Posted Saturday morning, January 7, 2017.
Our feature presentation for Mannion Family Movie Night. Let’s ride!
October 2, 2016. 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 it’s not R too. It’s pretty violent.) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and to watch instantly at Amazon.
Posted Friday morning, January 6, 2017.
Updated Wednesday morning, January 11: Welcome to everyone coming over from Crooks and Liars! Quick note: Comments are always welcome but keep in mind they're moderated. Please read the comment policy. I think I need to add a couple new criteria though, one being: Incredibly stupid comments especially when they're attempts to hijack the thread or are way off topic will not be published. Routine stupidity is tolerated otherwise I wouldn't let myself post anything. The second is already implicit in the policy, but it needs to be clearer. Cursing, swearing, profanity, insults, and other belligerencies are discouraged. If you begin a comment with "Fuck you!" it's going straight in the dumper. Unless, of course, it's said with love.
And I’m not exactly feeling it.
But I am coming around to thinking Bernie might very well have won.
I know some of you know he would have won. You’ve known it all along. But you don’t know it. Or, rather, you know it in the way Catholics know the bread and wine become flesh and blood. It’s an article of faith. A basic tenet. Which is to say you believe he would have won. But your believing it, no matter how fervently and no matter how right it feels to you, isn’t a reason anyone else should believe it. I don’t believe it. But like I said, I’m coming around to thinking you might be right.
I think he would have carried Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Probably Iowa. Possibly Florida. Maybe even Ohio, as well.
But not because all those white working class Democrats who voted for Obama and switched to Trump would have voted for him for the simple reason there weren’t that many of them. At least, there doesn’t seem to have been enough of them that they were the critical difference. Consider this.
In each of the three key states---Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania---Trump got fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012.
What there were more of, it appears, were white working class voters who voted for Obama and black and Hispanic voters and younger voters and Independents who leaned Democrat who stayed home, costing not just Clinton the Presidency but Russ Feingold and Katie McGinty Senate seats, and possibly more than a few Democrats lower down on the ticket House and state legislature seats. I think that fewer of them would have stayed home if Bernie was the nominee.
Of course, it matters why they stayed home. In Wisconsin some of them didn’t stay home because they chose to. They stayed home because they weren’t going to be allowed to vote. Voter suppression really is an “under-reported” story of the election. But it was registered voters who stayed home who did the damage. Many of them just didn’t like Clinton and didn’t see how Trump could be much worse. More fools them. Some of them stayed home, though, because they believed along with just about everybody else, that she had the election won and didn’t need their votes. Bernie might have faced the same problem getting their votes. On the other hand, maybe more of them would have been excited enough to come out to vote anyway because they wanted to be part of the race rather than spectators at the finish line.
Independents liked him better than they did HRC. I think that includes not just Democratic leaning Independents but actually independent Independents. Bernie is, after all, an actual independent himself (although not so fussy a one that he’s above relying on support from the Democratic Party in Vermont). So however many Independents there were among the stay at home I think it’s safe to think a good number of them have come out for Bernie.
Something else though.
Bernie would have tried harder to get all those stay at homes to come out. He’d have been up there in Michigan and Wisconsin and over in Iowa campaigning in a way she didn’t. He wouldn’t have taken Michigan and Wisconsin for granted or written off Iowa. I don’t think he’d have written off Ohio either. He’d have needed those votes and wanted those votes. He’d have wanted them because they’re an important part of his ideal coalition. He’d have needed them because he couldn’t have counted on African American and Hispanic voters. This gets at why he didn’t win the nomination. Which wasn’t because the system was rigged or because the Democratic National Committee sabotaged his campaign or fixed it for Hillary. And it wasn’t because unfair rules kept Independents from voting in some state’s primaries. Kind of ridiculous, anyway, to argue that a political party should arrange it so that people from another party can decide the party’s nominee and write its platform. Why have a party if party members don’t get to pick their candidates? But the fact is Bernie had a large pool of voters to draw from who were registered Democrats. The ones who didn’t vote in the primaries.
Bernie lost because 16.9 million Democrats voted for her in the primaries. Three million more than voted for him. But they weren’t the only Democrats in the country. Primary voters always constitute a minority of the party’s registered voters.
Doesn’t say much for the prospects for Bernie’s “Revolution” that he couldn’t get three million Democrats to come out to vote in their own party’s primaries.
But even within that minority who make up primary voters he should have done better. He did pretty well considering. But he didn’t really come close. And considering that most of us who didn’t vote for him agreed with him on almost every issue, it’s a question that needs a serious answer. Why didn’t more Democrats like me vote for him? Why didn’t I vote for him? Why wasn’t I ever even tempted?
If you think it’s because I’m a “centrist” or a “neo-liberal” then you don’t read this blog much or follow me on Twitter. If you think I was somehow duped by the DNC or I didn’t know the truth, then what are you doing wasting your time reading the blog of someone who doesn’t think for himself or do his homework?
I sincerely liked and admired Hillary. Still do. I wish she’d been a little more to left on some issues or made more of it where she was but on the whole I think she’s a good liberal Democrat. Please don’t bring up Bill. It’s now been sixteen years since he was President. Pay her the respect of acknowledging she’s her own person and can think for herself and hold positions that differ from her husband’s and that she’s grown and changed and learned over the years. But the fact is I thought she’d make a better President than Bernie. I still think so. So I was happy and proud to vote for her.
Maybe if you could have convinced me she was going to lose for sure and Berne would definitely win I’d have jumped ship. Don’t quote polls at me. This isn’t the best time to be basing your case on the polls. But the polls never showed that Hillary wouldn’t beat Trump. They showed that Bernie would beat him more handily. And it wasn’t unreasonable to think that things would change, that once the general campaign got underway and people got to know her she’d pick up support and that Trump having to face a serious opponent at last would lose ground or at least not gain any, which is what happened...almost. In the end, Trump received 46 percent of the popular vote, which is to say, 46 percent of the people who came out to vote voted for him. But if those stay at homes hadn’t stayed at home, he’d probably have been at the 44 percent he seemed destined for and she’d have come closer to 50 per cent or more.
As for Bernie being more electable, it also wasn’t unreasonable to think that once the general election got underway and he had to face the challenges and rigors of a national campaign and people got to know him his approval ratings would have taken a hit and he’d have lost some of his apparent support.
I don’t know how effective the inevitable “He’s a Commie” cries would have been, but Republicans would have “disapproved” of Bernie for the good old-fashioned Republican reasons they disapprove of anyone who promises to raise their taxes and spend their money on poor people. And those angry working class whites looking for someone to be angry on their behalf and shake things up in Washington might easily have decided to vote for the angrier guy who looked and acted more like that “bull in a china shop” those voters were supposedly hoping for. I thought and still think that if you convince people a Revolution is needed then they’ll go with the leader who strikes them as strong enough to break down the gates of the Bastille and haul the aristocrats to the scaffold with his own bare hands. Basically, then, I thought, Bernie would have gone about inadvertently making some of Trump’s case for him.
And things would have come out. Bernie isn’t as “scandal free” as his die-hard supporters would like to believe. But even if he was, the political media would have found “scandals” to report. They might have gone easier on him than they did on Hillary but their way of being easier on him might very well have been to ignore him or dismiss him, just as they did during the primaries. And there’s no reason to think they’d have gone any harder on Trump.
And I thought that Bernie wouldn’t wear well over time. He wasn’t wearing well during the primaries. As time went on and he was failing to catch up, he grew peevish, querulous, petty, and vindictive. He let his frustrations and resentments show. Which was in character. Bernie has a long history of alienating people who ought to have been his allies. He has a long history of alienating people who are his allies. Whatever argument there is against superdelegates, it’s telling that almost all of them went for Hillary. They’re the party’s professionals, the leaders and doers. Which makes them pragmatists. If anybody could have been persuaded Bernie was the more electable, it would have been them. That’s what happened in 2008. They went over to Obama because he struck them as a winner. But Bernie couldn’t convince even a hundred of them. And the reason is that they didn’t see him as a good politician. Good as being able to work and play well with other politicians and party activists in ways that get things done.
But it wasn’t really me and the likes of me and our concerns that kept me skeptical about Bernie and that should be troubling to Bernie and his supporters as they try to figure out why he didn’t win the nomination. It’s all those voters Bernie himself dismissed and dissed as being part of “the Confederacy.”
Not the most sensitive way to talk about African Americans.
No, I’m not calling Bernie a racist. But he was stunningly tone-deaf in his appeals to black Democrats. Actually, he didn’t try to appeal to them so much as demand their support. Again, that’s in character. He does that with everyone regardless of color.
He wasn’t going to win the general election if black voters stayed home because he couldn’t get over his habit of pissing them off.
He had similar trouble with Hispanics. And if people of color didn’t turn out for him, he wasn’t going to win Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, or even New Mexico. His electoral map would have looked like John Kerry’s instead of Barack Obama’s..
Of course they would have turned out. Unlike a certain cohort of white liberal voters, they know better than to let personal resentments and self-flattering “principles” cause them to sabotage their cause. And they have a longstanding tradition of not expecting politicians to be saints. They know how to forgive and make allowances, fortunately for Democrats, particularly white Democrats.
Bernie would have gotten their votes, despite himself.
Same goes for grown-up women of all colors and LGBT people whose interests and concerns he also dismissed and for those of us rank and file Democrats he more or less accused of being stupid or corrupt for supporting a warmongering tool of Wall Street instead of his pure and noble self.
And this gets back to why I’m thinking Bernie would have won. He’d probably have gotten the votes of everybody who voted for Hillary plus a few more, and not just those stay at homes.
Because here’s the other thing.
In Pennsylvania, Gary Johnson got 146,715 votes; Jill Stein got 49,941. In Wisconsin, Johnson got 106,674 votes; Stein got 31,072. In Michigan Johnson got 172,136 votes; Stein got 51,463. I should check, but I expect most of Johnson’s votes were Republicans and conservative Independents who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. But a lot of them were Democrats and liberals. And it’s probable that very, very, very few of Stein’s voters were Republicans.
The vast majority of Bernie’s supporters voted for Hillary. But I’m guessing that virtually none of Hillary’s voters would have been naive enough, self-important enough, or just plain dumb enough to vote for Johnson or Stein for reason of “conscience” or to send a “message” or because they didn’t feel like they weren’t given enough of a special invitation.
If you want to check that I have in fact done the homework, see: "Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election" at FiveThrityEight. Hat tip to Oliver Mannion.
Photo courtesy of Bernie Sanders himself via his Facebook page.
Posted Thursday evening, January 5, 2017.
I've decided I'm sick. Know how I could tell? I was thinking about heading over to B&N for some coffee but talked myself out of it because it seemed like too much of hassle.
Posted Thursday morning, January 5, 2017.
A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region's tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.
At the city's apex in 1050, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what became the United States, bigger than London or Paris at the time…
And then it was gone. To jump to Annalee Newitz’s story on Cahokia, follow the link to “Finding North America’s lost medieval city” at ars technica.
Posted Wednesday morning, January 4, 2017.
I love model trains and it’s been far too long since there’s been any model train blogging here at Mannionville Station. So, here we go, a giant model train setup at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Stretched across a 3,500 square foot “S” shaped table “The Great Train Story” takes visitors from Chicago across the plain states and over the Rockies all the way to the Port of Seattle. This huge model train set cost $3.5 million dollars and opened to the public in 2002.
Photos by Elliot Carter. To read the article and view the whole slide show, follow the link to Great Train Show Diorama at Atlas Obscura.
Posted January 3, 2017.
Oliver Mannion gave his old dad Garry Trudeau’s Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump for Christmas. I’ve said before, the great American novel has been written by a comic strip artist who can barely draw. Trudeau spotted Trump for what he was right from the beginning of that awful man’s awful career. It’s all there. The spoiled child’s solipsism, the self-infatuation, the pathological disregard for other people’s needs or feelings, the lust for money and power and aggrandizement, the sexual predation that isn’t about sex but about trophy hunting and humiliating people he sees as weaker than himself, the complete lack of shame or conscience or a sense of responsibility or an awareness of limits, his seeing the world and everybody in in it as toys for his amusement---and he’s like Sid from Toy Story. His idea of play is indulging his sadism.---and, most disturbingly, his recognition that he can get away with whatever he likes because a large number of people will admire him for it because he’s rich and powerful and famous. Admire? Adore him! And the media will aid and abet him because he’s ratings and advertising gold and because enough journalists are as smitten with his money and fame as their readers and viewers. They’re by nature fawners and sycophants and lapdogs and "sheep.". Yuge! is a cautionary tale that events have turned into a jeremiad.
Everybody should read it, political journalists and pundits especially, all of whom should keep a framed copy of this strip on on their desks, the way Saint Jerome kept a skull on his. It’s from November of 1999! Trudeau was imagining Trump running for President in 2000. Like I said up top. We were warned.
Posted Monday morning, January 2, 2017.
Life is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to “Moose Murders.” Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. Not only does he then write a terrific book, but he illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading, but in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny and, in the end, touching.
But why Mary Astor? Just because she happened to be under his linoleum? I mean I liked Mary Astor. I enjoyed seeing her up on the screen, but I never lost my heart to her the way Sorel has, and if it had been my linoleum she surfaced from, I wouldn’t have felt driven to research all the interesting details that have mesmerized the author. To me, Mary Astor was a very good, solid actress but not the exciting equal of, say, Bette Davis or Vivien Leigh. (Who was the equal of Vivien Leigh?) And when Bogart, in “The Maltese Falcon,” says his murdered partner was too smart a detective to follow a man he was shadowing up a blind alley but then tells Astor, “But he’d have gone up there with you, angel. . . . He’d have looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone, grinning from ear to ear,” I give this appraisal a lukewarm nod.
The truth is I can think of a dozen other femmes fatales I’d prefer to be lured up a dark alley with to enjoy a beating or violent death.
I have the same lukewarm reaction to Mary Astor as Woody’s every time I watch The Maltese Falcon although in my case I think a lot of it due to her hair style. Unflattering and too severe for a femme fatale. More headmistress-ish than femme fatale-ish. But I suppose it’s part of her disguise as a good woman in distress. Spade falls for her because she doesn’t look like the women he’s used to dealing with in his line of work.
But while it’s always worth considering giving The Maltese Falcon a hundreth re-watch, what I’ve now considered and decided upon is reading Edward Sorel’s “terrific” book with his “wonderful caricature drawings.” Allen’s reaction is not lukewarm to that. He makes Mary Astor’s Purple Diary sound like even more fun than what he mildly says it is, “entertaining reading.” Actually, Woody’s review is entertaining reading in itself and a reminder I should consider re-reading more of his prose, but to get back to the matter at hand. Who knew Mary Astor, who played Judy Garland’s mother in Meet Me in Saint Louis, was a “foul-mouthed, sex-hungry carouser” and that she was at the center of one of the most scandalous and sexiest child custody trials in Hollywood history? Well, probably lots of classic movie fans. But I didn’t. The sex, by the way, was provided by the introduction of Astor’s diary into evidence by her estranged husband’s attorneys as proof she was an unfit mother. The key passages of the diary detailed her enthusiastic and mutually satisfying lovemaking with the married playwright George Kaufman.
Can you believe this woman committed those four-times-a-night workouts with Kaufman to print and, worse, her husband has somehow secured said raunchy volume? In it are graphic accounts of the sex between this married mother and another woman’s spouse. Yes, Kaufman too was a married man, and as the first accounts of their purple canoodling hit the tabloids, the court fight turns into a blood bath. Of course it must be said Kaufman and his wife Beatrice had an open marriage, which meant both were free to explore their own romantic adventures without threat to the household. While these ground rules make cheating a nonissue for Kaufman, the public embarrassment of having one’s every fondle logged rhapsodically, even with an A-plus report card, can make a man somewhat self-conscious entering a restaurant.
Fun and edifying as it was to the general reading public, the trial was a headache for Samuel Goldwyn, the head of MGM, where Astor was under contract and in the middle of making the movie Dodsworth, the general reading public being then as now a pack of sanctimonious hypocrites who reveal their prurience in their Puritanical zeal to see punished those who’ve aroused their libidos.
Now imagine you’re Sam Goldwyn sitting on top of his liability with half a movie in the can and one of the stars is suddenly famously wicked. What would you do? Goldwyn did what any businessman in crisis mode would do. He called a meeting. Should they fire Mary, eat the money already spent filming half a movie, recast and begin again? Do they scrap the whole project altogether and flush away production costs plus the numerous bucks they shelled out to buy the rights? Meanwhile, as the tabloids ran excerpts from the portion of the diary allowed in evidence, many a celebrity sweated audibly over the nightmare that he might wind up doing a walk-on part in the next installment of Astor’s caloric hanky-panky. Fortunately for all, the judge on the case was into the studio heads for several career favors, and at this point I will bail and refer you to Sorel’s book for an account of how things turned out, which he does much better than I ever could.
And here’s where I bail on this post to go see about laying my hands on a copy of Sorel’s book. Sounds like after I do I will write another post recommending you do the same, but in the meantime I think you’ll enjoy reading the whole of Woody’s review, Woody Allen Reviews a Graphic Tale of a Scandalous Starlet, at the New York Times.
And if that makes you want to read Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936, it’s available in hardcover and for kindle at Amazon.
Note: The trial was held in 1936. The Maltese Falcon came out in ‘41. Astor’s reputation and box office appeal had survived but I wonder if her hair style in The Maltese Falcon had something to do with it. Her character Brigid O’Shaughnessy is trying not to look like a femme fatale. Maybe the studio wanted to make sure Astor didn’t look like the Mary Astor who appeared in the tabloids and her own diary.
Here’s Bogart as Sam Spade, Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, with Barton McLane and Ward Bond as the bad cop and good cop, respectively, in The Maltese Falcon.
Posted Sunday morning, January 1, 2017.
Our feature for Mannion Family Movie Night last night and my favorite movies from 2016. Heck, one of my favorite movies of the 21st Century.
Hell or High Water’s one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s also one of the saddest.
And one of the most overtly political.
If I had world enough and time I might make the case that it does a better job of examining the causes of the economic collapse of 2008 and its subsequent devastations than The Big Short. In The Big Short the victims are mostly invisible and the few villains we see are mainly clowns. The evil being perpetrated’s an abstraction that needs constant cinematic tricks and stunts to keep it in focus.
There’s nothing abstract in Hell or High Water and the victims and their sufferings are almost never off screen.
To be clear right way, Hell or High Water is a contemporary western. Like the TV series Justified, it transplants themes, tropes, conventions, and stock characters established in classic westerns to the 21st Century United States. Hell or High Water is even set in the west. West Texas, to be exact. But unlike Justified, Hell or High Water’s western-ness isn’t a matter of the filmmakers’ taking poetic license.
Justified turns Kentucky coal country into a modern day Tombstone in order to give Marshal Raylan Givens an excuse to act like Wyatt Earp and get away with racking up a body count that would fill several movie Boot Hills to capacity. It really isn’t much of a stretch but it’s a stretch to have Boyd Crowder and the rest of the criminal Crowders and Bennetts behaving like the Clanton Gang and the Cowboys who ran Tombstone before the Earps came to town. But it takes a good deal of our willingness to suspend disbelief to accept every other episode including a version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
I wouldn’t call Hell or High Water a model of cinematic realism. But the picture it presents of economically blasted West Texas as the the Wild West or, rather, not as far removed from the days when it was the Wild West, has an essential realism.
The historical fact is that once upon a time the Wild West began just a short walk up from the beach at Plymouth, Massachusetts. A better name for the Wild West would be the western frontier and the story of the Taming of the West is the story of white settlement pushing the boundaries of the frontier farther and farther west.
The stuff of the legends, myths, and tall tales and the characters and exploits of the pioneers, immigrants, frontiersmen and women, heroes, folk heroes, and villains that have become in our collective imagination the story of the Taming of the West as we know it mainly from movies and TV began with the settlement of the wildernesses of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
It’s not unrealistic or at all ahistorical to see George Washington as one of our first frontiersmen heroes. James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, which are set in what are now some of the more touristy spots of upstate New York but were then the farthest reaches of the frontier, are literature’s first Westerns. The second part of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, which focuses on the second generation of Puritan settlers in New England and their part in King Philip’s War, reads like a prequel to Cooper---written by a smart writer who took to heart Mark Twain’s furious contempt for Cooper’s writing---and includes a heroic Indian fighter who rivals Hawkeye in derring-do, fighting and tracking skill, and luck in surviving dangerous and bloody adventures and it’s all true. Mayflower is non-fiction. And what I’m saying is that much of what we think of as legend, tall tale, and myth is part of the true history of the of the often bloody “civilizing” of the frontier.
At one point, the West Texas of Hell or High Water was one of the farthest reaches of the frontier and it remained on the frontier for a longer time than other places on the continent where civilization took hold faster and more deeply. Basically, West Texas was what we think of as the Wild West long after the rest of the west was won and in defining economic ways it stayed the Wild West right up until the beginning of the 21st Century.
And what we see in the movie is that for many people West Texas as they’ve always known it is reverting back to the frontier it was when their ancestors arrived.
It’s important to keep in mind that a key part of the history of the taming of the West is white, English-speaking people stealing land from other people who were there ahead of them, people who in most places were Native Americans. But the English and their descendants also stole land from the French, Dutch, and Spanish while they were at it.
That the land we’re all living on today is mostly stolen land is a theme of Hell or High Water.
A Texas Ranger, who’s part Mexican and part-Comanche while without question being all Texan and all American, observes that the land the economically hard-pressed white people of West Texas feel being stolen out from under them by the banks and oil companies was stolen by their ancestors from his Mexican ancestors who in turn had stolen it from his Comanche ancestors who in their turn had stolen it from other Native American tribes.
This makes Hell or High Water an ironic tragedy. There’s a poetic justice in the people we’re rooting for, represented by the failed rancher turned bank robber, having their land stolen from them.
There’s another irony at work too, and that’s our recognizing that while we’re aware that their ancestors stole the land, in other movies we’re meant to root for those ancestors to get away with the theft.
This makes it hard to know who and what to root for in Hell or High Water.
Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father of two sons he very much doesn’t want following in his footsteps. He’s been a sometime roughneck in the oil fields, a sometime ranch hand on his mother’s small and far from prospering ranch, and pretty much a full-time failure. Up until recently, he took a life full of hardship, money woes, and disappointment for granted. But his mother has died, leaving behind nothing but a pile of medical bills and the ranch and the ranch is facing foreclosure. His mother had fallen behind paying off the loan she been talked into taking on predatory terms by unscrupulous bankers. The ranch itself isn’t worth much as a ranch. Toby’d only worked it to help out his mother and he’s not attached to it. He’d just as soon let it go except...oil’s been discovered on the property.
This is Toby’s big chance, but he sees as not a chance for himself but for his sons. Problem is the oil company won’t start drilling and paying out unless he owns the place free and clear. He has to pay off the bank---forty-three thousand dollars in a matter of a couple of weeks.
He comes up with a plan to raise the money by robbing the very chain of banks looking to foreclose. Looking forward to foreclosing. The banks want that oil money too.
Toby, who has always been an honest man if not a successful one, enlists his ex-convict brother in the scheme. Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) has just finished doing a stretch in prison for killing a man in a bar fight. This was his second murder. He was never charged for the first one he’d committed. He’d shot his the brothers’ abusive father. That one got passed off as a hunting accident. Point is, Tanner is a man of uncertain temper, violent impulses, a live for the moment and to hell with the consequences philosophy, and a guilty conscience. He’s the type who tends to maximize trouble by way of solving a problem.
But he’s brave as all get-out---mainly because he doesn’t care if he lives or dies---and he’s fiercely loyal to Toby. He’s the older brother and he killed their father to protect his little brother.
Toby’s plan is to rob a string of the bank’s branches, taking only relatively small scores in small bills so they can’t be traced, until they’ve raised the required forty-three grand which he’s figured out how to launder. It’s a clever plan but it gives the Texas Rangers who are soon on their trail time to figure out more or less what they’re up to and start anticipating their next moves.
The two Rangers after the Howards are Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a cynical and worn-down days away from retirement but still almost as brilliant and fearless an investigator as he was in his prime, and his longtime---and longsuffering. Hamilton is deliberately difficult to get along with.---partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), the Ranger I mentioned above who voices and embodies the movie’s central irony. He’s a man of two worlds. In his Mexican and Indian heritages, he represents both West Texas’ frontier past and its diverse, post-agricultural, knowledge-based white-collar future.
Hamilton, too, is a man of two worlds. In temperament and by virtue of his own history as a Ranger, he’s a throwback to the old-fashioned lawman of classic Westerns. But on principle and through dint of intelligence, education, professional training, and common sense, he’s very much a modern police officer and detective. He knows what the future’s bringing and he’d be looking forward to it, if only he could be part of it. Forced retirement’s getting in the way of that. But it still makes him someone whose heart is divided between two worlds he can’t be part of, the lingering Wild West of his glory days and the bright civilized future he fatalistically figures he won’t live long enough to enjoy witnessing let alone be an active part of. Retirement, as a consequence, is looking to him like a state of death in life.
No surprise then that he’s clinging hard to the present moment and enjoying maybe a little too much the chase they’re on after the bank robbers. It’s his last hurrah. Alberto, though, worries that Hamilton’s looking to go out in a blaze of glory.
Hell or High Water, then, is the story of three desperately unhappy men, Hamilton and the two Howards, at the ends of their ropes, with only one of them, Toby, feeling he has anything left to lose.
Hamilton and Tanner seem to be having a high old time playing out a real life western, Tanner seeing it as a game of cowboy and Indian, with himself as the Indian. But at bottom both are as sad and sick at heart as Toby, and the three men’s different sadnesses are part of what makes Hell or High Water that saddest of westerns I described it as up top.
But that sadness doesn’t stop it from being an exciting western or a fun one.
Finally cutting to the chase, which is the opposite of what director David Mackenzie has done. Mackenzie smartly opens with the chase and takes some time to let the action settle down before laying out his themes and giving us the backstory.
We meet the Tanners in the middle of their pulling off their first robbery. And we’re told anything about them except that they’re not particularly experienced bank robbers. Terror, exuberance, affectionate squabbling puts us on the Howards’ side before we know who they are or what their longterm plans are. All we know is that they are in more trouble and immediate danger than the people in the banks they rob.
The teller at the first bank (Dale Dickey), although scared, is annoyed at them as much as frightened. She recognizes at once that they’re amateurs who haven’t come to work prepared. Her practical, no-nonsense reaction is indicative of most of the characters we’re going to meet along the way.
The regular folks of West Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle---a casino there figures at the center of Toby’s scheme to beat the banks with their own money---are like her, practical-minded, common-sensical, stoical, and even good-humored in their determination to make the best of bad situations. But that’s one of their problems. They’re resigned to hard times.
The teller is different in that we can see at once she’s someone who will survive and thrive whatever comes her way and not just because she works for a bank, one of the few prospering businesses around. She’s the type who thinks and plans ahead, who can think and plan ahead because she can imagine a different and better future for herself. (At the exact present moment that means coming out of this robbery alive.) But others can only see more hardship and sorrow ahead of them and their only solace is a kind of retreat into memories of a glorified past or dreams of improbably rosy future brought about not by hard work or careful planning but sheer good luck.
In counterpoint to the bank teller is a waitress at a diner where Toby and Tanner happen to stop in for breakfast on their way to their next hold-up. She’s a single mother who sees her only hope for a better life for herself as attracting the romantic interest of a customer with a good job. She is consequently overtly and too obviously and desperately flirtatious. We can easily guess that far more often than she’s come close to landing a husband and father for her child, she’s essentially prostituted herself for very little money, most likely usually not much more than a too generous tip.
What’s more important, though, is that we see through Kelly Mixon’s heartbreaking performance the waitress’ self-awareness and self-disgust and at the same time her resolve to keep her pride despite her sense that she’s humiliating herself and that her belief that her situation is hopeless.
This mix of courage and shame makes her more typical than the teller of the characters who populate the movie’s West Texas, and that includes Toby.
Toby is forward thinking and he’s a careful planner, but both are new to him and they’re reactions to the sheer dumb luck of oil being found on his mother’s ranch and his mother’s dying when she did---had she lasted a few more days, he might not have had time to put his plan into action before the bank took possession of the ranch. And his careful plan requires him to debase himself. An honest, considerate, and gentle man, he has to turn himself into a thief and point guns at innocent people’s heads. Already ashamed of himself for a lifetime of failure, he’s now disgusted with himself for having become a criminal and a threat and danger to people who’ve never done him any harm.
Jeff Bridges as Ranger Marcus Hamilton is unsurprisingly terrific, and I could go on and on about him and his performance; however, I think it’s best to leave things to Bilge Elbiri who writes about Bridges' remarkable career as one of Hollywood's best leading men of the past two generations in a article at the Village Voice. Chris Pine, though, does a to me gratifyingly excellent job as Toby. I’ve been rooting for him to become a major star since the first movie in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise.
It was fun to see Hell or High Water not too long after Star Trek: Beyond. Abrams reconceived Jim Kirk as the popular jock who makes the class nerds feel good about themselves and inspires them to be heroes. But Pine never lets us lose track of the fact that Kirk is the son of a pair of brilliant scientists and takes after them in important ways. The driving quality of his life is an intelligent curiosity---what he wants most in life is to know. He’s every bit as smart as the nerds who look up to him and is, at heart, a nerd himself. In Star Trek: Beyond, Pine takes his Kirk a step closer to that Kirk, which is to say the Kirk we know and love from the original series. And that Kirk, besides being very smart, is a comic character. Although he has a melancholy streak, he’s essentially a happy man who takes great joy in life and in being himself.
Toby Howard is not a happy man nor does he take much joy in anything, especially not in being himself. He’s not stupid, by any measure, he is in fact quite smart. But he doesn’t really know how to be smart. He’s never had to be. He’s gotten by up until now by going along. He knows objectively that his plan is a smart one but he lacks faith in it because he lacks faith in himself. And more than he’s impressed by his own plan’s brilliance, he’s oppressed and depressed by its necessary criminality. That he has to break the law in order to save his sons' lives is proof to him that as smart as the plan is, it mean he's smart. A smart man wouldn’t have to resort to robbing banks, even if those banks deserve to be robbed.
Pine lets us see Toby’s heartbroken shame and self-doubt as clearly as Kirk’s exuberant and inspiring and good-humored self-confidence.
But as good as Bridges and Pine are, I think it’s Ben Foster who steals the show. While never letting us forget that Tanner has an awful mean streak, that he’s dangerously lacking in self-control, and that as much as he’s driven by loyalty to Toby, he’s driven by a desire to break things, he also never lets us forget that Tanner is large-hearted, brave, and in his way noble. He’s also very smart, in his own way. He doesn’t think before he leaps, but once in the air his mind sharpens and his thinking becomes focused and practical. In other circumstances---in another kind of movie---he’d be a hero. He’s practically the hero of this movie. A tragic hero, however and of course, because unlike all the other characters in Hell or High Water, including Toby and Hamilton, he’s not simply a victim of circumstance. He’s a victim of his own nature. It wouldn’t matter, when and where he found himself, he would eventually find himself on a path to self-destruction.
Hard times are what they are, is one of the messages of Hell or High Water, and to a great degree we’re all at the mercy of economic forces beyond our control, and that’s not just a tragedy it’s a crime, because there are people who can control those forces and who choose to use their control to serve their own narrow interests and destroy other people’s lives in the process.
But along with not having enough of a say in what happens to us, unless like Toby we strike oil in one way or another, that is, we get very lucky, we don’t have a lot of say in who we are either.
Mackenzie doesn’t push it, but it’s key to our understanding what’s going on that we keep in mind that Tanner and Toby are the sons of an abusive father and a cold and withdrawn mother who enabled the abuse.
The problem for other characters in the movie is that they too readily accept what’s happening to them.
Tanner’s heroism may lie in his too readily accepting who he is.
As if you don't have enough to read, here's my review of Star Trek: Beyond:Kirk's Odyssey Begins.
And over at the Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri's article The Searcher: On the Enduring Appeal of Jeff Bridges, All-American Loser.
Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan. Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Kelly Mixon, Dale Dickey, Buck Howard, and Kevin Rankin. Rated R. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and to watch instantly at Amazon.
Adapted from the Twitter feed and posted Saturday, December 31, 2016.
It's very rare for old men to change their ways and their hearts. Ebenezer Scrooge is not an old man.
He's not young, of course. But we know this: Marley has been dead for seven years when the story begins…
"Dead as a doornail".
"This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate."
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to the night Marley dies, which, as I mentioned, was seven years before the story begins…
And they go to Belle's house!
We find out she got married and has a family. She's the mother of small children!
They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to one of them. Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn't for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn't have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn't have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless porter. The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressible affection. The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received. The terrible announcement that the baby had been taken in the act of putting a doll's frying-pan into his mouth, and was more than suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter. The immense relief of finding this a false alarm. The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy. They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.
