erik lundegaard

Saturday February 16, 2019

Mild-Mannered Columnist

The other night I called to my wife from my office and asked her: “How does it feel to be married to a New York Times columnist?” When she looked confused (and maybe momentarily hopeful?), I showed her this:

“It's in a book,” I said, “so it's all true now.”

The book is “Mapping Smallville: Critical Essays on the Series and Its Characters,” and this essay, by Roger Almendarez, is called “Model Immigraton and Superman's Impossible Dream,” a title, and an essay, that feels like it needs an upgrade for our current nasty times.

Anyway, I did have an Op-Ed on the history of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” in The New York Times in June 2006. And that was that. But I appreciate the promotion, Roger. 

In fact ... Can I put this on my resumé now? “New York Times columnist”? Since it's been in a book? Doing so wouldn't be the truth but it's not far off from the American way.

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Posted at 01:19 PM on Feb 16, 2019 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Back On

The officers of the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences issued the following statement yesterday:

The Academy has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards - Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling. All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24.

So once again the Academy has announced a bad idea (“most popular film,” not bringing back last year's acting winners, etc.), causing a huge outcry among its fans, and then recanted. At leat it had the sense to recant. But the fact that it had the non-sense to float these bad ideas in the first place makes me worried for Oscar's future. I think maybe they need a new Board of Governors. Or a better consigliere.

My vote, by the way, for Academy non-legal counsel would be author Mark Harris:

Kudos to everyone who objected.  

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Posted at 12:05 PM on Feb 16, 2019 in category Movies - The Oscars   |   Permalink  
Friday February 15, 2019

Quote of the Day

“Look, Sean Hannity has been a terrific supporter of what I do. . . . Rush Limbaugh, I think he's a great guy. Here's a guy who could speak for three hours without a phone call. Try doing that sometime.”

— Pres. Donald Trump during a press conference today when asked how much outside conservative voices had influenced his thinking on declaring a national emergency for a border wall. He also blamed Paul Ryan for why the wall wasn't funded when both houses of Congress were majority Republican. He also all but admitted that his “national emergency” was a sham, saying, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster.”

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Posted at 07:22 PM on Feb 15, 2019 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Movie Review: The Wandering Earth (2019)

The Wandering Earth movie review


“Now it’s China’s turn.”

That’s the general gist in western articles about “The Wandering Earth” (流浪地球), China’s first big-budget sci-fi film, which is currently the most lucrative movie at the worldwide box office. It grossed $350 million in its first week; it may overtake “Wolf Warrior II” to become the No. 1 box-office hit in Chinese history. Hell, it may become the first movie in history to gross $1 billion in a single market. So watch out Hollywood. That’s the general gist.

Here’s some perspective on that.

“Wandering” is the biggest movie at the worldwide box office because: 1) China is the second-biggest (soon to be the biggest) movie market in the world, and 2) it’s Chinese New Year—新年快乐 and all that—which, for the Chinese movie industry, is like Christmas break and the first week of summer all rolled into one. Going forward, unless China allows foreign films, like Hollywood’s, to open during Chinese New Year, I assume a Chinese movie will always be No. 1 at the worldwide box office during this period.

More important: Despite that “worldwide” mantle, it’s really just China. When a Hollywood movie is No. 1 at the worldwide box office, it’s generally because the world tunes in. With Chinese movies, it’s because China tunes in. They haven’t figured out how to appeal to other countries yet. 

One suggestion? Stop insulting them.

In “Wolf Warrior II,” China’s biggest box office hit, an African country suffers both civil war and an outbreak of a deadly disease, and every other country, particularly the U.S., flees. We cut and run. Only China remains. It’s a true friend. It runs toward trouble while the rest of the cowardly world runs away.

We get something similar here—albeit in outer space. There’s a million-to-one shot to save the Earth and everything human beings have ever known, and our Chinese heroes are all in favor of rolling those dice. Every other country? They just want to return to their underground homes to spend their last precious hours wallowing in grief in the arms of their loved ones. They all cut and run. Some Europeans—I believe British—also wallow in drink, while the Japanese contemplate hara-kiri; but the Chinese stand firm. It’s only when a bubblegum-blowing junior high student, Duoduo (Zhao Jinmai), gives a speech about hope that the rest of the world wakes up and joins China in this million-to-one shot. Which works, of course.

As for the U.S.? We don’t seem to exist. The leader of the United Earth Government is French, one of the astronauts is a vodka-loving, patriotic Russian, and there’s a goofy, blonde-haired, wannabe Chinese Aussie named Tim (Mike Sui) along for most of the ride. But the U.S. has either dissolved into the U.E.G. or we’ve ceased to exist. Or we’re just irrelevant.

Frant Gwo’s movie is based upon a novel by Liu Cixin, a respected “hard sci-fi” writer who has won the Hugo Award (2015), the Locus (2017), and the Arthur C. Clark Award for Imagination in Service to Society (2018). “The Wandering Earth” was published in 2000; can’t speak for its hard science.

Problem? The earth is warming up. Reason? No, not that. The sun is just getting bigger and will envelope us. Solution? Turn the Earth into a giant spaceship, of course, which will propel us out of orbit and into a centuries-long journey to find another solar system. In the meantime, everyone lives underground. Some people, mostly the military, work on the surface in spacesuits.

Cut to: 17 years later. Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao), the small child of astronaut Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing of “Wolf Warrior II”), has now grown up to be a cocky teenager. He also thinks he’s a genius at driving or something; so he gets a fake security pass for him and his younger adopted sister, Duoduo, whom we first see bored and blowing bubbles in class, and they go to the surface, steal a truck, and ride off to ... what’s their plan again? Just to see the surface? Visit dad on his revolving spaceship? (Incidental thought: this Earth future has pretty lame security measures. Is it everywhere or just in China?)

Anyway, they’re arrested, tossed in jail with Tim, and are getting chastised by Grandpa, Han Zi’ang (Ng Man-tat), when their plot, whatever it was, is interrupted by the movie’s plot: Earth passes too close to Jupiter, causing earthquakes that damage Earth’s rocket boosters, and we get pulled into Jupiter’s orbit. We’re all gonna die. Our team escapes in the same stolen truck but then it’s requisitioned by the military to take some maguffin to another part of China to help with the rocket boosters.

The rest of the movie is about 1) solving the gravitational pull problem, and 2) resolving personal matters. Often at the same time.

As they travel across China, from Beijing to Shanghai to Nanjing, I was surprised that everyone is surprised by the gray frozen wasteland each city has become. It’s like they didn’t listen to the prologue. Half the movie, meanwhile, is Liu Qi’s histrionics. He blames his dad for leaving them and the military for requisitioning the truck that leads to the death of Grandpa. He wants the world to know his pain as the world is ending. He’s like an early Tom Cruise character without the gravitas. 

What a brat. I never cared for him. Or his sister. What another brat. Whatever happened to well-behaved Chinese kids? 他们不是乖孩子. They’re as bratty as Americans now. Seriously, chewing gum and blowing bubbles? What’s more American than that? Maybe that’s where America went. We got subsumed by China. First they stole our IP and then they stole our ID. They’re certainly trying to steal Hollywood’s ID. As Xi Jinping has wanted to for a while.

In a way they’ve succeeded. “Wandering Earth” is as stupid as most Hollywood blockbusters. Also more jingoistic. 

Me, I couldn’t get past the stupidity. It’s more than the kids. I’m like: “Wait, we’re smart enough to turn Earth into a spaceship but dumb enough to miscalculate on Jupiter’s gravitational pull?” Doesn’t exactly buoy hopes for the rest of the journey.

And there will be more of the journey. This thing is already nearing $500 million in China. They’ll keep going. They’ll push the Earth further and further into outer space. They’ll boldly go where no one but Hollywood has gone before.

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Posted at 09:42 AM on Feb 15, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Thursday February 14, 2019

Threat Level I

“People do not appreciate how far we have fallen from normal standards of presidential accountability. Today we have a president who is willing not only to comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions but to comment on ones that potentially affect him. He does both of these things almost daily. He is not just sounding a dog whistle. He is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them. Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants. If he were ”on the box“ at Quantico, he would break the machine.”

— former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, in his book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” which was excerpted on The Atlantic site. The smallness and nastiness of Trump is highlighted in particular in how angry he got that James Comey was allowed to return to D.C. on a government airplane after he was fired while delivering a speech on the west coast. Trump wanted him to twist in the wind. When all the shit finally comes out, when the astonishing smallness, nastiness and greed of this man is laid bare for everyone (even Fox News watchers) to see, all those who supported him will look like the biggest saps or the biggest traitors in our country's history. Or both.  

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Posted at 08:55 PM on Feb 14, 2019 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Connected to the President

The New York Times put together this beautiful chart after Roger Stone was indicted in January. I think I took the screen shot for social media but it's worth putting into my online scrapbook here. Tip of the iceberg? Or not even close to the tip? 

How They Are Connected to Trump: Cohen Papadopoulos Flynn Manafort Stone Patten Gates

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Posted at 07:13 PM on Feb 14, 2019 in category Politics   |   Permalink  
Wednesday February 13, 2019

Dear Academy III

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Posted at 08:08 AM on Feb 13, 2019 in category Movies - The Oscars   |   Permalink  
Tuesday February 12, 2019

Dear Academy II

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Posted at 06:58 PM on Feb 12, 2019 in category Movies - The Oscars   |   Permalink  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard