The fashion show.

O hai, guys. I guess I forgot to blog yesterday. I think I just flat ran out of gas and decided to watch the Oscars, and then flat ran out of gas on that, too. This morning I decided to make this an in-the-office day, which wiped out daytime blogging opportunities, but really, who cares about these lame excuses?

My office is in Livonia, another inner-ring suburb that feels like it is a million miles away. Forty minutes in moving traffic, 60 in rush hour. If I had to do this every day, I wouldn’t. All the podcasts in the world can’t make that commute work on the regular. But once or twice a week is tolerable, and today was a very tolerable day. So Monday, nearly in the books, will go down as a not-bad one.

I see you were discussing the Oscars today. I think I saw all of them but “The Post” and “The Shape of Water,” but fortunately, our brethren on the right were at work today to brief us all:

A reader writes to ask if I’m going to do an Oscars post. The answer is no; I didn’t watch the show, or see the movies nominated. He responded by saying that I really ought to write something. “The Academy used to play it safe with controversy, but now it’s moving the Overton window faster than in real life,” he wrote. “Who’d have thought one decade ago that the most prestigious award in the film industry would go to a film about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light?”

He’s talking about The Shape Of Water, a movie in which the female protagonist falls in love with a humanoid amphibian, and has sex with it (“cod coitus,” according to Sonny Bunch).

I can’t even. So I’m not gonna. But imagine how exhausting it must be to filter everything — everything! — through one’s politics, one’s “culture,” one’s whatever-it-is that keeps us from simply enjoying art. I’ll see this film eventually, but I simply refuse to believe that it’s “about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light.”

I’d rather experience the Academy Awards via Tom & Lorenzo, who are almost always how you say spot-on with their assessments. My overall impression: Almost all the hair was ugh, and I simply do not understand why anyone wants to wear a formal dress that blends in with one’s skin. One reason Lupita Nyong’o always looks so damn good is, she uses her skin as a canvas, and paints with color. (Her co-star in that picture painted with paint — on her head.) To be sure, her lean, muscular body doesn’t hurt a bit, but if all she did was dress in coffee-colored clothing, I think I’d be meh on her as I am on the Beige/Blush Girls.

Man, if I looked like Margot Robbie — so beautiful she sucks all the oxygen out of the room — the last thing I’d do is go to the Oscars with hair that looks like I let it air-dry after a shower where I was too lazy to rinse all the conditioner out. And another pale-on-pale color thing, only the detailing looks like Christmas garland.

One exception — because there are always exceptions — has to be Jane Fonda. As T-Lo like to say: BOW DOWN. She’s 80. Years old.

So that was my Oscar night. In bed by 10:30, missed most of the good stuff.

Posted at 7:56 pm in Movies, Popculch | 52 Comments
 

Rotten Apple.

Someday we’re going to look back on this era and…marvel, I guess, although “recoil in horror” may well be an option, too. I think often how long it’s been since I’ve done business with a larger outfit that didn’t make me seethe with anger or sneer with contempt. This weekend it was Apple’s fault.

My iPhone 6 is three years old and going strong, except that the battery is failing. How do I know this? Because the power falls from 75 percent to 20 percent in 10 minutes, that’s how. Sounds like a failing battery to me! Apple recently acknowledged it was slowing down the older model phones accordingly, and, chastened, offered replacement batteries for them for $30. How very convenient, because I need a battery.

I followed all the links, which led me to an appointment at the Genius Bar. I arrived on time: Hello, I need a battery. The nice lady plugged my phone into her iPad and ran all sorts of diagnostics. It turns out? I need a battery. I surpassed my impulse to eye-roll. So let’s get it done. It turned out there were none in stock, but when one arrived, they’d let me know.

So, one trip to the Apple store down.

The email came a few days later, and said, “come anytime.” I headed out in a gathering snowstorm on Friday. The nearest Apple store is about 15 miles away, I should mention. I arrived and handed over my phone. Give us 90 minutes, they said. So I went back out and shopped the clearance sales, got a French press at Nordstrom, then came back to the warm, bustling Apple store. Are those places ever not bustling? Just asking.

The tech greeted me like a mother who’d brought her child to the ER with suspicious bruises. He showed me a photograph of the phone’d innards. “We can see that this phone has had liquids inside it,” he said. Yep, that sounded right — I was caught in a drenching downpour last summer with the phone in my back pocket, ports facing up. I’m sure it got wet then, because the speaker and mic failed for a couple of days. But I dried it out in a bag of rice and it’s worked fine ever since. So fix the battery, OK?

“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t work on phones that have been penetrated by liquids.” Options: Buy a reconditioned iPhone 6 – a three-year-old phone, mind you – for three! Hundred! Dollars! Or just do the usual upgrade thing. Hundreds of dollars more. But to fix a “penetrated” phone in fine working order, only in need of a battery? Out of the question.

