Bad movie: Wild Wild West

Well, I just wrote No. 6 in the Baseball 100. That will appear on The Athletic tomorrow. It looks like maybe I really will get to the end of the list this time, though I have to tell you that it still feels SO far away for me. These just get harder and harder. I obviously want to make these last ones very special, but they are players who have been written about a million times. What’s new to say?

But I mean, it wouldn’t be too cool if I stopped now so …

The Baseball 100 will go on for another week and a half, basically. I’m not sure what I’ll do when it’s done, other than go out to celebrate (and by go out, I mean go to eat in the dining room instead of the kitchen). I am creating a plan to turn it into a book, one that will — I hope — take this whole thing to another level. But, honestly, with the world in limbo, we’ll just take it slow and see how it all goes.

I’m hoping as things clear up here I can get going again on this newsletter; I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I’ve been writing 14 hours a day, seven days a week for this Baseball 100. It’s been worth it, I hope. I believe this is some of the best work I’ve done in my life. But yeah, I’m ready to relax a little bit and write about some dumb stuff again. I also have some ideas about what MLB should do when they come back.

A Personal Note

Before I get to this week’s Bad Movie … let me put in a personal note here. Truth is, you’re probably sick of personal notes. You have probably gotten about 10 thousand personal over the last week — from your bank, your credit card company, your gym, your doctor, your dentist, your preferred airline, your hometown team, your favorite hotel chain, your high school friends who you haven’t talked to in five years, and so on.

I even got a personal note from Vice President Mike Pence in the mail! Here’s how I know it was personal: He called me Joe! THEN he asked me to give money to save the country from socialists (that’s pretty much an exact quote). I might have guessed that Mike has other things on his mind than little old me, you know, with a pandemic wrecking the nation and all, but I thought it was really nice for him to reach out.

Sure, we are all confused, and most of us are scared, and none of us has any idea what will happen next or how long anything will last. I’m not sure what there is to add.

But I did want to share a conversation I had with our oldest daughter, Elizabeth. You might remember Elizabeth from past stories I’ve written. She was a little girl when we went to Harry Potter World and were saved by Katie the Prefect. She was a middle-schooler when I took her to see Hamilton. She was not much older than that when we went on An Evening Drive.

And now? Well, now she’s a senior in high school.

Yeah, time goes by, how do you think I feel?

Anyway, in all, she’s a pretty worldly kid. She is a history buff, she’s interested in the world around her, and she has what I suspect is a pretty heartfelt understanding of what people all over are facing. But, yes, she’s also high school senior who is stuck at home with her parents. And as she comes to understand every day that the high school senior year she had anticipated won’t be the year she gets — no prom, no senior dances, no celebrating in the halls with all the kids who have survived, maybe no graduation, all of that.

She knows that this is hardly a big problem when you look around. But she feels sad, and I told her she has every right to feel sad. And there’s no one to blame.

We talked about all f this the other day. I certainly don’t know anything more than anyone else; I undoubtedly know a lot less than most. And I don’t know what to say.

But one thing you find as a parent is that saying nothing is not really a great option.

So here’s what I told her: Feel sad. Feel angry. Feel scared. It’s OK. It’s more than OK — it’s necessary.

We’re living through history. People will be studying this in schools for years and years to come — “your kids,” I told her, “will be studying this” — and what will that story be? We don’t know. But we will write this story, one way or another. The Americans who lived through The Depression didn’t know how it would end … or if it would end. The Americans who lived through World War II didn’t anticipate D-Day or know it would end in victory.

They just kept going. Hope kept them going. There’s reason to have hope. I have faith in our scientists. I have faith in the dedication of medical professionals. I have faith that, differences aside, we care enough about each other that we will pull through whatever this ends up being … together.

I’m not going to tell you that faith doesn’t get shaken a little bit each day. It does.

But then I remember what Buck O’Neil always said: There are so many more good people than not.

“Joy comes in the morning,” my friend David von Drehle wrote in the Washington Post. David has COVID-19. He has “mild” symptoms that do not sound mild except in the context of what we know the severe symptoms of this virus are. “Joy comes with the breaking of fevers and easing of fears. Joy comes with the battles bravely won or bravely lost. With the sacrifice of self to the service of others, joy comes.”

Yes. I told Elizabeth that joy comes even now, in small ways, in time we get to spend together as a family, in the little but important things we can do to help, in the way we reach out to people we love but have not had time for, in the long phone calls she has with her friends, in the bad movies we barely endure on Bad Movie Friday because, hey, we now have time to endure them. The worst, we are told, is yet to come, and we have to brace ourselves for that. But it isn’t a choice.

This is the moment we have been given.

And all you can do in this crazy world is try to rise to that moment.


Bad Movie Friday!

Wild Wild West
Year released: 1999
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith; Kevin Kline; Kenneth Branagh; Salma Hayek.
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 17%; Audience 28%

How long we lasted: 42 minutes.

For info on Bad Movie Friday (it was Thursday, but online school started), read here.

I don’t know how we lasted 42 minutes with Wild Wild West, to be honest. The first request to eject came about six minutes into the movie with the first gay joke. At least I think it was the first gay joke. It might have been the first race joke. Or it might have been the first sexist joke. It was hard to keep up. In any case, we had two members of the family who shall remain nameless (Margo and Elizabeth) who kept insisting that it might get better, that with the delightful Will Smith and Kevin Kline and Salma Hayek in it, it seemed almost impossible that it would NOT get better. And so they made Katie and I stick with it.

It did not get better.

I actually wanted to dump the movie during the opening credits. I’m not kidding. I was a fan of the old Wild Wild West TV Show; it used to play in the afternoons when I was growing up. And one of my favorite parts of the show was the opening credits, which had awesome music.

I mean, check it out for yourself:

I'll bet you didn’t see the guy slugging the woman at the end, did you?

In any case, that music is great. So Wild Wild West the movie starts and … what the hell is that music they’re playing? It’s not the same song. It’s not CLOSE to the same song. I mean, what happened? They couldn’t get the rights?

Instead, they had legendary composer Elmer Bernstein composed new music for it, and all due respect to the man who scored The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven and Thoroughly Modern Millie, this them song is TERRIBLE.

No, I mean it’s TERRIBLE.

Why? Why? Why?

I mean, if you’re going to change the song (why?) go ahead and just use the Will Smith “Wild Wild West” song, I mean, it’s terrible too — winner of the Razzy Worst Original Song — but at least it makes some sense since Will Smith is in the movie.

Seriously, why would you change the fantastic music of Wild Wild West?

But that leads to the overriding question of Wild Wild West — why would you make it in the first place? You have some delightful actors. You have Barry Sonnenfeld, who was cinematographer for the Coen brothers and for fun movies like Big and When Harry Met Sally. You’re telling me with a collection of talent like that, you can’t come up with something better than putting Kevin Kline in dresses and Will Smith in Louisiana fighting a legless former confederate soldier who rides around in a mechanical spider and is kidnapping scientists to help develop some futuristic weapon.

I guess if I had to take a serious guess at why we kept watching the movie, it is that the “so bad it’s good” concept seems to me to be built around there being a certain joy that comes through the badness of it all. Like the Fast and Furious movies, I get it, they’re blowing stuff up, they’re chasing each other around, it’s a blast even if there’s no plot and absurd dialogue and unreasonable leaps of faith.

And maybe we kept thinking that at some point the actors would bring out some sort of joy from this miserable experience. At 42 minutes, alas, we had to give up that dream.