erik lundegaard

Thursday July 19, 2018

Quote of the Day

“Don't sleep on the NRA piece. It's the funnel to the whole GOP, not just Trump.”

— Rick Perlstein, author, via Facebook yesterday. He provided a link to this piece in The New York Times about Maria Butina at the National Prayer Breakfast. Basics: right-wing Christians see kindred spirits in Russian homophobia; Russians sees access to halls of American power via same Christians and the NRA.  Set oven to 2016. Bake. 

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Posted at 05:46 AM on Jul 19, 2018 in category Quote of the Day
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Wednesday July 18, 2018

Movie Review: My Beloved Bodyguard (2016)


I was intrigued by the description on Netflix, where the American title is simply “The Bodyguard”:

A retired security officer with dementia befriends a little girl whose father is running from the mob. To save her, his old skills start to kick in.

I envisioned a combo of “Gran Torino” and “The Bourne Identity.” Ordinary old dude, suddenly ... POW! ... and all the bad dudes are on the ground, and all the townsfolk are looking at him in amazement.

And starring Sammo Hung? How can it be bad?

It’s worse.

My Beloved Bodyguard reviewFirst off, everyone already knows about the martial arts skills. “Old Ding? Yeah, he’s a former Center Security Bureau officer. Bad dude. Way up there. Now he’s losing it. Too bad.” We get a female voiceover explaining everything. Everything. It’s awful. Can no one write scenes? Dialogue? 

Second, there’s the way he’s losing it. He’s going to identify the movie’s leering villain, Choi (Feng Jia-yi), but during the police lineup can’t remember his face. He forgets his key, but it’s on a string around his neck. It’s all rather sanitized. Plus Sammo, bless his heart, isn’t actor enough to pull it off. He just stands there, blinking. A better director might’ve helped him out but he’s the director—his first movie since “Once Upon a Time in China and America” in 1997.

The sideplots and side characters suck, too. His doctor (Feng Shaofeng of the “Monkey King” movies) tells him all of his organs are failing and he needs multiple operations; then he smiles and says, “I’m joking. Other than your memory issues, you’re fine.” Funny, doc. Always good to joke with a dementia patient. A neighbor lady, Mrs. Park (Li QinQin), keeps making a play for him, but her age and neediness (and his reluctance) are played for laughs. There’s a recurring bit with three old men sitting on the sidelines and commenting upon the proceedings, and they’re played by old Hong Kong mainstays Tsui Hark, Dean Shek and Karl Maka. It should be great stuff—like the three old men in “Do the Right Thing”—but something either gets lost in translation or it wasn’t good to begin with.

But the biggest problem? The girl Sammo is supposed to save. Good god, she’s obnoxious.

Her name is Cherry (Jacqueline Chan), and she runs away from her gambling, good-for-nothing father (Andy Lau) to hang with Ding. How does she lay low? She puts on his old Chinese guard outfit, with all the medals, and pretends to be a headless ghost. He tells her not to wear it. Three times. “Fat men are supposed to be funny!” she yells before pouting and stomping off. At night, he gently fixes the wound on her forehead (from her father?) and in the morning she’s repaid his ministrations by fixing a bandage on his forehead with the words “Serves you right” and a frowny face. They pass an ice cream stand. “Buy one for me!” she yells. They go fishing; she complains he catches too many fish. He looks at her with love but she was nails on a chalkboard to me.

The plot. Andy Lau owes the local gangster gambling debts so agrees to do a job: steal a bag from Russian mobsters across the border. He does, but with the Russians in pursuit, and Choi refuses to forgive the debt—if he was ever going to—so Andy keeps the bag. Now he’s got Chinese and Russian gangsters after him.

One night, Choi’s men show up at Ding’s place, grab the girl, and demand to know where the father is. Here’s our moment. We’re finally going to get what we came for. But it takes Ding forever to move. It’s less “Bourne” and more slow-mo. Once a fight finally happens, he breaks bones. I’ve never seen a martial arts movie with more bone snapping in the soundtrack. Is the little girl amazed? Nah, she faints. Then the authorities move her to nearby relatives. But they can’t stand her (see?), so she flees back to Ding, who keeps buying her ice cream. 

Then she goes missing.

I should add there’s a dull backstory about Ding losing his granddaughter. One day, they went out and only he came back. Maybe that was the beginning of his dementia? We’re never sure. But his daughter never forgives him, nor he himself. Trying to protect this horrible brat, the movie suggests, is his way of making amends.

And that’s why he confronts Choi. Using a newspaper photograph, Ding hobbles around town until he finds the autoshop that is the front for gambling operations run by Choi, and he demands to know what they’ve done with the girl. When they give him nothing, he fights and breaks limbs. They keep coming at him with knives rather than guns. (One gun and he’s done.) Then the Russians arrive, start killing the Chinese, and the main bad Russian dude take a swipe at him. This may be my favorite part of the movie. He looks back, does a double-take (how could he have missed?) and takes several, more serious swipes. And still misses. Then the battle is engaged. Ding takes them all out. He risks life and limb to find the girl.

