erik lundegaard

Tuesday July 29, 2014

Lancelot Links

Babe Ruth, Headin' Home

According to Jerry Grillo (and most of us concur), here's the actor who played Babe Ruth best.

Posted at 05:49 AM on Jul 29, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday July 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

“Our teachers’ best qualities—their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals—are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.”

-- Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents 84,000 teachers, in Rachel Aviv's devastating New Yorker article on the perils of applying corporate philosophy to education: “Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school makes a shocking choice.” It's not just our school systems, of course; most jobs are increasingly data-driven. So much is about the quantity and rarely about the quality. We now live in an era in which people are judged by numbers while corporations are judged as people. See Bunk for an appropriate response to all of this.

Posted at 12:28 PM on Jul 28, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Lucy (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Most mainstream movies don’t think much beyond the current year. Maybe they go back a decade. Ancient history is history before Elvis. The dark ages. I remember when I reviewed “Little Nicky”  in which Adam Sandler played a literal son of Satan who head-banged to heavy metal music, and my immediate thought was, “OK. So what did he listen to for the 3,000 years before heavy metal music?”

Luc Besson’s “Lucy” widens the scope a bit. We see the first cells splitting, and the first human, Lucy, drinking water from a stream. We’re told that matter only exists because of time. We’re told we never really die, which is nice to know. I like the intelligence of it all, the awareness of a time period beyond our own, the encouragement of a thirst for knowledge.

Here’s what I didn’t like. Halfway through, our hero, a modern-day Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), could kill the movie’s main villain, a drug dealer and gangster named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik of “Oldboy” fame), but she doesn’t bother. Lucy, starring Scarlett JohanssonShe leaves him alive. Three-quarters of the way through she could do the same. By this point, she’s so powerful she can just think somebody dead. Still, she leaves him alive. An argument can be made that he’s so below her now it’s like killing an ant, or an amoeba, but that’s not why he lives. He lives because the primitive monkey brains in the audience, our primitive monkey brains, need the tension. We need the race for the prize, the villain tracking the hero, the gunfight at the OK Corral.

I also wasn’t a fan of how cartoonish Mr. Jang was; and that he was supposed to be Chinese but spoke Korean.

But leaving him alive? That’s some rookie shit. I expect that from someone using 5% of their brain’s capacity, not 50.

Brain brain, what is brain?
It’s a good concept anyway.

Human beings use only about 10% of the brain’s capacity. So if we could tap into the rest? Yowzah.

It’s contemporary times, more or less, and Lucy, last name unknown, is hanging out in Taipei, and going to school there, but somehow doesn’t speak a lick of Chinese. She’s also got a ne’er-do-well, week-long, Aussie-ish boyfriend, Richard (Danish actor Pilou Asbaek of “A Hijacking”), who tries to cajole her into delivering a briefcase to Mr. Jang at a Taipei hotel. No go. So he locks it to her wrist and tells her the key is with Mr. Jang. She’s pissed, sure, but off she goes: to the front desk, up the elevator, and into the private sanctuary of Mr. Jang, who’s busy wiping the blood of his enemies from his face. He also kills Richard en route. Because blood. Plus all of this is intercut with scenes of jaguars on the hunt in the Serengeti. Because Luc Besson.

The briefcase turns out to be carrying blue crystals called CPH4, which is apparently a chemical used in the second or third trimester of pregnancy to create us. This is its synthetic version. It’s a drug. For what purpose? Who knows? But Mr. Jang wants it taken to Rome, Paris, Berlin and New York. The captive mules for these four cities, including Lucy (NYC), have their stomachs cut open and a Ziploc bag of CPH4 inserted. The bad news for Mr. Jang, and the good news for us, is that, before putting Lucy on a flight to NYC, they apparently stash her in a grungy prison, where a skinny Chinese dude tries to fondle her, and when she objects, kicks her repeatedly in the stomach. Of course the bag inside her is broken open. It’s our gamma radiation moment. Her eyes even go all blue. She lucies out.

Her first stop is the hospital to remove the rest of the crystals. By this point (20%?) she knows Mandarin Chinese, and with a glance at the X-rays can determine whether the patient on the table will live. He won’t, so she shoots him dead and takes his place. While she’s operated on, she calls her mother. That’s a nice scene. She says I love you. She says she remembers everything. Everything. Petting the cat. “You couldn’t remember that, honey. You were less than one year old.” But she remembers. She remembers the taste of her mother’s milk. She remembers every kiss her mother ever gave her. Johansson is quite good here. Throughout the movie, really. You get the sense that Lucy calls her mother not because she’s about to die but because she calculates human interaction will soon be meaningless to her, and she needs this last moment.

That’s an interesting thought, by the way. In most stories where a character develops massive brain power—think Gary Mitchell in Star Trek’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before”—they become as imperious as Mussolini. They view humans as ants, amoebas. But an argument can be made for the opposite. Mussolini was hardly a Rhodes Scholar, so why is he the model? Shouldn’t their humanity grow with their brain power? Does Lucy’s? A bit. She certainly has a wider perspective. She calculates she has 24 hours left before she reaches 100% brain capacity and then ... Who knows? So what should she do? She asks this of a scientist, Prof. Norman (Morgan Freeman), who has long studied the topic. We’ve even seen some of his lectures intercut with Lucy’s story. He talks about the two ways the cell’s knowledge can continue to live—immortality and reproduction—and urges Lucy to do what human beings have always done with their knowledge: “Pass it on,” he says. I like that. Pass it on.

Since this is Besson, and since international box office, she gathers everyone in Paris—other mules, Prof. Norman—so she can get the rest of the CPH4. She hangs with a good cop with a great face, Pierre del Rio (Amr Waked), who protects her when she’s not busy protecting herself, and Besson keeps reminding us of where she is on the brain capacity meter. At 90%, while gun battles rage all around, she travels through time: New York today, then 100 years ago, then with the Native Americans. Then dinosaurs. Lucy even meets the original Lucy, our ancestor, whom we met at the beginning of the movie.

Pass it on
Some of this isn’t bad. But Besson isn’t interested in straying too far from the thriller genre. He talks smart but executes stupid. So just as a bloodied Mr. Jang, our apelike contemporary, whom Lucy has left alive again and again, closes in on her sitting in a chair surrounded by awestruck scientists and computer banks she’s just digested (or something), she’s reaching 100%. Will she make it? Or will Mr. Jang kill her first?

The tension is unbearable.

No, it’s not. He fires, she disappears. Because she’s everywhere now. That’s the message she leaves him.

And the message Besson leaves us?

The movie opens with Lucy narrating the following: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. This is what we’ve done with it,” and we get shots of, you know, ugly buildings and shit. At the close, she narrates thus: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.”

Well, not really. Still at 10%. Unless you mean the “Pass it on” thing. That I can do. FWIW. 

Posted at 07:27 AM on Jul 28, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday July 27, 2014

Newest Superhero, Lucy, Clobbers Oldest, Hercules, at Weekend Box Office

Lucy and Hercules

“I won?” “She won?” The newest superhero (left) clobbers the oldest (right) at the domestic box office.

“Hercules” had a bigger budget ($100 to $40 million), better reviews (63% to 58% on Rotten Tomatoes), more theaters (3,595 to 3,173), greater name recognition, and, of course, way bigger biceps; but the girl, “Lucy,” still came out on top. She’s grossed an estimated $44 million to Herc’s $29 at the domestic box office this weekend.

This feels increasingly the way, doesn’t it? Beyond “Maleficent,” currently at No. 4 for the year with $232 million domestic, the annual top 10 is still the old boys club: Captain America, Transformers, X-Men, Spidey, Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Planet of the Apes. But in head-to-head matchups, the girls are increasingly kicking ass.

So Angelina Jolie with sharp cheekbones cut up Seth MacFarlane’s flaccid western in late May. So Shailene Woodley with cancer beat out Tom Cruise with Groundhog Day Syndrome in early June. And now little Scarlett Johansson, armed only with looks, lips and boobs, plus 100% brain capacity, Luc Besson as director and Taipei as locale, has clobbered Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s attempt to pull the Hercules myth out of the B-grade swamp it’s forever been stuck in. 

Is this a trend? Girls gone box office? Are the studios noticing? Will they notice in particular when Katniss wipes the floor with all the year’s movies in November? Or will they point to the so-so performance of “Divergent” ($150 million) in March and do nothing as usual?

Either way, ScarJo: Hen hao. Ni hen li hai.

The other openers? “And So It Goes,” the poorly received sexagenarian comedy starring Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, bombed in 1,762 locations, winding up with $4.5 million and in eighth place; but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last starring role, “A Most Wanted Man,” directed by Anton Corbijn, grossed $2.7 million in only 361 locations. It also garnered good reviews: 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In other good news, “Boyhood,” with phenomenal reviews (99% on RT), and playing in only 107 locations, grossed $1.7 million. It’s now up to $4.1 million for a movie that’s barely playing. If it’s playing near you? Get out and see it.

Posted at 09:34 AM on Jul 27, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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The Greatest Baseball Story Ever Told is a Roger Angell Story

Yesterday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Roger Angell, 93, the longtime fiction editor for The New Yorker, who wrote a few baseball essays on the side, was given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Hall’s writing honor. (Spink, in case you don’t know, as I didn’t, was the longtime publisher of The Sporting News; he died in 1962.)

About time, I say. I spent the fall of ’94, our first fall without a World Series since 1903, reading Roger Angell. He was my compensation. I read all of him, chronologically, and there are great baseball stories throughout, but this may be my favorite. It’s from the essay, “Stories for a Rainy Afternoon,” from the book, “Five Seasons,” originally published in the summer of 1976. Our Bicentennial summer. 

It’s really Tommy Lasorda’s story but Angell tells it so well. Have I told it before? Here? I tried to find it but couldn’t. So here it is again. Or for the first time.

**

LaSorda, it can be proved, is a patient sort of man. He grew up in Morristown, Pennsylvania, and became a serious baseball fan at an early age. When he was 12 or 13, he volunteered for duty as a crossing guard at his parochial school because he knew that the reward for this service was a free trip to a big-league baseball game—an event he had yet to witness. The great day came at last, the sun shone, and the party of nuns and junior fuzz repaired to Shibe Park, where the Phillies were playing the Giants. Young Tom LaSorda had a wonderful afternoon, and just before the game ended he and some of his colleagues forehandedly stationed themselves beside a runway under the stands, where they could collect autographs from the players coming off the field. The game ended, the Giants came clattering by, and Tom extended his scorecard to the first hulking, bespiked hero to come in out of the sunshine.

“C’n I have your autograph, please, mister?” he said.

“Outta my way, kid,” the Giant said, brushing past the boy.

When Tom LaSorda tells the story now, the shock of this moment is still visible on his face. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Here was the first big-league player I’d ever seen up close—the first one I ever dared speak to—and what he did was shove me up against the wall. I think tears came to my eyes. I watched the guy as he went away toward the clubhouse and I noticed the number on his back—you know, like taking the license of a hit-and-run car. Later on, I looked at my program and got his name. It was Buster Maynard, who was an outfielder with the Giants then. I never forgot it.”

Seven or eight years went swiftly by (as they do in instructive, moral tales), during which time Tom LaSorda grew up to become a promising young pitcher in the Dodger organization. In the spring of 1949, he was a star with the Dodger farm team in Greenville, North Carolina, in the Sally League, and took the mound for the opening game of the season at Augusta, Georgia, facing the Augusta Yankees. Tom retired the first two batters, and then studied the third, a beefy right-handed veteran, as he stepped up to the box.

The park loudspeaker made the introduction: “Now coming up to bat for the Yankees, Buster May-narrd, right field!”

LaSorda was transfixed. “I looked in,” he says, “and it was the same man!

The first pitch to Maynard nearly removed the button from the top of his cap. The second, behind his knees, inspired a beautiful sudden entrechat. The third, under the Adam’s apple, confirmed the message, and Maynard threw away his bat and charged the mound like a fighting bull entering the plaza in Seville. The squads spilled out onto the field and separated the two men, and only after a lengthy and disorderly interval was baseball resumed.

After the game, LaSorda was dressing in the visitor’s locker room when he was told that he had a caller at the door. It was Buster Maynard, who wore a peaceable but puzzled expression. “Listen, kid,” he said to LaSorda, “did I ever meet you before?”

“Not exactly,” Tom said.

“Did I bat against you someplace, maybe?”

“Nope.”

“Well, why were you tryin’ to take my head off out there?”

LaSorda spread his hands wide. “You didn’t give me your autograph,” he said.

Tom LaSorda tells this story each spring to the new young players who make the Dodger club. “Always give an autograph when somebody asks you,” he says gravely. “You never can tell. In baseball anything can happen.”

