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Saturday, November 28, 2020

IS IT JUST ME? QUEEN'S GAMBIT IS ALSO ROCKY III AND IV


Don't get me wrong. I'm now 6 episodes into "The Queen's Gambit" - so almost done - and I'm enjoying it. I have some quibbles, but those are quibbles, but I'm in a mood these days to enjoy something for the sake of enjoying something, and I'm done with pointless smart criticisms. So it's good. It's good. Buuuuut.....

I can't be the only one to notice that the plot of "The Queen's Gambit" is pretty much "Rocky III" meets "Rocky IV."

I can't be.

Because, boy, is it ever.

[HERE THERE BE SPOILERS of.... well, all three titles.]

So an impossibly unlikely contender rises up out of nowhere with a totally improbable shot at the title. A disappointed-in-life manager appears to nurse the contender to champion status, and it works!  They go on a run of title after title, easy knock-outs, until the champion finally faces a REAL challenge. On that very night, during the match, the manager dies as the champion takes a first big - and psychologically devastating - loss. We are all stunned. Champion returns home to lick their wounds, only to be visited by an old rival who says they are going to coach the wounded champ. The message is clear: "No, you can still be a champion, but you just have to RE-LEARN everything you know, and learn how to counterpunch. Why? BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO FACE THIS UNBEATABLE RUSSIAN WHO IS SO GOOD THEY'RE NOT EVEN HUMAN!!!" So, it's back to roots, back to self, back to the basics, to learn how to beat the indomitable Russki.

Need we say that the Russian is clearly a construct of the evil Soviet empire? A mechanized product of the Soviet obsession with winning (in "Gambit," some of the lines about the terror of facing this Soviet seem almost line for line "Rocky IV" fodder).

Don't get me wrong. I love this plot, and as episode 4 of "Queen's Gambit" started I certainly felt that we were in sorrowful need of some pretty strong narrative;  things seemed to be slipping, we didn't have the lean-forward we had in the first two episodes, so what's wrong with going to the Italian Stallion for a little plot advice? 

But is it conscious or is it just an accident? My guess is - having worked on a lot of TV series myself, although nothing like this - that it's just a fluke, or inadvertent Xeroxing. To be clear: Quentin Tarantino steals (he doesn't even consider it stealing, I think), but I doubt Scott Frank, a seriously talented guy, and the "Gambit" team were watching old "Rocky" movies to get their inspiration, and they have the added fact that "The Queen's Gambit" is based on a novel by Walter Trevis, who also wrote "The Hustler," "The Color of Money," and, unusually, "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which was adapted into an underrated movie by a totally underrated director, Nicolas Roeg.

In contrast to the clean, cool style of "Gambit," the "Rocky" movies had crazily embarrassing plots that were nonetheless utterly engrossing, which pretty much means that they weren't so crazy after all. Sylvester Stallone clearly knows what he's doing as a writer, and I applaud him also for his singular skill with crazy-ass character names: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and, most terrifically, Ivan Drago. One wonders what would have happened had Stallone been born 80 years earlier and had to express himself through writing adventure pulps. He would have KO'd even Arthur Conan Doyle (who gave us both Sherlock Holmes and that intrepid dinosaur hunter, Professor Challenger) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (who gave us Carson Napier and Tarzan).

Anyway, I digress. "The Queen's Gambit." I decided to do a little research and discovered that Trevis' novel was published in 1983, whereas "Rocky IV" is a 1985 release. Knowing what I do about movies, that means the script was, at the latest, being written in 1983. Alas, "Rocky III," which also has a lot of "Gambit" elements, is a 1982 release, so any reasonable person has to give the match to Stallone, or at least a draw on any "Rocky IV" similarities.

Who cares? It's all great, and as I say, I'm putting all my money on it being accidental.

But it raises this question: is there any chance we can just throw caution to the winds and meld the two? "The Queen's Gambit" might benefit from a little CLUMP! CLUMP CLUMP CLUMP! - which is me writing the opening crash chords of "Eye of the Tiger." By the way, there literally are training sequences in "The Queen's Gambit" that are somewhere between Mike Figgis split screen, "Ocean's Eleven," and Rocky's legendary "gonna fly now" sequence, and I'd be okay with Carl Weathers somehow showing up in "Gambit" and giving Beth Harmon a little buck-up lecture, before the Russian chess champion literally kills him, which inspires Beth to take that Russian bastard apart by castling him mercilessly. Now that is entertainment!

Anyway, this is not my traditional blog entry but really just a love letter to both entities.  There are archetypes and tropes in all narrative, and it's often fun to find them, in a kind of "Where's Waldo" way, and it doesn't detract from the entertainment, enjoyment, or the art. I well remember one of my kids' eyes popping as he realized what I meant when I said, "Tell me what Dumbledore and Harry have to do with Luke and Obi-Wan and Arthur and Merlin and the Karate Kid and..."  Well, for that matter, Mickey and Rocky!!

Okay, enough. I'm going to go watch episodes 6 and 7.  Later.

Eye of the tiger, Rock. Eye of the tiger.



Monday, November 23, 2020

A CONFESSION OF COMPLETE INTOLERANCE

In this time of sharing, I thought I’d make three bald confessions. I’m doing so because I want to see if anyone else is feeling the same way.

I made this short list based on watching and reading the news last night. I won’t try to make sense of the contradictions within my assertions, because I think the contradictions actually say a lot – again, if anyone else is feeling the same way as I am.

So, this is an unusual blog post. No art here, just a reach-out.

Confession #1: I do not want to take the vaccine, primarily because the election polls were wrong.

I can’t be the only one with this idiot thought. And I’m deadly serious. As illogical as it sounds, it seems to me  that the people telling me the vaccine is good to go and 95% effective are the same people who told me that the Democrats were definitely going to gain seats in the House and take control of the Senate and that Joe Biden would win Wisconsin handily.

Obviously, I know that the same people responsible for the polls aren’t the same people responsible for the vaccine. But, just as obviously, none of that stuff did happen in the election. Worse, the people who made those election assertions – to say nothing of the news people and campaign people who have put us all at risk by following those polls – have yet to properly explain themselves. The best they’ve come up with is a weird kind of mea culpa that goes like this: “While it certainly appears that we got a number of things wrong, in the long run, and over time, you’ll see that really we weren’t that far off.”

Uh, no. You were far off. Very far off. As a result, we Democrats are in the fight of our lives for the Senate, Joe Biden had to squeak through in the key states (0.2% in Georgia), and the House is precarious and absolutely in peril for 2022. 

Tell the truth, at least. You got the numbers very very wrong. And you did so after a sizeable warning called... 2016.

So my brain has conflated these pollsters and pundits with the people telling us that the approaching vaccine is 95% effective. They may have different names and jobs and faces, but they sure seem the same to me. And their methodology seems similar too: 95% effective! “What about side effects?” 95% effective! “Says who?” The company making it! “Didn’t some of the owners of those companies actually unload their own stock before they unveiled their billion-dollar baby?”  No no, just think 95% effective! “Really? On whom? Black men aged 80? 6-year old with cystic fibrosis? Women who have had breast cancer?” 95% effective!

There could be another answer. Perhaps the vaccine is 95% effective only in those states that Joe Biden won by 17%, like, say Wisconsin? In other words, 95% effective in Magical Bullshit Land?

Confession # 2: I’m intolerant of my own tolerance, particularly to GOP voters.

Recently, on the New York Times podcast The Argument, conservative blogger Ross Douthat stated that one of his big concerns coming out of the 2020 election is social division, specifically that Democratic-leaning citizens view Republican-leaning citizens as subhuman Neanderthal throwbacks, and disregard the validity of their viewpoints.

This is a sentiment repeated by a lot of folks in the media, both on the left and the right. It has, in fact, become a trope of the left that we have to reach out and understand the Trump voter better. Such tolerance is key to our survival as a nation. I am confessing my true and adamant view of this now.

Bullshit. Bull-shit. Yes, there is an existential crisis for the very soul and basis of the nation, but can any sane person say that the answer is to find common cause with people wearing MAGA hats who shout, “Lock her up,” and, “White Power!”?

If you care about the basic rule of law, constitutionality, or even basic equality – if, in short, you stand against racism, putting kids in cages, and circumventing the standards of decent and effective working government, including healthcare and education – then you must shout out loud and make it clear that you will never collaborate with Dad shouting “white power” from his golf cart or the elected representatives who collude with or make allowances for said Dad in any way ever. 

We have to stand up for something.

So I’m sorry, Ross. This is a war for the basic liberality that constitutes a republic, and these people, by choice, have absented themselves from any discussion of same by tying their interpretation of the republic to a con man charlatan, religious fundamentalism, and what is served up to them by Klan-TV (Fox). We are talking about an electorate that refuses to educate themselves, and an uneducated electorate is lethal to a republican democracy. Worse, they are proud of their stupidity. 

So my intolerance grows for tolerance. In fact, I now see it as a very short walk from “we have to understand these people” to Trump’s odious “good people on both sides.” 

Where do you make a stand, Ross? It’s clear you’re a very decent, educated, and thoughtful guy, but where is your line in the sand in terms of antisocial and anti-democratic behavior?

I’d suggest that we don’t spend our time trying to “understand” them, but to educate them, or to educate their children. Maybe it’s not possible in this, the most uneducated of first world nations, but it might be our only shot.

Let’s be clear. We are talking about modern national Republicans here – not Gerald Ford or George Herbert Walker Bush or even Ronald Reagan – who should actually shoulder the blame for letting the evangelicals into the tent in the first place.  I am talking about the national Republicans now; the ones who won’t even speak against Trump as he jacks around claiming he won the election and trying to muscle lower-level canvassing board officials into throwing the contest his way, like some 1899 ward boss. 

The national GOP officeholders are as silent on all this as they have been on children torn from their parents and put in cages (a terrifyingly weird deterrent to refugee claims), just as they’ve been silent on their own inability or lack of interest in passing any sort of rescue package for the tens and tens of millions of Americans financially devastated by COVID, a pandemic almost all of them have mocked and ridiculed even as the death numbers exceed World War II battle deaths.  They even go so far as to defend Trump whimpering inside the White House the last two weeks, chewing the blanket while pissing away every day’s opportunity to do something about the pandemic.

I don’t want to be at war with anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be at war with my neighbors, but I sure believe that the incoming administration and the Democratic party in general must take the stance that they are at war with these people, and eschew the coddling olive branch fantasy that led Obama for so many years. 

Otherwise, what are we looking at for 2024? When your opponent is lacking in all virtue, they have the freedom to dream up any atrocity to reacquire power. If Trump doesn’t run again, the GOP may find themselves a camera-friendly dictator who, unlike Trump, can actually administrate and do something. A Huey P. Long, for instance. And that character, I guarantee you, would have beaten Biden in a landslide. 

My view is clear and unequivocal: the most effective and patriotic stand is rejection of modern GOP values, not capitulation or prevarication. Let’s try and eradicate the problem, not pet it. And call it what it is: the modern-day national GOP is a party of liars, racists, crooks, and bullshit artists. It is the party of Dumb. It is the party of White Nationalism. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, also has its share of liars and crooks and bullshit artists, but it not the party of White Nationalism. 

There’s the line. Right there.  A threat to all tradition and decency within the American superstructure. We have to call them for what they are and we have to beat them.

Once they’re gone, we can begin anew with a second party to stand against the Democrats: a new Federalist Party, or Whigs, or hell, Conservatives. I might even kick in a few bucks. But no ground can be given to these maniacs.

Confession #3: I’m frustrated and wearied by Obama’s genial optimism.

Okay, this may be petty, but I don’t care. I saw him on the news last night, so it fits this post. And in truth, it’s part of the bigger picture I’m trying to paint here.

I suspect the world is a pretty good place for Barack and Michelle Obama. It sure seems it. And good on them. But they are now so divorced from reality and, I suspect, exist in such a feedback bubble, that the former President’s natural tendency to prevaricate – which is how he got to the top throughout his life – strikes me as nothing more than dangerous fence-sitting.  And I’m wearied by it.

We have just been through and still are in the age of the worst President in American history. A man who perpetually lies, breaks the law, has used the office for his own enrichment, and spends most of his time encouraging the crazies and lowest members of our society to rise up and take arms – literally – against fellow citizens. He has encouraged law enforcement to brutalize those they serve. During this time Obama has been... well, pretty much silent. Tempered? Reasoned? Pick a word.

The rationale seemed to have been, at first, that he wanted to give Trump a chance to grow into the job. (I’d like to point out that the day after Trump was sworn in, millions upon millions of Americans engaged in the Women’s March – me included – and I didn’t get a sense that anyone in those crowds was confused about Trump being able to grow into the job, so why was Obama so late to read the tea leaves?) Then Obama’s argument seemed to be that past Presidents don’t diss the new President. Then it was... Well, I don’t know what it was, because we didn’t hear from the man. 

What it wasn’t was Obama using his huge political capital to help boot that maniac out of. He didn’t lead the call and he didn’t, even, write nasty articles in the New Yorker. He was not, as TR said, in the arena. Someone like Robert Reich fought every single day of the Trump administration, while Obama went snorkeling. And when he wasn’t snorkeling, he sat back, took on a professorial mien, and only lately has he been out there opining on Trump because A) we finally had an election at hand and his own guy was in it, and B) he has a book to sell.

Let’s be clear. No one was a bigger supporter of Obama than me. But I feel stupid now. And duped.

In short, kind of how I feel about all those polls I paid attention to. And how I'm worried I'm going to be duped about this vaccine.

There are now 150,000 to 200,000 new coronavirus cases a day.  This is the fault of the national Republicans for supporting “Dumb.” It is also the fault of the Democrats for being so weak and feckless. In the end, the only solution the Democrats had to Trump – the worst President in American history – was a national election, which is really saying, “The people have to fix this, we can’t.” And they almost, and pretty much did, blew that.

So, in summary, my problems clearly stem from the fact that the folks in charge, the experts - experts? ARE they experts? – have made a mess of things from top to bottom for decades now, and now they want us – need us - to trust them with this vaccine thing. I want to believe, I truly do, but this is Lucy and the football and maybe those idiot aliens on Star Trek Next Generation. And for some reason, I can’t help wonder if they aren’t laughing at all of us.

If you think that’s just paranoia, see Kamala Harris fist bumping Lindsey Graham on the floor of the US Senate last week.

What do you think that’s about? What do you think it portends for 2022 and 2024? Or the next four years? New leadership and guidance, or more of the same?

Joe, you better get us out of this.



 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

WHAT WE NEED NOW

© photograph copyright 2020 by Emily Coneybeare

For the fifth grade I was transferred to a new school. Cassandra Public School was on the other side of the ravine in our little suburb, and really not that far from my first school, but it was still a whole new world to me, full of strange kids and unknown teachers. As the last of four children, I had always enjoyed being “known.” Now I was to be anonymous.

The school itself was on a common suburban street, Cassandra Boulevard. It was as undistinguished as you can imagine. It was THE public school, just as, around the corner, there was THE junior high school. Up the way and closer to the main drag was THE high school. I can’t imagine any parent thinking about the quality of education in that suburban world, or vying for their children to go to a better or more prestigious school. Such was education as laid out in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This was the suburbs of the 1970’s.

As I had no friends yet, and being in a new school, and not being at all athletic, and not seeing myself as particularly “part of the group,” I soon found the school library. This was a pretty meagre affair but well laid out in its own way. It was on the second floor, two classrooms adjoined and broadloomed in cheap industrial green. Outside of class assignments, I don’t think I ever saw any kids in there of their own accord. Except me.

To this day I know where everything in that little library was. I can even tell you the pride of place “The Hobbit” was given. But soon I focused on the 921 section, in the far-right corner and on the lower shelves.

It was here that I came across a row of books that appealed to me mostly because they simply looked the way books should look. They were jacketless hardcovers, dark grey for the most part, about 230 pages per volume, with fairly large print. And even if they had pen and ink drawings within them, they were book books – meaning, books to be read, not to be looked at. And they appeared to be part of a series. I guessed them to be from the 1950’s - a bygone era now, not quite so bygone in that year of 1975.

I took out two volumes and was surprised by how fast I read them. I was utterly engrossed. I don’t remember what the first two were, but let’s just say “The Life of William Shakespeare” would be one and the other would be “The Life of Thomas Edison.” I felt very grown up reading these books, but at the same time exulted in how quickly they moved. I suspect in the back of my head I knew that this set was for “Young Readers,” but I’m not sure I cared.

In time I would plow through the entire shelf. This meant I had to get through the lives of people I had never heard of (Madame Curie? Louis Pasteur?) but I never read one that wasn’t a one hundred percent page turner. Pen and ink drawings every few pages helped.

I certainly didn’t make a scientific or even editorial examination of what I was reading, but if I had I hope I would have recognized that there was reason behind the careful if unusual subject choices the publishers and editors had made. These books were about world beaters; inventors or writers, explorers (just now as I wrote that word, I remember reading the life of Henry Hudson!!) and even a few Presidents. No military men and no dictators. No Genghis Khan, but yes Marco Polo (just remembered that too). Plucky folk who overcame adversity to make the world a better place. I loved all of this, and I still think there’s something wonderfully optimistic about expecting a 10-year-old to enthusiastically read the life of Daniel Defoe.

Since then, I have immersed myself in all books. I have ruined the floors of many rented apartments. I have had to learn to build my own bookshelves to fit my specific requirements. To say I am a bibliophile is absurd. I am THE bibliophile.

Yet for all I have acquired, my mind has often wandered with affection back to those books at the Cassandra library and I have even, a few times, sought them out. I was convinced that the series was published by Harper and Row, but searches on Abebooks (www.abebooks.com) made me wonder if in fact it wasn’t Grosset and Dunlop. I’ve found a few other publishing candidates (Farrar?), but I never found the real books themselves. Eventually, I decided it didn’t really matter and dropped the search.

But if it didn’t really matter, then why have I been thinking so much about them lately? At this time specifically? And why is the some of the pen-and-ink imagery so strong in my mind?

That's key. I have a very clear memory of a drawing of young Thomas Edison being hauled back onto the safety of a speeding train from which he had fallen. Some helpful soul averted tragedy by improbably yanking young Tom (who was pluckily selling newspapers on the train) by the ear. The ear! This was top notch stuff as far as I was concerned, complete with the implicit threat to our entire society; obviously, if Tom had fallen off the train, we’d all be sitting in the dark playing the spoons for our own amusement because there’d be no lightbulb and no phonograph.

Except, of course, the story is absurd and has been debunked by many a scholar. In fact, I would say that more than 50% of what I took out of those books, fact-wise, has been proven false or at the very least badly tarnished. Marco Polo is almost impossible to equate with the character I read about, and Christopher Columbus, obviously, has justifiably taken a beating. Madame Curie stands unblemished in my mind, but that’s only because I doubt if I’ve read a word about Madame Curie since 1975. George Washington, of course, has been realigned as a result of all of all adult reading, and so has Ben Franklin.

Clearly, this is a good thing. One doesn’t want to be hoodwinked by whitewashed history and childish fables. One wants to be aware. One wants to be savvy. One wants to put away childish notions.

Except...

Except that last Saturday a man named Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. Presidency.

My entire family – in fact, pretty much everyone I know – breathed a sigh of relief. Those of us that are here in California sat and watched TV for the rest of the day in a sort of stupefied daze. My daughter, at school in Washington, went down to Lafayette Park to celebrate, and there she was on the news, along with hundreds of thousands, maybe millions around the world, taking part in a sort of international block party. She took a remarkable photo of a young couple embracing, and it made me tear up. The heartfelt relief in that image is so palpable...

We could go into all the reasons why people were celebrating. We could even, I guess, go into all the reasons why they shouldn’t have been celebrating. We could surely go into all the reasons we should sneer at celebration itself. But I don’t think anyone can tear apart the reality that people needed to celebrate.

And they needed to celebrate for the same reason that I once embraced a Young Reader’s tale that I needed to be told. In this case it is not Tom Edison surviving his train accident so he could go on to invention the light bulb, it is the story of Joe the humble, Joe the righteous, Joe the decent, Joe the honorable.

Time and distance have taught me two things about this kind of thinking, again stemming from that shelf of books at the Cassandra Public School library. The first lesson is that we must not accept what we are given at face value; we must be critical, and we must question everything. The second lesson, however, pretty much flies in the face of that: sometimes we need heroes, and sometimes we must park our critical thinking and save our very sanity instead. And we needn't be ashamed of doing so.

I find it interesting to note when and how America has done this to itself. It usually does so – to paraphrase Churchill – only after trying everything else first.

For instance, the verdict is pretty much in on Christopher Columbus, and so Columbus Day isn’t what it was even when I was a child. And I think that’s good. I also think the nation has done this to Chris because we don’t really need Christopher Columbus.

George Washington, on the other hand, we seem to need. So after the stories about his wooden teeth and debunking the cherry tree and going after him for all his horrendous failings as a man and leader - even including lousy generalship - we have put him back where we need him to be. We need a father of the country, and he is admirable enough for that role.

JFK is another example, and more amazing to me because of when I was born. I came of age at exactly the time when JFK’s outrageous peccadilloes were first revealed – sex with Marilyn and, it seems, everyone else. Add that to the re-examination of his spotty public record, the hesitation on Civil Rights, the stolen election in Illinois, his foray into Vietnam, his health, and on and on. When I was a boy, JFK became a punchline and Camelot went up in flames.

And yet, somehow, somewhere, we seem to have shunted much of this aside as well. It’s as if, as a nation, we have accepted the truth and reached instead for the JFK we need, truth be damned. So, JFK is back on his monument, dashing, handsome, haunted Jack. I witnessed this while standing at his eternal flame last summer. People sure weren’t talking about Marilyn. There were bowed heads and the silent click of cellphone cameras.

Just ask ex-Senator Rick Santorum. In 2012, Rick Santorum was running for President, and decided to score points on the religion front by saying that JFK’s famous 1960 speech made him sick. The backlash against Santorum – which helped destroy his candidacy – was instantaneous and took Santorum completely by surprise. Perhaps he didn’t get the memo; we need JFK the legend and we’ve pretty much decided to ignore everything else.

Obviously, the clergy know this truth, as do oncologists, as do specialists in child learning disabilities. We need hope and we need belief in times of trial, but we are complex enough organisms to be able to hold two ideas in our head: one, that there is no God, the other that there most assuredly is, especially if you’re looking at the Grand Canyon.

There are days when I need to say “gosh” when I think about Thomas Edison inventing all that stuff, when I need to be filled with wonder at just how industrious Benjamin Franklin was, and just how brilliant Marie Curie was. I need this, just as I need to salute a piece of cloth flapping in the breeze and imagine it means something that can bring me to tears.

In this same spirit, I need Joe Biden right now. 

For my mental health. I need to believe in him as I believe in those other things and more. I need to believe that everyone who voted for him did so with decent, kind thoughts in their loving hearts. In fact, I have no time right now for any other notion, or wisdom, or cynicism. I can be smart about the real Joe Biden later, but right now the Joe Biden before me has been given a special place in my heart simply so I can trust my neighbor and chat with the guy at the grocery store and believe in a piece of cloth flapping in the breeze - and believe that a series of about twenty-six dusty hardcover books in a long-gone public school library gave me the truth about the most incredible people I need to emulate and a code by which I can live my life.

I need hope and so do you, and that is often more important than truth. For now. 


Monday, November 2, 2020

COMFORTING MOVIES FOR BEFORE, AFTER, AND DURING THE ELECTION


My Emily - my daughter Emily - asked me to do a list of comforting movies that people could watch leading up to the election.  She suggested I post it on this blog, even though usually what I do here is write mini-essays, or whatever you call them. There is some logic in her request, as I've spent a good chunk of my life immersed in movies, and have even directed a few, and written more. So presumably I know a thing or two. Or she thinks I do. 

But she says she's having problems finding such lists online - which I find hard to believe - so perhaps there really is a need.  I've decided to list 10 movies today in no particular order and with  no logic, although I'll try to dip into a variety of genres and era. Spread it out a bit. I'm hoping to do another list in the next few days.

The problem of course is the definition of "comforting." "Comforting" suggests something other than "feel good," which I have always taken to mean the end result of the movie, whereas "comforting" is all about the ride. Rocky, for instance, has to be the zenith of feelgood movies, but is it "comforting"? Rocky's life is pretty crap throughout, and for much of the movie things are no more fun than in On the Waterfront (which it resembles in many many many ways), but it's hard to beat that last twenty minutes.  But... feel good.  Not comforting. Emily said comforting.

A second problem appears when making a list of comforting (or for that matter, feel good) movies, and that problem is what I call the Kevin Costner Effect.  Simply put, Kevin Costner has been in an incredible number of comforting and feel good movies. It's staggering, actually. He deserves a category all his own. I toyed with giving Costner just that, but then decided I'd be robbing myself of the chance to pad out a list when I'm in trouble, so if you see an inordinate number of Kevin Costner movies, too bad. It just is. Like Everest, or one of those things.

I also toyed with avoiding politics due to where we are in the calendar, but decided that was too limiting too.  There are unbelievably comforting movies that deal with politics and if you can't handle that, again, too bad. So that's a good segue to my first movie choice, and remember these are in no order:

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). Frank Capra directing, Jimmy Stewart acting and overacting, Claude Rains peerless, Edward Arnold nailing it, Thomas Mitchell -- and Jean Arthur!  She is so good it's to die, especially in her drunk scene. This is simply one of the finest movies ever made, and it will make you love America even as it admits the flaws and faults and problems. Jimmy is us and we are Jimmy, and here's another reality: you just like being there. It's 1939, and Jimmy's "Ma" back home is helping the little kids put out his magazine - "Boy's Stuff" or something -- and it's just so so so wonderful, you want to breathe it in or swallow it. How about the Lincoln Memorial scene? You think you know this movie. You don't. Watch it again. Check all cynicism. And watch Jean Arthur in the bar scene.

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989). What?? Kevin's here already?? Yes, Kevin and Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and James Earl Jones and BURT LANCASTER as Doc Graham. It's about America, and baseball, and dads, and writing, and imagination, and reconciliation, and you're happy to be there the whole time. Again, check your cynicism. You don't have to know or care about baseball.  This is magical.

THE KID (2000).  No, not the Chaplin movie. That movie is terrific and an amazing work, but it isn't comforting. In some places it's comforting.  This is Bruce Willis the winner - big luxury house, scads of money, got it all - and he's magically visited by himself as a child: total loser Spencer Breslin, complete with lisp and every annoying tic in the world. There is a great supporting cast here, but the movie belongs to these two as Breslin proves to Bruce that his life is shallow and he took the wrong road less traveled. Here's a fact: I love Bruce Willis.  If he could act, it might even be better, but I really love Bruce Willis. In this one, he remembers why he became famous - light, irreverent smartass leading man - and the kid puts him in his place.  And there's a dog in it! Which leads me to ...

MY DOG SKIP (2000). Just watch this. Just do it. Just trust me. It's based on a memoir of one of America's finest writers, Willie Morris. Somehow Jay Russell and Gail Gilchriest made one of the most charming, sweet, appealing movies ever out of Morris' slim work, and it relieves you of all critical faculty. Here's the plot: it's the 1940's and 9 year old Willie is given a dog. That's it. Watch.

9 to 5 (1980). Jane! Dolly! Lily! Colin Higgins (totally underrated top-flight commercial filmmaker) co-wrote and directed this thing, and Dabney Coleman is terrifically oily as only Dabney can be, but this belongs to Jane, Dolly, and Lily. It's charming, funny, insane, and if you're thinking it's a period piece about first or second stage feminism, think again (I'm sorry to say).  I defy anyone not to smile and hoot and cheer through this movie and, of course, there's one of the greatest theme songs ever. I want to watch this movie right NOW.  

THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). There are a lot of candidates for the greatest screwball comedy, and technically screwball comedies are pretty much the province of 1930's America, but this one goes to the top of my list even though it's made in - and the story relies on - wartime America. Specifically the housing shortage in Washington DC, which puts Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur (again!) and Charles Coburn in the same apartment. Madcap comedy ensues. Jean changes her outfits every three seconds it seems (despite her fixed income), and the guys are largely over the top and some of their behaviors are borderline moronic, but I love this movie top to bottom. An incredibly witty script and it contains of the sexiest scenes ever put on film, which involves nothing more than Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea sitting on her front stoop and talking. Watch her performance. God, was Jean good.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985). Oh, what's this? It's a rainy Sunday afternoon, nothing to do, perhaps I'll watch Schindler's List. Or 400 Blows. Or Padre Padrone. Well, you might, but here's Back to the Future. Marty McFly, the DeLorean, Doc Brown, 88 miles an hour, Marty's in 1955 hanging out with his parents! You like this movie or you're just an awful person. Everyone is great, even the folks who really aren't that great but we think are great. 

MCFARLAND USA (2015). What's this? A Kevin Costner movie! I bet everyone forgot about this one. Here's the plot: football coach Costner loses his job and winds up in McFarland, California, a predominantly Latino and lower income area, and Kevin's family doesn't like it one bit. But Kevin winds up coaching the boy's cross country track team and from there everything goes very very very comfort. Watch how Kevin and his family begin to understand their new neighbors, watch how Kevin teaches the kids, watch how the community reaches out to Kevin, notice how happy you are through this movie. Just enjoy the key ingredients: Kevin, a sport, the big day, we don't stand a chance. It does exactly what it's supposed to do.

(See? I would now put in Hidden Figures, but I get to save that for another day).

GREASE (1978). This is truly a bad movie. That said, I last saw it two years ago at a drive-in (it was my birthday), and I loved every second of it. It's insane. I won't even get into the plot, because everyone knows it: Sandy and Danny and they fell in love one summer, then it turns out Sandy is going to Danny's high school and Danny - huh? - can't reveal what a nice guy he is or he'll lose the respect of his friends.  Car, drag racing, songs, beauty school stuff, I have no idea. The moral of the movie turns out to be, "If you want to keep your boyfriend, dress like a slut."  Then you ride off in a magical car into the sky. WTF? But... but... remember what Emily asked me to do.  Are you going to cry through this movie? Are you going to need a drink because it's so true to life? I do not think so. See, she dresses like a tramp in the end and there's this magical car... I have no idea. It just is. (BTW, I might even add Hairspray to this list, also with John Travolta. I seem to be the only person that liked this movie and thought Travolta had outdone himself, but that's for another day).

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). "Dignity, always dignity." This script is so witty, so brilliant, so fast, that it says something about the musical numbers that they almost manage to consume the genius of the whole affair. And the cast. And the design. And the sheer Technicolor splendor of it. The rain sequence is terrific but it's not the whole thing, not by a long shot. Jean Hagen. What the hell? Is she spot on? How can anyone be so good? The only possible misfire is the bizarre Broadway Rhythm ballet in the middle, but parts of it are so beautiful, what are you gonna do? 

Is that ten? I went back and looked. I think that's ten!  Okay, let me know what you think. I have to go, but I hope I've done my job for those of you who are literally having a nervous breakdown over the damned world, the damned election, and the damned everything.

Emily, I hope this helps. I'll do more later.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

WHAT WILL REALLY HAPPEN ON ELECTION DAY?


There’s probably no way to write a blog or post a tweet or post anything on Facebook this weekend without it being about the damned election. And if you do, who will read it? 

Here in the USA, anyway, I believe the stress of “what will happen” is preoccupying everyone in some way. Some of us are consumed to the point of inertia, or even catatonia. (Fortunately there are leftover Halloween candies purchased for non-existent trick or treaters, so that levels things out a bit.) As for those who aren’t consumed – well, I envy them, even if I believe these must be the yoyos who got us into this predicament in the first place.
 
Let’s be clear about where I stand.  Trump is almost surely going to lose, which means Biden is going to win.
 
So, does that mean that there is going to be a repeat of the year 2000 except on steroids and spanning multiple states, with molotov cocktails thrown in for good measure? Legal hysteria and chicanery and lying and cheating and everything being tossed into the laps of the carefully purchased Supreme Court? 
 
Nope. I actually believe that the Biden numbers are going to be big enough that, for the GOP, winning an illegal hand here and rolling loaded dice there won’t really change things, so all the sold-your-soul Republican lawyers crouched in the starting position are going to have to just sit this one out. I also believe that anyone with a calculator will be able to go to bed Tuesday night relatively confident as to who the eventual winner will be.
 
The Senate will go Democratic and the House will stay in the hands of the Democrats and that is going to be a big relief to a lot of us, me included.
 
So, you ask, what about all the fear of Trump declaring victory and then when that is snatched away (“the red mirage”) his cult followers will take to the streets in MAGA hats, yelling and screaming and waving their Trump flags? No, actually, I don’t believe that either.
 
Because in the end, Trump is and always has been full of shit as a man, and while he poses as a dictator – literally – he is also full of shit as a dictator. And weak, and ineffectual. Pretty much every tough guy thing he’s said he’s going to do to bring about law and order, he’s never done. More than 75% of his threats never happen, and while a bunch of Federal thugs leaping out of rental vans in Portland, bespoke in weekend warrior gear, is awful, it’s still not Castro-level revolutionary troop management. He’s a dud Christmas cracker that doesn’t go off at the table. Remember the wall? Fire and fury?
 
He prefers legalistic road blockage. That’s where he’s comfortable. It’s bloodless, for one thing, and it lets him play out the clock on anything that might threaten his image. I know what you’re asking: so doesn’t that mean the GOP lawyers will be out in force in Broward County? Nope. I stand by what I said above. Yes, Trump is litigious, but he’s also unwilling to engage in battles he will clearly lose.
 
So what’s going to happen?  Well, that’s the problem.
 
First: it’s highly possible Trump just disappears after the loss.
 

I’m serious. 

No one has talked about this that I know of, but we might just wake up one day and discover that his bed in the White House is empty – just as Argentinian authorities report a small aircraft landing in Buenos Aires containing one very orange passenger loaded down with two suitcases of blonde hair dye and Big Macs. And I’m not talking January 20th. I’m talking two weeks from now. Does anyone really imagine that Trump is going to be there and stand beside Joe Biden as he gets sworn in on January 20th???  Ceremony? Continuity? That’s for losers. Chumps. Suckers. So if he isn’t going to be there on January 20th, why in the world would he stick around past, say, November 20th?
 
The only reason I can come up with is that he would want to use his Presidential powers to stack the deck so that he doesn’t wind up on Ryker’s Island. The downside on that scenario, however, is that there are a lot of details involved in all that, and detail has also never been his thing. So Trump might just take the Buenos Aires option instead.
 
So what happens to his followers? What happens to the members of the cult?
 
Well, that’s the problem. That’s the real problem.
 
I truly believe that if Trump wins on Tuesday you can say goodbye to the United States. That sounds hysterical but a lot of things sounded impossible even a few months ago and yet here we are. I’m also not alone in this (apparently John Dean and David A. French agree with me, or I agree with them). And I don’t necessarily mean in terms of the Big Riot. I mean Oregon, Washington, and California forming Pacifica, which if you were into the stock market, would be THE buy of all time.
 
New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and a handful of others could split off quite easily and form their own nation state, Amsterdamia, let's say. They would have to, because in the last year the GOP in Washington has established a concept that the elected President of the Republican Party is the President of only Republican controlled states and will use his power to punish states controlled by Democrats. That’s an entirely new concept in the history of the republic, so merely for self preservation, separation would be required.  And don't think that's a Trump thing, either. Pence endorses it. 
 
The dominos go from there: the nation of the Plains; Gulflandia, and so on.
 
And the reason for this is simple: people really really hate one another. I mean hate. To some degree have dehumanized one another. In Florida, within senior’s communities, if Edith and Bob say they’re voting for Biden, it’s not just that their neighbors and friends at the club turn against them, but they literally burn up their lawn. In these folks' eyes, clearly, Edith and Bob are no longer really people because of their political views. And so on. Right now, more or less, we’ve got a lid on this outside of social media and Fox, but the lid is shaking and shifting. Something is in there and it wants out.
 
So we don’t get along anymore and we don’t share values. Part of the problem is that we’re not sure what those values are – the principles of the founding of America have fallen through our uneducated fingers. I suspect a greater number of 45 year-olds and under can tell you more about the Marvel universe than the founding of the United States. Everyone I know over fifty talks about the economy in terms that are a regurgitation of Fox News. Which is insane. But that’s as smart as we are.  Ask most people under 30 who was the first man on the moon and what nationality. Be ready for the the long pause and the hems and hah's.
 
Then add this idea to it: TRUMP TV. If you don’t think that’s coming – whether broadcasting from Buenos Aires or Manhattan or Ryker’s Island – then you are on crack. And the power of that particular outlet would be beyond imagination. It wouldn’t be Trump with the Presidential gloves on (such as they’ve been on), but Trump with the gloves off, which I suspect would be telling people every morning to pretty much murder their neighbors.
 
I know. This is a ludicrous nightmare scenario. I know about nightmare scenarios, because I’ve just written a very long novel about a nightmare scenario in America, called The Feast of Wolves and Wild Dogs.  In both cases – the novel and these words – I’m trying to paint the worst portrait imaginable to, as conservative David French is trying to do in his book Divided We Fall, say, “STOP! ARE YOU NUTS??!” But I’m honestly not sure if it can be done.
 
The problem, I’m afraid, isn’t political. Joe Biden thinks it’s political, and God bless him for it – believing, it seems, that if we just listen to everyone and come up with enough government programs and include everyone who has been left out that we can cool tempers.
 
But that's like thinking busing worked. I don’t think the problem is political. I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s some weird anthropological American virus we’ve succumbed to. I believe, at the moment, that many Americans love their hate and divisions more than anything else. It gives them something to focus on. After all, they’re not making Game of Thrones anymore or Walking Dead. So this is what we’ve come up with.
 
If you don’t believe me, listen to the Trump rallies. Listen to the notion that 50% of the country is the enemy and needs to be, basically, exterminated. Biden needs to be put in jail. Obama should be put in jail, or worse. And Hillary?  Definitely worse.
 
It’s hatred. Pure undiluted hatred, and has nothing to do with politics.
 
And that is what is either going to be unleashed once all the votes are counted, or it’s going to go underground and reform itself once all the votes are counted. And if it’s Joe Biden who wins, I hope he and his people are aware of this thing living in the garbage can that's tapping at the lid, that they’re thinking about it and trying to figure out what to do with it. 

Because Tuesday is nothing. 

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