Category Archives: Movies

The interesting debate we could have had, under other circumstances


Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.

Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:

RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…

Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.

Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.

As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.

But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.

The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).

People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.

Back to the debate

Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:

As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…

Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)

The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.

And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.

At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.

Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.

So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.

As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:

It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…

Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).

Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.

When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.

Hence what she said in that leaked speech.

I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.

So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.

It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?

Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?

NOW Trump’s in trouble: DeNiro’s on his case

At the end of the week, I did a blog post for ADCO about this video that a bunch of celebrities did to urge people to vote.

Not until today did I see the outtake from what Robert DeNiro said about Donald Trump. It’s just a tad more restrained than in his performance below.

So, ya think Bobby’s kinda ticked at this guy? A li’l bit, li’l bit…

I’m not one to choose the minimum number of pieces of flair

The Wall Street Journal had a fun piece today about the fad of re-enacting the printer-smashing scene from “Office Space.” Above, you see the spoof produced by the Ted Cruz campaign a few months back. Here’s the original.

But the story was accompanied by a short (only five questions) quiz about “Office Space,” and unfortunately, I missed one. When I guessed the minimum number of pieces of flair, I guessed too high.

Which is not a bad thing if you’re an employee of Chotchkie’s. Seriously, what do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?

But it’s not good if you’re a huge “Office Space” fan.

So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about my flair…


Wrap your head around this: 1,300 more USC student beds

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in "Logan's Run."

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in “Logan’s Run.”

I was struck by this yesterday, but didn’t get around to sharing it until now:

The University of South Carolina will add around 1,300 new beds in privately owned student housing properties in time for the fall 2016 semester, seventh-most in the country.

A study by student housing and apartment market data provider Axiometrics found seven of the 10 university markets expecting the most new beds were in the Southeast or the Southwest. Arkansas led the way with an anticipated 2,319 new beds.

Several new student-oriented apartment complexes have recently opened in Columbia, including: Park Place, located at Blossom and Huger streets, with 640 beds; Station at Five Points, located at Gervais and Harden streets, with 660 beds; and 650 Lincoln Phase Two, with 297 beds.

Nationwide, a total of 47,700 new beds are scheduled for come to market in time for the fall semester….

Everybody else in "Logan's Run" Jenny Agutter, anyway...

Everybody else in “Logan’s Run.” Or Jenny Agutter, anyway…

Hey, I don’t care about nationwide. I care about the fact that, as many additional students as we’ve absorbed downtown in recent years, 1,300 more are moving in right now!

And that does count hundreds or thousands more that we can see under construction!

Already, walking down Main Street makes me feel like Peter Ustinov in “Logan’s Run.” This is bizarre.

Where are they all coming from?

Kenley Young’s review of ‘Suicide Squad’


Haven’t decided whether to go see “Suicide Squad.” That’s that super-villain movie with Will Smith and that hot girl who for some reason is made up like one of the Baseball Furies from “The Warriors.”

Kenley Young, formerly of The State and a vocalist you may know for fronting several local bands in recent years, offered his take on it on Facebook today, and I share it:

‪#‎SuicideSquad‬: Not a good movie, but not as bad as the reviews indicate — although at this point I feel like Warner Bros./DC should just recycle that as a tag line for the rest of their lineup. “Meh.”

First, a couple of admissions: I’m a DC guy, and I desperately WANT to see its cinematic universe succeed. (Its TV and animated universes are unmitigated successes already, and the company deserves credit there.) Secondly, I was among a handful of fans who thought “Man of Steel” was a pretty decent movie. (Well, two-thirds of a decent movie, because that third act — aka “Transformers VI” — was truly awful.) Still, omnipotent goodie-two-shoes Superman is a hard sell these days, and I felt that first installment held some promise and that the films would improve from there.

They, um, have not. Not that “Suicide Squad” doesn’t have bright spots: Margot Robbie and Will Smith are fun to watch and, at times, compelling. And Viola Davis, as always, seriously classes up the joint. I hope they all stick around. But the plot’s ludicrous, even by comic book standards; the gun violence is tough to stomach (not sure why superpowered “meta-humans” need so much ammo); there’s a fair amount of blatant misogyny; and Jared Leto as The Joker just doesn’t really do it for me.

That’s not his fault entirely; Leto’s clearly a talent. I just think we’re not far enough removed from Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in the role. That was only eight years ago. Before Ledger, it’d been almost 20 years since we’d seen Jack Nicholson run away with a film like that, in a piece of pop performance art for the ages. Anyone’s portrayal of the greatest villain in comics will forever be measured against that backdrop. It’d be a daunting task for any actor. Plus, “Suicide Squad” has plenty of other issues; Leto’s not really the one weighing it down.

