Sunday May 16, 2021
Burn After Reading II
“Basically a large proportion of the people who worked with Trump came away deeply dismayed by his mental capabilities. O'Keefe, Ledeen, et al., looking at this epidemic of Trump appointees who consider him a complete moron, decided the problem was a deep-state cabal subverting Trump. And then, despite investing large sums of money, the expertise of a British spy, and several attractive women, did not get anybody calling Trump an idiot on camera. This would be like luring a group of tourists into the desert without air conditioning in the goal of getting somebody to say they're hot, and failing.
”Mark 'Deep Throat' Felt famously said of the Watergate scheme, 'The truth is these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.' The truth about Trump's gang of wannabe spies is that they're not very bright guys, and things did not even get out of hand, because they couldn't even get people to blurt out an opinion held by half of America and nearly all of Washington, D.C."
-- Jonathan Chait, New York magazine, commenting on an article in The New York Times about a spectacularly inept undercover operation during the Trump presidency led by James O'Keefe's spectacularly inept Project Veritas. Someone should make it into a movie. I nominate the Coens.
Saturday May 15, 2021
Movie Review: Minari (2020)
Near the end of Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” Jacob and Monica Yi (Steven Yuen of “Burning,” Han Yi-ri), two Koreans trying to make a go of it in the America South of the 1980s, get a bit of good news on a 108-degree day. Actually two good bits of news: 1) they’re told their son David’s heart murmur is healing itself; and 2) Jacob finds a buyer in Oklahoma for the Korean vegetables he’s been growing for most of the movie. Maybe the family won’t have to split up after all.
But on the way back to the car, Monica pulls off and into the shade and Jacob follows. She’s religious, he’s scientific, and she doesn’t like that money somehow is making everything right. “Things might be fine now but I don’t think they will stay that way,” she says. Then she says this:
That was my feeling throughout much of “Minari.” I knew something bad was going to happen and I had trouble bearing it.
It’s odd that I felt this way. “Minari” is a gentle, slice-of-life movie about a couple whose immigrant job is determining the gender of baby chickens for the poultry industry—or “sexing chicks.” Jacob is excellent at this, Monica less so, but he has dreams and buys land in Arkansas to grow Korean vegetables to sell to Korean markets for mostly Korean customers. As the opening credits roll, they’re driving there—he’s in a van in front, she’s following in a car with the kids—and, via the rearview mirror, we can see the worry in her eyes grow as they get more and more off the beaten path. Where are we living again? He obviously hasn’t shared his dream with his wife. So right away there’s conflict. And worry over the boy. “Don’t run,” they keep telling him, even when he’s outdoors. Later, they drop the news (to us) about the heart murmur.
I guess I was anxious because stories about people risking it all for their dream usually don’t end well—particularly in indie movies—and farming is particularly fraught. A local diviner tries to sell Jacob his services, but Jacob finds an underground water source on his own. The he hires a local, Paul (Will Patton), to help till the field. Paul is a Korean War vet, talkative, and religious. Extremely so. One Sunday, returning from church, they see him carrying a huge cross along a dirt path, atoning for his (or our) sins. One worries about the harm he might do, but for all his eccentricities he’s a sweet-natured man. One worries about Southern racism, too, but the people are mostly inviting. One boy, a contemporary of David (Alan Kim), asks why he has such a flat face. That’s about it.
Written and directed by Chung, “Minari’ is based on his childhood, so much of the movie is through the eyes of David. Apparently Chung originally wanted to adapt Willa Cather’s “My Antonia,” a lyrical bildungsroman set in the Great Plains in the latter 19th century, but the Cather estate wasn’t interested in adaptations. So he adapted his own life.
As the parents get pulled in the direction of the hatchery (where they earn money) and the farm (which bleeds it), they bring in Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung), from Korea, to look after the kids. For some reason she’s supposed to share a bedroom with David rather than his sister, Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and David resents it—and her. She’s not your traditional grandmother—watching WWF wrestling, marveling at the bodies of the men, and generally saying the quiet things out loud. When he wets the bed, she says his penis is broken. She drinks his favorite drink, Mountain Dew, and one day swaps his urine for it. She forgives him. She thinks he’s not as fragile as his parents do, telling him how strong he is, and they go for walks together. In the shaded woods next to a creek, she plants a Korean vegetable, minari, which she says grows anywhere—like weeds.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s well literally runs dry, and he goes stiff with exhaustion searching in vain for another. Eventually he has to buy water from the county. Then when the vegetables are ready, his buyer in Dallas backs out, going with a conglomerate in California. Then the grandmother has a stroke. She survives, but her speech is slurred, her body movements jerky.
And all the while I felt: I know this won’t end well and I can’t bear it.
When things fall apart
But it doesn’t end poorly. Jacob finds a potential buyer in Oklahoma, and on that blistering hot day, husband and wife take the kids to make a sale. It works, but Monica is not happy. She’s become more religious, is growing distant from her husband, wants to move mom and the kids back to California. And in the heady afterglow of the sale, she pulls her husband into the shade to have a talk. She not only says the line about things not ending well, she says this:
We can live together when things are good, but when they’re not we fall apart?
To her, that means their relationship isn’t real, but it turns out she has things backwards. Back home, by herself, Soon-ja is trying to help around the house. She even tries to burn some refuse in their burner in the yard, but some items fall out, setting the grass on fire, then the shed where the vegetables are kept, and the family comes home to a conflagration. Jacob and Monica run into the barn, trying to save the vegetables, but the smoke overwhelms them and they wind up merely saving each other. Meanwhile, Grandma wanders down the lane by herself, unable to deal with the disaster she's caused, but the kids run after her and bring her back.
Bit by bit, the family recovers. Jacob tries farming again, this time with the diviner, and David shows him the minari that his mother-in-law planted, which has flourished in the shaded woods. The family stays together. That’s why it’s the opposite of what Monica said. When things were good, she was ready to leave. It took things falling apart to strengthen their bonds.
Is the Yi family the minari? Growing in the new American soil like weeds? Or is the minari a metaphor for some aspect of life? I think of the John Lennon line: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. The well-tended Korean vegetables are the other plans, the ignored minari is life happening. One day you turn around and, wow, look at what's grown.
Friday May 14, 2021
What the Left Still Doesn't Get
Via Andrew Sullivan's weekly column. It's about the GOP's great missed opportunity. I agree with almost every word:
By clinging to a broadly toxic figure like Trump, and orienting their strategy around his unappeasable vanity, the GOP is flubbing one of its biggest political opportunities in years: to craft redistributionist policies for the mass of working Americans, and to defend the legacy of the West, its values and traditions, against the most radical left assault since the late 1960s.
Everywhere in the West, this is now the winning electoral formula: left on economics, right on culture. By “left on economics”, I mean a recognition that market capitalism has been too successful for its and our own good, and that spreading the wealth to more people is needed both for social stability and to rescue capitalism from itself. And by “right on culture”, I do not mean some kind of revived Christianism. I mean affirming a critical but undeniable love of country and its flawed but inspiring history, reforming rather than defunding the police, enforcing the nation’s borders with firmness and compassion, embracing color-blind policies on race, and viewing our common humanity and citizenship as deeper principles than the modern left’s and radical right’s obsession with group identity.
Get that balance right, and the future is yours. In a must-read essay in Britain’s New Statesman, Tony Blair spells out how the progressive left is still misreading the public mood, allowing a cannier, less rigid right to entrench power. Money quote: “‘Defund the police’ may be the left’s most damaging political slogan since ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ … It leaves the right with an economic message which seems more practical, and a powerful cultural message around defending flag, family and fireside traditional values.” Some key principles Blair lays out:
People do not like their country, their flag or their history being disrespected. The left always gets confused by this sentiment and assume this means people support everything their country has done or think all their history is sacrosanct. They don’t. But they query imposing the thinking of today on the practices of yesterday … People like common sense, proportion and reason. They dislike prejudice; but they dislike extremism in combating prejudice.
I've long felt Democrats have focused too little on class issues in my lifetime. The GOP under Trump, meanwhile, has given up everything they once purportedly valued—rectitude, civic responsibility, institutions like the FBI and CIA, free trade—for a Putin-loving, ally-bashing, tariff-raising, baldly corrupt clownshow that puts himself above party and party above country, and who encouraged a violent overthrow of our democracy. It's a time of extremism and this thing we're all on, plus social media, plus blatant propaganda like Fox News, are the reasons.
Thursday May 13, 2021
Movie Review: The Sugarland Express (1974)
I caught this for the first time on HBO the other night and liked parts but didn’t believe the brunt of it. Turns out the thing I didn’t believe the most was true.
“The Sugarland Express” was, of course, Steven Spielberg’s feature-film debut and he already seems like a pro. Certain shots—through windows, or with the principles off center—look great. I do miss this period of American filmmaking when they would use obvious locals for bit parts. The adoptive mother, Mrs. Looby, was played by a professional actress, Louise Latham, but the part of her husband went to Merrill Connally, a county judge and the brother of Gov. John Connally. Apparently the baby that was the focus of everything, baby Langston (son of producer Richard Zanuck and Linda Harrison), took to Connally but not to Latham, which is why Mr. Looby winds up holding him more often. Spielberg also took to Connally and offered him a role in his next movie: playing the mayor of Amity Island in something called “Jaws.” Connally turned him down, saying the part “sounded pretty poor.” Of course, Murray Hamilton got it and did everything with it.
Anyway, I miss obvious locals in bit parts. Bring that back, filmmakers.
Based on a true incident, “Sugarland” is definitely of its time. I was 11 when it was released and I remember the cool, older kids going to see it and talking about all the car crashes. It has a “Stick it to the Man” vibe that was prevalent then—one of the many bastard children of “Bonnie and Clyde.” Despite that, the Man comes off not poorly, while the kids ain’t exactly alright. They’re not the brightest bulbs in the world. Almost everyone’s sweet-natured but we still get this disaster.
The movie opens with Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) visiting her husband, Clovis (William Atheron, 14 years before he became the jerky TV journalist in “Die Hard”), in prison. Sorry, in pre-release. He has just four months of easy time left, but she’s there to break him out. Their baby has been taken away by the county and adopted by the Loobys, and she wants him back now. So she bullies Clovis into sneaking out during a family prison/pre-release gathering.
Goldie is adorable here—she wasn’t yet 30—but Lou Jean is a piece of work. First she bullies Clovis into breaking out. Then she panics when a state trooper, Slide (Michael Sacks, Billy Pilgrim of “Slaughterhouse Five”), pulls over the elderly couple with whom they’ve hitched a ride—for going 25 on the highway—and she hops into the front seat and drives away, putting the cops on their tail. Slide gives chase and Lou Jean crashes the car. But when he carries her seemingly unconscious body from the wreck, she takes his gun, and they take him and his patrol car hostage, then drive to Sugarland to get their baby. A day later, when they arrive at the Looby home after everything else, she bullies Clovis into going in by himself even though none of it feels right and Slider himself warns against it. Sure enough, snipers are inside, and Clovis is killed. If not for his wife, Clovis would still be in pre-release, with four months minus a day left of easy time. Instead, he’s dead.
But Goldie is adorable.
The Poplins take Slider hostage about 20 minutes in, and within five or 10 minutes have dozens of patrol cars following behind them, moving slowly and respectfully down the highway. It’s like a precursor to the O.J. Simpson freeway chase. My thought was, “There’s 80 minutes left. What’s the rest?” Just that, it turns out. This slo-mo car chase, with ultimately hundreds of cars behind them, and a benevolent Capt. Tanner (Ben Johnson) ensuring that no wrong moves are made and no lives hopefully lost. It’s the titular Sugarland express, and it’s the part I didn’t quite buy. At the least, they exaggerated the number of cop cars following them.
Nope. According to accounts at the time, and more recently, it was more than 100 patrol cars, a blue caravan crawling across southern Texas. It’s a lot of the other stuff that’s fictional:
- Clovis (real name: Bobby Dent) wasn’t in prison at the time, so Lou Jean (real name: Ila Fae) didn’t bust him out.
- It was Bobby’s idea to kidnap a highway patrolman (real name: J. Kenneth Krone), and it was simply to get a ride, not to get their baby.
- There were two children involved, not one, and they were Ila Mae’s from a previous marriage, not both of theirs, and they were living with Ila Mae’s parents in Wheelock, Texas, not with foster parents in Sugarland, and the goal was just to see them, not take them.
- They didn’t becomes celebrities whose car was mobbed en route.
- All three principles, Bobby, Ila Fae and Trooper Krone entered the home in Wheelock, where Bobby was killed by Sheriff Sonny Elliott of Robertson County and FBI agent Bob Wiatt.
I get some of the changes. You’ve got to give them a goal at the outset. But the county taking the woman’s baby is a movie trope going back to silent films: Surely there were better ideas? And why give all of the man’s bad decisions to the woman? I guess because Goldie was the star. That's what you get when you're the star. Welcome to the party, pals.
Crashes and character
Goldie is great—completely naturalistic, not a false note—and I like the slight odd vibe from Sacks as Slider. And of course Ben Johnson does his Ben Johnson thing.
According to Wiki, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (pre-“Sneak Previews”) were both lukewarm on Spielberg’s debut, each giving it two and a half stars. Siskel wrote, “‘The Sugarland Express’ asks us to care for Clovis and Lou Jean because they are thick-skulled and because, presumably, every mother has an inherent right to raise her own baby. It doesn't work.” Yep. Ebert wrote, “If the movie finally doesn’t succeed, that’s because Spielberg has paid too much attention to all those police cars (and all the crashes they get into), and not enough to the personalities of his characters.” Yep again. But poor Roger. Ignoring the characters for the crashes is about to enter a new, dominant period—one that has yet to end.
Tuesday May 11, 2021
Movie Review: What Price Glory (1952)
“I believe that every time you remake a picture, there must be a specific reason why you do that,” producer Darryl Zanuck once said.
Zanuck had a specific reason for remaking “What Price Glory.” The 1926 original, based on a popular 1924 play, was from a previous era of filmmaking—silent and black-and-white, chiefly—and the remake would not only add color and sound but Technicolor and music. It would be a World War I musical. That was Zanuck’s specific reason for remaking it, and it was James Cagney’s specific reason for signing on. While the world thought him a gangster, he thought of himself an old hoofer, a song-and-dance man, and was too often stymied in this regard. Here was another chance.
Zanuck then hired screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron, Nora’s parents, who wrote light comedy and romance. Then he hired John Ford to direct.
And there went that.
Ford refused to make it a musical. And after his own experiences in World War II, he was more gung-ho about the military than the movie’s main characters. As for the original’s bawdiness? Right, Production Code. Out.
So what’s left? A broad comedy about two Marines in a French village who fight over a beautiful girl way above their pay grade—and neither realizes it—who then go to the front to fight pointlessly and allow a bit player to condemn them with a melodramatic speech that includes the title phrase.
A mess, in other words.
I have to go over the age thing again. Sorry.
In the original, the actors who play the main characters, Flagg and Quirt (Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe), have 18 and 14 years, respectively, on the actress who plays Charmaine (Dolores del Rio). They’re 40 and 36, she’s 22. Here, Dan Dailey and Corinne Calvet are comparable—he’s 37, she’s 27—but Cagney is 53. He’s a quarter-century older than Calvet, not to mention overweight. And he’s running from her? In what universe? I guess Hollywood’s.
The age difference also screws up the dynamic between Cagney’s Flagg and Dailey’s Quirt. They’re not contemporaries the way McLaglen and Lowe were. Put it this way: I bought the rivalry between McLaglen and Lowe. We get to see it develop. The original opens in Peking, China, where McLaglen’s Flagg has a girl, Shanghai Mary (Phyllis Haver), and Lowe’s Quirt steals her. Then we move on to the Philippines, where Flagg has a girl, Carmen (Elena Jurado), and Quirt steals her. And it’s only then, a quick 15 minutes in, that we wind up in a small French town with Capt. Flagg. Sgt. Quirt doesn’t show up for another half hour. So when he steals Flagg’s girl again, well, we get the joke. We know that Flagg is very strong and kind of sweet and not too smart, while Quirt is a bit of a grifter and a master of the sleight of hand—card tricks and coin tricks. He’s kinda handsome and good at stealing stuff. Particularly Flagg’s girl.
The remake gives us none of this past history. It begins in France, at about the 40-minute mark of the original, and Quirt has no card or coin tricks. He doesn’t seem particularly sharp, either; Flagg does. They’re just two guys who hate each other in cartoonish fashion. When Quirt shows up—reporting for duty and demanding a transfer in the same breath—they eye each other, smile, remove accoutrement, and mark an X on the floor with a piece of chalk. Then they spit on their hands and take up fighting positions. Flagg’s a foot shorter and 16 years older than Quirt but always manages to deck him. Because Cagney.
You know what they are? They’re just two nasty guys who think they’re cute. And Calvet’s Charmaine is way more innocent than del Rio’s. I love the way del Rio admires McLaglen’s shoulders and arms; I love her keyhole meeting with Lowe, and their behind-the-door romance. She’s got the female gaze, which was more prevalent pre-code. Calvet is a knockout, certainly, but mostly she just wants to get married. Because you know women. And Flagg and Quirt mostly don’t. Because you know men.
Has anyone done a deep dive into these characters? During war, they’re OK with each other but when things are OK they’re at war with each other. That’s the bit, and it’s a good one, but there’s something about their antagonism, and their competition over women without wanting the attachment of the woman, that feels ripe for modern study. Each so wants what the other has that one wonders if what they really want is each other. “Don’t fight,” Charmaine says at the end of the original. “You love each other, yes?” Yes.
The original was directed—extremely well—by Raoul Walsh, with John Ford shooting a few second-unit scenes that went uncredited. Twenty years later, in 1949, Ford decided to put on the original play to benefit the Purple Heart Association. Good cause. He cast Ward Bond as Flagg, Pat O’Brien as Quirt, and Maureen O’Hara as Charmaine. Good casting. He even managed to convince stars like John Wayne and Gregory Peck to appear as extras. But, per Pat O’Brien, “Ford was a lousy stage director,” and the play got middling reviews. Worse, it only raised a pittance for its cause. This was his third shot at the story and he blew it. Ford was a drunk and a bully, and that stuff often seeps into his movies. The drinking here is off the charts, and the comedy is awful. “[War] was my racket for a while,” Ford told Peter Bogdanovich in the early ’70s, “and there wasn’t anything funny about it.”
No shit. They do a prolonged bit with a bathing Flagg trying to explain “boots” to Charmaine’s father, Cognac Pete, who doesn’t get it until he realizes “Ah, les boots.” Not funny. When Flagg returns hungover from Paris, he has a subordinate slap him with a wet rag. “Harder!” he says. “Harder!” he says. Then: “Not that hard!” and repeatedly and angrily slaps the subordinate with it. Not funny. In the original, Flagg’s right-hand man is Pvt. Kiper (Ted McNamara), who is charged with finding out who keeps giving Flagg razzberries; in the end, Flagg realizes it’s Kiper. Ford loses all of this, casts the cantankerous William Demarest, age 60, as Corp. Kiper, whose bit is to keep asking if his discharge papers have come in yet. In the end, Flagg admits they arrived a year ago but he never told him. Does Kiper get mad? Having his commanding officer keep him at war for another year? No. When the men are called back to the front, he simply joins them. Because men. Because camaraderie.
Every change to the original feels wrong. The second-act wedding between Charmaine and Quirt—with Flagg laughing all the while—is called off by Charmaine in the ’26 version. “My heart is my own! I don’t sell it,” she says. In ’52, it’s called off by Quirt, who realizes they’re about to go to the front where Flagg will need his top sergeant, so there’s nothing Flagg can do. Charmaine? She just stands there, humiliated. In a broad sense, the story is about the switch from a pre-war professional army to a Great War citizen’s army, and in ’26 we see Flagg questioning men who were once painters and farmers and henpecked husbands. One of them, the painter, Pvt. Lewisohn (Barry Norton), is called a “mother’s boy,” but without the negative connotations we’d ascribe to it. He’s the one doomed to die, and near the end we get a poignant shot of Charmaine burying his mother’s letters with him. In the remake he’s played by a young Robert Wagner, whom Ford bullied on the set, calling him “Boob” rather than Bob, and apparently even decking him at one point. No Momma’s boy here. Instead, Lewisohn gets a starry-eyed, super-sappy romance with a French schoolgirl, Nicole (Marisa Pavan), that’s just painful to watch. In the original, they go to the front until they’re called back. The remake gives them a goal: If they can capture a German officer, they’ll get a month’s leave, and it’s Lewisohn who captures the officer. A second later, after a shell attack, he dies in Flagg’s arms. Back in the French town, Bar-Le-Duc, Flagg has to tell Nicole what happened. It’s more painful than the war scenes.
The original gave us trenches and gas warfare because it remembered what WWI was like. The remake has none of these. If generals fight the last war, directors often film the new one. Sometimes this works (Vietnam for Korea in “M*A*S*H”). Mostly it doesn’t. It doesn’t here.
A little history. I didn’t know any of this stuff when I first watched the Cagney version but I find it fascinating.
The ’26 version was so popular that it became one of the first films to foster sequels. In each, Flagg and Quirt travel the world to exotic places and fight over the latest sexy, exotic actress. For “The Cock-Eyed World” (1929), they go from Russia, to Brooklyn, to a South Seas island, where Lili Damita awaits. In “Women of All Nations” (1931), it’s Sweden, Nicaragua, Egypt, and Greta Nissen. By the time of “Hot Pepper” (1933), they’re ex-Marines, Quirt is a grifter, Flagg owns several nightclubs, and Lupe Velez is the object of their affection and argument. They even get their own catchphrase: “Sez you!” “Sez me!”
The authors of the original play, Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings, deserve a biography of their own. Both were New York World journalists looking to make bigger names for themselves. Stallings was a former U.S. Marine who was wounded at the Battle of Belleau Wood and would later have his leg amputated. (Both legs, eventually.) He had plenty of stories to tell, Anderson listened and wrote them down, Stallings worked over scenes for authenticity. That’s how “What Price Glory?” happened. (Hollywood removed the question mark.) After it became a huge success, both men became go-to authorities on WWI. King Vidor’s “The Big Parade,” a huge hit in 1925, was adapted from Stallings’ 1924 autobiographical novel “Plumes,” with Stallings helping with the scenario. He also adapted Hemingway’s “A Farwell to Arms” to the stage in 1930. That same year, Anderson adapted “All Quiet on the Western Front” for the screen.
Most of Anderson’s work seems to have been in the theater. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for “Both Your Houses,” a political drama, did a series of plays based on the Tudors, including “Anne of a Thousand Days,” and wrote, in blank verse, the play that became the Bogart-Bacall movie “Key Largo.” In 1925, after the success of “What Price Glory?,” he was putting on another play, “Outside Looking In,” based on the autobiography of writer-hobo Jim Tully*, which debuted in a small theater in Greenwich Village. It got good notices and moved uptown to a bigger theater. There, after the first act of the first performance, Anderson hurried backstage, gathered everyone around, and told them they needed to speak twice as loud and twice as fast for the bigger room. Then he eyed the actor playing Little Red, one of the leads: “Everybody, that is, except you.” That actor was James Cagney, and the part was one of his first big breaks. Anderson was also around at the end of Cagney’s career, writing the unproduced play that became “Never Steal Anything Small,” Cagney’s fourth-to-last starring role, and another movie that began with big musical dreams only to see them dwindle to a couple of odd numbers.
(* More connections: Tully’s autobiography became the basis of a 1928 film, “Beggars of Life,” which was directed by William Wellman, who, three years later, with “The Public Enemy,” would make Cagney a star.)
If Anderson had Cagney connections, Stallings had Ford. His work in ’30s Hollywood ranged from Clark Gable newspaper romances to uncredited work on the Marx Bros.’ “At the Circus,” but he later became a Ford man, collaborating on “3 Godfathers,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “The Sun Shines Bright.” Not surprising. Ford liked to surround himself with ex-military. He also liked to take John Wayne down a peg for shirking duty during WWII.
Another Ford man? Victor McLaglen. I’d love to see a good copy of the original “What Price Glory”—the one I watched was a blurry thing on the Internet Archive—but even through the blur I could tell how good McLaglen was. He was ex-British Army and a former professional heavyweight boxer who got into the movie biz by happenstance. They were looking for someone to play the lead in a boxing movie, he auditioned and got the part. This was in Britain. In the mid-20s, he moved to Hollywood, worked with John Ford, was a co-lead in the silent version of “Beau Geste,” then did “What Price Glory” and became big. I love how in the first sequel, which was a talking picture, they had to explain away his British accent, which, of course, nobody heard in the first feature.
McLaglen won his only Oscar in “The Informer,” directed by Ford in 1935, and garnered his second nomination—for supporting this time—in “The Quiet Man,” directed by Ford in 1952. He was in most of the Ford/John Wayne westerns of the late ’40s, too: “Fort Apache,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “Rio Grande.” So why didn’t Ford cut him a cameo here? Too self-referential? Maybe. Or maybe Ford figured he was doing him a favor.
Wednesday May 05, 2021
M's Game: Means to an End, or My First No-Hitter
The view from Section 325, as the Orioles celebrate something that hadn't happened since 1969; and something I'd never seen in person.
We noticed how good he was immediately. First Mariners batter in the bottom of the 1st, Mitch Haniger, whom we’d just seen in a between-innings video talking about his first call up to the bigs (in 2016 with the Diamondbacks), as well as his first hit (a 2-run triple off Noah Syndergaard), saw three pitches and sat down. Then Ty France got to 3-2 and K’ed looking. Then Kyle Seager with a dribbler to first.
“All first-pitch strikes,” I said to Jeff.
We were 300-level behind homeplate, shaded first-base side, row 9, very close to the season-ticket seats I share with a group of great baseball fans led by a close, personal friend of Raquel Welch. Jeff and I spent the bottom of the 1st riffing off that Haniger video. He was impressed that the triple was off Syndergaard; I was impressed that it was a triple. “The most exciting play in baseball,” I said, repeating the aphorism. “Play at the plate,” Jeff said, as his choice for most exciting play in baseball. “Close play at the plate,” he amended. “Well, sure,” I said, “if you add context. I mean, really, the most exciting play in baseball is a close play at the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series. Context-less, I’ll take a triple.”
Top of the 2nd was a little rough for M’s starter Yusei Kikuchi and the M’s defense: single, fielder’s choice, stolen base, strikeout. Two outs, guy on second, and it’s the bottom of their order, the .100 hitters—of which, by the way, the M’s have a lot. That was the conversation before the game began: How many guys in our starting lineup are hitting in the .100s? Turns out: four. And hitting over .300? Zero, of course. This is Mariners country.
Anyway, the O’s number 8 hitter, D.J. Stewart, blooped one to shallow left, just past shortstop J.P. Crawford, who mistakenly threw home to try to nab the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle, allowing Stewart to go to second. Then their number 9 hitter, Ramon Urias, hit a liner to left and same deal. But this time the throw home was cut off and Urias was tossed at second. But it was still 2-0, Orioles.
“Should’ve been one run if we’d played that right,” Jeff said.
The Orioles pitcher, John Means, began the game with a 1.70 ERA, much better than Kikuchi’s 4.40, and in the bottom of the 2nd he kept throwing first-pitch strikes and getting outs; line out, pop out, strike out. I don’t think he threw a first-pitch ball until he faced Sam Haggerty, ol’ #0, in the 3rd. He struck him out anyway. Except the ball broke early and got past catcher Pedro Severino, and Haggerty, a speedy kid, made it to first.
“Hey, a baserunner!” I said.
Next pitch, Haggerty was thrown out trying to steal second.
“Or not,” I said.
We didn’t know how big a moment all that would turn out to be.
This was my second game of the season—and thus my second game since the pandemic shrunk all of our lives. First game was Sunday, a beautiful sunny Sunday against the Angels. For that one, I sat 100 level, hoping to get close-up looks at the Angels’ triumvirate of great stars (Shohei Ohtani) and future Hall of Famers (Mike Trout and Albert Pujols). Trout began the game hitting .400-something and went 0-3 with a walk. Pujols began the game at Mendoza and went 0-3 with 2 Ks. Ohtani got hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, promptly stole two bases, but also went 0-3. Meanwhile, the M’s scored two runs on an RBI single by Dylan Moore who was hitting something like .137, and two sacrifices following a leadoff double by a backup catcher hitting .190. We won 2-zip.
“That’s baseball,” Jeff said, shrugging.
I got Ivars fish-and-chips and a beer, Jeff got a soft pretzel and a beer. We talked kids (his), podcasts (Marc Maron), and the Beatles. He mentioned a recent biography of the Beatles he’d read called “Tune In” by Mark Lewinson, which was the first volume in a three-volume series on the Beatles. A deep dive.
“The first volume ends in 1963, when…” Jeff said, then blanked.
“When they got their first UK No. 1?”
“I think so.”
“So before ‘She Loves You’ and Beatlemania hit.”
“He’s Robert Caro-ing the Beatles.”
“LBJ biographer. Been writing about him for the last, whatever, 40 years? He’s done four volumes, I think, and now LBJ is in the White House, and people are worried Caro won’t finish before he dies.”
“This guy’s younger than that,” Jeff said. He looked him up on his phone. “Oh. He’s 62. And the second volume was supposed to come out last year but didn’t. So maybe he is another Robert Caro.”
All the while, Means was blowing away the M's. “He’s still has a no-hitter going,” Jeff said in the 4th (two pop-outs to short and a K), and the 5th (foul out to first, line out to SS, K) and the 6th (K, ground out to catcher, fly out to center). I'd never seen a no-hitter in person before, and I kept expecting something to eventually get through. Didn’t that always happen?
In retrospect, the 3rd inning was our best chance. Not only did we get our lone baserunner (for one pitch) but the other two batters actually hit the ball out of the infield. In the entire game, only four ball were caught by the outfield: two in the 3rd (center, right), one in the 6th (center), and one in the 8th (left). Everything else was dribblers, popups and strikeouts. Twelve strikeouts in all, without a walk. Twenty-five first-pitch strikes.
“Are you rooting for a no-hitter?” I asked Jeff at one point.
“Why not?“ Jeff said. ”Even if we get a hit, it’s not like we’ll come back.”
“What do you mean? We’re only down 2-0.”
“3-0,” he reminded me. In the 7th, Pat Valaika had rocketed one into the left-field bleachers. A minute later, after the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle hit a 3-run shot, it was 6-0 and seemed out of reach.
Actually I was wrong earlier. Our best chance to break up the no-hitter was in the bottom of the 8th. That’s when Kyle Lewis rocketed one to left and for a moment I thought it might be gone. And I had mixed feelings. I know. I still feel bad about it. It’s like when you’re watching a U-boat movie and suddenly find yourself rooting for the Germans, and you’re like “Oh man, this is wrong,” but you keep doing it. Same here. I found myself rooting for the no-hitter against my team. When Lewis’ rocket to left was caught at the warning track, I felt disappointment. And relief.
“I don’t think I’ve been at a game that went this long into a no-hitter,” I said. Then Murphy struck out swinging (on 3-2) and Evan White struck out swinging (on 1-2), and we were onto the 9th.
The second-best chance we had to break up the no-hitter was our last chance. In the 9th, after Dylan Moore fouled out to third, and Sean Haggerty struck out swinging, J.P. Crawford came to the plate. He was batting ninth even though he’s hitting .250-ish, which is third-best on our team. For this team, he’s basically the equivalent of Edgar Martinez on the 1996 Mariners. And on the first pitch from Means, he lined one to left and I thought it might get through. But then their shortstop Urias was there, and it was over, and the Baltimore Orioles were suddenly celebrating the team’s first single-pitcher no-hitter since Jim Palmer blanked the Oakland A’s in 1969. (They had a combined no-hitter in 1991.) Apparently it was the longest single-pitcher no-hitter drought in baseball.
You’re welcome, Baltimore.
It was also baseball history. Jeff and I watched something that had never happened before.
Yep, just that dropped third strike.
I am worried about my guys. According to Art Thiel, they began the game hitting the Seattle area code (.206) and they ended it near the Mendoza line (.201). I know this is a rebuilding year, but I didn’t think we were rebuilding back to 1979.
Thiel uses the phrase “the profoundly unheralded John Means,” but we knew going in he would be tough: 3-0, 1.70 ERA. Now he's 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA, and 50 Ks against 10 walks. And one complete game. Which is the first complete game of his career. That’s right. John Means’ no-hitter, his near perfect game, was also the first shutout and the first complete game he’d thrown in the Majors.
Here’s more on the man of the moment.
Friday April 30, 2021
“If this can happen to the former president's lawyer, this can happen to any American.”
-- Andrew Giuliani, Rudy's son, after an FBI raid on his father's home earlier this week. He seems to think the above line is documenting an abuse of power when it's the opposite. It's documenting how rule of law is supposed to work.
Wednesday April 28, 2021
Bruce Willis vs. Kong
I meant to mention this in my review of “Godzilla vs. Kong” but there's a moment early on, in their first big battle, when Kong senses Godzilla is ready to let loose his fire breath and cut in half the aircraft carrier Kong is standing on, so he leaps off it. And the leap reminded me but exactly of Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.”
The above doesn't even do it justice. It's same slow-mo, same arms in the air, and Kong's leg even goes up like Willis'. I'm sure someone will compare and contrast on video shortly. I posted to Twitter and got nothing ... until like a week ago. Someone else had seen the film, thought of “Die Hard” during this scene, and searched Twitter to see if anyone else noticed.
So: homage or ripoff or coincidence? I'm going homage. But too bad the movie wasn't as good as “Die Hard.”