"Belle," said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, "I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon."
"Who was it?"
"How can I? Tut, don't I know," she added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed. "Mr. Scrooge."
"Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeing him. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do believe."
This means she can't be more than forty at the time. Which means that Scrooge was probably not more than fifty. So he's probably not yet sixty when the story opens, possibly not much more than fifty. Like I said, no kid, but not an old man. This isn't all that important, it's just worth keeping in mind that Scrooge has made himself prematurely old by shutting up his heart and pushing away all human company and affection. That's the point of having Fred in the story. He's another reminder that Scrooge was once a better person. His sister loved him and Fred loves him for his mother's sake. Fred represents the pull of affection for other people Scrooge still feels but resists.
The Cratchits represent the pull of responsibility and compassion Scrooge still feels…
“I suppose you’ll want the whole day off tomorrow…”
"If quite convenient, sir."
"It's not convenient. And it's not fair.
"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"
The clerk smiled faintly.
"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."
The clerk observed that it was only once a year.
"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."
In other words, there is still some good in Scrooge. He still has a heart. That's why we care that he might be redeemed.
"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.
"Who, and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"Long Past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
"No. Your past."
Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.
"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!"
Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully bonneted the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
"Your welfare," said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
"Your reclamation, then..."
This is something to think about for anyone who is expecting that being President will cause the septuagenarian about to enter the White House to change for the better. I realize that at this point that’s mainly the dopiest hacks in the political press corps and the more credulous members of both parties in Congress, but it’s still worth noting that Donald Trump has never shown he feels the least sense of responsibility toward all the Cratchits who've worked for him, that whatever affection he has for his family seems completely tied up with how much money they make him, how much money he can make off them, and how well they serve the Trump brand, and if he ever had a heart he shut it up so tight and so long ago it might as well be buried in a lost pharaoh's tomb.
Ok, lecture's over. Class dismissed. Remember there are twelve days of Christmas and today’s only the seventh. It’s also the eighth night of Hanukkah. Hope everyone's having a Merry Christmas and holiday season! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!
Your homework assignment: Read the textbook.
For further (fun) reading (for fun): David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.
Posted Friday morning, December 30, 2016.
As the folks at the Daily Edge point out, it’s an “awkward moment when the Pope is 800 years more scientifically advanced than America’s ruling party.”
Pope Francis: "Never been such a clear need for science" to protect the planet. https://t.co/f3D2Htjd6y— Michiko Kakutani (@michikokakutani) December 29, 2016
“It is worth noting that international politics has reacted weakly — albeit with some praiseworthy exceptions — regarding the concrete will to seek the common good and universal goods, and the ease with which well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet is disregarded,” the pontiff said, according to a translation provided by the Vatican. He added that the “‘distraction’ or delay” in implementing global agreements on the environment demonstrates how politics have become submissive “to a technology and an economy which seek profit above all else.”
Won’t it be ironic if we liberals wind up looking to Francis for leadership in the fight against the rising tide of Trumpism here and in Europe?
This is the rare case when clicking on the tweet will take you straight to the article and not over to Twitter, but if you want to get to Brady Dennis’ story the conventional way, follow the link to Pope Francis: “Never been such a clear need for science” to protect the planet at the Washington Post
Meanwhile, New York’s own Cardinal Dolan has agreed to say a prayer and read a little scripture at the inauguration. Well, he would. And I guess somebody has to be on hand to pray for a miracle. But I Dolan has criticized our Know-Nothing President-elect’s xenophobia before and I pray he’s gutsy enough to do it again right there on the podium by quoting this passage from scripture, Matthew 25: 31-40:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me….’”
Matthew 6: 19-21 would also be appropriate, I think:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…”
I know. Like I said. Praying for a miracle.
Posted Wednesday afternoon, December 28, 2016.
"Well, I'm sorry he died," Fisher deadpanned. "Because I wanted to be a couple with him and have fights and stuff like that and slap him."
To read the article and see some photos, follow the link to “Carrie Fisher wanted Leia to grow old with Han Solo” at the New York Daily News.
Posted Wednesday, December 28, 2016.
Yes, she was an addict. She was also an ex-addict. She cleaned up. That takes guts, will, fortitude, strength, and courage. And, yes, maybe it did do damage to her heart. But here’s the thing. That may not be what caused her heart to give out. Hearts do that, even the seemingly healthiest ones. Our bodies are fragile things. The strongest, toughest body is as nothing to an oncoming truck, the chance infection, or an unlucky combination of genes.
And know what?
It will happen to you.
At some point your body will fail you. We’re all only temporarily healthy, temporarily fit, temporarily able and strong.
Know what else?
You’re going to die.
Probably in a humiliating and pain-filled way.
It happens to all of us. It’s where we’re all headed. We’re all fellow passengers to the grave, and we should treat each other accordingly. It’s still the Christmas season. It’s as Scrooge’s nephew Fred says:
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
She’s gone. She didn’t want to go. She’d still be here if she could have helped it. She was loved. She will be missed. She had a family. They want her back. Think of them. Think of your own.Take care of them. Take care of your fellow passengers, while you can, because we vanish like a breath, and it’ll all be over too soon.
Posted Tuesday afternoon, December 27, 2016.
It took a while but I got caught up in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, even though I didn’t like the main characters, felt the violence wasn’t simply thematic but an aesthetic, and missed everything that was entertaining and fun about the original Star Wars story, which Rogue One seemed perversely designed to remind us of without either equaling or even trying to approach it. The excitement and fun, I mean. Obviously it was intended to remind us of Episode IV since it’s a prequel. But fun and entertainment weren’t high on director Gareth Edwards’ to-do list, and at the end, all those factors I was able to push aside while watching, allowing myself to if not enjoy the movie at least take a rooting interest, came back in a rush and I was left feeling let down, somewhat depressed, and thinking, “Well, that was pointless.”
I was focusing on the pointlessness of making a Star Wars movie that adds nothing new to the Star Wars saga either in the form of new and interesting characters, crucial incidents, or backstory that deepens our understanding of anything that we know has happened or is going to happen. The plot of this Star Wars story is summed up in the crawl at the beginning of Episode IV. There’s a Rebellion against the Evil Empire. The Evil Empire has a terrible new weapon that can wipe out the Rebellion. Rebel spies have stolen the plans for the weapon, which they’ve somehow gotten into the hands of Princess Leia, who is taking them to Rebel headquarters with Darth Vader hot on her trail.
And that’s all there is to it and all there really needs to be to it. Deciding to make a movie about those Rebel spies and how they stole the plans is a bit like deciding forty years later to make a prequel to Casablanca focusing on the couriers carrying the letters of transit. It’s not that such a movie couldn’t be interesting. It’s that it couldn’t include most of the characters we love from Casablanca. If it did, they couldn’t be played by Bogart, Bergman, Paul Henrid, Claude Rains, or Peter Lorre. I suppose Renault and Ugarti could be in it, and that might have worked, if the director resisted the temptation to have Raines’ and Lorre’s faces CGI-ed over the actors playing them so they didn’t come across as exhibitions in a technological freak show.
But what would we have learned about Rick and Ilsa and the story we really care about?
Rogue One did tell me something I didn’t know about the stealing of the plans to the Death Star, by replacing what I thought was the story, as slight as it was, with a new version.
I thought the story was a spy story, that the plans were stolen by a few Rebel agents sneaking into some top secret Imperial facility and attempting to sneak back out. Darth Vader’s chasing after them was either the result of a mistake on their part, a betrayal, or Vader’s own Force-enhanced skills in counter-espionage. Spy vs Spy, in other words.
Turns out the plans are stolen in a commando raid.
Our plucky band of heroes aren’t spies. They’re special ops, and they shoot their way in and attempt to shoot their way out. It doesn’t go according to plan, there not being much of a plan---Nobody that I recall echoes Harrison Ford’s “I’m making this up as I go along,” which I know is Indiana Jones’ line, but Indy is Ford and Ford is Han Solo, so it would have made an amusing verbal Easter Egg. There is, however, a good joke on George Lucas’ “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” signature line.---and the Rebel fleet including squadrons of X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters have to come to the rescue. Which leads to a climactic battle sequence that’s a rehash of the climactic battle sequences of all the other Star Wars movies made after Episode IV, except Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, a back and forth between shootouts on the ground and shootouts in space, ending, like The Phantom Menace and The Force Awakens, with a clumsy variation of blowing up the Death Star---again---without another actual Death Star.
This time, though, there isn’t one heroic pilot to focus on in the dogfight. So we don’t know what we’re supposed to be looking at except for the too busy visuals of swooping and exploding spaceships.
One sort of useful thing Rouge One does do, if you're an obsessive fan: it explains how the Death Star could be destroyed by a single torpedo fired down what’s essentially an air vent and why that vent happened to be left open at a crucial moment. But I don’t think we needed a two-hour movie devoted to filling in a plot hole that’s been open with nobody much minding for forty years.
Rogue One could have had more of a point if it had added new characters to the saga for us to root for or root against or care about at least a little bit or used old characters in new and interesting ways besides as gimmicks.
As is, Darth Vader is almost literally a mere shadow of his former and future selves (although it’s great to hear James Earl Jones back as the voice behind the heavy breathing) and Grand Moff Tarkin is through the wizardry of CGI reduced to what amounts to a Disney Animatronic version of the late Peter Cushing who played Tarkin with such delicious malice in Episode IV, which is too bad and I think a big mistake.
Guy Henry, the actor onto which Cushing’s image is drawn looks and sounds the part in his own right and has established a reputation for playing charmingly sinister villains. (See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I and II.) It would have been easier, and more fun, for us to make the quick adjustment to accepting a different actor in the part than having to spend the whole movie telling ourselves every time Tarkin appears, “Well, it’s almost as if Cushing’s still alive, I guess.”
The third important character from Episode IV who appears is another freak of CGI and shouldn’t be in the movie at all. You probably know what character I’m talking about but I’m going to pretend I’m withholding a spoiler. The character wouldn’t be on the scene at that moment and besides that character’s connection to this story is taken care of quite nicely in a wry and oblique reference by a character from Revenge of the Sith played by the actual actor reprising the role without computer enhancement.
The new characters include a villain who’s a junior grade Tarkin or a senior grade General Hux from The Force Awakens named Director Krennick and played by Ben Mendelshon as if he’s a corporate lawyer who somehow got himself a military posting and is discovering that the ability to write a contract doesn’t translate into the ability to lead stormtroopers into battle and that ambition and intelligence don’t compensate for sheer ruthlessness; Galen Erso, a genius scientist and engineer of questionable motives---or whose motives are questioned by all sides---played by Mads Mikkelson, whose job is to make his underwritten and under-used character important in our minds mainly because he must be important if he’s played by Mads Mikkelson; and Saw Gerrara, a militant separatist leading his own private rebellion against the Empire, played by Forest Whittaker for the same reason Erso is played by Mikkelson---to make the character seem more important and interesting than the script actually makes him.
Then there are the heroes.
Chief among them in popularity---with good reason---is a hulking, physically expressionless robot called K-2SO and voiced with wonderfully droll matter of factness by Alan Tudyk. K-2SO doesn’t just have most of the best one-liners and jokes, he has just about all of them, and Tudyk makes them all killers. Which calls attention to how grim and humorless the rest of the movie is, but never mind.
Donnie Yen as the monk-like worshipper of the Force Chirrut Îmwe who seems to draw Jedi-like fighting skills from his slightly mad belief that he’s tapped into the Force and Wen Jiang as his big, hand cannon-wielding bruiser of a friend and routinely exasperated protector Baze Malbus aren’t so much characters as a trope. A Don Quixote with real giants and armies and wizards to do battle with and his strong, brave, and resourceful Sancho Panza. They’re an amusing pair but they’re given no subplot or sidestory of their own and the only chances we get to really know them are in the fight sequences when our attention is somewhat divided.
The last member of the Rogue One team is a type not a trope. Played by Riz Ahmed, Bodhi Rook is the nervous and timid nerd in way over his head who finds his courage at the crucial moment. His story seems over by the time he appears, because it is. He’s really more of a part of the Galen Erso subplot and everything he needs to have done he’s already done offscreen before we meet him. Which brings up this:
A better and more interesting story could have been told about Krennick, Eso, Gerrara, and Bodhi, a story that would have been full of intrigue, double-dealing, questionable loyalties, friendships betrayed, a love triangle, and real spy story suspense as we wonder, “Will he get away with it and how will he manage it if he does?” Again, never mind.
That movie would have had Galen Erso as the main character. Rogue One has his daughter Jyn as its main character.
You might remember that when the first trailer was released back in the spring revealing that the main character was female there was some online fanboy temper tantrum throwing over the fact that they were having their childhoods ruined---yet again---by a second Star Wars movie in a row featuring an icky old girl as the hero. This was countered by some feminist-lite crowing over there finally being a female lead as badass as Obi-wan, Luke, and Han, as if Leia and Rey were merely routine damsels in distress.
The problem is Jyn isn’t very heroic. That is, she is not a commanding and independent figure. She’s basically a little girl lost with good aim and wicked martial arts skills. Leia is a full-fledged adult from the first. Rey. although a teenager, is on the brink of adulthood, having had to be essentially a grown-up since she was a kid. Jyn is an adolescent defined by her relationship with her absent father. Which is ironic, considering Carrie Fisher was nineteen when she was cast in Episode IV, Daisy Ridley was twenty-three when The Force Awakens was released last year, and Felicity Jones, who plays Jyn, is thirty-three.