Clearly, since its “universe” launch, Warner Bros. has yet to churn out a 100 percent enjoyable — or even fully coherent — DC film. The forthcoming “Wonder Woman” may break that streak; the trailer looks terrific, early buzz is good, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. (Sadly, the same was all true for “Man of Steel.”) Either way, it’s probably the last shot they’re gonna get for me. Diana of Themyscira, I believe in you and am rooting for you.

Maybe the Wonder Woman movie will be better...

Maybe the Wonder Woman movie will be better…

‘Think light’ if you want to wrestle Shute

Yes, another “Vision Quest” reference.

Blame my elder son this time. He brought the above weigh-in video clip to my attention because he knew it would remind me, as it did him, of the big weigh-in scene in the movie. (Oh, and to you adolescent boys out there — don’t bother watching the above clip; you never get to see anything. For an ultimate fighter, who you might think would be about as bashful as a Viking shieldmaiden, she’s very demure.)

“Think light,” said Kooch (a great secondary character, by the way). And Loudon did.

Speaking of which…

I’m nowhere nearer to being able to wrestle Shute than I was the last time I mentioned it.

But I learned this week that I shouldn’t worry, because my weight, at 180-something, remains way under the national average now:

Americans aren’t growing taller, but their waistlines are growing wider. A new federal report reveals that U.S. men and women weigh about 15 lb. more than they did 20 years ago.

In the report, published Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, researchers looked at data from 2011 to 2014. They found that the average man, who’s about 5 ft. 9 in., weighs 195.7 lb., and the average woman, almost 5 ft. 4 lb., weighs 168.5 lb. For men, that’s about 15 lb. more than average in 1988–94; women are now more than 16 lb. heavier. Men and women’s heights were about the same two decades ago….

This is a puzzle, though, because 75 percent of us reporting eating healthy

If the Martians come, could they take Trump with them?

"Take me to your Donald!"

“Take me to your Donald!”

From The State today:

Asked about the odds of Hillary Clinton winning South Carolina in this fall’s presidential election, Clemson University political scientist David Woodard replied: “It’s more realistic that we’ll be invaded by Martians.”

South Carolina has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades, and pundits do not expect that streak to end in November….

I don’t expect it to end, either, especially when the Democrat is one who sometimes seems tied with Obama as the one the SC right most loves to hate (since Ted Kennedy is no longer around).

But if only there were a way that South Carolina could refuse the win to Hillary without giving it to… the Creature.

Since it’s more likely that the Martians will invade, let’s hope that when they do, we repulse them and in retreating, they take Trump with them. Which would be a double victory for Earth!

Cranston, others are AMAZING in ‘All the Way’

I intend to drop my subscription to HBO Now, as an economizing measure, after the last episode of “Game of Thrones” this weekend. (I’m not giving up much; my Amazon Prime account gives me access to pretty much everything I value about HBO.)

Before doing that, I made a point last night to watch the new HBO movie, “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson.

I was blown away. Wow. I did not know Cranston could act like that. Sure, a lot of it was a brilliant makeup job, but that was just the start. And it wasn’t just the voice impersonation; plenty of people could do that. It was his physicality — the way he positioned and moved his body, the subtleties of his facial expressions, that made him seem to inhabit LBJ.

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

Just watching his mouth shape the words was hypnotic. As much as I liked “Breaking Bad,” it persuaded me that he had a limited set of expressions. In the early seasons, I got really tired of that grimace of extreme anxiety that he wore constantly — although, in retrospect, I suppose that was masterful, too, as it so effectively communicated his stress to me, which was part of what I didn’t like about it.

But to watch that jaw and lips and teeth become those of LBJ was astounding.

But the quality of this production extends far beyond Cranston. You’ll also be impressed by Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird. Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell and Steven Root as J. Edgar Hoover are both wonderful as well, but then those guys always are.

There are less impressive parts, of course. The actor who plays Strom Thurmond only has a line or two, but I still fault him for doing too little with it.

But the greatest letdown is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King. For one thing, he doesn’t seem old enough. Yeah, I know — MLK was only 35 at the time and Mackie is precisely that age. But King had a bearing that made him seem older than he was.

Perhaps I expect too much, but it seems that in everything I see — the disappointing “Selma” comes to mind — the actors portraying King fall far short of capturing him. Mr. Mackle simply lacks the gravitas — in the shape of his face, his voice, his manner. King had a presence that impressed. Why is there not an actor out there who can communicate it, or at least approximate it?

But let’s not linger on the shortcomings. “All the Way” is excellent, and if you have access, you should take the time to see it.