Buster Maynard

James Walter “Buster” Maynard

Posted at 08:17 AM on Jul 27, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wonder Woman: All the World's Waiting For You

In case you haven't seen this yet. It was tweeted by (who else?) Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming “Superman vs. Batman” movie:

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

A lot of fanboys were up in arms when Gal Gadot was cast, but she looks fine. But it's just a still photo. We'll see. 

(Imagine the whining, btw, if we were all online in 1987 when Warner Bros. chose Tim Burton to direct “Batman,” and Burton chose Michael Keaton to play Batman. There would've been bitching right up to the first trailer; then silence.)

So is she in a volcano or something there? I never quite got Wonder Woman. What were her powers again? She's not invulnerable so she should probably suit up a bit, particularly if she's in a volcano. Other thoughts about the character in my review of the 2012 documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”

After this shot was leaked, and coupled with the leaked photos of Affleck as Batman and Cavill as Superman, “DC Comics Talk” tweeted a shot of all three along with this challenge: “Your turn, Marvel.” To which I had to tweet back this. Because, I mean, c'mon. 

Posted at 06:57 AM on Jul 27, 2014 in category Superheroes
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Saturday July 26, 2014

John Lennon on the 'Happy Days' Set

This photo was posted on Facebook via The REAL Peter Tork:

John Lennon on the Happy Days set

Explanation:

“Happy Days had just been on the air a short time in 1974 when the cast noticed a familiar looking man hanging around in the studio one day. It was none other than former Beatle John Lennon, along with his then 10-year-old son Julian. ... Lennon stuck around for the entire day of shooting, drawing doodles for the crew and hanging out until they wrapped the shoot after some 12 hours...”

From the looks of it, this was from Lennon's “Rock n' Roll” period. Was he still on the outs with Yoko then? Hanging out with May Pang?

Yes. Just did the Google search. According to BuzzFeed, it was taken in January 1974.

So this was kind of a low point for him (artistically, personally) and a high point for “Happy Days.” The early shows were quite good, and the title almost ironic. Things invariably went badly for Richie, but he had family to fall back on. It was only when the show shifted from Richie-centric to Fonz-centric that it lost its sense of irony and became a huge hit. 

But that photo's nuts. Isn't it? It's like some odd amalgamation of my childhood/teen years. It would be like a photo of Evel Knievel hanging out with the Twins at Met Stadium. Or Thor Heyerdahl and Lindsay Wagner visiting “The Planet of the Apes” set. Worlds colliding.

Posted at 08:09 AM on Jul 26, 2014 in category Photo of the Day
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Lancelot Links

Luis Tiant, Minnesota Twins, 1970

Luis Tiant with me and my brother, Chris, on Camera Day at Met Stadium, 1970. Should Tiant have gone into the Hall? Why didn't he? (Photo by Bob Lundegaard)

Posted at 07:36 AM on Jul 26, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday July 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

Andrew Sullivan again. He riffs off of Tom Ricks' post, “Why Am I Moving Left?” by listing off some of the reasons he himself is not embracing the Bush/Cheney/Gingrich/Cruz/Ryan GOP, including its defense of torture, its ideological blindness, various issues regarding racism, sexism, and homophobia, and its political brinkmanship:

In fact, from that first stimulus vote on, Obama faced a unanimous and relentless nullification Congress. If he favored something, they opposed it. Despite Obama’s exemplary family life, public grace and composure, and willingness to compromise, they decided to cast him as a tyrant, a radical, a traitor and an incompetent. Their demonization of a decent, pragmatic man simply disgusts me to the core.

Amen. And I'm sorry so many Americans are too stupid to see this.

Barack Obama

A decent, pragmatic man, too long demonized.

Posted at 12:08 PM on Jul 25, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Is Batman 75 Years Old ... or 2,000?

Director Zack Synder (I know) has released a new photo of Ben Affleck as Batman. You can see it here. It looks good, but, you know, Batman's all about demeanor, and Affleck doesn't really have the demeanor. At least that I've seen. But fingers crossed.

A few days ago, Warner Bros. and DC Comics celebrated the 75th anniversary of Batman with the usual marketing tweets and posts and blarghs. But aren't they underestimating Batman's age? Last January, P and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in the Egyptian wing I found this:

2,000 year old Batman image

Seventy-five years old? How about 2,000?

Posted at 10:12 AM on Jul 25, 2014 in category Batman
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