And then Jyn is to the plot of the movie what she is to the agents of the Rebellion who use her in their plot to obtain the Death Star plans, a device to take things where they need to go. Once the movie’s plot and the Rebellion’s plotters are done using her for that, she’s pretty much done as a character. Since this happens only a little more than halfway through, she has to be rewritten on the spot to justify her continuation in the story as its main character. It’s a hasty and sloppy rewrite, and she goes from angry and petulant teenager in rebellion against everything to angry and petulant Rebel with a cause.
This doesn’t give Jones, who I thought was terrific as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything, much to work with. She manages about a half dozen facial expressions, all of them variations on a frown or a pout, and as many changes of tone of voice. And she’s given no good jokes.
Meanwhile, as the what’s by default the male romantic lead, Diego Luna seems demoralized, sapped of energy, and barely able to hold himself up---whatever he’s doing, he looks like he’d rather be crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over his head. That’s his character. He’s playing the part as written. I just wish he could have found a way to bring more passion and energy to his performance even so, that he’d done a better job of suggesting what Cassian Andor was like once upon a time.
Andor is supposedly the Rebel leader Mon Motha’s chief intelligence operative but he’s been so worn down by years of war and going on violent and dangerous missions that, as far as he’s aware, have produced practically no good results that now he’s practically just going through the motions, pushed onward by a vestigial sense of duty and responsibility and a half-hearted loyalty to his fading ideals. In short, he’s a character who needs to be reinvigorated and redeemed, and in movies that usually means by the love of a good woman. Consequently, something of a romance develops between him and Jyn, but it’s perfunctory and while Jones and Luna make an attractive couple, Jyn and Andor are no Leia and Han or even Padme and Anakin. There’s nothing about either one that suggests that what they need is each other. They’re just two lost souls who latch onto each other in their mutual hopelessness and desperation.
In other words, their falling in love is pointless.
But it’s a different kind of pointlessness than I’ve been complaining about. It’s thematic.
Mulling it over, I’ve come to think that Rogue One’s pointlessness might be the point.
Nothing much happens in Rogue One to advance the saga because nothing much was happening in the time immediately before Episode IV and the arrival of its title character, the New Hope.
That would be Luke Skywalker, of course.
What we’re seeing in Rogue One is the Rebellion on the brink of failure. The battle against the Empire has stalled. The Rebel Alliance is coming apart. Factionalism, defeatism, and a lack of inspired military and political leadership have taken a toll all around. Andor’s demoralization is representative of a general collapse of will and resolve. People are carrying on just to carry on. They don’t know what else to do. All they seem to be fighting for anymore is to live to fight another day.
“Rebellions are built on hope,” they tell each other, but the Rebels are out of hope.
The long ago, far away galaxy of Rogue One is the one Tarkin describes to Darth Vader in Episode IV, a place no longer lit by the Jedi’s flame. The Force is out of balance, but it’s not just that the Dark Side has clouded everything. It’s that without the Light Side, that’s all it can do. The Force is a whole, a yin and yang, and without one side or the other it can’t do its work:
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
Things are coming apart. All the bonds are breaking. The Force must be brought back into balance. Light must be restored. And, just as the way to the Dark Side is through anger, hate, and fear, the way to the Light is through Hope, and hope is what Luke has in abundance. It’s what he is.
And that’s what gives Rogue One its point. That’s why Luke, even though he’s never seen or even mentioned, is its actual hero. He’s the hero of all the movies, the prequels, the sequels, and the original trilogy, the way Arthur is the hero of all the stories of the Knights of the Round Table. Those stories are all parts of Arthur’s story. Rogue One is a Star Wars story and all the Star Wars stories are parts Luke’s story. Which makes sense.
After all, he is King Arthur.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelson, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Riz Ahmed, Guy Henry, and James Earl Jones. Rated PG-13. Now in theaters.
Recent reviews from the Mannionville Daily Gazette:
Hacksaw Ridge: Private Desmond Doss' Agony in the Garden.
Posted Monday evening, December 26, 2016.
“In order for life to start, you need non-living, organic chemicals to come together to form something that can make copies of itself.
This is clearly not something that happens easily…”
Follow the link to Forbes Science for the answer.
Posted Monday, December 26, 2016.
Follow the link to see the original Tweet by Eddy Elfenbein: “Look, I'm not wild about how the Alderaan thing was handled but the Empire made great strides in literacy and public health.”
Posted Saturday night, December 24, 2016.
Our Advent Calendar this year…
Each window opens on a scene and a couplet from “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Ken and Oliver have been impressed---mildly impressed---well, sort of amused---by my having the poem memorized. They just needed to tell me what the picture showed and I was able to recite the lines that went with it. I told them I’d learned it by heart when I was a kid because Pop Mannion used to read it to my brothers and sisters and me many times every year. Often we made him read it several times in one sitting. He had fun with it and liked to include commentary and sound effects. My favorite part was when he’d read “He filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk…” he’d follow up as if talking back to himself with an indignant “Who’s a jerk?”
Still cracks me up to think of it.
By the way, I didn’t remind the guys that my memory was refreshed every year when they were kids and I read it---recited it---to them several times every Christmas season.
I could type it out for you here to prove I have it down cold, but it’s late, I’m tired, and Saint Nick won’t come until we’re all in bed, so here’s a link. Enjoy! And Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Posted Saturday night, December 24, 2016.
This year, Hanukkah begins on the same day as Christmas is celebrated. https://t.co/bZRMpafxpZ— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) December 24, 2016
My best friends in our neighborhood when I was growing up were Jewish so Hanukkah was always an important part of the Christmas season to me, as much of a lead up to the big day as getting our tree, the Christmas concert at school, and sneaking up into the attic where Santa had hidden the presents. Not sure Sandy, Phil, Jerry, Janie, and Chuck felt as warmly about Christmas or appreciated my folding their holiday into mine. But they were generally tolerant and forgiving of my ignorance and Catholic chauvinism. The first religious bigot I had to face down was me. Anyway…I was trying to remember a year when we were kids when the first night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas eve and I couldn’t. Turns out there’s a reason. It never happened. In fact, it’s only happened once before in my lifetime and we weren’t kids anymore.
This article by Kat Eschner sort of explains why this has been so and why it might or might not happen again while I'm still around to see it. Follow the link to "Someday, Maybe We’ll Have Hanukkah in July" at Smithsonian.com.
Zachary Crockett has more details and a helpful chart at Vox where he answers the question "How often does the first night of Hanukkah fall on Christmas?"