It should be “unselfconscious,” and “can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.” Then it’s defined in a Cosmopolitan magazine article by Glyn that another characters reads. And then Glyn herself shows up to hold forth in a grand manner.
Cyrus: Madame Glyn, we've been talking about your latest story. Just what is this “IT”?
Madame Glyn: Self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not—and something in you that gives the impression that you are not all cold. … If you have “IT,” you will win the girl you love.
Got it. Or IT. Or...
As with all love stories, the point is to keep the lovers apart for an extended period. So how do they do it here? The two are never hot for each other at the same time.
- Betty Lou likes Cyrus but he doesn’t notice her.
- Once he does, they go to Coney Island. But when he kisses her, she slaps him and calls him “one of those Minute Men. … The minute you meet a girl you think you can kiss her!”
- Before he can apologize, we get that silent movie trope of welfare ladies trying to take babies away from poor mothers—in this case, Betty Lou’s friend, Molly (Priscilla Bonner). Betty Lou stands up to them, then lies about the baby, saying it’s hers. This gets back to Cyrus, who thinks she’s an unwed mother, and he shunts her to the side.
- When she finds out why she’s shunted to the side, she gets angry. She decides she’s going to get him to propose so she can laugh in his face. Helluva leap. But she makes it happen when she finagles a spot on a weeklong party aboard his yacht.
In the final reel, after a dump in the drink, they both like each other at the same time and we get our happy ending.
Watching, I kept remembering Chico Marx flirting with a manicurist in 1931’s “Monkey Business.” “You’ve got IT,” he tells her. When she begins to thank him, he adds, “And you can keep it.”
Bow is great in this. I think the worst scenes are when she tries to convey “It” and gets a little self-conscious; the best scenes are when she’s just feisty. Anyway, it made her a star. Moreno as Cyrus is also good, less self-conscious than Bow but about 20 pounds from peak IT.
William Austin plays “Monty” Montgomery, Cyrus’ friend, who first alerts Cyrus to Glyn’s Cosmo article. He’s comic relief—pursuing Betty Lou but losing out. He also seems either terribly British or terribly gay. There’s a great early scene where he looks himself over in the mirror and declares, “Old fruit, you’ve got IT.” Yes, you do, Old fruit. Fun fact: Austin would wind up as the first cinematic Alfred in the 1943 movie serial “Batman.” In fact, he’s the reason Alfred is thin. Before, the character was fairly portly, but the comic wanted to correspond to the film so they put him on a diet. It’s one of Austin’s last roles. He stopped making movies in 1947, lived until 1975.
Another fun fact: The reporter who breaks the Betty Lou vs. the welfare ladies story is pre-stardom Gary Cooper. He would define IT for the next two decades but isn't even part of the IT discussion here. It’s his last uncredited role.
Tuesday February 21, 2023
- Jimmy Carter has elected for hospice care at age 98. His upcoming biographer, Kai Bird, offers an encomium of “probably the most intelligent, hard-working and decent man to have occupied the Oval Office in the 20th century.”
- As for the least intelligent, laziest and most horrendous man to occupy the Oval Office? Apparently that special grand jury investigating 2020 election interference in Georgia has recommended several indictments. “It is not a short list,” the forewoman told The New York Times. And was Trump on it? “You're not going to be shocked. It's not rocket science.” Oh please please please please please.
- As for the Jan. 6 scandal? Special Counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed former VP Mike Pence, but Pence is fighting the subpoena. Love that. Pence's rep is that he acted righteously on Jan. 6, not caving to Trump's demands—though it took a phone call from former VP Dan Quayle to remind him to do the right thing. So why wouldn't he want the world to know he did the right thing? Yeah, because he wasn't always doing the right thing.
- On the one-year invasion of the Russian invasioin of Ukraine, David Remnick underlines Putin's massive folly. “The ramifications of his delusions are enormous and bloody,” he writes.
- Remnick also interviews historian Stephen Kotkin on what it might take to end the war. It's not pretty. “Authoritarian regimes can fail at everything—they can even launch self-defeating wars—so long as they succeed at one thing, which is the suppression of political alternatives.”
- Here's my kind of scandal. Via The Seattle Times: “The [Oregon liquor agency] officials purportedly had bottles of top-shelf bourbon routed to a liquor store, often in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie where the commission headquarters is located, and would reserve them for pickup later. They said they used the whiskey for personal consumption or as gifts.” And the dude on the make is Marks? Too perfect.
- Major League Baseball's Joint Competition Committee has made the regular season extra-inning ghost-runner rule permanent. Like assholes. You kind of knew it was coming. You knew they wanted it. And now the game is less interesting.