Well, it was nice to visit Nordstrom. Good coffee. And I got some tights at 40 percent off.

Why do we let tech companies treat us like this? Why do we happily help them run established businesses out of town for a slightly better price, and then scrape to them and beg them for the latest sacred object? I wish I knew.

I’m going to Office Depot. The hell with this.

And I’m sorry about that rant. It’s cold again, and I’m feeling cranky. Plus it’s the auto show this week, and I’m on my own. To whoever asked in the comments, the prom is this coming Friday, and I’ll have my usual report. From what I’m hearing, the tl;dr is: Trucks for days.

While Alan was working at the kitchen table, I took myself down to the DIA and saw “Bombshell,” the documentary about Hedy Lamarr, movie star and frustrated scientist. It’s very fine, and I recommend it. If you didn’t know that this legendary Hollywood beauty also had a restless, problem-solving intellect, then you should know now. The story is both triumph and tragedy, but what I found most interesting was what it had to say about the human imagination, and how ideas can come from anywhere. Engineering ideas don’t always come from engineers; Lamarr’s singular idea – a way to make radio communications secure via switching frequencies – came from who-knows-where, because she wasn’t even college-educated, and the man she worked with was inspired by player-piano scrolls. But their idea was sound, even as the military brass scoffed at it.

They didn’t get paid. (And she could have used the money.) But her reputation has made a comeback.

Tomorrow will be warmer, and it’ll be Monday. And we’ll await what fresh hell might be around the corner from Shithole-gate. Sigh. Bundle up.

Posted at 8:11 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

A ‘Christmas Story’ story.

So, in the recent enthusiasm for what’s inevitably called “the high-wire act of live television,” Fox did a live musical version of “A Christmas Story” the other night. Hank hated it, and I will take his word for it. I, too, have grown weary of “A Christmas Story,” mainly because I’m tired of all its, what’s the term? Brand extensions. So to speak.

That would include, a few years back, stories about the guy who bought the house that played Ralph’s house, in Cleveland, and turned it into a museum. I wrote a column on an entrepreneur in Fort Wayne – surely there are dozens more – who started building and selling leg lamps. (“Of course they come in a big box with FRAGILE stamps all over it,” she enthused.) The where-are-they-now/you-won’t-believe-how-the-actors-look-today junk slideshows turn up in social media for weeks every year. And then there are the wags upon wags who trot out the familiar lines at office mixers, in elevator small talk, and everywhere else from Halloween through New Year’s: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid being only the most familiar.

It hurts. I used to love this movie. It was so sweet and charming. Then NBC sucked up rights to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and turned its annual screening into a national celebration of commercial television. So the thing you used to find in your holiday insomnia, playing on some UHF channel at 2 a.m. when you were likely to be feeling dark and hopeless, like George Bailey was in most of Act II, is now a primetime spectacle clogged with ads and celebrity interstitial moments and GET IN THE SPIRIT, AMERICA admonishments. “A Christmas Story” became a kind of counterprogramming on cable, with the 24-hour repeat broadcast on TBS finally wearing through whatever veneer of goodwill toward men I still have by Dec. 24.

Or, in so many words, “A Christmas Story” is now the TV version of Aretha’s “Respect” – if I never see/hear either again, I’d be perfectly happy.

(Meanwhile, another Frank Capra film from the same era, “Meet John Doe,” with a strong Christmas plot line, is ignored year after year. Go figure.)

And all of this is happening after the death of Jean Shepherd, the humorist whose story “A Christmas Story” is. I think a few years I wrote about the Clinic, which was a tradition at the Columbus Dispatch, where I used to work. The Clinic was our annual all-staff, year-in-review gathering (even though it was held in March), at the publisher’s family’s garishly decorated country retreat, the Wigwam. We’d have a few speakers, and then break for cocktails and dinner, followed by more drinking among the cigar-store Indians and various souvenirs of the family’s considerable influence in Ohio – a framed thank-you letter from Spiro Agnew, who had once been lodged there when a snowstorm cancelled his flight, was a highlight of the many glory walls in the place. The evening was raucous and absolutely drenched in alcohol. Very Mad Men, very Front Page in many ways; it has since been significantly revamped, and is dry, I believe.

My first year, all the young people on staff except me ate marijuana-laced brownies on their way to the Wigwam and I guess they kicked in sometime during the speakers’ portion of the event. As I recall, the keynoter was the president of the Associated Press, and just about as scintillating a public speaker as you’d expect from that outfit. Anyway, he repeatedly pronounced the 50th state Huh-WHY-yuh, with each repetition setting off muffled giggles in the rows around me, which should have been a clue what was going on, but honestly, I had no idea. I only learned of this much later. I suspect the management eventually did, too, because in a subsequent year, one of the brownie-eaters – the film critic – was made chairman of the following year’s Clinic. The naming of next year’s chairman was the climax of the evening, indicating a mix of favor and let’s-test-your-mettle assessment by upper management. He or she had to plan the whole shitshow, with wide latitude, and when the critic’s Clinic rolled around the keynote speaker was Jean Shepherd.

The two had met when the critic had gone to Cleveland to report a story about the making of “A Christmas Story.” I’d never heard of Shepherd, but suffice to say, he could pronounce Hawaii and knew how to hold a room. (He was, in addition to a writer, a successful actor and superb radio personality.) He didn’t talk about journalism at all, but just told wonderful shaggy-dog stories about his childhood. He skillfully wound it all up with the Ovaltine anecdote, and that’s what I remember when I see it in the movie: Shepherd acting out the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring action up there at the podium, building to the punchline, with the historically inaccurate murals of Indians all around. The story, as he told it, had nothing to do with Christmas.

Anyway, I wish he’d lived to see all this. At the very least, he could have used the money.

So, as we skip to the bloggage, let me see a show of hands of those who are watching “The Crown,” or just have an interest in the British upper classes…only a few? Pity. Well, you’ll still want to check out Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter thread about British boarding schools through the years. Or you will after you watch “Paterfamilias,” a positively wrenching episode of “The Crown” dealing with Prince Philip’s insistence that his firstborn son attend the brutal Scottish academy he did. The place was a veritable penal colony, and is said to have been the seed of the father-son estrangement that followed. Anyway, Cliffe’s thread is both funny and fascinating:

I recall, as a child, lapping up stories of English children away at various schools/penal colonies/great houses isolated in hostile countrysides. I loved “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” best of all.

If you have approximately a week to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole, I suggest Freshout, the series about life in and out of, but mostly in, prison. Fascinating material covering everything from sex to gangs to recipes for a County Taco.

And if you have an interest in Everest, you should enjoy this lavishly presented NYT piece about the removal of corpses from the highest reaches of the mountain. It’s no easy task. And it’s a good story.

As for the rest of the day’s events, well.

Posted at 5:54 pm in Movies, Television | 121 Comments
 

New post, in which I give up.

I’m looking at the post-ette I started day before yesterday. It was about Garrison Keillor. Remember him? Seventy-two hours ago, maybe 48, he was in the news, which now seems like 25 years ago.

At some point in the last few hours, I gave up, and watched “Fifty Shades Darker.” It was on HBO. It’s the second movie in the Fifty Shades franchise, I believe. I’ve never seen the first one, and won’t see the third one, but God help me I watched the second one. And this is my manifesto:

The rule of threes is important in storytelling: Beginning, middle, end. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Couple meets and does sex stuff, couple breaks up and does more sex stuff, and whatever the third movie is about, I don’t care, because hoo-boy, this second movie. It’s hilarious.

It also follows the contemporary model of girl-centered soft-core porn movies, in that sex is only a fraction of the guy’s appeal. The rest is his money, which is ludicrously abundant. Christian Grey is under 30, has a billion dollars and a million exquisitely decorated houses. Lines like “I have a place there” and “I own that” and “I had it made at my shipyard in Seattle” are repeated so often it’s kind of a joke, and needless to say, all the work we see Mr. Grey doing consists of sitting at the end of a boardroom table, while people make notes on legal pads in leather covers. He also has a closet stocked with designer gowns for his girlfriend Anastasia Steele – these names, right? :::eyeroll::: – all of which fit her perfectly and the ones she wears? Someone manages to speak the name of the designer. (I see you, Monique Lhuillier, and I’m sorry the moment went by so fast I didn’t quite catch the proper pronunciation.) Oh, and a helicopter. I think a plane, too, but that was in the first movie. At one point they go to a party, and travel in a three-vehicle motorcade. Of Audis. Like the president.

They have lots of sex, needless to say, which is very well-lit and free of awkward moments like ow you’re on my hair or move your leg or so forth. And here you’re not going to find me getting on the S&M-is-abusive train, because you don’t even need to have taken Psych 101 to see the appeal, especially for women who are submissive. If your hands are tied to the headboard, no one is going to ask you to fold the laundry, or drive them to soccer practice or even touch someone else’s body parts. You just go OK, sure, happy not to make any decisions here. (I’ve always heard this is popular among CEOs, who are mostly submissives.) But this sex is pretty boring, anyway, although there is some tension in seeing how Dakota Johnson can manage to have so much of it without ever smearing or even touching up her vivid lipsticks.

At one point I noticed that both Marcia Gay Harden (who plays Mr. Grey’s mother) and Dakota Johnson were wearing the exact same shade of cranberry-colored lipstick. That’s how boring this movie is. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal, and then I noticed that Dakota Johnson’s character will be Anastasia Steele Grey. That’s sorta funny.

