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Posted Saturday night, October 15, 2016.
We watched The Nice Guys for Family Movie Night Friday night and as I said in my review back in May (re-posted below), director Shane Black and his cinematographer and designers re-created the look, feel, sound, and tone of the 1970s and then Black proceeded to ignore his and everyone else’s hard work and shoot the film as if it was just a routine contemporary comedy crime movie. The effect is that The Nice Guys isn’t about the 70s and it doesn’t simply look like the 70s. It’s as if it came out of the 70s. The only giveaway’s the casting of the leads, and then you can almost make yourself believe Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe traveled back in time to star in it.
I didn’t catch many explicit references or allusions to the movies and TV shows Black is parodying the first time we saw it in the theater. Didn’t catch many more this time through. Mostly it’s a matter of scenes and shots and characters looking and sounding as if they could have been lifted straight from some movie or show from the period but I couldn’t put my finger on any particular movie or TV show. Except one.
Gosling plays Holland March, a down on his luck private eye whose desperation and lack of ambition---whatever drive he ever had he’s lost due to his grief and his guilt over his wife’s accidental death---has reduced him to taking missing person cases from old ladies who want him to find loved ones who they can’t admit to themselves have died. It’s also given him a drinking problem. Early in the movie, there’s a throwaway moment when March is recovering from a hangover on the floor of his bathroom and we hear the phone ring in the background and the answering machine pick up. We hear March’s message: “You’ve reached March Investigations. This machine records messages. Wait for the tone and speak clearly.”
This isn’t a time marker like the recurring jokes about the microwave oven in American Hustle. Answering machines were hardly new in 1977 and people weren’t expected to be surprised at reaching one and need to have it explained to them what one was and how it worked.
The first time we saw the movie I thought the joke was on March. The commentary isn’t on the now dated technology of the 1970s, I thought. It’s on March’s showing off that he has an answering machine long after they’d become ubiquitous as if it puts him on the cutting edge. It’s a way of telling us how out of step he is with the times and how naive he is, considering his business.
Last night I decided it might have been more of a clue than a joke. Black and his screenwriting partner Anthony Bagarozzi do that throughout---rather than waste time on exposition setting up plot points to come, they drop hints that, if we were paying attention and remember them, will explain things that happen in later scenes. I think March’s answering machine message is giving us a clue to who his clients are these days.
Excited and frightened old ladies in 1977, who’d still remember when they had to dial operators to place calls for them, using what to them was the baffling cutting-edge of telephonic technology, push-button Princess phones, to call detectives to find dead relatives might need to have it explained to them that they’d reached a machine and not a human being and then need instructions on how to talk to the machine. One especially desperate calling to report she’d just seen her murdered niece alive and well might need to be reminded to wait for the tone and speak clearly. That would be true in 2016 as well as in 1977.
Both could be going on or neither, the joke on March and the clue being given. What I’m sure of is that the answering machine is there as an homage to a famous 1970s television detective who is still identified in blessed memory by the ringing of his telephone.
You’re ahead of me as usual here, aren’t you?
Every episode of The Rockford Files, which premiered in 1974, opened with a shot of the telephone ringing on Rockford’s desk, the answering machine picking up---”This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”---and someone, usually someone mad at Jim over money or with some other form of bad news for him, almost never a paying client, leaving a message we know Jim’s going to wish he could un-hear.
An all time favorite of Oliver Mannion’s and mine had Rockford’s troublesome scam artist friend Angel on the line: “Jimmy, old buddy? It’s Angel. You know that one phone call they give you? Well, this is it!”
In the person of James Garner, Bret Maverick, the hero of the 1950s TV western that brought Garner to stardom, looked as if he could out-draw, out-shoot, and out-fight any other TV cowboy except Clint Walker’s Cheyenne and James Arness’ Marshal Matt Dillon. If he had to. But he never had to. Because he could out-think them all, including the likes of Cheyenne and Matt Dillon---in one episode he out-thinks a Marshal Mort Dullard with the effect that Dullard’s self-confidence is shattered. Maverick, as an act of charity, glues Dullard’s ego back together by pretending Dullard has frightened him into leaving town.
I loved this when I saw it as a kid. (For the record, I’m not that old. I watched Maverick and most of the other famous TV Westerns after school when they were in syndication in the 60s.) If someone with fists as big and hard as Maverick’s didn’t choose to think with them, if he didn’t have to be quick on the draw because he was quick with his wits, then solving problems by resorting to fisticuffs and gunplay resulted from a failure of nerve and brain and was therefore obviously the wrong way to go about solving problems.
Rockford was intended to have been cut from the same cloth as Maverick. Like Maverick, Rockford, as originally conceived, could have been the same type of two-fisted, dead-eyed hero as the other heroes of his genre, if he wanted. It wasn’t meant to be the case that next to him Joe Mannix was a pacifist and Kojak a pussycat. But he was meant to be fit company for the likes of Philip Marlowe. Bogart's Marlowe more than his own and Chandler’s Marlowe more than either. With maybe a touch of Elliott Gould’s. After all, he also had to fit into 1970s L.A.
Just an aside: Garner’s Marlowe is my second favorite Marlowe, after Bogart’s, just ahead of Gould’s.
At any rate, in early episodes Rockford could be every bit as hardboiled as Chandler’s Marlowe, and sometimes as cynical and acerbic as Bogart’s. In the first episode, a potential client played by the pre-bionic Lindsay Wagner is offended by his apparent lack of sympathy for her plight and his brusque demand that he get paid up front.
“Tell me how you got this wonderful finishing school approach, Mister Rockford.”
“People come to me all the time and they all have problems...I used to be soft-hearted and I’d sit and listen. But they couldn’t pay the freight. So they’d leave and be all depressed. And I’d be depressed. It was turning me off my own business. So now I do it this way.”
A few minutes later he’s even acting as malicious and thuggish as Sam Spade slapping Joel Cairo and taking his gun away---"When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it!"---and bullying Wilmer the gunsel. Wagner’s character’s punkish and hippie-ish drug store clerk kid brother tries to act tough with Rockford:
“You’re a cop, huh?”
“No. What I am, sonny, is about fifty pounds heavier and a helluva lot meaner. So you better straighten up your act. I don’t think I like you.”
The point is Rockford had a mean streak in keeping with his profession and with his having spent five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And he could be violent and threatening, if he wanted or needed to be. The premise of the show was that his time in jail had hardened him but had also made him something of an idealist. He’d become a private eye with the express purpose of helping people wrongly accused of crimes and solving cases the cops had bungled.
But the writers and James Garner quickly figured out that the forty-something Jim Rockford might have another reason to play things safe and try to outwit the bad guys rather than outfight them that the twenty-something Bret Maverick didn’t have: A long history of failure at either talking himself out of trouble or fighting his way out of it. Maverick was a gambler who was usually right in calculating the odds. Rockford might have been a gambler once upon a time, but he was aware his luck had long since run out and he acted or, more often, chose not to act, accordingly.
Many episodes of Maverick were built around Maverick’s getting himself into trouble through youthful recklessness or seeing a chance for some easy money or being drawn into it by a pretty young woman, some innocent in trouble, or an old friend who’d made a play for easy money and miscalculated the odds to a degree Maverick himself would not have. The way out of trouble usually had Maverick thinking and conniving and finagling his way to a solution to the fix he was in. Only once in a while did he wind up drawing his gun.
Rockford is always in some sort of trouble. When most episodes begin, we’re seeing him already having a bad day that’s just about to get worse.
His constant sorrows and woes, often brought on by his own weaknesses and bad judgment, have given him something Maverick seemed to lack. A guilty conscience. He has a habit of seeing things going wrong in other people’s lives as somehow his fault or as his responsibility to put to right. That’s made him a soft-touch. He dreads getting hurt himself. He hates seeing others get hurt, sometimes even people who are out to hurt him, and, despite his regularly stated determination to look out first and foremost for Number One, he sets out to protect them, from the bad guys and from themselves.
Stories, then, routinely feature him picking up strays. People who aren’t his responsibility and whom he often doesn’t like or want anything to do with latch onto him and he finds himself taking care of them to his regret and chagrin and cost---financial and physical. Holland March could be one of those strays. In fact, in a number of episodes those strays were other private eyes. The most beloved of them, as fans of the show will be quick and happy to tell you, was Lance White, who was everything Rockford was not, bold, brave, idealistic, optimistic, and successful. Everything worked out for the best for him. Things he did that in Rockford’s view should have gotten him hurt or killed earned him riches and fame and the love of good women. White was played by...Tom Selleck.
But then there was Freddie Beamer.
Freddie (played by James Whitmore Jr.) was not only more of incompetent than March, he wasn’t even a real detective. He was a mechanic who dreamed of being a private eye...like the guy whose cool car, banged up in another exciting chase or escape, he routinely worked on, Jim Rockford.
He idolized Rockford to the point of deciding to become him. When Jim’s away on vacation, Freddie “borrows” his identity and sets up shop as a detective. He uses Jim’s credit card to buy all sorts of expensive high-tech detective equipment of the sort Rockford would never use himself and, operating out of Rockford’s trailer-office, takes on clients whose cases he proceeds to bungle.
Jim returns home---unexpectedly early. His vacation was in Vegas and he blew all his money at the Black Jack table---and discovers that not only is his credit card maxed out but a number of very dangerous people are very angry at “Jim Rockford.”
The rest of the episode has Jim trying to get himself and Freddie out of the jam Freddie’s gotten them both into while Freddie continues to play, ineptly, at being a hardboiled detective. And there are echoes of this plot of The Nice Guys.
March, who was a good detective before his life fell apart, still thinks of himself as not just still good at the job but brilliant at it. He’s constantly showing off for his erstwhile partner, Russell Crowe’s character, the tough guy for hire, Jackson Healy, and his showing off and over-confidence cause trouble for himself and Healy that Healy has to get them out of. If Healy turned up on an episode of The Rockford Files, he wouldn’t be one of Rockford’s strays, exactly. He’d be one of Jim’s old army buddies or a prison crony who comes to Jim for some help helping someone else and gets Rockford in trouble with by being too quick with his fists or with a gun or too intimate with the worser sort of criminals. Healy’s not a detective himself but his work requires certain detective skills and he knows how to put those skills to effective use. More important, he’s braver and tougher than March and much more competent with his fists and a gun.
Put like that, Healy sounds a bit like Rockford himself in relation to someone like Freddie Beamer. And that brings me to something I brought up in my review of The Nice Guys: Who’d have played Healy and March if The Nice Guys actually had been made in 1977 instead of just looking as if it had?
I decided on Gene Hackman and Ryan O’Neal. I was torn between Jodie Foster and Tatum O'Neal for Holly but I made what I considered the sentimental choice and went with O'Neal because of Paper Moon. (One of my commenters, Nondisposable Johnny, agreed with my choice but he didn't think there was any sentimentality to apologize for. "Foster was the better grown-up actress (probably because she worked at it). She wasn't the better kid actress because nobody was. No need to bring sentimentality to your choice. From the way you describe the daughter, she sounds like a slightly older Addie Pray anyway and you've made me doubly regret that I missed this in the theater!)"
But now that I think of it, James Garner would have made a good Healy. The reason I didn’t think of him is that I don’t think of Garner as a movie star. He was, of course, but he was pretty much done with being a leading man in the movies by 1977. He made some good films after Rockford---Murphy’s Romance, Sunset (Well, not actually a good movie, but he was good in it), Victor/Victoria, and Mel Gibson’s Maverick (Really. It’s pretty good.)---but after Rockford, his best work, and it was great work, was on television: Promise, Barbarians at the Gate, and one of my favorites not just of his television performances but of all his work, The Streets of Laredo.
And, still thinking along those lines, something else has occurred to me.
Garner could have played Healy but I think Crowe could now play Garner. That is, if someone decides to reboot The Rockford Files (again but successfully this time), someone other than Vince Vaughn, please, Russell Crowe would make a good Jim Rockford.
Think about it. It works.
If you can’t see it yet, watch The Nice Guys then that episode of The Rockford Files with Freedie Beamer or, really, any episode. They’re all streaming on Netflix.
Because I just gotta, and you wouldn't forgive me if I didn't...
Posted Friday afternoon, October 14, 2016.
Forget the pizza and wings this week, folks. Get out the fondue forks and heat up the Swedish meatballs. It’s 70s Night for Family Movie Night tonight here in Mannionville. Our feature is…No, not Saturday Night Fever, although would be a good one. The Nice Guys! Starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe and a whole lot of polyester. Here’s my review from when it was in the theaters back in May.
The Nice Guys is set in L.A. in 1977 and there are moments when it looks like it was filmed in L.A. in 1977.
It looks more like it was filmed in L.A. in 1977 than some movies actually filmed in L.A. in 1977.
It looks more like it was filmed in L.A. in 1977 than The Rockford Files, and nothing looks more like it was filmed in L.A in 1977 than The Rockford Files.
And the movie doesn’t seem to notice this about itself. That is, Shane Black directs The Nice Guys as if he doesn’t notice this about his own movie or expect us to notice.
That’s the joke. The joke behind the jokes, at any rate. Black and his designers have meticulously recreated the look, feel, and sounds of that kidney stone of a decade and then Black’s proceeded as if he’s shooting a movie about the here and now in the here and now.
The effect is that The Nice Guys, for all its period detail, isn’t a period piece. It isn’t about the 1970s.
It’s less about the 70s than, well, some movies made in the 70s. The Nice Guys had me fondly recalling a trio of serio-comic detective movies from the time, The Long Goodbye, The Late Show, and The Big Fix. But not because The Nice Guys contains any specific allusions to them that I caught or that like them it satirizes life in L.A. in the 70s. In fact, I didn’t catch many specific allusions to any movies or TV shows from the 70s. Very little of the humor is based on observations of the fashions, politics, technology, or pop culture. There’s little commentary on the times at all. If anyone mentions Jimmy Carter I missed it. I don’t remember any obvious gags like the “science oven” in American Hustle. poking fun at the the now quaintly old-fashionedness of things that were avant-garde or cutting edge back then. The Waltons gets referenced in the darkest, most un-Waltonesque way imaginable in the person of a hitman who goes by the name John-Boy and looks eerily like Richard Thomas down to the mole.
The point of this lack of history is that the 70s were to people living then what 2016 is to us. Just the present. And they took their present for granted the way we take ours for granted. It was just the way things were or, rather, are.
The bad hair, the ugly clothes, the ridiculous posturing of so many supposed adults trying to be with-it like the kids. The banalities and absurdities of pop psychology and the nihilism and narcissism passing as an individualistic politics of embraced alienation that was hard to distinguish from sulking self-pity. The decadence that was sold as liberation. Disco.
At one point, people accepted all this as normal.
Most people. Some didn’t. At least two.
The heroes of this movie.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a freelance legbreaker and enforcer. Someone needs a debt collected or a blackmailer scared off, they call Healy and Healy pays a call that usually begins with the debtor or blackmailer getting punched in the face. After that, things get violent. Lately, though, he seems to be specializing in protecting young women from various kinds of sexual predators. Which is a way of saying he rescues damsels in distress.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a licensed private detective who may once have been as brilliant a detective as he thinks he is but who when we meet him seems to be specializing in easy missing persons cases that he pretends are taking a long time to solve in order to gouge his unquestioning clients out of money for “expenses.”
Healy and March meet up while working the same case but from different ends and at cross-purposes. Both are out to rescue the same damsel in distress, but they have different understandings of from whom and from what sort of distress.
The initial misunderstanding results in Healy paying a call on March with the usual introduction. However good a detective March was or is, he has a real talent for getting himself hurt.
The misunderstanding gets cleared up, although not without March’s experiencing a little more pain and humiliation, when Healy realizes his damsel client is in a lot more distress than she’d led him to believe and he doesn’t have the detective skills and experience he needs to help her. With no other option, he hires March to help him help her.
The two men are both good at what they do or at least good enough. But neither is particularly successful They’re not exactly hardship cases but they’re just getting by. The problem for both is lack of focus. Both are adrift.
Healy has recently had an experience that made him reassess his life and decide he wants to do something good with it but he has no idea how to change direction or what exactly to change it to.
March’s situation is sadder and more desperate, although he doesn’t seem to be aware that either’s the case. But then he’s in denial. His wife has recently died in an accident he blames himself for and he’s struggling to raise their junior high school age daughter Holly on his own, something he has no clue as to how to do. Meanwhile, Holly needs him to be twice the parent he was and twice the hero she’s always believed him to be, which means being twice as good a detective, and the trouble there is that in his grief March has lost interest in his work. He’s going through the motions with not just a lack of focus but a lack of emotion which leads to a lack of sympathy for his clients and that leads to a less than solid commitment to principle. He’s become a fraud and Holly is beginning to realize it.
What both of them need from Healy then is for him to turn March back into a good detective, and to do that Healy has to become a good detective himself.
Together they become a comedic, down-market, middle to working class version of Holmes and Watson, with March providing the detective’s deductive reasoning and Healy the good doctor’s emotional intelligence and physical muscle---Conan Doyle downplays it but don’t forget, Holmes is dangerous but Watson the ex-military man suffering from PTSD is deadly. The Benedict Cumberbatch-Martin Freeman BBC TV series keeps that fact in the foreground. Watson can and will kill you. Healy can and does kill. What he gets from March, though, is almost the opposite of what Watson gets from Holmes.
Through Holmes, Watson has opportunities for the action and adventure he craves and that give him channels for the pent up angers and energies left over from his service in the Afghan war. Through March, Healy is given the responsibility to think before swinging or shooting and to express his more domestic and tender feelings.
Both March and Healy are at odds with the times. Each in his way too nice to fit in. Despite the sloppiness of their personal lives and the grubbiness of their professions, they’re both rather strait-laced to the point of being prim, even prudish. In another age, when the role played by private eyes was taken by knights, they’d have been described as chaste. As loyal to their lost ladies-faire as Lancelot to Guinevere. March is devoted to the memory of his wife. Healy is bitter about marriage, his wife having left him for his father! But he’s faithful to the ideal of marriage and building a family together he thought they shared and by that he’s faithful to the ideal of the girl he thought he married. Which turns out to be the basis for his growing fondness for March. Healy’s quest isn’t self-redemption. It’s to save the March family and in doing that complete the adventure he thought he’d begun with his ex-wife. In other words, he’s out to restore the fortunes of the wounded king and his princess.
I’m probably making too much of the knight-errant theme. But that’s what private eyes are. Knights-errant on quests to rescue people, particularly damsels in distress, ideal and idealistic heroes who are above and apart from the general sinfulness of their place and time. Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Travis McGee, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser---sometimes Parker made too much of this---Jim Rockford, all tough guys with rigid moral codes although with holes in them ---bullet holes---out to right wrongs and slay dragons.
March and Healy are more scattered in their thinking than their literary and cinematic forebears. Distracted might be the more apt description. And they’re not as smart. Not as sharp-witted or quick-minded, at any rate. And while the typical hard-boiled private eye is often temporarily deluded by a usually female client into thinking the world might be better than it is and finishes his story like Sam Spade, cruelly disillusioned, Healy and March are self-deluded, living in a dream world in which they are as stalwart, stoic, resourceful, and brave as Marlowe or Magee. They’re more like a pair of Quixotes than Lancelots or Galahads.
As usual for me, I’m making too much of the literary and not enough of the cinematic, which in the case of The Nice Guys means overstating the romance and ignoring the comedy.
I should have mentioned it before although you’ve probably heard. The Nice Guys is a funny movie.
There isn’t much of a plot. In fact, there’s barely a plot at all. What there is instead is a series of comic set pieces, action sequences, and incidents contrived to make it look as though Healy and March are actually investigating, following leads, gathering clues, and making deductions just like movie detectives are supposed to do. Not all of this is played for laughs. Most of the humor is due to the partnering of Gosling and Crowe as a pair of complementary incompetents in over their heads and at a loss as to what to do next.
After a nearly decade-long string of dark and darker movies that he seems to have chosen in order to shake free of typecasting as a romantic juvenile and establish himself as an anti-hero if not an out and out villain, (He worked Crazy, Stupid, Love in there but in that one he didn’t play a particularly, um, nice guy.) Gosling now seems set on reminding us of what he was up to ten years ago in Lars and the Real Girl, proving himself a talented comedic character actor. He was mordantly funny in The Big Short playing a wiseguy cynic with the gift of disingenuous gab. In The Nice Guys he shows off his considerable talents as a physical comedian.
In one of his best scenes, which you can watch in the trailers without its being spoiled because it’s a moment worth watching over and over, he does what amounts to a dance with a bathroom stall door. In another hilarious moment he channels the ghost of Lou Costello at his double-taking, scared speechless best. And I lost track of the number of ways he contrived to fall down, fall over, and fall into things.
Crowe is the straight man in the teaming and he more than Gosling retains some of his romantic leading man authority so Healy never becomes as clownish a character as March. But that doesn’t mean Crowe isn’t funny. What can be forgotten is that the straight man can get big laughs of his own by playing it straight. Without ever mugging it up, Crowe makes visual one-liners out of Healy’s expressions of bafflement, bemusement, exasperation, frustration, impatience, and resignation in response to the craziness around him
And it’s a generous performance. (The mark of good actors is their generosity to their co-stars and supporting players.) Crowe and Gosling are equally the leads in the sense of shared screen time, but Healy is the supporting character in that he subordinates himself to the goal of making March a success as a detective and consequently as a father and family man, and Crowe subordinates his performance to Gosling’s, content to play the lead in the scenes in which Healy’s going it alone.
The damsel in distress at the center of the story isn’t as much a character as she is a plot device---she’s Hitchcock’s McGuffin---and unlike typical hardboiled detective stories there’s no femme fatale, and since both Healy and March are, like I said, devoted to idealized women from their past, there’s no love interest for either hero. But that doesn’t mean The Nice Guys is without a female lead.
She just happens to be thirteen years old.
March’s daughter Holly, played by the now fifteen year old Angourie Rice, is her father’s Girl Friday, legman, driver (and, no, she doesn’t have a license. She’s too young. What’s your point?), nurse, and conscience. She latches onto Healy because she senses right away that he has the qualities her disappointing father needs to shape up and then finds that she has to keep Healy on the straight and narrow in order for him to do what she needs him to do. Rice gives Holly a perfect mix of enforced maturity and precious competence and a still young girl’s innocence and need to be taken care of herself. But while Holly thinks that all she wants is to have a father she can trust and rely on again, she also wants to be like him in being able to live a life of adventure and mystery. Rice makes Holly plucky, resourceful, independent, and self-assertive without a trace of brattiness. And it’s not just the case that she holds the screen with Gosling and Crowe. She’s clearly inspired them to step back and let her take over her scenes.
And she’s got terrific comic timing of her own.
One thing about The Nice Guys disappointed me. Although, like I said, the movie looks like it was filmed in L.A. in 1977, L.A. is actually pretty much missing from the story.
Timelessness can be a virtue. Placelessness usually is not. Los Angeles is not quite as there on the screen as the 70s but it’s there, vividly there, but it’s subject to the same treatment by Black. He doesn’t pay it any particular attention. The effect, though, is different.
Black calls attention to the 70s by not paying them particular attention and that’s the joke. But his not paying particular attention to L.A. just seems like an oversight.
March’s stated intimate knowledge of the city and its natives and their ways is a key to solving the mystery, whatever intimate knowledge of L.A. and its natives Black and his screenwriting partner Anthony Bagarozzi possess themselves hardly shows up in their writing
One of the jobs of fictional detectives is to be explorers and observers on our behalf. They’re our guides into strange new worlds populated by interesting and up till now unmet characters with personalities and behaviors shaped---or warped---by the way they’re forced to live to survive in the their peculiar world.
In the course of their investigation, Healy and March do a lot of running around town but they never seem to arrive anywhere that’s identifiably and unmistakably in L.A. From just about every place Healy and March lead us into L.A. seems to disappear as soon as they walk in and the setting becomes generic. We might as well be in Kansas City or Minsk as Southern California. (Inexplicably they never even get to the beach. I thought a scene at the beach was a requirement for every detective story set in L.A.) And the characters they introduce us to are mainly stock characters who could have been drawn from any run of the mill TV or movie detective story. And there aren’t that many of them either. L.A. comes across as strangely underpopulated.
Still, it’s a fun night out at the movies and I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequel. And it got me thinking about some other movies I haven’t seen in a long time and now want to see again, like The Late Show and The Long Goodbye. It also got me thinking about what The Nice Guys would have been like if it actually had been filmed in L.A. in 1977.
Who’d have played March and Healy?
Buddy cop comedies weren’t a staple of the 1970s. Offhand I can only think of two, Freebie and the Bean and Cotton Comes to Harlem.
The more usual detective movie featured an alienated, angry, and conflicted hero operating on his own and that’s what Healy is to start. Clint Eastwood. Steve McQueen. Charles Bronson. Sean Connery. Burt Reynolds. James Caan. Richard Roundtree. They each played that sort of character and would have been fine as Healy.
But I’m thinking Gene Hackman would have been the best choice because of the basic Everyman decency he brought---and still brings---to every role even his villains, which is what makes them so villainous, the fact that there’s a decent guy in there somewhere who’s decided to be evil and is enjoying it. And Crowe seems to me to be at the point where he could leave his romantic leading man past entirely behind and from here on out work steadily as admirably as his generation’s Gene Hackman.
Finding a March would have been tougher. It would have had to be someone who could play against his own image as a romantic leading man and handle the physical comedy. And I know just the guy.
He did it back then, in fact. In What’s Up, Doc? And there’s another movie from the 70s it’s time for me to see again.
As for Holly. There were two obvious choices, weren’t there?
Jodi Foster might have been the better choice because she was the better actress, but I’d have to go with the sentimental favorite. If we’re casting Ryan O’Neal to play March than who better to play Holly than his real life daughter?
And now Paper Moon just landed in the queue for a Mannion Family Movie Night.
The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black, written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi. Starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger, Amelia Kutner, Matt Bomer, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp, and Jack Kilmer. Rated R. Available on DVD and Blu-ray and to watch instantly at Amazon.
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Mined from the notebooks, Sunday, October 2, 2016. Posted Wednesday night, October 5.
Denzel Washington (center), magnificent as the kind of western movie hero he should have had a chance to play a long time ago, in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 western classic The Magnificent Seven.
Saw the new version of The Magnificent Seven last weekend. Not as magnificent as the original, but how could it be? The original has had fifty-six years to burrow itself deep into the culture and our popular imagination. It’s practically not a movie anymore. It’s part of the collective unconscious. But the new one’s pretty darn good. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that while I was on my way out of the theater I was thinking it might be better than the original.
Took about two minutes of rewatching the original last night to disabuse me of that lunatic notion.
By the way, before we go any further, when I refer to the “original”, anyone who says, “Oh, you mean The Seven Samurai?” is just showing off.
The Seven Samurai is a whole higher level of art and it’s unfair to it and to The Magnificent Seven to think of the latter as a remake. Beside that, the changes, in time, place, language, and genre, along with the resulting differences in cultural references and resonances, set the two movies so far apart from each other in effect that to point out Kurosawa’s name in the credits of The Magnificent Seven is practically just to point out an interesting bit of movie trivia. Calling The Seven Samurai the original Magnificent Seven is like calling Macbeth the original Throne of Blood.
The original Magnificent Seven---director John Sturges’ 1960 shoot-em-up starring Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Brad Dexter, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Horst Bucholz, with Eli Wallach absolutely wonderful as the villain---is a re-telling of the old story re-told in The Seven Samurai. Almost all stories going back to Gilgamesh are re-tellings of old stories. The questions at work are how good a job did the new storyteller do re-telling the story and how good a job did they do in making the story their own in the re-telling? And, of course, if the story’s being told as a movie, how good a movie is it?
Time has proven that Sturges did an excellent job on all three scores, although no one would argue that on the third he made as great a film as Kurosawa made with the original original. Still, as westerns go, The Magnificent Seven is a classic piece of moviemaking.
Antoine Fuqua, director of the new version starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Martin Sensmeier, Manual Garcia-Rulfo, and Vincent D’Onforio as the Seven, with Peter Sarsgaard as the lip-curling, capitalist villain and Haley Bennett as the female lead the original conspicuously lacks, settling for a generic love interest instead, succeeds well on the first score. His version is a rousing tale of good old-fashioned western adventure and derring-do.
On the second, he hasn’t done as well. This Magnificent Seven never escapes the shadow of the original. But then Fuqua deliberately didn’t try too hard to do that. In fact, as he told New York Magazine, he saw it as an important part of his job not to.
From directing 2004’s King Arthur, Antoine Fuqua learned a key lesson about building new movies out of old material. “Make it your own, but be conscious of the things that mean a lot to people,” he says. “When you bend it too far, it gets hard for people to wrap their heads around.”
But while Fuqua didn’t feel free to depart too far from the original, he freed himself up in other ways. He gave himself room to pay homage not just to the original but to other classic westerns. Not just pay homage but in places to subvert and even mock the conventions of the entire genre. And Denzel Washington’s character owes more to Clint Eastwood than to Yul Brenner and pieces of the plot seem lifted from Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales---with the uniforms reversed---and Pale Rider.
This goes a long way towards Fuqua's making the movie if not the story his own and that brings me to the answer to the third question.
Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is a rip-roaring, exciting, suspenseful, and at times moving western. It may take fifty years to decide if he’s made a classic on par with the original, but it’s good enough that, like I said, I almost had myself convinced it’s better than than the original.
And there are things about it that are better, starting with the leading man.
It’s a good bet people will be watching this Magnificent Seven fifty years from now as one of Denzel Washington’s best movies. Yul Brenner is better in the original than I remembered and more plausible. But mainly his job was to fill a space that should have been filled by the likes of Glenn Ford, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, or Jimmy Stewart---the angry, un-amiable, dangerous Stewart of the Anthony Mann westerns. Denzel is the more ferocious presence those stars would have been.
As Sam Chisolm, the leader of the Seven, he burns holes in the screen. Unlike Brenner’s Chris Adams, Chisolm is a lawman not a hired gun, though he's not opposed to doing a bit of freelancing on the side. That allows Washington to play Chisolm with an anger and air of menace that, while daunting, never threaten to define his personality for us. They’re professional qualities. Tools of the trade and part of what passes for a uniform. He puts them on like he puts on his gunbelt and his big, broad-brimmed black hat, to go to work.
First order of business, though, is to make plain an important change from the original to the new Magnificent Seven. In outline, the plots are the same. Bad guys threaten simple townsfolk. Simple townsfolk hire a band of gunslingers to drive away the bad guys. But the original is set mainly in Mexico and the simple townsfolk are simple peasants leading simple movie peasant lives. The remake is set somewhere in the United States---possibly California but that’s not made clear---and the simple townsfolk are farmers and not all that simple in their ways and their personalities. In fact, on the whole, they’re an angsty and emotionally conflicted lot and not all that likable. I think the change in location was made not just to make this a different movie or even to avoid the kind of well-meaning but unfortunate ethnic stereotyping the original fell into. I think it was done in order to give the designers permission to make things in the town more “realistic'---that is, gritty, dirty, ugly, and drab---and to give the actors parts to play more “realistically'---that is, they get to emote more.
Whatever the reasons, I think the change is one of the things that work to make it a lesser movie than the original, as I’ll explain in a bit.
The other obvious change is in the characters of the seven heroes.
There are no one-to-one correspondences between Fuqua’s leads and Sturges’. The closet, I think, after Washington in the role of leader played by Brenner in the original---They both wear black. But Brenner smiles a whole lot more.---is Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, Chisolm’s sidekick and lieutenant, the role McQueen filled in the original.
But, good as he is, Pratt is no Steve McQueen and Faraday is no Vin Tanner.
Tanner is good-natured and easy-going. Faraday is good-natured and easy-going but careless. Tanner has a sense of mischief. Faraday has learned to enjoy being in trouble, a useful adaptation to circumstance since he gets himself into it so often. Tanner has avoided being tied down by responsibilities on a kind of principle. Faraday is just plain irresponsible. Tanner is drifting, going the way the wind blows just to see where it takes him. Faraday is adrift. He’s letting the wind take him because he has no idea what else to do with his life. Tanner is shrewd and observant. He picks his fights and takes no chances without first figuring out the odds. Faraday is impulsive and self-indulgent. He’s been getting by on his wits and his luck and we get the sense that his luck has been running low and he’s afraid, with good reason, it’s about to run out.
That I can write that much about Faraday tells you something else Fuqua has done differently. His seven leads are played by stars or known up-and-comers and he’s given them characters to play.
McQueen, Bronson, Coburn, and even Robert Vaughn have achieved icon status, but in 1960 only McQueen could have been considered a star and he was a television star, the star of the TV western Wanted: Dead or Alive. Horst Bucholz was a star in Germany, but The Magnificent Seven was his first American film. The rest were known, as well as they were known, as regular guest stars on television. It’s hard but if you try, you can see them as what they were to the audiences at the time, talented, young---McQueen was thirty, Coburn thirty-two, Vaughn only twenty-eight. Bronson was an old man of thirty-nine.---journeymen actors getting a lucky break and making the most of it.
But there wasn’t much for any one of them to make of their parts. When you get down to it, they were each playing an attitude more than a character. The leader, the cheerful one, the greedy one, the arrogant one, the sentimental one, the coward, and the kid. Their characters barely even have names.
The new Seven have all been given extensive backstories and come with enough to be the leads in their own movies or, at any rate, regulars on Deadwood, if David Milch ever gets around to resurrecting it. In some ways, the movie is about them as characters rather than about them as heroes of an adventure story we’re meant to be paying the closer attention to.
In the original, the villagers, even with the stereotyping, are individualized. We feel we know them. What’s more, we like them. We’re rooting for them, which is why we root for the Seven. And they save the Seven as much as they are saved by them. Sturges never lets us forget that these are not good men. They’re not altogether bad but they’re killers for hire. They’re in the business for the money and the thrill. What happens is they draw strength and learn virtue from the villagers.
(This is especially true of Bronson’s character, Bernardo O’Reilly, who is adopted by a group of boys from the village. As they cheerfully and proudly tell him, it’ll be their job to mourn him when he’s killed and make sure there are always flowers on his grave. O’Reilly sardonically asks if that means they’ll be happy if he’s killed.
Oh no, they assure him. They’ll be just as happy if he survives.
“Maybe happier,” says one.
“Maybe,” adds another.)
This new group of heroes come across more as a collection of loveable rogues and scoundrels. Their violent pasts and deadly occupations are taken as givens of the time period and more or less forgiven or excused or explained away. And while they’re not in it for the money---because there’s hardly any money in it---they’re not in it for any principle either. They’re mostly just along for the fun of the adventure and, it looks like, the fun of playing off each other, and I mean the characters as well as the actors.
They get interested in saving the town when the plot requires them to but for the most part their minds are on other things and their hearts are elsewhere. So are Fuqua’s. He doesn’t seem to care that much for the townsfolk except in that they’re victims menaced by his villain. And for all the realism of the make-up and costuming and the actors' acting, it’s often hard to tell them apart. This is particularly true of the men whose faces are lost behind too much “realistic” facial hair.
We don’t even get to see these farmers’ farms. So we don't get to know except as an abstraction what they keep telling us they're willing to die fighting for.
So in this, it has less human feeling than the original.
But I have to admit, I got caught up in the acting of the leading men. Denzel first and foremost, but the others are all charming and charismatic and make their characters compelling. My favorites were Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio.
D’Onofrio plays an old bible-quoting mountain man and renowned Indian fighter named Jack Horne (No doubt in honor of Tom Horn, played in the movie by that name by Steve McQueen.) who says his prayers, recites scripture, and threatens bloody vengeance in a high-pitched hoarse voice that is either the result of his having had his throat cut and his vocal cords severed in a fight some time back or spending too much time alone singing hymns to the trees and hills at the top of his lungs.
Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux. a crack rifleman and Confederate Civil War hero whose guilt and PSTD have, fifteen years after the war, finally caught up with him. Robicheaux’s days as a killer are secretly over, but he needs people to be afraid of him in order to make his living. He’s been getting by on his reputation and by a pretense of bravado and cavalier charm that we can see is a parody of his once brave and noble self.
Lee and Sensmeier are fine in lesser roles, but I was particularly taken with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo who really doesn’t have much to do as the gentleman bandit Vasquez except adopt an attitude of raffish charm. Oddly---or maybe not---he reminded me more of McQueen in the original than Pratt did.
And then there’s the villain.
Peter Sarsgaard looks like he’s having a high old time playing the grasping, monomaniacal Bartholomew Bogue as practically a mustache-twirler out of an old-time melodrama. He doesn’t actually twirl his mustache, but he makes it clear that if the mood struck him, he would, and he'd get away with it.
But that brings me to another significant difference between Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven and Sturges’, and it’s epitomized in the differences between the two movies’ villains.
Eli Wallach is great of course and is obviously having his own great good fun as Calvera, the leader of the gang of bandits terrorizing the village the Seven have been hired to protect. But the key point is that Calvera’s gang is just that, a gang. It’s a big gang but still just a collection of thugs, drifters, ne’er-do-wells, bums, and other types of life’s losers and minor villains. In short, they’re just outlaws. Bank robbers, horse thieves, and cattle rustlers. They’re formidable only because there are forty of them and they’re led by Calvera. Which is why they stay loyal to him. They know they’re nothing without him. He in turn is loyal to them for pretty much the same reason. And that’s pretty much the whole of his motivation. His evil plan is to keep his gang together for as long as he can. That means keeping them fed through the coming winter. So the only thing he wants out of the villagers is food. Right now that’s all he’s interested in.
Not land. Not money. Not power. Not wine, women, or song. Not that he’s averse to any of these. But they’re not his immediate concern.
Bogue, on the other hand, is obsessed with money and power. He’s a robber baron intent on increasing his empire, which is based on land grabbing where the land being grabbed is rich in minerals and shiny metal. He doesn’t want anything out of the town his private army is terrorizing. He wants the town. There’s gold in them thar hills and he’s going to have it. All of it. And he doesn’t have a gang to help him with this. He has an army. He’s rich enough to hire mercenaries by the hundreds.
I think the conception of Bogue owes something to Deadwood’s version of George Hearst who is meant to embody the evils of capitalism and serve the theme that money corrupts everyone and everything. But in execution Bogue is essentially a Wild West Bond villain. Come to think of it, he could be a character out of The Wild Wild West, which was a Bond movie re-imagined as a TV western. Dr Miguelito Loveless didn’t have anything on Bogue in his lust for power and world domination or in melodramatic over-the-topness. It’s just that Bogue, if he was in the need, would hire his own mad scientist rather than having to bother with being one himself.
One of the beauties of Sturges’ Magnificent Seven is that in its plot and characterizations it has the simplicity of a fable. It is a fable. But like all good fables it’s about something real. It’s a fable about the closing of the western frontier.
That is, it’s about the end of the Wild West.
Calvera and his gang have to resort to robbing the villagers of their food because they can’t earn their keep the usual way, robbing banks and rustling cattle, anymore. Civilization, and with it law and order, is closing in on them. There is an army in the movie, although it’s offscreen, and it belongs to the United States’ government. At one point, Calvera expresses his dismay and his surprise that the last time he and his gang crossed the border into Texas to rob a bank, the United States sent the army after them.
“A whole army!”
That narrow escape taught him a lesson. His days as an outlaw are numbered.
Now, here’s the critical point.
The days of the Seven are numbered too, if they’re not already over and done with it. At least in the United States, their services are no longer required. No more hired gunslingers need apply.
Oh, here and there, patches of the Old West where questions of right and wrong have to be settled with guns in the hands of men quick on the draw still exist. But the incident that introduces us to Chris and Vin and that catches the attention of the trio of villagers who have come looking for men like them to hire to come save their village---Chris and Vin driving the hearse carrying the coffin of an Indian up to Boot Hill where it’s met by a small band of bigots with their guns drawn, looking to keep the Indian from being buried in the same ground as whites, and isn’t that a metaphor for the settling of the West?---is instigated by a pair of traveling salesmen who have simply taken it for granted that common decency, fair-mindedness, a degree of tolerance, and the rule of law are the order of the day. This is how the country now works. The reason Chris and Vin have to take over is that the salesmen have to catch the next stage and don’t have time to go looking for the legal authorities.
In other words, although I don’t believe any exact date is given, the movie starts in the 20th Century or at least with the 20th Century well on its way.
Fuqua’s movie is set in 1879. But that’s just a date to explain the fashions and the guns. It’s not a true historical marker. And, as far as it matters, the United States doesn’t exist. Bogue operates as free of legal and political constraint as if there are no laws and no politics because there is no government. In reality, the settling of the west was almost entirely a political enterprise, sponsored by, encouraged, defended, and to a great degree financed by the federal government. Violence was rife but it was mostly a matter of the United States Army killing Indians as they drove them from their land and duly-sworn lawmen taking guns away from drunken cowboys.
Bowe wants to take their land away from a bunch of farmers. But to give you an idea of what life was like for real farmers in the West, at around the time the movie is set, the Ingalls family had already left their little house on the Kansas prairie, and they’d left it not because they were driven out by evil capitalist warlords with their own private armies. They had to leave because their homestead turned out to be on the Osage Indian reservation and for once the government was honoring a treaty with the Indians.
What I’m getting at is that the original Magnificent Seven is a fable with resonances with actual history and the remake is basically a fantasy whose main resonances are with other Western movie fantasies.
Still, it’s a lot of fun. Fuqua did what he says he wanted to do, make his own movie while remaining true to the spirit of the original. It isn’t as magnificent as the original but while you’re watching it you won’t care. Like I said, it’s a rip-roaring adventure with some terrific old-fashioned western action scenes and stunts and some excellent acting. And...it’s a great Denzel Washington movie.
He is, as usual, magnificent and, man, does he wear that big black hat well.
The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua, screenplay by Richard Wenk and Nick Pizzolatto. Based on The Magnificent Seven directed by John Sturges and The Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Haley Bennett. Rated PG-13. (I know. I’m surprised too. It’s pretty violent.) Now in theaters.
Posted Monday, October 3, 2016.
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
“Well, yes, public libraries, of course. But besides that?”
Wednesday evening, September 28, 2016.
A character in Don DeLillo’s Underworld tries to explain why Bobby Thomson’s home run lives on more vividly in memory---even in the memories of people who weren’t alive to see it in person or watch it on television or hear it on the radio---than many more recent great moments in sports:
“The Thomson homer continues to live because it happened decades ago when things were not replayed and worn out and run down and used up before midnight of the first day. The scratchier an old film or an old audiotape, the cleaner the action in a way. Because not in competition with a thousand other pieces of action. Because it’s something that’s preserved and unique. Donnie Moore---well I’m sorry but how do we distinguish Donnie Moore from all the other ballgames…?”
Thomson’s homer lives on with me probably because it lives on with Dodger fan Pop Mannion who handed down his shock and disbelief to me so that it’s one of my first baseball memories, as vivid as if I’d been there, and, like Pop, I still can’t believe the Giants won the pennant! The Giants won the pennant!
Adapted from the Twitter feed. Posted Monday night, September 26, 2016.
Down there we came upon a lacquered people
who made their round, in tears, with listless steps.
They seemed both weary and defeated.
The cloaks they wore had cowls that fell
over their eyes, cut like the capes
made for the monks at Cluny.
Gilded and dazzling on the ouside,
within they are of lead, so ponderous
that those imposed by Frederick would seem but straw.
Oh what a toilsome cloak to wear forever!
Once more we turned to the left, then went along
beside them, intent upon their wretched wailing.
---from The Inferno. Canto XXIII. By Dante Alighieri. Translated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
8:03 PM. Just unfollowed a "progressive" who's calling the debate tonight a face off between “the Two Worst People in America.”
I’ve been following this guy for a long time, and this is an old song with him, that HRC’s a moral monster.
Here’s a sample of his latest verse:
Clinton is clearly the more knowledgeable of the two–which has not kept her from being wrong on virtually every major decision of the career…
I got to know him a long while back from his blog. He writes a lot about TV, movies, and comic books, which is why I followed him in the first place. But he routinely strays into politics and when he does he shows himself up as a self-righteous and self-congratulating prig. He was a Bernie Bitter-ender whose support for Sanders was mostly expressed as Hillary hatred, and I’d been meaning to unfollow him since last fall but I kept putting it off, thinking he'd get better after Bernie lost.
He got worse.
If you equate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton you're either a moral idiot or just a plain idiot.
But if you are going to call HRC one of the worst people in America you're obligated to prove you're at least marginally a better person.
I also think you're obligated to prove you've done at least marginally more good for the world.
And it can’t be something like "At least I opposed the War in Iraq", unless you were a US Senator at the time and voted against it.
Basically, it can't be that you didn’t do something you didn't have the power to do and would never be given the power to do because who are you anyway?
The most common understanding of hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another. Another is condemning in others what you think praiseworthy in yourself or people you like and approve of.
But a third is pretending to virtues you’ve never had to practice.
There's a special place in hell for people who feel morally superior for never having given in to temptations they never faced and for not making mistakes they were never in a position to make.
Dante puts it in the sixth sub-circle of the Eighth Circle, which is pretty far down there, almost with the traitors and betrayers.
It's in Canto XXIII.
Dante’s point is that if you’re going to parade your virtues, you’d better actually posses those virtues to parade or, to get all allegorical, if you’re going to show off a golden cloak in public, it’d better not be lined with lead.
Illustration by Gustave Dore.
Monday morning, September 26, 2016.
Donald Trump's continued outreach to African-American voters led to an unprecedented declaration about the state of life for those communities.---Meghan Keneally, ABC News. September 21, 2016.
Trump has made efforts in recent weeks to reach out to African Americans in a Detroit church and a Cleveland charter school.---Kathleen Gray, USA Today Network. September 20, 2016.
If there’s a heaven and it works the way it does in old movies and the stories the nuns used to tell us in grade school, then every journalist, editor, producer, and pundit who refers to what Trump’s been up to as he swaggers about in places like Flint, Chicago, and Detroit, pretending concern for African-Americans while telling them how miserable their lives are and promising only he can fix things---”What have you got to lose?”--- without promising them anything but cuts in government services and more and more forceful abuse by the police, in any words that add up to some version of “Donald Trump continued his outreach to African-American voters today…” will be met and judged at the Pearly Gates not by St Peter but by a tribunal consisting of the souls of Benjamin Franklin, Ida B. Wells, Ida Tarbell, and I.F. Stone, who will send them straight to a hell designed especially for them, which I imagine as being very much like one of those economically blasted Midwestern or Southern small towns elite and pretentious journalistic hacks like to portray as homes to the only real Americans where for all eternity they will be unable to get a good WiFi connection or a decent IPA and be expected to actually care about NASCAR.
There’s no outreach to African-American voters. There never has been. There never will be. Trump doesn’t need a single black vote. He does need every single white vote he can corral, and that’s what he’s been up to. Reaching out, all right, reaching out to his angry, white, racist base and any and all other angry, white, racists who are on the fence about voting for him or staying home.
He’s telling African-American voters that their lives stink and it’s their own fault. It’s their own fault for voting for Democrats. And it’s their own fault for being lazy, self-indulgent, undisciplined, and dependent on government handouts. He’s telling them off.
And he’s doing it in order to tell his angry, white, racist base that they’re right to be angry and racist. He’s reassuring them that they’re not just better off for having been born white, they’re morally and mentally and even physically superior. He’s been telling them it’s ok to resent and fear black people. He’s making the old racist point that there’s no point in caring what happens to THEM or doing anything to make THOSE PEOPLE’S lives better because THEY don’t want to make their lives better, they’re happy to live in squalor and filth, to send their children to bad schools, to have to duck bullets just to run to the corner store to buy cigarettes and Red Bull. They’re happy to produce child after child by different fathers and mothers and to leave those children to be raised by somebody else. They’re happy not to have jobs because they’re happy not to have to work. They’re happy for all this because they’re happy to live off the tax money of good, hard-working, morally and mentally superior white people.
He’s telling his voters that black lives don’t matter because they don’t matter to black people themselves.
He’s telling his white racist voters that all the problems that beset black people---all black people, because there are no successful, hardworking, taxpaying black people---that aren’t their own fault are the fault of Democrats and liberals whose Big Government policies and programs not only fail to solve those problems, they make them worse.
He’s telling his voters that they not should they be afraid of black people, they’re morally justified to act on that fear in harsh, cruel, and even violent ways. He’s telling them to be afraid, be very afraid, but...don’t worry, he’ll save and protect them.
He’s promising to build yet another wall, this one made up of blue uniforms and guns.
If the first deadly sin for journalists is to fail to report the truth without fear or favor, and the second is to let a liar get away with telling a lie, then most of the American political press corps is already damned on two counts.
But surely the third deadly sin is to help that liar tell his lie.
To describe what Trump’s up to as reaching out to African-American voters is to complete the trifecta.
And to actually believe it is to commit the Fourth Deadly Sin against good journalism.
Letting yourself be played for a sap.
Saw the Wonder Woman trailer before The Magnificent Seven this afternoon. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman doesn’t look like she’s having any more fun being a superhero than Henry Cavill’s Superman or Ben Affleck’s Batman. But! It looks like it’s going to be a lot more fun watching her not having fun than it’s been watching them. Helps that she appears to have around her characters (and actors) who are having fun watching her (and being in a superhero movie), particularly Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). And to be fair, Wonder Woman isn’t really a superhero yet. She’s a warrior on the warpath. Her becoming a superhero is, presumably, part of the plot of Justice League.
Thursday morning, September 22, 2016.
Well, politics is a performance art.
Most of what Trump says boils down to "I would act the role of President well. I'd make President sounds. You would think 'He's President.'"— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 19, 2016
Mined from the notebooks at last. Saturday, July 23, 2016. Posted Monday night, September 19.
Saw Star Trek: Beyond today. Better. Much Better.
I don’t know what producer and director J.J. Abrams thought he was doing with Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second of the now three installments of Abrams’ reboot of the original Star Trek series of TV shows and movies. I’m not sure Abrams knew either. Into Darkness opens with a rousing mini-movie that could have been an interesting full-length Star Trek movie and promises more fun to come but instead it’s followed by a series of mini-TV episodes each with the theme of Kirk learning a lesson in leadership and Spock learning a lesson in friendship and teamwork. That could have worked out fine. There are many good moments in the sequences. But they’re connected by a story arc about a sulking madman with minor superpowers that seem to come and go and an inexplicable grudge against the entire planet Earth who happens to have the same name as the original TV series and movies’ greatest villain.
It’s almost a category error to call Ricardo Montalban’s Khan Noonien Singh a villain. It’s like calling Hector the villain of The Iliad. From the Trojans’ and Hector’s own points of view he’s the hero. The tragic hero. And that’s what Kahn is, if you see things from his point of view, a tragic hero who unfortunately for him and his devoted followers goes up against a straight-forward romantic hero who---Watch out, there’s an abrupt switch of literary references coming---is as charmed and protected by his virtue as King Arthur.
But the Khan of Into Darkness is a run of the mill action-adventure movie bad guy bent on world domination. The only thing that saves him from being boring is that he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch who, smartly having decided not to make even a gesture toward recreating Montalban’s lordly, high-minded, Milton and Melville-quoting anti-hero, Cumberbatches his way through the part with sinister charisma and a saturnine charm that I wish Peter Jackson had allowed him to show much more of as both Smaug and Sauron in The Hobbit movies. Actually, Cumberbatch is almost the only thing that saves Into Darkness from being a mildly and intermittently enjoyable but forgettable time-waster. In the end, there just wasn’t much point to it, either in bringing in any version of Kahn or to the movie itself, except to unmake the best of the original series’ original series of movies. Maybe Abrams thought he was doing an homage to Wrath of Khan but all he accomplished was a travesty of Spock’s death and rebirth and to turn the love of Kirk’s life, Carol Marcus, one of the Federation’s most brilliant scientists, into a pin-up.
There wasn’t much humor in it either.
Star Trek: Beyond includes truly heartfelt and affecting homages to the original series and more than a fair share of humor. In fact, it begins with both, with Kirk alone on a diplomatic mission that doesn’t go quite as hoped and ends with him having to be beamed out of there in a hurry---a scene that’s an homage to an homage that many wiseacre fans regard as the best of all the Star Trek movies.
I’m not kidding.
Abrams is spending the greater portion of his creative life these days in that galaxy long ago and far away, overseeing Disney’s Star Wars franchise, where Abrams has admitted his fanboy’s heart truly lies. Star Trek: Beyond has a new director, Justin Lin, who manages to give the movie the feel and tone of an extended episode of the originals while still turning out his own lively and fun 21st Century action-adventure film.
The Enterprise is lured into a deep space version of the Sargasso Sea where among the wrecks and hulks of old spaceships it’s swarmed and boarded by insect-like space pirates. The Enterprise is destroyed, again, although for the first time in the reboots. The crew abandons ship, escaping to a nearby planet where most of them are taken prisoner by the pirates. Only Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov evade capture. The better part of the rest of the movie follows their attempts to rescue their crewmates, find a way to get themselves off the planet and back to Federation territory, and thwart the evil plans of the pirate captain, Krall, who has gone Khan one better in holding a grudge. Khan just had it in for Earth. Krall’s grudge, which goes back a hundred years or more, is against the entire Federation of Planets. It’s not clear how much of the Federation he plans to destroy or conquer but he intends to start with the space station Yorktown which is essentially a city in space populated by thousands of innocent civilians including children, all of whom must die!
Krall, even though he’s played by Idris Elba, isn’t as compelling a villain as Cumberbatch’s Khan, but he makes more sense as a villain within the Star Trek universe than Into Darkness’s version of Khan, despite Khan’s canonical heritage. We’ve seen Krall before, other versions of him, at any rate, and once his motive is revealed, the reaction of most fans of the original series is likely to be a delighted “Well, of course!”
There are many “Well, of course!” moments in Star Trek: Beyond. The script was written by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, and they know their Star Trek lore. Their affection for the original TV series and the movies and for the rebooted franchise is palpable. They are true to the spirit of the original while advancing the vision Abrams brought to the first of these new movies. The script contains many allusions,references, quotes and echoes---visual and verbal---and tropes and themes that call up vivid memories of the original---there’s even a great “I’m a doctor, damn it, not a [fill in the blank] joke---but it still tells a new and interesting story of its own.
The most important thing J.J. Abrams did when he rebooted the series was assemble a cast who could simultaneously remind fans of the original cast while making us forget them---that is, he gathered together an ensemble of talented actors who didn’t simply stand-in for William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and the rest but who, while capturing aspects of those stars’ performances, captured the essences of their characterizations while still making the characters their own.
Zachary Quinto looks a lot like a young Leonard Nimoy (although he’s now four years older than Nimoy was when he first took on role of Spock) but he acts like Spock without acting like Nimoy acting like Spock. As McCoy, Karl Urban, who really doesn’t look that much like DeForest Kelley or sound like him, somehow looks and sounds exactly like Kelley’s McCoy. It’s downright spooky. And Chris Pine just is Kirk.
Much along the same lines can be said of Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin. In their performances they pay homage to James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, but they each add their own special touches and nuances that make Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov their Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov.
Down on the planet, our heroes are separated into teams of two. Kirk and Chekov, McCoy and Spock, and Uhura and Sulu.
Scotty, to his chagrin and exasperation, finds himself paired with a new character, Jayla, a teenage castaway who has been living a Swiss Family Robinson adventure but all on her own as a Swiss Family of one since the spaceship she was on was brought down by the pirates and her parents were killed when she was a child.
Jayla, played by hip-hop and street dancer (which is to say extremely athletic dancer) Sofia Boutella, turns out to be an engineering prodigy who has taught herself all the tricks of the trade she’s needed to construct and maintain high-tech weaponry, build fiendishly cunning man traps, and make a comfortable home and a fort out of a wrecked spaceship she calls her house. She’s also taught herself some formidable martial arts skills. She has not, however, taught herself manners or how to control her temper. That’s up to Scotty, who becomes a proud although wary surrogate father to this brilliant but ferocious wild child, who, I hope, is going to become a new series regular, playing something of the same role in the crew as Worf in The Next Generation and Seven of Nine in Voyager, the outsider of uncertain temper for whom acting “civilized” according to human standards is a continual challenge.
They’re a fun couple, but so are Kirk and Chekov, a pairing I wouldn’t have thought of as working as well as it does until I saw them in action together, and then it made perfect movie trope sense---the cocky, devil-may-care popular jock taking under his wing the nervous and insecure nerd who gains courage if not confidence in following the jock’s reckless lead. Chekov is a science nerd. He’s the Enterprise’s second science officer. So the nerdiness was there. Yelchin, who died in a freak car accident in his own driveway back in June, plays up the nervousness to delightful and funny effect and it’s sad to think what the future movies will be like without him.
As fans would expect, the pair who are the most fun to watch and whose actors seem to be having the most fun playing off each other are Spock and McCoy. Their scenes together could have been cribbed straight from the TV series, and Urban and Quinto capture the antagonisms and grudging affections that underlie McCoy and Spock’s prickly friendship. This is exactly what they---Spock and McCoy and Nimoy and Kelley---are like in the originals when Kirk isn’t around to referee or, as he often enjoyed doing, egg them on in their bickering.
The pair who are the least fun are Uhura and Sulu because they’re given the least to do. But it’s also the case that they’re ill-matched.
They’re too much alike, strong-willed, highly competent, can-do lieutenants---that’s not just their ranks, it’s their fictional type.
A lieutenant is the character who steps into the role of hero when the story’s main hero isn’t available. This is how I’ve seen Sulu since I was a kid and, as I wrote in my warm-up post Captain Sulu, it was Gene Roddenberry’s plan for Sulu if the original series hadn’t been cancelled for him to become more of a leading man and do some Kirk-like swashbuckling and romancing on his own. But Oliver Mannion tells me it was also part of the plan for Uhura to become more active and adventurous. Never mind her red uniform, she was part of the command crew and although we never saw her do it in the original series Roddenberry intended that there would be times when Kirk would say to her on his way off the bridge, “Mister Uhura, you have the con.”
For some reason I have the idea that in the 23rd Century space navy, female as well as male junior officers are called by the traditional “Mister”.
Where’d I get that?
At any rate, Oliver adds that in an episode of the Saturday morning cartoon series Uhura does get handed the con. So it’s good to see that side of her at work in Star Trek: Beyond.
The trouble is that Uhura and Sulu spend too much time together sharing the same role in the plot, taking turns doing and saying what only one of them needs to do and say. In other words, for a good stretch they’re pretty much the same character. The script eventually splits them up and gives each their own goal to accomplish, but I think it would have been better if they’d each been on their own from the start, with Uhura having to engage Krall in a war of wills and words as she pretends to be trying to talk him out of his evil plans---after all, she is the Communications officer---while in the meantime Sulu engineers a Great Escape by the captured Enterprise crew, showing himself to be the future starship captain we know he is.
And for all its virtues, Pegg and Jung’s script continues one of Abrams’ egregious mistakes from the first two installments. Abrams made Uhura more assertive and physically active than she was in the originals but at the same time demoted her to the stock character role of the Girlfriend.
Basically her job was to be supportive while at the same time try to rein in the boys’ egos and put a damper on their enthusiasms. Even though he has more to do this time out, she’s still mainly there to humanize Spock, and I swear she’s referred to more often as “your girlfriend” than she is by her own name.
This does lead to some great McCoy jokes at Spock’s expense, however.
Finally, though, it doesn’t matter as the crew reunites and sets to work to defeat Krall in one of those classic “It’s going to take the whole team” plans the original set of movies made the basis of the plots of each of the films after Wrath of Khan. This is true to the spirit of the original TV series and its follow-ups in which a connecting theme was that everybody matters, everybody contributes everybody has individual worth.
It’s just that one character matters just a little bit more because it’s his story, after all.
Like I said, Krall isn’t as compelling a villain as Khan. In fact, he’s not very compelling at all except as a threat. And since his face is basically an animated mask and his voice is electronically altered, he could have been played by any halfway decent character actor. The reason he’s played by Idris Elba is to make the point that Krall, before he turned evil, was once somebody we’d have been happy to see played by Idris Elba. He was once a hero, a vain and temperamental hero, like Achilles or, to again to switch literary references in a hurry, this time from Homer to Shakespeare, Coriolanus, but still a hero. And this is important because of what it reminds us about Kirk.
The original series insisted on the possibility that as talented and smart and heroic as Kirk was he could still fail, either within an episode or in the end. It did this by having Kirk make mistakes---his rectifying a mistake was often more important to the adventure than defeating that week’s villain---and by routinely introducing talented, smart, and heroic Starfleet officers and starship captains, scientists, adventurers of different types, and one-time or would and could-be heroes of various other kinds, who not only made terrible mistakes but went wrong---who became villains.
The idea that Kirk was potentially a tragic hero was always in the subtext.
Pine’s Kirk has Kirk’s essential intelligence, driving curiosity, and sense of mischief that Shatner gave to the character but this time out Pine also includes that touch of melancholy that was an implicit in Shatner’s Kirk in the TV series and became more and more explicit in each of the movies, a melancholy that seemed to stem from Kirk’s awareness of the end for which he was heading.
“I’ll die alone,” he tells Spock and McCoy in The Final Frontier.
That day is still a long way off when the story picks up in Star Trek:Beyond. Kirk is in a thoughtful and somewhat sorrowful mood when the movie opens, but it’s his birthday and in this timeline the day is more meaningful to him as the anniversary of his father’s heroic (and lonely) death than as a celebration of his own birth. In a scene that’s a real homage to The Wrath of Khan, McCoy and Kirk share a drink to toast the occasion and reflect on the meaning of it all. In Wrath of Khan it’s established that the birthday toast is long-standing tradition with them. In Star Trek: Beyond the tradition isn’t as long-standing yet but its purpose is the same. Bones sees it as his job to try to cheer Jim up.
By the way, this scene and the scene in Wrath of Khan it foreshadows reinforce a fact about the relationships of Star Trek’s three main characters. Bones is Jim’s best friend. Spock is his brother.
But back to the story. Kirk is brooding about his career as a starship captain. At the moment, he doesn’t see the point. He’s wondering why he even joined Starfleet to begin with. McCoy suggests it might have been to prove he’s a worthy son to his heroic father. But Kirk seems doubtful of that.
Of course we know why he joined or we ought to know. He tells us in the speech that began every episode of the TV series.
When the first of the movie reboots was on its way into theaters back in 2009, I wrote that the TV Kirk started out as a Boy Scout who needed to find his inner pirate while this new version of Kirk seemed to be a pirate who needed to find his inner Boy Scout. But it doesn’t matter which way he got there, Kirk is a blend of both pirate and Boy Scout and he needs to be both in order to be good at what he truly is, not simply a great starship captain, which is just something else he needs to be in order to be what he truly is.
An adventurer and explorer.
And that’s what he’s on his way to becoming in Star Trek: Beyond or, rather, realizing that’s what and who he is, the Jim Kirk we know from the originals, the one whose last words, for all intents and purposes, are the ones he says at the end of The Undiscovered Country when Chekov asks what course to set for what will be the Enterprise’s final voyage: “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”
Probably shouldn’t push the allusions to Homer too hard but then all epic adventure tales derive from Homer, so…
The Star Trek universe extending across all the series and movies features its Hectors and Achilleses, Ajaxes and Agamennons, Nestors, and various versions of Patroclus, Paris, Menelaus, Priam, Diomedes, Troilus, Philoctetes, and Aeneas. If I really wanted to stretch it I’d make the case that Harry Mudd was a Pandarus and their Thersites would be a Ferengi. But there’s only one version of Ulysses otherwise known as Odysseus. The “resourceful” Odysseus. “The great tactician.” “That endlessly cunning man.”
Maybe Kirk dies alone in this timeline. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he doesn’t in the other one either. I don’t like to let myself imagine past the end of The Undiscovered Country. But when I do I don’t imagine the story all the way to Kirk’s death. I end with Kirk, having finished a great adventure, making his last voyage...home.
Accompanied now by only Chekov and possibly Uhura but maybe only by Jayla, he makes his perilous way past Sirens, past Scylla and Charybdis, escaping the Cyclops and Circe and resisting the lotus-eaters---whom he’ll have dealt with before---and leaving behind Calypso, back to wherever his Ithaca lies where his Penelope, Carol Marcus, waits, not patiently but busy with her own work in the lab, and the tale ends where it ends with Odysseus and Penelope, with our hero finally home and the two of them alone in bed, telling each other the stories of their days.
Star Trek: Beyond, directed by Justin Lin, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yeltchin, Sofia Boutella, and Idris Elba. Rated PG-13. Still in some theaters.
Posted Saturday morning, September 17, 2016.
I don't believe that on the whole the national press corps wants Trump to win. Seems that way sometimes though doesn't it?
But most of the journalists covering this circus of an election are smart, decent-minded people and they know Trump for what he is and are appalled by him and at the prospect of him president. And there are signs they are growing more and more appalled and angry, and they’re determined to do something about it.
Trump does have allies and closet fans in the press corps. There are right-leaning, racist, corporatist authoritarian journalists, and not all of them work for FoxNews. Not all of them think of themselves as conservative. Some of them are liberals. Ostensibly, anyway. But they see Trump as their kind of president. Presidents are big, tall, tough-talking, strong men--- strongmen, in fact. Presidents keep the nation safe by blustering and bullying and they keep the riffraff in line the same way.
But there are members of the press corps who don't want Trump to win. They want Hillary to lose.
And serve her right.
What this would mean for the country is not their immediate concern. And not their problem.
And the profession, like just about every profession, includes a great many hacks and mediocrities. They don’t cover elections. They cover the conventional wisdom and they do it the old conventional way and that means reporting on Personality and Process, who’s winning and who’s losing today, and who made what gaffe and how will that affect who’s winning and who’s losing today. And they do it by treating both sides as the same, but with the Democrats being more of the same because God forbid they reveal a liberal bias and have to face criticism from their Republican friends. They’re also affected by Trump’s celebrity and their sense of what a real President looks like.
I don’t think they want Trump to win.
They just don't want him to be losing.
And they don't want Hillary to be winning.
They want this to be a tossup right up to just after the polls close on November 8.
And I’m afraid this goes for even the good, decent-minded, responsible ones.
They have papers to sell, eyeballs to grab, clicks to bait. They have jobs they need to justify to themselves and their bosses. Trump, Hillary, the voters, the future health and well-being of the country don't matter at any given moment as much as ratings and page views.
And to those ends Trump is more useful than Clinton. Trump is NEWS! in the way news is really defined by those whose livelihoods depend on reporting it---spectacle, scandal, controversy, and Personality on shameless display.
One of the things journalists covering her can't stand about Clinton is she refuses to be a Personality.
Of course, the rare times she tries it they hate her for not being good enough at it.
Instead of being a Personality, all she can manage is to be the person she is.
The press corps isn’t rooting for Trump to win in November. They're rooting for him to be NEWS! today.
That covering him as NEWS instead of as the lying demagogue he is and the disaster he would be is helping him is something they're aware of and the best of them worry about and try to resist. But they don't know how to cover him otherwise. The best way to cover a would-be dictator who is exploiting the media coverage of him as his main tactic for getting himself elected dictator is not to cover him.
That won't happen.
Even the good ones will tell you they can’t do that. That would mean not doing their jobs as reporters. You can’t ask political reporters not to cover politicians, especially politicians running for President on a major party line. It would be like asking local reporters not to cover a fire, as if fires are conscious and start themselves in order to make the news.
They have to report the news.
By which as I said they mean the NEWS!
It's their job. It's their responsibility. It's their duty.
Anyway, they're having too much fun.
Slate's chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie is concerned that a considerable number of journalists covering the election don't seem to grasp or care what the consequences of a Trump victory would be. He would know better than me. And since he is one of the smartest, most responsible, and most conscientious journalists covering politics theses days, I feel confident trusting that he does know.
The Hillary haters and the hacks and mediocrities and the ones having too much fun covering the NEWS and even many of the ones who are almost as smart and conscientious as Jamelle---we’re talking about the white ones. Reporters of color know better from experience---seem to accept that putting a lunatic racist clown in the Oval Office will be too bad but nothing to really worry about. Trump's a clown, right? How much harm can a clown do?
Anyway, there's another election in four years. If the people don't don't like having this clown as president, they can vote him out the door.
Meantime, at least he'll be fun to cover. He'll be NEWS!
Posted Friday, September 16, 2016.
Actually, I’m not sure I’d enjoy bowling here. Bowling alleys are already venues for sensory overload. My brain would short circuit after two frames. Pretty to look at though so make sure you look at all the photos.
To jump straight to this beautiful photo essay, follow the link to This Vintage 1927 Steampunk Bowling Alley Looks Amazing at TwistedSifter.
Posted Wednesday morning, September 14, 2016.
This is not a level, stable, protected kind of beach. It is steep, full of long shoulders and curves, and fluctuates in outline not only as a result of storms but with each tide and even with every wave, making new bays, curves, shallow hills, and hollows; but the beach is an interbalanced system. All its materials come from offshore or the erosion of the cliffs. Wave action removes the cliff material, and currents moving parallel to the shore take it both north and south: there being a neutral point around Cahoon’s Hollow, halfway between Highland Light and South Wellfleet, although its location is dependent on the angle at which the waves come in along the shore. Half the cliff material moves north to build up the hood at Provincetown, and half moves south to be deposited along the sandpits from Nauset to Monomoy.
---from The Great Beach by John Hay.
Adapted from my Twitter and Facebook feeds and mined from the notebooks. September 14, 2016.
On Wednesday morning, July 27, I went into the hospital for long-needed surgery on my back. The operation appears to have done what I needed it to do, put me back on my feet, but the recovery’s taking a little longer than I expected.
July 27. 7:38 P.M. Apparently I'm alive folks!
July 28. 7:54 A.M. I haven't had coffee it 36 hours! Just ordered a whole pot from the hospital cafe. They say it'll take 45 minutes. That's inhuman!
July 28. 11:00 A.M. Physical therapist came by. Had me take a walk around the hospital floor. Did three laps. Spent the whole time talking about his junior high school age son’s golf game. Apparently the kid’s a phenom.
July 29. 3:42 a.m. The night nurses hate me.
July 29. 8:30 a.m. I'm such a goddamn big baby!
July 29. 7:54 P.M. Feeling much more upbeat tonight. Seems the last person to get the news I was having major surgery was me. Apparently what happened last night was I forgot where I was and tried to make a break for it. But I had a good day and have been up and walking around and they'll probably send me home tomorrow.
The nurses did tape this over my bed though.
July 30. 7:38 A.M. Hey, what's going on here? I'm still in the hospital!
July 30. 2:00 P.M. Cheryl, the day nurse is great. Cheerful, friendly, interested, concerned, encouraging, although her favorite words of encouragement are, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
July 31. 10:50 A.M. Today's medical update: Most important thing, Mrs M showed up early bearing coffee, so clearly she's not holding this invalid thing against me.
Next: I may be sprung today but it's more likely going to be tomorrow because there's equipment that needs to be in place at home beforehand and it probably can't be delivered until tomorrow.
Finally: I still hurt but I'm definitely on the mend. I'm getting around. In fact, I feel best when I'm up and walking, so the danger is I'll wear myself out doing laps around the floor. Have to learn to pace myself.
July 31. 5:23 P.M. HOME! I'm home! Hospital kicked me out late this afternoon. And it's all legal and everything! No one's coming after me to drag me back! So we're celebrating tonight with pie!
August 1. 8:12 A.M. Hey! Where are the nurses to make a fuss over me? Why hasn't room service sent up my coffee yet? It's almost like I'm not in the hospital anymore!
August 2. Valium now or Valium in an hour?
August 3. Today's interesting medical fact: you aren't in a condition to drive when you're doped up on percocet and valium. Somebody should have warned me ahead of time so I could have made plans.
August 4. Today's planned two steps on the road to recovery: beginning the switch from Percocet to Tylenol and...shaving!
August 5. Beautiful morning here. How is it by you? Been out for a walk yet? I have. Yup. All the way up to the corner and back. Mrs M could hardly keep up. Gonna do it again in a little while. If I get up to speed, I might just keep walking until I reach Cape Cod.
August 6. 8:26 P.M. Well, today was just no darn fun.
August 7. 1:02 P.M. The Mannion guys and Mrs M have gone off to the movies. I don't mind being left behind. Sitting for two hours in the theater would probably be torture. So I'm here alone and ready to party! Of course, shape I'm in, a party means taking a Valium and a four hour nap. But still...wild man!
August 7. 10:27 P.M. Going through my Twitter and Facebook timelines and liking just about every post. I think this is because there's simply lots going on out there to like and not because I overdid it on the painkillers.
August 8. 9:48 A.M. Took a walk all by myself just now. Just me and my walker all the way up to the corner and back. Felt like a real hero. Now I feel like a nap.
August 10. 9:13 A.M. Just got back from dropping Mrs M off at the bus depot. Later, I'll be taking Oliver to work. Yep. I can drive. I've quit taking the Percocet and Valium so if a cop stops me I'll pass the drug tests. So I'm mobile! Where should I go?
August 12. 8:26 A.M. First extended drive. 45 minute round trip taking Oliver up to work and...A bear! A bear! We saw a bear in the road!
August 13. 12 P.M. I was a goddamn superhero yesterday. And I'm paying for it today. So I think I've earned the right be a goddamn big baby for the rest of the afternoon.
August 13. 7:20 P.M. Laughter isn't the best medicine. Percocet is. But laughter's a close second, followed by pizza. Which is why tonight is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and pizza night here in Mannionville!
August 15. 8:58 A.M. All right. This recovery business has gone on long enough. The operation was two and a half weeks ago. I've been home from the hospital for two weeks. It's time for me to be all better and to get back to work busting broncos and fighting crime.
August 15. 10:43 P.M. Side-effect of Percocet they don't warn you about: an uncontrollable urge to whistle. I've been whistling "Don't Fence Me In" non-stop for the last half hour. My family hates me.
August 16. 12:30 P.M. This morning I was at the surgeon's for my first post-op follow up. Folks there were pleased with my progress. But to help the healing I was fitted with a "bone growth stimulator." I'm not sure how it works but the way it was explained to me sounded very scientific.
It *sounded* scientific but how would I know? For all I understood it, they might have been outfitting me with a magic wand.
At any rate, I'm supposed to belt the thing on and wear it for two hours every day. And, said the tech, at the end of six weeks...PRESTO!
My response to this news was a stoical, "SIX MORE WEEKS? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?"
I don't think I'm very good at this stoicism thing.
August 19. 9:00 A.M. Took a walk along the riverfront this morning and saw a Trump voter suffering from real economic anxiety.
August 20. The Mannion guys have been taking real good care of me, leading to the question, Who’s carrying who these days?
August 21. 10:19 P.M. Ok. I need to be all better in the morning so that's what I'm going to be. No more malingering.
August 24. 8:45 P.M. Being a good patient and wearing my bone growth stimulator which requires me to sit still for 2 hrs doing nothing. So basically it's like being sent for an adult time-out.
August 29. 10:07 A.M. Sears sent me an email this morning asking if I need help with my "appliance repair." They mean fixing our washing machine which I bought a new part for from them just before I went into the hospital. I do need the help. It's just a matter of putting in the part but I can't do that myself because of the bending, lifting, and twisting involved. And I was warned by my doctor. NO BLT! (That's bending, lifting, and twisting. You probably figured that out.) But if this morning's an indication, I'll be able to do it.
I DID YARD WORK!
Nothing heavy. Just some weeding and hedge trimming. Very little BLT. But I was on my feet and out moving about for a good 20 minutes with a minimum of pain and without collapsing.
I would still be at it, in fact, if it wasn't so hot and humid.
So, thanks anyway, Sears, but I think I got this.
September 9. 12:44 P.M. Ok, I think I’ve milked this recovery business for all the pity and attention it’s worth. When my surgeon and set things up back in May, he warned me that the recovery could take up to six weeks and I laughed a cavalier’s laugh. Two, maybe three weeks tops, I promised myself. It’s now been six weeks and two days. So I must be recovered. And actually I am feeling much better. But I’m also tired of feeling sorry for myself. And I’m feeling guilty about it too. It’s not just that I am feeling better enough that any complaints I still have sound to me like whining. And it’s not just that as we’ve been so sadly reminded by Father Blonde’s death that there are worse things or that I know there are people who’ve gone through more intensive surgeries and suffered longer and more difficult recoveries or that there are even more people with illnesses and conditions that no surgery can fix. While I was in the hospital, the daughter of some friends of ours, a little girl fifteen months old, went into the hospital too. She was being treated for leukemia. She’s now down in New York City at Sloan-Kettering undergoing a second round of treatment. Reports are she’s bearing it all with cheerfulness and patience. She’s a little heroine and an inspiration and object lesson to whiny and self-pitying adults like me to shut up.
September 14. 10:30 A.M. Back at B&N for the first time in the seven weeks since the surgery and my favorite barista remembered my Membership number!
Chewie, we're home!