American what the-?

On the film “American Sniper,” I have no opinion. Had no opinion. Tell me lefty film buffs found it offensive, and I yawn. Tell me Michael Moore said snipers are cowardly sneaks, and I guffaw. Tell me it’s a crappy movie, and I shrug. Tell me it’s a great one, and ditto.

By which I mean, every piece of creative work isn’t for every single person. If liberals get movies that flatter their biases, why shouldn’t conservatives? So Clint Eastwood votes Republican; who cares? Judge his movies on their own merits. And since I really had no interest in seeing the Chris Kyle story dramatized on the big screen, I stayed away, content to savor Bradley Cooper’s Texas accent via the trailer and commercials. I read a few reviews about it. I know the outline of the story, and I figured I’d catch it when it came around on cable. Which it has.

The other day I surfed past “American Sniper” in progress on one of the premium channels and was caught up in the climactic scene, a firefight where Kyle takes a minute to pull out his sat phone under heavy fire and call his wife to tell her he’s ready to come home. Figured there were but 20 minutes or so left, and decided to watch. It unfolded pretty predictably: Chris the civilian is on edge, Chris needs some time to adjust. Chris attacks a family dog roughhousing with his children. Chris sits in a bar. And then, whaddaya know, here comes Chris walking into his kitchen with a revolver in his hand, through the living room where the kids are playing and into the kitchen. Jeez, is he going to shoot his wife? I don’t remember reading about this part. He points it at her and she doesn’t scream. In fact, she smiles. “Drop them drawers,” he says.

It’s a playful love scene! She throws up her hands, and they banter as he spins her around the kitchen, the gun still in one hand. I’m practically gasping at this example of responsible gun ownership in action. What are the pro-gun people always telling us? Relax, we have training. We secure our weapons. They are never anywhere a child could get to them. And so on. Apparently, having a weapon pulled is enough of a thing in the Kyle romantic-move catalog that the Missus doesn’t even blink. I was reminded of Janice Soprano confiding to Carmela that she isn’t worried about her fiancé, Richie Aprile, having a side piece because she’s the only one who would let him hold a gun to her head during sex. Carmela gasps, Janice shrugs and says, “Usually he takes the clip out.”

I went a-Googling to see if anyone else noticed this scene. Gail Collins did, bless her heart:

This is, by virtually any standard, insane behavior. Mike Huckabee, a big “American Sniper” fan, recently published a book called “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” which is so wildly opposed to any weapon regulation that Huckabee opens his chapter on modern education by complaining that public schools are anti-gun. Yet he also presents a list of universally accepted gun safety rules, many of which boil down to don’t point it at anybody as a joke.

…“American Sniper” could actually be seen, at least in the final scene, as a good-gun, bad-gun message. The real Chris Kyle did enjoy walking around the house, twirling a pistol. His wife said that as the clouds lifted after his Iraq service, he would playfully point a gun at the television and pretend to shoot down the bad guys.

No wonder we’re separating into two Americas. It’s not red and blue. It’s sane and insane.

So, now that we’ve gone there, another thing that was published a while back that I only saw a couple days ago: A very entertaining exegesis of the men who hate Hillary Clinton, and the, uh, interesting ways they express it:

Let’s begin with Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., author of “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House,” since if Hillary’s biographer-foes sound like embittered ex-husbands, in Tyrrell, founder and editor-in-chief of the far-right American Spectator, we’re fortunate to have a biographer who’s occasionally mused in print about his actual ex-wife. So who gets it worse—Hillary or the ex? Actually it’s a toss-up. Who would have predicted: coincidentally it turns out that Madame Tyrrell and Madame Hillary share an uncanny number of similar traits. Hillary’s a self-righteous, self-regarding narcissist, “a case study in what psychiatrists call ‘the controlling personality,” and assumes the world will share her conviction that she’s always blameless. Compare with Tyrrell on the soon-to-be-ex, from his political memoir The Conservative Crack-Up: “She resorted to tennis, then religion, and then psychotherapy. Finally she tried divorce—all common American coping mechanisms for navigating middle age.” When Tyrrell worries that suburban women will secretly identify with Hillary’s independence and break from their husbands’ politics in the privacy of the voting booth, clearly suburban women’s late-breaking independence is territory he has cause to know and fear.

Hillary’s disposition is dark, sour, and conspiratorial; she has a paranoid mind, a combative style, is thin-skinned, and “prone to angry outbursts.” Whereas the ex-Mrs. T., we learn, was afflicted with “random wrath”; and as divorce negotiations were in their final stages, threatened to make the proceedings as public and lurid as possible. Hillary has “a prehensile nature,” which makes it sound like she hangs from branches by her feet. (Tyrrell has always fancied himself a latter day Mencken, flashing his big vocabulary around like a thick roll of banknotes.) And while he nowhere actually says that his ex-wife hung from branches by her feet, the reference to protracted divorce negotiations probably indicates that “grasping”—the definition of prehensile (I had to look it up)—is a characterization he wouldn’t argue with. When Tyrrell writes of Bill and Hillary that there was an emotional side to the arrangement, with each fulfilling the other’s idiosyncratic needs, as we see, he’s been there himself.

It gets better:

On the sexual creepiness meter, Klein gets some stiff competition from Carl Limbacher, who writes for the far-right news outlet NewsMax and is the author of “Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House.” Here’s another biographer a little too keen to nose out the truth about Hillary’s sexuality: Bill Clinton is a predator, Hillary digs it, and this is the key that unlocks her character. If Hillary didn’t literally hold down the victims while Bill did the deed, she was complicit nonetheless—“a victimizer who actually enabled her husbands predations,” since “a woman with half the intellect of Hillary Clinton would understand that she’s married to a ravenous sexual predator at best—a brutal serial rapist at worst.” At least he compliments her intellect. I’m dying to know what Limbacher imagines Hillary’s wearing when he fantasizes about her in the henchwoman-to-rape role—her Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS outfit or the navy blue pantsuit.

I recall it was said of Bill Clinton that he was fortunate in his enemies. That goes doubly so for Barack Obama, and probably triply so for Hillary. I cringe to imagine what the discourse over President Hillary will be. Just cringe.

OK, then, let’s get to the miscellanea:

Thanks to Jeff for bringing me up to date on the many lavish purchases of Leslie Wexner, Columbus tycoon and probably the richest person I ever interviewed. (He was very polite and sent me a lovely handwritten thank-you note later.) He appears to have bought a Downton Abbey-like house in the Cotswolds, solely to have a nice shooting estate for his wife, who is a trap and skeet enthusiast. They use it two weeks out of the year. I wonder if they use beaters, and whether they carry their own guns.

Chris Christie was kicked out of the quiet car, or, as the NYPost calls it, Amtrak’s “notorious” quiet car. I’ve heard anecdotal quiet-car stories that lead me to… not take a side on this one. No, not even the governor of New Jersey can yell into a cell phone in the quiet car; that’s why the quiet car exists. On the other hand, it seems quiet-car denizens can get upset by the quiet rattle of a keyboard, so there’s that. As someone who lives in a place where commuter rail is essentially non-existent, I’ll be Switzerland here.

And that’s it for the weekend, then. Shall we bite the new week in the ankle? Let’s.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Movies | 52 Comments

And we’re wrapped.

Well, we made it back. You get in the car in the crystalline, low-humidity loveliness of the north woods, and you stop for gas somewhere around Saginaw, where the air is smudgy and your hair immediately plasters itself to your skull like a wet towel.

(“I’m going to miss this place,” I said on our last day. “My hair looks the same in the evening as when I dried it in the morning.” Alan: “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Only women notice hair.)

It was a nice time. We didn’t do much, by design. Alan fished every night and some days, and I read “Missoula,” by Jon Krakauer; “The Drop” by Dennis Lehane; and “Between the World and Me,” Ta’Nehisi Coates, as well as some rereading — an old Travis McGee pulper I found in the cottage, and Laura Lippman’s “When She Was Good.” And a kinky romance about a woman with rape fantasies, because I read an interesting story about this market niche somewhere, and wanted to see what it was about. They’re all e-books and as cheap as candy bars. (Noted some details, including this: While women notice hair, when they write erotic fiction, they don’t spend a lot of time describing the women involved, for obvious reasons. The reader is free to imagine herself in the starring role. Sex scenes written by men are the opposite. I gave up on one popular crime novelist 20 pages into my first try, when he described his main character, a woman with the usual high, firm breasts and tight, round ass and long, long legs, etc. The real eye-roller — and book-closer — was her smooth olive skin and violet eyes. I’m like, pick one, dude. You don’t get both in the same gene pool.)

“Missoula” was a rare Krakauer disappointment for me, strong out of the gate and mired around the halfway point with courtroom procedural passages begging for a chainsaw edit. It was also about rape, the real, non-fantasy kind, but it was really about alcohol. And “Between the World and Me” is a heartbreaker, but an absolutely necessary one, and I highly recommend it.

At night, when I wasn’t reading and Alan was fishing, I watched movies. The house we were in didn’t have cable or an antenna, so I couldn’t watch the Republican debate, but it did have a DVD player and an uneven selection of movies. First were the good ones I’d already seen (“Michael Clayton,” “The Departed”) and then some fun crap (“Dirty Harry”), before finishing with ones I’d only heard about and never got around to seeing, like “The Green Mile.” Sixteen years after its release, I offer this review: P-U. (Alan suggested an alternate title: “Mr. Jingles and the Magical Negro.”) Last up was “The Grey,” which I turned off 30 minutes in while contemplating forming a Wolf Anti-Defamation League. Not just bad, offensively so.

And that was about it. We lost power in the big storm for a day and change, popped over to Traverse City for an afternoon and watched Wendy excavate the outside woodpile for two solid hours, trying to get the red squirrel squeaking inside. No cell service, no internet unless we drove through a coverage zone. And we floated a few miles of the Au Sable, and it looked like this:


Pure Michigan.