Guess where she is? Oh, at a friend’s house. She just never bothered to tell anyone.

Old “Three Dragons” costar Yuen Biao makes an appearance as a friendly cop to whom Ding shows a tape recorder that includes Choi’s bragging confession for murder. But it’s blank. Either Ding never turned it on or he erased it. Here’s the weird thing: By the time he shows the recorder, Choi is already dead. So it doesn’t matter that it’s blank. But the movie treats it like it’s a sad thing with consequences.

Ding winds up living with the girl, who, as she matures, takes care of him in his dotage and dementia. She’s the narrative voiceover, of course.

Look again at that plot description at the top of this review. Someone can still make a good movie of that. But this isn’t it. Not nearly.

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Posted at 10:40 PM on Jul 18, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Quote of the Day

“The president has first and foremost his interests at the top of his mind, as opposed to the government‘s. That’s very clear over the past week and a half—between shitting on our NATO allies and kissing Putin's ass. He cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it. ... Either he's compromised by Putin or he's a pussy, in which case he should grab himself.”

— U.S. diplomat in the article “U.S. Officials ‘at a Fucking Loss’ Over Latest Russia Sell Out,” by Spencer Ackerman, on the Daily Beast site

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Posted at 04:11 PM on Jul 18, 2018 in category Quote of the Day
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NPR Sees Clarification in Trump's Obfuscation

NPR continues to piss me off. They do a disservice to journalism and to the country. They are part of the problem. 

In the wake of Monday's Helsinki Summit, when Pres. Trump heaped praise on  Vladimir Putin and cast doubts on his own intelligence agencies, NPR, this morning, broadcast an interview between their reporter Noel King and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). I made it about two minutes in.

First, they played a soundbite of Mitch McConnell warning Russia not to interfere in the midterms. It made him sound tough. The problem: No mention that McConnell was the one who torpedoed a bipartisan Sept. 2016 statement warning Russia about interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and warning U.S. citizens that this was in fact happening. So Mitch gets off. He puts party above country and he gets off. The relevant past is irrelevant on NPR.

Then King makes it all about politics. Trump's actions in Helsinki aren't near-treasonous ramblings that astonished everyone around the world; they‘re “possibly a political opening” for the Democrats.

But here’s the worst of it. In only her second question to Sen. Van Hollen, King says this:

The president then clarified yesterday. Did his clarification change anything for you?

Here's the clarification she meant. You probably already know all this but I'm going to write it down anyway for my own sake. Because it's kind of insane. 

During the Trump/Putin joint press conference, Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press asked the following question of Pres. Trump:

Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell President Putin — would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

Who do you believe—the murderous, lawless, Russian autocrat or the FBI? And will you warn Putin to not interfere again? Pretty straightforward. Sad, indeed, that it needed to be asked in the first place. 

And here is the beginning of Trump's two-part answer:

So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the democratic national committee? I‘ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I‘ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server and what is the server saying?

What is he talking about? Turns out it’s an obscure right-wing theory that has been debunked by everybody. Here's one such debunking.

Bad enough he deflects the question with these nutjob “we didn't land on the moon” conspiracies; then he gets to this:

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They‘re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace that we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer. Okay, thank you.

There it is: the president of the United States, on foreign soil, siding with the Russian president over U.S. intelligence agencies. Then he delves into the conspiracy theory again. Then he compliments Putin on his “extremely strong and powerful” denial and more-or-less thanks him for offering Russian help to further investigate Russian interference. He thanks him for offering further interference into allegations of Russian interference.  

It's all insane. 

So what was the clarification that Noel King brought up? It's this: Trump claimed that he misspoke. He meant to say “wouldn‘t.” 


Yes, in all that garbage, and all that praise heaped on Putin, yesterday the White House claimed that, in the part below, the “would” should’ve been a “wouldn‘t.”

My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. 

Amid all the rest of that praise, those superlatives for Putin, he's now claiming he wanted to blame them. He returned to D.C., with Republicans in angry disarray, and, one assumes, they looked for options. The facts were against them; how could they muddy the waters? And they chose this. They saw this as their escape pod. Wouldn‘t.  

And NPR and Noel King happily let them escape. 

She called this change, this obfuscation, a clarificiation. “The president then clarified yesterday. Did his clarification change anything for you?” 

The Democrats really need to confront reporters who ask dumb-ass questions like this. They need to say things like: “How is that a clarification, Noel? The original statement is at least consistent. He’s praising Putin and doesn't blame Putin. He's siding with Putin over the FBI but at least he's consistent in how treasonous he's acting. The do-over he wants would mean that while he's heaping praise on Putin, while he's blaming the FBI out of some right-wing paranoid fantasy, he's also siding with the FBI. Do you think that's a clarification? If not, why did you state it as such? You‘re making it a statement. You’re making it a fact. You‘re doing their dirty work.”

And guess what? Today he backtracked again. “Is Russian trying to influence the midterms?” Naw. 

Seriously, how much further can NPR and other members of the so-called legitimate press get played? How much further to the right must they lean in a lame attempt to seem objective? And how much does the country—and the truth—suffer as a result?

Anyway, it was at this point, with the word “clarified” echoing all around me, that I turned off the radio; I was too furious to keep listening. NPR is so bad at what it does that it turns away people simply interested in hearing the news.

Trump questions U.S. intelligence

Monday’s New York Times headline. When the facts are against you, muddy the waters. 

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Posted at 05:28 AM on Jul 18, 2018 in category Media
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Sunday July 15, 2018

Kindred Spirit

“I confess it: There is some resentment. But it never degenerates into emulousness or envy. No one elsewhere wants to root for a team like the Yankees. The notion is appalling. Could any franchise be more devoid of romance? What has it ever represented but the brute power of money? One can admire the St. Louis Cardinals' magnificent history, or cherish fond memories of the great Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds or Oakland A's teams of the past. But no morally sane soul could delight in that graceless enormity in the Bronx, or its supremacy over smaller markets. It is an intrinsically depraved pleasure, like a taste for bearbaiting. And certainly none of us wants to be anything like Yankees fans — especially after seeing them at close quarters. ...

”Not that the horror is easy to recall clearly. The trauma is too violent. Memory cringes, whines, tries to slink away. One recollects only a kaleidoscopic flux of gruesomely fragmentary impressions, too outlandish to be perfectly accurate, too vivid to be entirely false: nightmarish revenants from the dim haunts of the collective unconscious ... monstrous, abortive shapes emerging from the abysmal murk of evolutionary history ... things pre-hominid, even pre-mammalian ... forms never quite resolving into discrete organisms, spilling over and into one another, making it uncertain where one ends and another begins. ... It really is awful.“

— David Bentley Hart, ”The New York Yankees Are a Moral Abomination," in The New York Times

Posted at 10:41 AM on Jul 15, 2018 in category Yankees Suck
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Saturday July 14, 2018

The Ambassador

How dare you: Trump headline

Suggestion: Sub in a shot of the Trump blimp baby. At least we'll get a laugh out of it. 

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Posted at 07:32 AM on Jul 14, 2018 in category Politics
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And the answer to Trump's query is obvious: Obama did try to do something, in a joint, bipartisan statement, but he was torpedoed in this regard by Mitch McConnell, who, for the millionth time in his sad career, put party above country. 

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Posted at 05:47 AM on Jul 14, 2018 in category Quote of the Day
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12 Russian Intelligence Officers Indicted

Trump balloon baby

The indictments were announced as Pres. Trump was in the midst of a European trip involving meetings with NATO leaders, British Prime Minister Teresa May, the Queen of England and Putin.

“Today is actually a significant moment in American history. We‘ve only had 45 presidents. And here we now know that one of them was elected with the explicit and intentional help of a foreign power, in violation of American law, with the aggressive and open support of the candidate who was the beneficiary of those crimes.”

—Jeffrey Toobin, last night on Anderson Cooper 360, in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller issuing a 29-page indictment on 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging them in the hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. A good piece and podcast on the indictments can be found at LawFareBlog.

A lot of the above is already known, or assumed, but we get some interesting details:

  1. By the end of June 2016, Russian military intelligence (GRU) had hacked into at least 33 computers in the DNC orbit.
  2. Though the DNC hired a cybersecurity agency, malware remained on some computers until at least October.
  3. The conspirators created an online persona, Guccifer 2.0, a “lone Romanian hacker,” in order to undermine and misdirect claims of Russian responsibility.
  4. By August, Guccifer 2.0 received and responded to requests for intel from:
    1. a U.S. congressman
    2. a reporter regarding Black Lives Matter
    3. “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump presidential campaign
  5. On July 22, 2016, the government asserts, Wikileaks released more than 20,000 emails and documents stolen from the DNC network by the conspirators and “did not disclose Guccifer 2.0’s role in providing them.”

Plus, as they say, much, much more. And more to come. At the least, the names of the congressman, reporter, and Trump presidential campaign contact.

BTW: I highlighted the above in Toobin's quote because as I heard it I was thinking this charge might relate to new info from the Mueller indictments. It doesn‘t. It relates, I assume, to Trump’s July 2016 public declaration that Russia hack Hillary's emails. Toobin is tying it all together. The bow isn't neat yet—I doubt it will ever be, even Watergate remained messy—but it's not looking good for Trump. Which means it's looking good for the rest of us. 

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Posted at 03:58 AM on Jul 14, 2018 in category Politics
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard