Quote of the Day
“No. Because nobody has ever proved to me that the second guess would have worked.”
--Dick Howser, who managed the Kansas City Royals for six years, including their 1985 World Series champion year, before dying of brain cancer in 1987, when asked, in '85, if he ever second-guessed himself. As reported in Dave Anderson's New York Times column today. Anderson adds, “Has any major league manager, from Connie Mack and John McGraw to Casey Stengel and Joe Torre, ever dismissed the second-guessers’ criticism so simply and so sensibly?” I post this as someone who constantly second-guesses himself, as anyone who knows me knows.
The Second-Best Scene of David Ayer's 'Fury' is One of the Best Scenes of the Year
Here it is:
Bye-bye, John Wayne.
Patricia and I saw the movie last night. Review up soon.
No Reasoning with Conservative SCOTUS
I love the lede to (if not the import of) Adam Liptak's story today:
The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to use its strict voter identification law in the November election. The court’s order, issued just after 5 a.m., was unsigned and contained no reasoning.
The dissent, at least, was signed by Justice Ginsburg, and condemned the Court's conservative branch, as well as Texas, for actions that risk “denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.” It's actually more like half a million, she says later in the dissent: 600,000, or 4.5 percent of all registered voters.
Texas' 2011 voter I.D. law went into effect after SCOTUS, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), struck down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of disenfranchisement to, as Liptak writes, ”obtain federal permission before changing voting procedure." Since then, the South has been all yee-ha about changing its voting procedures. But legitimately, you understand.
Their argument: voter fraud is so rampant (despite no evidence, and particularly not in-person at the polls) that voters should be required to show a photo I.D. at the polls. Sadly, 600,000 registered voters in Texas don't have a driver's license, gun license, passport or military I.D. But ... SOL. Most of these folks, of course, are minorities.
But it sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Until you realize that, for example, no one in Washington state has to show a photo I.D. to vote, since we're entirely an absentee ballot state now. We must be crawling with fraud.
To me, what Texas and many southern states are doing these days is Jim Crow dressed up. It's James Crow. Too bad the Court doesn't see it that way—or give a reason why they don't.
Conservative court backs James Crow laws in Texas. No reason necessary.
Quote of the Day
From my friend Chris Nelson, an RN getting his MPH and heading for the Ph.D., on the news today about Arizona and Wyoming:
When Massachusetts granted gay people equal marriage rights, I cried buckets. When Iowa did the same, I just gasped “Iowa?” When New York had four Republican state senators vote in favor of gay civil rights, I cried again. Then California got their rights back, and I cried. When Edith Windsor got to legally call herself “widowed,” I cried.
But then FIVE STATES at once were ordered to give equal marriage rights—including Utah and Oklahoma? I cheered. Nevada and Idaho? I was so happy to mock Butch Otter. Alaska??? Oh, yes, I laughed and cheered. And today, Arizona?
I ain't cryin' no more, I'm too thrilled!
And that, my friends, is what proves that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Sometimes the right thing to do is recognized as the right thing to do, bigots be damned.
P.S. Jan Brewer must actually have had her poor shrunken head explode ... and Sarah Palin must have flipped her wig! Fab. U. Lous.
Chris Nelson last year in Copenhagen.
Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
At first I thought: “Oh, they’re doing ‘Groundhog Day.” Then I thought: “Oh, it’s like a video game.” At the end I realized: “It’s like a movie. But not because it is a movie.”
More on that later.
First, why it’s like “Groundhog Dog” but not as good as “Groundhog Day.”
“Groundhog Day,” co-written and directed by Harold Ramis, took a shallow weatherman, Phil (Bill Murray), and forced him to live the same lousy day over and over until he became a decent person. It’s about the growth of the soul. It’s funny and inventive.
“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman, takes a shallow PR exec, Cage (Tom Cruise), and forces him to live the same lousy day over and over—the day he dies, actually—until he becomes such an expert soldier that he saves not only himself but all of humanity from an alien attack. It’s often funny and inventive. But it’s less about the growth of the soul than about getting good enough at soldiering (leaping and dodging and shooting) to make it to the next level.
Which is why it’s like a video game. You play until you die and then you start over again.
For some people—gamers, hipsters, folks trying to monetize the popularity of video games into the movie business—this is a plus. Not me. I got bored. Tom Cruise is the avatar, Liman and company are making him jump and dodge and shoot, and I’m just sitting there. Hey, watch out for the ...! Right. GAME OVER. Reboot.
As the movie starts, we get news reports of a meteor landing in Germany. It turns out to be an alien attack. These aliens are like sand worms mixed with the Tasmanian Devil, and they spread out from Germany, even as the United Defense Force, under the command of Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), readies a counterattack from Britain called “Operation Downfall.” So it’s basically a sci-fi version of World War II. It’s sci-fi Normandy. Because that’s cool? Because that’s the only way we can comprehend it? Because the filmmakers are lazy?
We first see Maj. Cage on cable news, promoting the “Angel of Verdun,” Rita (Emily Blunt), a super-soldier who stopped the alien attack in northern France. “We fight,” he tells the camera with authority. “That’s what we do.”
Well, he doesn’t. Gen. Brigham wants Cage to film “Operation Downfall” but Cage wants no part of it. “I’m not a soldier, really,” he says. “I can’t stand the sight of blood.” Brigham doesn’t take no for an answer. So Cage tries to blackmail him. For that he’s arrested, tased, and wakes up on some duffel bags at Heathrow airport. “On your feet, Maggot!” a sergeant yells at him. This will be the reboot point for the rest of the movie. The START OVER point.
It’s a nightmare point for Cage. He’s been busted to private and assigned to combat in J Squad, none of whom like him particularly. Why should they? Suddenly they’re fighting next to a guy who can’t fight. Why would the general even do that? Doesn’t he like J Squad? And why doesn’t anyone recognize him from TV?
In an inspired bit of casting, the Master Sergeant for J Squad is Bill Paxton, the original “Game Over” dude, who gets off some good lines. Asked if he’s American, he replies, “No, sir, I’m from Kentucky.” Before the mission, he tells Cage, in words that echo, “Tomorrow, you will be baptized. Born again!”
The invasion, of course, is a trap, the soldiers are slaughtered, Cage dies. Ah, but because in his panic he kills an “Alpha,” an alien that can reset time, and its blood mixes with his, he develops this ability. For a while he doesn’t know it. For a while, he’s merely experiencing a massive sense of déjà vu. But eventually, in the third or fourth incarnation, the Angel of Verdun herself tells him what’s going on. She had that ability for a while. Thus Verdun. “An enemy that knows the future can’t lose,” she says. Now Cage has that ability. So what will he do with it?
(BTW: For a race that can know the future, they do an awful job of keeping this ability out of the hands—or the blood—of the enemy, don’t they? And isn’t that a fairly easy security breach? “We’ll be fine in this war as long as no one bleeds on anyone.”)
Here’s what Cage does with the ability to reset time. He trains and trains and trains. He goes from PR flak to supersoldier. Then he has to make it off the beach and into the countryside. Then he and Rita have to leave this farmhouse and attack this mountain. Then ...
Right. Different levels.
The end game is the Omega, the aliens’ “hive mind.” But the Omega isn’t in the equivalent of Berchtesgaden, as originally thought; that was a ruse. It’s under the Louvre, man. So that becomes the fight. Except in one iteration, Cage isn’t killed but merely wounded. And he’s given a blood transfusion. And there goes his power to reset time.
A quick aside. Years ago, I tested video games for Microsoft PCs and Xbox; and one night we were testing, I believe, “Midtown Madness,” a car racing game, and we went late, 2 or 3 a.m., after which I drove home. And it was odd. I had to remind myself, “Oh, this is real.” I’d been crashing and dying and rebooting without consequence for so long that I had to consciously remind myself that life had consequences.
It would’ve been nice if Cage, after losing his reboot abilities, had had a similar epiphany.
Instead, he and Rita and J Squad simply team up to attack the Omega, and they all die in the process. Including Cage. But then—because he killed the hive mind?—he’s reborn earlier than at his reboot point, before his encounter with Gen. Brigham, who informs him that the aliens have died off on their own. He did it, Cage did it, but no one knows. Except him. And us. Hoorah.
We've seen this hero before
So here’s why this movie is like a movie. And why it’s disappointing in that regard.
In the beginning, Cruise’s character, Cage, is somewhat shallow and cowardly. He doesn’t have special abilities. He’s like us entering the darkened theater with our tub of popcorn. Then as the movie progresses he becomes the wish-fulfillment fantasy, just as we, munching our popcorn in the dark, transfer ourselves into this heroic character on screen.
The process that Cage goes through in the movie is the process we all go through watching movies.
And that’s why I was ultimately disappointed. The shallow, fearful Cruise at the beginning? He was refreshing. The hero he became? We’ve seen that guy a thousand times.
Quote of the Day
“I don't like that word: 'Unbelievable.' Don't use that word. Nothing is unbelievable.”
-- Buck O'Neil (1911-2006), former Kansas City Monarch and all-around baseball saint, to Joe Posnanski, which Pos posted on his Facebook page this afternoon after his and Buck's team, the lowly Kansas City Royals, 29 years removed from the postseason, swept the Baltimore Orioles to win the AL pennant. The Royals have now played eight postseason games in 2014 and won them all. They make me believe that anything can happen. (Well, except that, Mr. B.)
“Please don't interrupt, because you haven't heard this one in a while. Kansas City Royals, champions of the American League. Honest.” (With apologies to Shirley Povich.)
Neil Patrick Harris to Host 2015 Oscars
Because he's not just for gays anymore.
Seriously, this is great news for the Oscars and for my Oscar party. Although I might actually want fewer people there so I can hear more.
A few days ago, I was watching the clip below for the umpteenth time and marveling at the talent. If he brings a fraction of this to the Oscar telecast, it'll only be a massive improvement.
Berenice Bejo is coming to Seattle? Merci mille fois, SIFF!
- Attention Seattle-area francophiles: SIFF Cinema is hosting a “French Cinema Now” minifest at SIFF Uptown, October 23-30. I'm excited! And not just because Berenice Bejo is making a personal appearance. Although that helps. Because it's Berenice Bejo.
- So is Marvel Comics discontinuing “Fantastic Four” in order to wrest it from the sweaty clutches of Fox Studios? And is Marvel mostly in the moviemaking business now? Consider it Stan Lee's dream fulfilled.
- More Hollywood Reporter Marvel news: Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man will be in “Captain America 3.” For a possible “Civil War” storyline? “This isn't freedom, it's fear.” Should work.
- Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. has announced a whole slew of DC superhero movies for the next five years, including a Wonder Woman movie and a Flash movie. WW, I assume, will be played by Gal Gadot, as in the upcoming “Batman v. Superman” flick. And Barry Allen? Would you believe Ezra Miller from “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”? I didn't. Although the dude does talk fast. I think Warner Bros. is trying to get its own Downey, Jr.: someone to enliven a dull franchise.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service is debuting Batman stamps. Give me '40s Batman (big ears) or '70s Batman (bat signal). The others? Meh.
- Director Guillermo del Toro lists his top 10 (really 21) favorite Criterion movies. The usual suspects: Kurosawa, Bergman, Kubrick, Sturges (the anti-Kubrick). But early David Lean gets a nod, too. My question (now and forever): When is Criterion going to come out with a version of “Breaking Away”?
- What is the most common three-word phrase spoken in movies? Probably “I love you,” but “Let her go” might give it a run for its money. The video is HuffPo, so vaguely annoying for that, but it does serve as a stark reminder of just how derivative Hollywood is. And awful. I mean, how many times do we need to see the good guy save the pretty girl from the bad guy? It seems we never get enough of it.
