Help Me Copy Curmudgeon, You Are My Only Hope
I'm reading “Hollywood” by Garson Kanin on my Kindle and came across this spelling error from amazon.com. It's on the Kindle, too, but not in the book. ATTN: Copy Curmudgeon. Not to mention Mr. B:
“Hollywood” is a lot of fun, by the way. Great stories so far on Samuel Goldwyn. He's a major asshole but he's got personality, and, as we've learned, personality goes a long way.
When Modern Celebrity Began
“It seems so strange that so many people would gather at the train to welcome one they had never seen, only in pictures.”
-- Florence Lawrence, “The Biograph Girl,” and the first designated movie star, after she was mobbed by fans at the St. Louis railroad station in March 1910, as reported in Ty Burr's “Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame,” pg. 17. Burr adds: “No one understood what had just happened, least of all the woman at the center of the rapture.” You could say our modern world, with its heavy focus on fame and celebrity, began here.
In Talking Oscars, Breitbart's Big Hollywood Makes Fox News Seem Fair and Balanced
Big Hollywood attributes the Oscar ratings boost to the lack of politics at the event during the Obama years. (Above: First Lady Michelle Obama announces the best picture winner, for “Argo,” in 2013.)
How bad is Breitbart's Big Hollywood site? It makes Fox News look fair and balanced in comparison.
Big Hollywood recently posted an article on the bounce-back ratings for the Academy Awards Sunday night (43 million vs. 32 million in 2008) and attributes it solely to the lack of “boorish, smug, divisive political behavior” from the Hollywood elites during the Obama years. No Michael Moore speeches, no anti-Iraq war speeches, etc. So viewers are tuning in again. “Who would have ever guessed?” John Nolte asks smugly, if not to say divisively, at the end.
The problem? 2008 was also the last year there were five best picture nominees—nominees, by the way, that had long stopped being among the top box-office hits of the year. (See this chart.) That was the whole point of expanding the nominee pool: to get bigger box-office hits among the mix, and thus, hopefully, goose the TV ratings. Do politics, or apolitics, have something to do with the recent ratings boost? Who knows? But for Nolte not to mention the expansion of best picture nominees verges on duplicitous.
The Fox News site, on the other hand, while it gives us a boorish, divisive headline about another Oscar matter (“Academy, Hollywood's failure to recognize 'Lone Survivor' a travesty”), attempts some fair and balanced reporting from James Jay Carafano.
His piece is about how “Lone Survivor,” the Mark Wahlberg/Afghanistan/anti-My Lai picture, garnered no nominations despite some critical and box-office acclaim. Certain right-wing pundits (Sean Hannity) have used this as an example, according to Carafano, of “how liberal Hollywood really hates the military.” Carafano isn't convinced. He brings up “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Hurt Locker,” and echoes the shrug of The National Review's Jonah Goldberg over the controversy.
True, Carafano writes, in over-the-top fashion:
In the annals of American war films, the technical accuracy and realism of this film is unprecedented. In this regard, it is truly a historic cinematic achievement. For Hollywood, not to salute that is a travesty.
But he adds:
That said, it’s simply unfair to label Tinsel Town as a bunch of pathetic pacifists.
(Of course, that's almost like push-journalisim, isn't it? The way that push-polling is about disseminating false facts rather than extracting true information, this could be the same from the journalism side: pretending to be vaguely objective while pushing propaganda points.)
Carafano also gets his numbers wrong.
In the first graf, he compares “Survivor” to “Waterworld,” the 1995 Kevin Costner flick that actually garnered an Oscar nomination (sound editing) even though “Lone Survivor” has none, and even though the Wahlberg flick “also crushed it in ticket sales.”
First, you can create the world's greatest film festival from the movies that never received an Oscar nomination—from 1957 alone: “A Face in the Crowd,” “Paths of Glory” and “Sweet Smell of Success”—so I'd leave that one alone. Second, the numbers are fudged. Yes, “Survivor”'s domestic box office is bigger than “Waterworld” ($123.5 million to $88 million), but when you adjust for inflation “Survivor” is the same while “Waterworld” is on top with $169 million. And that doesn't even take into account international box office, where “Waterworld” grossed $175 million in 1995 (unadjusted) and “Survivor” grossed exactly zero dollars this past year, because it hasn't been released overseas. Will it ever? Who knows? Maybe Universal feels it won't play in Europe. Or Asia. Or anywhere but here. There's a story there.
In the end, the handwringing over “Lone Survivor”'s zero noms is overdone. It's an OK movie but hardly great. For all of these reasons.
“Wait, we didn't make as much as 'Waterworld'?”
Yankees Suck Reason #38: Keeping Vic Power in the Minors
Vic Power had his best years with the Athletics in 1955, when he hit .319 and slugged .505, with 34 doubles, 10 triples and 19 homers.
John Rosengren, who has written two previous books on baseball, has now published a third: “The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption.” It's worth checking out. (Disclosure: Rosengren's a friend.)
Most baseball fans know about the incident. In the midst of a tight pennant race in August 1965, Juan Marichal, a future Hall of Fame pitcher, who was at the plate, took a baseball bat to the head of catcher John Roseboro. Rosengren's book is the story behind those 10 seconds of infamy.
The most interesting aspect of the book, though, may be the sections on the history of dark-skinned Latinos integrating the Majors after Jackie. It includes yet another stellar moment in Yankees history:
Vic Power (né Victor Pellot Pove), a dark-skinned infielder from Puerto Rico, had married a light-skinned Hispanic woman, but when he drove her around Kansas City—where he played for the Athletics in 1955—police regularly stopped him to question him about the white woman in the passenger seat. Another time, after Power bought a Coke at a gas station in Florida, the attendant boarded the team bus and demanded that Power return the bottle. Power complied with some choice words. A patrol car soon pulled over the bus, and the officer arrested Power for profanity. Power’s teammates posted bail of $500 but warned him not to go back for the trial. “What kind of country is this?” Power asked.
America’s team gave him his answer. Power batted .330 and drove in 109 runs for the New York Yankees’ AAA team in 1952, but the parent club did not promote him. The next year, Power won the American Association batting title with his .349 average but still didn’t get called up. Knowing that Power’s stylish play and his relationship with a white woman (whom he would soon marry) might ruffle the team’s staid fan base, Yankees general manager George Weiss said Power wasn’t the “right kind” of black man to integrate the Yankees. The team’s traveling secretary Bill McCorry was more blunt: “No nigger will have a berth on any train I’m running.” Yankee president Dan Topping tried to justify the team’s decision by labeling Power a “poor fielder.”
Once Power finally did get a crack at the big leagues after the Yankees traded him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954, the infielder went on to win seven Gold Gloves ...
For the record, the Yankees were the unlucky 13th of the original 16 teams to integrate (in 1955 with Elston Howard), behind only the Phillies ('57), Tigers ('58) and Red Sox ('59), and despite the other New York teams being the first (Dodgers in '47) and fourth (Giants in '49) to move the country, the culture, and the world forward.
Nikki Finke on What We'll Be Watching in Five Years
“It will all blur, now that you’ve got Netflix and Amazon and everything. I think a lot of it is going to blur. It used to be you only wanted to be in a movie. If you couldn’t be in a movie you wanted to be in a network series. If you couldn’t be in a network series, then maybe HBO. Because remember, you’re not getting paid as much for all these things. And then cable. In five years, you’re not even going to be aware of where the hell you’re watching, if it’s broadcast, if it’s cable, if it’s Netflix. TV is getting so smart right now and the platforms on your phone and your iPad and everything, you’re just watching. You’re not even going to be aware what it is, you’re just watching.”
-- Nikki Finke, in “Nikki Finke: The Kindle Singles Interview” by David Blum. I read it in about an hour. Pretty interesting. She's particularly good on the studios and studio chiefs, and who greenlit what, and who was a bastard to whom, all of which I know almost nothing about. I particularly like the last line of the quote above. Reminds me of Chance the Gardener.
“Democracy is so overrated.”
SLIDESHOW: My Oscar Picks
SLIDESHOW: This is who I want to win, not who I think will win. I have no inside information, being in Seattle, but I'll bring up some of the favorites. I'll also mention who's missing from among the nominees, if anyone. Overall, I have to admit, it's been a good year for Hollywood movies and the Academy did a good job picking its nominees. Its big blind spot was not giving any love to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but then, as my friend Jim Walsh writes, that's the nature of Llewyn Davis. Nothing would be more incongruous than Llewyn Davis winning anything. If you want him during awards time, he'll be in the back alley getting his ass kicked. But onward.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “HAPPY”: What's missing, of course, is any song from “Inside Llewyn Davis,” or at least the original songs (“Please, Mr. Kennedy,” etc.), but even if that were nominated I'd probably still go with this song—and not just because Patricia's obsessed with it. It's because Pharrell's voice is great, the song grooves, and it does what it sets out to do. It makes us happy.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: GRAVITY“: Sure, great effects and whiz-bang in ”Star Trek Into Darkness“ ”The Hobbit 2,“ and ”Iron Man 3.“ But c'mon. This movie was an experience. It was a spectacle. It pushed the bounds. It went where no film had gone before.
BEST FILM EDITING: ”AMERICAN HUSTLE“: How do you choose this category unless you know what the editor was working with? But I'd go ”Hustle“ based on how quickly it moved through the movie's many different storylines in a way that felt left almost nothing extraneous on the screen. It's a quick, fun, fat-free movie. The only extra weight was what Christian Bale put on.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: BRUNO DELBONNEL, ”INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS“: I wouldn't be surprised if the black-and-white movie wins (”Nebraska“) but ”Llewyn Davis“ felt black and white to me. This is Delbonnel's fourth nomination, after ”Amélie, “Un long dimanche de fiançailles,” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Roger Deakins, who often photographs the Coens' movies, is also up, for “Prisoners.” It's his 11th nomination with no wins. Could be interesting. Would love to see someone from this movie up there.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “THE GREAT BEAUTY”: It won the Globe and the BAFTA, and its strongest competition isn't here: “The Past,” from Iran, and “Blue is the Warmest Color” from France. Plus it was No. 3 in my top movies of 2013. Although does that count against it ulimtately? Either way, Jep (above) gave us the best Oscar-night advice: “We're all on the brink of despiar. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little. Don’t you agree?”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “THE ACT OF KILLING”: Every year this category gets tougher. Think of all the great 2013 docs that didn't even get nominated. But “Killing” is in a league of its own. It's horrifying, bizarre but ultimately redemptive. If we think what we see in the first 9/10 can be redeemed.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, “AMERICAN HUSTLE”: There's been pushback lately that Lawrence's is a showy performance. Maybe, but it's my kind of showy performance. But it appears Lupita Nyong'o will win for “Slave.” If enough members of the Academy can bother to see it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: MICHAEL FASSBENDER, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”: I'd be happy with Jared Leto, who seems a lock. But Fassbender's was one of the most amazing performances of the year. Not because, as a slaveowner, he could act cruel but because he could also act righteous. There's not a trace of guilt in him. The opposite. Look how wronged he felt in the end.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: SPIKE JONZE, “HER”: This category is usually stacked but not this year. To be honest, any of these could win and I'd just shrug. The best movie of the bunch is “American Hustle” but I heard a lot of that was improvised. So I'd go Jonze.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: STEVE COOGAN, JEFF POPE, “PHILOMENA”: I still think this is a very underrated movie. There's a purity, a cleanness to it. I'd be happy with either “12 Years” or “Wolf,” too. What would make me most unhappy? “Before Midnight,” one of the most overrated movies I've seen in years.
BEST ACTOR: LEONARDO DICAPRIO, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”: This is the most stacked category we've got. It's so stacked that performances that might normally win, such as Robert Redford in “All Is Lost,” Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips,” and Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” weren't even nominated. It's McConaughey's to lose, of course, and I'll cheer along with everyone else for the great year he had, including “Mud,” “Wolf” and HBO's “True Detective”; but Leo took it to another level here. It’s like he was channeling Jack Nicholson at his outré best. He was both contained and over-the-top. It was riveting.
BEST ACTRESS: JUDI DENCH, “PHILOMENA”: Again, why was there no buzz for this performance? Cate Blanchett was amazing in “Blue Jasmine,” and she'll deserve it, but Dench is so good she almost undercuts her film. We get several scenes from the 1950s to demonstrate what Philomena Lee lost, but these, to me, are almost superfluous. We know what Philomena Lee lost. You just need to watch Judi Dench act.
BEST DIRECTOR: MARTIN SCORSESE, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”: I know, he's got no shot. But the movies Marty will be remembered for are “Mean Streets” (no nomination), “Taxi Driver” (ditto), “Raging Bull (nominated, lost to Redford), ”Goodfellas“ (nominated, lost to Costner), and this. So who gets the honor instead? I'll take McQueen, even though, in some sense, ”12 Years“ is his least powerful movie. I'll take Cuaron for pushing the boundaries of space on film. But this is who I want. And finally ...
BEST PICTURE: ”THE WOLF OF WALL STREET“: It’s about the haves and have nots; about how to be a have and not fall back into have-not territory. Jordan Belfort keeps bringing up McDonald’s with his brokers in the wolf pit. He keeps bringing up dingy cars and plain wives and the energy-draining 9-to-5 existence: commuting between two places that don’t really appreciate what you do. The schnook life. Our life. And welcome to it. ”American Hustle“ might win, along with either ”12 Years“ or ”Gravity," but this movie is about the true American hustle.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Gosh, where to start? I'd like to thank Patricia for always being there, and for taking like two dozen photos of me before we got a decent one. I'd like to thank the Academy for starting up to stave off unionization. I'd like to thank the talented people who made this year's movies, particularly Martin Scorsese, and all the people who came to my Oscar party. But mostly I'd like to thank Llewyn Davis. For reminding me of me. This one's for you, dude!
For Red Carpet Watchers: That's a Bowling Alley Behind Angelina Jolie
“On the way back to our condo rental, we stopped at the Dolby Theatre, home to the Academy Awards. The theater is squeezed into a shopping mall on busy Hollywood Boulevard that has a Gap store, food court and bowling alley.
”'I don’t remember the red carpet taking place outside a mall,' I commented to the guide. Everything, he explained, is cloaked. Store signs are covered for the Oscars telecast.“
-- from my sister's Star-Tribune piece, ”In Los Angeles, studio tours are the real stars," about going on studio tours with the family earlier this year in Hollywood.
Quote of the Day
“'Fox approached news differently,' a staffer who had done time at other networks said. 'It wasn’t actual journalism where you say, “Let’s go see what’s going on.” At Fox, it’s “This is what we’re doing, so go do it.”'”
Breitbart Site Says ‘Liberal Hollywood Movies’ (I.e., Men w/Guns) Do Poorly at Box Office
“Wait, I thought FOX Business condemned us as anti-capitalist. So why doesn't the Breitbart site mention us in their anti-liberal rant?”
“Because we've already grossed $200 million. And because I'm Batman.”
How awful it must be to see the world this way. To strain the vastness of existence through the puniness of your political ideology.
In case you don’t know—and most don’t and don’t care and I don’t blame them—“Big Hollywood” is a conservative website that assures its few readers they’re right and liberal Hollywood is wrong. And that liberal Hollywood is liberal. And not popular. Totally.
Do the Breitbart writers know what they write is bullshit? They must. I don’t think you can cherrypick your facts in this manner without realizing what you’re doing.
Their latest piece is below. The annotations in bold are mine.
It's no secret that liberal Hollywood producers are under extra scrutiny these days. It’s a secret to me. Who’s scrutinizing them? Besides you sad folks.
Last year saw huge box office disappointments in the form of White House Down, After Earth, The Fifth Estate and Elysium. There were bigger box-office disappointments last year: “The Lone Ranger,” “Oblivion,” “Free Bird,” “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Why focus on “White House Down,” et al.? Because they’re “liberal”? In that three-quarters of them are about men with guns?
It got so bad in 2013 that a virtual shouting match ensued between actor George Clooney and hedge fund kingpin Daniel Loeb. Basically, what it boils down to, is Hollywood elites enjoy making liberal message films that cater to their every desire—however—those who fund the films are tired of losing money. It’s hard to parse the bullshit out of this last sentence. The conflict is generally between the artist, who wants to create the new and the relevant, and the businessman, who wants to recreate the successful. The businessman usually wins. Which is why we live in a sequel society.
So far, 2014 isn't helping the progressive cause's wallet, either. Films like Lone Survivor (pro-military) are powering huge box office profits. “Lone Survivor,” with which I had issues more related to storytelling than politics, has done well at the box office: $122 million, 25th-best for 2013. But the most successful film of 2013 was “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” at $423 million domestic and $863 worldwide. Question: Are there liberal values in “The Hunger Games”? It’s got a strong female lead and condemns economic inequality. You could argue it’s a movie for the 99%. If, that is, you want to be as reductive as the Breitbart site.
Overseas, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug and Frozen are on the verge of grossing $900 to one billion dollars respectively. Both are driven heavily by conservative and traditional narratives. Um... This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.
