Wednesday August 30, 2023
Julio- and Kirby-less M's Look Feeble Against A's
The M's touted Julio's 4-hit streak pre-game, announced him in the starting lineup, but he wasn't there.
Is it me? I'm beginning to think it's me.
The last game I'd gone to was the infamous Felix game, where they inducted King Felix Hernandez into the Mariners Hall of Fame and then truly honored his Mariners career by scoring zero runs, wasting a great start by George Kirby, and losing 1-0 in 10 innings.
They wound up losing the next two games, too, including one against a not-good KC squad; but after that they went on a truly blistering hot streak, winning 12 of the next 13, with Julio Rodriguez setting a MLB record with 17 hits over a four-game stretch. He was suddenly everything we'd hope he'd be. For August, he's slashed a .429/.474/.724 line, and was national news, and the Mariners, who had been creeping toward a wild-card spot, were taking the '95 Buhner approach and saying screw the wild card, we want the division. And they TOOK it. They leaped past both Texas teams and it felt a bit like '95 again. PLUS, in last night's game, we were starting George Kirby, our No. 2 and maybe even No. 1 pitcher. PLUS we were playing the Oakland Athletics, who, at 38-94, were not just the worst team in baseball but one of the worst teams in basebally history. PLUS they were starting a guy with an ERA over 6.00! So I was feeling about as confident as I've ever felt about a Mariners game as I walked to the park last night in the pregame drizzle.
And then I see our starting pitcher. “Wait, that's not George Kirby. Where's George Kirby?”
“Out,” Jeff said. “Undisclosed illness.”
“And this is...?”
“Some callup, I think.”
[Editor's note: We picked him up August 22, a few days after he was released by the Cincinnati Reds, and since then he'd pitched three innings in relief, giving up 1 run. But for the season his ERA was over 6.00.]
They hit him early and often. Even the outs were tagged. One of them went to the warning track but our centerfielder settled under it.
“Wait, that's not Julio. Didn't they announce Julio was starting?” I looked at the scoreboard. Eugenio Suarez was batting second. No Julio. “Where's Julio? What happened?”
Jeff got out his phone and went to a Lookout Landing thread. Sore left foot. And suddenly, without George and Julio, our mighty team didn't seem so mighty. After two innings it was 3-0, A's, and we were lucky it was only 3-0. We didn't get our first hit until the the bottom of the 4th, a leadoff single by Teoscar Hernandez. Then we mixed in some outs with some walks. Then Cade Marlowe walked with the bases loaded for a run. Then Jose Caballero popped to short for the third out.
And that, it turned out, was the ballgame.
The A's kept bringing in pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 and we kept doing nothing with them. We didn't get our second hit until the bottom of the 8th—an infield single from Mike Ford. We didn't get our third hit until the bottom of the ninth with two outs—a bloop single to right by Jose (Who?) Rojas. Then J.P. Crawford followed with a double to left and the place was on its feet. A base hit would tie it! A homerun would win it! All would be right with the world again!
And on the seventh pitch Eugenio Suarez struck out. And there went the game and the recent 4-game win streak.
It's me, isn't it?
Final sad note: Last night is probably the last time I get to see the Oakland A's, the team that ruled the baseball world with their long hair and staches when I was a kid. Next season they're supposedly moving to Las Vegas to play in a dinky stadium in 110-degree heat before hungover gambling tourists. The national pastime. Somewhere, Shoeless Joe is spinning in his grave.
Tuesday August 29, 2023
Mets, Marlins, Nats, Braves
It's been a busy month so I apologize for neglecting the fourth Trump indictment—the RICO case in Atlanta with his 17 or 18 co-conspirators. I did like this retweet from George Conway that he reposted on Post. (Yes, retweet reposted on Post. Sue me.)
I told my cousin Amy, a longtime Phillies fan, that Philadelphia has to get off the schnied.
Jokes aside, it's still up to GOP voters, and GOP politicians, to take it all seriously. We know what Trump is; we've known that forever, and he'll never not be that way. But we weren't always this way. Rush and Fox News forged the path and all of it has to be owned up to, particularly by mainstream media outlets such as NYT and NPR, who have ignored it for way too long. It's all about the how, though, and no one has the answer. I certainly don't. But a few more GOP leaders actually showing leadership might help.
Monday August 28, 2023
Casting the Shame of Culpability
“Feeling guilty or not feeling guilty—I think that's the whole issue. Life is a struggle of all against all. It's a known fact. But how does that struggle work in a society that's more or less civilized? People can't just attack each other the minute they see them. So instead they try to cast the shame of culpability on the other. The one who manages to make the other one guilty will win. The one who confesses his crime will lose. You're walking along the street, lost in thought. Along comes a girl, walking straight ahead as if she were the only person in the world, looking neither left nor right. You jostle one another. And there it is, the moment of truth: Who's going to bawl out the other person, and who's going to apologize? It's a classic situation: Actually, each of them is both the jostled and the jostler. And yet some people always—immediately, spontaneously—consider themselves the jostlers, thus in the wrong. And others always—immediately, spontaneously—consider themselves the jostled ones, therefore in the right, quick to accuse the other and get him punished.”
-- Milan Kundera, “The Festival of Insignificance: A Novel,” 2015
The novel, such as it is, is bare-bones late Kundera, but he's still talking about stuff that matters. I love the above because I've thought about it, too. In a way the people who get ahead aren't those (like me) who buy into the etiquette but those who are always looking for an edge and using it. Except now, in the social media age, the etiquette is condemning those who found an edge and used it. I'd be in favor of this if I felt it were making us better people, but it's not. The edge is now condemning those who have used outdated edges, despicable edges, and how dare they. It's too much “The Lottery.” And we're all gathering stones along the edges of the crowd.
Tuesday August 22, 2023
“Although he has long enjoyed the sleazy glamour and cynical counsel supplied by Mob-adjacent figures like Roy Cohn, his mentor in matters of conscience and the law, Trump has no code and shows no loyalty. Despite his mobster cosplay, in short, he lacks even a gangster's sense of dignity. Carmine (the Snake) Persico, for all his many sins, would have found Trump unworthy of the Cosa Nostra. Before the Mafia's disintegration, a boss was obliged to help a fallen or legally entangled soldier. And yet Trump won't even pay the legal bills of Giuliani, his loyal sidekick.”
-- David Reminck, “The Mobster Cosplay of Donald Trump,” The New Yorker
Monday August 14, 2023
Movie Review: Barbie (2023)
Given everything writer-director Greta Gerwig had to work with—making a movie about a 1950s doll that is representative of sexism, repression and body-image issues, and somehow make it fun and funny and empowering, and with Mattel, the doll’s manufacturer, as one of the film’s producers—given all of that inevitable hassle, “Barbie” is pretty fucking amazing.
Given not all that … well, it’s still not bad. Beats another “Fast & Furious” or “Thor” or “Top Gun.” It’s about dolls but it relates to us. But it never has the emotional resonance of a “Toy Story” or “Inside Out.” It feels like it misses opportunities.
It’s a feminist movie, sure, but it’s trots out Feminism 101 talking points that anyone with ears has heard for decades. And it replaces a patriarchy with a matriarchy and says “Now we’re even.” OK?
Here’s a missed opportunity. A few years back, John Mulaney did a bit about his father’s generation. “My dad has no friends. And your dad has no friends. If you think your dad has friends you’re wrong. Your mom has friends and they have husbands. [Shakes head] Those are not your dad’s friends.” I flashed on this when Ken talked about how much he needed Barbie. That it was “Barbie and Ken,” and he was just “... and Ken,” and had no life of his own. And maybe she, or he, should’ve said that he really needed to hang with all the other Kens (and Allans, Kens’ friends!) rather than with the girl who didn’t need him.
And yes, I’m focusing on the men in a rare female-centric film; but I’m not suggesting more stuff with men, just different stuff with men.
But man did I laugh at the Zack Snyder joke.
Mean Boss Barbie
The movie begins with Barbie (Margot Robbie, perfect) having another dream day in her dream house, hanging with all the other Barbies—including Pres. Barbie (Issa Rae), scientist Barbie (Emma Mackey) and writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp)—and all but ignoring the super-needy Ken (Ryan Gosling, fantastic), whose job, he says, is not being a lifeguard but “the beach.” He just does “the beach.”
Then during a girls party at the dreamhouse, Barbie lets slip something about death and when the next day begins it’s … different. She wakes up tired and annoyed. Her breath stinks, the fake shower is cold and the fake drink tastes awful. What’s happening? The real disaster is back at the beach when she steps out of her high-heeled shoes. Rather than staying en pointe, her heels flop to the ground. Flat feet!
So she drives to meet Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon, brilliant), who had been abused back in the day, and who suggests a symbiotic relationship has developed between Barbie and the girl playing with her in the real world. And Barbie needs to travel to the real world to work it all out.
Ken smuggles himself aboard, of course, joining the chorus as Barbie sings the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” and they travel through various Barbie-scapes until they land in that real-world locale closest to a Barbie-scape: Malibu Beach, Calif. She immediately feels weird and he immediately feels empowered. Because sexism. It’s the real world, not the Barbie one.
But which real world? That’s what I kept wondering. It feels like the early ’90s—you see images of Bill Clinton and Sylvester Stallone—but no one says it exactly. The Mattel board is just white dudes (led by Will Ferrell), and they’re all fine with it, and no one brings up diversity. That doesn’t feel like today or even this century. I mean, I’m never in these boardrooms, so maybe I’m wrong, but the PR push for the last several decades is certainly toward inclusion. So it all feels off. And it winds up being fish-in-a-barrel stuff.
Turns out, too, Barbie’s not symbiotically connected with a little girl, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), but her mother, Gloria (America Ferrera), who is dealing with both the patriarchy and a teen daughter who’s grown cold to her. To be honest, the latter is the bigger issue for mom but the movie doesn’t go there. No one says, “Patriarchy sucks, sure, but teen daughters are the worst.” Sasha, who softens, remains one of the movie’s heroes.
Anyway there’s a lot of chase scenes—both cops and Mattel execs are after her—and Barbie talks to an old woman at a bus stop and an old woman in a kitchen (Rhea Perlman playing Ruth, the doll’s creator), and then she and Gloria and Sasha all return to Barbie-land, which is now Douche-ville thanks to the lessons about patriarchy that Ken brought back from the real world. SCOTUS justices are now just bikini babes. Why and how did that happen? The analogy the movie uses isn’t bad: like Native Americans against European diseases, the Barbies had no natural immunity against patriarchal brainwashing and fell hard and fast. It still doesn’t speak well of women—or Barbies—but onward.
It's Gloria who inadvertently finds the cure that shakes the Barbies from their brainwashing when she rants about how impossible it is to be a woman:
You have to be thin but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss but you can’t be mean. You have to lead but you can’t squash other people’s ideas.
Can I complain about this complaint? It’s supposed to be gender-specific but is it? Certainly not all of it. “You have to be a boss but you can’t be mean” is true for men, too, and anyway why would you want to be mean? “You have to lead but you can’t squash other people’s ideas” is also true for men, and, again, why would you want to squash other people’s ideas? If other people’s ideas are better than yours, shit, use them, and reward the person. Half the complaints, too, are less against the patriarchy and feel more internecine: the thin/healthy, mom/professional debates women have amongst themselves.
Worse, none of it would mean anything to someone reared in a Barbieocracy. But it’s the thing that wakes them up? Then they use their sexual wiles to get all the Kens jealous of each other, leading to a Ken War at the very moment the Kens are attempting to vote in the patriarchy permanently. Man, if we could just do the same with Republicans.
There’s some great lines. At one point, Allan (Michael Cera, so good, welcome back!) tries to hitch a ride into the real world with Gloria and Sasha. Called on it, he exclaims:
Allans have been in the real word before—no one’s noticed! NSYNC? They’re all Allans! Even that one!
The movie also gets meta. When Barbie breaks down, saying she’s not pretty anymore, our narrator (Helen Mirren) interrupts the proceedings: “Note to filmmakers: Margot Robbie is not the actress to get this point across.”
But the line that made me love the movie forever is one that writer Barbie says as she snaps out of her bimbo state:
It’s like I’ve been in a dream where I was really invested in the Zack Snyder cut of “Justice League.”
I had a good time, and I’m glad the movie is swamping the worldwide box office. Yeah, it’s a product; yeah, you could say it's about the biggest product-placement movie of all time. It’s still worthwhile. I just hope it leads to more interesting discussions than we’re having.
Sunday August 13, 2023
Happy Felix Day
August 2012: The Mariners managed one more run that day than they did for Felix Hernandez Day last night.
Could it have gone any other way? On the night the Seattle Mariners induct into their Hall of Fame Felix Hernandez, King Felix, the six-time All Star and 2010 Cy Young Award winner for whom they could never score any runs, who gave them the best years of his career without even tasting the postseason once, that very night—which was last night—our young starting pitcher and first-time All Star George Kirby, over nine innings, gives up exactly three hits, all scattered singles, and zero runs ... and we still lose. Of course. Of course.
In the top of the 10th, with that stupid ghost runner on and Ms closer Andres Munoz in, the visiting Baltimore Orioles go:
- SB (to third)
- 6-3 (no run)
- single (run)
- E4 (1st and 3rd)
- 3 (foul out)
- SB (2nd and 3rd)
So we were lucky to just give up the one run. And against their ace closer Felix (!!) Bautista, we went:
And thus endeth the win streak. Happy Felix Day, everyone! I guess a Felix did win after all.
Before last night, the Mariners had won eight in a row, starting with that afternoon game against Boston that my wife and I saw last week, and with a Blue Jays loss in the afternoon we'd moved into a tie with them for that final wild card spot. A victory would've put us in the lead.
Before the game, I'd told my seatmate Tim that, for the honorarium, rather than trotting out the usual crew of Mariners HOFers they should just intro players from those shitty 2009-2013 teams. “Felix, remember Chone Figgins, who over three years slashed a .227/.302/.283 line? How about a hand for Eric Byrnes, who brought his blonde-haired swagger to the Emerald City for 38 plate appearances and 3 hits! And when your games needed saving, who wasn't there for you? That's right, it's Josh Leuke, Blake Beaven and Aaron Laffey!” Instead, it was Junior, Edgar, Ichiro, Jamie, Dan, Alvin. “Besides Jamie, what do those guys have in common?” I asked Tim, and then answered my own question. “None of them saw a World Series.”
Last night was a game we really should've won, too. We were trotting out our No. 2 (maybe No. 1?) guy against what I assume is their No. 5 guy—and maybe not even that. Cole Irvin is a spot starter. He came in with a 5.44 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP and proceeded to mow us down. We got our first hit in the third, a leadoff double by Dylan Moore, who moved to third on a groundout and was stranded. I love the win streak but our best guys are all between .240 and .260 and strike out a ton. What was our best shot? I think in the sixth. Ty France drew a two-out walk against reliever Mike Baumann before Cal Raleigh doubled to right. A speedier guy might've scored but we didn't have speed on the basepaths. Then Teoscar Hernandez lined a shot to left (drop! drop! drop!) that didn't drop. Or it dropped into Austin Hayes' glove.
But it was nice to be there for Felix Day. These on-field honorariums are a little odd but particularly for him you want to show up. It's like that line from “Death of a Salesman”: Attention must be paid.
Saturday August 12, 2023
Movie Review: The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
The radical shot: Booth, foreground, with Harry Carey behind him.
In the intro to “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” on the Barrymore Film Center’s YouTube channel, executive director Tom Meyers mentions that Elmer Booth as the Snapper Kid is reminiscent of James Cagney—20 years before Cagney revolutionized the gangster role in “The Public Enemy.”
It’s a not-bad comparison. Both men are short, tough, energetic, and with a moral ambiguity about them. They’re bad guys but with humanity. At a tense moment in a back alleyway, Snapper is startled when someone brushes past him and he raises the gun inside his coat pocket. When he sees it’s only a Chinese laundryman, he laughs. At himself.
One difference? We immediately like Cagney. Not true with Booth’s Snapper Kid. And I think for this reason: “Musketeers” begins with the civilians.
- A poor musician (Walter Miller) leaves his girl (Lillian Gish) and her mother (Clara T. Bracy) to make money elsewhere
- A local gangster (Booth) takes a liking to the girl, makes a play, but is rebuffed
- The mother dies
- The musicians returns with money but is mugged by the gangster
No Cagney movie begins that way. In “The Public Enemy,” we never get the backstory on the bartender Cagney slaps around, or the cop he kills after the fur heist goes bad, or poor Kitty with the grapefruit. The story begins with him as a boy, and how he became what he became. Our sympathies are immediately with him.
When do our sympathies turn toward Snapper? With a moment, I’m embarrassed to say, that I missed.
Directed by D.W. Griffith for Biograph Studios, and filmed by G.W. (Billy) Blitzer, “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” is considered one of the first gangster movies, revolutionary in its camerawork, but by modern sensibilities it’s hardly a movie—just 17 minutes long. To get a true sense of its impact, you’d have to watch a bunch of 1910-11 movies before springing this on yourself.
The Museum of Modern Art tells us why it's a picture from the revolution:
The story unfolds in the cramped confines of ramshackle rooms, crowded sidewalks, and alleyways, the claustrophobia heightened by the camera’s tight framing. … A shot toward the end—among its most radical—in which The Snapper Kid brings his face up to the camera and peers out as if he is casing the movie theater itself, would have felt harrowing for those [audience members] contending with gang presence in their own lives.
After Act I, the musician is determined to get his money back. Well, “determined.” He mostly mills about the neighborhood looking forlorn. Meanwhile, a girlfriend convinces “the Little Lady” (Gish) to go to a local event, “Grand Dance of the Jolly Three,” where men and women congregate on opposite sides of the room like at a ’50s sockhop. There, the Snapper Kid eyes her again while a rival gangster (Alfred Paget) asks her to dance. She declines but says yes to a drink. In the next-door saloon, drinks arrives, he shows her a postcard, and then Snapper shows up and slaps the drink out of her hand.
Now we have a gang war. Because the two men are fighting over the Little Lady? No. Because the rival tried to drug her. That’s the detail I missed. The postcard was misdirection and it not only worked on the Little Lady but me; I missed him slipping a powder into her drink*—but Snapper didn’t. He came to the rescue.
* I assume this is less allusion to “date rape”—a term that wouldn’t exist for more than half a century—than “white slavery,” which was all over the newspapers in the early 1910s, particularly after the passage of the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910, AKA the Mann Act.
Now the movie begins a tense buildup as the two gangs mill about on the crowded street outside, and in the saloon, and in a back alleyway. They seem to be searching for each other or looking to get the upper hand. Eventually, the rival gang simply hides in the alleyway—behind barrels (!!!)*—and we get our gun battle.
* One thing I love about silent films: the unironic use of tropes I’ve only experienced ironically or in cartoons.
Amid the smoke, Snapper backs into a doorwell where the musician has been cowering, and for some reason—anticipating the cops’ arrival?—starts to put his gun in his jacket pocket, where the musician’s money is conveniently located. There’s a struggle and the musician lurches away—with the money. Does Snapper know he took it back? I never got that sense. He’s mostly running from the cops now. Which is why he barges into the Little Lady’s apartment—he needs her as an alibi. This is when she tells him the musician is her man. I love how Snapper takes it. What—HIM? Over ME? Seriously? OK. Well, good luck with all that, I guess. Really, though? You’re serious? Wow, what a screwy world.
But when a cop grabs him in the hallway outside, the couple gives him an alibi. As the title card reads: “One good turn deserves another.”
The moment I missed.
Men don’t leave
The ending is ambiguous. The cop leaves, Snapper smokes a cigarette in the hallway, and then a hand is extended from offscreen, flapping dollar bills enticingly, and the title card tells us: “Links in the system.” Social commentary, one assumes. Snapper’s circumstances will always drag him down. Then we get a shot of the couple, embracing and motioning vaguely toward the future.
If that ending seems abrupt, well, the director was busy. “Musketeers” is one of more than 70 films Griffith directed in 1912. Yes: 70. No wonder he mastered his craft. Whatever the new industry is, kids, get in on the ground floor.
Griffith knew how to pick or nurture talent, too. Snapper’s silent secondary is Harry Carey, who had a long, distinguished career as a supporting player, mostly in westerns, while a fellow musician our hero greets is Lionel Barrymore—Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Gish was only 19 at the time but became one of the screen’s first big movie stars—and then lasted. Most her career, sure, was silent, but she kept getting pulled back in: “Duel in the Sun,” “The Night of the Hunter,” “Sweet Liberty.” She died in 1993, age 99.
The male leads didn’t last so long—in life. Booth was killed in 1915 when he was a passenger in a car driven by a supposedly inebriated Tod Browning, the future horror auteur. Paget, the rival gang leader, a Brit who fought in the Second Boer War and served as an instructor in Canada in WWI, died in 1919 of malarial fever … in Winnipeg? I didn’t even know that was a thing. Miller, our romantic lead, kept acting in bit parts into the sound era but died of a heart attack in 1940, age 48. Even Clara T. Bracy, whose elderly mother barely lasts here, lived longer than any of these guys.
The title is nowhere in the film, by the way. The gang never refers to themselves as “Musketeers” and the area is never called “Pig Alley.” But it’s a great title. It pops.
A 1912 Tampa theater ad. Wouldn't mind seeing any of these but one wonders about the descriptions. “Showing that radical action is necessary to eliminate them,” for example, is a bit of a stretch.
Monday August 07, 2023
Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Really? No one on the internet—meaning everyone in the world—has mentioned Pom Klementieff going full Adam Ant in the latest “Mission: Impossible”? I had to create this image myself? C’mon, kids, don’t make the old man do the heavy lifting. I’m Tom Cruise’s age.
I hate to say it but I was bored again. Bored with the last one, bored with this one. As Elton sang, I’ve seen this movie, too.
I went with friends who dug it, who feel “M:I” movies are “a cut above,” and they’re not wrong: great stunts, slam-bang action, exotic locales. They ratchet all that up to make it pop. It’s the same but bigger.
At least this time the plot doesn’t revolve around an IMF traitor: Jon Voight, Dougray Scott, Billy Cruddup, Henry Cavill—they all betrayed us. Now not. Maybe because IMF barely exists? It’s a skeleton crew, just Tom, Ving, Simon and maybe Rebecca as longtime love interest Ilsa Faust. Wait, did I say longtime? I was thinking of Michelle Monaghan as Julia, the nurse to whom he was engaged back in III, and who shows up in IV and maybe V, and anyway this movie reveals an even earlier love interest, Marie (Mariela Garriga), whom Ethan can’t protect and who dies. There’s so much vague love/vague tragedy in Ethan’s life—all with tall leggy brunettes—it’s hard to keep up. His stunts get bigger and his love gets vaguer.
Two halves of a doohickey
Most of the M:I rules that I laid out last time still apply. No matter how many times Ethan saves the world, he always begins the next movie under suspicion by replaceable bureaucratic types. There’s a crazy man (Gabriel, Esai Morales) with crazy terrorist plans (liaison to a sentient AI called “The Entity”), and he makes it personal with Ethan (Gabriel is the guy who killed Marie). Ethan runs through exotic cities in his super upright motion, does crazy stunts, saves the day. Well, in this one he saves the morning, since it's To Be Continued. It’s two and a half hours but “Part One.” That was part of the weight I felt watching. Five hours of this?
It didn’t help that last month I saw the latest “Indiana Jones,” which begins with a battle atop a moving train and concerns a worldwide search for two halves of a doohickey that can end life as we know it. “M:I7”? It concerns a worldwide search for two halves of a doohickey that can end life as we know it and ends with a battle atop a moving train. Completely different.
The two halves here are keys, and together they form a cruciform key, and it unlocks … what again? Early on, there’s a top-level intelligence briefing between Denlinger (Cary Elwes) and great supporting TV players like Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss, NSA), Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma, DIA) and DA Buckner (Charles Parnell, NRO). This is when the boredom first hit me. Not because it was expository but because it felt fake. It wasn’t one person bringing Denlinger up to speed with a PowerPoint but everyone in the room taking turns, as coordinated as an Astaire-Rogers routine. “That’s not how it goes,” I thought. By trying to make it exciting, they made it dull. For me anyway.
I forget—did Ethan get one of the keys from Ilsa in the desert? I think he did. You could’ve lost that scene. The other key he’s planning to intercept at the Dubai Airport, but then, oops, international pickpocket and leggy brunette Grace (Hayley Atwell) takes it first, and there’s a lot of back and forth, and flirting, and masks coming off, and all the while Ethan is also being pursued by U.S. agents led by Nucky’s brother (Shea Whigham playing Briggs), while “the Entity” toys with Luther and Benji with a fake bomb scare. Then it’s Rome, then Venice, and there’s car chases and foot races, and masks coming off. That’s where Ilsa sacrifices herself to save Grace, and where Ethan vows revenge against Gabriel, her killer. Except he can’t vow too much revenge since only Gabriel knows what is the what with the cruciform key—although apparently everyone knows it’s the only thing that can save the world. We don’t know what it’s for but it’s the only thing that matters!
The final set piece is on the Orient Express. By now Grace has been recruited to IMF and her mission is to sneak on disguised as Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby, reprising her role as the White Widow) and buy or sell half the key—I already forget which. There’s a moment, I guess, where she’s tempted to take the money and run, but it only would’ve been interesting if she’d taken the money and run. She doesn’t. She’s a true soldier. The untrue soldier is Denlinger, who shows up and wants a meet-and-greet with the Entity, but he plays all his cards right away, telling Gabriel that the key unlocks a chamber in the Russian sub we saw at the beginning of the movie, the Sevastopol, which contains the Beta version of the Entity (or something), so it can be used to get at the Entity (or something). Job done, Denlinger is killed.
The point is, Ethan can’t get on the train, so he has to hang glide into it, and does at the exact moment Grace is about to be killed by Gabriel. Gabriel and Ethan then play “find the sausage,” or, I guess, “the key.” Gabriel leaves thinking he has it, but … psych!
The stunt with the train is great—car by slow car crashing into a valley below, with Grace and Ethan escaping by the skin of their teeth each time. In the end they’re saved by Paris (Klementieff), the superhot assassin in Gabriel’s employ, whom Ethan chose not to kill in Venice.
“Why did you save me?” she asks, dying.
“Because you’re superhot,” he answers.
Kidding. He has no answer. No masks come off.
Pink is the new green
I’ll toss this out now: I think Gabriel is the Entity. That’s how Gabriel is so superefficient, and how he knew Paris would betray him. He’s sentient AI. It’s also how Esai Morales looks so good after all these decades. Seriously, bro, looking good.
Throughout, we get a lot of dull friend/family talk, like in one of the godawful Fast/Furious movies. Benji says friends are the most important thing to him, by which he means colleagues (Luther and Ethan), since he has no other life; Ethan tells newly indoctrinated Grace that her life means more to him than his own. Etc.
Is it all metaphor? IMF is like Cruise’s production team, and the doubting replaceable bureaucrats are like studio heads who don’t know if Cruise can do it again, so each time he has to prove himself. Ethan has to save the world and Tom has to save the box office.
He didn’t. This was supposed to be another summer of Tom, after last year's “Top Gun” triumph, but the seventh “M:I” and the fifth “Indiana” and the last of the DCEU (“The Flash”) all underperformed. This is the summer of Barbie, boys. Pink is the new green.
I guess half a billion worldwide is nothing to sneeze at but the previous one nearly did $800 million:
|2000||Mission: Impossible II||$215||3||$546||1|
|2006||Mission: Impossible III||$134||14||$398||8|
|2011||Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol||$209||7||$694||5|
|2015||Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation||$195||11||$682||8|
|2018||Mission: Impossible - Fallout||$220||8||$791||8|
|2023||Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One||$144||15||$453||8|
Look at the domestic hit Tom took in 2006 from his couch jumping, Brooke diatribe, and general weirdness. Talk about a mask coming off.
Wouldn’t it be great if Ethan let us down in the finale next summer? He can’t save the world, all his friends die, and AI wins? Imagine the betrayal on the faces shuffling out of the theater. Or if Ethan is the IMF betrayer this time—the way Jim Phelps/Jon Voight was in the first? Wow. That would be Tom Cruise’s most daring stunt ever.
Saturday August 05, 2023
Bernardo Bertolucci, Writer
Which he was. Won awards for it, too. But he might be better known as a director. You could say, IMDb, that that's what Bertolucci is known for. But you do you.
Friday August 04, 2023
Mariners Keep the Line Moving
As we walked through the International District to the Mariners-BoSox game Wednesday afternoon, my wife asked me which of the two teams was better.
- Me: Kind of equal. Both are a couple of games over .500.
- She: What's .500?
- When a team's wins and losses are the same. Mariners have like three more wins than losses, Red Sox five or something. But the Red Sox are a much better hitting club. In team batting, they're near the top and we're near the bottom. (Fact-check: 4th vs. 26th.)
- So is our pitching better?
- I guess? Today we have Logan Gilbert going and he's not bad. Except he's better during away games than home games; and he's better at night than during the day.
- Right. So don't expect much.
For five innings, that Mariners' truism proved true. Then something magical happened.
Down 3-0, Cal Raleigh hit a 2-run homer in the sixth. That wasn't the magical thing—though it helped—and on the 10th pitch, which made it even better. No, the magical thing was the next inning when we did this:
- Single (1 run)
- Single/error (1 run)
- Single (1 run)
- Double steal (1 run)
It was the most fun inning I've seen all year. I was reminded of the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals, the “Keep the line moving” Royals, who just nickeled and dimed you, and ran on you, and put the ball in play, forcing you to make plays, often forcing unforced errors—as with Julio's single, the third in the inning, which either the shortstop or third baseman could've gotten but neither did. Julio's bat shattered, perhaps confusing them, they bumped into each other, the ball dribbled into left field. Beautiful. The double steal was also super fun. Two outs, Julio on third, Eugenio Suarez on first, Ty France at the plate. Gino goes and seems caught between 1st and 2nd, the catcher throws down, which is when Julio goes. The throw back to the plate is late and Julio, with his highlighter-colored sleeve (pink) and shoes (yellow-green), pops up, exults, has himself another highlight.
Here's the whole beautiful inning.
This was the rubber game of the series and it looked like it wouldn't go our way until it did. We played a couple of trade-deadline kids we got from Arizona for Paul Sewald, and one of them, Dominic Canzone, who's 25 but looks 12, started us out with that walk. Cade Marlowe, whose debut Evan and I saw against the Twins on July 20, Moon Day, added that first RBI single. And in place of Sewald, we plugged in fireballer Andres Munoz, who got 'em out 1-2-3 in the ninth. Final: 6-3.
Yesterday was more late-inning heroics, again with the kids. Evan has been tracking Marlowe since the game we went to, like he's personally invested in the kid, and yesterday was a banner day. Ninth inning, down 3-1 to the Angels in Anaheim, we went: BB, BB, a single from Canzone, K, then Marlowe came up and on an 0-2 pitch did this. Then Munoz came in and struck out the side. We're now five games over .500. Is this the start of something?
Wednesday August 02, 2023
Indictment III: The Quest for Peace
I read Prof. Gary Bass' Op-Ed in The New York Times on Monday about Jack Smith, the special prosecutor in l'affaires Trump, and particularly liked his lede. It gets right to it:
Donald Trump openly flatters foreign autocrats such as Vladimir V. Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, and in many ways Mr. Trump governed as authoritarians do around the globe: enriching himself, stoking ethnic hatreds, seeking personal control over the courts and the military, clinging to power at all costs. So it is especially fitting that he has been notified that he may soon be indicted on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 election, by an American prosecutor who is deeply versed in investigating the world's worst tyrants and war criminals.
The piece is called “What Jack Smith Knows” and yesterday we found out some of what Jack Smith knows when he issued an indictment against Trump and six co-conspirators on the following charges:
- conspiracy to defraud the United States
- witness tampering and conspiracy against the rights of citizens
- obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding.
I.e., per the Times, Trump and Co. “employed a variety of means to reverse his defeat in the election almost from the moment that voting ended.” So what Jack Smith knows is what we all lived through two and a half years ago. Better, I guess, is what he can prove, and apparently he proved enough before a grand jury for them to recommend the charges.
NPR has a little aside in their article on the indictment that gets at the heart of it, too:
Trump, who has been summoned to appear in court on Thursday, is still the leading candidate in the Republican primary race.
We're in a court of law now, with the most serious charges you can level against someone who took the oath of office, and the press seems to have finally woken up to that fact. Slate's headline reads: “U.S. v. Trump Will Be the Most Important Case in Our Nation's History,” and Peter Baker in the Times begins his analysis thus:
What makes the indictment against Donald J. Trump on Tuesday so breathtaking is not that it is the first time a president has been charged with a crime or even the second. Mr. Trump already holds those records. But as serious as hush money and classified documents may be, this third indictment in four months gets to the heart of the matter, the issue that will define the future of American democracy.
Um ... yes? Glad to have you guys on board finally but please keep that thought in mind as you do your jobs in the months and years to follow.
But we're back to the shooting-someone-on-5th-Avenue thing. Yes, he's awful. For the millionth tiime he's awful. How do you make people see it? How do you make his support fall away? I still think the Jim Gaffigan approach is the best. Don't talk down. Talk level. “You know this... You know he's dangerous, that he lies, that he's trying to subvert democracy...” That probably didn't work either, but it's the best approach I've encountered.
It's sad to me that with all of the problems we need to focus on we have to waste time on this nothing windbag, this bloated egomaniac, this sad sack, chest-beating clown. But that's the job. Onward.
I've got more reading to do.
Monday July 31, 2023
Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
In a movie in which an 81-year-old man (Harrison Ford), playing a 69-year-old man (Indiana Jones), outraces New York subways on a horse, survives fistfights, gunshots wounds, tuk-tuk car crashes and rapid scuba-diving resurfacings, not to mention attacks from eels, scorpions and spiders, and then, why not, travels back through time in a Nazi war plane to 212 B.C. and meets Archimedes, the great philosopher-mathematician, during the Siege of Syracuse, amid all of this, I, of course, couldn’t get past the following incongruity:
Would a kid really be wearing a Bob Griese jersey in August 1969?
I mean, it’s possible: Griese was around. He was a rookie in ’67. But there were bigger NFL QB names back then: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Bart Starr. Plus jerseys or jersey-shirts weren’t prevalent yet. A blank 12 jersey in Dolphins colors feels more like a ’70s thing.
But everything else? Yeah, why not.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is the fifth installment in the series, and at 2.5 hours, plus .5 for the previews, it was a tad long for this old man. But both my wife and I felt it was a little better than its word of mouth.
More: It seems like the past and future of movies all at once.
Everything old is new again
It’s the past of movies for obvious reasons: he old. We first saw Indy in the summer of 1981 in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—the No. 1 movie of the year and still No. 22 all-time adjusted for inflation—and then kept revisiting him: in 1984 (“Temple of Doom,” No. 2 for the year), 1989 (“Last Crusade,” No. 2) and 2008 (“Crystal Skull,” No. 3). He’s nostalgic. He’s the good old days. You can feel it in the number of times director James Mangold holds the camera on his iconic fedora and bullwhip. What is it—four times? Five? Twelve? Find someone who looks at you the way James Mangold looks at Indiana Jones’ fedora, basically.
And here’s the thing: Indiana Jones started out nostalgic. In the 1970s, George Lucas wanted to create a throwback to Saturday afternoon movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s, but with A-production values, and Steven Spielberg said “Sign me up!” And it totally worked. Which means we’re now nostalgic for that time when we were nostalgic for that other time. That’s why the movie feels like it’s the past.
It feels like the future because of that opening sequence.
Near the end of WWII, Nazis are trying to scram from one of their many occupied countries when they capture an enemy agent and bring him hooded before Col. Weber (Thomas Kretschmann). When the hood is removed … ta da! … it’s Indiana Jones! Looking great. Thanks to CG and AI and who knows what other acronyms, he looks about 35 again. And sure, when he first speaks, we get that old-man Harrison growl and you’re like, “OK, that’s not fooling anybody.” But then that problem goes away, and suddenly we’re getting brand new scenes of Indiana Jones in his prime running from Nazis and battling them atop trains. It’s amazing.
And worrisome. We are now that much closer to the day when we won’t need new actors, when CGI and AI storytellers will give us new James Bond movies starring 1964 Sean Connery, or new “Star Wars” films with the ’77 crew, or maybe 1978 Christopher Reeve and 1989 Michael Keaton teaming up as Superman and Batman. Or did they already do that in “The Flash”? At what point does the culture stagnate? And have we already reached that point? And what does it do to us as a result? Would we do something stupid like, I don't know, elect a sociopathic game show host as president?
Anyway, that’s why it felt both exciting and depressing.
Indy’s latest holy grail is introduced in that opener: the titular Dial created by Archimedes, which supposedly reveals fissures in time that allow for time travel. Indy doesn’t buy any of that hocus-pocus but his Brit companion Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) is less skeptical, while their Nazi nemesis, Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), is all in. But he only has half of it. And then he gets punched off the train. Auf wiedersehen.
Cut to: Moon Day 1969. Initially I thought that meant July 20, the small step/great leap day, but here it’s the day the Apollo 11 astronauts are feted with a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. That actually happened, by the way, and it was huge, and it was followed by a ticker-tape parade in Chicago and then a state dinner in LA presided over by Pres. Nixon—who, yes, could’ve used the Archimedes Dial himself—but parade day back then wasn’t called “Moon Day.” The newspaper usage of “Moon Day” in 1969 mostly concerned legislative talk to turn July 20 into a national holiday. Yes, didn’t happen.
If life for Indy in 1945 was exciting, by 1969 it’s just annoying. His wife has left him, his neighbors are damn hippies listening to that damn Beatles music (“Magical Mystery Tour”), and his students don’t know the answers. Oh, and he’s being forced to retire. Oh, and his son from the previous movie, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), died during the Vietnam War. No surprise, really. In 2008, LeBeouf was a huge rising star and now he’s problematic. So: Vietnam War.
Wait, one of Indy’s students does know the answers! Except she’s not his student. She’s his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), yes, the daughter of ol’ Basil, now deceased. Turns out she’s a bit larcenous, too. She wants the half of the Archimedes Dial that Indy took from her father—not for academic reasons but to sell to the highest bidder in Tangier. Another group (coincidentally?) shows up at the same time: Indy’s old nemesis Dr. Voller, with henchmen Klaber (Boyd Holbrook of “Narcos”: good) and Hauke (Olivier Richters: huge). Colleagues at Hunter College are killed, there’s a chase through the Apollo 11 ticker-tape parade, and Indy escapes on a horse but is of course blamed for the murders. And now we’re off to the races.
In Tangier, we’re introduced to the Griese jersey-wearing kid Teddy (Ethann Isidore), Helena’s larcenous sidekick, when Voller & Co. show up for another round of chase-me-I’m-yours. Then it’s the Aegean Sea, for scuba-diving with Indy’s old friend Renaldo (Antonio Banderas) and more chasing. Then Sicily and Archimedes’ Tomb. Each is a roller-coaster ride, and along the way Helena becomes less larcenous while Indy becomes more of a believer in the destiny of the Dial—particularly when they spot a wristwatch on Archimedes’ skeletal frame. But it’s at this moment, when they have both halves of the Dial, that Voller & Co. finally catch up and … yoink! They take both the Dial and Indy.
Voller/Mads is great, by the way. He wants Indy along not as a hostage but as a peer. He’s excited to show him what he’s done, and he wants Indy to be excited, too. Plus his plan is wonderfully ironic. Whenever the idea of time machines is brought up, the answer for many in the western world is to go back and kill Hitler. Which is exactly what Voller wants to do! Except he wants to do it to preserve Nazi victories. He wants to go back to ’39—maybe before Poland?—and kill him then. He wants a sensible Nazi Germany. I guess he’s nostalgic, too. Make Nazism Great Again.
Of course he overshoots the mark and winds up in 212 B.C.
Did anyone else think the warring factions in the Siege of Syracuse dealt with the sudden appearance of a WWII airplane with something like aplomb? They call it a dragon and start throwing spears, but c’mon, has any of them seen a dragon? Is no one deathly afraid of this huge metal thing in the sky? Also 212 B.C. spears turn out to be pretty effective. They actually down the thing and burn the Nazis. We knew how to make spears then. We knew how to burn Nazis.
Did anyone else think Helena—not to mention the movie—discounts Teddy’s achievements rather quickly? On the 1969 runway, he not only commandeers a plane and flies it for the first time, he pilots it through the timehole, then lands the sucker next to the warplane wreckage. He’s the reason they’re able to return. Otherwise they’re stuck there. How about a “Thank god” from her? Instead, she’s all, “Great work, kid, now don’t get cocky!” basically.
Because by this point she’s dealing with an Indiana Jones that doesn’t want to return to 1969. He’d rather hang with Archimedes in 212 B.C. than listen to one more Beatles song. I get it: archaeology. It’s the past as present. But talk about mucking with the timeline. Was anyone else disappointed in our longstanding hero?
Thankfully, Helena saves the day—and shortens the movie—by cold-cocking him. When he wakes up, it’s 1969 again. Think about all the heavy lifting she has to do here: drag Indy to Teddy’s plane in 212 B.C., fly with Teddy back through the timehole and somehow land on exactly the right century/year/day/time when they left; then (I assume) she has to drag him back to America, and New York City, and his apartment, and put him to bed. And while he’s still sleeping it off (helluva punch, girl), she reunites him with Karen Allen! She gets her to return! She gives him a reason to live! Then she takes Sallah (John Rhys-Davies: thinner) and all of his kids out for ice cream to give the lovebirds a moment.
Not bad for a woman who just wanted to sell half the Dial to the highest bidder in Tangier.
I’d heard Waller-Bridge wasn’t good, or her character was annoying, or something, but, no, she’s fine, it’s just that the character is inconsistent. She changes 180 degrees for no apparent reason. Plus you’d have to believe that Toby Jones, god bless him, sired this tall drink of water. That’s the Bob Griese jersey all over again.
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