I turned on the Oscars just in time to catch the screenplay awards, where they run the text at the bottom of the clip from the nominated film. And Bradley Cooper says, “I’m reining it in,” but the super says “reigning.” Sigh. As if the world wasn’t stupid enough.

I went to bed right before Emma Stone won for Best Actress, but I’m glad she did, despite the overwhelming push for Lily Gladstone. We watched “Poor Things” the night before — it’s on Hulu — and her performance was spectacular, with a much higher degree of difficulty than Gladstone’s. I know this was assumed to be a shoo-in for the Native American actress, as Hollywood loves to give at least one award a year to make it feel good about its social principles, or just to recognize a promising newcomer. But I don’t think Gladstone was robbed; she took home a lot of statues this award season, just not this one. And Stone deserved it.

That’s the thing about the Oscars — it’s just a vote, and we never know how the other finishers did. Stone may have edged her by a one, 100 or 1,000, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

Martin Scorsese, now — he knows about robbery. The greatest living director, and he has exactly one Oscar for it. (“The Departed,” 2006.)

In other frippery from the weekend, I’ve been studiously avoiding any of the Kate Middleton speculation and gossip, because why subject yourself to that when American democracy is swaying on its foundations and she’s probably fine anyway. Then the weekend photo business happened, and I must admit: I’m intrigued. It takes a lot for the world’s serious news agencies to put out a mandatory kill on something as silly as a courtesy photo from the British royal family. But in this case, the Zapruder-film examination of it makes me wonder what might be going on.

Most of the speculation has concentrated on some obvious — if you consider going over a picture with a magnifying glass obvious — editing of some of the clothing, but to me, it’s the black hole at her midsection that looks wonky to me. The most informed speculation about what might be ailing her, in my opinion, came from a doctor I follow on Twitter, who suggested she might have had some sort of temporary colostomy for the treatment of Crohn’s disease, and it would track that the rail-thin princess wouldn’t be photographed with any indication she might be wearing a bag. It would also explain the secrecy, because ew poop. Whatever. I do hope she’s going to be OK, because who wouldn’t.

Also, the British celebrate Mothers Day in March? Really?

And now it’s Monday again. Time to get it in gear.

Posted at 9:54 am in Movies, Popculch | 32 Comments

And the name had a Y at the end.

I went to an estate sale this weekend. It was the usual story: An enormous, three-story house stuffed to the rafters with junk that should have been thrown away, given away or sold years ago. A useful lesson in the importance of keeping your stuff lean — you always think, and this is what the family didn’t want — as well as why the amount of stuff you drag through life is directly proportional to the space you have to keep it in. One day I will live in one of those tiny houses, and Kate’s chore upon my death can be carried out in less than a day.

A woman passed me on the staircase: Old, I’d guess 75 or beyond, wearing a coat that had seen better days. The real shocker was her hair, which was a mess, but a deliberate one, with the centerpiece an enormous, teased bump at the crown of her head. Think 1962-era Ronnie Spector, only blonde and bigger. Think ’60s Priscilla Presley, ditto. An egg sac for the biggest spider in the world. And so on. I don’t want to be cruel. I know we’re supposed to be all you go girl about pretty much any presentation of femininity, and I often remind myself that there is no one way to be a woman, that it covers everyone from the butchest lesbian to the most Kardashian-worshiping girlie girl. There was a movie about this out this summer, perhaps you saw it — “Barbie.”

Anyway, I read Dwight Garner’s very positive review of Lucy Sante’s new memoir, “I Heard Her Call My Name.” It’s the story of her gender transition, at 66 years old. She was once Luc Sante, who I saw read here in Detroit a few years back:

Second paragraph of Garner’s review:

She can hear what some of you are thinking. She fears that, by coming out as transgender now, she will be thought to be “merely following a trend, maybe to stay relevant.” She worries her transition will be viewed as a timely shucking of male privilege, a suit of armor that has grown heavy and begun to rust, or as a final bohemian pose, or as something more literary to do in semiretirement than sucking on a Werther’s Original.

I plead guilty to thinking many of those things. As someone who has enjoyed Sante’s work for some time — I found Luc when one of his books was used as the basis for “Gangs of New York” — I found myself, as I so often am when confronting this issue, rather baffled. Would Lucy Sante have been able to publish so many interesting books, or would she have been pigeonholed as a women’s writer? Would a transition, say from female to male, be framed as her abandoning or somehow betraying her children? (Sante has an adult son, barely mentioned.) And yeah, nice way to shed one’s male privilege. But mostly I’m thinking why every one of these memoirs has to talk so much about clothing and makeup and jewelry:

Her memoir is moving for many reasons, but primarily for its observations about aging and vanity, as seen through the separated colors of a prismatic lens. She has, in her late 60s, begun to shrink. She has back problems, knee problems and kidney stones. She is told that, because her facial hair has gone gray, she cannot have laser treatments to remove it. These would have been vastly quicker and less expensive than the painful weekly electrolysis she must undergo instead.

The better news is that she gets to go shopping, and she takes us with her. The reader experiences these vividly written scenes as if they were montages from an updated, late-life version of “Legally Blonde” — “Legally Platinum,” perhaps.

I learned that an empire waist on a long torso will make the wearer look pregnant, that shapeless things like sweatshirts only flatter 20-year-old bodies, that flouncy tops require considerable mammary buttressing, that puffy shoulders make me look like a linebacker, that suspiciously cheap clothes are best avoided for both moral and aesthetic reasons, that wanting to look like the model in the picture does not constitute a valid reason for buying the garment.

There is so much more to being female than this bullshit, but then again, it’s also how we identify one another at first glance, so maybe the obsession is understandable. When a twit like Caitlyn Jenner says the hardest thing about being a woman is selecting a nail polish color, half of me thinks it’s a joke and the other half wants to smack her silly face. I don’t see that passage above as a vividly written scene; it’s basically the interior monologue of every woman who looked in her closet this morning. Dwight Garner! Do you know any women?

The a-ha moment rings false:

In early 2021, she found FaceApp, which has a gender-swapping feature. The images, some of which are printed in this book, floored her. “She was me,” Sante writes. “When I saw her I felt something liquefy in the core of my body.” She showed them to her partner of 14 years, who was confused by what Sante was trying to tell her. They ended up parting ways. They were both upset and torn. “It was not so much that I had betrayed Mimi’s trust, but that I had never honestly earned it,” Sante writes.

Nope, sorry, you betrayed her trust, girlfriend. A human being should expect change in a life partner, but not that kind of change. “They ended up parting ways” has to be the understatement of the decade, like it’s Mimi’s fault she couldn’t deal. There are spouses who can easily transition (ha ha) to being best friends or some other variation of it in a situation like this, but you can’t blame the ones who can’t. It’s a big bomb to drop into a relationship. And in my reading to understand gender dysphoria, I’ve read many accounts of men and women who knew, deep in their bones, from their earliest memories, that something was disconnected between their mental and physical selves. This is the first one I’ve read that was brought on by an app.

But! Luc Sante was a great writer, and I’m sure Lucy will be, too, and ultimately it’s her life, not mine. She can live it on her terms. I’ll see her speak the next time she comes through town. I am keeping my mind open.

So. The weekend was nice, though more or less uneventful. We stayed in. (It was cold.) We watched movies. (It was cold.) “Priscilla,” about the aforementioned Priscilla Presley, was strangely blank. It was in large part about Elvis’ interest in his teen girlfriend’s female presentation, and didn’t explicitly call it grooming, although it obviously was. I didn’t like it as much as most critics did, but the acting of Cailee Spaeny in the title role was very good, spanning the main character from 14 to her late 20s.

I also watched the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” a great memory of old New York and of the way movies that take place in cities always used to have the full spectrum of ethnic types found there. So the hijacked subway train features an old Jew, a woman who speaks only Spanish, a cool black dude, etc. But it was fun to watch, getting in and out in about 90 minutes. That’s pro filmmaking.

With that, I’m drawing the curtain on my sedate life and turning my attention to making spaghetti. Monday awaits.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 51 Comments

They were (not) the world.

A friend recommended “The Greatest Night in Pop,” a documentary now airing on Netflix, about the making of the “We Are the World” single in 1985. I took his recommendation, and found his summation fairly accurate: Suffer through the first 30 minutes of showbiz bullshit, and you’ll be rewarded with an hour of watching musical superstars feeling and acting very superstar-y, which is to say, often like spoiled brats and other bad-behaving archetypes.

I have to confess my prejudice up front: “We Are the World” and its predecessor, the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single out of the U.K., ushered in an era that got on my nerves, the time of ’80s/’90s feel-good “philanthropy” that required nothing of the philanthropist more taxing than a trip to a record store. Or affixing a particular color of ribbon to your clothing. Or joining hands in some sort of stunt to “raise awareness” of homelessness. And the song was terrible, too; at least the British song had a Christmas-carol sound to it, with all those bells. “We Are the World” was syrupy treacle, made for linking elbows, swaying back and forth and proclaiming not that others were in mortal peril, but that we, the singers, are the ones who… well, let’s just paste the chorus here:

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

Beyond a few references to “people dying,” it’s entirely self-congratulatory. Which is to say, it’s got the smell of Michael Jackson all over it. He wrote the lyrics, Lionel Richie the music. And Richie is the one who leads the narrative lookback, although there are other talking heads, too, including Bruce Springsteen, Sheila E., Cyndi Lauper and the most surprisingly amusing of the bunch, Huey Lewis.

The hero of the whole project is Quincy Jones, who had to herd all these cats toward their common goal, and to do so in the course of one marathon overnight session. Part of the showbiz-bullshit portion of the film talks about simple steps toward that goal as though they’re brainstorms unique to the brilliance of Quincy — i.e., to have all the soloists record in a big circle, facing one another, rather than retreating to booths where they can complain quietly and nitpick their performance to death. I guess that was a brainstorm for a field that requires no small amount of diplomacy, but if there’s one thing we know about divas of all kinds, it’s that treating them like normal people will work, at least for a little while. (It’s such a new experience for them.)

There were some amusing moments, as when Stevie Wonder suggested they should sing at least a few lines in Swahili, presumably because Africa. This led to Waylon Jennings walking out, but honestly, I was in full agreement (with Waylon). Then someone pointed out that Ethiopians, the presumptive recipient of this charity project, don’t even speak Swahili anyway.

And there’s always the shock of seeing how many of these famous, or semi-famous faces have had serious work done since 1985. Smokey Robinson’s mug is tight as a drum, and Richie’s lower face looks so plumped with fillers it appears to have become a balcony extending from his forehead. All forgivable, because we all have our vanity.

But I was most surprised by my reaction to Jackson, who is painted, as per usual, as a genius, an icon, a magical sprite who was simply too special and talented for this dirty world. I have a long-standing policy of not confusing artists with their art, but Jackson tests it too much for me to look away, as I do about, say, Miles Davis’ history of abusing women. Jackson was a pedophile, period, which makes all his lyrical references to children deeply creepy. I find it hard to enjoy, or even listen to, most of his catalog today. Sorry.

Also, see above for my feelings about the song he co-wrote.

Worth your time? Sure, if you’re into pop music and remember the era. There’s a lot of sic transit gloria mundi on display — hey, Kim Carnes! — and a few good lines. My fave was Paul Simon’s: “If a bomb falls on this place, John Denver is back on top.”

Finally-finally, I’d really like to know more about where the millions this project raised were spent. Did it go directly to food aid? That’s key, because we tend to gloss over the fact that in the modern world, there is enough food for everyone, even with crop failures, drought and other natural causes. There is more than enough, but getting it to people who need it remains problematic, and the Ethiopian government bears at least some responsibility for what happened. That was another thing I disliked about the project, that it led the rest of the world to believe the solution was as simple as raise money > buy food > give food to starving people. When it absolutely wasn’t, and isn’t.

OK, the weekend is almost here! Back to listening to the SCOTUS hearing on you-know-who and hoping against hope.

Posted at 11:25 am in Movies, Popculch | 62 Comments

At the movies.

Well, that was a strange semi-illness. Not sick enough to be sick, not well enough to be well, just sorta in-between. I’m grateful I have the leisure now to fully indulge my little complaints, and not have to drag ass to work in spite of them. In any event, by Thursday I was fine. Took my boxing class on Saturday morning and made the heavy bag whimper a little. All better.

Otherwise, we spent the weekend chasing wild geese, trying to see “The Holdovers” and getting the time wrong, which led to a mediocre Thai meal in a strip mall in Sterling Heights (locals may shudder at this point) and no movie, but at least we got out of the house. So we came home, watched two episodes of “Fargo” and went to bed, only to learn the very next night that “The Holdovers” was available to stream all along, so we did. It was very good, and with “May December,” “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” already under our belts, we may actually be able to form our own informed opinions on the Oscar race next year.

Speaking of movies, this morning I read a column in The Detroit News about the Israeli film that’s making the rounds of, as we say, opinion leaders and other big shots. It’s a compilation of atrocity videos seized after October 7, from security cameras and prisoner captures. I won’t link (paywall), but I’ll quote a bit more liberally than I generally do:

“Bearing Witness to the October 7th Massacre” was presented to a small group of Metro Detroiters by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Israeli Consulate to the Midwest. Much of the film was compiled from the cell phones and body cameras of the Hamas terrorists as they rampaged through Jewish settlements butchering civilians.

The footage is terrifyingly graphic. It is a reminder, as if we needed one, of the depths of inhumanity to which hatred can sink human beings.

What we saw Sunday night was excruciating to watch, harder still to discuss. When it was over most of us walked to our cars barely speaking.

Imagine watching the most gruesome horror flick, without the benefit of knowing the gore on screen is make-believe. In this movie, the blood is real. The bodies are real. The evil is real.