And of course I did all this because if I didn’t, I’d read another million Twitter threads of other sharp analyses of the day’s events, and honestly, I’d rather think about whether cranberry lipstick is right for me.

The rest of you have a good weekend, OK? And please don’t fight anymore.

Posted at 6:48 pm in Movies | 73 Comments
 

Bad moms.

Wednesday is upon us, and I’m still mulling over last night’s entertainment — with Alan off this week (pulling the boat, putting storms in the doors, that sort of thing), we’re doing weeknight thing we never get to do otherwise. Staycation fun, peeps! Monday night was open-mic comedy night at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, at which we were the only white folks and I heard more N-bombs than in a month of streaming hip-hop. And last night we saw “The Florida Project,” a spectacular micro-budget film about poverty in the Sunshine State. I can recommend it highly, for standout performances and an almost perfect mastery of tone in a story that’s essentially plot-free but still has a lot to say.

What plot there is revolves around Moonee, a six-year-old who lives with her mother Hallee in a dive-y motel near Disney World. Hallee has the emotional maturity of maybe a seven-year-old, so they get along like aces. Moonee is charming and fearless, and her mother is the same way, only in the adult you can see the sociopathy that lies beneath. (I don’t recommend this to Jeff, unless he can fit it in during work hours.) As a journalist, all I could think about were the stories I and my colleagues have been writing for years, calculating how far behind Moonee must be in school by now (even as a first-grader, yes), her behavioral deficits, even the toll her diet – which seems to consist solely of waffles, jelly sandwiches on day-old bread from the food bank, soda and pizza – is taking on her baby teeth. The film takes place over part of a summer, when Moonee and a couple of friends run wild through the motel, and others like it nearby, having charming kid adventures, while her mom tries to avoid work but still make the weekly rent on the $38/night room they share.

Things happen, expected things. But the story still feels like a series of snapshots laid in a row. Both thrilling to watch and deeply unsettling. Find it at an arthouse near you.

I see somehow the comment thread on the last post skated off on a tangent about wind turbines. Michigan is starting to add them here and there, primarily in the Thumb, but the ones we see most often are on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair, and by “see” I mean that driving home on a dark night when it’s reasonably clear, you can see their red lights blinking way over the water.

A more vivid experience was a few years ago, when we drove to Stratford for a little theatuh, and took the Port Huron route, which is less freeway and more country road than you get by crossing in Detroit. It was a foggy day, and these behemoths were obscured until we were almost upon them, and they’d loom up out of the mist, turning slowly. Very dramatic, like something in a fairy tale. It was almost enough to distract from the unexpected (for an American, and especially a Michigander) pleasure of driving on a well-maintained, non-potholed road.

Canada. They get the job done.

I have yet to see a driverless car on the roads around here, although truth be told, you wouldn’t know one to see it – they still have people sitting in the driver’s seat. There’s a robot bus running around north campus at U-M in Ann Arbor, not sure of the human-override factor on that one, although my guess is, they have one. The technology isn’t advanced enough yet, but it’s getting there, and fast. David Leonhardt wrote a column about testing a driverless Volvo that got to the heart of the adoption problem, I think:

I expect that we will agonize about using them, out of both legitimate caution and irrational fear. Any driverless crashes will be sensationalized, as has already happened, while we ignore tens of thousands of deaths from human crashes. But I still expect that driving will be revolutionized sooner than many people now understand. …Those researchers at Penn and Chicago also studied the circumstances in which people get comfortable with computer control, and found a theme: When the choice isn’t all or nothing — when people have “even a slight amount” of control — they are more open to automation.

That’s where driving is headed. The shift will be gradual, not sudden, as Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, told me. Cars will handle many tasks, while a human driver will have override power. The combination won’t be perfect, but it can be much better than the status quo.

I suspect he’s right. What he’s describing sounds like the cake-mix problem I read about somewhere. Duncan Hines is fully capable of producing a just-add-water cake mix, but they don’t, because customers prefer to add an egg and half a cup of oil. It makes them feel like they’re baking, not just phoning it in.

It’s funny. I know people who are terrified to fly for fear of crashing, but think nothing of driving every day, when statistically one is leagues safer than the other. But the feeling of control is powerful, no doubt.

I was charmed by the WashPost’s account of David Letterman’s Twain award ceremony. Perhaps you too.

Posted at 10:44 am in Current events, Movies | 135 Comments
 

You otter be in the water.

My friend Bill is recently retired, which means he’s in the go-go stage of post-work life. (The other two, of course, are slow-go and no-go.) He’s having a great summer, bombing around the state with “12th & Clairmount,” the documentary film our employer co-produced, and on his travels, he’s developing a new sport. The sport of the future! he says. He calls it ottering – it’s open water swimming in fins and a life jacket. He keeps saying we should go so I can try it out, and Sunday we worked out our schedules and did so.

We drove to St. Clair, Michigan, on the St. Clair river between Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair. There’s a park there, with a long boardwalk and seawall. We put on the gear and jumped off into 68-degree water and spent an hour ottering. It’s fun. The PFD holds you up and the fins allow you to master the current, which runs about 3 miles per hour draining the Great Lakes toward the sea. At least half a dozen ships passed us, and their wakes bobbed us up and down pleasantly as we drifted and floated.

Why is this the sport of the future? Because Bill has been swimming there most of his adult life, and in recent years has developed shoulder pain, enough that he fears one day injuring himself climbing back up the ladder on the seawall. Hence the PFD. The fins just make it easy to move around. So the pitch really should be, Ottering: The sport of the future in an aging America.

Now to monetize it. I told him to write the book and I’d contribute a chapter. He could do a merch run. It could be his gift to the world, a way to bring the joy back to swimming for people who don’t feel confident enough to do it in deep water anymore.

Then we had lunch and a couple of beers. Not a bad way to spend half a Sunday.

It was a pretty FUBAR weekend all around, with Alan suffering drug side effects from his oral surgery. He had hiccups all day Friday. Seriously, all day. Was awakened at 6 a.m. by hiccups, in fact. Turns out they’re a side effect of the steroid he’s on. Then you have the antibiotics and the painkillers and a UAW vote in Mississippi on a Friday night, and there goes half the weekend. I had to finish a story to boot, so there went half of mine. I was able to slip away for a while Friday night, for a house music lineup at a local bar.

House music sounds like this, at least this set did. That link is to a short video. (If it gives you problems or won’t play on your phone or whatever, I don’t want to hear about it.) I like it OK, and that was a nice early-evening groove, not too loud, so a pleasant way to pass a couple hours.

And suddenly, there goes the weekend. August is flying by. Next week is the OABI, the Once Around Belle Isle kayak race, which I’m on the fence about entering, and the weekend after that is Swim to the Moon, my first open-water swimming event (besides ottering). And then another kayak thing and into Labor Day. Stay a little longer, summer.

So, on to the bloggage? Sure.

This German dude is a future otter, commuting to work via swimming the Isar River, through Munich.

Man, the Chinese have this hoax nailed. Down.

Another take on “Detroit,” this one calling the film immoral.

Oh, and finally, perhaps appropriate because we spent all weekend working, we watched “Obit” on Saturday night, a documentary about the NYT obit desk. Very enjoyable, and I recommend. Let’s hope the weekend ahead is the same.

Posted at 12:13 am in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 44 Comments
 

‘Detroit.’

The events of the last week of July 1967 in Detroit are one of those things everybody knows, and nobody knows, including what to even call what happened. “Riot” is the generally accepted language, although among African Americans, “rebellion” or “uprising” is nearly universal these days. Ever the wishy-washy moderate, I usually opt for “civil unrest,” because the most destructive element of the violence was the widespread looting and arson, which is hard to justify as an act of rebellion, especially considering how many black-owned businesses were destroyed that week.

But never mind that for now. Everybody knows the precipitating event was an early-morning raid on an illegal drinking establishment, known as a blind pig in the local parlance. Detroit still has zillions of these, mainly after-hours bars. I’ve never been to one because I’m a thousand years old, but my young friends all have their favorites. It’s where Detroit’s techno/house music scene took root and continues to thrive. They continue to be busted by the police, too, although I’m not sure if the customers are rousted with quite the vigor the law displayed in the 1967 raid on the establishment on the second floor of a 12th Street print shop. It was the rough handling of the folks being put into paddy wagons, especially the women, that supposedly moved Bill Scott to climb onto a car and exhort the crowd of onlookers:

“Are we going to let these peckerwood motherfuckers come down here any time they want and mess us around?”

The crowd roared back, “Hell, no!” and the bottles and rocks started to fly.

That’s from my colleague Bill McGraw’s excellent story of the family who owned the blind pig, whose own history reverberates with fallout from that night to this day. I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth your time if you didn’t get to it then.

Anyway.

The city was 40 percent black by that point, but its police were still overwhelmingly white and dedicated to keeping the black community in its place — in their neighborhoods, and out of white ones. Unlike most cities its size, Detroit grew horizontally; one reason it has the specific and unique problems it has today is that sprawling footprint, mostly covered with modest working-class housing for the huge labor force that gathered there in the early 20th century. They came from all over the country and all over the world, and working side-by-side in factories didn’t necessarily make them love one another. My friend Michael once drove me around his old neighborhood, where something like four Catholic churches existed in just a few square blocks — one for the Italians, one for the Hungarians, etc., like the punchline of the joke about the two Jews on a desert island.

