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    How ‘Black Panther’ Builds Complex Characters From the Politics of Colonization

    In the original and in “Wakanda Forever,” heroes and villains are deeply layered, reflecting real-life issues facing people of color around the world.What ingredients make a hero or a villain? Despite so many film franchises’ attempts at bringing nuance to the dichotomy between good and evil, their formulas for these characters, particularly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, seem painfully reductive: Heroes make speeches about justice and fight to valiant, soaring theme music. Villains? God complexes and more stylish fashion.A notable exception is the “Black Panther” films, which imbue heroes and villains with a complexity that derives from the politics around colonization and the African diaspora. In these movies, the line between hero and villain isn’t simply one between good and evil; it’s a boundary defined by the relatable ways each side reacts to the real enemy: the white nations and institutions that benefit from the enslavement and disenfranchisement of people of color.“Black Panther” and particularly the new sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” exhibit a reverence for their heroes that’s rooted in familial and cultural legacy. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of Wakanda with a superhero alter ego, is grounded in and supported by his lineage: not only do his mother and sister act as his moral foundation, but so do his father and the Black Panthers who have come before him. It’s noteworthy that the ceremony to become the next Black Panther involves being buried and speaking to ancestors for guidance.“Wakanda Forever” begins with the death of T’Challa (from disease, like Boseman, who died from cancer in 2020). The movie honors T’Challa with a gorgeously filmed and choreographed funeral sequence. And it’s clear this is not just about building emotional stakes in the film. “Wakanda Forever” is honoring Boseman himself, showing clips from the first film and allowing the other characters to fully address their grief so that his death doesn’t become just another plot twist or issue that the narrative needs to work around.Shuri (Letitia Wright) in the funeral procession that honors both T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman. Marvel In “Black Panther,” T’Challa’s typically even-keeled, empathetic personality is tempered by his occasionally less than resolute political stances. At first he follows his family’s policy of keeping Wakanda and its resources isolated from the outside world. Then his decision, at the end of the film, to reveal Wakanda’s existence sets off a chain of events that leads to the central conflict in the sequel. Boseman’s, and, thus, T’Challa’s, premature passing begs the question of how the Black Panther would have evolved as king: how would he have ruled Wakanda given his decision to abandon the nation’s isolationist attitude and open it up?The sequel wisely poses that weighty question to Shuri (Letitia Wright), whom the film also entrusts to carry our rage and grief over T’Challa’s death. In order to become the Black Panther, she has to overcome these feelings — symbolized by the appearance of Killmonger, the first film’s antagonist, in a vision brought on when she eats the Heart-Shaped Herb.Her grief is recognizable. In T’Challa’s absence, Wakanda begins to resemble so many Black communities in which the women are left to mourn and then take charge after the men die, the victims of poor health or violence. Of course Shuri feels wronged and spends the film being warned against her rage — “Wakanda Forever” is well aware of the enduring angry Black woman stereotype and surmounts it by having Shuri harness and work through her anger, ultimately evolving to become the hero in the end.On the flip side, the villains of the “Black Panther” films aren’t clear-cut enemies but victims of structural racism: Killmonger in the original and Namor in the sequel are righteously angry men of color who are responding to the ways their communities have been damaged by several great -isms (including capitalism, colonialism and, again, racism). Killmonger, who grew up in Oakland without a father and with all the disadvantages that come with being a Black man in America, wants to use Wakandan technology to empower Black people all over the world. His plan is violent, but it’s not far from the Black Power movement’s extreme factions in the 1960s. (That’s when a group of Black Panthers with guns protested at the California Statehouse, proclaiming, “The time has come for Black people to arm themselves.”)Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor, king of the hidden underwater civilization Talokan. MarvelNamor, the king of Talokan, a hidden Atlantis-style underwater civilization of Indigenous peoples, is a direct victim of colonization who has witnessed the enslavement of his people. He fears that Talokan might be discovered now that America and its allies are searching for vibranium. Will his people be at risk of exploitation and violence from white nations as a consequence of T’Challa’s decision to reveal Wakanda and its resources?On one level the conflicts in these movies are insular: communities of color are set against one another, which is so much more real than an evil robot or a big purple dude snapping half the universe away. But in “Wakanda Forever,” although the big battle is between Wakanda and Talokan, the actual villains are the countries searching for vibranium in their bids for power. In an early scene at the United Nations, Queen Ramonda confronts diplomats demanding access to vibranium; their countries have sent undercover agents to raid Wakanda’s vibranium facilities, and have searched the ocean for other possible stores of vibranium, aiming to use the precious metal to further develop their weaponry.In “Black Panther,” the film tosses us a red herring in the form of Ulysses Klaue, one of Black Panther’s main nemeses and the son of an actual Nazi in the original comics. Klaue is perfectly set up as the bad guy: he’s a criminal mastermind, a shady profiteer who sells weapons and artifacts, many from Wakanda. A more predictable film would have maintained him as the big bad guy and brought Killmonger in as a villainous sidekick — a Black man misled by anger, but still likely to redeem himself by the end. With his murder of Klaue, Killmonger may have supplanted him as the antagonist, but the reality is that the fountainhead for Killmonger’s fury and militant politics are society’s racial inequities, exploited by Klaue, Europeans and others who see Black people primarily as a means to building wealth, tracing all the way back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.When Shuri is forced to confront Killmonger, which means confronting the part of her that’s angry and hurt and hardened by grief, the film implies that this is a common duality Black people embody today, that we must simultaneously hold our personal sense of dignity and righteousness, like a Wakandan royal, and our outrage and shame, like Killmonger. Does that make any one of us less than a hero? No, these films say, because in the end there’s still a Black Panther protecting the nation.In these films, the true villain is a history of white oppression and power, but the enemy — whether another person of color or a Black person elsewhere in the diaspora — is on the same team. More

