I'm not positive on the date, but I think it was November of 1983 at Wolfgang's, a small club in San Francisco, where we saw Pee-wee Herman live. Paul Reubens started a live show, "The Pee-wee Herman Show", in 1980 I believe. It was filmed by HBO and shown there in 1981. We didn't have HBO in those days ... I'm pretty sure we knew Pee-wee from his appearances on Late Night with David Letterman:
Here's a clip from that HBO special:
Of course, from there he went on to the classic Pee-wee's Big Adventure and the TV series Pee-wee's Playhouse, both of which were big favorites at our house.
It was the weirdest thing, reading the obits. He was 70 years old. That's the same age as me. Paul Reubens' age was always hard to figure, given his Pee-wee persona. He was a grown man playing a kid. You knew he wasn't a kid, but you never really knew how old the actor was, because if he put on the Pee-wee suit, he looked pretty much the same. If I had guesses his age, it would have been, I don't know, 60? The fact that I am the same age as Paul Reubens is hard to process.
I've watched a lot of baseball movies recently, 7 to be exact (for reasons which will eventually be revealed). Most of them are pretty good ... I like baseball ... well, The Bad News Bears isn't all that great, and I really don't like Field of Dreams. But while I don't expect greatness from baseball movies, I usually enjoy them. Revisiting Bull Durham was a pleasure. I think it's the best of all the baseball movies I watched.
First, writer-director Ron Shelton gets the baseball right. He played minor-league ball, and he knows the milieu. You don't have stuff like Shoeless Joe Jackson batting right-handed, or a drunken Little League coach teaching a kid to throw curveballs. Shelton relies on the ability of Kevin Costner to look like he knows what he's doing with a bat (he even switch-hits). It's not that you decide to watch a baseball movie because Kevin Costner looks comfortable with a bat, and you don't watch A League of Their Own for evidence that Madonna can't play. But since part of the charm of Bull Durham is its feel of veracity, Costner's skills help.
But Bull Durham isn't merely a good baseball movie. The three leads (Costner as an aging ballplayer, Tim Robbins as a rookie pitcher, and Susan Sarandon as a baseball groupie) are not just well-cast ... their performances, and Shelton's writing, raise all three characters above a stereotype. None of the three are "just" their labels ... the aging ballplayer knows a bit about life outside the game, the groupie has a brain and a philosophy, and the rookie ... well, he's kind of a dunce, it's true. The casting matters ... Kevin Costner has always been a handsome guy who looks good on the screen, but his screen persona is kinda vague. It helps when a script gives him direction. (Think of his Untouchables co-star Sean Connery. You could put Connery in anything, and he'd be Sean Connery, and we would recognize that. I haven't the slightest idea who Kevin Costner is, based on his acting career. If he were to play "Kevin Costner", what would that mean? Very little, compared to the presence of someone like Connery.)
And Susan Sarandon triumphs as Annie Savoy. You roll your eyes when Annie appears ... oh god, here comes another groupie with a hot body. But Annie is a real character, Sarandon does wonders with the part, and Bull Durham would be a lesser movie without her. Oh, she has the burden of passing along the "Church of Baseball" malarkey ... that's my least-favorite part of the movie. But she even overcomes that. (Fields of Dreams is uninterested in the playing of baseball ... it's solely concerned with the metaphysics of it all. Despite the Church of Baseball stuff, Bull Durham is about actual people who come together around the game of baseball. It's an important difference.)
You probably know people like a friend of mine, of my generation (boomer), who refuses to see Barbie. She said she had "too much baggage" around Barbie, and mentioned that the trailer made her hyperventilate. I don't have her memories, and maybe that helps. I've been looking forward to Barbie since I first learned of its existence, because Greta Gerwig has directed two other movies, Lady Bird and Little Women, and both were quite good. I have no problem putting myself in Gerwig's hands.
There are a lot of people to thank for how good Barbie is. There's Gerwig's co-writer, Noah Baumbach, there's cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, there are all the people involved in the design of the film. You wouldn't call Barbie a blockbuster, although it is performing like one at the box office. But Gerwig and company manage to put a lot of stuff into two hours ... this isn't a "small" movie like, say, Lady Bird. (Gerwig's budgets have gone from $10 million for Lady Bird to more than $100 million for Barbie.) Gerwig has "adapted" well to her larger budgets, plus her films feel increasingly confident. I wouldn't argue that each is better than the last ... they are all equally good. But she certainly hasn't fallen.
Barbie is ripe for analysis, of course, and there is some difference of opinion about the final product. Gerwig does well to question the place of the Barbie tradition in the lives of the girls who have grown up in the time of that tradition, but she is also making a movie about a doll that is backed by the company that makes the doll. We're not talking revolution here, just a gentle nudge towards a female-centric perspective that offers a happy kind of feminism without ruffling too many feathers (right-wing pundits not withstanding). It's interesting to try and ascertain what Gerwig intended for her film ... she's certainly been available for interviews and promotions, it's not hard to find her hopes for the movie. I think Barbie is the movie Greta Gerwig wanted to make.
But not everyone is happy about Gerwig's vision here. Barbie is a pretty white movie (all of the pink colors don't hide this fact), even though we get America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt as a Latinx family, and Simu Liu as an Asian Ken, and Issa Rae as an African-American Barbie who is President of Barbieland. This may be unavoidable ... Barbie is white, after all ... but like everything else in the movie, Gerwig puts diversity out there without emphasizing it, so the audience might forget that there are other Barbies and Kens besides Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
Kathy Fennessy offers a dissenting view of the movie and Gerwig's career that I admit doesn't connect with me. In "On Greta Gerwig's Barbie: A Tale in Four Parts", Fennessy begins, "Greta Gerwig has been trying to sell out, as it were, for over a decade now." Her argument is that even when Gerwig was an indie-mumblecore icon, she was already looking ahead to the mainstream. She describes the progression of Gerwig's career from her indie roots to Barbie as inevitable and intended ... and as far as I know, Fennessy is not wrong. And she is on target when she writes, "subversion isn't the same as self-awareness. Barbie is one, but it isn't the other. Gerwig and co-writer Baumbach poke gentle fun at Mattel, but by her own admission, they had to run everything by the studio brass.... I appreciate the way the couple pokes the bear, but I wouldn't say they drew blood, and nor would I have expected them to get away with it if they tried."
But in an odd way, Fennessy seems critical of Gerwig's career, even as she also seems to praise it. "With Gerwig, there was always the sense that independent cinema meant a great deal to her, and so fans have felt disappointed by what seems like an about-face, even if it really isn't. Gerwig worked hard, she paid her dues, she repeatedly tried to sell out, and she kept trying until she succeeded." Fennessy isn't saying Barbie represents a sell-out for Gerwig, she's saying Gerwig was always a sell-out, she just had to wade through a career before she got the chance to finally do what she always wanted.
Honestly, I find Fennessy's essay astute, even as I contest what I see as a major point: that it matters one way or the other if Barbie/Gerwig is a "sell-out". It's not a revolutionary movie, but I don't think that was ever the intention.
In Atlantics, Mati Diop relies on several genres that don't immediately seem to fit together. It begins with a love story of young people in modern Senegal, places those people within the specific problems of Senegal, deals with family disagreements, and then turns into something all together different. It's not seamless, but I don't think that is Diop's intention. She goes with what she thinks works, and leaves the audience to follow her instinctively. I admit to being confused at times, but I was always intrigued, and by the end of the movie, everything fit together.
Atlantics is the debut feature from Diop, who had directed shorts and had also acted (35 Shots of Rum). Her command of the interplay between genres is excellent ... perhaps even more impressive is the performances she gets from her cast, some of whom were appearing in their first movies. This is especially true of the lead, Mame Bineta Sane, who had never acted in anything before (and I can't find anything she's been in since). She is the center of the film, and she's wonderful, complex, photogenic ... I'd say this was a star-making performance except she doesn't seem to have done any work in films since.
I'm being a bit vague on how the narrative turns. It's best if you come to the movie cold, as I did. That contributes to some of the confusion, but it's worth the surprises it entail. #116 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (#917 on the All-Time list).
There is a lot of soccer going on right now. The World Cup continues to be a difficult watch here in the Pacific Time Zone. I got to watch the USA-Vietnam match, with Andres Cantor on the call (the U.S. did their job but weren't overwhelming, credit to the Vietnamese). I've caught bits and pieces of other matches. The oddest thing comes in the middle of the night. I have my bedside radio set to the SiriusXM channel that simulcasts the Fox Sports TV broadcasts, and I have my little "pillow speaker" so I can hear without bothering my wife. So a couple of times, I've woken to the voices of Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton, not an experience I've had before.
Meanwhile, Wrexham are touring the United States, which remains rather unfathomable. They lost 5-0 to what amounted to a Chelsea youth squad, and won 4-0 to a third tier LA Galaxy team. I can't say I know what this means about the quality of play in England's fourth division (League Two), where Wrexham will play this year. Saying they aren't as good as Chelsea is obvious. Saying they are better than a team that is two levels below MLS doesn't say enough. Eyeballing it, I think it's clear Wrexham is not yet up to the level of MLS yet ... I'm not sure how the English Championship (their second level) would fare against MLS. Whatever ... it's fun seeing Wrexham play in front of their new American fans.
But the biggest non-World Cup soccer news came when Lionel Messi made his debut for Inter Miami. He came off the bench in the second half. The place was packed, including attendees like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, David Beckham, and Posh Spice. A tie game, extra time, last play of the match before it went into penalty kicks, and Miami got a free kick. Of course, we know what had to happen next:
It had been a long time since I saw this one. I remember not liking it. It was right. Phil Alden Robinson gives us no feel for the actual game of baseball, only for the mystique, and I'm a fan of the game of baseball more than I am of the mystique. And, as Pauline Kael said, "That the film is sincere doesn't mean it's not manipulative".
The film posits that we need to return to the past. It's interesting that there is no irony in a black man giving the famous speech about the sport: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time." It should be ironic ... the players who emerge from the corn fields are all white, because black players weren't allowed in the majors for thirty more years. And the core narrative, that a young man, a child of the 60s, is not fulfilled until he reconnects with his father who is most certainly not of the 60s, is as reactionary as Forrest Gump.
It's not all bad. Three cheers for the young Gaby Hoffman. And it's nice as always to see Burt Lancaster, in what turned out to be his last appearance in a feature film. But I was disappointed overall. Not sure why, given my memories were that it wasn't a very good movie, but for some reasons, my hopes were up, and I wanted my past self to be proven wrong.
James Mangold takes over the Indiana Jones franchise from Steven Spielberg (still listed as an Executive Producer). Mangold does OK ... the franchise seems to be ending because Harrison Ford is too old, not because Mangold made a bad movie. The Dial of Destiny is a lot like the others ... the first remains the best, the others are good enough. A couple of weeks ago I said that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was as good as The Last Crusade, and The Dial of Destiny is as good as Crystal Skull. These movies aren't classic, and if only watched one, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the one to see, but despite some ups and downs, if you liked the other Indiana movies, you'll like the new one.
And with that, I've pretty much said all that matters. There are a few things that distinguish Dial of Destiny from the rest. The film begins in 1944, and the de-aging process used on Ford is truly remarkable. When the movie jumps forward to 1969, the now-aged Ford is "himself" ... honestly, he looks like he has aged a lot more than 25 years, but what are you going to do? The main thing is, the de-aging works great. Also, I'm a fanboy, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings her particular brand of stardom ... for me, she was the best thing about the movie, but your mileage may vary. The action scenes are all fine, and one lengthy chase involving the titular dial being passed/stolen back and forth among the various characters is the equal of any in the series.
It's not all good, of course. The Dial of Destiny is almost half-an-hour longer than any of the other movies, for no apparent reason. I'm tired of trotting out the Nazis every time the series needs a villain (it's 1969!). I think if you watched all five Indiana Jones movies in a row, the last one would be tiresome. In the end, the series doesn't really go anywhere ... it's as if, instead of Raiders of the Lost Ark and four sequels, we have Raiders and four remakes. I guess if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I will have semi-regular updates to my World Cup blog during the upcoming Women's World Cup 2023. As I noted there, many of the matches will be at inconvenient times for people like me in California, but I'll do what I can. Here is the first post on the other blog:
It begins tomorrow. It won't be easy to follow in real time ... the matches are played in Australia and New Zealand. Tomorrow kicks off with four matches, and the starting times here in California are Midnight, 3:00 AM, 7:30 PM, and 10:00 PM.
As usual, I will be rooting for the U.S., and then Spain. The Americans are going for their third straight championship, and they are favored. Probably the best match to watch if you only check out one will be hosts Australia vs. Ireland at 3:00 AM, since Australia has Sam Kerr. Quoting Michael Cox at The Athletic: "Everything is set up for Sam Kerr to have a tournament incomparable with anything else any women’s footballer has experienced. The obvious poster girl for a tournament played in her home nation, Kerr can reasonably claim to be the most dangerous striker in the game."
Meanwhile, here is the ad that has gone viral. I've seen it twice now, and I'm still not sure I understand it, but everyone else seems very impressed: