erik lundegaard

Saturday August 23, 2014

Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“This rotten town soils everybody,” Nancy (Jessica Alba) says at the end of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”

This rotten movie, too.

Is anyone still jazzed by this stuff? Does anyone think writer/co-director/creator Frank Miller isn’t a sad, sad man? Someone channeling Mickey Spillane through the Tobe Hooper grinder? A creepy, morally bankrupt, reactionary idiot?

His male characters still speak in sentence-fragment voiceovers:

Dwight: She’s playing it for all its worth. And it’s worth plenty.

His female characters are still argued about in the most infantile fashion:

Roark: She was a whore and not a very good one.
Johnny: She was an angel.

To recap: Sin City is a corrupt town where, if you’re a good man, you drink hard liquor every night, watch Nancy do her non-strip striptease, then go out and bust heads. Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForPreferably the heads of bad guys. You know: frat boys who light winos on fire or the hired bodyguards of the powerful and corrupt. You get to do what you want with these people because they’re bad. You get to torture people and feel moral about it. It’s like America after 9/11.

If you’re a good woman you’re most likely a prostitute. You wear lingerie and maybe a mask. Maybe it’s a Zorro mask. You tote a machine gun or a crossbow or a samurai blade, and you slice up the bad guys, often with the good guys by your side. And that’s about it for you.

Bad women are the ones who betray good men. Bad men are the ones with money and power. Innocent women are the ones who are killed by the bad men so we get another round of bloodletting by the good men.

Etc.

Worst than the first
The first “Sin City” (2005) was morally reprehensible but at least it kinda held together. At least the motivations and actions of its cartoonish figures kinda matched.

Here? Oy.

So Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a lucky, coin-flipping son of a gun who decides to play poker with the most powerful man in the state, Senator Roark (Powers Booth). Everyone warns him off. Everyone tells him you don’t beat Roark at poker and get away with it. But he does it anyway. Why? Because he’s one of Roark’s bastard children. Does he think this matters to Roark? It doesn’t. So he doesn’t get away with it. He’s beaten, shot, and his lucky hand is mangled, and his lucky charm, an innocent waitress named Marcie (Julia Garner), is killed. So he plots revenge. What is this revenge? He plays more poker with Roark, loses several hands (on purpose?), then wins big at the end. Then he tells Roark he’s a loser, and he’ll always know in his head that he’s a loser, because he, Johnny, beat him twice. Then Roark shoots Johnny in the head. That’s the end of that. Apparently revenge is a dish best smooshed into your own face.

In our second story, private dick Dwight (previously Clive Owen, now Josh Brolin) is revisited by the Love of his Life, Ava (Eva Green), the dame of the title. She’s watched over by a giant of a chauffeur, Manute (Dennis Haysbert), who is apparently the watchdog of her new, rich husband, Damien Lord (Marton Csokas). Is her husband holding her captive? Does he beat her? She implies as much. So after trying to rescue her and getting pummeled by Manute, Dwight returns with Sin City perennial Marv (Mickey Rourke), who relieves Manute of one of his eyes while Dwight relieves Damien Lord of his life. Except, ha ha, Ava is a femme fatale who is playing Dwight for a sap. She’s now a rich, powerful woman, and she sics the cops on Dwight, who holes up in Old Town with the lingerie-clad, sword-wielding prostitutes. Dwight spends this standoff getting plastic surgery, Ava spends it seducing the cop on the case (Christopher Meloni), who becomes so distraught he kills his friend (Jeremy Piven) and then himself. The point of this subplot? Who knows? Eventually Ava hires a Texas killer who turns out to be Dwight, post-plastic surgery, but everyone recognizes him. Then there’s a final big battle, with the lingerie-clad prostitutes vs. the hired bodyguards, and Ava is finally relieved of her life. And that’s the end of that.

Satisfied? Of course not. And it gets worse.

Worst for last
That’s the thing about “Sin City: A Dame to Die For.” Sex + violence isn’t supposed to equal boring but it does here. The violence is cartoonish, the sex puerile and voyeuristic. The dweebs it’s aimed at will probably find it boring. And Miller and co-director Robert Rodriguez save the worst for last.

So Nancy is the girl who was abducted by Roark’s pedophilic son in the first movie, only to be saved by Det. Hartigan (Bruce Willis), only to grow up to be the best stripper at the best dive bar in Sin City; and she, like Johnny, plots her revenge against Roark. At one point, dancing her cowgirl dance, she has Roark in her sights, but she can’t pull the trigger. Alas. So she has to drink, and emote, and dance some more raw, angry, sexually absurd dances, before she cuts up her own face and tells Marv that it was Roark who did it, which leads she and Marv to attack Roark’s fortress the way Dwight and Marv attacked the Lord fortress, and there’s another final showdown, this time between Nancy and Roark, the stripper and the Senator. But does she have the guts to finally go through with it? Moot point. He shoots first, her gun is inches away, and he’s about to take the final deadly shot when, in the mirror, he sees the ghost of Hartigan, who’s been following after Nancy for most of the movie, giving her bad advice she can’t hear; but his appearance here, in the mirror, gives her the time to grab her gun and blam blam blow away the baddest of the bad guys. After that, she visits Hartigan’s grave and says the last line and the lights come up and we all shuffle out of the theater feeling as soiled as Sin City.

Ick.

I’d want revenge on Frank Miller if I didn’t feel so sorry for the man. We get to leave Sin City after 100 minutes, but he invented it. He cared enough about it to put it on paper and then film. It will soil itself in his head forever.

Posted at 08:08 AM on Aug 23, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday August 22, 2014

Movie Review: Divergent (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

So why doesn’t it work? Besides being monumentally stupid, I mean.

“The Hunger Games” (girl, dystopia, contests, remaining empathetic in an environment that fosters ruthlessness) opened in March 2012 and grossed more than $152 million in its first three days on its way to a $400 million domestic box office. Its 2013 sequel did even better: $424 million and the No. 1 movie of the year. This thing? Created on the heels of that? Another sweet/tough girl in a ruthless dystopia? It opened to $54 million and died. Its total domestic gross, $150.9 million, doesn’t even match the first three days of the other. Why? Besides this one being monumentally stupid, I mean.

Is it the lead? Shailene Woodley, bless her heart, is a helluva actress, and her face can crumple in pain like no one’s business, but she seems a little less sturdy than Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. DivergentYou buy J Law kicking ass and taking names. Shailene’s Beatrice, shortened to Tris, is all wide eyes and vulnerability. She can’t even punch a bag with any force. She’s no leader of an underground movement that will upset the balance of things.

Is it the balance of things? In the beginning, we’re told there was a terrible war, and that the rest of the world was destroyed, but fortified cities like Chicago remain; and that the remnants of humanity were “divided into five groups, factions, to keep the peace.” Right. Because nothing keeps the peace like dividing humanity into separate groups.

Is it the groups? This is how humanity is divided:

  1. Erudite: “They know everything”
  2. Amity: Kind farmers
  3. Candor: The honest
  4. Dauntless: The brave and reckless
  5. Abnegation: Selfless

And who rules this dystopia? Abnegation, of course. You imagine the scene. “All of you dressed in gray? Who don’t care about yourselves? You’re in charge.” Not the thinkers, not the doers, and not the honest, who, here, are kind of like assholes. They’re like lawyers, aren’t they? Their symbol is the scales of justice. No matter. Abnegation rules. Because that’s how you keep the peace: divide the world into five groups and put the weakest people in charge.

Jumping off trains
So Beatrice starts out as Abnegation, like mom and pops (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), but she’s ... confused. She feels like there’s more to life than being just one thing. Sometimes she doesn’t know where she belongs. So it’s like high school. Or high school.

How do you wind up in a faction? At a certain age (18?), you take a test, which indicates which faction you belong to. But even after that, you still choose your faction at a blood-dripping ceremony. I never got this. What’s the point of the test if you still have to choose? And how many people choose something other than their test? And what does that indicate? And are they tracked by the authorities? Or is that not Abnegation’s way?

Moot point for Tris. When she wakes up from her test her test-taker (Maggie Q) is freaked. She tells her, “Your results were Abnegation  ... and Erudite ... and Dauntless.” This is “extremely rare.” It’s called “divergent.” Don’t tell anyone.

So why did you just tell her?

What happens to divergents? They’re killed. To keep the peace. Because who needs someone who can unite factions?

Anyway, Beatrice now has to choose without a proper test, and for some reason—because she’d always admired them?—she drips blood onto Dauntless. And off she goes with Dauntless, who spend their days jumping off and on of el trains. Because Dauntless.

In her training, Beatrice reveals herself to be brave and smart (and selfless and honest), but she’s not that strong. There are contests, and she keeps losing, and is in danger of being drummed out of Dauntless and winding up with the wretched refuse that is the factionless. All of this takes place in Dauntless’ domain, which resembles a prison mixed with an archeological dig. She makes a few friends (Zoë Kravitz, formerly Candor), and a few enemies (Miles Teller, also formerly Candor). The trainers are Eric (Jai Courtney), a total asshole, and Four (Theo James), a kind of asshole but with nicer lips, so he becomes The Love Interest. He takes a subtle/not-so subtle shine to Tris. He’s also—third-act reveal—divergent himself.

Decking Kate Winslet
So what’s the story beyond the training? There’s an attempted coup, of course. Because some idiot put the weakest people in charge. I think that might’ve been author Veronica Roth. Who’s like 6 years old, according to Wikipedia.

After the training and the graduation, Tris and Four, together with mom and pops, work to prevent a coup by the sneakier elements of Erudite (Kate Winslet, working below her pay grade), and Dauntless (Meki Phifer, working at about his). Tris gets to punch Kate Winslet, and the rag-tag elements that prevent the coup take the el out of town and look into a sequel-filled future. That’s the studio’s plan anyway: this one, its sequel, and the final book cut into two movies to double the box office. What studios now call “The usual.” Moviegoers might have other ideas.

Pull back a moment. What does this story remind you of? This story: a few well-trained soldiers protecting the weak from evil, power-hungry thinkers? What is that?

It’s almost every movie ever made.

If Tris, or director Neil Burger, had only chosen Candor.

Posted at 06:33 AM on Aug 22, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Thursday August 21, 2014

August 2014: MLB Division Leaders are Long-Time World Series Absentees

If you chose division winners based on how long it's been since they've been to the World Series, you'd get standings that looked like this:

American League National League
East: Baltimore Orioles (1983)
East: Washington Nationals (never)
Central: Kansas City Royals (1985)
Central: Chicago Cubs (1945)
West: Seattle Mariners (never)
West: Los Angeles Dodgers (1988)

As is, this is almost exactly what we have as the end of August approaches:

American League National League
East: Baltimore Orioles (1983)
East: Washington Nationals (never)
Central: Kansas City Royals (1985)
Central: Milwaukee Brewers (1982)
West: Los Angeles Angels (2002)
West: Los Angeles Dodgers (1988)

With the wild card race it gets a little messier. In the AL, you have Detroit, who last went two years ago, but also Oakland, which hasn't been since the Bash Brothers' year of 1990, and your Seattle Mariners, who have never been. In the NL, less promising: recent perennials St. Louis and San Francisco are the leaders. Only 2.5 games back from them, though, is Pittsburgh, which last went in 1979.

(Here's a list of teams and the last year they went to the World Series. Bump up both Boston and St. Louis to the top of the list: 2013.)

So we seemed destined, at the least, for something unique this fall. Instead of the same-old, same-old, we might get KC vs. Milwaukee, or Baltimore vs. Washington. Maybe the O's vs. the Dodgers? A rematch of '66?

Of course, my dream matchup would be the Seattle Mariners vs. the Washington Nationals. Think of it: Washington vs. Washington, east coast vs. west coast, the only two MLB teams who have never been to the World Series in a classic Series showdown.

OK, to be honest, my dream matchup would be Seattle vs. anybody.

Nationals vs. Mariners World Series

Look, the matchup even stands for World Series.

Posted at 02:16 PM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Baseball
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'A Parody of a Parody of a Simple-Dick Noir Cartoon'

“I lasted about 45 minutes with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller‘s 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.' Not to sound pervy but I waited for Eva Green‘s nude scenes. Honestly? They were pretty damn good. That’s what this film is selling, right? Hard-boiled hard-ons. The first 'Sin City' (’05) was a simple-dick noir cartoon crammed with gruff machismo and brazenly sexual temptresses. 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill' For is a parody of a parody of a simple-dick noir cartoon ...”

-- Jeffrey Wells, “Candified Bird-Turd Noir,” on his Hollywood Elsewhere site. My review of the first “Sin City” here.

sexy Sin City posters

Green, Dawson, Alba: dames worth insulting your intelligence over?

Posted at 12:31 PM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Did Siskel and Ebert Agree More the Longer They Worked Together?

One of the kicks I got out of the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times of film critic Roger Ebert, was watching Ebert and his TV partner/nemesis Gene Siskel battle over movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (which Roger loved and Gene dismissed for its last, rambling 30 minutes) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (which Roger dismissed and Gene loved). These guys fought about Vietnam war movies the way the rest of the country fought about the Vietnam War.

All of which revived a thought I had as their various shows (“Sneak Previews,” etc.) wound their way through the years: Did Roger and Gene tend to agree more the longer they worked together? It seemed so to me, anecdotally; but unless someone counted the thumbs ups/downs, we’d never really know.

Let me say right off: I’m not about to count the thumbs up/downs for 24 seasons of “Sneak Previews,” etc. No way. But I did compare and contrast Siskel and Ebert’s annual top 10 lists to see how they stacked up there. Here are their number of top-10 agreements over the years: 

Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1975  x  x  x        
1976  x  x  x  x      
1977  x  x  x  x      
1978  x  x  x  x      
1979  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1980  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1981  x  x  x  x      
1982  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1983  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1984  x  x  x  x  x    
1985  x  x  x  x  x    
1986  x  x  x  x  x    
1987  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1988  x  x  x        
1989  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1990  x  x  x        
1991  x  x  x  x      
1992  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1993  x x  x  x  x  
1994  x  x  x  x      
1995  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1996  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1997  x  x  x  x      
1998  x  x  x  x      

For a while there, as I was tabulating, it seemed like I was onto something. They start out with only three agreements in 1975 but within a few years they’re together on 7 of the 10. But then it slips. And rises? And slips. And then back to three? But back up again. And we wind up with something fairly inconclusive.

Siskel and Ebert did seem to agree on the No. 1 movie of the year the longer they were together:

Year The Same No. 1 Movie
1975 Nashville
1983 * The Right Stuff
1989 Do the Right Thing
1990 Goodfellas
1993 Schindler's List
1994 Hoop Dreams
1996 Fargo

* 1983 may have been their most agreeable year, since they were exact not only one No. 1, but No. 2 (“Terms of Endearment”), No. 4 (“Fanny and Alexander”), No. 7 (“Silkwood”) and No. 9 (“Risky Business”). 

Their agreements are even starker with the best-of-the-decade lists. They agreed on only one movie as the best of the 1970s:

The Decade (1970s) **  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
Last Tango in Paris An Unmarried Woman
The Sorrow and the Pity Apocalypse Now
Annie Hall Amarcord
The Emigrants & The New Land Breaking Away ***
The Godfather I & II Nashville
The Conversation Days of Heaven
Mean Streets The Deer Hunter
The Last Detail Heart of Glass
Saturday Night Fever Cries and Whispers
Le Boucher The Godfather I & II

** Not in order of preference; simply in order presented.

*** Yes, I was tickled that this made Roger's cut.

But they agreed on four films in the 1980s:

The Decade (1980s)  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
1. Raging Bull 1. Raging Bull
2. Shoah 2. The Right Stuff
3. The Right Stuff 3. E.T.
4. My Dinner with Andre 4. Do The Right Thing
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit 5. My Dinner with Andre
6. Do The Right Thing 6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Once Upon A Time In America (long version) 7. Ran
8. Moonlighting 8. Mississippi Burning
9. Sid and Nancy 9. Platoon
10. Kagemusha 10. House of Games 

One could argue, of course, that since there were so many great movies in the 1970s, it was easier to disagree. I’ll take “The Conversation” and you take “Apocalypse Now”; you get “Days of Heaven” and I get “Mean Streets.” There were fewer such options in the 1980s. If not “Raging Bull,” what? “One from the Heart”? “The Return of the Jedi”? “Three Men and a Baby”?

(Sidenote: While “Raging Bull” is Roger’s best of the 1980s, it wasn’t even his best of 1980. He gave that one to “Black Stallion,” which, of course, didn’t make his decades-end list. Some movies just work on us better.)

But all in all, I wasn't noticing statistically what I'd noticed anecdotally.

Then I realized that I was only documenting their time together. What about the years when they were both reviewing movies in Chicago but weren't doing the show yet? What story would that tell?

This is the story it tells:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1969  x  x        
1970  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1971  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1972  x  x  x  x  x    
1973  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1974  x  x  x  x  x  x  x

In terms of top 10s anyway, they actually agreed more before they got together. From 1969 to 1974, they averaged 5.66 top-10 agreements. From 1975 to 1998? Only 4.95.

So I actually kind of proved the opposite of what I wanted to prove. I guess that’s why we crunch the numbers.

But we won’t know for certain if Siskel and Ebert agreed more, less, or about the same as the show progressed, until someone does a show-by-show, year-by-year analysis. Someone, I should add, with a lot more time on their hands than me.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

Siskel and Ebert: One liked “Apocalypse Now,” the other “Full Metal Jacket.”

Posted at 05:33 AM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Wednesday August 20, 2014

Lancelot Links

water cannons, fire hoses, used on protesters in Birmingham, Ala., 1963

Birmingham, Ala., 1963. “Not the same kind of effect.” 

Posted at 06:17 PM on Aug 20, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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EuroTrip 2014: Where is The Third Man Museum?

We were only in Vienna two full days, and our last full day began poorly but ended well. After breakfast we started walking toward the Kunsthistorisches Museum but realized—again, standing by the Hofburg Palace—that it didn’t open for another hour. So what to do in the meantime? At this point it got a little “Marty”: “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know, what do you wanna do?” P had done the research, knew what she wanted to see, I hadn’t and didn’t, and she was a little tired of leading the way. In the end, we decided to see something I wanted to see: Schreyvogelgasse 8. The doorway where Harry Lime first appears in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”

It took us to a part of town we hadn’t walked before—westish—where it felt less touristy. It felt like people were rushing to work rather than to museums. Along the way, P spotted a café with insane looking pastries, Café Central, but we’d just had breakfast so we simply made a mental note to return. We missed one block, then another, but eventually, clumsily, we found ourselves at the doorway. Was it the doorway? There was no plaque. It was just ... there.

P was also tired having her picture taken and never getting to take mine. So here she reversed it. Get in that doorway, she said. I obliged. I tried to do the Harry Lime look, the amused, amoral “Aren’t I clever?” look he gives Holly Martins after being discovered in the shadows. We tried once, twice, maybe 10 times. My eyes watered from the effort. That shit’s tough. Then we switched places and P didn’t try for the Lime look. She just owned the doorway. “One-take Patricia.”

Is there karmic serendipity in giving up what you want for what someone else wants? Early in their relationship, my sister left her job in D.C. to follow her then-boyfriend down to Atlanta, but got a better job as a result. A few years later, after they were married, she got an even better job offer in Detroit so he followed her there ... where he got a better job as a result. Something similar happened to us that morning. P went to the “Third Man” doorway for me, but found, half a block away, at Ludwig Reiter, the purse she’d been searching for all over Europe. The shop wasn’t open yet—when do the Viennese rise, anyway?—but she made a mental note to return. We left the area full of mental notes and digital photos.

We didn’t approach the doorway for the Kunsthistorisches Museum—across the plaza from yesterday’s Naturhistorisches Museum—until it was nearly 10:00, by which time a small line for tickets had formed. We got in it. And waited. And waited. And didn’t move. I got out of line to see what the hold-up was, and wound up conferring with another dude, a math professor from Brazil, both of us marveling at the remarkable inefficiency of the Austrians. Here we all were at the biggest art gallery in one of Europe’s biggest cities at the beginning of summer, and they had ... one ticket seller behind one glass booth? Really? In some ways it was comforting: a stereotype buster. Here was another: my guy from Brazil wasn’t particularly interested in the 2014 World Cup, which was still in its middle rounds at that point. Probably good for him in the long run, considering.

We spent several hours at the Kunsthistorische—P is all about the Dutch Masters—then had lunch, then split up again for the afternoon. She wanted to stay, I wanted to check out a museum to “The Third Man.”

My trip got muddled quickly. Most of the maps we had ended a few blocks south of the Ringstrasse, but the Third Man Museum was a few blocks south of that. Plus I got lost. Or misdirected. I convinced myself I was going in the wrong direction but wasn’t. I kept trodding over the same territory and felt the panic of missing out. P was seeing tons of art while I was wasting my time here! That panic of missing out, of not taking advantage of my surroundings, followed me, in varying degrees, throughout the vacation. To be honest, all vacations. It’s why it’s almost a relief when the vacation ends. You can get back to work and relax a bit.

To get to the Third Man Museum, I eventually realized, I had to cross over the Naschmarkt, with all of its goodies (“Patricia should really see this,” I thought), and the two busy streets on either side. Serendipitously, I wound up on Pressgasse, the street I needed to be on, and kept walking. A block later, after what seemed like hours walking around blind (it was probably a half hour at most), I finally spotted the museum on the corner of Pressgasse and Mühlgasse. It looked small and nondescript. It also didn’t look very busy. As I approached I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that was confirmed when I got close: “Closed.” The fuck? “Saturdays: 2-6 PM.” One day? It was only open one day? For four hours? Shouldn’t the guidebook have mentioned something like that? I rechecked it and found out it did—although it also mentioned Tuesdays. So instead of indulging in the bits and pieces of Carol Reed’s classic, I took a few pictures from the outside. In my head, I kept hearing Calloway’s dismissive advice to the idiot American abroad: Go home, Martins.

It took a while to find my way back to the Ringstrasse and the Kartnerstrasse, and once I did, and felt less tense (it was partly the hectic traffic outside the Ringstrasse), I wandered a bit, bought P macaroons at a small, snooty shop near our pension, then returned to our room and rested there for a moment. But there was no rest. The panic returned. In a day I wouldn’t be in Vienna! I was wasting my time! So I bounded out again—quickly, quickly—and visited Mozart’s residence on the other side of the Stephansdom. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. Near the end, P phoned. She said she was on the other side of the Hofburg Palace and they weren’t letting anyone through because there were cops everywhere because Vladimir Putin was in town. Putin? I was missing out! I rushed over ... and found P on this side of the Hofburg Palace, on Kohlmarkt, not at all blocked off by the many cops there. She was just confused. She had a new purse with her, too, from Ludweig Reiter, which she loved, but less so the designer. He also made shoes and when she inquired if he had any in her size, size 11, his reaction was a dimissive laugh. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “we never have them in that size.”

For dinner, we went north, up the Rotenturmstrasse until we hit the Wien river, then along the river and up some steps to St. Rupert’s Church. This was a quiet area, and there seemed to be a few students around. Did I think that because of the name of the pub we stopped at for a drink? The Philosoph? It was the old Jewish section of town. It felt relaxing. For some reason, it’s a highlight in my memory. Sitting at the Philosoph, on Judengasse, enjoying a cold beer, an Ottakringer, in the magic-hour light before dinner. For a moment, I didn’t feel like I had to be anywhere else. 

SLIDESHOW: WHERE IS THE THIRD MAN MUSEUM?


  • SLIDESHOW: In cultural terms, Vienna first meant John Irving to me, but increasingly it meant “The Third Man,” Carol Reed's classic, zippy, zithery, post-WWII noir from 1949. I still think it's one of the best movies ever made. And the first time you see the titular character? It was in this doorway at 8 Schreyvogelgasse. 

  • This is the look Harry Lime (Orson Welles) gives his friend Holly Martins upon being discovered. 

  • And this is my attempt. Probably my 10th attempt. I know: Go home, Martins.

  • One-take Patricia. 

  • P, touring Vienna but thinking of custom-made purses. 

  • Outside the Kunsthistorisches Musuem.

  • And inside. First, P looks at the paintings within paintings ...

  • ... then it's as if she's stepped into her own version. 

  • Lunch at the Kunsthistorisches Musuem. It'll do. 

  • On the way to The Third Man museum, I ran into my patron saint. 

  • And here it is! Finally! After all this time!

  • But of course ... “Goodness, that's awkward.”

  • Mozart's house in Vienna, on the back side of Stephansdom. 

  • We saw a bunch of these in Europe, sadly. Two hands, buddy. 

  • Worst. Shakespeare. Ever.

  • Saw a bunch of these, too. Nice to know good American movies get over there along with the superheroes.   

  • End of day thoughts. 

  • Who could ask for anything more?
Posted at 05:54 AM on Aug 20, 2014 in category Travels
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Tuesday August 19, 2014

Other Disasters Nixon Caused: 'Rambo: First Blood Part II'

“Operation Homecoming [in 1973] had returned 587 American prisoners of war—but for years Nixon had referred to 1,600 Americans being held in North Vietnam. That number folded in more than one thousand personnel, mostly pilots, who crashed in the dense Vietnamese brush and in previous wars would have been classed as 'Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered'—but had been reclassified as 'MIA' so the president could make the North Vietnamese look bad for his Paris negotiations. Now the families of those other 1,013 were making insistent noises: what was the government going to do about them?

”The Operation Homecoming statements by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff included the promise that 'we will not rest until all those still known captive are safe and until we have achieved the best possible accounting for those missing in action.' Holding the government to that pledge had now become the raison d’être of the National League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Southeast Asia, the organization that had taken off as a White House front group. VIVA was still selling bracelets hand over fist—now bearing the names of MIAs. It had even come up with a new flag honoring them: a forlorn, gaunt, hangdog flat-topped silhouette, barbed wire and a guard tower in the background, a military laurel, and the legend POW-MIA: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN ...

“It was one more aspect of the Americans' lunatic semiology that baffled hapless communist officials. 'We have not come this far,' one declared in exasperation at being once more enjoined to 'prove' they held no more prisoners, 'to hold on to a handful of Americans, after all what would that prove?' The issue was a godforsaken mess.”

-- from Rick Perlstein's “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”

Rambo, First Blood Part II

Rambo and POW, about the be betrayed again. By government.

ADDENDUM: Started by Nixon, picked up by Reagan:

Governor Reagan, in Singapore as a special presidential representative for a trade deal, said North Vietnam must “return” the POWs and MIAs supposedly still being held, and that if it didn’t, “bombing should be resumed.” He accused liberals in Congress of taking away “the power to sway those monkeys over there to straighten up and follow through on the deal.”

Posted at 06:31 AM on Aug 19, 2014 in category Books
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Monday August 18, 2014

Movie Audiences Return ‘Giver,’ Find ‘Expendables' Expendable

Expendables 3

Expendable? Absolutely. 

Someone needs to make a movie about all the dystopian Y.A. novels forced to battle each other in an arena for our pleasure and amusement. I guess we could set it in Hollywood, Cal., circa the futuristic world of, I don’t know, 2014. Call it ... “Sloppy Seconds”? “A.K.: After Katniss”? Title ideas welcome.

“The Giver,” based on a 1993 Y.A. novel by Lois Lowry, directed by Philip Noyce (“The Quiet American,” “Salt”), and with a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Alexander Skarsgård and new Aussie Tiger Beat sensation Brenton Thawaites, opened in more than 3,000 theaters this weekend but grossed only $12.7 million. This follows the somewhat disappointing box office of “Divergent,” which opened in March and has grossed only $150 million domestic. Cf. the first “Hunger Games,” which grossed $408 million in 2012.

“The Expendables 3” grossed $16 million in 3,221 theaters, but that continues a downward trend. The first “Expendables” opened to $34.8 million in 2010, “The Expendables 2” to $28 million in 2012. Now this. Sylvester Stallone’s sexugenarian franchise keeps getting more and more muscle-bound and keeping dropping like a rock. Correlation?

“Let’s Be Cops,” the other big opener, grossed $17.7 million in 3,094 theaters, but that was still only good enough for third place.

First place was taken by the second weekend of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” ($28.4 million), while the third weekend of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a close second  with $24.4. “Guardians” has now grossed $222 million total. In a few weeks, it will probably be the highest-grossing movie of the year (currently: “Captain America,” $259 million), so kudos to its makers, for making it, and to us, for seeing it. It’s a fun ride.

Among indies, “Boyhood” grossed another $2 million and is now at $13.8 total. It’s Richard Linklater’s third-highest-grossing movie ever, after mainstream fare “School of Rock” ($81 million in 2003) and “Bad News Bears” ($32 million in 2005). 

Posted at 07:31 AM on Aug 18, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Friday August 15, 2014

Movie Review: Unforgiven (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The most original thing about Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven,” which at times feels like a shot-for-shot remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning western, is the character of Goro Sawada (Yuya Yagira), who is more dynamic and memorable than “The Schoefield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) in Eastwood’s version.

Unfortunately, Goro Sawada is completely reminiscent of an even more famous character: Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo from “Seven Samurai.” Unforgiven JapaneseHe jumps, shouts, scratches his beard, and grunts similarly. And just as Kikuchiyo was with the samurai but of the farmers, having come from peasant stock himself, so Goro Sawada is with Jubei (Ken Watanabe) and Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto), former Samurai in the 13th year of the Meiji restoration, even if he is actually Ainu, a native of the island of Hokkaido, where the action takes place and the movie was filmed.

It’s as if The Schofield Kid had been Native American. Which, to be honest, might have been an interesting choice.

There are other, subtle differences between the two movies, of course, including using the hero’s drinking less effectively. Plus the villain isn’t building a house as Hackman’s was. Instead of the end of the Civil War (1865) we get the end of the Shogunate (1868). We also lose—or lose in translation—some of my favorite lines: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” and “We all got it coming, kid.”

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same. A whore laughs at a dude’s penis, a whore is cut, a reward goes up. An aged hero and his aged sidekick decide to go for it. Before they get there, another man, a good samurai, tries, and gets his ass kicked. Our aged heroes are joined by a kid who doesn’t get it, arrive in a town that doesn’t want them, and the hero, sick with the flu, barely makes it out alive. Afterwards, he and the kid kill one of the guys who cut the whore, but his aged sidekick is captured and killed. Leading to ... You know.

So the big question with Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven” is: Why bother? I didn’t find an answer to that. Lee doesn’t improve upon Eastwood. Might as well remake “Seven Samurai.”

Oh, right. Well, there, too. 

Posted at 05:36 AM on Aug 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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