- My brother-in-law Eric Muschler, who works for the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis, and knows everything about urban planning and affordable housing, was recently interviewed by Architecture MN. Check it out.
- I've never been a big fan of Anonymous, which always seemed a little too powerful and adolescent to me. I mean ... Guy Fawkes masks? David Kushner's New Yorker piece, “The Masked Avengers,” doesn't change this perspective much. If anything, Anonymous reminds me of that superpowerful kid in the “Twilight Zone” episode/movie who gets what he wants ... or else. No, I mean, what I mean is, it's good that you outted the wrong people in Ferguson, Anonymous! David Kushner is a bad man for what he wrote. I'm only thinking good thoughts!
- What does Rand Paul want? According to Ryan Lizza, and unlike his father, ca depend. Lizza's profile, “The Revenge of Rand Paul,” is fascinating stuff, much recommended. The dueling McCain quotes at the end had me laughing out loud.
- Finally, didn't I already link to Jill LePore's piece on money, politics and the Constitution, “The Crooked and the Dead”? I didn't? Apologies. Here's the sad takeaway: If you have to break the law to infuse your political campaign with massive amounts of money, you're just not trying hard enough.
Quote of the Day
“Politics is about more than mathematics. It is also a matter of will. Polite Georgetown insiders didn’t like to admit this. Sometimes they willfully ignored it—moderates could be as oblivious to evidence that didn’t confirm their biases as any conspiracy-mongering extremist. Rabid partisans beat moderates all the time, precisely by dint of the very passion that sometimes blinds them.”
-- Rick Perlstein in “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” writing about the 1976 Republican convention but with a message for any time. Certainly for the 2014 mid-terms.
Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)
Sadly, I figured out the plot twist before I even saw it. The week it premiered, I came across a headline, “Is ‘Gone Girl’ Misogynistic?” and that’s pretty much all it took. I knew the movie was about a pretty blonde, Amy (Rosamund Pike), whose husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), becomes the chief suspect, and a cable news cad, after her disappearance. So our big question going in is: Does he or doesn’t he? But if the movie can be accused of misogyny, not only does it clear Nick but it implicates Amy. Maybe she just leaves? Maybe she manufactures the whole thing to get attention—or to turn the world against her husband? Which, yes, turns out to be the case.
So be more careful with your headlines, everybody.
I don’t even agree with the implication in the headline. At some point the one doesn’t represent the whole. Amy isn’t all women any more than Norman Bates is all men. Nor Nick, for that matter. Nick is lazy, adulterous, dull, cowardly. Most of the men in this movie are playthings for the women. That moment when Amy and Det. Rhonda Boney (an excellent Kim Dickens) get into a subtle staredown after Amy’s reappearance, with a scrum of concerned FBI agents between them, I flashed on Margaret Atwood’s novel “Cat’s Eye,” and thought things were about to get good. But that was it. They had Det. Boney peel off from the story. Too bad. It was a nice scene anyway. With the dopey FBI men acting solicitous toward Amy (who was a murderer), and stern toward Det. Boney (who was simply doing her job), I began to laugh out loud.
That’s something I didn’t see coming. “Gone Girl,” based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, is a David Fincher crime story so in the tradition of gritty, gruesome stuff like “Se7en” and “Zodiac” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The last thing you expect are laughs. Yet they keep coming. The movie is an absurdist take on marriage and privilege and fame and infamy. It’s high camp. It’s the funniest movie David Fincher has made.
When did I begin laughing? I think when the parents arrived in Missouri.
Amy goes missing on the afternoon of her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home, she’s not there, the glass coffee table is upended and broken. So he calls the cops. He’s kind of dazed. Wooden. We find out later he’s been schtupping a writing student with the All-American name Andie Hardy (model Emily Ratajkowski, the “Blurred Lines” girl), and that morning he was ready to ask his wife for a divorce. So part of him is relieved by her disappearance. But he can’t show that. The casting of Ben Affleck—long accused of wooden acting—is itself a kind of joke. Later in the movie, for example, Nick is prepped by his top-flight attorney, Tanner Bolt (a surprisingly smooth Tyler Perry), before he goes on one of those awful Barbara Walters-like shows to confess his infidelity, and every time Nick acts wooden Bolt pelts him with a gummy bear. Directors from Michael Bay to Kevin Smith are probably going, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
So on that first day, her parents, rich, privileged New Yorkers, Rand and Marybeth Elliott (a perfectly cast David Clennon and Lisa Banes), arrive in Missouri; and in the press conference in which Nick does everything wrong—acts wooden, mumbles a few words, smiles awkwardly next to his wife’s missing photo—they do everything right. They look grim and determined. They give out the 1-888 number they’ve already set up and the URL to the website they’ve already set up. They’re whirlwinds. It shouldn’t be funny—a woman is missing, after all—but it is. And it gets funnier as Nick drives around town and sees billboards displaying his missing wife’s face. How quickly his story becomes their story becomes everybody’s story. How quickly he becomes inconsequential.
Would it be less funny if we actually liked Nick and Amy? We get flashbacks to when they first meet, trading bon mots at a New York cocktail party, and it feels less “meet cute” than “meet awful.” They’re vaguely intellectual, fairly privileged, mostly shallow. He writes for a men’s health magazine, she writes ... where again? I forget. She’s more famous for being the inspiration for a series of children’s books, “Amazing Amy,” that her mother wrote. Plus she’s played by Rosamund Pike, who often projects a decided chill onto the screen.
“The hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of empathy,” says cable-news harpy Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), implicating Nick in the disappearance of his wife, even if, ultimately, the description fits Amy more than Nick. And Ellen Abbott as much as Amy? She makes her living, and a good one, ruining lives with innuendo. Amy just accuses men of rape. Or “disappears” to get back at her dull husband and his infidelities. Or accuses them of rape, then murders them. That’s what she does with her longtime unrequited lover Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who protects her after her escape plans go awry. But he’s got the lack-of-empathy gene, too, doesn’t he? He loves her, he says, but when she comes to him in need, still in her dowdy, thickening camouflage, he immediately wants to turn her back into the golden girl she once was. It’s funny stuff. She’s still talking about Nick, whom she watches heartfeltly professing his (fake) love for her on national TV, while Desi, also professing his (real?) love, keeps implying she needs to work out more, eat less, dye her hair back to blonde. So many cross-currents of shallow agendas on display here. So little empathy behind so many professions of love.
Who does have empathy in this movie? How wide a brush should we use? And even when characters seem to have empathy—Amy’s parents, the dingbat neighbor Noelle (SNL alum Casey Wilson)—aren’t they just looking out for themselves? Or is this simply our ungenerous view of them? Or is the film being ungenerous?
The key line of the movie is the sociopath line above, the lack-of-empathy-gene, but it leads to this question: How do you lose empathy? Well, it helps if you demonize or reduce others, and the cable-news industry, in the movie and in real life, certainly does that. It demonizes Nick (into a callow murderer) even as it reduces Amy (into a pretty victim). But doesn’t the movie do the same thing? It gives us reductive characters like the dingbat neighbor and the shallow unrequited lover. I suppose that’s why it’s campy. That’s why it’s funny. It brings us laughs at the expense of lessons. But it also answers our question about how wide the sociopathic brush is. It’s so wide, “Gone Girl” paints itself with it. Giggling.
It’s also why I got bored. I lacked empathy for these reductive characters. I cared a bit about Nick, particularly when he was getting railroaded, and a little about his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), who seemed like a real person. I liked Tanner Bolt and Det. Boney, both of whom seemed smart. But anyone else?
The ending is particularly disappointing and unbelievable. The more interesting characters go away—Bolt, Boney—while Nick winds up back in his marriage, trapped there by public opinion, but now with a woman he knows is capable of murder. The outward projection is of love and perfection, the inner version is hell. It should be chilling but it’s too silly for that. What’s missing is anything human-sized.