Newest Superhero, Lucy, Clobbers Oldest, Hercules, at Weekend Box Office
“I won?” “She won?” The newest superhero (left) clobbers the oldest (right) at the domestic box office.
“Hercules” had a bigger budget ($100 to $40 million), better reviews (63% to 58% on Rotten Tomatoes), more theaters (3,595 to 3,173), greater name recognition, and, of course, way bigger biceps; but the girl, “Lucy,” still came out on top. She’s grossed an estimated $44 million to Herc’s $29 at the domestic box office this weekend.
This feels increasingly the way, doesn’t it? Beyond “Maleficent,” currently at No. 4 for the year with $232 million domestic, the annual top 10 is still the old boys club: Captain America, Transformers, X-Men, Spidey, Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Planet of the Apes. But in head-to-head matchups, the girls are increasingly kicking ass.
So Angelina Jolie with sharp cheekbones cut up Seth MacFarlane’s flaccid western in late May. So Shailene Woodley with cancer beat out Tom Cruise with Groundhog Day Syndrome in early June. And now little Scarlett Johansson, armed only with looks, lips and boobs, plus 100% brain capacity, Luc Besson as director and Taipei as locale, has clobbered Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s attempt to pull the Hercules myth out of the B-grade swamp it’s forever been stuck in.
Is this a trend? Girls gone box office? Are the studios noticing? Will they notice in particular when Katniss wipes the floor with all the year’s movies in November? Or will they point to the so-so performance of “Divergent” ($150 million) in March and do nothing as usual?
Either way, ScarJo: Hen hao. Ni hen li hai.
The other openers? “And So It Goes,” the poorly received sexagenarian comedy starring Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, bombed in 1,762 locations, winding up with $4.5 million and in eighth place; but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last starring role, “A Most Wanted Man,” directed by Anton Corbijn, grossed $2.7 million in only 361 locations. It also garnered good reviews: 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In other good news, “Boyhood,” with phenomenal reviews (99% on RT), and playing in only 107 locations, grossed $1.7 million. It’s now up to $4.1 million for a movie that’s barely playing. If it’s playing near you? Get out and see it.
The Greatest Baseball Story Ever Told is a Roger Angell Story
Yesterday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Roger Angell, 93, the longtime fiction editor for The New Yorker, who wrote a few baseball essays on the side, was given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Hall’s writing honor. (Spink, in case you don’t know, as I didn’t, was the longtime publisher of The Sporting News; he died in 1962.)
About time, I say. I spent the fall of ’94, our first fall without a World Series since 1903, reading Roger Angell. He was my compensation. I read all of him, chronologically, and there are great baseball stories throughout, but this may be my favorite. It’s from the essay, “Stories for a Rainy Afternoon,” from the book, “Five Seasons,” originally published in the summer of 1976. Our Bicentennial summer.
It’s really Tommy Lasorda’s story but Angell tells it so well. Have I told it before? Here? I tried to find it but couldn’t. So here it is again. Or for the first time.
LaSorda, it can be proved, is a patient sort of man. He grew up in Morristown, Pennsylvania, and became a serious baseball fan at an early age. When he was 12 or 13, he volunteered for duty as a crossing guard at his parochial school because he knew that the reward for this service was a free trip to a big-league baseball game—an event he had yet to witness. The great day came at last, the sun shone, and the party of nuns and junior fuzz repaired to Shibe Park, where the Phillies were playing the Giants. Young Tom LaSorda had a wonderful afternoon, and just before the game ended he and some of his colleagues forehandedly stationed themselves beside a runway under the stands, where they could collect autographs from the players coming off the field. The game ended, the Giants came clattering by, and Tom extended his scorecard to the first hulking, bespiked hero to come in out of the sunshine.
“C’n I have your autograph, please, mister?” he said.
“Outta my way, kid,” the Giant said, brushing past the boy.
When Tom LaSorda tells the story now, the shock of this moment is still visible on his face. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Here was the first big-league player I’d ever seen up close—the first one I ever dared speak to—and what he did was shove me up against the wall. I think tears came to my eyes. I watched the guy as he went away toward the clubhouse and I noticed the number on his back—you know, like taking the license of a hit-and-run car. Later on, I looked at my program and got his name. It was Buster Maynard, who was an outfielder with the Giants then. I never forgot it.”
