Generation X – The Greatest Generation

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Generation X – The Greatest Generation

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Apparently it has been decided by our culture that the folks who won World War II are the Greatest Generation.

Well, at the risk of sounding presumptuous and ungrateful, I think my generation – Generation X (aged 39 to 54) – is second to none.

If this were a contest of who suffered and sacrificed more, the WWII generation wins, of course. But they also perpetuated Jim Crow, marginalized women, and dehumanized Japanese people to the point where putting them all in camps/raining fire on their cities seemed like reasonable decisions.

If believing in political causes is a virtue, then Generation X can’t compete. But I argue that it is our quiet, non-judgmental lack of belief that made America a much better place on our watch.

Racial integration doesn’t come from federal laws or National Guard Troops outside of schools; it comes from a generation of people behaving decently. That was Generation X.

As kids, we were the first to embrace a non-white comedian as our official TV dad (no one told us he was a sexual predator). As young adults, we embraced hip-hop and forever blurred the color lines in American music.

While it was Baby Boomers who decriminalized inter-racial marriage and homosexual activity, it was our generation that didn’t care whether our relatives and friends married someone from a different race or came out of the closet. Sometimes not caring is the most wholesome, decent thing you can do.

In the late-60s, Baby Boomers transformed universities into hotbeds of civil unrest and Marxist Utopianism. In 1968, the Boomers pushed the US to the brink of revolution. Today, passionate Generation Z teenagers have turned America’s college campuses back into dens of discord and discontent.

As for Generation X, we quietly got an education and went to work. The Who proclaimed in 1971 that they “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Generation X never got fooled at all.

After Pearl Harbor, an entire generation mobilized to force unconditional surrender on Japan. And they decided to conquer Nazi Europe for good measure. 9/11 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor and the Baby Boomers running the country were eager for another all-out war.

Generation X wasn’t having it, though. When we were kids, Yoda told us that “wars not make one great” and that skepticism is embedded in our DNA.

Baby Boomers had to invent a whole new high-tech method of warfare because they knew that our generation was too sane to island jump or storm beaches for them.

The internet changed everything. But it feels like we are the only people who took the revolution in stride.

Some Baby Boomers are alienated by the speed of change. Others are bewildered by the technology and fall prey to scams like internet free trials and offshore charlatans offering to fix their computers in exchange for a credit card number.

Millennials and Generation Z know nothing but the internet and it rules their lives and their thoughts with an iron fist. To them, truth is found on Google. To them, the events of our world are rendered meaningless if they aren’t promptly posted on Snapchat or Instagram.

Generation Xers are competent with computers but remember a world where they didn’t run our lives. We use the internet as a tool to make our lives easier, but we don’t mistake the online rantings of false-messiahs as the truth.

I’d say that I am proud to be part of Generation X. But…eh…pride is too self-important for my taste.

I’d say that it would be nice if you threw us a ticker-tape parade for being so even-tempered, peaceful, reasonable, and cool. But we probably wouldn’t show up for it, anyway. We’re too busy working.

 

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Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

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Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

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Barry bonds and David Ortiz were both first class lefty power hitters. Bonds has a better regular season resume; Ortiz is remembered for his playoff heroics.
Both men are assumed to have used Performance Enhancing Drugs during their careers.
So why is David Ortiz going be a first ballot Hall of Famer while home run champion Barry Bonds can’t get the votes? You know why: popularity. Big Poppy is lovable and gregarious with the media; Barry Bonds is aloof and prickly.

Sports writers make baseball history almost as much as players. Do not cross them. Ted Williams crossed them.

During his sophomore season with the Red Sox in 1940, Ted Williams started to get some bad press and he didn’t care for it one bit. He started jawing at reporters during post-game interviews.

When one local scribe criticized Williams for failing to visit his family during the off-season, the young slugger decided that the media was his enemy for life.

According to the informative documentary “Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” he was right to be furious.

Ted Williams had every reason to shun his parents. His father was a traveling pickle salesmen and a drunk who rarely saw his kids. Ted’s pious Mexican mom was an active member of the Salvation Army; but she spent more time saving souls than parenting.