A snuff film, basically, prepared to counter the it-didn’t-happen propaganda coming from the other side. The sponsors are showing it here and there, to small audiences, with strict rules: Phones surrendered at the door, no notes taken, but you’re free (obviously) to write about it later, and given that many of those invited are journalists, that seems to be the intent. I wish this columnist had thought to write a better story, like this one in the L.A. Times, explaining more of the context, and the protest over it, but oh well.

The writer has certainly internalized the intent of the screening:

But the atrocities are why Israel is in Gaza, and why it can’t and won’t be deterred in its mission. The snake of fanatical jihadism must be killed, or it will strike again and again.

That is no doubt satisfying to write, but ignores the how of that statement, and that’s the problem. I don’t even listen to those who throw around terms like colonialism and resistance; Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. But the question that makes so many of us wince is this: How many dead civilians does it take to kill that snake? How many children? Because so far, it doesn’t seem to be going so well, and never mind the whole Netanyahu question, among about a million others. Of course Hamas committed terrible atrocities on October 7; this has never been in doubt. It’s whether those atrocities warrant the response so far that’s in question.

When I was a Knight-Wallace Fellow (’03-’04), we had a seminar one day, a discussion with the father of one of our international fellows, who was Palestinian, and a professor at the university at Ramallah. It went well until one of the others, who was Israeli, asked a question in a rather impertinent tone. The professor didn’t explode, but the temperature rose sharply. He angrily spoke about the destruction of vital highways in the Palestinian areas (which made it impossible for those employed entirely within those areas to get to their jobs, or anywhere else) and other Israeli actions. He talked about the crush at the checkpoints, where the few who could pass into and out of Israel were pushed by soldiers into tight spaces as they waited for their credentials to be checked; at one of these, an Israeli soldier standing on an elevated platform over the crowd unzipped his pants and urinated on them, moving in a wide arc to hit as many as possible.

That’s not an atrocity. It’s not a suicide bombing. But imagine being underneath him.

At the time, I knew much less about the conflict than I do now. A few months after this, I had a tryout for a job in public radio. Talking to the producer to plan upcoming shows, we threw around some topics, and something about the conflict was in the news, and hence, a possibility. “I hate those shows,” she said. “You end them despising everybody, on both sides. It’s so depressing.”

That’s kind of where I’m at now. I’m also kind of agog at how wars will be conducted in the future, when every soldier and civilian will carry a cheap video recording device in their pocket, when artificial intelligence reaches the point that virtually anything can be deepfaked. And legit journalism is shrinking-shrinking-shrinking, and fewer and fewer professional journalists will even be near the fields of battle.

I wasn’t invited to the screening of the Israeli compilation. At the very least, I wanted to know who else was, and I didn’t learn that from the column, either. Maybe even that description was verboten, too.

Don’t know how to wrap this, other than to say keeping up with the news is hard and depressing, but I’m not opting out.

Posted at 10:27 am in Current events, Movies | 32 Comments

On the DL.

I gotta tell you, Covid kinda spoiled me. Avoiding crowds, socially distancing, wearing masks in public – all that stuff shielded me from the usual seasonal crud. And so, when a perfectly normal and shrug-offable cold finally arrived, I turned into Audra Barkley from “The Big Valley,” where all I wanted was to lie in bed and have Barbara Stanwyck press wet washcloths to my brow, and maybe spoon-feed me some clear broth.

Which is to say, I woke up yesterday feeling po’ly and am not much better today, and I’m being a big wuss about it.

Taking a Covid test now. I sincerely doubt that’s what it is, but might as well check.

If I did have a mild case, it would serve me right. On Friday, I went to a THEATER and sat in a CROWD and watched CHELSEA HANDLER do her standup act. Not a huge Chelsea fan, but the tickets were spur-of-the-moment and free, so what the hell. Went with a friend. It was OK. Not tears-running-down-your-face funny, but perfectly fine, and a good example of long-form standup, which has to be hard as hell to pull off. The show was called “Little Big Bitch,” and was structured as Chelsea Tells Her Life Story. The problem with autobiographical shows like this is, you go in understanding there will be a lot of exaggeration and outright lying, because facts get in the way of a good story. But it was a good one, and I laughed a lot, and with that My Weekly Reader-style review, that’s it.

Covid timer went off. Negative. Still a Novid (I think).

The most interesting thing about Chelsea’s show was watching the crowd come in. Disproportionate numbers of 40something women with long blonde hair, holding go-cups of alcoholic smoothies, which is to say, women who look like her and drink like her. That, and gay men. So many that she made a point of calling them out and thanking them before she even got started, something of a land acknowledgement.

And that wasn’t my entire weekend, but it was definitely the highlight. It rained all damn weekend, as though November was getting something off its chest and it ran into December. Not feeling too Christmassy yet.

As for other feelings, I totally encourage Liz Cheney to run as a third-party candidate, as I’m certain she’d draw from the GOP side. She’s said that if she doesn’t, she’ll campaign for Biden, and I encourage that, too. This is so exhausting, worrying about the future of American democracy 24/7. Maybe that’s what my illness is: Trump Fatigue. Wouldn’t surprise me.

Oh, we also watched “May December,” which I loved, and if you have Netflix, get to it. I got a thing for Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore, that’s all I can say.

Let’s hope for better things later.

Posted at 1:20 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments

A bit busy.

You remember a few days back, when I said my planner has three lines at the bottom of the weekly page? Logging workouts, morning pages and blogs? I just looked at it and realized, oops.

But life has been crazy-busy this week, and this weekend in particular. It ended with us seeing “Oppenheimer,” thus completing the Barbenheimer cinematic diptych of the summer, so: Checked that box, but missed my blogging window.

I didn’t like “Oppenheimer” nearly as much as “Barbie,” but then again, the fact they’re both films is about all they have in common. It certainly has its place in the world, but my viewing suffered from not being a science nerd well-acquainted with every brilliant PhD who worked on the Manhattan Project. I knew about Oppenheimer, knew about Teller, but beyond that? Not much. So a great deal of the sub- and backstory was lost on me. And sorry, but why anyone would think they need to see this in IMAX is baffling — most of the action consists of people talking to one another in medium shots. In fact, my biggest disappointment was that the detonation of the first bomb, the Trinity test, was not really the film’s climax; it goes on for an hour afterward.

Maybe the draw is seeing Florence Pugh’s breasts in IMAX, I dunno.

We settled for a regular old wide-screen movie theater, and it was just fine (breasts and bomb). The explosion was very well-done, and I’m glad Oppy’s famous reaction line from the Bhagavad Gita was underplayed; I get the feeling someone like Spielberg would have dolled it up more. But the performances were very good, the story important, and it left me with lots to think about, including how a person with a brain like Oppenheimer’s interacts with the rest of the world. I certainly don’t understand quantum physics or mechanics, but the fact this achievement was followed by the 20th century equivalent of the MAGA era must have been almost physically painful for people that smart. It certainly made me wince that we only recently had a president who spoke of nuking hurricanes and countries and so on, as though these were special effects to be deployed, not weapons of mass destruction. Speaking of dumb.

Do I have bloggage? Why yes I do:

Neil Steinberg parts with one matchbook he’s been holding on to for 40 years, and has an epiphany: I could get used to this:

I’m at an age when I’m surrounded by great masses of detritus, aka, crap. Files and furniture, notes and boxes, mugs, souvenirs, relics. I hate to include books, which are holy, but hundreds of books, most of which I’ll never read. After I wrote the above, I went to walk the dog, and can’t tell you how good I felt. The mixture of performing a small kindness plus the liberation of divestment was a real boost. Only a little thing, true: an old, used matchbook. But it’s a start of the great give-away that will end with me being put, possessionless, into the ground.

Death-cleaning. It becomes more important the closer you get to, um, death, and damn, but it feels great.

Alan and I used to watch “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” when we first got together, so it has some special significance to me. Losing Paul Reubens last week was tough, but we’re all going to the undiscovered country eventually, so I wasn’t upset. This Hank Stuever appreciation of Pee Wee (gift link) was very good and exactly right, I thought:

There were a lot of ways to both fall in love with Reubens’s character and to also find him annoying, but there was no denying that he, along with other retro acts (the B-52’s come to mind) had harnessed a longing for and a lampooning of a B-movie, mid-century vibe: In the high time of Pee-wee Herman, every fun city had at least one gift store that sold inflatable Godzillas and cat’s-eye sunglasses and chile-pepper Christmas lights along with sardonic, non-Hallmark greeting cards.

And, more important:

Now, in a culture derailed by childish taunts and vicious politics (“I know you are, but what am I — infinity”), fixated on all the wrong kinds of nostalgia, where drag queens and other groovy outliers are publicly pilloried and accused of trying to corrupt children, it is becoming quite clear that things are increasingly less safe for anyone who deigns to be different. Just when the world could use Pee-wee’s keen and welcoming sense of humor, we lost him.


OK then, deeper into August we go.

Posted at 12:36 pm in Movies, Popculch, Television | 85 Comments

Barbie and me.

I try not to march in lockstep with any movement, and I split with mainstream feminism over Barbie. The complaint about how her “impossible body proportions” made little girls feel bad about their own just struck me as silly. I guess you could find one or two women out there who could trace their body dysmorphia to a foot-tall plastic doll they played with as children, but it’s my experience that pretty much every woman alive has something about her body that she doesn’t like, whether they played with Barbies or not. So there.

I had a Barbie. And I had a Francie, who I always thought was Barbie’s friend but Barbie fan sites tell me I’m mistaken: She was Barbie’s “modern cousin” and wore “mod-style clothing.” Whatever. I liked her because she had long blonde hair I could brush, whereas my Barbie was the one with the brunette bubble cut, i.e. the one that terrified Sally Draper in “Mad Men.”

Anyway, I can’t say exactly when they arrived in my toy collection, but my guess is, I was around 8 or 9. I wasn’t thinking about body proportions then. My mother was a talented seamstress, and made her several outfits in addition to the striped swimsuit she came dressed in. Francie’s proportions were the same, so they shared the same clothes. And that is pretty much that, recollection-wise. The massive Barbie brand build-out seemed to trail my interest in the doll, which is to say, by the time the Dream House came onto the market, I had moved on. I had a carrying case that held the two dolls, with space in between for the clothes. The outfits were the splurge.

By the time Kate was born, the thing about Barbie that had changed most was the age period — she came into the house when Kate was very young, maybe 4? Also, the thing wasn’t to get one Barbie and a lot of outfits, but to get a ton of Barbies, period. They were cheap, and there were so many of them, you can see how the collecting mania began. (My neighbor’s in-laws were both deaf, and they all used ASL when they got together. Her mother-in-law gave her granddaughter ASL Barbie, which she was thrilled to have, but immediately told her — in ASL, presumably — that she could never take it out of the box, because it would ruin its value. My neighbor went out the next day and bought another one that the girl could actually play with. In-laws. What are you gonna do?)

Kate’s most memorable was Olympic Swimming Barbie, who came dressed in a swimsuit with a medal around her neck. You wound up a knob on her back and her arms windmilled wildly; she was a bathtub toy. She didn’t age well, and retired from swimming in a film of soap scum. There were others.

Olympic Swimming Barbie wasn’t in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which the three of us saw the other night. I…loved it. It was zany and funny and heartfelt and spot-on and just felt totally original. I read somewhere that Mattel has something like 18 more movies in the pipeline, based on their best-selling toys. I think they should shut it down now, because it’s all downhill from here. I feel especially bad for Lena Dunham, who’s said to be developing the Polly Pocket movie, which I wouldn’t see at gunpoint. Who cares about Polly Pocket? No one.

But Barbie could become “Barbie” because of all the cultural weight resting on her slender plastic shoulders, and Gerwig and her writing/life partner, Noah Brumbaugh Baumbach, put it all together like Tetris. When I saw Kate McKinnon’s name in the credits, I couldn’t imagine where they’d squeeze her in, but they figured out a way. (She’s Weird Barbie. She smells like basement.) By the time Barbie rolls out of Barbieland in her pink Corvette, singing the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” I was utterly under the spell. My only quibble might be Dan Savage’s, who wanted a scene acknowledging all the gay boys who secretly played with Barbie, and didn’t get one. A trans woman plays Doctor Barbie, and that seemed to be the only queer shoutout in the film, unless you count Michael Cera as Allan, Ken’s friend in that stupid striped beach coat. I didn’t.

Yes, there were moments late in the second act that dragged a bit, but who cares? It was a perfect, bubblegum-pink summer movie, and that’s all I want at this point. We were all charmed.

Francie wasn’t in it, though. Midge and Skipper were. I have no memory of breast-growing Skipper at all. Does anyone else?

Anyway, I had to wait a whole week to see this movie, scrolling quickly past think pieces, etc. Why does the “spoiler alert” window close after, what, 36 hours? Not everyone can see something on opening weekend. Which is my way of saying I won’t say any more. Just enjoy it.

And have a good week.

Posted at 4:44 pm in Movies, Popculch | 44 Comments

Oceans are now battlefields.

Until this weekend, I knew…thinking…one (1) person who had seen “Master and Commander,” one of my old KWF fellows in Ann Arbor. I said, “Jay, did you see any movies this weekend?” “Yeah, I checked out ‘Master and Commander.’ “How was it?” “I liked it.”

And with that, I forgot about “Master and Commander” for 20 years or so, when I learned the film, which is technically titled “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” is now a Thing, mainly and almost exclusively with young men, who apparently do things like this:

That’s the opening title of the film, directed by Peter Weir and starring his countryman Russell Crowe, based on – here’s another thing I simply didn’t know – what Roger Ebert calls the “beloved” novels of Patrick O’Brian, and there’s a whole series of them.

Clearly, on my own this weekend as Alan went fishing up north, it was time to check out “Master and Commander.” And like Jay, I liked it. Didn’t love it. I’m not a guy. But I liked it.

If you wanted to know what life at sea on a British man-o-war (the HMS Surprise) was like at the beginning of the 19th century (see tattoo above), this is your movie. Craftwise, it’s excellent; the battle scenes are amazing and give the viewer a real sense of what it must be like, to be far offshore on a wooden ship being hit by cannon fire. In between the framing battles that open and close the narrative, it’s kind of episodic. Here’s the scene where we see field medicine performed on deck by the ship’s surgeon. Here’s the scene where the surgeon operates on himself, using a mirror. Here’s the stop in the Galapagos Islands. And so on.

Essentially I’m in agreement with this GQ writer, a woman, who contends:

If you kidnapped a hundred of Hollywood’s top minds and forced them to work around the clock, they could not engineer a more exquisite Dad Movie. Though Master and Commander is ostensibly about the Surprise sailing to intercept a French enemy warship, the battle scenes, exhilarating as they may be, are few and far in between. The bulk of the film—and the heart of its charm—is instead a meticulous rendering of daily life at sea: the monotony of hard labor, the palpable threat of scurvy, the dirty-faced sailors who sleep in close quarters and grin through yellowed teeth. (You know it smells crazy in there.) Even better? All the screen time devoted to close conversations between Aubrey and Maturin, and their two-dude violin and cello jam sessions. You come away with a sense of satisfaction at their accomplishments and camaraderie, and just a bit of longing over a bygone way of life.

That’s just right. Check it out if you find yourself with a couple hours at your disposal and nothing on the teevee.

Otherwise, this weekend was a blur, running from one place to the next, although it was almost all fun. Met up with some friends at an out-of-the-way spot in the post-industrial stretches of Southwest Detroit. We sat on the patio while inside, a DJ mixed pop dance hits with mariachi. At one point I went inside to get another beer and noticed a satellite feed from some Spanish-speaking country, featuring, no shit, bare-knuckle boxing. I guess gloves are for “Master and Commander” fans. Saturday was a whirl of activity until I got home around 3:30 in the afternoon and said, Enough. Time for some Russell Crowe. Today I cleaned until Alan came home. We’ll celebrate Father’s Day tomorrow or later in the week; the Derringers don’t set much store on the Hallmark holidays.

Meanwhile, I read the news:

Sen. Joni Ernst says Iowans want someone who can “pull together” a divided country, and good luck with that, hon.

Yikes. The week lies ahead. Enjoy what’s left of your day, dads.

Posted at 4:48 pm in Current events, Movies | 62 Comments

Donna saved me.

I have friends who have moved…let me count… three or four times in 10 or so years, and honestly, I don’t know how the hell they’ve survived. My brother lived in a small apartment, the heavy stuff was already done by his younger friends, and still, two days of moving his dusty shit from one place to another left me grumpy and wrung out like a worn dishrag. Driving home, I was forced — forced, I say — to put Donna Summer singles on very very loud in my car, just to keep my spirits up for the final push from Toledo to Detroit.

Of course, it would help if he hadn’t lived in one of those hellscape ’70s-era apartment complexes, about a dozen or so units that all look like this:

I mean, every single one. I was trying to find his unit in this ghastly array, talking to my sister on the phone, and said, “I bet even the people who build this shit were depressed afterward.” Of course they weren’t; this was the ’70s, and complexes like these were going up everywhere. The better ones had pools, at least, but this one didn’t. Just these ugly mushroom-capped buildings, garages and… shudder.

But he’s in a better place now, in a better part of town. And I have rested and rehydrated, got some pool time and some non-crap food, and I feel mostly human again.

And I do recommend Donna for slow periods on the road. Especially “Hot Stuff” and any playlist called Disco Forever.

After I got home, I retrieved “Heat 2” from my local library; I had to wait long enough that I’d forgotten I was on the hold list. This is Michael Mann’s novel-as-sequel to his film “Heat,” one of my favorites; one night in France when it was pouring buckets outside, we stayed inside to watch it on Netflix with French subtitles (I thought I might pick up some tips on obscenities). I read the whole 460-page thing in three days, which is to say it’s a page-turner, but oy, it reads like Mann dictated the whole thing into voice memos and left Meg Gardiner, his co-author, to turn it into prose. The action sequences — see, I’m even using film jargon here — are described in the most minute detail, as are the weapons, while the female characters are basically a combination of stock adjectives for hair, skin and body.

However! If you were a fan of the movie, you’ll probably find it worth your while. It’s both a prequel and sequel to the story told in the film, so you get lots of Neil McCauley, Michael Cerrito and Chris Shiherlis, as well as Vincent Hanna. And the female characters are all beautiful, athletic, and move like lionesses. And if you like that stuff, you’ll like this stuff.

Now it’s Monday, and it’s time to get to work. Poached eggs and spinach for breakfast, I’m thinking. I need to start the week like Popeye.

Posted at 8:16 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

Poor Pam.

Did I mention I’m dog-sitting this week? Not at my house, theirs. It’s just a mile or so from my house, so it’s not a huge deal, but I’m sleeping over with the dogs, one of whom is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the other a cute little shit who thinks his cuteness excuses his in-house shitting. But whatever, they’re not my dogs, I’m just here to take care of them. What else do I have to do?

These friends of mine have all the streaming services, so I’ve been watching a lot of TV. One this week was the Pamela Anderson documentary on Netflix, “Pamela: A Love Story.” I didn’t get all the way through, but I saw enough to gather the gist: This sweet girl was fed into the sex-symbol meat grinder, had a wide range of experiences related to that, and is now telling her story, her face scrubbed of makeup.

This is, I’m sorry to say, an old story. A while back I noticed that single women past the age of 50 have a strong tendency to have lots of pets, and that all these pets sleep in their beds, up to and including 80-pound pitbulls. At the same time I can’t help but notice that when sex symbols worldwide age out of the role, they will inevitably swear off men forever and get heavily into animal charities. Brigitte Bardot, case in point. Anderson is following the same path; she sold her Malibu house for $11 million, bought her childhood home and a lot of surrounding land, and now lives in Vancouver with her parents and, you guessed it, a lot of animals.

Her latest marriage, to a construction worker on her reno project in Vancouver, didn’t last. This is a theme.

Not that I am judging. One thing that becomes clear, watching this heavily documented life play out in archival video, photos and readings from her own detailed journals is, this is a woman in love with love and always willing to take a chance on it. Also, she didn’t manage her money all that well, and from time to time she needed to marry someone with enough to support her.

And here’s the other thing: What happened to her, a process in which she was a willing and sometimes eager participant, was equal parts wild ride and tragedy. You look at old photos of her, from her teen years, and she is unrecognizable as source material for the bleached, pneumatically boobed, polished, waxed, sculpted creation that came later. Here she is at the literal beginning of her modeling career, when she was spotted at a Canadian sporting event by the Labatt’s crowd cam:

So pretty, so wholesome, right? Then Playboy magazine invited her to come down to L.A. and meet Hef, and that was the beginning. Breast implants, natch. Peroxide-blonde hair, but of course. I have no idea how many surgeries and procedures she’s had to maintain it all, but I’d guess plenty. Still pretty, still more or less natural:

Then the upper lip expanded, the eyebrows were tweezed into a high arch, the ridiculous Baywatch swimsuit was glued to her body and pretty soon she was getting married to Tommy Lee on a beach in Cancun. All this time men are staring at her, exposing themselves to her, pawing her, and, needless to say, masturbating frantically to her image. When women say, later, how uncomfortable they were with this level of literal exposure, I always want to ask: What did you think would happen? Had you ever seen a copy of Playboy? Sometimes, anticipating these questions, women will say, “They made me feel beautiful, which had never happened to me before,” and OK, I guess I understand. Anderson’s first sexual experience was a rape, and that does a number on your head. But none of this is a secret, and none of it was a secret when Anderson was drawn into it. She’s absolutely right that the obsession with her breasts was ridiculous, underlined by clip after clip of some late-night talk-show host goggling at them. (You know what that tells me? We need more female late-night talk-show hosts.)

But I can’t go along 100 percent with the “it turns out Pam was a person all along” hype. Everybody is a person, but we sometimes forget it. I’m glad that today’s sex symbols have more of a voice in these things; Emily Ratajkowski is photographed naked and semi-naked all the time, but also published a book of essays called “My Body.” I didn’t read it, but it was pretty respectfully reviewed. She had the advantage of coming along 20 years later.

Once again, we learn that women are human beings, and we should treat them as such, at least until they demonstrate, over and over, that either they consider themselves far, far better than the rest of us, or that their personhood is not something they value all that much, or that they have taken it to places where it’s clear they’re actually inviting the world’s judgment. Hello, Madonna and your latest terrifying face:

That’s her daughter, of course, Kate’s former classmate at U-M. She saw her once on the bus, and remarked, “She sure is pretty.” Careful, Lourdes. That’s what they said about Pam Anderson.

So the week starts. A few more days here, then a Shadow Show gig at the end of it. Should be good.

Posted at 5:36 pm in Movies, Popculch | 59 Comments