Anyway. It was with all this knowledge in our heads that we went to see Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” which will open in a theater near most of you August 4. We got the “now playing in select theaters” early run.

Bigelow is a director I run hot and cold on. Hated “Blue Steel,” found “Point Break” ridiculous, liked “The Hurt Locker,” found “Zero Dark Thirty” troubling but worth seeing. She’s undeniably skilled, with an eye for finding beautiful images in horrific stories. “Detroit” kicks off with the blind pig raid, but quickly gets to the main narrative — the events of one night at the Algiers Motel, a fleabag at Woodward and Virginia Park, stormed by police, National Guard and Army troops after they heard shots fired from the building.

They never found a gun — which was said to be a starter pistol one guest was messing around with — but did find a number of black teenagers, 17-19, some members of The Dramatics, a singing group. Two of the teens were white girls, visiting from Ohio. At the end of the night, three of the young men were dead, and the survivors told of being tortured and terrorized by Detroit police in search of the gun and the shooter. This story didn’t come out immediately, but after an investigation, which led to murder trials for the Detroit officers and acquittals by all-white juries. The facts of what went on that night have never been definitively established — the cops claimed self-defense — but the rough outlines of the narrative have: Three dead teens, no gun found, survivor stories of torture.

That’s what Bigelow and her team were working with. And I’ll give her this: That lady knows torture. The police lined eight men and two women up against a wall in the motel for an hour, and that’s about how much screen time it takes, too. It’s an excruciating hour. Individuals are peeled off and taken into rooms, where police then fired gunshots, coming out to tell the rest that, well, we killed that guy, and would anyone now like to change their story and produce the gun?

There’s little relief in that hour. State police decide not to intervene. A few of the Guard/Army troops commit acts of mercy or stand in judgment of the insanity unfolding at the wall, but no one really intervenes. The baddest of the bad guys is a punk-faced, trigger-happy racist with a penchant for shooting people in the back and the unfortunate gift of making weaker men follow his lead. The other two are nearly as bad. One sneeringly asks one of the girls why she “fucks niggers” and how she can stand the smell of Afro Sheen.

Eventually the incidents at the motel conclude, and the film swings into an awkward third act — trials for the cops, recovery for the victims. You can feel the air go out of the balloon after the blood is mopped up. It really doesn’t feel like Bigelow’s heart is in this part of it, although this is where the greatest injustice happened. No one was ever held responsible. One victim is left with PTSD. Bad police are still abusing black people with impunity, and the president is encouraging them. And a corner that once looked like this now looks like this.

I walked out impressed by Bigelow’s technique but hardly entertained, or even enlightened. I think the critic for Roger Ebert’s site, Angelica Jade Bastien, got it exactly right:

Watching “Detroit,” the latest film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and penned by Mark Boal, I hit a breaking point I didn’t realize I had. I was disturbed so deeply by what I witnessed that I left the theater afterward in tears.

It wasn’t the relentless violence inflicted upon black bodies or the fiery devastation of the riots ripping apart Detroit but the emptiness behind these moments that got under my skin. Watching “Detroit” I realized that I’m not interested in white perceptions of black pain. White filmmakers, of course, have every right to make stories that highlight the real and imagined histories of racism and police brutality that pointedly affect Black America.

…“Detroit” is ultimately a confused film that has an ugliness reflected in its visual craft and narrative. Bigelow is adept at making the sharp crack of an officer’s gun against a black man’s face feel impactful but doesn’t understand the meaning of the emotional scars left behind or how they echo through American history. “Detroit” is a hollow spectacle, displaying rank racism and countless deaths that has nothing to say about race, the justice system, police brutality, or the city that gives it its title.

We saw the film at a multiplex on 8 Mile Road, and were apparently the only white people in the theater. (We were certainly the only ones who sat through the credits to see my boss’ name; he did research for screenwriter Boal, and was listed as a consultant.) “Well, I HATED that,” a woman said, loudly, as she filed out, and I expect that will be a pretty uniform opinion among black folks. To be sure, it’s a terrible story with an unhappy ending. The bad guys got away with it. And they were terrible bad guys.

But in the end, it’s an incredibly bloody film that is ultimately rather bloodless.

One final note: When I was young and ignorant, my boyfriend’s stepfather was a retired prison guard. He’d worked at Riker’s Island, in New York. I asked him what sort of weaponry he carried as a guard, and he quickly corrected me: He never carried a gun, or even a nightstick. Guards can’t take the risk of being disarmed by prisoners.

I thought of him during the riot scenes, which underline how fragile order really is, how thin is the social fabric we all walk around on and under, every day. It doesn’t take much to turn a Saturday-night party into something far more sinister, something police flee from, how quickly even these guardians of order can be overcome. Temperatures rise, tempers flare, a guy stands on a car and shouts encouragement — that’s it. And the correction, the restoration of control, is worse. It leads to harsher policing, more fearful citizens, more guns in nervous, fearful hands.

I hope I don’t live to see something like this happen again, but I fear I will. We always speak of events in incendiary terms, of “powder kegs” and “ticking time bombs” and “lighting the fuse,” etc. But all these things have to have a supply of powder, a bomb, to exist. How about building fewer bombs? Just a thought.

Posted at 12:10 am in Detroit life, Movies | 68 Comments
 

Waiting for a miracle.

All the advice was to see “Dunkirk” in IMAX, so I googled around. Turned out there’s an IMAX screen at a multiplex in Royal Oak that I didn’t know about. Royal Oak is closer than the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, which is where I feared we’d have to go, so this was good news. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a regular theatrical-entertainment film in IMAX, only short science films like they show at museums. Bought tickets online, paid IMAX prices.

After the credit-card sale went through I looked at the tickets. “‘Dunkirk’ in EMAX,” they said. What’s EMAX? I thought, but figured it had to be some version of IMAX.

It wasn’t. It was just a wide screen. The theater is called Emagine, and sure enough, there’s no such thing as EMAX as a film format, it’s just the chain’s name for “PREMIUM LARGE FORMAT, bigger picture & maximum sound.” You can say that again; it was really, really loud. But the screen was nice and wide and oh well, at least for a movie like this you don’t generally have people talking throughout. And if they had, the soundtrack would have drowned them out pretty well.

And I can’t say I missed the IMAX, honestly. “Dunkirk” was an immersive experience in every sense of the word; it’s hard to see people wearing boots and heavy wool uniforms trying to swim in an unforgiving sea. A colleague saw it Thursday and panned its storytelling trick of multiple, non-synchronized timelines, but it worked for me. I imagine service in a war zone is a series of minutes-become-hours, hours-pass-like-seconds episodes, part of what makes it so disorienting.

You can read entire shelves of books about the Dunkirk evacuation, and thousands of words about this telling of the story, so I won’t add to it other than to say I liked the film very much and it made me want to sail our boat across the lake and rescue some Canadians. Or maybe the other way around. And I’ll also stand with David Edelstein, who took a pasting in the comments about his review in New York magazine, for writing that he assumed one chapter/timeline, titled “the Mole,” was about the anonymous soldier at its center, who has a prominent mole on his jaw. I did too! And I subsequently learned that “mole” is another term for a jetty, pier or breakwater, a structure that is very important in this story. I’ve read pretty widely and spent lots of time on or near water and boats, and I’ve never heard this before. Ever.

Before the movie, we visited a local brewhouse/restaurant. On the menu:

Proud to be an American.

I guess the next movie we’ll see in a theater is “Detroit,” about an incident in the ’67 riots, being commemorated this very week. Here’s a tick-tock by my former colleague Bill, roused from retirement to help the Freep staff. Lots of links within to other stuff, and sorry about the goddamn autoplaying videos, but that’s Gannett these days. And here’s the News’ editorial-page editor with the suburban take.

Over my years here, I’ve heard many personal recollections of that week, mostly bad ones. Some were grimly amusing; a guy on a local message board lived in St. Clair Shores, and remembers one of his mother’s friends knocking on the door late one night in a panic. She’d heard that gangs of black men were going house-to-house in Grosse Pointe, raping white women, and could she take shelter with them? He thought it was extra funny that he saw her a year later at a party his parents threw, and her escort was a black man. I always wonder, when I hear stuff like that, if there are people who deliberately start hateful rumors in the wake of chaos, for whatever reason. They were rife after 9/11, none backed by any shred of evidence.

This personal story isn’t funny at all, but it was written by a friend whose father was a Detroit firefighter in 1967, and it’s sad and worth your time.

As for the events from Washington, the Fall of Spicey and the rise of the next guy, Scaramucci, I leave it to the comedians.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 89 Comments
 

Diurnal animals.

I don’t know what you were doing late on a Sunday afternoon, but after cooking two complicated, and error-filled, dinners on Friday and Saturday afternoon, I can tell you what I’m doing: Dreaming of a pizza made by someone else. And then watching “Game of Thrones.” Because Sunday funday.

Everyone is out enjoying some activity. Alan went sailing, Kate’s at Belle Isle with her buddies, and I’m listening for the dryer buzzer. Did a bit of a bike ride, but a persistent backache set in at mile six or so, and I turned around rather than gut it out. Once out of the evaporative breeze of movement, I commenced to once again re-secure my title as World’s Sweatiest Woman. But it’s nice and cool in the AC and under the ceiling fan; time to enjoy my solitude and get a little blogging done.