Ted Williams grew up an angry, lonely atheist. His only solace was how much he loved hitting.

After Pearl Harbor, rising superstar Ted Williams wanted to stay in Boston and mash home runs. But the patriotic public – egged on by the media – shamed Williams into enlisting mid-season. In an interview late in life, elderly Williams was still frustrated when he imagined how many records he would have broken if he hadn’t spent so much time in the military.

When Williams returned home from his service, he continued his baseball dominance. He wasn’t just the most skilled, he was the most cerebral hitter in the game, decades ahead of time.

During an era where sluggers were still using mighty Ruthian bats, Williams was swinging light lumber because he perceived that bat speed is the key to more power. Predating the age of analytics, Williams created a strike zone heat map so he knew exactly where to focus his upper cut swing for maximum results.

The documentarians do everything they can to get the audience to sympathize with cantankerous old Ted.

Ted Williams was a sincere advocate for equality in baseball. Even though he wasn’t close with his mom, he was always troubled by the prejudice that he saw his mother endure. Williams used his Hall of Fame induction speech to urge the old white guys in Cooperstown to give black stars their due. Jackie Robinson became the first black Hall of Famer the following year and they inducted several Negro League legends soon after.

Ted Williams was easily the greatest ball player to wear Boston red since Babe Ruth and his reputation grew through the decades. But because of all the bad press, the city remained strangely ambivalent toward its superstar during his career.

The documentary shows video of his final game, where a mere 10,000 fans bothered to show up to watch Williams hit a HR in his final AB.

Can you imagine? Fenway Park less than half full during a legend’s final game. If Dustin Pedroia announced that his last game was against Tampa Bay this Sunday, the nosebleed seats would be selling for $150 on Stubhub.

“Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” is an enjoyable and unusually substantive documentary. It reminds us that an athlete can achieve amazing things on the ballfield but still be disliked if he won’t play ball with the media. Just ask Barry Bonds.

Us

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Us

****

 

Just a few years ago, Jordan Peele was one half of America’s favorite sketch comedy duo: Key & Peele.

Their hit Comedy Central series combined the gut-busting, YouTube-friendly race humor of Dave Chappelle with a nerdy absurdism that was all their own.

I love their Neil DeGrasse Tyson sketch. Tyson’s wife repeatedly chastises her astrophysicist husband for selfishly failing to live up to his responsibilities around the house. Each time she confronts him, Jordan Peele’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson smoothly talks himself out of trouble by citing the laws of General Relativity and Stephen Hawking’s multi-verse theory.

Key & Peele’s finest hour was their Gremlins 2 sketch. Peele plays a flamboyant Sequel Doctor. He barges in on a writers meeting and pushes each scribe to spit out the most outlandish Gremlins concept they can imagine. It’s a brilliant, heart-felt tribute to Peele’s favorite 1990 horror comedy sequel.

Come to think of it, it makes perfect sense that Jordan Peele branched out to make “Get Out” – the breakthrough horror/comedy race satire. “Get Out” was as popular with critics as it was with teenagers. It even won him an Oscar.

“Us” is a surprise in every sense of the word, positive and negative.

First off, “Us” is a terrifying horror movie. Terrifying while you’re watching it. And, at least for me, terrifying while laying in bed thinking about it. I didn’t lose any sleep from “Get Out.” The day after “Us,” I had to drink four espresso shots to function.

Surprisingly, “Us” is a very effective drama anchored by an outstanding performance by Lupita Nyong’o.

Thirty years ago, Nyong’o’s character – Adelaide – had a traumatic experience. She ran into a little girl who looked exactly like her. Since then, Adelaide has been living in fear of her mysterious other self. And rightly so.

Adelaide and her murderous doppelganger are both fascinating characters. I’ve been thinking about their unique perspectives for days.

That is not to say that “Us” is a thought-provoking movie in the way that “Get Out” was. Anyone who claims that Jordan Peele is making a trenchant statement about race or class is grasping at straws and injecting their own meaning into a film that doesn’t have any. Intellectually speaking, this is nothing more than a solid M. Night Shyamalan movie.

“Us” is a very entertaining, very profitable, very scary horror movie. Jordan Peele has gone from a moderately popular cable comedian to the new toast of Hollywood.

I preferred the old Jordan Peele, though. I prefer to laugh than to stay up all night worried that my evil twin will be standing over me with a red jumpsuit and sharp gold scissors.

Studio 54

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Studio 54

***1/2

 

I had a lot of friends growing up.

I do not mean that as a boast. Quite the opposite. I am ashamed as I think back to all the days of my youth that I spent with jerks, doing things that I thought I should be doing rather than what I actually enjoy.

Contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg thinks, having one best friend is better than having many casual friends. More friends means more drama, more undependability, and simply more time with people who don’t truly care about you.

It turns out that the story of Studio 54 – the most famous dance club in the history of the world – is mostly about two best friends working together in harmony.

In the 1960s, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were fraternity brothers at Syracuse University.

On the face of it, they were very different. Ian was tall, handsome, brilliant, serious, and reserved. Steve was little, gay, and gregarious – the only thing he was good at was getting to know everyone at school who mattered.

But the young men shared an intense ambition to make it really big. In the late-70s, they bought an abandoned TV studio on W. 54th Street and built something amazing.

Ian Schrager was the design man. His innovation was to keep the studio atmosphere, which meant that there could be a show on stage while the dance floor was hopping.

Steve Rubell was the face of Studio 54. He invited the biggest celebrities to the opening and made sure that they were treated like kings and queens. He had a very organized celebrity pecking order. Mick Jagger was ushered in for free and given unlimited drugs on demand. Lesser members of the Rolling Stones could get in, but they’d have to pay.

Studio 54 was a sensation from day one. Every night there were mobs of people behind the velvet rope. Rubell made sure that the richest and prettiest were allowed through. He also, however, had an eye for the freakiest and most eccentric partygoers. The eclectic combination of A-list celebrities, beautiful trust-fund babies, and New York kooks was the magic mix that made the club unique.

Gay people weren’t just allowed to be out, they were encouraged to be as loud and proud as possible.

The cash piled in so fast that Ian and Steve began to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in a brazen skimming operation. “Studio 54” is structured like Martin Scorsese movie, with the superrich criminals being taken down at the height of their hubris.

Eventually, Ian and Steve were convicted of tax evasion. Incredibly, they never turned on each other. The two friends served their time in the same prison and emerged with a new money-making scheme: boutique hotels.

Friendship is harder to define than ever thanks to the internet and social media. But best friendship is still the same: it’s two people experiencing life together in a way that they would not have been able to by themselves. Studio 54 was a great dance club for three years. “Studio 54” is about a great friendship that lasted a lifetime.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

****

 

I am a criminal.

I have broken the law more times than I can remember. And not just when I drove 70 mph on I89.

When I was in my 20s, I went on a date with a mature-looking 19 year old. At the restaurant, I was able to buy her a martini without any problem. I was breaking the law, right? I know the restaurant certainly was.

Around ten years ago, I got into the habit of ordering synthetic amphetamines over the internet from other countries. It was marketed as plant food. Wink wink. One time I sent a small baggie to my brother in law. According to the law, I was an international drug smuggler, right? Not so different from El Chapo.

I went out with a Chinese woman for a while. I asked her what her impressions were about the differences between the laws in the United States vs. her homeland. I was expecting her to talk about the repressiveness of the Communist regime. Nope. She complained about how difficult it is to watch movies for free online in the US. It turns out that the main cultural difference between our two countries is America’s rigid copyright laws.

I think that the US is a great place to live. But that’s only because the criminal justice system doesn’t have the resources to prosecute people every time we break the law. Otherwise, we’d be nothing but a gigantic prison colony surrounding Utah.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is the delightful true story of a pair of felons who broke laws that do not need to exist.

Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel. When we meet her in 1991, she is the ultimate loser cat lady. She used to be a best-selling biographer, but those days are long gone. Now she lives in a filthy apartment that she can’t afford. She can’t keep a girlfriend because she’s so cantankerous and miserable. She has no friends, no family, and she drinks all day when she should be writing.

The movie goes from sad to fun when Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) picks her up at a bar. Jack is an outrageous, flamboyant British dandy. He has made his way in life using his good-looks and charm. Now that he’s in his 60s and his looks are fading, Jack’s charm has become a false bravado – a shield that hides his loneliness and fear.

They are both caustic, dishonest sociopaths who have been rejected by society. Their friendship is funny and sweet. And it seems perfectly logical for them to become partners in crime.

Lee Israel begins typing made-up personal letters from dead celebrities like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward. Jack sells them to New York memorabilia dealers for hundreds of dollars a pop.

For the first time in years, Lee is enjoying her life and finding an eager audience for her work. So what if it is based on a lie? All she’s doing is selling letters. Let’s not make a federal case out of it!

The FBI did indeed make a federal case out of it.

My observation is that it is easy for legislatures to criminalize things but extremely difficult to overturn unnecessary laws and legalize them again. I think we should tear up every law book and start from scratch with the handful of crimes that really should be illegal.

Leaving Neverland

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HBO Documentary

Leaving Neverland

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“Many people are skeptical about the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley. They say that Lisa Marie is more of a sit at home type, while Michael Jackson is more a homosexual pedophile.”

-Norm MacDonald, on Saturday Night Live 1994

 

“The family that accused Michael Jackson of molesting their child are just in it for the money.” “Macaulay Culkin knew him for years and says that Jackson never touched him.” “He seems like such a sweet, innocent man who just loves children.” “What kind of parents leave their son with a 35-year-old man, anyway?”

We have all heard these excuses for Michael Jackson, or even thought them ourselves.

As a society, we tried to convince ourselves that Michael Jackson was innocent. We all watched his videos and enjoyed his music. We wanted to live in an America where our most iconic entertainer is an eccentric genius, not a monster.

If you are still not sure whether Michael Jackson really molested young boys, “Leaving Neverland” will convince you once and for all.

This isn’t a lurid, TMZ-style gotcha movie. It’s a four-hour, methodical story of how Michael Jackson met children, befriended their entire families, and made little boys his victims and accomplices.

The film introduces us to Australian choreographer Wade Robson. As a four-year-old, he became obsessed with Michael Jackson.

When MJ toured Australia in 1987, promotors held a dance contest to see which local children could best mimic Jackson’s signature dance moves. Even though the contest was for kids seven and up, five-year-old Wade won and got to meet his idol.

Michael Jackson didn’t try to convince Robson’s parents to let Wade stay with him. The pop star went to Robsons’ house and invited the entire family to his.

The Robson family stayed at Jackson’s sprawling Neverland Ranch. Wade’s mom remembers being dazzled and disoriented by the otherworldly beauty and opulence of the estate. Eventually, she agreed to let her son stay in Jackson’s bedroom.

It turns out that Neverland Ranch was designed specifically for stealthy sexual predation. There were loud staircases and alarms so that Jackson knew when people were coming near him. There was a closet within a closet where Jackson showed boys his pornography collection.

Wade Robson seems brave and convincing and he describes the sex acts he participated in. He also explains what the singer said to him that made the molestation seem like acts of love that he was compelled to keep secret for decades. Wade doesn’t see himself simply as a rape victim; he viewed Michael Jackson as his boyfriend and lover.

In addition to being a sexual deviant, apparently the King of Pop was also hideously selfish. For me, the film’s most upsetting scene is when Jackson convinces Wade’s mother to move to Los Angeles full time just so he has more convenient access to Wade.

Wade and his mother and sister moved to America and Wade’s older brother and bi-polar father stayed in Australia. The scene where the family is splitting apart forever is as gut-wrenching as the sexual abuse.

Above all, director Dan Reed helps us understand why victims of abuse take years to tell anyone what happened to them and even defend the predator.

As for us as a society, we are a little complicit, too. We knew way back in 1994 that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. We just didn’t want to believe it.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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There was a media backlash against “Bohemian Rhapsody” for winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama and “Green Book” for winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

Backlash is an understatement. It was more like a coordinated firestorm of internet fury. If you google Bohemian Rhapsody Deserved to Win and Green Book Deserved to Win, you get a grand total of TWO articles praising “Green Book.” The dozens of other articles are expressions of righteous outrage over the tragedy of these mediocre old-fashioned movies winning major awards.

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book.” They are well-crafted, charming, feel-good movies about lonely, guarded artists who slowly open themselves up to friendship.

The consensus was that “Black Panther” should have swept awards season. I don’t get it. I don’t know how comic book movie fans can even tell the difference between “Black Panther” and “Iron Man 3” and “Captain America 4” and “Avengers of the Galaxy 26.” I might have made those up. But who knows, really? There are so many comic book movies and they all look the same to me.

In the climax of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book,” real human beings come together in harmony. The climax of “Black Panther” is a battle scene with computer animated people in cat suits fighting each other.

Almost no one in journalism will admit to loving Best Picture “Green Book.” But almost everyone likes Best Animated Film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

The movie introduces us to Miles Morales: an average nerdy teenager in present day Brooklyn. If you are surprised when he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops superpowers, you have gone to the wrong theater.

The guys who made “Into the Spider-Verse” know that there are so many Spider-man films that the average American has lost track. The big gimmick of this movie is that we live in multiverse that contains infinite Spider-men. There’s chubby divorcé Spider-man, 1930s film-noir Spider-man. There’s Spider-girl and there’s even a Spider-pig (named Peter Porker).

Screenwriter Phil Lord has no shortage of fun ideas and weird surprises. He also wrote the 2014 megahit “The Lego Movie” and the similarities are striking. They are both stories of average young men striving to be The Chosen One. And they are both family movies with a barrage of sophisticated jokes that only adults will appreciate.

“The Lego Movie” and “Into the Spider-Verse” are both wonderfully entertaining and imaginative. But the “The Lego Movie” has a surprise touching ending while “Into the Spider-Verse” has a battle scene with computer animated people in spider suits fighting each other.

Sorry, folks. I’ll always prefer old-fashioned films like “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in which real humans come together in harmony.

Support the Girls

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Support the Girls

***

 

I remember this lovely young woman I used to work with many years ago. Her name was Danielle.

One time we were talking about a movie preview we had both seen. She stated that the star was James Franco. I corrected her and said it was Hayden Christensen. She smiled at me and didn’t say a word.

Months later we were in New York City together, walking back to the hotel from a club. I admitted to her sheepishly that she was completely right about James Franco. I expressed my amazement that she was able to accept my arrogant, incorrect answer with such grace. She smiled at me and didn’t say a word.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: Danielle was vastly more mature and sophisticated than I was. To be liked, a smart good-looking woman needs to strategically tone down her intelligence sometimes to remain popular.

I agree with my feminist readers that life shouldn’t be this way. But it is. And I admire the heck out of women like Danielle. Andrew Bujalski – the writer and director of “Support the Girls” – clearly does, too.

The film takes us through one day in the life of Lisa (Regina Hall): the manager of a Hooters-esque sports bar called Double Whammies.

Her day is like a low-key version of The Odyssey. Lisa has to navigate a crazy boss, angry customers, a sullen husband, and a burglary attempt by one of her cooks.

All of the real characters in “Support the Girls” are women, and we root for all of them. The men aren’t so much bad guys as they are obstacles to overcome.

Andrew Bujalski has made a subtle Union movie. He views the solidarity of the workers as the only thing keeping the waitresses from physical exploitation and total powerlessness.

 

The best thing about “Support the Girls” is Haley Lu Richardson’s character Maci. Maci is young, bubbly, and speaks with a pronounced southern accent. In any normal movie, she’d be a ditz and the butt of jokes.

The surprise is that Maci is the smartest character. She’s the only one without financial problems and she has landed the one kind, decent man we meet in the entire movie.

In the final scene, one of the other waitresses drunkenly gives her a backhanded compliment. “You wouldn’t understand, Maci,” she slurs. “you’re an angel sent from Heaven to show the rest of us what a good attitude looks like.” “And,” she adds snidely, “for lonely old men to **** *** to.”

For one beautifully acted moment, we see that Maci wants to defend herself and explain that she is more intelligent and sophisticated than anyone around her can comprehend. But instead she displays her maturity and composes herself. She smiles and doesn’t say a word.