Another Week: Number 2
You have to be willing to waste some effort. If you want to see a great bullfight, you have to go to all the bullfights.
As a boy, I had Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus on my bedroom wall but went to school with kids gaga for Bart Starr. Later, the Bears’ 1985 landslide was glorious — but most other years of my six decades have been spent miserably cursing the throngs of cheese-hatted fat yahoos in green and gold who surround me in America’s Dairyland.
At the outset of this season, I humbly accepted that the Chicago Bears would be hopelessly inchoate. I took joy in Justin Fields’ occasional breakneck bursts and the many games where the Bears had victory in sight and did at least finish with the second-highest score.
Initially, it was a consolation that the Green Bay Packers also sucked. I chuckled seeing their quarterback — a wannabe TV personality with all the charisma of a muskellunge, who put Wisconsin through a protracted contractual drama the previous offseason — now looking rusty and ragged and blaming it on a toe or a thumb or the woke mob or something.
But then suddenly, the Pack was back and the local news, when not talking about the weather, was computing playoff paths. The Packers needed to win — but first, they needed the Browns to beat the Commanders in Sunday’s early game.
So I watched the listless Bears going through the motions and Justin Fields, with the ball stuck to his hand, getting mauled like a rag doll by Lions defenders. Meanwhile, across the bottom of my screen, the Browns did indeed beat the Commanders. And then the Packers caught break after break and made play after play while the 12 and 3 Vikings crumpled like a gum wrapper and Lambeau Field’s 81,441 drunken, drooling fans banged on the drum all day.
I was home alone, despondent and cold, having wasted my entire Sunday on this garbage.
Instead, as everyone now knows, eight minutes into the sizzling clash, with Cincinnati up 7-3, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin keeled over in cardiac arrest. Amy saw it immediately. I had to wait for the replay.
The game was on ABC in primetime via ESPN. The first thing the networks did was run all the commercials. After each batch, there was a distant shot of the field, and Joe Buck would report that the situation remained uncertain, then “step away” for more commercials. Over and over and over. It was like an airplane dumping fuel before a tricky landing — but this fuel is money so they were dumping it into the bank. And hey: most viewers ever.
One thing that was repeated by several of the TV people was that “nothing like this has ever happened before,” but of course, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes suffered a fatal heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears in October 1971 — a game that I also watched.
I was astonished by how poorly prepared the networks were to handle something like this. Once enough commercials were socked away, they punted the broadcast to New York, where Suzy Kolber, Booger McFarland, and Adam Schefter were sitting around a table and apparently ordered to fill time without any support. At one point, Kolber basically stated that she had nothing more to say. That should have been a cue to the production staff. It took them forever to even get a photo of Damar Hamlin on the screen, something I did on my phone much faster, on the way to looking up where Hamlin was raised and went to school, and details of his budding career with the Buffalo Bills — you know, the basic facts a concerned viewer might expect a TV anchor to supply.
Meanwhile over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow interrupted her analysis of the incoming Congress to provide much better information than ESPN had to that point — and Lawrence O’Donnell followed on his show with a doctor who gave a concise and lucid explanation of how even a routine impact like Hamlin’s tackle of Tee Higgins could trigger cardiac arrest through unfortunate placement and timing.
Thankfully, science and medicine have realized dramatic improvements since 1971, and Damar Hamlin is making a remarkable recovery. It was nice to see his uncle recognize the medical personnel.
Now we can all get back to watching amazing athletes risk catastrophic injury for our entertainment. Let’s hope we don’t have to “step away” again very soon.
Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
There are certain movies that our fellow Americans go crazy for, but — much like shingles — we don’t care. This includes sappy stuff like The Notebook, almost all superhero movies, and most of Tom Cruise’s work. Only last year did we finally watch Top Gun from 1986, and doing so only confirmed our instincts.
But we have Paramount Plus as a free perk from T-Mobile, and Paramount Plus now has Top Gun: Maverick, so I clicked the play button and Amy winced, “Seriously?”
It is pretty much the same TV dinner in a more modern package. Cruise’s “Maverick” fighter pilot gets called in for the ultra-secret, world-saving mission like every rebel cop character ever. His second coming draws music swells, silhouetted lighting, and hem-touching wherever he appears. Callbacks are made to characters from the first movie where feasible — or, in lieu of Kelly McGillis, a deep romantic history with Jennifer Connelly is passed off to us like a fake check. Maverick touching base one last time with the now terminally ill Iceman (Val Kilmer) may be the movie’s best moment.
The mission — flying a small team of planes at low altitude and top speed through a narrow canyon to drop a bomb down a small hole with perfect timing and blow up the grave threat to civilization — is lifted straight from Star Wars complete with lines like “Talk to me, dad” and “Don’t think, just do” — but, much like shingles, nobody cares. The enemy is unnamed and the errand has all the consequence of a video game.
Amy found some of the action scenes engaging. I appreciated how far movie technology has come in 36 years.
International Falls (2019)
Tuesday night we watched International Falls, suggested by a friend of ours. It’s set in the Minnesota city of the same name and stars Rachael Harris as Dee, a desk clerk at a local hotel, and Rob Huebel as Tim, a stand-up comic arriving in town to play the hotel’s lounge.
This movie is bleak. It takes place in winter, in the town nicknamed the “Icebox of the Nation.” Dee is not a happy or fulfilled woman. Tim is well aware that he and his lackluster act are on a lonely road to nowhere. Everybody but Tim does the Minnesota accent made famous in Fargo, including the clerk at the depressing liquor store.
And things slide downhill from there.
Both lead performances are good and true. The script is thoughtful and well-written, although not funny except in a pathetic, wry way.
This film considers the halfhearted life. It was worth watching, but should not be viewed if you’re already in a depressed mood — or in a midwestern winter.
The Menu (2022)
On Wednesday, we watched The Menu on HBO Max. Having skimmed a few stories about the movie when it was released last September, I had the impression that it was a biting satire on elite foodie esoterica.
Instead, it’s more of a Twilight Zone episode set in the world of elite foodie esoterica. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult, who we know as — huzzah! — the hilariously self-obsessed Peter III of Russia on The Great) and Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy, who everyone knows from her starring role in The Queen’s Gambit) boat out to a private island for dinner at the ultra-exclusive restaurant of Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). They are joined by six or eight other tables of diners for a meal that starts off pretentious and soon veers into a dark dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
It’s a good-but-not-great diversion.
Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter (2021)
While watching The Menu, its restaurant’s oppressive atmosphere and militarily-choreographed staff reminded me of dining at Charlie Trotter‘s “C” restaurant in Cabo San Lucas back in 2005. I figured that The Menu‘s perfectionist celebrity chef had to be inspired by Charlie Trotter — and this reminded me that there was a recent documentary on Charlie Trotter we had not seen.
So we rented Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter and watched it on Thursday. It’s a much better story than The Menu.
As someone who was very aware of Chicago and its celebrities during Trotter’s time, it’s fascinating to see how he built his sand castle right there by Oz Park and sure enough, conquered the fucking world. It’s also exhilarating to see the kind of person young Chuck was — a carefree 16-year-old busboy at the Ground Round, his volleys of correspondence, the ideas and associations crackling like fabulous yellow roman candles.
As an adult, his iron-willed leadership first attracts and eventually repels apprentice Grant Achatz. Oprah champions him. He expands to Las Vegas and Los Cabos. He alienates others, loses favor, and suffers health setbacks. Shit falls apart.
This is not a foodie documentary. It’s about family, marriage, friendships, artistry, labor relations, marketing, fame, competition, and obsession. It’s pieced together well and moves at a snappy tempo — and it contributes a much deeper appreciation of a unique genius than the caricature we got from previous coverage.
Every time you find yourself here, it’s because you chose to come back.
We got a year of Apple TV+ with our iPhones, watched The Morning Show (meh), loved Ted Lasso, watched A Charlie Brown Christmas yet again, and canceled when the year was done.
Now people say Severance is great — and Slow Horses, and Bad Sisters — so just before Christmas, we resubscribed. Ouch, Apple TV+ is now $7 per month, not $5.
I mentioned earlier that there are certain kinds of shows we can hardly ever get into. Science fiction is one of them — especially when that fiction is used to wallpaper over a low budget.
Somehow, I figured Severance for some sort of vicious business drama like Succession or Industry, both of which we love.
But no — there’s a tiny device implanted in the corporate workers’ brains completely severing their work consciousness from their outside-of-work consciousness. I mean, that’s the show’s hook. Also, there are endless white corporate corridors and vacant expressions. And corporate vending machines that sell products all made by Lumon Industries. And there’s corporate authoritarian oppression, including Patricia Arquette in a Nurse Ratched-type role and Christopher Walken devotedly curating corporate propaganda.
After four episodes, I think we may be done. Just as certain characters want to escape this mindless monotony but keep getting foiled, I want to find something more interesting — and I have a tiny device called a Roku remote.
This Place Rules (2022)
It was not worth the 82 minutes.
It’s basically a geek show gawking at various pockets of extreme American jackassery and paranoia during the late stages of the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic. YouTuber Andrew Callaghan strings it all together as a popcorn trail to January 6, but there are no real insights here. Callaghan just both-sides the wackos on the left and right, dismisses the whole commotion as another profit-driven media creation, then sells this “January 6” grab bag to HBO — despite personally skipping January 6 because he was sick with COVID in his Winnebago.
There are a couple of decent moments. Callaghan hangs out with some non-psychotic Black people in the Atlanta area and notes that they live within walking distance of a QAnon-obsessed family profiled earlier. So there’s that.
Also, he confronts Dave, a.k.a. “Inglorious Patriot,” a Q-spewing fellow YouTuber, about Dave’s status as a registered pedophile. Quite the gotcha.
But overall, nah.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy
All week long, we dipped in and out of the coverage of the hostage situation in the U.S. Capitol as Republicans cut fingers and then toes, one at a time, from lifelong Speaker wannabe Kevin McCarthy in exchange for letting him sit in the big chair.
The MSNBC reporters and pundits had many amusing takes on this spectacle.
Joe Scarborough screamed at McCarthy, “You have wanted this job too much for too long. It makes you weak!” Visions of Gollum and his “precious.”
Garrett Haake noted that Americans want The West Wing, but often get either House of Cards or Veep. He also pointed out that the chore of herding a bunch of disparate cats in one common direction is the exact skill set a House Speaker requires. “That’s the job.”
Late Friday night, Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle made me laugh out loud when they remarked that McCarthy’s Republican colleagues had not only taken his shoes but his underwear as well.