erik lundegaard

Tuesday February 20, 2024

Movie Review: Maestro (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

I didn’t like them. Sorry. I thought they were affected and annoying. Or he was affected and she was annoying. I came away thinking they were monumentally privileged people making bad decisions. It felt like watching a couple air decades-long resentments at a dinner party, and that’s not my idea of a party.

“Maestro” focuses on the great heterosexual relationship of a great homosexual, which … sure? It feels like there’s a story there, and I guess this is it, but shouldn’t we have focused more on the music? Or felt the music? The genius of it?

Maybe I’m just tone deaf.

Peanuts
Elliptical is the word that kept coming to mind as I watched. Then I looked up its definition to make sure I was using it correctly. 

  1. : of, relating to, or marked by extreme economy of speech or writing
  2. : of or relating to deliberate obscurity

I was thinking of the second definition but the first applies, too. There’s extreme economy in scenes—we zip past years and decades, and from black-and-white to color—while there’s deliberate obscurity within the longer set pieces. Or writer-director Bradley Cooper is the first, and actor Bradley Cooper is the second. Characters talk around matters. Do we ever hear the word gay or homosexual? Instead, it’s “You’re getting sloppy.” It’s “Don’t you dare tell her the truth!” Which, yes, is the way people talked about homosexuality back then. It’s also the way couples today and forever talk about the most important things in their relationship. Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre (Cooper and Carey Mulligan) have their shorthand like the rest of us. They have their deliberate obscurity for fear of looking too deeply into the thing.

The movie ends with Bernstein asking an interviewer “Any questions?” and here’s mine: Why does she air her resentments when she does? He announces to the family that he’s finally finished his mass, “Mass: XVII. Pax: Communion,” so why does she jump in the pool, fully clothed, and sit at its bottom like Benjamin Braddock? Shouldn’t the moment be celebrated?

Well, it’s the boy, obviously, Tommy (Gideon Glick). Meeting him at a party at their home in the Dakota, Leonard pats his hair, and kisses him in the hallway outside, where they’re caught by Felicia; then he still him to their summer home. He holds hands with him during the premiere of the Mass. But he’s had his flings before, and she knew who he was when they married. Why is this different?

Because Tommy is less fling than muse. She thought the boys were the sex and she was the love, but they were the love, too. Or at least Tommy is. From an earlier conversation:

Leonard: “Summer sang in me a little while, it sings in me no more.” Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Felicia: If the summer doesn’t sing in you, then nothing sings in you. And if nothing sings in you, then you can’t make music.

And he can’t. He’s a great conductor, a great educator, who’s produced a few great works, but not many, and everyone, particularly him, is wondering where it all is. And then the boy shows up and he finds it. He finds summer. That’s why she dunks herself in the pool and leaves his things in the hallway outside. All the time she thought she’d been helping and then she begins to wonder if it was the opposite. Or maybe she began to wonder, with the women’s movement, “What about me?”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? The second half of the movie is a clash of people who denied what they were, only to be allowed it late in life by worldwide movements—women’s and gay. It comes a bit late for her. The parade passes her by.

Throughout I had questions about his place in American culture. How did his involvement with “Omnibus” happen? How was it received? One assumes well. He educated the populace. The movie gives us Snoopy, small and large, but not the “Peanuts” of it all. Bernstein was there, early on, beloved by Charles Schulz:

I was born in 1963 and LEONARD BERNSTEIN was a name I always heard but didn’t know why. Probably because he did so many things: conductor, composer, activist. Probably because most of what he did was above me. Is. The movie helps with this but not enough. What did he do differently as a conductor? Why did he stand out? The movie feels like it was made for people who know what conductors actually do and that’s not me. It’s not many of us. It’s like we need someone to educate us on it. 

Pillows
My favorite scene was after Felicia admonishes—demands—that Lenny not to tell their daughter, Jamie (Maya Hawke), the truth about the rumors she’s heard. So they talk. Father and daughter. It’s the most extended scene with one of his children. Generally he doesn’t seem too immersed in their lives. They’re there, in the background, as he moves through whatever the story is, but here the kid is finally part of the story. So they walk and sit and talk in the usual elliptical manner. And he tells that her people are just jealous.

Jamie: So those rumors aren’t true.
[Pause]
Leonard: No, darling.
Jamie: Thank you … for coming to talk to me. I’m relieved.

And you get this absolute sadness in his eyes. His daughter is relieved he’s not who he really is. It’s heartbreaking. For a moment, it looks like he’s about to come clean, but no. He doesn’t come clean until Felicia bates him to do it. He follows her lead.

I liked a lot of Cooper's directorial touches: how, in the beginning, the long curtains of his bedroom look like the curtains of a stage about to rise; how the note from his daughter floats down to him through the Dakota’s stairwell. I liked the doctor who tells her she has cancer—the way he sits on the stool and holds her hand and breaks the news without bullshit. God, I love this guy, whoever he is. And the scene where Leonard screams into a pillow because she's dying. I’ve been there a lot lately. The pain our pillows have felt.

“Maestro” tries to take in the immensity of the century as it relates to art and culture and politics and sex, and maybe that’s too much for a two hour movie. There’s a lot of talent in the room trying to depict all the talent that used to be in the room, and Lord knows I appreciate the attempt. But the movie gets a lot less interesting to me when she arrives. Then it becomes about them. And I just didn’t care about them.

Posted at 07:50 AM on Tuesday February 20, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Monday February 19, 2024

Brant Alyea (1940-2024)

I remember his card more than him. He came to the Minnesota Twins in my first baseball heyday, 1970-71, and had a good first season and a great first month, but he didn't break through the Killebrew-Oliva-Carew-Tovar-Cardenas collective for me. But I was happy to get his card. He was a Twin. 

Alyea, it turns out, was a big bopper in the minors who first played in the Majors for the Washington Senators (II). On Sept. 12, 1965, in his Major League hitting debut, he pinchhit for Don Blasingame with one out and two on in the 7th and the Senators ahead of the Angels 3-0. And he went deep off Rudy May. On the first Major League pitch he saw. How do you like them apples? 

Apparently the Senators didn't. Or they saw a weakness in his game. Or they were just dumb. Because after that not-bad cup of coffee (.231/.286/.692 in eight games), he didn't make the squad again until July 1968. And in late March 1970 he was traded to the AL West champion Minnesota Twins for Joe Grzenda and Charlie Walters—two other Twins I don't recall much about.

Alyea must've felt freed from Senatorial shackles because with the Twins he had an April for the ages: .415/.483/.774, including 5 homeruns and 23 RBIs in 17 games. He became the talk of the Twin Cities and made the cover of Sporting News in early May. And then, well, a little regression to the mean. But a nice 1970 season: .291/.366/.531. He drove in 61 and hit 16 homers in 94 games. I guess he and Jim Holt platooned in left. But by then he was already 30, and he either aged fast, got injured, or the league figured him out, because the next year his line was not good: .177/.282/.241. His power was gone: 28 hits and just six for extra bases. 

That November he was a Rule 5 acquisition by the Oakland A's, who traded him to the Cardinals in May 1972, and then this line on Baseball Reference: “Brant Alyea returned to original team on July 23, 1972.” What does that mean? “Here, have him back”? Less than two years after he made the cover of Sporting News, he was out of baseball. Apparently he went on to run crap tables at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. Shame he didn't last a little longer. With all those vowels in his name, he could've become a New York Times crossword staple. He died at home on Feb. 4.

Posted at 08:02 PM on Monday February 19, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday February 18, 2024

I've Seen the Future and It's Stupid

This thread from George Conway III made me laugh:

Yep.

Posted at 11:05 AM on Sunday February 18, 2024 in category Culture   |   Permalink  

Tuesday February 13, 2024

Movie Review: The Zone of Interest (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In case you’re wondering: Yes, Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz for much of the war, responsible, in his own telling, for gassing and incinerating 2 ½ million human beings. And yes, he did have that awful haircut.

And in case you need the comeuppance the movie doesn’t give you: In March 1946, he was captured by British soldiers in Schleswig-Holstein. He insisted he was a simple gardener but the soldiers removed an expensive ring he was wearing with his name on the inside band, and there went that. In April, he testified in the Nuremberg trials, then was put on trial in Poland in March 1947. Found guilty on April 2, he was hanged on April 16. At Auschwitz. He was killed near the crematorium where he helped kill 2 ½ million Jews.

Sadly, his wife Hedwig remarried, moved to the U.S., and lived to be 90.

Life is beautiful
As soon as I heard the movie’s concept—what was life like for the family of the commandant at Auschwitz?—I was intrigued. I mostly wondered if it was mere character study or if writer-director Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”), working from a novel by Martin Amis, focused on a kind of insular drama. They’re living next to the great horror of the 20th century, but they think the story is this—the little drama they’re going through. 

It’s a little of both. The movie opens with the family having a picnic near a river, and at one point we see Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) taking it all in, breathing in deeply, and appreciating all he has. Then, damn, back to work. He holds meetings. Efficiencies are suggested. While one furnace is cooling, he’s told, another can be ready. It can be around-the-clock. That makes sense to him. He approves. 

At home we see Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) tending her garden. There are chores (mostly done by servants), and getting the kids off to school (ditto), but somebody has to organize all that, and that’s her. New clothes arrive. Or new-old clothes. They’re dumped on the dining room table. Some are kids clothes. Do we want any of them? Hedwig tries on a fur coat and admires herself in a full-length mirror. She has tea with neighbor ladies who talk and gossip. You see this diamond? one says. I found it in some toothpaste. They’re sneaky that way.

That’s the character study. The little drama arrives when Höss finds out he’s been promoted to deputy inspector of all concentration camps and the family will be relocated to Oranienburg, near Berlin. Isn’t that good news? No. He doesn’t want to leave. And Hedwig, when she finds out, really doesn’t want to leave. She puts her foot down. He can go back to Germany, she says. Why should they go, too? They’ve built this beautiful life here, amidst the lebensraum Herr Hitler promised (and delivered!), and she’s the envy of everyone who visits. Her mother is envious. It’s theirs. Why should they go? No, they won’t go. Life is too beautiful at Auschwitz.

The movie, or at least this mini-conflict within the movie, is reminiscent of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” isn’t it? But instead of the much talked-about 1904 World’s Fair, there’s the barely talked-about horror next door. 

How does this horror manifest itself? In small ways—like in the above ladies-who-lunch dialogue and sorting through kids clothes. There are thrumping nightmares from a sleepwalking child and disturbing closeups of flora. During a weekend excursion in the river, Rudolf steps on human remains. Hedwig’s mother leaves abruptly, apparently horrified by the smokestacks working in the distance, and afterwards a disgruntled Hedwig threatens the housekeeper—reminding her that her husband could turn her into ash. In Rudolf’s office, he schtups a female prisoner, then washes his genitalia in a basement sink. They are being warped by it all, if they didn’t arrive that way.

The great horror
Another question I had going in: Does the movie isolate the Germans, make them an aberration in history, or does it make us wonder what horrors we’re ignoring as we putter around our own (real or metaphoric) gardens? Thankfully, I think it leans toward the latter. At the least, the mood of the movie seeps in. Driving home, my wife commented on how pretty the lights at Denny Park looked, and it sounded like a horrific Hedwig line to me. It sounded wrong—the banality of it. And yes, it’s not the same but it’s enough the same. At the least, we’re all ignoring the great horror just to get through the day.

Höss, although we don’t see his comeuppance, does suffer a bit. After another round of meetings, descending an echoing staircase by himself, he begins to retch. Turns out he’s retching nothing; nothing is coming up. Then we flash forward to present-day Auschwitz: workers silently, methodically, preparing for the arrival of another batch, another trainload—but tourists now, witnesses to the evil we don't see in this movie. Then we flash back to Höss on the staircase. Was this a vision for him? Is that what led to the retching? 

See “Zone of Interest” in a movie theater. It’s worth it, but caveat: conversations could be stilted afterwards.

Posted at 07:08 AM on Tuesday February 13, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Sunday February 11, 2024

The Great Astonishments

“In the public mind and in the consciousness of many of its students the motion picture seems a magic thing, born yesterday and of full growth this morning. But magic and miracles always fade in the light of information. It is the vastness of what we do not know that creates the great astonishments.”

-- Terry Ramsaye, “A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925,” p. xxxvii

Posted at 02:34 PM on Sunday February 11, 2024 in category Books   |   Permalink  

Wednesday February 07, 2024

Movie Review: Five Star Final (1931)

Robinson, finally cast in a starring non-gangster role, but someone else steals the show.

WARNING: SPOILERS

It’s got one of those great character intros, like Rick in “Casablanca,” where we keep hearing about the guy without seeing him. He keeps getting built up by others. When we do finally meet tabloid newspaper editor Joseph W. Randall (Edward G. Robinson), after about 10 minutes of screen time, he’s washing his hands in a speakeasy bathroom. The speakeasy and hand-washing are both symptoms of the same problem: he hates his job. The speakeasy dulls whatever the soap can’t wash away.

This was the first non-gangster starring role for Robinson after he hit it big with “Little Caesar,” and maybe as a result it was beloved by him. In his autobiography he calls it one of his favorite films. “I loved Randall because he wasn’t a gangster,” he wrote. “I suspect he was conceived as an Anglo-Saxon—to look at me nobody would believe it—but I enjoyed doing him. He made sense…”

Yes and no. From the opener, you get a sense of a man trying to drag his newspaper out of the muck. “Randall’s getting too swell for the chewing gum trade,” is one comment from the New York Evening Gazette’s head of circulation. (I love “chewing gum trade.”) The business side wants sensationalism and he’s giving them League of Nations cables. But circulation is down. Sales are down. “Our weak spot is the editorial department! Randall needs a good jacking up!”

Those are the battle lines, drawn early. The trouble? We never see Randall trying to go highbrow. He’s pressured to do a low-rent thing, does it, and people get hurt. That’s the movie.

Besides, by the time he shows up, we’ve already been introduced to someone way more interesting.

Goldboig
The efficient, sardonic secretary who knows more than her boss, and maybe loves him a little, was a kind of 1930s Warner Bros. staple, wasn’t she? I guess I’m thinking Joan Blondell in “Footlight Parade.” And here.

Here, she’s Miss Taylor (Aline MacMahon), no first name, and she immediately stands out. It’s partly her lines and partly the way MacMahon says them. The people around her are a bit broad. Chicago flapper Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson), for example, shows up, vamps a bit, pours herself into a chair, and talks up how the publisher, “Mr. Hinchcliffe” (Oscar Apfel), wants to hire her. “What I meant about Mr. Hinchecliffe is that he knows that I've had a lot of experience in Chicago,” she says. “Yeah, you look it,” Miss Taylor responds, accepting her as a fait accompli but dispensing with her. 

But it’s the back-and-forth with young gofer Arthur Goldberg (Harold Waldridge) that takes things to another level.

Arthur Goldberg: Sufferin’ Moses, but Mr. Randall's got a lot of women.
Miss Taylor: Arthur Goldboig, ain’t you got no religion?
Arthur Goldberg: Gee, the way you say that, I ought to change my name.
Miss Taylor: Don’t you do it, kid. New York’s too full of Christians as it is.

“Five Star Final” is based upon a play by former New York Evening Graphic editor Louis Weitzenkorn, and was adapted by Robert Lord and Byron Morgan, so you wonder who came up with the “Christians” line and how it was allowed to stick. It’s so great. The pre-code era certainly helped. Three years later, no way Joe Breen is letting that line through. You wonder how many great lines got killed between 1934 and 1966. Or to today.

More, though, it’s the unforced way MacMahon says it. She says it with camaraderie, like it’s a little secret between her and little Arthur Goldboig. It’s almost maternal. Plus, she never stops working. Through both conversations. She’s taking phone calls and filling in notes in a kind of rolodex for her boss. Everyone else shows up, ta da, like they’re in a play, and annunciates like in a play—like the lines are the job. She has a job; the lines she does for free.

And this was her first movie? Just who is Aline MacMahon?

Turns out: An early practitioner of the Stanislavski method of acting, soon to be known simply as The Method. She learned it in the 1920s, became a star on Broadway shortly thereafter, married a well-known architect, Clarence Stein, and, after Hollywood tapped her, commuted between New York and LA. In the mid-1930s, Warner Bros. kept pairing her opposite Guy Kibbee, including as the maternal, cynical Trixie Lorraine in “Gold Diggers of 1933.” In the 1940s, she was nominated for an Oscar for “Dragon Seed,” with Katherine Hepburn and Walter Huston. In the 1950s, she was blacklisted. She’s also the subject of a recent book by John Strangeland: “Aline MacMahon: Hollywood, the Blacklist, and the Birth of Method Acting” (University Press of Kentucky). A 2023 review of Strangeland’s work, as well as an appreciation of MacMahon’s, can be found in The New York Review of Books, for those who subscribe.

Anyway, you can’t help but notice her here. She’s the most natural actor with the best lines.

The plot revolves around resurrecting a 20-year-old murder case, in which a woman, Nancy Voorhes, killed her boss after he impregnated her and reneged on marriage. It was a bit scandal but she was acquitted, and Hinchcliffe figures the public will want to know what happened to her. Randall, who covered the case as a reporter, isn’t exactly highbrow here. He works the phones, then assigns Kitty Carmody and handsy reporter T. Vernon Isopod (Boris Karloff, in one of his last roles before “Frankenstein”) to figure out what’s what, then goes to wash his hands again. Miss Taylor? She’s leaving for the day. But she offers this parting shot about the whole nasty business:

I think you can always get people interested in the crucifixion of a woman.

 Man, I wish I’d had that line in my back pocket in 2016.

For a Chicago flapper, and a handsy ex-priest, Carmody and Isopod make not-poor reporters. They quickly find out Nancy Voorhes is now Nancy Townsend (Frances Starr), wife of Michael (H.B. Warner), and an upstanding member of society living uptown. Hubby knows about her sordid past but her child, Jenny (Marian Marsh), doesn’t. Jenny also thinks Michael is her biological father. And as luck would have it—at least for the tabloid business—Jenny is days from a big wedding to Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushell) of the hoity-toity Weeks family.

Once the tumblers of the plot begin to fall into place, the movie gets a lot less interesting. They run with the story, circulation jumps, but Nancy is scandalized. She finds out before her daughter and works the phones to try to rein in the rest of the story (it’s supposed to be a series), but no one will take her calls. Finally, Miss Taylor forces the call on Randall, who, distracted and guilty, tells her the story is already out. Then we get melodrama: Nancy kills herself, off-stage in the bathroom, and her husband finds the body. When Jenny and Phillip show up, giddy about their upcoming nuptials, he keeps the news from them, and after they leave, moving and speaking slowly, he joins his wife in death.

It's Kitty Carmody, climbing through the living room window with a photographer, who finds the bodies. Big story for the five star final—the last paper of the day. Except now the scandal threatens to engulf the entire newspaper since they come off so badly. We get a big confrontation in Randall’s office. A distraught Jenny shows up with a gun, demanding to know why they killed her mother. Randall, guilt-ridden, tells her she was killed for circulation and almost dies for voicing the truth. But Phillip Weeks, ever loyal, prevents Jenny from committing the crime and they leave to start their own life. Then Randall tells off Hinchcliffe and leaves with Miss Taylor. And in the final shot—reminiscent of the final shots of the silent film “Chicago”—the headlines that caused all the trouble are seen being washed away into a storm drain. Yesterday’s news.

King of druggists
Life moved fast back then. For the filmmakers, I mean. Louis Weitzenkorn’s play debuted on Broadway on Dec. 30, 1930, and this movie hit theaters in September 1931. So rights were bought, the play adapted, director chosen, people cast, filming done, publicity created, etc. etc.—all in nine months. Probably why the framing of the play—set scenes, from which people come and go—is very play-like. Not much of an attempt to open things up. 

Something else I learned while besides all that stuff about MacMahon? The good-guy husband of Nancy Townsend who takes his own life is played by H.B. Warner, who was perhaps the most famous silent-era Jesus, in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings” (1927). But that’s not his most famous role to contemporary audiences, since, 16 years after this, he played Mr. Gower, the druggist, in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Which means … Mr. Gower was Jesus.

“Five Star Final” was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and, again, it’s not bad before it descends into melodrama. It’s about the media tsk-tsking as it sells sex. That kind of hypocrisy will last beyond newspapers.

The great Aline MacMahon, and a line for the ages.

Posted at 08:28 PM on Wednesday February 07, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Monday February 05, 2024

Movie Review: The Long Goodbye (1973)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I recall watching Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” based on the 1953 Raymond Chandler novel, about 20 years ago, and coming away confused and dissatisfied. Now I get why. The movie is confusing. It’s untraditional. It mixes Chandler’s penchant for complicated plots and hidden motives with Altman’s love of overlapping dialogue and improv, with an early ’70s So Cal loopiness. Add that up and, well, confusing.

This time, though, I liked it.

I mean, who knew Jim Bouton was the Orson Welles of the 1970s?

Go home, Martins
It’s totally an Altman film. It’s Altman doing genre and fucking with the conventions.

Take the yoga-loving, half-naked female neighbors. All the men who come through, the cops and the hoods, stare, gawking, while our man Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) barely notices. He walks by muttering under his breath about his cat. He couldn’t be less interested. Is that why the girls are interested in him? Why they call out to him? It’s the opposite of most detective fiction. There’s beautiful women everywhere and he beds nobody. In the uptight 1940s, with the Production Code staring down furiously, Bogart couldn’t enter a bookstore or take a cab without coming away with a little. But Gould in the free-love 1970s? With naked women everywhere? Not a drop. He doesn’t even seem thirsty.

But he smokes like a chimney. They kept that in. There seems no shot where Marlowe doesn’t have a cigarette going.

The opening is fun, but a little lame if you know cats. The late-night convenience store doesn’t have his cat’s favorite food so he gets another kind, puts it in the tin of the favorite kind, then dishes it out like it’s that one. Why in God’s name does he think this will work? Cats don’t care about tins. Cats care about smell. And it’s the wrong smell. And there goes the cat.

And in comes Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). We’d seen him leaving his gated community, scratches on his face, bruises on his knuckles, and now he’s asking Marlow to drive him to Tijuana. Marlowe does. When he returns, cops are waiting. Seems Lennox’s wife, Sylvia, is dead, Terry is the prime suspect, and Marlowe just helped him get away. Accessory after the fact.

When he gets out out of the slammer, certain of Terry’s innocence, he’s got a gig waiting. Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt, a super-tanned Dane) is worried about the disappearance of her husband, an alcoholic, Hemingway-esque writer named Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden). Marlowe finds him in a detox center run by the creepy Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson) and springs him. Then they drink and argue, and Hayden chews the scenery. Apparently a lot of this was improv. It shows.

What does any of this have to do with Terry Lennox? Turns out the Wades knew the Lennoxes: neighbors and friends. Oh, then mob boss Marty Augustine (actor-director Mark Rydell) and his men descend on Marlowe because Terry owes them $350,000 and they figure Marlowe has it or can get it. There’s a lot of Altmanesque craziness here. Augustine busts his girl’s face with a Coke bottle to show he means business; later, to come clean, he has himself and his men, including a non-verbal Arnold Schwarzenegger, strip to their skivvies. Meanwhile, at a party at the Wades, Dr. Verringer shows up demanding money from Roger, and that night Roger walks into the ocean. Do we see him again? Does he die? Either way, Eileen confesses to Marlowe that Roger was having an affair with Sylvia Lennox. So maybe Roger killed Sylvia and that’s why he was acting so erratic? And Verringer knew?

At some point, Marlowe finds out Terry’s dead—he killed himself in Mexico. But then Marlowe gets a $5,000 bill in the mail from Terry, along with a goodbye letter; and then the $350k is magically delivered, freeing Marlowe from Augustine. I assume all that gives him pause. Because down in Mexico, using the $5k as a bribe, Marlowe discovers Terry isn’t dead. He faked the suicide. More, he was schtupping Eileen Wade. More more, he killed his wife. He’s the guy. Marlowe comes upon him laying in a hammock, and Terry admits it. He’s blasé about it. He didn’t mean to, he says, but he did it.

So Marlowe kills him in cold blood.

Here’s the thing: Before Marlowe arrives to confront him, we see Marlowe walking on a dirt road under a canopy of trees, and I said to my wife, “Looks like ‘The Third Man.’” And then we get the confession and the killing of the killer. Which, yes, is exactly like “The Third Man.” Throughout that movie, Holly Martins is looking for Harry Lime’s killer, and, alley oop, it turns out to be him. Same here, mostly. Throughout, Marlowe is looking to prove Terry innocent; instead he proves him guilty, then acts as judge, jury, executioner.

Altman underlines the parallel again. We return to the canopy of trees, Marlowe is walking away and Eileen is driving in. She stops but Marlowe keeps walking toward the camera. It’s “Third Man” with genders reversed. I’d call it homage if it didn’t seem like such a rip off. 

Anyway, that’s why Jim Bouton is the Orson Welles of the 1970s.

The canopy of trees, and the long walk, after killing the friend whose murder you were trying to solve.

The meaning of yoga
That ending doesn’t quite work, does it? First, it’s too “Third Man” but not nearly good enough. Second, it’s the only time when Marlowe seems awake. He’s focused and in control, but his actions are over-the-top. In cold blood? Really? It’s out of character. It's completely unlike the sleepy, mumbling dude we’ve spent two hours with.

So was the ending imposed upon Altman by the studio? Nope. It was in the original Leigh Brackett script, and Altman liked it so much, or wanted to do the “Third Man” homage so much, he put in a contract clause that the ending couldn’t be changed without his approval.

It’s not, however, the Raymond Chandler ending. In the novel, yes, Terry killed Sylvia and faked his suicide, but he and Marlowe don’t meet in Mexico:

Then on a certain Friday morning I found a stranger waiting for me in my office. He was a well-dressed Mexican or Suramericano of some sort. He sat by the open window smoking a brown cigarette that smelled strong. He was tall and very slender and very elegant, with a neat dark mustache and dark hair, rather longer than we wear it, and a fawn-colored suit of some loosely woven material. He wore those green sunglasses.

It's Terry, with plastic surgery, in his new identity as Señor Maioranos. At some point in the conversation Marlowe figures it out, they wrangle out the rest in the shrugging, elliptical Chandler manner, and say their goodbyes. I guess that’s where the title comes from. “So long, amigo,” Marlowe tells him. “I won’t say goodbye. I said it to you when it meant something.”

Chandler's ending makes more sense—for the title, for Marlowe, for everything.

But the movie is still fun. Apparently Bouton was a last-minute replacement for Stacy Keach (Bouton compared it to asking some fan to go play third base for the Yankees). Hayden was also a replacement—for “Bonanza”’s Dan Blocker, who died before filming began. There’s only two songs in the entire movie: “Hooray for Hollywood,” which opens and closes it; and “The Long Goodbye” by John Williams and Johnny Mercer, of which we get about five renditions—including one by Jack Riley, Elliott Carlin of “The Bob Newhart Show,” who has a cameo playing piano at a bar. That made me smile.

So did the moment when the half-naked female neighbor explains what yoga is. Someone should make a reference book about when current everyday items/concepts had to be explained in movies. Yoga in this, the CIA in “Charade.” Others?

Posted at 09:35 AM on Monday February 05, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1970s   |   Permalink  

Sunday February 04, 2024

Jellybean Pie Sugar Funny Little Rub-a-Dub

“I called him, depending on the mood, Skip, Old Skip, and Boy. I have learned that when you love somebody, you will address him or her by different names.”

-- Willie Morris, “My Dog Skip”

Cf., Jellybean, Bean, Jelly, Jelly Pie, Pie, Kitten Pie, Kitten, Little One, Little, Sugar Pop, Funny Face, Funny, Rub-A-Dub. Also Jellybean Bradbury or Jellybean Lundegaard, depending on who was speaking. (Usually the opposite of the affixed surname.) I'm sure there were others. Gone two months now. 

With shaved leg after the cancer diagnosis in September. 

Posted at 10:33 AM on Sunday February 04, 2024 in category Jellybean   |   Permalink  

Saturday February 03, 2024

Carl Weathers (1948-2024)

When I lived in Taiwan in 1988 I was friends with a guy named Karl F., a Black American, and during that summer we had some interesting discussions about race. At one point the movie “Action Jackson,” starring Carl Weathers, came up, and Karl was 100% behind it. He exuded such pride in it, and in Weathers, that it made me a little jealous. Because I didn't have anything like that. Because I had everything else. Most movie leads were white men like me (or not at all like me), so “white” wasn't just a meaningless distinction, it wasn't a distinction at all, and I didn't see myself in any of them. I certainly didn't have pride in any of them. For Karl, there was just Carl Weathers, and so, yes, he was his guy. And sure, Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest stars on the planet at the time, and Denzel was on the rise, but Weathers was the one who'd just joined the Sly/Arnold/Chuck pantheon. As he should have much sooner.

He became a star at the wrong time, didn't he? He played professional football for a few years, first with the Oakland Raiders, and then, after he was cut, with the Canadian Football League, but he had his eye on acting, and began with a bang: In 1975, he appeared in 10 filmed roles, mostly TV. I might've seen him on “Good Times” as the jealous husband of the sexy neighbor that wants J.J. to paint her in the nude. I definitely saw him in that all-football episode of “Six Million Dollar Man,” when Steve's friend Larry Csonka gets kidnapped before the big game. Weathers was busy in '76, too, appearing in episodes of “McCloud,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Barnaby Jones,” and ... what was it again? Oh yeah. A little thing called “Rocky.” It was filmed in the spring, released in late fall, and became a phenomenon. It was also the first time I'd ever heard the word “sleeper” applied to a movie. Initially I thought it was an insult—a movie that made you fall asleep—but my father corrected me.

The Times obit has a good story on how Weathers got the part of Apollo Creed. He was reading with someone introduced as a non-actor, and felt he didn't do well enough. “They were quiet, and there was this moment of awkwardness — I felt, anyway,” he said. “So I just blurted out, 'I could do a lot better if you got me a real actor to work with.'” Except the guy he was reading with was Sylvester Stallone. Rather than be insulted, though, Stallone was amused, and liked Weathers' fire, and felt it would be good for Apollo. He wasn't wrong. “Rocky” was not just the No. 1 box-office hit of 1976, it was nominated for 10 Oscars, won best picture, and basically remade what movies would be. Happy endings, Hollywood endings, became de rigueur again. Post-triumph, Weathers graduated from episodes of “Delvecchio” and “Streets of San Francisco” into co-starring roles in films like “Force 10 From Navarone.” Seriously, check out that poster. Is there a more late-1970s movie cast? It's post-“Jaws”/post-“The Deep” Robert Shaw starring with post-“Star Wars” Harrison Ford and supported by post-“Rocky” Carl Weathers and post-“Spy Who Loved Me” Richard Kiel. Toss in some internationals (Edward Fox and Franco Nero), add a pretty face (Barbara Bach), and you've got your WWII movie. And Weathers is there. He's on the poster. He's on his way.

And then not. In the four years from 1975 to '78, he'd done roles in 24 different productions. And in the seven years from 1979 to 1985? Five—and three of those were reprising his role as Apollo Creed in Rockys II, III and IV. So only two other roles in seven years. What happened?

I assume he was hoping to star in movies. I assume he was looking for good roles. “I'm looking for longevity in my career,” he told journalist Vernon Scott, in a July 8, 1979 UPI piece. “I aim high and I'm doing my damndest to get where I want to be.” But then we entered the Reagan years, our one-step-back years, and I guess the roles, certainly the “aim high” roles, dried up for Black actors. In 1981, he was fourth-billed in the Charles Bronson/Lee Marvin movie “Deathhunt”; four years later, he was the titular “Braker”—a TV pilot about a Black cop that never made it to series. That was it.

In 1986, Weathers redid “Defiant Ones” for TV, played “Fortune Dane” for six episodes, then joined the ultra-macho cast of “Predator.” Apparently that led to “Action Jackson,” which didn't do poorly at the box office: $20 mil, 49th best for the year. It was also the biggest movie for its producton company, Lorimar Film Entertainment. So why no sequel? Lorimar went under that summer. Weathers couldn't catch a break.

In the '90s he did a lot of TV: nine episodes of “Tour of Duty,” 44 episodes of “Street Justice,” 28 episodes of “In the Heat of the Night.” Then he was tapped by Adam Sandler, a big “Rocky” fan, to play Chubbs, the one-handed golf mentor in “Happy Gilmore.” Since, he played himself on “Arrested Development,” Combat Carls in “Toy Story 4,” and Greef Karga in the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy. It was his first. An entire film franchise, “Creed,” was also borne out of a supporting character he created. How often does that happen? Never, I'm thinking. 

Posted at 08:55 AM on Saturday February 03, 2024 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Thursday February 01, 2024

The Do-Nothing Party

“For the life of me, I do not understand how you can go to the trouble of campaigning, raising money, going to events, talking to people, coming to this town as a member of a party who allegedly stands for something ... and then do nothing about it. One thing: I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!”

-- Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), on the House floor in November. “He got no answer,” says Jennifer Rubin in her op-ed “The GOP's blunders take their toll.” Sad part is it's not tolling hard enough for them. “Most Republicans voted against the overwhelmingly popular infrastructure bill. Now they routinely claim credit for it. Only occasionally do they get called out for hypocrisy,” Rubin writes. “As with infrastructure, Republicans have largely escaped blame for causing economic havoc thanks to Democratic votes for keeping the government open and avoiding a default on the debt.” The legit media is really to blame for this. It'll never get better as long as they pretend both sides are culpable, or ascribe blame to an entity called “Congress.” 

Posted at 07:58 AM on Thursday February 01, 2024 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 31, 2024

Postseason Droughts, .350, and the Ol' Doubles, Triples and Homers Question

Can Shohei do something nobody's done since Johnny Mize in 1941?

I meant to write this in November, then got busy. And then the world fell apart. Now we're just a few weeks from pitchers and catchers. So let's look at the baseball questions that I (and maybe only I?) am interested in:

Did anyone hit. 350 in 2023?

Yes! For the first time in a full season since 2010, when Josh Hamilton hit .359, we had a .350 hitter in the Majors: my man Luis Arráez. He won the AL batting title in 2022 with my Minnesota Twins, hitting. 316, was traded to the Miami Marlins in the off-season, and promptly won the NL title with a .354 average. Don't think that's ever happened before—i.e., winning a title, traded, winning another title. It's rare enough to trade a batting champion, though I guess the Twins did it before under different circumstances. In 1978, Rod Carew won his seventh batting crown with the Twins, hitting .333. Then in the off-season Twins owner Calvin Griffith got drunk at a Lions Club meeting in Waseca and spewed racist BS and called Carew “a damned fool” for accepting below-market value. Carew demanded a trade and got one—to the California Angels, where he continued to excel, hitting .314 over seven seasons, but never won another crown.

Arráez was hitting .400+ as late as June 24, and ended July at .381, so there was actually .400 talk. Then August hit and he didn't; just .236 for the month. But he recovered in September to get above .350. That .350 drought between 2010 and 2023 (for full seasons) is the longest in MLB history. By far. It's 11 seasons, leaving aside the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. The previous record was five seasons: 1962-66.

Oh, and the last guy to hit .360 in a season? Also a Twin: Joe Mauer in 2009. For those scoring at home. 

Is anyone closer to becoming the first player since Johnny Mize to lead the league in doubles, triples and homers at some point in their career?

Yes! And guess who? SHOHEI. Big surprise. If someone is going to do something that hasn't been done in MLB in nearly a century, Shohei always seems to be the guy. 

Here's the background on that stat. Only seven players in modern MLB history (sans 19th c.) have ever led the league in all three extra-base categories—doubles, triples and homers—during their careers, and, yes, Mize was the last to do it, completing the triumverate in 1941. 

Here's the 2023 leaders in those three categories:

  DOUBLES TRIPLES HOMERS
AL Corey Seager (TEX) Bobby Witt Jr. (KCR) Shohei Ohtani (LAA)
NL Freddie Freeman (LAD) Corbin Carroll (ARI) Matt Olson (ATL)

Freeman is a doubles machine—he hit 59—and it's the fourth time he's led the league in the category. But he's never led in triples and homer. Ditto Kyle's kid brother, who led the NL in doubles in 2019. Witt Jr. and Carroll were both rookies, so obvious firsts for both of them. It's also the first for Matt Olson.

Shohei, meanwhile, is missing a category, doubles, that seems doable. Up to now, the active players with two of the three were either light-hitting guys that needed homers (Whit Merrifield and Cesar Hernandez, and the latter didn't play last year and seems done), or they were aging slowpokes that needed triples (Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper).

But Shohei, an impressive combo of power and speed, has already led the league in triples. He did it in 2021 and nearly did it again last year. Add the HR title and he just needs doubles. One wonders if he actually has too much power and too much speed to do this. Mantle and Mays were two such guys who never did the doubles thing. Shohei's career high is 30, from 2022, and that's not going to lead anything, particularly with new teammate Freddie Freeman around. Still, he's got a better shot than Bryce Harper has with triples or Whit Merrifeld with homers. I'll be watching to see if he does it. 

Which team has the longest postseason drought?

For a number of years, this belonged to my Seattle Mariners, who went in 2001 and then not again until 2022. Now it's a tie between the Tigers and Angels. Both last went in 2014. After that? Pirates and Royals, both of whom last went in 2015. The Royals, of course, won it all in '15 so that takes some of the sting out. The Pirates? Oof...

Which team has the longest pennant drought? 

Still my Seattle Mariners, born in 1977 and pennantless ever since. A close second is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last saw the World Series in 1979.

Which teams haven't won a pennant this century?

Nine teams: M's (n/a), Pirates (1979), Brewers (1982), Orioles (1983), Reds (1990), Athletics (1990), Twins (1991), Blue Jays (1993) and the Padres (1998). 

Which team has the longest World Series championship drought?

Still the Cleveland Indians, who have not won it since 1948, though they've been four times since: 1954, 1995, 1997 and 2016. Then it's a big jump to the Padres and Brewers (b., 1969). Then You-Know-Who.

Which teams have never won the World Series?

A year ago there were six. Now, thanks to the Rangers great October run, there are five: Padres and Brewers (b., 1969), Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993) and Rays (1998).

Posted at 10:57 AM on Wednesday January 31, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 30, 2024

Who Watches Watchmen? Not IMDb

Who exactly is running IMDb into the ground? This was a photo on Cord Jefferson's page:

Jefferson is the writer-director of “American Fiction,” starring Jeffrey Wright, and for the past 10 years he's worked on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” (196 episodes), “Master of None” (10 episodes), and “The Good Place” (25 episodes). All good shows. He also wrote and was executive story editor on “Watchmen,” the great 2019 ur-superhero HBO series that introduced the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre to most Americans. The photo is him accepting a WGA or two for that work.

And what does IMDb credit him for? The shitty 2009 “Watchmen” that Zack Snyder adapted.

I've seen a lot of these types of mistakes recently: wrong title, wrong link. It's like IMDb has shunted half its shit off to AI, and AI doesn't know between “Watchmen” (2009) and "Watchmen (2019). It's just ... try a little, IMDb. You still have a good thing going. Try a little. Before we all find a hell of a good universe next door.

Posted at 06:54 AM on Tuesday January 30, 2024 in category Technology   |   Permalink  
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