This isn't new. I wrote on how this was occurring in last year's holiday/winter frame as well. These successes are in direct contrast to recent notable box office misfires, which go as follows:
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
It's no secret that many in Hollywood want to make Christians the next “go to” bad guy in films. The filmmakers thought they had a winner in using this, while also rebooting a previously successful franchise. Instead, they quickly disappointed with a terrible January opening. In the post-mortem, it turns out younger audiences had tuned out the film with only older audiences even bothering to show up. This is especially sad when you consider the Tom Clancy brand is huge in video game arenas (an area where sales are dominated heavily by the younger market) but they won't show up when you offer them a lame religious villain meant to destroy geo-politics. Yawn. The hell? I saw this movie last week. Who’s the Christian villain you’re talking about? Kenneth Branagh? He’s Russian. Is he Christian? And even if he is, how does that relate to the film’s box office success or failure? What are you basing any of this on?
The Monuments Men
In truth, this film was doomed the moment Lone Survivor became a breakout hit. Long paraded with the likes of Green Zone, Lions For Lambs, Brothers, and such, Survivor liberated audiences from these typical “anti-war” narratives where military soldiers were often the villains. You can be pro-military and anti-war. You can also be pro-war and anti-military—just look at Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Plus the hero of “Green Zone” was a soldier. I could go on, but the main lesson, an old one, is that most moviegoers want escapism from their movies, and “Green Zone” and “Lions For Lambs” didn’t deliver escapism. They also weren’t very good movies.
All of these films resulted in box office disasters. Instead, Survivor showed soldiers performing heroically under duty, and audiences couldn't get enough. This meant going to the theater to high profile progressives like George Clooney/Matt Damon in their version of a “war movie” just wasn't interesting anymore. Despite the high profile cast (which is debatable), the film struggled to make a high opening and was crushed by The Lego Movie of all things. Where to start with this last bit? How about “The Lego Movie”? I believe some FOX News analysts see it s another liberal anti-business message out of Hollywood. I believe they’ve said that. It’s also the early hit of the year: $200 million and counting. So why doesn’t Breitbart mention that? Because it doesn’t fit into its formula that liberal Hollywood movies kill box office. But it is true that “Monuments Men” hasn’t done well at the box office. It’s a serious film, about art, and getting Americans to see a serious film about art is tougher than getting them away from the television set on Super Bowl Sunday. It's also not very good. Sadly.
Film will be lucky to even make “half” of Lone Survivor's final box office tally, a film that did so without the high profile cast. Mark Wahlberg isn’t high-profile? Tell him that.
Liberal film critics have been trying for years to label the first RoboCop (which I love) as some giant “anti-Reagan” opus complete with anti-capitalistic themes. This is laughable when you see the film. Even director Paul Verhoeven has said the main lead is more a “Christ-like figure” who's resurrected to save a failing city and hold firm to his own humanity (despite being turned into a powerful machine). Well have no fear liberal entities, you got to remake RoboCop this year and pack it with your liberal talking points. The result was a box office opening that made even sci-fi bomb John Carter chuckle. Taking aim at the likes of Fox News and such, audiences were left wanting to watch the original RoboCop quickly, if only just to get the bad taste out of their mouths. The original “Robocop,” with its corporate villains partnering with drug dealers, wasn’t liberal, but the new one is? *Sigh*
Look at the three movies the Breitbart site condemns as liberal. What do they have in common? They're about men with guns: one’s a cop, one’s CIA, the others are WWII-era soldiers. “Monuments Men” honors our WWII veterans. If you insist on calling that liberal, fine, but please remember that and refrain from mentioning any of it at the next GOP convention.
- What Liberal Hollywood?
- How Movie Stars on the Left are Punished; How Movie Stars on the Right Punish Us
- Early GOP Brass
Good new, liberals. We get WWII vets now.
Quote of the Day: Posnanski on Ken Griffey Jr.
“Junior was such a joy to watch play baseball as young player. He had this youthful exuberance, he exuded joy (he wore his hat backward, which drove the get-off-my-lawn grumps insane but was for people of his generation just about the coolest look ever), and there was that singular grace he played with — the way he ran after fly balls, the way he moved on the bases, the way he would turn on even the best fastballs, all of it just seemed impossibly lovely. That’s the word that comes to mind. Lovely. They used to say that Fred Astaire just standing against a building looked like a dancer. Junior standing outside waiting for the team bus looked like a ballplayer.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “No. 51: Ken Griffey Jr.,” in his hot-stove-league listing of the 100 greatest baseball players of all time. It's a nice piece, sad, too, but I'll be waiting to see the 50 players Posnanski thinks are better than Junior. I anticipate doing a lot of this: “No, no, no ... yes ... no” over the next few months.
My piece about Junior the month he retired.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard