erik lundegaard

Tuesday May 28, 2024

Movie Review: Didi (2024)


Our titular 弟弟 filming and uploading his own petty crimes in the YouTube age.

WARNING: SPOILERS

I was reminded of how screwed up I was as an adolescent. And I was screwed up a long time ago.

Chris Wang, WangWang to his friends (Izaac Wang), 14 years old and our titular didi (弟弟or “younger brother”), lives in a nice neighborhood in Fremont, California with his older sister (Shirley Chen), with whom he fights; his mother (Joan Chen), whose artwork nobody wants; and the father’s mother, Nai Nai (Zhang Li Hua, writer-director Sean Wang’s own grandmother), who is comically up-front and hectoring in the way of Chinese grandmothers. Where’s dad? Working in Taiwan for all of them. In the way of Chinese dads. We never seen him.

So how is Chris screwed up? I guess being Asian American in a mostly white culture is part of it, but not overtly. A girl tells him he’s “good looking—for an Asian” (which, yeah), and a white bully make a slant-eye gesture at him (is that still a thing?), so there are elements of racism even though it’s 2008. But he’s hanging with a multicultural crowd, black and Pakistani kids, so that’s not really the problem. His friends just seem more adept at making the leap. They’re cooler. He’s a step behind—sometimes literally. They walk ahead, all braggadocio, while he quietly trails after.

But his real problem is he lies to fit in and still doesn’t fit in. Also he’s holding back a lot of anger. Also he’s not holding back a lot of anger.

不是乖孩子
Let’s ask the perennial protagonist question: What does the dude want?

Chris wants:

  • to date Madi (Maheala Park)
  • to hang with skateboard kids
  • to make YouTube videos about skateboarding 

He gets to do each of these things. But then something goes wrong, or something is wrong, and the goal, the desire, is crumpled up and tossed aside.

With Madi, he checks out her MySpace page, finds out what she likes and doesn’t like, and acts accordingly. Example: He pretends he’s a big fan of the 2002 rom-dram “A Walk to Remember” when he’s never seen it and probably wouldn’t like it if he had. (He’s also never seen “Star Wars,” which … what?) But his machinations work, he gets close to Madi. She does most of the heavy lifting. One night, at the park, while they’re talking their silly talk, she suggests playing the nervous game. She keeps moving closer while asking “Are you nervous?” and he keeps saying “No.” Until he doesn’t. Until he says he’s nervous. I get that. Moving in that direction is scary even for adolescent boys. The oddity is that it ends the relationship. Completely. He ends it. He blocks her IMs and ghosts her.

Then he meets some older skateboard kids and lies about his video prowess in order to get in good with them. As a result, a cool confrontation with and escape from a hapless mall security guard doesn’t get filmed properly. Everyone’s disappointed. But that’s not the dealbreaker. At a party, he said he's half-Asian, so when the skateboard kids meet his mom they assume the husband isn’t Chinese. But he is. Everyone’s confused. She’s confused. And Chris blows up at her and slams the door. That’s the dealbreaker. The cool skateboard kids chastise him for being disrespectful to his mom.

I love that for several reasons. One, I was reminded of a white lie I told back in 10th grade. For some reason I suddenly didn’t like my middle name, Anton, maybe because it was too close to “ant,” and I was small, or maybe because it was just different and Danish, so I began writing my middle name as “Antony.” I think I just wanted to be further away from me and this was a small way of doing that. But the main reason I love the above scene is that it upends the stereotype. It’s the non-Chinese kids who are guai haizi, or filial or obedient children, a common, common phrase in Chinese culture. While we have similar words in English, they aren’t commonly used (who uses “filial”?), and they’re certainly not aspirational the way they are in Chinese culture. In Chinese culture, it’s what you’re supposed to be. Chris isn’t, but the cool skateboard kids are. I love that.

Along the way, Chris’ best friend, Fahad (Raul Dial) ditches him one night, and so he ditches him back, and then as school is about to start again he’s going to IM him: Are we still friends? During summer he also decks another kid because—I guess—he was good friends with Madi?

Here's something interesting: The longer the film goes, the less I like the protagonist. That’s not like most coming-of-age films but it is like coming of age. The protagonist there is forever disappointing.

真的
The movie, for its time of life (8th grade going on 9th), not to mention the YouTube of it all, reminded me of Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade”; while the stuff with the older skateboard kids reminded me of Jonah Hill’s “Mid-90s.” But it’s never quite as fraught as the former, nor as poignant as the latter.

But it certainly feels real. And it’s fraught in this way: By the end, we’re truly worried about Chris. Has he backed himself into a corner? Can he break out of being himself? Is there a better self to be?

It’ll be interesting to see where this young director goes. Sean Wang was nominated for an Oscar last year for his short “Nai Nai & Wai Po” (“Father’s Mother & Mother’s Mother”) and one wonders if he’s going to do all the Chinese family member words: Gege, Meimei, Fumu. With the Chinese language, you could go on forever.

Posted at 07:15 AM on Tuesday May 28, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2024   |   Permalink  

Monday May 27, 2024

Gone With the Draft

A few weeks back my friend David G. recommended a podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs,” and now I'm recommending it to you. 

David is deep into music—plays it, knows it, lives it—so I kind of knew it was going to be good, and the podcast host, Andrew Hickey, gives us some deep dives. Put it this way: it's a long time before we get to Elvis. I love the ur-rock portion of it all—Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner, Louis Jordan, Bob Wills—while Hickey brings in economic forces I didn't know about: a musician's strike in the 1940s that helped push vocalists front and center; the late '40s invention of 45s that rendered a lot of '40s artists and their old 78s if not irrelevant at least forgotten. Hickey keeps saying, “The first of anything is messy,” and truer words. 

The frequent talk about boogie-woogie music—which Hickey, from Manchester, England, pronounces with an extended “ou” sound that's pretty charming—got me thinking about the Andrew Sisters' “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” That's not part of this, or it doesn't make up its own individual episode; I just began to listen to it. And I realized a few things. One is that I'd been mishearing the lyrics; the other was a damn good pun I missed because I'd been mishearing the lyrics:

This is how I thought the song went, with mistakes highlighted:

He was the top man in his band
But then his number came up and he was caught in the draft
He's in the army now
Blowing reveille
He's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B

One night I thought, “Odd that they rhyme 'man' and 'band' but leave the next line rhymeless.” But that's wrong. It wasn't band, it was ... class. Top man in his class. Not a complete rhyme with “draft”; more assonance than rhyme. But cool.

And still wrong. Because it was a complete rhyme: “craft” to go with “draft.” He was the top man at his craft. And he wasn't caught in the draft, he was gone with the draft. There. Phew. Finally. 

And then the other shoe dropped:

Gone with ... the draft

Man, what a great pun—playing off the biggest novel and movie from the previous few years. I mean, it's almost perfect.

I also like the general notion in the song of a hep cat who's into boogie woogie and suddenly finds him as the bugler in this man's army. And maybe bringing some hepness to this man's army. And just when we needed it.

Posted at 10:06 AM on Monday May 27, 2024 in category Music   |   Permalink  

Saturday May 25, 2024

Movie Review: Public Enemy's Wife (1936)

Mouse over for the '31 original: same brick-patterned backdrop, same quote marks around titles, but a little blockier and duller, and with stars usurping writers and directors.

WARNING: SPOILERS

James Cagney was so popular in the 1930s that Warner Bros. glommed off his titles to sell lesser fare that had nothing to do with him. So we got “The Angels Wash Their Faces” (with the Dead End Kids and Ronald Reagan) a year after “Angels with Dirty Faces”; and so five years after “The Public Enemy,” and right around the time Cagney was leaving Warners for a stint with Grand National, we got “Public Enemy’s Wife,” starring Cagney pal Pat O’Brien and Cagney co-star Margaret Lindsay.

Lindsay’s the title character, while O’Brien is another mid-1930s G-Man—no-nonsense and hare-brained. And the public enemy in Cagney’s stead? None other than the original Joker, Cesar Romero, a mere stripling at 29. Not bad.

But it’s not good.

Palm Royal
It begins with a trial. Of the public enemy or his wife? That would make too much sense. It’s a guy named Correlli, who was involved in a crime that’s already put Gene Maroc (Romero) and his wife Judith (Lindsay) behind bars. Then we get a rush of newspapermen phoning in the verdict. I guess it’s a hung jury. (The “he” mentioned below is the DA):

  • Journo 1: Sure he’s going to ask for a new trial. But he knows he can’t hang a thing on Correlli unless Maroc or his missus talk.
  • Journo 2: So he’s going to the state prison to try to sweat it out of them.

At the state prison, in place of sweating, we’re introduced to a trio of female switchboard operators, all of whom are prisoners (was that a thing?), including our title character, the chipper, well-groomed Judith. Then she’s told to see the warden because she’s getting paroled. 

Initially I thought it was a scam to sweat her, but no, the warden believes she’s a good kid who got caught up with a bad actor. It’s the two G-Men hanging around his office, Lee Laird and Gene Ferguson (O’Brien and Robert Armstrong), who are suspicious—particularly Laird. He decides at this moment, just when Judith is about to walk, to grill her. She’s not having it. “I don’t care what you believe,” she snaps, “all I ask is to be let alone!” She pronounces it “ahsk.” Like any public enemy’s wife.

Laird might’ve believed her innocence if he’d eavesdropped on her farewell conversation with Maroc:

Maroc: Now get this, Judy: divorce or no divorce, you’re mine. That’s why they sent you here for something you didn’t do—I fixed that! So I’d know where you were every minute.

Judith: But you made one mistake: I’m out! And you’re still here.

A scene later, she’s socialite Judith Roberts, staying at the Palm Royal Hotel while being pursued by Tommy “Marrying” McKay (Dick Foran). True to his name, he wants to marry her, but she’s reluctant. Because of her past? Because she’s worried about Maroc? What kind of name is Maroc anyway? It’s how the French say Morocco, but I assume the writers got it by transposing the last two letters of “Marco.” Could none of them pick up a phone book? 

After their engagement winds up in the newspapers, replete with picture, Maroc hatches his escape plan. He says he’ll testify against Correlli, and as he’s being transported by train to the trial, a package delivered by a kindly old lady starts emitting a gas that puts everyone to sleep. Holy ’60s Batman plot device, Batman! Oddly, the one guy Maroc didn’t let in on the ploy was Correlli, who thinks he’s a rat and comes gunning for him. But car crash. 

Our G-Men show up at Judith’s suite with its black maid out of central casting. They still assume she’s in cahoots with Maroc; but in their presence she finally confesses to McKay her real name, background, and the danger he might be in. Laird, without acknowledging his error, pivots on a dime: The wedding will draw out Maroc! They have to go through with it! Which … Was putting civilians at risk in the FBI handbook back then?

At this point, we’re just 30 minutes. The movie is short but it takes for fucking ever.

At this point, too, we’re still wondering if Tommy is a right guy. He’s not. “You can’t expect me to marry an ex-convict!” he complains to the G-Men. Write the rest yourself:

  • Laird will take McKay’s place at the altar
  • They’ll fall in looooove

Bingo.

During the ceremony a car backfires, all the G-Men go for their guns, and Maroc realizes it’s a set-up. Now we get the honeymoon, with all of its sickly Code-era innuendo. Because yes, they’re actually married—they forgot to tell the minister it was a set-up—and still trying to draw out Maroc. Which they do. Suddenly he’s there, and, with Laird in the next room, he takes off with Judith.

Holed up at the Schwartzman Fishing Camp, waiting for a boat to Havana, Judith looks for a way to get word out. She’s smart about it: She cuts a telephone line, they send repairmen, they see her note. Those guys are smart, too: One guy shinnies up the pole and taps out what’s going on. Who’s not smart? The FBI, of course. Laird and Ferguson go into the joint pretending to be drunk fishermen but fool no one since their shoes are clean. They still get the drop on Maroc, but then his gang gets the drop on them, but then fights ensue, etc. Laird and Maroc fisticuff it out in the mud. Laird wins, Maroc dies. And in the end, no surprise, Laird and Judith realize they’ve fallen in love and kiss in the backseat of the car. The End.

The Joker before the Joker.

Never right
Apparently there was concern, at least in some quarters, that all these 1930s G-Men movies and radio shows were problematic.  “A vast mass of propaganda is being loosed to convince the American public that the agents of the Justice Department are invariably brave, never corruptible and always right,” wrote columnist Heywood Broun.

And yet, here anyway, the G-Men are almost never right. They suspect Judith is guilty when she’s innocent; they set up a wedding/honeymoon to trap the bad guy but don’t. In fact, he gets away with the girl right under their noses. And they only get their man because of the good work of telephone linemen. Maybe we needed a slew of movies about them?

I’m curious if this was intentional—if Warners, or its writers, didn’t like the Code, didn’t like having to switch from gangster protagonists, who were fun, to G-Men, who weren’t, and made them look bad. Two of its writers, Harold Buckley and P.J. Wolfson, wrote mostly slop; the third, Abem Finkel, the son of a famous actor of the Yiddish Theater, went on to help write “Jezebel” and “Sergeant York.” The director was the aptly named Nick Grinde, who mostly did B pictures.

Overall, Romero is good, Armstrong fun, O’Brien phones it in, and Margaret Lindsay is all wrong for the title role. The whole “ahsk” thing. She’s probably my least-favorite of the frequent Cagney co-stars. Under duress she’s not bad but if her character is doing OK her self-satisfaction is insufferable. Yet the studio kept trying to make her happen. She was the fetch of 1930s Warner Bros.

1930s “Fetch”

Posted at 10:14 PM on Saturday May 25, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Wednesday May 22, 2024

Nothing Dim Light

The full quote is “Let nothing dim the light that shines from within,” and yes, it's from poet Maya Angelou, and isn't it pretty to think so? But the world being the world means we can't have pretty things. Here's the quote as it appears in the International District in Seattle:

A bit dimmer. I think a window got busted out, or a store went out of business—something had to be boarded up—and there went some of the quote. And then the modern poets started in on it. It's looked like this for a few years now.

Posted at 09:13 AM on Wednesday May 22, 2024 in category Seattle   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 21, 2024

What is Ang Lee Known For?

Sigh.

Look, I like all these movies. I've seen all these movies. (Wait, not “Lust, Caution.”) He was one of my indie guys in the 1990s. I loved “Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” even more, and I loved his Hollywood stuff, “Sense and Sensibility” and “Ice Storm.” And then he broke big with “Crouching Tiger.” But Ang Lee became the first non-white dude to win a directing Oscar, and he did it for a movie that was a cultural phenomenon, and it was called “Brokeback Mountain,” and somehow, via IMDb's algorithms, which supposedly gives weight to things like Oscars, it doesn't make the cut. 

I swear, they're gaslighting the culture.

Posted at 08:04 AM on Tuesday May 21, 2024 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Monday May 20, 2024

Movie Review: Before It Ends (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The near-fatal flaw of Jacob (Pilou Asbaek), the morally upright principal of a folk school in Ryslinge, Denmark, in the waning day of World War II, is not that he attempts to administer to the sick even if they are German, or doesn’t allow children to die even if they are German; it’s that he’s a lousy debater. Did he never take rhetoric? He’s also not very good at reading a room. 

When he decides to close the school six weeks early, for example, because the German refugee children are dying of diphtheria in the overcrowded school gym, and if he can move some of them into the rooms currently occupied by Danish students they might survive, he doesn’t say any of that. He just says they’re closing the school. He assumes the rightness of his position is obvious. It isn’t. Not nearly. Not after everything.

This wouldn't have to change the storyline, by the way. He could’ve stated his position clearly and the locals still could’ve ignore it. But he doesn’t state his position clearly. That’s frustrating for a viewer. It’s like watching Democrats at a debate. Just say X! Just say Y! Nothing.

The least-sympathetic refugees
The movie opens with Jacob teaching his son, Soren (Lasse Peter Larsen), about the proper way to raise the Danish flag before the schoolday begins. Since I knew we were in Nazi-occupied Denmark, April 1945, I wondered what the flag might look like. Did Denmark have a specific occupation flag? Would they have to raise the Danish flag and theGerman flag? Nope, it’s the usual: a horizontal white cross against a red background. Not a bad first scene for a movie that’s about what we teach our children—even when we’re not trying to teach them.

The boy remains our eyes and ears throughout. The adults seem to have their moral stances ready, while Soren is constantly working through gray areas. You can see it in his scrunched-up face. Larsen is good, by the way. He seems like a kid overwhelmed by the difficulties of an adult world in turmoil.

Have there been less sympathetic refugees than Germans in 1945 fleeing into territories long occupied by Germany? Historically, 250,000 Germans landed in Denmark, and Jacob, as school principal, is asked to house 200 of them. That seems impossible. And then it becomes 500+.

Initially not much care is given. The Germans get the gym, and some supplies, and get to fend for themselves. When Jacob’s wife, Lis (Kartine Greis-Rosenthal), attempts to bring them milk, or to feed several German orphans in their home, including a young girl, Gisela (Liv Vile Christensen), Soren objects. They’re the enemy! She overrules, but when Jacob comes home he overrules her. He’s already been taken before the dour town council, led by the dourer Lauritz (Ulrich Thomsen), and told that if his wife continues what she’s doing, their position in town—i.e., his job—will have to be rethought.

So at this point, I was pissed at her. But when diphtheria begins taking the children in the gym, it’s suddenly Jacob who takes the extra moral step. He tries to get antitoxins to them. He even travels with Soren to a neighboring town, fools several Nazis into thinking he’s a doctor, and grabs the meds they need.

For this, he’s suddenly a pariah—a collaborator. A rock is thrown through their window and a cross burned in their front yard. In an after-school game of “war,” Soren is made the Nazi, but his father’s new rep makes it no longer a game. He’s tied to a tree, a swastika chalked onto his forehead, and his pants and underpants pulled down. He’s left there in the cold. To die? To suffer? It’s the German girl, Gisela, who finds him and frees him.

Increasingly, Soren is drawn into the orbit of Birk (Morten Hee Andersen), the young resistance fighter whose father, a kindly doctor, was killed by the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the picture. Perhaps to clear the family name, or maybe because it’s his inclination anyway, Soren offers to deliver guns to resistance fighters. He says he knows the Germans don’t stop children. Right, except his father does. And Jacob and Birk have it out.

When the war ends, the town celebrates, but for the family there’s no celebrating: Jacob, the pariah, remains indoors. Soren rides with Birk through the town, picking up collaborators for detention, including women who slept with German soldiers and now have their heads shaved. Then Birk tells Soren to get out. They’re about to head to the folk school.

Again, Jacob doesn’t make the obvious arguments in his defense. “Isn’t collaboration when you side with a powerful enemy to benefit yourself? I sided with a powerless enemy to benefit dying children. Go fuck yourselves.” That would’ve been my argument. Instead, he says little, and is tossed into the truck with the rest. Heinrich (Peter Kurth of “Babylon Berlin”), the German doctor with whom he worked, who idiotically kept wearing his swastika pin in Denmark because to take it off would mean all of his sacrifices—his sons and his wife—would’ve been for nothing, this asshole tries to stand up for him. Shot by Birk.

Incarcerated, beaten and returned home, Jacob’s moral rectitude suddenly crumbles, and the movie gets a little fuzzy. Not morally, dramatically. I began to not buy stuff. I didn’t buy that the town, after all that, was still willing to keep Jacob as school principal; and I didn’t buy that Jacob was still willing, after all that, to actually stay in Ryslinge. And for reasons of weakness! “Where would we go?” he says to his wife forlornly. “What would we do?” Really? You’re just thinking that now? It’s like the movie wants to keep the primary tension in place long after it’s snapped.

But this is when Soren reveals whose son he is.

The last refugees
I could see a movie where Soren chooses Birk as father-figure and becomes tormentor. (That would be a ’70s movie.) We do see him fight another child, cheered on by his one-time tormentors, but we don’t know how he got in good with them again. Because he ran guns? Feels like we’re missing a scene.

Anyway he chooses the good father. As the parents succumb, and agree not to help dying German children anymore, Soren takes the earlier lessons he learned from them to risk everything to save Gisela. He breaks her out of the makeshift prison camp and tries to take her to a doctor in a neighboring town. When his father catches up with him, he convinces him to do the right thing; and when they’re stopped by Birk at a security checkpoint, Soren convinces Birk to let them through; and when the hospital still refuses to help the dying child because she’s German, and Jacob is making hapless arguments, it’s Soren, yet again, who saves the day: He walks in with the dying girl in his arms. Soren has the moral compass of his father but can actually make an argument. He's a breath of fresh air for the viewer. 

But this is the final straw for the township, and, in the final scene, the family leaves Ryslinge on foot. For helping war refugees, they become war refugees. I just wish writer-director Anders Walter didn’t underline things here. The family looks too proud, for one, and the townfolk look ashamed, as if they've already realized their madness. I wanted more gray. I wanted more gray throughout 

But it’s not a bad movie. Personal note: “Before It Ends” is the first movie I saw that was part of the Seattle International Film Festival—as opposed to a movie at one of the SIFF theaters around town, or the noir festival they host every February—since before the pandemic. Yeah, it’s been a slog. For a few years I think they moved it online. The last few years we’ve been traveling. Even this year, with time on my hands, I didn’t pay attention to the schedule, because the idea of going to a bunch of films in crowded theaters several days in a row just didn’t appeal to me. But a few days ago, a rainy Saturday, I checked what was playing, and this immediately appealed. For one, it was Denmark. For two, it starred Pilou Asbaek, whom I first encountered at “A Hijacking” at SIFF in 2013. It felt like a homecoming. 

Posted at 08:39 AM on Monday May 20, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Sunday May 19, 2024

Poz Cools on M's

The man who thought the M's would be great this year—or, more accurately, wanted the M's to be great this year—has cooled on them a bit. From Joe Posnanski's SubStack the other day, “Who's Winning (and Losing), and Why,” in which he went over each division and gave us what, where and why as of May 14:

American League West
Leading: Seattle (23-19)

Why they're winning: They're not exactly winning, but they're in first place because they're getting some good starting pitching—this team has the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league—and they're taking most of the close games. With the early emergence of Bryce Miller, to go along with Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, this does look like one of the best four-man rotations in the league. But the offense: Bleh. They're 13th in the league in runs scored and are striking out more than any team. We keep waiting for Julio Rodriguez to ignite.

Confidence level: Medium, I guess. The offense has to get better, I would think, and that starting rotation is stout. Still, the Rangers seem to have a lot more firepower.

His “Confidence level” is how confident he is they'll stay in that position. I'm with him. The offense has to get better. The Mariners are currently 25th in the Majors in team batting, 21st in team OPS. We're first in strikeouts and 19th in walks. Ninth in homers, we're dead last in doubles, with 52 on the season, which is nine away from the next team, so not even close. What is it the M's do? We hit poorly but occasionally hit it out. And our pitching is good. That's neither a formula for success or excitement.

Posted at 12:52 PM on Sunday May 19, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 16, 2024

What Is Mia Sara Known For?

Back in the day I had a huge crush on Mia Sara, as did most of my generation, and mostly for playing Sloane in “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.” But IMDb isn't having that shit. 

Maybe I'm wrong? Maybe there's this huge “Timecop” fanbase out there. And when Sara dies, The New York Times, or its equivalent, will let us know, “Mia Sara, 'Timecop' actress ...” etc. etc.

But I'm not wrong.

Posted at 12:20 PM on Thursday May 16, 2024 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Wednesday May 15, 2024

Movie Review: The Marvels (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Trying to explain the box-office disaster of last November’s “The Marvels” before I saw it, I suggested that one of its problems—along with superhero saturation, audience misogyny, and just not being very good—may be Captain Marvel’s personality problem. In that she doesn’t have one. “You need a thread, and you need personality, and you need to give us a reason to go out into the November weather,” I wrote. “And I don’t know if ‘The Marvels’ had any of that.”

Turns out it did. Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American superhero-worshipping teen turned superhero, first depicted in the Disney+ TV series “Ms. Marvel,” is loaded with personality. Maybe too much of it? She bubbles, and sometimes bubbles over. But I’ll take it. Beats flat.

She’s the gee-whiz fun of the movie. She’s us: the regular person in the realm of the gods.

Both Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) keep acting like they’ve been there before. Which they have. Which we all have. 

Antiquing
Am I getting too old for this shit? In the first scene, on a barren moonlike landscape, as an obelisk is lifted from the depths of a crater and then smashed open with a Thor-like hammer, I thought Dar-Benn, the hammer-wielding Kree leader with the Romulan shoulder-pads, was Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones.” Meanwhile her right-hand man looked a bit like Tom Sizemore with eyeliner and a man-bun. “But,” I said to myself, “Tom Sizemore’s dead, right?” Right. Or would be if this were him. It wasn’t Clarke, either, but Zawe Ashton. All of which makes me feel like the play-by-play man who keeps calling the son by the father’s name. Do I even know what decade it is?

Dar-Benn is basically antiquing. From the smashed obelisk, she culls a cool bracelet that glows purple when she snaps it onto her forearm. She’s just missing its companion piece. “It must be buried elsewhere,” shrugs eyeliner Tom Sizemore. “Elsewhere?” says Dar-Benn with a desperate, humorless need. “Like where?”

Cut to: Jersey City, NJ. 

That’s not a bad gag but it soured me immediately on Dar-Benn as a villain. Like where? Hey, I’m new here myself, lady, I don’t have all the answers.

Now we’re introduced—or re-introduced if we’ve seen the TV series (I haven’t)—to Kamala Khan and her success-oriented immigrant family. They’re fun. Kamala is in her room supposedly doing her science homework but actually drawing a rainbow-and-unicorn inflected adventure comic with her hero, Captain Marvel. But then her forearm bracelet begins to glow purple and pow! she’s sucked through her closet door and into a fight with Dar-Benn.

Well, first we flash back to earlier in the day since we haven’t been introduced to our hero yet. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is on a space station of some kind, with her cat, having bad dreams and/or memories. On another space station somewhere, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) contacts her about “the surge in the jump-point system.” What’s the jump-point system? Exactly. I guess they’re like wormholes that cover up plotholes. A space door opens, allowing you to traverse the galaxy quickly. And those metal bracelets? They’re quantum bands that create these jump points. Or something. Does it matter? Enough to know the surge was caused by Dar-Benn, and as both Danvers and Rambeau investigate, and Kamala’s bracelet glows purple, something symbiotic happens and all three switch places: Rambeau winds up on the desolate moon Danvers was investigating, Danvers in Kamala’s closet, and Kamala in Rambeau’s spacesuit pinwheeling through space*.

* Why do they trade accoutrements like the space suit but not clothes? Isn’t a space suit clothes?

We get a good early fight scene where they battle the Kree in three different spots—including the Kahn living room—and every time they power up they switch places and havoc ensues. And eventually we get the longer backstory that explains both Danvers’ dreams and Dar-Benn’s M.O. Apparently, 30 years ago, Danvers destroyed the A.I. that controlled the Kree Empire (was that in the first movie? I’ve already forgotten) and it led to 30 years of civil war which rendered the Kree planet, Hala, uninhabitable. That’s why Dar-Benn is now stealing air from the new Skrull home planet (rendering them refugees again), water from Aladna (Bollywood by way of a transgender Land of Oz), and eventually the sun from Earth. 

Dar-Benn is targeting each of these planets because each means something to Danvers and she wants vengies. The Kree blame Danvers for everything that’s happened to them, just as the Skrulls blame Danvers for being forced into exile again, just as Rambeau blames Danvers for not returning to Earth sooner. “You said you’d be back before I knew it,” she complains while world are being destroyed. Danvers takes everyone’s concerns seriously, too. It’s tiring. Not to mention boring. How about one “Get the fuck OFF me” line?

On the other hand, maybe she should blame herself. She set everything in motion but didn’t have the wherewithal or imagination to figure out a solution. It’s up to Rambeau, mid-battle with Dar-Benn, to suggest one. Since Hala’s sun is dormant rather than dead, maybe it just needs a jumpstart; and maybe Danvers could do that with her powers. Danvers looks at her, surprised, worried, pained. “But I’ve never done anything like that before,” she responds.

That’s our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

And guess what? She does all that. In the end, she restores the Hala sun without breaking a sweat. Embarrassing.

Creaking
Not to be a dick but is there too much female bonding in this thing? Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie shows up mid-movie to give Danvers a hug and the Skrulls a place to land. At the end, Hailee Steinfeld shows up as the daughter of Hawkeye, now a crime-fighter in her own right (via yet another Disney+ TV series), who is recruited by Kamala, who is acting the part of Nick Fury/Phil Coulson and using more famous lines from better movies: “I’m putting together a team,” she says. Our heroes even try to enfold Dar-Benn into their matriarchy; they give her an out and allow themselves to be betrayed. Why not, right? It’s just the Earth’s sun.

Plus the thing they fight against comes to pass and it’s no big deal. Oh no, Dar-Benn can’t get both bracelets! When she does, she just destroys herself. And sure, rips a hole in the space-time continuum or whatever, but this allows Rambeau to do her thing, winding up, in a mid-credits sequence, in a different reality, where her mom (Lashana Lynch) is alive and the Beast (Kelsey Grammar) is her doctor. Do we care? Why should we care?

How much don’t we care? “The Marvels” did the unthinkable in the MCU: It opened at $46 million, topped out at $84 domestic, and disappeared. It couldn’t do what “Spider-Man” did on its opening weekend 20 years ago.

It’s not completely its fault. The MCU has lost its way. These are its recent releases:

DATE MOVIE OPENING TOTAL
May 2022 Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness $187 $411
 July 2022 Thor: Love and Thunder  $144 $343
 Nov. 2022 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever $181 $453
Feb. 2023  Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania $106 $214
May 2023 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 $118 $358
 Nov. 2023 THE MARVELS $46 $84

“Guardians” wasn’t bad, but what a sad bunch of movies. Fool me 10 times, shame on me.

I’m curious who at Marvel said, back in the early going, “What if we insert scenes in the credits hinting at an ‘Avengers’ movie down the road?” That’s what you need: fun new ideas. To quote Zack Greinke: Do more of that.

Posted at 08:30 AM on Wednesday May 15, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 14, 2024

Ms 6, KC 2, and the Black Hole at Second

And the crowd went wild

The announced attendance last night was 14,984 but it felt way sparser than that. It felt like a mid-September game: starting temps in the low 60s dropping into the chilly 50s as the game went on; a handful of fans trying to amuse themselves with scoreboard antics or hydro races; two teams with nowhere players going nowhere fast.

Both teams are actually doing well. Or well-ish. The Mariners, predicted to win the West by some, are in fact in first place in the AL West (by half a game at gamestart), while the Royals, whom nobody predicted to go anywhere, are third in the AL Central but with a better record: 25-17 vs. 22-19. So why wasn't there more excitement?

On the M's side, it's partly that record. We're only in first because everyone else in the division is falling on their faces. We're like the normal guy at the klutz convention, but no one is mistaking us for Fred Astaire. It's also our offense—or lack of it. Halfway through the game, our second baseman and No. 3 hitter Jorge Polanco had to leave with a hamstring pull, and in the reshuffling the new third baseman, Luis Urias, wound up in the three spot. I nudged my friend Tim. “Look at that. Means we have a No. 3 hitter batting below .200.” Then I realized the awful truth. “I guess we began the game that way, didn't we?” In fact three of our starters were below Mendoza: Polanco and the two Mitches—Haniger and Garver—while seven of our starting nine were hitting below .250, and one of those, supposed star Julio Rodriguez, was barely that. In the game he went 1-4 with a single and now sports a .255/.309/.321 line, for a .630 OPS. I know he's a slow starter (a year ago he was at .214/.280./403), but all of that helps account for the meh reaction. This is a meh team. The Mariners are 25th in the Majors in batting (.226) and OBP (.302). The reason we're first in the West is because our starting pitching is superlative: No. 1 in the Majors in quality starts, No. 1 in WHIP, sixth in ERA.

Last night, starter George (“Summer of George!”) Kirby was shaky in the early going. With one out, Bobby Witt Jr. dunked a single to right, then Kirby seemed to lose control: he plunked the next two guys to load the bases. A mound visit seemed to do good for a change: he struck out the next guy, Michael Massey, on three pitches, then got a 6-3 to end the inning. But after two innings he'd thrown 43 pitches and you figured he wasn't long for the game. Except he turned it around. He had a couple of 1-2-3, throwing just 10 and 7 pitches, and he left after seven, ahead 4-0. He threw more than 100 pitches. Can't remember the last guy I saw who threw more than 100 pitches.

Our big bat was Lonesome Luke Raley, a 29-year-old left fielder acquired in the off-season from Tampa Bay, who hit a 2-run homer to dead center in the 2nd. He's an upswing guy—in that last year was his best year by far. He's the opposite of what Jerry DiPoto keeps doing with second base: getting one-time All-Stars who've had bad seasons, thinking they can turn it around. That was Kolten Wong in 2023, Polanco now. In our resumed SubStack the other day, Tim and I went over the black hole that was left field for the 1990s Seattle Mariners and last night we agreed that's now second base. Here are our main second-baggers playing opposite J.P. Crawford for the past few years, along with their OPSes:

  • 2024: Jorge Polanco, .606
  • 2023: Kolten Wong, .468; Jose Caballero, .663
  • 2022: Adam Frazier, .612
  • 2021: Abraham Toro, .695
  • 2020: Shed Long, Jr., .533
  • 2019: Dee Gordon, .663

So Abraham Toro was the high point. Who knew?

M's got two more runs in the 3rd, stringing three singles along. It should've been two singles and a double but when Cal Raleigh's deep drive to center went off the fielder's glove, Polanco, who'd been on first, wasn't ready to run, and could only get to second, stymying Raleigh. Maybe that's when he pulled the hammy? With his bad baserunning? Either way, after Lonesome Luke plated another, it stayed 4-0 until the 8th, when both teams got two: theirs off reliever Ryne “Time to panic” Stanek, ours when Tyrus Raymond France dunked a long fly into the left-field bleachers.

To me, the best-looking player of the game was Bobby Witt, Jr., who went only 1-4 but seemed everywhere: going first to third, running everything out, and with wheels. Right now he's hitting .304/.369/.518, and he's second in the Majors in WAR to Mookie Betts. Those are big boy numbers. Ah yes, I remember them well.

Posted at 11:18 AM on Tuesday May 14, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday May 12, 2024

Trump Not Trump

I'm reading Timothy Ryback's “Takeover: Hitler's Final Rise to Power” right now, and there are moments that can't help remind me of You Know Who:

  • Following his failed bid for the Reich presidency in April 1932, Hitler went to court to have the election results annulled. “Hitler to Contest Validity of Election,” The New York Times announced in a headline. ... Observing that Hindenburg had beaten Hitler by 5,941,582 votes, the court upheld the election results, ruling that the disparity was “so significant that it would make no sense for a national recount of the ballots.” Hitler nevertheless declared victory, noting that his party had gained two million votes at the polls. “That is a feat that has never been equaled, and I have done this despite the unconstitutional ban placed on my broadcasting election appeals,” Hitler said
  • What made Hitler so dangerous, Kessler believed, was his bluster, behind which lay “his intuition, lightning-fast ability to assess a situation, and ability to react with astonishing speed and effectiveness.”
  • [Kurt von] Schleicher had a strategy he called the Zähmungsprozess, or taming process, designed to marginalize the party “radicals” and bring the movement into the political mainstream. Schleicher praised Hitler as a “modest, orderly man who only wants what is best” and is committed to the rule of law. Schleicher had equally flattering words for Hitler's storm troopers. [Schleicher was murdered by Hitler's S.S. in 1934.]
  • Assembling in columns six men across, the storm troopers marched into the narrow, cobbled streets, provoking sniper fire from windows and rooftops that killed two storm troopers instantly. When the police intervened, a full-blown street battle erupted. By day's end, there were five dead, with another seven fatally wounded, and dozens more with serious injuries. The violence produced the sort of headlines Hitler had hoped for—“Reds Shoot at Nazis from Roofs in Altona,” in The New York Times, for example...
  • “The National Socialist movement will achieve power in Germany by methods permitted by the present Constitution—in a purely legal way,” [Hitler] told The New York Times. “It will then give the German people the form of organization and government that suits our purposes.”

Trivia question: Which prominent American's photo was kept in Hitler's office in the Brown House in Munich, the early headquarters of the National Socialist movement? Not surprisingly...

Hitler occupied a large second-floor corner salon whose ceiling was decorated with stucco swastikas. On the walls hung a portrait of Frederick the Great; a painting of Hitler's military unit, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, in action during the war; and a framed photograph of Henry Ford. A German translation of Ford's anti-Semitic treatise, The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem, sat on a table in the foyer.

I'm still in the early going. Recommended.

Posted at 05:46 PM on Sunday May 12, 2024 in category Books   |   Permalink  

Saturday May 11, 2024

DIY 9-1-1

Increasingly it feels like nothing works anymore.

Yesterday afternoon I was meeting a friend at the Mountaineering Club, a rooftop bar atop the Graduate Hotel in Seattle's University District. It was a beautiful day, Seattle's first 80-degree day of the year, and I drove over, parked, starting walking, then ran into what we often run into in Seattle: a bit of unpleasantness. This time it was a shirtless, shoeless man, 30s probably, vociferous and angry, sitting on the sidewalk. Was he talking to me or just talking out loud? I could see blood on his forehead and blood on one of his bare feet and he was asking me to call 911. It was more demanding than beseeching, but I stopped, took in the scene. Yes, he seemed to be bleeding. Yes, I guess I should call.

So I did. I explained to the female operator: I'm passing by, a guy on the sidewalk, bleeding—sotto voce: he might not be all there—and he asked me to call. 50th and 11th. Then there was a bit of a delay. She was asking more questions than I'd anticipated and eventually a male operator got on the line, too.

Male Operator: Are you near the Fire Dept.?
Me: Yes, it's across the street.
Male Operator: Well, can't you just walk him over?

I was a bit stunned. Was 911 part of the Fire Dept.? I thought it was—I guess cops? Or its own entity? Plus I'd never heard a 911 operator make this kind of request before. Wasn't it usually “Wait there.” Instead I got: “We're a little busy, how about coming over here instead.”

Me: Well, I...
Male Operator: Can he walk?
Me: I guess? It's just...
Female Operator: Sir, do you feel safe?
Me: It's more—he's not very responsive. I don't know if he would go. Again, he's not really all there.

Mostly I didn't relish the idea of trying to convince him. Because I didn't care that much. I wanted to do bare minimum. Plus, as I looked over, he no longer seemed to be bleeding from his head. And the blood on his foot seemed pretty red. Too red? Like fake? Was the whole thing a scam?

But I walked across the street, rang the doorbell of the Fire Dept., explained what was up. Everyone seemed confused by my presence, and in the end it turned out an operator had already dispatched someone, and that was that. Just another odd moment in another odd day in another odd, awful year. Walking away, I had this thought: “Even 9-1-1.”

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Posted at 09:02 AM on Saturday May 11, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  
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