Seven or eight years went swiftly by (as they do in instructive, moral tales), during which time Tom LaSorda grew up to become a promising young pitcher in the Dodger organization. In the spring of 1949, he was a star with the Dodger farm team in Greenville, North Carolina, in the Sally League, and took the mound for the opening game of the season at Augusta, Georgia, facing the Augusta Yankees. Tom retired the first two batters, and then studied the third, a beefy right-handed veteran, as he stepped up to the box.
The park loudspeaker made the introduction: “Now coming up to bat for the Yankees, Buster May-narrd, right field!”
LaSorda was transfixed. “I looked in,” he says, “and it was the same man!”
The first pitch to Maynard nearly removed the button from the top of his cap. The second, behind his knees, inspired a beautiful sudden entrechat. The third, under the Adam’s apple, confirmed the message, and Maynard threw away his bat and charged the mound like a fighting bull entering the plaza in Seville. The squads spilled out onto the field and separated the two men, and only after a lengthy and disorderly interval was baseball resumed.
After the game, LaSorda was dressing in the visitor’s locker room when he was told that he had a caller at the door. It was Buster Maynard, who wore a peaceable but puzzled expression. “Listen, kid,” he said to LaSorda, “did I ever meet you before?”
“Not exactly,” Tom said.
“Did I bat against you someplace, maybe?”
“Well, why were you tryin’ to take my head off out there?”
LaSorda spread his hands wide. “You didn’t give me your autograph,” he said.
Tom LaSorda tells this story each spring to the new young players who make the Dodger club. “Always give an autograph when somebody asks you,” he says gravely. “You never can tell. In baseball anything can happen.”
Wonder Woman: All the World's Waiting For You
In case you haven't seen this yet. It was tweeted by (who else?) Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming “Superman vs. Batman” movie:
A lot of fanboys were up in arms when Gal Gadot was cast, but she looks fine. But it's just a still photo. We'll see.
(Imagine the whining, btw, if we were all online in 1987 when Warner Bros. chose Tim Burton to direct “Batman,” and Burton chose Michael Keaton to play Batman. There would've been bitching right up to the first trailer; then silence.)
So is she in a volcano or something there? I never quite got Wonder Woman. What were her powers again? She's not invulnerable so she should probably suit up a bit, particularly if she's in a volcano. Other thoughts about the character in my review of the 2012 documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”
After this shot was leaked, and coupled with the leaked photos of Affleck as Batman and Cavill as Superman, “DC Comics Talk” tweeted a shot of all three along with this challenge: “Your turn, Marvel.” To which I had to tweet back this. Because, I mean, c'mon.
John Lennon on the 'Happy Days' Set
This photo was posted on Facebook via The REAL Peter Tork:
“Happy Days had just been on the air a short time in 1974 when the cast noticed a familiar looking man hanging around in the studio one day. It was none other than former Beatle John Lennon, along with his then 10-year-old son Julian. ... Lennon stuck around for the entire day of shooting, drawing doodles for the crew and hanging out until they wrapped the shoot after some 12 hours...”
From the looks of it, this was from Lennon's “Rock n' Roll” period. Was he still on the outs with Yoko then? Hanging out with May Pang?
Yes. Just did the Google search. According to BuzzFeed, it was taken in January 1974.
So this was kind of a low point for him (artistically, personally) and a high point for “Happy Days.” The early shows were quite good, and the title almost ironic. Things invariably went badly for Richie, but he had family to fall back on. It was only when the show shifted from Richie-centric to Fonz-centric that it lost its sense of irony and became a huge hit.
But that photo's nuts. Isn't it? It's like some odd amalgamation of my childhood/teen years. It would be like a photo of Evel Knievel hanging out with the Twins at Met Stadium. Or Thor Heyerdahl and Lindsay Wagner visiting “The Planet of the Apes” set. Worlds colliding.
Luis Tiant with me and my brother, Chris, on Camera Day at Met Stadium, 1970. Should Tiant have gone into the Hall? Why didn't he? (Photo by Bob Lundegaard)
- The Hollywood Reporter writes about the domestic box office slump that I've been writing about for weeks. But, you know, with quotes from studio execs. So it's important.
- Some interesting criticism of “Boyhood,” some of which echoes mine—although I found the main character, Mason, too cool for school while others (Mark Judge anyway) think he's socially awkward. Judge's “Sideways” comparison, too, I think is B.S.: We identify with many aspects of Mason's upbringing not because we're critics but because we're human beings. As for Eve's three flaws of the film? Yes to 1, no to 2, and yes to 3. Again, my review here. And again: go see it. Because you'll enjoy it.
- Speaking of: John Hartl talks with “Boyhood”'s director Richard Linklater. The film is now playing in Seattle. At the Harvard Exit. At 12, 1, 3:30, 4:30, 7, 8 and 10:10.
- The Open Carry Texas folks held a rally last Saturday at Dealey Plaza—the site of the JFK assassination. No words.
- “Just a $3 increase will make a living wage ...” Kristen Bell as Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in this Funny-or-Die viddy. Nice pipes. Good message.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere and TCM, Clint Eastwood on James Garner.
- Why didn't Luis Tiant make the Hall of Fame? David Shoenfield thinks it was the timing.
- Read your Paul Krugman. Doctor's orders. Yesterday, he talked up California's comeback with some pointed words for the GOP. Not to mention Kansas.
- Your long read of the week: Rachel Aviv's excellent piece on cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta. The culprits? Teachers. And they're the heroes.
Quote of the Day
Andrew Sullivan again. He riffs off of Tom Ricks' post, “Why Am I Moving Left?” by listing off some of the reasons he himself is not embracing the Bush/Cheney/Gingrich/Cruz/Ryan GOP, including its defense of torture, its ideological blindness, various issues regarding racism, sexism, and homophobia, and its political brinkmanship:
In fact, from that first stimulus vote on, Obama faced a unanimous and relentless nullification Congress. If he favored something, they opposed it. Despite Obama’s exemplary family life, public grace and composure, and willingness to compromise, they decided to cast him as a tyrant, a radical, a traitor and an incompetent. Their demonization of a decent, pragmatic man simply disgusts me to the core.
Amen. And I'm sorry so many Americans are too stupid to see this.
A decent, pragmatic man, too long demonized.
Is Batman 75 Years Old ... or 2,000?
Director Zack Synder (I know) has released a new photo of Ben Affleck as Batman. You can see it here. It looks good, but, you know, Batman's all about demeanor, and Affleck doesn't really have the demeanor. At least that I've seen. But fingers crossed.
A few days ago, Warner Bros. and DC Comics celebrated the 75th anniversary of Batman with the usual marketing tweets and posts and blarghs. But aren't they underestimating Batman's age? Last January, P and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in the Egyptian wing I found this:
Seventy-five years old? How about 2,000?
Movie Review: His Last Game (1909)
The story is pretty simple. Choctaw has a big game against Jimtown, and they count on their star pitcher, Native American Bill Going, to lead the way. But gamblers enter the scene to fix the game. They try to bribe Bill with money. After about 10 seconds of melodramatic temptation, he turns them down. So they offer booze. Same deal. Finally, they attempt to get him drunk anyway by fixing him the era’s version of a roofie. But he outsmarts them, switches drinks, and then throws the booze-filled drink into the gambler’s face. A fight breaks out and the gambler draws a gun. It’s wrested away from him and he’s shot and killed. For this, Bill Going is led away by the authorities for murder. Well, “authorities.” “Swift western justice” the title card proclaims, and we next see him in front of an open grave, with the sheriff and a firing squad nearby.
But wait! A letter!
If Bill Going wins this game, there’s new evidence in his favor and I demand a REPREEVE.
Signed by 604 of Arizona’s best cityzens an Yuba Bill, Sherif
Why is this new evidence going to surface only if he wins the game? Stop asking questions.
So the Choctaw chief stands in for Bill, who rides back to town, wins the game, and is about to celebrate with his teammates when he remembers the chief. Then he rides back and stands before the open grave. He asks for, and is granted, a pipe for a last smoke.
But wait! The Chief puts his ear to the ground and hears a coming horse! Maybe it’s a reprieve! No matter. The sheriff, standing behind Bill, signals for the firing squad to fire. They do, and Bill slumps into the grave ... just as, oh no, a man rides up with Bill’s reprieve! So sad!
C’mon, it was 1909. What do you expect—“Casablanca”?
People were obviously still learning the camera—or baseball—back then, as they tried to fit everything into the small frame. As a result, the ump stays off to the left rather than crouching behind the catcher, and it looks to be maybe 10 feet—rather than 90—between bases. Worse, when the catcher and ump aren’t in the frame, you have almost nothing in the foreground. Yet they didn’t move the camera for those shots. So the bottom third of the screen contains nothing while the top two-thirds contains everything—including a lot of characters who essentially have their heads cut off. It’s as if your grandmother photographed the movie on vacation.
IMDb is a bit sparse on the details behind the production, and Wikipedia is worse: only an Italian entry—so I’m not sure who made it or why or why they chose Native Americans. Did they think, “Hey, let’s mix westerns with baseball”? Or was the prevalence of Native Americans in early baseball—including Charles “Chief” Bender, a future Hall of Famer—a factor?
Italian Wiki claims that Harry Solter, a silent film director with several dozen credits, directed the thing, but IMDb simply leaves the credit blank. At the least, we know it was produced by Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures Co. of America (IMP), which, in 1912, merged with several other production companies to form Universal Pictures, which is still one of Hollywood’s “Big Six” studios, having produced, among others, “The Sting,” “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Bridesmaids.” Laemmle’s first big success was “Hiawatha,” based on “The Song of ...” so maybe that’s the reason for the Native American focus.
“His Last Game” isn’t quite the first baseball story on film—that would probably be Edison’s “How the Office Boy Saw the Game” from 1906—but it is interesting as an historic artifact. Should we be surprised by its fairly positive portrayal of American Indians? Not according to Dave Kehr, who, in his review of “Reel Baseball: Baseball Films of the Silent Era,” writes, “The pro-Indian stance is quite typical for westerns, which have been caricatured for years as racist and genocidal, though I have yet to find an early one in which those sentiments were not placed in the mouths of villains.”
SLIDESHOW: No, the ump's not checking out the catcher's butt; he's just trying to not block the frame. And that thing over to the right? About five steps away? That's first base. They were cramming everything into the frame because the camera didn't move back then; there are only four camera angles in the entire movie. The bigger problem with that is this ...
... You take away anything in the foreground (like catcher and ump) and you get shots cropped by your grandmother during her trip to Wyoming.
The story: Gamblers try to bribe Bill Going into throwing the big game but he refuses. One of the gamblers winds up shot, dead, and Bill is slated to be executed for the crime.
But first win the big game, will ya? He does. Another foreground-empty shot.
This one is nicely framed: Bill enjoys a final smoke before the firing squad, while the Indian chief listens to a coming horse, which the Sheriff can't see.
Everyone is shocked, shocked by the death of Bill Going. But at least he won the big game. *FIN*
Movie Review: The Lunchbox (2013)
“The Lunchbox,” set in the bustling city of Mumbai, India, has a slow-paced, patient approach that suits the means of communication between its main characters: hand-written letters left in the lunchboxes that she makes (and which were originally meant for her husband), and that he eats. In this manner, gradually, they share their stories and insights with one another. He mentions that his wife is dead and buried, and that he recently sought out a grave for himself, but only vertical graves are left. A commuter who has to stand on the trains to and from work, he adds, “Now I’ll have to stand even when I’m dead.” There’s also this, which is true and isn’t: “I think we forget things if we don’t have anyone to tell them to.” Then they talk up the GNP, and how Bhutan has the GNH, or Gross National Happiness index, and wouldn’t it be great to live in Bhutan? Then she drops the bomb. “My husband is having an affair,” she writes. “I think it’s time for us to meet,” he writes.
Will they? What will happen then? Do they fall in love? Are they already in love?
Yeah. I didn’t care, either.
“The Lunchbox” is indie lite. It has its charms, but its slow-paced approach tends to lead to the obvious and precious rather than the wise and profound. You think you’re sitting down to a true Indian meal but it’s actually prefabricated and packaged and smuggled in through the kitchen door, then slowly heated. You’re supposed to not notice.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a Mumbai housewife and mother who converses with the unseen (“Auntie,” who lives upstairs and gives her cooking advice), but not with the seen (her husband, Rajeev, who is that movie staple: the busy phone guy). So she tries to woo him with food. Not dinner, lunch. Which is picked up and taken to her husband through Mumbai’s “massively efficient” delivery system. Except it gets delivered to the wrong dude. Oops. So much for “massively efficient.”
The wrong dude is Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a grumpy, longtime accountant on the verge of retirement after 35 years, who has to train in his replacement, the grinning, gladhanding Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). But Saajan is also the right dude, since Ila’s husband is obviously the wrong one. Look, he’s still on the phone! Look, he’s not even noticing her! Despite the cooking! And he didn’t even notice the food he ate wasn’t her food! But Saajan? He notices. It hasn’t exactly warmed his heart yet—he’s mean to Shaikh, and doesn’t return the ball the neighborhood cricket-playing kids hit on his balcony—but give it time, give it time.
I liked, somewhat, the Shaikh subplot. Was Saajan being forced out? No, he voluntarily took early retirement. Is Shaikh a fake and a phony? No, he’s a decent, friendly man who inexplicably has no friends. That’s why he drags Saajan to his wedding. I also liked Saajan—or at least Irrfan Khan’s acting. Even eating, he gives you something.
I also liked the upstairs auntie, unseen, like Carlton the Doorman, who gives Ila cooking advice. I’m glad they kept her unseen.
But Ila? What’s there? She cooks, she listens, she hopes, she does the laundry, where she smells on her husband’s shirt another woman and knows. And knows. And opens up to the unseen Saajan. But there’s no there there.
We get a touch of magic realism. When she shoos a fly, he shoos a fly. That kind of thing. It’s a bit of a magic-food movie, isn’t it? Like “Like Water for Chocolate”? And “Chocolat”? But muted? For foodies? And sensitive, international people? But I was bored. I’m a patient, book-reading man but I saw where most of the story was going. Look, he’s nice to the cricket-playing kids now! How nice.
It’s a bit like “You’ve Got Mail,” isn’t it? About as profound, too. It does a good job, as romance needs to do, of keeping the couple apart for most of the movie, but then it does too good a job of it. The day they’re supposed to meet, he smells his grandfather in the bathroom and realizes it’s him. Then on the train, a young man offers him his seat. “Uncle, would you like to sit?” He’s old, she’s young, she needs to move on. “No one buys yesterday’s lottery ticket, Ila,” he writes. Then channels are crossed. He retires, disappears, returns. She looks for him, can’t find him, decides to leave her husband anyway. Her husband was never much in the picture anyway. Just in her life.
The ending itself is unnecessarily open-ended. They never meet. Are they still searching for each other? Don’t you want them to?
Yeah, I didn’t care, either. Maybe I’m cold-hearted. Maybe I need someone to make me hot Indian lunches.
The Last Dismal Years of Babe Ruth's Career Weren't So Dismal
I can get lost in baseball statistics.
I was on Babe Ruth's Baseball Reference page this evening, for example, and noticed his OPS for the last years of his career. Generally people say Ruth began to fade as a slugger in the early 1930s, and it's true his HR totals kept going down: 49, 46, 41, 34, 22, 6 and out. The “6” was for his last truncated season with the Boston Braves. He only played 28 games, with 72 at-bats and 13 hits. That's a .188 batting average. Dismal.
Except guess what? His OBP was still .359. You know how many 2014 Seattle Mariners have an OBP of greater than .359? One: Robinson Cano. Everyone else is worse. They're all worse than the last, dismal year of Babe Ruth's career.
The year before that for Ruth? 1934? His last dismal year with the Yankees? When he was deemed washed up? Sure, he batted below .300 for the first time since his misbegotten 1925 campaign, which was the first time he'd batted below .300 since 1916. To be exact, he hit .288 in 1934. But his OPS? .985. You know how many Major League baseball players have an OPS greater than .985 so far this year? Two: Troy Tulowitzski and Mike Trout. That's it. C'est tout. Everyone else in Major League baseball is worse than the last, dismal year Babe Ruth had with the New York Yankees in 1934—a year so bad they had to cut him loose.
Anyway, those aren't even the baseball stats I wanted to talk about. (I told you I get lost in this stuff.) I wanted to talk about strikeouts.
If you've been paying attention, you'll know that when I interviewed David Boies last January I had to correct him on the all-time strikeout leader. He thought Babe Ruth. I told him Ruth had long been surpassed; it was now Reggie Jackson. But I didn't know how long ago, and by how much, Ruth had been surpassed. I knew Mantle had done it, but I didn't know it was in 1964. I also didin't know Ruth had so few career strikeouts (1,330) for someone who was the career leader for so long (more than 30 years). I also didn't know Mantle's final career total of 1710 was surpassed in 1978 by Willie Stargell, who wound up with 1,936. But Stargell held the mark for only four years, until he was surpassed in 1982 by Reggie Jackson, who wound up with 2,597, or almost twice as many Ks as Ruth had.
The current active leader is Adam Dunn (2,323), and before him it was Jim Thome (who stopped at 2,548), and before him it was Sammy Sosa (2,306), and before him, Andres Galarraga (2,003). And so for 10 years now, since the end of the 2003 season, our active career leader in strikeouts has had more than 2,000 Ks.
Here's the trivia question: When was the last time the active career leader in strikeouts had fewer than 1,500?
Answer in the Comments field.
Ruth, in the last, dismal year of his career, still had a better OBP than all but one of the 2014 Seattle Mariners. And that guy is making a quarter of a billion dollars.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard