Wednesday November 22, 2023
Bartell Drugs #10 Closed
Yesterday I went to see a doctor on Madison Avenue in First Hill in Seattle, and she mentioned something about prescriptions. I wasn't getting any, but the reference reminded me of something my wife told me she'd overheard two cashiers at Bartell Drugs, just a block down on Madison, say a few weeks earlier. That the store was closing. In a few weeks.
“Yeah, I don't think they're closing that one,” the doctor said when I relayed this. “At least I hope not. We send a lot of patients there.”
After the appointment, I walked by the store and saw this:
Empty shelves, locked doors.
The family-run Bartell Drugs began in the Pac NW 135 years ago but was bought by Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid in 2020 and immediately began to go downhill. Then, as we all know, the move from brick-and-mortars was exacerbated by the pandemic. Last month, Rite Aid filed for bankruptcy. It's $3-$4 billion in the hole.
We lost our local drugstore, in other words, because of a combination of things I hate: mergers, national chains, and everything everywhere online. The Madison store was also vulnerable because of something else I hate: theft from homeless drug addicts, most likely fentanyl addicts, which necessitated hiring security.
It might've been shuttered anyway. According to The Seattle Times, Rite Aid has closed/is near closing 12 Bartell's since Oct. 15. That's about three a week. And a quarter of the stores have been shuttered since the merger/acquisition. Customers can't even keep up:
After Seattle resident Joe Norman, 76, learned that his Bartell on Madison Street near Swedish would close Nov. 16, he switched to the Bartell half a mile away on Broadway — “and then I learned this week that they're closing as well.”
I go to a different place for prescriptions but I got a lot of over-the counter stuff there: eye drops, omeprazole, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream. It's where I got 12-packs of Diet Coke. I bought Mounds bars for Patricia. I got Jellybean cat treats. I got my COVID booster there Nov. 6. They were overworked then.
When was I last in the store? Last week? This past weekend? I didn't know it would be the last-last. Ever since Patricia told me of the overheard conversation, I kept looking for a sign—a literal sign—that the store was closing. They didn't put it up until they closed.
Monday November 20, 2023
Movie Review: The Killer (2023)
Does he always listen to “The Smiths” or does he mix it up? I.e., was he killing people to R.E.M. last month? Or the Beatles? Can you kill someone to “Shiny Happy People” or “All You Need Is Love”?
(I just flashed on a montage of slow-motion murder with “All You Need Is Love” on the soundtrack, and I think it would totally work—in that ironic, too-cool-for-school way.)
Bigger question: Is he any good? He seems good. He’s a cold-blooded professional killer who looks like he knows what he’s doing, and who, in voiceover, keeps repeating the following mantra: “Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don't improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight.” But does he follow any of his own advice? Isn’t most of the movie a battle no one’s paying him to fight? A battle where he keeps improvising and doesn’t stick to the plan? Doesn’t he miss his primary target and then leave a trail of blood in pursuit of the people who attacked his home and girlfriend, only to let off the man at the top?
And sure, that man at the top seems to genuinely not know the havoc he caused. He’s innocent … ish. But so is the cab driver and he got his brains splattered all over the front windshield. But then he was poor.
This charming man
David Fincher’s latest, and his second for Netflix (after the disappointing “Mank”), zips along and keeps us interested but in the end doesn’t resonate. For the thousandth time, I think of what Roger Ebert said about watching George Roy Hill’s “The World According to Garp.” He sat there thinking, “This is nice … this is nice …” and it got to the end and … “That’s it?” A lot of movies are like this.
Michael Fassbender plays our titular, unnamed anti-hero who travels the world using the aliases of 1970s sitcom characters: Felix Unger, Archie Bunker, George Jefferson, Bob Hartley. Curious: Is this more than just a fun, pop-cultural aside? Is it a commentary on the dead-eyed hordes a childhood of watching TV creates? Wait, are we supposed to believe Fassbender is old enough to have grown up on this shit? He was actually born in ’77. These were my guys, not his. He’s not even 50 yet. Piker.
The first 15 minutes of the movie is Fassbender dealing with the boredom of a stakeout in Paris. We don’t know who he’s trying to kill but the target isn't arriving, so he spends the day, and much of the night, staring out the window of the empty, fifth-or-sixth-floor apartment waiting for an opportunity. We see him eat minimally, sleep minimally, stretch, do yoga. We hear him think. A lot. We get tons of voiceover.
The movie is based on a long-running graphic novel series of the same name by French writer Alexis Nolent (pen name: Matz) and French artist Luc Jacamon, and the voiceovers have a comic-book-y, Frank Miller-by-way-of-Mickey-Spillane quality to them—with maybe a little more wit and way more philosophy and statistics. Among the thoughts:
A hundred and forty million human beings are born every year, give or take. Worldwide population is approximately 7.8 billion. Every second, 1.8 people die—while 4.2 are born into that very same second. Nothing I've ever done will make any dent in these metrics.
At the same time, who's he talking to? Half of what he says doesn’t sound like stuff people think to themselves. Is this how he keeps himself interested? Pretending he has an audience? Pretending there's an us?
Eventually the target arrives, with a mistress or $1,000-a-night hooker, and, waiting a millisecond too long, or not anticipating properly, our guy, The Killer, TK, kills her rather than him. Then it’s off to the races. Leaving no trace, he escapes the country and returns to his estate in the Dominican Republic, only to find his house broken into and his girlfriend in the hospital. Two assailants. One beat her up and possibly raped her. The rest of the movie is his search for the people responsible.
He’s very efficient but keeps screwing up. For the New Orleans lawyer who acts as go-between, he pumps three nails into his chest with a nail gun—cha-CHUNK, cha-CHUNK, cha-CHUNK—and thinks: “Early middle age, non-smoker, about 180 pounds. Should last six, seven minutes.” The guy slumps over immediately. “Shit.” In Florida, he lets himself get attacked by The Brute (Sala Baker), then miscalculates the dosage necessary to keep his pit bull asleep. Again and again, he’s wrong, and again and again, he thinks he’s righter than everyone. Is that the point?
I like the standoff with Tilda Swinton’s assassin over the flight of whisky at the high-end restaurant in NY. Question: Why did he eventually take the drink she offered? Because he figured one drink against her five wouldn’t put him at a disadvantage? Because he wanted her to think he was letting his guard down? I do like the way she gets it. She falls down some stairs, asks for a hand, and he seems to offer it—but instead of a helping hand there's a gun in it and he puts a bullet in her forehead. Then the reveals—to himself and us—the knife she was about to use on him.
Chicago is where he finally finds The Client (Arliss Howard), but he’s a nondescript cretinous businessman whose security, per TK, isn’t exactly Mensa. “Good luck with the Wordle,” TK thinks. If you believe The Client, he agreed to a thing without knowing the thing. It was all the New Orleans lawyer. Or not. Maybe The Lawyer assumed The Client knew the thing when he didn’t. So our hero, or antihero, gets to the top and it is what it is: exposed, frayed wires. Nonsensical. No one's running the show.
I know it’s over
Is there an epiphany for TK at the end? Is he changed by all that happens? Most of the movie, he seems above it all. Back in Paris, for example, as he’s looking through a rifle scope, maybe picking off innocent café patrons in his mind, he thinks about how throughout history the few have exploited the many, and “make sure you’re one of the few, not one of the many.” That’s his life advice to his nonexistent audience. Be one of the few. Like him.
In the end, he’s back at his mansion in the DR, with the girlfriend who’s recovering from the attack. He serves her a cappuccino. They lay on lounge chairs. And he thinks about how security and fate are placebos, no one knows the future, the only life path is the one behind you. Then he thinks this:
If, in the brief time we're all given, you can’t accept this, well, maybe you’re not one of the few.
Maybe you’re just like me. One of the many.
Then behind his cool shades, his eye twitches.
Again, it was fun, just not much of a payoff. But it was nice seeing Michael F. again. Been awhile. Apparently the last movie he made/released was pre-pandemic: “Dark Phoenix.” This is better.
Friday November 17, 2023
Yesterday, every team in Major League Baseball approved the move of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. It is the third Oakland team in the last four years to bolt the city:
- 2019: Golden State Warriors —> SF
- 2020: Oakland Raiders —> Las Vegas
- 2023: This
In celebration, on Threads, the A's organization posted the following:
A's social media coordinator: Oooh, 76 replies! Fun! Let's see what we got! Dum da dum da dum... *Click*
- fuck you
- MLB only cares about profits. They care nothing about the fans.
- Fuck you x2
- Never. I will not visit even for a Giants game
- Fuck you
- Not a fan of the As but this is a big f u to the fans in Oakland. The bad thing for the team as well is I have seen no people from Las Vegas saying they even care.
- Nothing to be proud of.
- Thanks for the virtual poke in the eye.
- Bad move. Horrible look. You will fail.
- Piss off!
- fuck off
- Fuck you.
Someone mentioned there wasn't a positive comment in the bunch—I certainly couldn't find one. Not even a sock-puppet account to say something good. The key, I think, is what one of the commentators mentions above: Nobody in Vegas cares. If anyone in Vegas notices. Apparently it's all about the gambling. I think of Sonny Corleone: “There's a lot of money in that white powder.” That's MLB now. “There's a lot of money in that addiction.”
Was Portland ever a consideration? I'm curious. Or is it too soccer-y these days? Or doesn't the city want to shell out the billions it costs to get to have nine men toss around a ball?
It's sad. When I was growing up, there were three great mini-dynasties: The Baltimore Orioles (1969-71), the Oakland A's (1972-74) and the Cincinnati Reds (1975-76). The A's probably weren't as good as the others, to be honest, but they did better: They won three World Series in a row. They're the only non-Yankee team to make that claim. And they were memorable. They grew long hair and moustaches, and wore kelly green and yellow unis, and Charlie Finley gave half the team nicknames: “Blue Moon” Odom, “Catfish” Hunter. They had the most exciting starting pitcher in baseball (Vida Blue), the game's first superduperstar (Reggie Jackson), and one of the game's first closers, a guy with a 19th century-era handlebar moustache (Rollie Fingers). Plus the staid regulars: Joe Rudi, Campy Campaneris, Dick Green, captain Sal Bando. They were so popular, comic books were made about them.
Then there's the Bash Brothers of the 1980s, the “Moneyball” A's of the early 2000s, and then of course the 50 years of Connie Mack baseball. And they won! In terms of overall championships, the A's are tied for third with Boston: nine each. They tended to have rashes of success followed by decades of doldrums: 1910-1914; 1929-1931; 1972-74; 1988-1990. “Moneyball,” for all its hype, never even got them back to the World Series.
They kept going west, young man: from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland. Now Vegas. Three steps forward, one step back.
Tuesday November 14, 2023
Nah, Doesn't Remind Me of Anyone
“... without Adolf Hitler, who was possessed of a demonic personality, a granite will, uncanny instincts, a cold ruthlessness, a remarkable intellect, a soaring imagination and—until toward the end, when, drunk with power and success, he overreached himself—an amazing capacity to size up people and situations, there almost certainly would never have been a Third Reich. 'It is one of the great examples,' as Friedrich Meinecke, the eminent German historian, said, 'of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life.'
To some Germans and, no doubt, to most foreigners it appeared that a charlatan had come to power in Berlin. To the majority of Germans Hitler had—or would shortly assume—the aura of a truly charismatic leader. They were to follow him blindly, as if he possessed a divine judgment, for the next twelve tempestuous years.”
-- William L. Shirer, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” published Oct. 1960. Remove “remarkable intellect” and it's pretty much Trump. John Oliver called Trump's scandals “Stupid Watergate.” You could call Trump “Stupid Hitler.”
Monday November 13, 2023
Movie Review: Bottoms (2023)
That was fun. A little quirky, a little uneven maybe. Much of it feels improvised so the tone keeps fluctuating. What starts out true-to-life gets over-the-top quickly. There were times, watching, when I felt a little like Graham Chapman’s military officer in the “Monty Python” sketch: “Too silly, too silly, indeed. Get on with it now. … Get on with it.”
Like him, I assume I’m in the minority.
“Bottoms” is a high school comedy about two nerds who concoct schemes to get the pretty girls they’ve always dreamed about. But the two nerds are girls. That’s the selling point. It’s why something that’s basically a genre film feels new. Or newish.
PJ and Josie (Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri) are best friends who like different, hot, popular girls. For Josie it’s Isabel (Havana Rose Liu—now that’s a name for the 21st century!), the cheerleader-girlfriend of high school QB and BMOC Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine). For PJ, it’s Isabel’s best friend, Brittany (Kaia Gerber, Cindy Crawford’s daughter/clone, who looks way too hot to exist in the real world), who is also a cheerleader, but mostly hangs and looks disdainful.
At the start of senior year, their friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz) talks up the rumor that PJ and Josie spent the summer in juvie, and the girls, particularly PJ, lean into it—more so when she realizes the hot girls think it’s cool. Through a series of oddities, this leads them to starting a girls-only “Fight Club” on campus. Basically our girls fake it until they make it. To show how tough she is, for example, Josie talks up how she almost killed a girl in juvie with her punch—and everyone believes it. Then to gain sympathy, she lays out the day-to-day horrors of juvie, and everyone believes that, too. (Admittedly, that one is more believable.)
And it works! Isabel breaks up with Jeff because he’s banging Hazel’s hot mom, Mrs. Calahan (Dagmare Dominczyk of “Succession”), causing Isabel to run into the arms (and bed) of Josie. PJ tries it with Brittany, but she’s straight, damnit.
Meanwhile, things get crazier and crazier. We go from Josie’s lie about nearly killing a girl to the rumor/reality that the rival high school, Huntington, actually kills locals during the big game. WTF? Some of the over-the-top is simply satiric: The football players wearing their unis—with shoulder pads and cleats—in class, for example. Meanwhile, Jeff’s toady, Tim (Miles Fowler), plots to end the fight club by: 1) having Hazel lose a match with the biggest football player to show how little they'd learned; and 2) spilling the beans that our girls were never in juvie and only started fight club to fuck hot girls. Yes, he really only needed the second one, particularly since Hazel holds her own.
But that’s our second-act downturn (the ostracism) before our third-act redemption: During the big game, the girls fight the Huntington team to the death (yes, to the death) while uncovering the Huntington scheme to kill Jeff via grapefruit juice. The good guys win. Josie gets the girl.
One of us, one of us
Are there too many characters in this thing? I never really got the point of Stella-Rebecca (Virginia Tucker), a high school model. Sylvie (Summer Joy Campbell) is teeny but gungho, while Hazel keeps blowing up shit. There’s also Annie (Zamani Wilder), a nonentity until the big game, when Josie calls her “the smartest one” and “a black Republican.” Maybe such 11th hour exposition is the joke, but to me it just feels like 11th hour exposition.
And what era are we supposed to be in? It felt pre-#MeToo—the shit men say and get away with. Plus no smart phones. More and more movies do this to me. OK, when are we now?
The important thing is I laughed. I thought Sennott (co-writer, with director Emma Seligman) particularly funny. Plus it’s an important, widening perspective to have. It’s good to know that around women, lesbians are just as stupid as men.
Sunday November 12, 2023
'The Marvels' Less-Than-Marvelous Opening
“The Marvels” didn't exactly crackle with energy at the box office.
The last time a Brie Larson-led Captain Marvel movie opened, it was March 2019, in the midst of the Avengers-Thanos wars. Half the universe, including Black Panther and Spider-Man, had already been snapped out of existence and we didn't know how we would get them back. We would find out in May. “Captain Marvel” was a prequel but it was the last chance to see an MCU movie before the big battle, and many jumped. It grossed $153 million opening weekend.
This weekend, its sequel, “The Marvels” opened to $47 million.
How low is that? The lowest opener for an MCU movie has always been the second in the series, “The Incredible Hulk,” with Ed Norton rather than Mark Ruffalo in the lead, way back in 2008: $55 million. And that was 2008 dollars. Adjusted, that's now closer to $80 million. So $47 million is ... not good. I'm sure everyone at Marvel and Disney are scrambling for answers. I'm sure pundits and critics will provide their own. Among the suspects:
- Superhero oversaturation. There's just too many of these damn things. That's what my wife said when I asked her about her interest in “The Marvels.” (Her interest was zero.)
- Tepid critic response. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 62%, which doesn't exactly make you want to dash out in November weather to see it.
- Is this even a popular character? This could be 1970s me talking, but this version of Captain Marvel, originally called Ms. Marvel, isn't iconic in the way that Spider-Man or Hulk or Captain America are.
- Is she even a character? How would you describe her personality? I'm not sure. You understand who Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Natasha Romanova, et al., ARE. All I know of Carol Danvers is she's a former test pilot from the 1990s who's now, somehow, one of the most powerful beings in the universe. But what's the hook? Where's the personality?
- Misogyny. That's the excuse I've been reading on social media. Which doesn't explain “Barbie” or Taylor Swift box office. Maybe it's suggesting that the comic dudes who always go to these things opening weekend should also go to this OR they're misogynist? That it's up to them and not the women who made “Barbie” and Taylor the box office stories of the year?
- We've lost the thread. This dovetails with the first about oversaturation. Because it's not just movies; it's TV shows. The other Marvels depicted above have appeared in Disney+ shows, right? Didn't one of them have her own show while the other figured into the “WandaVision” thing? But to what end? I don't know what's going on anymore.
- Identity politics is all well and fine, John, but you'll never make a living with it. It feels like Marvel feels like it's enough that they have Black and Indian characters to go with the white one, and they're all female, and rah, and it's not. You need the other stuff. You need a thread, and you need personality, and you need to give us a reason to go out into the November weather. And I don't know if “The Marvels” had any of that.
It still won the weekend, of course. In second place was the third weekend of “Five Nights at Freddy's” ($9 million --> $127), and then the fifth weekend of Taylor Swift ($5.9 --> $172). Then the arthouse stuff: “Priscilla” ($4.7/$12.7), “Killers of the Flower Moon” ($4.6/$59.9), and the Alexander Payne/Paul Giamatti reunion “The Holdovers” ($3.2/$4.2). I want to see “The Holdovers.” We'll probably go this week.
What does all of this mean in the long run? More movies like those last three? Doubtful. “Marvels” still swamped them in per-theater average. But maybe we'll begin to get a greater search for what the next phase might be. I would love to think it was serious films but I don't think we're a very serious country or a very serious world.
Saturday November 11, 2023
Dixon Redux, or Afterbirth of a Nation
Victory! Yours, mine and ours. On IMDb, our preeminent movie website, Thomas Dixon, the man who wrote the book and play upon which “The Birth of a Nation” is based, is once again known for writing the book and play upon which “The Birth of a Nation” is based:
Here's how it looked last year and most of this: “Birth” was nonsensically, idiotically, fourth.
This was always the most egregious of IMDb's algorithmic “known for” idiocies, so I'm glad they fixed it. Sadly, it looks like a one-off. Everything else is the same. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are still best known as producers, Bernardo Bertolucci is best known as a writer, and Peter Bogdanovich is best known for playing “DJ (voice, uncredited)” in “The Last Picture Show.” Boris Karloff isn't known for “Frankenstein,” Bo Derek isn't known for “10,” and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler isn't known for playing the Fonz of “Happy Days.”
Plus “Gods of the Machine” is still up there for Dixon—a movie that's been “in development” for several years now, by a man who's never made a feature film, but who apparently uses some of Dixon's characters in this probably never-to-be-made movie. And yet it's the third-most popular thing Dixon is known for. Because algorithm.
Thursday November 09, 2023
Movie Review: Being Mary Tyler Moore (2023)
Oddly (or not), I thought of James Cagney, a hugely successful actor who enjoyed a 30-year run at the top while being nominated for three Oscars, winning one. But he always thought of himself as “an old song-and-dance man.”
Mary Tyler Moore was a hugely successful comedianne who enjoyed a 20-year run at the top of the TV sitcom world, remaking the role of women on television and really in the world. She was nominated for lead actress in a comedy series 10 times, winning six; and yet, near the end of this doc, in one of those 1980s-era interviews with Rona Barrett or Barbara Walters or whomever, she says, “I will go to my grave thinking of myself as a failed dancer.”
She did keep going back to dance, didn’t she? She kept almost ruining her career with it.
After the successful run of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66), the world seemed her oyster. She was young and pretty and funny, “America’s Sweetheart,” and she nabbed the coveted role of Holly Golightly in the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” musical on Broadway. Except it was a huge bomb—managing only four previews before closing. Then she was cast as Miss Dorothy Brown to Julie Andrews’ “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which got OK reviews and did OK box office but felt thoroughly dated in the Sgt. Pepper-inflected summer of love. Then she was cast in a bunch of forgettable movies (“Don’t Just Stand There”), or unforgettably awful ones (“Change of Habit,” with Elvis). And there went the oyster.
But! She clawed her way back and became America’s Sweetheart again during the hugely successful run of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77). And what did she turn to immediately after that? Song and dance, of course. She starred in “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour,” in which she played Mary McKinnon, star of a variety show, whose backstage dramas lead to a final rousing musical number. It lasted 11 episodes.
Was she hedging her bets? If I give you the sitcom, will you let me do some song and dance? Pretty please?
Why did she work so well in sitcom and not as a dancer? As Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, she was endearing. She was us, but better than us, because she looked like her but seemed like a person. As a dancer, she seems like a performer. She was trying too hard. There was a need there. During some of these interviews, too. My face hurt watching how much she smiled at Barbara and Rona. I’m like: No, it’s fine. No, you don’t have to turn the world on with that. The world will get along. Relax. It’s OK.
The doc delves into the post-Laura Petrie career difficulties (which I don’t remember) but not the post-Mary Richards’ ones (which I do). No mention of “The MTM Hour.” No mention of the later failed sitcoms: “Mary” (where she plays a fashion writer reduced to advice columnist for a Chicago tabloid); “Annie McGuire” (a politico who marries an engineer); ‘New York News” (she runs a newspaper). They lasted 11, 10 and 13 episodes, respectively.
Instead, we get personal stuff. Mom’s alcoholism. Dad’s distance. Her first failed marriage. Her successful marriage to Grant Tinker until it wasn’t. The death of her first son. The death of her brother. Her own alcoholism. Finding true love.
I’m more curious about her run as a dramatic actress—Oscar nom for “Ordinary People,” accolades for “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” on Broadway—and why it didn’t stick. Afterwards, she did one of those Dudley Moore bombs, “Six Weeks,” then it was back to weepy TV movies (“Heartsounds”) and failed sitcoms. Was she offered anything she regretted turning down? Or was not offered much since she was 45? Or did Hollywood not know what to do when America’s Sweetheart became America’s Ice Mom?
We get some great talking heads but as voiceovers; I wouldn’t have minded seeing them, too. Particularly the parade of women for whom Mary Richards meant so much: Julie Louis-Dreyfuss, Katie Couric, Oprah Winfrey. Watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” all of them were like: That’s a thing? That kind of career? I can do that? The shot of Oprah seeing Mary arrive on her show, and her jaw dropping, is just lovely: You feel how much Mary means to her. I wanted more of that.
I wanted more of this: During the “MTM,” run, we get footage of producer James L. Brooks attending a feminist conference where Gloria Steinem rakes “MTM” over the coals for not being feminist enough. Yes. Because Mary called Mr. Grant “Mr. Grant.” Brooks was booed for this. And yet this supposedly anti-feminist show inspired the next generation of powerful women. I was reminded of those studies showing how “Will & Grace”—another sitcom many on the left felt wasn’t radical enough—changed people’s perceptions of homosexuality for the better; how it maybe led to Obergefell. The idea being you make change not by haranguing people but by including the progressive or the radical within the context of the palatable—here, sitcom relationships—and you make those relationships intriguing enough and fun enough that people keep inviting them back into their home. Week after week. Year after year.
I would’ve liked a discussion of that.
Work of art
“Being Mary Tyler Moore” was directed by James Adolphus, who admits, in a separate interview, that he hadn’t seen much of his subject’s work before he began. Like “The Dick Van Dyke Show”: not one episode. Or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”: ditto. So why was he chosen for this? No idea. But his lack of background shows.
I was surprised—and shouldn’t have been—by the anti-Semitism of the postwar period. “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” created by Carl Reiner, was originally supposed to star Reiner—but he was too Jewish, it was felt. They needed a WASP fronting the Jewish comedy. Then there was CBS’s reaction to the original idea of making Mary Richards a divorcee. Producers were told there were three no-nos at CBS:
- No divorce
- No moustaches
- No Jews
So we’ve come a long way, baby. In other ways we’ve regressed. At one point someone mentions the Saturday night lineup on CBS during the early 1970s:
- All in the Family
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show
- The Bob Newhart Show
- The Carol Burnett Show
Holy crap. Look at that. That’s a work of art. We did that once.
Mary Tyler Moore was huge when I was growing up in Minneapolis in the 1970s. She was our girl. The show was our show. Look—Lake of the Isles! Lunds! A Fran Tarkenton jersey! All of this meant so much to a place that felt like, well, I guess the modern term is “flyover country.” We weren’t flown over then. Something landed.
Tuesday November 07, 2023
Gibbering Oafish Party
“It's worth reflecting on how Republicans got to a place where they are about to nominate someone who is a frequent flier in the American court system, facing 91 criminal charges spanning four state and federal indictments. For one thing, it didn't help that nobody in the GOP field ever seriously took him on—even after January 6, when Trump sicced his supporters on the Capitol. But they also failed to highlight that Trumpism doesn't necessarily scale, as the 2022 midterms proved. In August, polling showed that only 63% of Republican voters wanted Trump ”to run again.“ But instead of making a case as to why they were a viable alternative to Trump, the non-Trump field treated the ex-president with kid gloves; they almost completely ignored the orange gorilla in the room and instead bickered with each other—so much so that they appear to have lost the plot entirely.”
Molly Jong-Fast, “Imagine If 2024 Republicans Actually Tried Taking on Trump,” on the Vanity Fair site. As I noted on Threads, yesterday was a year from the day after the 2024 election. So get ready to fight the fucker. Because the GOP is too weak and un-American to do it.
Saturday November 04, 2023
Movie Review: Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Watching, I assumed “Anatomy of a Fall,” which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, was based on a hit novel that every women’s book group was currently reading. Nope, it’s an original screenplay by Arthur Harari and director Justine Triet, who wrote it specifically for German actress Sandra Hüller, who’s amazing.
But I was bored at times. It’s basically a “Lady or the Tiger?” proposition. Did she or didn’t she? Or: Was it an accident, suicide, or murder? Like in Frank R. Stockton’s short story, this one too is left ambiguous. It’s left for viewers to wrangle it out afterwards.
My main takeaway, though, is this: That’s one weird court system you’ve set up, France.
The non-smoking gun
It begins with dissonance. In a picturesque French chalet, two women talk and flirt over glasses of wine. Are they friends? No, it’s an interview, midday. The younger, hotter one (Camille Rutherford) is interviewing the older one, a novelist, Sandra Voyter (Hüller), but it’s odd. Why is Sandra flirting so? Why is the boy washing the dog upstairs and sniffing his coat? And when Sandra’s unseen husband begins banging away at a project in the attic, playing his music loudly, why doesn’t Sandra tell him to turn it down for a bit? She seems like the type not to suffer fools, but she suffers this. The flirtation, and the interview, end.
Then the boy, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), who is blind or near blind, takes the dog for a walk, or the dog takes him, and when they return, Dad, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is laying on the snowy ground outside, a discarded rag doll, blood seeping from his head.
Here’s why I think she didn’t do it. When the boy yells for her, she comes outside, sleepily at first, and her reaction to seeing her husband’s rag-doll body—that electric jolt and movement toward the stairs—well, Sandra Hüller is actress enough to pull it off but not Sandra Voyter. And for an audience of no one? The boy can’t see. Hers is a natural reaction to sudden tragedy.
And then the tragedy deepens. Police arrive, take measurements, ask questions. That top window is rather high. It would be tough for him to fall out of it, unless … Was he drunk? No, she says, he didn’t drink during the day. Was he suicidal? No, she says. Her matter-of-fact answers are eliminating all the explanations that might exonerate her. Basically, she’s forcing the cops to choose murder. And then they find a smoking gun.
Turns out Samuel recorded conversations. He was a failed writer and was using them to either spark his imagination or eliminate the need for it. And the day before his death, he recorded a doozy of an argument between himself and Sandra. We don’t hear this/see this until the 11th hour, and when we do, well, I had two thoughts: It’s one of the most realistic arguments between a couple I’ve seen in a movie; and … that’s their smoking gun? It’s a fight between a long-married couple, one successful and one not, whose sole offspring was blinded under their care. All that’s buried emerges.
Most of the movie is a trial in a French courtroom, where there’s a panel of judges, including a mostly ineffectual Presidente du tribunal (Anne Rotger), an avocat general who looks more like a skinhead (Antoine Reinartz), and a defense attorney and old family friend, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), whose got amazing fox-like eyes, and who may, inexplicably, have a thing for Sandra. I don’t know how accurate it all is to French jurisprudence, but one thing I liked is how free-floating the courtroom conversation can be. It’s not like in the U.S. where one person is in the witness box, impaneled to answer questions, and everyone else shut the fuck up. Here, the impaneled stands in the center of the courtroom, and others can be invited into the conversation. And apparently it’s OK for l’avocat general to propose outlandish theories in the middle of testimony? Like French talk shows, it got a little philosophical. As an American, familiar with U.S. courtroom dramas, I was like, “Can someone give me something substantial? A rock or pebble of a fact rather than all this air?”
The key throughout is the son, Daniel, who either heard or didn’t hear his parents’ final conversation before heading on his walk. But … is he protecting his mother? Is he withholding information? And if so, is he—who was closer to the father—about to cut her loose? One evening, we watch Renzi and Sandra drinking and flirting outside—the fliration is sudden and weird—and then we see Daniel in bed, listening to them; and the next day in trial he has extra closed-door testimony and that evening he demands that Mom stay somewhere else. It’s like he can’t stand being near her all of a sudden. (The way she breaks down and cries as she’s being driven away … holy crap.)
But he’s not cutting her loose.
His life as a dog
It’s a little complicated, involving vomit and aspirin, and whose vomit is it anyway, and he nearly kills his dog in the process, but amid it all he remembers his father talking about the dog, Snoop, and how he won’t be around forever, and he’s realizing retroactively, that Dad was actually talking about himself. He was talking about suicide.
The kid is great. A few times, in his speech, I flashed on Jean-Pierre Leaud from “400 Blows”—that boyhood attempt to sound more adult than you are. Or maybe it’s that French boys sound more adult than American boys. Or maybe it indicates the paucity of my French film knowledge. Anyway, I liked him.
“Anatomy of a Fall” is a long, quiet film, too long and maybe too quiet, and its central character, Sandra, is not likable at all, which, yes, is part of the point. It helps with the lady-or-tiger question. She is, however, eminently believable. She feels like an acquaintance of an acquaintance that I can’t stand, and that winds up in my circle maybe two times a year. Oh crap, her again. Oh well. It’s why, at the end, when she’s exonerated, and she and Renzi are celebrating at a restaurant, drinking and flirting, and it looks like they might kiss, I had to shield my eyes.
Friday November 03, 2023
Rubbernecking in Chinatown, 1909
I didn't mention it in my review, but when I was watching “Chinatown Nights,” the 1929 William Welman-helmed gangster flick starring Wallace Beery, I wondered about that opening scene where our leading lady gets away from a handsy date by hopping a tour bus going through Chinatown, with the guide talking up such details as “sacred joss houses” and “ancient secret orders of the great Tong.”
Was this a thing? I wondered. Tour buses of Chinatown?
Send a question out into the universe and I guess eventually you'll get an answer. Reading Yunte Huang's “Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong's Rendezvous with American History,” I came across this:
Chinatown's emergence into America's national consciousness coincided with the early growth of the film industry. In the waning days of the nineteenth century, “slumming” trips to Chinatown became a fad. Aided by magazines that began to feature essays on the ethnic enclave, describing exotic menus in restaurants, offerings in curio shops, and the heathen ways of life there, Chinatown became a destination for burgeoning tourism. As one historian writes, “By 1909, so-called rubberneck automobiles, accompanied by a 'megaphone man,' who provided a commentary on the urban landscape, would take the curious spectator on a tour through Chinatown, which included visits to a joss house [shrine], a theater, and a restaurant.” Indeed, the touring automobile, with its ascending rows of seats, looked a bit like a mobile theater. Costing one to two dollars per person, these trips attracted mostly the more affluent who had money to spare, while the masses would have to satisfy their curiosity and cravings simply by going to the movies.
The history is interesting, the writing so-so.
Thursday November 02, 2023
And Then There Were Five
The Texas Rangers celebrate winning the first World Series in franchise history after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0 last night.
I feel a little like Flat Nose Curry, the member of the Hole in the Wall Gang played by future “Police Woman” actor Charles Dierkop, who, after the KNIFE FIGHT(???) between Butch and Harvey (“Adams Family” actor Ted Cassidy), runs up to Butch, the surprise winner, and exults:
Flat Nose: I was really rooting for ya, Butch!
Butch: Well, thank you, Flatnose. That's what sustained me in my time of trouble.
That's me after the Texas Rangers won the World Series last night. I was really rooting for ya, Texas! Well, only after the Mariners were knocked out, of course. And I guess I was iffy on the Rays series, and definitely wanted the Orioles in there, and at times, with Houston, it was like, “A replay of 2022, Houston/Philly, wouldn't be too bad.” And once the Series started, I mean, I do like Ketel Marte.
But I was really rooting for ya, Texas!
OK, so Texas I have no use for, particularly electorally, since it's anti-American and pushing us toward fascism. But Adolis Garcia and Corey Seager, the fire-and-ice of the club? And Dad-bod model Jordan Montgomery, Bradley Cooper doppelganger Nathan Eovaldi, and the eerily quiet and calm and beautiful Jose Leclerc? And above all Evan Carter, the kid who went from AA ball in August, to AAA in September, to making his Major League debut on Sept. 8 against Oakland (the shallow end of the pool), and for the rest of the season went .306/.413/.645, and in the postseason kept hitting doubles and climbing the ladder of the batting order until he was ensconsed in the Griffey spot, third, the spot of all spots, and handled it all with aplomb? Well, those guys were fun.
The Texas Rangers, began, of course, as the second iteration of the Washington Senators, and followed the great tradition of the first by being first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. I've posited that no team began as ineptly as the Seattle Mariners, who didn't poke their head above .500 until their 15th season, and still haven't won a pennant after 47 mostly meh years, but Texas has an argument. They lost 100+ games each of their first four seasons, so didn't poke their heads above .400 until Season Five. They did get to .500 sooner, going 86-76 in 1969 under new skipper Ted Williams, but the next season, with the same skipper, they were back underwater. They moved to Texas in '72 and show the fans there what they were all about by losing 100+ their first two seasons. Then they got Billy Martin as manager and had a winning season. Then they lost Billy Martin and submerged again.
This is brutal: they didn't make the postseason until 1996—their 36th season—and didn't win a postseason series until 2010. That was the year they won their first pennant but lost the WS in five to the Tim Lincecum-led San Francisco Giants. But the next year was theirs ... until it wasn't. They were one out away from a title but Nelson Cruz couldn't track down David Freese's line shot into the corner and it went into extras and they kept running into David Freese and at the end it was the Cardinals with their 11th title rather than the Rangers with their first. In the mid-2010s, they made the postseason a few years in a row but were at the tail-end of the Jose Bautista bat flip, and never got into the ALCS. Two season ago, they lost 100+ again. Last season they lost 90+. Then they hired Bruce Bochy as manager.
I've been wondering a lot lately how much a manager helps. They're not like football or basketball coaches, forever drawing up plays and new strategies, but Bochy seemed like a good guy to play for: calm, smart, he liked his gum. Joe Posnanski's Poscast prediction about Texas last March was something along the lines of “I think they're good?” He saw them leading the division but stumbling after June. Turns out they led the division but stumbled after August, then righted themselves, then lost the division on the last game of the season—to my Mariners, playing for pride—meaning rather than resting up they had to take on the Tampa Bay Rays who had home-field advantage. But these Rangers turned “home-field advantage” on its head. They didn't lose an away game the entire postseason. Took two from Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, beat the O's twice of two in Balmer, beat the Astros four of four in Houston, and came into Phoenix tied 1-1 with the D-Backs and swept the table. Pretty amazing run.
So who's left among the have-nots, the scroungy and sad and title-less teams? These five:
- Brewers (est. 1969)
- Padres (est. 1969)
- Mariners (est. 1977)
- Rockies (est. 1993)
- Rays (est. 1998)
The Rangers finally won it in their 63rd season, which is the third-longest any team has taken—after the Phillies (78 seasons), and the Browns/Orioles (64 seasons). Celebrate, Texas, because you can. I feel a little badly for the D-Backs, and for former M's closer Paul Sewald, so good in the playoffs, so not in the World Series. I feel a little badly, too, or bemusedly badly, for the likes of Evan Carter. I hope he knows runs like this are rare beasts. I hope someone tells him, “You know, it's not usually like this around here.”
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