A quiet weekend, all told. I feel like we’re getting old — we’re not doing much this summer, but truth be told, I don’t mind. Happy to stay home and bake cherry pies and not get sweaty waiting in lines. And lines are simply the reality at some of these summer events we’re all beckoned to. You might as well bring a picnic basket. A couple weeks ago, I spent a lengthy lunch hour riding the new streetcar down to where the food trucks were parked, and ended up in a bar, unwilling to wait in line for 20-30 minutes to get a cardboard-bowl lunch. So sorry, missed the Concert of Colors last night, but we watched “Nocturnal Animals” on iTunes and it was very disturbing, but a pretty OK movie.

Can’t complain.

Can complain about this, though: No more celebrities running for office, for fuck’s sake. Their recent record is, how you say, uneven. Sorry, Caitlyn Jenner. Sorry, Kid Rock. (I won’t link, because I can’t even bear to Google.) Sorry, actual Rock. Now more than ever, we need competence. I don’t generally swoon over Frank Bruni the way some people do, but buried in his Sunday column was this brief passage:

Infrastructure that’s no longer competitive (or safe), a tax code crying out for revision, a work force without the right skills: When do we fix this? How far behind do we fall?

In-effing-deed. When? How? The world is at a very dangerous precipice. Career politicians, which is to say, people who know how the game is played and how to get results out of the system, may be our last hope.

Meanwhile, the picture of Jenner that accompanies that story is ghastly. Looks like she ordered the Madonna model cheek implant in XL.

Meanwhile, some comic relief: A little bit of the sunshine Ann Coulter spreads in the world came back to her over the weekend. We can all agree that when Ann has a bad day, the world gets a little bit nicer.

Finally, think you’re good at spotting fake news? Here’s a game that will let you show your skills. (Use the quick start option.) I found it pretty easy, considering you could view the source for individual stories.

For me, it’s back to “Game of Thrones” homework. See you mid-week.

Posted at 12:23 am in Current events, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 92 Comments
 

That’ll do, pig.

Question for the room: Is there an actress as fantastic in every sense as Tilda Swinton? I don’t think so, so let’s close the discussion on that one right here, and instead speak of the glory available to all Netflix subscribers, which is to say “Okja,” streaming now.

I heard an interview with the co-screenwriter, Jon Ronson, on the way back from Columbus. The role of Netflix in producing films isn’t without controversy; hardcore film fans want films to be films, projected in theaters and watched by audiences. Netflix makes films to be streamed on televisions, which is where most Americans watch movies, these days.

I guess, when a Netflix-produced film debuted at the Cannes film festival, the audience booed. I’ll leave that debate for those who care about such things. But I was struck by something Ronson said in the interview, about how often film studios say no, but Netflix says yes. And in this case, the “yes” was to an action comedy that isn’t for children, with plenty of social commentary, and half its dialogue in Korean, with subtitles.

But it’s so! Fabulous! And funny, and warm, and touching, and a satire of modern life, spectacle and…TED talks, I guess. Tilda plays the CEO of a rapacious, relentlessly greenwashed Monsanto-like company that is breeding a super-pig to feed the world. It’s a 10-year project, with specimens distributed all over the world. The Korean pig is the Okja of the title, and boy, is she cute. What’s more, she’s spent the last 10 years becoming best friends with an even cuter girl, who is now a young teen. With the decade up, the company is coming for its property, trailed by a film crew making propaganda to flatter it.

Things get complicated from there. But it’s a wonderful journey, with what you’d expect — chases, jeopardy, complications — but produced with wit and verve and all very fun to watch. Even the soundtrack is surprising. When was the last time you heard “Annie’s Song,” really?

The following night we watched something very different, also on Netflix — “American Anarchist,” the story of how a 19-year-old working out his anger at the government wrote “The Anarchist Cookbook” and opened Pandora’s box in the process. Since 1970, the book has been found in the possession of school shooters, terrorists and ne’er-do-wells of all stripes.

The author, William Powell, went on to do real good with his life, as a teacher of special-needs children all over the world. But the book trailed after him like a demon, coming up time and again. The most powerful scene in the film is when director Charlie Siskel, who comes off as a bit of a scold here, lays out all the cases, many of which Powell appears to not even know about. He cops to Columbine, but there were more, many more, and you can see Powell deflating as it goes on. Powell was (he died last year) clearly highly intelligent, and as he points out in the story, all the information was freely available in the New York City public library, on open shelves. (He mainly used military manuals.) But his story is the 1.0 version of today’s social-media nightmares, where nothing ever goes away, no matter how much your repudiate and walk back and deny.

Should a man be held accountable throughout his life for something he wrote when he was 19? That’s the question.

And that concludes today’s movie reviews. What happened in the world today?

Eh, who cares? The president is in Europe, and doom will surely follow.

Have a swell weekend!

Posted at 12:09 am in Movies | 50 Comments