It looks like y’all had a good week. I still have a few pages to go in the Coates book, mainly because on the way home, as soon as we drove into cell coverage, my phone exploded with this story, about the Tea Party legislator I wrote about in April. Turns out he was sleeping with his legislative ally, and — you can read all the tawdry details at the link. The rumors about them started flying after my story ran, and I wondered whether they might be true, then decided such a hookup would be too Hollywood for words, like Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan getting it on in “M*A*S*H.” It turns out that sometimes reality is just that — Hollywood. I keep looking at my notes, and the story, wondering if it was in front of me all along. Maybe it was:

Just yesterday, Courser posted, on his website and Facebook, a 3,300-word defense of Gamrat, referring to “the forces of tyranny” that are “attempting to silence a huge voice for liberty,” i.e. Gamrat, and calling on Speaker Cotter to reinstate her. He chides Cotter repeatedly and implies the Speaker – the leader of his own party’s caucus – lied about Gamrat to justify her ejection.

New rule: When a man tops 3K words defending a female colleague, look harder.

Anyway, I’m doing a Michigan Radio interview this morning, along with the reporter who broke the story. Should be fun. I’ll pop into the comments with a listen-live link when I get it.

I see you guys kept the bloggage going in my absence, so I don’t have a whole lot to offer, as I’m just catching up myself. This profile of an uncooperative Chelsea Clinton was very good, I thought. I found it via Hank Stuever, who commented on his Facebook that perhaps his parents had taken Jacqueline Onassis’ advice about raising their daughter in the White House to a fault: “When Caroline Kennedy sort of ran for office a few years ago, one single interview with the NYT made it clear that a lifetime of being sheltered from challenging questions had not done her any favors at all. She was in no way ready for real politics or much of anything that wasn’t ceremonial and scripted. Ergo, her current job — ambassador to Japan.” Chelsea is the same, I fear. Much posing and smiling, not much else.

Oh, and Coozledad sent along this wonderful piece from his local alt-weekly. Speaking of atrocious writing.

So the week begins anew, and I’m tanned (a little), rested (mostly) and ready (better be). Hope you are, too.

Posted at 12:06 am in Current events, Movies, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 39 Comments

The title is the review, sorta.

“Trainwreck,” the Amy Schumer movie that opened earlier this month, plays like a third-draft script (six were probably needed), made by people who simply don’t care about such things. It’s too long. Individual scenes go on forever and some don’t end so much as they run out of gas. There are weird tonal shifts. I kept hearing the voice of my screenwriting teacher in my ear, saying, “But how does this raise the stakes? What’s the point of this action?” As a reinvention of the rom-com, I give it a B-minus — tries hard, chickens out in the end. In other words, as much Judd Apatow as Schumer. Oh, well.

And yet, I laughed throughout and am glad I saw it. I wanted 30 percent more Tilda Swinton, 25 percent more LeBron James, 8 percent less Hollywood sex, i.e., the kind actors have in movies when they have contractually agreed not to show their nude bodies. You see it on premium cable a lot; I call it bra sex because actresses on HBO — at least the ones famous enough to have their names in the credits — are the only women who keep their bras on during the act. There’s one scene — again, too long and sorta pointless — where Schumer seems to be having sex entirely clothed, while her boyfriend, the pro wrestler John Cena, is entirely naked.

I’d like to have seen 15 percent more John Cena, too. Cena is sort of delightful, even with his clothes on, as is James. In fact, all the pro athletes in this mess are pretty great playing themselves, with the exception of poor Chris Evert, who reads two or three lines like a hostage statement, but then again — the scene she was in is terrible and makes no sense. See above.

Someday we’ll look back and realize that while “Saturday Night Live” gave a lot of promising actors a good start, it was mainly a waste of time, comedically. Improv and riffing can be wonderful things, but in a movie, it better sing. And a lot of “Trainwreck” is, in comparison, humming.

That said, the funny stuff is really funny. There’s an opening-scene flashback to her father’s explanation of why her parents are divorcing, a long speech about cheating and dolls, that’s hysterical. If it had stayed that funny and sharp throughout, it’d be perfect. Alas.

That was Saturday night. Friday night was a free Bootsy Collins show at Campus Martius park. It’s always interesting to attend events in the central business district that more accurately reflect the racial mix of the city as a whole. It was a hot night, hotter in the crowd, so after a while we extracted ourselves from the press and wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and some more remote listening. These folks were all around:



I see bikes tricked out like this every so often, first at the Dlectricity festival nighttime bike parade. I actually looked into adding some really flashy LEDs to my own ride, just for the sake of visibility. It added up real fast, and required battery packs and other foofraw I didn’t want to mess with. Glad to see someone’s getting creative.

Links? Maybe.

Reading this story, about the strangeness of digital memories after the corporeal has passed — i.e, death — inspired me to write a letter, including all my social-media account logins and passwords, and seal it in an envelope with “J.C. Burns” written on the outside. It’s going in with my estate documents. I’m putting him in charge of my digital archive; he can have all the blog content to do with as he sees fit, and I’m asking him to seek out and destroy my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as whatever else piles up in the interim. I’ve known a few people on those platforms who’ve died, and it absolutely kills me to get notifications of their birthdays, or to go to their pages and see people leaving miss-you messages months or years later. When I’m gone, I want to be gone.

If you had asked me last week what I wanted to read about the Lingerie Football League, I’d answer, “Um, nothing?” I was wrong. This was interesting:

A primer: Yes, they play football while wearing next to nothing; and yes, the spirals and tackles and playbooks are real. No, most players are not aspiring models or actresses; and no, they do not get paid. “If we paid a dime to a player, we wouldn’t sustain a season of play,” says Mitchell Mortaza, the league’s founder and chairman.

They practice seven to eight months a year, often three times a week. They show up in tank tops to sports bars and tailgates, where they sell tickets and promote the league. When they walk into the arena, they are transformed. “There is nothing,” says one former player, “like stepping onto that field and getting ready to knock a bitch out.” Although their sport can be a source of intense joy, it also creates acute pain. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Medical bills mount, and often, no support arrives. For some, hopelessness sets in: Are my skills really worth nothing? Few complain about the lingerie. They’re bothered more by what their uniforms seem to represent: that they are replaceable bodies, each no more valuable than the last.

“No one is here to watch you play football,” players say Mortaza has told them.

Raising children is hard. Raising children in public in the age of the smartphone is harder.

And with that, we march forth to face Monday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping, Movies | 46 Comments

What a lovely day!

So here I am on Memorial Day, staring at a Facebook post that wishes all a “happy” one. Sigh. Every generation that goes by in which it is no longer common to have service members at all levels of society, in most families, and these things are going to keep happening.

For the record: Veterans Day is when we honor all veterans. Memorial Day is when we honor dead ones. It used to be those killed in action, but has expanded to mean those who served and died later — fine with me, as the more we learn about PTSD, the more it seems that even those who came home more or less in one piece may later be considered a casualty of the wars they fought in.

Neither occasion, Veterans or Memorial, strikes me as a happy one. War is hell. You may have read that somewhere.

But as the years pile up between us and our closest serving family member, the more the day just means another long weekend, the official start of summer, a day for barbecues and backyard sprawling, and I suppose that’s fine, too. Free country and all.

My sole connection with the martial was taking Kate to see “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Holy shit, but I could feel my hair being blown back by that one. Of all the genres available at the local cineplex, sci-fi and action are the ones most likely to leave me cold. CGI has taken much of the fun out of watching stunts, and the scripts for dreck like the “Taken” franchise leave me cold. I like my action stories to have at least one foot in reality if they’re set in our world, but Mad Max takes place in an apocalyptic future that makes its own kind of sense. Quite a bit of sense, actually; the imagery was so firehose-like I found myself groping for a remote to stop the action and just examine some of the frames, but no deal — that thing started at a gallop and never really let up. There were nods to the original, sly observations about the present, and on a dark future to come.

Did I mention we saw it in 3-D? Mind-blowing. And then there was this guy. Oh, and these guys. And about a million other guys. Fun fact: The five young women who represent the booty (sorry) at the center of the story include Elvis’ granddaughter and Lenny Kravitz’ daughter.

Other than that, it was a typical weekend with a little extra added on. Cookin’, shoppin’, eatin’, drinkin’. Droppin’ Gs everywhere. You?

I did do something new on Friday, to kick off the weekend — tried a boxing workout at a new place nearby. LOVED IT. But my bad knee HATED IT, which means I now have to figure out a way to float like a butterfly while not actually doing so. The stinging like a bee was easier, and the next day I felt it in my arms in places I didn’t know existed, always the sign of a good workout. It’s a little scary, how good punching feels. I shuffled a mental slideshow of my enemies list on the heavy bag, and did some serious virtual nose-bloodying. Another fun fact: Nearly everyone who works out at this place is female. True, it’s a boxing fitness space and not actual, hit-someone boxing training, but still — you’d think it’d be one place you’d see more men than at a yoga class. Maybe Mad Max is on to something: You want a fierce warrior, pick someone with XX chromosomes.

This weekend also passed without any of us stopping at the Movement electronic music festival at Hart Plaza. Ticket prices this year? $75 for one day, $150 for all three. To watch some guy or guys stand on a stage in front of an Apple laptop? I wish I were kidding.

I don’t think for a minute Jeb Bush is faltering as badly as Charles Pierce thinks he is, but he makes some good points here: He’s whiffing on some very slow pitches.

And as it was a holiday weekend and I mostly stayed away from the internet, that’s what I have today. Short week ahead! Let’s enjoy it.

Posted at 12:31 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 33 Comments

Fifty shades.

The other day I fell into a rabbit hole. It’s easy to do online. You follow one link, then another, then another and soon you’re looking at something like this, amusingly titled “Why Kindles Can Wreck Your Marriage”:

Look, I think sharing “sexy” thoughts with one’s husband, and flirting, and playing together is all pretty great. I am not against sexual play or sexual fun at all. But when we use something outside of marriage to get aroused, we’re transferring our sexual energy from our spouse. And if you then have sex with your spouse after getting aroused some other way, it becomes increasingly difficult to “be present” when you make love. Your mind starts to focus on what you were reading, not on your husband. And that’s not really making love.

This is an argument, I should clarify, against reading romance novels.

I’ve been around certain extremely Christian Christians enough to understand this is their definition of marriage: Two pythons tying themselves into knots, all the while proclaiming the unique strength of their bond, which was after all given by GOD HIMSELF. And in many cases I don’t even think it’s so awful; I think if people paid less attention to their children and more to their marriages, the children would take care of themselves. But at the same time, it makes me understand why they have higher divorce rates than the rest of us, too. A hug can feel like smothering if it goes on too long. And face it, does anyone want to live in a world where you can’t imagine Clive Owen with his pants off from time to time?

What prompted all this is “Fifty Shades of Gray,” a book I haven’t read and a movie I won’t see, at least until it comes around on Netflix and I’m sick with the flu or something. But judging from some of the social-media chatter I’ve seen lately, it appears to have unhinged a segment of the religious among us, who cannot be convinced that the vast majority of BDSM relationships are a) consensual; and b) no big deal. Personally? I don’t want to be spanked as a prelude to sex, but I understand others do, and I don’t think it qualifies as mental illness.

One of those things you inevitably read in any profile of a sex worker who specializes in this stuff is some version of: “Some of my most loyal clients are very powerful men.” It’s like: Duh. You spend all day influencing global exchange rates or lowering the tax bills of multinational corporations or bringing 747s in for a safe landing? Maybe you welcome a safe space where you can lay down that burden, have your hands cuffed to a bed frame and hear some lady in leather tell you what a bad, bad boy you’ve been.

As for women, well, we run the whole damn world, at least the part that involved getting dinner on the table and kids off to school and cookies made for a church bake sale. You don’t have to have aced Psych 101 to see why all those ladies made a bestseller out of a terribly written book that featured a woman who is blindfolded and restrained, so that her lover can fiddle with her: Oh, you mean I don’t have to run this show? Kind, kind sir!

The rougher stuff is a different breed of cat, but hey — as long as everyone’s clear on the boundaries and knows the safe word? Who cares.

Meanwhile, David Edelstein says the movie’s not so bad. And what a surprise:

The movie’s biggest surprise is its powerful affirmation of family values. It’s Jane Eyre with ropes. That this vanilla bean has been denounced by religious decency brigades while female churchgoers pleasure themselves over advance tickets is further proof of America’s insane cultural bifurcation — or trifurcation, if you count the worriers who predict that women’s shelters will have to add more beds to accommodate battered copycats. Are there really people who still think that watching a man tie up a woman and both of them get off is the gateway to hell?

Yeah, that sounds about right. This is Hollywood, after all. Meanwhile, I add this phenomenon to the list of Things I Am Not, Nor Ever Will Be, Into, which includes the “Sex and the City” movies, Uggs and the novels of Nicholas Sparks.

Some bloggage? OK:

This profile of young Scott Walker, college dropout, is essential reading for those who want to know more about him. As Hank said on Facebook, there’s a version of this guy on every college campus.

As we’re closing in on V-Day and I mentioned it above, this Esther Perel TED talk on maintaining desire in a long-term relationship is pretty damn smart, and a phenom all its own. Bonus: If you watch it, you pretty much have the gist of her book.

Back to edits. Have a great Thursday.

Posted at 8:51 am in Movies, Popculch | 36 Comments


In the glorious indolence of the holidays, the Derringers went out as one to see “Wild” yesterday. (Football? What football?) I told Kate afterward that when I was her age, such a film was unthinkable — or only thinkable if the hero was a man, and what was waiting at the end wasn’t the last stop on a long journey, but a girl in a dress, backlit by the sun. The thought of the main character being a difficult woman, and an unapologetic one at that, would really be too much to expect.

That said, Reese Witherspoon’s woeful lack of preparation for her thousand-mile journey reminded me of our own backpacking adventure on Isle Royale around the same time. We were far better prepared — had done quite a bit of research on packing, load distribution, smart gear and the like — and there’s still no feeling like the first time you hoist your pack, buckle it on and think, dear God what have I gotten myself into? To this day, I read about the 50- or 60-pound packs humped around the Middle East by our soldiers — in 100-degree heat, no less — and wonder how in the world they do it, even being young, strong and male.

Actually, Witherspoon’s character wasn’t really unprepared. She just did the thing everyone does: She overpacked. You think you’ll need all this crap that you don’t need, and by the end of day one, you start making the ruthless choices: We’re eating Rice-a-Roni tonight, because it’s heavier than the dehydrated stuff, for instance.

But the rewards of such outings are considerable. Ten days in the backcountry really has a way of scrubbing your brain, and when you come out? The first meal of fresh food is a banquet set by God himself. (I’m talking about a salad made with iceberg lettuce and the customary pink tomato here.) A shower, ditto. And to shave your legs and put on clean, nice clothes again? A queen dressing for coronation never felt so grand. Picking up a newspaper and catching up on what you missed is similarly surreal, as you feel equal parts I-can’t-believe-I-missed-this-important-news and why-did-I-ever-pay-attention-to-this-crap-in-the-first-place. And then you get on the boat, it pulls out of Rock Harbor, and slowly, slowly, you return to the world.

I liked that both the book and movie spent very little time on what the landscape looked like; there are few lessons on botany and fauna, and a lot of POV shots of boots trudging forward, one step at a time. That’s what backpacking is. You’re a mule, and you see the world from a mule’s perspective. Sight-seeing is reserved for water breaks and rest stops. You look, you think that’s nice, and you put the pack back on, drop your head, and return to trudging.

In other news at this hour, I understand some sporting competitions were held yesterday, and the outcomes were pleasing to many in this and former neighborhoods of mine.

Also, the scolds at Lake Superior State U. got their customary coverage for their silly word list. Here’s some more. I wonder if this list is taught in marketing classes; it should be.

Chapter a zillion in the perils of social-media commentary.

I haven’t seen a story yet that compares with this explanation of how a 2-year-old came to fatally shoot his mother with her own gun at an Idaho Walmart. (She was carrying a loaded handgun in a new purse with a “special zippered pocket” for a weapon. And while it’s unwise to judge people on the things they say in the throes of terrible grief, this takes some sort of cake:

(The woman’s father-in-law) isn’t just sad — he’s angry. Not at his grandson. Nor at his dead daughter-in-law, “who didn’t have a malicious fiber in her body,” he said. He’s angry at the observers already using the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights.

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said. “… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”

For an antidote, I suggest this Neil Steinberg blog on the same subject.

Happy weekend to all. See you back here after it’s gone.

Posted at 9:36 am in Current events, Movies | 62 Comments

More unraveling.

Not that it matters so much anymore, but the Rolling Stone rape story is unraveling further. Slate picks apart the revelations, and comes to the money shot:

Here’s the most disturbing journalistic detail to emerge from the Post’s reporting: In the Rolling Stone story, Erdely says that she contacted Randall, but he declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” Randall told the Post he was never contacted by Erdely and would have been happy to be interviewed.

That could mean one of two things: Jackie could have given Erdely fake contact information for Randall and then posed as Randall herself, sending the reporter that email in which he supposedly declined to participate in the story. Erdely also could have lied about trying to contact Randall. Rolling Stone might have hinted at this possibility in its “Note to Our Readers” when it referred to a “friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone)” but later spoke to the Washington Post. That would take Erdely a big step beyond just being gullible and failing to check her facts, moving this piece in the direction of active wrongdoing.

I take no satisfaction from this, believe me. This has moved from making rape victims look bad to making journalists look even worse. I simply don’t understand how anyone with a shred of skepticism could swallow that story.

However, the day also provided this delightful bit of reading material, at least for film fans and devotees of “Boogie Nights” — an oral history of the very same film. I’m only partway through, and have already learned that Sean Penn was in consideration for the Alfred Molina role. I hope it’s a testament to how well the film worked that I can’t imagine his craggy old face yelling, “Come on, you puppies!” Loved that movie.

Posted at 9:10 am in Media, Movies | 55 Comments

Mike Nichols, RIP.

So sorry to hear about Mike Nichols. It’s the sorriest Mike Nichols news since he married Diane Sawyer, in fact, but there’s no accounting for taste. (You just hate to see artists you genuinely admire fall for former Nixon staffers with a fondness for those steamed-shower-door soft lenses.) Anyway, rest in peace, Mr. Nichols, and thanks for Mrs. Robinson.

I know Mrs. Robinson was a creation of many people, including Charles Webb, who wrote the novel “The Graduate” is based on; Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay; Anne Bancroft, who played her; and Nichols, who directed her performance. Like Roger Ebert, I saw “The Graduate” when I was young and thought it was about one thing, and then watched it years later and realized it’s all about another thing, i.e., Mrs. Robinson.

I recommend clicking through this not-too-long slideshow at New York magazine, an appreciation of Mrs. Robinson’s “scary chic.” I was ashamed that I never noticed all her leopard prints until now. Nothing happens on a movie set by accident, so I have to assume it was deliberate, to underline either a) her sexiness (the writer correctly points out that was pretty much the only choice for mid-’60s lingerie that needed to telegraph that message), her wild-animal spirit (she’s a very, very bored lioness), or maybe something else. The term “cougar” to describe a sexually aggressive older woman hadn’t been coined yet. Maybe Nichols was ahead of his time that way.

(Oh, and as to the “older” thing: Bancroft was 36 when she played the part, and the character was probably about 40-42 — she got pregnant in college and has a college-age daughter. Ebert explains she was aged with shadows and makeup, but wowsa, that’s one sexy broad.) Ebert:

“The Graduate,” released in 1967, contains no flower children, no hippies, no dope, no rock music, no political manifestos and no danger. It is a movie about a tiresome bore and his well-meaning parents. The only character in the movie who is alive–who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness–is Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Seen today, “The Graduate” is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter.


Roy has a little more on his theatrical career, as well as his glorious early days with Elaine May.

I also loved “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and …most of the rest of his work. You just knew he was going to bring it.

Have a great weekend, all. I’ll be…working.

Posted at 7:00 pm in Movies | 68 Comments

Happy birthday to us.

I’m telling you, when Columbus gets five inches of snow in mid-November — it is still mid-November, right? — and Detroit only an inch, well…I don’t know what that means. Probably that weather varies widely and isn’t necessarily north = more.

Still. Brr. We’re supposed to get strong winds, too, so I expect a week of misery.

It was birthday weekend around here — Kate’s 18th, Alan’s (mumble). The former got a fuzz pedal for her bass and a pair of Doc Martens, perhaps my least-favorite shoe for girls in the universe, but the thing about gifts is, they’re for the recipient, not the giver. And if you’re legally an adult, you can decide what you want to wear on your feet. Especially if you’re already hanging out in bars:


That was Friday night. The crowd was sparse, the other acts pretty pallid, and the bartender indifferent, but when your lineup isn’t bringing in the sales, what can you expect? Which is to say, Alan had to buy four bottled waters for the girls so they wouldn’t get parched under that dazzling neon.

Saturday went along with it, sorta; we watched “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which may be my favorite Detroit-shot movie since “Out of Sight.” It’s not great, but it’s a wonderful look at the crazy city and its charms, which is especially well-suited to the story of two vampires making their way through the modern world. Googling around at the reviews, I notice a couple critics mention their house “on the outskirts of Detroit.” Ha! That house is in the heart of Detroit, and while some of the shots are angled to cut out the surroundings and emphasize its solitude, well, it pretty much nails the fabulous, ruined area of Brush Park. We don’t have nearly that many coyotes — at least not in town. They’d have to fight the stray pit bulls, and I don’t think they’re that tough.

A little bloggage from the weekend:

Something I learned from Neil Steinberg’s great column (reprinted from 2008) on “Porgy and Bess:”

The bottom line is that African-American artists embraced the work. Both Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier — neither a cream-puff — sang Porgy. The entire cast is black, as required by the Gershwin estate — in reaction, the story goes, to the horror of Al Jolson pushing to cast himself as a blackface Porgy.

When Mitch Albom starts a column with the words “In the old days,” you know what you should do, right? Yes: Don’t read the rest. But if you want to, be my guest, and consider: This is one of the most successful writers in the U.S.A. No wonder the vampires are worried.

A corporate sponsor dials back support for a sport (rock climbing) where risk-taking may be getting out of hand:

Among those whose contracts were withdrawn were Alex Honnold and Dean Potter, each widely credited with pushing the boundaries of the sport in recent years. They had large roles in the film, mainly showing them climbing precarious routes barehanded and without ropes, a technique called free soloing. Potter also was shown highlining, walking across a rope suspended between towering rock formations.

Other climbers who lost their Clif Bar contracts were Timmy O’Neill and Steph Davis, who spends much of her time BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed object, like a building, an antenna, a span or earth) and wing-suit flying. Last year, her husband, Mario Richard, was killed when he crashed in a wing suit.

I’ve seen wing suit videos, and for the life of me, I don’t understand how a suit that turns you into a flying squirrel can overcome the weight of the human body. But then, I’m no daredevil.

We in this part of the country may all have to be daredevils tomorrow. I hope your commute is not too slippery.

Posted at 5:57 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 34 Comments

Amateur hour.

Alan and I went to the movies Saturday night, in another congressional district. Our stroll from parking lot to theater took us past a couple of yard signs for a candidate for something. I noted that I would be disinclined to like him based on the verb on his very simple signs: Not “vote” for the man in question, but “hire” him.

That one word tells me so much — that he’s likely one of those guys who thinks “making a payroll” is a core skill for the office, because running a plumbing supply house has so much to do with tax policy and balancing the greater good with constituent service.

I thought of that guy when I read Neil Steinberg’s excellent blog making the case against voting for Bruce Rauner for governor of Illinois. Like a lot of great writing, it starts out being about one thing, and takes its time getting to the thing it’s actually about, and makes you sit back and say, Of course. It’s hard not to break my three-paragraph preview rule with this one:

The Curse of the Amateur often afflicts wealthy men in late middle age. Having succeeded wildly in one field, their egos and ignorance are such they assume they can march into some other completely unrelated area and master that too. Henry Ford, fresh from his success at selling Model Ts, decided he would end World War I. He didn’t. Bill Gates, having made a fortune in software, decided to end the woes of Africa. He didn’t. Those woes turned out to be a problem bigger than money.

Can anyone glance at Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and not recognize the Curse of the Amateur? Here’s a guy, 57 years old, who never ran for anything, forget being elected to any public office. He’s someone who has never performed any kind of public service beyond very recently, after he decided he would be governor and started suddenly funding schools and firehosing the money he has so much of this way and that and calling it civic mindedness.

So he campaigns. And his ignorance of, his contempt for, the job he would take on, is so great, that he presents his utter lack of experience as his most enticing attribute. It’s pure hypocrisy. Who can imagine that Rauner would accept that logic in his own affairs? Who believes that anyone could go to him and say, “You know, your Excelo Widget Company isn’t doing so well. I am uncorrupted by any sort of experience making or selling widgets, so am just the man for you to bring in as CEO.”

Yes, exactly. I live in a different state than Steinberg, but this argument is common in politicking these days, and it never fails to rankle.

(A side note to rant about autocorrect, which is starting to loom as a major factor in my writing life these days. For every time it spares me from having to stop typing and fix a few transposed letters, it leads me into dangerous waters in another area. For example, when I wrote “Neil Steinberg” up there, it changed the surname to “Sternberg.” WTF? Apple has an autocorrect that doesn’t understand proper names? This is pissing me off. That said, I’m sure there’s a setting that can be tweaked, and J.C. will write to inform me of it shortly.)

The movie we saw Saturday was “Birdman,” (which autocorrect just changed to “Birman,” grr) and all of you with an interest in art, theater, compromise, self-doubt and any related theme are encouraged to go see it. I’m trying to keep up with the Oscar contenders this year, rather than trying to cram them all into the holiday weeks and/or on-demand cable in February. Last week we saw “Gone Girl,” which I was surprised to like quite a lot — far better than the book, which had me eye-rolling and skipping pages by the final chapters.

The other day I mentioned my love of boxing, and a few of you shuddered. I hope you will put your bad feelings aside and read this great profile of Bernard Hopkins, still defending two of the four major light-heavyweight belts at the astonishing age of 49. This passage sums up what I’ve started to appreciate in boxing, why I watch on the Saturday nights that HBO or Showtime has a card going:

Unlike most other boxers, who train down to their fighting weight only when they have a bout coming up, Hopkins keeps himself right around the 175-pound light-heavyweight limit. Fight people marvel at the ascetic rigor that has kept him perpetually in superb shape for almost three decades, his habit of returning to the gym first thing Monday morning after a Saturday-night fight, the list of pleasurable things he won’t eat, drink or do. But to fetishize the no-nonsense perfection of his body, which displays none of the extraneous defined muscular bulk that impresses fans but doesn’t help win fights, is to miss what makes Hopkins an exemplar of sustaining and extending powers that are supposed to be in natural decline. He has no peer in the ability to strategize both the round-by-round conduct of a fight and also the shifts and adjustments entailed by an astonishingly long career in the hurt business. He has kept his body supple and fit enough to obey his fighting mind, but it’s the continuing suppleness of that mind, as he strategizes, that has always constituted his principal advantage.

Opponents don’t worry about facing his speed or power. They fear what’s going on in his head.

A great read.

The week upcoming is going to be a crusher, with the election and yours truly working around it. So I warn you of the usual holes, gaps and scantiness, but I’ll try. In the meantime, I leave you with one more take on Ben Bradlee, which you should read just to get to this passage:

Meanwhile, the Post’s op-ed pages — that hotbed of stupendously clueless commentary that was separated from the Outlook section in 2009 — prominently featured on the same Sunday a piece to warm the cockles of Hayward’s heart: a fire-breathing offering from former Hewlett-Packard head and indefatigable John McCain crony Carly Fiorina. This bold tocsin, titled “A time for businesses to stand up to activists,” derides climate change activists who have targeted corporate boards in an effort to jump-start action on global warming. In Fiorina’s fanciful telling, business leaders now cringe in fear before a disciplined cadre of “well-organized, professional activists intent on chilling speech and marginalizing the voice of business and job creators in U.S. society … Their attacks on business’ protected speech and political participation are intended to sideline the entrepreneurial perspective and silence the opportunity for nuanced policy discussions.” Never mind that a standing armada of industry lobbyists has kept progress on climate change legislation on total lockdown for the past decade.

Let me pose a follow-up question to Ignatius’ sermon. Why would Bradlee’s old paper publish such patently distorted, power-coddling twaddle? I know from bitter experience that op-ed shops at major papers routinely repurpose these corporate PR briefs in their pages because they professionally adhere to a phony centrism. They believe that responsible journalism is the equivalent of a cuckoo clock display, in which one side warbles at the other and then retires to await its next formulaic set-to an hour hence. How can we have a nuanced debate, after all, if the poor speech-challenged business and job creators who already bankroll the entire electoral process aren’t also protected from dissenting views in their boardrooms or on editorial pages?

And don’t forget to vote, if you haven’t already.

Posted at 12:52 pm in Current events, Movies | 76 Comments