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    Jean-Marie Straub, Uncompromising Filmmaker, Is Dead at 89

    Emerging from the French New Wave, driven by artistic purity, he and his wife and directing partner, Danièle Huillet, didn’t care if audiences walked out on their films.Jean-Marie Straub, a celebrated filmmaker aligned with the French New Wave who sparked critical debate with films he made with his wife, Danièle Huillet, that were known for their aggressively cerebral subject matter, Marxist leanings and anti-commercial sensibility, died on Sunday at his home in Rolle, Switzerland. He was 89.The Swiss National Film Archive announced his death.“The Straubs,” as they were often called (although they preferred Straub-Huillet as a professional moniker), emerged in the 1950s from the same circle of revolutionary French filmmakers as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, a friend over the years who lived nearby in Rolle until his death in September.The New Wave directors upended moviemaking conventions by channeling their cinephilic theories into auteur-driven works that reflected the anti-authoritarian sentiments of postwar France. Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet took those same impulses in a more radical direction, eschewing traditional narrative techniques and structures to create a form of ideologically driven film that proudly flouted basic standards of entertainment.Their 1981 documentary, “Too Early, Too Late,” for example, featured Ms. Huillet, in a voice-over, reading from a letter written by Friedrich Engels to the Marxist theorist Karl Kautsky about the economic despair of French peasants as seemingly unrelated footage of locations in contemporary France played onscreen.Mr. Straub with his wife and filmmaking partner, Danièle Huillet, in 2002. Their films, one critic wrote, “indifferent to love or admiration, are monuments to their own integrity.”Sipa/ShutterstockThe films’ source material often seemed plucked from a graduate-level syllabus, drawing from the likes of Bertolt Brecht, the novelist and literary critic Elio Vittorini and the operas of the atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg.Critics, film theorists and discerning viewers held strong views of their work, which could be seen as either poetic or tedious. Their minimalist approach to editing, cinematography and acting demanded that “one be in a mood so receptive that it borders on the brainwashed,” as Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times in his review of “Class Relations,” their 1984 interpretation of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, “Amerika.”The film is now hailed as one of the most accessible and beautiful of the Straub-Huillet films, but Mr. Canby said the actors’ impassive line delivery sounded “as if they were giving instructions on how to put on one’s life jacket in case of an unscheduled landing at sea.”To other critics, that steadfast commitment to an aesthetic was an artistic statement in itself. “Some movies want to be loved,” the critic J. Hoberman wrote in The New York Times reviewing a 45-film Straub-Huillet retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2016. “Others prefer to be admired. And then there are the movies, like those by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, that, indifferent to love or admiration, are monuments to their own integrity.”Despite a body of work largely confined to art-house theaters and museum screenings, Mr. Straub was awarded the Leopard of Honor lifetime achievement award in 2017 by the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, an award that previously went to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Werner Herzog and Mr. Godard. (Ms. Huillet died in 2006.) Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote that Mr. Straub was “one of the least known of great filmmakers — he never had a hit or sought one.”If audiences shifted uncomfortably in their seats, so much the better. To the combative Mr. Straub, filmmaking could be a revolutionary act. “If we hadn’t learned how to make films,” he once said, “I would have planted bombs.”Mr. Straub in 2017 at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where he received its Leopard of Honor lifetime achievement award, an honor previously bestowed on the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Werner Herzog and Jean-Luc Godard. Urs Flueeler/EPA, via ShutterstockJean-Marie Straub was born on Jan. 8,1933, in Metz, in northeastern France, and was a film buff from an early age, showing an affinity for the films of Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Jean Grémillon.He studied literature at the Lycée Fustel-de-Coulanges in Strasbourg, eventually earning his degree from University of Nancy. In the early 1950s, he organized a film club in Metz, to which he invited Mr. Truffaut, then a provocative critic for the seminal French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, and André Bazin, a Cahiers founder, to discuss films. (Mr. Straub began contributing to the magazine himself.)He met Ms. Huillet in 1954, and the couple settled in Paris, where Mr. Straub began his film career as an assistant, working on movies like Mr. Bresson’s “A Man Escaped,” released in 1956. Two years later, to avoid conscription in the Algerian War, he fled France for West Germany. He and Ms. Huillet were married in Munich in 1959, beginning a long career as expatriate filmmakers working largely in Germany, Italy and Switzerland.Their first short feature, “Not Reconciled” (1965), was adapted from a novel by Heinrich Böll, which dissects the growth and legacies of Nazism. The writer and public intellectual Susan Sontag later said the film had made her want to kiss the screen.In 1968, the couple won international acclaim for their first full-length feature, “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1968), which was a deconstructed version of a biopic of Johann Sebastian Bach.Set in locations in Germany where Bach had actually lived and worked, the film offers a sparse narrative consisting of voice-over reminiscences from a fictional diary by Bach’s second wife (the text was written by the filmmakers). Much of the action, as it were, is provided by musicians in period costume performing the composer’s great works.While the film baffled some critics in its day — A.H. Weiler deemed it “repetitious and static screen fare” in The Times — others, over time, came to see it as a masterpiece, a work of art “whose visual austerity, resolute slowness and refusal of conventional narrative were meant to advance a ruthless critique of capitalist aesthetics,” as A.O. Scott wrote in The Times in 2018.A scene from “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1968), which won international acclaim. It was Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet’s first full-length feature film.Collection Christophel/AlamyAs their reputation grew, Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet continued to push boundaries over the decades. Their films “From the Clouds to the Resistance” (1979) and “Sicilia!” (1999) both premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival, a category reserved for artistically daring works.Critics were less kind to their 1979 adaptation of “Othon,” a 17th-century French play by Pierre Corneille, which announced its intentions to confound with a 22-word title in English: “Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome Will Allow Herself to Choose in Her Turn.”The film featured nonprofessional actors costumed as ancient Romans barking out the text of the play in an emotionally flat, rapid-fire fashion from the ruins of Palatine Hill in contemporary Rome, with the din of the modern city humming below.Ever the utopian, Mr. Straub said he considered the target audience of “Othon” — about a Roman nobleman’s political ambitions amid calls for bringing power to the people — to be the modern proletariat.“I would like to have ‘Othon’ seen by workers in Paris,” he was quoted as saying in a 1975 interview. “They’ve never been told that Corneille is impossible to understand.”The film, he added, “threatens not just a class, but a clique of power.”That clique of power apparently included critics at the New York Film Festival in 1970, half of whom bolted for the exit during the film’s press screening.But perhaps that was the point. As Mr. Straub once put it, “We make our films so that audiences can walk out of them.” More

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    Lars von Trier Had the Key to the End of ‘The Kingdom’ All Along

    As he grapples with Parkinson’s and considers what’s next, the director continues to provoke in “The Kingdom Exodus,” the final season of his haunted-hospital drama.In the first two seasons of Lars von Trier’s haunted-hospital drama “The Kingdom,” hailed since the 1990s as Denmark’s “Twin Peaks,” von Trier appears in a tuxedo at the end of each episode to offer a droll recap and wish viewers a pleasant evening. With an impish grin and an appeal to “take the good with the evil,” he ends with a devil-horn salute.But in the belated five-part conclusion, “The Kingdom Exodus,” which begins streaming Sunday on Mubi, von Trier delivers his closing remarks from behind a curtain.“I’ve retired a bit physically,” he says, his shoes peeking out from under the curtain, citing “vanity” as the reason. “The 24 years that have passed since the old episodes have left their mark, and I can’t compete with the unbearably cocky young Lars von Trier.”It is, on one level, a gag typical of von Trier, 66, a filmmaker who never has never taken himself too seriously, sometimes to a fault, even as he has created some of the most ferociously imaginative, rule-bending and at times infuriating movies of the last 30 years, including “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville.”But the comment is also a reflection of his current state. In August, von Trier’s production company, Zentropa, announced that he had Parkinson’s disease. Weeks later, a visibly trembling von Trier gave a surprise, prerecorded introduction at the premiere of “The Kingdom Exodus” at the Venice Film Festival, later telling Variety that he intended to take a break from filmmaking. In a video call from his home in Copenhagen this month, he warned he would not be able to speak as precisely as he wanted.“That took at least a quarter of my brain, in the sense that I can’t find the words,” he said of his illness, “and in English it’s twice as difficult.” Or as he said in a second interview later in the week, his dark, self-deprecating humor coming through: “I would like to say to you that I am not as stupid as you think I am right now.”Von Trier was joking, as he does almost compulsively in conversation, his sense of humor no less mordant or provocative now than it was when the first two seasons of “Kingdom” aired on Danish television, in 1994 and 1997. A combination of horror and satire set at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, the series was an early international breakthrough for von Trier, and finishing it completes a circle of sorts, one with origins dating to his 1987 feature “Epidemic,” which used the hospital as a location.Episodes of the first two seasons of “The Kingdom,” which aired in the 1990s, ended with a recap by von Trier and an appeal to “take the good with the evil.”Zentropa/MubiIn “The Kingdom Exodus,” which begins streaming on Sunday, von Trier delivers the recaps from behind a curtain. Zentropa/MubiStill, as he considers what’s next, he seemed more circumspect than the von Trier who raised eyebrows at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 when he declared, “I am the best director in the world.” Or who, two years later at the same festival, expressed sympathy for Hitler and delivered the line “OK, I’m a Nazi” — another joke, but one that got him temporarily barred from Cannes. (Unprompted, he expressed regret over the over the 2011 incident when we spoke, referring to it as “the catastrophe.”)The actor Willem Dafoe, who began working with von Trier on “Manderlay” (2005) and plays the satanic Grand Duc in “Exodus,” spoke of two qualities that keep drawing him back to von Trier — the director’s ability to communicate without speaking and his habit of speaking too much.“He’s well known for not having a filter, and sometimes it gets him into trouble because he goes to places socially that may be difficult to accept,” Dafoe said. “But creatively, that kind of looseness, that kind of allows him to contemplate the unthinkable.”At Venice this year, “Exodus” was received as a return to form, but the fact that it was even completed was improbable. The franchise is a ghost story in more ways than one.The series was always meant to have a third, final season. But after Season 2, the principal actors started to die. Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, who played the imperious, dyspeptic Swedish physician Stig Helmer, died in 1998. Kirsten Rolffes, who played the malingering spiritualist Mrs. Drusse, died in 2000. After a while, von Trier said, he gave up.“But then four years ago I had a mental situation that was not good,” he said, “and I knew the only thing that could help was to work.” “Exodus” was simply the easiest thing to do.A third season of “The Kingdom” was stalled after its principle characters began dying, including Ernst-Hugo Jaregard (as Dr. Stig Helmer), who died in 1998.Zentropa/MubiMikael Persbrandt plays Helmer’s son in “Exodus.” Like his father, he is a Swede who complains constantly about Danes.Zentropa/MubiVon Trier, who shares screenwriting credit across the series with his longtime collaborator Niels Vorsel, wrote much more slowly than he usually did. (“Dogville,” he said, was written in 10 days.) His ambition was to give the series as much of an ending as possible. This season is also, he thinks, the funniest of the three.Unlike the first two installments, which were mainly studio productions, “Exodus” was filmed principally at the real-life Rigshospitalet, during Covid, no less. The story brings back some original characters in supporting roles while presenting substitutes for the departed leads.In place of Stig Helmer, “Exodus” offers Stig Helmer Jr. (Mikael Persbrandt), who takes a job at the hospital to experience living in the nation that drove his father mad. (Like his father, he constantly carps about Danish customs.) In place of Mrs. Drusse, the show has Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), a sleepwalker who, in the first of many meta touches, is introduced watching the closing credits of Season 2’s final episode and complaining, “That’s no ending.”The shoot was difficult for von Trier, who remembered receiving his diagnosis during the course of the production.“I have never felt so bad on a shoot before,” he said. “But on the other hand, I enjoyed especially the work with the actors.”The feeling was mutual for Jorgensen, who had starred in von Trier’s “The Idiots,” from 1998. On a set in 2014, she was run over by a tractor, and her lungs collapsed. Her road to recovery was long. The shared experience of having overcome physical obstacles had bonded her and her director, she said. “I survived, and Lars survived.”She added: “What I experienced was that every day, he got more and more interested in the telling of the story.”In early seasons, Kirsten Rolffes plays the Miss Marple-type character Mrs. Drusse, who is in touch with the spiritual realm. Rolffes died in 2000.Zentropa/MubiIn place of Mrs. Drusse, “Exodus” has Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), a sleepwalker who seems similarly attuned to the supernatural.Zentropa/MubiVon Trier said he has always considered “The Kingdom” a “left-hand work,” a money job that permits a certain kind of freedom. He likes that sort of abandon, even if he cares more for his feature films. “The good side is of course that you take any idea and say it’s good enough and put it in,” he said.Still, one subplot in “Exodus” plays with fire, even for a director inclined toward controversy. In it, Stig Jr., who is working to make the hospital more inclusive (new rules on pronouns abound), tries to initiate a romance with a colleague (Tuva Novotny) by asking her consent by email. She winds up running to a lawyer (Alexander Skarsgard), who somehow represents them both.The references to sexual harassment risk appearing pointed: In 2017, Bjork, who starred in “Dancer in the Dark,” accused a “Danish director” who was widely understood to be von Trier of unwanted touches and sexual advances. That same year, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who co-founded Zentropa, was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women at the company, to which he later responded, in The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ll stop slapping asses.”Von Trier said that the subplot of “Exodus” was inspired by broader cultural discussions in Denmark. He has consistently denied Bjork’s accusations. (“I don’t have to defend,” he said during our interview. “I have nothing to defend.”)Whatever ways “Exodus” dares being called objectionable, the response so far has been enthusiastic. Alberto Barbera, the director of the Venice Film Festival, suggested that the audience’s familiarity with the original — and with von Trier’s prankishness — played a role in its positive reception.As “often happens with cult works,” he wrote in an email, there was “lively participation accompanied with a mixture of spontaneous applause, laughs and — probably for many — moments of nostalgia for being taken back.”Jorgensen, who has had health struggles of her own, said that the shared experience of having overcome physical obstacles had bonded her and von Trier.Christian Geisnæs/ZentropaTo the extent that he ever did, von Trier no longer considers himself the best director in the world. “It’s not like running 100 meters, and then the stopwatch will tell you if you won,” he said. “You can’t compare art, and you can’t compare films.”But there are some constants. He still hasn’t been to the United States. He still doesn’t fly. (If he allowed himself one flight? “To Iceland, to meet Bjork in person and really talk this through.”) He is still searching for projects now that “Kingdom” is completed, but he said his health would need to improve before he started something new.In the meantime, he has his routines. Our first conversation took place the day of the Danish general election, and he had just voted — as usual, he said, “for the most-left party I could find.” (In case anyone still wondered whether he is a Nazi.) Jorgensen, who lives near von Trier, mentioned taking regular walks with him, saying it was good for his Parkinson’s.Then there is one project that he is already shooting — a video series with the working title “Report From Lars.” He wants it to be available free, perhaps on the internet.In each chapter, von Trier will share insights that he has learned about filmmaking.“Then people who hate my films can do the opposite,” he said. More

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    How Mr. Baseball Became a Go-To for Players Headed to Japan

    Sure as leaves flutter to the ground and turkey gobbles fill the air, a fall baseball tradition, too, is about to be renewed.The twelve teams of Nippon Professional Baseball have begun their annual courting of foreign talent to play in Japan next season. Many who accept offers will surely prepare for the experience the same way those before them have for 30 years, by watching “Mr. Baseball.”The comedy stars Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot, a former superstar for the Yankees who is struggling to recapture his greatness. He is called into his manager’s office and told they shopped him around but there was only one taker, the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.“I’m a Major Leaguer,” Elliot declares. “There’s no way I’m going to play in Japan.”He does and thus begins his journey into a peculiar new world, where shoes are not permitted in the clubhouse, toilet seats are too small for him and sluggers are sometimes expected to bunt, all of which, according to an unscientific poll of foreigners who played there recently, is still true today.The film was released to limited success thirty years ago this fall, but it has evolved into a go-to resource for players wanting to know what they are getting themselves into.While the image of a washed-up player being jettisoned to Japan does not match up well with the realities of foreign players in Japan — Miles Mikolas, Ryan Brasier and Colby Lewis are among recent examples of young players who went to Japan and returned to American baseball with success — the portrayal of a world that seems topsy-turvy at first glance to Selleck’s Elliot is right on according to those who watched the movie to prepare for their journey.“Absolutely,” said Nick Martinez, a relief pitcher who spent multiple seasons in Japan before signing with the San Diego Padres this season and playing a starring role in the bullpen that led San Diego to the National League Championship Series.In one scene from “Mr. Baseball,” Selleck’s character questions the value of a conditioning drill he has never seen in which players squat low and try to advance across the field by kicking their legs out.“What’s this?” he asks Hammer, his team’s veteran suketto, or foreign player, played by Dennis Haysbert. When told it was a common drill, he retorts, “For what, a Russian dance contest?”Nick Martinez spent four seasons in Japan before returning to the majors as a top bullpen arm for the San Diego Padres.Baseball MagazineMartinez confessed similar doubt before reaching acceptance in the way things were done there.“They had some really unique transfer-of-balance drills where you use a bar or a stick across your shoulders and you shuffle side to side and land on one leg, putting your glute in kind of a power position,” Martinez recalled. “When you first do it, it looks really silly, so you’re kind of doing it half-ass because it just seems like eyewash. But when you take the time to learn it and get into a groove doing it, you’re like, ‘Man, I can feel my glute.’ It makes you more aware of your balance and where your power is coming from. It’s pretty cool.”Rex Hudler is most likely the first player who was able to use the film as a resource. He signed with the Yakult Swallows following the 1992 season, just after the movie was released. His introduction to it was as the in-flight entertainment on the plane taking him to Tokyo to become a real-life version of Jack Elliot.“I used it as a reference big time,” Hudler said. “Nobody else on the plane was going over there to play Japanese baseball, so they were all laughing. I was guarded and soaking it all in like a sponge.”In eight major league seasons to that point, Hudler had played for the Hall of Fame managers Yogi Berra, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog and Joe Torre. That did little to prepare him for Katsuya Nomura, his manager in Japan and a Hall of Fame catcher notorious for his biting frankness and distrust of foreign players.Hudler recalled being astonished when Nomura would dispatch the interpreter to the on-deck circle with ill-timed reminders about hitting. Hudler relied on just the kind of ingenuity and diplomacy necessary for face-saving survival in Japan.“I said to the interpreter, ‘Hey, look, I’m a little offended by this right here,’” Hudler said. “‘I’m a professional baseball player, I have been for 15 years, so next time he sends you out here, don’t you dare tell me what he says. Just say, ‘Hey, Hud, get a big hit. He’ll never know what you told me.’ From then on, whenever he’d come out, that’s what he would say and everyone was satisfied.”Hudler survived some early struggles, batted .300, and helped the Swallows to their first championship in 15 years. Suketto are expected to hit home runs, however, and his 14 were not enough. He was not re-signed. Even so, he says he cherishes his time in Japan and considers it one of the best experiences of his life.Baseball Magazine‘I used it as a reference big time.’Rex Hudler, who watched the movie on his flight to Japan before joining the Yakult Swallows for the 1993 season.Amusingly, the featured film on the return flight to the United States was, once again, “Mr. Baseball.”“The second time, I laughed my ass off,” Hudler said. “I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so close to what I experienced, a little fabricated but close. Instead of being guarded, now I had just lived it, and I totally got it. It’s my favorite baseball movie.”That sentiment is a tribute to Leon Lee, whose name appears twice in the film’s credits: as an actor portraying a suketto from another team and, more significantly, as the film’s baseball adviser. Lee played 10 seasons for three teams in a Japan career that ended in 1987. His 1,436 hits are fourth all-time among foreigners in N.P.B.Lee fought for authenticity in the film’s baseball scenes. He argued with the Australian director Fred Schepisi that baseball fans would not believe a runner on first could score on a line drive up the middle or the trajectory of a batted ball discernible as a pop up could be edited as a wall clearing home run. The scenes were reshot and in the latter case, Selleck actually hit one out that made the final cut. Lee earned the trust of Selleck, a noted Detroit Tigers fan, who valued such authenticity.That allowed Lee to make perhaps his greatest contribution, and the one that likely has resonated most with players using the film as a resource to prepare for their own journey. When Selleck and Haysbert would ask for character perspective, Lee consciously dispensed it with a feeling of appreciation and fulfillment from his time in Japan.“Mr. Baseball” is not based on one real-life player’s career. However, it certainly is influenced by Lee’s experiences, which were rewarding and positive despite moments that proved befuddling, like when he was released by the Taiyo Whales after a typically productive season of 31 home runs, 110 runs batted in, and a .303 batting average. According to Lee, the team believed he had not been clutch.Epoch‘I was not going to be a part of something that made fun of the Japanese game.’Leon Lee, a veteran of Japanese baseball who served as a consultant on the film. “I was not going to be a part of something that made fun of the Japanese game,” Lee said of the film. “I played 10 years there, and I wasn’t going to belittle it. For Americans going over there, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way and say, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing that?’ But when you get back home, you realize you actually became a better ballplayer. The Japanese also really emphasize teamwork. Any human being from any part of the world is going to find real joy in the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team in Japan.”At the end of the film, it is Haysbert’s Hammer who gets an offer to return to American baseball while Selleck’s Elliot is happy to stay.Lee thinks he understands why even after thirty years, “Mr. Baseball” remains a resource for players going to Japan.“Sure, Japan’s different, but different is not always bad,” Lee said. “If you get anything out of the movie, you see that Jack Elliot makes an adjustment and you realize you, too, can adapt and adjust to a different culture.”

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    ‘The Noel Diary’ Review: Revelations on a Cold Winter’s Night

    Justin Hartley (“This Is Us”) is no stranger to the themes in this holiday romance, while Barrett Doss (“Station 19”) brings nuanced comedic timing and charm.The actor Justin Hartley, who won fame on “This Is Us,” is no stranger to the themes in the holiday romance “The Noel Diary.” The yearning of adoptees, the tug of interracial connections and the repercussions of a family tragedy should ring a welcome bell for fans of NBC’s wonderfully weepy melodrama.In the movie, Hartley plays Jake Turner, a best-selling author who returns to his estranged mother’s home in Connecticut after her death. He learns she had become a hoarder — though a notably hygienic one — and finds a journal by an unknown author amid the clutter.A young woman pens her worries onto its pages in the movie’s opening scene.Barrett Doss (“Station 19”) brings nuanced comedic timing and charm to Rachel, whose search for her birth mother — the journal writer — has led her to Jake’s childhood home, where she’s seen standing tentatively across the street.Although Rachel is engaged, the two immediately share a spark, one stoked by their road trip to Jake’s even more estranged father in hopes of learning about Rachel’s mother.James Remar, Bonnie Bedelia and Essence Atkins do nicely buttressing work as Jake’s rueful dad, a compassionate neighbor and Rachel’s birth mother. And the director Charles Shyer brings a journeyman’s ease to the screenplay (based on Richard Paul Evans’s novel by the same name): embracing holiday movie expectations here, gently deflecting them there.The roadways are as snow-dappled as the town of Maple Falls, where a showing of a holiday classic further bonds the traveling pair. Their on-the-road revelations offer hints of what could turn out to be a wonderful life. While this will come as heartwarming news for sentimental viewers, it’s sure to leave one unsuspecting fiancé out in the cold.The Noel DiaryNot rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. Watch on Netflix. More

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    ‘The Son’ Review: Father Doesn’t Know Best

    Hugh Jackman plays the father of a troubled teenager in Florian Zeller’s leaden drama.At one point in “The Son,” directed by Florian Zeller and based on his play of the same name, a clinician briefs a divorced mother and father on their teenage son’s condition after a mental health emergency. “He’s in very good hands now,” the doctor says, referring to the hospital staff. “Now” is the key word; the implication is that the wealthy, well-meaning Peter (Hugh Jackman) and Kate (Laura Dern) are unfit to handle the issues their son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is facing.In my professional opinion (I’m a critic, not a physician), the same should be said of the movie surrounding Nicholas, which tackles adolescent depression about as deftly as an estate lawyer performing open-heart surgery. Despite its contemporary New York City setting, “The Son” seems to have appropriated a midcentury understanding of mental illness, and the emotion on display feels even more artificial than the rooftop vista erected outside the windows of Peter’s industrial-chic Manhattan loft.Peter shares this apartment with his wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and their infant son, and though his work as an attorney is consuming, he relishes his downtown idyll. But the sweetness curdles when Peter learns that Nicholas, who lives with Kate in Brooklyn, has been acting volatile and would prefer to move in with him. Never mind that the teenager is friendless, cutting class and has taken to self-harm; Kate and Peter agree that a change of scenery will restore the cheerful child they raised. (We eventually meet a 6-year-old Nicholas in flashbacks that are so euphoric they could double as airline commercials.)The leadenness of “The Son” is puzzling given the ingenuity of Zeller’s “The Father,” which positions the audience within the point of view of an aging man with dementia. (The film won two Oscars in 2021.) Unlike that triumph of subjectivity, “The Son” declines to probe the perspectives of Peter or Nicholas, compelling the audience to survey the wreckage of their relationship from a distance. It also leaves the actors seeming somewhat stranded, trading clunky lines or lurching into tantrums without the psychological depth to underpin their affliction. The movie may take place inside a pit of despair, but the theatrics leave us with the uncanny sensation of feeling nothing at all.The SonRated PG-13. Divorce and remorse. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes. In theaters. More

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    ‘The Corridors of Power’ Review: The Human Cost of Foreign Policy

    This documentary illuminates America’s ever-shifting approach to conflicts abroad and how politics at home can even lead to inaction.Dror Moreh’s exhaustive documentary “The Corridors of Power” assembles several political heavyweights to survey the bedeviling issue of recent American military intervention abroad. Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, Syria — the litany of deadly conflicts still triggers anguish as the film retraces the rationales to send troops or, more often, to steer clear of entanglement.Any one of these war-zone case studies could be the subject of a single movie, but by covering several, Moreh illuminates the patterns of behavior that lead to stalemate and inaction, even in the face of genocide. The fears of political blowback at home are familiar, and at times while watching, you feel trapped in an interminable, slow-motion tango of hand-wringing. But you also glean how each conflict can affect the responses to the next: In 1990s, after the United States did little to stop the massacre in Rwanda and acted belatedly in Bosnia, the film argues, NATO intervened more rapidly and forcefully in Kosovo.As edited, Moreh’s interviews prize policy analysis and haunting candor over gotcha moments or grandstanding. The interviewees span multiple presidential administrations, including several secretaries of state: James Baker (on Iraq: “Money’s worth fighting over, in my view”), Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as lesser-known insiders. Samantha Power, the genocide scholar and special adviser to former President Obama, emerges as the film’s lodestar. She repeatedly and skillfully frames human rights as a determining consideration in decisions to intervene (as she often did for the president).To a nearly horrifying extent, the director presents the civilian cost of unchecked wars and dictators: Images of corpses punctuate the words of the many talking heads. The film treats the United States as the sole moral standard-bearer of the globe, and in the face of such horrors, it’s a burden that begins to seem impossible to handle alone.The Corridors of PowerNot rated. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. In theaters. More

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    ‘White Noise’ Review: Toxic Events, Airborne and Domestic

    Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel is a campus comedy, a domestic drama and an allegory of contemporary American life.Late in “White Noise,” after the ecological disaster known as the “airborne toxic event,” on the heels of a professional triumph, and in the throes of marital woe, Jack and Babette engage in a discussion of religion with an acerbic German nun. Instead of piety, she offers a pragmatic, borderline cynical view of how faith operates. If she and her colleagues “did not pretend to believe these things,” she says — referring to “old beliefs” in stuff like heaven and hell — “the world would collapse.”The nun, played by the formidable Barbara Sukowa, has been carefully airlifted from the pages of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel into Noah Baumbach’s new film. So have Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) and his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), who head up a rambunctious blended family in a Midwestern college town. Jack, known in academia by the decorative initials J.A.K., is the founder of the college’s department of Hitler Studies. Babette teaches life skills to the elderly and infirm.Back to Sister Hermann Marie: “It is our task in the world to believe things no one else in the world takes seriously,” she says. This may or may not be true of nuns, but it can often feel glumly applicable to writers and filmmakers, especially those who try to chart an independent course. Somebody has to care about art and literature. With respect to DeLillo, Baumbach is very much a believer. His “White Noise” is a credible adaptation and a notably faithful one — what an earlier Baumbach character might call the filet of DeLillo’s bristling, gristly book. Very little has been added, and what’s been taken out will be missed only by fanatics. (A warning and maybe a spoiler for DeLillo-heads: The most photographed barn in America is nowhere to be seen.)The challenges inherent in the project are bravely faced and honorably met. The novel straddles domestic realism and speculative satire. It’s a campus comedy stapled to a family drama and tied up with a ribbon of allegory. Its contemporary topics — no less relevant now than in the ’80s — include intellectual fashion, pharmacological folly, environmental destruction and rampant consumerism. These collide with eternal themes: envy, love, the fear of death.Baumbach’s reverence for the material is evident from the trompe l’oeil opening sequence — footage of car crashes from old movies, accompanying a lecture by a professor of popular culture — through the end credits, which turn DeLillo’s vision of supermarket heaven into a bouncy LCD Soundsystem music video. Driver, paunchy and swaybacked, is the very model of a modern middle-aged professor, his intellectual curiosity muffled by a certain complacency. He’s a happy man whose vocation is horror.In the campus lunchroom, he sits in on bull sessions with colleagues, inhaling gusts of competitive explanation. The movie’s dialogue, compulsively true to DeLillo, bristles with explanations and random facts. Except for the toddler, the kids in the Gladney household — Jack’s son, Heinrich (Sam Nivola), and his daughter, Steffie (May Nivola); Babette’s daughter, Denise (Raffey Cassidy) — bounce around the kitchen like human Google results pages, asking out-of-left-field questions and citing semi-relevant data. Jack and his pal Murray (Don Cheadle), the car-crash scholar looking to expand his academic portfolio, are more inclined to hermeneutics. In one of Baumbach’s bravura set pieces, they improvise a classroom duet for an audience of rapt undergraduates, comparing and contrasting mother-love and the death drive in Hitler and Elvis.What they have to say sounds pretty dubious — Murray and Jack broadcast the kind of mock-profundity more common among students than faculty — and the question is to what extent that’s deliberate. “White Noise” is a frequently funny movie that is also utterly in earnest.The kids do say the darnedest things, but they are also vessels of anxiety and avatars of vulnerability. The wounds and salves of family life, in particular the abrasions of matrimony, are Baumbach’s specialty. Jack and Babette’s particular marriage story, which comes into focus in the final third of the movie and is tied up with a noirish pharmaceutical subplot, is the heart of “White Noise” — rawer and sweeter than the surrounding material. Driver and Gerwig give warmth and texture to characters who were, in DeLillo’s pages, a little abstract. Their function was largely to organize the novel’s ideas.Don Cheadle, left, as Murray. He and Jack (Driver), his friend and colleague, project mock profundity in their studies of Elvis and Hitler.Wilson Webb/NetflixThe status of those ideas is the biggest problem with Baumbach’s film. He is perhaps too dutiful in transcribing DeLillo’s vision of contemporary life, a landscape of material comfort and intellectual dread, dominated by brand names, untrustworthy information and the looming threat of destruction.Random insights, like Murray’s observation that the family is the origin of misinformation, are preserved as if they were museum pieces in a carefully curated historical exhibit. Making “White Noise” a period film — the uncannily precise ’80s environment is the work of Jess Gonchor, the production designer, and Ann Roth, who did the costumes — inevitably blunts its impact. Things that might have made readers squirm in the 1980s are shrouded in nostalgia in 2022. It’s hard to feel existential terror when you’re ogling the A.&P. supermarket, the landline phones, the printed classified ads and the boat-shaped rear-wheel-drive station wagons.Within this world, you can see premonitions of our own, most notably in an evacuation shelter where anxious people create in effect an IRL prototype of Twitter, gathering around unverified experts (including Jack’s son, Heinrich) and parroting their wisdom. Baumbach, working on a larger scale than he has before, pulls off a few fine cinematic coups, one of them involving that station wagon fording a swollen stream.But there is something detached about the film, a succession of moods and notions that are often quite interesting but that never entirely cohere. “White Noise” is an expression of sincere and admirable faith. I just wish I could believe in it.White NoiseRated R. The fear of death. Running time: 2 hours 16 minutes. In theaters. More