OK, it’s time to start the ‘Vision Quest’ regimen

I experienced a shock yesterday. I stepped on my bathroom scale, and it read 187.0.

Yeah, I was fully dressed, including a sport coat, wallet, keys, iPhone and very heavy shoes. But still. Almost 190 pounds? I’ve never come close to that before, and I’ve been weighed at doctor’s offices while similarly burdened many times.

That weight will seem like nothing to you if you’re built for it — saying if you’re a tall, big-boned guy like Doug.

But I’m not. Look at me. I’m a skinny guy. I’ve always been a skinny guy.

This is unfair. I did not earn these additional pounds, most of which are gathered around my middle, making it very difficult for me to perform such everyday tasks as, say, wearing pants.

I put on about 10 of them when I took two courses of prednisone trying to get rid of poison ivy earlier in the spring. Then, for the first time in years (and I suspect there’s a connection here), I started having trouble with my asthma. I’ve had to switch medications, and haven’t fully stabilized yet — which means I haven’t been working out.

If the added weight IS contributing to my breathing trouble, that’s a vicious cycle. I really need the exercise to drop the pounds; changing diet alone won’t do it.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

But I’ve been doing better with my breathing the last couple of days, and so it may be time to begin the push toward a normal weight. Full paleo, of course, and at least 40 minutes a day on the elliptical — that should do it.

The goal, as always with me, will be to get under 168 so I can wrestle Shute, should the opportunity arise. “Vision Quest” speaks to me, as a former (undistinguished) high school wrestler.

If you see someone sprinting across the Gervais Street bridge in a rubber suit with Red Ryder’s “Lunatic Fringe” playing in the background, that will be me. (Actually, I think it was John Waite’s “Change” in that scene — see 1:22 on the clip — but people remember the other song better, so…)


Trump envisioned as the Baron Harkonnen


Apparently, I’m not the only one to draw an analogy between Donald Trump suddenly seizing control of the Republican Party and the Harkonnens crushing the Atreides and taking Arrakis.

My son-in-law brings my attention to the above — which I appreciate even though I think David Lynch’s “Dune” is the Worst Movie Ever Made. Or at least, the Worst Movie Ever Made That Should Have Been Awesome. Which was why, on my previous post on the subject, I used a picture of Germans taking Paris rather than something from the movie…

Check out the often chilling ‘Look Who’s Back’

Just wanted to bring to your attention a fascinating dark comedy that recently made its appearance on Netflix, in case you haven’t seen it already.Er_ist_wieder_da_(book_cover)

In English, it’s called “Look Who’s Back.” But it’s a German film, and the original name is “Er ist wieder da.” It’s based on a satirical novel of the same name. Here’s the premise…

One day in the present, Adolph Hitler wakes up, disoriented, in a park located on the site of the Führerbunker. He meets up with a desperate man who has just lost his job at a TV network, who uses the Führer to turn his fortunes around. Subsequently, Hitler becomes a huge draw on a popular show called, “Whoa, dude!”

The idea is that no one knows this is actually Adolph Hitler. People think he’s a brilliantly ironic comedian or method actor (since he never drops out of character). They love him. And many come to love him for the wrong reasons.


What makes this interesting is that it punctures our smug assumptions that we moderns are so much better than those awful people who live in the past. Two of the most chilling moments:

  • Hitler is delighted by many aspects of modern life. He particularly is drawn to the Web, especially because anyone can make use of it, without editors or other conventional controls being in the way. When he learns that no one ultimately controls Wikipedia, he is delighted. He sees the opportunity that provides.
  • HUGE SPOILER ALERT: Repeatedly, the Führer runs into everyday people on the street who are filled with indignation over the way nonEuropean immigrants are flooding into their country. Hitler encourages them in this, and declares, in the very last line of the film, “I can work with this.”

Because, you see, while everyone else thinks their using Hitler — to drive TV ratings and such — he is single-mindedly bent on rising to power again.

Oh, and don’t think this is just a German problem, given how well politicians with similar messages are faring in this country in this election year…

Tim Robbins vs. South Carolina Democrats

Perhaps you are a great admirer of Tim Robbins, the actor/activist. I am not. To me, the pinnacle of his career was when he played the insufferable, insipid Ian/Ray in “High Fidelity.” Fairly or not, I saw him as playing himself in that role, and it’s an impression I’m unlikely to shake.

See the clip above. To me, that’s Tim Robbins. Go get him, Rob!

Now we have Tim Robbins commenting on South Carolina politics, in a manner worthy of Ian (or is it Ray?):

Pretty much everyone seems to think Robbins looked foolish here, including Philip Bump at The Fix:

This is a not-uncommon argument among supporters of Sanders. Yes, Hillary Clinton is winning. But she’s winning largely because she ran up big margins in Southern states. That, the argument goes, bodes poorly for the general, since those Southern states usually vote Republican.

This is a bad argument that borders on insulting.

First of all, South Carolina has a lot more people than Guam. Among the other bits of data one can point out about the 2016 Democratic primary is that Clinton has received far more votes than  Sanders — 2.5 million more. Among those is a margin of about 175,000 more votes in the state of South Carolina, a margin that by itself is larger than the population of Guam.

Which means that Clinton came away from South Carolina with a net delegate haul of plus-25 — she earned 25 more delegates than did Sanders. In the Democrats’ proportional system, that’s a big margin. It’s a margin that Sanders has only managed once, in the Washington caucuses late last month. So in that sense, South Carolina matters a lot more than Guam….

But the person most worked up about what Robbins said may be South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison. Here are some of his Tweets on the subject. He started off nice enough, but by the end he was about ready to rip the air-conditioner out of the wall like Dick in the clip above:

The connection between genius and madness, pop version

Time for another of my way-late, long-after-it-was-in-theaters, movie reviews.

This morning, in response to an earlier post, our regular Bill quotes Albert Ayler:

Music is the healing force of the universe.

This takes me to the film we watched last night on DVD, “Love and Mercy,” starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Brian Wilson at different stages of his life — in the ’60s, when his mental illness first interfered with his career with the Beach Boys, and in the ’80s, when he began the process of recovery.

I definitely recommend it.

A few points I came away with:

It had never occurred to me before that Cusack and Dano were so much alike. But when Cusack first appeared after several scenes with Dano, I immediately knew he was supposed to be Wilson, only older. I can’t put my finger exactly on what the commonality was — I said to my wife “I never realized before how much they look alike.” But that’s not it. They don’t really look alike. It was something else. Maybe the voice — the lost-child voice Cusack affected for the role. In any case, deftly done.

If you are, like me, fairly ambivalent about the Beach Boys — enjoy their music, but not a huge fan — this film will help you enjoy their work more deeply, especially the “Pet Sounds”-era music. Watching Dano struggle to translate what he was hearing in his head into something others could hear as well, and gradually recognizing the sounds he was picking out on a piano or through some other means, will connect you to his vision on a whole new level. The best pop-music biopics do that, and this one does it better than most. That’s because the music is so central to the character’s central conflicts.

The sounds only he could hear...

The sounds only he could hear…

This was probably the best depiction I’ve ever seen of the fabled connection between creative genius and madness. At one point in the film, Wilson says he started hearing “voices” in 1963. In late ’64, he experienced a terrifying panic attack on an airliner while traveling home from a gig, and persuades the band to tour without him while he stays home and works in the studio. That eventually led to “Pet Sounds,” which was all about getting the sounds in his head out onto tape. Well, that’s not all it was about — he thought the band needed to grow to keep from being left behind by the Beatles. The problem was that he was the only one who thought this — the others, especially Mike Love, wanted to stick to the surf and sand and cars and girls formula. But because he was the only one pushing in a new creative direction, the sound became much more about what only he could hear, as his bandmates and studio musicians looked on in bewilderment and tried to follow along, when they weren’t resisting with all their might.

For a time, this tension led to some great work — before Wilson pulled away from everyone and everything, fell further into drug abuse, lost his wife and family, spent three years in bed and ballooned to 300 pounds — all of which happens off-screen, between the Dano and Cusack periods. That brought therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) into Wilson’s life, which led to Landy taking over his life, overmedicating him and ruling him in a fashion reminiscent of Wilson’s abusive father. Which is where Cusack takes up the story.

To a great extent, the film is about how Melinda Ledbetter, who become’s Wilson’s second wife, manages to involve his family in freeing him from Landy.

Best — and possibly most painful — scene: Dano is tentatively, his voice cracking, playing a demo version of what would become “God Only Knows,” just sitting alone at a piano. At least, you think he’s alone until the camera shows his father seated on a sofa in pajamas and bathrobe. Wilson is seeking his father’s approval for his new direction. The father’s brutal, knife-twisting rejection of the song tells you almost everything you need to know about Brian Wilson’s problems. Later, you learn that his Dad slapped him upside the head so often as a kid that he is 96 percent deaf in his right ear.

Here’s the first part of that scene. If it doesn’t make you appreciate the song more than ever, don’t bother watching the film:

Cruz, of all people, has put out possibly my favorite political ad of all time

Yes, that sounds a tad hyperbolic. Maybe it’s so awesome to me because I’m an abnormally huge fan of “Office Space.”

But… it’s just so spot on! It works so well! And it’s such frame-by-frame match with the original! The rapper is so authentic-sounding! Very nicely done.

clinton mailI’ll admit that I was a bit slow on the uptake. For about two second, I wondered, Why are they smashing a CPU? (You’ll recall that, in the movie, it was a printer.)

And then I’m like, Oh! The email server!

Which made me appreciate it all the more…

Below is the original. Excuse the language. Yeah, the milder (but still N-word-laced) “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster” was memorably used in a different scene. But it’s so closely associated with the movie that it works, beautifully, in the ad.

Remember, real gangsta-ass Clintons don’t flex nuts, ’cause real gangsta-ass Clintons know they got ’em…

The candidates as the cast of a WWII B movie


How did I get on this subject? Well, Bryan had said something about liking Scott Walker before he dropped out, and I said he failed to stand out and distinguish himself. All the other candidates have a shorthand character people can describe, for good or ill. For instance, Lindsey Graham, who did no better in the polls than Walker, was known as the hawkish guy with the wisecracks.

So I got to thinking about how we all think we know the candidates, even though we don’t really know them any deeper than we do the characters in a cliche-ridden B movie — as a group of familiar types.

So let’s treat them like old-style contract players and cast them in an imaginary flick about World War II, since most of us are familiar with the genre. The title of the film? I dunno. “Hell is for Sad Sacks,” or something like that.

Here we go:

LuzLindsey Graham‘s the wise-cracking guy who nevertheless can give a pretty good speech about why we fight, and though he’s obviously no John Wayne, he’ll likely be a passable soldier when the shooting starts. Think L.Q. Jones — the character, not the actor who played him and adopted the name (even though he was poorly cast) — in “Battle Cry.” Think the book version. Only Leon Uris fans will get that, so never mind. Instead, think George Luz in “Band of Brothers.”

HallScott Walker is the replacement who gets killed at the start of the first battle, and no one in the unit can remember his name. Or maybe he was a member of another company entirely who ended up fighting alongside the main characters because the drop zones were all messed up. Think Private Hall in “Band of Brothers,” the guy who is the first character killed on D-Day. Or, to switch genres, anyone in a red shirt on “Star Trek.”

FrankoTed Cruz is the blowhard who talks big about how many Krauts he’s gonna kill, and the first time he’s within hearing of the guns he’s found cowering, quivering, in his foxhole. Everybody hates him — he’s always figuring an angle for getting ahead, at the expense of the other guys in the platoon — so they’re inclined to leave him there in the hole, but someone calls the medic. In “The Dirty Dozen,” he’d be Victor Franko.

RicklesDonald Trump is the utterly corrupt quartermaster who runs the black market operations in the area. A real weasel, although a tremendous businessman (ya gotta give him that) he’s all about insulting the other guys in the battalion. He’s even trading with the enemy; anything for the deal. He gets along great with Starshina Putin, his counterpart in the Red Army unit just over the hill. Think Don Rickles in “Kelly’s Heroes.” (He’s not smooth enough to be Milo Minderbinder.)

earnest young officerJeb Bush is the well-meaning but largely ineffectual officer who lives under a huge shadow. His father was a general and even his ne’er-do-well big brother made a name for himself earlier in the war. He got great grades at West Point but thus far hasn’t distinguished himself. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s not the kind of guy the men are all that eager to follow into battle. Picture Tom Hanks’ kid in “Band of Brothers.” (I’m not going to be cruel and call him Lt. Dike.)

PopsBernie Sanders is “Pops,” the impossibly old guy who somehow got drafted anyway. The young guys all think he’s great and look out for him, even politely listening to his crackpot ideas about politics, the Army, etc. He likes to freak out the recruits by popping his teeth out without warning. For some reason I’m picturing James Whitmore in “Battleground,” but I’m not sure that’s quite right. Can anyone think of somebody better?

Savalas 2Chris Christie is the crusty sergeant who’s been there and done that and rides the younger guys pretty hard, calling them “craphead” and “boy in the bubble” and such. Maybe Telly Savalas, in either “Battle of the Bulge” or “Kelly’s Heroes;” take your pick. But not in “The Dirty Dozen” — totally different character. Was James Gandolfini ever in this kind of movie? That would be perfect, but I don’t think he ever was.

WebsterMarco Rubio is “College,” the guy who earned half a degree before deciding he’d better join up. He’s a slick talker and will probably get into politics when he gets back home. The guys respect him for his ability to talk his way out of KP and such, but he hasn’t proven himself to them yet, and some wonder how he’ll measure up in combat. Think of David Kenyon Webster, the Ivy Leaguer in “Band of Brothers.”

StrayerJohn Kasich is the battalion executive officer, like Major Strayer in “Band of Brothers.” (Yeah, I keep citing “Band of Brothers,” which doesn’t fit the mold of the stereotype-ridden B movie. But there were just so many characters to choose from.) He’s regular Army and he knows his way around and the guys pretty much respect him and accept him in the No. 2 role, but people just aren’t sure how he’ll lead if the Old Man gets hit. This guy doesn’t usually have a lot of lines in the movie.

rooseveltI don’t know who Hillary Clinton is. It’s tough, since the Pentagon hadn’t yet rubber-stamped an OK on women in combat. I’m still working on it… She’s not a nurse (unless we’re talking Nurse Ratched, and that’s the wrong genre), and I don’t see her as the dame back home who wrote you a Dear John letter and broke your heart. Maybe she’s the long-suffering wife of the good-time company commander who chases all the nurses — Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity.” But I don’t see her with Burt Lancaster. Maybe I’ll just say she’s Eleanor Roosevelt. She should like that…

Hey, Hollywood could use more imagination, period

Even when Morgan Freeman played God, it fit into one of the type categories...

Even when Morgan Freeman played God, it fit into one of the type categories…

The Guardian ran a piece earlier this week that I enjoyed. It addressed the phenomenon of Hollywood not writing good roles for nonwhite actors, which it portrayed as a problem that goes far beyond this year’s all-white Oscars.

But wait! you say. There are lots of great roles for minorities in the movies! Well, yes and no. The part of the piece I enjoyed was its list of Top 10 current stereotypes for “people of colour” (leave it to the Brits to take an already stilted-sounding phrase and make it more that way by adding a “U” to it).

Whether you think opportunities for minority actors are limited or not, you’ll have to smile in recognition at some of the categories, such as No. 1, the “Magical Negro:”

One of the most popular cliches for black characters, a wise, folksy black character with some connection to magical forces or spiritual insight. They only exist to enable a white character to grow as a person and/or reach their goal. Examples include Will Smith in Bagger Vance, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and most of the roles that Morgan Freeman has ever played.

Or No. 5, “Awkward desexualised Asian:”

A man who is unlucky in love, though often played by extraordinarily good-looking actors. The character can never get a girlfriend, and if they do, it’s down to the intervention of the white protagonist. Generally nerds for good measure. Examples: Kal Penn in Van Wilder, Steve Park in Fargo, and special mention to Jet Li in Romeo Must Die who is in no way awkward but still can’t get a kiss from Aaliyah.

They forgot to mention Raj on “Big Bang Theory.” He exemplifies that type perfectly. (Maybe they were deliberately avoiding TV.)

And let’s not leave out one of my personal faves, No. “7. Jaded older police officer:”

Acts as a counterpoint to a younger, more energetic white police officer. Provides advice based on his own wealth of experience but is often ignored in favour of the white police officer’s instincts. Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard, Morgan Freeman in Se7en.

Or Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick or Clarke Peters in “The Wire.” Especially Clarke Peters, shown here with the requisite younger, brasher white officer. But Danny Glover is definitely the much-lampooned archetype of the category. Now in a way, I’m thinking that role may originally have been conceived by writers as a way of going contrary to type — with the black character representing the Establishment for a change. But yeah, it’s become a type of its own.

So there’s reason to believe this stereotyping thing is real, right?

But you know, in the spirit of “All Lives Matter,” we must acknowledge that Hollywood could stand to have more imagination when it comes to creating characters of all pigments and nationalities.

Here are a couple of types we can see out there for white men:

Idiot father and husband: The opposite of “Father Knows Best,” this guy is always wrong, and thank God he’s got a wife and kids to keep him straight. Think Archie Bunker in “All in the Family,” Doug Heffernan in “The King of Queens” (see the video below for the perfect example of the type), Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin in “The Family Guy,” Ed O’Neill as a dad in almost anything.

Feckless man-child — This guy is lost in time, lost in the culture, lives in a confused fog and has only the vaguest notion of himself as a man — either according to traditional or modern standards. Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” Edward Norton’s character before he and Tyler Durden started the “Fight Club,” almost any character portrayed by Breckin Meyer (I’m thinking particularly of “Clueless” and “Kate and Leopold”), Seth Rogen in almost anything (but especially “Knocked Up”), Wayne and Garth of “Wayne’s World,” Bill and Ted of “Excellent Adventure” fame.

But of course, the roles for white guys don’t always belittle them, not by a long shot. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have:

Secular Messiah — Ordinary young man discovers, to his wonder and often his delight, that he is not ordinary at all, but The One — a completely unique and necessary hero with special, mystical qualities who is destined to deliver his people from evil. This is an old role dating back in our literature quite a ways, but the movies have enthusiastically embraced it. Think: Arthur in every story from Le Morte d’Arthur to Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” Paul Atreides in “Dune,” Neo in “The Matrix,” Harry Potter in all the books and films of that universe, Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”

The One doesn’t have to be a white guy, you understand, but somehow, in the movies, he always is.

Of course, Morgan Freeman got to play God… but that’s covered in the “Magical Negro” category…

I’ve already made GREAT STRIDES on New Year’s resolutions

Or one of them, anyway…

Lately, I’ve become all-too-accustomed to weighing in at over 180 (sometimes well over) on the rare occasions when I do weigh myself — at doctor’s offices, or when I’m at someone else’s home and they happen to have a scale in the bathroom.

That is not my fighting weight, not by a long shot. In fact, when last I was weighed for any sort of ritual combat — when I was on the wrestling team in high school — I was about 132. The year before that, I was in the 115 class — and just as tall as I am now. I was a scrawny kid.

But that was more than 40 years ago, and now that my uncommon genteel figgar has matured, I see my fighting weight as more in the neighborhood of the 160s. In fact, I recently decided — once again — to set my sights on being eligible to wrestle Shute. That, as I’ve mentioned before, is a “Vision Quest” reference. Awesome movie. Anyway, it means weighing in at less than 168.

So I resolved to go back on my paleo diet in the new year, and to keep myself honest, I asked for and received one of those spiffy digital bathroom scales for Christmas.

And this morning, I discovered a wonderful thing: My clothes, which I am always wearing when I step on other people’s scales, weigh a lot.

I weighed myself after showering, shaving and getting dressed — everything, including blazer, sweater, mobile phone, keys, shoes — and as is too often the case, the tally was 180.7.

But just moments before, having stripped to take my shower, I was only 172.4. Which really made those 20 minutes or so I’d just finished on the elliptical seem worthwhile.

Look how far I’ve come already! Just 4.4 more pounds, and Shute is in serious trouble! And I’ve got the whole year to do it in!

Yeah, I know. But allow me to savor this little victory…

This is Shute, the guy who is in such imminent danger.

This is Shute, the guy who is in such imminent danger.

Let us speak frankly and openly of ‘The Force Awakens’

Look, Chewie! It turns out Thomas Wolfe was completely wrong!

Look, Chewie! It turns out Thomas Wolfe was completely wrong!




OK, I’ve seen the new “Star Wars” now (I deliberately waited until a quiet Monday night more than a week after the opening, and was rewarded by not having to put up with a boisterous crowd), and if you’re much of a fan you’ve probably seen it now, too.

So let’s speak openly of what we’ve seen, which means we will speak almost entirely in SPOILERS.

Well, what did you think?

I’ll start…

First, it was great. I was not disappointed. No, not as great as seeing the first one 38 years ago, when Han Solo and I were both young and roguish and I wasn’t expecting to see anything that much fun; it was a miraculous surprise. That time, I drove away from the theater — the Park in Memphis — filled with the excitement of the Death Star battle scene, and could not shake the feeling that my sad little orange Chevy Vega was an X-wing fighter. The sensory stimulation was with me for some time.

This time I was more grounded as I left. I knew I was driving a Buick. But I did catch myself humming the theme music — rather loudly, so it was hard to miss.

No, I’m not kidding: Spoilers are coming right NOW

And it gave me goosebumps at all the right places — when the newbie heroes find the Millennium Falcon. When Han and Chewie come aboard (and Chewie was more fun than ever in this one; he’s obviously been working on the timing of his comically expressive shrugs and Wookie noises), when Leia steps off that ship and sees Han — even when C3PO and R2 show up.

And when, at the very end, The One is found. Which was a special delight for me because my son, who had seen it before, had tried to prepare me for disappointment by telling me he wasn’t in it. What he had meant was that he wasn’t really in it in the sense of participating in any sort of action or engaging with the rest of the characters. But that turned out to be a wonderful UNspoiler for me: There he was after all, and he was in it exactly as much as I would have hoped, since I was told from the start that the movie was about a quest to find him — it was in the trademark screen crawl at the start (which was the first occasion for goosebumps, I now recall). And there he was at the end! So the movie has that going for it, which, as Carl Spackler would say, is nice.

I had read that J.J. Abrams didn’t try to get fancy: He knew what the fans liked and he gave it to them. He was like Paul McCartney. You know how most rock stars hate doing their hits for their fans, and despise the multitude for not appreciating their new stuff? Not Paul. He’s always loved being a Beatle, and he’ll give you “All My Loving” ’til the cows come home.

And he delivered. No fanboy would have done it better. But at this point I will share a few quibbles:

  1. Was it absolutely necessary to follow the plot of the original quite that closely? Let’s see… Desperate character plants a software file in a droid because the bad guys are bearing down. Evil empire searches for the droid. Humble character (who is unknowingly chock full o’ the Force) rescues droid from creepy little scavenger creature. Heroes, including one who wants nothing to do with heroism, are borne to the rebel base by the Millennium Falcon, which offers mechanical trouble on the way. Then it turns out that the main threat to the rebellion comes from — a Death Star. OK, so it’s way bigger than a Death Star, but as Han says, yeah, so it’s big; so what? It turns out to have — you guessed it — an enormous, obvious vulnerability on its surface. Hit it and the whole thing blows. (Apparently.  the engineering standards in this galaxy far, far away were not very exacting.) And — a bonus — this vulnerable spot is WAY bigger than a womp rat. So you know this evil base is going to go kablooey. The only question is whether our heroes can get clear of it in time.
  2. Were those really quibbles, or were all those elements precisely what made it so much fun? I remain unsure.
  3. What a wuss of a bad guy! The first time he takes off his helmet, one can’t help thinking, What, they couldn’t get David Schwimmer? They had to go with this poor substitute nebbish? In the climactic fight, he gets beaten not just by a girl half his size, but by a girl half his size with no Jedi training whatsoever. There he is looming over her, wrestling for the light sabers, and she evidently has much greater upper body strength. My older son pointed out after the movie that he had been shot by Chewbacca’s crossbow weapon, which they had demonstrated several times during the film had quite a kick to it, so there’s that. He wasn’t at his best. But still, I’ll say it again: What a wuss of a villain.
  4. Speaking of which… We’re all looking for Luke because we need him, right? And we need him why? Because the Force was always so strong with him. But he was a slouch compared to this girl. She’s able to use Jedi Mind Control as effectively as Obi Wan himself, when she’d probably never even heard of it? I half expected it to backfire, and have the trooper slap himself in the forehead and say, “Those were the droids we were looking for!” But no. It worked. Worked so beautifully that they had a little fun with it. So what does she need Luke for? She’s got all the chops now. She’s got the mind control thing. She can already take out the baddest guy the Dark Side can whistle up. Why bother? Let him stay on his craggy little island…
  5. Oh, and the low point of the movie — when the beloved character is killed? Some people behind me gasped and cried out in shock. Really? They didn’t see that coming? I knew it was over when he walked out on that catwalk thing. I’m sad about it and all, but he was awesome to the end.

OK, that’s all — and I’m stretching to come up with those, just to get a conversation started.

Really, truly, quibbles aside, I loved it. Just as I was supposed to…

A film almost, but not quite, entirely unlike anything that appeals to me

When I saw the email from Netflix headlined “Brad, we just added a movie you might like,” I braced myself. Netflix chirpily announcing it has something I will like gives me the same creeping feeling that Arthur Dent got when the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic drinks dispenser offered him another cup of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

And sure enough, here’s what it was offering me:


Don’t know about you, but I consider that to be one of the silliest, most ridiculously hyped films of the past decade. It easily qualifies as my least favorite Ron Howard film, and I suppose my least favorite featuring Tom Hanks as well.

It was like a cheesy retelling of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and I didn’t like that, either. There are people who just eat up a tale involving a conspiracy stretching over thousands of years, especially when it involves the Knights Templar (as both tales do). I’m not one of them. I’m not a huge fan of the whole paranoia thriller genre to begin with, and when you stretch it to such extremes, you totally lose me.

And don’t even bother feeding me a tale about brilliant algorithms duplicating the human mind and taking over the world. When Netflix gets a clue as to what I like, then I’ll worry…

The merchandising is strong with this one…


I hereby launch this blog’s official Most Absurd “Star Wars” Tie-In contest.

See if you can top this one — “Star Wars” bottled water. Near as I could tell without ripping the shrinkwrap, there was nothing about Star Wars on the actual bottles. So if you gave it to a kid in a vain attempt to get him to drink water instead of soda, it probably wouldn’t work. You’d get one of those “What are you trying to foist off on me, pops?” looks.

I’m pretty sure the only branding was on the plastic wrap holding the case together. Although if you’re sucker enough to buy one, and rip it open and prove me wrong, I will stand corrected.

The last couple of weekends I’ve been out toy-shopping for grandchildren, and seen just how far the Star Wars mania has gone. And of course I’ve noted the everyday, ordinary version of a toy, and next to it the version with a Star Wars theme and a price about 76 percent higher.

But I’ve not yet seen anything as ridiculous as the bottled water.