erik lundegaard

Monday January 26, 2015

Movie Review: Belle (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Here’s how our concerns for the title character—what we and she worry about—keep shifting in “Belle.”

It’s 1761, and an impossible pretty black girl named Dido (initially Lauren Julien-Box, eventually Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is brought by her white father, Capt. Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), to his uncle’s estate in England. Her African mother has died and Lindsay is about to go to sea again. Someone needs to care for the girl.

That’s our initial concern: Will this impossibly pretty black girl find a place to live in superwhite England, or will she be left to the wolves?

Belle Gugu Mbatha-RawShe finds a place to live. (Whew.) The reluctant aunt and uncle, Lady and Lord Mansfield (Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson), agree to bring her up on their estate—along with her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Maden), whose mother has also died, and whose father has abandoned her for some Italian wench. So these two girls, one black and one white, grow up together—laughing and chasing each other around trees, as girls in period pieces are wont to do.

But then the increasingly engaged grandaunt and uncle worry: What happens when we die? Dido will be penniless (and left to the wolves)!

Except Capt. Sir John dies first. And leaves Dido his fortune. Second problem solved.

Except, of course, it’s England in the 1770s, and Dido, while impossibly pretty, is still black. No one, certainly no one in society, will be interested in her as a wife. So that’s the next worry: She’ll wind up an old maid like Lady Mary! Lady Mary, by the way, is played by Penelope Wilton, the annoying Isobel Crawley of “Downton Abbey,” whom no one ever wants to be like.

Except ... aha! ... a handsome man, John Davinier (Sam Reid), arrives on the estate, and he and Dido meet cute. She’s polite to everyone but him, which means, in movie terms, that she totally likes him. Plus he’s interested in the Zong case—about the destruction of property (slaves) aboard a ship, and what it means for insurance law, not to mention English law. Dido’s grand uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the Lord Chief Justice, is the man deciding the case. Even if he is taking his own sweet time about it. (Cf. Wilkinson’s LBJ in “Selma.”)

Not only that, but cousin Elizabeth, who can’t play the piano as well as Dido, is being pursued by James Ashford (Tom Felton, forever Draco Malfoy), and he’s got a taller, handsomer brother, Oliver (James Norton), who’s totally interested in Dido, and not in a creepy way, either. Which is good because Davinier impetuously blows it with Dido’s granduncle and has to leave the estate forthwith. Plus Davinier a mere vicar’s son. It would never have worked.

And there’s no need! In London, Oliver proposes marriage! So this problem is now solved. She won’t wind up an old maid like Lady Mary.

Except ... does she truly love him? Like with John Davinier? Which leads to our next and final worry: Will she wind up with the right man? Also known as: Will she find TRUE LOVE?

You can guess the ending. Oh, and the Lord Chief Justice rules properly on the Zong case, paving the way for the eventual abolition of slavery (or at least the slave trade) in England in 1807.

I was bored throughout. The movie is glorified BBC: the heroine ascending the ladder of worries until she winds up with it all. It’s “Masterpiece Theater” with a tan. 

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Posted at 09:21 AM on Jan 26, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday January 25, 2015

SAG Divvies Up the 2014 Acting Awards

The second industy award has spoken. The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, has given out its awards for, among others, film actor, actress, supporting actor and actress, as well as—unique to SAG—the cast award. 

The cast award is seen as SAG's best picture, and it's often used to try to predict Oscar winners for best picture. It shouldn't. It's the least accurate: only 50 percent over 18 years. Past recepients have included “The Help,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Full Monty.” It's a whole other category. 

Where SAG and the Academy agree most? Lead actor: 16 of 20, and the last 10 in a row. 

Indeed, over the last five years, SAG and the Academy have matched up almost exactly:

  Lead Actor Lead Actress Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
2013 Matthew McConaughey Cate Blanchett Jared Leto Lupita Nyong'o
2012 Daniel Day-Lewis Jennifer Lawrence Tommy Lee Jones Anne Hathaway
2011 Jean Dujardin Viola Davis Christopher Plummer Octavia Spencer
2010 Colin Firth Natalie Portman Christian Bale Melissa Leo
2009 Jeff Bridges Sandra Bullock Christoph Waltz No'Nique

Only 2012 supporting actor (Oscar: Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained”) and 2011 lead actress (Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady”) haven't matched, and I'd have to give it to SAG on both of them. 

So get ready if you're in any Oscar pools. Here are this year's winners: 

  Lead Actor Lead Actress Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
2014 Eddie Redmayne  Julianne Moore  J.K. Simmons   Patricia Arquette

Cast went to “Birdman.” 

All are frontrunners with maybe the exception of Redmayne (many are predicting Keaton)  so I could see the Academy matching this exactly. We'll know in a month. 

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Posted at 07:19 PM on Jan 25, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Box Office: 'American Sniper' at $200 Million, Sets Sights on Katniss and Biggest Hit of the Year

American Sniper: biggest hit of the year?

Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to buy and buy.

We’ve been asking the wrong question with “American Sniper.” Instead of asking “Can it win best picture?” we should be asking, “Can it be the biggest box office hit of 2014”?

This weekend, Eastwood’s superpatriotic flick dropped only 27.9% for a $64 million haul. That’s the 8th-best second weekend (or “second” weekend, since “AS” opened in four theaters in late December) in movie history, behind such movies as “The Avengers,” “Avatar,” and “The Dark Knight.” In fact, with the exception of “Iron Man 3,” every one of the movies with a better second weekend went on to become the biggest box office hit of its respective year.

According to Box Office Mojo, “American Sniper” is now at $200 million. The No. 1 movie of 2014, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” which just surpassed “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” is at $334 million. By its second weekend, “THGMP1” was at $225 million, but it had fallen by 53%, then fell another 61% in the third weekend. So if “American Sniper” can keep from falling at those levels, it'll do it. 

Pretty stunning. I didn’t think “AS” would do $50 million and now it’s going to be the biggest hit of Clint Eastwood’s career. Actually it already is. Some day I’d like to read how Warner Bros. handled the rollout strategy. There’s a story there beyond showing people what they want to see.

I should be happy about this, by the way. A serious film will be the biggest hit of the year! When was the last time that happened? Something, in other words, that isn’t superheroes or cartoons or sci-fi fantasy? You’d have to go back all the way to 1998 when another war film, Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” was the biggest hit of the year.

So I should be happy. Except how serious is “American Sniper”? I’d argue that it overlays a reductive Hollywood formula upon our most serious subject: the war on terror. I’d argue it’s doing as well as it is because it’s giving people the Iraq War they (and Pres. Bush) always imagined they’d fight, rather than the complicated one we wound up fighting. In “Saving Private Ryan,” one of the characters ironically recites Tennyson: “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,” but in “American Sniper” that’s actually the movie—unironically. “American Sniper” doesn’t reason why. (My review here.)

Even so, what a fascinating few weeks at the box office. You can’t tell me Clint Eastwood isn’t hanging somewhere grinning over this. His late entry has stirred the pot again.

In other box office news, Jennifer Lopez had her best opening since “Monster in Law” in 2005, as “The Boy Next Door” (hot sex leads to stalking, per Hollywood) opened to $15 million and second place. The George Lucas-written cartoon “Strange Magic” had none, managing only $5 million in 3,020 theaters, while Johnny Depp’s latest foppish adventure, “Mortdecai,” flopped, grossing just $4 million. His reign is over.

Eastwood’s continues. 

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Posted at 09:35 AM on Jan 25, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Quote of the Day

“All these films have a believable voice and would not exist if there were not an [individual] expression behind them. And only the people who made it could have made it; they were not designed as products but as real expressions of human emotions.”

--Alejandro G. Iñárritu, accepting the Producers Guild of America award for best film of 2014, and talking about the other talent in the room—specifically, one imagines, Richard Linklater's “Boyhood,” Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Bennet Miller's “Foxcatcher,” Damien Chazelle's “Whiplash” and Dan Gilroy's “Nightcrawler.” Pretty much my feelings. Some have complained that 2014 was a weak year for movies but I think the opposite. Even better, those films have been recognized not just by critics but by the industry, which tends to recognize and reward corporate products.

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Posted at 06:48 AM on Jan 25, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Saturday January 24, 2015

And the Producers Guild of America Award Goes to ...

Birdman wins PGA for best film

... “Birdman.”

Most of the pundits assumed “Boyood.” Maybe because the critics awards generally went to “Boyhood.”

The PGAs, for what it's worth, often presage Oscar's best picture winner. At least they have 17.5 times out of 25:

Year PGA: Best Picture
2013 Gravity/12 Years a Slave
2012 Argo
2011 The Artist
2010 The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker
2008 Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men
2006 Little Miss Sunshine
2005 Brokeback Mountain
2004 The Aviator
2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
2002 Chicago
2001 Moulin Rouge!
2000 Gladiator
1999 American Beauty
1998 Saving Private Ryan
1997 Titanic
1996 The English Patient
1995 Apollo 13
1994 Forrest Gump
1993 Schindler's List
1992 The Crying Game
1991 The Silence of the Lambs
1990 Dances with Wolves
1989 Driving Miss Daisy

SAG is tomorrow night, the DGAs take place on February 7. And if you're wondering if a film has ever won the PGA and DGA and not the Oscar, the answer is yes: three times. In 1995, the GAs went for “Apollo 13” (instead of “Braveheart”), in '98 for “Saving Private Ryan” (instead of “Shakespeare in Love”) and in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain” (instead of You Know What.) Each time, I'd argue, Oscar blew it.

The PGAs went a different route than the Academy in two other movie categories this year. For best animated feature, it chose “The LEGO Movie,” which the Academy failed to nominate. And in best documentary, it went with “Life Itself,” about the life and times of Roger Ebert, which ditto. 

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Posted at 10:33 PM on Jan 24, 2015 in category Movies - Awards
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Quote of the Day

Many have written him off. ... The president’s proposals 'are so out of touch you have to ask if there’s any point to the speech,' said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

”But if you look beyond capital gasbags, and consider the big ideas in Obama’s speech, you can see the inevitability of his philosophy. His proposals — raising the minimum wage, paid maternity leave, making college more affordable and the tax system more fair — are popular across the political divide. They’re mainstream anywhere but the fund-raisers that Reince Priebus presides over.“

-- Timothy Egan, writing about my president in the fourth quarter, and my Seattle Seahawks in last Sunday's fourth quarter, in the New York Times Op-Ed, ”It's How You Finish."

 

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Posted at 07:17 PM on Jan 24, 2015 in category Quote of the Day
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Ernie Banks (1931-2015)

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks missed his 84th birthday by a week. He was born January 31, 1931, and died yesterday, January 23, 2015, on my father’s 83rd birthday.

Has Banks’ legacy been reduced to three words? “Let’s play two!” he’d say, and mean it. Maybe it was 10 words: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame: Let’s play two!” Those aren’t bad words to be remembered by. Most Americans want to be cool but engaged is better. Enthusiasm is more fun.

He was at the end of his career when I first began watching baseball, and in the other league from my Minnesota Twins, but I knew he was the last guy to hit 500 homeruns before Harmon Killebrew did. Banks was ninth in baseball history (in May 1970), Killebrew 10th (August 1971). Banks would stop at 512.

He never went to the World Series; playing for no other team than the Cubs will do that to you. He was probably the greatest player never to make the World Series until this latest round of great, bereft players: Rod Carew (Twins, Angels); Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, Reds). My guys.

I’ve spent part of the day looking over Banks’ lifetimes stats at BaseballReference.com. He remained thin and lanky to the end but apparently was never fast. He got caught stealing (53 times) more than he stole (50). His lifetime batting average wasn’t great (.274), nor his lifetime OBP (.330). His lifetime slugging percentage didn’t quite topple from its lofty perch (.500).

If he was a revelation at shortstop, a power-hitting, Gold-Glove MVP, he was a mediocre first basemen during the second half of his career. Here’s his line at short: .292/.355/.562 with 264 homers. And at first: .259/.307/.447 with  207 homers. Joe Posnanski’s written about this before—in a piece in which he declared Banks the 55th greatest player of all time.

How many times did he live up to the quote and play two? Someone must know. In his last season, 1971, the Cubs played the usual number of doubleheaders but Mr. Cub always sat out one of the games. Too old anymore to play two. His last real doubleheader was on July 4, 1970, just before the All-Star break, against Roberto Clemente’s Pirates. Banks went 1-4 and 1-5. The Cubs lost the first, won the second.

His last game in the Majors? Sept. 26, 1971, a Sunday. Banks batted fourth. In the 1st inning, two quick outs followed a leadoff single; then Banks singled and Ron Santo followed with a single to plate a run; Banks went to second. After a walk loaded the bases, Don Kessinger grounded out, stranding Banks at third. In the 3rd, Banks drew a walk around several outs, and would never get on base again. Grounder in the sixth, infield popup in the eighth. Cubs lost 5-1 to the hapless Phillies. The Cubs played another series in Montreal but Banks didn’t. He ended his career in the friendly confines.

In 1977, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 83% of the vote. Besides the inaugural Hall of Famers (Ruth, Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner), and the special cases (Gehrig, Clemente), Banks was just the eighth man in baseball history to be elected to the Hall on the first ballot. Last year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Obama—just the ninth baseball player to receive that honor.

Here’s the first reference to Banks in the New York Times. It’s from Sept. 1953:

 First mention of Ernie Banks, New York Times

Here’s the last.  

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Posted at 03:38 PM on Jan 24, 2015 in category Baseball
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Wednesday January 21, 2015

The Best #SOTU Ever?

Patrica and I went to dinner last night for my birthday so I missed Pres. Obama's State of the Union address and didn't get to watch it until tonight. Holy crap, is that good. It's a thing of beauty. I don't even know what my favorite part was. This challenge to Congress on minimum wage maybe?

Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

This subtle slam on the chest-beating of the Roger Aileses of the world?

Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin's aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That's how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

 This bit on global warming and the doofuses who want to ignore global warming?

2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

 I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

 This admission and cause for optimism?

You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America. I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home — a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world's great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn't delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It's held up as proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long. 

This call for a new type of politics?

I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision. Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.

I've said it before and I'll say it again and I'll keep saying it until I'm dead in my grave: My president.

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Posted at 08:52 PM on Jan 21, 2015 in category Politics
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Tuesday January 20, 2015

Jellybean Answers the #CatJumpFail Videos

This is one of those #CatJumpFail videos I see from time to time on my Facebook feed:

This is my cat Jellybean. She is part Maine Coon, part domestic longhair:

 Jellybean and the umbrella

And this is Jellybean answering those #CatJumpFail videos (there are a few subtitles):

Any questions?

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Posted at 04:15 PM on Jan 20, 2015 in category Jellybean
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Monday January 19, 2015

The Most Seattle Moment Ever

Michael Bennett on a bike

Announcer: Hey Michael Bennett! You and the Seattle Seahawks just won the NFC Championship Game! What do you plan to do now?
Michael Bennett: I'm gonna ride my bike!

Although not his, apparently. Apparently it was a bike cop's. He just took it. He said when you go to the Super Bowl in Seattle you get to do what you want, and that's pretty much right. 

The game yesterday was the craziest, most unbelievable, most beautiful game I've ever seen. I can't remember a great team looking so bad for 55 minutes and so invincible for six. Everyone today in Seattle feels like they just won something. We're all hoisting Oscars aloft. We all want to thank our parents, and God, and Marshawn Lynch.  

I grew up in Minneapolis and became a football fan in the early 1970s when Gary Cuozzo was the Vikings quarterback, before we got Fran Tarkenton back. That was a great team that lost three Super Bowls in four years but the toughest loss from was the year we didn't go to the Super Bowl, 1975, when we lost in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys and the “Hail Mary” pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson. No flag? What was that orange thing flying across the screen? (Turns out it was an orange peel.) But surely, surely offensive interference. Nope. Nothing. Just stunned silence. Just an awful emptiness inside. I remember afterwards walking down 54th street in the cold and dim light of late December to Salk Drugs and just staring at the candy counter, and hearing some guy nonchalantly mentioning the Vikings loss, like it was no big deal, and hating, hating, hating. 

I stopped watching football before I graduated high school in 1981 (the Super Bowl now and again) but I've been keeping track of the Seahawks this year. To me, yesterday's game, the impossble come-from-behind victory, almost had the feeling of catharsis.

LINKS:

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Posted at 08:49 AM on Jan 19, 2015 in category Sports
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