- That said, Joe Posnanski is in favor of most of their other moves for the 2023 season: banning the shfit, pitch clocks, and bigger bases.
- More on Poz. In the aftermath of the Baseball 100 and the Football 101, and after finishing his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” not to mention opening tons of old baseball packs with Michael Schur to raise money for ALS research, Posnanski is creating the JoeBlogs Hall of Fame, where he'll honor the best and brightest of baseball. Sure, why not. He's decided to start with classes of players, and the first class is the legendary class: not just great players but players who are still talked about. Each class will have eight position players, three pitchers, and two wild cards, who could be players or anyone connecte to the game. Given the “talked about” parameter, I'd probably have gone Brett or Brooks at third rather than Schmidt, but it's a fine list. I just don't see much of a need for it.
- I like this New York magazine headline on the new Ant Man movie: “This is a Cry for Help.” It looked awful from the trailer and apparently that wasn't false advertising.
Monday February 20, 2023
Movie Review: Women Talking (2022)
It’s aptly named anyway.
Women in a Mennonite community realize that the men in the community have been drugging them, raping them, then dismissing their charges and bruises as hysteria. The subsequent pregnancies—definitive evidence—seem to engender a shrug. But this time they caught a man in the act, he gave up the others, and they’ve all been taken to prison in the city. The women are given two days by themselves to decide what to do.
These are the options:
- Stay and do nothing
- Stay and fight
A plebescite is held—nicely filmed by writer-director Sarah Polley—but there’s a tie between “Stay and fight” and “Leave.” So they rehold the plebescite with just those two options.
Kidding. That was just one of those early moments where I was like, “Wouldn’t it make sense if…? No? Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” If they’d had ranked voting to begin with, the movie wouldn’t exist. Or it would’ve been short.
Instead, 11 of the women meet in a hayloft to wrangle it out. They have not been taught to read or write, so the minutes are taken by August (Ben Whishaw), the educated, sensitive son of an excommunicated member who has returned to teach the boys. Positions are staked early.
- Salome (Claire Foy) is angry and wants to stay and fight
- Ona (Rooney Mara) is calm and wants to stay and fight
- Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is angry and wants to forgive the men—which isn’t really an answer, but she’s really adamant about it; it's also odd because she keeps insulting August; she seems to forgive the innocent man nothing
Though we might be in a 19th century township, bit by bit—with references to antibiotics, with women wearing Birkenstocks, with a census taker playing “Daydream Believer” from the loudspeaker of his car—we realize we’re in a contemporary setting. Which is when I began to realize what was missing from their conversation: How. How do you stay and fight? What does that mean? With pitchforks? With laws? And how do you leave? Do you have cash? Credit? You can't read or write: Do you have any idea what’s out there?
But how doesn’t really come into it.
Some part of me assumed they would stay and fight. I don’t know if I got that idea from the trailer or if it’s because that’s generally the point of drama—to confront the thing—but it’s not the point of this drama. Here, it’s wrangling through the trauma. It’s consciousness-raising. It’s healing.
We get revelations. August is in love with Ona, and she exchanges glances with him, and you kind of wonder why they don’t just get together. Or why it’s assumed August won’t go with the women. At least he’s been out in the world; he might be able to help. But nothing. He’s to stay behind and teach the boys to be better men. The morning they leave, he’s in the hayloft, crying, and he tells Ona’s mother, Agata (Judith Ivey), to tell Ona that he will always love her. “She loves you, too,” the mother says, and I thought, “Oh, that’s nice, that’s some comfort there,” before she adds, almost with a shrug, “She loves everybody.” Ouch. But it’s probably why he loves her.
We also learn that Mariche’s husband beats her, and she was urged to forgive him by her own mother, Greta (Sheila McCarthy), and maybe this is why Mariche both urges forgiveness and is incredibly angry and insulting. But they work through the issues, and everyone apologizes to Mariche, and Mariche agrees that leaving is a good idea—even as her husband returns early to get more bail money or something. Wait, so the other men send back the abusive drunk guy for this task? Not smart. Or are they all just abusive drunk guys?
How many of the women are products of rape, by the way? Does that come up? How long has this been going on? Decades? Centuries?
Throughout, we get a voiceover from Ona talking to her own child in whatever new place they’ve landed. But we never see the new place. We never see the struggle to land.
You know the whole “Men want to solve problems while women want to talk about problems” dynamic? This feels like that. It wasn’t for me.
All previous entries
What Trump Said When About COVID
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Blonde Crazy (1931)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Something to Sing About (1937)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
Come Fill the Cup (1951)
A Lion Is In the Streets (1953)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Shake Hands With the Devil (1959)